73: lussekatt

Today (December 13) is St Lucy’s Day, Luciadagen. Lucy/Lucia lived in Syracuse, Sicily, from 283-304. She was martyred when she (a Christian) refused to marry a non-Christian. Her name derives from the Latin, lux, light, and indeed she is patron saint of the blind. A common story is that her eyes were removed at some point during her martyrdom, but this seems to be a later addition.

Lucia is a major celebration in modern-day Sweden, dating from the 1760s.  Most towns will elect a Lucia, who will then, dressed in white with candles in her hair, lead an entourage while singing Lucia songs. All the while, dark and (maybe) snow outside. It’s really quite a moving ceremony. Interestingly, the best examplar I could find on youtube is a Swedish Lucia held in Barcelona:

What about the word? Lussekatt is a type of bun eaten at Lucia. It’s coloured with saffron, and the basic shape is this:

I’ve heard a suggestion that these remind you of poor Saint Lucy’s eyes, but it’s more likely that they remind you of a cat, curled-up asleep, hence the name lussekatt. Or half the name, anyway. SAOB lists many words under the headword lucia, lussekatt being one of them. The earliest reference is to 1898, in Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfarts Tidning. But SAOB also gives an alternate name for lussekatt: dövelskatt. Dövel is a Swedish dialect word for djävul, devil. And therein lies the rub.

The lusse- in lussekatt is related not to Lucia, but to Lucifer, the devil himself. Rather than explaining in detail, I’ll give you some further reading below. Strange as it may seem, the etymology of Lucifer is also connected to light. It seems the key biblical passage is Isiah 14:12, here’s the King James version:

12How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

Some food for thought on a dark day in Sweden! Here are the links:
Lucia – legend, myt och fakta (SVT)
Faktoider: Lussekatter
How to make Lussekatter (Community of Sweden)
Saint Lucy (wikipedia)
Lucifer (wikipedia)

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Published in: on December 13, 2011 at 09:02  Leave a Comment  
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