From Lussebullar to Lucia | Celebrate an Authentic Swedish Christmas
A SWEDE SHARES HER DECEMBER RITUALS AND A SPECIAL RECIPE FOR SAFFRON BUNS
Here in Scandinavia, every December 13th is known as St. Lucia’s Day. In Denmark, Lucia is celebrated with parades of lights through the canals by kayak, but it really is Scandi sister Sweden’s special day. But why is it important? And how do you celebrate it? Maybe we should ask a Swede? Yay! I already did! I’ve asked my Swedish friend Alexandra to share some of her family’s traditions from Sweden. We have been lucky enough to explore southern Sweden with Alex and her family when they lived across the Øresund from us. Alex now lives in Oregon with her husband and two girls, so she makes sure to keep the Swedish rituals and recipes alive for her girls when Sverige might seem so far away.
SWEDISH CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS
MEET ALEXANDRA STROMBLAD-BROWN
I love Christmas! In my family and as in most Swedish homes, our Christmases are full of traditions. The Christmas tree is always decorated the same way, the little gnomes are always carefully placed in the same spot every year, the same Advent star is always hung on the same window and the first candle in the Advent candelabra is always lit on the first Sunday of Advent.
A typical Swedish Christmas isn’t just a one-day deal. It’s more of a long drawn out affair that starts with the first Sunday of Advent and ends with “Trettondag Knut” on January 13th, when we actually dance the Christmas and Christmas tree out of our house.
The first Sunday of Advent usually falls somewhere between the 27th of November and the 3rd of December. This is where the 4-week countdown to Christmas begins. The first candle is lit on the first Sunday, the second candle is lit on the 2nd Sunday and so on until Christmas, which by the way is celebrated on December 24th in Sweden.
Starting at the First Advent, the prepping of Christmas begins. This includes the prepping of all the traditional Christmas food that is to be made. This is also the time when people gather at each other’s homes and drink a traditional hot drink called glögg. Hot glögg consists of warmed wine, spices and sugar and it is traditionally served with raisins and almonds and enjoyed with gingersnap cookies on the side. It’s yummy and the kids love the tradition too!
SAINT LUCIA DAY IS DECEMBER 13TH IN SWEDEN
Lucia is another December tradition that is loved in nearly every Swedish home and is celebrated every year. Lucia falls on December 13th. Every town in Sweden will crown their own Saint Lucia and have a parade. The main Lucia will come dressed in an all-white gown with a crown of candles in her hair singing traditional well-known songs. She has a red silk girdle around her waist and she is followed by a train of other Lucias. They are also all dressed in white but wearing glitter around their waist and a single candle in their hand. The boys will be dressed as “gingermen” or “starboys”, also dressed in white carrying stars on sticks with tall paper cones on their heads.
My two girls dress up exactly like this waking my husband and me up singing traditional songs and carrying a tray of saffron-flavored buns called lussebullar along with gingersnaps. It is a beautiful tradition.
CHRISTMAS IS CELEBRATED ON THE 24TH IN SWEDEN
So finally it’s Christmas Eve. For Swedes, this is our Christmas celebrated on the 24th of December. Every family celebrates it a little differently but the main Swedish traditions are the same. In my family, we would run down the stairs early morning and open one present from under the tree. Then it was off to get ready and dressed up and start prepping the food.
The most important meal is lunch. This is the big Christmas table where everything must be included. Foods like the big Christmas ham, different kinds of herring, red cabbage, potato sausage, prinskorv, meatballs, cured salmon or lax, bread, Janson’s temptation, porridge and more. It all must be included. With lunch also comes the singing of traditional drinking songs with the customary snaps. Even the kids will join in on the singing and it really is a wonderful atmosphere. The lunch itself will take up most of the time can last up to two hours.
At 3 o’clock, everybody sits down in front of the television with our lussebullar, gingersnaps and other sweets to watch an hour-long showing of Donald Duck and other classic Disney excerpts. It is the same every show year except for the last excerpt, which will always be an excerpt for the latest Disney movie. It really is true that the whole entire country comes to a standstill and there is not one house that is not watching.
NOTE: Swedes have been watching the same Disney Christmas classic “From All of Us to All of You” since 1960. Known as “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” in Swedish. Kalle Anka is Donald Duck and a definitive part of Swedish Christmas.
SANTA OR JULTOMTEN
Finally, around 5 pm Santa Claus arrives. This is the highlight for my kids! In my house, it is a tradition that my dad will be the one dressing up as Santa Claus or as we say it in Sweden, Tomten. He comes carrying a huge bag of Christmas presents and pretends he flew on his sled with his reindeer all the way from Finland. My girls actually didn’t have a clue that he wasn’t the real Santa Claus until they were six or seven years old.
After all the presents are given out, we all dance around the Christmas tree with Santa Claus and then he leaves and we are off to prepare the porridge that will be served with dinner. Nearly all Swedes will eat porridge on this day and hidden in it will be an almond. Whoever gets the almond in their serving has to come up with a rhyme. As a reward, he or she will get a small present. After dinner, we play games with all the adults and the kids until late in the night. My girls really love the Swedish Christmas and I think it is because there are so many traditions involved and they all stay the same every year!
Traditional Swedish Lussebullar-Saffron Bun Recipe
Enjoy a taste of Swedish and make your own saffron buns known as lussebullar with Alex’s family recipe.
Makes about 60-70
- 10 oz. butter
- 4 cups milk
- 3 active dry yeast
- 1 gram of pure saffron
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- ½ tsp. salt
- 12-13 cups all-purpose flour
- plus 1 egg to beat and brush ove buns before baking
Oven temperature: 350°F (175°C Warm Air/Varmluft)
- Melt butter in the pan, remove from heat and pour in the milk
- Stir in the yeast and make sure it dissolves completely
- Crush saffron and mix it in with the milk mixture
- Add sugar, salt, egg and 7 cups of flour
- Work in the rest of the flour
- Let sit with a towel over to rise for 40 minutes
- Knead the dough and divide into 6 pieces
- Take part of the dough, roll it and cut into 10 pieces
- Roll each piece to about 10-inch long line. Shape into the letter S and put a raisin on each twirl
- Place the buns on a greased baking sheet and let rise with a towel over for about 30 minutes
- Brush with beaten egg and bake for about 15 min or until they are golden brown.
Or watch this quick video from The Local Sweden for proper rolling technique.