Thursday, March 29, 2012

What Children Say.....

I have tried to find something children might say about Easter, but these are funny too! Maybe you know it already! Anyway- have fun!

A little girl became restless as the preacher's sermon dragged on and on. Finally, she leaned over to her mother and whispered, "Mommy, if we give him the money now, will he let us go?"

  Casey asked her Sunday school teacher a question: "If the people of Israel are Israelites, and the people of Canann are Canannites, are the people of Paris called Parasites?"
  A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead.
    She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then she asked the class, "If you saw a person lying on the roadside all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?"
    A thoughtful little girl broke the hushed silence, "I think I'd throw up!"

A boy was watching his father, a pastor, write a sermon. "How do you know what to say?" he asked.
    "Why, God tells me."
    "Oh, then why do you keep crossing things out?"

A father took his five-year-old son to several baseball games where The Star-Spangled Banner was sung before the start of each game. Then the father and son attended a church on a Sunday shortly before Independence Day. The congregation sang The Star-Spangled Banner, and after everyone sat down, the little boy suddenly yelled out, "PLAY BALL!!!"
Finding one of her students making faces at others on the playground, Ms. Smith stopped to gently reprove the child. Smiling sweetly, the Sunday School teacher said, "Bobby, when I was a child, I was told that if I made ugly faces, it would freeze and I would stay like that."
    Bobby looked up and replied, "Well, Ms. Smith, you can't say you weren't warned."

       An exasperated mother, whose son was always getting into mischief, finally asked him, "How do you expect to get into Heaven?"    The boy thought it over and said, "Well, I'll just run in and out and in and out and keep slamming the door until St. Peter says, 'For Heaven's sake, Jimmy, come in or stay out!'"

       After a church service on Sunday morning, a young boy suddenly announced to his mother, "Mom, I've decided to become a minister when I grow up."
    "That's okay with us, but what made you decide that?"
    "Well," said the little boy, "I'll have to go to church on Sunday anyway, and I figure it will be more fun to stand up and yell than to sit and listen."
 One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it.
     The seven-year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, "Good morning Alex."
     "Good morning pastor," replied the young man, still focused on the plaque.
     "Pastor McGhee, what is this?" Alex asked.
     "Well, son, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service."
     Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex's voice was barely audible when he asked, "Which service, the 8:30 or the 11:00?"

A six-year-old was overheard reciting the Lord's Prayer at a church service: "And forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who passed trash against us."

The Famous Cat Maru

Small boxes and the cat Maru

Try to look at the other videos with famous Maru  and the boxes!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Medieval Easter Dinner at the Bishop's House

The Middle Ages.

The medieval bishops were powerful men. They had a place in the Danish king's council and acted more like princes and statesmen than church leaders.  A bishop's residence was often a castle - a typical bishop-residence was Spøttrup castle in North Jutland which today is a medieval museum. It is one of very few medieval castles left in Denmark. Spøttrup was one of the most modern fortifications in Denmark during the 1500s with high embankments with palisades and double moats - a powerful fortification and a magnifcient residence for a bishop.

The bishop celebrated Easter dinner in the great hall together with his highly trusted employees and possible guests. The other staff had dinner in the associated rooms. On a daily basis all dishes were served at the bishop's high table only, while the staff in the other rooms had fewer dishes - but at a great feast like Easter each dish was served to everyone in the house. Easter was the greatest church feast of the year, and the account from the bishop's house reveals a little about the cuisine at that time. The commodities and the choice of menu was an expression of a wide and advanced range. The dinner had 10 dishes, and the ceremony took several hours.

The bishop sat in his high seat with his fine bishop's cap on his head and his majestic bishop-rod in his hand. He might wear a purple velvet cape, bordered with ermine, and all his guests and all his staff were dressed in their finest clothes. The table was covered in fine tablecloths in several layers. The utensils were mostly ceramics or wood and possibly pewter. In an inventory list from the bishop's household are mentioned 15 drinking horns, carved in animal horn, and 6 candelabres, a part of the table decoration.The Swedish historian Olaus Magnus (1490-1557) recounts that the Scandinavians rarely used glassware, since they had a habit of crushing the glass after drinking, and glass was extremely costy. The utensils were knives and spoons and the fingers - the fork was not yet known.

