25 January 2012

25 January - Conversion of Saint Paul; Robert Burns

Weather:  On St. Paul’s day, half of winter is past, and half is yet to come.

If Saint Paul's Day be fair and clear, it doth betide a happy year;
But if it chance to snow or rain, then will be dear all kinds of grain;
If clouds or mists do dark the sky, great store of birds and beasts shall die;
And if the winds do fly aloft, then wars shall vex the kingdom oft.

If the sun shines on Paul’s day, it betokens a good year;
If rain or snow, indifferent;
If misty, great dearth
If thunder, heavy winds and large numbers of people will die.

If Paul’s day be fair, it will be a pleasant year;
If it be windy, there will be wars;
If it be cloudy, there will be a plague that year.

If the day is fair and clear, it betokens plenty in the year
If cloudy or misty, much cattle will die;
If rain or snow falls, it presages a dearth;
If windy, there will be wars.

Saint Paul’s day clear
Brings a good year.

If Paul’s day is clear and the sun shines, there will be a great abundance of grain and wine.

Tradition says that the winds battle for supremacy tonight, and the wind which proves victorious at midnight will be the prevailing wind for the year.

Let's hope it is sunny and clear.

“The conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, which happened the second year after the Ascension of our Lord.  At Damascus, the birthday of St. Ananias, who baptized that apostle.  After he had preached the Gospel at Damascus, Eleutheropolis, and elsewhere, he was scourged under the judge Licinius, had his flesh torn, and lastly being over whelmed with stones, ended his martyrdom.”

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles - 'a perfect model of a true conversion' - as he met Our Lord on the road to Damascus.

“St. Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles, originally called Saul… though a Jew and a Pharisee, he was by birth a Roman citizen. He was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephen, A. D. 34, and was then a young man.  He was highly educated in the learning of the times, when tot Jerusalem to study the laws, and being a man of great talent, ardent mind, and inflexible resolution, and devotedly attached to the institutions of his country, he viewed with alarm the new religion.  Accordingly, he took an active part against the Christians and pursued them, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter.”  While on his journey to Damascus, authorized to bring to Jerusalem whomsoever of the disciples he might find there, his miraculous conversion took places…

His conversion, which involved the loss of all his brilliant prospects, has, next to the miracles and resurrection of Our Lord, been justly contemplated as one of the most striking and memorable events connected with Christianity…” John Timbs, 1866.

As a convert who saw all of the things that she thought she believed in turned upside down, and the modernist philosophies which she had embraced exposed in a blinding light for the culture of death that it is, I have a strong affection for Saint Paul.

O glorious Saint Paul, who from a persecutor of Christianity, did become a most ardent apostle of zeal,
and who to make known the Savior Jesus Christ to the ends of the world,
Did suffer with joy imprisonment, scourging, stonings, shipwrecks and persecutions of every kind,
And in the end did shed your blood for His sake,
Obtain for us the grace to receive, as favors of the Divine Mercy,
Infirmities, tribulations, and misfortunes of the present life,
So that the vicissitudes of this our exile will not render us cold in the service of God,
But will render us always more faithful and fervent.

On this day is also commemorated the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, in 1759.

"O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!"

It is called a 'second national day', but seems to be more celebrated that the first national day, Saint Andrew.  (Well, Saint Andrew does belong to other countries, like Russia and Greece, but Rabbie Burns belongs to Scots alone.)

Scotland.org has a listing of the different celebrations connected with Burn's Night, and an interactive video to meet Robert Burns and learn more about his life and times (it is good just to listen to that man talk).

See the Burns Night web-site for menus for a Burns Supper (and the protocol - including piping in the haggis - that goes with it).

A good day to celebrate with your Scots friends.  Even with your 1/32 Scots friends.  Even with friends who haven't a drop of Scottish blood in them, but love to listen to the pipes and drums.  Oh, heck, just break out the Scotch and celebrate!

Artwork: Caravaggio, 1601. Conversion on the Way to Damascus. Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

24 January 2012

24 January - Paul's Pitcher Day

It was a custom today for the miners and tinners in parts of Cornwall to set up a water-pitcher as a target and then pelt it with stones until it was demolished.  After that, they would repair to the nearest public house and buy a new pitcher, which was successively filled and emptied for the remainder of the increasingly jolly evening.

Another tradition was for gangs of boys to gather potsherds and, going from door to door, cast them into every house whose doors they could open. The only warning to the householder was the yell “Paul’s eve, and here’s a heave” before the pieces came flying in.  According to custom, the first ‘heave’ could not be objected to, but with any subsequent tries, the offenders – if caught – could be punished.

[Starting with sweeping up the mess they made of the living room floor.]

22 January 2012

22 January - Saint Vincent

Weather:  If the sun shines brightly on Vincent's Day, we shall have more wine than water (i.e. optimum growing conditions for the vineyards this year).

