The Lucia tradition can be traced back both to St Lucia of Syracuse, a martyr who died in 304, and to the Swedish legend of Lucia as Adam’s first wife. It is said that she consorted with the Devil and that her children were invisible infernals. Thus the name may be associated with both lux (light) and Lucifer (Satan), and its origins are difficult to determine. The present custom appears to be a blend of traditions.
In the old almanac, Lucia Night was the longest of the year. It was a dangerous night when supernatural beings were abroad and all animals could speak. By morning, the livestock needed extra feed. People, too, needed extra nourishment and were urged to eat seven or nine hearty breakfasts. This kind of feasting presaged the Christmas fast, which began on Lucia Day.
The last person to rise that morning was nicknamed ‘Lusse the Louse’ and often given a playful beating round the legs with birch twigs. The slaughtering and threshing were supposed to be over by Lucia and the sheds to be filled with food in preparation for Christmas. In agrarian Sweden, young people used to dress up as Lucia figures (lussegubbar) that night and wander from house to house singing songs and scrounging for food and schnapps.
The first recorded appearance of a Lucia in Sweden was in a country house in 1764. The custom did not become universally popular in Swedish society until the 20th century, when schools and local associations in particular began promoting it. The old lussegubbar custom virtually disappeared with urban migration, and Lucias with their singing processions were considered a more acceptable, controlled form of celebration than the youthful carousals of the past. Stockholm proclaimed its first Lucia in 1927. The custom whereby Lucia serves coffee and buns (lussekatter) dates back to the 1880s, although the buns were around long before that.
More info about Lucia here : http://www.sweden.se/eng/Home/Lifestyle/Traditions/Celebrating-the-Swedish-way/Lucia/
Makes 20 large ones
100 g fresh yeast
400 ml milk, full-fat
100 ml cream (35-40% fat)
200 g butter
1-1,5 g saffron
200 ml sugar
1 tsp salt
1 kilo white flour
1 egg, beaten
Crumble the yeast into the bowl of your stand mixer (or a regular bowl, if making this by hand). Melt the butter, then add the milk and the cream and heat until it's about 37°C - it should just barely feel warm to the touch. Add this to the yeast and stir until it has dissolved.
Put the saffron with a pinch of sugar in your pestle and mortar, and mix well. Add to the dough, along with salt, sugar, the egg and most of the flour. Work into a smooth and silky dough - it will look pretty sticky, so add the rest of the flour, but don't worry if it's still sticky. It's supposed to be. It shouldn't stick to your fingers though.
Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, and leave to rise, covered, for 45 minutes. Then it's time to shape the dough. I started by dividing the dough into equal portions, using digital kitchen scales. I like my lucia buns fairly large - that, again, helps counter any dryness. The traditional shape is as you can see in the photo below a fairly tight "s". Place raisins in the middle of the swirls on each side.
Place on a cookie sheet, cover, and let the buns rise for about 15 minutes. Brush with a beaten egg, and bake at 200°C for 8-10 minutes.
This is a painting from 1908 made of Carl Larsson.
"Welcome to the house
of Carl Larsson and his spouse. "