“Santa Lucia il giorno più corto che ci sia” – Saint Lucia is the shortest day there is: this is one of the nursery rhymes for children on the 13th December, the feast of Saint Lucia.
Lucia meaning light, Santa Lucia is also the patron saint of the blind, the eyes, the electricians, the oculists and the stonemasons, and is often invoked for eye diseases.
Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily in the fourth century. Tradition says she cut out her eyes because their beauty attracted a heathen nobleman. She was denounced as a Christian and condemned to death on December 13th 304 during Diocletian’s anti-Christian persecution in Siracusa.
The city of Siracusa honours Saint Lucy every year with a week long celebration with festivities and fireworks, sweets and the vow not to eat pasta or bread
The saying comes from the fact that once the festa was much closer to the winter solstice for a simple reason: a different calendar was used.
Until October 1582 the Julian calendar was widely adopted, but it had led to a gradual shift in the calculation of days with respect to the seasons, due to the problem of leap years.
With the “bolla Inter gavissimas” promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII, the new calendar began to be used, with a transition to the rather drastic updated dating system: on October 5, 1582 according to the Julian calendar suddenly became October 15 with the adoption of the Gregorian one.
The 1582 therefore lasted about ten days less, with an inevitable leap to realign the calculation of the days of the calendar with the solar year
So the reason for the confusion, which gave rise to the saying “Saint Lucia the shortest day there is”, derives precisely from the fact that before the Gregorian calendar (introduced in 1582) Saint Lucia was celebrated on the day of the winter solstice whose date can fluctuate between December 20th and 22nd.