Yesterday, as I ran a few errands by myself, I decided to try to find some new radio stations to listen to while I was in the car. I’ve recently been “broadening my horizons” by reading books, blogs, and news articles from different perspectives. No more tunnel vision, I’ve told myself. Monday I listened to NPR (and found it fascinating) and also followed them on Facebook which has been great. Yesterday I came across our local Catholic radio station and, though I enjoyed listening in, it confirmed something for me: I’m not Catholic!
So why would I be so excited about celebrating a saint’s day, you may wonder? Well, for starters, my great-great grandmother came over on a boat from Sweden (I wrote about that at Kindred Grace a while back.) She brought with her a recipe for powdered doughnuts for which I will always be indebted to her. She also brought the tradition of celebrating Saint Lucia’s Day on December 13th. The tradition has been passed down by each generation as a way to kick off The Twelve Days of Christmas and it has become, as I recently told a friend, a very important holiday in my family. Just as most Americans, Catholic or otherwise, recognize Saint Patrick’s Day and Saint Valentine’s Day, my family recognizes a day honoring an Italian saint very special to our homeland of Sweden.
A Brief History Lesson
The history of Saint Lucia is a bit muddled, as many stories from some 300 years AD tend to be, but it is generally believed that Lucia was an Italian Christian who was martyred when she refused to marry a nonbeliever. She is now the patron saint of Syracuse. There are many other stories about her (some quite gory!) but the most famous is probably the story of her service to the persecuted Christians who had fled to the catacombs under Rome. Supposedly, this kindhearted girl wore a crown of candles to light her way as she carried food down to the hungry believers.
So why is she so popular in Sweden? Well many years after her martyrdom in 304AD, Lucia is said to have arrived on a ship to Sweden during a famine and saved the Swedish people from starvation. Whatever it was that Lucia actually did and no matter where, she is now a symbol of faith and hope in Italy, Sweden and even Texas, now that my family has settled there! Our neighbors are even becoming acquainted with St. Lucia’s Day!
What We Do
Traditionally, the eldest daughter rises early and bakes “lussekatter;” a type of sweet, saffron bun. She then dons a white robe, red sash (the symbol of martyrdom) and a crown of Lingonberry branches and white candles and serves her family in bed. Our family’s tradition is to all get up at a decent hour and make our great-grandmother’s Swedish doughnut recipe. She used to make these doughnuts whenever they had guests (lucky travelers!) and we’ve adopted the recipe as our “lussekatter” because it’s Swedish, it’s from our family and, most importantly, it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever taste.
After frying a double batch of doughnuts and rolling them in powdered sugar, my older sisters does indeed don a crown! We have a plastic wreath of evergreen with battery-powered candles. Hey, we don’t need to celebrate with flaming hair to remember our ancestry!
As we eat our doughnuts and drink our coffee and milk, we usually each take a turn wearing the crown because-hell0-you only get this chance once a year. Then we all gather in the living room where our Christmas tree is standing tall and luminous. By December 13th, our tree is already surrounded by 70+ gifts! These are the gifts the siblings all exchange with each other. We do not exchange gifts on Christmas Day because, there being nine of us, that became too chaotic and factory-like. We each choose something for the other eight (usually something small like a book, a scarf, a movie or a coffee cup) and wrap them anytime between Thanksgiving Day and Saint Lucia’s Day. Then, one at a time, we go and choose our gifts for our siblings from the tree and watch as they all open at once. It’s great fun to make so many people happy at the same time.
After this, we sit around the fireplace and look at our loot…probably drink more coffee and eat more doughnuts. Later we usually deliver a plate to our neighbors. We also have an Advent devotional that evening, with our wreath of candles lit on the coffee table. I think it’s wonderful that the message for December 13th is usually about light!
We’ll also probably read Lucia: Saint of Light by Katherine Bolger Hyde, which is just a simple picture book about the real “Lucy” for whom the day is named. The focus of the day is on Jesus being our light, which is what Saint Lucy represents for us. She walked into the dark catacombs where we thought God had forgotten us and brought us light and nourishment. Rather than hiding her light, she died for her faith.
So if you want to join us in celebrating this year, make sure your family knows that December 13th is Saint Lucia’s Day! Grab yourself a copy of Lucia: Saint of Light on Amazon or print out some facts about her from the internet. Find a traditional Lussekatter recipe or your favorite sweet breakfast (beignets, scones…whatever floats your boat.) Find candles…lots of candles! Maybe even make a wire crown and add some holly? Then think on Jesus Our Light as you enjoy your breakfast. Maybe hide some trinkets in the tree to commemorate the occasion. Carry a plate of goodies to someone you know or want to know. (My mother used to drive to her grandmother’s house to deliver doughnuts when they still lived in the same town.) And then, enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas!