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First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump hosted the 139th Easter Egg Roll at the White House on Monday, April 17, 2017.

The Easter Egg Roll falls under the first lady’s remit. Mrs Trump carefully researched the history of the event and decided to return to tradition.

CNN had a good, if biased, article on how this developed. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

“She wanted to get back to the tradition, so we’re bringing back some traditional elements, like military bands, and focusing on the family itself,” Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s communications director, told CNN.

Those traditional elements include the egg roll, an egg dying station, a cookie decorating station, an art wall, a thank-you card station where children can write notes to troops and veterans, and a reading nook …

Tickets were allocated to schools, children’ hospitals and military and law enforcement families, as well as the families of White House staff, according to [Press Secretary Sean] Spicer.

Planning an egg roll is a tricky balancing act, a collaboration between the East Wing, the White House Visitors’ Office, and volunteers …

Wells Wood Turning crafted 18,000 custom commemorative wooden eggs that will be given to each child in attendance. They arrived at the White House last week in five colors, including, naturally, a shiny gold.

Here are the eggs. Note the similarity in the first couple’s signatures:

CNN also gave us the history behind this popular — and very visible — White House event:

The egg rolling tradition began in the 1870s on Capitol grounds. After a particularly rotten 1876 roll, President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation to protect Capitol grounds, which prohibited egg rolling, per the National Archives.

But in 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes allowed children to roll their eggs on the White House South Lawn, and 139 years later, the tradition continues.

It’s always been quite a production for the first lady’s office.

Florence Harding wore a feathered hat in 1922. Grace Coolidge brought her pet raccoon, Rebecca, in 1927. Eleanor Roosevelt oversaw the egg roll during her husband’s four terms in office, including 1937, when more than 50,000 children attended.

The tradition of the costumed Easter Bunny began with a Pat Nixon staff member in 1969, per the White House Historical Association.

Spicer has a history with the Egg Roll himself: as a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, he was the man inside the Easter bunny suit.

With a new administration this year and not many staff in place, the planning time was short. Wells Wood Turning of Buckfield, Maine contacted the White House on February 20 to say that they needed to know how many eggs to make because time was running out.

Mrs Trump also had a skeleton staff at that point, so all hands were on deck. The White House engaged the services of event planning company Harbinger, which has organised events for a wide array of clients. The Obamas used C3 Presents.

That said, hundreds of volunteers are needed every year for the Egg Roll. After all, 21,000 people were expected this year. Easter baskets must be filled with a variety of sweet treats and other fun items. Four hundred volunteers, most of whom live locally, showed up on Holy Saturday to organise the gifts and work on other aspects of the event:

Part of the prep happened this Saturday, when 100 or so volunteers worked elbow-to-elbow in a fenced-in, tented portion of the Ellipse, behind the South Lawn of the White House. Creating a lengthy assembly line, they spent hours stuffing candy, coloring books and commemorative eggs into goodie bags for families attending the roll.

According to a source who participated in the preparation the weekend, the volunteers — many holdovers from years’ past and former administrations — arrived at 10 a.m. ET, working alongside Visitors Office and Social Office staffers. Truckloads of donated products were unpacked, grouped and placed into their designated spots, said one volunteer team leader. The items included arts and crafts supplies, as well as non-perishable foods. And yes, the source confirmed, there were also Peeps.

Peeps are a marshmallow Easter candy, most of which are coated with brightly coloured sugar.

Everything is carefully planned and diligently executed:

By the end of the afternoon, thousands of bags were completed, with the goal each child will receive a souvenir goodie bag and commemorative egg, added the source.

“Everyone at the White House is very excited about (Monday’s) Easter Egg Roll. Preparations are continuing through the weekend to ensure that every child who attends has a positive experience they’ll remember for years to come,” said Grisham.

Whereas Mrs Obama favoured popular music at the Easter Egg Roll, Mrs Trump scaled such music back, preferring to bring back the military bands from older Easter Monday events.

CNN says that special thanks go to Rickie Niceta Lloyd, Mrs Trump’s social secretary and the White House Visitors Office which organised four orientation sessions for the volunteers beforehand.

The next few tweets give us a glimpse of what went on over Easter weekend:

This was the graphic for the event. The bunnies have wooden spoons in their paws, because egg rolling contestants need them to push the eggs to the finishing line (see below):

It had rained and the ground was damp. Nevertheless, there was a rainbow, which impressed ‘Teddy Roosevelt’:

By the time the Trumps appeared on the balcony, the lawn had a crowd awaiting the official opening of the event:

President Trump introduced the event, followed by the the first lady:

Watch Mrs Trump nudge her husband to put his hand over his heart for the National Anthem, performed by the United States Marine Corps band. I saw another clip of this and Barron was first, closely followed by his mother:

Journalists covered the event for television. CNN’s Jim Acosta shared a laugh with a Mutant Ninja Turtle:

However, Today‘s Al Roker, who is the NBC morning show’s weatherman and co-host, appeared less amused. I think he is still angry Hillary lost:

One boy had Acosta’s number. As Acosta gave a live report, the lad on the left kept mouthing ‘Fake News!’ The video below should go straight to the 17-second mark (H/T: The Conservative Treehouse):

If that gets taken down, Newsbusters has a copy.

