Our friends in Germany and most other parts of Europe have a four-day holiday weekend that begins today, for today is Ascension Day, which is always forty days past Easter, so it is always a Thursday, and a holiday on a Thursday always makes for a good excuse for a four-day weekend, no? There is little point of returning to work just for Friday. It is yet another holiday of which we here in the still-to-this-day-Puritan-influenced US are deprived. “Work! Work! Work!” That’s what the Puritans decided was best centuries ago, before setting sail, west across the Atlantic, and still we do what they thought best.
The Ascension of the Lord is a moveable feast each spring based on the date of Easter. It marks the day of the bodily ascension of the risen Christ into heaven. It always strikes me how quickly the Forty Days of Easter go by, as compared to the Forty Days of Lent, which seem to drag on, no? It may be all that self-sacrifice in the dead of winter that we associate with Lent, but it may also be that the Sundays of Lent are not counted as part of Lent’s forty days, so Lent actually does go on for more like 46 days.
Be that as it may, here we are: advancing through spring and early summer and, officially, forty days past Easter. It is the day that water wells are traditionally decorated in England, and especially in Tissington. And by dressing we mean fancy dressing, dressing to the nines, as they say. At various times over the course of the summer, wells throughout England are decked out in flowers, moss, and other plant life in beautiful scenes… but at Tissington, it is always at Ascension Day. Clay is used to set flower petals and other items from nature into beautiful scenes. Traditionally they were biblical scenes, but nowadays the wells are decked out in all manner of interesting imagery.
The well dressings must be seen to be appreciated. I got an even better appreciation for them by reading how they are actually made… so hopefully the village of Tissington won’t mind if I share these three paragraphs with you from their website:
The Art of Well Dressing
Clay is dug locally and is mixed with salt and trod (like grapes!) to the right consistency. The design is prepared weeks before the event. For some days before the process of dressing begins, the boards on which the pictures are mounted are soaked in the village pond. After this they are plastered in clay.
Flowers are picked locally. The picture is traced onto the boards, using a pointer or a toothed wheel, and marked out with cones from the alder trees or with coffee beans. Then comes the delicate and laborious task of infilling with flower petals and other natural materials. No artificial or synthetic materials are ever used at Tissington. Each petal has to be put in separately and they overlap like tiles on a roof so that the rain will flow off the picture. This process takes many hours and occupies all of the three days preceding Ascension Day.
The dressings are erected on the eve of Ascension Day. This is the first time that those who have worked on the pictures see what the effect is really like, as the pictures appear distorted when they are horizontal. They are then ready for the ceremony of Blessing following the service in Church at 11am on the Thursday. The Clergy progress round the village and bless each well in turn. The dressings remain in place until the following Wednesday evening, during which time very many thousands of people will have visited the village to see the spectacle.
Aside from being the Feast of the Ascension this year, the 18th of May also happens to be my dad’s birthday. It will be our seventh without him here with us; he would have been 97 this year. Oftentimes we mark these celebrations in our family by gathering, for instance tonight, for Dad’s favorite meal, but Dad really had no favorite meal. He’d eat anything put in front of him, even if it wasn’t that great, which was rare but hey, not every meal can be stellar. He’d often say he wished he had a nice Porterhouse steak, and every now and then he’d get one… but then he’d usually say, “I think a plate of spaghetti would have been better.” Dad didn’t think very much about what made him happy. What made him happy, though, was the simple things: his home, his family. He liked to keep the lawn looking sharp; he liked to polish the stainless steel gutters so they gleamed. We still miss him terribly, but now when I think of Dad mostly it is a warm feeling I have. Less a sense of loss and more a feeling of warmth and understanding.
On the occasion of Dad’s birthday today, my sister Marietta will be having surgery to remove a stubborn kidney stone. She’s had the stone for years and years, and it’s only in recent months become problematic. Many of you know her; if you add your good wishes in the comments below, I will see to it that she gets them, and may she again be well, and may we all be well, on this Ascension Day with all its well-dressed wells and each day that follows.
COME SEE US!
We’ll be showing some of our summery wares at Johan’s Jöe in Downtown West Palm Beach on Saturday June 10 from 7 AM to 3 PM. It’s the Convivio Bookworks Midsommar Market at Johan’s Jöe! 401 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33401
At our online catalog, save $10 off your purchase of $85 or more, plus get free domestic shipping, too, when you use discount code BLOSSOM at checkout. It’s our May Sale, good on everything in the shop all month long. CLICK HERE to shop! And don’t forget to use discount code BLOSSOM at checkout if your order is $85 or more.
Image: One of the wells at Tissington, dressed in a biblical scene in 2019. Click on the photo to make it larger, then just look at the detail of all those flower petals and all that greenery! It’s amazing. The photograph is also from the village’s website.