Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Santa Lucia Day with Guest Amanda Cabot

Welcome Author Amanda Cabot to the Inkwell!

Blame it on the springerle.  When I started writing Christmas Roses, I had no intention of including Swedish holiday customs in the story.  All I planned to do was mention some of the special foods that my Swedish heroine might have served her guests.  First on the list were springerle, anise-flavored rolled cookies that my mother-in-law said her Swedish mother used to make each December.  The fancy designs, compliments of a rolling pin designed specifically for these cookies, would make them perfect for my story.  There was only one problem.  A little research revealed that springerle were German, not Swedish.  Back to the drawing board.

I soon discovered several authentically Swedish cookies I could use, but in the process, I also stumbled across the celebration of Santa Lucia or Saint Lucy’s Day, and I knew that I was going to have to make room for at least a few of the details in my story.  After all, who could resist the image of a young girl wearing a coronet of lighted candles as she delivers breakfast to her family?  Not I.

There are several versions of the St. Lucy story, some more gruesome than others.  What they have in common is that Lucia or Lucy, sometimes referred to as St. Lucy of Syracuse, was a young Christian martyred in 304 AD.  In one version of the story, when she refuses to marry a pagan, Lucy’s eyes are gouged out.  In another, she plucks them out herself.  Some pictures even show her holding a tray or dish with her eyes on it.  See what I mean about gruesome?  It’s understandable that, as a result of these stories, Lucy became the patron saint of the blind.

If you’re wondering how something so nightmare-inducing was transformed into a celebration involving children, keep reading.  Legend has it that when Christian monks came to Scandinavia to preach the Gospel, they brought with them tales of the saints, including Lucy.  Rather than focus on her death or even the story that Lucy’s faith and her prayers to Saint Agnes resulted in her mother’s being miraculously cured of dysentery, the monks told of Lucy’s bravery in bringing food to Christians imprisoned in the catacombs of Rome.  According to the monks, as she made her way through the dark catacombs, Lucy placed candles on her head, thus freeing both hands to carry more food.  

How much of the story is true?  No one knows.  What we do know is that Lucy’s name is derived from the Latin word for light: lux.  Is that coincidence?  Hardly.  Nor is the fact that Santa Lucia Day is December 13.  Though today we observe the winter solstice and the longest night of the year on December 21, the old Julian calendar, which was in use when the monks first came to Sweden, marked December 13 as the solstice.  It makes sense that there would be a celebration of the return of light on the shortest day, especially since prior to the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia, a pagan celebration of lights occurred on that very date.  The monks clearly wanted to supplant the pagan traditions, replacing them with their own.

And so we move from the picture of a blind martyr holding a dish with her eyes in it to that of a fully-sighted young girl, wearing a coronet of candles and carrying a tray of food.  Which image do you prefer?

St. Lucy’s Day has evolved and become more elaborate.  In the early days, the eldest girl in each family would dress in a white gown, tying a red sash around her waist, and place a crown of evergreen branches and candles on her head as she carried a tray of food to her parents.  What food?  In addition to coffee, the most popular items were and still are gingersnaps and lussekatter, saffron-flavored buns shaped like curled up cats with raisin eyes.  As you might have guessed from that description, lussekatter is the Swedish word for “Lucy’s cats.”

Now the day has become a national celebration, complete with processions through the various towns, singing and, of course, the traditional foods.  And, while individual families may still have their own Lucia, there are also contests designating a girl to become each town’s Lucia as well as one to represent all of Sweden in the annual festival of light.  There’ve been a few other changes over the years.  Not only are the candles Lucia wears now electric, but the procession is no longer confined to girls.  Boys participate as star boys.   

So, why am I telling you all this more than two months before Santa Lucia Day?  Simple.  I’m hoping that you’ll be as intrigued as I was with the legends and customs and that you’ll consider celebrating the festival of lights as the Swedes do.  I don’t plan to wear a white gown, but I am going to try making lussekatter this December.  Given my lack of success in shaping yeast rolls, I suspect my saffron buns will bear little resemblance to cats, but you never know.  As the heroine of Christmas Roses says, Christmas is the season of miracles.

