Friday, December 21, 2012

Significant Winters

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Christina Rossetti.
(A Christmas Carol)

1310–1330, many severe winters and cold, wet summers in Europe – the first clear manifestation of the unpredictable weather of the Little Ice Age that lasted for several centuries (from about 1300 to 1900). The persistently cold, wet weather caused great hardship, was primarily responsible for the Great Famine of 1315-1317, and strongly contributed to the weakened immunity and malnutrition leading up to the Black Death (1348–1350).

 1600-1602, extremely cold winters in Switzerland and Baltic region after eruption of Huaynaputine in Peru in 1600.
1607-1608, in North America, ice persisted on Lake Superior until June. Londoners held their first frost fair on the frozen-over River Thames.
1622, in Turkey, the Golden Horn and southern section of Bosphorus froze over.
1683-1684, "The Great Frost", when the Thames, hosting one of many River Thames frost fairs, was frozen all the way up to the London Bridge and remained frozen for about two months. Ice was about 27 cm (11 in) thick in London and about 120 cm (47 in) thick in Somerset. The sea froze up to 2 miles (3.2 km) out around the coast of the southern North Sea, causing severe problems for shipping and preventing use of many harbors.
1690s, extremely cold, snowy, severe winters. Ice surrounded Iceland for miles in every direction.


1739-1740, one of the most severe winters in the UK on record. The Thames remained frozen-over for about 8 weeks. The Irish Famine of 1740–1741 claimed the lives of at least 300,000 people
1779-1780, Scotland's coldest winter on record, and ice surrounded Iceland in every direction (like in the 1690s). In the USA, a record five-week cold spell bottomed out at −20 °F (−29 °C) at Hartford, Connecticut, and −16 °F (−27 °C) in New York City. Hudson River and New York's harbor froze over.
1783-1786, the Thames partially froze, and snow remained on the ground for months. In February 1784, the North Carolina was frozen in Chesapeake Bay.
1794-1795, severe winter, with the coldest January in the UK and lowest temperature ever recorded in London: −21 °C (−6 °F) on 25 January. The cold began on Christmas Eve and lasted until late March, with a few temporary warm-ups. The Severn and Thames froze, and frost fairs started up again. The French army tried to invade the Netherlands over its frozen rivers, while the Dutch fleet was stuck in its harbor. The winter had Easterlies (from Siberia) as its dominant feature.

1813-1814, severe cold, last freeze-over of Thames, and last frost fair. (Removal of old London Bridge and changes to river's banks made freeze-overs less likely.)
1816 was the Year Without a Summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The unusual coolness of the winter of 1815–1816 and of the following summer was primarily due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, in April 1815. There were secondary effects from an unknown eruption or eruptions around 1810, and several smaller eruptions around the world between 1812 and 1814. The cumulative effects were worldwide, but were especially strong in the Eastern USA, Atlantic Canada, and Northern Europe. Frost formed in May in New England, killing many newly-planted crops, and the summer never recovered. Snow fell in New York and Maine in June, and ice formed in lakes and rivers in July and August. In the UK, snow drifts remained on hills until late July, and the Thames froze in September. Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere, resulting in food shortages and the worst famine of the 19th century.
1883-1888, colder temperatures worldwide, including an unbroken string of abnormally cold and brutal winters in the Upper Midwest, related to the explosion of Krakatoa in August 1883. There was snow recorded in the UK as early as October and as late as July during this time period.
1887-1888, there were record cold temperatures in the Upper Midwest, heavy snowfalls worldwide, and amazing storms, including the Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888 (in the Midwest in January), and the Great Blizzard of 1888 (in the Eastern US and Canada in March).

In Europe, the winters of early 1947, February 1956, 1962–1963, 1981–1982 and 2009-2010 were abnormally cold. The UK winter of 1946–1947 started out relatively normal, but became one of the snowiest UK winters to date, with nearly continuous snowfall from late January until March.
1976-1977, one of the coldest winters in the US in decades.
1985, Arctic outbreak in US resulting from shift in polar vortex, with many cold temperature records broken.

2002-2003 was an unusually cold winter in the Northern and Eastern USA.
2010-2011, persistent bitter cold in the entire eastern half of the USA from December onward, with few or no mid-winter warm-ups, and with cool conditions continuing into spring. La Nina and negative Arctic Oscilalation were strong factors. Heavy and persistent precipitation contributed to almost constant snow cover in the Northeastern US which finally receded in early May.
2011-2012, one of the warmest winters. Christmas Day 2011 was the warmest Christmas in Ireland, as observed by the Armagh Observatory.

