Monday, November 30, 2015

Morning Madonna

Madonna and Child by Tytus Czyżewski (1880-1945)

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & amp; Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & Amp; Encourages me to post some of the religious paintings Which were the core of early Western art. This Madonna is a 20C version.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Traditions - Italy

Christmas time begins on the 1st Sunday of Advent in Italy, which comes 4 weekends before Christmas. This period is called "Novena." Children during this time go out singing Christmas carols & verses for sweets & coins.  The Novena is a religious ritual linked to the rosary. While there are many times of the year where this devotional activity takes place, one of the most observed is Christmas.  In the 9 days leading up to Christmas day, the rosary is said as a preparation to welcoming Christ.  This religious tradition was extended with children going from house to house just as the time of prayer was over to sing traditional Christmas songs. The children would in turn receive small gifts of sweets or cakes.

Families set up manger scenes on the 1st day of "Novena."  Every morning they gather around the nativity scene, pray & light candles.  Children write letters to their parents wishing then a merry Christmas & promise good behavior.  They also prepare a wish list of the gifts they want from their parents. These letters of appreciation are read out loud at dinnertime by the parents. 

While Christmas decorations in Italy are beginning to include Christmas trees, the main emphasis is still on Nativity scenes.  Many families place huge, life-size images of Mary & Joseph on their property.  Nativity scenes are inevitable in almost every household in all churches.  They are also found in many public areas as well. 

In the last days of Advent, before the shrines of Mary in Rome & surrounding areas, bagpipers & flute players, Zampognari & Pifferaiin, in traditional colorful costumes of sheepskin vests, knee-high breeches, white stockings & long dark cloaks, travel from their homes in the Abruzzi mountains to entertain crowds of people at religious shrines.  

Tradition holds that the shepherds played these pipes, when they came to the manger at Bethlehem to pay homage to the infant Jesus.

During Advent in Italy the ceppo appears.  The ceppo is a wooden frame several feet high designed in a pyramid shape. This frame supports several tiers of shelves, often with a manger scene on the bottom followed by small gifts of fruit, candy, & presents on the shelves above. The "Tree of Light," as it is also known, is entirely decorated with colored paper, gilt pinecones, & miniature colored pennants. Small candles are fastened to the tapering sides & a star or small doll is hung at the apex.

An old tradition in Italy is the Urn of Fate which calls for each member of the family to take turns drawing a wrapped gift out of a large ornamental bowl until all the presents are distributed.

Advent Traditions - Children in Normandy setting fields on fire

At Advent in Normandy, when the final harvest was complete, farmers used to pick a night to send their children to run through the fields & orchards carrying flaming torches, setting fire to bundles of straw, to drive out pests likely to damage the crops.  If a farmer had no children of his own, his neighbors lend him theirs, for none but young & innocent children could command destructive animals to withdraw from his lands. After 12 years of age children were believed unfit to perform the office of mammal exorcists. 

The children would sing

Taupes,cherrilles, et mulots,
Sortez, sortez, de mon clas,
Ouje vous brule la barbe et los os. 
Arbres, arbrisseaux,
Donnez-moi des pomes a miriot.

Mice, caterpillars, & moles get out of my field!
I will burn your beard and bones!
Trees and shrubs, give me bushels of apples!

The children were like the coming Christ child who would drive all evil from the earth.  "As the Christ Child drove away sin, so do these children drive away vermin."

Many worried about the possibility of accidents which could arise from this assembly of juvenile torch-beares, scattering "their flames around them on every side; but there is a remedy for all dangers; this fire never burns or injures anything but the vermin against which it is directed: — such, at least, is the belief of the simple folks who inhabit the department of the Eure-et-Loire." (Time's Telescope, 1828)

See William Hone, The Year Book of Daily Recreation and Information. London: Thomas Tegg, 1832. December 5.

Advent Traditions - England Medieval "Dolls" or perhaps puppets representing Baby Jesus & Mary

Roman du bon roi Alexandre Manuscript by Jehan de Grise, France 1344.

