21 March 2006

A St. Paddy's History

Found this interesting article after the fact:

READING ROOM: St. Patrick’s Day

17 March 2006

Authentic Irish "Shamrocks"

Or are they? Heck, we had clover all over our old lawn. I like clover!

Selling "Shamrocks" a Seedy Business

16 March 2006

A Holiday of Home (and Homecoming) and Hospitality

St. Joseph’s Day fast approaches!

St. Joseph’s Day, on March 19, honors the foster father of Jesus. As the St. Joseph's Day Home Page explains, this is a large, popular holiday in Italy, especially in Sicily, but it is also celebrated here in the United States in Italo-American neighborhoods with parades and other festivals. New Orleans has a St. Joseph’s Day parade almost concurrently with their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Some neighborhoods in New York City hold elaborate St. Joseph's Day get-togethers.

This Hallmark site explains a little more about St. Joseph’s Day.

Most of the articles mention as part of the celebration something called a St. Joseph’s Table, a tiered arrangement holding breads and other special items, especially used in Italy. I must confess that I’ve never seen one of these beautiful arrangements. The church I went to as a child, St. Mary’s, was the old-fashioned Italian church (as opposed to St. Ann’s, next door, the “Irish church”) and may have had these when I was very small; they followed the old ways until well into the 1960s. But after Vatican II and the English Mass rather than the Latin, these old customs were done away with, except for the Procession at the annual feast in July. I remember that St. Mary’s used to do a wonderful grotto-type nativity arrangement when I was very small, similar to the putz scenes used in German communities at Christmastime, with a mountain with various figures coming and going, miniature trees (as on model railroads), other flora and fauna, and the Holy Family in the center in a shallow cave, with shepherds and other figures around them. It’s possible they also had a St. Joseph’s Table back then. I think it’s sad that these old customs have been allowed to fade, since it is part of my heritage.

St. Patrick’s celebrations are usually thick with liquor; the Italian tradition for St. Joseph’s Day is to eat…”Mangia, mangia!” is the mantra of the day. Bread, fava beans, and frittate all have a place in the menu, but the food that most Rhode Islanders know best for St. Joseph’s Day is the zeppole. There are several different versions of zeppole, including a fried version a little like round doughboys (fried dough, elephant ears, whatever else they’re called around the country), but the most well-known version is pictured here on RI Roads St. Joseph’s Day page. This traditional zeppole has a cream-puff type shell filled with thick, flavorful yellow cream and topped with a ring of white cream with a maraschino cherry for trim. In the past the shell was fried, but now many of the bakeries bake them instead, to save a bit on the calories (although the cream is decadent enough!).

You can see by this recipe that they are extremely work-intensive, but the bakeries in Rhode Island (and I’m sure in NYC) turn them out by the thousands at this time of year. (In fact several RI bakeries now make them year-round because of customer demand). I noticed that the Providence Journal has an article this year telling people the best places to go for zeppole.

Italiansrus.com contains some links to other recipes for St. Joseph’s Day.

Another St. Joseph’s Day event is the annual return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano Mission in California. These little birds make an amazing 15,000 mile round-trip migration every year, arriving at San Juan Capistrano on or around March 19.

(If you're in the Atlanta area, I believe the 48th Street Market in Dunwoody—off Mount Vernon Road—has zeppoles for St. Joseph’s Day; this is also a wonderful Italian deli which serves some other Italian pastries like sfogliatelles. Unfortunately they're not baked there, so you miss the authentic taste of an Italian bakery, but it's good for a sample at least.)

01 March 2006

"Dust Thou Art..."

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption...[t]he ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense....[Catholic Online]
During Mass on Ash Wednesday, each attendee comes forward and is marked on the forehead by ashes from the priest's thumb, drawn in a cross, while the priest says "Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return."

The color for this liturgical season is purple, except on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when the color is black to signify Jesus' death. On Easter Sunday the color becomes white, to symbolize His resurrection.

Some other links:

Catholic Encyclopedia: Ash Wednesday

BBC Religion & Ethics, Ash Wednesday

Ken Collins: Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday?

Ken also addresses the term "fasting." When I mentioned we used to "fast" on Fridays and often people "fasted" completely during Lent, many people interpreted that as not eating at all. Ken explains "Today the word 'fasting' means a total abstention from all food. In the historic Church, it means a disciplined diet so that your animal appetites become a sort of spiritual snooze alarm." We did not eat meat or other rich foods on Friday all year round before Vatican II, and during Lent you were supposed to observe this every day. After Vatican II, the requirement to eat only fish on Friday was lifted, except during Lent. Small children and the elderly were exempt from this requirement.

It is little known today, but there used to be other 40 day periods like Lent on the liturgical calendar. Advent, for instance, originally was a 40-day period, and fasting was observed, although not as strictly as during Lent.

The other tradition, of course, was "giving up something for Lent." Most Catholic schoolchildren remember giving up candy (or a favorite candy) or snacks for Lent; some gave up television altogether or at certain times, or eschewed comic books or something else they enjoyed. Some kids cheated and "gave up" foods they hated. I tried, but my mother said I was not allowed to give up spinach for Lent! :-)

When neighborhoods had churches in walking distance from their parishoners, many Catholics attended morning Mass every day during Lent. Churches usually had a 6 a.m. daily service back then and people would go before work.

The Lessons for Ash Wednesday, from the Episcopal Lectionary