While my ancestry compiles equal parts of many European countries, the heritage I associate with most is the Swedish side.
There isn’t any particular reason; I’m just as English, or German, or Danish, or Norwegian as I am Swedish. But there is something about that Northern land that attracts me. It’s funny too, because I don’t think I would ever be mistaken for a Swede.
Growing up, my parents gathered my sisters and me on their bed early on the morning of December 13th for Saint Lucy’s Day; a Sicilian girl who was martyred in 304 AD for helping the poor, Saint Lucy’s message of selfless giving somehow grabbed hold of Northern and Eastern Europe – where celebrating in her honor is a very big thing. Festivals of light and ceremony are conducted in the dark days of December, tying Catholic traditions to Pagan customs during the twelve days of Christmas. Processions, often led by one girl in a white robe wearing a crown of candles, wind through the streets or halls of the cold European nights. It is quite a spectacle.
To celebrate in our house, my Mom would bring a tray of coffee, juice, and breakfast buns – made from scratch – with some candles to our early morning gathering. The buns – flavored with cardamom and a bit of orange peel – were made in many shapes including beards, stars of David, curly cues and even horse carts. Each one was also adorned with raisins to puncuate the shapes. We would eat and talk, then get ready for school. Santa Lucia was something we always celebrated, going back to the days we lived in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. My parents and I continued to gather after each of my sisters moved away to college. Eventually, one December 13th during high school,in 1980 or 81, I didn’t want to do it anymore and left the house early. The morning gatherings ended after that.
I feel guilty for storming out that day, because it seems like I single-handedly ended a family tradition.
Thinking back I have no idea why I left. But I know now how special this family tradition was, and I had walked out on something great. Over time I never forgot Saint Lucy’s Day. Randomly through the years sister Karen would start singing the Santa Lucia Song at Christmas. The buns would also make appearances from time to time as well. Oddly I seemed to be the only one in my circle of friends who knew anything about it. Even the stunning Mrs. Clark had never heard of Saint Lucy and, to be quite honest, I myself knew little about where the tradition came from. But thanks to the power of the Internet, I was able to find out all I needed to know about this festival of light, and the one girl who started it all.
And I vowed to never storm out on this family tradition again.
Last year I asked my Mom to make some Santa Lucia buns, so I could share them with my family on December 13th (pictured above). She was more than happy to. This year she caught me before I could call. The rolls are as good as I remember them being, sweet and very slightly tangy from the orange. The taste brings me back to those cold December mornings when our family would gather on the parents’ bed and eat these buns with each other. It’s a wonderful feeling. In my research I discovered that the “American Way” to celebrate Santa Lucia is to have coffee and cookies at the fireplace hearth by candle light.
I much prefer my Mom’s rolls over cookies 🙂