In medieval & pre-medieval times, in parts of England, there were an early form of Nativity scene called "advent images" or a "vessel cup."  They were a box, often with a glass lid that was covered with a white napkin, that contained 2 dolls representing Mary & the baby Jesus. The box usually was decorated with ribbons & flowers (and sometimes apples).  They were carried around from door to door.  It was thought to be very unlucky, if the family did not see the dolls before Christmas Eve!   Bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest. People paid the box carriers a halfpenny coin to see the dolls in the box.

Roman du bon roi Alexandre illuminated manuscript at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

"In the Middle Ages, the doll was not confined to the young.  Operated as marionettes, they were often used to make money.  Adults could buy votive objects to offer at shrines, as well as statuettes of Christ or saints to keep in their houses.  Margery Kemp, the mystic of King's Lynn, when visiting Italy in 1414, met a woman who traveled abut with an image of the baby Jesus.  Other women dressed this image with clothes as an act of reverence, and Margery, seeing this happen, fell into tears for the love of infant Jesus.  Similar dolls of Christ and Mary are said to have been carried about by women during Advent in the north of England." (See Nicholas Orme. Medieval Children. Yale University Press, 2003) 

Ms. 251 from Brugge, 13C Puppet show

Today, Advent is not widely celebrated in England, although in the Anglican church calendar Advent remains the official start of the Christmas season.

Two traditions that remain in England are the Advent calendar & the Advent candle. The Advent Calendar originated in 19C protestant Germany.  Before the creation of the paper December Advent calendar, Protestant Christian German families made a chalk line on their doors for every day in December until Christmas Eve. Before long, commercial entrepreneurs started replacing the ephemeral chalk lines with printed calendars. The first known Advent Calendar is for the advent of 1851. Nowadays it is usually a thin rectangular poster card with 24 or 25 doors. The doors are numbered 1-24/25. Door number 1 is opened on the 1st of December, door 2 on the 2nd etc. Behind each door there is usually a Christmas scene, but the most popular ones have a chocolate behind each door.

One type of Advent candle has 25 marks on it, & the candle is burned down by one mark each day. In some homes, 24 candles are kept, one for each night from December 1 through Christmas eve. One candle is lit for a while on December 1, then a new candle is added each day for the 24 day period. However, it is now more common to have 4 candles for the 4 weeks before Christmas. One candle is lit on the first Sunday, 2 the second week and so on. The candles were often placed on an evergreen wreath upon the dining room table. Advent candles are lit in many homes, schools and churches, in England, with a final central candle lit on Christmas Day.  Some of these are on a hanging decoration known as an "Advent Crown." They became exceedingly popular due to a children's TV program called Blue Peter, who every year made an advent crown from old coat-hangers, tinsel, & candles.

Advent Traditions - Advent Calendar

An advent calendar is usually a poster with 24 small doors, one to be opened each day from December 1 until Christmas Eve. Each door conceals a picture. This popular tradition arose in Germany in the late 1800s & soon spread throughout Europe & North America. Originally, the images in Advent calendars were derived from the Hebrew Bible.

The Advent calendar windows open to reveal an image, poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus) or a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. Some calendars are strictly religious, whereas others are secular in content.

During the 19C in Germany, the days preceding Christmas were marked off from December 1 with chalk on "believers" doors. Then in the late 19C the German mother of a child named Gerhard Lang made her son an Advent Calendar comprised of 24 tiny sweets stuck onto cardboard. Lang never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his Advent calendar at the beginning of each December, & how it reminded him every day that the greatest celebration of the whole year was approaching ever nearer. 

As an adult, Lang went into partnership with his friend Reichhold opening a printing office. In 1908, they produced what is thought to be the 1st  printed Advent Calendar with a small colored picture for each day in Advent.  Around the same time, a German newspaper included an Advent calendar insert as a gift to its readers. Lang’s calendar was inspired by one that his mother had made for him and featured 24 colored pictures that attached to a piece of cardboard. Lang modified his calendars to include the little doors that are a staple of most Advent.