So, let's see how Christmas Day will be in 2012..............
Merry Christmas

photo: grethe bachmann & stig bachmann nielsen,  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Prince Hamlet's Grave, Kongshøj, Ammelhede

The Viking church. Moesgård. Museum,
Hamlet's grave is one of few preserved hills at Ammelhede. Inside 1 km distance were 15 others, now disappeared. The hills were on the top of a hillside along an old sound, which in Stone Age was a fjord. A long arm of the fjord stretched from the village Auning to Ammelhede, and south of Hamlet's grave the flat sea bottom is still visible. A brook has its spring in the moors downside Hamlet's grave. When the hill was built, big parts of the surrounding land were fertile meadows. They were an extremely important ressource for the agricultural expansion in Bronze- and Iron Age and the associated settlements.  A setttlement like this was found by Kulturhistorisk  Museum in Randers at a place named Stavnsager, only 1,5 km south of Hamlet's grave. This settlement delivered some rich and valuable material, like house sites, sunken roads and more than 2.500 metal objects from especially late Iron Age. The area had a special high status in the antiquity, which has been proved by the finding under the present Hørning church of the wooden church from Viking period 2,5 km to the south and the finding of the Hørning grave, one of Denmark's finest Viking graves at the same place.

south of the hill

The hill was in 1950 excavated by the National Museum, which noted that it had been digged out and plundered several times, but in the middle of the hill were traces after a stone-lined coffin. Beside some claypot pieces were no significant findings. However is the local story that a guy from a nearby farm "Ammelhedegård" earlier had found urns, bronze-jewelry, weapon and amber pearls. Besides this the archaeologists have nearby found a Frisian rune stick from ab. 700 with an inscription: "Upon a hill Amled defended himself " ("På en klint satte Amled sig til værge").

The reason why Hamlet's grave was known, is the name of the hill which it achieved in the beginning of the 1930s via Shakespeare's play Hamlet, who had the inspiration  from the Danish chronicle Gesta Danorum, written down by Saxo about year 1200, after having been handed down orally through centuries. In this chronicle is also the legend about Amled, who according to Saxo ruled Denmark in the 6-7. century AC (Iron Age) . Saxo describes that King Amled after many internal feuds had regained the throne, but was killed in a battle against the King of Lejre Rørik's successor Viglet upon a "campus" (field/heath) by his name. The place name Ammelhede north of Hamlet's grave is the only place name in Denmark, which can be transferred to the legend. Kronborg at Elsinore cannot -  like 6 other places which through times have claimed the story -  document such a connection to a local place name. The story of Ammelhede was the reason why a 10 tons heavy memorial stone was raised on the hill on the initiative of Randers Turistforening in 1933. This is a place for memory, no one knows for sure where the real Amled was buried.

Here is a shortened version of Saxos story about Amled:


Laurence Olivier
A son of the chief Ørvendel was by King Rørik employed as guard of Jutland together with his brother Fenge, and ørvendel marrried a few years later the king's daughter and had with her the son Amled. Ørvendel's marriage and prestige awoke the envy of Fenge, and some day he murdered his brother and forced his widow to marry him. The murder could not be held secret, and Fenge had to spread the rumor that he could not stand witnessing this beautiful mild woman to be the slave of her husband's tyranny. The young Amled knew that his days were also numbered, if Fenge feared that he would avenge his father's death. Amled chose to play mad. He lay by the fireplace, rummaging in the ashes, smeared dirt in his face  - and what he said was just as crazy as his actions. He cut hooks from wood, hardened them in the fire and told that these hooks were weapons meant to avenge his father with.
Fenge was however insecure about this crazy Amled, and he tried repeatedly to find out what was going on with him. Since Fenge presumed that Amled would be honest to his mother, he arranged that one of his people had to secretly watch a conversation between mother and son, while Fenge was away. The spy hid under a heap of hay in the room, but as soon as Amled saw the heap, he suspected the mischief. He crowed like a cock and jumped around in the pile, until he felt where the guy was hidden, and he stuck through the hay with his sword and killed the spy. He hacked up the corpse, cooked the pieces and threw them to the pigs. Not until then his mother entered the hall, and she reproached him loudly of his foolishness, but now Amled could talk freely: "Shameful woman! You married your husband's murderer and threw yourself affectionately in the arms of the man, who killed your son's father. I play dull with good reason. He, who murdered his brother, would also kill his brother's son. The role of stupidity hides me untit better times come. You, my mother, should be shedding tears, not because of my dullness, but because of your own disgrace". These words made a great impression on Amled's mother, who now felt shame over her marriage to Fenge.

