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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saint Lucia - a celebration!

Saint Lucia (or Saint Lucy) is traditionally feasted on the 13th of December. However this year it falls on a Sunday, so many will move their celebration to Saturday before or Monday after. Would you like to join in the celebrations? Read on for history, a description of how we celebrate, a recipe, and other ideas for her feast day. . .

:-: History :-:
In the days of early Christian persecution, St. Lucia is said to have carried food to Christians hiding in dark underground tunnels. To light the way she wore a wreath of candles on her head. Spurning marriage and worldly goods, she vowed to remain a virgin in the tradition of St. Agatha. An angry suitor reported her to the local Roman authorities, she was sentenced to death, and subsequently she became a martyr.

St. Lucia Day is celebrated on December 13th. In Scandinavia, a young girl in each family is awakened early in the morning, dressed in a white robe with a red ribbon around the waist and crowned with a wreath of candles. Her duty is to bring breakfast to her family: Special sweet buns flavored with saffron and coffee.

Because her name means “light”, she is a special saint to the Swedes who have a very long, dark winter. She is often called the “Queen of Light”.

:-: How we celebrate :-:
We choose to honor her in our family since she represents the two of the heritages in our family: Italian (my side) and Swedish (hubby's side). (Since she is an Italian saint who is especially celebrated by the Swedes.) And she also represents how living a sacrificial life allows Christ’s light to shine through us.

Our celebration this year will be on Monday. Early in the morning, I'll wake my eldest daughter (7) and dress her in a white cotton dress and red sash. In the past I've made her a "candle wreath" with glittery pipe cleaners. I suppose I'll do the same. Although, I've had thoughts of a real wreath with those flameless tea lights. (You can also make a a lovely paper St. Lucy crown..) She'll deliver saffron buns and hot cocoa to her brothers and father and then she and I will return to the kitchen for our own candlelight breakfast - just the two of us.

:-: A Recipe :-:
Here is the recipe I use for saffron buns. The dough is made in a breadmaker and then hand-shaped and baked in the oven.

The following recipe comes from The Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook :

Add the ingredients in the order specified in your bread machine's manual. (Mine is wet first, then dry, then yeast)

3/4 c. plus 2 T milk
1 lg. egg

3 c. all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1/3 c. granulated white sugar
1/4 tsp powdered saffron (if you can only find saffron in "threads", just pulverize these as best you can then measure out 1/4 tsp. A trick I just learned is to use a bit of sugar as you pulverize with your mortar and pestle.)
3 T unsalted butter

2 1/4 fast-rise yeast

Place all in a 2-cup capacity breadmaker and set on "dough". At the end of the rise, punch down the dough and let rest 5 minutes before hand-shaping.

To handshape:
Lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Divide dough into equal peices: 2 for 2 large breads, 4 for small breads, 6 to 8 for smaller buns. Lightly sprinkle with flour. Dampen hands and roll each piece into a rope. (18 inches for the 2 large pieces, 9 inches for the 4 pieces, etc.)

Lay a rope on a lightly-greased baking sheet. Curl each end, toward the center, into a coil. Cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush bread with egg wash (1 egg, beaten with 1 tsp. water). Bake for approx. 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

This bread freezes well and is excellent served toasted with orange marmalade. (We serve small buns on St. Lucy's Day and freeze a larger bread for Christmas morning.)

:-: Other ideas for celebrating St. Lucia :-:

:: Consider an Italian feast for dinner (she was a Roman martyr) or traditional Sicilian "cuccia" - which can be made MANY different ways (sweet or savory). (HT: Catholic Cuisine)

:: No time for saffron buns? Make or purchase some delicious muffins instead.

:: Instead of breakfast in bed, consider a candlelight breakfast for the family.

:: Decorate with traditional straw ornaments (St. Lucy is often associated with wheat and Scandinavians love to decorate with straw at Christmas) make a lovely addition to your tree - or on their own small tree.

:: A nice book to share more about these traditions is Kirsten's Surprise in the American Girls series.

:: Here are some other ideas from various countries.

If you post about your St. Lucia celebration, please leave a link in the comments!