If the sun shines on St. Vincent, there shall be much wind. [I’ve also seen it written as “much wine”, which goes along with the prognostication above, and which I find preferable.  However, see below for a desire for wind]

To predict the harvest in the coming season, light a torch (a real torch, not a flashlight) and carry it to a high hill.  If the flame is extinguished in the wind, crops will be abundant; if the torch burns in spite of the wind, the season will be bad.

Remember, on St. Vincent’s Day
If that the sun his beams display,
Be sure to mark the transient beam
Which through the casement sheds a gleam;
For ‘tis a token bright and clear
Of prosperous weather all the year.

So let us hope for lots of sun, and enough wind to extinguish a torch!

“AT Valencia, in Spain, while the wicked Dacian was governor, St. Vincent, deacon and martyr, who, after suffering imprisonment, hunger, the torture, the disjointing of his limbs; after being burned with plates of heated metal and on the gridiron, and tormented in other ways, took his flight to heaven, there to receive the reward of martyrdom.  His noble triumph over his sufferings has been elegantly set forth in verse by Prudentious, and highly eulogized by St. Augustine and pope St. Leo.”

Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Today is the feast of Saint Vincent, Deacon and Martyr (d. 304). A native of Huesca and a deacon in Saragossa, he was martyred in Valencia in the persecutions of the governor, Dacian.  Having loudly proclaimed both his faith and the governor’s perfidy in the court, strengthening and comforting his fellow Christians, he was condemned to be tortured as an example to the rest.   The Golden Legend describes these tortures - his limbs pulled from their sockets on the rack, his flesh torn with iron combs and burned with iron plates, his body left to lie on the prison floor which had been strewn with broken potsherds.

Horrible tortures not working, the governor tried the opposite approach, thinking that comfort and luxury would make the young man submit. This failed as well.  No sooner was Vincent’s torn and burned body laid on a rose-strewn feather bed, than he yielded his spirit to God and was borne by the angels to his heavenly reward.

He is the patron saint of Lisbon (Portugal), Zaragoza and Valencia (Spain), Milan and Vicenza (Italy), and the islands of Sao Vicente (Cape Verde) and St. Vincent (Caribbean).

He is also the patron saint of vine growers and dressers, vintners, and vinegar makers, probably from a pun on his name.  Winemakers and wine-growing regions have celebrations in his honor, like this one in Normandy

Wine is very definitely on the menu today.  And perhaps something from one of the countries listed above.  Zaragoza is in the Aragon region of Spain, and a lovely dish (especially on a day in winter) found there is a meat-and bell-pepper-stew called Chilindron, for which you can find several recipes online.  This one is easy, this one has mucho paprika, and this one will send you to your nearest Spanish food store.

¡Buen apetito!

20 January 2012

20 January - Saint Agnes Eve

Tomorrow being the feast of Saint Agnes, tonight is Saint Agnes Eve, “not to be despised as a period of prophetic promise for maidens in search of a husband”.

And on sweet St. Agnes' night
Please you with the promis'd sight,
Some of husbands, some of lovers
Which an empty dream discovers.  
Ben Jonson.

First let us dispose of a healing charm for the ague.  It is to be spoken up the chimney tonight by the eldest female in the family:
Tremble and go!
First day shiver and burn;
Tremble and quake!
Second day shiver and learn;
Tremble and die!
Third day never return.

Are you wishful to see your future spouse?  Here are several charms to try:

Upon St. Agnes' night you take a row of pins, and pull out every one, one after another, saying a Pater Noster, sticking a pin in your sleeve, and you will dream of him or her you shall marry.

A more elaborate method is to leave your home and go to a strange locality.  Before going to bed (without supper, mind you), take the stocking from your right leg and knot it to the garter from your left leg, singing the following,—
I knit this knot, this knot I knit,
To know the thing I know not yet,
That I may see
The man that shall my husband be,
Not in his best or worst array,
But what he weareth every day;
That I to-morrow may him ken
From among all other men.

Then lie down on your back with your hands under your head, and your future spouse will surely appear in a dream and give you a kiss.

Take a sprig of rosemary and a sprig of thyme; sprinkle each three times with water, then place one in each shoe (probably shouldn't be the shoes you've been wearing all day, lest you wilt the herbs), and stand one shoe and sprig on each side of the bed, repeating,—

St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind,
Come ease the trouble of my mind.

Your future spouse should then appear in a dream.

Meet a bunch of your friends (male and female) at midnight near a cornfield.  One by one, each person should go into the cornfield and throw grain on the soil.  When you have all gathered together again, repeat the following rhyme:

Agnes sweet and Agnes fair, 
Hither, hither, now repair; 
Bonny Agnes, let me see 
The lad [or lass] who is to marry me. 

On your return home, you should see in a mirror the shadow of your destined spouse. 

For the more adventuresome: Place on the floor a lighted pigtail (a small candle), which must have been previously stolen, or else the charm will not work.  Then sit down in silence and watch it till it begins to burn blue, when your future husband will appear and walk across the room. 
The following is a very simple plan: Spread bread and cheese on the table, and sit down to it alone, observing strict silence. As the clock strikes twelve your future lover will appear and join you at your frugal meal.