The idea of the Advent Calendar caught on with other printing firms as the demand swiftly increased, and many versions were produced, some of which would have printed on them Bible verses appropriate to the Advent period.  By the time that the Advent Calendar had gained international popularity, the custom came to an end with the beginning of the WWI, when cardboard was strictly rationed to be used for purposes necessary to the war effort. 

President Eisenhower's grandchildren with an Advent Calendar

However, in 1946, when rationing began to ease following the end of the WWII, a printer named Richard Sellmer once again introduced the colorful little Advent Calendar, and once again it was an immediate success.  After the war, the production of calendars resumed in 1946, by Selmer. Selmer credits President Eisenhower with helping the tradition grow in the United States during his term of office. A newspaper article at the time showed the Eisenhower grandchildren with The Little Town Advent calendar. 

Some European countries such as Germany, where the 1st Advent poster originated, also use a wreath of fir with 24 bags or boxes hanging from it. In each box or bag there is a little present for each day.

Advent Traditions - The Advent Wreath

The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that marks the passage of the four weeks of Advent leading to Christmas in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. 

The origin of the Advent wreath is uncertain.  It is believed that Advent wreaths have their origins in the folk traditions of northern Europe; where in the deep of winter, people lit candles on wheel-shaped bundles of evergreen.  It is believed that pagan Mid-Winter rituals sometimes featured a wreath of evergreen with four candles. The candles were placed in each of the four directions to represent the elements of earth, wind, water and fire.  Rites were solemnly performed in order to ensure the continuance of the circle of life symbolized by the evergreen wreath. 

There is evidence of pre-Christian Germanic peoples using wreathes with lit candles during the cold & dark December days as a sign of hope in the future warm & extended-sunlight days of Spring.  

In Scandinavia during Winter, lighted candles were placed around a wheel, & prayers were offered to the god of light to turn “the wheel of the earth” back toward the sun to lengthen the days & restore warmth.  Both the evergreen & the circular shape symbolized ongoing life.  The candlelight gave comfort at this darkest time of the year, as people looked forward to the longer days of spring.  

By the Middle Ages, the Christians adapted this tradition & used Advent wreathes as part of their spiritual preparation for Christmas. By 1600, both Catholics & Lutherans had more formal practices surrounding the Advent wreath.

The wreath is made of various evergreens, signifying continuous life.  The circle of the wreath, which has no beginning or end, symbolizes the eternity of God, the immortality of the soul, & the everlasting life found in Christ. 

The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent.  One purple or blue candle is lit each week, but the Catholic church uses a rose candle on the 3rd Sunday.  Purple dyes were once so rare & costly that they were associated with royalty; the Roman Catholic Church has long used this color around Christmas & Easter to honor Jesus. The candles in particular symbolize the prayer, penance, & preparatory sacrifices & goods works undertaken at this time.  The light signifies Christ, the Light of the world.  Some modern day wreaths include a white candle placed in the middle of the wreath, which represents Christ & is lit on Christmas Eve. 

1st Sunday of Advent - A brief history

Advent is observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting, self-examination, & preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas. The name Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a coming.  

Advent has probably been observed since the 4C.  It would seem that Advent could not have occurred, until the Roman Catholic Church & state decided to declare December 25 as the day of the birth of Christ, in 345.  Advent was 1st recorded about 380 AD in Spain.

St. Perpetuus, Bishop of Tours 460-490, from Images of All the Saints of the Year... Paris: Chez Israël Henriet, 1636)

As far back as the 5C, there existed the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for Christmas. The oldest document, the 2nd book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory Bishop of Tours (536-594), states that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, had decreed a fast 3 times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until Christmas.  St Perpetuus, who died December 30, 490, was the 6th Bishop of Tours, from 460 to 490. It is unclear whether St. Perpetuus established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law.

St Gregory, Bishop of Tours (536-594) & King Chilperic I, from the Grandes Chroniques de France de Charles V, 14C illumination.

In the 4C & 5C, Advent was the preparation for the January "Epiphany" rather than Christmas.  It was also a time for new Christians to be baptized & welcomed into the church, while existing members of the church examined their hearts & focused on penance. Religious leaders exhorted the people to prepare for the feast of Christmas by fasting. Early documents show that many church leaders treated Advent as a 2nd Lent.

