Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sankta Lucia

In Sweden December 13th is celebrated as Sankta Lucia Day. The day is celebrated at home, in schools, and in churches.
We prepared for it by reading "Lucia Morning in Sweden" by Ewa Rydåker, which we bought our daughter last year as a Christmas gift from the Scandinavian store in our Florida hometown. It has recipes for the food, lyrics for the song, and patterns for the Lucia gown. You can click on this link for a list of fun things to do for Lucia day, and on the picture of the book for more infomation about it.
We should have also made some homemade pepparkakor(thin hard gingerbread cookies) and lusskatt buns (yellow saffron buns) to get ready for Lucia, but baking was not in the cards the day before. Instead we purchased some good Anna's pepparkakor and a few gluten free ones for the SwedeDaddy. (Gotta love Sweden, where OF COURSE they sell gluten free pepparkakor) Pepparkakor is to Sweden what the chocolate chip cookie is to America- a national symbol. We did get to enjoy the homemade LussKatt buns my sister in law made!

For the home celebration of Lucia, the children wake before the adults, and the eldest girl dons the Lucia costume -a crown of lights, a white linen gown, and a red silk sash. The other children dress as attendants in white gowns or starboy outfits. They bring pepparkakor, Lussekatt buns, and a warm drink to the parents in bed, singing the Lucia song.

Our three and a half year old daughter was delighted to be Lucia this year. She insisted before bed we make "preparations" as she said, and had us put her clothing, crown, and cookies in reach.

I thought she would wake us to tell us it was time, but instead she dressed fairly completely, and snuck in and asked me to tie her sash "tie this mom, I do not know how to tie yet" and help her get the gluten free pepparkakor (only in Sweden!) package open "just open this package, then go RIGHT back to sleep." She came in proudly singing and carrying a tray of cookies. She did not take the outfit off all day!
At school, children gather and hold a performance of winter songs. Traditionally, there is only one Lucia and the other children wear attendant gowns, and boys dress as star boys. Now it is common for children to dress as tomtes (gnome, wearing Santa outfits), or gingerbread man outfits as well. In schools, it is common for there to many Lucias, so as to not create a competition.

The Littlest Lucia.

Our Swede nephew had a lovely Lucia performance at his school in the snow, followed by glogg and pepparkakor for all.
Towns do select a single Lucia by a vote, and that Lucia represents the town in the Church celebration. Swedish Lucia is celebrated in church with a procession and singing, but not always a service or mass. Sweden is overall a rather secular society, and Swedes hold a deep appreciation for winter time traditions, but symbols like Lucia, the advent candles, and Jul are not necessarily observed as religious celebrations as much as seasonal celebrations. The same mythology is observed as in Christianity- the return of the light and the renewal of spirit. The Swedes just do it with out talking much about Jesus, or doing so more metaphorically.

Lucia is called a Saint Day, and it is supposed to be about the martyred Italian Saint Lucy who lived in Italy in the 3rd century AD, who helped Christians escape in the catacombs, and is said to have worn a crown of candles on her head to keep her hands free. However, the association is more likely an intersection of pagan stories with Christians ones. Lux is the Latin word for light, and is the root of both Lussi and Lucy, and Lucifer, who is the fallen angel of light. Lussi Night in Scandinavia is an old tradition that fell on Winter solstice (which was about December 13th) before the Julian calendar came to be used in 1559 AD. Now, solstice has shifted but Lucia is still celebrated on December 13th. The association with St. Lucy is not actually much part of the celebration here, but is part of the official story.

(Click to get to a link to hear the whole song)

Sankta Lucia

Natten går tunga fjät, runt gård och stuga.
Kring jord som sol'n förlät, skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus, stiga med tända ljus,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Natten var stor och stum. Nu hör det svingar,
i alla tysta rum, sus som av vingar.
Se på vår tröskel står vitkläd, med ljus i hår,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Mörkret skall flykta snart ur jordens dalar.
Så hon ett underbart ord till oss talar.
Dagen skall åter ny, stiga ur rosig sky,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia

Santa Lucia Song

Hark! through the darksome night
Sounds come a winging:
Lo! 'tis the Queen of Light
Joyfully singing.
Clad in her garment white,
Wearing her crown of light,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Deep in the northern sky
Bright stars are beaming;
Christmas is drawing nigh
Candles are gleaming.
Welcome thou vision rare,
Lights glowing in thy hair.
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

If you were amused by the Nypon Soup/ Dog Soup, here is 'A Light Cat Bun', yes, these really are named for cats. These buns and their yellow color from saffron are a reminder of the return of the light, and I suspect the association with cats comes from Nordic goddess like Freya who were long associated with cats, and said to ride in the night with a harness of cats kinda of like Santa with his reindeer.

Lussekatter (St. Lucia Buns)
St. Lucy's day marks the opening of the Christmas season in Sweden. Lussekatter are their delicious saffron buns made in any number of figures: cats, "s" shapes, or figure eights.

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
8 ounces (1 cup) milk
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 beaten egg white for egg wash

Using a mortar and pestle, pound saffron threads to break down strands.
In a small saucepan, heat milk to lukewarm. Mix yeast with 1/4 cup milk and 1 tablespoon sugar. Set aside. On low heat, melt butter in saucepan with milk. Add crushed saffron. Let cool.
In large bowl, mix together flour salt and remaining sugar. Stir yeast into cooled milk mixture. Mix into dry ingredients, beating to mix well. Add beaten eggs. Knead in bowl for 5 - 7 minutes. Turn onto floured board and knead another 7 - 8 minutes. Put dough in lightly greased bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover and put in warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1 hour.
When dough has risen, knead lightly to push out air and divide into small pieces (about 10 - 12). Using the hands, roll each small piece into a strip about 8 - 10 inches long. Shape each strip into an 'S' or a figure 8. Place on lightly buttered cookie sheets. Cover with clean cloth and let rise again until double in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Preheat oven to 375°F. When dough has risen, brush lightly with egg white. Bake in preheated 375° F oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool on wire rack. Yield: 10 - 12 buns (recipe from

This is a GingerBread House we saw at The Swedish Embassy in Washington DC last year, but it is so great it bears shares again. It was a dome home tree house made of pepparkakor- tradition meets modernity, truly Swedish!

Swedish Pepparkakor


8 ounces butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 egg
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/4 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (190 degrees C).
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Stir in egg, corn syrup, orange juice, and orange zest. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; stir into the creamed mixture until combined.
Roll dough out to 1/8 inch thickness, and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Cool cookies on wire racks. (

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