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.
Presentation in the Temple by Raphael
Candlemas is the common name for a Christian holy day that commemorates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.  At the time of Jesus’ birth, Jewish tradition dictated that on the fortieth day after giving birth a woman would go to the temple to present her child to the Lord.  Forty days from Christmas day brings us to February 2nd, the day on which Christians celebrate the occasion of the Holy Family’s visit to the temple in Jerusalem for the presentation of the Christ Child. 
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.—1 John 1:5
There is no consensus among historians regarding the exact origins of this feast day, though there are a few theories. It’s possible that the Roman Catholic Church instituted the celebration of Candlemas sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries; others believe that Candlemas is the result of the Church’s efforts to Christianize various pagan celebrations that took place during the month of February.  Regardless of its murky origins, one can imagine why the first public presentation of Jesus Christ, who is called The Light of the World, might come to be associated with the lighting of candles. 
In earlier times, Candlemas was seen as the official end of the Christmas season, which lasted much longer than it does today. Even as recently as the late nineteenth century it was common not to remove the Christmas greenery until Candlemas, at which time it was traditionally burned in the family fireplace. 
Other Candlemas traditions naturally arose over the centuries, perhaps the most well-known being the “blessing of the candles.” We can take a closer look at this tradition by becoming acquainted with a branch from my very own family tree. My mother’s family traces its roots to the French colony of Acadie, located in Atlantic Canada and comprising such places as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.  In fact, my maternal line (my mother’s mother’s mother . . . etc) recedes back through time to a woman named Catherine LeJeune who lived in Port Royal, Acadie (now Annapolis, Nova Scotia) in the seventeenth century. 
Like her fellow Acadians, my ancestor Catherine LeJeune was a Roman Catholic from France and she would, no doubt, have been quite familiar with Candlemas. Historical documents show that the annual blessing of the candles in Acadie, during which time families would bring their year’s supply of candles to be blessed by their parish priest, goes back several hundred years. For example, in 1693 Joseph Robineau de Villebon, a commanding officer in the Acadian colony, delivered sixty candles to Beaubassin (in Nova Scotia) on behalf of the inhabits of the parish to be blessed by their priest on Candlemas morning. 
In Acadie, the blessed candles were used for many purposes throughout the year: To protect the house, to use when the priest came to a home to bring communion to the sick, or to burn while the family kept vigil over the body of a loved one who had died. Some midwives would light a blessed candle during a difficult birth, and Acadian fishermen sometimes kept a blessed candle on their boat to light during stormy weather.  The blessing of the candles was preserved in Acadian parishes until very recently. 
Another Acadian tradition that took place on Candlemas was the door-to-door collection of food to be used for a community meal later in the day. Anyone with a large enough house could host the party. This activity was not only entertaining for all involved, but it was also an act of charity—any food that was left over after the party was given to the poor. In some villages the collection of food was done almost exclusively for the purpose of providing for the sick, the widows, and the poor. 
Nous sommes les gens de la Chand’leur
Allez-vous nous donner d’la fleur?
(We are the Candlemas people,
Are you going to give us any flour?)—from Arsenault’s “Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day”
I invite you to celebrate Candlemas on February 2nd—perhaps with a candle-making activity. I also encourage you to make a donation to your local food shelf, in the spirit of the Acadian Candlemas collections of long ago.
You might also enjoy this traditional Acadian recipe, traditionally eaten on Candlemas day.
Crêpes à la Neige (Pancakes with Snow)
adapted from Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day by Georges Arsenault, 2012
1 c flour
1 1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 c fresh, hard-packed snow
1/4 c vegetable oil
1. Heat a griddle or large pan on medium heat.
2. Mix all the ingredients together to make a smooth dough (it will be very liquid, not fluffy like regular pancakes).
3. Grease the griddle or pan with butter. Drop tablespoons of batter onto the griddle and fry on medium heat until edges are cooked and bubbles form on top.
4. Flip over and fry until golden brown. Serve with molasses or grated maple sugar.
1 Georges Arsenault, Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day (Charlottetown, PEI, Canada: Acorn Press, 2012), p 15
2 Sarah Breathnach, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), p 61
4 Arsenault, p 15
5 Mala Powers, Follow the Year (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), p 58
6 Breathnach, p 61
7 Arsenault, p 8
8 Caroline Hamelin, La généalogie de la famille Savoie (1912), p 11 (https://archive.org/details/lagnalogiede00hameuoft/page/11)
9 Arsenault, p 15
10 Arsenault, p 19
11 Arsenault, p 16
12 Arsenault, pp 45-46
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.
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 or tap image to download a printable PDF with instructions for making Martinmas lanterns, plus a recipe for Vanilla Horseshoe Cookies!
St. Martin’s Lent
Most of us have come to expect a four week-long Advent each year, starting sometime near the end of November and ending on Christmas Eve. 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.
Roasted Carrots and Parsnips
adapted from Martha Stewart
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.
Red Wine Poached Pears
adapted from The Spruce
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.
Vanilla Horseshoe Cookies
adapted from Catholic Culture
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.
The Christian apologist C.S. Lewis remarked in his essay On Three Ways of Writing for Children:
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!
Michaelmas Feast Day Menu
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!
Clip art on this page created from elements © J Mattson Johnson, Skandia Design Studio