When Fenge returned, he asked for the guy , but no one knew where he was. Amled was asked too, and he replied that he had seen him being eaten by the pigs. Everyone laughed at the idiot. Fenge's fear of his stepson grew, and he decided to send him to England to visit the king. Fenge's intention was to instruct the Anglo-Saxon king to kill the young man at his arrival. Amled accepted in going to England, but agreed secretly with his mother that she one year after his departure should keep a wake for him as if he was dead  - and that the walls on that occasion should be covered in blankets.

Christopher Plummer - Hamlet,  Michael Caine - Horatio, Kronborg 1964.
Fenge pointed out two trusted men to accompany Amled.  The message to the Anglo-Saxon king about letting Amled kill had the form of a rune-stick. En route Amled succeeded in finding the rune-stick, while his companions were asleep and changed the message into a request to the king of England to give Fenge's clever nephew his daughter as wife and let his two companions hang. Amled was well received in England; he submitted his dullness and distinguished himself by so much cleverness that the king did not hesitate to give him his daughter as wife. Fenges' two men were hanged. Amled felt no sorrow about this of course, but he however required penance from the king. He got some gold and melted it into two hollow sticks.

After almost a year Amled spread a rumor in Denmark that he was dead, but a year after his departure he was back on the Jutland castle, as agreed with his mother. They had begun his wake. When he entered the hall, he was alone with his two golden sticks in his hands. And now he was again acting as crazy as ever. When they asked where his two companions were, he said happily "one here the other there" and pointed at the two sticks. During the drinking he fumbled with his sword and cut his finger. In order to prevent the idot from repeating this they drove a nail through the sheath of his sword so it was impossible for him to draw it. Finally everyone was so drunk that they tumbled about and fell asleep on the floor. Amled fetched his old wooden hooks, tore the blankets down from the walls and fastened them to the sleeping men with the hooks, so they could not get free. Then he put the hall on fire, and all the men were all burned.

Jude Law, Kronborg 2009.
King Fenge had gone early to bed in his chamber, and he was now being contacted by Amled. Ealier that evening Amled had replaced his own nailed sword with Fenge's. He cried to his stepfather that he had returned with his wooden hooks and that Fenge's housecarls had burned. Fenge grabbed for his sword, but could not draw it from its sheath and he was cut down by Amled. When people the next morning gathered around the downburnt castle, where they found the charred rests of Fenge and his men, Amled announced what had happened and how he for many years had been forced to pretend in order to get his revenge. People felt that Amled had acted correctly, and they elected him chief instead of Fenge. When King Rørik died and was succeeded by King Viglek, a big fight broke out between him and Amled. In one of these battles Amled was killed, and Saxo tells that his gravehill was situated upon a heath in Jutland which is named after him - Saxo meant probably Ammelhede in Virring parish, southeast of Randers.

  Front page of edition 1605:

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh as Hamlet and Ofelia, Kronborg 1937.

Shakespeare built his story on Saxo Grammaticus' story of the Jutland prince Amled which origins from the work Gesta Danorum which was finished ab. 1200. Today Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet is the most cited play in the world, and it is said to be the most performed play world wide. Some say that Shakespeare has made Hamlet the most famous Dane in the world.

But who was the original Hamlet whom Saxo describes? He wrote 16 volumes and in the past the first 9 volumes were considered legends, they were almost considered free imagination, but not any more. The opinion today is that Saxo told real stories, especially from volume 3, added something tendensious and  some embracing of the stories, since he himself was a Christian, who wrote about heathens. Hamlet in Saxo's version is named Amled, and he's from volume 3 and 4 - thereby he is today considered a real person by serious scholars. It was Shakespeare who came up the version about Hamlet living at a castle in Elsinore, but the real Amled lived in Jutland, probably between year 400 and year 600 A.C. He was the son of a chief who became king of Jutland and had his castle at Kongslund nearby his gravehill at Ammelhede south east of Randers.

Inscription on the stone:
Amled Ypperste
Teed sig taabe
Til Hævnens time
Kaaret paa ting
Af jyder til konge
Højsat han hviler
Paa Ammel Hede


photo Ammelhede November 2012: grethe bachmann. 

