31 December 2011

31 December - St. Sylvester; New Year's Eve; 7th day of Christmas

I wish you a merry Christmas,
A happy New Year,
A pocket full of money,
And a cellar full of beer,
And a good fat pig to serve you all the year.

Weather:  The weather today foretells the weather of July. 

Wind on St. Sylvester’s night, and early morning sunshine
Seldom bring good wine.

If the sun shines on the 7th day of Christmas, there will be a good crop on the trees.

A North wind blowing on New Year’s Eve foretells a fruitful season.

If the old year goes out like a lion, the new year will come in like a lamb.

If on New Year's Eve night the wind blow south,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk, and fishes in the sea;
If north, much cold and storms there will be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If northeast, flee it, man and brute!

At Rome, the birthday of pope Saint Silvester, who baptized the emperor Constantine the Great, and confirmed the Council of Nicaea.  After performing many other holy deeds, he rested in peace.

Emperor Constantine leads Pope Sylvester's horse
Dom Prosper Guéranger writes:
“The Church would therefore grace this glorious Christmas Octave with the name of one of her Children, who should represent, at Bethlehem, the whole class of her unmartyred Saints.  She chose a Confessor – St. Sylvester: a Confessor who governed the Church of Rome, and, therefore, the universal Church; a Pontiff, whose reign was long and peaceful; a Servant of Jesus Christ adorned with every virtue, who was sent to edify and guide the world immediately after those fearful combats, that had lasted for three hundred years, and in which millions of Christians had gained victory by martyrdom, under the leadership of Thirty Popes – predecessors of St. Sylvester – and they, too, all Martyrs."

"So that, Sylvester is the messenger of the Peace, which Christ came to give to the world, and of which the Angels sang on Christmas night… His appearance during this Octave reminds us, that the Divine Child who lies wrapt in swaddling-clothes, and is the object of Herod’s persecution, is, notwithstanding all these humiliations, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the world to come."

"O blessed Pontiff, and admirable Pastor of the universal Church! Whom the Lord glorified in the sight of all nations, and exalted above the Emperor of Rome; O thou, that art now exulting in heavenly glory, pray for us to our Lord."

"O shining Light and Brightness, blessed and most holy Sylvester! In whose time, the clouds of persecution were scattered over the heads of the Faithful, and the calmness of peace appeared: help us by thy prayers, that we may for ever enjoy the blessing of peace."

just a few more candles needed...
Today is my dear brother's birthday, and I wish him many more.  Happy Birthday, Mark!
To end the old year merrily, and to begin the new year well, is the object of our celebration tonight.

Finish your projects, make sure your house is clean and in order, pay your debts, and make up any differences you have with others.  You want to start with a clean slate.

Make sure that today your cupboards have food and your pockets have money – empty cupboards and pockets foretell poverty in the New Year.

It is time to make resolutions for the new year.  If you have access to a fireplace or a bonfire, or even a small brazier outside, write down all of your bad habits - which of course you intend to give up - and throw the paper in the fire to rid yourself of their influence.  Then turn over a new leaf and start afresh tomorrow.

Spend the evening with friends, and do not part with them until you have wished each other a happy new year (after midnight).

Tonight is another fine night for fortune telling, by dropping a little melted lead into a bowl of cold water and deciphering the resultant shapes: a pig is good luck and plenty, a heart indicates love, a ring foretells a wedding, a plane or boat means travel, etc.

Say no ill of the year till it be past (unless you are one of those news-feeds that delights in reminding people of “Weather disasters of 2011”, “Political blunders of 2011”, “Worst dressed celebs of 2011”, etc.)

To ensure 12 happy months in the coming year: at the stroke of midnight, eat 12 grapes (very lucky if you eat one at each stroke).  Then frighten away the powers of darkness with noise - ring the church bells, set off fireworks, honk the car horns...

Open the front door at midnight to let the Old Year out and usher the New Year in.

As for First-Footing...  the term refers to the first person to enter your house on New Year's Day (which starts at midnight).  There is no consensus about who brings the most luck.  In some places, a fair-haired man is lucky; a dark man is bad luck.  In others, a dark man is lucky; a red-headed man is bad luck.  He must be a bachelor; his marital status doesn't matter.  Some even allow a woman to fill the position, although traditionally, that was the worst luck that could befall.

The First-Footer, or, barring him, the first person to enter the house after midnight should bring a gift, or at least something besides himself, into the house, for:

Take out and then take in, bad luck will begin.
Take in, then take out, good luck comes about.

Traditionally, the gift was a loaf of bread, a bottle of whiskey, or a shovelful of coals.  Of course, for bringing luck to your house, you must remember to reward him with liquor or small gratuities.

In the days when light and heat depended on fire, no person would allow a candle to be lit and carried out of his house to relight the fire of his neighbor, nor allow coals from his hearth to furnish the same, for it was believed that a family member would die within the year if they did so.