The following video from Fox News 10 in Phoenix shows how crowded the White House lawn was. President Trump turns up at the 27:52 mark to have pictures taken with guests. He also signed hats and programmes:

In the following video, jump to the 17:25 mark to watch the first Egg Roll of 2017. It only lasts 20 seconds:

Here’s a view from the finishing line:

The First Family was present at the starting line for the first Egg Roll. Trump’s daughter Tiffany (Marla Maples’s daughter) is in the pink dress and son Eric (Ivana Trump) is between Mrs Trump and Barron:

The Trumps went on to engage with their young guests:

Happy days bring happy experiences. The photo below appears thanks to The Truth Division and The_Donald:

 

The two clearly enjoyed each other’s company (click on top left photo below). (Donald Trump Jr, his wife and daughter are in the same photo. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln characters are in the baseball shirts, top right. Al Roker continues to be unamused, bottom left.)

Eric Trump and his wife Lara Lee brought along their dogs.

The American Egg Board supplied hen’s fruit (top left) and a fun display, An Egg’s Journey (top right):

Bro4 provided popular music. Martin Family Circus also entertained the guests.

Mrs Trump managed to persuade her husband’s press secretary and much of the cabinet to follow her lead in reading to the children in the Reading Nook. She chose Party Animals by Kathie Lee Gifford, wherein different animals find out how much they have in common. Mrs Trump said it was a particular favourite:

Press Secretary Sean Spicer read How to Catch the Easter Bunny with young Joshua, the only one in the audience who knew the story:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions read It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny, accompanied by his wife and four of their grandchildren:

Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr Ben Carson, accompanied by his wife and granddaughter, read The Grouchy Ladybug:

General Kellogg read Giraffes Can’t Dance. He did a great job, too:

Education Secretary Betsy De Vos and Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway also read to the youngsters. Conway chose God Gave Us Easter. Mrs De Vos, with one of her grandchildren, gathered the children up closely around her.

Military bands, the boy band and the circus act performed on the Bunny Hop Stage.

The United States Army Band chose traditional songs that the many of the children would not have heard before as well as better known numbers:

The Air Force Band and their Singing Sergeants brought an accomplished bluegrass air to proceedings:

First Son Barron, who turned 11 on Monday, March 20, is as tall as his mother:

I also hope this was a great success for First Lady Melania Trump. I am especially pleased that she blended the traditional with the contemporary so well, ensuring that Easter Monday was a delightful day out for all her guests.

Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.

Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.

New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)

Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.

The following post has more information:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

During the day, families are busy purchasing and preparing festive dishes for Easter Day. A popular custom among Polish Catholics is to have their food blessed at church.

(Image credit: annhetzelgunkel.com)

The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.

France

In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.

Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.

The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.

Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.

Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.

All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:

Italy

Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.

Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.

Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.

In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.

The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.

Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.

Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.

Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:

Portugal

At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.

Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.

Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.

Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:

Austria

Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)

This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.

The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.

The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:

Algeria

Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.

Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.

Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.

All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.

The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.

Today, people of all faiths eat Mouna. A Muslim included the recipe on her Pinterest page. A YouTube video appears on the Sephardic (Jewish) food channel.

Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:

I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!

In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!

In parts of England, mainly to the east and the north, the first Monday after Twelfth Night is known as Plough Monday.

This is an ancient day which probably came to England from the Nordic countries’ invasions. Later, it was associated with the Church and by the 18th century purely with secular folk traditions. It is so called because it was when field workers returned to their labour after the Christmas holiday to till the soil. Back then, they celebrated twelve days of Christmas. Because of the cold weather, it was impractical to till the soil to ready it for sowing.

Origins and traditions

It is thought that the tradition of dancing for Plough Monday originated with the Northern Goths and Swedes when they were still pagans.

The man to document this was the last Catholic Archbishop of Sweden, Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), who fled to Italy and became a historian once the King of Sweden, Gustav Wasa, adopted Lutheranism as the country’s Christian denomination.

In Italy, Magnus became a cartographer and historical researcher. Among his works was History of the Northern Nations, printed in Rome in 1555. Pope Julius II granted a ten-year copyright which saw the 22-volume work translated into Italian, English, Dutch, French and German. (Ironically, it was not translated into Swedish until the 20th century.)

