Santa Lucia

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The Swedish Tradition of
St. Lucia
December 13


St. Lucia is an Italian saint who has been "adopted" by the Swedes. (She gave her dowry to the poor. Her fiancee denounced her for this. She was blinded and burned. The flames didn't touch her so she was stabbed in the heart. The red sash represents the wound. It is said that she appeared during a famine in Sweden in the middle ages carrying food to the farmers across Lake Vännern.)

She is associated with the idea of light. In the middle ages, December 13 fell on the shortest day of the year. (In Sweden, the sun is not up very long in winter. In some places it doesn't come up at all.) This holiday celebrates the fact that the days will now get longer.


On the morning of December 13, the oldest daughter dresses in a special long white dress with a red ribbon around the waist and white socks and no shoes. She puts a wreath made out of leaves on her head. The wreath has 6 - 8 candles on it. Nowadays the candles are usually battery powered light bulbs instead of real candles. Her sisters also wear special long white dresses but they have shiny ribbons around their waists and they have another shiny ribbon around their heads. They carry a candle in their hands. Her brothers wear a special long white gown with a shiny sash and a pointed hat with three stars on it. They carry a baton with a star on it. They are called Star Boys.

The children serve coffee and special saffron bread to the rest of the family. They walk into the bedroom with the oldest daughter in the front, followed by the next tallest girl, down to the smallest. Then the boys follow with the tallest in the front. As they bring in the Lucia bread and coffee the girls sing "Santa Lucia" (in Swedish, of course), and then the boys sing "Stefan was a Stable-boy." The children then go to their neighbors and teachers and serve them the coffee and bread.

Significance of Symbols:

candles - light
yellow (saffron) bread - light
bare feet - charity

(Traditionally, they can eat the bread until Christmas, but not before St. Lucia)

Lucia Bread

11 T. butter
6 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
3 pkg. dry yeast or 1 2/3 oz. fresh yeast
2 c. milk
1 gr. saffron -OR- 1/2 t. cardamom, 15 drops yellow food color
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. raisins
1 egg

Grind saffron with a little sugar in a mortar and pestle. Melt butter, add milk and heat to 130° (too hot to keep your finger in), add salt and saffron. Mix dry ingredients and gradually add the hot milk mixture. Knead the dough. Place in a greased bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise 30 minutes. Knead again. Divide the dough into 30 parts. Roll into traditional shapes, add raisin decoration and place on a greased sheet. Let rise 30 minutes. Brush with beaten egg. Bake 5 minutes at 450°.

Note: Add 1/2 c. raisins to the dough if you like lots of raisins.

Contact: Donna G. Genzmer