Luciadagen (Saint Lucia Day) is on the 13th of December. It is traditionally a feast day from the Calendar of Saints which comes from the early Christian custom of commemorating martyrs. Even though Norway recognises the other feast days in the Church, only St Lucia, St John and St Olav’s days are celebrated nation-wide.
St Lucia Day was first introduced to Norway when Christianity spread over the country in the late 1000s. This day became a mark on the farmer’s primstav – a wooden calendar stick marking seasonal preparation and celebration days. The elements from Catholic faith began to mix with the pagan traditions, and the word ‘Lucia’ became confused with ‘Lucifer’. At the time the old Julian calendar was in use so the 13th of December was the darkest day of the year. This created the tradition of Lussi langnatt (Lucy Longnight), and Åsgårdsreia (the Asgard parade – a trail of unsettled dead souls) became a superstitious tradition. The restless souls traveled from farm to farm seeing if people were preparing for Christmas. If they weren’t, the lost souls could vandalize their farm, or worse still, people not preparing could be abducted into the trail. To protect themselves from the Åsgårdsreia, people painted tar crosses above doors of houses and barns.
Primstav marking for Saint Lucia Day
After the Reformation in the 1500s (when the Protestant Church became the State Church of Norway) St Lucia day was almost forgotten. It wasn’t until after WWII that Norway re-adopted St Lucia Day, largely because of all the immigrating Swedes.
‘Lucia’ has reclaimed its former Latin meaning of ‘light’ and now Saint Lucia day is a parade of light during the darkest time of the year. The celebration is observed in schools and community organisations all over the country.
School activities on St Lucia Day include a casual procession of singing children. A child is chosen to lead the procession (traditionally a blonde-haired girl), who represents St Lucia. They are dressed in white with a red sash and a wreath of candles around their head – today they use electric lights. Traditionally the procession was made up of all girls dressed in white, however, today, boys also join in, dressed as nisser, or also in white. The procession travels through the school buildings, hospitals and city centres handing out lussekatter (Lucia buns) while singing the Saint Lucia song:
(Note: Norway, Denmark and Sweden have their own versions of the Saint Lucia Song.)
Sankta Lucia (Norwegian Lyrics)
Svart senker natten seg i stall og stuer.
Solen har gått sin vei, skyggene truer.
Inn i vårt mørke hus stiger med tente lys,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
Natten er mørk og stum. Med ett det suser
i alle tyste rom som vinger bruser.
Se på vår terskel står, hvitkledd med lys i hår,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
Saint Lucia (English translation)
Black night is falling in stables and homes.
The Sun has gone away, the shadows are threatening.
Into our dark house enters with lit candles,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!
The night is dark and silent; suddenly a rush
in all quiet rooms, like the waving of wings.
See, at our threshold stands, dressed in white with lights in her hair,
Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia!
Lussekatter – Lucia Buns
Lucia buns are the traditional treats handed out during the children’s procession. They are a sweet bread or ‘boller‘. Sometimes they are called saffron buns.
The literal translation of lussekatter is ‘Lucia cats’; this is because of the characteristic winding tail design. These days there are many bun designs, the most popular can be seen in the post Lucia Bun Design. The buns are always decorated with raisins.
Christmas baking in Norway is about indulgence. Traditionally, lussekatter were made with saffron, a very fine product for the time, as it was very expensive and hard to get a hold of. The saffron gave the buns a special flavour and their yellow colour. Saffron is still used today in some recipes, but it is still expensive, so many use turmeric, or a saffron essence instead, for colour.
Lussekatter/Lucia Bun Recipe
1 packet of dry yeast
(note: sweet dough yeast is best to use)
150 grams butter
500mls of milk
1 gram of saffron (or half a teaspoon of turmeric)
150 grams of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of cardamum
about 1.3 litres of plain flour (measure in a water jug)
1 beaten egg for glazing
Melt butter in a pot. Cool a little and then add the milk.
To break up the saffron, put it into a bowl or mortar, and with a little of the sugar, crush together.
Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cardamum and saffron in a bowl. Create a well and pour in the milk mix. Mix until the dough forms. It is easier with dough beaters. Add in a little extra milk or flour if needed.
Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it raise until double the size – a warm room helps.
Sprinkle some flour on the kneading area and knead the dough well. Roll into a loose log to cut dough into bun sizes. Roll them out into long finger thick sausages. Shape them into the famous Lussekatter double spiral – julegris – or other designs. Place the buns on a baking sheet and cover in plastic. Allow them to raise for 15 minutes. Glaze well with beaten egg and decorate with raisins (usually one raisin in each eye of a swirl.)
Bake at 225°C for 5-8 minutes (depending on size). Let them cool on a rack. Eat fresh with coffee or hot chocolate.