Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Happy Oak Apple Day!

It was on this day that a young royal climbed into an oak tree to avoid his pursuers. Young Charles (later King Charles II) was running from Cromwell and his followers after his defeat in a battle. His father, King Charles I had been executed earlier and Cromwell had become a dictator. Even though Scotland named the young Charles as successor to the crown, England had other thoughts and declared such proclamations as unlawful.

Living in France and other countries in exile, following the death of Cromwell in 1658, Charles returned to England in 1660 and took his rightful place on the throne. To celebrate his birthday and the restoration of the crown (and his initial escape from death), May 29 became known as Oak Apple Day.

Everyone knows oak trees don't produce apples. (Right?) However, they do produce what is known as a gall. Galls are actually an irregular type of growth caused by the reaction between plant hormones and  growth regulating chemicals produced by some insects, particularly wasps. The galls provide nourishment for the developing baby wasps, and they resemble, loosely, an apple.

The holiday was abolished, but that doesn't mean you can't find a way to celebrate. Okay, maybe you aren't subject to the British crown, but what does that matter? There is always a reason to celebrate, and this one is an example of that.

So, what can you do today?

Plant an oak tree. (Duh.)

Make crafts with acorns. If you have or live near an oak tree, there will be an abundance, always, and all you have to do is collect them. You can find ideas here, here and here.

Pick up all the fallen branches and collect them for firewood. They are perfect if you have a fire pit!

Play up the Green Man (wild man of the woods) motif by making leaf covered masks and headdresses. You can find directions for one here.

Eat an apple. No, not an oak apple. A regular, old fashioned, honest to goodness apple. Eat them all year long. They're good for you.

Hug an oak tree. Heck, hug any tree. The important thing to remember here is that trees are the lungs of the world, so take care of them.

You can probably come up with a whole host of things to do involving trees, so just get yourself outside and do it! Enjoy the weather before it gets too hot!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Sometimes I think my blog should be retitled to something gothy, what with all the posts that denote ways of celebrating days involving death or the macabre. Take, for example, recent posts on Charles Addams or Friday the 13th or Edgar Allan Poe, just to name a few. Today is no different.

Lemuralia was a Roman festival celebrated on May 9, 11 and 13. Well, celebrated probably isn't the best word for it. More like participated. They were days designed to rid the home of malevolent or otherwise unwelcome spirits (lemures). It involved the head of the household getting up at midnight and walking barefoot around the house nine times while throwing black beans over their shoulder. A prayer or recitation commanding the spirits to leave was said while other family members banged on pots. It was hoped the beans would please the spirits and they would leave; the pot banging insured they would.

Interestingly, I learned that Pope Boniface IV designated May 13 as the first All Saint's Day. Pope Gregory III moved it to November 1, which coincidentally is the same day as the Celtic feast of Samhain.

It is said that Romulus started Lemuralia as a way to appease the spirit of his murdered brother Remus. Romans honored the lares, their benevolent deceased ancestors, but feared the lemures. A similar feast which honored both lares and appeased malevolent spirits was Parentalia and Feralia.

May was deemed by the Romans to be bad luck for marriages. The Irish, as well, have a saying about that: Marry in May and rue the day. I find this curious due to the practice of *green marriages* that happened on Bealtaine.

You can spend today, of course, walking around the house barefoot and throwing beans over your shoulder, or you can choose instead to eat those beans. I suggest Cuban black beans and rice.

Bang on some pots to be on the safe side. You never know...

Friday, May 4, 2012

Happy Star Wars Day!

The year was 1977. I remember my mom coming back from the theatre with  my younger brother and sister and telling me I really needed to go see this movie, Star Wars. It didn't really sound all that interesting at the time.

My boyfriend, now husband, concurred with my mom. I absolutely had to see it, he said. So I did.

And I was hooked.

