10 May 2020

"To a Butterfly"

               Thou trifling thing,
          Bright of color,
               Light of wing,— 
Hast thou, then, no other care
Than to ornament the air?
          Hither, thither,
               High and low,
          Why and whither
               Dost thou go?"
"From the garden to the hedge.
From the field-flower to the sedge,
  I flutter, flutter everywhere.
          Save to be fair
               I have no care,—
          An idler am I."
               "Oh, fie! Oh, fie!
Hence, thou useless thing, away!
Nay!—thou needed beauty,—stay!" 

Elizabeth Hill, "St. Nicholas" magazine, August 1892

29 April 2020

"A Jewel Song"

Hey! for turquoise sky and sea,
      Emerald grass and leafy tree
Topaz sunlight, onyx shade,—
      Ho! for Spring, the joyous maid.

Hey! for sapphire ocean blue,
      Opal sky and moonstone dew,
Agate night and amber day,—
      Ho! for Summer bright and gay.

Hey! for garnet bough and vine,
      Amethyst grape and ruby wine,
Golden setting for them all,—
      Ho! for brilliant, sad-heart Fall.

Hey! for silver glistening frost,
      Pearls of snow past any cost,
Diamond ice and crystal air,—
      Ho! for Winter cold and fair. 


12 April 2020

Happy Easter!

25 March 2020

Lady Day

"Lady Day" is the traditional name in some English-speaking countries for the Feast of the Annunciation. In Christian tradition, this is the day that the angle Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
Luke 1:26-38:
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God.

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her
 In England, Lady Day was one of the four "quarter days,"  "the four dates in each year on which servants were hired, school terms started, and rents were due."
  • Lady Day (March 25)
  • Midsummer Day (June 24)
  • Michaelmas [Feast of Michael the Archangel] (September 29)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)
Before tradition designated January 1 as New Year's Day, Lady Day was considered to be the first day of the New Year, appropriate as by March 25 spring would be in full bloom and the growing year would lie ahead.

The Importance of Lady Day in Regency England

Lady Day on Astrology.com

Catholic Encyclopedia: Annunciation

Lady Day Feasting at Catholic Cuisine

Orthodox Church: Annunciation

Pagan Library: Lady Day

14 February 2020

Happy Valentine's Day

02 February 2020

Happy Candlemas!

Wait, isn't it "Groundhog Day"?

Well, yes, but the Groundhog Day custom came from Candlemas.

Candlemas is (from Wikipedia):
"also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a Christian Holy Day commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It is based upon the account of the presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22–40. In accordance with Leviticus 12: a woman was to be purified by presenting lamb as a burnt offering, and either a young pigeon or dove as sin offering, 33 days after a boy's circumcision. It falls on February 2, which is traditionally the 40th day of and the conclusion of the Christmas–Epiphany season. While it is customary for Christians in some countries to remove their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night (Epiphany Eve), those in other Christian countries historically remove them on Candlemas. On Candlemas, many Christians (especially Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Orthodox and Roman Catholics) also bring their candles to their local church, where they are blessed and then used for the rest of the year; for Christians, these blessed candles serve as a symbol of Jesus Christ, who referred to Himself as the Light of the World."
Robert Herrick, the late 16th-17th century poet, wrote the following verses about Candlemas:

1. Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise
The greener box for show.

2. The holly hitherto did sway,
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day,
Or Easter's Eve appear.

3. Then youthful box which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

4. When yew is out, then birth comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.

5. Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comly ornaments,
To readorn the house.

6. Thus times do shift;
Each thing his turn doth hold;
New things succeed,
As former things grow old.

(If you can't imagine keeping your Christmas decorations up until February 2, remember these customs began in countries where winter was bleak and cold. Bringing greenery into the house—especially greenery that might have bright berries like holly and mistletoe—and decorating fireplace mantels, picture frames, doorways, and windows would have added a cheery air to a dark season. Furthermore, fire-lit homes, while looking cozy in photos, without the backup of central heat or at least a stove, were still quite cold. Historians estimate those cozy images you see of "the little house on the prairie" or other pioneer homes don't pass on the reality that the temperature inside that house was only about 55°F! No wonder they wore long woolen underwear!)

However, the groundhog tradition comes from these old verses about the holiday:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.


If Candlemas Day be dry and fair,
The half o the winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemas Day be wet and foul,
The half o the winter's gone at Yule.

