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Festivals of Western Europe

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Perseus
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« Reply #45 on: April 29, 2009, 03:19:25 pm »

LA VEILLE DE LA SAINT JEAN (Saint John's Eve) June 3

    The widespread custom of lighting bonfires on the Veille de la Saint Jean originated with the ancient Druids who built fires at the summer solstice in honor of the sun god.

    In many larger places midsummer festivities begin with a dinner at the hotel de ville (town hall) for distinguished guests. Later visitors and townsfolk gather with fanfare and music about the bonfire to which everyone--from the oldest man or woman to the youngest child--has contributed fuel--a log, a stout branch, perhaps only a bundle of slender faggots or a single twig.

    In many parts of Brittany the bonfire ceremony is observed with religious solemnity. In Finistere, people try to build their bonfires near chapels dedicated to Saint Jean and the priest kindles the pile at the close of vespers. After singing hymns and chanting prayers the young folk dance about the fires.

    La Saint Jean is also the night of love. According to one favorite song:


This is Saint John's,
The beautiful day
When lovers walk together.
Let's go, pretty heart,
The moon has risen!
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« Reply #46 on: April 29, 2009, 03:19:37 pm »

  It is usual to sing old folk songs and dance traditional rounds as the flames blaze toward the sky. As they die down young couples frequently leap over the embers. In some places the wish is made that crops will grow as high as the young people jump. In Bearn, vaulting nine times across the fire is said to ensure a prosperous year, while in Berry the act is thought to prevent illness during the next twelve months. People gather up the ashes from the Saint John's fires and strew them over the fields with prayers for a good harvest.

    Customs vary from region to region. In Upper Brittany it is usual to build fires about tall poles erected on hilltops. A boy named Jean or a girl named Jeanne provides a bouquet or garland for the pole and kindles the bonfire. The young people of the village dance and sing about the great fire as it burns.

    In the sheep-raising Jura district La Saint Jean is a shepherds' feast. Shepherds drive flower-crowned animals in procession and later nail the wreaths to stable doors, as a protection against the forces of evil.

LA FETE DE LA TARASQUE (Festival of the Tarasque), in Tarascon, region of Provence Last Sunday in June

    In 1469 King Rene instituted two colorful annual processions to commemorate Saint Martha's capture of la Tarasque, a voracious man-eating monster whose lair was on the wooded banks of the Rhone. The first procession occurs on the last Sunday in June (approximately Whitsuntide); the second on July 29, Saint Martha's Day. Although the processions differ widely in character, both celebrate the same event. La fete de la Tarasque lapsed a few years ago. It is described, nevertheless, because local groups are hoping to revive it.

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« Reply #47 on: April 29, 2009, 03:19:47 pm »

Provencal tradition tells how a monster with a lion's head and dragon's tail periodically appeared, ravaging the entire countryside and feeding on both flocks and men. Tarascon's citizens lived in fear. One day sixteen of the town's armed youths went out to stay the beast. Eight returned unharmed; eight the monster grabbed and crunched to death as the victims' legs dangled from bloody jaws.

    At this point the saintly Martha (sister of Lazarus and the Magdalene and one of the holy pilgrims to reach Provence with Les Saintes Maries) set forth alone for the monster's den. The creature was noisily devouring its meal as the saint approached, armed only with holy water and a cross. She quickly sprinkled the monster with the sacred water, knotted the end of her girdle about its neck, and led it, subdued and docile into Tarascon. There the townsfolk stoned the monster to death and, impressed by their miraculous deliverance, adopted the Christian faith.

    In the first procession of la Tarasque eight men, representing the eight devoured youths, walk inside the hideous-looking spiked body and manipulate the slashing tail and snapping jaws. Eight other men--the lucky ones who escaped--walk as guards beside the monster, which charges into the crowd and snaps furiously at spectators.

    On July 29 la Tarasque, tamed by Saint Martha's power, trots along behind a young girl who represents the saint. She is dressed in white and leads the fearful creature leashed on her slender crimson ribbon belt.

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« Reply #48 on: April 29, 2009, 03:19:59 pm »

LA FETE DE LA MADELEINE (Festival of the Magdalene), in Sainte Baume, region of Provence July 22


A la Madeleine
Les noix sont pleines,

"on Saint Magdalene's Day the walnuts are full grown," is an old folk saying which refers to the day when young girls visit the reputed grotto of the Magdalene in the forest of Sainte Baume.

