Category Archives: Book of Days Calendar

Easter Triduum, or Your April Book of Days

April has begun. It begins, of course, with All Fools’ Day, April Fools. There is an old Welsh saying: If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings. The tricks and practical jokes traditionally end at noon, but not everyone understands this and so I think it’s a good day to remain generally wary and on guard. The origins of this day are tough to pin down. There is a Norse god named Loki whose feast day is today, and Loki happens to be a trickster god. So that could be it. But there also is the fact that March 25 was once New Year’s Day, making the First of April the Octave of New Year and the end of the new year revels, and it is thought that perhaps the foolishness of the date goes back to very old new year customs.

Being the First of the month, it’s also time for the April edition of the ongoing Convivio Book of Days calendar. We offer it to you as a printable PDF. The calendar makes a fine companion to this blog. Enjoy it with our compliments.

This year, what begins as All Fools’ Day ends as Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, the night when we are invited to visit churches that will remain unlocked all night long, welcoming portals inviting us to be present with Jesus in his hours of tribulation as Good Friday approaches. Like last year, though, we will remain home, but typically it is a night when we visit three churches, as my grandmother Assunta taught us, though some people visit seven. I love this night, typically. It is such a bridge for me across time and space with the ones I love and the ones I miss, as I sit in the close and holy darkness of these quiet churches, meditating, praying, simply being. The moon is always present as I journey from church to church, a constant companion. This year, perhaps, a simple fire in the back yard may be the most appropriate way to mark the night. The moon will still be present, and where two or three are gathered… well, you know the story. But here ends the Lenten season, and here begins the Easter or Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday: the Last Supper, the Passion, and the Resurrection through the Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

There is much more to read about these closing days of this week known as Holy Week, and you may do so in the previous chapter of this blog. (Just click “Previous Post” when you get to the bottom of this one, or click here.) Cover star for this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar is a painting called “Easter Morning,” by Caspar David Friedrich, from 1833. The trees have yet to leaf out in this painting, but by the end of this month certainly the rivers will be a’running and the vernal push will be rising through sap from root to bud as trees erupt in new green leaves. And sometimes we need a reminder like this: of how so much wonder can happen over the course of a month.

Image: “Easter Morning” by Caspar David Friedrich, oil on canvas, 1833, [Public domain], via WikiPaintings.

Wind on the Wold, or Your March Book of Days

And now it is March, a month often thought of as unpredictable: mild, then freezing cold, calm, then stormy… and a month filled with blustery days, to be sure. There is an old weather rhyme associated with the first few days of the month:

First comes David,
Next comes Chad,
Then comes Winnal,
Roaring mad.

David refers to St. David’s Day, which is today: a day sacred to Wales and a day for the wearing of leeks and daffodils on the lapel and for the making of Welsh cakes. (More on that later.) Chad and Winnal refer to the two saints whose feast days follow St. David’s: St. Chad on the Second and St. Winnal on the Third, both of them ancient saints largely by now forgotten here on earth––which may explain why Winnal is so roaring mad. Then again, it may simply be because his month of March is one of the transition months, which makes complete sense, an idea I’ve only just come across recently in my reading of this year’s Almanac by Lia Leendertz, an annual seasonal guide that I discovered last year when my friend Lisabet Summa gave me a copy of the 2020 edition. As Lia explains it: the days are growing longer, the sun is higher in the sky, and the air is being warmed by the sun. But cold pockets of air still remain. The warm air rises, and as it does, cool air swoops in to replace it… thus, wind. My description may be a bit of a simplification, but I think it relays the general idea: that wind, as Lia Leendertz says, is “nature’s attempt to even everything out and create an equilibrium.”

To honor this, our monthly gift to you, the Convivio Book of Days calendar, this time around features the winds of March as its cover star, as depicted in a painting by George Heming Mason, 1863. The calendar is, as usual, a printable PDF. Click here and it’s yours. The calendar is a fine companion to this blog as we walk through the month together and seek the equilibrium that nature seeks, too, in its windiest days.

