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Celebrating Santa Lucia Day

Lo, on our theshold there,
White-clad, lights in her hair.
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

I must make an upfront disclaimer–I am not Scandanavian, never celebrated Santa Lucia Day as a child, and have no fond memories or connections to this tradition. But the year Mara was turning three, I was captured by this beautiful tradition, and we have celebrated Lucy ever since.

There are many versions of Lucy’s story, but the one that resonnates with me is one that I created for my homeschool group some years ago. 

In our story, a small village on the Swedish coast huddled cold and hungry in the middle of winter. Food was quickly running out, as there had been a bad harvest that year. All of the villagers gathered and shared what they had, but even that was running low. The people despaired–would they have enough food to last until springtime? The days grew darker and darker until one night, it seemed as if the sun would never come back at all. The wise women in the village gathered and sent their prayers to Freya, the Scandanavian goddess of hearth, sun and war, that the sun would return and food would be found. As the village prayed through the longest night of the year, watchers on the shore saw a light appear in the water. What could the glowing on the water be? No one knew. The villagers lit a fire on the shore so that they could see. The light in the water grew brighter and brighter, until they could see that it was a woman with a crown of candles on her head, standing in the prow of a boat that was heading toward the shore. The villagers called out to the boat, and it landed on their shore, full of Italian sailors carrying a boat load of food. “What happened to the woman in the boat?” the villagers asked? The sialors had no idea what the villagers were talking about–but upon hearing the description of the woman, they knew that the villagers had seen their saint, Santa Lucia. The sailors unloaded food from the boat, and the village celebrated, knowing that they would survive the winter.

This week, we will make our Lussekatter, the saffron buns that Lucy carries. The cookies look like eyes (the Italian saint tore out her own eyes–gotta love the lives of saints!), but we like the idea that they are a reflection of Freya’s cats that pull her chariot across the sky. Here’s our recipe for Lucy’s Cats, gleaned from a long-forgotten internet source years and years ago:

1 packet yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
saffron threads (or powdered saffron, about 1/4 tsp.)
4 cups (about 400 grams) all purpose flour
beaten egg (for brushing)
raisins or dried cranberries or currants

Dissolve yeast in warm water (I like to add a bit of honey, too, to make the yeast grow more quickly). Melt the butter, stir in milk, and then add this mixture to the yeast. Beat in the sugar, salt, egg, and saffron, blending until smooth. Add in the flour a cup at a time, and work until smooth. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Turn the dough out and knead. Pinch off small pieces of dough and twist into an “S” shape and place on baking sheet (I like to use a stone). Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 20 minutes in a warm kitchen. reheat oven to 425 degrees. Add raisins in the curves of the “S” and brush with beaten egg. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 2 dozen of Lucy’s Cats.

On Saturday morning, Mara will awaken before us all, come down and make the coffee, load a tray with cats, and bring it to Dave and I in bed. She has a garland, but we don’t light the candles on her head–just a bit tricky getting up the stairs! But we will light the garland as it sits on the table, and we’ll all sing Santa Lucia:

Nightly, go heavy hearts
Round farm and steading
On earth, where sun departs,
shadows are spreading.
Then on our darkest night,
Comes with her shining light
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!
Then on our darkest night,
Comes with her shining light
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

Night-darkling, huge and still.
Hark, something’s stirring!
In all our silent rooms,
Wingbeats are whisp’ring!
Stands on our threshold there,
White clad, lights in her hair,
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!
Stands on our threshold there,
White clad, lights in her hair,
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!

“Darkness shall fly away
Through earthly portals!”
She brings such wonderful
words to us mortals!
“Daylight, again renewed,
will rise, all rosy-hued!”
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!
“Daylight, again renewed,
will rise, all rosy-hued!”
Sankta Lucia! Sankta Lucia!

Image credits:
Needlefelted Saint Lucia by Haddy2Dogs
Santa Lucia stuffed doll by FaerieRebecca

8 thoughts on “Celebrating Santa Lucia Day

  1. beautiful post Rebecca, and i will be celebrating the light of my daughter in our life for it is her birthday on Saturday too 🙂

  2. Such a lovely post Rebecca! Thanks for sharing…my daughter is just about the right age for this celebration and will love it!

  3. Lovely post!

  4. Thank you for sharing this wonderful tradition!

  5. Lovely article Rebecca!

  6. Great post! I never really knew that story! So glad you wrote about it here.
    Thanks for the recipe too!
    Why did she tear out her eyes? I must have missed that part…

  7. Beautiful post 🙂 At our local Waldorf school the 8th grade leads the Santa Lucia celebration each year. One student wears the wreath of candles and the others accompany her holding candles and singing and sharing that special bread with the younger children in their classrooms. Today my stepdaughter was part of it – it was so beautiful and heart warming. I think they even sung the song you posted. So hope-inspiring.

  8. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post!

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