Eat nothing all day till bedtime, then boil an egg hard, extract the yolk, fill up the cavity with salt, and eat the egg, shell and all [oh, ick].  Then walk backwards to bed, repeating these lines: 

Sweet St. Agnes, work thy fast; 
If ever I be to marry man, 
Or man be to marry me, 
I hope him this night to see. 

Some say that the same result may be effected by eating a raw red herring, bones and all, before going to bed [that hardly seems any better]. 

On going to bed, place your shoes at right angles to each other in the shape of a T, saying the while: 

I place my shoes in form of a T, 
Hoping my true love to see; 
Not dressed in his best array, 
But in the clothes he wears every day.

Another more elaborate ceremony is the preparation of the dumb-cake.  The cake must be prepared fasting, and in silence. When ready it must be placed in a pan on the coals to bake, and at midnight the future husband will come in, turn the cake, and go out again.

From Mother Bunch's Closet Newly Broke Open
"On that day thou must be sure that no man salute thee, nor kiss thee; I mean neither man, woman, nor child, must kiss thy lips on that day; and then, at night, before thou goest into thy bed, thou must be sure to put on a clean shift, and the best thou hast, then the better thou mayst speed. And when thou liest down, lay thy right hand under thy head, saying these words, Now the god of Love send me my desire; make sure to sleep as soon as thou canst, and thou shalt be sure to dream of him who shall be thy husband, and see him stand before thee, and thou wilt take great notice of him and his complexion, and, if he offers to salute thee, do not deny him." 

And again, "Upon this day thou must be sure to keep a true fast, for thou must not eat or drink all that day, nor at night; neither let any man, woman, or child kiss thee that day; and thou must be sure, at night, when thou goest to bed, to put on a clean shift, and the best thou hast, then the better thou mayst speed; and thou must have clean cloaths on thy head, for St. Agnes does love to see clean cloaths when she comes; and when thou liest down on thy back as straight as thou canst, and both thy hands are laid underneath thy head, then say,—

Now, good St. Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
And shew me such a happy bliss,
This night of him to have a kiss.

And then be sure to fall asleep as soon as thou canst, and before thou awakest out of thy first sleep thou shalt see him come and stand before thee, and thou shalt perceive by his habit what tradesman he is ; but be sure thou declarest not thy dream to anybody in ten days, and by that time thou mayst come to see thy dream come to pass."

However, Mother Bunch later writes: "I have found a more exact way of trial than before. You need not abstain from kisses, nor be forced to keep fast for a glance of a lover in the night. If you can but rise, to be at the church door between the hours of twelve and one in the morning, and put the forefinger of your right hand into the keyhole and then repeat the following words thrice:

'O sweet St. Agnes, now draw near,
And with my true love straight appear.'

Then will he presently approach with a smiling countenance." 

[No texting the guy of your dreams to be at the church after midnight.  That would be cheating] 

"Fair Saint Agnes, play thy part,
And send to me my own sweetheart,
Not in his best nor worst array,
But in the clothes he wears every day;
That to-morrow I may him ken,
From among all other men." 

On the other hand, there are these verses from Poor Robin’s Almanack for 1734:

“Saint Agnes Day comes by and by,
When pretty maids do fast to try
Their sweethearts in their dreams to see,
Or know who shall their husbands be.

But some when married all is o’er
And they desire to dream no more,
Or, if they must have these extremes,
Wish all their sufferings were but dreams.”

Careful what you wish for…. 

20 January - Saints Fabian and Sebastian

Weather:  On Saint Sebastian, we are quit of winter  [Not noticeably]

When the bearded saint,
And the arrow-pierced saint
And the combed saint have passed
Then the cold is over.

[bearded – St. Anthony, 17 January; arrow-pierced – St. Sebastian, 20 January; combed – St. Blaise, 4 February]

Another piece of weather lore says that the last 12 days of January rule the weather for the year, but I don't know if it is collectively or to be applied to the corresponding months.

I have kept track of weather through the 12 days of Christmas, and the first 12 days of January.  Someone else can keep track of the last 12 days.

“At Rome, the birthday of St. Fabian, pope, who suffered martyrdom in the time of Decius, and was buried in the cemetery of Callistus.  In the same place, in the catacombs, the martyr St. Sebastian.  He was commander of the first cohort, under the emperor Diocletian, but for professing Christianity he was bound to a tree in the centre of a vast field, shot with arrows by the soldiers, and beaten with clubs until he expired.”

Saint Fabian was Pope from 236 to 250, a period of relative peace for the Church, between the persecutions of Maximinus Thrax and Decius.  He is said to have got a lot done, reorganizing the clergy, building churches, and sending missionary bishops into Gaul, among them St. Denis.  He was martyred under Decius.