Not only did I love the movie, but I remember late nights in Denny's after the Empire Strikes Back came out, discussing the implications of Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker's father. Was it true? Was Vader just messing with Luke's mind? Then came the long lines and repeated visits to see Return of the Jedi. Star Wars may have been a clever original, but Return of the Jedi still remains my favorite.

We won't discuss the three that came after. I'd rather pretend they never happened. Despite that, you absolutely must celebrate Star Wars Day!

A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook, and I totally love it!

There is just no other way to celebrate today than sitting down for a movie watching marathon of the three original Star Wars movies. Not the later released original versions with added scenes, but the original theatrical releases.

I really wish I had a copy of these cookbooks:

The Star Wars Cookbook - Wookie Cookies and Other Galactic Recipes

The Star Wars Cookbook II - Darth Malt and More Galactic Recipes

and if you have younger kids, this one would be a fun addition to have:

The Star Wars Craft Book

Barring having any of these books, go pop some popcorn and set yourself up comfortably for a day (or evening) of pure sci-fi fun!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

"April showers bring May flowers," or at least that is how the saying goes. And really, very appropriate, if you consider how many May Day celebrations involve flowers!

It starts with Floralia, the Roman celebration honoring the goddess Flora. Flora was a goddess of, wait for it, flowers and her celebration ran from about April 27/28 to about May 3. It was a celebration of new life and flowers. The typical seven day festival came to also be connected to fertility, which seems to be a running theme on most May Day celebrations worldwide.

Take Bealtaine, for example. Bealtaine (byal-tinn-uh or bel-tinn-uh) is the Celtic fire festival celebrated on or around May 1. Mara Freeman, in her book, Kindling the Celtic Spirit: Ancient Traditions to Illumine Your Life Through the Seasons, describes Bealtaine as a time that we celebrate "life, growth, love and sexuality." The custom of "greenwood marriages", where couples would disappear into the woods on the eve of May Day only to return the next morning with flowers they collected, so disturbed some religious communities that they tried to ban them. Apparently, they did not like what Rudyard Kipling poetically described:

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!     

The flower theme is seen repeatedly. According to Alexei Kondratiev, in his book, Celtic Rituals: An Authentic Guide to Ancient Celtic Spirituality, Bealtaine marked the change of the year from the dark half, which began at Samhain, into the light half. Kondratiev writes that one of the themes associated with the day is that of the Flower Maiden. A common Catholic tradition on this day involved crowning statues of the Virgin Mary with wreaths made of flowers.

Other customs associated with May Day are:

- Collecting dew in the early morning. It is believed the dew collected on this day will make the skin younger and more beautiful.

- Building a bonfire. Many couples would jump over the dying flames to assure fertility during the year. Pasture animals were also driven between two bonfires for the same reason.

- Making May boughs and flower wreaths to adorn the home.

- Decorating the May bush. A shrub, either planted near the front door or one placed in a pot, is decorated with flowers, ribbons, even eggshells left over from spring celebrations. Kind of like the warmer season version of decorating a Christmas tree.

- Dancing around a maypole. I remember doing this as a child at school and had the pleasure of doing it once again as an adult while on a women's retreat.

But beware! This day is also associated with the active presence of fairies, and precautions must be taken! If you must go out alone, be sure to carry upon your person a piece of iron in your pocket. In parts of Ireland, according to Kevin Danaher in this book, The Year in Ireland, it is recommended that one not "dig, whitewash, bathe or sail on May Day," the reason given that these activities "might seem to have a magical purpose and on the other a feeling that danger was to be avoided at a time when ill-luck or evil influence might prevail." It is best, then, to appease the capricious fairies by leaving out offerings. Better safe than sorry!

Besides the suggestions listed above, other ways to celebrate are to have your own celebration with music and dancing and plenty of good food. Select a May King and Queen and let them wear a crown for the day. Most importantly, have fun! But don't forget to leave something for the fairies and make sure the kids are in bed and asleep before you indulge in your own private form of flower gathering.
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