Category Archives: St. Blaise’s Day

Hearts, & Your February Book of Days

The 8th of February and here, finally, comes your Convivio Book of Days calendar for the month! It is, as usual, a PDF document, printable on standard US Letter size paper. Half the red letter days of the month have already passed, I’m afraid, and what’s next is Valentine’s Day… and just so you know, we have so many delightfully odd Valentine gift ideas for you in our Convivio Book of Days Catalog. If you see something you like, order today or this weekend and you’ll have it in time for the big day. We ship via US Priority Mail, which takes two days to most destinations in the States. Spend $50 and we’ll even pay your shipping on domestic orders.

All that being said, you have my apologies for the belatedness. It’s been busy as all get out, mostly with things at work––markets, workshops, gallery concerts––and admittedly all things of my own doing. As a result, not only is the month’s calendar late, but I’ve also missed writing to you about St. Blaise’s Day, when throats are blessed, and St. Agatha’s Day, when we eat cream filled pastries that make us blush a bit, for they are meant to evoke a certain aspect of the female anatomy and it is hard to see them and to eat them, remembering that it was the chaste nuns of Sicily who first began making these delicacies centuries ago. And I missed writing to you about the Year of the Pig, this new year in the Chinese Lunar New Year cycle, although last night we celebrated––my mom and sister and Seth and me––at the beckoning of Joy, of Joy Noodles in West Palm Beach. We had her New Year dumplings and I had a pork soup that was Joy’s grandmother’s recipe, and we finished our meal with custard buns made of rice flour that looked like round little pigs. All this and yet February is not one of my favorite months. I have a lot to learn, I think, if I am to come to love it again. I keep busy busy busy and yet in the back of my mind I remember things like the 7th was the night two years ago that Seth and I sat in a box at the Kravis Center with friends listening to Rachmaninoff and Berlioz, even though my thoughts were elsewhere, with my dad in his hospital room. It was the night I first thought that maybe he would not make it through this ordeal. And today, the 8th, I will have to keep thoughts at bay that remind me that this is the night two years ago that I last spoke to him; the night we all kissed him goodnight and told him we loved him, and who knew then that that would be our last time to say these things?

I look back and I’m glad we did say them. We are not, by and large, a family that does. We are mostly loud (not me, so much… but these are my people) and a bit rough around the edges and not terribly emotional, at least not in obvious ways. We express our emotions through the kitchen and the table and we yell across the house at each other, just in conversation, and we often sound mad even when we are not. I would most likely never tell my family that I am thinking the things I think––keeping track in my mind of where I was on this date or another in Dad’s journey––but they’ll read it here, of course, and they, I imagine, will understand. I don’t need to tell them these things face to face. They know I ponder things a lot and turn thoughts over in my head and that I don’t talk much. Still, they love me as I am. They understand me, and I understand them. We are a terribly loyal bunch. We all miss Dad a lot. And we all continue doing what we do as best we can. This is what this time of year brings for me, and for them, too, I know, and perhaps for some of you, as well, for your own reasons––for the people that you miss, too. Which is all amazingly ok. We always have been and always will be well.

The cut and sewn paper hearts illustrating this month’s Convivio Book of Days calendar are by Merike Van Zanten.


Light Every Lamp

Throughout Mexico tonight, the dinner table will, for many, include tamales and hot chocolate, while in many parts of Europe, crepes will be on the menu. And at sunset, we’ll light every lamp in the house. It’s Candlemas. We are emerging from the darkness of Yuletide as the seasonal round of the year shifts from winter toward spring.

Candlemas is the day of blessing of candles in the Church, forty days past Christmas, with great processions of candles lit and born aloft, a light for the world. It is known as well as Purification Day, which comes out of an old Jewish tradition: forty days after the birth of a son, mothers would go to the temple to be purified. You might think of it as renewal, fitting for this time of year, the approach to spring. Not without coincidence, it was just yesterday, as Imbolc began, that the earth goddess was renewed as well, as our planet is now halfway on its yearly journey between the solstice of midwinter and the equinox of spring. And so the story goes that Mary went to the temple to be purified, carrying her newborn son, and it was there that she met the elders Anna and Simeon. Simeon recognized the child immediately as the light of the world, and this is the basis for the blessing of candles on this day, and the day’s lovely name.

One of the most beautiful and elaborate Candlemas celebrations is in the city of Puno in Peru. The photo above is of the Candlemas celebration there two years ago. The celebration in Puno and many other places in Peru, Bolivia, and other parts of South America will continue on for the better part of two weeks.

Candlemas is perhaps the most well known weather marker of the year: Here in the US, Candlemas isn’t much on our radar, but we do know the day as Groundhog Day. If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow as he crawls up out of his burrow, it’ll mean 40 days more of winter; if he sees no shadow, then it will be an early spring. This weather lore comes out of much older weather marking traditions related to the Second of February, but which all seem to offer the same wisdom––that a bright and sunny Candlemas Day means a longer winter, while a dark and cloudy one means welcome warmth will soon be on its way:

If the sun shines bright on Candlemas Day,
The half of the winter’s not yet away.

Tomorrow, the 3rd of February, brings St. Blaise’s Day. St. Blaise protects against maladies of the throat. On his feast day, priests will bless each member of their congregation by invoking a prayer to St. Blaise while holding two unlit candles in one hand about the neck of each person receiving the blessing… surely related to Candlemas, too. My mom and dad got married at St. Blaise Church in Brooklyn in 1949. It was my grandparents’ neighborhood parish, a small church. And so we have some fondness for St. Blaise. Ah, but that is tomorrow. Today, though, when we awake, we’ll see what that old groundhog says about winter this year. We shall see what we shall see, and it will be what it will be. The weather is beyond our control. But we can, at sunset, run about the house and light every lamp, for a few minutes at least, and illuminate our world.


Image: Candlemas at Puno, Peru by Pavel Špindler, 2016 [Creative Commons], via Wikimedia Commons.


St. Blaise’s Day


Yesterday was Candlemas and today it is the Feast of St. Blaise. The traditions for St. Blaise’s Day, it would seem, come directly out of having all those candles about the day before: For ailments of the throat, we pray to St. Blaise… and on his feast day, the Third of February, 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.

St. Blaise became the patron saint of folks with throat maladies by association: He is famed for having healed a young boy who had a fishbone stuck in his throat. St. Blaise was a fourth century bishop in Armenia, but he had to go into hiding in a cave for his faith. It was there that wild animals would gather with him and join him in food and conversation… and so St. Blaise is also associated with animals and their protection.

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 were married there, and so were my own parents. Folks with high aspirations 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.

Today’s chapter is an improved (I hope) version of the one from St. Blaise’s Day, 2014. Pictured above: My newly married mom and dad, posing for photos with their wedding party, on the front steps of St. Blaise Church in Brooklyn.