Wreathed in Wreaths

Every year The Friends of the Confederation Centre have a wreath decorating contest. There were 31 entries this year and everyone had their favourites. Here’s a few that caught my eye and fancy on a stroll in the hall of the Centre!

Now talk about non-traditional: this is my #1 favourite. Though come to think of it The Nightmare Before Christmas is a bit of a holiday tradition in some households! I haven’t seen it in years – time for a look-see.

December 11th is Noddle Ring Day – now I am going to admit I had to look that one up.

The Snail and The Crested Porcupine

Those of you that pay attention to the Categories and Tags may notice that this is listed under “Christmas”, “Christmas Tree”, and “Christmas Decorations”.  A Snail and a Crested Porcupine – what do they have to do with Christmas?  Traditionally?  Nothing!  But in our house they are linked with a trip to Siena back in 2011 and two ceramic ornaments that were added to our Christmas trove on that trip.

A bit of background would probably help.  The city of Siena is divided into Contrade; the nearest concept in English would be wards. Set up in the Middle Ages they were initially military enclaves during the wars with Florence and other city states.  Over time they lost that aspect but became centres of fierce patriotism to a community.  Rivalries and alliances were formed – think Verona, Montagues, Capulets – and each Contrade became almost a city unto itself.  There were originally 59 but today amalgamation and urban change has reduced the number to 17.  However each  Contrade has retained its own animal symbol, motto, and colours; not only that every Contrade has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, feast days and festivals.  They are tightly knit communities within the larger city and only come together for grand occasions or, more importantly the Palio di Siena.

The ornaments we purchased bear the colours and symbols of two of the Contrade: Chiocciola (Snail) and Istrice (Crested Porcupine).  I should add this was not because of any allegiance on our part but purely because I liked the designs.

Chiocciola is situated in the south-western corner of the city; traditionally, its residents worked as terracotta makers.

Their symbol is the snail and the motto translates as  “With slow and deliberate steps, snail leaves the battlefield triumphant.” Their colours are red and yellow, trimmed in blue.  

There is an expression in Siena, “The people of the Snail  drown their saints.” In 1888, after losing a Palio, the people of the Contrada was so angry that they threw a statue of Saint Anthony (patron saint of horses) into a well. The statue wasn’t removed until 1910 and miraculously the district won in 1911. Saint Anthony hasn’t exactly been on their side recently – they last won the race in 1999.

Istrice occupies the north-western most edge of Siena and contains the San Vincenzo e Anastasio church, home of the city’s oldest surviving fresco.  By tradition its residents were blacksmiths.

Their symbol is a porcupine and their colours are red, white, blue and black. The motto is Sol per difesa io pungo (I prick only in self-defense). The porcupine is “crested” with a crown award

During th 14th century the community gave quartering to the Knights of Malta and were awarded the title Sovrana which earned their porcupine his crest or crown.  They last won the Palio in July 2008.

I mentioned that all the Contrade congregate on special occasions and on one of the days we were there an important canonization was taking place in Rome.  I captured some of the medieval pageantry as we walked towards the Cathedral Square and as the standards of each Contrade were being carried into the church.  I apologize for the quality but I was – and am – still learning how to use and make videos.

As I have often mentioned the ornaments on our tree bring back wonderful memories of voyages, homes, place and people.  It is a tree of memories.

On this day in 1971: Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) filled a law suit against Henry Wade, Dallas county attorney, in the Roe v. Wade case.

Christmas Collections

No, not the priest’s purse on Christmas Day.

It took all day but thirty balls are gleaming, polished, and waiting to be hung

As my faithful reader may recall from previous years I went through a period of being mildly addicted to Christmas collectibles.  For thirty years I collected the sterling silver Christmas Ball that Neiman-Marcus features each year until they became a) prohibitively expensive c) impossible to have shipped to Canada because of “currency restrictions” c) to much work to polish.  Then there was the Towle Christmas flower medallions – also silver, also needing polishing but a limited series of ten.  When trade with Russia became easier Bloomingdale’s began a yearly series of ceramic lacquer ornaments that were lovely if a trifle dark but at least didn’t have to be polished.

