Category Archives: Christmas

Be a Light Bearer

NINTH DAY of CHRISTMAS:
St. Genevieve’s Day

Francophiles, rejoice! While there are no particular customs (that I am aware of, anyway) associated with this Ninth Day of Christmas, it is St. Genevieve’s Day. Genevieve, sacred to Paris, that fair city’s patron saint. She lived in Paris in the fifth century as a nun and is credited with saving the city from an attack by Attila and his Huns in 451. This she did through fasting and prayer, encouraging the residents of the city to join her. And around 475, she founded Saint-Denys de la Chapelle in Paris, which stands today as part of the Basilica of St. Denis.

As the patron saint of the City of Light, I like to think of Genevieve in terms of her connection to light––as another of the midwinter saints who are light bearers at this dark time of year and who encourage us to be light bearers, too. She is often depicted holding a candle. As the story goes: the devil would time and again blow out her candle as she went to pray at night. Genevieve, however, relit her candle without need of flint or fire, always overcoming the darkness. As our wheel of the year goes, we are already thirteen days passed the Midwinter Solstice; already light is increasing as we begin the journey toward summer’s warmth once more in the Northern Hemisphere. The light of St. Genevieve promises to never be snuffed by the darkness.

There are plenty of you out there who love the food and culture of France. I think today, this Ninth Day of Christmas, is a fine day to enjoy those things fully. Joyeux Noël et bonne année!

 

St. Macaroon, and Your January Book of Days

EIGHTH DAY of CHRISTMAS:
St. Macarius’s Day

We enter the more contemplative period of the Twelve Days and today, for this Eighth Day of Christmas, we remember St. Macarius, who, truth be told, was not much fun in his older years. He was an extreme ascetic who lived the life of a hermit in the desert and ate only raw vegetables and maybe, on a special day, a bit of bread dipped in oil. But earlier on in life, St. Macarius was a confectioner in his native Alexandria. Macarius the confectioner is remembered more fondly than Macarius the ascetic; he is a patron saint of cooks, confectioners, and pastry chefs, some of whom call him St. Macaroon, as Macarius does not exactly roll easily off the tongue. And so today, perhaps enjoy something a little sweet––a bit of that boozy Christmas fruitcake, maybe, or something more attuned to Alexandria––dates stuffed with nuts and rolled in sugar seem like something St. Macaroon might have made in his shop centuries ago.

We also have for you today our monthly gift to you, the first one in the new year: it’s your Convivio Book of Days Calendar for January 2018. We found ourselves one day last week at the historic House of Refuge on Gilbert’s Bar at Stuart, Florida. The United States Lifesaving Service, which eventually became part of the Coast Guard, built Houses of Refuge about every 26 miles on the wild, untamed Atlantic coast of Florida, places designed as shelter for rescued shipwreck survivors. This was in the late 1800s; ours was built in 1876. The building is lovely and the coast it sits on is rocky, which is not what most folks think of when they think of the South Florida coast. The limestone outcroppings emerge from the sand like rocky cliffs, waves crashing up against them. It’s easy to see why so many ships wrecked along the coast. The house, warm, a place of obvious refuge, is decorated for Christmas now, with the kind of decorations we like best. Like the garland of oranges and cinnamon and nuts and cranberries in the kitchen. It graces your January Book of Days, reminding you, hopefully, of the warm pleasures found in simple things. For me, that often involves the kitchen… which brings us back around again to the Eighth Day of Christmas and to St. Macaroon, patron saint of cooks. May these warm feelings of hearth and home be yours, too, all through this day and the new month and new year.

 

Wassail!

SEVENTH DAY of CHRISTMAS:
New Year’s Day

The passage over the bridge has been made and now we’ve crossed over into the Six Days of Christmas that are in the new year. You’ll find these six days more contemplative, I think, and a bit less rambunctious. When the Puritans banned Christmas in Britain and New England, it was mainly a reaction to this annual bout of national rowdiness. Christmas back then was not so much a holy time but more a time of drunken revelry. It was everything the Puritans despised. Their opposition to the season changed Christmas forever. It was not widely celebrated here in the States until writers revived an interest in it. Washington Irving was probably the first to push the idea of a revival of the Old Christmas ways, writing about old English customs that had long since faded away. And then of course came Charles Dickens. The new reinvented version of Christmas, steeped in Victorian ideals, still very much informs the celebration in both countries today. One curious difference between England and the States is the use of the greeting Merry Christmas here versus the more common Happy Christmas in the old country. When Christmas was being reinvented in England, the temperance movement was quite strong. “Happy Christmas” seemed more proper, a bit distanced from the merriness (ahem, drunkenness) of Christmas past, and so that greeting was encouraged in the UK and took hold there. That wasn’t the case in the States, and, oddly enough, we ended up with the more British sounding “Merry Christmas.” It is perhaps the one time a year that we use the word merry at all. I’m glad we do. I’m not one to promote drunkenness, but I’m not one to promote temperance, either. Our motto: “All things in moderation.”

And so for today, the First Day of the New Year, it is customary to brew and drink wassail. It is a delicious hot punch and I encourage you to join in the tradition. The punch is called wassail and the toast is “Wassail!” as well…  from the old English Wes Hel, “be of good health.” The New Year’s Day custom would have us toast each other, as well as the apple trees in the orchard, should you happen to be near one. We are not (apples do not grow in Florida; not that I’m aware of, anyway) but Seth Thompson and I have been known to drink our wassail, toast each other, and go out to the yard and toast some of our fruit trees, too: Wassailing the mango tree, the carambola tree, the cocoanut palms. Tradition, like language, is a living thing. It is perfectly fine (in the Convivio approach, anyway) to shape tradition around your particular reality. Here is our wassail recipe:

Convivio Wassail
Pour the contents of two large bottles of beer or ale (about 4 pints) into a pot and place it on the stove to heat slowly. Add about a half cup sugar and a healthy dose of mulling spices. (If you don’t have mulling spices on hand, you can use cinnamon sticks and whole cloves… though the mulling spices lend a more interesting flavor.) Add a half pint each of orange juice and pineapple juice, as well as the juice of a large lemon. Peel and slice two apples and place the apple slices into the pot, too. Heat the brew but don’t let it boil, then pour the heated wassail into a punchbowl to serve.

Custom calls for us to share the wassail with those gathered but also to take the steaming punch bowl out to the orchard and toast the apple trees and share some with the oldest or biggest tree in the grove. Some folks pour the wassail on the trunk of the tree, while others dip the lower branches into the wassail bowl, and others may place wassail-soaked toast or cake in the branches of the tree. All of which are invocations of magic meant to encourage a good crop of apples next summer. Traditionally, the wassailing of the apple trees is done at the noon hour. Again, we believe you’d do best to let tradition inform your ways, but not dictate how your days go. So if your wassail happens to be late at night, there’s no harm in that. Wes Hel! Huzzah and cheers! And a happy new year to us all.

Image: Detail from “The Wassail” from the Ladies’ Luncheon Room, Ingram Street Tea Rooms by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1900. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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