While the feast day is also observed in Sweden and Norway, the tradition’s roots have been traced back to the southern Italian island of Sicily.
On Saint Lucy’s Day, the city of Syracuse holds a huge parade carrying a silver statue of its patron saint through the streets.
On December 20, the Sicilian city has a second parade to return her to her crypt in the Cathedral of Syracuse.
The celebrations last the entire week and thousands of pilgrims come to Syracuse to pay tribute to the beloved saint.
The week-long homage comes to a close with a dazzling fireworks display over the harbour.
During the week, locals indulge in sweets but vow not to eat pasta or bread.
Cuccìa - a dish of boiled wheat often mixed with ricotta and honey - is also eaten in memory of Saint Lucy’s miraculous averting of famine.
According to legend, the saint rescued the famished city of Syracuse in 1582, when two ships loaded with wheat miraculously arrived in the harbour.
The starving population was so desperate to eat that they boiled the wheat and ate it simply dressed with olive oil.
This was apparently the first cuccìa ever made, while the sweet version was created later on.
Moving beyond Sicily to the mainland, Saint Lucy is also the patron saint of myriad other Italian towns in Veneto, Lombardy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige.
In northern Italy, she is celebrated similarly to the Saint Nicholas tradition.
She arrives in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo, and brings the good children gifts and the naughty children coal in the night between December 12 and 13.
Children are asked to leave some biscuits, oranges, cakes and coffee for Lucy, wine for Castaldo, and water and hay for the donkey.
Saint Lucy is believed to have been born of rich and noble parents in Syracuse in the year AD 283 and suffered a martyr’s death in AD 304.
According to various legends, the saint brought “food and aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs” using a candle-lit wreath to “light her way and leave her hands free to carry as much food as possible”.
It’s said that Saint Lucy was threatened to be taken to a brothel by Roman authorities if she didn’t renounce her Christianity.
She refused to go, and nothing - not even a fire set under her feet - could get her to budge.
One of her persecutors ultimately killed her by spearing her in the throat.
While some claim that the origin for the choice of date for Saint Lucy’s Day is due the fact that it corresponds with the day of her death, others argue that it could be because it falls 12 days before Christmas, and signifies the arrival of the Light of Christ.
Her name derives from the Latin lux or lucis for “light”, and she represents light, solar worship and sight.
Her feast once coincided with the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year before calendar reforms, so her feast day has become a Christian festival of light.
Though martyred thousands of years ago, Saint Lucy continues to cast her light across Sicily, Italy and Scandinavia, and has countless avid worshippers across the globe.