Cultural Celebrations: St Lucia Day in Scandinavia

December 13th is a day of celebration in Sweden.  It’s St. Lucia (or St. Lucy’s) Day!

St Lucia Day stems from a pagan winter solstice celebration that was combined with remembrance of St Lucy.  She helped persecuted Christians in Rome by bringing them food.  In order to carry things in both hands, she would wear a ring of candles on her head to help her find her way through the dark tunnels to the prisoners.

Today, Swedish girls dress in white dresses with red sashes and crowns of candles for celebrations at schools and churches.  A national Lucia is even chosen.  Lucias usually go around and visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes, singing songs and handing out Pepparkakor.

St Lucia Day

St Lucia Day (Photo credit: m.gifford)

St Lucia Day is also celebrated in Norway, Denmark and Finland and has been since the 1700s.

Kids can make their own St. Lucia Day crowns!

St. Lucy crowns are ready.

St. Lucy crowns are ready. (Photo credit: Messiah Lutheran (Mechanicsville, VA))

Here’s a recipe for Lussekatter (St Lucia Buns):


Lussekatter (Photo credit: Mle-Mle)


St. Lucia buns may be made ahead of time, frozen, and quickly reheated in the microwave before serving.


Prep Time: 2 hours


Cook Time: 15 minutes


Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes




  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. saffron threads, finely crumbled (or 1 tsp. powdered saffron)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 pkg. dry active yeast (4 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, well-beaten, plus one egg white
  • raisins or currants to decorate


Crumble saffron threads into melted butter. Let sit 30 minutes to an hour (this intensifies the saffron flavor).

Heat milk to a light boil, turning off heat when it reaches the scalding point (with small bubbles across the top). Stir in melted butter, sugar, and salt. Pour mixture into mixing bowl and allow to cool until “finger-warm” (still quite warm, but just cool enough to touch). Stir in yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.

Mix 3 1/2 cups flour into liquid. Stir in two well-beaten eggs. Add enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough (just until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You don’t want to add too much flour).

Transfer dough to a large greased bowl and turn to coat all sides. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch down risen dough. Lightly knead two or three times on a floured surface. Pinch off small handfuls of dough (about the size of a racquetball) and roll into “snakes.” Shape snakes into “S”-shaped buns or other desired shapes (please see my photo gallery of Lucia buns for traditional examples). Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with the towel again, and allow to rise until doubled (about an hour).

Decorate buns with raisins, brush with egg white, and bake in preheated 375º oven about 15 minutes, just until brown. Yield: 20 St. Lucia Buns (“Lussekatter”)


Featured Students for January Arrival!!!

international flags

international flags (Photo credit: Joelk75)

We have a few students still looking for host families for half year experiences from January to June. If you’ve considered hosting, but aren’t sure you can commit to a full year, why not take a January arrival?

These are the great kids we are featuring this week:


Gender: Male
Age: 17
Father’s Occupation: Radiation Oncologist
Mother’s Occupation: housemaker, nurse
Marital Status: Married
Student Lives With: Both Parents
No. of Siblings: 3
Place of Birth: Switzerland
Community: City or Town
Religion: Christian
Religion Frequency: Occasionally
Attend Host Religion: Occasionally
Food Restrictions: None
Live With Diff Host Religion: Yes
English Level: 8
Program Start: January 2014
Program Length: Half Year

• Boxing
• Cooking
• Listening to music
• Cinema / Movies
• Gym
• Soccer

Samuel is a very active, honest and independent young man who comes from a big family. He loves the openness of Americans. He adores boxing and soccer and loves traveling, having spent a month at the EF language school in NY. He is goal-oriented, extroverted, flexible, and has a fun disposition, which makes him very approachable. He loves sitting around the dinner table with his family of six.

