Glad Lussinatt

Yule is a magical time of year, and when we look to the various holiday traditions from Krampus and Saint Nicholas, to the celebration of Saint Lucia Night, we see the pre-Christian customs as remnants scattered across all of December. But I wanted to acknowledge Lussi, as her feast day approaches. Unfortunately most information about her doesn’t appear in English, but primarily in folk traditions and their accounts from Norway and Sweden (and therefore, in those languages). Usually what we find in English relates more to the Christianized syncretization, and the church’s “Saint Lucia” story.

Some scholars have posited that the Christianized Saint Lucia and the customs tied to her celebration in modern times is most likely a syncretization of pre-Christian customs of Lussi (from areas of Norway and Sweden) with the Italian Christian martyr Saint Lucia. Folk traditions describe Lussi having a Wild-Hunt (oskorei) like horde called the Lussiferda.

Lussebrud from Jösse district, in the Värmland region of Sweden.  
The figure is about 150 cm high (4.9 feet) and was used before 1930. The Nordic Museum.

In some regions of Sweden there would be the lussebrud (the Light Bride). Sometimes the lussebrud was merely a female dressed for the occasion, but sometimes this may be a male or female dressed up in straw as a bride, or the lussebrud may be a straw doll. The lussebrud may also be accompanied by the lussebock (Light buck). This is similar to other Wild Hunt figures in the Northern Tradition: Perchta & the Perchten, Saint Nicholas (possibly influenced from Odinic origins) and the Krampus. Like other Wild Hunt figures, she has ties to the reward/punishment folk traditions. Lussi or her horde would come down chimneys and steal misbehaving children. Lussi might destroy chimneys if certain tasks weren’t done before her night: spinning of thread or yarn was to be finished, cleaning finished, slaughtering for the year to get through the winter, and other such tasks. Symbolically, these were all tasks you’d need to help you survive a winter. If people hadn’t finished all their work, they feared Lussi would smash their chimneys.

The celebration of Lussi’s Night was meant to be culturally connected with the winter solstice, and that is what we see with the older Julian calendar. We can tell this from the clue we have of the celebration’s name from parts of Norway, where it was called ‘Lussia Langnatte’ (or Lussi’s Long Night). In Sweden it’s usually referred more simply as Lussinatta (Lussi’s Night). When a new calendar methodology was adopted, the Gregorian Calendar, we ended up with her celebration on December 13, and the astronomical solstice falling about a week later.

Today in Sweden, Lussinatt falls on the evening of December 12. There exists a multiplicity of folk traditions that can mark the celebrations. Some are secular, some are tied to the church. Previously as we near the modern era, you would have lussegubbar, or youth dressed up like Lussi and go carousing door to door in the countryside singing, in a tradition that seems reminiscent of caroling and wassailing traditions we see elsewhere. Today the songs are still sung especially the Sankta Lucia (which is believed to originate from an Italian folk song, rebranded with Swedish lyrics), but the processions are a bit less wild as they tend to wind their way through town from schools and churches, to nursing homes and hospitals. Today many towns will have an elected (or chosen by random lottery) Lucia who leads the procession (Luciatåg) wearing a candled wreath (known as a luciakrona, which was traditionally worn as a crown decorated with evergreen lingonberry branches), accompanied most usually by young girls as her handmaidens (tärnor) in evergreen wreath crowns and more recently young boys as star boys (stjärngossar) in pointed white hats holding gold stars. Everyone is all dressed in white holding candles. Sometimes they are also accompanied by gingerbread men (pepparkaksgubbar), or in some places they might dress as the local elves.

Traditionally the crowns were adorned with real candles and open flames. But in a move towards safety most places have shifted to using electric lighted versions of the candled wreath instead. In addition to the crowns there are also more candle-ladened items associated with the observance called Ljuskrona (ceiling mounted chandelier) or Ljustaken (table-top candelabara) usually, though some other names include: julstaken, julkrona, or jul tradet. Sometimes they were adorned with handcut and fringed paper decorations, different patterns were known to be prevalent in specific communities in Sweden. These Ljustaken are usually hidden until December 13, then brought out and decorated. It’s quite common for this to be a family activity. They would be part of the decorations in the home throughout the entirety of the yuletide until January 13, when they are put away again until next December.

The practice of Lussevaka – to stay awake through Lussinatt (the evening of December 12) to guard oneself and the household against evil, not only fits symbolically well with a solstice celebration of longest night, but also brings to mind the description from Bede that Mother’s Night was observed for the entire night as well. Today it’s not uncommon for their to be parties as part of the lussevaka observance, sometimes with people actually cooking and making the lussekatter rolls they’d eat in the morning. People may use the time to work on handcrafted projects. Some will drink and be merry with their peers. There are old references to folk traditions of writing Lussi’s name on doors and fences, or in other areas of having weapons at hand (or hanging them up) while you observed the vigil. In some areas you were meant to feast to keep you strong through the terrors of the night. It was a night where animals were said in some areas to be able to speak. Livestock in some areas were given a treat of extra food, or a lussebit, meant to help them survive the evil that may lurk during the long night. There’s some folk customs that include women invoking Lussi for oracles on their future husbands. Others that have the eldest daughter in her role as light bringer might walk the property with her candle from house, through barn and stable, and around the boundaries of the farmstead to ward it from evil. One imagines in pre-Christian times this was probably accompanied by prayers of invocations to the Holy Powers for protection.

