Våffeldagen

What with Lent being so late in coming this year, Shrove Tuesday’s pancake supper was not even two weeks ago, and so there is a good chance that many of you won’t be as excited as you typically are for Waffle Day; be that as it may, here it is. Våffeldagen is the Swedish for Waffle Day, and it is out of a bit of linguistic misunderstanding that makes today, the 25th of March, a traditional day of waffle eating. The more reverent aspect of the day is the Feast of the Annunciation. It marks the day that the archangel Gabriel visited Mary to deliver the news that she was to bear a child, a son, and that that child would be the light of the world, the son of God. It is March 25th and we are precisely nine months to the nativity.

In many places, the day is also known as Lady Day, and this is where the waffles come in. In Sweden, the day is called Vårfrudagen, which basically translates to “Our Lady Day.” But Vårfrudagen, in some Swedish dialects, is awfully close in both spelling and pronunciation to Våffeldagen, which translates to “Waffle Day.” Swedes, as a result of this misunderstanding, have for centuries been eating waffles on Lady Day. It’s a tradition that has spilled over to wherever Swedes have left their mark, this annual excuse to eat waffles at any time of day on Vårfrudagen––breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And so we invite you to join them. We plan on doing so. The waffles in Sweden today are typically served with whipped cream and lingonberries or cloudberries. Enjoy yours as you wish!

Image: “Het Vertrouwelijk Onderhoud” by Adriaen van Ostade. Oil on panel, 1672 [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]. These folks are about to enjoy a waffle together!

 

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Springtide Balance

We come to a time of balance today with the arrival in the Northern Hemisphere of the spring equinox. The time of equinox balance tonight is 5:58 PM, Eastern Daylight Time. We are halfway now between the shortest day of the year (Midwinter in December) and the longest day (Midsummer in June). The sun rises pretty much due east, no matter where you are located on the globe, and sets pretty much due west. All is equal for a brief time and then the number of daylight hours begins to overtake nighttime hours in the North, as we head toward summer. And what is gained in the North is taken away in the South; there, winter is approaching, and there, this day brings the autumn equinox. It is a constantly changing beautiful balance, the balance of our planet spinning on its tilted axis as it orbits the sun.

Sunset on this first day of spring will also bring Purim, a holiday in the Jewish calendar marked by costumes, noisemakers called graggers, and delicious hamantashen, triangular shaped pastries filled with things like poppy seeds or prune or cinnamon and walnuts.

As for Seth and me, we are bringing in this springtide on a ship in the Western Caribbean. We are two people who do not like large crowds, and we have learnt to walk certain decks and to be in certain places at certain times so that it almost seems like there are not an additional 3,998 people sailing with us. The sea air is wonderful. Neither of us is seasick, but as we walk the deck, lifting one foot up before the other, we sometimes have to think long and hard about where to put that foot once it’s up above the ground. As it would happen, balance is foremost on our minds this equinox day, and maybe that is just right.

Image: An illustration for a book of science by Sebastian Münster, 1600. [Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

 

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San Giuseppe

The Finns have had their St. Urho’s Day and the Irish their St. Patrick’s Day, and now it’s the Italians’ turn, for it is St. Joseph’s Day––the Festa of San Giuseppe. In a land where so many of the vast multitude of saints are held dear and daily called upon and spoken to like members of the family, Joseph is one of the most beloved. Joseph, foster father to Gesù Bambino. In Italy, it is Father’s Day.

Those who are devoted to San Giuseppe may build an altar in their homes. Grandma Cutrone would do this. The parish priest would come to her home and bless the altar. Beneath the statue of St. Joseph, baskets of oranges. On the feast day, today, friends and neighbors would stop by and bring gifts to the altar and when they left, Grandma would send them home with an orange and a box of animal crackers.

What is central to our celebration, though, are Zeppole. They make their appearance in Italian bakeries at this time of year, especially today. In the more popular bakeries, you might find rolling racks full of trays of them behind the counter; they’ll be making so many of them, they won’t possibly fit them all inside the display case.

Zeppole are pastries of fried or baked dough, generous in size, each typically something you could fit into two open hands. They are filled with custard and often include a few cherries on top. There are also sfinci, related to zeppole, but filled with sweetened ricotta cream, perhaps with a few small chocolate chips, very much like a cannoli filling. Variations of these sweets, in name and in shape and ingredients, exist throughout Italy for the feast of San Giuseppe, but it is in the South, from where my family hails, that they are best known. Both sfinci and zeppole are pastries with histories that go back many centuries, with names that come out of the Arabic influence on the region. How far back do they go? The ancient Romans made fried pastries each year on the 17th of March in honor of Bacchus, and it is thought that the zeppole and sfinci we make today are direct descendants of those long ago sweets of springtime.

This St. Joseph’s Day, Lent has barely just begun. Usually, when Lent begins in February, it is St. Joseph’s Day that provides a day to step away from weeks of the season’s otherwise somber restraint to enjoy rich and festive pastries. If you’ve given up sweets for Lent, it can be a tough choice, whether to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day with zeppole or not. But, my friends, it is but one day a year, and for my people, these pastries are perhaps the highlight of the entire month of March. If you celebrate––and you know I hope you do––do so knowing you have an entire nation behind you.

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