Back now to St. David’s Day: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus is the St. David’s Day greeting in Welsh, but in English, a simple “Happy St. David’s Day” will do. In Wales, it is a day of national pride and national celebration, similar to St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland. It is a day of leeks and daffodils, perhaps because both are similar in name in Welsh. The legend of the leeks goes back to an ancient battle in Wales in which St. David himself is said to have advised the Welsh troops to wear leeks in their caps in order to distinguish themselves from the Saxon troops they were fighting. This animosity between the Celtic Welsh and the Saxon-descended English went on for some time. Here’s a story I relate most years on the First of March: it’s an old story of a man traveling on horseback in the north of Wales who comes to a river that he wishes to cross. There was a man working the field nearby, so he asked, in English, if it was safe to cross the river and the laborer replied, in English, that it was indeed. The horse, however, knew better, and refused to pass into the river. So the man upon the horse asked the laborer once again if it was safe to cross the river, this time in Welsh. “Oh, I beg your pardon, sir,” said the man on the ground. “I thought you were an Englishman.”

I hope by now that the Welsh and the English have come to be at peace with each other. The leek is now a symbol of Welsh national pride, as is the daffodil. And perhaps the Welsh cake, too. Here’s our recipe:

W E L S H   C A K E S

It’s not uncommon to find recipes for Welsh Cakes that call for regular granulated sugar, butter, and nutmeg, but the traditional recipe will add lard to the mix, use caster sugar in place of the regular sugar, and will be flavored with the more mysterious flavor of mace. If you want the best Welsh Cakes, stick to the traditional version. If you can’t find caster sugar, make your own: pulse regular granulated sugar in a blender until very fine. Do not use powdered confectioners’ sugar, which has added corn starch.

3 cups all purpose flour
½ cup caster sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons lard
6 tablespoons butter
¾ cup dried currants
2 eggs, beaten lightly
3 to 4 tablespoons milk
granulated sugar

Whisk together the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, mace, cinnamon, and salt in a mixing bowl, then work in the butter and lard with your fingers until the mixture has the texture of course crumbs. It’s ok if some larger chunks of butter remain. Mix in the currants. Add the beaten egg, working it into the mixture, adding just enough milk to form a soft dough that is not too sticky. Wrap; chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until you are ready to make the cakes.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and roll to a thickness of about ¼”. Using a biscuit cutter (scalloped, if you have one), cut into rounds. Gather up any remnants to roll out again and cut more cakes.

Heat a lightly buttered skillet (cast iron works great) over low to medium heat, cooking the cakes until each side is lightly browned (about 3 to 4 minutes… if they’re cooking quicker than that, lower the heat). Let the cakes cool for a minute or two, then set each in a bowl of granulated sugar, allowing sugar to coat both sides and the edges. Best served warm, split, with butter and jam, or, for a more savory treat, with cheese and leeks, at a table set with a small vase of daffodils.

Image: Detail from “Wind on the Wold” by George Heming Mason. Oil on canvas, 1863. Used with gratitude through Creative Commons [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

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The Bridge to Spring

It happens to be snowing like mad across the northeastern United States as I sit and write this. Be that as it may, with the arrival of February, we take our first step onto the bridge that leads us from winter to spring. This first day of the month brings St. Brigid’s Day: Brigid, the bridge. She bids us welcome upon the next spoke in the wheel of the year, and there is a lot to talk about today: past, present, and future. Are you ready? Ok, then. Here we go:

We’ll begin with what is passing: If you––like Seth and me in this house––have been delighting in Christmas all this month, now comes the time to put Yuletide behind us and to shift our perspective toward spring. Forty days have passed since the Midwinter solstice and we are now halfway from there to the vernal equinox in March. As such, St. Brigid brings us a new cross quarter day, for Yuletide ends and Imbolc begins. With this shift of the wheel, tradition would have us remove all vestiges of Christmas greenery by Candlemas Eve, which comes with tonight’s setting sun. While the major festivities and revelry of Christmas traditionally ended with Epiphany (the Twelfth Day of Christmas), the spirit of the season remained and lingered and kept folks company for all these forty wintry days. But it was considered bad luck to keep these Yuletide things about the house any longer than Candlemas Eve. Our old reliable 17th century Book of Days poet Robert Herrick describes the significance of this night 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.

