Today is the Feast Day of Saint Lucia, one of the earliest Christian Martyrs. She was killed by the Romans in 304 EC for no other reasons by her religious beliefs. In many parts of the world, the Feast of Saint Lucia and the Festival of Lights signal the beginning of the Christmas Season.
In the Universal Catholic Church, the Feast of Saint Lucia is followed by the Ember Days of Advent, the first Ember Days of the new church year. In Scandinavian countries, each town elects its own Saint Lucia to lead the citizens in a procession. Saint Lucia is followed by the young girls of the town, all dressed in white and wearing lighted wreaths on their heads. The boys are dressed in white pajama-like costumes, singing traditional songs. The procession is meant to bring hope through light during the darkest time of the year. Just as Advent and the hope of the faithful fill the world with God’s loving light.
The Feast of Saint Lucia is also observed in a special way in the homes of the Faithful. Traditionally the eldest daughter, dressed in white, serves coffee and baked goods to the other members of the family. This is to honor Saint Lucia’s commitment to feed those in hiding in the catacombs of Rome for their beliefs in Christ and Lord and Savior. Saint Lucia was said to wear a wreath of candles on her head to light the way, her arms filled with food for those persecuted. To serve others is a great calling of spirit. One that should be honored and admired. It is an expression of the Holy Spirit within us.
Saint Lucia, whose beautiful name signifies Light
by the light of faith which God bestowed upon you
increase and preserve His light in my soul
so that I may be zealous in the performance of good works
and be a light in the darkness of evil.
Obtain for me, by your intercession with God
Perfect clarity to seek always and forever
the grace to serve others by His will
always and forever.
Saint Lucia’s Braided Bread
Olive Oil as needed
1/4 cup Orange Juice
1-1/2 cups Milk
2 (1/4-oz) packages Active Dry Yeast
1/4 cup Sugar
1 tablespoon additional Sugar
6 tablespoons Butter, cut into pieces
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon Salt
5-1/2 cups Flour
Additional Flour as needed
Dried Cranberries as desired
Oil a large bowl, set aside. Zest orange. Cut orange in half, juice. Add more juice if needed to get 1/4 cup orange juice, set aside.
Warm all the milk in a small saucepan. Pour 1/2 cup of warmed milk into a large bowl. Set aside remaining cup.
Add the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar the warm milk in the bowl. Let it set for 5 minutes to bloom.
Cut butter into pieces, melt the remaining cup of milk. Once the yeast mixture has bloomed, add the buttered milk mixture to the yeast mixture.
Whisk in the eggs, juice, 1/4 cup of sugar, orange zest, and salt. Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 10 minutes, adding more flour until the dough is smooth and elastic and does not stick to the hands.
Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl, turning it once to coat it. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place and let it rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
While the dough rises, grease a baking sheet and set aside.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll each part into a 30-inch rope. Braid the ropes together.
Transfer the braid to the prepared baking sheet, pinch together the ends to form a circle. Cover loosely with a tea towel or clean kitchen towel. Let braid rise until it has doubled again in size, about 45 minutes.
Heat the oven to 375-degrees. Uncover bread, tuck a few dried cranberries into some of the folds of the braids to add flavor. Bake the bread braid for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from oven, transfer to a wire rack. Place rack on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Set aside and let cool for about 30 minutes. While the bread cools, make the glaze.
Glaze and Garnish
2-1/2 cups Powdered Sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons Orange Juice or more as needed
Candied Green Cherries
Candied Red Cherries
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and 2-1/2 tablespoon orange juice until smooth, adding more orange juice 1/2 tablespoon at a time until a glaze consistency is achieved. Set aside.
Tuck a few candied cherries around the bread. Drizzle the glaze mix over the bread, allowing glaze to drip down the sides. Add more cherries and cranberries to make the braid “Holiday” festive.
Transfer the glazed bread to a large cake plate or cutting board. Place candles into the crown before serving. Light just before slicing.
Serve with a warm cup of Orange Spice Tea and enjoy!