The Easter Dinner was initiated by the chancellor who said the grace, and the chaplain later read from the holy scripture. During dinner was entertainment with musicians with pipes and drums and a performance by the jester. The basic idea in these feasts was that the music and other cultural events accompanied a high gastronomic cuisine. The symbol of the Easter meal played a decisive role. The first dish was roast lamb or mutton with bread, the second was wine soup, possibly with saffron, and later boiled eggs. The festival bread, called vegge, was possibly also coloured yellow with saffron. Saffron was the most expensive spice together with pepper and reserved for the upper class. All dishes were accompanied by wine. Royal accounts shows that spices from the Middle East and India like saffron, cinnamon, pepper, ginger, nutmeg and cumin were bought in large amounts. It was probably only the upper class, who could afford these exotic spices on a daily basis, while the less fortunate as much as possible imitated the delicate food at festivals and celebrations.

The return of the meat was important in the Easter meal after 40 days' Lent, which had been dominated by bread, cabbage and salt fish. Most meat was salted, and it was a rare thing to have the popular fresh meat like beef, lamb or pork. Venison was a very desirable delicacy, which mostly was reserved at the princes' table. A substantial part of the menu was the beverage: mead, wine and beer.

Mead, wine, beer and herbal water are mentioned as medicine in the medical books. Honey was also considered a medicine; it had to be cleansed carefully before using it in the cuisine and in the preparation of various drinks. Mead was one of the earliest known drinks;  it was produced with water, honey and herbs like sweet gale or hops and with beer yeast. It was a common thing to put a linen bag into the mead barrel. A recipe from an old medical book reports contents like: pepper, ginger, cardamom, clove and cinnamon. This brought a better taste and durability to the mead. Wine was imported and a very rare drink in Denmark. Sweet wine was preferred, maybe sweetened with honey and spices. There is a myth about the Middle Ages: that everyone was drinking beer all the time. This might not be wrong, but the beer was very thin and with a low alcohol percentage; the quality of drinking water was bad, especially in the towns - this might be an explanation why beer was preferred. The water was boiled during the brewing process, and although people did not know about bacterias, they might have noticed that beer caused fewer health problems than tap water.
Magnificent display-dishes were carried past the bishop and his guests between each serving. Large decorated centerpieces with a peacock or other animals were crowning the dish. They were not meant to be eaten, but they were shown together with decorated patés, where the lid described the content, and the whole scenery was a festive sight to the dinner party. During and after meals servants appeared with jugs and dishes with fragrant water, mostly rose-water, and with towels, for the dinner guests to wash and dry their hands. A comprehensive serving staff was present at big parties like the Easter festival. They were young men of nobility - as a part of their education they had to serve the Easter dinner to the gentry in the most distinguished way.

A cupbearer, the Kredens, had to cut the meat and the bread - and furthermore taste the food and drink before it was served to the party. At that time people were not afraid of salmonella and other food poisoning, like we are today - they were simply afraid of being poisoned by their enemies. If things went quite wrong they used an antidote called theriaca. It was an Arabic invention from the late 1100s. The content of this medicine was: *slangerod, (snake root), gentian, laurel , the best and noblest myrrh and honey. The original Arabian theriaca contained snake, which in the new recipes was replaced by a crushed powder from the root of the strong and poisonous root of the snake root- herb. It was a common advice to use the powder of this root against snake bites and as an emetic.

* Danish name : Slangerod , Latin:  Aristolochia clematitis ; English name: European Birthwort. 

A  reconstruction of an Easter Dinner anno 1520:
spit-roasted leg of lamb
wine soup
cooked beef
poached eggs
roast game tenderloin
boiled pike
venison paté
roast pigeons
fresh cheese
fig dessert.

Wine Soup in a translated version from a  medieval recipe :
4 egg yolks
50 gram sugar,
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg,
6 dl white wine,
1 cinnamon stick,
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger.