Charlie Brown's Christmas, Für Elise

 Für Elise

Schroeder: This is the music I've selected for the Christmas play.
[Schroeder plays Fur Elise]
Lucy Van Pelt: What kind of Christmas music is *that*?
Schroeder: Beethoven Christmas music.
Lucy Van Pelt: What has Beethoven got to do with Christmas? Everyone talks about how "great" Beethoven was. Beethoven wasn't so great.
[Schroeder stops playing]
Schroeder: What do you mean Beethoven wasn't so great?
Lucy Van Pelt: He never got his picture on bubblegum cards, did he? Have you ever seen his picture on a bubblegum card? Hmmm? How can you say someone is great who's never had his picture on bubblegum cards?
Schroeder: Good grief.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Two Boys selling their irritating little Sister....

I've got a little book with short stories about a rather unusual Copenhagen family in the Victorian Age in 1890-1900s.  The author, Benjamin Jacobsen, wrote the stories as fictional memoirs. The episodes are told with a vigorous imagination and a good sense of the comical effect. His Victorian home is inhabited with some very striking personalities. The father, a botany-professor Edvard Jacobsen, the mother Wilhelmine, six children, Benjamin the oldest, Oscar, Emil and baby Victor and two girls, Magda and Anna, plus the grandmother, a very tough old lady and two housemaids. All living in a large apartment opposite the King's Garden in Copenhagen around 1900s. I'll do my best to translate one of the short stories for you, where two brothers, Benjamin and Oscar make an attempt to sell their sister Anna to a sailor in Nyhavn, a quarter near the Royal theater and at the old wharf, today it's a popular place with some fine old houses and cafés and restaurants along the kanal. At that time around the 1900s it was mostly a place where the sailors were staying. Benjamin is telling the story. ( the maid mentioned is the kitchen maid, Marie)

"White Slavetrade."

I was never a reflecting nature, my actions were all my life   mostly dictated by temper and intuition. When I was a child I never thought about the consequences of my behaviour, but I have tried to fight this bad habit through my long life. I often wondered how we children almost always got away with our misdeeds with the skin on our nose - we really did not deserve that. We were not worthy of such luck. The story about Oscar and I selling our sister Anna to the white slavetrade proves this perfectly.

It happened in September 1888. Oscar and I were really annoyed with Anna. She was actually a sweet little girl, although a little prickly by nature. She used every opportunity to correct her brothers and sisters. I was irritated on their behalf  - I don't quite remember, but I probably thought that something effective had to be done to achieve some peace in the house.

The idea came as lightning from a clear sky one day, where she had been teasing and harrassing Oscar. He stood blubbering in our room, his round machine-cut head was swollen with crying.
" Oscar," I said quietly. " Oscar, don't be sorry. We'll sell her."
" What? " Oscar said, tears running.
" We'll sell her to the white slavetrade."
" What's that?"
" I'm not quite sure, but is is said to be terrible for a woman to be sold as a slave -  Marie says so."
" No one will buy Anna," said Oscar disheartened, but with a flame of hope in his wet eyes.
" You'll never know," I said encouraging. "We might find someone who's drunk."
" We'll have to talk more about this," said Oscar and blew his nose.

We made strange and hatefull plans for several days, but none seemed to be realistic. It was obvious that Anna would smell the rat at once, if we asked her to crawl inside a bag - just for fun of course. And although she was not fat like sister Magda, we would really be in trouble, if we had to carry her, gagged and tied behind her back, downstairs and over into the King's Garden, where we wanted to meet a buyer. But mr.  Nicolajsen was the guard in the King's Garden, and he would simply not be the silent bystander of a slavemarket. He was confided to the maintenance of peace and order. We had to find another place. A place where the slavetrade was a common phenomenon.

Nyhavn! Why didn't we consider Nyhavn before? Here were sailors in numbers. They went to faraway and strange foreign countries where the black chiefs lived, who for some reason were particular appreciative of white slaves. If we sold Anna cheaply, a sailor might earn a good portion of money on her.
" Don't you think she's too dark?" said Oscar. "She's got brown hair. Inger was better, but she hasn't been teasing us."
Inger was our blonde cousin.
" We'll sell her very cheaply if she's too dark," I said. " And Inger is difficult to get hold of."
I was right in the last mentioned. Inger lived in Jutland.
So we stuck to Anna, prepared that the market was a little slack of slave girls with brown hair.

We made a really dirty approach. Low and evil. We lured her with licorice, which she loved. We bought each a bag of licorice figures and told our siblings that we went out for a walk -  we wanted to eat licorice. We were rustling with the bags and eating licorice figures with big gestures.
Everything went as calculated. Our siblings flocked around us, asking if they might join us, they claimed that they had actually thought of going out for a walk now and so on. Everyone came, except Emil. He didn't like licorice.

