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I've got some questions about this phrase:

A la Sainte Luce, les jours croissent du saut d'une puce

I can only find pages in French about it seem to be discussing the shortness of the day around that time of the year (St Luce's day = 13th) and/or how little the length of the day varies. What is the general meaning here? Is it the shortness of the day, or how little the length of the day varies (both are true around the Winter solstice, but which is being indicated by this expression?).

Could an idiomatic translation be:

Around December 13th, the days creep along at a snail's pace?

Second question, "A la Sainte Luce", does that literally mean "on St Luce's day" or does it mean "around" or "leading up to"?

Third question, is St Luce the same person the English refer to as St Lucy, as in John Donne's poem A nocturnal on St Lucy's Day, being the shortest day.
If yes, why is St Luce on the 13th and St Lucy's day on the 21st?

Last question is 'saut d'une puce' (flea's leap?) a standard phrase, and if so presumably it indicates either a very short distance or a short time?

So many questions, so few answers!

4

1/ To grow (croître), it means: how little the length of the day varies.

2/ It's at St Luce's day, from St Luce's day.

3/ Luce or Lucie, is Lucie de Syracuse: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucie_de_Syracuse

About the proverb: https://fr.wiktionary.org/w/index.php?title=%C3%A0_la_Sainte-Luce,_les_jours_croissent_du_saut_d%E2%80%99une_puce

http://www.linternaute.com/proverbe/1720/a-la-sainte-luce-les-jours-croissent-du-saut-d-une-puce/

English page (She is called Lucia of Syracuse) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Lucy

Feast: december 13th. But: "A Swedish source[5] states that the date of (Winter Solstice, St. Lucia, Lucinatta, Lucia-day, Lussi-mass ...) i.e. December 13, predates the Gregorian which implies that "Lucia's Day" was Dec 13 in the Julian Calendar, which is is equal to December 21 in the Gregorian, i.e. now. Same source states use of the name "Little Yule" for the day, that it was among the most important days of the year, that it marked the start of Christmas month, and that with the move to the Gregorian calendar (in Sweden 1753) the date (not the celebration) "completely lost its appropriateness/significance"."

From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Lucy%27s_Day

4/ Yes, "saut de puce" is an expression. It's not very common, a bit "littéraire", but if you use it, everyone will understand what you mean.

Example:

"Les avancées dans ce domaine ont fait des sauts de puce."

https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/saut_de_puce

It means a short amount. A short progress.

  • Thanks very much. I see that puce is used for a lot of expressions meaning small, e.g. puce électronique = microchip. – woodspiral Jun 26 '15 at 18:09
  • Yes, and it used as a synonyme of "honey" when ou talk to your fiancée. "Ma puce". – Quidam Jun 27 '15 at 2:50
  • on a side note, St Lucy was trun to St Luce so as to make a ryhme (or pun) with puce. This is often case with proverb. – Archemar Jun 28 '15 at 7:29
  • I don't think so. Villages have been called Ste Luce since the middle ages. I think it's the opposite: the end of the proverb is chosen to make a rhyme with the name. – Quidam Jun 28 '15 at 11:37
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Reference

"À la Sainte Luce" is refering to Lucie de Syracuse who is celebrated the 13 of December.


Meaning

The general meaning is about the evenings which are becoming longer (but not the whole day). It is explained in french here and I will translate this sentence :

En effet, si le soleil se lève de plus en plus tard, il se couche également de plus en plus tard. Les journées semblent donc grandir car les soirées s’allongent.

Even if the sun is rising later, it is falling later either. Days look like they are longer because the evenings are getting longer.


Date

In the first link I gave, even the english version states that

Her feast day, known as Saint Lucy's Day, is celebrated in the West on 13 December.


Flea part

A "puce" is here a flea, a very small insect which is not leaping very high in our point of view (without proportions). It indicates a short distance and by extension a short distance of time.

  • Thanks for all the comments - I understand it all now. Luce = Lucy and Wikipedia says that 13th December used to be the solstice under the old Gregorian calendar. I always thought there were 12 days difference between the Gregorian and Julian calendars though which would give the 23rd... interesting as someone in my village recently was talking about how 25th December used to be celebrated as the solstice even though it is really 21st. – woodspiral Jun 26 '15 at 18:08
  • @woodspiral You are welcome. You can upvote answers that are interesting by clicking on the ▲ .... Wait a couple of days and then you can click on the ✔ to valid the post that better answered your question. – Yohann V. Jun 26 '15 at 21:26
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Besides all the good answers given, let's also mention the fact that Luce comes from Latin lux and as such is linked to light (and day).

  • 2
    Should be a comment, not an answer, IMO. But +1 for the reminder anyway. – Drew Jun 27 '15 at 21:09

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