29 September 2006

Christmas Books to Look Forward To

First there's Christmas in New England, which has already been released. I don't expect to see it in my local area, so will have to order it. Here is the table of contents—doesn't look like they have a chapter on Edaville Railroad, though; I thought that would be de rigueur!

There's also the sequel to Jeff Guinan's two Santa Claus books, called The Great Santa Search. This brings Nicholas' and Layla's story to modern day America, where a reality TV show looks for the real Santa. Sounds like a hoot.

Taaschen also has this book about Christmas memorabilia available.

28 September 2006

Fall Festivals of Old

From School of the Seasons (very interesting site, BTW!):

September 28 Michaelmas Eve, Crack Nut Day
In the Scottish highlands and islands, an unblemished ram lamb called the Michael Lamb is killed for tomorrow's feast. Women make special cakes called struan Michael or Michaelmas cakes, from equal parts of all types of grain grown on the farm, kneaded with butter, eggs and sheep's milk, marked with a cross and cooked on a stone heated by a fire of sacred oak, rowan and bramble wood. A piece of the cake is thrown into the fire as a tithe to St. Michael's opponent, the Devil. Other cakes are made for special people, for the family and for the community. Cranberries, bilberries, brambleberries, caraway seeds and wild honey are baked into the cakes. Clearly part of the purpose of this charm is to take the bounty of the farm's harvest and use it to fashion an offering of thanks.

It is OK to steal horses on the eve of Michaelmas so the men sit up and watch their horses.

In Surrey in England, this day is known as Crack Nut Day and nuts are cracked and eaten in churches (see September 14). In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, people build bonfires on the Eve of Michaelmas and scatter grain for the wild birds to bring luck to the farm.

September 29 Michaelmas
This is the feast day of St. Michael and all the Angels. It is the most ancient of all the angel festivals. The Anglican church celebrates all angels, both name and unnamed on one day. Roman and Orthodox Churches separate them into two categories (with the unnamed angels having their feast day on October 2nd).

From fairly early on, Michaelmas was an important holiday, the religious or Christian equivalent of the autumn equinox. In England, it was considered the start of a new quarter. It marked the start of a new business year, a time for electing officials, making contracts, paying rent, hiring servants, holding court and starting school. Obviously we still see the remnants of this in the timing of our elections and school year.

This is also a time when the weather is known to change. In Italy, they say "For St. Michael, heat goes into the heavens." In Ireland, people expect a marked decrease in sickness or disease. The Irish also consider this a lucky day for fishing:

     Plenty comes to the boat on Micheael's Day.
     Barolini records a nursery rhyme about hours of sleep:
     Nature requires five,
     Custom gives seven,
     Laziness takes nine
     And Michaelmas eleven.

Michaelmas became the fixed date for the feast otherwise associated with Autumn Equinox or the harvest. As early as 1014, the laws of Ethelred in England prescribe a three day fast for all Christians before the feast. Servants weren't allowed to work during these days. Michaelmas was a time when rents were due, and rents were often paid in food. The traditional rent for Michaelmas was a goose.

Eating something rich like goose at this turning point of the year brings good luck. In Nottingham they say "If you eat roast goose on Michaelmas day, you will never want money all year." In Norfolk, they say, "if you don't baste the goose on Michaelmas Day, you will want money all year." In Yorkshire, they use the condition of the meat of the goose to predict the weather:

     If the goose breast at Michaelmas be dour and dull
     We'll have a sour winter, from the start to the full.

Fitzgibbon says the Irish used to stuff the goose with potato to cut the grease and absorb the flavor. This is like the traditional onion sauce served with goose in the 18th and 19th centuries and made from onions cooked in half milk and half water, with a slice of turnip, then mixed with butter, nutmeg, cream, salt and pepper and mashed. Apple sauce is the most common topping today.

In Italy, where this is clearly considered a harvest festival, they say "For St. Michael all the last fruits of the year are honeyed and ripe."

Cosman says that it is traditional to eat ginger on Michaelmas. She mentions ginger ale, beer and wine, gingerbread, ginger snaps, fish baked with ginger and two ginger desserts: charwardon (made with large succulent wardon pears, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger) and ginger caramels with curls of ginger-root shavings on top.

Michaelmas daisy is the name given to flowers of the aster family which bloom at this time. I've seen it applied mostly to purple asters but Barolini says she used to pick yellow Michaelmas daisies on the beaches near Rome. She also made a yellow sponge cake called "Margherita" (daisy) on that day.

St Michael
Michael is a warrior angel often pictured poised with a sword over a dragon (or demon) that he tramples underfoot. Other times he rides a white steed, and carries a three-pronged spear in his right hand and a three-cornered shield in his left. He cast Lucifer and the other evil angels out of Paradise. Thus, in the Middle Ages was invoked as the patron of knights and warriors.

