According to a British psychologist yesterday was Blue Monday or the saddest day of the year. His reasons: Christmas and New Years are in the past so homes are now bare of decorations and resolutions have already been broken; December’s credit card statements have appeared; the weather is less than hospitable here in the Northern Hemisphere; SAD has taken hold of many people; and we are only halfway through the longest (or what seems like the longest) month of the year.
I’m not sure how valid any of that is but I do have to admit that the house seems a little dreary without the decorations and over a week of rain, sleet, snow, fog, ice and cloud make it even more so. However there is a hard and fast rule in our house – the decorations, which go up on St Lucia Day, come down the day after Epiphany. As Laurent was taking them down on January 7th I took pictures of several pieces that decorate tables and window sills here on Water Street at Christmastide .
In one of the arcades between Getreidegasse and Universitätsplatz in Salzburg’s Old Town there is a small shop that sells pewter figurines created by the Wilhelm-Schweizer Company. On each of our Whitsundtide visits Laurent picked up a pewter piece that caught his fancy.
These first three are definitely Christmas decorations.. The tree is approximately 10 inches in height and the figures just a little over five.
Wilhelm-Schweizer has been producing individually cast and hand-painted pewter figurines since 1796 and is still owned by the Schweizer family.
Though their Christmas and Easter collections are their most popular lines – particularly with tourists – the Bavarian folkloric figures are also charming. The little Chimney Sweep does have a New Year connection. In several Eastern European countries there is the tradition of touching a button on a sweep’s jacket for good luck in the coming year. And I suppose the clock seller does have a connection, howbeit tenuous, to New Year’s Eve.
Of course we took a look at their recent catalogue and saw at least two more zinnfiguren that we’d love to add to the small group. Well a return to the Whitsun Festival and Salzburg, if not planned, is at least on the bucket list.
The word for January 17th is: Pewter pyoo͞′tər: [noun] 1.1 Any of numerous silver-gray alloys of tin with various amounts of antimony, copper, and sometimes lead, used widely for fine kitchen utensils and tableware. The normal ratio is 4 parts tin to 1 part e.g. lead. 1.2 Pewter articles considered as a group. 1.3 A material made of calcined tin, used in polishing marble. Early 14c., peutre, from Old French peautre (12c.) and Medieval Latin peutrum, from Vulgar Latin *peltrum “pewter”.
Well the Three Kings are riding up to the stable in our Presepio, ready to play their part in the story of the Nativity. And with their appearance Christmastide comes to an end and the task of taking down the decorations begins.
In the spirit of both Epiphany and Throwback Thursday I’m reposting something I wrote back in 2013 on the story of Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar.
This rather fanciful, and busy to the point I couldn’t get the camera to focus, scene is an Adoration of the Magi cutout that I bought at the Tirolervolks Museum in Innsbruck. This little “creche in a perspective box” was the work of the Engelbrecht Brothers some time between 1712-1735 and is very like the tradition of the toy theatre. Prints could be bought plain to be hand-coloured or already coloured and ready to be cut out and assembled. I also have the Visit of the Shepherds – which is not quite as busy – shepherds bring with them only sheep not a royal entourage.
I remember this from my choral music class in grade 9 and being told by Mr Livingstone that it was based on music from Bizet. Being the smug little bastard I was I probably told him that…
I don’t honestly remember when our friend Naomi started giving us these handmade ornaments – I’m guess back in the mid-1980s? What I do know is that this is the first time in years they have graced the tree. In past years they have hung in windows, and on at least one year were suspended from a brass chandelier as a centrepiece over the Christmas table. However this year they can be found on our Christmas tree. Other than my silver balls (sigh, go ahead make a joke!), we decided to forego the commemorative sets from Wedgewood, Towele et al. The tree is filled ornaments that remind us of past Christmases: dear friends, homes and celebrations.
Back in the early 1990s I discovered an Eco-friendly alternative to the foil tinsel we had used in the past. A gentleman in Morrisberg, south of Ottawa, decided to reproduce Victorian ornaments in his tin shop. Using recycled tin cans he created what our great-grandparents would have used as icicles on the their trees.
I have five tubes of these shiny, twisty strips of tin – 250 glittering icicles! Each one that has to be hung individually. Every year the temptation is to forego the task but each year I find myself laboriously finding the correct branch for almost all 250. This year only 200 are frosting the Yule branches – I know I’m being a slacker!
