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Archive for Wednesday, December 8, 1999

ST. LUCIA SPARKS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

December 8, 1999

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Of all the ethnic celebrations of Christmas, perhaps none is as elaborate and intensive as the traditional Swedish festival. The Swedes have, like everyone else, modified their yuletide customs to accommodate the demands of modern life, but as envisioned in Swedish lore the winter holiday consists of 12 days of Christmas -- and then some.

The Swedish Christmas festival traditionally begins on St. Lucia Day, Dec. 13, and continues through the 25th and on to the new year. Women bake Swedish breads and cookies -- including the stollen, bread wreaths and spritz that are hallmarks of the Swedish kitchen -- to share with friends.

Unlike some Christmas narratives that emphasize masculine figures (Santa Claus comes to mind), the Lucia tradition puts women at the forefront of the holiday, not only as bakers but also as a symbol of light and hope. Lucia was a medieval saint who, according to her legend, brought food and water to the masses during time of famine, and women are cast in that role.

The traditional Swedish Christmas celebration begins the morning of the 13th with a ceremony in which the eldest daughter in the family, wearing a white robe, red sash and a crown of lighted candles in her hair, carries a tray of baked goods to her family while singing a traditional song about Saint Lucia. Fire hazard notwithstanding, wearing the crown of candles -- called Levande Ljus -- was an honor.

In the tradition of Lucia, the ensuing weeks of festivity, which comprised socializing and the exchanging of baked gifts, emphasized expressions of goodwill. These customs are not exclusively Swedish but the contribution of the Swedes to generally acknowledged American Christmas traditions is unmistakable.

I recently came across a spiral-bound cookbook called "Measure for Pleasure," published in 1961 by the Bethany College Teachers' Wives, which is filled with traditional Swedish recipes, including several that would have been featured in the Lucia celebration. Following is a sample.

Christmas Date-Nut Candy

3 cups white sugar

3 cups brown sugar

2 cups medium cream

g of the 13th with a ceremony in which the eldest daughter in the family, wearing a white robe, red sash and a crown of lighted candles in her hair, carries a tray of baked goods to her family while singing a traditional song about Saint Lucia. Fire hazard notwithstanding, wearing the crown of candles -- called Levande Ljus -- was an honor.

In the tradition of Lucia, the ensuing weeks of festivity, which comprised socializing and the exchanging of baked gifts, emphasized expressions of goodwill. These customs are not exclusively Swedish but the contribution of the Swedes to generally acknowledged American Christmas traditions is unmistakable.

I recently came across a spiral-bound cookbook called "Measure for Pleasure," published in 1961 by the Bethany Ccookies.

Finska Brod (Sugar Almond Sticks)

traditional Swedish recipes, including several that would have been featured in the Lucia celebration. Following is a sample.

Christmas Date-Nut Candy

3 cups white sugar

3 cups brown sugar

2 cups medium cream

g of the 13th with a ceremony in which the eldest daughter in the family, wearing a white robe, red sash and a crown of lighted candles in her hair, carries a tray of baked goods to her family while singing a traditional song about Saint Lucia. Fire hazard notwithstanding, wearing the crown of candles -- called Levande Ljus -- was an honor.

In the tradition of Lucia, the ensuing weeks of festivity, which comprised socializing and the exchanging of baked gifts, emphasized expressions of goodwill. These customs are not exclusively Swedish but the contribution of the Swedes to generally acknowledged American Christmas traditions is unmistakable.

I recently came across a spiral-bound cookbook called "Measure for Pleasure," published in 1961 by the Bethany Cng journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger@harvey. bakeru.edu. Her phone number is (785) 594-4554.

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