He's been honored since ancient times as a protector. Most of his churches are on high places, for instance, Mont St. Michel in Brittany, the church on the tor at Glastonbury, the church on the tumulus at Carnac. They were often built on the sites where Lugh, the Celtic God of Light, was worshipped earlier.

Although all angels are sent as messengers from on high, Michael has a special task. He's sent to fetch the souls of those who have died for judgement. For this reason he is also considered the patron saint of all trades that use scales which mean he looks after pastry chefs and weighers of grain.

Carolee Colter translated this Litany of Saint Michael from the French prayer card she purchased while visiting Mont St. Michel in Brittany:

Saint Michael, archangel, pray for us.
Saint Michael, chief of all the angels, pray for us.
Saint Michael, filled with the wisdom of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, very glorious prince, pray for us.
Saint Michael, strong in combat, pray for us.
Saint Michael, terror of demons, pray for us.
Saint Michael, vanquisher of Satan, pray for us.
Saint Michael, our support in the fight against evil, pray for us.
Saint Michael, prince of the celestial militia, pray for us.
Saint Michael, faithful servant of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, messenger of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, angel of peace, pray for us.
Saint Michael, guardian of Paradise, pray for us.
Saint Michael, support of the people of God, pray for us.
Saint Michael, guardian and patron of the church, pray for us.
Saint Michael, benefactor of people who honor you, pray for us.
Saint Michael, whose prayers reach to heaven, pray for us.
Saint Michael, who introduces souls to the eternal light, pray for us.
Pray for us, Saint Michael, archangel.

House Shadow Drake - Michaelmas

Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Michael the Archangel

Episcopal Readings for Michaelmas

The Michaelmas Daisy

A Michaelmas Blog Entry by Peter Walker

Feast of St. Michael (Michaelmas)

24 September 2006

Holly Jolly Ho-Ho-Ho!

Just got back from "WallyWorld" where we saw some cute stuffed Rudolph figures. They all play some dialog from Rankin-Bass' Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer followed by a song. The largest is a Yukon Cornelius with his sled with Rudolph and Hermy sitting on it. This plays dialog from the story and then the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Then there are five (that we saw, anyway) single figures. Santa sings "Jingle, Jingle, Jingle." Yukon sings "Silver and Gold." Hermey sings "A Couple of Misfits." Rudolph sings...well, "Rudolph." :-) And the Bumble growls but I can't remember the song because by that time we had all the other figures singing as well. :-) I think it might be "Rudolph" again or "Holly Jolly Christmas."

Now I'm wondering if there is a Sam the snowman singing "Holly Jolly" or a Clarice singing "There's Always Tomorrow."

20 September 2006

"We'll Deck the House with...Leaves..."

The cooler weather made me feel chipper enough to put out the fall things after I had opened up all the windows (and doors) and turned on the fans. (I'd love to stock this entire house with Vornado fans; I have our one Vornado next to my bed and it's so nice and quiet—on high it makes the same level of noise as our other fans make on low and on low you have to walk next to it to even hear it. But they cost about four times as much.) I replaced the seasonal things—the bouquet on the kitchen table, the lilac bouquet in the hall, the display table and plaques in the foyer, and the wreath on the front door.

I usually wait until the equinox to put up the change of seasons, but I read something this summer that made me pause: September 22nd isn't "the first day of autumn"; it's just the fall equinox. Meteorological fall begins September 1. So I've put things up because it feels like fall (even if the temps will go back up over the weekend).

The combination of the cozy fall colors and the liberating open curtains and windows was quite a contrast. We're used to living "dim" in the summertime with insulated curtains (except on the dining room windows) because it keeps the heat down in the house and helps the air conditioner not run as much, so it's a bright surprise to have the sun streaming in windows and filling the house with natural light. The construction of the old house, sadly, really didn't allow a lot of the sunlight to break through, which was a positive thing in summer, but made the rest of the year rather dull: the den was self-contained and dark because of the paneling, no matter how sunny it was the kitchen was always dark because of its placement in the tree'd back yard with the neighbors' larger house blocking most of the sunlight, and the upstairs rooms blocked by the hallway. It was like living in a cave most of the time.

While putting away the summer things, I peeked into the box of Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. I'm reluctant to overspend but am wondering if I should buy a couple of more Halloween things, mostly for the porch. Never been much of a Halloween person, but this year looks like it might be fun because of the neighborhood and the kids. I already have the three decorations I bought from Moores, plus a couple of signs and the old jack o'lantern; don't really want to get into the lights stuff. Maybe one of those stiff black spiderwebs with the purple spider? Or another sign from Michael's (Michael's has these signs with which, as James commented, you could make a reproduction of Diagon Alley if you tried.