The Golden Legend relates that Fabian was chosen Pope when a white dove descended from heaven and settled on his head. 

Saint Sebastian was a young man in the Roman army, highly favored by the Emperor Diocletian, and secretly a Christian "... but his faith only rendered him more loyal to his masters; more faithful in all his engagements; more mild, more charitable; while his favor with his prince, and his popularity with the troops, enabled him to protect those who were persecuted for Christ's sake, and to convert many to the truth."

The secrecy, however, couldn't last; the emperor found out and ordered Sebastian to be shot full of arrows until he died.  He was left for dead on the field; a pious widow named Irene came at night to retrieve his body and give it a decent burial, and found instead that he still lived.  She tended him until he recovered.  Sebastian was determined to reproach the emperor with his intolerance and cruelty.  Surprised and enraged, the emperor sentenced him to be beaten to death with clubs, and this time they made sure of it.  He died in 288.  He is the patron of archers and pin-makers (for obvious reasons), lace-makers (for less obvious reasons, but along the same lines as the first two), athletes and soldiers, and was invoked by those suffering from the burning arrows of pestilence.

O how the renowned martyr Sebastian shone with a wonderful grace, he who bore the insignia of a soldier but urged on by a palm from the brothers, greatly strengthened fearful hearts, since the heavenly word had been conferred upon him.

Pray for us, blessed martyr Sebastian
That we may deserve to pass unharmed through the plague and obtain the promise of Christ.

O God who so eagerly strengthened blessed Sebastian Thy martyr in Thy faith and love that by no allurements of the flesh, by no threats of tyrants, and by no swords or arrows of executioners could he be recalled from Thy worship, grant to us unhappy sinners, by his deserved favors and intercessions, help in tribulation, solace in persecution, a cure in every time against the plague, so that we be able to contend strongly against all the traps of the devil, to despise the world and those things that are in the world, and to dread none of its misfortunes, so that we may be able to obtain happily those things that through Thy inspiration we desire.  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.

Artwork: Saints Fabian and Sebastian by an unknown Spanish painter of the Aragonese School, late 15th century.  The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

17 January 2012

17 January - Saint Anthony, Abbot

“In Thebais, St. Anthony, abbot and spiritual guide of many monks.  He was most celebrated for his life and miracles, of which St. Athanasius has written a detailed account.  His sacred body was found by divine revelation, during the reign of the emperor Justinian, and brought to Alexandria, where it was buried in the church of St. John the Baptist.”

Today is the feast of Saint Anthony of Egypt, Abbot and Hermit. (born 251- died 356), patron of herdsmen, especially swineherds.  Spare St. Anthony’s pig today!

As a young man, Anthony took to heart the words of the gospel "Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor".  He divided his inheritance with his sister, gave away his share of it to the poor, and retired to the outskirts of town to live the life of an ascetic.  Eventually, that wasn't enough, and he moved out into the desert, occasionally returning to live near other hermits, then moving farther away again.

At one point, he shut himself up in a ruined fortress for 20 years, only coming out at the end of that time to be a spiritual guide to the hermits who had taken up residence in the caves around his place of solitude.  After organizing them, he again withdrew to a solitary life, emerging to combat Arianism, and at one point paying a visit to Saint Paul the Hermit.

He suffered much through the attentions of demons, whether by temptations to sensuality and gluttony, or by physical beatings and torments, but through all of it he emerged victorious, and died in an odor of sanctity at age 105.

In the Swiss canton of Ticino, in Rome and Madrid (and doubtless other places), animals – particularly horses, mules, donkeys, and dogs – were blessed today.  Washed, brushed, belled and beribboned, they would stand before the church doors until Mass had ended, when the priest would come and bless them in the name of Saint Anthony, their patron.

A plague spread across Europe in 1089, which in this instance was probably ergotism.  Miraculous cures were reported of those who implored God's mercy through the intercession of Saint Anthony, especially those who prayed before his relics; the inflammatory disease (and a couple of others) became known as Saint Anthony's Fire.

In art, he is often depicted with a pig nearby (as in the above image).  The reasons given for this bit of iconography are various: that (like Merlin) the pig was a pet; or that pork fat was used in the treatment of skin diseases, therefore, by association, Saint Anthony became the patron of swineherds; or that it is neither of the above - the hog represents the gluttony and sensuality over which he triumphed.

Whatever the reason, the old saying "to follow someone about like a tantony pig" means to stick as close to that person as St. Anthony's favorite is said to have done to the saint.

Look closely and you can see the bells which are also part of his iconography - one hanging from his cane, one on the pig's collar, and one in the belfry.

According to Athanasius, Anthony is said to have enjoined his fellow monks to “write down their thoughts and actions and exhibit the record to one another, which probably was the beginning of habitual confession among monastic orders…” A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities (1880)

Sounds familiar.  Giving it a modern application, perhaps St. Anthony should be the patron of the blogosphere and those of us, who “write down their thoughts and actions and exhibit the record to one another…”  And while we are at it, we should follow his example and fight off the temptations which attack bloggers and readers and commentators alike.  You know what they are and how seductive they are. 

