Category Archives: St. Cecilia’s Day

Come all You Vulcans, Strong & Stout

We are on the fast approach to Thanksgiving, a moveable feast, and with it this year come two saints’ days worthy of note: St. Cecilia’s Day on Thanksgiving Day itself, the 22nd of November, and St. Clement’s Day the next day, the 23rd. St. Cecilia is noteworthy as she is a patron saint of musicians and so her day is a fine one to enjoy their labor. In fact, concerts in honor of St. Cecilia on her feast day go back to at least 1570 in France.

As for Old Clem, he is a patron saint of blacksmiths and metal workers. In days when there were more smiths at work, the night of his feast day was a night when they would gather and drink and process about town, stopping at all the pubs. At some point, one of their number, who was dressed as St. Clement, would arise and deliver the following lines:

I am the real St. Clement, the first founder of brass, iron, and steel, from the ore. I have been to Mount Etna, where the god Vulcan first built his forge, and forged the armour and thunderbolts for the god Jupiter. I have been through the deserts of Arabia; through Asia, Africa, and America; through the city of Pongrove; through the town of Jipmingo; and all the northern parts of Scotland. I arrived in London on the twenty-third of November, and came down to Her Majesty’s dockyard at Woolwich, to see how all the gentleman Vulcans came on there. I found them all hard at work, and wish to leave them on the twenty-fourth.

Another in the party then adds:

Come, all you Vulcans stout and strong,
Unto St. Clem we do belong.
I know this house is well prepared
With plenty of money and good strong beer;
And we must drink before we part,
All for to cheer each merry heart.
Come, all you Vulcans, strong and stout,
Unto St Clem I pray turn out;
For now St Clem’s going round the town:
His coach and six goes merrily round.

It is a day when children would go “Clementing”––knocking on doors, singing rhymes in exchange for treats like oranges and apples. Rhymes like this one:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

As I mentioned in the Convivio Dispatch for Halloween (if you didn’t get it in your email box and would like it, let me know and I’ll send it your way, for the Convivio Dispatch is something different from the Convivio Book of Days blog), my mother does not remember trick or treating at Halloween so much as she remembers doing something like it at Thanksgiving. She is Brooklyn born and bred, and there is an old New York Thanksgiving tradition known as the Ragamuffin Parade (though the name was news to her when I told her about it recently). It was popular at the turn of the last century, and began fading away by the mid 1900s. Kids would dress as ragamuffins and knock on doors, asking, “Something for Thanksgiving?”

Such interesting days, these days of late November. Thanksgiving always falls around my grandpa’s birthday, who was born way back in 1895. It was a birthday we celebrated each year on the 23rd, even though we learned later that Grandpa’s birthday may have been the 21st. It was on a Thanksgiving night, too, that my dad was visited by the ghost of his mother (which is another story that came up in that same Convivio Dispatch for Halloween). Perhaps it is this combination of ghostly stories and Mom’s Thanksgiving variation of trick or treating that always has me thinking of Thanksgiving as an extension of the autumnal days when we remember our dead. But Thanksgiving is a bit like that, no? We gather together, we share a fine meal, and for those of us who have been on this constantly rotating planet a good many years, we remember folks who have come and gone, stories that were told ages ago, and we get a bit wistful. And there is nothing wrong with that. These are all good things to be thankful for.

It is, by the way, a good time to order Advent candles and calendars from our Convivio Book of Days Catalog! Especially if you feel a bit rushed by Christmas (Why are there wreaths hanging on the doors of Lake Worth City Hall even before Thanksgiving?), a simple thing like an Advent candle that you light each night or an Advent calendar that you open a door on each day can really help bring some perspective to things. Ours are the traditional kinds: a few of our Advent calendars are made in England, but most are made in Germany, where the tradition began. And the daily Advent candles are made in England. We light ours each night at dinner. It’s part of what we call the Slow Christmas Movement. And we offer free domestic shipping when you spend $50!

Image: “Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting.” Chromolithograph postcard by John Winsch, 1910. Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections. Postcards. [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]


What We’re Listening To


Here is St. Cecilia’s Day this 22nd of November: Cecilia, patron saint of music, musicians, and poets. She was an early Roman martyr; her day has been associated with concerts and music festivals since time immemorial, and composers and poets have honored her through the ages. And here’s an interesting bit of trivia: the English composer Benjamin Britten was born on St. Cecilia’s Day, 1913.

