Come all You Vulcans, Strong & Stout

We are on the fast approach to Thanksgiving, a moveable feast, and with it this year come two saints’ days worthy of note: St. Cecilia’s Day on Thanksgiving Day itself, the 22nd of November, and St. Clement’s Day the next day, the 23rd. St. Cecilia is noteworthy as she is a patron saint of musicians and so her day is a fine one to enjoy their labor. In fact, concerts in honor of St. Cecilia on her feast day go back to at least 1570 in France.

As for Old Clem, he is a patron saint of blacksmiths and metal workers. In days when there were more smiths at work, the night of his feast day was a night when they would gather and drink and process about town, stopping at all the pubs. At some point, one of their number, who was dressed as St. Clement, would arise and deliver the following lines:

I am the real St. Clement, the first founder of brass, iron, and steel, from the ore. I have been to Mount Etna, where the god Vulcan first built his forge, and forged the armour and thunderbolts for the god Jupiter. I have been through the deserts of Arabia; through Asia, Africa, and America; through the city of Pongrove; through the town of Jipmingo; and all the northern parts of Scotland. I arrived in London on the twenty-third of November, and came down to Her Majesty’s dockyard at Woolwich, to see how all the gentleman Vulcans came on there. I found them all hard at work, and wish to leave them on the twenty-fourth.

Another in the party then adds:

Come, all you Vulcans stout and strong,
Unto St. Clem we do belong.
I know this house is well prepared
With plenty of money and good strong beer;
And we must drink before we part,
All for to cheer each merry heart.
Come, all you Vulcans, strong and stout,
Unto St Clem I pray turn out;
For now St Clem’s going round the town:
His coach and six goes merrily round.

It is a day when children would go “Clementing”––knocking on doors, singing rhymes in exchange for treats like oranges and apples. Rhymes like this one:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

As I mentioned in the Convivio Dispatch for Halloween (if you didn’t get it in your email box and would like it, let me know and I’ll send it your way, for the Convivio Dispatch is something different from the Convivio Book of Days blog), my mother does not remember trick or treating at Halloween so much as she remembers doing something like it at Thanksgiving. She is Brooklyn born and bred, and there is an old New York Thanksgiving tradition known as the Ragamuffin Parade (though the name was news to her when I told her about it recently). It was popular at the turn of the last century, and began fading away by the mid 1900s. Kids would dress as ragamuffins and knock on doors, asking, “Something for Thanksgiving?”

Such interesting days, these days of late November. Thanksgiving always falls around my grandpa’s birthday, who was born way back in 1895. It was a birthday we celebrated each year on the 23rd, even though we learned later that Grandpa’s birthday may have been the 21st. It was on a Thanksgiving night, too, that my dad was visited by the ghost of his mother (which is another story that came up in that same Convivio Dispatch for Halloween). Perhaps it is this combination of ghostly stories and Mom’s Thanksgiving variation of trick or treating that always has me thinking of Thanksgiving as an extension of the autumnal days when we remember our dead. But Thanksgiving is a bit like that, no? We gather together, we share a fine meal, and for those of us who have been on this constantly rotating planet a good many years, we remember folks who have come and gone, stories that were told ages ago, and we get a bit wistful. And there is nothing wrong with that. These are all good things to be thankful for.

It is, by the way, a good time to order Advent candles and calendars from our Convivio Book of Days Catalog! Especially if you feel a bit rushed by Christmas (Why are there wreaths hanging on the doors of Lake Worth City Hall even before Thanksgiving?), a simple thing like an Advent candle that you light each night or an Advent calendar that you open a door on each day can really help bring some perspective to things. Ours are the traditional kinds: a few of our Advent calendars are made in England, but most are made in Germany, where the tradition began. And the daily Advent candles are made in England. We light ours each night at dinner. It’s part of what we call the Slow Christmas Movement. And we offer free domestic shipping when you spend $50!

Image: “Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting.” Chromolithograph postcard by John Winsch, 1910. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections. Postcards. [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]


Hollantide, and your November Book of Days

We have been, since Halloween, in the midst of a span of time known as Hollantide. It is a time when we traditionally remember our dead. All Hallows (All Saints Day) is what gives the span its name––Hollantide being but a corruption of the word Hallowtide. All Hallows is what names the season and what names Halloween, of course: All Hallow’s Eve. Halloween ushers in All Saints Day which ushers in All Souls Day, which brings us the surreal beauty of Dia de Los Muertos, Day of the Dead. These are the days known in Italy simply as I Morti: The Dead. This is Hollantide at its core: the time of the sacred, the time of the holy, days of remembrance that continue through to Martinmas, which comes on Sunday, the 11th of November.

St. Martin of Tours, who we celebrate on Martinmas, was a Roman military veteran (and we’ll talk of veterans later, for his day also brings Veterans Day) in the fourth century who opted to take up Christian pacifism and is known best for helping a poor, drunken man on a cold winter’s day by tearing his own cloak in two so that the poor fellow could have something to keep him warm. St. Martin has since become a patron saint of tailors, vineyard keepers, winemakers, and drinkers.

What makes Martinmas the bookend to Halloween? The connection may have something to do with the Celtic New Year––Samhain––which, over the centuries, evolved into our Halloween. Samhain marks, as well, in traditional reckoning of time, the transition to winter. With all of these November days since Samhain, since Halloween, our thoughts have gone deeper below the earth, just as the natural world also shifts its energy below the earth. Winter leads us there. Persephone leads us there. The trees take us there: The leaves have flown, all growth now is below, in the roots. This makes for stronger growth above ground come spring and summer: balance. As above, so below. Oh and guess what? November 11 is the old style date of Samhain. And here we are, then, at Martinmas.