Elaborate dances to music

Hymns and Carols of Christmas gives a summary of what Magnus wrote about the Sword Dance and accompanying music which must have become a custom after the Nordic peoples invaded England in the Dark Ages. Later it would become part of Plough Monday festivities, as the Revd John Brand (1744-1806), an antiquarian and Anglican clergyman, documented (emphases mine):

He [Magnus] says that the Northern Goths and Swedes have a sport wherein they exercise their youth, consisting of a Dance with Swords in the following manner. First, with swords sheathed and erect in their hands, they dance in a triple round : then with their drawn swords held erect as before: afterwards, extending them from band to hand, they lay hold of each other’s hilts and points, and, while they are wheeling more moderately round and changing their order, throw themselves into the figure of a hexagon, which they call a rose: but, presently raising and drawing back their swords, they undo that figure, in order to form with them a four-square rose, that they may rebound over the head of each other. Lastly, they dance rapidly backwards, and, vehemently rattling the sides of their swords together, conclude their sport. Pipes, or songs (sometimes both), direct the measure, which, at first, is slow, but, increasing afterwards, becomes a very quick one towards the conclusion. (Citing Brand) Olaus Magnus adds of this dance that “It is scarcely to be understood, but by those that look on, how gamely and decent it is, when at one word, or one commanding, the whole armed multitude is directed to fall to fight: and clergymen may exercise themselves, and mingle themselves amongst others at this sport, because it is all guided by most wise reason.” (“See also Strutt’s Sports 8vo. p. 214.”)

Olaus Magnus calls this a kind of Gymnastic rite, in which the ignorant were successively instructed by those who were skilled in it: and thus it must have been preserved and handed down to us- “I have been” says Mr. Brand “a frequent spectator of this dance, which is now, or was very lately, performed with few or no alterations in Northumberland and the adjoining counties: one difference however is observable in our Northern sword dancers, that, when the Swords are formed into a figure, they lay them down upon the ground and dance round them.”

Disguises and begging for money

By the Middle Ages, Plough Monday was the time when boys with ploughs were to return to working in the fields. However, because the socioeconomic system of that era was so oppressive, the ploughboys disguised themselves and went to the houses of wealthy landowners instead to extort money. The ploughboys received no pay when they were not working, and the gulf between rich and poor was so great that it was one way they could redress the balance.

These itinerant workers — also known as Plough Jacks, Plough Bullocks or Plough Stots — blackened their faces so that the landowners would not recognise them. This tradition continued for centuries afterwards. PloughMonday.co.uk says:

In the Cambridgeshire Fens children would collect money, often before school, this was known as Ploughwitching.

The Church

By the 1400s, Plough Monday was dedicated to raising funds for local parishes — boundaries of which were determined by church location. The church collected money to help the parish, comprised of a village or two and surrounding land. Groups of skilled ploughmen formed plough guilds which had a plough light in the local church, possibly as a way of asking for God’s blessings on the fields, in the same way we light a candle or votive light for a special intention today. A portion of the funds collected on Plough Monday helped to keep these lit throughout the year. Some priests also blessed ploughs on this day.

By 1538, when the Reformation took hold in England, plough lights were forbidden and plough guilds were disbanded. Anyone who conducted a drive for money on Plough Monday was fined.

Depending on the political and monarchical climate, Plough Monday waxed or waned until the early to mid-1600s.

17th century and after

Once Plough Monday revived in full, its ecclesiastical character disappeared.

By then, landowners ensured all their workers were well fed and watered throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

More farmworkers participated and used the day for personal gain by collecting money, joining in revelry and ending with a feast. Wikipedia describes a typical festival:

The customs observed on Plough Monday varied by region, but a common feature to a lesser or greater extent was for a plough to be hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money. They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the “Bessy”, and a man in the role of the “fool“. ‘Plough Pudding’ is a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions. It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.[2]

Householders who refused to give money often saw their doorsteps or gardens pulled up by the farmworkers with the plough.

The procession with the plough went like this, according to an old account:

Long ropes are attached to it, and thirty or forty men, stripped to their clean white shirts, but protected from the weather by waistecoats beneath, drag it along. Their arms and shoulders are decorated with gay-coloured ribbons, tied in large knots and bows, and their hats are smartened in the same way. They are usually accompanied by an old woman, or a boy dressed up to represent one; she is gaily bedizened, and called the Bessy. Sometimes the sport is assisted by a humorous countryman to represent a fool. He is covered with ribbons, and attired in skins, with a depending tail, and carries a box to collect money from the spectators. They are attended by music, and Morris-dancers when they can be got; but there is always a sportive dance with a few lasses in all their finery, and a superabundance of ribbons. When this merriment is well managed, it is very pleasing.

Although the day was one of revelry, farmworkers as well as farmhouse cooks and servants got up as early as they could to show willingness to work during the season ahead. According to the aforementioned account, a kitchen maid was given a cockerel for Shrovetide before Lent. However, Plough Monday determined whether she received it:

Then Plough Monday reminded them of their business, and on the morning of that day, the men and maids strove who should show their readiness to commence the labours of the years, by rising the earliest. If the plough-man could get his whip, his plough-staff, hatched, or any field implement, by the fireside, before the maid could get her kettle on, she lost her Shrove-tide cock to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On Plough Monday night the farmer gave them a good supper and strong ale. In some places, where the ploughman went to work on Plough Monday, if, on his return at night, he came with his whip to the kitchen-hatch, and cried “Cock on the dunghill,” he gained a cock for Shrove Tuesday.

