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Celebrate Saint Lucia

Celebrate Saint Lucia

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Growing up in Finland, December was a "big deal" not only because of Christmas, but because Saint Lucia day was Dec. 13. Starting in kindergarten and continuing all throughout high school, on this day one lucky girl was selected to be "Saint Lucia." For many girls, this was a big deal, though I personally — shy as I was — really feared being picked and much preferred being one of Lucia’s handmaids.

So what’s the deal with Lucia, and who — or what — was she?

It is not certain how the Saint Lucia tradition found its way to Sweden, and then also to Finland. The legend of Saint Lucia is known in most European countries, and has its roots in Sicily, Italy. It is thought that during a time when the rulers of the land did not approve of Christianity, a woman named Lucia decided to try and spread the word of God and help the poor. She gave all her dowry to the poor, something that the man she was to marry did not like, at all. Lucia was put on trial, and when she refused to renounce her Christian beliefs, she was declared a witch and sentenced to be burned. But when the guards tried to light the fire, it would not light. Unfortunately, this did not save Lucia, who ultimately was stabbed to death.

No one knows exactly how this legend has transformed into the unique Swedish tradition celebrated today, but there are certainly some elements that can be recognized. Saint Lucia, a girl dressed in a long white dress with a thick, red, ribbon, and a crown of candles in her hair (in schools and kindergarten the candles are electric, but at bigger Lucia events the candles are actually real), brings light and good spirit to everybody, lightening up the cold December weather. Saint Lucia is clearly not alone, but instead brings her whole entourage of handmaids, all also dressed in white gowns and holding candles in their hands. Boys get to join the parade dressed up as "star men," holding stars on sticks, and have tall paper cones on their heads. Or, in some schools and kindergartens, they're dressed up as elves or even gingerbread men (these are modern additions to the traditional Saint Lucia parade).

Both in Sweden and Finland Saint Lucia is a nationally celebrated tradition, and many cities and towns also have their own Saint Lucia parades. The people of the city or town can then vote for their favorite girl out of several candidates, and the winner is crowned with the candlelit crown on December 13th together with her entourage. In Sweden, traditional lussekatter, saffron-flavored buns, are commonly served as part of the Lucia celebration. In Finland, gingerbread or other sweet pastries are often handed out.

In Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus College celebrated its 73rd annual Festival of St. Lucia this year, and in Finland a Lucia has been crowned in the Helsinki Cathedral on Dec. 13 since the 1940s. This year, 18-year-old high school student Elin Andersson was crowned Lucia, and following her coronation, she will appear at around 80 different events over the next month in her role as "a bringer of light."

Traditionally, Lucia is blond, which again shows how this Sicilian legend has become more Nordic. The year I was finally picked to be Lucia — because I was taller than all other girls (and boys) in my grade and it would look good for me to lead the parade — my hair was pitch black. I was also terrified, as I had to stand in front of my whole school and say a verse, something about bringing light. It was my first and last time being a "Saint."

If you want to celebrate the Festival of St. Lucia at home, put on a white gown, light some candles, maybe sing a song, and enjoy some lussekatter by checking out our recipe here.

  • 6 1/2 to 7 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. cardamom
  • 2 pkgs. active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tsp. milk
  • 6 wax candles
  • 3 yards ribbon

On floured surface, knead in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place dough in greased bowl cover and let rise until light and doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch dough down several times to remove all air bubbles. Divide dough in half, shape into balls. Allow to rest on counter covered with inverted bowl for 15 minutes. Shape each half into a 45 inch rope. Twist ropes together. Place in ring shape on prepared cookie sheet pinch ends to seal. Cover let rise in warm place until light and doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine 1 tablespoon milk and 1 egg brush over wreath. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 35 minutes or until deep golden brown. (To prevent excessive browning, cover with foil during last 10 minutes of baking.) Remove wreath from cookie sheet immediately, cool on wire rack.

To assemble, cut and hollow out six (1 inch) deep holes in wreath to fit bottoms of wax candles, making sure holes are spaced evenly around the wreath. Place wreath on serving tray. In small bowl, combine glaze ingredients. Spread bottoms of candles with small amounts of glaze, insert into holes in wreath. Drizzle wreath with remaining glaze. Tie ribbon in bow place on wreath. Yield 24 servings.