It is, as well, Veteran’s Day, when we honor in the United States all who have served in the military. We used to call it Armistice Day, for it originally marked the signing of the armistice that ended the Great War, which is what we used to call World War I before World War II came to be. The armistice that brought peace after years of senseless fighting was signed in 1918 on Martinmas, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month––100 years ago this Sunday, in fact.

So much associated with this day. One more thing: Martinmas is, traditionally, the time to taste the new wine, a fact certainly related to St. Martin’s patronage of winemakers and vineyard keepers. Each year’s Beaujolais Nouveau wines of France, always young wines, are typically released on or around Martinmas, and the day is often accompanied by a good meal featuring roast goose or turkey and chestnuts––typical harvest celebration foods––and, in Italy, Biscotti di San Martino: biscotti that are so hard, the only way to eat them, really, is to first dunk them in wine. My grandparents, all of them immigrants to the US from Italy, all made wine. My father was glad to get married and leave the winemaking that went on in his family home behind… but he married my mother, and her family made wine each autumn, too. The barrels that had to be cleaned out with water and chains, the crates of Zinfandel grapes that had to be washed and crushed… it was hard work, and I wish I could have been part of it. Winemaking is knowledge that has passed by the wayside in my family, drifted away. But certainly San Martino was important to all of my grandparents and to their wine. Grandpa made the wine, but Grandma made the cutte from the same must, the same grape juice, boiled down on the kitchen stove, reduced to a thick syrup, so specific to Lucera, her small Italian city, used in desserts specific, too, to autumn and winter, some of which are full of meaning, too, as we remember those who have passed. Like cicce cutte, a penitential dessert eaten during these Hollantide days and known practically no where else but Lucera: cooked wheat berries with chocolate, chopped almonds, pomegranate, and spices like cloves and cinnamon, and poured over the concoction? That same syrup made during the winemaking. The pomegranate certainly a direct connexion to the story of Persephone, who must go beneath the earth for the winter.

In all the hustle and hubbub of Halloween and Dia de Muertos, it took a while to get to making your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for November… but it’s here now! Our monthly gift to you is a printable PDF; this month’s edition is available right here.


Harvest Makers Marketplace
Sunday November 11 from 10 AM to 4 PM
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton
We’ll be transitioning toward Christmas with a pop-up shop of traditional German advent calendars and advent candles from England, plus handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany and Mexico and our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more. Plus there’s live music all day: Rio Peterson from 10 AM to 1 PM, Ella Herrera from 1 to 4 PM. It’s going to be a good one!


A Halloween Invitation

Here comes Halloween! It’s a favorite celebration in this house, perhaps emanating from a love of pumpkins and apples and celebrations by dark of night. My interest in Halloween lies in its old traditions. In some places, for instance, it was known as Nutcrack Night, for it was a night for roasting nuts and using them to predict the future. Halloween has long been associated with conjuring and magic, perhaps because of its connexions with things of mystery. Its purpose as All Hallow’s Eve is to usher in the Days of the Dead that follow: All Hallows or All Saints Day on the First of November; All Souls Day on the Second. We keep the dead in mind especially at this time of year, clear through to Martinmas on November 11th.

One of the best things about Halloween, I think, is that everything is turned topsy turvy. The kids are out at night, ringing the doorbells of strangers, begging for treats. We wear costumes and masks so others don’t necessarily know our identities. And we carve lanterns out of pumpkins. How wonderful is that? That’s an old Celtic tradition, though back then and there in Ireland it was turnips that were carved. When the Irish began coming to America, pumpkins presented a great big orange glowing alternative. We’ve not gone back since.

Each year for Halloween for, oh… many many years now, I’ve written a gently ghostly story and sent it out to the world via email. It’s the Convivio Dispatch for Halloween. This year’s Halloween Dispatch will go out tonight to subscribers of the Convivio Dispatch, which is a different animal from this blog. If you’d like to make sure you receive the Halloween Dispatch, please subscribe right here. And if you’d rather get just tonight’s Halloween Dispatch without subscribing, let me know in the comments below. Leave your email address and I’ll send it. Or email me directly at to say you’d like the story. But don’t be afraid to subscribe… those particular emails from me are very few and far between, and you’ll meet an interesting cast of characters from our home town of Lake Worth.

Have a fine Halloween, filled with good spirit.

We’re popping up at quite a few local South Florida venues in November!

Real Mail Thursdays: Dia de Muertos Social
Thursday November 1 from 2 to 6 PM
Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library
Boca Raton
We’ll have a mini pop-up shop of traditional handmade goods for Day of the Dead made by our artisan friends in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Florida Day of the Dead Celebration
Friday November 2 from 4 to 11 PM
Downtown Fort Lauderdale
We’ll be in the Craft Crypt at Huzienga Park on East Las Olas in our own tent with a pop-up shop of traditional Mexican handicrafts for Dia de los Muertos from 4 to 7:30 PM.

Dia de los Muertos Lake Worth
Saturday November 3 from 3 to 10 PM
Hatch 1121 and Downtown Lake Worth, west of Dixie Highway
Our favorite! Find us in the courtyard at Hatch with a pop-up shop of traditional Mexican handicrafts for Dia de los Muertos, Christmas, and everyday. We’ll be there for the full length of the celebration.

Harvest Makers Marketplace
Sunday November 11 from 10 AM to 4 PM
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton
We’ll be transitioning toward Christmas with a pop-up shop of traditional German advent calendars and advent candles from England, plus handmade Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany and Mexico and our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more. Plus there’s live music all day: Rio Peterson from 10 AM to 1 PM, Ella Herrera from 1 to 4 PM. It’s going to be a good one!


Image: One of last year’s Jack O’Lanterns, on the front porch. This one is by Seth. It’s got his trademark toothless smile.