Some people have traditional dinners for this night, like the boiled cod with mustard sauce of the Danes, or the German carp or dried pea soup.  Our traditional dinner continued the theme of "Bad Habits Day", in which no one made even a pretense of eating healthy foods.  Each person chose his favorite - usually some type of fast-food - and we trooped out to pick up each one: pizza here, triple-decker burger and mega-fries there, Chinese take-out, fried chicken, fish-and-chips - whatever suited the individual palate.

And then we solemnly resolved that even if we couldn't quite give them up in the coming year, they would be rarely seen.

[Well, we always meant to keep that resolution anyway.]

In the name of the Lord
The Old Year goes out the door.
This is my wish for each of you:
Peace forever, and praise to God, our Lord.

Happiness, laughter, and blessing to you all.

c1247, Chapel of Saint Sylvester, Santi Quattro Coronati Church, Rome


30 December 2011

30 December - Pirates of Penzance; 6th Day of Christmas

Weather: If the sun shines on the 6th day of Christmas, there will be much milk.

Today in 1879, the first performance took place of William S. Gilbert’s and Arthur Sullivan’s opera, “Pirates of Penzance, or, The Slave of Duty”.

While the actual premiere was on New Year’s Eve 1879 in New York, for copyright reasons a ‘performance’ of sorts was held in England the day before.

So, in its honour, I am pouring the Pirate Sherry and enjoying a marathon today of Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas.  For your enjoyment, here is the Major-General’s song from “Pirates of Penzance” (sing along if you are so inclined):

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;

I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;

I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",

When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery--
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy,
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
He is the very model of a modern Major-General.

29 December 2011

29 December - Saint Thomas Becket; 5th Day of Christmas

Weather: the weather today foretells the weather of May.

If the sun shines on the 5th day of Christmas, there shall be a great bloom of fruit that year.

To foretell the weather of summer and fall, place a branch of elder in a jug of water today.  If the buds develop and open freely, summer will be fruitful; if they don't, then expect a bad harvest.


At Canterbury, in England, the birthday of St. Thomas, bishop and martyr, who, for the defence of justice and ecclesiastical immunities, was struck with the sword in his own basilica by a faction of impious men, and thus went to Christ.

Today is the feast of Saint Thomas Becket - Thomas of Canterbury – the most popular and venerated of the English saints (until he was stricken from the prayer book and his shrine despoiled by Henry VIII).  

His story is well known: a boon companion and Lord Chancellor of Henry II who loaded him with honors, including the Archbishopric of Canterbury, the premier position in the prelature of England.  King Henry had certain plans for the ‘reform’ of the church, and naturally, he could rely on his good friend Thomas to support him.

Except that he couldn’t.  Thomas pointed out that he knew what the king was planning, and as Archbishop, he couldn’t and wouldn’t agree, so maybe it would be better if his good friend the king found someone else for the position, eh?  And they could go back to enjoying life.

You know how the story goes: Henry needed someone in the archiepiscopal chair that he could trust to bring the other bishops in line with his reforms.  Thomas was duly consecrated – and the battle of wills began which lasted for the next eight years.  From being a loyal servant of the king, Thomas became a champion of the Church (well, he had warned Henry).

A subsequent author saw in him an early champion of English liberty:
"We need no longer look at the great prelate through the spectacles of his posthumous Protestant opponents.  With all its faults, the Church of Becket's day was the only possible helper of the people.  The Bishop of Rome was just then a less dangerous shepherd than Henry, the Angevin king.  Becket may not have become consciously a champion of the people when he turned an opponent of the king, nevertheless he proved a mighty agent in winning that long battle for English liberty..." Walsh, William S., Curiosities of Popular Customs and of Rites, Ceremonies, Observances, and Miscellaneous Antiquities, p. 926.

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Heads of state don't like to be reminded where they stand in the true hierarchy, and Henry was no different – any more than his namesake six Henrys later, who had his own former friend and Lord Chancellor, Thomas More, judicially murdered for not falling in with his wishes concerning the Church.  Supposedly, in a fit of pique, he ranted about the people around him, who let their king be treated with contempt by a low-born cleric; four knights took that to mean that Henry wouldn’t mind if Becket were dead.

They obliged.

You can read a detailed account of Becket's murder here.

Saint Thomas was a Shepherd of the Church, one who defended his flock with his life.  So today is a good day to make SHEPHERD'S PIE.

I like to make mine with ground beef - there is usually some on hand - but purists will tell you that it is made with ground or cut-up lamb ("well, it's a SHEPHERD'S pie, d'uh!").  So it is, but I have never understood the economics of eating one's profits.  Makes better sense to dine off someone else's animal.  Of course, paying for that animal when you already have a meat-pie-on-the-hoof in your own flock is probably not good economic sense either.  Well, you make the choice.  Here is a recipe with ground beef.

