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CHRIST

#SwedishChristmas: Why lussekatter are one hell of a bun

Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar.

#SwedishChristmas: Why lussekatter are one hell of a bun
Closely associated with Saint Lucia, the origin story of lussekatter also has a darker side. Photo: Emelie Asplund/imagebank.sweden.se

This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more articles for Members here.

'Tis the season in Sweden for lussebullar, the Swedish saffron buns associated with Luciadagen (Lucia day) on December 13th, especially those with the S-like twist known as lussekatter (literally, Lucia cats). What better way to celebrate the day of Saint Lucia, which we'll tell you more about tomorrow, than to enjoy a golden sweet bun associated with Satan?

Wait… what?


Lussekatter, associated with Lucia, Christmas… and the devil? Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

That's right, the origin story of lussekatter is a devilish departure from the more ordinary history of saffron bread, which dates to the ancient Romans. In Sweden, saffron buns were established as a high-status baked good by the 1600s, and often featured at the funeral banquets of prominent individuals, according to Lena Kättström Höök, curator at Stockholm's Nordiska Museet, in her book, God Jul! Från midvinterblot till Kalle Anka.

It wasn't until the 1800s, when ingredients became more available and baking methods and tools improved, that saffron buns became accessible to a larger public. Only then did saffron buns, like pepparkakor, become closely associated with Christmas in general and Lucia day in particular.

Around the same time, the German tradition of buns shaped like sleeping cats was imported into Sweden. Following a long association between cats and the devil, the buns were said to be baked by Satan and given to naughty children at Christmas. However, because they were made with saffron, which was traditionally considered to have magic powers that, among other things, helped to ward off the devil, they also had a much more positive connotation. They became known in Sweden as djävulskatter (Devil's buns) before eventually taking on the more innocent name of lussekatter. Or so it would seem…


Sweden's Princess Madeleine, Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Carl Philip making lussekatter in 1984. Photo: Anders Holmström/TT

In fact, even the word lusse, an old Swedish form of ljus (light), is connected etymologically with both Lucia and the devil. The names Lucia and Lucifer – a fallen angel whose name later became synonymous with Satan – are each derived from the Latin word lux, which means light. And though in the Nordic tradition Lucia became the bearer of light on what was once the longest night of the year, the name Lucifer literally translates from Latin to “bringer of light”. These contrasting themes – good and evil, darkness and light – play a significant role in the blending of the pagan and Christian beliefs that shaped Swedish Lucia celebrations.

Despite its connections to the underworld, most Swedes still find lussekatt a heavenly bun, perfect for enjoying with some glögg on Lucia day or any day of Swedish Christmas.

Each day until Christmas Eve, we're looking at the story behind one Swedish festive tradition. Find the rest of our #SwedishChristmas series HERE.

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HOUSING

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in

Whether you're moving to Sweden’s second biggest city for the first time or are looking for another neighbourhood, The Local talks you through some of your best options.

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in
Which neighbourhood of Sweden's second city is right for you? Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

First of all: where to look? The city of Gothenburg suggests on its website that sublets, houses and townhouses to rent all across West Sweden can be found on Blocket, a popular digital marketplace (in Swedish).

Other alternatives for rentals include the sites Bostaddirekt, Residensportalen and Findroommate, as well as Swedish websites like Hyresbostad and Andrahand. Note that some of the housing sites charge a subscription or membership fee. There are also Facebook groups where accommodation is advertised. An example in English is Find accommodation in Goteborg!.

If you’re buying, most apartments and houses for sale in Gothenburg and West Sweden can be seen on the websites Hemnet and Booli. Local newspapers often have property listings. Real estate agents (mäklare) can also help you find a place.

Majorna on a hot summer’s day. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Majorna

Majorna is a residential area in Gothenburg that has transformed from being a classic working-class district to becoming a hip and restaurant-dense cultural hub in Gothenburg. The buildings typical for Majorna are three storey buildings with the first storey built in stone and the topmost two built with wood — the houses traditionally called Landshövdingehus. This neighbourhood just west of the city center, beautifully positioned between the river Göta älv and the park Slottsskogen, is hugely popular with young families.

