04 December 2011

4 December - Saint Barbara

Weather: Saint Barbara's Day makes bridges of ice.
"O immeasurable mercy of divine goodness, which did enlighten Barbara with the brightness of the true light, making her worthy, by her contempt for what was dazzling in earthly grandeur, to be admitted to a union with God!  As the lily among thorns, as light in darkness, so shone Barbara."

In the traditional calendar, today is the feast of Saint Barbara (c. 300), one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, invoked against fever, lightning strikes, and sudden, unprovided death; patroness of architects, builders, and firefighters, and those who work with things that go 'boom', like miners, artillerymen, ordnancemen, and bomb disposaliers.  In depictions of female saints, you can usually find her holding a miniature tower or a chalice.

As her story goes, she was the beautiful daughter of a jealous man, who kept her locked in a tower. Unbeknownst to him, she was baptized into the Christian faith, and showed her devotion to the Trinity by having a third window cut into her tower wall (or in the new bathhouse that her father was having built for her).  When her father discovered that, in consequence of becoming a Christian, she refused to worship idols (and, some stories relate, that she refused to marry the pagan her father had chosen for her), he denounced her to the authorities, who tortured her to make her renounce her faith, and finally condemned her to death.  Her father carried out the execution himself by cutting off her head, for which he was suddenly struck by lightning and consumed by fire.

Her father's sudden death led her to be invoked against lightning strikes, death by fire, and death connected with explosives.  Powder magazines and places for weapons storage in castles, forts, and ships, often had a statue or other representation of Saint Barbara placed inside or near the doorway, asking her to keep the powder from exploding before its time.  Most of the hazardous occupations - mining, firefighting, explosives use and disposal (and that includes fireworks and bomb squads) - are under her protection.

The touch and the tornado; all our guns give tongue together,
St Barbara for the gunnery and God defend the right,
They are stopped and gapped and battered as we blast away the weather,
Building window upon window to our lady of the light.

For the light is come on Liberty, her foes are falling, falling,

They are reeling, they are running, as the shameful years have run,
She is risen for all the humble, she has heard the conquered calling,
St Barbara of the Gunners, with her hand upon the gun.
Barbarazweig, Barbara's Twig, is the German/Austrian custom of bringing branches or sprigs of flowering trees into the house on Saint Barbara's Day, and tending them so that they bloom on Christmas.  The story is that while in prison, Barbara, alone and seemingly friendless, found a dried up cherry branch, which she watered.  The flowering branch cheered her as she awaited her execution.  Tradition dictates the branches - cherry, apple, lilac, forsythia - should be cut and tended by the unmarried members of the family, and that the person whose branch is the first to bloom will be the first to marry.  A branch blooming on Christmas Day is exceptionally lucky for the house.  And if nothing else, they make lovely centerpieces.

The directions here come from the German Culture page about Saint Barbara's Day:
The early days of December are good for bringing in flowering branches for forcing to bloom.  Apple, chestnut, cherry, lilac and jasmine branches are well suited for that.  If outdoor temperatures have been around 32 to 40° F for six weeks, most buds are ready for forcing. 

Cut stems on a mild, none-freezing day.  Look for branches with swollen buds. Mash the ends and put the branches in a bathtub of cool, not icy, water for several hours.  Leave branches for a few days in a cool place. 

As soon as the buds appear to swell bring them into a warm room, but not too close to the source of heat.  Spray from time to time with lukewarm water, and when the bloom buds appear, place them on a window-sill for they need a lot of light and cool air, so that the bloom will stay fresh longer.  Change water every two days.  Thin branches force quicker than thick ones; the flowers should appear anywhere from one to five weeks later.

In some parts of France, wheat grains would be soaked in water, placed in dishes, and set in a warm chimney corner or sunny window to germinate.  If Saint Barbara's grain grows fast, crops will do well in the coming year; if it withers and dies, crops won't do so good.  The germinated seed is tended carefully, and placed beside the family Creche on Christmas Eve.

A spice bread, called Saint Barbara's Bread, would be a nice accompaniment for tea today.  Or make SHORTBREAD COOKIES, by creaming 1 cup of soft butter, then beating in 1 cup of confectioner's sugar.  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Work in 2-1/3 cups of sifted flour with your hands and knead until the bowl is clean.  Chill the dough thoroughly.  Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with a 2-inch round cookie cutter, and press a blanched almond into each cookie.  Bake in a preheated 350° oven on ungreased cookie sheets for 20 - 25 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

In the country of Georgia, lobiani, a savory bread with a bean filling, is traditional.  As on New Year's day, how Saint Barbara's day is spent determines how the rest of the year goes; people try to make sure that the day is filled with pleasant activities and equally pleasant people.  Tradition says that the first person to enter your house today determines the luck of the house for the year; the best would be someone good-hearted and devout.  [You might want to vet your neighbors before letting them in.]

A traditional dish for Saint Barbara's Day in countries of the Middle East is Burbara or Berbara, also known as Koliva: boiled whole wheat grains, with the additions of fruit, spices, and sweeteners like sugar or honey.  There are many recipes out there for this sweet dish; basically, it is whole wheat boiled until tender and the consistency of porridge, with other ingredients dictated by custom and place.  So it can be flavored by aniseseed (tied up in cheesecloth and added to the boiling wheat), dished up and sprinkled with sugar, rosewater, and orange-blossom water, then topped with almonds, walnuts, pine-seeds, pomegranate seeds, and raisins (see here for a Lebanese recipe).

Or raisins and chopped apricots can be added to the boiling wheat, along with sugar and spices - cinnamon, fennel, anise, nutmeg, cloves - and the whole topped with nuts and seeds, as found here in Palestine.

Oh God, who among the other miracles of Your power, have given the victory of martyrdom, grant, we beseech You, that we, who are celebrating the heavenly Blessed Barbara, Your Virgin and Martyr, may by her example draw nearer to You. Amen.  

Rejoice, blessed Barbara, greatly powerful in doctrine by the mystery of the angel. Rejoice, virgin, pleasing to God, thou who didst imitate baptism in the course of thy life. Rejoice because Christ hath visited thee in life and healed thy wounds by his own act. Rejoice because thou hast deserved to obtain what thou hast sought through the gift of the Son of God. Rejoice because thou hast been raised to heaven and delivered to a noble martyrdom. Bring after thee to glory the dependents who praise thee when their exile is over.

Pray for us, blessed Barbara.  
That we be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
May the intercession, we pray, O Lord, of blessed Barbara thy virgin and martyr protect us from all misfortune, so that through the most glorious intercession of the very holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ we may deserve through true repentance and pure confession to receive the sacrament before the day of our going out. Through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end. Amen. 

(And happy Name-Saint's Day to friend Barbara, who helps people discover their Italian ancestors.)