1. Whip egg yolk with sugar and nutmeg, crush saffron in a mortar and dissolve it in a little wine.
2. Mix wine, saffron, cinnamon and ginger in a pot. Boil the mix in moderate heat. Just before it boils remove from heat. Remove the cinnamon stick.
3. Whip a little wine mix slowly into the egg mass. The egg mix back into the pot while stirring. Heat the wine soup slowly while stirring, until it is smooth and hot, min. 75 degree Celsius. Serve the hot soup - accompanied by butter-toasted wheat bread.


Source: Bente Leed, Danskernes mad i middelalderen, Forlaget åløkke a/s, 1999

photo Spøttrup: grethe bachmann
images: bishop chess piece in ivory 1200s; medieval castle kitchen; Bayeux tapestry;  
Feast-Canterbury Tales; Theriaca pharmacies jar.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Common Toads and a Green Frog

green frog

This is the frog lake, where the green frog lives, but this day of spring there were toads around the lake and on the gravel road. A single green frog came out, which is very early for a green frog. It looked like it was very much interested in the toads, maybe the frog thought it was a toad, but there was no interest from the toads. They were only interested in their own business.
toads and a green frog.
The common toad emerges from hibernation in spring and there is a mass migration towards the breeding ponds. Adults use the same pond year after year and over 80% of males marked as juveniles have been found to return to the pond where they were spawned. The males arrive first and remain in the location for several weeks while the females only stay long enough to mate and spawn. The males mount on the females' backs, grasping them with their fore limbs in a grip that is known as amplexus. The males are very enthusiastic, will try to grasp fish or inanimate objects and often mount on the backs of other males. Sometimes several toads form a heap, each male trying to grasp the female at the base. It is a stressful period and mortality is high among breeding toads A successful male stays in amplexus for several days and, as the female lays a long, double string of small black eggs, he fertilises them with his sperm. As the pair wander piggyback around the shallow edges of the pond, the gelatinous egg strings, which may be 3 to 4.5 metres (10 to 15 ft) in length, get tangled in plant stalks. They absorb water and swell in size, and small tadpoles hatch out of the eggs after a fortnight to three weeks.
The common toad matures at age three to seven and may live for ten years.

photo Addit 24 March 2012: grethe bachmann

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Visiting a few Places in Vejle River Valley

The hilly valley along Vejle river is one of the prettiest in Jutland - and furthermore the district around Vejle has many famous historic places, one of the most wellknown is Jelling with the runestones and Gorm's and Thyra's hills. But this day the tour went first to Haraldskær, which lies close to the river, it's an old manor, known since the 1400s. Today it is a fine white hotel. Behind  Haraldskær upon a hill lies one of the first stone churches in Denmark, a small Romanesque church without a tower, named Skibet. Its name refers to that it was possible to sail up to this place in the early Middle Ages. In the church is a uniqe Romanesque frescoe-frieze with horsemen, which possiblty was painted by an English artist. It is one of very few representations of the legend about the Holy Grail in Denmark. The landscape by Skibet  is often referred to as a Viking period- landscape, a fine hilly landscape, formed by Vejle river. The close connection between the church and the manor Haraldskær reaches possibly far back in time, and the church was probably built for a magnate.

From Haraldskær we drove inland and uphill to a place called Højen, which actually means hill, and the small village was placed upon a hill. After passing the the cosy village  the sun broke through the misty landscape and there was a field with Hereford cattle  and a little calf. This called for a stop.They are so peaceful and calm, I wonder if they might be a good medicine for stressed people in one of those clinics where they have to stress off. They might have a field outside the clinic with Hereford or Highlanders. The sun had a difficult time trying to break through the haze on this day. It takes some time before the winter's cold from the sea and the land disappears. I actually like a misty landscape. Reminds me about English paintings and water-colours.   

along the narrow country road to Nørup.
We came to a large village Bredsten. The big white church had a Baroque, bulbous-shaped spire like many other churches in the district of Vejle and Horsens  - and like the big manor Engelsholm, which has four of those spires. They might have had the same architect who dominated in the Baroque-period. We were looking for a very rare little fern at bredsten church, which grows upon walls and stones. It is found in less than ten places in Denmark, one at Kronborg castle. It is totally protected, but we couldn't find it. Maybe someone has removed it. We don't know yet. (Last news: the fern is still there on the dike and it is fresh and fine.)