We graciously chose Anna as our companion and went down the street together. When we came to the King's square, we first took a walk around the horse figure, then we walked across the square to the Academy and came slowly closer to the forbidden place, while we were filling licorice on Anna in an increasing speed. She was chewing and chewing, and her only thought was to finish the mouthful and get some more. She had no idea that she would soon be translated into hard cash.

Thus it came about that an elderly, sligthly drunk man of the sea suddenly stood face to face with three children, of whom one was occupied by eating licorice from two bags, obviously completely at her disposal. The sailor tried to take evasion on starboard. Well, well. A new attempt, this time on portside. With no result. He realized that the boys intentionally were blocking his way, trying to avoke his attention - in all reverence and hat in hand. They were decent boys!
" What's wrong, boys?" he said with a growl.
" Excuse me, sir," I said. " Do you buy slaves?"
I can still see his face in front of me. His jaw lowered slowly, while the eyebrows went up. He did a swallowing and said.
" Ask me again , boy. And in the same words."
I repeated. " Excuse me sir, do you buy slaves?" and I added as an explanation:  "White slaves, sir."
Oscar interrupted me.
" Well, it is a slave girl we've got for sale, and she's not quite white, she's got brown hair."
The sailor composed himself.
" Are you slavemongers, children ?"
" Not exactly. We've only got one for sale, " I said.
" It's that one over there," Oscar said and pointed at Anna, who stood outside hearing range with her bags. And we both began to explain how strong and healthy she was. Oscar was the best. Definitely. But he had his reasons. He depicted imaginatively how she, although she was a Scandinavian, was able to endure the sunshine all day, especially if she was allowed to go bathing twice a day.
" And she's cheap," I said.
" Yes, because she's got brown hair," Oscar added. "But we've got a real white slave we might offer you another time. She lives in Jutland."
" How much is this licorice-eating kid?"  the sailor finally asked.
I pushed Oscar forward. His commercial talents were already famous in the family. Oscar took a deep breath, then he said:
" Two crowns."
" You are two devils. Do you sell your sister for two crowns?"
" She is an evil woman," Oscar said gloomily.
The sailor stood swaying for a moment. Then he pulled two crowns from his pocket, gave them to Oscar and said:
" Get lost, you slavemongers."

And as quick as lightning we run up to the King's square with the terrible sound of Anna's screams in our ears. A calloused hand had caught her arm, preventing her from following her fraudulent brothers.
When we came to our street, we went very slowly down the street and up to the front door, and we dared not look at each other in fear of starting to burst into tears. A moment after we had joined the dinner table, mother asked Magda to fetch Anna, and I felt so miserable that I was on the edge of vomitting.
Magda came back, announcing that Anna wasn't at home.
" Didn't Anna come back with you?" mother asked Oscar and I.
She got no reply. We raised a howl from the second world. We cried and cried without being able to speak a word. This was of course most alarming to our parents, who stood there shooking us to get an answer on their question.
" Where is Anna ?"
Emil had been watching this upsetting scene with no sign of compassion. He had just eaten his portion of porridge, and with a sigh he put down his spoon and said: " She is dead, I suppose."  I regained my voice. I felt I had to contradict this horrible presumption. After some vain attempts of speaking I managed to get some words up.
" We - we sold her in  Nyhavn. "
" For how much?" asked Emil.
" Two crowns, " Oscar said to himself.
" Wilhelmine, be strong, " father said to mother, who was white in her face and wringing her hands. Then he addressed us again in a much too mild tone:
" And you, my dear sons, would kindly tell me to whom you have sold your sister in Nyhavn for two crowns."
" To a drunken sailor," I said.
" Well. And you do not know this gentleman's ship or address?"
" No."
" Wilhelmine, I'm going down to the police station. Continue your dinner. Everything will probably be okay." And father rushed out of the door.

He didn't come far. On the stairs he met the sailor and Anna.
The honest man told father that he had bought his daughter in Nyhavn for two crowns from some of the worst brood of the devil,  the girl's own brothers, and the honoured gentleman's own sons.  He had paid two crowns to prevent the girl from suffering any harm in the claws of those two bandits, and now he would allow himself to go out and get so drunk that he would have to guess what was up and what was down.
For this pretty purpose father gave him plentiful pecuniary assistance.

