SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS :: Sankta Lucia Day

Today, December 13, is St. Lucia Day! And today’s guest blogger, Linnea of Linnea in the Capitol, is here to tell you all about this wonderful Swedish holiday. -Gina

Growing up in a Scandihoovian (American-Scandinavian) household meant that Sankta Lucia day was an incredibly important part of our holiday season. Like my other favorite Swedish holiday, Midsommar, it involves wearing a fantastic crown and lots of singing!

How to Celebrate Santa Lucia Day at Home - Swedish Holidays

The Legend of St. Lucia

The legend – or legends, for I believe there are several versions – of Saint Lucia actually come from Sicily, Italy. A young maiden there, Lucia, chose to give away her dowry to the poor. This made her husband-to-be quite angry, and she was sentenced to be burned to death. The flames could not harm her, however, and eventually she was killed with a sword.

This tale was taken up to Scandinavia, where it melded nicely with local tradition and became a beautiful holiday and celebration. December 13th was the winter solstice according the old Julian calendar, and if you have ever been to Sweden in the winter you know how dark the days can be! Lucia brings light and hope (and often baked goods!) to the people on that dark, dark day.

Traditionally the eldest daughter in the family rises early and dresses in a long white dress with a red sash and with light on her head. She takes a tray of breakfast and goes throughout the home, waking the family with beautiful singing and bringing them breakfast in bed (at least that’s how we did it!)

Lucia programs are also put on in schools and throughout the community. One lucky girl is even chosen to be the National Lucia in Sweden each year. In some circumstances girls submit applications to be Lucia, and may be selected by a voting process. It is a wonderful honor to be selected as Lucia. Other girls make up the tärnor, a train which follows Lucia. The girls in the tärnor also wear long white dresses with sashes, and carry a candle in their hand. Often bringing up the back of the train are the stjärngossar (star boys), boys also wearing long white robes, wearing a tall pointed hat with stars on it and carrying a staff with a star on the end.

It is easy to celebrate Lucia at home! Here are the things you’d need:

Lucia and Light // St. Lucia Crown DIYs

While Lucia is often the eldest daughter, there is no reason that it has to be! In my opinion anyone can be Lucia, regardless of age or gender! (I often heard my brothers lament that they would never get to be Lucia. Being a star boy is fun, but in my opinion boys can be Lucia too!)

While traditionally Lucia wears real candles on her head, many people forgo this today in favor of battery powered candles. There are battery powered Lucia crowns for sale, but there are many other ways to represent Lucia’s crown as well that you can put together at home. One common solution is a wreath of silver tinsel around the head – it catches the light and twinkles in a wonderful way.

I found several great DIY Lucia crowns online, ranging from very easy (construction paper) to a little more involved (sewing.)

Lucia wears a long white dress, generally loose fitting – a nightgown works well, but any white dress will do. Tie a red ribbon around the waist and put some white socks on the feet and the outfit is complete!

Baked Treats and Hot Drinks // Swedish Lussekatter Recipe

Lucia brings a tray of yummy things to eat. You can put whatever you’d like on your tray, but if you’d like to celebrate like a real Swede consider making lussekatter (St Lucia buns) – a saffron yeast bun. Saffron is generally expensive, but gives such a distinct and unique color and flavor. I found my saffron this year at Trader Joe’s.

lussekatter via Vera H
Image Credit :: Vera H

Here is our family recipe, a combination of instructions from Första Kokboken, my great-uncle Stig, and my mother.

100-150 g. (10.6 Tablsp.) margarine or butter
4 dl (1 2/3 cup) milk
½ cup warm water (110⁰ F.)
50 g. yeast (2 Tblsp dry yeast – Kirsti; 3 packages dry yeast – Stig)
½ tsp. salt
1 – 1 ½ dl (1/2 cup) sugar
15 dl (6 cup) flour
1 gram (2 packages) saffron, also raisins
1 beaten egg to “pensla med” (brush onto the rolls before baking)

Melt the margarine in a sauce pan. Pour in the milk and warm until it is “finger warm”. Place yeast in mixing bowl and add ½ cup warm water and let dissolve. Add the warm milk mixture and flour, sugar, and seasonings. Put  the saffron in a small bowl with a sugar cube and crush them together. Then add to the dough mixture. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, use this to mix the ingredients together until the dough holds together and leaves the sides of the bowl. (It will be stickier than regular bread dough.) Place a towel over the bowl (or plastic wrap, easier to clean up) and let rise for 40 minutes or until it is light and porous. (This may take longer depending on your altitude.)

Dust flour onto the counter or a bread board. Punch down the dough, place some flour on your hands and knead with a light touch.

lucia shapes
Image Credit :: Första Kokboken

Pinch off some dough and roll into “ropes”. Then shape into “S” shapes, oxen, and other shapes. Place on greased baking sheet and let rise for 30 minutes. Decorate with raisins and brush on beaten egg (it makes the rolls shiny!). Bake at 425⁰ for 5 – 7 minutes, watch carefully because they burn easily. You may have to adjust for your oven.

Let your newly baked bread cool under a towel. Then it will be nice and soft.

Hot chocolate, tea, and coffee are great drinks to round out your tray.

Music for St. Lucia Day

There are many beautiful Swedish songs celebrating Lucia. Here are five of my favorites that would make a great Lucia playlist (click on the title to be taken to the song on Amazon).

You may also be able to find a Lucia program in your community to attend! If you are in near Washington DC, the American Scandinavian Association has their Lucia program this Saturday. (Find more information here!) I know there are also beautiful programs throughout the country, try googling “Swedish Lucia Festival [your area]” or something similar and see if you can find one near you! (This not-so-great quality photo is actually me as Lucia last night at the Ambassador’s Christmas party at House of Sweden.)

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You are beautiful, Linnea! Thank you for this great post. I can’t wait to have you back in the summer when we’ll talk more about Midsommar. :) Readers, be sure to add Linnea’s blog to your bookmarks!

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3 thoughts on “SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS :: Sankta Lucia Day

  1. Pingback: Cultural Celebrations: St Lucia Day in Scandinavia | EF Foundation for Foreign Study Mid-Atlantic

  2. Pingback: SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS :: Your Chance to be Featured on the Fourth Annual Blog Series! | Oaxacaborn

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