Saffron Buns for the Solstice

The Feast of Saint Lucy, the patron saint of sight, was just celebrated on December 13. Before the Gregorian calendar skewed time, her feast was celebrated on the winter solstice. The story of Saint Lucy is much like many of the stories of early Christian martyrs. A young girl living in a pagan world (in her case, Sicily) yearns to be a bride of Christ, but is promised by her wealthy parents to marry a man. In one legend she is punished for her love by having her eyes gouged out. In another, she does the job herself. Images of Saint Lucy usually show her with her eyes on a plate.

Saint Lucy
Of course the name Lucy, or Lucia, also reminds us of light, something in short supply on the winter solstice. Saint Lucy is one of countless myths that was re-interpreted through the lens of Christianity. Once we become attached to the details of our stories, we often forget about their mystical roots. Fortunately, they can be retrieved in food.

Saint Lucy is widely celebrated in Sweden. The tradition holds that the eldest girl of a household rises first, wears a white dress with a red sash, places an evergreen wreath and candles atop her head, and serves a breakfast of saffron buns and coffee to her family. In Stockholm, a girl is chosen to play Lucia and the tradition holds that whomever won the Nobel Prize for Literature (celebrated just three days before Saint Lucy’s feast) publicly crowns her.

The buns are called lussekatter, and much like Saint Lucy herself, the saffron was also exported from Sicily in the early Middle Ages. Saffron represented the golden light that would gradually increase in the days following Saint Lucy’s feast. They also recall the ancient Viking tradition of offering bread shaped like the sun to their deities on the solstice.

The original image can be seen at

The original image can be seen at

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