Faoi bhrat bhríde sinn
(we are under the cloak of Brigid)
Saint Brigid’s Day takes place each year on February 1st. St. Brigid was born in Ireland about 450 A.D. She and her parents were baptized by St. Patrick, with whom Brigid maintained a close friendship. In her adult life she started many convents and became the first Abbess of Ireland. She also founded a school of art at which many famous illuminated manuscripts were created, including the Book of Kildare. Many miracles are attributed to St. Brigid.
For our celebration we make St. Brigid’s Sweet Bannock, and sometimes we also make some St. Brigid’s Crosses. This is such an easy craft—even a three year old can do it! I used this tutorial. We also read a lovely book called Brigid’s Cloak, written by Bryce Milligan with watercolor pictures by Helen Cann. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Brigid’s overwhelming generosity toward those in need, and the origins of her miraculous cloak. The bannock takes virtually no time to prepare, and the crosses are a nice afternoon craft for the kids. Feasts and festivals don’t have to involve an overwhelming amount of work—little celebrations can be just as meaningful as big ones.
For more ideas and inspiration for celebrating St. Brigid’s Day, visit my Pinterest board!
Celebrate Brigid with a tasty snack!
St. Brigid’s Sweet Bannock, adapted from a recipe by Tressabelle
1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup honey
2 cups white or wheat flour*
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk**
*Whole wheat flour makes a very dense bannock.
**Buttermilk can be made using any cow’s milk of your choice and a tablespoon of lime juice, lemon juice, or vinegar per cup of buttermilk required. Add the juice or vinegar first, and then fill to the desired measuring line.
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream butter and honey together.
2. Mix the dry ingredients together and stir into the butter-honey mixture.
3. Add buttermilk until a dough forms (I need a little over 1/4 cup).
4. Roll into a ball and flatten onto a greased cookie sheet; cut a cross into the top with a knife.
5. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.
Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it;
that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate.
—G.K. Chesterton, from The New Jerusalem, Ch. 5
And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that
He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains
and oceans — and all that lives and move upon them.
He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit
and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–
and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.
When I was a little girl, Christmas was always one of my favorite times of the year. I absolutely loved the Nativity story — hearing it, performing it, or reading about it in my little picture book called Christmas Is… by Nancy McConnell (I still have this book and read it to my children on Christmas Eve). There was something so compelling about baby Jesus — this tiny, helpless little creature that would grow up to save the world — and Mary seemed so warm and loving, the perfect mother. As an adult I went through a period where I really struggled with my faith, and even went so far as to declare myself an unbeliever. It was a time of bitter heartache, but perhaps it was necessary in order for me to grow as a person of faith. In any case, the thing I missed most above all else was my relationship to the Nativity story. Just the thought of it would bring me to tears! Christmas will always involve presents, and that’s not an entirely bad thing, but the Nativity will always be at the heart of the day for me.
Activity: Make a Peg Doll Nativity
This year I wanted my children to have a nativity that was artistic and beautiful, but also durable enough to be touched and played with. I looked around online and found many lovely nativity sets, but they were all upwards of $200-$300! Around the same time I started experimenting with making peg dolls for our nature table. I thought to myself, wouldn’t these peg dolls make an interesting nativity? One thing I don’t have is tons of cash, but I do have some free time (occasionally) and I love to make things, so I gave it a shot. I didn’t use any patterns; I just created their faces and clothes as I worked on each one. I’m so happy with the finished product, and I hope my children enjoy looking at it and playing with it for years to come. [Just a note: I did not make the wooden animals; the peg doll bodies came from ArtDexi.]
The Book of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 1-20 (KJV)
1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
The Feast of St. Nicholas, or St. Nicholas Day as it is commonly called, takes place each year on December 6th. In the United States we don’t really celebrate St. Nicholas Day, but in some European countries it is as highly anticipated as Christmas is here. St. Nicholas was a Bishop in Lycia (modern-day Turkey) during the fourth century A.D.
