The feast day for Saint Lucy, or Saint Lucia, is on December 13 — but we take this opportunity to add all the traditional Swedish foods to our Christmas feast!
Saint Lucia was a young martyr from Sicily who died clinging to her religious beliefs in 304 AD. Her feast day is most often celebrated in Italy and Scandinavia. Chances are you’ve seen pictures of young, Swedish girls dressed up as the patroness in long white robes tied with a bright red sashes, and wreaths of lit candles on their heads, singing as they make their procession. The traditional Lucia procession is headed by one Lucia with a crown on her head, followed by robed girls and boys holding candles. All of Scandinavia is cold and dark through the winter, and St. Lucia brings light and hope during Advent. The history of Saint Lucia and her martyrdom is an interesting read, particularly how it came to be celebrated in the predominantly Lutheran Scandinavian countries. Each country celebrates a little differently, Sweden having the most well-known and ardent celebrations and traditions.
In Sweden, St. Lucia Day starts very early. The eldest daughter of the family is bestowed the honor of dressing up as Lucia. Dressed up, she goes to each room, singing, and gently waking each member of the family to serve them a breakfast of saffron buns (lussekatter), pepperkakker (gingerbread cutout cookies), and coffee.
Here in the U.S. Saint Lucia Day is celebrated by those with ties to Scandinavia and Italy. Some churches hold their own St. Lucia processions within their congregation, others wear red on December 13 or celebrate during the summer, and plenty of families hold fast to their Swedish customs by making the traditional buns and cookies.
I am of Scandinavian descent myself, but sadly my family never celebrated St. Lucia Day here in the States. Nevertheless, every year I still try to add in some of the Norwegian customs and recipes as we celebrate Christmas.
I’ve collected some festive Scandinavian Christmas recipes, mostly Swedish and Norwegian, that we like to make during the holidays, and others I’d like to try. It’s nowhere near a complete list – there are so many recipes and so little time! Each country and each family have their own traditional recipes. This is a good start for anyone wanting to put some Scandinavian cheer into their Christmas celebrations. God jul!
Photo source: Becky Olsen of Project Domestication
How To Celebrate St. Lucia Day 1 of 15
St. Lucia Buns 2 of 15
If you're looking for a great recipe for St. Lucia buns, Becky says she's found a good one that she now makes every year. The S shape is typical for these saffron buns (lussekatter). Pearl sugar can be found online or sometimes you can find it at IKEA.
Photo source: Becky Olson of Project Domestication. Get the recipe for St. Lucia Buns from King Arthur Flour.
Swedish Christmas Rice Pudding – Risgrynsgrot or Risgrynspudding 3 of 15
This heavenly rice pudding is slow cooked in sweetened milk with a cinnamon stick. A warm and comforting Christmas tradition. Did you get the almond? Tradition says you'll get married soon if you did.
Get the recipe for Swedish Christmas Rice Pudding on Project Domestication.
Lingonberry Cave Shortbread Cookies – Swedish Hallongrottor 4 of 15
Hallongrottor is similar to thumbprint cookies and are typically filled with raspberry jam. Here they are filled with lingonberry jam. They are popular in Sweden and traditionally served at kafferep (a coffee party).
Get the recipe for Swedish Hallongrottor on Project Domestication.
Vetebröd – Swedish Cardamom Bread 5 of 15
Swedish Pancakes 6 of 15
These thin Swedish pancakes are very similar to crepes, and eaten similarly too - rolled with jam and dusted with powdered sugar.
Get the recipe for Swedish Pancakes on Project Domestication.
Norwegian Hardanger Lefse 7 of 15
The recipe I use for Hardanger Lefse came from the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, Norway. We traveled to Norway some years ago and during our visit to the museum, I fell in love with this sweet version of traditional Norwegian flatbread. It's not made with potatoes like most lefse. It's thick, soft, and sweet with a slight tang from buttermilk, and best served with plenty of melted butter, cinnamon and sugar. My Norwegian grandfather loved these and my kids do too. I serve it for breakfast. If you want a more traditional Christmas breakfast, the Norwegian Julekake is a great way to go.
Get the recipe for Hardanger Lefse on Cafe Johnsonia.
Lignonberry and Yogurt Waffle Topping 8 of 15
Waffles are another traditional Scandinavian food that is enjoyed all year long, not just for Christmas. But it's always fun to have another excuse to make them. These waffles are topped with a tangy yogurt-lingonberry sauce.
Get the recipe for Lignonberry and Yogurt Waffle Topping on Project Domestication.
Dop-i-Grytan 9 of 15
Swedish Meatballs 10 of 15
Swedish meatballs help complete a Christmas smorgasbord. I love to make these for my family for Christmas, and throughout the colder months of the year. They are about as authentic as you can get here in the States, even if I am only 1/4 Norwegian. (I've also included how-to photos so you can get the texture just right.)
Get the recipe for Authentic Swedish Meatballs on Cafe Johnsonia.
Rutabaga Puree 11 of 15
With our meatballs, I like to serve either roasted potatoes, or this rutabaga puree. Root vegetables, particularly rutabagas (also called Swedes) and turnips are popular foods throughout Scandinavia. This puree is rich and creamy, and a perfect side for a big helping of Swedish meatballs. Other typical sides include braised cabbage, potato salad, and beets.
Get the recipe for Rutabaga Puree on Cafe Johnsonia.
Swedish Pickled Cucumbers – Inlagd Gurka 12 of 15
Another item to add to a smorgasbord is pickles. Dill and cucumbers are very Scandinavian and go particularly well with another favorite - salmon. (More on that in a second!) A bowl of quick pickled cucumbers add a fresh, crunchy element to the table.
Get the recipe for Swedish Pickled Cucumbers (Inlagd Gurka) on Project Domestication.
Gravlax 13 of 15
Of course all kinds of fish are welcome on the smorgasbord, but our favorite is salmon. No Christmas at our house would be complete without the salmon! We like it in any way, shape, or form, but especially when it's gravalax. It's easy to make at home. We usually buy ours in smaller packages so we can enjoy it all winter long after Christmas has gone. In any case, it's best served on crackers with tangy cheese, fresh herbs, and if we're being extra fancy, a small spoonful of caviar. (While we're on the subject of fish, don't forget to include a jar of pickled herring!) We also include plenty of sliced Jarlsberg cheese with our feast.
Get the recipe and directions on How To Make Gravalax from Food For My Family.
Pebernodder (Pfeffernusse or Peppernuts) 14 of 15
There are many, many, many traditional Scandinavian holiday cookies. We really like PebernÃ¸dder, or as they are called in Germany, Pfeffernusse, which translates to Peppernuts, so-called because they are chock full of spices. They are a pretty common holiday cookie enjoyed by many countries, not just in Scandinavia. The recipe we use is loaded with cardamom, orange, and a bit of brandy.
Get the recipe for PebernÃ¸dder (Pfeffernusse or Peppernuts) on Cafe Johnsonia.
Fyrstekake (Norwegian Cardamom-Almond Tart) 15 of 15
A new recipe we adopted last year is this Norwegian Cardamom Almond Cake. I don't think there will ever be another Christmas without it! The recipe comes from the December 2012 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I adapted it to be gluten-free. The filling is to die for! Someday I'll attempt a Kransekake, the stunning, towering cake made from wreath cookies. But for now, this tart is good enough for us. The only thing it needs is a steaming cup of glogg!
Get the recipe for Fyrstekake on Cafe Johnsonia.