Monthly Archives: January 2018

Approach to Candlemas

January is waning, and with it, so is Yuletide in its full breadth. Most of us have packed away the Christmas things long ago, but there is an old old tradition that keeps the season going until the First of February, which is Candlemas Eve. Here in our house we have subscribed to this tradition this year, mainly because our tree has been so lovely and fresh, still, even in this late hour of midwinter. Perhaps also because Haden the Convivio Shop Cat loves sleeping beneath its boughs, and we enjoy the serenity of watching her sleep there.

Candlemas traditionally marks the end of the Christmas season in the Church, and even in homes, it is on Candlemas Eve that all vestiges of the Yuletide celebration are to be removed, as we shift from one seasonal perspective (winter) to another: the first stirrings of spring.

If you can’t imagine living with plastic snowmen and sparkly ornaments so far into the new year, keep in mind that in earlier times (well into the 20th century), Christmas decorations consisted of things of the natural world: holly and ivy, balsam and mistletoe, rosemary and other greenery. And in times past the decorations went up on Christmas Eve, not earlier. So it was pretty easy to live with these festive things in your home through to the Eve of Candlemas, and they certainly brought as much joy to a home as any of our contemporary decorations do now. While the major festivities of Christmas ended with Epiphany, the spirit of the season remained and lingered and kept folks company for these forty wintry days. But it was considered bad luck to keep these things about the house any longer than Candlemas. Our old reliable 17th century Book of Days poet Robert Herrick describes the significance of the day in his poem “Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve”:

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

The shift in our celebration of Christmas will probably always perplex me. How we took a celebration that traditionally begins on the solstice and runs through Candlemas and made it into a fourth quarter corporate event that begins in stores in September and makes people weary of its presence by Christmas Day is, I think, a great disservice to us all. In our home we follow the old ways as closely as we can. We may seem out of step with the rest of the world, but the rest of the world is not necessarily where we want to be, anyway. Home is a refuge for us and for sacred ceremony, and we rather like it that way. And so with Candlemas we will say farewell to the tree and to the wreath of bay upon the door. We’ll pack up the ornaments, and the tree will be returned to nature, laid to rest in a quiet corner of the garden. Next winter, at the solstice, we’ll use that same tree, dried over the course of the year, to fuel our solstice fire. And with Candlemas, we’ll shift our view from one of winter to one where the renewal of spring is close at hand.


Image: “Le Jeune Chanteur” by Trophime Bigot, who is known also as the Candlelight Master. Oil on canvas, 1650 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


Burns’ Night

Auld Lang Syne

As we approach the close of January, we come to Burns’ Night, the night we celebrate the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, who was born on the 25th of January, 1759. Burns’ Night suppers are held throughout Scotland, and the meals typically include Scottish dishes like haggis served with neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), together with a wee dram of whisky accompanied by the recitation of plenty of Burns’ poetry.

The dialect that Burns wrote in is rarely easy to master for a non-Highlander, but whenever I read a Robert Burns poem, I conjure up the memory of a woman I worked with many years ago. Josephine was from Scotland and she was a bit scattered and she sometimes got tired, in the middle of a day’s work, of wearing shoes. She and I installed many a greeting card department in our days working for the Ambassador Cards division of Hallmark, and to hear her read from a Hallmark instruction manual… well, it was musical and beautiful. Anytime I read Burns I just imagine it is Josephine who is speaking to me again, and then it is easy to fall into the rhythm of his words. (An additional wee dram of whisky does not hurt, either.)

Certainly the night calls for the singing of Burns’ most famous work, the song and poem “Auld Lang Syne,” which translates to Old Long Since, or Old Times. We opened the new year with this song, and we close the month with it, too. If it brings a tear or two, so be it. Robbie Burns was a bit of a sentimental poet, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit o’that every now and again.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


The Fair

It’s Fair Season here in South Florida. Seth and I spent a day last week at the South Florida Fair, which was known years ago as the Palm Beach County Fair. It began this year in mid January and runs until the 29th. All of our surrounding Florida counties have fairs this time of year, too. The Martin County Fair, in Martin County just to our north, starts on February 9. The Broward County Fair, to our south, was in November, the Okeechobee County Fair is in March, and the fair in Miami-Dade County starts in March, as well.

We don’t go every year, but when we do go, it’s mainly to see the chickens and the goats and all the other animals that are there, and to eat fair food, and to load up on local eggs and honey and produce. County fairs like this harken back many centuries to harvest celebrations, which is why most fairs in the rest of the country are in late summer and early autumn. Here in Florida, where the planting season began in September, it is harvest time now and through the spring, and so our fair schedule follows along.

Our fair began in 1912 and for a while was held at John Prince Park, just outside the Lake Worth city limits. The York Fair in Pennsylvania is billed as America’s First Fair (it began in 1765), but New Netherlands, the Dutch settlement that became New York once the British took over, held a fair in 1641. Records of agricultural fairs go all the way back to the ancient world, in fact, so they are one of the oldest traditions in the seasonal round. It all comes down to celebrating the harvest. As for us here in Palm Beach County in January, well… we just happen to be a bit topsy-turvy from the rest of the country. But if you’re in a cold northern place right now and enjoying oranges and grapefruits or tomatoes and peppers and sweet corn, well… you’re welcome. Florida farms provide an awful lot of that winter produce for your table.

Go to Instagram to see more photos from the fair, including one regal turkey and one adorable pig snout. You’ll find us there @conviviobookworks and we’d be pleased as punch if you followed along while you’re there. Thanks!