St. Nicholas Legends
One legend regarding his works and character is as follows: St. Nicholas heard that children in a neighboring village were impoverished and starving because of a famine. So, he instructed his own servants to harvest everything on his estate and they all traveled to the village and distributed the food to the starving children. No matter how much he gave away, there always seemed to be more in his sack. There are other versions of this story, but the common theme is that they all involve miraculous quantities of food provided by St. Nicholas. Because he was willing to give it away, God helped him to provide it.
Celebrating with Children
For our little celebration at home we have the children play the role of St. Nicholas and fill a bag with small treats and tokens for each other. Then they hang it on the doorknobs of their bedroom doors, to be opened in the morning. Europeans typically use shoes but I made bags because they are cleaner, and can be reused year after year (you can’t outgrow a felt bag). The little gifts for the bags usually include: A book, either about St. Nicholas or about the Christmas season; chocolate coins, or real coins of some special variety (these replicas from A Toy Garden are wonderful); a chocolate orange; and a candy cane. I mix it up a bit each year. We also make delicious German spice cookies—they’re even more special when made in a beautiful, hand-carved HOBI wooden cookie mold.
The St. Nicholas Center has an enormous amount of information about St. Nicholas’s life, his works, and ways that his feast day can be celebrated—it is well worth a visit. You might be surprised by how much our modern-day Christmas resembles this ancient feast day! And, beyond the fun, St. Nicholas is a wonderful model for how to be live a saintly life—he is the embodiment of love, kindness, and generosity.
On St. Nicholas’ Eve we like to read The Baker’s Dozen: A St. Nicholas Tale , written by Aaron Shepherd with pictures by Wendy Edelson. This beautifully illustrated children’s book, set in the Dutch colony that would become Albany, N.Y., tells the story of a baker, Van Amsterdam, who always gives his customers exactly what they pay for; no more, no less. That is, until he receives a special visitor who teaches him that sometimes by giving more, we get more in return.
Here are some of our favorite St. Nicholas books:
For more ideas and inspiration for celebrating St. Nicholas Day, visit my Pinterest board!
Don’t Forget a Tasty Snack!
There are lots of different recipes for the traditional St. Nicholas cookie eaten on his feast day. This one, adapted from a recipe provided by St. Nicholas Center, is my family’s favorite.
1 c shortening
2 c white sugar
4 eggs whole
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
4 c flour
4 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp allspice
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp cloves
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Mix all ingredients in order, and turn the dough out onto a floured board. Knead in about one cup of additional flour or as much as you need until dough is no longer sticky and is easy to handle.
3. Wrap the dough in wax paper or plastic wrap until ready to use. Roll out small sections of dough at a time, keeping the remainder refrigerated.
4. If using cookie cutters to cut out small shapes, make sure to roll the dough out thinly—about 1/8 inch thickness is ideal.
5. If using a cooking mold or making larger cookies, roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.
6. Bake cookies until golden brown (varies depending on size and thickness).
The nights will be long, dark, and cold.
Jack Frost will freeze the ground.
How shall I find the light
With so much darkness all around?
Said Father Sun, “I’ll give you from my
Last autumn rays, a spark,
If you will make a little house
To hold it in the dark.”
—from “George’s Lantern” by Anonymous
Martinmas, or the Feast of St. Martin of Tours is celebrated each year on November 11th. The story of St. Martin (b. 316 A.D.) begins with his decision as a young man to become a Catechumen (a convert to Christianity who has not yet been baptized), against the wishes of his parents. Although conscripted into the Roman army, he found his duties as a soldier to be at odds with his new Christian faith. After a series of trials and tribulations, including being jailed for refusing to fight, he was baptized and embraced monastic life; he was made Bishop of Tours in 371 A.D.
St. Martin’s Best-Known Miracle
St. Martin is most famous for an event which occurred during his time as a Roman soldier. Legend tells us that upon entering the gates of Amiens (France) on a cold, snowy evening Martin happened upon a beggar clothed in nothing but rags. Without a second thought, Martin took his sword and cut his red military cloak in half and gave part of it to the beggar. That night Martin dreamt that he saw Christ wrapped in the piece of cloak, which solidified his burgeoning faith and was perhaps the catalyst for the rest of his life’s work. St. Martin is associated with many other miracles, and he was instrumental in the conversion of Europe. In fact, we derive the English words “chapel” and “chaplain” from the Latin word cappella, used to describe both Martin’s cloak—a sacred relic—and the sanctuary where it was kept after his death.
