Archives for category: Celebrations & Holidays
Maybe it’s May-bell-ina.

Maybe it’s May-bell-ina.

I’d love to be in France today. Not because it’s International Labor Day or May Day, but because I could easily get my hands on a bunch of lilies of the valley. Every May 1st, the French celebrate the white, bell-shaped blossoms in the Fête de muguet or Lily of the Valley Festival.

Sweethearts once gave each other bouquets or sprigs of these diminutive sprays on this day. Those in the know still do. You see, it signals the return of happiness in floral speak. The tradition also lives on for this harbinger of Spring Summer as people exchange potted plants of the dainty bubbles peering out from green-sheathed stalks. For its scent, shape, color symbolism and delicate structure, this lily’s an ever-popular, if not expensive, bridal choice. If it’s good enough for Kate Middleton….

A lily of the valley by any other name? OK, I’ll agree with Juliet on this. There’s Lady’s tears (the drooping blooms evoking such), which might explain why ladies wore a stem upside-down on their dresses…the better to catch a glimpse or waft of their inner beauty. And Mary’s tears (for those shed at the cross). The botanical name, convallaria majalis, meaning “valley” (in reference to its preference for lowland habitats) and “of May” gives us May lily and May bells as alternates.

From lush, broad leaves emerge perishable tender hoods. Images of lily of the valley were common on postcards during the mid- to late-1800’s. Yes, floral-obsessed Victorians can claim to be the original flower power culture, often setting out on a lily picnic on Whitsunday (the British associated the LOTV with the return of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles) to gather wild ones in the nearby woods.

Aahhh! Alongside fragrant gardenias and hyacinths, the sweetest things.

Chic cacao: for the peeps, by the peeps.

Chic cacao: for the peeps, by the peeps.

Happy Easter, y’all! In Finland, nothing says “Hyvää Pääsiäistä!” like the Mignon, a handmade chocolate egg “nougated” out with almonds and hazelnuts and poured into a real eggshell. A Fazer classic since 1896 (outside of WWII), and the Finnish company’s second oldest product, the egg was a favorite of the Russian czar’s family. To this day, the confection (originally from a German recipe) can only be found around Easter in-country and in select export markets…the US not being one of them. For all those coveting one (or more) for your children’s baskets, you can hippity hop here and there. Your very own virtual hunt.

To see how these treats are filled, finished and packaged once the eggshells are sorted and cleaned, YouTube delights.  The original contents of the natural vessels go to commercial kitchens, with nary a yolk or white wasted. About 2.5 million “containers” are sourced from all over Finland. Only the best of a certain size adhere to the 54 gram weight restriction. About 2 million eggs are sold annually — impressive, considering the majority of sales occur at home, a nation of a little over five million. There is nominal distribution to Scandinavia, Russia, Germany and Canada. But, the “bunny” (as in burning, haha) question is why these are not more widely distributed. Why do Canadians have the closest luck?

Decorating ideas abound at on how to trick out the plain shells. After all, it is a blank canvas. But why not make them in assorted colors from the get-go? I’m “dying” to know what sustains the supposed Henry Ford-esque “any color so long as it’s white” tradition. Has the family-run business forgotten that Karl Fazer, the founder, had an appreciation for design and packaging, which he picked up while on professional stints in Berlin and Paris? He was also known to be a visionary marketer, placing advertisements on Helsinki’s streetcars as early as the end of the 19th century.

Naming new products was a celebrated family affair, with Karl and his wife, Berta, letting their four children in on the creativity. It was the patriarch’s time in France that likely influenced the ovoid’s name: mignon means cute, adorable and lovely in French. Each is pretty much that…in a nutshell.

Extra, eggstra! You can read more about these solid chocolate ambassadors if you’re proficient in Finnish. There are no teasers about Mignons on the English site, I suppose, because they’re not sold here. Bock, bock, bock, bock, bock! Who needs chickens when you’ve got Fazer.

Valentine Rituals, Part I

Valentine Rituals, Part I

It pays to root around aimlessly some times, as you never know what you will dig up. For curious types like myself, the chance to unearth possibilities, dust off the past or shape the future are must-haves in our lives. Here is a linguistic morsel paraphrased from Forgotten English by Jeffrey Kacirk:

Choice words. Originated by Chaucer himself, piggesyne (literally, a darling little pig’s eye) was once a term of endearment for one’s sweetheart. The English poet is also credited with inspiring the tradition of sending love notes on Saint Valentine’s Day.

From name drawing to destiny calling. Pre-19th century bachelors drew maidens’ names from a box or hat as their valentine for the year. The Church tried to graft a religious holiday onto this long-standing tradition by substituting saints’ names for those of the opposite sex, but this attempt proved unpopular and was abandoned by the 16th century. The drawing of names was taken somewhat seriously according to Henry Bournes in his 1725 Antiquities of the Common People: “It is a ceremony, never omitted among the vulgare, to draw…a name, which is called their Valentine, and is also look’d upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.”