    Mary Magdalene, the sister of Lazarus and Martha of Bethany, was one of the little company to set out from Palestine in a frail boat and miraculously to arrive on the shores of Provence. Legend says she wandered eastward from Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer until she came to la foret de la Baume, the forest of the Cave. There she resolved to do further penance for her sins. Angels took her to a grotto high in the rocks. Clothed only by her long reddish tresses, with psalm book and crucifix in hand, the Magdalene reputedly spent thirty-three years' living on wild roots and berries and suffering from torturing thirst. Local artists have pictured her lying alone in the cave, angels hovering above her head and wild animals coming near. Sometimes her tearful eyes look upon a vision of the Virgin. The saint's usual attributes are a staff, a skull and a jar of ointment. After long years of fasting, prayer and meditation, it was time for the Magdalene to die. Her friends, the angels, tenderly transported her to th
oratory of Saint Maximin, who administered the last rites. And when the Magdalene died people said that her purified soul, in the form of a dove, flew straight to Heaven's gates.

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« Reply #49 on: April 29, 2009, 03:20:11 pm »

 Ever since the thirteenth century thousands of pilgrims have visited la Sainte Baume, the holy cave. The grotto is hewn out of the solid rock on the rugged wooded hillside. Although the favorite pilgrimage comes on July 22, the saint's reputed death day, the shrine is visited at all times of year. Formerly, a journey to the grotto was especially important to betrothed couples, who sought the saint's help and built up little piles of stones at the wayside to ensure fruitful unions. Today hundreds of young girls scramble up the rocky ascent to the grotto to pay honor to the Magdalene and implore her to furnish husbands.

LE PARDON DE SAINTE ANNE D'AURAY (Pardon of Saint Anne d'Auray), in Auray, region of Brittany July 25, 26

    Auray's famous Pardon is celebrated in honor of Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. Legend claims that Saint Anne appeared in 1623 in a vision to a peasant, Yves Nicolazie, and commanded him to interest the faithful in rebuilding her ruined chapel. The peasant reported what he had seen to the bishop, who believed him. Soon afterward, a mutilated wooden image of the saint was unearthed in a neighboring field. This event attracted worshippers from far and near, who brought offerings so the effigy might be enshrined. The church of Auray was built. Later it became a place of pilgrimage for pious believers from many parts of France.

    Annually thousands of devout Christians fast and ascend on their knees the scala santa, or sacred stairway, which leads to the chapel enclosing Saint Anne's statue. Breton peasants believe that if they burn their candles at the shrine, Saint Anne will bless their homes, crops, and ships at sea.

    The Pardon of Saint Anne is one of the most picturesque of all French religious festivals, since Breton peasants--both men and women--attend in the rich and beautiful costumes for which their region is famed. The procession of male pilgrims, on the second day of the Pardon, is particularly colorful. The clergy, in striking embroidered vestments, lead the group with gleaming crosses and magnificent church standards. Bands and banners, acolytes swinging censers, choir boys in feast day robes, and earnest-faced peasants carrying their village emblems--all give contrast and variety to homes, crops, and ships at sea.

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« Reply #50 on: April 29, 2009, 03:20:21 pm »

L'ASSOMPTION (Assumption) August 15

    This church festival commemorates the Virgin's ascent into heaven. The holiday serves as an occasion for going to the country for picnics, outings and all sorts of excursions.

LA TOUSSAINT and LE JOUR DES MORTS (All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day) November 1, 2

    These two legal, as well as church holidays are widely observed. On La Toussaint, All Saints' Day, there are joyous services in memory of all the saints who are glorified. Le lour des Morts, or All Souls' Day, is dedicated to prayers for the dead who are not yet glorified. During the week before, women in mourning visit the cemeteries to clean the family graves and decorate them with artificial flowers and wreaths of immortelles. On the day of the festival there are church services, followed by visits to the churchyard. Relatives gather to hold family reunions and pay honor to the dead.

    In Brittany, where many fofktales warn of evils likely to befall those who tamper with the bones of the dead, children delight in playing gruesome practical jokes in the cemeteries. They frighten visitors, for example, by rattling bones in empty pails, or by putting lighted candles inside skulls and setting them up in dark corners of the graveyard.

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« Reply #51 on: April 29, 2009, 03:20:39 pm »

LA SAINT MARTIN (Saint Martin's Day) November 11

    Foire de la Saint Martin, "Saint Martin's fair," is the term the French gives to feasting at this season, while mal de Saint Martin, "Saint Martin's sickness," is what they call the upset stomachs that result from over indulgence. November 11 honors Saint Martin of Tours, fourth-century patron of the city and special guardian of vine growers, tavern keepers and beggars. Saint Martin is the presiding genius of harvest foods and festivities. He is a gay add jovial saint, popularly associated with robust autumn fare such as roast goose and the first new wine.

    Saint Martin's Day, which marks the anniversary of the translation of the saint's relics, is observed with impressive ceremonies at his shrine in Tours Cathedral. Many legends about the saint have come down through the centuries. The one which associates him with beggars is possibly the best known. Once, when a soldier--for Martin was first a soldier, then a saint--he saw a naked beggar shivering at the gates of Amiens. Without hesitation the young man divided his cape with his sword, gave half the garment to the beggar and kept half for himself.