The Revd Francis Blomefield was, like the aforementioned John Brand, an Anglican clergyman and antiquarian. He lived between 1705 and 1752. He documented the histories of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

In his History of Norfolk, he described the Plough Monday processions in that county. Although they were secular in nature then, men still collected for the ancient plough light, requesting ‘money for light’. However, instead of collecting for the church — as had been done in the 15th century — they were collecting money to be spent at the local alehouse.

Blomefield also wrote of the mummer play — folk play with local amateur actors — typically performed on that day, ‘The arraigning and indicting of Sir John Barleycorn’. It was a humorous sketch featuring characters from all walks of life: some admired, some despised. In the end, Sir John Barleycorn was always acquitted, but as Blomefield concluded:

From this facetious little narrative may be learned the folly of excess, and the injustice of charging a cheering beverage, with the evil consequences of a man taking a cup more of it than will do him good.

Regional variations

Plough Monday festivities died out in many places from the 19th through to the 20th centuries. However, some towns are reviving these old traditions.

Project Britain has a fascinating summary with recent pictures of Plough Monday where it has been revived.

Yorkshire

An account from 1808, describing the custom in the North Riding of Yorkshire, says that any new tenant farmer received the labour of his neighbours as well as their ploughs on this day in order to prepare his land for sowing.

The account, written by Miss Hutton in her ‘Oakward Hall’, describes the great feast of homemade bread, dumplings, beef and Cheshire cheese at the end of the day.

Cambridgeshire

In an area of the Huntingdonshire Fens (fens are lowlands):

a straw bear was led through the streets on Plough Monday. It is speculated that this may have grown out of a pagan ritual or just maybe an extension of disguising oneself using straw, inspired by dancing bears that used to tour the fenland villages.

Plough Monday traditions died out here in the 1950s but were revived in 2009:

Five hundred children from Ramsey Junior School and 14 other primary schools had been learning about Molly Dancing and other Plough Monday customs as part of the Heritage Lottery funded project “Cambridgeshire Roots”. The children from eight local schools came together to parade through the town of Ramsey and to dance on the Abbey Green. This was recorded by BBC Countryfile.

This custom has gone from strength to strength and the children now sing their own song as they process through the streets as taught to them by two ladies who went “ploughwitching” in the area 1950’s. It was thought that Plough Monday customs had largely died out in the Cambridgeshire Fens in the 1930’s until Gordon Phillips and Nicky Stockman met Anne Edwards and her husband during a performance by the children of Benwick Primary School. Anne told us about the antics of her peers who grew up in Ramsey Heights and visited local houses, dressed up with blackened faces to sing and beg for money. More local people who remembered the custom came forward during the intergenerational project “Ploughwitches and Bears”.

These videos from 2016 give you a good idea of Plough Monday past and present with Molly (Morris) Dancers, a play, sooty faces and a straw bear:

Another Fenland town, Whittlesey, holds a Straw Bear Festival:

a direct descendant of the Plough Monday customs, and there are revivals with a variety of names, often performed by local morris dancers. Look out for Plough Jags, Stots, Witchers and Bullockers … and Old Glory (see Cutty Wren) also perform on Plough Monday.

In other areas, sometimes the Straw Bear was paraded through the streets in lieu of a decorated plough in the 19th century.

Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are far away from the usual Plough Monday areas. They are in the Irish Sea, far off the coast of Cornwall. However, even there:

locals would cross-dress and then visit their neighbours to joke about local occurrences. There would be guise dancing (folk-etymologically rendered as “goose dancing” by either the authors or those whom they observed) and considerable drinking and revelry.[7]

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I look forward to comments from anyone who has seen or participated in a Plough Monday event.

Sources:

Plough Monday (Hymns and Carols of Christmas)

Olaus Magnus – History of the Nordic Peoples (Avrosys)

Plough Monday in England (PloughMonday.co.uk)

Plough Monday (Calendar Customs)

Plough Monday (Wikipedia)

Photos of Plough Monday in England (Project England)

j0289346In a recent Forbidden Bible Verses post on Matthew 13:50-53, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘The Power of Unbelief, Part 1’.

In that sermon, MacArthur describes Jesus’s return to the synagogue in Nazareth to teach the congregation. They were no more receptive than they were the first time, but at least they did not try to throw Him off a cliff again.

MacArthur described the ritual involved. The Church shares a few parallels.

Call to worship

Every Friday, there was the call to stop work for the Sabbath. The ancient Jews sounded:

two trumpet blasts. Those blasts would have come from the trumpet in the hands of the minister of the synagogue, who climbed up onto the roof of his house and just as the sun was beginning to set on Shabbat, Friday evening, he would blow two blasts to warn of the beginning of the Sabbath. A little time would intervene, and he would blow a second time, this time one blast. At that blast, all work halted. Then there would be a little space of time, and he would blow another single blast, and instantly put his trumpet down, lest he should defame and dishonor the Sabbath now that the third blast indicated it had begun. He would not defile the Sabbath.

Jesus would have heard the trumpet blasts and with the people, and gone to a place to partake in the Sabbath activity.