Boil 3 - 4 large potatoes (or however many are needed to make 3 cups of mashed potatoes.) Mash and season as desired (I always mash them with milk and butter and stir in a teaspoon or two of Seasoning Salt).

Chop 1 onion to make ¾ of a cup.  If you have fresh carrots, thinly slice enough for 1 cup.  Thaw a 10-ounce package of frozen peas (or a box of mixed vegetables).

Preheat oven to 400° F.
In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter; add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes. Crumble 1½ pounds of ground beef into the skillet, and sauté for 5 minutes more.  Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup of water, and if you have the carrots, add them now. (If you haven't thawed the frozen veg, just add them now as well.)

Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Blend 1 tablespoon of flour with 1½ tablespoons of Worcestershire; stir this into meat mixture.  Add the thawed peas (if you haven't already), cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour mixture into a 2-quart casserole.  Cover with the mashed potatoes, making lengthwise and crosswise markings on top with a fork.  Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.

28 December 2011

28 December - Holy Innocents; 4th Day of Christmas

Weather:  the weather today indicates the weather of April.

If the sun shines on the 4th day of Christmas, there will be a great loss of money.
            on the other hand
If it be lowering and wet on Childermas Day, there will be scarcity; while if the day be fair, it promises plenty. 

[take your pick]

In Bethlehem, of Juda, the birthday of the Holy Innocents, who were massacred for Christ by king Herod.

Lully, Lullay, thou little child
By, by, lully, lullay
Lully, thou little tiny child
By, by, lully, lullay

(There are more Carols and Poems for the Holy Innocents here, with three versions of the Coventry Carol.)

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the Natales Sanctorum Innocentum, also known in English as Childermas and in German as Kindermesse. In the midst of Christmas celebrations, we mourn the slaughter of the innocent baby boys of Bethlehem, as ordered by King Herod.  These babies are the example of martyrdom by deed and not will, for they lost their lives involuntarily on account of Our Lord. 

At first, the victims of the massacre were commemorated in conjunction with the feast of the Epiphany, but by the 5th century, a separate day was assigned to the Holy Innocents, close by the Nativity with which it is associated.

Traditionally, this is the unluckiest day in the calendar.  It is not a good day to start any new undertaking, like getting married, or getting a head start on your New Year's Resolutions, or trying a new recipe, or wearing new clothes.  Scouring and scrubbing were right out, and it was believed that anything begun that day would come to an unlucky end.  To some, the actual weekday on which fell (this year it is Wednesday) was considered unlucky throughout the following year - to the extant that not only would they not start a journey, or any of the above activities, they would not wash clothes or themselves that day.

[Sounds like something our own Innocents would pull.  What next?  No doing chores or homework, going to school, getting out of bed on Wednesdays... because Holy Innocents fell on a Wednesday?  Hop right into that bathtub, youngster!]

Another tradition was to whip the children first thing in the morning as they lay in bed, to remind them of the grievousness of this day.  Naturally, the remedy for that (and children are smart; they do think of remedies) is for the children to get out of bed first, before the parents are awake.  With time, the tradition changed to whipping the last person found lying in bed, which must have made for a pretty mad scramble in the morning.

Of course, good ol’ Naogeorgus found the whole thing distasteful, from the foolish papists who asked the intercession of these martyrs to the monks who obviously got some kind of satisfaction out of being beaten:

Then comes the day that calls to mind the cruel Herod’s strife,
Who, seeking Christ to kill, the King of everlasting life,
Destroyed the little infants young, a beast unmerciless,
And put to death all such as were of two years age or less.
To them the sinful wretches cry, and earnestly do pray,
To get them pardon for their faults, and wipe their sins away.
The Parents, when this day appears, do beat their children all,
(Though nothing they deserve), and servants all to beating fall,
And Monks do whip each other well, or else their Prior great,
Or Abbot mad, doth take in hand their breeches all to beat:
In worship of these Innocents, or rather, as we see,
In honour of the cursed King, that did this cruelty.

[Do you think he was always the last one out of bed?]

For all its unluckiness, this was also a day of children, in which they pulled pranks on their parents and other adults in the house or school, like stealing the house-keys (in the days when rooms and closets had key locks) and locking a parent in a closet or the schoolmaster out of his classroom, until they received a promised forfeit of a cookie or a little money [had Naogeorgus only known, he could have inveighed as well against teaching the little darlings the value of extortion].

In honor of today, let the children choose the menu and the activities. [Don’t shudder.  It is only one day.  You will survive.  And who knows?  You might even like tacos or peanut-butter-and-jelly three times a day, and endless viewings of 'The Fairies Rescue Christmas'.]

Of course, it might also make you think that Herod had the right idea.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Massacre of the Innocents. 1308-11.  Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena.