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« Reply #52 on: April 29, 2009, 03:21:07 pm »

LA SAINTE CATHERINE (Saint Catherine's Day), in Paris November 25

    The midinettes, girls of the Parisian fashion industry who still are unmarried at twenty-five, coiffent la Sainte Catherine--don amusing little white paper caps called Catherinettes--in honor of Saint Catherine, and pay gay tribute to the patroness of old maids.

    Employers give the girls the afternoon off, often allowing them to use their workrooms for celebrating the occasion with a buffet supper and dancing. The girls choose a queen who, like her followers, also wears a cap, and escort her through the streets of Paris. Often a group of girls will mischievously surround and kiss some handsome young man.

    Coiffer la Sainte Catherine, "to don Saint Catherine's bonnet," is an expression used to warn girls they are likely to become spinsters.

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« Reply #53 on: April 29, 2009, 03:21:18 pm »

LA SAINTE BARBE (Saint Barbara's Day) December 4

    In some parts of France Saint Barbara's Day marks the opening of the Christmas season. On Saint Barbara's Eve in southern France, especially in Provence, wheat grains are soaked in water, placed in dishes and set to germinate in a warm chimney corner or sunny window.

    According to old folk belief, if the Saint Barbara's grain grows fast, crops will do well in the coming year. If, on the contrary, it withers and dies, crops will be ruined. The "Barbara's grain" is carefully tended by the children, who on Christmas Eve place it--a living symbol of the coming harvest--beside the creche, or miniature representation of the manger scene.

LA SAINT NICOLAS (Saint Nicholas' Day) December 6

    According to ancient French tradition the Virgin once gave Lorraine to Saint Nicholas as a reward. Consequently, the good saint became the special patron of that region, which he visits each year. Of course, Saint Nicholas does not confine his activities to Lorraine alone, for with his feast day, on December 6, children's Christmas festivities really begin.

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« Reply #54 on: April 29, 2009, 03:21:28 pm »

In Lorraine, where la Saint Nicolas is very important, representatives of the saint, dressed in bishop's regalia, walk through the streets followed by le Pere Fouettard, with a bundle of switches. Then comes a cart containing a salt barrel and figures of three young lads. According to legend the saint miraculously resuscitated three boys after an avaricious inn keeper murdered them and put their bodies in a keg of brine, intending to serve the flesh to hungry customers.

    On Saint Nicholas' Eve children place their shoes near the fireplace and retire with a prayer that the saint will remember them.


Saint Nicolas, mon bon patron,
Envoyez-moi quelqu'chose de bon,

is an old French rhyme. The good things children anticipate are sweets and candies; the bad they fear, especially if they have been naughty during the year, are whippings from le Pere Fouettard, Saint Nicholas' companion. He is a stern disciplinarian, and he remembers how children have behaved during the past twelve months. As a reminder of his watchfulness, small ribbon-tied bunches of birch twigs accompany even the gifts Saint Nicholas leaves for good boys and girls.

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« Reply #55 on: April 29, 2009, 03:21:39 pm »

LA VEILLE DE NOEL (Christmas Eve) December 24

    French families prepare for Christmas Eve with the creche, or miniature nativity scene, which is made with small figures representing the Christ Child, Joseph and Mary, the Magi, the animals and shepherds, set against a charming background of moss, stones, and small branches. The creche, which exists in a great variety of forms--simple in many homes and elaborate in the churches--survives from medieval times, when miracle plays were enacted from small stages set up in the street or market place.

    In Provence the creche is characterized by little gaily-colored clay figures called santons. These small figures represent not only the Holy Family, but all sorts of familiar village characters--the butcher, the baker, the spinner, basket maker and flute player, all of whom, like the Magi and shepherds, come to adore the Infant Jesus and present him with their simple gifts. Sometimes tricolored candles, symbols of the Trinity, light the nativity scene. Shortly before Christmas, Marseilles holds a santons fair which is attended by people from all over Provence. Here they purchase the traditional figures which are made by a score of families living between Nice and Marseilles. The molds for the santons, which depict with loving accuracy the costumes and occupations of the Provencal peasant, have been handed down in these families from father to son for approximately three hundred years.

    At midnight the church bells joyously anounce the birth of Christ and the hour of Christmas Mass. In Paris cathedrals the service is magnificent, while in rural districts the ceremony is observed more simply. The beautiful church cr&che, dramatically lighted with burning tapers, the singing of old provincial carols, incense, the pealing of many bells--all combine to make this service the most colorful of the year.