The word for December 21st is: Tinsel /ˈtinsəl/: [noun] A form of decoration consisting of thin strips of shiny metal foil. Late Middle English (denoting fabric either interwoven with metallic thread or spangled): from Old French estincele ‘spark’, or estinceler ‘to sparkle’, based on Latin scintilla ‘a spark’.
The last of the Christmas Flower medallions celebrates the celestial body that was said to appear in the heavens on Christmas Eve over 2000 years ago.
The final medallion is the Star of Bethlehem or Ornithogalum umbellatum, a member of the asparagus family. A perennial it grows from a bulb and flowers in the late spring and early summer. Unlike many of the other plants associated with Christmas it is not winter hardy. Native to Europe, North Africa and Asia it has become popular as an ornamental garden plant in North America because it is hardy and easy to grow. Unfortunately that ease of growth has meant it has become invasive in the wild and is difficult to eradicate.
For a relatively small plant it produces masses of conspicuous flowers in a six pointed star pattern. The flowers open late in the day which has led to it being known by such names as nap-at-noon, sleepydick, or eleven-o’clock lady. The petals close at night or on cloudy days. Unlike many of the other flowers associated with Christmas it is not winter hardy.
The plant is amongst Leonardo da Vinci’s botanical drawings and in his painting of Leda and the Swan Leda holds the flowers in her left hand. Legend has also associated it with the journeys of Crusaders and pilgrims to the Holy Land.
The name Ornithogalum is related to the white colour of the flowers; in some species, they resemble bird droppings. A biblical passage in 2 Kings 6:25 relates an account of a siege in Samaria in which the desperate population consumed the bulbs of the Ornithogalum umbellatum – though in the King James version it is translated as doves’ dung??? It has been suggested that because the botanical name does translate “birds’ milk” the good scholars at Cambridge may have made a booboo! The bulb of the plant is eatable by humans but toxic to animals. They were much favoured in the solutions created by Edward Bach for his homeopathic brandy and water distillations in the 1930s. However a claim that they were beneficial in the treatment of some cancers has been disproven.
It is said that after having served its purpose in guiding the Magi to the Christ Child the star of Bethlehem fell to earth and shattered into pieces that were scattered across the world. Those shards took root and became the flower that we know today as the Star of Bethlehem. It became a symbol of purity and hope, atonement and reconciliation in Christian iconography.
The word for December 24th is: Star /stär/: [1.noun2.verb] 1.1 A fixed luminous point in the night sky which is a large, remote incandescent body like the sun. 1.2 A conventional or stylized representation of a star, typically one having five or more points. 1.3 A famous or exceptionally talented performer in the world of entertainment or sports. 2.1 To have (someone) as a principal performer 2.2 To decorate or cover with star-shaped marks or objects Old English steorra, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch ster, German Stern, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin stella and Greek astēr.
Unlike the previous seven medallions the next two Christmas Flowers have little connection with the story of the Nativity. In the case of the first the association comes from its flowering habits. With the second it is rather tenuously based on an obscure legend from the Black Forest. I guess Towle said they would create ten Christmas flower medallions so ……
1990 – Christmas Cactus
Found in the coastal mountains of Brazil the Schlumbergera is better known here in North America under common name of the most popular cultivar: the Christmas Cactus. However it does have many other names: Thanksgiving Cactus, Holiday Cactus, Crab Cactus and in Brazil May Cactus. All based on the time of the year at which it blooms. May? – yes Brazil being in the Southern Hemisphere it’s winter in May. Though according to the Farmer’s Almanac there is a difference in the leaves of a Thanksgiving and a Christmas cactus: the former are spiked while the later have a scalloped appearance. Apparently over the years unscrupulous florists have confused the two in the trusting public’s minds!!
In its native habitat the Schlumbergera doesn’t need a soil medium but can survive in tree crotches and rock crevices where organic material has collected. It can also grow at high altitudes and tolerate a degree of mountain cold. As a cultivar it prefers damp but not wet soil and cool temperatures. The bears tubular flowers lending towards the red spectrum and producing quantities of nectar which makes them perfect feeding grounds for hummingbirds. The plant can be propagated either through seeds distributed by birds or from stems that have broken off and rooted. Unlike many of the other plants associated with Christmas it has no toxic effect on either humans or animals.
