Swedish word of the day: lussekatt

the word lussekatt on a black background beside a swedish flag
Why do Swedes eat cats on Lucia day, anyway? Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
Here's the next word in The Local's Christmas-themed word of the day series, running from December 1st to Christmas Eve.

Our word of the day today is lussekatt, the bright yellow S-shaped saffron buns on offer on every street corner in Sweden during the Christmas season.

The first half of the word, lusse, is a shortened version of Lucia, and the second half, katt, is the Swedish word for “cat”.

Lucia is easy to explain – lussekatter are traditionally eaten on December 13th to celebrate Luciadagen – or Lucia Day. They are also sometimes referred to as lussebullar.

The prefix lusse- is also seen in lussebrud – the girl leading the Luciatåg or Lucia procession, often wearing lit candles in her hair.

But what does a cat has to do with saffron buns?

The original name for lussekatter was djävulskatter or “Devil’s cats”. This can be traced back to the 19th century, when a German tradition of baking buns shaped like sleeping cats started to become popular in Sweden. Cats were associated with the devil, who baked the buns and gave them to naughty children at Christmas.

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Saffron – which was starting to become widespread as a Christmas spice in Sweden at that time – was mixed in to the buns, as the spice was traditionally seen as having magic powers which could help ward off the devil.

At some point, “Devil’s cats” became “Lucia cats”, probably due to the fact that they were eaten on Lucia Day.

But that’s not the only link with Satan: Lucia, along with Lucifer (another name for the devil) both share a common root: lux, the Latin word for light.

So, there’s some food for thought next time you’re tucking into a Lucia bun.

Example sentences:

Vi åt lussekatter till fikat i dag.

We had lussekatter with our fika today.

Vill du baka lussekatter på söndag?

Do you want to bake lussekatter on Sunday?

Need a good Christmas gift idea?

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