The next was the church in Nørup with a bulbous spire  and with a fine view to the manor Engelsholm with four spires by the beautiful lake. Engelsholm belonged to a Rosenkrantz in the early 1500s. Was  Rosenkrantz ever in England?  Did he meet Shakespeare? I haven't got the faintest idea, but it's fun to imagine things.  Engelsholm is today a highschool  for art. Music, visual arts, glass art  etc. In April they have a course about Bob Dylan.
From Nørup church hill is a fine view across the lake to Engelsholm and down to the country road.

We went to Ravning next, also in the river valley. Here was in the 1950s found an old Viking bridge, which possibly was a part of Harald Bluetooth's road system through Jutland. The bridge was, according to a dating of the oakwood, built ab. year 980. It was a 800 meter long and 5 m broad timbered oakwood-bridge across the river valley. The bridge was based upon 1.800 massive oak-posts, cut with axe and knocked down into the moist soil of the river valley. There is a reconstructed bridge span at the edge of the valley. They are restoring it now, it's probably ready for summer. 
bridge restored.

Observation platform

West of the town of Vejle is a piece of land, which has now been laid out as a nature area. It is called Kongens Kær. (the King's Meadow). This wetland is a magnificent place for people from Vejle and of course also others who want to see it. There is a rich bird life with water- and wading birds, and there are walking paths and a big observation platform at the country road. The project also contributes to an improvement of the water environment in Vejle fjord by removing nutrients from Vejle river. (Vejle Å) To secure the neighbours of the area against flooding a dike has been built. The living conditions for the bird life and the very rare birch mouse have been improved by the construction of respectively 2 bird islands and earth banks.

The Birch Mouse. (Northern Birch Mouse) Sicista betulina.
The birch mouse is on the redlist of endangered species and is governed by all the strongest international protection. ( EU's habitat-directive). And Denmark is thereby obliged to protect the breeding places of the birch mouse.
The birch mouse (it's not a real mouse) is the only Danish rodent who belong to the family of hoppemus (hopping mice) , and it is probably also the most rare and most endangered mammal in Denmark. At the same time it is among the species we know the least. As far as known the birch mouse lives in isolated lommer (pockets) in North-, Middle- and South Jutland. It lives apparently mostly in the open land, with moist meadows, windbreaks etc. The special characteristics of the birch mouse is the long black stripe on the back, which goes from the eyes and down to the root of the tail, which is longer than the body. From snout to tail the birch mouse measures 5-8 cm, while the tail can be about 11 centimeter long. It weighs 5-15 gram, less than an ordinary letter. The birch mouse sleeps wintersleep more than half of the year

Sources: Natur og Miljø, Vejle kommune; Politikens store Danmarksbog, Engelsholm Højskole, Danmarks kirker; Slotte og herregårde i Danmark.

photo 17 March 2012 Vejle ådal: grethe bachmann:  

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Easter Customs in 16th Century's Scandinavia.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Netherlandish proverbs.
A Time of Change. 
Easter was not only a Christian celebration in the 16th century. Many customs were influenced by the early Middle Ages and before that, both by ancient Norse mythology and ancient pagant belief. It was not easy for the Catholic church fathers to handle or "rule" the Scandinavian people during Easter, considering all those various opinions and old customs. In some desolate districts of Norway the customs were still of an ancient origin and still very much alive, and in all of Scandinavia people still believed in witches and witchcraft. But when the reformation arrived in the middle of the century everything changed. This was the end of the Middle Ages. A time of change.

The Quiet Week. 
Ghirlandio: St. Jerome
Although the fasting-time was abandoned since the reformation, there were still old-fashioned people, who maintained the ancient customs around Lent - even people in the next generations who knew nothing or little about the Catholic period. But although people in general did not take it so seriously, it was very characteristic that nobody held a party, wedding or alike between Shrovetide and Easter. The last week before Easter was called "the quiet week",  and on Palm Sunday were some religious customs with inauguration of palm leaves or of flowering willow twigs. It was not easy to get hold of palm leaves in Scandinavia. But these customs disappeared quickly as soon as the Catholic church fathers  said good-bye after the reformation. The quietness and the gravity from before were more obviously seen in tne names of the Easter days: Palm Sunday, Blue Monday, White Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday.