Celebrating with Children
St. Martin is naturally associated with the color red because of his cloak, so I like to incorporate a lot of red into my Martinmas decorations. I also like to gather some naturalistic elements from the woods behind my house—it’s a happy coincidence that Mother Nature gives us bright, red winter berries and dark, crimson leaves to use this time of year—they make a lovely centerpiece along with images of St. Martin.
In the evening we eat a delicious feast in honor of St. Martin and read The Star Child, written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm & illustrated by Bernadette Watts. This beautiful picture book tells the story of a little orphan girl who gives away everything she has, even the clothing on her back, and is handsomely rewarded with star money falling from heaven—a perfect complement to the legend of St. Martin. A nice way to tie the story into the decor might be to hang beautiful gold stars from a branch mobile above the feast table (see photo below).
In much of Europe the Feast of St. Martin is celebrated with a lantern walk in the evening, and we do the same. We make beautiful lanterns with glass jars, tissue paper and Mod Podge, and process with them around our neighborhood in the dark. There is something so wonderful about watching the light of one’s own little lantern reaching out into the darkness; to know that each of us carry a “light” just like this inside of us and that we can use it as a force for good in the world—to love our neighbor and to share our Christian faith with others—just as St. Martin did so long ago.
Click —>here<— to download a PDF with instructions for making Martinmas lanterns, plus a recipe for Vanilla Horseshoe Cookies!
St. Martin’s Lent
Most of us in the Christian world have come to expect a four week-long Advent each year, starting sometime near the end of November and ending on Christmas Day. In the past, however, Advent was observed during a seven week period in much the same manner as Lent, though with slightly less emphasis on penance. This longer Advent season earned the name “St. Martin’s Lent” because it historically began on Martinmas and ended, just like today, on Christmas Eve. It was also called, variously, “St. Martin’s Fast” and “The Forty Days of St. Martin.” Visit my St. Martin’s Lent page to learn more about it.
Some lovely books for children and adults:
For more ideas and inspiration for celebrating Martinmas, visit my Pinterest board!
Martinmas Feast Menu
Martinmas, like many feast days, usually involves a lot of meat—traditionally roasted goose or sausages. I’m a vegetarian, so I created my own menu based on some of the traditions associated with Martinmas, especially in Europe. We have wine because St. Martin of Tours is the patron saint of vintners. I adapted a recipe for Sausages & Apples using my favorite brand of vegetarian sausages, and threw in a side of roasted carrots and parsnips because they’re quintessential late autumn vegetables. Wine poached pears are a phenomenally delicious nod to medieval cookery, and surprisingly easy to prepare. And, of course, a Martinmas meal would not be complete without Vanilla Horseshoe Cookies, which are traditionally made for St. Martin’s beautiful white horse—they’re quite tasty for humans, too!
Sausages with Apples & Onions
adapted from Food&Wine
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp minced garlic
1 (8-ounce) box of MorningStar Farms® Veggie Sausage Links
1/4 c water
1/4 c apple cider
2 apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 tsp marjoram
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until slightly softened. Add garlic and marjoram and sauté for an additional 30 seconds.
2. Add sausages, water and cider to skillet. Cook until water is mostly evaporated.
3. Add apples, cover, and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
1 lb carrots, cut into thick strips (about 2″ long)
1 lb parsnips, peeled, cut into thick strips (about 2″ long)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. In a large baking pan, toss carrots, parsnips, oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly throughout pan.
3. Roast vegetables until tender, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and fifteen minutes. Serve immediately.
2 large pears, peeled, halved, and cored
1 1/2 c red wine
3/4 c sugar
2 Tbsp apple cider
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
1. Combine wine, sugar, apple cider, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large skillet, and bring to a boil over medium heat.
2. Add pears, flat side down, and simmer for about 10 minutes; flip pears over and simmer an additional 10 minutes.
3. Remove pears to cool a bit. Continue simmering wine sauce until it has reduced by about half (a spoon dragged through the sauce should leave a trail).