For Sabbath worship the following day, a synagogue leader used a shofar (translated as ‘trumpet’ in the Bible) to alert the congregation it was time to gather together. This would have been a long blast with one or two notes.

Churches have bells. In the Middle Ages, these were rung not only before Mass but at the time of the Elevation of the Host during the prayer of consecration, when everyone had to be at church. Some Christians used to wait for the second sound of the bells coming from the sanctuary, enter to hear the prayer, then leave afterwards. Many felt that it was sufficient to be present only at that point, as W D Maxwell explained in his 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form (p. 65).

Today’s bells, where used, generally are rung 15 minutes before the start of the service or Mass. They are still rung at the time of the consecration at Catholic Mass and some High Anglican services.

Assigned places

MacArthur says that everyone had an assigned seat in the synagogue:

They sat in a very prescribed manner in a very prescribed place; it was very routine, with familiar faces, activities, and events.

Until the mid-19th century, it was common in some Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian congregations to rent or purchase a pew for one’s family. Those who could not afford to do so were relegated to lesser pews — on the side, in back or upstairs. Because of pew allocations some churches only allowed in members of their congregation, effectively prohibiting outsiders from attending. As congregants’ disputes rose over pew designations and clergy realised that they were restricting other Christians’ ability to worship, the practice was abolished.

Standing for the readings

MacArthur tells us that the Jews of Jesus’s time stood to hear the readings:

The standing posture was indicative of the authority of the Word of God.

Christians also stand for the Scripture readings.

Sitting for teaching

When a rabbi or guest teacher, such as Jesus, gave an address, the congregation sat down to hear it:

lest the people think that man’s teaching had the same authority as God’s Word. They stood to read, and sat to teach.

Similarly, Christians sit to hear a sermon.

Our Christian services follow time-honoured and ancient traditions.

https://i0.wp.com/lookmag.look-voyages.fr/wp-content/uploads/galette-des-rois.jpgThe galette des rois — king cake — is eaten during the fortnight following Epiphany services.

This means there is still another week to enjoy this beautiful fusion of puff pastry and frangipane.

(Photo credit: Lookmag)

French pastry shops will sell millions of these delights before the middle of January.

Many people will also make these at home. I have done so in the past, and nothing could be easier.

Galette des Rois — King Cake

(prep time: 20 minutes, baking time: 35 minutes, serves 6 to 8)

Ingredients

1 roll of puff pastry

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) ground almonds

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) sugar

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) butter, cut in cubes

1 tsp of dark rum or 1 capful of almond flavouring

1 egg (for frangipane)

1 egg yolk (for glaze)

One M&M or, traditionally, small plastic token and party crown

1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar (optional, see step 12)

Method

1/ Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

2/ Combine almonds, sugar, rum/almond flavouring and butter in a bowl to stir or mix by hand. Alternatively, blitz these ingredients in a food processor until well mixed.

3/ Add the egg. If you are doing this by hand, make a well in the middle first, then mix thoroughly until you have a smooth paste. If using a food processor, blitz until the mixture comes together.

4/ Roll out the puff pastry. Cut out two circles: one for each layer.

5/ Lightly grease a baking tray and dust with flour. Alternatively, use a non-stick mat (Teflon or Silpat brands) on an ungreased baking tray.

6/ Place the bottom layer on your mat or tray. Spread the frangipane on it but keep the edge of this layer clear to allow the top layer of pastry to stick and eliminate weeping of the filling.

7/ Place the M&M or plastic token — e.g. a bean or tiny Magi figure — somewhere in the frangipane. I have recommended an M&M only because it has a hard coating. I do not know how this will work; it is possible that slice might have a bit of stain in it if the colour from the coating gets too hot.

8/ Using a pastry brush or clean fingertip, dampen the edge of the pastry with water.

9/ Carefully place the top circle of pastry on top of the open tart and press the edge closest to the middle closed. The very outside edge should be able to puff up in the oven.

10/ Beat an egg yolk with a few drops of water until liquid. Brush this on top of the galette.

11/ Make a design using a dull knife or small metal spatula. These Galette des Rois recipes from Le Journal des Femmes have a variety of designs.

12/ Place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. By then, the galette should be golden brown. Alternatively, take the galette out of the oven after 25 minutes, dust with 1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. The crust will be even shinier with a slight crunch.

13/ Allow the galette to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate using a non-stick spatula if you have used a mat.

14/ Share it with your family and friends. The person who gets the slice with the plastic token is King for a Day and can do whatever he pleases (ancient Roman custom). An old French custom involves reserving one slice for a poor person should s/he stop by whilst you are eating the cake.

Hope AcademyThe history of the Christmas tree dates back to the ancient world and is not as straightforward as we might believe.

(Photo credit: Hope Christmas Trees)

Pre-Christian winter foliage

The practice of decorating one’s home with greenery during the winter was widespread in the ancient world near the Mediterranean and the lands that would become Europe.

At winter solstice, Egyptians used to bring green date palm leaves into the home to symbolise life over death.

Romans celebrated the shortest day of the year by honouring Saturnus, the god of agriculture. They decorated their homes with greenery. Those who displayed laurel leaves did so in honour of their emperor.

