“On the day of Saint Lucy leave the acorn and take the olive”. Have you ever heard this nice rhyme pronounced by a wise farmer? If it’s new to you, are you curious to find out with us what it means?
Saint Lucy, the protector of eyesight, is celebrated on “the shortest day there is” (another expression that originates from this holiday). On 13th December, in many Italian towns and villages, the pre-Christmas magic is combined with ancient customs in honour of the saint.
In our village, on this special day or the following Sunday, the streets are filled with lights, colours, flavours, music and games for children. Lucy is particularly important for Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, of which she has been the patron saint for many, many years.
But how is the celebration of a saint linked to the traditions of our farmers? As in many other cases (if you haven’t already done so, read our article on the summer of St Martin), through a proverb.
A saying, strictly in Tuscan dialect, used to resound in our countryside: “Per Santa Lucia lascia la ghianda e piglia l’ulìa”. Which, translated, means: “On the day of Saint Lucy leave the acorn and take the olive”.
When the fathers said these words, their children stopped worrying about the acorn, i.e. looking for food for the pigs. Because – let’s not forget – almost all farmers in the past had, in addition to the vineyard and the olive grove, livestock: mainly pigs, sheep and cattle.
This, too, was a job that required toil, perseverance and sacrifice. Grandmother Maria often tells us that Grandfather Primo woke up at 3 a.m. for feeding the calves and the pigs in the stable and for having time to devote himself to the countless things he had to do in the fields.
So, leaving aside the search for acorns in the woods, in these days Maria, Primo and the other farmers of the area dedicated themselves to the “browse”, that is the harvest of the olives. Which took place – naturally – by hand (click here if you want to know more).
It seems strange to us that the olives were harvested in mid-December, since now in Chianti we start to spread the sheets under the trees in the second or third week of October, so two months earlier.
But we have to consider that, even if in the space of a short time (just a few generations), the climate has changed a lot, as have agricultural techniques. And everything is now anticipated than the habits of our grandparents and great-grandparents.
Nevertheless, we are happy to preserve and remember the story of an old proverb that has its origins in the mists of time: one of the many pieces that make up the historical memory of these hills.
Saint Lucy in Poggio al Bosco
What will you do for Saint Lucia? We, in honour of country tradition, will enjoy a slice of Tuscan bread with salt and our organic olive oil, which is still spicy as we like it.