All purpose or unbleached flour can be substituted for bread flour. Decrease kneading time to 5 minutes, omit resting period and decrease each rise time 15 to 30 minutes.

Swedish Saffron Buns – 'Lussekatter'

makes about 20 lussekatter
adapted from Monikas Jul by Monika Ahlgren, p. 155

I made lussekatter, buns formed into a S-shape, but as I already mentioned there are many different shapes for these traditional buns. This is the first time I made buns using this two-dough-method. I read about it in Monika Ahlgren's cookbook and was eager to try it. Don't be afraid to make two doughs! It's neither more work nor does it take more time to make. Thanks to this method the buns rose especially well!

Dough 1
50 g (

3.5 tbsp) unsalted butter
5 dl (

2 cups 17 fl oz ) whole milk
50 g (1.7 oz) fresh yeast
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp fine sea salt
12–13 dl (

760–825 g 5–5 ½ cups 27–29 oz) bread flour (for us Scandinavians vetemjöl special)

Dough 2
1 g saffron
1 tsp granulated sugar
125 g (4 ½ oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 dl (170 g 0.8 cups 6 oz) granulated sugar
1 egg (M)

5 dl (320 g 2 cups 11 oz) bread flour (for us Scandinavians vetemjöl special)

1 egg, lightly beaten, to brush
small handful of raisins, for decorating

Dough 1
In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and flour. Set aside. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the milk. Wait until the milk mixture is lukewarm and add the crumbled yeast. With a spoon, stir until the yeast is completely dissolved.

Transfer the milk mixture into a large mixing bowl (you can make the dough by hand, like me, or in a stand mixer). Gradually add the dry ingredients and knead the dough until it comes clean off the sides of the bowl. Don't overwork the dough! Shape into a ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Dough 2
In a mortar, grind the saffron threads to a fine powder with one teaspoon of sugar. This will make the grinding easier. However, if you use grinded saffron, which I don't recommend, you can skip this step. In a bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and grinded saffron.

Combine the two doughs. Gradually add the flour while kneading. First it will look like a big mess but will come together eventually. Knead until well combined and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Shaping the buns
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll the dough into 40 x 1,5 cm ropes. To shape the lussekatter: roll both ends of each rope tight in opposite directions into a S-shape. Place the buns on the baking sheets. Remember to leave enough space between the buns to allow for them to expand. Cover the shaped buns with a clean kitchen towel and let rise for 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 225°C (435°F).

Brush the buns with a lightly beaten egg and place one raisin in each circle. Bake the buns for 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown in color. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

The buns are best enjoyed the same day!

I think this short video from the official sites of Sweden is quite informative and fun to watch.

The Lucia essentials – and what to expect on 13 December

If visiting Sweden in time to catch a Lucia celebration, you’ll be able to experience these at various places, such as churches, town halls and even restaurants (as well as on TV and radio). According to tradition, Lucia appears before dawn, but for practical reasons many events are held at dusk. Don’t be surprised if the Swede next to you joins in with the choir – most Swedes know the main Lucia song, “Sankta Lucia”, off by heart.

Leading the procession, Lucia is trailed by handmaidens (‘tärnor’), star boys (‘stjärngossar’) and gingerbread men (‘pepparkaksgubbar’). If children are participating in the procession, they may choose to be dressed as Christmas elves ('tomtenissar'). As for each individual group’s attire, Lucia’s defining feature is the lit-up wreath on the top of her head. Traditionally, real candles were used, but for safety reasons they’ve been replaced by battery-powered ones – and the same goes for those carried by the handmaidens, who typically wear glitter or a wreath (without candles) in their hair and glitter or a decorative red ribbon around the waist. Star boys wear all-white – just like Lucia and the handmaidens – with cone-like hats and star-adorned sticks. The lantern-carrying gingerbread men sport full gingerbread costumes, replete with white icing – you’ll find these in many Swedish retailers.