27 December 2011

27 December - St. John the Evangelist; 3rd Day of Christmas

Weather: The weather today foretells the weather of March.

If the sun shines on the 3rd day of Christmas, there will be a great fight among poor men, but peace between rulers and powerful men.

If St. John’s day is dark, the following year will be good.

At Ephesus, the birthday of St. John, apostle and evangelist, who, after writing his gospel, and after enduring exile and writing the divine Apocalypse, lived till the time of the emperor Trajan, and founded and governed the churches of all Asia.  Worn out with age, he died in the sixty-eighth year after the passion of our Lord, and was buried near Ephesus.

Today is the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple, author of the 4th Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of Revelations.  As Stephen represents those who are martyrs in will - that is, who offer their lives for their Lord - and in deed - they are killed for His sake, John represents those who are martyrs in will, but not deed.  However, it wasn't for want of trying on the part of the usual suspects.

John and his brother James were sons of Zebedee, and fishermen like their father.  Having followed John the Baptist for a time, both were called by Christ to be his disciples.  John seems to have been in the very thick of things, being one of the three who witnessed the Transfiguration, and who accompanied Christ to the Garden of Gethsemane.  He remained at the foot of the Cross, when everyone else had hidden themselves, and received the care of Our Lady from her Son.

[I've often wondered if he was trying to live down his mother's public request that her sons sit on the right and left of Our Lord in His Kingdom.  It didn't make either young man popular with the other Ten.]

Tradition says that he remained at Jerusalem until the death of the Virgin Mary, then set out and preached the gospel throughout Asia Minor, with a home-base at Ephesus.  During the persecution under Domitian, he is said to have been taken to Rome, and plunged into a vat of boiling oil.  Miraculously, he received no injury and continued preaching.  The Emperor ordered him to drink a cup of poisoned wine, which he did so, after making the Sign of the Cross over it, and again - no effect.  He was sent to the mines of Patmos, but upon the accession of Nerva, he was released and returned to Ephesus, where he died at age 94.

Based on Saint John’s encounter with the poisoned cup, it was a tradition today for the laity to bring wine to church to be blessed.  Ol’ Naogeorgus sneered:

"Next John the son of Zebadee hath his appointed day,
Who once by cruel Tyrants will, constrained was they say
Strong poison up to drink; therefore the Papists do believe
That whoso puts their trust in him, no poison them can grieve:
The wine beside that hallowed is in worship of his name,
The Priests do give the people that bring money for the same.
And after with the self-same wine are little manchets made,
Against the boisterous winter storms, and sundry such-like trade.
The men upon this solemn day do take this holy wine
To make them strong; so do the maids to make them fair and fine."

The blessed wine was considered a sure protection against poisoning [which is as may be.  I, for one, am not going to put it to the test.]  Still, it is a good day to toast the good saint with a glass of good wine.  There is a blessing for the wine- called Saint John's Love - here, and a nice recipe for Mulled Wine here.

And for dinner tonight?  In honor of Saint John's bath in boiling oil, it should be something fried.  Fish and chips, butterfly shrimp, chicken-fried steak (or forget the steak, just fry the chicken), that lovely Quebec dish called 'Poutine', or the Portuguese dish Bacalhau a Bras.

And perhaps a blessing over it to keep it from clogging the arteries.

"Saint John the Evangelist", The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c1440. Pierpont Morgan Library.
Detail of Saint John the Evangelist with the Poisoned Cup by Alonso Cano. 1636. Louvre.

26 December 2011

26 December - St. Stephen; 2nd Day of Christmas

Weather: Weather today foretells the weather of February.

If the sun shines on the second day of Christmas, then money will be easily come by.

If on St. Stephen’s Day there is much wind, it betokens a bad grape harvest next year, and the wine will be poor.

At Jerusalem, the birthday of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, who was stoned to death by the Jews shortly after the Ascension of our Lord.
Hours of Catherine of Cleves
"And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost..." (Acts 6:5) as one of seven men to minister not only in word but in the administration of church funds and in care for the needy, leaving the apostles to preach and make disciples as they had been bidden.

His ministry is said to have been among the Greek (Hellenist) Jews, and his arguments and logic were so successful in converting many, that men beaten in a dispute with him determined to destroy him.  This they did by false witness, accusing and condemning him of blasphemy; he was taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and stoned to death, in accordance with the Law of Moses.  The dying saint prayed for the Lord to forgive his murderers, and at the end said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit".

According to the story, Gamaliel, the teacher of Saint Paul, appeared in a vision to a priest living in Jerusalem in the 5th century and told him that Stephen’s remains had been buried in Gamaliel’s own garden with those of Nicodemus and other holy men.  The relics were found and eventually carried to Rome, where they now lie in the church of Saint Lawrence.

Among his patronage:  He is asked to relieve headaches (that makes sense), and he is the patron of deacons and of stonemasons (that also makes sense).  And then he is the patron of coffin-makers.  Why?