The 9th canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordained that between St. Martin's day & Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, should be fasting days.  In 567, the 2nd Council of Tours enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas.

The obligation of observing Advent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, & the 40 days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were reduced to 4 weeks. 

Sometime in 6C Rome, the focus of Advent shifted to the second coming of Christ. In the 9C, Pope St. Nicholas reduced the duration of Advent from 6 weeks to 4 weeks. The 1st mention of Advent's being reduced to 4 weeks is to be found in a 9C letter of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Bulgarians.

After having reduced the time of the Advent fast, the church seemed to change the mandatory fast into a simple abstinence & required only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, seemed to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand Pope Innocent III, mentions that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole 40 days.

By degrees, the custom of fasting fell into disuse; and in 1362, Pope Urban V asked only that the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent.  In his 4th Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent & Advent; & he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, & Fridays, at least, of each week in Advent.

And finally, sometime in the middle ages--approximately the 1500's--an additional focus on the anticipation before Christ's birth was added to that of His 2nd coming. 

Today Advent in most Christian churches begins on the Sunday nearest November 30, & covers 4 Sundays. Because the day it begins changes from year to year, so does the length of each Advent season. In 2014, Advent begins on September 30.  

Morning Madonna

Roberto Ferruzzi (Italian artist, 1854–1934) Madonna of the Streets 1887

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were the core of early Western art.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Morning Madonna

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 – 1543, German) Darmstadt Madonna

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were the core of early Western art.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Morning Madonna

Giampietrino, possibly Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli (active 1495–1549), Madonna and Child 1520s

 In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were the core of early Western art.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Blessing the Fox Hunt on Thanksgiving

I am pretty certain that I live in a place out of time.  At our church in Northern Maryland, Thanksgiving morning begins with communion followed by a Blessing of the Hunt. As geese congregate to fly overhead in November, fox hunting officially season begins in these parts.

St James Episcopal Church, Monkton, Maryland. 2014

This year's service was rather short, but one of my favorites from a few years ago follows.  The rector Charlie Barton, began, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. As the final echoes of the Lord's Prayer and an Anglican blessing fade from this hilltop into the silence of the trees, the horse and riders will pick up speed, seek a scent, and pass quickly out of our sight."

Informal fox hunts with private packs of dogs were popular in Maryland throughout colonial times, when rural neighbors applauded fox hunting as a husbandry necessity -foxes were destroying livestock. Early Marylanders did not see fox hunting as a bloodsport of the privileged. After the Revolution, the first few formal foxhunting clubs were organized near the towns of Baltimore, Washington, & Annapolis. Contemporary newspaper accounts show that the Baltimore Fox Hunting Club was active near the Chesapeake Bay as early as 1793.

The rector continued, "Into the beauty of God's creation they will move. We will hear them even when we cease to see the red of their jackets or the dark flanks of the very last horse. Even when they are gone from our hearing, we will remember the sound of our voices raised in song and prayer within these walls. And those who go a hunting and those that can't tell a stirrup from a saddle will leave this church today connected through a common cup, one bread broken for us all, and blessings from ancient times that are carried, still, by stories like voices on the wind."

Our local Elkridge Fox Hunting Club was incorporated on March 6, 1878, and is believed to be a descendant of the 18th-century Baltimore Fox Hunting Club. As downtown Baltimore grew, it combined with the more rural Harford Hunt club. Now the Elkridge-Harford Hunt roams over about 120 square miles of rolling farmland, with wooded areas & pastures. It has over 60 hounds in its kennels. Neighborhood obstacles are post-and-rail fences, fallen trees, cold streams,  & board fences.

The rector concluded, "In less than an hour we will hear hoof beats, and the crying of hounds. God's blessing will roll across the landscape, seeking those who would enter a kingdom raised by more than human hands. All we have to do to enter is to be willing to love, willing to risk, willing to ride out and meet God where He dwells. Let us all prepare our hearts for the blessing of the hunt, the search for God. For everyone that draws breath is on this life-long journey. Ride well, and may the peace of God be with you."

