I'm Scandinavian with Viking roots--or at least, that's what my family claims! So every year, my family celebrates St. Lucia's Day on December 13. It's a fun feast day that my children look forward to; not only does it involve a costume and candles, but we get to eat homemade cinnamon buns!
St. Lucia was a young woman who lived during the Diocletian persecution, which was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman empire. In 303, Emperor Diocletian and his colleagues demanded that Christians comply with traditional pagan religious practices. Christians who refused to sacrifice to pagan gods were imprisoned or in some cases, executed.
According to the traditional story, St. Lucia was born into a rich and noble family around the year 283. As a young woman, she had a great faith in Christ and even consecrated her virginity to God. After her father died, Lucia wanted to distribute her dowry to the poor, but her mother objected. She later convinced her mother to accompany her on a pilgrimage to the relics of Saint Agatha, a virgin martyr who had died 50 years earlier. While there, Lucia's mother was miraculously cured of a hemorrhage that had plagued her for many years. The cure softened the mother's heart, and she allowed Lucia to distribute a great part of their riches to the poor. Unfortunately, Lucia had been unwillingly betrothed to a greedy young pagan, who was so angry that his bride-to-be had given away the majority of her wealth that he denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Sicily. First, the governor condemned Lucia to work as a prostitute, but when the guards tried to drag her to the brothel, they could not move her. Then the governor ordered the guards to pile wood around her feet so she might be burned to death, but the flames did not harm her. Finally, the guards removed her eyes with a fork and stabbed her with a sword, martyring her. This is why St. Lucia is often depicted in art as holding two eyes on a platter and why she is the patron saint of the blind.
A gory story, indeed! But an inspiring one that our children ought to hear. St. Lucia is a beautiful example not only of a Christian with great compassion for the poor and of a steadfast faith in Jesus, but of purity, too. Our children live in a world that little values chastity and they may face social persecution for striving to maintain their own purity. St. Lucia can provide a much-needed role model for them.
What makes St. Lucia's Day so special is that the celebration takes place at breakfast. Traditionally, a young girl dresses up in a white gown with a red sash. On her head she wears a crown of candles (we used paper "candles"). Early on the morning of December 13, she carries a candle and plate of sweets into the bedrooms of family members, greeting them with, "St. Lucy invites you to breakfast!" Then the family gathers around a candlelit breakfast table and enjoys pastries, buns, cookies, and a hot drink such as tea, hot chocolate, or cider while discussing St. Lucia and offering intercessory prayers to her.
My daughter, Honor, as St. Lucia during our 2009 celebration.
Our family typically celebrates with homemade cinnamon buns and tea. Mostly because the cinnamon buns are round and the kids have fun pretending they are eyeballs!
Here is a recipe for a delectable cinnamon bun dough that takes just minutes to put together the night before and rises slowly overnight. I have used it for years and my children declare it is "the best ever."
For the dough:
Daily Bread Recipe from King Arthur Flour
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups powdered sugar
1-3 tablespoons milk
1. Roll out the dough into a 10x14" rectangle.
2. Melt the butter. Brush the butter over the dough, leaving a half-inch border of plain dough on the long side nearest to you.
3. Mix the sugar and the cinnamon well. Sprinkle the mixture over the buttered dough, avoiding the unbuttered border near you.
4. Gently begin to roll up the dough along the long side, rolling it toward you. Once you are near the unbuttered border, moisten the dough there with a little water, then finish rolling the dough into a log. Pinch the seams together.
5. Cut the long into 10-12 equal parts. The easiest way I've found to do this is actually using unflavored dental floss. Scoot the floss under the log, about 3/4 inch from the end. Tie the floss as if you were tying a knot. Then, quickly pull the knot all the way through the dough. Of course, a very sharp or serrated knife works, too. I just like the floss because it severs the dough so quickly it doesn't deflate.
6. Butter a baking dish. Place the rolls in the dish, with just a little space between them (1/4" is good).
7. Let the rolls rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. I find that turning my oven on to 200 degrees for about five minutes just as I'm starting to make the rolls, and then turning it off, makes a perfect environment for the rolls to rise in.
8. Remove the rolls from the oven, if you let them rise there. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
9. Bake the rolls for 12-15 minutes. You want them to be a light golden brown on top.
10. Mix the powdered sugar with just enough milk to make a drizzling consistency. Let the rolls cool for about 10 minutes, then drizzle the frosting over their tops. Enjoy!
My children enjoying cinnamon buns and tea on St. Lucia's Day, 2009.
Other ideas for celebrating the feast of St. Lucy can be found in the archives including: Cuccia ~ St. Lucy's Wheat, St. Lucia Buns ~ Lussekatter, and St. Lucia's Braided Bread.