Omnipotent and eternal God, Who dedicated the first-fruits of the martyrs in the blood of the blessed deacon Stephen, grant, we beseech, that he may be the intercessor for us, he who hath prevailed upon our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son even on behalf of his persecutors.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, O God, world without end.  Amen.

It was once a tradition in Yorkshire to make large goose pies today, all but one of which were shared with the needy.  The remaining one pie was carefully saved until Candlemas and then enjoyed. [Since Candlemas is 39 days away on the 2nd of February, I hope they had some way of freezing the pie]

Stephen is also a patron saint of horses.  An old superstition said that horses would be protected against disease in the coming year if they were bled after being well galloped.  Our old curmudgeonly friend Naogeorgus says:

"The followeth Saint Stephen’s Day, whereon doth every man
His horses jaunt and course abrode, as swiftly as he can,
Until they doe extremely sweate, and then they let them blood,
For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good,
And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare,
As if that Stephen any time tooke charge of horses heare."

For whatever reason this became a tradition, it was certainly the best time in the year for such treatment, as, being Christmas, no work was done, and the farm animals got a bit of rest from their labors as well.

Toss a coin into the trough out of which horses drink, if you wish to prosper in coming year.

This is also the day to ask a blessing on the pastures.

As Stephen was stoned to death, a suitable dessert for today would be Rock Cakes, and there are recipes online which are more gentle on the dentures and digestion than the name (and a one-time experience on my part) would suggest; instead, however, here is a confection called DUBLIN ROCK:

Beat 2 eggs whites until stiff.  Whip 1-2/3 cup of heavy cream (it doesn't have to be stiff.  I used whipped cream - the real stuff, not 'dessert topping'.)

Cream together 1/3 cup of unsalted butter and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar.  Add the whipped cream.  Gently fold in 1 cup of ground almonds.  Add a few drops of orange flower water and 1 tablespoon of brandy.  Stir in the beaten egg whites until well incorporated.

Pour the mixture into a dish and refrigerate until set (this may take overnight).  Remove and break the mixture into pieces (some people utilize a couple of forks to help the process), which will be rough and look like rocks.  Pile the pieces on a platter.  Decorate as you might a Buche de Noel, with green-tinted coconut or angelica to resemble grass, and ground or chopped pistachios to resemble lichen (and a little squiggle of green gel frosting to resemble a snake returning to its lair, or a couple of yellow saurian eyes peeking out from the hole under a rock.  Ooo, she says, warming to her theme, what about gummy worms in the pile?).

And then enjoy.
In the good old days, the village idiots boys would capture a wren today and parade around town with the poor thing in a cage.  Then they would kill it.  The village idiots are as stupid as their name suggests.  Wrens are very useful birds, who like to eat insects and spiders in great numbers, and have condescended to eat birdseed in winter in my backyard, before attacking their preferred diet.

If you must capture a wren, please do it on film.  And for them and their equally voracious feathered brethren, put out birdseed, lots of it, and suet if you can.  You may find fewer garden pests, mosquitoes, and spiders next year, in gratitude.
This is also the day that Good King Wenceslas looked out and espied a poor man "when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even".  A good day to give food to your local pantry, homeless shelter, women's shelter, or Saint Vincent de Paul society.

As the blessed saint asked his page to "Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me firing hither...", you might also make a donation to your local utility to help heat someone's house this winter.  Our utilities include a little yellow envelope labeled "Warm Thy Neighbor" with their paper invoices.  If you pay your bills online, see if they have a place for donations.

And God bless you for your charity.

25 December 2011

12 Days of Christmas, part II

If for some reason, your mentally gifted wonder-of-the-world (at least in his/her own valuation) is bored, why not challenge the 8th wonder to find out just how much it would cost in today's currency to fulfill the terms of the carol "Twelve Days of Christmas".

So on Day 1, find the cost of one partridge and one pear tree.  Don't forget shipping costs and feed. If the partridge is alive, you might need to factor in the cost of a cage.  If you live in a cold climate, factor in a place to keep the pear tree.

Day 2: the cost of two turtle doves (with their cage - they only need one), and one partridge (with its cage), and one pear tree, plus shipping and feed.

Day 3: the cost of three French hens (Cajun hens from Louisiana might do in a pinch), with shipping and feed.  They won't need a cage, but if you don't have suitable accommodations for them, add the cost of renting part of a farm-yard. And everything from Day 2.

Day 4: the cost of four blackbirds (colley birds), plus a cage for them, shipping and feed.  Shipping might be moot if you have a well-attended bird feeder in your yard and are capable of capturing the free-loaders.  Add everything from Day 3.

Day 5: the cost of five ring-necked pheasants (five gold rings), although since most people think the verse refers to jewelry, you can substitute rings instead.  Make sure they are gold.  And of course, everything from Day 4, again.

