Category Archives: The Ice Saints

Happy Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day here in the States, the lovely day each spring when we honor our mothers: those we were given, and those we have chosen, and indeed all the mothers in our lives. It’s been a long time since we’ve delved into the history of Mother’s Day here on the blog, but it’s a rather fascinating tale. The celebration is not a terribly old one, as holidays go. It was 1914 –– one hundred nine years ago –– when President Woodrow Wilson designated the Second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. Behind Woodrow Wilson’s action was Anna Jarvis, a West Virginia woman whose life, as it turns out, was consumed by Mother’s Day. Anna Jarvis championed the establishment and recognition of the holiday with great passion. But once the day was out of the box, as it were, it took on a life of its own. By 1920, Mother’s Day was already far too commercial for Anna, and she spent the rest of her life militantly fighting that commercialism. It became a lifelong obsession, in fact.

Mother’s Day has its roots in the 1850s when Jarvis’s mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized women’s groups to deal with local community issues like disease and sanitation. When the Civil War began, the groups turned their attention to caring for injured soldiers on both sides, Union and Confederate. Anna Reeves Jarvis called these groups Mother’s Day Work Clubs. It was her hope that a Memorial Mother’s Day be established in the country to honor the many important roles that mothers play in their communities. After Ann’s passing in 1905, her daughter Anna picked up that torch. She sought to memorialize her mother with the idea that each person would honor their own mother, too, in a special Mother’s Day observance. She did this in Philadelphia on May 10, 1908. She was living there in Philadelphia, but Mother’s Day was also observed that year at a little church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna was raised, that same day. Anna began making the observance of Mother’s Day her life’s work, and she was a great success at it. It took only six years more before Mother’s Day was being celebrated nationally.

But Anna soon came to despise her creation. Florists, candy shops, and a burgeoning greeting card industry were all quick to jump on the Mother’s Day bandwagon, and nothing irritated Anna Jarvis more. In her eyes, Mother’s Day was a day to go home and spend with your mom. Plain and simple. Anything more than that, she felt, was sacrilege and she grew more and more adamant about this as the years passed. She organized boycotts and public demonstrations and she was even arrested once or twice for disturbing the peace after crashing trade shows touting Mother’s Day gifts. Anna fought the commercialization of Mother’s Day with every last penny of her rather large inheritance, and she died broke and probably insane in 1948 at a Philadelphia sanitarium.

But this is what we do, no? We turn holidays into shopping events. Anna Jarvis, I imagine, might not be very fond of me, either. I write about all these holidays and offer all kinds of ways to spend your money with Convivio Bookworks, too. And while I’m not trying to get you to buy a bunch of unnecessary plastic objects or other impersonal factory-produced goods, I do still encourage you to buy things. I think, personally, that it’s a bit better in that what we offer are artisan-made goods that are authentic to their original regions and mostly handmade… but still, I’m sure Convivio Bookworks would be on Anna Jarvis’s hit list, were she around today. She would not be pleased.

Nowadays, Mother’s Day is the third biggest holiday for gift giving. Each year, Mother’s Day sales account for more greeting cards sold than any other holiday save Christmas and Valentine’s Day. It is one of the more impossible days to get a good table at a restaurant. But all that Anna Jarvis asks is that you go pay the mothers in your life a visit on Mother’s Day. Nothing more. When you get right down to it, it’s the best present.

Image: “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,” an illustration by Joseph Martin Kronheim (for the nursery rhyme about the woman who had so many children she knew not what to do) from My First Picture Book. London & New York: George Routledge and Sons, publisher, circa 1875. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

A reminder, too, that these mid-May days bring the time known in many parts of Europe as the Days of Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints. Often this is the time of the final frost of the season, or at the very least, a drop in temperature. Read more about Die Eisheiligen by clicking here.




