The 6th of January is the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, also called Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night in some places. The word “epiphany” is derived from the Greek word Ἐπιφάνεια, (Epiphaneia), which means “manifestation.” The etymology of the word points to its origins in the Eastern Church, and it was historically a celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, varying locally in its observance of different events from Jesus’s childhood. The first mention of a celebration called Epiphany comes from the writing of the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who noted in 361 A.D. that it was considered Christ’s Birthday. In the Western Church a particular focus on the visitation of the Magi, also known as the Three Kings or Wise Men, has developed over the years.
Celebrate with Family and Friends
My mother-in-law is a retired high school French teacher, and has introduced many French traditions to our family. The French celebrated Epiphany with great fervor until the French Revolution, when anything religious or related to the monarchy fell out of favor or was outright banned. Despite no longer being a public holiday, many in France still celebrate Epiphany with the Gallete des Rois or Kings’ Cake.
We always celebrate Epiphany with my in-laws. My mother-in-law cooks several dishes inspired by the flavors of the Middle East. We also have gingerbread cupcakes instead of a cake. For fun, my mother-in-law bakes a bean into one of them. Whoever finds the bean is crowned king or queen, and gets to wear the special tinfoil crown. It’s always a joy to be the one to discover the bean. The Kings also bring little gifts wrapped up in brown paper–often books–that are hidden throughout the house for the children to find.
Recipes courtesy of my mother-in-law, Sharon Wilson.
1 c bulgur
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c boiling water
1/3 c lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil
3/4 red onion, diced
5 plum tomatoes, diced
1 European cucumber, diced
3 cups fresh parsley, chopped
Pour boiling water over bulgur and salt. Cover and let sit for thirty minutes. Add olive oil and lemon juice, and refrigerate until chilled. Finally, add the onion, tomatoes, cucumber, and parsley just before serving.
Chickpea and Spinach Curry
Ingredient & Directions:
Sauté in 8 quart pot for three minutes:
2 onions, chopped
2 tsp oil
2 Tbsp bottled ginger
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp curry powder
Add to pot and simmer for two minutes:
2 cans chickpeas
2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained
Add to pot, and cook for one minute or until wilted:
8 c fresh spinach
1/2 tsp salt
Serve over basmati rice and pita bread.
Gingerbread Cupcakes des Rois
adapted from Family Circle Light & Easy Meals(1996)
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c granulated sugar
1/3 c packed light-brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c light molasses
1/4 c applesauce
1/4 c milk
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 egg whites
1 whole egg
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line twelve 3.5-inch muffin pan cups with cupcake liners. Stir together flour, sugar, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses, applesauce, milk, oil, egg whites, and egg in another bowl. Fold in flour mixture until just moistened and spoon batter into muffin cups–don’t forget to put a bean into one of them! Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.
Advent is a beautiful season in the liturgical year, but it is often overshadowed by the busyness of the secular Christmas season. Beginning at the end of November or beginning of December, depending on the year, the four weeks of Advent help us to prepare, spiritually, for a celebration of the birth of our Savior at Christmas. Over the years I’ve developed some ways to engage with this introspective time of the Church year that make it more meaningful for me and my family. Below you will find some of these traditions—maybe one or more of them will enrich your own Advent practices.
For more ideas and inspiration for celebrating Advent, visit my Pinterest board!
Apple picking in early autumn is a quintessential New England activity. I love to take my children out in the early morning, when the air still has a bit of a chill, and wander through the orchard. While the little ones tend to go for quantity, I like to take my time and select the most delicious-looking specimens. The ride home is silent but for the crunching of little teeth on ripe, juicy fruits. And, of course, there will be lots of homemade treats to bake—apple crisp, applesauce, and pie to name a few—and don’t forget the cider! (Our favorite apple crisp recipe is at the end of this post.)
11And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. — Genesis 1:12
Our Favorite Apple Crisp Recipe (adapted from Betty Crocker)
4 medium apples, sliced about 4 cups total
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
whipped ream or ice cream, optional
1. Heat oven to 375° F. Grease the bottom and sides of 8-inch square pan with butter.
2. Spread the apples in the pan.
3. In a medium bowl, stir the remaining ingredients until well mixed, and then sprinkle the mixture over the apples.
4. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and the apples are tender. Top with whipped cream or ice cream!
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.
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.
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.