Day 6: up to now, I don't know that it matters much if the birds are alive or merely look it (if they merely look it, then cages are moot), but here the rules change.  The cost of six geese a-laying (remember your biology, they're females, and if they are a-laying, they are probably short-tempered), plus nesting boxes for them to be a-laying in, plus everything from Day 5.  Need to rent more farm-yard?

Day 7: more fowl.  The cost of seven swans a-swimming, and since they are a-swimming, factor in the cost of something they can a-swim in (possibly the farm-yard has a pond).  Plus everything from Day 6.

Day 8: the cost of eight maids a-milking.  Plus eight cows to milk.  Up until now, the feed has been for the birds.  Factor in the cost of hay for the cows along with shipping, and travel expenses, accommodations and meals for the maids for 5 days.  And everything again from Day 7.

Day 9: the cost of nine ladies dancing.  Depending on how you view your female acquaintance (do they merit the title 'lady'?), you might be able to fill this one at little cost.  Otherwise, travel expenses, accommodations, and meals for 4 days.  Also, the cost of renting a hall or ballroom where they can dance.  And everything from Day 8 (this set of milkmaids will only need 4 days worth of expenses.)

Day 10: the cost of ten lords capable of leaping.  This will be a bit harder, unless you number the younger members of the aristocracy among your friends.  Otherwise, travel, accommodations, and meals for 3 days.  And everything from Day 9 (the ladies and milkmaids will need only 3 days worth of expenses).  The lords can leap in the ballroom, which will be a savings.

Day 11: the cost of eleven pipers piping.  These can be fife pipes, or pan-pipes, or bag-pipes.  Make friends with the Black Watch and the local Philharmonic.  Travel, accommodations, and meals for 2 days.  Factor in a large field or concert hall where they can play, their hourly rate, and rental of instruments if needed.  And everything from Day 10 (the milkmaids, ladies, and lords will need only 2 days worth of expenses)

Day 12: the cost of twelve drummers drumming.  Marching bands are your friends here.  Check with the local high schools.  You may only need to feed them, if they are local enough, plus transportation to and from their schools. Send them out on the field with the pipers.  Add in everything from Day 11. Adjust expenses for the other people accordingly.

By the time you are finished, you will have:
12 drummers
22 pipers
30 lords
36 ladies
40 milkmaids
42 swans
42 geese
either 40 pheasants or 40 rings
36 blackbirds
30 French hens
22 turtle doves
12 partridges, and
12 pear trees.

Good luck.

12 Days of Christmas ( TDoC ), part I

Weather: Some weather prognostications for each month in the coming year based themselves on the 12 Days of Christmas.  Others went by the weather on the first 12 days in January.  I keep track of both, which means that the weather on January 1 will be for August and January.  Don't ask me how.

The twelve days from Christmas to January 5th are said to be the key to the weather for the following twelve months.

So, 25 December being the first day of Christmas, the weather today foretells the weather of January.
26 December: February
27 December: March
etc., through the 5th of January which foretells the weather of next December.
[if you are one of those who starts the twelve days of Christmas on the 26th, adjust accordingly.]

It's a bit easier with basing the weather on the first twelve days of January: 1/1 = January, 1/2 = February, 1/3 = March, etc.
If it rains in the twelve days of Christmas, the coming year will also be wet.

If it rains much during the twelve days of Christmas, it will be a wet year.

Thunder during Christmas week indicates that there will be much snow during the winter.

If the days between Christmas and Epiphany are dark and foggy, there will be much sickness next year.

If the sun shines on the 1st day of Christmas, there will be abundance and much joy in the world.
If it shines on the 2nd day, then money will be easily come by.
On the 3rd day, there will be a great fight among poor men, but peace between rulers and powerful men.
On the 4th day, there will be a great loss of money.
On the 5th day, there shall be a great bloom of fruit that year.
On the 6th day, there will be much milk.
On the 7th day, there will be a good crop on the trees.
On the 8th day, then quicksilver will be easy to get. [I guess that was important]
On the 9th day, then God shall send a great baptism that year.
On the 10th day, then will the oceans and rivers have a great supply of fish.
On the 11th day, then will there be many deaths among men.
On the 12th day, men will be weak, and the earth will be quiet.
from a c1120 manuscript

A mince pie eaten in a different house on each night of the twelve days ensures twelve lucky months. [First you have to get yourself invited to twelve different houses each night for dinner or at least dessert and coffee, and then you have to make sure the hosts are serving a mince pie.  I think the one below is much easier]

As many mince pies as you eat in the twelve days of Christmas, you will have the same number of good months in the coming year.
Some people have asked me why I start the 12 Days of Christmas on Christmas Day itself, when 'everyone knows' that they start on the day after Christmas.

Well, no.  Only the English and those copying them know that they start on the day after Christmas.  And even they were not always sure.

