Detangling the Devilish Origins of Scandinavia’s St. Lucia Buns

Lussekatter fater2

Ghosts of a pastry’s past, from Gastro Obscura.

Every year, on December 13, golden-hued saffron buns bake in ovens across Scandinavia. Eating this sweet bread—known as lussebullar or lussekatter in Sweden, luciabrød in Denmark and Norway, and lucia-pullat in Finland—heralds the celebration of St. Lucia’s Day. In Sweden, eldest daughters often serve their parents buns and coffee in the morning while wearing a white gown, red sash, and a candle-lined wreath crown. The costume pays tribute to St. Lucia, a Christian martyr who died in the fourth century, executed by the authorities for her faith. The red sash represents her murder, while the candle-filled crown honors how, in legend, she illuminated her journeys through dark Roman catacombs to deliver food to Christians in hiding.

There’s another reason why celebrating Lucia, a figure whose name comes from the Latin word for light, is so important on this date. In the old Julian calendar, December 13 marked the winter solstice. In parts of Scandinavia, a folk belief held that demons and goblins could roam free for their “Wild Hunt” that night, the longest and darkest of the year. Because of these legends, lussekatter buns, or “Lucy’s cats,” have earned a supernatural reputation: one that, as it turns out, is entirely unearned.

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