German tradition postulated a badger that came out of his burrow on February 2 and either cast a shadow (dry and fair) or did not cast a shadow (rainy, or at least cloudy), and this sign meant the same thing. When Germans first migrated to the United States, they did not see badgers, so the custom was transferred to the woodchuck, commonly known as the groundhog.

Many people read this backward: that the groundhog seeing his shadow means spring is coming, and not seeing his shadow means winter is sticking around. But it is indeed the other way around: if he sees his shadow, the winter chill is continuing and will soon "blow itself out" and spring will come early. If he sees his shadow with the weather being sunny and dry, winter is "taking a breather," then is sure to come back stronger than ever.

08 January 2020

And One Final Book Review for the Holiday Season...

Hanukkah in America, Dianne Ashton
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I bought this book, but I thought it was going to be more about how Jewish people have come up against the juggernaut that is Christmas each year and how they counter with a celebration from their own culture that was a minor holiday, but which has expanded in response to being in proximity to the Yuletide frenzy that happens in December.

It does indeed address that issue, but is a lot more in depth than that, and delves more deeply into Jewish tradition and pre-Jewish-American-culture customs. In hindsight, I wish I had known a little bit more about the latter to truly appreciate how Hanukkah affected Jews.

Again, Hanukkah was a minor holiday on the celebratory calendar, one that did not require you to not work during the holiday period. However, when Jews migrated in great numbers to the United States, not only did they face Christmas advertising and celebration in every store window and in their children's schools, but they also came into contact with American culture itself, some of which ran counter to Jewish custom from "the old country": longer working hours and working on High Holidays, a narrative of the past that included "action heroes" like the Western pioneers and scouts, greater freedom for women, etc. For instance, Judah Maccabee would be compared to men like Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill Cody, and for Jews he would be considered a patriotic hero who fought against tyranny, like George Washington, the Union soldiers of the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War combatants. It would only be later that the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights and celebrating each night with your family in lighting the menorah would be emphasized more as Hanukkah did go head-to-head with Christmas, to show that both holidays had similarities: celebration of Light, miracles, family gatherings, special food, specific games, and gifts.

Not having background in traditional Jewish (read: Orthodox) customs did not keep me from appreciating this book, and how Jewish culture adapted and changed (like my own Italian culture) in order for the immigrants to assimilate as Americans yet keep their Jewish heritage. Enjoyable and approachable if you are looking for a more scholarly study.

07 January 2020


by Mary N. Prescott, "St. Nicholas," March 1880

"Come," said the Snow-flakes, "it's time we should rally,
     To tuck up the roots of the grass,
To shine on the hill-top and whiten the valley
     And touch the world up as we pass.

All the huts that are ruined and ugly
     Let us change into marble halls,
We will cover the naked hedges up snugly,
     And festoon the ragged stone walls.

We will build our drifts on the king's highway,
     Mimic the shape of star or feather,
We will silently waltz the livelong day,
     Or sculpture garlands together.

Never, outside of the spider's loom,
     Shall be spun such laces as ours,
And never, after the summer's bloom,
     Shall be seen such wonderful flowers."

05 January 2020

"I Sprang from My Bed..." To See Who Wrote the Poem

Inventing Santa Claus: The Mystery of Who Really Wrote The Most Celebrated Yuletide Poem of All Time, Carlo DeVito
On December 23, 1823, a poem called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel. It went on to become the most beloved Christmas poem of all time, and established much of the mythos of the Santa Claus character as we know it today: the sleigh, the eight reindeer and their names, his pipe, his jolly face. St. Nicholas himself was popularized in the New York area by Washington Irving. For years the poem was reprinted as being from "anonymous," until the family of Clement C. Moore, a theologian and scholar, claimed he wrote it. Moore, usually a serious man, did not take credit for the poem until 1844, when it was included in a book of his more serious verse.

But the family of Henry Livingston, Jr., related to Robert Livingston of Declaration of Independence fame, stated that the poem was his, and had been written earlier than the 1820s. They stated that its famous rhyming couplets were typically used by Livingston in his other poetry (he was noted for his light verse).

This slim volume discusses the history of both Moore and Livingston, the facts surrounding the printing and the reprinting of the poem, and the claims of both the families, taking them both into the present time. DeVito takes no sides in the quarrel, just presents as many facts as he can gather about both sides of the story.

There is a more detailed book on this subject (Who Wrote "The Night Before Christmas"? Analyzing the Clement Clarke Moore vs. Henry Livingston Question by MacDonald P. Jackson), but this appears to be more succinct and accessible.

