In the Roman Catholic Church, the month of May is devoted to a celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason she is sometimes called the Queen of May—she is given the title “queen” in Eastern Orthodox and Anglican faith traditions, as well. Traditionally associated with the birth of new life, May is a natural month to celebrate the Mother of God.
Crown Mary Queen of May
There are many Roman Catholic traditions associated with Mary in the month of May, but perhaps none so beautiful as the “May Crowning,” also popular in the Orthodox Church, in which an icon or statue of the Virgin Mary in the parish church receives ornamentation on May 1st. Garlands of flowers are a popular choice. May Crowning can also be done by families at home. A crown is constructed of wire and children add flowers and leaves to it. Once finished, the crown is placed on the head of a Marian statue, or secured around an icon of Mary. Children will also enjoy making flower crowns for themselves, a long-standing spring tradition and perfect for wearing to a May Day celebration or gathering.
Create a May Altar
Another activity that can be done with children is the construction of a May Altar. If you already have a designated home altar area, the addition of flowers and imagery showing the Queenship of Mary would be a nice addition. This can also be done with a nature table. If you don’t have a home altar or nature table, May is the perfect time to set aside some sacred space in your home. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, home altars can be a place for prayer, reading Scripture, journaling, or enjoying daily devotionals. Even a tiny space can become sacred by its use.
Plant a Mary Garden
For those that enjoy spending time outdoors, planting a Mary garden is the perfect activity for the month of May. Dating to medieval times, the practice of dedicating a garden space to Mary was revived in the early twentieth century. A statue of Mary, alone or holding the baby Jesus, is central to the Marian garden. Mary has long been associated with flowers, and has been linked to the phrase “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” from the Song of Songs. More than 30 flowers and herbs are associated with Mary, including: Lily of the valley, peony, violet, iris, columbine, lavender, and marigold. Nurturing plants is a wonderful spiritual practice, and a Mary garden is a calm, serene place to engage in prayer and contemplation.
For a wealth of information about Mary visit www.udayton.edu
So on this day let’s celebrate
England’s valleys full of light,
The green fire of the landscape
Lakes shivering with delight
—from “The True Dragon” by Brian Patten
The Feast of Saint George is celebrated in Western countries on April 23rd each year. As the patron saint of their country, George is particularly popular with the English (and those anglophiles among us who love their culture, history, and “valleys full of light”). Though nothing certain is known about George’s life, there are some “facts” that are generally accepted. St. George was born in the third century A.D. in Cappodocia (modern-day Turkey). Raised in a Christian home, George joined the Roman army and served in the guard of the Emperor Diocletian. When confronted by the emperor and asked to renounce his faith, he refused. He was subsequently imprisoned, tortured, and executed in Lydda, Palestine on 23 April 303 A.D.
The most popular legend connected to the life of St. George is his defeat of an evil dragon that was terrorizing the countryside. This story became wildly popular in England, mostly due to the publication in the fifteenth century of a book called The Golden Legend. George’s signature look—a suit of armor and white shield emblazoned with a red cross—grew out of this legend. The romantic image of St. George rescuing a fair maiden from a terrifying monster is in line with the medieval masculine ideal, the miles Christi or “knight of Christ.” Though obviously not an entirely factual account of a true historic event, the legend of St. George and the dragon has deep roots in Christian theology: Christ (the knight victorious) triumphs over the horrors of evil.
At our house, we celebrate St. George’s Day with an English-style tea party and a reading of St. George and the Dragon, written by Margaret Hodges and beautifully illustrated by Tina Schart Hyman. We like to make Cream Tea scones and sip Twinings’ Prince of Wales tea. We serve everything on beautiful English china I got at a second-hand store. As always, I’d like to stress that celebrating the Christian year should be fun, meaningful, and strengthen our connection to God—no need to get stressed or break the budget. The beauty is in the mess.
Celebrate George and England with some tasty scones!
Cream Tea Scones
adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 12 scones
3 c all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 c granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream
additional heavy cream, for brushing on scones
additional sugar, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
2. Sprinkle the vanilla over the dry ingredients, then drizzle in the cream, tossing and stirring gently all the while and adding just enough to make a cohesive dough. There shouldn’t be any dry flour in the bottom of the bowl, but the dough shouldn’t be particularly sticky, either.
3. Divide the dough in half, and gently pat each half into a 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.
4. Brush each circle with heavy cream, and sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
5. Place the two circles of dough on the baking sheet, and cut each into 6 wedges. Pull the wedges apart a bit, leaving them in a circular pattern with about 1″ space between each wedge.
6. Bake scones for about 15 minutes, until starting to brown and baked all the way through.
Serve warm, split and spread with a bit of sweet butter and jam or preserves.
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.
VIVE LE ROI – the one, true king, Jesus Christ!
Menu for the Feast of the Epiphany
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.
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.
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.
Images copyright (from left): Ilse Schmid; Jenny Nystrom; Rie Cranmer; Gerda Muller; Eloise Wilkin.
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
- Thistle Seed
- Seed Mixes formulated for Wild Birds
- Roasted Peanuts
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.