Arancina day - Great balls of fire
Religion and food
Religion often determines the food people eat. In the worst case religion excludes. Certain ingredients are forbidden, so reducing the culinary offer. As far as we know, only religion is able to exclude ingredients from a diet. On a more positive note, religion may use food to celebrate. Various religions propose various foods. In Palermo it seems people worship the food and forgot all about religion on Saint Lucy’s day.
On December 13th people in Palermo eat arancine (fried rice balls usually with a meat filling) as if there were no tomorrow. This custom hovers somewhere between penance and honoring: eating till it hurts. Somehow similar to the binge drinking on Saint Patrick’s day.
Since eating arancine is a tradition, health is forgotten. A prelude to the heavy eating days that follow (Christmas, New Year) if you will. With about 350 kcal each arancina, it’s a miracle people in Palermo make it to Christmas! Thank you Lucy!
Mind the accent
Gattò is not a cat (gatto) with a straight up tail but the phonetical reproduction of the French ‘gateau’, cake. Irreverently described it is mozzarella cheese and ham between two layers of mashed potatoes, grilled in the oven. Some people add other cheese, other leave the ham out. It is a Santa Lucia-proof food since it does not contain milled wheat
Cuccìa and not cuccia, doghouse. This is a very simple dish: wheat is boiled and seasoned. The seasoning usually contains ricotta cheese and sweet adding such as chocolate and candied fruit. Strangely enough, the hardest to get ingredient is the wheat. Many reccomend to purchase it from a reliable source since plain wheat may contain pesticide. And dear old Saint Lucy wants you to be healthy.
Poor Lucy lost her father when she was just five years old. Her mother, in poor health, wanted her to marry a wealthy pagan and assure her daughters future. Lucy though had ‘consecrated her virginity to God’. During a pilgrimage to Catania, saint Agatha came to Lucy in a dream. She praised Lucy for her faith and cured her mother. Saint Agatha told her she would become saint if she divided her dowry amongst the poor. Her betrothed did not take it well and sued the future saint. The judge, in a bad mood, sentenced her to be defiled in a brothel.
After the verdict the guards did not manage to take her away. Neither did a team of oxen. The judge, fuming by then, had wood brought in and planned to torch the saint. And when the wood wouldn’t burn, someone thrusted a sword in her throat.
What happened with Lucy’s eyes? Well, some say she angered the judge and was therefore tortured by eye-gouging. Others say she removed them herself, to discourage a suitor who loved them dearly. Pretty drastic, but overall effective. Or it may be symbolic. Saint Lucy is celebrated on what was believed the shortest day of the year. This may explain the popularity of Saint Lucy in Sweden, where light in winter in scarce.
When preparing her burial, Lucy’s eyes were back in their sockets. Reason enough for becoming patron saint of eye illnesses, the blind, glaziers, cinema operators and stained glass workers. And for peeping Toms.
Travel with Lucy
Saint Lucy was born and died in Syracuse. And that is where got buried. After seven centuries of peaceful rest the relics were moved for the first time. Together with the remains of Saint Agata of Catania they traveled to Constantinople. Empress Teodora did not want them to fall in the hands of the advancing Saracens. 200 years later Venetian soldiers on their way back from the fourth crusade brought the relics to Venice. As part of the booty for their boss, the doge.
Lucy in Venice
Her first rest place flooded and she was moved to another church. There she was evicted because of the construction of a railway station, which until today is named ‘Santa Lucia’. She was moved to the San Geremia church, where thieves in 1981 stole the relics. These were recovered 36 years later, on the morning of the 13th of December. Lucy made a las trip, a ticket parade, to Syracuse. So Lucy could be beseeched by travelers.
Santa Lucia and food
About 1100 years after her death, in 1646, a severe famine hit Palermo. People turned to Saint Lucy for help. She was a fellow Sicilian after all. So when a ship loaded with wheat arrived in the port, the miracle came true. People did not waste time bringing the wheat to the mill. They boiled the wheat and ate it with a drizzle of oil. Ever since people in Palermo do not eat bread nor pasta on December 13th. Bakers, pizzerias and restaurants remain closed that day.
Lucy, Lucie, Lucia and Luz, they all come from the latin Lucius. Anciently the name Lucy was given to children born at dawn or to the ones with a fair complexion. So now you know Snow White’s first name.
In Spain and Colombia Lucy is number one! In English speaking countries the name Lucy is not all that popular but constant on the list of girls names. It dances around the 50 position of popular names.
#1 in English speaking countries is Olivia. And topped off with the male Oliver, the ode to the olive tree is complete.
Other first places in popularity lists: Sakura in Japan, Tamar in Israel, Camila in Argentina, Aadya in India, Lee (Li) in China, Louise in France, Hannele in Belize, Grace in Togo and Sofia in Italy.
In the early seventies scientist finally found Lucy. She had been hiding for 3.2 million years. What was left of her was initially called her AL 288-1, not exactly catchy as a name. Apparently the name Lucy came up after a Beatle song, ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’. Could have been Maybellene, Angie, or even Ummagumma. The Australopithecus Afarensis’ bones belonged to a twelve year old vegetarian girl. After a six year tour in the USA Lucy returned home to Ethiopia in 2013.