4. Remove sauce from heat and pour over pears. Serve warm, but not hot.
1 c salted butter, softened
1/2 c confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1 c rolled oats, uncooked
1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
2. Cream butter. Add sugar gradually while continuing to cream; beat until fluffy.
3. Stir in vanilla, flour, and salt. Add rolled oats and blend by hand, kneading the oats into the dough while still in the bowl.
4. Take a bit of dough, roll into a short “snake” shape, and then bend into a horseshoe on the cookie sheet. Repeat until cookie sheet is filled. These cookies don’t rise much, so they can be placed pretty close together. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove carefully from cookie sheet, as cookies are very rich and break easily—place on rack, and enjoy at room temperature.
Friend butterfly, friend butterfly, go fetch them one and all!
I’m waiting here to welcome every guest;
And tell them it is Michaelmas, and soon the leaves will fall,
But I think Autumn sunshine is the best!
—Cicely Mary Barker
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon;
and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not . . .
Michaelmas, or the Feast of Sts. of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or Saint Michael and All Angels), is celebrated each year on September 29th. Its close proximity to the equinox makes it an ideal time to recognize the change of the seasons, and to prepare for the waning of daylight that happens as we turn away from the sun (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere).
A celebration for the Archangel Michael, who symbolizes light and protects against evil, helps to prepare one to face not only the physical darkness of the fall and winter months, but also the metaphoric darkness that we face both in the world and in ourselves. While we certainly don’t want to terrify our children, we must guide them as they inevitably begin to see the world as it truly is.
Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage . . . I think it is possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones . . .
Feast Day Preparations
In the morning on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, I usually gather lavender-hued Michaelmas daisies (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (L.) G L Nesom – formerly Aster novae-angliae L.) and other types of “wild asters” in the woodlands around my house.
Even though St. Michael is associated with the color red, when it comes to my own Michaelmas decorations I tend to take inspiration from nature’s palette of purples and yellows visible everywhere this time of year. I use a yellow tablecloth and yellow cloth napkins on the table—you can create a beautiful, vibrant, golden yellow using the last of the summer’s marigold flowers as a natural plant dye. On the feast table I create a little centerpiece with my Michaelmas daisies, a couple of yellow or purple votive candles, and a postcard or two featuring St. Michael.
The children (if they’re home) and I spend most of the day cooking our favorite Michaelmas feast day foods, which we all enjoy together in the evening. Each year I try to gift the children with some small token to remind them of the angels who surround them and intercede on their behalf.
I encourage you to read Michaelmas, a sonnet by the poet Malcolm Guite, which begins: Michaelmas gales assail the waning year, / And Michael’s scale is true, his blade is bright . . . This poem strikes just the right tone for the season and the feast. You might also enjoy exploring these titles:
For more ideas and inspiration for celebrating Michaelmas, visit my Pinterest board!
We typically eschew the roast goose (I’m a vegetarian), but we do incorporate several other traditional Michaelmas foods into our menu each year, including carrots and blackberries—British folklore says that Michaelmas is the last day that blackberries can be picked because when Satan was thrown from heaven he fell into a blackberry bush and cursed the fruit.
Curry Carrot Bisque
adapted from a recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
3 lbs. carrots, peeled and diced into rounds & small pieces (1/2″ or less)
1 large onion, chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or other suitable oil
2 heaping tsp fresh garlic, minced
1 Tbsp high-quality curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
3 c vegetable broth
1 (13-oz) can coconut milk
1 Tbsp maple syrup, or other natural sweetener
1. Cook carrots and onions in the oil, covered, until mostly softened.
2. Add the spices and garlic and cook for another minute or so.
3. Add broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
4. Add coconut milk and bring to a low boil.
5. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
6. Lightly purée the soup in batches using a blender or food processor, then stir in the maple syrup. Serve warm.
Saint Michael’s Bannock
adapted from several recipes
(Kitchen Note: This is not a traditional bannock, but more of a very hearty tea bread.)
1/2 c rye flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 & 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c white sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c golden raisins
1 & 1/2 c buttermilk*
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg
*Buttermilk can be made using any cow’s milk of your choice and a tablespoon of lime juice, lemon juice, or vinegar per cup of buttermilk required. Add the juice or vinegar first, and then fill to the desired measuring line.