Cabbage and Loke's Sleigh.
Contradictions met at Maunday Thursday. Folklore fought between light and darkness on this day. The bright sides of the day were first of all the power transferred to the only green plant which had survived winter, the cabbage. Nine cabbages cooked together protected against disease and other evils in the year to come, nine various cabbages or herbs, plucked and gathered in the morning and cooked together. The air had a healing power on that day. If the clothes were hang out in the air they would be freed from the moths, and the bedlinen would be freed from the fleas.  In Telemarken in Norway they had to do a little more work to free the bedlinen from the fleas, they had to plait three strings to help the god Loke's broken sleigh. Every Maundy Thursday Loke came with a load of fleas and since the load was heavy his sleigh broke, and if they did not assist him, they would not get rid of the intruders in their bedlinen the whole next year.

Malicious Witchcraft on Maundy Thursday. 
Medieval drawing.
Maundy Thursday was influenced by some sinister witchcraft. This day was similar to other wellknown witch-days - Valborg's Day and Midsummer's Day - and everyone who did not safeguard himself against the evil was higly exposed to danger. In a socalled "clerical law" from Christian II's time the magistrate ordered to closely watch all, who were suspected of witchcraft. But it was not easy to watch the elusive witches, when they in the dead of night on Maundy Thursday rode on a broomstick to their meeting-place. The safest precaution and protection against the witches was to fasten steel above the doors, put steel into the bed and with the cattle, and to spread axes and iron wedges upon the newly sown fields. Furthermore they had to remove the fourth wheel from the plough, so the witches, who planned to ride the plough, would fail. But it was impossible to keep oneself completely safe from the powerful and malicious witchcraft. A witch, Ingeborg Bogesdatter in Högalöff in Sweden, confessed in 1618  ( most probably under torture) that she had stolen a calf, put a bridle on it and rode above the forests, fields, mountains and waters to Blåkulla, where she took part in the witch-feast. Before her airborne journey she had been so sneaky to blow wind into her nightgown and made a skin in her own looks, whom she laid down beside her husband. Young witches did not need any mount or traffic tool. They had power enough by themselves to rise in the air and fly away.

Ringing the Bells, Finding the Witches.
woodcut 1700th century
The best way to avoid all this witchcraft was to ring the church bells. Still in the 19th century people rang the bells in Smaaland in Sweden each "Dimmelonsdag" ( "Ringing Wednesday") in the evening after sundown and the next morning, on Maundy Thursday, before sunrise. People knew that the witches wanted to whip the church, a very  dangerous witchcraft to the church and to everyone. So they wanted to ring down the Easter witches. There are many stories about this.  A Dean's servants rang the church bells, while three witches flew above the spire. They fell down, but changed skin and transformed into goats. The three goats run up into an old birch, but a man next to them cut one goat in the foot, and since then an old woman in the neighbourhood was limping, and no one doubted that she had been on her flight to the feast of the witches. In another case the downfallen witch transformed into a white sow. Three Easter witches, who had been rung down just before they had to whip the church, were found downside the church, quite naked. People were able to examine the witchcraft in their neighbourhood, if they used an egg, which had been laid by a hen on Maundy Thursday. It was best if this was the very first egg the hen had ever laid.  If they brought the egg with them to church in their pocket, this might be good enough, but the best way to discover the witchcraft was to look through the egg in the sunshine when they came to church. Then they would be able to see among the churchgoers exactly who was a witch and who had been out flying the night before.

Queen Elizabeth I and the Foot-Washing.
Hilliard: Elizabeth I
In England was celebrated a special act in the 1600s, which is still used in some Catholic countries. A number of poor people were gathered at the palace, and queen Elizabeth had to wash their feet. The cleaning was rather thorough, since everyone, before meeting the queen, was being washed by a washer woman, then by the subordinate of the charity-man and at last by the charity-man himself. When the gospel of the foot-washing had been read, the queen washed everyone's feet the fourth time, assisted by a noble lady. The humbleness of the queen increased with the years, this was indicated by the numbers of the poor which corresponded to the queens' age. 39 poor  people had their feet washed in 1572.  After having finished the washing, the queen kissed them, gave each one both money, clothes, food and drink and a towel and let them go at sunset.