Majorna was traditionally populated with industrial workers and dockers. The area is still supposed to have a strong working-class identity, with many people living in Majorna seeing themselves as radical, politically aware, and having an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

This doesn’t mean, however, that one can live in Majorna on a shoestring. The average price per square meter here is approximately 55,000 kronor as of May 2021, according to Hemnet.

Eriksberg on Hisingen. Photo: Erik Abel/TT

Hisingen

From the centre of Gothenburg it’s only a short bus or tram ride across the river to Hisingen. It’s Sweden’s fifth largest island – after Gotland, Öland, Södertörn and Orust – and the second most populous. Hisingen is surrounded by the Göta älv river in the south and east, the Nordra älv in the north and the Kattegat in the west.

The first city carrying the name Gothenburg was founded on Hisingen in 1603. The town here, however, was burned down by the Danes in 1611 during the so-called Kalmar War and the only remnant is the foundation of the church that stood in the city centre.

Hisingen housed some of the world’s largest shipyards until the shipyard crisis of the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, the northern bank of the Göta älv has undergone major expansion. Residential areas, university buildings and several industries (including Volvo) have largely replaced the former shipyards.

Hisingen comprises many different neighbourhoods — Kvillebäcken, Backa and Biskopsgården are only some examples. At Jubileumsparken in Frihamnen, an area bordering the Göta älv, there is a public open-air pool and a spectacular sauna. Further inland you’ll find the beautiful Hisingsparken, the largest park in Gothenburg.

Apartment prices are still relatively low in certain parts of Hisingen, while the housing market in other neighbourhoods is booming. The average metre-squared price on Hisingen lies around 41,000 kronor.

Gamlestaden

Gamlestaden or the Old Town was founded as early as 1473, 200 years before Gothenburg’s current city centre was built. You can take a seven-minute tram ride towards the northeast to this upcoming district (popularly known as ‘Gamlestan’) which, like Majorna, is characterised by the original Landshövdingehus in combination with an international atmosphere.

What was once an industrial centre, mostly the factory of bearing manufacturer SKF, is now rapidly turning into something new, as restaurants and vintage shops move into the old red-brick factory buildings.

The multicultural neighbourhood is also close to the famous Kviberg’s marknad (market) and Bellevue marknad, where you can buy everything from exotic fruits and vegetables to second-hand clothes, electronics and curiosa.

The Gamlestaden district is developing and should become a densely populated and attractive district with new housing, city shopping and services. In the future, twice as many inhabitants will live here compared to today, according to Stadsutveckling Göteborg (City development Gothenburg). Around 3,000 new apartments should be built here in the coming years. The current price per metre squared in Gamlestaden is 46,000 kronor.

Södra Skärgården. Photo: Roger Lundsten/TT

Skärgården

It might not be the most practical, but it probably will be the most idyllic place you’ll ever live in: Gothenburg’s northern or southern archipelago (skärgården). With a public bus or tram you can get from the city centre to the sea and from there, you hop on a ferry taking you to one of many picturesque islands just off the coast of Gothenburg.

There are car ferries from Hisingen to the northern archipelago. Some of the islands here are also connected by bridges. The southern archipelago can be reached by ferries leaving from the harbour of Saltholmen.

Gothenburg’s southern archipelago has around 5,000 permanent and another 6,000 summer residents. The archipelago is completely car free and transportation is carried out mostly by means of cycles, delivery mopeds and electrical golf carts.

Most residences here are outstanding — wooden houses and cottages, big gardens — and always close to both nature and sea. Finding somewhere to live, however, is not necessarily easy. Some people rent out their summer houses during the other three seasons. When buying a house here (the average price being 5.5 million kronor) you have to be aware that living in a wooden house on an exposed island often comes with a lot of renovating and painting.

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