    At Les Baux, in Provence, a celebrated Christmas Mass called the Fete des Bergers, Festival of the Shepherds, is annually performed. Shepherds and shepherdesses, dressed in regional costume, make symbolic offering of a new-born lamb to the Christ Child on the anniversary of his birth.

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« Reply #56 on: April 29, 2009, 03:21:50 pm »

 The shepherds place a lamb in a small two-wheeled wagon, which is drawn by a rain and elaborately decorated with flowers, lighted candles, and tinkling bells. The spokes of the wheels are wound with flowers, while the cart's bent-twig canopy is gay as a Christmas tree with lighted tapers, garlands, and pretty ornaments. The lamb is drawn about the church in joyous procession. The shepherds, carrying burning candles and offerings of fruit, sing ancient Provencal carols to the traditional accompaniment of flute and drum. The procession stops at the altar where a young shepherd lifts up the lamb and presents it to the officiating priest. Later shepherds and shepherdesses take communion.

    Similar shepherds' Masses are held elsewhere in Provence, one of the most beautiful being at the Abbaye de Saint-Michel de Frigolet, not far from Les Baux.

    After attending Midnight Mass it is customary throughout France to hold family parties at which the reveillon, or late supper is served. Traditional foods for this repast vary from place to place. In Paris and the Ile-de-France, for example, there are oysters, pate de foie gras, blood sausage, pancakes, many varieties of sweets and white wine. The following day the newspapers always report the number of kilometers of blood sausage people have eaten at reveillon!

    Goose is served in many areas. In Provence people say that the reason for eating this favorite food is that the goose welcomed the Wise Men with its quacking as they approached the Christ Child's stable. Snails an--' mullets are as traditional to the Provencal reveillon as oysters to the Parisian. Pike, celery, and chard are essential in the main course, which custom dictates should be followed by eleven different desserts. These include such delicacies as roast chestnuts, hazelnuts, figs, dates, raisins, apples, pears and nougat.

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« Reply #57 on: April 29, 2009, 03:22:00 pm »

After supper the grandfather or oldest member of the household, surrounded by the family and farm servants, always used to pour a little wine on the Yule log while uttering a traditional toast:


Be happy! Be happy!
May le bon Dieu make us happy.
Even though we are gone next year,
Let us be happy today!

    Among the Bretons buckwheat cakes and sour cream are important Christmas Eve fare, while roasted chestnuts with milk are eaten in some parts of Auvergne. In other places the chestnuts must always be served with wine. Pancakes are traditional to Franche-Comte, turkey and chestnuts to Burgundy. In other words, each region boasts its own reveillon specialty, prepared and served in its own special way.

    On Christmas Eve children carefully set out their shoes near the fireplace since they believe that le Pere Noel, Father Christmas, or, in Alsace, le petit Jesus, will stop before dawn and fill them with nuts and sweets, sometimes even with coveted toys.

    In some places carol singers with lighted tapers and a small creche, go from house to house singing old carols of Jesus' birth and receiving small money gifts in return. In southern France, there are charming puppet shows of the Christmas story, as well as village processions representing Joseph, with Mary and the Child on a donkey. A chorus accompanies the little group and sings songs of the Holy Birth.
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« Reply #58 on: April 29, 2009, 03:22:08 pm »

NOEL (Christmas) December 25

    Christmas is a time for family dinners, reunions and parties, rather than merrymaking and exchanging gifts. Oysters, roast goose, or turkey with chestnut and pork filling, bombe glacee, and an abundance of fine wine are a few of the delicacies which characterize the Christmas feast in many city homes.



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« Reply #59 on: April 29, 2009, 03:22:31 pm »

4 FESTIVALS OF GERMANY
NEUJAHR (New Year's Day) January I

    The first day of the year must be lived as you would live during the next twelve months, according to German folk tradition; for New Year's Day is the time of new beginnings. The housewife takes care that her home is in order. Everyone puts on at least one new garment. People try not to spend money, but jingle coins in their pockets "for luck." No unpleasant tasks are undertaken. Of course, both doctor and chemist are avoided. Everybody settles down to having a good time with family, friends, and neighbors.

    At the beginning of the year people universally exchange greeting cards, but the giving of gifts is confined largely to money remembrances for the postman, janitor, cleaning woman and others who have served the family faithfully during the year.

DREIKONIGSFEST (Festival of the Three Kings) January 6

    The Festival of the Three Kings marks the end of the Yuletide season. On this day the Christmas tree is lighted for the last time.

    Boys and men dressed as the Three Kings wander about towns and villages of the Kinzig River area and elsewhere, singing old folk songs of the Wise Men and begging for alms. The Kings wear gold paper crowns and carry large cardboard stars. One of their favorite songs says that:


The Three Holy Kings
Carrying their star
Like to eat and drink;
But they don't like to pay
For the goodies they get!
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