I am a 17 years old active, athletic, fun-loving boy. With me you can talk about quite everything, I like listening to people and learn new things from them. I really like the USA and its people, sports, food, shopping, music, honest people, new haircuts, go out with friends, the sound when typing on a laptop, family festivals-like on Christmas and strong wind.


Gender: Male
Age: 16
Father’s Occupation: Consultant
Mother’s Occupation: Teacher
Marital Status: Divorced
Student Lives With: Both Parents
No. of Siblings: 1
Place of Birth: Germany
Community: small town or village
Religion: Catholic
Religion Frequency: Occasionally
Attend Host Religion: Yes
Food Restrictions: None
Live With Diff Host Religion: Yes
English Level: 8
Program Start: January 2014
Program Length: Half Year

• Biking / Cycling
• Golf
• Listening to music
• Skiing
• Watching TV
• Computers
• Hiking
• Piano
• Tennis

Philipp is a charming, polite and interested young boy. He is very athletic – his hobbies are swimming, playing golf and tennis. He is very open-minded and is looking forward to getting to know a new culture and improving his English.

I´m 16 years old and I´m currently visiting the 9th class. In my spare time I like to do various sportive activities. In the summertime I love to play golf and tennis. As I live very close to the lake, I also like to go swimming and meeting with my friends.  During the wintertime I like to go skiing with my friends and my family.


Gender: Male
Age: 16
Father’s Occupation: Craftsman
Mother’s Occupation: Secretary
Marital Status: Married
Student Lives With: Both Parents
No. of Siblings: 1
Place of Birth: Germany
Community: City or Town
Religion: New Apostolic (Christians)
Religion Frequency: Occasionally
Attend Host Religion: Occasionally
Food Restrictions: None
Live With Diff Host Religion: Yes
English Level: 7
Program Start: January 2014
Program Length: Half Year

• Listening to music
• Swimming
• Reading
• Weight training

Tim is an athletic boy, who likes to work out in the gym and take care of his health. He is generally interested in sports and would like to get to know news sports, like e.g. American football. Tim likes to spend time with his friends, going to the movies or swimming. He is also very interested in economic and history, those are his favorite subjects. Tim is a helpful boy,who takes over household chores. He is outgoing, talkative and thus will most probably easily find new friends and fit into a new family.

I’m open for new things and interested to learn new things. I am looking forward to going to school in the USA and become a member of a sports team. I would like to see some nature in the US, maybe something special near my host family.

If you’re interested in opening your home this holiday season, fill out the form to be contacted for more information:

Cultural Celebrations: Nikolaustag & Krampus

Picture of the Pennsylvania Dutch version of t...

Picture of the Pennsylvania Dutch version of the Belsnickel, taken in the 1950s at an event near Philadelphia to which young children were brought for the specific purpose of being scared into good behavior by this creature. This particular figure is carrying a switch with which he threatened the children in the room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nikolaus with Knecht Ruprecht

Nikolaus with Knecht Ruprecht (Photo credit:

December 6th was the feast day of St. Nicholas.  This also means it was Nikolaustag in Germany! It is tradition for children to put their boots (or shoes, nowadays) outside their bedroom door in hopes of receiving treats and small gifts from Nikolaus for being good throughout the year.  These gifts usually consist of sweets or cookies, fruit or small toys.  If a child has been naughty, they are left with birch twigs.  Nikolaus or the Weihnachtsmann is said to resemble what we envision in the US as Santa Claus.



Weihnachtsmann (Photo credit: Manuel Bartsch)

In some parts of Germany, Austria and other areas around the Alps, it is believed that Nikolaus has a companion known as Krampus.  Krampus resembles a devil and is responsible for distributing “gifts” to the naughty children, such as the twigs or lumps of coal.


Krampus is the Austrian name, but he is also known as Knecht Ruprecht in Germany, Schmutzli in Switzerland, Zwarte Piet in the Netherlands and Flanders and Belsnickel in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.