Much further north, Druids in ancient Britain used evergreen branches in their winter solstice rituals and placed the boughs over their doors to ward off evil spirits. They also regarded holly and mistletoe as symbols of eternal life.

Other ancient peoples in Europe cut down fir trees and planted them in boxes inside their homes during this time.

Christianity’s effect

Once Christianity began to spread, some early theologians told their followers to discontinue the practice of displaying greenery in mid-winter because it was a pagan practice.

In the 2nd century, Tertullian objected equally to displaying laurel leaves in honour of the Roman emperor:

Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple.

Later, around 700, the missionary Boniface — later canonised — was spreading the Gospel message in what is now Germany, where the people worshipped Thor. In Geismar, Boniface chopped down the Oak of Thor where human sacrifices were made and worship took place. The stories differ as to what happened next. One says that a fir tree sprung up in its place, causing the missionary to think it was a providential sign that the evergreen should be a Christian symbol. Another version says that Boniface pointed the people to a fir tree which he said symbolised the Holy Trinity because of its triangular shape as well as the love and mercy of God.

Paradise trees

During the Middle Ages, Christmas Eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve.

Churches used to feature dramas as part of Christmas worship. The plays tied in biblical themes and linked the Creation story to the Nativity. Churches had as backdrops ‘paradise trees’, which were draped with fruit.

By the end of the Middle Ages, the plays were no longer performed in church but out in the open air. Not surprisingly, these outdoor performances soon turned into rowdy, drunken events.

When the Reformation took root in the 16th century, many places banned the plays from the public square and the trees from churches. People began to put up paradise trees in their homes instead. These displays were called paradises even when they were simple boughs.

People decorated their paradises with round pastry wafers to symbolise the Eucharist. This developed into the tradition of decorating trees with sweet biscuits and the near-universal use of round ornaments.

The Reformation

The use of Christmas trees was controversial from the time of the Reformation through to the mid-19th century.

Legend tells us that Martin Luther had one in his home, although Christianity Today says this has little basis in fact. My Lutheran readers are welcome to tell me more in the comments.

The story has it that, in 1500, Luther was walking through a wood on Christmas Eve. The snow shimmering on the boughs of the fir trees moved him to bring a small evergreen in to his home for his children. He decorated it with candles which he lit in honour of Christ’s birth.

The tradition of Christmas greenery continued and returned to church sanctuaries. In the 17th century, however, some Lutheran ministers made their dislike for it known. Johann von Dannhauer said these displays distracted from Jesus Christ, the true evergreen tree.

Trees displayed in church often had a wooden pyramid of candles standing next to them. The candles represented families or individuals who belonged to the church. Later these pyramids were placed on the tree itself. It sounds like quite a fire hazard, but this gave us the tradition of a tree with lights.

In the early United States, Dutch and German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition with them. Hessian troops who had helped to fight in the Revolution also made the festive trees popular.

That said, the Puritans in New England banned all Christmas celebrations and decorations. Schools and commerce ran as usual on December 25.

American displays of trees in churches sometimes courted controversy. In 1851, a minister in Cleveland, Ohio, had to defend placing a tree in his church. He nearly lost his job.

The 19th century

In England, the Georgian kings from the House of Hanover carried on their displays of Christmas trees. German immigrants to England did so, too. However, the public resented the German Monarchy and wanted nothing to do with such traditions.

It was only with the popularity of Queen Victoria that the Christmas tree tradition spread across the country. Her consort Prince Albert, of German descent, set up a grand tree at Windsor Castle for the family in 1841. At this time, presents were hung on the branches where possible.

Elsewhere, members of the European nobility popularised the tradition. In 1808, Countess Wilhelmine of Holsteinborg lit the first Christmas tree in Denmark. Although unaware of the Countess’s experience at that time, Hans Christian Andersen wrote The Fir Tree in 1844. Princess Henrietta of Nassau-Weilburg introduced the Christmas tree to Vienna in 1816. It wasn’t long before all Austrians had one. In France, the Duchesse d’Orléans had a tree in her home in 1840. The Russian royal family also had a Christmas tree.

In the United States, civic leaders were unhappy with the way that Christmas Day turned into revelry. Clement Moore’s 1822 poem, known today as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, and other similar works helped to change the nature of Christmas to a family-oriented celebration focussed on the home.

In 1851, a farmer in the Catskills (New York) named Mark Carr loaded two ox sledges with evergreen trees and took them to New York City. He sold every one of them.

20th century and later developments

By 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree.

By 1920, nearly all American households had one.

A decade later, during the Depression, tree growers were unable to sell fir trees to companies for landscaping. There just wasn’t enough money for that type of thing. Nurserymen decided to convert their businesses into Christmas tree farms. They soon discovered that the public preferred cultivated trees for their symmetrical shape.

Today, Christmas trees are big business. Ordering them online requires purchasing in November to avoid disappointment. For those who prefer artificial ones, aerosol pine sprays give that unforgettable scent of Yuletide cheer.

