As we go about our milking chores, school work and firewood gathering—moving closer to mid-winter— we begin to notice the days getting shorter. Once we hit the winter solstice, Dec. 21, the days start to lengthen and light returns to us. Throughout time, people have gathered together this time of year to celebrate the light in various ways with feasts, festivals and holy days.
One such day is St. Lucia’s Day on Dec. 13, a holiday celebrated in places like Sweden, Italy and Venezuela. The story of St. Lucia and how you celebrate will vary depending on where you’re from. The Italian legend says a dreadful famine ended when St. Lucia, whose name means light, appeared in the harbor with boats full of grain. In Sweden, legends circulate of a brave, virtuous woman who was martyred rather than compromise her principles. In both stories, there’s much to admire about this lady of light who brought bounty to those in need and hope to those covered in darkness and fear.
St. Lucia’s Day is a celebration of the light to be found even in these dark days of winter. If you’re looking to bring more meaning and less commercialism into your holiday traditions, take part in this special feast. Here are two traditional St. Lucia’s Day activities you can try.
Wreath Of Greens
It’s traditional for the oldest daughter of the house to dress in a white gown with a red sash on the St. Lucia’s Day—though, it’s great if all little girls in the house want to dress up. The oldest, however, should wear a wreath of greens with nine taper candles nestled inside. Traditionally, the candles of the wreath are lit, and the daughter proceeds to bring her parents breakfast in bed. She may also venture out, taking treats to neighbors and friends.
I don’t like the idea of putting lit candles in my daughters’ hair, so we use white birthday candles and pretend they’re lit. If your daughter is too young to manage breakfast on her own, get out of bed to help assemble the meal on a special tray. Then hop back in bed to feign surprise at her small service on St. Lucia’s Day morning.
Assembling a simple wreath of greens is not complicated. This wreath can do double duty for St. Lucia’s Day, as well as for Advent or Christmas day as a centerpiece for your table. If you’re using if for Advent, you’ll only need four candles for each of the four Sundays before Christmas. This wreath could also hang on your door.
To make a simple wreath:
- Gather fresh greens from the outer limbs of a pine tree so that the branches are no thicker than 1/4 inch. You’ll also need thin florist’s wire or string and wire cutters.
- Wrap a piece of string around your daughter’s head to measure the diameter for the wreath—this doesn’t have to be too precise.
- Begin forming the small branches into the correct sized circle, tucking in ends and wayward twigs. Wrap the wire or string around the outside of the greens to keep them secure. Wear gloves if your greens are sharp. You can use a florist’s wreath-form, if you can find one in the right size, but it’s not necessary. If you wrap your wire securely, this wreath will hold up just fine.
- If you want, decorate your wreath with red beads and wheat—remember the story of the famine?
- To secure the candles, wrap wire around each candle’s base, tucking it to the branch. If you’re not going to light the candles, you can simply wedge them into the wreath. If you’ve wrapped your wreath tightly, they should stay in place.
Recipe: Sourdough St. Lucia Buns
Not to be forgotten on this special day are these golden sweet rolls, traditionally made with saffron to give them their characteristic golden hue. The saffron can be expensive, so if you don’t have any on hand, you can use a teaspoon of turmeric to get that lovely color.
Following is a recipe for sourdough St. Lucia buns. We use the natural leaven (sourdough) to make the grain easier to digest.
- 4 T. butter
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1 tsp. saffron, chopped finely and soaked in few drops of water (or 1 tsp. tumeric)
- 3 eggs, divided
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 3 to 4 cups flour
- raisins, for garnish
Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Add milk and saffron, and heat until just warm. In a separate bowl, slightly beat two eggs.
Attach the dough hook to your stand mixer, or get a large spoon to mix by hand. Place saffron mixture into the bowl of your mixer. Add sourdough starter, sugar, salt, beaten eggs and 2 cups flour. Beat until mixture is smooth. Add 1 more cup of flour, and beat until the flour is thoroughly mixed. You want your dough to be just slightly dry—not too wet. If you need to, add up to 1 additional cup of flour to get the correct consistency.
Use stand mixer to beat until dough is uniform. If manually mixing, knead the dough for several minutes.
Cover and let ferment in a non-metallic bowl for four to six hours. Place in a warm place, like an unheated oven with the light on.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into 15 equal balls and roll out each into a rope. Roll each rope into an “S” shape, and secure the ends to make a kind of figure 8. Transfer the buns onto the baking sheet and let rise for about 1 hour.
Brush each bun with the last egg and place raisins into the curves of the figure 8. Prepare these the night before and then refrigerate them. In the morning, they can be baked up. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Have a great St. Lucia’s Day as a family, celebrating the returning light in these dark days of winter!