I am not particularly musical, but I like being around people who are. My grandfather taught himself to play guitar and mandolin; he would sit and play traditional Italian songs. His guitar is right here next to me. My aunt is also musical: she plays piano and organ and accordion. Her talents took her all over the country and the South Pacific during World War II, playing in the USO for the troops. Here at home, Seth has been teaching himself to play piano, too. We have no piano, but whenever we happen to find ourselves near one, he sits down and plays the songs he knows, mostly Yann Tiersen songs. He’s pretty good.

I am one whose mind is easily boggled, and music boggles me: how a mixture of sounds can have the power to transport and transform astounds me. The astonishment comes out of nowhere sometimes, like last night, as I drove home from work. The thought of traveling the 5-lane freeway at rush hour was depressing me, so I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to take the road less traveled. I drove the coastal highway home, with the vast Atlantic on my right. The night was chilly, so I had the windows half open and the heater on, and there was music: it was The Walking by Jane Siberry, in my CD player since the weather turned cooler. It is lush and cinematic and it feels in some way autumnal to me. My musical selections are like that, for the most part: in tune with the seasonal round of the year, sometimes subliminally, like this one. The Walking accompanied me the whole moonless drive home, up A1A through all the surfside towns, and across the lagoon finally, back to the mainland at Lake Avenue. In the booth at the top of the draw bridge over Lake Worth, which is the name of both my town and the lagoon, I could see my friend Clarence the bridge tender in the lamplight. I waved, but he didn’t see me. I knew he wouldn’t; I was just one of many people driving by. But still it felt right and necessary to wave and say hello. A few minutes later, I was in my driveway. Seth was already home; the lights from inside the house glowed warm and welcoming. The night felt about as perfect as it could be.

What we’re listening to now: some suggestions for the season.

George Winston: Autumn. My friend Kelly Sullivan (she makes the soaps we sell) and I saw George Winston perform at our university back in the 1990s. He played piano barefoot. We were only a couple of rows away from him. I listen still to his seasonal albums––there is December, and Winter into Spring, and Summer, and Autumn––and I wonder how he does that: how he manages to capture the essence of a season in sound. Autumn is, I think, my favorite of his seasonal recordings. Favorite track: “Road.”

Jane Siberry: The Walking. Autumnal, somehow. Cinematic, as I mentioned: the songs on this record are rich and deep, some 9 or 10 minutes long, moving pictures made of sound and imagery. We all have our desert island record, and this is mine. It has informed so much of my creative work. It is a sound track that plays in my head as I walk along my way.

Jane Siberry: Angels Bend Closer. Jane has spent years working on her latest recording, which came about at first with the help of a Kickstarter campaign. The result was a record called Ulysses’ Purse, which she sent to all of us supporters last January. It’s now out as her latest record, with all of the songs re-recorded and slightly different and many new songs added. Ulysses’ Purse is in my rotation now, simply because it is what I have, but Angels Bend Closer was released just a few days ago. “Morag” may very well be the most important song I’ve ever heard. You should listen; you can actually listen to Morag and all the other songs on this album at the link above. Right down where it says “Listen.” Sometimes the best gifts are right there in front of us. You’ll be the sound of the ocean before we see it.

Happy St. Cecilia’s Day.


Image: A recent Jane Siberry photo. I think it’s so striking.


Thank You for the Music


Here on the approach to Thanksgiving comes St. Cecilia’s Day. Cecilia was a second century Roman martyr who, on her wedding day, sang in her heart to the Lord while the musicians played, and for this reason she is known as a patron saint of music, musicians, and poets.

There are no particular traditions that have been passed down through the ages for St. Cecilia’s Day, though it has became associated with concerts and festivals celebrating music. The first record of a concert in her honor on her feast day goes back to 1570 in Normandy.  Music for St. Cecilia has been composed by the likes of Henry Purcell, George Frideric Handel, and the English composer Benjamin Britten, who was born on St. Cecilia’s Day, 1913.

What finer day to celebrate the gift of music than on St. Cecilia’s Day? Music is one of the most complex and amazing of human cultural accomplishments. A simple collection of sounds, and yet such power to move us. Here, for St. Cecilia’s Day, is a musical gift for you: “Adagio for Strings,” the second movement of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet, Opus 11, performed by the Cypress Quartet. Happy St. Cecilia’s Day.

Image: “Le Concert” by Gerard van Honthorst. Oil on canvas, c. 1623 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.