Whatever we choose to display, it seems that displaying greenery is an atavistic part of winter celebrations and the anticipation of new life. For believers, that new life is the Infant Jesus.

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f54625165718d606On Holy Saturday we make the transition from Lent to Easter.

Psalm 118 — read in certain years on Palm Sunday — helps us to understand the rejection of our Lord, His excruciating death for us and the promise of eternal life through His resurrection. As Matthew Henry wrote in the late 17th century:

The more our hearts are impressed with a sense of God’s goodness the more they will be enlarged in all manner of obedience.

The Vigil Mass, held in Catholic and some High Anglican churches on the evening of Holy Saturday, heightens the anticipation of Easter Sunday. The priest lights the new Paschal candle to be lit for the next 40 days recalling Christ as light of the world, and, in some churches, those who have been instructed in the faith are baptised.

Earlier in the day, Catholics from Eastern European countries and backgrounds will have taken their food to be blessed by their parish priest.

Those who have fasted and/or abstained from certain foods end this Lenten discipline after 6 p.m. or after they attend Easter Vigil service.

Traditional Eastern European Easter menus include eggs, lamb, cakes or butter shaped into lambs, ham, sausage and horseradish. As the post explains, each has its own religious symbolism.

British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter’:

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg’:

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

My reader underground pewster reviewed his church’s Easter Sunday 2014 sermon, which happened to include a mention of Mary Magdalene’s association with the egg, which came as news to me (emphases mine):

This Easter’s sermon at our church started out as a good affirmation of the Gospel witness that Christ arose from the dead, but as it went on, my mind bgan to wander as we heard stories of surviving cancer being likened to “resurrection” (not exactly of the same significance to the world IMHO). As my mind drifted, the tale of the red Easter egg was recounted. I am not sure if I heard any caveats, and two witnesses likewise do not recall hearing a disclaimer to the story of Mary Magdalene standing in front of the Emperor who said to her that he would no sooner believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead than he would believe that the egg she was holding would turn red, which of course it promptly did.

That story is not in the Bible, and probably should have been prefaced with a clear statement of its folklore status.

Apparently, according to Wikipedia:

she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house.[85]

Wikipedia says there is another tradition, more common among the Greek Orthodox:

Another version of this story can be found in popular belief, mostly in Greece. It is believed that after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary put a basket full of eggs at the foot of the cross. There, the eggs were painted red by the blood of the Christ. Then, Mary Magdalene brought them to Tiberius Caesar.[citation needed]

The site also tells us why eggs are exchanged at an Orthodox Easter service:

The eggs represent new life, and Christ bursting forth from the tomb. Among Eastern Orthodox Christians this sharing is accompanied by the proclamation “Christ is risen!”

Lenten fasting and abstinence from all meat related products — including eggs and dairy — was common throughout the early Church. Those Lenten disciplines also lasted 50 days, not 40.

By the end, one would have been very happy to begin eating eggs, along with meat and dairy products.

So, the highly portable egg became associated with the joy of Christ’s Resurrection and new life, which the faithful share, as well as the temporal anticipation of permission to return to normal eating habits.

Therefore, it is wrong for Protestants to label the Easter egg ‘pagan’, as it has clear Christian significance dating back to the early centuries of the Church.

Furthermore, there would have been an abundance of eggs accumulating during this time from the chickens, ducks and geese that people owned. Presumably, the faithful had a way of keeping them fresh and safely hard boil them over an open fire prior to Easter Day.

To carry them to church or a neighbour’s house, they would have used a basket — as it was believed Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus did — hence the Easter basket, also not ‘pagan’.

There does not appear to be firm source material for the Mary Magdalene and the egg legend. That said, there was a very real devotion to her, particularly in the South of France.

According to legend, Mary Magdalene sailed along the Mediterranean preaching the risen Christ. The early Christians also identified her as Mary of Bethany, Martha and Lazarus’s sister. (It would not be until the Reformation when the distinction between the two became widespread.)

These stories were not written up by doctors of the Church until the Dark Ages and Mediaeval Period:

Gregory of Tours, writing in Tours in the 6th century,[68] supported the tradition of the eastern Church that she retired to Ephesus, with no mention of any connection to Gaul. But for most of the Middle Ages the Western church believed that after her period as a disciple of Jesus Mary Magdalene had travelled to the south of France, and died there.

How a cult of St. Mary Magdalene first arose in Provence has been summed up by Victor Saxer[69] in the collection of essays in La Magdaleine, VIIIe – XIIIe siècle[70] and by Katherine Ludwig Jansen, drawing on popular devotions, sermon literature and iconology.[71] In Provence, Mary is said to have spent her last years alone in the wilderness, fasting and engaging in acts of penitential self-discipline, behavior that was rewarded with experiences of ecstatic union with the divine. Depictions of the Penitent Magdalen became enormously popular in preaching and art (see above).[72]

St. Mary Magdalene’s relics were first venerated at the Abbey of la Madaleine, Vézelay in Burgundy from about 1050.[73] Jacobus de Voragine gives the common account of the transfer of the relics of Mary Magdalene from her sepulchre in the oratory of Saint Maximin at Aix-en-Provence to the newly founded Vézelay;[74] the transportation of the relics is entered as undertaken in 771 by the founder of the abbey, identified as Gerard, duke of Burgundy.[47] The earliest mention of this episode is the notice of the chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux (died 1112), who asserts that the relics were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens.