As well as being the bearer of light, Lucia’s offering of treats is just as key. She has been immortalised carrying a tray of fika by several iconic Swedish artists, such as Carl Larsson. The eats are gingerbread biscuits and an S-shaped saffron bun called a “Lussekatt” – a treat almost as classic as the cinnamon bun. Many Swedes would find it sacrilege to eat a Lussekatt at any other time than Lucia and the weeks leading up to Christmas. To drink, you’ll sip little cups of “glögg” (mulled wine), served with almonds and raisins. Coffee was served traditionally and it’s still an option.

St. Lucia Buns

St. Lucia's Day, recognized throughout Scandinavia, is celebrated on December 13. According to legend, Lucia died a martyr's death and was later made a saint. Especially in Sweden, where it's a national celebration, towns celebrate with traditional ceremonies: St. Lucia symbolizes the promise of the sun's return to bring Sweden from its wintry darkness.

The key figure in any celebration, St. Lucia, dresses in a white gown and wears a crown of candles on her head — sometimes the candles are real, sometimes battery-operated (for safety's sake). For celebrations at home, a young girl in the family will dress as St. Lucia and present her parents with breakfast in bed. That breakfast tray usually includes a pot of tea, milk, and bright-gold St. Lucia Buns.


  • 1 cup (227g) milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, lightly crushed
  • 8 tablespoons (113g) butter, room temperature
  • 4 1/2 cups (539g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup (43g) potato flour or 1/2 cup (43g) dried potato flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (9g) salt*
  • 1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Reduce the salt to 1 1/4 teaspoons if you use salted butter

  • 1 large egg white (reserved from dough) mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water , optional
  • golden raisins, optional


In a small saucepan set over medium heat (or in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave), heat the milk and saffron to a simmer remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Set the mixture aside to allow the butter to melt, and for it to cool to lukewarm, 30 to 35 minutes. You can reduce the milk's cooling time by about 10 minutes by refrigerating it.

Weigh your flour or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the yeast, flours, salt and sugar.

Separate one of the eggs, and set the white aside you'll use it later.

Pour the lukewarm milk and butter mixture over the dry ingredients.

Perfect your technique

St. Lucia Buns

Add the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg yolk, and the vanilla. Mix to combine, then knead for about 7 minutes by mixer, about 10 minutes by hand, till the dough is smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measuring cup, cover it, and let it rise for 1 hour, or until it's quite puffy, though not necessarily doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into 12 equal pieces. A scale makes this job easy each piece will weigh about 92g, or 3 1/4 ounces.

Shape the pieces of dough into rough logs, and let them rest, covered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten a chance to relax.

Roll each log into a 15" to 18" rope. They'll shrink once you stop rolling that's OK.

Shape each rope into an "S" shape. Tuck a golden raisin into the center of each of the two side-by-side coils.

Place the buns on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving an inch or so between them. Cover them, and let them rise for about 30 minutes, till they're noticeably puffy, but definitely not doubled. While they're rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Brush each bun with some of the egg white/water glaze. Sprinkle with coarse white Swedish pearl sugar.

Bake the buns until they're golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. If you've used raisins, tent them with foil for the final 3 minutes, to prevent the raisins from burning.

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Celebrate Saint Lucia - Recipes

Here is a brief explanation of the beloved Swedish custom on St. Lucy's (or Lucia) Day, as well as the history behind this tradition.


On December 13 people in Sweden celebrate St. Lucy's Day. They remember how Lucia, a young girl, brought food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs in Rome during the time of Emperor Diocletian. In order that she could carry the food and see where she was going in the dark, Lucia wore candles on her head. On St. Lucy's Day each year by tradition one of the daughters of the family is chosen to be St. Lucy. She gets up early and takes coffee and 'Lucia' buns (Saffronsbrod) to the rest of the family who are still in bed. She dresses in a white robe with a scarlet sash and wears on her head a crown of green leaves with five candles in it. Sometimes she is escorted by boys dressed in long white shirts and pointed hats, called star boys.

Activity Source: Feasting for Festivals by Jan Wilson, Lion Publishing Corporation, Batavia, Illinois, 1990

One of my favorite Advent memories growing up happens to be the feast of St. Lucy on December 13. Quietly, early in the morning while it was still dark outside, one of us girls would carry a candle and a plate of treats upstairs to everyone who was sleeping. We’d invite the family downstairs to eat with us. The thrill of groggily eating something sweet around a candle was (and still is!) cozy and delightful.

