Friday, December 08, 2017

Santa Lucia in Scandinavia (13.December)

The Scandinavion tradition with Lucia processions is relatively new and origins from 1928, where a Swedish newspaper graded "Stockholm's Lucia". Today each Swedish town has its own Lucia, who each year is graded Lucia long before 13 December. All the Lucias take part in a competition as "Swedens Lucia", a title which don't just mean to drive in a cortege to Skansen in Stockholm, but that the lucky girl gets a pr-tour to Italy and Syracusa where Lucia came from.

The Swedes have actually celebrated the Lucia night  ("lussenat") since the 1600-1700s, especially in the western part of the country, where tradition says that the young girls in the farm wake everyone with coffee and bread in the dark early morning. In Sweden the tradition has been cultivated with the special Lucia "lussebröd", a bun,  which is shaped like a wreath with four loops and spiced with saffron.

The Santa Lucia celebration song is a Sicilian folksong in the honour of Lucia, but the Scandinavian text is not so much about the historic Lucia, rather about the Swedish tradition where the Lucia Bride carries a tray with food to "those in need". Maybe this comes from the old legend, where Lucia brought food to the Christians in the catacombs during the persecutions. Lucia has nothing to do with Christmas which is seen in the Lucia songs. Sweden has lots of Lucia songs while the Danes only know a single one ( about the locality Lucia south of Napoli.) The first Lucia procession in Denmark was during the German occupation in WWII, and since then it has become a permanent part in Danish schools, but the Lucia feast in Denmark has never reached the same importance as in Sweden.

The story about Lucia begins in 283 at Sicily in the town Syracusa. Her family was well off and her  prospects were good, but at a young age Lucia conversed from the Roman religion and was baptized, which later cost her life. Sicily was a part of the Roman Empire -  and in order to maintain peace the inhabitants had to sacrifice to the emperor. The Christians denied to bring these sacrifices.

The Romans considered Christianity a dangerous religion and an enemy of the Roman empire, and the Christians were tortured and executed in the most brutal way. Many Christians lived a secret life where they either hid their faith or lived underground in the catacombs. Lucia helped her fellowmen. At night she brought food to the Christians in the catacombs -  and in order to find way in the dark she wore a wreath upon her head with lit candles.

According to customs she was promised to a man, who was a Roman from a reputable family, but she rejected the husband and the marriage. Her faith and her vow to God were incompatible with marriage, but in the eyes of the Roman her reasons were not just ridiculous, but also dangerous, and he indicated her to the authorities. Lucia would not sacrifice to the emperor and she was convicted guilty. At first she was sent to a brothel, but by divine intervention she was being protected. She was  then exposed to torture and sentenced to die at the stake, but once again God intervened. At last the judge took his sword and stuck her, and she died on 13. December year 304. 
Lucia was buried in her hometown Syracusa and as early as in the 400s she is mentioned in written sources. In the 600s where Christianity now was a state religion in the Roman kingdom she was a part of the Catholic liturgy. Her celebration day is the day of her death on 13. December, which is celebrated as a light feast in Scandinavia, especially in Sweden and Denmark. According to tradition the Lucia Bride walks in front of the light procession wearing a crown with candles upon her head. This is the virgin crown as a memory about Santa Lucia who gave her life to God as the bride of Christ .

Santa Lucia is connected to more than light and joy. She has become the patron saint for blind people and people with eye diseases. She is often displayed with a small bowl containing two eyes.

humorous drawing from 1848 by Fritz von Dardel

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne  is an ornamental plant originally from Mexico . It is  a commercially important plant and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.

Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.

Young plants are partly succulents. The short branches are from beginning herbel-like and juicy, but they gradually turn wooden-like. The barch is first olive green, but later greyish brown with crevices. The upperside of the leaves is dark green, while the underside is light green. 
The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

Like in other plants of the spurge family (vortemælkfamilien) the juice is latex-containing and white. People with latexallergy must avoid to get the juice on their skin. The plant iself is only vaguely poisonous .

There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates.

The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts. Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.

Poinsettias are susceptible to several diseases, mostly fungal, but also bacterial and parasitic.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Guatemala.
The species is naturalized in many other tropic districts.  

The poinsettia has been cultivated in egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called bent el consul, "the consul's daughter", referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett

The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning "flower that grows in residues or soil". Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua or Pascua, meaning Easter flower.

In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes.  In Turkey, it is called Atatürk's flower because Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, liked this flower and made a significant contribution to its cultivation in Turkey.  In Hungarian, it is called Santa Claus flower, and it's widely used as a Christmas decoration.
The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar.  Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias.

From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the Blood Sacrifice through the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Mortensaften/ St. Martin's Evening!

Mortensaften 10. November is celebrated in memory of the bishop Martin of Tours, who really did not want to become a bishop and hid himself in a goose sty - which meant death to the noisy geese!

Morten Bisp/ Martin of Tours:
Martin of Tours, fresco, Elmelunde church, Møn/foto:gb
Martin of Tours lived in the 300s in the Roman Empire where he was born ab. 336 by Roman parents. He joined the Roman army when he was fifteen and came to Gaul, where the legends about him soon began to flourish. He helped the poor, healed the sick and woke up the dead, he became famous and was considered a holy man. When Martin was twenty years old, he left the army and became a monk. He returned to Hungary to try to convert his countrymen, but the story tells that he only succeeded in converting his mother. He was persecuted and droven back to Gaul, where he settled down in a monastery at Poitiers. He lived a pious and quiet life and won the reputation of being a good and holy man.

geese/ foto:gb
He was so popular that the people of Tours wanted to elect him bishop, but Martin was not interested. When the inhabitants of the town came to elect him, he hid himself in a goose sty, but the geese did not like this visit. They were cackling and screaming and Martin was revealed and forced to assume office as bishop of Tours. He had now the power to arrange a revenge: All households had to  - once a year - to slaughter at least one goose and eat it on the day where he was revealed in the goose sty. He got his revenge on the big-mouthed geese.

