A light for us all
Christmas is great. Winter is not. Outside of the excitement for the holidays, many of us struggle through these short, dark days in the Northern Hemisphere. So if you are like me, perhaps you’ll benefit from the inspiration and motivation that comes from one of our saints: St. Lucy.
The Church recognizes the dark times of winter and celebrates opportunities for metaphor. Christmas, for example, was placed on Dec. 25 (thought to be the shortest day of the year) to mark Christ’s arrival, bringing and expanding light into the world as the days begin to subsequently lengthen.
It is also a time when we celebrate the feast day of St. Lucy, whose name means light. As a child, I was intrigued and interested in this saint because my loving grandma is named Lucy. At the same time, I was haunted by the saint’s macabre image in my Picture Book of Saints, where she was depicted holding a goblet containing two eyeballs staring directly at me. But, as I grew older and overcame my phobia of disembodied eyeballs, I learned more about her. I became aware that she is the patron saint of vision – a symbolic contrast to the darkness of December.
St. Lucy (Lucia) lived in Syracuse, Sicily, under the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
One can only imagine how tough it was being a Christian trying to live a devout spiritual life in a violent and pagan early fourth century. One story has it that Lucia refused to marry a pagan and vowed to consecrate her life and virginity to God. The angry suitor handed her over to the Roman government. After several horrific attempts to kill her (including the gouging of her eyes), she finally died by a stab wound to her heart. In studying saints like these and the suffering they endured, I find the inspiration to persevere through the dark times of the year, and the dark and tough times of my life.
With Dec. 13 marking the feast day of St. Lucy, celebrations take place in those parts of the world where she is particularly revered. In Sweden, St. Lucy’s Day marks the beginning of the Christmas celebration. Local recipes are prepared as part of the traditional festivities. Among the homemade sweets is a Swedish ginger cookie called Pepparkakor. How wonderful that during this time of year, we can use culinary arts to combat and liven the somber gloom of winter. I would imagine that St. Lucy applauds the invocation of her name within the context of celebration, cuisine, and the thwarting of winter’s darkness.
Aside from being easy to make, these crispy and delicious cookies are easy to eat. The next time winter gets you down, warm your house with a batch of these treats, take inspiration from St. Lucy’s perseverance and find peace in knowing that you will make it to May.
Pepparkakor (Swedish Ginger Cookies)
• 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
• 1 ½ cups brown sugar
• ½ cup molasses
• 1 egg
• 3 ½ cups flour
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl or container, combine all dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda and salt) and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar. Mix in egg and molasses until well combined. Slowly add dry ingredients into the creamed mixture. Knead and form into a ball. Place dough into an airtight container and refrigerate for about an hour.
Remove from refrigerator and divide dough in half (leaving one half in refrigerator to stay firm). Roll dough to a 1/8-inch thickness onto a cool, floured surface. Use cookie cutters to cut desired shapes. Using a spatula, carefully place onto a parchment lined (or greased) baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes and cool completely on wire rack. Repeat process with remaining dough.