Begone, foul temptation!

Renowned shepherd Anthony, who restores the crucified, and destroys healthful maladies, and quenches the heat of the fire, O holy father, pray to the Lord on behalf of us unhappy ones.

Pray for us, blessed father Anthony.

That we be made worthy.

O God, who grants by the intercession of blessed Anthony Thy confessor that the fire of illness be quenched and coolness be present for sick limbs, make us, we beseech, by his favors and prayers free from the fires of hell, and cause us to be presented whole in mind and body to Thee happily in glory.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, O God, world without end.  Amen.

Artwork: "St. Anthony", Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c1440

14 January 2012

14 January - St. Hilary; Feast of the Ass

Weather: Saint Hilary's Day is traditionally the coldest day of the year.

Well, it is definitely the coldest so far!
At Poitiers, in France, the birthday of St. Hilary, bishop and confessor of the Catholic faith, which he courageously defended, and for which he was banished four years to Phrygia, where, among other miracles, he raised a man from the dead.  Pius IX declared him Doctor of the Church.

Ordination of St. Hilary  (Source)
In the traditional calendar, today is the feast of Saint Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (13 January in the new calendar, which was originally the Octave of Epiphany).  He was declared a Doctor of the Church for his role in combating Arianism in the 4th century.

From Chambers' Book of Days: "The council of Arles, held in 353, had condemned Athanasius and others, who were opponents of the Arian doctrine; and Hilarius, in the council of Beziers, held in 356, defended Athanasius, in opposition to Saturninus, bishop of Arles.  He was in consequence deposed from his bishopric by the Arians, and banished by Constantius to Phrygia."

"There he remained about four years, occupied in composing his principal work, On the Trinity, in twelve books.  Hilarius… wrote a work On Synods addressed to the bishops of Gaul and Britain, in which he gives an account of the various creeds adopted in the Eastern church subsequent to the council of Nice; and he addressed three books to the Emperor Constantius, of whose religious opinions he was always an energetic and fearless opponent."

"He continued, indeed, from the time when he became a bishop till the termination of his life in 368, to be zealously engaged in the Trinitarian controversy; and the final triumph of the Nicene creed over the Arian may be attributed in a great degree to his energetic exertions. After the death of Constantius, in 361, he was restored to his bishopric, and returned to Poitiers, where he died."

Before the Council of Trent, marriages were forbidden between the onset of Advent (around the end of November) and Hilary's Day.  Marriages could be solemnized between now and Septuagesima (the Sunday approximately 70 days from Easter), and then again after the Octave day of Easter.   

This is another day on which to toast the apple trees (see January 5th); Hard Cider is apropros. 

In the Middle Ages, today was celebrated under the name "The Feast of the Ass", originally a commemoration of the Flight into Egypt by the Holy Family, and as with many such feasts, filled with plays and pageants which explained the scriptures to a mostly illiterate populace.

Again, from Chambers' Book of Days: "But the advantages resulting from this mode of instruction were counterbalanced by the numerous ridiculous ceremonies which they originated.  Of these probably none exceeded in grossness of absurdity the Festival of the Ass, as annually performed on the 14th of January." 

"The escape of the Holy Family into Egypt was represented by a beautiful girl holding a child at her breast, and seated on an ass, splendidly decorated with trappings of gold-embroidered cloth. After having been led in solemn procession through the streets of the city in which the celebration was held, the ass, with its burden, was taken into the principal church, and placed near the high altar, while the various religious services were performed." 

"In place, however, of the usual responses, the people on this occasion imitated the braying of an ass; and, at the conclusion of the service, the priest, instead of the usual benediction, brayed three times, and was answered by a general hee-hawing from the voices of the whole congregation. A hymn, as ridiculous as the ceremony, was sung by a double choir, the people joining in the chorus, and imitating the braying of an ass. Ducange has preserved this burlesque composition, a curious medley of French and mediæval Latin, which may be translated thus:

From the country of the East,
Came this strong and handsome beast:
This able ass, beyond compare,
Heavy loads and packs to bear.
     Now, seignior ass, a noble bray,
     Thy beauteous mouth at large display;
     Abundant food our hay-lofts yield,
     And oats abundant load the field.
     Hee-haw! He-haw! He-haw!

True it is, his pace is slow,
Till he feels the quickening blow;
Till he feel the urging goad,
On his hinder part bestowed.

     Now, seignior ass, etc.

There are several more stanzas praising the ass, but having nothing to do with its service to the Holy Family.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its article "Feast of Asses" says that at the end of Mass "...apparently without awakening the least consciousness of its impropriety, the following direction was observed:

In fine Missæ sacerdos, versus ad populum, vice 'Ita, Missæ Est', ter hinhannabit: populus vero, vice 'Deo Gratias', ter respondebit, 'Hinham, hinham, hinham.'

