Living & Eating on Long Island's East End 

Celebrating Santa Lucia!

My name is Monique.
I'm a 2-time Emmy Award winning TV Producer.
Having been in the business for over 15 years I've produced my share of live tv cooking segments, but never had much time to devote to cooking myself.

Last year when I got married, I moved out of New York City to the east end of Long Island, to ...wait for it...The Hamptons.

Now before you roll your eyes, there's more to the Hamptons than mansions and celebrities.

The Hamptons have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, miles of productive farmland, plus a rich clamming history that continues to this day.

When I moved out east and realized I was surrounded, not just by the bounty of the sea, but also local farms and vineyards, I couldn't wait to explore and sample my new environment.

That's what this blog is about.  Cooking, living, exploring and sharing those experiences, as I incorporate them into my life.

You'll notice that my blog is a little of this and a little of that, kind of like a potluck meal.

Lussekatter or Saffron Buns

I went to Connecticut to celebrate Santa Lucia last weekend.  It's like a precursor to Christmas for my family. Being of Swedish descent on my mother's side, we've celebrated it ever since I can remember. 

Santa Lucia, which is also called "The Festival of Lights" is celebrated on December 13th in Sweden. 

From what I've read, Lucia is a derivative of the Latin word 'lux' or light.  Lucia was said to have been martyred during the persecution of Christmas, which began in 303 AD.  December 13th was also originally the winter solstice based on the Julian calendar.  When that changed to the Gregorian calendar in the 1300s, the winter solstice moved to December 21st. 

Today Santa Lucia is represented by a girl dressed in a white gown, tied with a red sash and a wreath of candles on her head. To this day Swedish communities hold Lucia competitions where young girls compete to portray Lucia in local events like parades and parties.  

Because they're situated partially within the Arctic Circle, Sweden sees very little daylight during the cold winter months. Santa Lucia is also a reminder that longer days and sunshine are on the way and Swedes celebrate with candles and lights, cheering homes with that reminder during a very dark December.

My sister Michele as Lucia 2012

At home mothers or older siblings rise early on the morning of December 13th. That's when the child chosen to portray Lucia walks throughout the house, waking other family members while singing the traditional Santa Lucia song and serving a breakfast tray of coffee, mulled wine and saffron buns.

Saffron buns are also called 'Lucia cats'. The traditional name is Lussekatter, which is what my family calls them.

Baking lussekatter and gingerbread cookies with my mother and sisters is a big part of my Christmas memories as a child. Back then we got up before sunrise to celebrate.  

We would form a procession , walking through the house, as we sang 'Santa Lucia'.  When I was very little, I was only allowed to carry an artificial star on a stick. Then as I got bigger, I was allowed to hold a single candle. But the goal was to graduate up to the year that I finally got to be Santa Lucia herself!  

Making the crown

Wearing the pine wreath must be taken seriously. First you have to stand up straight, otherwise the candles will lean.
My mother makes the wreath by hand every year from pine branches she has gathered from the backyard that morning!
She braids it into a round crown and fits it to the wearer's head.
Before placing the wreath on our head, she first lays a wet washcloth on our head, as a buffer between our hair and the crown. Then the crown is placed on our head. She fits it so it sits securely on our head, with no chance of slipping off. Then she lights the candles on the crown. 

When the candles are lit your posture changes immediately!      I have had hot wax drip onto my head, it's not fun and it's very hard to get out of your hair. Standing up straight keeps the candles straight and any melting wax will slide down the side of the candle instead of dripping onto your head. Using non-melting candles also helps.

Me as Lucia 2009

Today my sisters and I alternate between the three of us who gets to be Lucia each year. In my house, there were always more family members participating in the Lucia procession, than stayed in their beds. So my father got to enjoy our early morning visits. He would sit up bleary-eyed in bed, as we entered the bedroom singing with candles ablaze, our Lucia carrying a platter of lussekatter and gingerbread cookies, my mom bringing up the rear, balancing a huge tray of coffee, tea and cups.

These days Santa Lucia pretty much happens when we get around to it. Even my nephew Peyton enjoys participating.   This past weekend, I was the lucky one who got to stay in bed to receive the Lucia procession.

Rolling out the lussekatter

The night before, my mom and I stayed up late baking the lussekatter.  We put on a pot of tea, turned on Saturday Night Live and pushed on thru. The buns came out really well , as we ended up baking at least two dozen.  Soft and spongy with a light brown hue.  Even though we didn't finish until 1:00 AM, I couldn't resist sampling some of my handiwork then and there. 

Biting into a soft, sweet and still warm lussekatter bun is amazing. The sweetness of the raisons mixes perfectly with the sweet bread. Add to that a cup of sweet milky tea and you have perfection!  

Hot out of the oven!

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