And so our tree will be brought outside this first night of February, as will the wreath that’s been hanging on the door. We return to nature what is hers. We’ll keep the tree in a quiet corner of the yard––easy to do here, since our yard is a bit of forest––and all the year long it will remind of us of Christmas whenever we by chance brush against it and get a whiff of its balsam fragrance. And when the nights grow long again next December, it will fuel our solstice fire, connecting one Christmas to the next. Ah, but that is the future, and for now, if Christmas is what we are leaving behind, let’s focus next on the present.

There are four cross quarter days in the year; each is marked by accompanying holydays/holidays. The one we most recently celebrated was at the end of October and start of November: Halloween, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day––the Days of the Dead. We were approaching winter; life was descending below the earth. But today, as February begins, the wheel of the year shifts and we reach the next period of cross quarter days, marking the first stirrings of earth’s awakening on the approach to spring. Winter still has a firm grip, to be sure, but one thing to keep in mind with these traditional ways of reckoning time is they are always a small step ahead of the game. In this reckoning, the equinox in March will mark the height of spring… and so spring’s beginnings start here, as January melts into February.

St. Brigid, sacred to Ireland and second in stature there only to St. Patrick, is honored on the First of February. In the older earthbound religions, the day honors the Celtic goddess Brigid and brings the season of Imbolc. As the goddess goes, the old crone of winter is reborn now as the young maiden, for this is a time of renewal. The seeds that were planted beneath the earth last fall are preparing to bring forth lush green life, once spring truly arrives. For St. Brigid’s Day, it is traditional to fashion a St. Brigid’s Cross out of rushes or reeds (pictured below), as well as to leave an oat cake and butter on a windowsill in your home. This, to encourage Brigid to visit your home and bless all who live there. Brigid is typically depicted holding her cross of rushes in one hand and an illuminated lamp in the other––bridging, again, the themes of light in the darkness of midwinter with the green of approaching spring.

Once the sun sets on St. Brigid’s Day, we enter into Candlemas Eve. This is the night that all remaining Yuletide greenery is removed from the home (as Robert Herrick’s poem suggests), but it is traditional to keep nativity scenes up through Candlemas, the next day. I know many of you are reading and wondering how we could possibly still have Christmas in the house, but keep in mind that in this house our decorating did not begin in earnest until the days just before Christmas. We gave the Advent season its proper space and time and have done the same with Christmas. Keeping Christmas in the house longer than this, though, is not advised. Anyone who was the least bit superstitious would fear that doing so would invite bad luck into the home. Why take that chance?

For us, there is always a measure of mixed emotion over this cleaning up of Christmas. (My Uncle Joe used to explain “mixed emotions” to me as “watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand new Eldorado”––but he was only joking; he loved his mother-in-law, my grandma Assunta.) It is nice to have a clean slate after all that Yuletide abundance and extravagance… but Seth and I are a bit in love with Christmas, and so it is sad each year to see it go. To make things less somber, we’ll have some Christmas music playing (again, keep in mind we’re generally not listening to Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland but to older carols, like this one) and perhaps a bottle of St. Bernardus Christmas Ale open and flowing.