"At the end of Mass, the priest, having turned to the people, in lieu of saying the 'Ite, Missa est', will bray thrice; the people instead of replying 'Deo Gratias' say, 'Hinhau, hinhau, hinhau.'"

[and then what?  "The Lord be with you"... "And with your Ass"]
[no, better not.]

13 January 2012

13 January - 20th Day of Christmas; Glogg

This is the Octave day of Epiphany, and traditionally the day dedicated to commemorating The Baptism of Our Lord (which was celebrated last Sunday in the new calendar).

It is also the 20th and last day of Christmas in Scandinavian tradition.

"Saint Knut drives Christmas away"

Knud IV, the devout Christian King of Denmark, was murdered in 1086 as he knelt at the altar.  He is the patron saint of Denmark, and his feast is celebrated on the 19th of January.

Except in Sweden and Finland, where it is celebrated on the 13th of January. [Yes, children, I have seen the claim that today is named in honor of Saint Knut’s nephew, also name Knut, but he was murdered on the 7th of January.  If we are going to dream up reasons, then I offer that perhaps today honors both, just splitting the difference between their feasts.  It’s just as plausible.]

For the descendents of the Norsemen, today - Tjugondag Knut or Tyvendedagen - is the 20th and last Day of Christmas.   Christmas trees are lit one last time and then dismantled, the decorations are carefully packed away, the greeting "Glaedlig Jul" is used for the last time, and the last Christmas parties are held.

Twentieth day Knut
Driveth Yule out.

Sip GLOGG while you enjoy the sight of your decorations one last time.

Fill a saucepan with 1-1/2 cups of water.  In a cheesecloth bag, tie up 3 whole cardamoms, 8 whole cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, and a strip of orange rind.  Add this to the water and bring it to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup of blanched almonds and 1/2 cup of golden raisins and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add one bottle (750 ml) of red wine [dry or sweet, your choice.  The recipe calls for Bordeaux], the same amount of port, and 1/2 pint of brandy.  Bring to a quick boil, and remove from heat immediately.  Cool, and store, covered, overnight.

Before serving, remove the spice bag.  Heat the Glogg (do not boil).  Add sugar to taste and serve in heated mugs or glasses.

This makes about 20 servings, if you are using punch cups, less if you are using tall mugs.

If you just cannot wait, simmer together the wine, brandy, and spices for about 45 minutes, strain, and serve.

09 January 2012

Plough Monday

Weather: the weather for today indicates the weather of September.

The first Monday after Epiphany is called "Plough (Plow) Monday", as that is the day that men are supposed to return to their work after the Christmas holidays.  It is said to come from the custom of “leading the plough about the fire for a good beginning of the year, that they should fare the better at the year following.”  Ploughs would also be censed and blessed today, before beginning the year's work.

Thomas Tusser in his Redivivus (1710) wrote: " After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business." 

Remember us poor ploughboys,
A-ploughing we must go;
Hail, rain, blow, or snow,
A-ploughing we must go.

As with Distaff's Day, it was partially (if not mostly) a day of frolic.  There were races between the farmhands and the housemaids as to which group started their work that day before the other, with forfeits for the losers.  During the day, a group of fantastically-dressed men would go in procession from house to house and from one village to another, dragging a gaily decorated plough and begging "plough-money" from the bystanders.  This largesse was originally collected to purchase candles (called ‘plough-lights’) to burn in the shrine of a local saint as a way of obtaining a blessing on their work, but shrine and candles being destroyed by the Reformation, the money thereafter collected on this day was instead spent in celebration at the nearest public house.  Sometimes the processions were quite elaborate with costumed participants, morris-dancers, small pageants, and sword-dancing.

From Chamber's Book of Days, here is the plowman's day, as depicted by Gervase Markham in his Farewell to Husbandry (1653):

"We will suppose it to be after Christmas, or about Plow Day, (which is the first setting out of the plow,) and at what time men either begin to fallow, or to break up pease-earth, which is to lie to bait, according to the custom of the country. At this time the Plow-man shall rise before four o'clock in the morning, and after thanks given to God for his rest, and the success of his labours, he shall go into his stable or beast-house, and first he shall fodder his cattle, then clean the house, and make the booths clean; rub down the cattle, and cleanse their skins from all filth. Then he shall curry his horses, rub them with cloths and wisps, and make both them and the stable as clean as may be. Then he shall water both his oxen and horses, and housing them again, give them more fodder and to his horse by all means provender, as chaff and dry pease or beans, or oat-hulls, or clean garbage (which is the hinder ends of any grain but rye), with the straw chopped small amongst it, according as the ability of the husbandman is.