Whipping, Weighing and Salt-cookies.  
After the sinister Maundy Thursday the Dark Good Friday came. (Danish: Langfredag). No one was allowed to be happy on that day, and the fasting and the self-torture reached a peak. In some places in Norway everyone had to be whipped with rods in the morning, no one had anything to eat until the evening, and they had to use all their strenght and torture themselves with overwhelming work. The conditions were just as strict in Denmark, the priest at court let his children summon into his study each Langfredag , where he flogged those poor little kids, so they could feel how awful the Saviour had suffered on Good Friday.  A reason for a punishment was, if someone did not pass the fasting-test. In many districts people had to be weighed, and if they had not lost weight after the Lent this indicated clearly that they had not respected the fasting - and they had to be punished. In some districts people knew how to prepare themselves for this test. On the first weighing before the Lent-period  they put sand in their stockings and pebbles in their pockets to get a better result and to avoid punishment on the second weighing. The fasting was also extended to the livestock. On Good Friday the cattle did not get their usual fodder, but only what was found in the forest and in the field, and humans had the humblest meal in the evening time, usually flour-porridge or eggs in a mustard sauce. In some districts they remembered how thirsty Christ were on that Friday, and before bed-time they had to eat three salt-cookies, which of course evoked an unbearable urge to drink water during the night.

Food-Blessing and Mass
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Wheat Harvest.
Next day, Easter Saturday, the preparations for the happy time finally started. In days of the Catholicism the priest blessed the food and sowing seeds of the farmers, and this continued for a period after the reformation. The blessing still took place in 1566. People came with all kinds of food, rye, barly, oats; the priest blessed it and read a special prayer, a mass was held in the evening and the farmers were now sure that their food and corn were secure for the whole following year. But both the food-blessing and the mass were later prohibited by the bishop of Sjælland. (Zealand). People were now forced to be content by celebrating the Easter Saturday inside the walls of their own home with the old feast-dishes, sweet porridge and soft-boiled eggs.

Dancing Sun and Evil Smoke. 
di Paolo: Angels dancing in the Sun.
The Easter Sunday was entirely a happy festive. People were up and about from early morning to watch the sunrise, to see the sun play and dance with joy upon the sky.  Only in a few places some sad superstitions were connected to this Easter morning. In a Norwegian district the farm-people were afraid of lighting the fireplace, they believed that the smoke from the house meant they would be plagued by predators. They were later persuaded to forget their fear, but they were still cautious; instead they used nine kinds of wood and a wooden spoon, the ear of a pot, a broom and gunpowder and sulphur to light the fire. In this powerful way they intended to cleanse the chimney from the infection, which had been there since the night of Maundy Thursday, where the witches flew through the chimney. Even the smoke was infected. Everyone went out to see where the smoke went. If the smoke went towards the church, it was an omen that someone in the house was a coward and was soon to die.

Agnus Dei silver jewelry.

Easter Lamb and Agnus Dei.

Lam with cross, church North Jutland/gb
A Christian custom was the distribution of the socalled Easter lamb. In the beginning of the 16th century when the Catholic church was still the ruler, this distribution took place in the old-fashioned manner, the priest gave or sold after the mass on Saturday Evening the churchgoers some inaugurated Easter lambs made of  wax; they were considered to be some secret means against all evil. But their miraculous power made people wish to own them in a better material than wax and to carry them always. A custom evolved, where rich people wore an Easter lamb in silver or gold in a chain around the neck.  The jewelry in the chain was like a medal or a coin with the image of an Easter lamb. Jewelry like this was given the name Agnus Dei, and it was very popular both in Scandinavia and in Europe in general. But after the reformation the custom with the lambs were  just as unpopular as the other custom-rests from the Catholic period. The wax lambs disappeared together with the mass on Easter Saturday, or they were inaugurated secretly, until the custom went into oblivion. In Denmark most of the Agnus Dei-jewelry was probably lost during the next century. The silver and gold lambs were still worn openly, but the meaning was soon forgotten. The thirty-year war and the wars between Denmark and Sweden swept away all the old gold and silverware, and towards year 1700 there were only few Agnus Dei left. In the 19th century the old Easter lambs entered the market again, not in wax or as a jewelry, but as some kind of playtoy in sugar or cotton with an attached crossbanner.