And finally an ad in the Christmas Gourmet magazine – of late lament – in 1988 got me hooked on one of Wedgwood’s annual Jasperware ornaments.  The ad pictured an evergreen bestrewed mantel decorated with several medallions of a beautifully detailed white bas-relief Christmas tree on the iconic Wedgwood blue background engarlanded by holly berries.  It was to be the first of eleven that I collected.  During the time we were in Poland (1998-2000) I missed three of them and the last, a snowflake, was issued in 2001.  Though Wedgwood still issues yearly collectibles I don’t find them as fine or appealing – which may say more about me than Wedgwood.

Of course as my faithful reader knows this didn’t stop me from collecting Christmas ornaments – just from collecting collections.

On this day in 1924: The last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is sold in London, England.

Come Ye To The Fairs

I’ve honestly lost count….

It seems there are Christmas Fairs going on at almost every corner in Charlottetown and in every town of any size here on the Island. Last weekend the Victorian Fair took up most of the weekend and a block of Queen Street, and just down the street the Murphy Centre was hosting another indoor fair.


Santa and Mrs Claus were at the street fair  and there were free horse drawn wagon rides through town.


Red Adirondack chairs were set up around braziers where fires gave comforting smells and warmth to a coldish day.  Many of the arts and crafts merchants from across the Island were there displaying their Christmas lines.  And a few of the food venues offering cookies, cakes, sweets, savouries, and mulled cider  for the holidays.

A left click on the Cabin Fever Carving logo will take you to their etsy page.

Amongst the jewellery, knitwear, handmade cards, woodwork, and stollen one tent in particular caught my  eye: Cabin Fever Carving.  Now as anyone who has read this blog with any regularity knows over the past few years I have developed an amateur’s appreciation of work from the North in bone, antler and natural materials.  It was the use of those materials by carver Trudy Gilbertson that drew my attention to her stall.   She creates unique jewellery, ornaments, and sculptures using those materials as her medium.  Her time in Northern Canada, as best as I can figure from her Facebook profile as a warden with Parks Canada, shows in many of the pieces that she has created.  They are echos of the Inuit carvings where the natural form of the material dictates the finished shape and use.


And wouldn’t you know it she just happened to have a few little baubles for the Christmas tree.  Yes! Yes! YES!  I know I said no more Christmas ornaments after last year’s fox but …. but….  hey get off my back I’m old enough to make my own decisions okay?

The camera (time for an iPhone X?????) didn’t quite capture all the facets of this piece carved from a shed antler with it’s very unusual shape.  (A left click will enlarge the photos for a closer look.)

The ring effect is caused by the exterior hard bone and the interior porous bone – I’m not sure what created that small hole in the middle.

As I admired these newest additions to our never-decreasing collection I thought I’d do a bit of a search on antlers – what they are, how they grow, and why the heck they are there in the first place.

Antlers are true bone extensions of an animal’s skull found in members of the deer family.  They are generally found only on males, with the exception of the caribou.   In early spring two patches about as big a loonie appear on a buck’s head.  Protected by a velvet-like thin skin that is a network of blood vessels and nerves they begin to produce bone cells at a rapid rate.  A healthy buck’s antlers can grow by three quarters of an inch each day.   If their bodies are not creating adequate calcium the deer will take the needed mineral from the non-supporting bones in its body.

In fall the velvet begins to shrink and gets incredibly itchy which is why deer can be seen rubbing their antlers against saplings and branches.  Once the velvet has been shed their new head gear is revealed in all its glory and set to perform their primary functions:  objects of sexual attraction and weapons in fights between males for control of harems.  After mating season they’ve served their purpose, and besides they are heavy and a bit of a nuisance in manoeuvring through thickets and forest.  So at some point during the winter, depending on location, they are shed – a process that can happen within a matter of hours.  The cycle will begin again in the spring.

On this day in 1803: The Balmis Expedition starts in Spain with the aim of vaccinating millions against smallpox in Spanish America and Philippines.