Where Summer Spends Winter

German weather lore suggests that the middle of May will bring each year a blast of cold weather, which very often is winter’s last hurrah until its return on the other side of the year. We’ve come to believe in Cold Sophie (or some more subtle version of her) even here in Lake Worth, which early settlers dubbed “The Town Where Summer Spends Winter.” We typically don’t get many cold days each winter––mostly they are mild and pleasant––but by the start of May we know for sure that summer is a’knocking, and yet it’s surprising how often mid May can bring just one more dose of mild temperatures. Once that fleeting day or two is gone, though, that’s it: summer is here to stay. Very often, those blissful days come right about now.

The Germans call this time Kalte Sophie: Cold Sophie. She is St. Sophia, whose feast day is celebrated on the 15th of May each year. But Sophie comes with an entourage, who, collectively, are known as the Ice Saints, or die Eisheiligen. They are St. Mamertus, whose feast day was on the 11th, St. Pancras on the 12th, St. Servatius on the 13th, and on the 14th, we remember St. Boniface, before we finally welcome in Kalte Sophie. They are known as the Ice Saints for their feast days often are accompanied by the final frost of the season, or at least a sharp drop in temperature… and if you were in a rush to get your garden planted before the Ice Saints have made their appearance, you may need to start over again once they’ve passed.

In Central Europe, particularly Slovenia, you might hear St. Sophie called Poscana Zofka… Pissing Sophie, for there, she is associated with rain. Which is probably more accurate for us here in Lake Worth, too. It is the time of year when we typically look to the skies and wonder if it will ever rain again, as we wait for our summer rainy season to kick in and quench the parched earth… making our strange land green again.

Image: Cold Sophie herself? A fresco from St. Sophia Church in Ohrid, Macedonia. Circa 11th century. [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.


Ramadan & the Ice Saints

With tonight’s new moon this 15th of May, the holy month of Ramadan begins. For those of the Muslim faith, it is a month of prayer, almsgiving, and most especially fasting. During the daylight hours, not even water is taken. But this daily period of deprivation is rewarded once the sun has set with good nighttime meals. A common food to break the fast each night is Harira, a traditional Moroccan soup made from chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes, and onions in a broth spiced with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, chiles, and cumin. Harira is served all year long, but it is especially plentiful at Ramadan. I plan on making some this week, and maybe you’d like to, as well. There are many variations, some with meat, some vegetarian, some with egg and some with noodles, and all manner of spices. But here’s the recipe I’ll be using:

1 onion, chopped finely
Olive oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup dried red lentils
2 cans chopped tomatoes
Dried chiles, for a little heat (or 1 teaspoon chili powder)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt & Pepper
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Lemon wedges

In a large pot, cook the onion in some olive oil until it is translucent. Add the chickpeas and the broth. Bring to a boil, then add the lentils, tomatoes, and spices. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Bring to a boil again and simmer for a half hour or so, until the lentils are mushy and the soup has thickened. Ladle into bowls, finishing off each serving with a bit of fresh olive oil, chopped parsley, and a lemon wedge for squeezing. This recipe makes about 6 to 8 servings.

In places like Morocco, this simple yet hearty soup is often the first thing folks take to break their fast with the setting sun. It is a bit of spiritual and physical nourishment. Other wonderful things follow, and often the feasting goes on well into the night. And then to bed… until the tabbal, the drummer, wends his way through the dark and empty streets to awaken everyone for the final meal before sunrise, usually bread with mint tea. And so each day goes in this month of fasting until the next new moon.

This year, the start of Ramadan coincides with the arrival of Cold Sophie, who, according to German legend, brings a blast of cold weather, winter’s last hurrah. But they say it’s been such a long and cold winter that I’m not going to give Sophie any attention at all. She and her fellow Ice Saints have had a ball of it this year, so enough of that. She can have some Harira with us if she wants, but that’s it. We’ve got our sights set on summer.

Image: My husband may be a potter, but I still can’t help buying bowls I like from other potters, too. These porcelain bowls are brand new additions to our collection. They’re by local potter Nena Escobar. I found them just last week, and I suspect we’ll be eating Harira out of them this week. Oh and if you do want to read more about Cold Sophie and the Ice Saints, well… here’s an earlier Book of Days chapter about them.