I will lay before you all the circumstantial evidence, and you can decide for yourself.

When is the Octave of Christmas?  January 1st.  If 1 January is the eighth day, then when was the first day? (Go ahead, you can count on your fingers if needed)

An old bit of weather lore says: "The weather on the 2nd of January foretells the weather of September".  This, I think, is just part of the Twelve Days of Christmas prognostications above.  September, being the 9th month, corresponds to the ninth day of Christmas, and if that is on the 2nd of January, then on which date is the first day? (go ahead, you can use your fingers again)

The Saxon Kalendar says, "Five days after the first of January comes to us the baptismal time of our eternal lord, which the flourishing, great and noble people of Britain call Twelfth Day." On the other hand, in Sweden, Epiphany was also called Trettonde-dagen - 13th Day; in German it was Dreizehnde.  "The Epiphany, which is properly the thirteenth day from Christmas, and was so called by the Icelanders, Danes, and other northern nations, is named as among the Anglo-Saxons the Twelfth Day; and its octave is the Twentieth Day, 'der zwegeste tag', or the last day of Christmas."  In Sweden, the 13th of January - Saint Knut's Day - is the twentieth and last day of Christmas -
"Twentieth Day Knut
Driveth Yule out."
and if the 13th is the twentieth day of Christmas, then when was the first day? (You'll need fingers and toes for this exercise, but I'll help you out - it was the 25th of December.)

The author of Medii aevi kalendarium says that "The Eve or Vigil of the Epiphany, January 5, ought to be called, instead of the Epiphany itself, the Twelfth Day, according to the author of an ancient manuscript homily, "De Epiphania Domini n'ri Jhu Xristi": "Thys day is called the xii day; but in trewthe it is the xiij day of Cristemas; whiche day holy Cherche callethe the Epiphani..." 

But I think the most telling piece of evidence is a letter from King Edward VI's Lord of Misrule for 1552, who had been chosen to be 'king' for 'the twelve days'.  It is written to the King's Master of Revels and is dated:
"From Green ye second of January and ye IXth day of our rule."

Now, if he was the Lord or King of Misrule for the Twelve Days of Christmas, and the 2nd of January was the ninth day of his rule... when was the first day?  

Yep.  December 25th.  Christmas Day. 

However, Heaven forfend that I ask anyone to forgo their tradition, and if it is yours to count the TDoC starting from the day after Christmas, carry on.

25 December - Christmas Lore

Weather: Weather today foretells the weather for January.

If the sun shines clear and bright on Christmas day, it promises a peaceful year, free from clamors and strife, and foretells a plentiful year.

If the sun shines through an apple tree on Christmas, there will be an abundant crop of apples in the coming year.

A green Christmas, a good harvest.
         On the other hand:
A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.

So many hours of sun on Christmas Day,
So many frosts in the month of May.

A warm Christmas, a cold Easter; A green Christmas, a white Easter.
Christmas in mud, Easter in snow; Christmas in snow, Easter in mud.
[Doesn't look like Easter has a chance of being warm and sunny!]

If it rains on Christmas, there will be four weeks with no sun.

A windy Christmas is a sign of a good year to come.

If there is much wind on Christmas Day, trees will bear much fruit.

A windy Christmas and a calm Candlemas are signs of a good year.

If the wind grows stormy before sunset on Christmas, it betokens sickness in the coming spring and autumn. [Well, there’s an easy bet, whether it is stormy or not!]

If at Christmas, ice hangs on the willow, then clover may be cut at Easter [i.e. early Spring, and pasturage for the animals]

If it snows during Christmas night, the crops will do well.

If it snows on Christmas night, there will be a good crop of hops next year [and hops make beer, and beer makes the Widow’s heart merry.  This may be the only time I hope for snow.]

Light Christmas, light wheatsheaf;
Dark Christmas, heavy wheatsheaf.
A bright Christmas foretells that hens will lay well.
         On the other hand
A dark Christmas foretells that cows will give much milk.

[And this year it will be a dark Christmas, i.e. no moonlight]

When Christmas day cometh while the moon waxeth, it shall be a very good year, and the nearer it cometh to the full moon, the better shall that year be.  If it cometh when the moon decreaseth, it shall be a hard year, and the nearer to the latter end, the worse and harder shall the year be.  [The moon will just be starting to wax again on Christmas.  Does this mean the year won’t be as bad as it could be?]

If Christmas Day on a Sunday fall, a troublous winter we shall have all.

When Christmas day falls on a Sunday, the year will be unfruitful.

When Christmas is on a Sunday, the winter will be good, but with great winds; the summer will be fair and dry; the world will be at peace.