Krampus (Photo credit: Paolo Vercesi)

Tasty Tuesday: Nürnberger Lebkuchen

English: Lebkuchen at the Nuremberg Christmas ...

English: Lebkuchen at the Nuremberg Christmas Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lebkuchen is a commonly found Christmas treat at Weihnachtsmärkte throughout German-speaking Europe.  Here in the US, we know this as gingerbread.  However, German Lebkuchen, especially the kind from the area around the city of Nürnberg in northern Bavaria, tends to be softer and a bit different than what Americans might be used to.  It’s still a yummy way to share a German Christmas tradition with your family.


Nuernberger Lebkuchen - Homemade German CookiesNuernberger Lebkuchen – Homemade German Cookies


Nürnberger Lebkuchen or gingerbread has been around since the 14th century, when Nürnberg was a rich city with good trade associations. Now you can make Nürnberger Lebkuchen in your home without any special German ingredients. These soft, spicy cookies keep for several weeks.

Makes about 32 three-inch cookies.

Prep Time: 25 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes


***Cookie Dough***

  • 1/2 c. softened butter (113 grams)
  • 1 c. sugar (200 grams)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 c. white flour (360 grams)
  • 1 T. Lebkuchen spices (6 grams)(see note)
  • 2 T. cocoa powder (12 grams)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. double acting baking powder
  • 1 c. milk (225 ml)
  • 1 3/4 c. ground almonds (150 grams)
  • 1/2 c. candied lemon peel, chopped (100 grams)
  • 1 T. rum or orange liqueur


  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 – 2 T. rum or liqueur
  • 1/2 c. powdered sugar


  • 32 Oblaten (baking wafers) 3 inch size
  • 1/2 c. raisins, soaked in rum and chopped
  • 1/4 c. shredded coconut

Note about “Lebkuchen spices”. If you do not buy premixed “Lebkuchen Gewürz” from a German store, you may mix your own.

  • 2 T. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground anise seed

Use 1 to 2 tablespoons per recipe.


  1. Cream butter, sugar and eggs until light and fluffy.
  2. Mix in flour, spices, cocoa powder and baking powder, alternating with milk.
  3. Fold in nuts and lemon peel. Stir in rum. Stir in raisins and coconut if you are using them.
  4. If you are not using the “Oblaten” (they look like Catholic communion wafers and are purchased in Germany or at a German deli, etc.) draw 3-inch diameter circles on parchment paper using a cup or biscuit cutter as a template.
  5. Drop about 3 tablespoons cookie dough into the center of each circle. (If you are using “Oblaten” drop the dough onto the wafer and smooth to the edges.) When tray is full, use the back of the spoon to fill out circle, slightly mounding the dough towards the center.
  6. Bake at 375°F for 15-20 minutes. Turn down oven to 350°F if cookies are browning too much.
  7. Let cool for a few minutes, then remove to a cookie or cake rack to cool.
  8. While they are still warm, make the glaze.
  9. Place 1/2 c. sugar and 1/4 c. water in a small saucepan on the stove. Bring to a boil and boil for a few minutes. Add vanilla and liqueur or rum. Sift powdered sugar over hot sugar syrup and stir.
  10. Using a pastry brush, brush warm glaze over warm cookies. Let dry completely.
  11. Dry glazed cookies for a day (to dry the glaze so it stays a bit crunchy) then store in an airtight container or freeze.

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Cultural Traditions: Advent

Homemade Advent calendar

Homemade Advent calendar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Advent is a celebration in the Christian religion that begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.  Some American families celebrate this and students may share in this with them.

Families of Germanic and Nordic traditions may count down the days until Christmas with an Advent Calendar.  These begin on December 1st and have small windows to open for each day of Advent.  Each window may contain a surprise, such as a piece of chocolate.  Some may only contain pictures, poems or something religious in nature.

Learn more about the observance of Advent here.

Make your own Advent calendar!

Does your family have any special Advent traditions or activities to share?