Christmas is a wonderful time of year wherever you are but spending the run up to Christmas in Verona was a particularly magical experience, after all where better to spend it than the city of love? The city was dressed up with beautifully elegant street lights, an overwhelming amount of trees (nearly every shop had its own Christmas tree outside), a huge shooting star appeared out of the top of the arena and not to mention every piazza was transformed into a winter wonderland with markets selling mulled wine and traditional christmas panettone.
But Verona and a few other cities in Northern Italy have a tradition which is very specific only to them. If you’re waiting for your presents to be delivered by Santa Claus on the night of the 24th December, you’ll be waiting a very long time as it’s someone else who delivers the presents and surprisingly on the 12th December! Santa Lucia is one of the oldest traditions of Verona and whilst it is principally for children, everyone in the province gets involved.
The legend has it that in the 13th century there was a terrible case of “eye ache” especially amongst children and so people decided to ask Santa Lucia for relief from the symptoms by setting off on a barefoot pilgrimage to what is now the town hall, then known as Saint Agnese Church. Children were obviously very reluctant to do this so parents promised them that they would receive many presents if they did and so when the children accepted, the epidemic ended.
On the night of the 12th December, children eagerly await Santa Lucia who delivers their presents riding a flying donkey. I was lucky enough to take part in the tradition due to the fact that I was an English tutor to two different families who had very young children. You could tell how excited the children were in the run up to the evening of the 12th, with all members of the family getting involved. I bought the children presents to add to their piles from Santa Lucia which they seemed very happy with. (The tradition also served as a great way to get them to try very hard with their English when their mothers told them that Santa Lucia would not visit if they didn’t do their work)! It is normal then for families to get together at lunchtime or in the evening of the 13th to have a meal and give the children chance to show off their new toys delivered by Santa Lucia.
(Unfortunately the phone I took all my photos on at Christmas time in Verona has broken so I’ve included a picture that I found on the internet of beautiful Piazza Bra and the star shooting out of the arena.)