We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Monday, December 8, 2008

Celebrating Saint Lucia Day

In the days of early Christian persecution, St. Lucia is said to have carried food to Christians hiding in dark underground tunnels. To light the way she wore a wreath of candles on her head. Spurning marriage and worldly goods, she vowed to remain a virgin in the tradition of St. Agatha. An angry suitor reported her to the local Roman authorities, she was sentenced to death, and subsequently she became a martyr.

St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th. In Scandinavia, a young girl in each family is awakened early in the morning, dressed in a white robe with a red ribbon around the waist and crowned with a circle of candles. Her duty is to bring breakfast to her family. Special sweet buns flavored with saffron are served.

Because her name means “light”, she is a special saint to the Swedes who have a very long, dark winter. She is often called the “Queen of Light”.

We choose to honor her since she represents two of the heritages in our family: Italian and Swedish. (Since she is an Italian saint who is especially celebrated by the Swedes.) And she also represents how living a sacrificial life allows Christ’s light to shine through us.

Last year was the first FULL celebration of St. Lucy's Day with my daughter acting as St. Lucy by delivering goodies in the wee hours of the morning to her brothers and father.

Have you considered celebrating St. Lucy's day on December 13th? Last year I posted my favorite recipe for St. Lucy's Buns...here is a repost of that:

St. Lucy's Buns: saffron-scented buns in the shape of an "S".

Swedish Saffron bread (or Saint Lucy's Bread) is one of my favorite Christmas treats. I love the smell of the saffron and the gorgeous golden color! In fact, I've got this year's first batch in the breadmaker right now! So, I thought while I wait, I'd post the recipe I use. The dough is made in the breadmaker and then shaped and risen a second time on cookie sheets.

The following recipe comes from The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook :

Add the ingredients in the order specified in your bread machine's manual. (Mine is wet first, then dry, then yeast)

3/4 c. plus 2 T milk
1 lg. egg

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1/3 c. granulated white sugar
1/4 tsp powdered saffron (if you can only find saffron in "threads", just pulverize these as best you can then measure out 1/4 tsp. A trick I just learned is to use a bit of sugar as you pulverize with your mortar and pestle.)
3 T unsalted butter

2 1/4 fast-rise yeast

Place all in a 2-cup capacity breadmaker and set on "dough". At the end of the rise, punch down the dough and let rest 5 minutes before hand-shaping.

To handshape:
Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Divide dough into equal peices: 2 for 2 large breads, 4 for small breads, 6 to 8 for smaller buns. Lightly sprinkle with flour. Dampen hands and roll each piece into a rope. (18 inches for the 2 large pieces, 9 inches for the 4 pieces, etc.)

Lay a rope on a lightly-greased baking sheet. Curl each end, toward the center, into a coil. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush bread with egg wash (1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water). Bake for approx. 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

This bread freezes well and is excellent served toasted with orange marmalade. (We serve small buns on St. Lucy's Day and freeze a larger bread for Christmas morning.)

Instead of using a wreath with real candles (or investing in an electric one), you may wish to substitute a lovely paper St. Lucy crown. No time to make the saffron buns? Subsitute muffins or another favorite breakfast bread.

Want to do more to celebrate St. Lucy's day? Consider an Italian feast for dinner (she was a Roman martyr). Traditional straw ornaments (St. Lucy is often associated with wheat and Scandinavians love to decorate with straw at Christmas) make a lovely addition to your tree - or on their own small tree. Here are some other ideas from various countries. A nice book to share more about these traditions is Kirsten's Surprise in the American Girls series.

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MomCO3 said...

Thanks for the link to the candle crown! I think we may do this on Friday. St Nicholas's Day was a highlight of Advent, so I hope this will be a good addition. Thanks for the history lesson.

Ann Kroeker said...

How lovely! I have no Scandinavian blood in my veins, but I would love to see my daughter walking the halls in a white robe and candle-wreath-crown...

And while I can bake a decent batch of chocolate chip cookies and some darn good crepes, I fear my saffron buns would look a little wimpy. But we like bread. As long as it tastes okay, right?

Sometimes I wish for better domestic skills....I've practiced for 18 years, and still they're lacking...

Kerry said...

Oh, Ann, you know what I'm going to say... if I can do it, you can do it! :) Well, if you want to anyway.

The breadmaker makes it awfully easy - the hardest part is the hand-shaping and that isn't too hard, really. And oh, my, is it worth it.

Kerry said...

Annie - are you going to make the crown? Let me know how it turns out. I'm planning to make it, but our St. Lucia Day is going to be a few days late as I have to be out of town.

Kathleen Basi said...

I know this post is three years old, but I just wanted to say thanks for this...it looks just easy enough for a woman post-partum and shortly to be released from NICU. :)

Kathleen Basi said...

I know this post is three years old, but I just wanted to say thanks for this...it looks just easy enough for a woman post-partum and shortly to be released from NICU. :)

Kerry said...

Kathleen - I'm glad you enjoyed the post and have gleaned something from it. Postpartum and NICU, huh? Tough way to begin the holiday season...but the baby makes it worth it! :)