In Northern Europe, especially some of the most extreme latitudes there can be very, very little daylight indeed. We know that lack of sun, can be a lack of both mental well-being, but physical well-being as well causing vitamin D deficiencies. The celebration marks the start of the holiday season. On the morning of December 13, households will designate a member of the household (usually the eldest daughter) to serve drinks and baked treats from pepparkakor (ginger snap cookies), mulled wine (glögg), coffee as well as saffron baked goods like cookies or the more iconic treat lussekatter in honor of Lucy’s Day. The yellow color used in those saffron spiced treats are a nod to Lussi’s connections as a light bringer. One presumes this could be the conclusion in some areas to the warding of the property from the night before, and the corresponding nightlong vigil.

While there’s a few different Christian origin stories for Saint Lucia (or Lucy), one of them has her bringing light to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs surrounded by the dead with nothing but a lit wreath to guide her. Symbolically, traversing the dark and realm of the dead with light, seems to fit with pre-Christian symbolism. There is another story of how a woman with golden radiance appeared in a boat with food during a time of great hunger as well, who disappeared once the food was delivered. Another comes from what seems to be an attempt by the Church to demonize her, saying she was another wife of the Biblical Adam that consorted with Lucifer, and the unholy product of their union would be the demons or lussiferda.

The traditional depiction of Saint Lucia is of a woman clad in white. We know this is sacred iconography that is referenced time and again in Northern Tradition areas. We see this mentioned in Tacitus’ Germania that priest or priestesses wore white, we also see in the folk traditions mentioned by Grimm that women clad in white appeared at dawn for Ostara/Eostre.

Lussesang – A Song for Lussi

Watch on YouTube

While I don’t agree with the song’s description saying this is for Freya (and thus assuming that Lussi is an aspect of Freya), the lyrics only mention Lussi and Alfrodul (an attested name for Sunna) and the lyrics are perfect for Lussinatt. If you visit this song on youtube, you can find the lyrics in Swedish and English if you expand the description.

Hail to you Lussa holy among the holy, the bright dis of Yule. Drive with your light from the valleys of the Earth the darkness of midwinter.

(Excerpted English translated Lyrics from Lussesang)


At its heart this is a festival of lights in the darkness where observed in Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, as well as parts of Estonia, Croatia, and Italy. Denmark began observing it in 1944 when Franz Wend imported it from Sweden as a cultural counter protest to Nazi Germany and their occupation of Denmark. Plus across the diaspora of communities created through Swedish immigration elsewhere. The Nordic Museum has a small gallery of photos of Lussinacht celebrations from the first half of the 20th Century.

I will leave you with this striking, cinematographic observance of Lussi’s Night “Light in the Darkness” by Jonna Jinton, an artist, musician and filmmaker living in the northern woodlands of Sweden.

Watch on YouTube
*Update: December 2, 2021 with Swedish terminology.
The Nordiska Museet (Nordic Museum) has a bibliography of resources (alas, not in English). Skjelberd's "Jul i Norge" is a recent book re-collating together much older folk tradition research, including information on Lussi. 

May Day Punch – Recipes for Waldmeisterbowle

Our holy tide of Walpurgis, known and celebrated by others as May Day or as Beltane is only days away! To help get in the mood (and to allow you guys a chance to pick up ingredients) here’s  recipes for a traditional May Day Punch from Germany, known as Waldmeisterbowle.

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Of course finding the main ingredient, the waldermeister or woodruff, can be a bit tricky. Sweet woodruff is a perennial herb whose small white flowers bloom in May and June. It is widely available at garden nurseries in many parts of the US, and makes for an excellent ground cover (especially in shaded areas). Woodruff has a scent that’s been described as being a combination of part fresh mown grass/hay, part vanilla, & part cinnamon. Varying on the recipe you’ll either need to use the woodruff directly, or a syrup made from the woodruff.

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Do keep in mind that woodruff is a poisonous plant (but you have to ingest a very large quantity of it for it to be harmful), however many of the woodruff syrups available commercially today are artificially flavored and don’t actually contain woodruff.

You might find the herb at a specialty gourmet spice store near you, sometimes you can find it on amazon, or you may need to track down the plant from a nursery. There’s also a very common alternative instead of using genuine woodruff you can go find the faux Waldmeister syrup at specialty grocers or amazon. In Germany Waldmeister syrup is added to beer, soft drinks, sports drinks, ice cream, baked goods and more! There are other food products that are also made to capitalize on this traditional, seasonal flavor of Germany: gelatin, hard and soft candies including the crocodile treats that have been made for almost 100 years. Woodruff, or waldmeister, is very much a seasonal, and cultural taste of spring in Germany.