Martin was also called the apostel of Gaul. He died in Candes in France 8 November 397 and was buried in Tours 11 November. A big church was built over his grave and he was later canonized. His death date became his Saint's day, which is still celebrated all over Europe.

The story about Martin of Tours and the geese was printed in Denmark for the first time in 1616, a long time after the reformation. The St. Martin survived the reformation with a new Danish name: Morten Bisp. The night of 10th november, now called Morten's Evening, was appropriate, because November was perfect for a party, since the slaughter period in November was one of few times, where people had fresh meat before winter. Else they had salted food for months.

Goose was food for rich people :
Medieval feast/ wikipedia
The traditional food on Morten's Evening was goose or duck in the old days. The goose was not an ordinary dish in Denmark, it was rich people's food - and common people started eating other poultry instead. The story about Martin of Tours and the geese is probably much earlier than the traditional November-goose. In Germany and France the wine harvest is celebrated in November, which also is a slaughter-month since the animals are fat after a long summer's good food. Martin became the Saint of the wine growers, and gradually the roast goose and the wine drinking were connected to the Martin's festivals  - and a good story like the story about Martin and the geese is not to be scorned.

Italian kitchen,Ferrara 1549, Runeberg

16th century: The goose is one of the earliest domestic animals and one of the most important slaughter animals, although it was always food for the rich. The ordinary farmer's family might breed geese, but they sold them in the next town after having taken wings and feathers (for brooms and quills) and the down ( for duvets and pillow stuffing). They also kept the head, neck and craw to themselves for a good portion of giblet soup. If they kept a whole goose, the breast meat was removed and smoked as a cold cut for guests.

But according to the advertizing from the supermarkets no one eats goose today. There are lots of Morten's Ducks in the cold counters, but no Morten's Goose.  So the popular roast Mortensand, which we enjoy on Mortensaften 10th of November, was once a Morten's Goose.

Velbekomme - Mortensand

copyright grethe bachmann

source:;; Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16. århundrede,; 2640 online portalens almanak og kalender.  

photo: grethe bachmann; 
photo copies from wikipedia
drawing: Italian kitchen Ferrara in 1549, Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16 århundrede,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quote of the Day - Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren/Photo: Den Store Danske

A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”

Astrid Lindgren

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Serious Insect Crisis

 When do we wake up?

Queen of Spain Fritillary/Storplettet Perlemorsommerfugl/ photo GB

Butterflies and other insects are rapidly declining everywhere in Europe - and not least in Denmark. Scientists point, among other things, to pesticides, monoculture and lack of space as reasons.
A new investigation published in the prestigious journal Science shows that the insects of Europe disappear -  this is even a talk about an ecological collapse. The German scientists have examined the insect occurrence in more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe - and the insects are extinct even in the nature reserves. The biomass of insects have fallen with more than 80 %.

The drastic decline for the insects of Europe could mean a decline in the number of birds, which has already been identified in Denmark, where since the 1970s four out of five partridges, three out of four lapwings and more than half the skylarks have disappeared. Huge areas - which earlier was nature- were ploughed without putting something else instead -  and at the same time we experience the climate changes.

Sad but true -many Danish politicians apparently do not care, on the contrary there is a support for that Denmark - as one of few countries of EU - fights against a ban on pesticides, ( because the Danish agriculture demands it), which could represent a risc both to ourselves and the wild bees.

It is said that the approval of spraying in Denmark is tough, but in the approval is alone considered if a substance is representing a risc for the ground water or if it is exceeding limits in our food. It is not  evaluated what happens upon the ground and it is not taken into account that herbicides like Roundup, which is the most used in Denmark,  simply removes all plant growth where it hits -  or that 2.500 tons various active substances are spread over 60 % of Denmarks area each year -  or that the agriculture is allowed to use almost 1.000 various products.

This means that organisms in the earth, the wild plants of the fields and the insects upon the plants and the birds who live by the insects are being pushed more and more in the intensive Danish farm land. This happens in a degree where we are the witness of a slow collapse of ecological balances in the whole open countryside. This also applies to nature reserves.


Source: Excerpt of article by Ella Maria Bisschop-Larsen, Præsident for Danmarks Naturfredningsforening, Journal "Natur og Miljø",  September 2017. 

Bumblebee/ photo:GB

An ecological study in Western Germany. 
The amount of insects collected by monitoring of traps in Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve in north west germany decreased by 78% in 24 years.

Each spring since 1989 insect traps have been set up in meadows and woodlands in Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other nature areas in the West German state Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Recently the scientists presented alarming results: The average biomass of insects caught during summer was decreased from 1,6 kilo pr. trap in 1989 till only 300 gram pr. trap in 2014.

"The decline is dramatic and depressing and this applies to all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees and hoverflies ", says Martin Sorg, who is entomologist from  Krefeld Entomological Society, which is responsible for the monitoring project.

Several other studies from the western part of the world support the results from Germany.

The insects disappear everywhere.

Grethe Bachmann
Source/ Natur og Miljø, September 2017