And now Anna.! Yes, I know her tricks. She was always like that. In the beginning she was completely indifferent to it all. The scream she uttered was just nonsense. She even had the nerve - one week after Oscar and I could sit on a chair again without difficulties -  to suggest without  further ado that Oscar, she and I went for a walk in Nyhavn "like we did last week."
We had been forced to give her two crowns.
 But Oscar and I had given up the white slavetrade for good.

Source: Benjamin Jacobsen: Midt i en Klunketid", first published in 1955.  

copy of drawing from the book by Des Asmussen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Randers Fjord and a little Ferry on a December day.


Now is the season where the buzzard is sitting along the road in the top of a tree waiting for a prey to catch. The fields are not entirely covered with snow on the road from Århus and to Randers, but from Randers and all the way north the whole Jutland peninsula is covered with a thick layer of snow. I talked to my cousin this morning who lives close to Skagen, and she could not get out of her front door because of snow. 

Vilhelm Kyhn, painting
Now is also the seaon where you'll have to  examine the traffic service before taking a drive, and the season  for visiting some museums in the local area! There's no time for this in the summer season where Nature calls. 

It was a very cold day and it was good to sit inside a warm car enjoying a short panorama trip. There is only 38 km from Århus to Randers, it takes no time. 

Randers Art Museum had an exhibition I wanted to see before the finish in January, of a painter from the Danish golden age, Vilhelm Kyhn, who often described the Danish landscape in his paintings. He lived  before the time of the Skagen painters.  

The town Randers is known for its Christmas decorations in the streets, but I'm sure they have been forced to use the "saving ax" this year. Finansial crisis? It was not at all as pretty as it used to be. Some sweet Jule-children were singing Christmas songs on the town square.

We continued the trip along the northern coast of Randers fjord. Along the fjord lies a long piece of flat land, raised ancient seabed with cultivated and grazed fields, the soil is very fertile and many four- winged farms lie almost wall to wall along the fjord, especially at the village Vestrup. Some meadows are preserved, they have large bird migrations, especially in autumn. In the outernest section near Mellerup is a birds' sanctuary with a rich bird life.

The little ferry sailing between the villages Mellerup and Voer is one of the smallest ferry routes in Denmark. The 470 m long sailing across the fjord takes four minutes. There is place for three-four cars, depending on the size, and for 29 passengers. It is also one of the oldest ferry routes in Denmark's history, it can be traced back to 1610, where the tour was carried out by a barge (also called a kåg) - and it was being rowed across the fjord. The barge carried both passengers, cattle and horse waggons. The ferry traffic between Mellerup and Voer has a complicated history, but it got a royal license in 1740 (Kgl Priviligeret- see the image)


I have just found out today that a café opens in the ferry house from Easter. That sounds good. While we stayed there the other day, we took our usual thermo-coffee and a pecan-Danish in the car. I really must remember to put on some warmer boots. And thick socks, My feets were freezing after having stayed down by the water.  

Notice the ice-crystals in my photos. They were so beautiful in the sun. 

When the ferry was sailing over the first time, a dog stood on the deck, no one else, and the dog did not come back with the ferry. Maybe it was visiting someone! The little sweet ferry called "Ragna" took another trip a little later with a red car. Suddenly a big freight ship, loaded with wood, turned up, it seemed so big in the narrow fjord. The name indicated that it came from Estonia.

The ferry traffic in summer is more heavy, especially in good weather, when people from the northside of the fjord take the ferry to get over to the southside to a special good bathing beach near Voer. And since there now is a café in the ferry house in the summer season, there'll be more lively here - in this picturesque little spot at Randers fjord.

See you soon! Before Christmas! 
photo: 8 december 2012: grethe bachmann 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Evening of a peasant family in the 16th Century

Baking in December.

baking in the sauna-oven.

baking bread

two guys with a beer barrel.

Christmas Preparations: The preparations for Christmas evening began several weeks before Christmas. An old almanak from 1399 has described that the baking was considered the most important housework in December, but brewing the beer was next important. The brewing had to be done with the utmost care, and even the poorest household had to brew a good beer stock for Christmas, called the "Christmas Barrel". If you had "tasted the Christmas barrel", it meant you were rather drunk. In order to secure the Christmas beer against the evil spirits, a portion of beer was sacrificed to the patron of the house by the big tree in the courtyard.

