Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Lusse Natt

I'm all about traditions and family heritage and other such sappiness - especially this time of year. Now that the boys are getting old enough to begin to understand traditions, I decided it was time to celebrate the Scandinavian holiday Lusse Natt (Lussinatta, St. Lucia Day, St. Lucy Night - the names are numerous.)

The holiday began as an early Pagan celebration of a witch figure named Lussi who came out at night on December 13 (Winter Solstice according to the Julian calendar at the time). It was thought to be dangerous to be out in the dark between Lussi night and Yule (later called Christmas) because evil spirits like Lussi and her companions were active at this time. Households kept the spirits away by feasting and drinking at night, lighting candles, and finishing holiday preparations early. Children were warned not to be naughty or Lussi would come down the chimney and take them away. (She pre-dates the legend of St. Nicholas in case you're wondering.)

Later on, the Christians adapted the Pagan story of Lussi into the story of the martyr St. Lucia. According to one popular version of her story, she brought food to the persecuted Christians hiding out in the catacombs in Rome. To keep her hands free for carrying food, she wore a crown of candles in her hair.

Traditional St. Lucia Day celebration

No matter which version of the story you focus on, her name means "light" and the celebration represents the eternal struggle between darkness and light. This was a major theme in the brutal northern countries, so I suppose it was fitting that we spent our Lusse Natt trapped inside the house due to snow and below zero temperatures.

Normally the focus of the day is a morning procession led by the eldest daughter, who dresses up as St. Lucia and brings the parents a breakfast of coffee and Lussekater buns. But since we don't have a daughter to dress up yet, and since we are not exactly morning people, we put the focus on dinner. The day is often used to perform good deeds and/or deliver presents, but my plans for that also dissolved when the temperatures plummeted.

Instead, we spent the day baking cookies for Emerson's teachers and bus drivers (he loves to bake cookies almost as much as he loves to eat cookies). I was too lazy to get some saffron for the Lussekater, so instead I tried my hand at making a traditional Swedish cardamom bread. Despite a momentary panic attack when I couldn't remember how to do a simple braid, at least one out of the two loaves turned out looking the way it was supposed to. We gave that one as a gift to neighbors who lived in Sweden for many years and ate the ugly one ourselves.

In the traditional procession, boys dress up as Stjärngossar (Star Boys), so the boys used their creativity to color stars and I relied on Robbie's superior geometry skills to fashion rudimentary cone hats.

Before dinner we had a minor "procession" that mainly consisted of me throwing on their costumes and snapping pictures as quickly as possible before they were destroyed.

Emerson was convinced his hat was a birthday hat and kept singing the birthday song. Fionn ripped his hat and we broke two electric candles in less than 5 minutes, but all I cared about was documenting the moment. I figure at this age they don't remember much, but if I can show them pictures of it in years to come, they will form memories around the images instead. I mean think about it - whenever you look at pictures of vacations and events later on, you have much more positive feelings about it than you did when it was actually happening. At least I hope that's true for other people because I'm going to rely on it heavily during their childhood...

We ate a simple Scandinavian dinner of salmon with dill, cardamon bread, warmed glogg, and Pepparkakor (gingerbread biscuits). I cheated and bought the cookies instead of making them, but the various shapes they come in were a huge hit with the boys. It was a good thing they played with their polar bears and snowmen so much since it prevented them from downing a hundred cookies in one sitting.

I can't wait to make up a tiny candle crown for our daughter next year, and hopefully bring more meaning to the celebration for the boys. In the meantime, my hard work explaining Christmas this year has finally paid off. The boys have showed almost no interest, but then yesterday Emerson announced that "It's Christmas time and Santa brings us presents." When he started throwing balls down the stairs later on, I asked him to please stop. His temper has been atrocious the past couple weeks, so I was bracing for battle. Instead he considered the situation for a moment and then said, "Ok, I can't throw balls down the stairs. Santa brings us presents."

As much as I hate the fact that women do 90% of the work for the holidays and then give all the credit to some fat old white guy, there are times when I appreciate Santa Claus. A lot.

Speaking of holiday preparations, while I have been busy handling cards and shopping and wrapping, Robbie was busy doing this:

Ok, to be fair, he did (begrudgingly) help me put up the tree and decorate it. And he nodded when I would ask his opinion on gifts, but most of his festive energy went into this. His work had an "Ugly Christmas Sweater" contest, so not only did he buy an ugly sweater, he also hot glued ornaments and presents on it to make it 3D. Then he fashioned a portable light system to make the lights he glued on the collar actually glow.

Incidentally, while he was shopping for the sweater in Value World, he saw a woman standing in the aisle without any pants. Then he brought home his goods and made the final product without even washing the sweater first. Pray our family doesn't spend Christmas infested with...something.


  1. Thanks for the deeper education on Lussi Natt! I'd heard of it, but not the Lussi story. And that connects very deeply to the Italian tradition of La Befana--who also comes down chimneys (predating Santa by thousands of years--and leaves children gifts, or coal (carbone--a black sugar candy)). (Though the modern Italic customs around Befana have her arriving and leaving gifts on Epiphany--which looks like a Christianization of older customs, to me.) Even the date is (I was told) connected to a holiday honoring the goddess of the witches, and light, there. Makes me wonder how deep and old the connection is.

    Sounds like wonderful, wonderful memories were made.

  2. That is an amazingly ugly sweater. I'm really happy you included that part about it being for a contest. My wife would have just posted the picture and let everyone mock :)

  3. The most underrated fashion accessory of 2010 = Pants. We have Lady Gaga to thank for that one folks!
    I love hearing/reading of holiday traditions, sounds like the boys had fun!