Christmas Roses:

Celia Anderson doesn't need anything for Christmas except a few more boarders, which are hard to come by in this small mining town. She certainly doesn't have a husband on her Christmas wish list. But when a wandering carpenter finds lodging at her boarding house, she admits that she might remarry if she found the right man--the kind of man who would bring her roses for Christmas. It would take a miracle to get roses during a harsh Wyoming winter. But Christmas, after all, is the time for miracles . . .

  Brief Bio
From the time that she was seven, Amanda Cabot dreamed of becoming a published author, but it was only when she set herself the goal of selling a book by her thirtieth birthday that the dream came true.  A former director of Information Technology, Amanda has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages.  She’s delighted to now be a fulltime writer of Christian historical romances.  Her Texas Dreams trilogy received critical acclaim, and Christmas Roses, her first stand-alone story, was just released.

Look for Christmas Roses at your favorite Christian retailer, Amazon, B&N, CBD, and Goodreads.


  1. I'm reading Christmas Roses! Such a wonderful story . . . as expected.

    Amanda, thanks for sharing about St. Lucy. I'd never heard much abou her before except for at our city's Christmas display where there is a woman who I think is supposed to be St. Lucia. Seems like the International Festival is this weekend. Must remember to take the kids.

  2. Nice, sounds like a lovely tradition. And I'm not surprised it includes sweets. I visited Sweden once, and my most vivid memory is of the afternoon "coffee" tradition, which included plenty of pastries. Loved their coffee cakes. I couldn't figure out how they all stayed so slim.

  3. Thanks for being here to share with us today, Amanda. What a fun and informative post!

    I knew a bit about St. Lucy. My daughter's love of American Girl dolls exposed us to Kristin, a Swedish immigrant, who wears the headpiece in her Christmas story. Also, in fourth grade, the kids at our school do a Christmas (er, holidays) Around the World festival and the girls wear pretty wreaths--no candles, though. :)

    What a lovely tradition.

    I truly enjoyed Christmas Roses! Glad you're enjoying it, too, Gina!

  4. Dina, I'm really hungry after reading this post. Off to get some breakfast...

  5. This is so sweet. I've never heard this story or seen the pictures of her. Thank you, Amanda, for sharing and for visiting us today. I hope you come back again.

  6. I meant to ask - do you have a recipe for lussekatter? It sounds like something fun to make for a holiday party.

  7. Ooh Suzie, I want a recipe for the lussekatter too. There isn't one in Amanda's book...but there is one for Swedish pound cake! It looks delicious!

    Amanda, do you have a recipe?

    I did peek around and found this one:


    Yum yum yum.

  8. Wow, you never know where research might lead.

    Now you all got me in the mood to start my holiday baking...um...two months early?

  9. Thank you all for being here today, and thanks for inviting me, Susanne.

    Gina, I'm delighted that you're enjoying Christmas Roses .

    Dina, I wish I'd had a chance to visit Sweden. I'm not a coffee drinker (even though my MIL did her best to convince me it was the perfect beverage at any time of the day), but I'd love to sample the pastries, not to mention seeing the country itself.

    As for the recipe, Suzie, the one I plan to try is the one Susanne found. I'm going to try using my bread machine for it rather than knead the dough by hand. Admittedly, my heroine wouldn't have been able to do that, but why work harder than you have to?

    It's never too early to start baking, Barbara. That's why freezers were invented. Speaking of which, I need to pull something out of the freezer for lunch.

  10. Oh man, now I need something warm and baked! Thanks for stopping by, Amanda. I've seen the image of the girl with her candle crown carrying a plate of goodies, but had no idea how or where it originated. Amazing how so many of our traditions have truly unique backstories!

