Saint Lucia is a celebratory day in Scandinavia. Along with Advent, it marks the beginning of the holiday season. Despite it being a saint day it is observed by many, often with traditions that are more pagan in nature than Catholic or Orthodox. Today, it is always on December 13th, though it used to land on winter solstice each year prior to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.
Also known as St. Lucy day, it honors the martyr, St. Lucy of Syracuse who lived in Italy in the 4th Century. Little is known about her true history, though she is the center of many legends. One tells the tale of her eyes being gouged out for an admirer whom she did not love who felt her eyes were her greatest asset. They were said to later be restored by God. She is often represented in artwork as a woman with a dish bearing two eyeballs because of this legend. Another tale relates a similar story but the admirer tried to burn Lucia, but she prayed to God and he saved her from burning due to her kindness.
Lucy means light and that sums up the celebration in one word. It is a day of looking forward to the days growing longer and the nights shorter. Many of the customs also revolve around light and it is oftentimes referred to as the celebration of light.
Traditionally the eldest girl in a family wears a white gown and a crown of lit candles upon her head and carried a tray of coffee, Saint Lucia Buns (saffransbullar) and pepperkakor to her parents while leading a procession of any younger daughters in white carrying one lit candle each. They all sing a traditional song about the light Lucia used to overcome the darkness. Following the process it is common to sing more carols and songs about light and Lucia.
Until the early 20th century this practice was one done in homes only. Then in 1927 Stockholm elected an official St. Lucia for the city and began the traditional of a public procession. It has spread and most cities, schools, and other municipalities elect a Lucia and there is even a national Lucia crowned each year. Boys are also incorporated into these processions in various ways today.
In honor of St. Lucia, I made the saffransbullar last night. The St. Lucia buns are also called Saffron Buns in English. They are made of slightly sweet yeast dough infused with saffron. The dough is rolled into snakes and formed into curly “S” shapes and topped off with an egg yolk wash and two raisins. I had a fleeting moment when I thought I would get up very early this morning and make them, but DH talked me into making them the night before. He had baking to do so they were really finished about 1am anyway. At the darkest hours of the night, just as they should be!
If you want to learn more about St. Lucia, check out these sites…
- St. Lucia Day at Wikipedia
- St. Lucy at Wikipedia
- Lucia Morning in Sweden
- Lucia at Scandinavica.com
- Saffransbullar and Pepperkakor at Sweden.se
- St. Lucia Day photos at Flickr