dried and salted fish

The meal on Christmas evening was either dried fish or sweet porridge, or ham with stewed green cabbage and porridge, in wealthy families mostly rice-porridge. A pie or applecakes often finished the meal.  Christmas evening was to some people - according to strict Catholic custom - a fish day or a fasting day, to others a meat day. Some dishes have kept unchanged until our days,  but there was a strange mix of ancient customs at that time. Meat and fish were served on Christmas evening in Norway, first steak, mostly sheep, later fresh fish and milk soup. In Småland in Sweden everything was served in one meal, first cooked, dry fish and a Christmas soup, which was only served on this day of the year, cooked on the backpiece of a pig and sweet milk, and then Christmas porridge, rib roast and finally a pie. The porridge was marked with a cross across the hole with the butter in the middle, the look of the ancient wheel cross, the symbol of the sun. Some sources indicate that people already knew the habit of putting an almond in the porridge.

baking forms, Sweden

One of the oldest forms of a meat dish on Christmas Eve is probably a dish from Jutland, where the cooked head of a pig was served. But also in Sweden and in some districts of England was placed a decorated head of a pig upon the table. There is no trace in the 16th century of the later custom to let the roast goose be the festival meal of Christmas evening, and the turkey was not known. It arrived later in the 19th century's Scandinavia.

dish for porridge, hole in the middle for butter.
The stewed green cabbage was an ancient Christmas dish. Here is an old recipe from Skåne in Sweden: a boy went out in the cabbage garden and filled a basket with green cabbage, cut it in pieces in the cutting chest; the kitchen maid put it into the vessel, where the Christmas ham was cooked, and kept filling the cabbage on gradually, while it was cooking; the cabbage was stirred with a long wooden stick in the shape of an oar. When it was as thick as a dough it was poured up in a sieve to let the water run off. The stew was made in huge portions to last the whole Chistmas - like the Christmas ham.
farm Norway

butter, milk, cheese and bread.
A special thing was to place a "skueret" ( a display-dish) upon the table, the so-called *julegalt (galt =hog). It was a big cake, baked from wheat flour, shaped like a pig. It stayed at the table all Christmas, but no one took a bite from it. When Christmas was over, it was wrapped up and stored and was first taken out when the spring-work began. Then it was divided and shared among everyone, some of the cake was mixed with the barley and given to the ploughing horses, and some was put into the basket with the seed in hope of a better harvest. These customs were memories from ancient times when a real pig on Christmas Eve was led in to be sacrificed for good luck.

Before Christmas dinner had finished and before the prayer was said, another custom had to be complied. The father of the house proposed the toast of Christ or of the New Year. This was repeated round the table. The oldest and most honorable drinking bowl of the house was used, and in some places, especially among the peasants in Norway an old drinking horn was found from the depth of the cabinet.

Christmas cake
A very common gift from the husband and wife of the house to their servants and relatives were the socalled Christmas cakes. They were finer cakes, made partly of honey or pepper, partly rough of rye flour. Their shape was ancient and symbolic, round like the sun or in a shape of a living creature, mostly men, bucks and pigs. It seems unmistakeable that this originally referred to Thor's bucks and Frejr's pig, the present trace from this custom are the strange children-cakes in Scandinavia: cake men and sugar pigs. The round Christmas cakes were decorated with figures. A baking pan from 1637 displays upon the surface of the cake figures dressed in contemporary party clothes. Such Christmas cakes could be as big as a baby. The custom was old and wellknown to the Vikings in England. The old Danish name "youle-cake" is still known. the archbishop Olaus Magnus, who lived in the 16th century, remembers the monstrous cakes which were baked in his home at Christmas time and sent to friends and relatives. Even in the 19th century 24 pounds cakes are mentioned at Sjælland (Zealand), where the farmers gave those cakes as Christmas gifts to their servants and to the children and to every poor man who came to their house. This was a custom which possibly had not changed much since ancient time.

house from Thy, North Jutland
When the meal was finished the table was not  being tidied up, it was just  filled with more food, when it was needed all through Christmas. It was necessary to have food ready for any guest, poor or rich, no one "must carry the Christmas out of the house", even the invisible spirits took food from the table. The women of the house had been cooking meals for the next fortnight, so they could now enjoy a little Christmas peace. The dining room was also a living room and a common bedroom, which was a usual thing, the hay which was strewn upon the floor before Christmas was now spread all over, after the family and friends had been playing the Christmas plays, the domestic animals were living in the room, chicken and dogs and cats , and gradually the room and the Christmas table looked like a mess, but no one complained about that.