The entry on Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume — referred to in the purple highlight above — includes more information:

It lies 40 km (25 mi) east of Aix-en-Provence, in the westernmost point of Var département. It is located at the foot of the Sainte-Baume mountains: baume or bama is the Provençal equivalent of “cave”. The town’s basilica is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.

This is because:

The founding tradition held that relics of Mary Magdalene were preserved here, and not at Vézelay,[2] and that she, her brother Lazarus, and Maximin, a 3rd-century martyr who was now added to earlier lists of the Seventy Disciples, fled the Holy Land by a miraculous boat with neither rudder nor sail[3] and landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, in the Camargue near Arles. She then came to Marseille and converted the local people. Later in life, according to the founding legend, she retired to a cave in the Sainte-Baume mountains. She was buried in Saint-Maximin, which was not a place of pilgrimage in early times, though there is a Gallo-Roman crypt under the basilica. Sarcophagi are shown, of St Maximin, Ste. Marcelle, Ste. Suzanne and St. Sidoine (Sidonius) as well as the reliquary, which is said to hold the remains of Mary Magdalene.

Later:

The little town was transformed by the well-published discovery, 12 December 1279, in the crypt of Saint-Maximin, of a sarcophagus that was proclaimed to be the tomb of Mary Magdalene, signalled by miracles[1] and by the ensuing pilgrim-drawing cult of Mary Magdalene and Saint Maximin, that was assiduously cultivated by Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples. He founded the massive Gothic Basilique Ste. Marie-Madeleine in 1295; the basilica had the blessing of Boniface VIII, who placed it under the new teaching order of Dominicans.

That is the French story behind Mary Magdalene.

My apologies to underground pewster for not writing about this sooner. I also apologise for not being able to respond to his query:

I read the in biography of a Confederate soldier who had to steal eggs from a farmer’s hen house as he hiked home after the war, and there is a proper way to steal the egg while not causing a noise in the hen house in the middle of the night. I’ll leave it to Churchmouse for the rest of the recipe.

For that, I refer my reader to the old cartoon series Deputy Dawg! The hen house featured prominently and, if I remember rightly, in one episode Muskie and Vince came very close to stealing eggs successfully in the middle of the night. Perhaps it reveals the Confederate soldier’s secrets in this regard!

 

Most of us know that May 1 in Europe is a public holiday celebrating the workers. It has a Marxist history with which most of us are famliar.

In the UK, Margaret Thatcher moved the British commemoration from the first day of May to the first Monday of the month to avoid celebrating a Marxist holiday.

What fewer people know is that the first connections of May 1 and work originated with St Joseph, Jesus’s stepfather. He has two feast days in the Church calendar. March 19 remembers him as Mary’s husband and May 1 commemorates him as ‘the worker’. He and Jesus were history’s most famous carpenters.

However, France also assigned a romantic theme to May 1, which was revived after a long absence in 1976. Today, the romantic undertones compete with the Marxist labour connotations.

French people buy lily of the valley — muguet — on May 1, recalling a centuries-old tradition which started in the Middle Ages.

L’Internaute tells us that the ancient Celts considered lily of the valley as a flower of happiness and the sign that Spring had truly arrived. If you have any in your garden, as we do, you’ll know that they start blooming in the last days of April. They are at their prime by May 1. After that, they die off quickly and probably have a shorter flowering span than crocuses.

Wikipedia says that three continents have their own varieties: Asia, Europe and North America.

Weather — too harsh a winter or too much rain — and environmental conditions can wreak havoc with this delicate plant. Last year, French gardeners and market sellers reported a poor harvest of lily of the valley which drove prices up for these small bouquets. This year’s, thanks to a mild spring, is much better.

In the middle of the 16th century, the French king Charles IX received a bouquet of lily of the valley from a well-wisher. On May 1, 1561, he began giving lily of the valley to all the ladies in his court. As l’Internaute says, ‘the tradition was born’.

Later, French towns began holding lily of the valley dances on May 1. Only young people could attend. Their parents were not allowed to participate or chaperone. Young women wore white dresses and young men had a small bouquet of the flower in their buttonhole. No doubt they gave these to a dancing partner who had caught their eye.

These dances faded out in time. However, at the turn of the 20th century, fashion houses revived this gentle tradition of giving lily of the valley to ladies. Couturiers — designers — gave three flowers to their seamstresses and piece workers.

In 1976, modern day Frenchmen and women began wearing three lilies of the valley to recall the current May Day themes of work, leisure and rest. The flowers replaced the earlier eglantine — a type of rose — and the lapel triangle worn to signify these three aspects of daily life.

So, if you happened to be in France today or find yourself there on another May 1, this is why the French wear lily of the valley.

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