Cultivation was began in the early 19ths century and the plant was grown in greenhouses and conservatories throughout North America and Europe. They were popular for the bright colours and autumn and winter flowering. During the 1800s many hybrids were created including Schlumbergera ‘Buckleyi’ named after William Buckley who breed what we know as the Christmas cactus. Waning popularity at the turn of the 20th century meant the loss of many of the early cultivars. However with renewed popularity in the 1950s cross-breeding began to encourage a wider variety of colours with increased hardiness. Despite being classified as “easy to grow” as houseplants they do required certain conditions and care (a quick Google search of the name reveals mostly “care of” sites) but often reward that care with a brilliant display as Christmas approaches.
1991 – Christmas Chrysanthemum
An ancient flower the Chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as early as the 15th century BC and it is estimated that there are over 20,000 cultivars in the world today. Originally a wild flower, often thought of as an herb, it developed into a widely cultivated ornamental flower with thirteen recognized bloom forms. There are two distinct categories of mums: garden hardy and exhibition. The former are adaptable to harsh climates and required little care; while the later are more fragile but ultimately produce spectacular displays of an amazing variety: bonzai, topiary, and artistically trained forms.
In some parts of Asia the white and yellow chrysanthemums are used to make a tea and in Chinese cooking steamed or boiled mum leaves are used as a green. The Koreans have a wine that is flavoured with chrysanthemum and both the Chinese and Japanese use it as a flavouring and garnish in various dishes.
Several species of Chrysanthemum are cultivated for their natural insecticidal properties however those same toxins can be harmful to pets and fish. They are also recognized as a way to reduce indoor air pollution.
Most legends concerning the chrysanthemum come from China and Japan, and indeed in Japan it is the symbol of the Imperial family and images of it appear on passports, coinage, and the term Chrysanthemum Throne signifies the Emperor himself. The flower is thought to have originated in China and according to a legend, about 3000 years ago, an emperor was told of a magic herb that would restore his youth. But it was to be found only on the Dragon-fly Island in the Sunrise Sea (Japan) and only youth could find and collect. Desperate to find this youth restoring herb the Emperor sent a dozen young women and a dozen young men to the Island. He gave them a golden chrysanthemum to offer the natives of the Island in exchange for the precious herb.
After a perilous journey, buffeted by cyclones and attacked by sea serpents, they arrived on the Island. However finding neither inhabitants nor the herb and fearing the wrath of the Emperor, they chose to stay and planted the golden flowers as a reminder of their homeland.
But what of the Christmas Chrysanthemum?
There is one German legend that links the white chrysanthemum with Christmas. It is told that one bitter cold Christmas Eve in the depths of the Black Forest a poor woodcutter and his family were sitting down to their meagre meal. As the father spoke the blessing, thanking God for what little they had, they heard a wailing sound. At first they thought it was the wind but it became louder and more pitiful. The poor man opened the door and found a beggar child crouched beside the doorstep, half frozen and blue with cold. He brought him in and his wife busied herself finding blankets to warm the near dead child. They shared their thin broth and hard bread with him, warmed by their fire and slowly he revived.
The child arose from the stool by the fireside and suddenly the room was filled with light and as the worn blankets fell from his shoulders a shining white robe with a golden girdle was revealed and a golden halo encircled his head. Thanking them and proclaiming that he was the Christ Child and on his way to Bethlehem, the small glowing figure made his way out of the cottage through the snow into the forest. And there beside the doorstep where the frozen beggar child had lain were two pure white chrysanthemums. And the woodcutter, his good wife and their family were filled with an inexpressible joy. To this day white chrysanthemums are brought into homes in Germany on Christmas Eve to show a willingness to give shelter to the Christ Child.
The word for December 22nd is: Cultivar /ˈkəltəˌvär/: [noun] A plant variety that has been produced in cultivation by selective breeding. 1920s: blend of cultivate and variety Mid 17th century: from medieval Latin cultivat- ‘prepared for crops’, from the verb cultivare, from cultiva (terra) ‘arable (land)’, from colere ‘cultivate, inhabit’ + late 15th century: from French variété or Latin varietas, from varius.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown