Tag Archive: holiday

Happy St. Jo-Pat’s Day!

I volunteered to bring snack for tonight’s choir rehearsal, which fell on the fallow day between St. Patrick’s Day (and its drying pools of green sidewalk vomit) and St. Joseph’s Day (and its decadent ricotta-filled southern Italian doughnuts). I wore a red t-shirt and red socks (St. Joseph) and a green-and-white striped button-down shirt (St. Patrick). I bridged the gap.

I decided to bring both Irish Soda Bread <http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/irish-soda-bread-recipe> 


and zeppole


<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeppole&gt;, which I bought at Il Giardino del Dolce (“The Garden of Dessert”), in Chicago’s Elmwood Park neighborhood <http://www.ilgiardinodeldolce.com&gt;, to build a sweet culinary bridge between the two feasts, too.


It’s too bad that St. Joseph’s Day isn’t better known as an Italian American feast, so much less fraught is it than Columbus Day, tainted by the disease and suffering inflicted on native peoples following Columbus’s “discovery” of America. The consumption of zeppole alone would make Italophiles out of everyone—and unlike the elixir of St. Patrick, you needn’t be 21 to consume them.

I grew up in and around Utica, NY, which to this day has a strong Italian American community, and several thriving Italian bakeries, pastry shops and markets. I remember eating zeppole every year, though I only knew them as “St. Joseph’s Day pastries” until I met the Italian Americans of New Haven, CT. I think one of the reasons I grew to love New Haven so was that many of the foodways that I treasured from my childhood in Utica remained strong there, too. I didn’t have to drive back home every time I wanted a taste of my old world.


Laying out both of these traditional foods side by side, with their strong cultural associations, reminded me of the way in which my mother’s family was a living example of this spread. My Poppa was Irish American, or at least the Dowdall family claimed Irish as their predominant ethnic strain. My Nana was first generation Italian American, both her parents having emigrated from two tiny villages in Lazio (Selvacava & Ausonia), near Formia. (By the way, the scenery is mountainous, dramatic and beautiful, and I just discovered that there’s an agriturismo in Selvacava: <http://www.lortotragliulivi.it/agriturismo%20italia.html&gt;!)

When Poppa (Jack) told his eldest brother, Jim, that he was dating an Italian girl (Amelia), Jim punched him. Italians and Irish didn’t mix in the 1930s.

By the time I was a kid, though, things were calmer on the multiethnic front lines of 1016 Rutger Street in Utica. For St. Patrick’s Day, we wore green and hung Hallmark® leprechauns in the windows. My Italian Nana would cook corned beef and cabbage and bake soda bread for my Irish Poppa et al. Two days later, on St. Joseph’s Day, my Irish Poppa would buy the zeppole at the Florentine Pastry Shop on Bleeker Street in the heart of Italian East Utica for my Italian Nana et al. (We didn’t think to wear red, though, and Hallmark® didn’t sell St. Joseph’s Day decorations.)

The father of a dear friend of mine was named Joseph Patrick. He was Pat to us, but others in town knew him as Joe. I was confused the first time I heard him called Joe. That’s when I learned his full name. Only later did I get it: he was Italian Irish American. He married a Polish Italian American. 

Nowadays, people are both fascinated, yet unbothered, by many of these ethnic distinctions. Are we thus richer or poorer? As in Andersonville, just down the street from me in Chicago, which bears only the palest shadow of its earlier “Swedishness”, what have we lost as our ethnic enclaves have been assimilated and their children dispersed?

On St. Patrick’s Day, they say, we are all Irish. If so, then on St. Joseph’s Day, let’s all be Italian, and on Pulaski Day, let’s all be Polish, and on Chinese New Year, let’s all be Chinese, and on and on.

But, even more importantly, cherish your own heritage; nurture and share it. If you don’t, who will? And who would be poorer without it? You would be. And so would everyone around you.

Happy St. Jo-Pat’s Day, friends!




Not just groundhogs: Candlemas explained

February 2nd

Christmas may get all the press, but do you know about the Great Holiday Mash-up that is February 2nd? Today, we’ve got five celebrations going on.

In the Church, February 2nd is known variously as The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, The Purification of the Virgin, and Candlemas Day. In the Anglican Communion, The Feast of the Presentation is a “Principal Feast”, along with the Annunciation of Our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary (25 March), Easter, Ascension Day, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany. All of these are Feasts of the Lord except Pentecost. They trump all other events on the liturgical calendar as they move around the week, and all are considered obligatory, not unlike Roman Catholic solemnities and holy days of obligation.

First is the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. We celebrate Mary and Joseph’s fulfillment of the Jewish tradition of the redemption of a firstborn male child according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 12), which states that he is to be presented to the priest on the fortieth day (inclusive) after his birth. Today’s gospel reading from Luke, chapter 2, recounts this last recorded moment in Jesus’ infancy.

Second, Mary goes to the Temple to fulfill her ritual purification, which was required of women on the fortieth day after bearing a child.

Third, today is known as Candlemas (Candle Mass) Day. Because of Simeon’s declaration in Luke 2.32 that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”, the Church has traditionally blessed candles on this day for use throughout the year. Several hypotheses have been offered to explain the origins of Candlemas rituals in pagan observances, though these are not universally recognized.

If you haven’t taken down your Christmas decorations yet, you’d better get on it. According to 17th-century English poet Robert Herrick, the Eve of Candlemas (1 February), was the time for the dismantling of Christmas decorations:

“Down with the rosemary, and so

Down with the bays and mistletoe;

Down with the holly, ivy, all,

Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall” — from “Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve”

Outside church doors, you might see mention of Groundhog Day. The tradition of taking stock of signs in nature as portents of spring is ancient, and not at all unique to America. A friend uncovered this information:

“According to French historian Michele Pastoreau, in pre-Christian Europe, February 2 was believed to be the date when the bears came out of hibernation and that raucous, sometimes violent, celebrations of the end of hibernation continued well into the early Middle Ages, when the church finally cracked down and superimposed various saints’ feasts on the old pagan holiday (The Bear: History of a Fallen King, Belknap Press, 2011).

“There also is an old Scottish verse about the feast of St. Brigit (who is also known as Bride), which is February 1st: ‘This is the day of Bride, the queen will come from the mound…..’ Irish folklore scholar Seamus O Cathain believes that the reference to the ‘queen of the mound’ has its roots in northern traditions about the reappearance of the hibernating bear from the caves (Mara Freeman, Kindling the Celtic Spirit, Harper Collins: 2000).”

Other traditions associated with divinating the coming of spring on 2 February abound. Find some at: <http://projectbritain.com/year/candlemas.html>.

So, we’re up to four festivals on one day.

If these are not enough, this year, we pile on Super Bowl Sunday (well, some of you might).

And, if when all this revelry ends tonight, if you still haven’t had enough (or if you yelled at your television too forcefully), remember that tomorrow (3 February) is the Feast of St. Blaise, martyr, who died in 316 during a persecution of Christians. He was famous as a doctor, a healer of body and soul, in Sebaste in Armenia, and was named bishop there. He is known as the Patron Saint of Throats because he is said to have healed a boy who was choking to death on a fishbone as he (Blaise) was being led to prison. In many places, churches still offer the blessing of throats on his day.

Not My Fourth of July

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Hamilton, NY, offers archetypal small-town Fourth of July festivities: quaint parade, chicken BBQ, craft fair, junk food, local musicians, better than mediocre fireworks (thanks to mega-wealthy Colgate University on the hill overlooking the village). On the eve, the Colgate Inn offers a block party at the foot of the Village Green (two blocks from home) with music and beer. Since Hamilton (and its Independence Day celebration) is the biggest thing going in the area, it draws people from hill and valleys, villages and hamlets, all around us.

Hamiltonians may spend Thanksgiving and Christmas elsewhere, gathering with families in other homes in other towns, or checking into ski resorts and beach hotels, but they come home for the Fourth of July. Hamilton Central School class reunions happen at “the Fourth”, guaranteeing a glimpse into one’s own future as the graduating classes make their way down the parade route, first walking and whooping, next standing with thinning hair and expanding waistlines on floats and waving, and finally sitting in rocking chairs with distant gazes on craggy faces. The Fourth is Homecoming for Hamiltonians. Spouses and partners, beware.

This year, I was invited to play the 11th Annual Fourth of July Organ Recital at Hamilton’s First Baptist Church. I put together an eclectic program of fun music celebrating the diversity of voices in American music. As of bedtime last night, I had practiced twelve hours out of the previous thirty-two. I missed the block party, the arrival of cousins, and welcoming my partner whom I hadn’t seen for 43 days.

