Santa Lucia Day

St. Lucia Day us the 13th of December, and the sun comes up late. At this time of year the light is precious. I am frequently surprised at how early it gets dark. In higher latitudes like Scandinavia it’s even worse. On December 13 it rises at 9:11 am and sets at 3:11 pm- and that’s in Oslo (on the south coast)! In Trondheim sunrise/sunset are at 9:55- 2:30! In Mo i Rana, it rises at 10:34, and sets at 1:21 pm, in Hammerfest (way up north) it never comes up at all. No wonder in Norway they find the light something to celebrate! ( and they get a lot of Seasonal Affective Disorder up there.)

St. Lucy- a saint from sunny Italy who’s name means “light”, they celebrate by having the daughters greet their parents in bed on St. Lucia’s Day, with saffron buns, and coffee. The girl wears a white gown and a wreath with lighted candles on her head, so while I’ve heard of it being the youngest daughter, I think oldest is more likely. Towns also have parades and “the most beautiful” girl is chosen to be the St. Lucy Queen. It’s a general holiday.

These buns traditionally contain saffron, and they are probably what taught me to appreciate the flavor. I’m not sure how they handled it traditionally, but we tend to bake them on the evening of the 12th, and the daughters will bring them into my bedroom the morning- or I’ll get up if they don’t. Not being coffee drinkers, we always had cocoa. Ælfwine made the girls a little electric version of a lucia crown to reduce the fire risk when we found a  set of electric window lights he could take apart and attach a battery to. When Dan was home I know she wore one with candles at least once. It’s got to be a huge rite of passage to finally be trusted with wearing flaming candles on your head- (whilst and at the same time) carrying a tray of expensive goodies and hot beverage.


These can be recognized as the saffron buns  called Luciakats, and served by daughters to mothers on December 13th. They are too good to be eaten only once a year, but if that’s the only time you can afford the saffron, once a year is better than never. Note: Saffron is small red threads- the stamens of the saffron crocus, not safflower- often used in Spanish cooking, also to make food yellow, but it’s a totally different flavor.

Proof:                 2 tbsp. yeast in

1/2 cup warm water

And dissolve up to    1 tsp. saffron in

2 tsp. boiling water (NOT milk- the fat in it will coat the threads)

scald                  1 1/2 cups  milk, let cool

stir                      1/2 cup of honey

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)       into the milk,

it will melt the butter and help cool the milk., then add the saffron water. When the yeast is foamy, and the milk cooled enough not to kill the yeast, pour it into

5 cups bread or All Purpose flour and

1 tsp. salt

stir in                     2 beaten eggs and

2-3 more cups flour to make a soft dough.

(note: depending on the flour, and how much liquid you used the amount of flour is variable, so go by feel.) Knead well, cover and let rise in a warm place until double. Punch down and knead again. Divide into about two dozen pieces. Roll into snakes then coil these up into tight Ss.(which look to some like sleeping cats- go ahead, coil the ropes into any shapes you like!) Decorate with raisins, and let rise, covered, about a half hour.  Bake. For the last five minutes, brush with an egg yolk beaten into a tablespoon of water to glaze.

time: 25 minutes.  temp.: 400º      yield: 2-4 dozen

There are shapes that have traditional names:

lussekatter (lucy’s cats),

Julgalt  (yule boar),

Gullvagn (gold wagon),

Luciakroona (lucy’s crown),

Pojkar and Lilja (little boys and little girls),

Bok (buck),

Yuloxe (yule ox)

Broa (a squiggle)

Sometimes the names are less fun:

From the top clockwise they are: Yule cross, yule S, Little boy, Priests hair , Lucia cat, and Little Girl. The Cat is kind of like an S, but one side is bigger than the others and it looks like a cat curled sleeping up. We’ve discovered that while they are often decorated with raisins, if you bake them on, they get way too hard to be pleasant to eat.
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