One of my favorite turkey paintings

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Turkeys 1946

Theater of the Absurd - Presidential pardons for potential Thanksgiving turkeys

This is one of the strangest Thanksgiving customs that we have.  Just advertising for the turkey growers.  In 1947, National Turkey Foundation & the Poultry & Egg National Board first presented Thanksgiving turkeys to President Harry S. Truman. According to turkey foundation, Truman was given 1 live turkey & 2 dressed turkeys the week before Thanksgiving in 1947. Tradition says that Truman donated the live bird to a local farm, where the turkey was guaranteed a long life unmolested by stuffing or gravy.  But, truth be told, he probably ate it.

However, there is some controversy about this tale of the 1947 turkey. The Truman Presidential Library says that no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs or other contemporary records are known to exist that specify that he ever "pardoned" a turkey.

The Eisenhower Presidential Library says documents in their collection reveal that President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his 2 terms.

President John F. Kennedy spontaneously spared a turkey on Nov. 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, but did not grant a "pardon." The bird was wearing a sign reading, "Good Eatin' Mr. President." "Let's just keep him." Kennedy just sent him back to the farm. 

Apparently President Lyndon B. Johnson ate his turkey. "I hadn't been quite sure what I was going to eat Thanksgiving," said President Johnson before Thanksgiving in 1964, "but I am glad I can eat turkey instead of crow."

Richard Nixon sent at least one of his turkeys to a petting zoo.

The fate of Gerald Ford's turkey remains unknown.

President Ronald Reagan deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking about pardoning a turkey named Charlie, who was already heading to a petting zoo. In 1981, on receiving a Tom Turkey from the National Turkey Federation, President Reagan was asked what he's going to do with Tom. "Eat him," said Mr. Reagan straightforwardly.

President George H.W. Bush said in 1989, "This fine tom turkey has been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” Since then, the pardoned turkey has been taken to a farm to live out the rest of its natural life. For many years the turkeys were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.

President Bill Clinton saw humor in the tradition, "I think it's kind of funny, and it's an annual ritual," said President Clinton at his first turkey pardon ceremony in 1993.  Clinton said at one pardoning, “We can all be grateful, therefore, that there will be one less turkey in Washington, D.C.”

George Bush's son, President George W. Bush at the turkey pardon in 2001, observed that "our guest of honor looks a little nervous. Nobody's told him yet that I'm going to give him a pardon."  In 2005, Bush accepted the foundation's gift of 2 live birds, named "Marshmallow" & "Yam," in a White House ceremony. Calling the birds "the people's turkeys," Bush explained that they had earned their names through a democratic process—the public was allowed to vote on names for the birds through the White House website. He quipped that the vote had been so close, "you might say it was neck and neck."  Previous votes resulted in names like "Pumpkin & Pecan," "May & Flower," "Marshmallow & Yamy," & "Biscuit" & "Gravy."  Bush's 2003 turkeys were patriotically dubbed "Stars" & "Stripes."

From 2005 to 2009, the pardoned turkeys were sent to either the Disneyland Resort in California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, to serve as honorary grand marshals of Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But according to a Disneyland spokesman, after 5 years of taking in the turkeys, the corporation decided it would no longer be accepting the feathered presidential pardons.  “There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office,” President Obama said at his first turkey pardon in 2009. “And then there are moments like this...”  In 2010 & 2011, President Barack Obama sent the pardoned turkeys to live at nearby Mount Vernon, the home of the nation's 1st President George Washington.  

President Obama's pardoned turkeys will be sent to "Turkey Hill," a historic farm located at the home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis in Leesburg, Virginia.  President Obama used the pardoning ceremonies to poke fun at his critics over his executive actions giving a new legal status to as many as five million undocumented immigrants, saying his Thanksgiving pardon of a turkey would doubtlessly be criticized as “amnesty.”  Obama joked that the turkey pardons would be the “most talked about executive action this month” & one that’s “fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democrats & Republican presidents before...I know some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there is plenty of turkey to go around,”