Omens were taken after the Christmas dinner, this was sometimes done during meal. Someone would sneak out into the dark courtyard and look into the lit room. If he saw someon sitting by the table without a head this person would die the next year. This was however considered a dangerous way of taking omens. The proper way was first of all by using the Christmas candles upon the table.  In the 16th century people were not accustomed to lighting, and to burn candles was a rare luxury - but during Christmas even the poorest home had to be honoured in this way. The candles had  to burn all night through.

candlestick , iron
The Christmas candles were used in different ways in various districts of Scandinavia. In some places they had only one big candle, in other places one candle was lit for each person present, in a few districts the candles were burning each night during the Christmas period. The most common way was to consider two specific candles as the real candles of Christmas and to connect a special superstition to them. Those two candles revealed the happiness and peace of the home in the year to come, therefore it was a custom in some districts to put all their silver and coins upon the table to let the candles shine upon them. Or they hang all their outerwear in the room to secure them from moths in the shine of the candles. To avoid fire they were placed in a kette. Before people went to bed at midnight when Christ was born the flame divided in two, and close to morning the fate of the husband and wife was decided. If the candles kept burning, they would live all next year, if the flames burnt out they had to die.

No matter how different the customs around the Christmas candles were in Scandinavia there is no trace that the candles were placed otherwise than in candlesticks , they were never placed upon a tree. The tree decorated with candles was not known yet. In Sweden they celebrated Christmas by rising a fir or a spruce outside the house, the natural symbol of the unconquered life, the tree, which was green even in winter. The same custom is known from Germany. The palm tree was used in similar occasions in the South as a symbol of the year and the life, since the tree shoots new branches each month of the year. The custom to decorate trees with candles was not of Nordic origin, as far as known this custom came from ancient Egypt and later from the Roman Saturnalias, where children were dancing around the lit tree and its gifts.

19th century Denmark
From what's known the custom can be followed back to France in the 12th or 13th century. Two various old French poets mention Christmas trees, decorated with candles,and in top of one of the trees was a naked baby !! The Baby Jesus. The custom about the decorated tree is mentioned in Germany in the 16th century, and from here it came to Alsace in the 17th century. In the 18th century the custom invaded the cities in Northern Germany, and in the beginning of the 19th century it came to Sweden from some Baltic islands and about the same time to Denmark from the South. The decorated tree became popular in Scandinavia, but it was even more popular in England where queen Victoria's husband prince Albert transferred it from Germany - and holly and mistleltoe were the homely English Christmas plants. After the middle of the 19th century the custom arrived in North America, where it spread extremely fast. Wherever the Christmas tree came, it ousted or changed the old customs with the Christmas candles.

house, Norway.
Another way to take omen by the assistance of the Christmas candles was to let them drip down into water or to melt lead by their help and let it drip down into weater. The figure which appeared gave the answer of what had been asked. If the family looked into the bible that evening, the first verse they read gave an answer to one's secret wish, a method, which was often used by women to find out the name of their husband-to-be - or they could peel an apple in one peel and throw it back the head, and when it fell down to the floor, it would show his name. The same could also be deciphered by the help of eggwhite, beaten out into a cup with a drink. A very common way to take an omen, which was used all over Scandinavia, was to throw one shoe back the head. The nature of the question was either: if one should die, change service, be married etc. and the answer was seen in the position of the shoe with the toe or the heel towards the door.

There was another question where the answer could not be told until the last day of Christmas: the question about the weather in the year to come. This was always important to a farmer. In order to find out the answer twelve circles were drawn with chalk upon the loft-beam, one circle for each month of the next year. Every day of the twelve days of Christmas a circle was marked. If it was a good weather-day the circle stayed empty, but if the weather was cloudy, rainy snowy the circle was crossed. After the twelve days of Christmas the circles on the loft-beam would show the farmer a weather map of the year to come.

Source for Chrismas evening in the countryside in the 16th century:  Dagligt liv i Norden im det sekstende århundrede, Tr. Fr. Troels-Lund , Middelalder, Dansk Literatur. 

Images from the same source.

EXTRA: recipe for apple-cakes:

180 g butter
5 dl milk  (whole milk)
500 gram wheat flour
2 table spoon sugar
6 eggs
50 gram yeast
a little lemon zest 
butter for baking.

melt butter, warm the milk in this, grate the lemon zest finely, gather the ingrediences and whip them into a ligth - uniform dough, which has to raise for 1/2 hour. 
Bake the apple cakes in melted butter - in an apple-cake pan. (see image)
The apple cakes taste good with jam and sugar

variation: fill the cakes with a piece of apple.