If you don’t know much about St. Lucy, check out her life and history. Then once you’ve read up on her, here are some great ways to celebrate her feast day with your kids this Advent.

1 Pastries in the morning

The Scandinavian tradition on her day involves the oldest daughter wearing a white dress and a wreath of candles on her head. The wreath of candles may be a little too much of a fire hazard for most families, so finding a good substitute is important. Carrying a candle works well, or if you can figure out a good way to balance some battery operated candles on a willing daughter’s head, that might work too! If you can easily take out the candles, you could place your Advent wreath on the head of your representative St. Lucy. As far as the pastries go, there are many St. Lucy saffron bun recipes you can find, but most are a little time consuming. Some cinnamon rolls, muffins, or a box of donuts are options that can fit the bill.

Shutterstock | Locrifa

2 Dinner by candlelight

St. Lucy’s name means light. If the evening works better for you to celebrate, or if you just want to celebrate all day, consider serving dinner in the dark (or semi-dark) by candlelight. Or if you have a fireplace, this would be a great night to sit by the fire. Most of us, children and adults alike, are mesmerized by flames, big or small.

3 The eyes have it

In some stories about St. Lucy, she had her eyes gouged out to get her to deny her faith in Jesus. This would be a great day to do some activities celebrating and being grateful for our vision. Pull out the I Spy books or just play “I Spy” with your kids. Read together about the eye and the different parts that make up our vision. Serve food that looks like eyes. For example, some food options include a hardboiled egg cut in half, a raisin on a piece of cheese cut in a circle or a round cracker, a chocolate chip on a slice of banana.

4 Books to read

You might be able to find and order for pick up these books at your local library about St. Lucy. One is called Lucia, Saint of Light and another is a little longer book called Kirsten’s Surprise, a book about the American Girl doll Kirsten. You can listen to the book Lucia, Saint of Light for free here.

canovass | Shutterstock

5 Pray for light

Together as a family, ask for St. Lucy’s intercession for any darkness in your life. With the isolation and sickness that are so present right now, and with any stress associated with the upcoming holidays, now is a good time to pray for light and peace in your life. St. Lucy also stayed strong and died rather than betray her faith. Pray for her strength of faith to stay strong through the darkness. Additionally, if you know of anyone struggling with an eye disease, this would be a good saint to ask for help.

Read more:
7 Advent traditions that are easy to do at home

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St. Lucia Cultural Festivals & Events

One of the top reasons to visit St. Lucia is to take in the vibrant culture of the island. No matter what time of the year you travel, there is bound to be a festival or an event going on. Saint Lucian people celebrate their culture with pride, music and cheer, like in June when Castries transforms into a site of glamorous parades, soca concerts, extravagant costumes and Mardi Gras-style street parties.

There are also a few music festivals throughout the year. Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival takes place annually after Easter, around the end of April or beginning of May. At the end of August, mark your calendar for the Roots & Soul Festival, and October brings the Arts & Heritage Festival of Saint Lucia.

Smaller events include the Rose Festival, Feast of La Marguerite and International Creole Day. Of course, if none of these match up with your vacation dates, there are Friday night street parties all year long in Gros Islet and Anse La Raye.

Celebrate Saint Lucia - Recipes

The feast of St. Lucy, a fourth-century martyr, is celebrated on December 13th, also known as Saint Lucia Day. I have really enjoyed learning about the many customs associated with her feast day.

Some of the lovliest St. Lucy Day traditions are Swedish! In Sweden, this special feast is called Luciadagen . Before dawn, the oldest daughter in the family will dress as St. Lucy, wearing a white gown to represent purity , a red sash to represent martyrdom, and a crown of greenery and lit candles. Her little brothers will join her dressed as "starboys" wearing white gowns, cone-shaped hats decorated with gold stars, and carrying star-tipped wants. She will then wake her family and serve them special St. Lucy Day treats such as Lussekatter (St. Lucy's Cats) and Saffron Buns shaped into various shapes.