With Christmas removed (and ill luck kept at bay), we’ll shift perspective on the Second of February to Candlemas, a beautiful celebration in its own rite, and the second step on the bridge to spring that Brigid lays before us. Candlemas is the day that candles are blessed in the church, but it is also known as Purification Day, which harkens back to an old Hebrew tradition: forty days after the birth of a son, women would go to the temple to be purified. Again, renewal. And so Mary did this, for it was her tradition, and when she did, it was there at the temple that she and her infant child ran into the elders Simeon and Anna, who recognized the child as “the Light of the World.” This is the basis for the blessing of candles on this day, and the day’s lovely name, which is even more beautiful in other languages: la Candelaria in Spanish, la Chandeleur in French. In France, the traditional evening meal for la Chandeleur is crêpes. In Mexico, la Candelaria is a night for tamales and hot chocolate, while the procession and celebration in Puno, Peru, is typically so big, it rivals that of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

Candlemas celebrations this year certainly will be quiet and centered on home, which is ok by us. Yes, spring is coming as we find ourselves forty days past midwinter, but the darkness of those darkest nights still closely lingers, and the light of Candlemas remains a powerful metaphor. One of my favorite Candlemas traditions is to go through the house at sunset, lighting every lamp, even for just a few minutes. And my favorite song for the day is an old carol called “Jesus, the Light of the World.” Is it a carol for Candlemas? Who knows. Certainly the words echo those of Simon the Elder in the temple, so for me, I say it is.

Most famously, perhaps, Candlemas is known as an old weather marker. As the old saying goes: If the sun shines bright on Candlemas day / The half of the winter’s not yet away. The tradition of Candlemas as weather marker is particular strong in Germany. And while Candlemas itself is not celebrated with any great gusto here in the States, this remnant of tradition remains in our yearly observation on the Second of February of Groundhog Day, in which the observations of an old groundhog in Pennsylvania (where many Germans settled) determine how much longer winter will last. Did old Candlemas weather lore influence the traditions that revolve around Punxsutawney Phil? Of this we can be pretty certain.

Finally, to close out this luminous chapter, the Third of February will bring St. Blaise’s Day, and the traditions for St. Blaise’s Day, it would seem, come directly out of having all those candles about on Candlemas. For ailments of the throat, we pray to St. Blaise… and on his feast day, it is not uncommon to go to church to have the priest bless your throat by holding two candles, crossed into an X shape, with your throat in the crook of the candles, as he says a blessing over your head. It’s one of those mystical ceremonies that seems almost over the top even to us Catholics.

He is fondly remembered in my family, for St. Blaise was the name of the church my grandparents attended, up the hill from their home in Brooklyn. My Aunt Anne and Uncle Joe (the one who told the joke about the Eldorado and his mother-in-law) were married there, and so were my own parents. Folks with high aspirations, Mom says, went to the big cathedral up the road, but the simpler folks went to St. Blaise. It was a small church that served a small community made up mostly of Italian immigrants and their families. In England and Scotland, it was once customary to light bonfires on the eve of St. Blaise, which would be the night of Candlemas, and perhaps there is some connection to be made between Blaise and blaze. It is a day also important to wool carders (a matter having to do with St. Blaise’s martyrdom), as well as to spinners and dyers.


What is most apparent across these few days and nights upon the bridge that delivers us from winter to spring is the importance of light, be it in candle or bonfire or in song or even in those crêpes, whose golden round shape call to mind the image of the shining sun. Hide not your light, then. Be a light to the world. And rest assured that spring is on its way.

This month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar awaits! It’s our monthly gift to you, a PDF document printable on standard US Letter size paper. You’ll find the calendar a fine companion to this blog; click here to get it. Enjoy!

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Images, from top: “Le Jeune Chanteur” by Trophime Bigot, who is known also as the Candlelight Master (oil on canvas, 1650 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons); a St. Brigid’s Cross fashioned from reeds; my mom and dad with some of their wedding party on their wedding day, May 29, 1949, outside St. Blaise Church in Brooklyn. Their flower girl was my cousin Cammie, who plays la Befana for the family each Epiphany. We all see each other every Sunday for a Cousins’ Zoom gathering, a new tradition we began at the start of quarantine last March.