Category Archives: Nativity of Mary

Our Lady of the Grape Harvest

By early September, the Northern Hemisphere is well on its way toward autumn by the almanac, and the first big feast of the month is one that looks back toward summer and ahead toward fall. Not widely celebrated in the US, it is the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, celebrated each year on the 8th of September and mainly through two fruits: the summery blueberry and the autumnal grape.

In Italy, it is a day for blueberries, for their blueness serves as a reminder of the blue that is traditionally considered the color of Mary’s cloak. Across the Alps in France, it is a day for grapes. Farmers will harvest their finest grapes and bring them to church for blessings, and folks will place bunches of grapes in the hands of statues of Mary throughout the land. No wonder, for the feast is also known there as Our Lady of the Grape Harvest, being that it falls at the height of the grape harvest.

Just a few days ago, with the Convivio Book of Days calendar for September, I included in the blog a short home movie, circa 1950, of my dad and grandparents making wine. (To be honest, the movie clip is less about making wine than the fun that went along with it––it ends with my Grandma and the neighbor, Mamam, dancing with pizza pans.) Though my family is from Italy, I don’t know for sure if they did much with blueberries for the Feast of the Nativity of Mary. But considering it’s September, and considering each September Grandpa was busy at his winemaking… I suspect there were always grapes involved. For old times’ sake, here’s the home movie once again, and, as well, a link to the Convivio Book of Days calendar for September, should you have missed it. It’s a PDF, easily printed on standard letter size paper. Enjoy!

 

 

Grapes & Blueberries

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History reveals that folks have generally been not all that interested in recording the birthdates of their children, especially a very long time ago. Heck, even in more recent times… we were never entirely sure if Grandpa’s birthday was on the 21st of November or on the 23rd, and just recently we learnt that Mom’s birthday, which we always celebrate on October the 3rd, may actually be on the 2nd. (I suspect we’ll be celebrating both days this year. Why not?)

And so it is that no one really knows when many historic figures were born, and for some of these folks, like John the Baptist and Jesus Christ and his mother Mary, these things eventually became a matter of some importance. So the Church early on assigned dates to their births, often in conjunction with astronomical almanac events. They placed the birth of Jesus at the Midwinter Solstice and the birth of John the Baptist at the Midsummer Solstice. And today, the 8th of September, in the harvest season, they placed the birth of Mary to her parents Anne and Joachim.

It is a time of growing abundance on the fast approach to autumn by the almanac. Summer and fall both are in our sight, and this Nativity of Mary day has elements of both, too. In Italy, it is a day of feasting on blueberries, for blue is the traditional color of Mary’s robe. Blueberries, most definitely, a summer fruit. Across the Pyrenees, though, in France, the Nativity of Mary is celebrated with grapes, an autumnal fruit. In fact, the day there is known as Our Lady of the Grape Harvest, especially amongst the wine makers, who will be bringing their best grapes to church today for a blessing. Across France today, look up at most any statue of the Blessed Mother, and you are bound to find a bunch of grapes placed in her hands. Across the Alps, in Austria and in Switzerland, it is time to bring the sheep and cattle down from the mountains and into the valleys: winter is fast approaching, and the Nativity of Mary on the 8th of September is known there as “Drive Down Day” in honor of this custom of moving the animals out of the mountains and back to the valleys, usually with some pomp and ceremony, the cows decorated with flowers and bells.

The day is, as well, a traditional weather marker: The weather today is thought to determine what the weather will be like for the next four weeks. Here in Lake Worth, where summer is king, yesterday’s weather seemed to be our first hint that summer’s heat may be breaking soon, so I’m hopeful that continues today… which may mean a cooler September? I will take that, thank you. And I’ll take some blueberries, too.

 

Our Lady of the Grapes

Today, a reprint of last year’s chapter for the Nativity of Mary. I know of some folks in Switzerland who will be “driving down” their livestock today, down to the valleys, and the animals will be wearing bells and flowers. As for Seth & me, the coffee is on, and there are Canadian blueberries for breakfast.

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Now we are well into September and in places where there are vineyards, the grapes are ripening on the vines, speaking of great alchemical potential: crushed and barreled and left to ferment, activating natural yeasts and sugars, the next wines are about to be made.

The timing of today’s feast––at the start of the grape harvest––is, to me at least, interesting. Nine months ago we celebrated the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and today, we celebrate the Nativity of Mary. The Church celebrates the deaths of saints (don’t you love when I tell you all those gruesome tales of how saints met their ends?) but in the case of Mary and John the Baptist, also their births. And tradition tells us that Mary was born on this day in Jerusalem to St. Ann and St. Joachim.

Italians like to eat blueberries for this day, a day important to all Marias and Mariettas… and there are many in my family. The blue of the berry is a reference to the traditional color of Mary’s cloak. Lights are illuminated in windows, especially in the rural areas, and bonfires are not uncommon on this night. Across the Alps, in Austria, it is time to bring the sheep and cattle down from the mountains and into the valleys: winter is fast approaching, and the Nativity of Mary on the 8th of September is known there as “Drive Down Day” in honor of this custom of moving the animals, often with some pomp and ceremony.

In France, though, there is this nice connection between the Nativity of Mary and wine: winemakers refer to the day as “Our Lady of the Grape Harvest,” bringing their best grapes to church for blessing. Across France you will find bunches of grapes placed in the hands of statues of Mary on this day. I like this connection between Mary, a goddess of sorts, and wine, especially as we ponder the bread and wine that is central to each church Mass, but central also to any good meal in places throughout Europe. These two elements can easily be a meal unto themselves (“a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou”), should that be all you have, and you’d walk away sated and probably quite happy.

Image: Setting Out for the Grape Harvest by Christian Eduard Böttcher. Oil on canvas, 1867, [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.