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Holidays in Italy

13 of December - Saint Lucy and Christmas market in Bologna


Saint Lucy by Francesco del Cossa

The majority of children in Italy receive gifts for Christmas, but in some cities of the Northern Italy (for example, Brescia, Bergamo, Mantua, Cremona, Lodi, Udine, Verona, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia) gifts are brought by Saint Lucy the night between 12 and 13 of December. Children know by heart her story.
Lucy was born in 283 AD in Syracuse, in a rich and noble family. When she was 5 years old, her father died and Lucy decided to consecrate her virginity to God and she hoped to distribute her dowry to the poor. She grow up and become very beautiful, and a young man of a wealthy pagan family fell in love with her. Lucy refused the suitor, and he decided to take a revenge and denounced her to the authorities, as at that time Christians were persecuted and forced under torture to deny their faith.
Lucy did not renounce Christianity, and she was condemned to the stake. According to legend, at that moment Lucy suddenly became blind and did felt the fire, but flew directly to Heaven.

And there she recovered her sight and met two angels who promised her that she would be able to get back to the earth once a year to make happy good children, bringing them presents. But she could go the earth only in the night, because her eyes could see only in the moonlight, and there will be always the same night, between 12 and 13 of December, one of the longest nights of the year.
And from that time every year Saint Lucy comes to the earth with her donkey and a cart full of sweets and toys, accompanied by a coachman Castaldo .


Saint Lucy with gifts

Saint Lucy with gifts

Some days before the holiday, children write letters to Saint Lucy, telling her about their good actions during the year and asking for presents. In the evening of the 12th of December children leave a plate of flour for the donkey, a cup of coffee for Saint Lucy and a piece of bread for Castaldo (but there are some who leave cookies, wine, oranges, hay...)
When Saint Lucy comes, she does not like to be seen. If any rascal decides to stay awake to see her, she throws a handful of ashes in the eyes of the meddler. In the morning of the 13th December children find their gifts: sweets, chocolate and toys, if they deserved them!

Every year in Bologna from the end of November to the 26th of December takes place the Saint Lucy market. This market has a very ancient tradition. At the end of XVI century the Pope Gregory XIII (born Ugo Boncompagni, from Bologna, best known for commissioning and being the namesake for the Gregorian calendar, which remains the internationally accepted civil calendar to this day) donated precious relics of Saint Lucy to the church of the same name in his native city. Such an extraordinary gift attracted to the church porch a great number of local artisans, producing copies and prints of holy images and selling them to pilgrims. As time passed their mastery and excellence of their products grew constantly, arriving to produce extraordinary sculptures of precious terracotta and gypsum.


Christmas market in Bologna

Christmas market in Bologna

After Napoleon invasion Saint Lucy church remained deconsecrated, and the relics of the Saint were transfered to Santa Maria dei Servi church in Strada Maggiore street, and the artisans followed the relics. And it is here, under the portico of Santa Maria dei Servi church, one of the largest in the city, the traditional market of Saint Lucy still takes place every year. From the beginning of XIX century one of the main products in the market became the statues for Nativity scene.

Bologna has its own tradition of Nativity scene. The statues are entirely shaped of terracotta, wood, gypsum or papier-mâché, without using tissues for dresses. In the traditional local Nativity scene take part two original figures: Meraviglia (means Marvel), a feminine figure, expressing marvel admiring the Nativity of Christ, and her antagonist, Dormiglione (means Sleepyhead), sleeping masculine figure, not taking part in the scene.

If you visit Bologna in the period from the end of November to 26 of December, take the occasion to walk under the famous portico, between colored and glittering stands, have a look at a great variety of Nativity scene statues and elements, buy presents, breathe this sweet and unforgettable scent of torrone sweet and cotton candy, and live the atmosphere of Christmas wait.

See also:

24th of December - Christmas Eve





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