In medieval times when the Julian calendar was still used in Sweden and Finland, the night of the 13 December was the longest of the year, the winter solstice. This is when the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic peoples celebrated a midwinter holiday called Yule, which is the word we even now use in my part of the world. They made sacrifices, “julblot”, for the light to return and ban the darkness. It’s still the essence of the celebration on December the 13th, which has, through several transformations and mixes of cultures, emanated in the custom of St. Lucia. You might say it’s a blend of Old Norse, medieval Italian, and eighteen century German traditions. This celebration, a huge tradition in Nordic countries, marks the beginning of the Christmas season. But only in Sweden, celebrating Lucia is held in such importance being honored throughout society from individual families to National Broadcasting Television.
In the morning of the 13 December a fair maiden, St. Lucia, dressed in white, with a crown of light in her hair, should visit every home bringing back the light into the world. Her name reminds of the Latin word lux, light, but stems from the legend of the Italian martyr and Saint Lucia of Syracuse. Today she is performed by a young girl with a crown of candles in her hair and every school, church and workplace has their own Lucia procession where traditional songs are sung and the golden, fragrant saffron bread is shared.
That’s why the yearly Lucia bread baking is one of the most important parts of cosy winter preparations before Christmas. I love the smell of saffron and cardamom blending with the aromatic fumes from the hot spicy wine, glögg, that is often served with it. This bread is so nice to make because of all the different shapes you can use to make it diverse and beautiful. A traditional name for these buns are Lucia cats but each shape has its own specific name like kuse (horse), lilja (lily), lindebarn (infant), gullvagn (golden wagon) plus many more…
I already prepared my first batch for the 1st of Advent but I think another one will be needed before Christmas! I love to make them as two big breads as well and there are several traditional shapes for this too, like the Luciakrona (Lucia crown), Julvagnen (the Christmas Wagon) or Prästens hår (the Priest’s hair). These big saffron breads always look impressive as the centrepiece of the table! If you like saffron the slightest you will LOVE Lucia buns!
©maria larsson 2015