“And while they are eating their meat, he shall make ready his collars, hames, treats, halters, mullers, and plow-gears, seeing everything fit and in its due place, and to these labours I will also allow two hours; that is, from four of the clock till six. Then he shall come in to breakfast, and to that I allow him half an hour, and then another half hour to the yoking and gearing of his cattle, so that at seven he may set forth to his labours; and then he shall plow from seven o'clock in the morning till betwixt two and three in the afternoon. Then he shall unyoke and bring home his cattle, and having rubbed them, dressed them, and cleansed them from all dirt and filth, he shall fodder them and give them meat. Then shall the servants go in to their dinner, which allowed half an hour, it will then be towards four of the clock; at what time he shall go to his cattle again, and rubbing them down and cleansing their stalls, give them more fodder; which done, he shall go into the barns, and provide and make ready fodder of all kinds for the next day.

“This being done, and carried into the stable, ox-house, or other convenient place, he shall then go water his cattle, and give them more meat, and to his horse provender; and by this time it will draw past six o'clock; at what time he shall come in to supper, and after supper he shall either sit by the fireside, mend shoes both for himself and their family, or beat and knock hemp or flax, or pick and stamp apples or crabs for cider or vinegar, or else grind malt on the querns, pick candle rushes, or do some husbandly office till it be fully eight o'clock. Then shall he take his lanthorn and candle, and go see his cattle, and having cleansed his stalls and planks, litter them down, look that they are safely tied, and then fodder and give them meat for all night. Then, giving God thanks for benefits received that day, let him and the whole household go to their rest till the next morning."

That is quite a day's work – a day’s work, mind you – and worth an evening of conviviality.

Today, remember to thank the men whose labors have contributed to your well-being: fathers who spent long hours in factory or office, and then long hours teaching the finer points of riding a bicycle or driving a car; husbands who dig up a plot of land for your garden and haul in the fertilizer (ignore the "Green Acres" song); neighbors who plow the snow from your driveway; employers who travel and schmooze and put up with a lot of nonsense from the buying public in order to keep the business (and your job) going...

God speed the plough!

08 January 2012

Feast of the Holy Family

Weather - The weather today foretells the weather of August

In the traditional calendar, today - the first Sunday after Epiphany - is dedicated to the Holy Family.  In the new calendar, this is celebrated on the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas, unless that Sunday falls on 1 January (Mary, Mother of God) as it did this year, in which case the feast is moved to 30 December.  I, for one, have no problem honoring Jesus, Mary, and Joseph more than once in a year.  The family is under fire from all sides - how many good portrayals of families can you find in the media? - and needs all the help it can get.  Start by consecrating your family to the Holy Family, and make it a practice to bless your children daily.

And this is a plea from one who is trying to teach your children their faith - and, trust me, I love our future saints; they are so enthusiastic - although our group is long on energy and short on attention span.  But, we the teachers see them only one hour in a week.  You are their first line of defense against Satan - we rely on you to take them to Mass, to reinforce the teachings of the Church, and to make sure they understand and can apply their lessons to their daily lives.  And we definitely rely on you to bring them back after their First Communion.  It is your life as a Christian parent that they see and model themselves upon.

Here are two miniatures from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c1440).  They accompanied the prayers said in honor of the Virgin at Sext (noon) and None (3 pm) on Saturdays.  I love how they are depicted as a contemporary (to the illustrator) middle-class family. (How often have you seen Our Lord in a baby-walker?)

Holy Family at Work

Holy Family at Supper

07 January 2012

Saint Distaff's Day

Weather:  the weather today indicates the weather in July.

No, there is no Saint Distaff in the calendar.

This was the first day after Epiphany, when women resumed their spinning (and by extension, other chores relegated to last on the list of things to do for the past couple of weeks), the Christmas festivities being over.   A distaff is a tool used in spinning which holds unspun fibers of flax or wool and keeps them from tangling.  From the art (or chore) of spinning, we get two words relating to women: spinster, of course, and the distaff side.

The men, however, would not return to work until Plough Monday, which was sometimes the same day, but most often days later.  This left time for the hired men to play pranks on the maids as they resumed their domestic chores; the maids in retaliation would dump buckets of water on the pranksters.

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff's Day.
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder them.
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-hair;
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good-night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.
                                                    Robert Herrick

This would be an appropriate day to thank the women who make your life comfortable and productive.  Moms who did endless loads of your laundry, wondering if your clothes would corrode the inside of the washing machine and should be fumigated first.  Wives who take charge of Christmas, buying and wrapping presents, signing and mailing endless cards, organizing Christmas parties and dinners.  The dragon on the front desk who fields cold calls from people wanting to waste your time with "a sure deal that will help your business grow!"  The secretary who corrects grammar and punctuation so that your business correspondence presents a professional appearance to the world. Mothers who worked sometimes two jobs in order to pay the bills, but still found time to help you with that science project.

I'm sure you can find at least one woman to thank.  This year, I'm starting with the parish secretary.

06 January 2012

6 January - Epiphany of Our Lord; King Cake

Weather: the weather today indicates the weather of June.