04 January 2020

From Drunken Revel to Family Holiday

Re-read: Christmas Past, Gavin Weightman and Steve Humphries
This British trade paperback was a purchase from the remainder table of original Borders Books on Roswell Road in Atlanta. I was delighted to find it because I had seen (and videotaped) the original television special years ago when it was broadcast on A&E (back when A&E showed documentaries and wasn't overburdened with overwrought reality series). It is a history of the celebration of Christmas in Great Britain, and, like the television special, is crammed full of historical photographs about bygone holidays. It is especially fascinating talking about customs that are pretty much unknown in America, from the most familiar which might be the "Christmas cracker," a festively wrapped tube with candy, paper hats, and funny mottoes inside that "cracks" when you open it, hence the name, to obscure customs like the "Mari Llwd," a horse's skull carried from house to house in Wales which was a legacy of pagan times (along with the wassailing of Christmas trees). Another once-popular custom—even more popular than having a Christmas tree—was a decoration called a "mistletoe," crossed barrel staves decorated with tissue paper and hung with holly or mistletoe mounted at the the center and perhaps with little ornaments on the outside, that would be dangled from the ceiling as the main display. There are also memoirs from men and women who grew up poor in the early part of the 20th century and remember the meager Christmases of their youth, as well as memories of children and adults who had to celebrate in the workhouse. A lot of the language is a bit more salty than appeared on the edited American version.

And wait—there's more: memories of colonial Christmases in India, the Victorian contribution to the celebration, wartime Christmases with rationed foods and celebrations in air-raid shelters...as full of goodies as a stocking hung on the mantel. Highly recommended

03 January 2020

Because There's No Place Like...

More Holmes for the Holidays, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh
I enjoyed the first volume so much I decided to send for a used copy of the sequel, but was a little disappointed when it arrived. It's a much smaller volume than the first, with fewer stories. However, most of them were pretty enjoyable, and written by familiar names like Anne Perry, Peter Lovesey, Barbara Paul, and Loren Estleman, among others. The Perry story that opens the book is a subject close to Holmes' heart: violins and a superb performer of violin music. Holmes' unique solution to the problem includes a very special Christmas gift for him. "The Four Wise Men" revolves around an old Army compatriot's request of Watson, that he play Joseph in a unique neighborhood Christmas pageant that involves his Army friend carrying a priceless star made of silver and studded with gems, and includes a chase with Watson in biblical regalia.

Other adventures include Chinese carol singers; a Yuletide plot to destroy goodwill between England and France; a tale involving choirmembers, a spoiled boy soloist, and stolen collection money; and one involving a young woman who has inherited an estate and an old curse. One story is a sequel to "The Copper Beeches," and to me is the one really weak story of the lot, playing on an old story to achieve its climax. Other stories feature Holmes with real-life people: Erskine Childers, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Darwin, and, in my favorite of the stories, Kipling appears along with an adult Timothy Cratchit, who is trying to fulfill the final part of Ebenezer Scrooge's will. I guessed the twist in that one at once, but the story was so entertaining I didn't care.

Still a worthwhile purchase, but do be aware there is less content than the original.

02 January 2020

Keep Calm and Christmas On

A Wartime Christmas, compiled by Maria and Andrew Hubert
Alan Sutton Publishing has a series of these "Christmas anthologies," the first which I bought at a book sale several years ago, and I try to pick up inexpensive copies when I can find them. Most of them concentrate on a certain shire or area in England, but there are a handful, like A Dickens Christmas and A Bronte Christmas that are set around an era instead. This is their World War II volume, and, predictably for the subject, it is in an oversize trade-paper format.

The contributions cover a varied range of subjects: the memories of children evacuated to the country, tales of trying to produce a typical Christmas feast with rationed food and sweets, stories of overseas celebrations (from soldiers putting on a raucous impromptu pantomime of Aladdin to men existing on meager portions as POWs), soldiers able to spend Christmas in Bethlehem and those assigned to long days in Iceland. There are several memories from Polish men who eventually came to England to join the RAF and who were one of "the few" who stood against Hitler in the Battle of Britain, and at least one memory of POWs attending church on Christmas Day to no acrimony.

The volume includes cartoons, vintage photographs, wartime recipes and peeks into recipe books of the time, old advertisements—and, typically for any English Christmas compilation, a ghost story!

If you are an Anglophile and Christmas fan, you owe it to yourself to check out these Sutton volumes!

01 January 2020