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WALDMEISTERBOWLE RECIPES

A Modern Traditional Recipe

  • 1 bunch of Waldmeister, known in the US as sweet woodruff* (about 0.2 to 0.35 ounces)
  • 2 squirts of lime juice or lemon juice
  • 2 bottles of dry white wine
  • 1 bottle of semi-dry sparkling wine
  • ice cubes

Let the bunch of woodruff dry somewhat and poor one bottle of white wine into a punchbowl. To prevent the toxic substances of the woodruff from entering the punch, you should dip the bunch of woodruff into the wine, tied together with a string so that the stem ends stick out; let steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the woodruff and discard. Add the remaining white wine and top off with the sparkling wine. Chill with ice cubes placed under the bowl. If you would like it sweeter, you may add some sugar.

Alcohol-free version

  • 1 tablespoon of sweet woodruff syrup
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 600 ml apple juice
  • 400 ml sparkling water

Mix all the ingredients and serve chilled.

An Alternative Recipe: IVAR’S MAY PUNCH
This appears to be from the Southern U.S. and represents an American twist from German descendants.

  • 1 gallon white wine (Riesling is best)
  • 1 pint Southern Comfort (gives it a peachy flavor), or Yukon Jack for a different flavor
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, thoroughly cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/2 cup dried sweet woodruff herb (waldmeister), crumbled
  • 1/2 cup superfine sugar

Begin your preparation the day before the punch is to be consumed. This enables the flavors to bloom.

The day before the punch will be served:

Heat the Southern Comfort until it is very warm to the touch, but do
not let it boil. Steep the sweet woodruff in the Southern Comfort overnight (there is no need to refrigerate, but it is best to cover the mixture to prevent evaporation). Thoroughly dredge the
strawberries in the sugar. Place the sugared strawberries in a covered
container and refrigerate overnight. Chill the wine overnight.

The day the punch will be served:

Strain the Southern Comfort/woodruff mixture and discard the solid
material. The Southern Comfort may have a somewhat cloudy appearance
now. Not to worry.

Add the strained Southern Comfort / woodruff infusion to the wine and stir well. Add the sugared strawberries and any juice that may have leached out of them overnight. Stir. Chill the mixture for at least two hours before serving. If the punch bowl will be sitting at room temperature for a substantial period during the festivities, a single block of ice may be floated in the punch to keep it cold. Do not add small ice cubes or crushed ice, since they will melt quickly.

When you dole out the punch, try to make certain that every cup gets at least one of the strawberries.

Make Your Own Woodruff Syrup from Scratch

1st recipe

  • 1 bunch sweet woodruff (for this recipe, one that is not blooming yet)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (+ 1 teaspoon citric acid)

1. Cook a syrup from water, sugar, lemon juice and citric acid.

2. When the syrup is cool, pour into a bottle and add sweet woodruff in it. Let stand for about 5 days in the fridge or any other cool place.

3. After 5 days, remove the plant from the syrup, straining as necessary. Close the syrup in the bottle. Optional: In Germany people would add a few drops of green food coloring, since there everything related with sweet woodruff should be green. 

2nd recipe

  • 1/2 l apple juice (without sugar!)
  • 250 g honey
  • 1 bunch sweet woodruff

1. Steep woodruff in apple juice for 20 minutes. After this time, strain the juice from the plant.

2. In a saucepan, cook (very briefly) the apple-woodruff juice mixture with honey. While still hot, fill the bottle. To prepare a delicious drink, dissolve 1 part of apple-sweet woodruff syrup in 4 parts mineral water.

3rd recipe

  • 300 g (1 & 1/4 cups) water
  • 250 g (1 cup) sugar
  • 25 sweet woodruff blooms
  • lemon juice

1. Add blossoms to water, and stir.

2. Cover container of blossom water with cling film (plastic wrap) and let it rest at room temperature for 24 hours.

3. Add sugar to a pot, and drain the blossom water through a sieve into the pot. Now turn the cooktop to high, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it starts to boil, turn off the stove.

4. You’ll want to let the mixture cool to room temperature, and now you can store it, or use it. When it’s time to use it, it’s recommended you add some lemon juice (1/4 cup) as it brightens the flavor, and then add that to your punch.

This recipe comes with a youtube video on how to make it here.

HAVE FUN, BUT REMEMBER TO DRINK RESPONSIBLY.

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May Day – Summerday’s Delight Punch Recipe

I love this time of year, and the reburgeoning of the land as the flowers bloom and the weather warms. Walpurgis is always a beloved celebration for me.

If you haven’t had luck finding woodruff or waldmeister syrup to make your own version of the Waldermeisterbowle Punch recipe, here is another much beloved punch I’ll make as well.

Summerday’s Delight

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