I have been looking forward to trying out the following recipe for a Braided St. Lucia Crown/Bread ever since I saw it posted by Karen Edmisten last December. At the time I just didn't have time a chance to bake it, so after a quick trip to our local bakery my oldest daughter served Donuts instead. This year I am determined to give it a shot! The recipe sounds fairly easy and it has received rave reviews from Karen, Eileen and Charlotte. Doesn't it look heavenly!?

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/4-ounce packages active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/2 o 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • Candles (optional)

Warm the milk in a small saucepan, then pour 1/2 cup of it into a large bowl.

Add the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar and let it set for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in the remaining milk.

Add the butter and milk mixture to the yeast mixture. Whisk in the eggs, juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, orange rind, and salt.

Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes, adding more flour until the dough is smooth and elastic and does not stick to your hands.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning it once to coat it. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a 30-inch rope and braid the ropes together.

Transfer the braid to a greased baking sheet, pinch together the ends to form a circle, and let it rise until it has again doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375°. Bake the bread for 25 minutes or until golden brown, then let it cool on a wire rack for about 30 minutes.

For the glaze, stir together the confectioner's sugar and orange juice in a medium bowl until smooth.

Drizzle the glaze mix over the bread, then garnish with the cranberries. Finally, add candles, if you'd like. Serves 12.


OH, this looks good!! My 6 year old is planning on dressing up Sat in her white gown and red sash, so, I might have to get up early and bake this!! I was going to do what you did last year. donuts! I still might.

Oh, I'm so excited to make this wonderful looking breakfast! I can't wait! I wonder if I could make the braid the night before and then add the glaze in the morning?

This looks scrumptious! I was referred to you lovely blog by Natalie. So glad I dropped by. I posted on St. Lucy this week, BTW.

I am planning on making it the night before. It needs to rise for for over 2 hours plus the prep and baking time, there is no way I could get up early enough in the morning! )

I am pretty sure that Karen and Eileen have made it the night before as well.

Last year, I made the dough the night before, and let it rise in the refrigerator. The result was a marvelously easy to handle dough, that my daughter was able to braid herself!

We did indeed get up very, very early so that the St. Lucia procession to "invite everyone to breakfast" could take place by candlelight.

We used the final rise and baking time to get my daughter's hair all prettied-up and to make any final adjustments to her wreath and dress. We also set a pretty table with the good china, and made up a batch of hot cocoa while we were at it. I think the final cooling and glazing of the bread happened while our oldest came home to make sausage omelettes to order!

It has become a very big deal, and we think it's every bit worth it! (Even if you still have to get started about 1-1/2 hours early!) I really do expect that we will do it this way again this year.

I'm bumping the date on this post to place it just above all of the Our Lady of Guadalupe posts (in stead of in the middle), for convenience.

I hope you all had a great feast of Our Lady today and a lovely feast of St. Lucy tomorrow! God Bless!

Oooh, that looks so tempting. I love ripping braided breads. Somehow, it tastes better than slicing.

Allergy Friendly Holiday Bread

Yesterday we celebrated Saint Lucia’s Day, a holiday in Sweden that remembers Lucia who fed the poor and also marks the beginning of longer days to come. My husband’s mother was Swedish, so he has many sweet childhood memories of Christmas: the food, singing Swedish songs, Saint Lucia’s Day, the decorations and many other Swedish traditions. We make an effort every year to recreate that fun for our kids as a way to remember their dear Farmor (Grandmother) and where they come from. As part of the Saint Lucia celebration, girls dress up with a crown of candles (or fake candles in our case) and boys dress as star boys, they sing traditional songs and serve sweet treats to their parents.

It was lovely time for our family this morning, remembering Farmor, talking about Sweden, playing music on the Piano and sitting down to a special breakfast. Food is such a part of special holiday traditions, but with my daughter’s food allergies, those traditional recipes we grew up on have to be reworked. These new recipes can blend in with old traditions beautifully so these memories can continue. It’s important to us that at least in our house, my daughter doesn’t have to be excluded in any way and these recipes will be hers to keep and make her whole life.

This bread turned out lovely and could be made for any holiday occasion or celebration. I shaped the bread in a braided wreath, reminiscent of Saint Lucia’s head wreath, but you could make sweet rolls or a fat braided loaf also with this same dough recipe. This one isn’t gluten free.

Watch the video: Lucia 2013 Olaus Petri church Örebro (November 2022).