Giant Lemming / Pudlo, 1961.

Giant Lemming / Pudlo, 1961.

This looks a little bat-like, right? Well, to the Inuit artist, Pudlo, it’s an Arctic lemming’s head. It reminded me of the figures of human skeletons (calacas) or skulls (calaveras) that are ubiquitous on the Day of the Dead. Calacas are often decked out in colorful, ornate dresses or zoot suits and grouped together in celebration. Musicians playing, rowdy fans dancing… these treats for the eyes depict the soul’s happy afterlife.

Back to lemmings, those prairie dogs of the tundra. Tunnels protect them from predators, and their winter-white fur helps them escape the keen eyes of the snowy owl, whose coat also turns with the season. These critters do not hibernate; fortunately, strong front claws help them dig through the ice and snow for grasses foraged before Old Man Winter sets in.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Thunderbolt, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery
Thunderbolt, Georgia

In Mexico, the Day of the Angels (el día de los angelitos) or Day of the Innocents (el día de los inocentes) is one to honor the souls of those who died young. The tree stone to little Gracie’s right symbolizes a life cut short. To her left at her feet are fern fronds, which symbolize humility, solitude and sincerity. Note the buttoned boots. A gem of a memorial.

I’ve wanted to visit Oconee Hill Cemetery for a coon’s age. The last time I tried a few years ago, the sexton was ugly (bless his heart) and wouldn’t even let me in. Yes, they had vandalism issues in the past, but that was back in the seventies. I think word got out about his unfriendliness, as well as the rumor that the burial grounds were full. It seems they’ve come ‘round to customer service, probably due more than anything to the fact that there are lots left. Today looks to be as good as any to take an old-fashioned, Victorian stroll.

The Enchanted Owl, 1960.

The Enchanted Owl, 1960.

Here’s my tribute to the pioneering Inuit artist, Kenojuak Ashevak. She was world-renowned for bringing attention to her people’s culture and mythology through her illuminating interpretations of Far North and Arctic animals…particularly birds. We lost the legend herself earlier this year at the ripe old age of 85, but not before her signature style brought happiness to many an avid collector of her drawings and sketches. Membership into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and her art being chosen to grace three Canadian stamps and a 25¢ Canadian circulation coin were career highlights.

In her owls and loons, head and tail feathers dance and shimmer like rays of the sun, as she said, “driving away the darkness.” Ravens and wolves, often entwined with one another, form a web of scavenging, opportunistic bodies that are intensified by color-blocked splashes of plumage or all-over fur. Crowded on the paper — croaking, gurgling, cawing and howling — you can almost hear them they are so loud.

Animals and humans transformed, communing with the beyond. Shaman knows the way.

Da wa ee! — “Thank you” in Keres.

Happy St. Esteban’s Day to the people of Acoma Pueblo! Here is a haiku in honor of your special celebration. Feast on!

The Place Prepared*

Ancient seabed bluff.
Windswept views; mica leaves let
light in. Sacred still.

*Translation of “Haak’u”

Laurel Grove North (Savannah, Georgia)

Today is All Souls’ Day. To some it is the Day of the Dead (“El día de los muertos” or “El día de los difuntos”). Despite the name, it is a happy, not-so-solemn occasion. As a follow-on and complement to yesterday’s All Saints’ Day, which commemorates children, this is a time to honor deceased adults.

Bonaventure Cemetery

You can tell a lot about people and their culture by learning how they bury their dead. Cemeteries fascinate me for that reason. Today is All Saints’ Day. In Mexico, November 1 is also called “El día de los inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) or “El día de los angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) in honor of children and infants.

These little girls look like they were born and died about a year apart from one another (1860 and 1861). Fall babies who both were taken away in the Spring. Mary at 1.5 years and Emma at 4.5 months. This is one of the prettiest memorials to children I have seen. At over 150 years old, the details and legibility are outstanding.

Ascending danger.

Happy Haunting from the Moomins! Now, get your screechy, spooky, frightening scare on.

If you don’t know who the Moomin family and its quirky friends are, you’re not too old to find out! For a taste of what you’re missing, check out their crazy but meaning-laden names. If that isn’t enough, read the adventures of the hippo-resembling main characters yourself in one of Tove Jansson’s many books. It’s masterful storytelling that knows no audience age limit. Playful, offbeat creatures with a sinister streak.

To indulge, fortunately, there is no need to know Finnish. Nope, the lady’s published in over 30 languages. Here’s an image of Tove herself together with some of her adorable protagonists.

And, hats off to Oy Moomin Characters Ltd., that tightly manages the creative rights of what began as a one-woman show. Thankfully, the brand has not succumbed to being Disney-fied. It’s as magical as ever. Just ask any Japanese.

%d bloggers like this: