Santa Lucia Festival

Baking, Christmas, Featured Article, Holidays, Recipes
on December 15, 2011
Mark Boughton

Saffron buns, or lussekatter as they are called in Sweden, are the lightly sweetened S-shape rolls that bakers make to celebrate the festival of Santa Lucia on December 13th.

Although the history is unclear, Lucia’s Day or the festival of light, originated around 304 A.D. with Lucia, an Italian girl who cared for the poor and was persecuted and killed by the Romans. Centuries later, the festival was celebrated in Scandivania, where girls brought food to the hungry.

Traditionally families celebrated Lucia’s Day early in the morning when the children, dressed in white, holding candles, singing carols, and led by the oldest daughter, woke their parents. The daughter, in a long white gown tied with a red sash and wearing a crown of lingonberry leaves decorated with lighted candles, carried a tray of saffron buns.

In Sweden today, the festival of Santa Lucia is a national holiday. Schools close early, and children, dressed in white and holding candles with batteries, bring saffron bread to hospitals and nursing homes.

To celebrate the holiday, we made a batch of saffron rolls, and as they do in Sweden, studded them with raisins to represent Lucia’s eyes. Deliciously light and tender, the rolls were gone soon after they came out of the oven. Even without white gown and red sash, saffron buns are a lovely way to start the day.

—Jean Kressy