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  12. Even I had a little twinge of ....longing for Christmas. Say it isn't so!

    I've certainly learned more ahout the history of the holiday and St. Lucia as well. I just know what a beautiful tradition it makes. Apparently I didn't have any Swedish friends growing up because I would have remembered those cookies!

    Gina is giving your story the thumbs up and I'm gong to put it on my wish list. Thank you so much for a lovely post today, Amanda. I'll be watching for that recipe.

    My one episode with press cookies was ...not so good but I love the delicacy of some of these treats.
    Thank you!

  13. I remember reading about St. Lucia's celebration as a child. I think I had a book about Christmas season celebrations around the world, but I never heard the connection to Christianity. Very interesting!

  14. Okay, Susanne, I must try that recipe now!!

    What I love about Amanda's books is the consistency in excellent storytelling. Her books aren't hit-and-misses with me, and that compels me as an author to strive more to excel in my craft. I don't want to have dud stories.

    Maybe I should bake a coffee cake.

  15. Barb, we made gingerbread this weekend, even though it's 100 degrees at my house right now. It's like we're begging fall to come, LOL.

  16. Amanda, thanks so much for sharing with us today! Christmas Roses is on a lot of wish lists. It's a charming story.

    You've certainly got us thinking about tasty treats.

  17. Isn't it an amazing tradition, Jen? I'm curious about it, because although it's lovely, it seems a little risky.

    I would be so afraid to wear a lit crown!

  18. Deb, I don't do well with press cookies, either. But I like to eat them. :)

    Just finished up my son's fundraiser for Christmas gift wrap. It may be a few months away, but Christmas is coming...

  19. Hi Niki! Your book sounds fun. Now I'm curious about other Christmas traditions. I'm going to have to investigate.

  20. The press cookie 'machines' probably make things easier. The one I used was a hand-me-down and honestly, I don't remember my mother or grandmother messing with it either!

    Amanda, you have us all looking forward to Christmas and all those wonderful smells coming from the kitchen!

  21. Deb, I know what you mean! I'm craving some cinnamon coffee cake!

  22. Sorry I'm so late...

    I have a beautifully carved springerle rolling pin in my rolling pin collection, but only used it once. My love of anise compelled me to try the square little cookies and since I'm a very good baker (because I follow directions so well (ha)) I had no doubt they'd turn out. They looked great as I laid them on the pans and then covered them overnight with tea towels as the recipe suggestion. But after baking them the next day, they were too hard to eat. :( I often wonder if I should have skipped the drying out period, yet all the recipes and bakers say this is necessary. To this day, I still don't know what happened.

    Isn't St Lucia the bread made with dough balls in 2 layers? Sort of like a weird turban crown thing? I could be wrong as I'm going by memory, but I know I have it in several bread cook books. Yes, I have a cook book collection, too. (hangs head)

    Thanks for visiting today, Amanda. Your Currier & Ives cover is delightful and I'm looking forward to reading your book. (I'm not looking forward to the snow that will fall any day now however I'll put up with it as long as its for the Christmas season.) Ha!

    Thanks for setting this up, Susie. Good job!

  23. if Anita is late - then I'm VERY late. i need to go put Christmas Roses on my wish list - the story sounds wonderful. plus, i love Christmas romance stories.

    i'm not very good at the anise fancy cookies, but i do rock the cookie press cookies. growing up, i loved the taste of those cookies and my mom had a cool cookie press kit (involved lots of wrist twisting). somewhere in my teens, i took over the cookie baking for Christmas and would spend a whole day pressing/baking the cookies. i think i averaged 8 cookie tins full. mom would create small plates to give to the trash collectors and mailmen when they came to the house. they loved it. side note: mom became known as the "cookie lady" on the garbage truck route - the guys said they never had trouble finding someone to fill in for them if they needed a day off because everyone wanted cookies from my mom *heh*

    i love hearing about different Christmas traditions from around the world. they are all so cool to hear about.


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