I was up at 7 this morning and at the church shortly after 8. The craft fair and farmers’ market began while I practiced. Between pieces, I could hear the National Anthem sung over the parade PA system as the first units approached Broad Street. Practice, practice, practice. With a one’o’clock start time, I had to get home to eat lunch and change my clothes. I left the organ bench at 11:15 and headed across the street to see a bit of the parade.

Back at the church by 12:30, done playing by 2. Pretty pleased with the performance, audience generally very happy. Who wouldn’t love an organ transcription of a Scott Joplin musical depiction of a staged train collision? Greet the audience, clean up the clutter, chat with the host. Craft fair gone, food tents closed. Hamiltonians have left the scene.

Where’s my holiday?

As evening arrives, I realize that today was more like Christmas than the Fourth of July. In Traditions class at Walt Disney World, we were all taught that we work when others play. That’s just one way in which working for the Church is like working for the Mouse.

As a church musician, I give up Christmas for my work; Easter, too. Most three-day weekends are like split days off. Many of my colleagues have to work Thanksgiving. If work isn’t near family (and for me, it isn’t), either the holidays are spent alone or in the car rushing across the miles to belated observances.

The Fourth of July is MY holiday. The day stretches on for hours and hours, the night is mild, the village is alive, the extended family gathers for the big picnic, the country roads are rolled out for a long bicycle ride, the wild raspberries leap off the bushes, the front porch beckons. My gift of music to my beloved hometown brings joy to us all and refreshes decades-long relationships, but now that the day is past, I realize that I haven’t just gifted them my music; I’ve given away one of my favorite days of the year.

Can you bring the parade around for another pass?

O Canada Day

Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

1 July 2012

I had never been in Canada on Canada Day before, I’m pretty sure, so I had no idea what to expect, patriotism-wise. The border patrol officer who checked my passport and Putney’s rabies certificate was positively grumpy. Maybe that was because he wasn’t down under the bridge, celebrating with his fellow citizens the 145th anniversary of the enactment of the British North America Act.

I looped around into downtown Sarnia, Ontario, to find something to eat, and was charmed to see clusters of happy revelers, many in red and white jerseys and T-shirts, heading to the riverfront for fireworks. I wasn’t able to stay that long, but I needed something to eat. I thought that maybe I’d tank up on poutine and beaver tails, but once I got to Harvey’s, a Canadian-owned fast food joint, a Great Canadian burger was all I could allow myself and fit into my clothes for my upcoming 25-year high school reunion. I watched a young woman cook my burger and layer on the Canadian cheddar cheese before passing it to the tall condiment boy, who dressed it according to my wishes. “Have it your way”, Canadian-style.

I fetched Putney from the car to sit on Harvey’s patio while I chowed. It was a pitched battle between us when he found the overturned order of poutine on the pavement, and I had to tie him to my chair. A poutine-filled Putney can only spell digestive distress the next morning.

As we drove further east under darkening skies (there’s not a lot of light pollution in much of Canada), we saw bits of four fireworks displays off to the north and south as our neighbors to the north celebrated their great nation. I hear that some Americans, upset over the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”), are threatening to move to Canada. Do they think they’ll have more success in overturning an even more progressive healthcare system there than they had in the USA? God bless the ill-informed, for they know not what they ask for.

The mother of a high school classmate came into the First Baptist Church the next evening while I was practicing the the organ for my upcoming recital. Her daughter isn’t coming to the reunion on Saturday; she lives in Vancouver, and can’t make it home this year. [They’re from Canada, and didn’t migrate to Hamilton until junior high or high school. We Americans got tired of listening to her strident rants about how much better Canada was than the USA, so we’d shout her down by singing a chorus of “Um Canada”. I have more sympathy now, having considered a move to Canada myself in 2004 when “W” was running finally to be elected president after occupying the White House for four years.] I told her (the Mom, in case you’ve lost track) that I had been in Ontario for Canada Day and had eaten a burger at Harvey’s. She said, “They have the best burgers in the world!” I felt better about having missed the fireworks. I’ll have to ask what she thinks of the milkshakes before I drive back to Chicago through Ontario.