Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted, there was the Julian calendar. On that calendar, the winter solstice was December 13. In Sweden, on December 13, there is a festival of light called Saint Lucy's Day (which is an appropriate name, as "Lucy" comes from the Latin word for light). Early in the morning, as part of the festivities, the youngest daughter of a celebrating family dresses in white, with a crown of lit candles, and wakes the rest of the family with coffee, saffron-flavored rolls, and song.

The story of Lucy, like the stories of many other early saints, is unreliable, but it is generally accepted that there was a young woman named Lucy who was martyred in Syracuse in 304 A.D. In the middle ages, she was one of the most popular saints. Her popularity led to her being the patron of a wide variety of people, including cutlers, glaziers, notaries, saddlers, salesmen, servant girls, tailors, weavers, and writers. Her intercession has been invoked against blindness, dysentery, eye diseases, fire, infection, hemorrhage, and sore throats.

According to the traditional story, Lucy was born to wealthy Christian parents around 283 A.D. Her father died when she was young, leaving her to be raised by her mother. As a young woman, Lucy secretly dedicated herself to Christ. Her mother, unaware of this vow, arranged a marriage. For three years, Lucy managed to postpone the wedding, but finally her mother would allow no more procrastination. Lucy prayed that God would show her a way to avoid the marriage and remain faithful to her vow.

At the time, numerous visitors were making pilgrimages to see the relics of Saint Agatha in Catania. Many miracles had supposedly been wrought through Agatha's intercession. Lucy persuaded her mother, who had been plagued by a hemorrhage, to go to Catania with her and ask for Agatha's help. She reminded her mother of the story in the Gospels of the woman who was cured of a hemorrhage by touching Christ's cloak.

So they went to Catania, and spent all night praying. In the morning, Lucy's mother was cured. She was so grateful that she promised to allow Lucy to dedicate her life to God instead of getting married.

When they returned to Syracuse, and the young man to whom Lucy had been unwillingly betrothed found out that she would not be marrying him, he denounced her as a Christian to the governor. At the time, Christianity was illegal. Lucy was found guilty, and sentenced to be carried off to a brothel to suffer the shame of prostitution. But when the governor's men tried to drag her away, they found that they could not move her. They even hitched her to a team of oxen, but it was as if she was rooted to the ground. So they brought wood and stacked it around her and set it afire, but once again God saved her. They tortured her, and tore her eyes out. Her eyes were miraculously restored. Finally, they killed her by putting a sword through her throat.

In Christian art, Lucy is often represented as a young maiden holding a dish or a plate with her eyes on it. Sometimes she is also depicted hitched to a yoke of oxen.

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