If the sun shines on the day of the Holy Kings, we will have two winters [which equals one long winter]

Today we celebrate the manifestation - epiphania - of the glory of Our Lord on three separate occasions: the adoration of the Wise Men from the East; His Baptism, when the Voice from heaven proclaimed Him the Son of God; and His first recorded miracle of changing water into wine at the marriage at Cana. (The Golden Legend adds The Feeding of the Five Thousand as the fourth manifestation.)  All were believed to have happened on the same day, albeit in different years.

While originally, Our Lord's Baptism was considered the most important Theophany, in time the Adoration of the Magi took precedence; this day is also known in many cultures as the "Day of the Kings".

By the Middle Ages, the unnamed [and unnumbered] Wise Men had become three: Caspar or Jaspar, King of Tarsus, the land of myrrh; Melchior, King of Arabia, where the land is ruddy with gold; and Balthasar, King of Saba, where frankincense flows from the trees.  Another telling said that Melchior was king of Nubia, short in stature, who gave the gift of gold; Balthazar was king of Chaldea, of medium height, who offered the frankincense; and Jasper was the king of Tarshish, a tall man, who laid the gift of myrrh before the Child.  The Hebrew version of their names was said to be Galgalath, Megalath, Tharath, and in Greek: Appelius, Amerius, Damascus.  In art they were often depicted representing the different ages of man: one as a beardless youth, one as a man in the prime of life, and one as an old man with a long flowing beard, and sometimes as representing three racial types: European, African, and Middle or Far Eastern.

Hours of Catherine of Cleves
Part of their legend is related thus:
“When Mary heard the tramping of their dromedaries’ feet, she was much alarmed, and took Jesus into her arms, fearing that He would be taken from her; and it was in this attitude the kings found the Mother and the Child.  They threw themselves on their knees with the utmost reverence, and adored Jesus as God and Saviour of the world.  Then they offered him rich gifts.  Caspar gave gold, to signify that the Babe was King; Melchior gave frankincense, to show that He was God; and Balthasar offered myrrh, as a reminder that He was man, and doomed to die.”

“In return, the Saviour bestowed upon them gifts of more matchless price.  For their gold He gave them charity and spiritual riches; for their incense, faith; and for their myrrh, truth and meekness.  And the Virgin, His mother, also bestowed on them a precious gift and memorial – namely, one of those linen bands in which she had wrapped the Saviour; for which they thanked her with great humility and laid it among their treasures.”

“When they had performed their devotions and made their offerings, the Three Kings, having been warned in a dream to avoid Herod, turned back again to their own dominions.”

The custom of today is to bless the rooms of your house with holy water and use blessed chalk to inscribe -  20 C + M + B 12  - above the front door.

Another custom for this day involved setting frankincense alight in a chafing-dish.  The entire household would breathe in its aromatic fumes, as protection against diseases in the coming year.  The head of the house would then carry the pan throughout the house as further protection against evil.

A young lady wishful to dream of her future husband should walk backward, throw a shoe over her left shoulder, and pray the Holy Kings to reveal him that night in her dreams.

In honor of the Kings, make a KING CAKE.  A bean or a baby figure can be hidden inside - the one who finds the bean is the king of the celebration.  This same cake can be made and eaten throughout the Carnival season - but not past Shrove Tuesday!

There are, as usual, several recipes online to try.  This is the same sweet bread that I use for Pan de Muerto:

Heat 1/4 cup of milk to boiling, stirring to prevent curdling; remove from heat.  Stir in 1/4 cup of butter (cut into small pieces), 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Set aside and keep warm at about 110 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix 1 package of active dry yeast with 1/4 cup of warm water until dissolved; let stand 5 minutes.  Slowly stir in warm milk mixture until well blended.

Separate 1 egg; save white for another use.  Add the yolk and 1 whole egg to the milk/yeast mixture, then add 3 cups of flour, one cup at a time, mixing well with each addition.  Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead dough until smooth.  Grease a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl, turn over to coat entire ball of dough with oil; cover with a dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until double, about 90 minutes. Grease a baking sheet.

Punch down dough, and turn out again onto a floured surface.  Knead until smooth.  Divide dough into thirds.  Roll each third into a rope.  Pinch one end of the three ropes together; braid them, form the braided dough into a circle and pinch the opposite ends together.  Place the circle on the greased baking sheet.  Insert an almond, pecan half, dried bean, or ceramic baby figure into the dough so that it can't be seen.   Cover loaf with a dishtowel and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350° F.   Bake for about 35 minutes.

Mix 1 cup of confectioner's sugar with 1 tablespoon of water (add another tablespoon of water if needed to make frosting thin).  Either glaze the cake with frosting, and sprinkle colored sugars in sections on the top (green, gold, and purple are traditional) or divide the frosting into 3 parts and tint each part with food coloring, then glaze the cake, with one color to a section.

Carnival begins today, although the time set aside for celebration varied from country to country and sometimes community to community.  The Venetian festival lasted from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday, while Rome confined its mirth and madness to the eight days before Lent, and Paris to the three days before.

But more of that anon.  We feast, then we fast.