Lordlings, all of you I warn,
If the day that Christ was born
Fall upon a Sunday,
The winter shall be good I say,
But great winds aloft shall be;
The summer shall be fair and dry.
Be kind skill and without loss,
Through all lands there shall be peace,
Good time for all things to be done,
But he that stealeth shall be found soon;
What child that day born may be,
A great lord he shall live to be.

On Christmas day, place twelve onions in a row, each with a pinch of salt on the top, The first onion on the left represents January, the next February, and so on.
On Epiphany, check the onions.  If the salt has melted on any one of them, the corresponding month will be wet; where the salt remains, that month will be dry.

The following good old English Christmas Carol is preserved in Poor Robin's Almanack, for 1695.
(Note: the author is not referring to those unfortunates who have no victuals for their Christmas tables, but those those miserly, Scrooge-like types who not only refuse to keep a good table, but also are stingy when it comes to sharing Christmas cheer with their neighbors.)

"Now thrice-welcome, Christmas, which brings us good cheer,
Minced pies and plum-porridge, good ale and strong beer;
With pig, goose, and capon, the best that may be,
So well doth the weather and our stomachs agree.
Observe how the chimneys do smoke all about,
The cooks are providing for dinner no doubt!

But those on whose tables no victuals appear,
O may they keep Lent all the rest of the year!

With holly and ivy so green and so gay;
We deck up our houses as fresh as the day
With bays and rosemary, and laurel complete,
And every one now is a king in conceit.

But as for curmudgeons, who will not be free,
I wish they may die on the three-legged tree!"

[and so say all of us...]
For good luck in the coming year, give your animals a double portion of food on Christmas Day.

Many, many moons ago, I found an article titled "Christmas Lore and Legend Around the World".  No idea out of what magazine I tore the page 40 years ago (has it been that long?), but it is still in my Christmas binder, and herewith I post the contents which pertain to Christmas: 

Through the centuries, wherever Christmas is celebrated, each country has inherited its own ancient customs and beliefs - their origins lost in history, but fascinating and often charming to look back on today.  How many of these do you recognize and remember?

* IN SCANDINAVIA, families place all their shoes together on Christmas Day, to insure that they live in harmony throughout the New Year.

* IN DENMARK, some of the bread baked at Christmas is saved until sowing time, then crumbled and mixed with the seed to insure an abundant harvest.

* IN MANY PARTS OF ENGLAND, it is said that bread baked on Christmas Day will never get moldy.  Elsewhere, it is believed that ashes must never be thrown out on Christmas Day for fear they will be thrown in the Savior's face.  Never give fire, matches or light to be taken from the house on Christmas, or trouble will surely follow.  No gift of leather at Christmas will be durable, and wearing new shoes on Christmas brings bad luck.  The young girl who prays to St. Thomas on Christmas Eve with a sprig of holly under her pillow soon finds her true love [beats sleeping with an onion under your pillow on St. Thomas Eve].

* IN THE ANCIENT DUCHY OF SWABIA, girls went to the woodpile on Christmas Eve to draw sticks.  If a girl drew a long one, her future husband would be tall; if a thick one, stout; if a crooked one, he would be deformed.  Hot lead dropped into cold water foretold his occupation; the resulting shape resembled the tools of his trade, as a hammer shape would signify a carpenter and a shoe shape, a cobbler.  Girls formed a circle and let loose a blindfolded goose among them; the girl to whom it went first would be the first bride [have you ever tried to blindfold a goose?  They bite, you know, and I don't think any self-respecting honker is going to be blindfolded without a fight.  And then she's going to be pretty darn mad.  That is one brave circle of girls!].

IN IRELAND, it is believed that the gates of Paradise are always open on Christmas Eve, and no one dying then need enter Purgatory.  An Irish maiden may find her true love by taking four onions on Christmas Day, naming each after a man she knows and placing one in each corner of the room.  The one that first throws a shoot will be named for her future husband.  Never launder a Christmas present before giving it, as this washes out all the good luck.

* IN SPAIN, cows must be treated with special kindness on Christmas because cattle breathed upon the Christ Child and kept him warm.  A washcloth used on Christmas Day to groom the horses will make them grow fat.

* IN ARMENIA, seven is a lucky number for the holiday feast.  Seven kinds of fruit are served, seven kinds of nuts, seven dishes, and water brought at dawn from seven different fountains.

* IN THE NETHERLANDS, it is thought that nothing sown on Christmas Eve will perish, even though the seed be sown in the snow.  Eating a raw egg on Christmas morning gives strength to carry the heaviest weights.  To pick apples or nuts from the ground on Christmas will bring sores. 

* IN BOHEMIA, if a wife burns a Christmas cake, she believes she will die within a year.

* IN SWITZERLAND, for a girl to accept a sprig of edelweiss on Christmas is to accept the man who proffers it.

* AND EVERYWHERE, to be filled with age-old spirit of Christmas is to bring happiness and joy to those around us, and the eternal hope of Peace on Earth, good will to men.