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, sift both flours together.
2. Add salt, baking powder and soda to sifted flours. Add the spices and stir until mixed.
3. Add oats, sugar, and raisins to flour mixture.
4. Slowly add the buttermilk and mix by hand until thoroughly combined.
5. Pour into a greased bread pan and bake for 35-45 minutes.
Mixed Berry Crisp
adapted from a recipe by Williams-Sonoma
(Kitchen note: This recipe doubles the typical amount of topping for a fruit crisp, which is my family’s preference—feel free to halve if that’s more to your taste.)
4 c fresh or frozen mixed berries (including blackberries)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 & 1/2 c light brown sugar
1 c flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 stick butter or margarine, softened, cut into pieces
1 & 1/2 c rolled oats
1. Preheat an oven to 375° F. Grease a shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dish with butter or margarine, or spray with vegetable cooking spray.
2. Spread the berries evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the lemon juice.
3. In a bowl, using a pastry blender or fork, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, butter and rolled oats until well combined. Sprinkle evenly over the berries.
4. Bake until the top is golden and the berries are bubbling, about 30 minutes.
5. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Serve hot or warm, with ice cream or whipped cream!
I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
When the days grow longer, the cold grows stronger . . . so says my father-in-law, quoting an old New England saying. The brutal chill of winter can be hard on us, but it is much harder on our feathered (and furry) friends that don’t have the comfort of a warm stove as temperatures drop. One way to help the wild birds and other creatures that live in or near your yard is to make sure they have enough to eat, which will help them to withstand the cold. It is fairly easy and inexpensive to build a simple bird feeder, and really only requires a little bit of diligence to keep the feeding areas free of snow, and make sure the feeders are re-stocked when the seeds are running low—my local “customers,” as we call them, go through a few cups of seeds per day.
Beyond the obvious pleasure of bird-watching, there are many good reasons for feeding wild birds, especially in winter. The Humane Society of the United States states: “Bird feeding is most helpful at times of when birds need the most energy, such as during temperature extremes, migration, and in late winter or early spring, when natural seed sources are depleted.”
I don’t know about you, but in the deep, dark days of winter I always wonder how those little creatures stay alive, especially here in New England where temperatures can get very, very cold. The answer involves a variety of factors: Birds have a higher metabolism than humans, and thus their bodies run at a higher temperature; many species grow special feathers that act as a sort of down blanket in the winter, holding heat close to their bodies; they fluff, tuck, and sun themselves, but they also spend a lot of time shivering. This last bit is one of the reasons why feeding birds is so important—if they don’t have enough food, they won’t have enough energy to do the things they need to do to keep themselves warm.
Brave little fighters, go on with your battle–
Here is a friend who will welcome you all!
Fly to my window–I’ll feed every comer–
Hail to the comrades that constancy show
Loving and loyal, in winter and summer–
With us, alike, in the heat and the snow!
—From “Winter Birds” by Andrew Downing
what birds eat
There are lots of possibilities to explore in regards to feeding wild birds, but what we chose to do this year was to hang three very simple wooden birdfeeders (I used this pattern), one in the front of the house, and two in the back, as well as to shovel out a circular area in the backyard in which to scatter seeds, and the occasional peanut. Blue jays love peanuts. Of course, we have plenty of squirrels that come along with the birds, but I really don’t mind. I know they need to eat, too. Because we hung one of our feeders right outside the window of our house, we are able to spend many happy hours watching the birds eat; we have a wonderful time trying to identify all of the different species. Having different types of feeding locations helps us to attract a wide variety, from mourning doves (who feed on the ground) to finches, nuthatches, and titmice (who like to eat from feeders). In the future, I would love to add a bird table for the species that want to be somewhere in between.
Good for Birds to Eat:
Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Seed Mixes formulated for Wild Birds
Not Good for Birds to Eat:
Raw Peanuts: They inhibit protein absorption in birds and small mammals.
“People Food”: Items like bread and table scraps provide almost no nutritional value to birds, and moldy bread can make birds sick.
Here are some pictures I have taken of our feathered (and furry) friends.