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Night walks with a heavy step
Round yard and hearth,
As the sun departs from earth,
Shadows are brooding.
There in our dark house,
Walking with lit candles,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent,
Now hear its gentle wings,
In every room so hushed,
Whispering like wings.
Look, at our threshold stands,
White-clad with light in her hair,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon,
From earth’s valleys.
So she speaks a
Wonderful Word to us:
A new day will rise again
From the rosy sky…
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Back before we kept the Gregorian Calender, it was held that December 13th was longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice. Adoption of the new calender in 1582 changed dates around, and now the winter solstice is a little later. (December 21 to 23) Traditions surrounding Christmas time are deeply rooted in pre-Christian solstice celebrations and persist even today, especially in Scandinavia. St. Lucia day is one of those traditions rooted in early pagan ritual, but later overtaken by Christianity.

Living in Scandinavia, one can understand why celebrating the winter solstice was important. In a region that has what is known in Norwegian as “mørketid” or, “dark time”- the winter solstice is the pinnacle of the long nights and short days. In Trondheim, which thankfully does not experience polar night (for us, the 21st and 22nd of December will be sunrise at 10:04 and sunset at 14:29, for a total of 4 hours and 24 minutes of day.) it isn’t quite so bad as living in Finnmark, for example, where at midwinter there is only twilight, visible for but a short period around noon.

Winter solstice means it’s over. The darkness has reached its peak- the light is returning- slowly, yes- it’s still winter yet, but the light is coming back.

Saint Lucy's Day (Lucia) procession. Sweden, 2007. Photo by Fredrik Magnusson, courtesy of Wikipedia commons.

Saint Lucia day is a pleasant combination of Christian and secular celebrations of the returning light. It’s a bit more popular in Sweden than in Norway, but Yngve and I decided to celebrate it anyway.

We decided to make the traditional Lucia buns, called “lussekatter” (lucifers cat?!) in Norwegian- they are a somewhat sweet bread, colored with saffron. The buns are a (rather abstract) representation of a cat, which apparently the devil is afraid of. They are colored yellow with saffron, representative of light to drive away the darkness. (So I guess thats a double whammy for the devil- he’s driven away by the cats AND the light.)

They are also pretty tasty.

Yngve and I made them together last night and enjoyed them this morning with hot chocolate. The recipe is adapted from “saffron bread” in Stor Kokebok, which suggested shaping the bread into various forms such as crescents- so I felt it would lend itself well to lussekatter.

The stores were sold out of saffron (there’s a lot of that going around lately!) but Yngve managed to get me one .5 gram package. I wanted the buns to have a bright yellow color though, so I added a heaping teaspoon of turmeric to assist in that endeavor. (the turmeric really doesn’t alter the flavor much, promise.)

ground saffron

Isn’t that a pretty color? Yngve helped me roll out and shape the dough. We made them in the traditional shape, and even made a couple “double” ones. (I still don’t see how they look much like cats.) We added the traditional raisin in the middle of each curled section.

We then covered them in plastic and let them rise 15 minutes…

Before brushing them with an egg wash…

And baking them a lovely golden color.

Then Yngve made us some delicious hot chocolate this morning (which we had in our festive Christmas cups!)

and we ate lussekatter

to warm and cheer us from the gloomy winter and to celebrate that soon the darkness will be retreating and the sun will shine again.

**I have added the recipe for lussekatter here if you would like to make them, too.