Easter, Oster and Ostara
When people came home after the church service in the Easter-period,
Two devils with eggs, National Museum by Kornerup.
they spent their time with all kinds of fun. A special Easter pleasure was the  Easter eggs. They were like today, coloured eggs, usually red, blue, yellow, sometimes with inscriptions. They were used as gifts or in various plays.  The most common play was to let them roll down a hill. The players had to touch or crush the shell of the other down-rolling eggs. In Germany and England was also another play, where the eggs were hidden in "hare-nests". The use of Easter eggs is one of  the oldest known and most spread feast-customs. The blessing of food on Easter Saturday, which in Scandinavia was about both eggs, food in general and seeds, was in the southern countries only about eggs. In the Roman and Greek-Catholic church the Easter began with the enjoyment of eating the inaugurated Easter eggs. And Easter eggs were known from Scandinavia to Egypt,  from England to Persia and Siberia. The eggs were since time immemorial a symbol of the introvert and yet vigilant, fertile, emerging life, and it could as well be used as a sign of spring or resurrection. The English "Easter" and the German "Oster" both origin from the old Saxon word oster = to resurrect. But if it is referred to the resurrection only, then this is weakened by that the ancient Germans worshipped a goddess of spring named Ostara. Her name is connected to the East, to the dawn.


Source: Dagligt liv i Norden det 16. århundrede, Årlige fester, Projekt Runeberg, 1914-1915. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Letters with Love Knots and Riddles

Bindebrev from 1600s
A Bindebrev was a letter, used in Denmark between the 1600s and 1800s, which had to bind or tie the receiver. The letter had some verse and a silk cord with a lot of knots attached. The idea was that the receiver had to loosen the knots, and if this was impossible, then the receiver was bound to hold a party, give a kiss or whatever it might be. The point was to bind the knots so tight that it was impossible to loosen them. The letter was binding from the moment when the receiver touched it the first time, and the sender had to sneak it into the hands of the receiver.
 a letter like a love knot
The binding letter was connected to a person's name day (they did not celebrate their birthday, but only name day in the 1600s) or it could be used at one of four special days during the year called tamperdays. The binding letters came to Denmark from Germany and were known and used since the 1600s.  It was difficult to make contact between the sexes at that time, and the binding letters were originally love letters. The knots on the silk cord were called love knots.  The letters were often very artful and decorated with colours, flowers and verse. A  bindingletter is known from Christian IV to his mistress Karen Andersdatter.

how to begin
a very fine gækkebrev

They were replaced by the gækkebreve. A gækkebrev is a specific Danish tradition from Easter. It is a letter cut in paper in a fine symmetrical pattern. The name gækkebrev is connected to the flower vintergæk (English snowdrop), and besides containing a riddle, a verse or a poem the letter often has a fine pressed flower of the pretty vintergæk. A gækkebrev is sent anonymously with dots instead of letters . "Mit navn det står med prikker. "(My name is with dots) - and often a little Easter poem is added. The poem might be a few sentences or nonsense verse or a more poetic verse.

Gækkebreve are mostly used by children today. When those Easter letters replaced the binding letters they were still used by adults, and the love knots were cut like complicated paper clip, where the pattern fx formed several hearts. The receiver had three guesses to find the name of the sender and if he or she  hadn't guessed it after three attempts, they had to give the sender an Easter egg. 

The word gække : 
To gække means to trick or to fool , which also lies in the word vintergæk, the flower which tricks summer and is in full bloom in winter. To gække each other is to trick each other in a playful way.

If you could not guess the name of the sender, you were a gæk (fool) - and if you had forgotten to attach a vintergæk, then you were also a gæk. But there were many variations.