Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My Big Fat Halloween Wedding

by Kim Matzke

Looking nervous

Looking very nervous as
I begin to walk down
the aisle with my sons

Last issue I wrote about the origins and popularity of Halloween as a spooky time to think about those things that scare us. This week I am going to talk about something that is so scary that most men can't even bring themselves to speak its name out loud. Marriage! So, what could be more natural than combining a holiday about Death with "Til Death do us part?" And that is exactly what my husband and I did one year ago.
Chocolate iced wedding cake with transparent separator columns
Chocolate Wedding Cake with Sweetheart Dragon Cake Topper

There I stood, with one son on each arm, gazing down the aisle at the knight that I would spend the rest of my life with. My eldest son was dressed as The Phantom of the Opera and my younger son was attired as Death, complete with black gauze wings and a scythe. As they escorted me down the aisle, I gazed upon the assembly, curious to see who had decided to witness this momentous occasion. I was pleased to see such a wide variety in attendance. There were some pirates, a naughty cook, a dark fairy, the doctor in his scrubs, the hippies, the vampires, the undead and even the DJ from the 1950s in her poodle skirt. And, of course, the contingent from the medieval and Renaissance eras came in satins and brocades to match the bridal party.
Baby in peapod costume

All the guests
came in costume

While we were having the wedding on Halloween, I had decided to go for an Autumnal décor. Instead of having the Maid of Honor toss flower petals, I thought that Autumn leaves might be better. And Jack-o-lanterns lay about the landscape with Fall garlands and accents. Each guest received their very own ceramic candy holder in Fall colors to take with them in remembrance of the occasion—filled with candy of course. After all, they gave up their trick-or-treating to attend our wedding.
So Death and The Phantom finally brought me to my would-be groom and gave their blessings that I was now his responsibility and thus the ceremony began. I had decided that my soon-to-be husband and I would dress in gold and silver. So, my Celtic inspired gown was gold brocade and my fiancé was in silver brocade and black velvet. Our officiant was dressed as a druid priest. As the ceremony unfolded, we treated our guests to an old-time handfasting ceremony that entertained and educated at the same time. My inspiration for the ceremony came from a website I have listed below.
Strong  man playing bagpipes

Bagpipers for

After the ceremony, the photographer took a few formal pictures. Then, we had a plate of finger food, fired-up the bagpipers, and gave outdoor prizes and prizes for best costume. We finished off the evening by dancing to new Celtic music by Blackmore's Night (see below) as well as some fun oldies songs like, "The Monster Mash."
Happy bride and groom

Kim and Steve finally relax
and have fun after
the ceremony

All in all, I think everyone had a wonderful time, and my new husband and I received many compliments on how this had been such a fun wedding to attend. Because it was the second wedding for both of us, we thought we would just have a really good time with it. The last thing we wanted it to be was formal and stuffy. We’ve now been married for almost a year and I still have so many fond memories of the evening; and, so do our friends—they still comment on the fun they had!
Now you may be thinking, “What on earth made you want to get married on Halloween?” Believe it or not, Halloween is a date that many couples are choosing to perform their nuptuals. For us, it was the anniversary of our first date and it is a day that both of us can easily remember. Halloween is popular for pagan weddings because of the New Year/New Life symbolism. It is popular with devotees of goth culture for obvious reasons and nearly everyone else because of its associations with parties and fun.
Here are some websites about Halloween weddings: K.A. Laity has devoted an entire website to her Halloween wedding. Catherine Greene and Nicholas Doubleday share their Halloween wedding experience on the web as well. Tonya Jordan at Best Wedding Articles gives some advice on how to keep your wedding formal and still have it on Halloween. For the ultimate Halloween-themed wedding, you can get married anytime of the year in Las Vegas inside Dracula's Tomb, a Haunted Graveyard, or have a Rocky Horror Wedding. Visit GothicWeddings.com for the details.
Regardless of your motivation for choosing to wed your true love on Halloween, you can be assured that the diversity of the holiday will make it easy to plan your perfect day. You may choose spooky and scary and have the horror wedding of your nightmares. A mythical or legendary theme could give your guests some wonderful ideas for their costumes. Who wouldn’t want to have Zeus, Aphrodite, Pan and maybe even an elf or a dragon in attendance? A medieval or Renaissance theme is always fun. It could be the bride’s opportunity to dress as the Princess she’s always dreamed of being and give the groom the chance to be her Knight in Shining Armor. Then there’s the classy gothic theme with wonderful dark elegance everywhere you turn. Halloween is so versatile that you can opt for anything from fun and frivolous to classic and formal. Your options are endless.

Originally published 09/04/2007 by Gael Stirler and Kim Matzke of © Chivlary Sports

History of Halloween and Samhain

Witch and black cat

Witches and black
cats were feared in
superstitious times

Halloween is the second biggest commercial holiday in America. Millions of people celebrate the holiday each year, but its origins are obscure. Some view Halloween as simply a time for fun with friends and family. Others see it as superstitious in nature because of its symbols of death and supernatual horror. Some religions even view it as an unholy holiday. But, whatever your view, here is the fascinating story of the many rivers that converged to create Halloween.
white robed druid before a bonfire

Druid looking into bonfire

The origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain is pronounced "sah-van", although many neo-Pagans pronounce it as " sow-in" (where "ow" rhymes with "cow"). In Gaelic, "sam" means summer and "fuin" means "end." So, "Samhain" means "end of the warm season."
Two thousand years ago the Celts lived in the areas that are now Ireland, the United Kingdom, northern France, and Germany. They celebrated their New Year on November 1 each year. This was the day that signified the end of summer along with the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold, and often fatal winter.

demons attacking people

People feared spirits
would cause misfortune

The Celts believed that during the transition to the New Year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead could intermingle. They began celebrations at sundown on October 31 to ease this transition. Though scant evidence has been found, researchers believe that during the celebration Druids would build huge bonfires for the people to gather around. They would the burn choice parts of their crops and livestock as offerings to the Celtic deities and ask for protection during the coming cold season. When the festivities were over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire.
Belief in elevated spirit activity led to attempts to make predictions about the future. Consulting the dead was an important part of the celebrations. Since the people were entirely dependent on the unpredictable and sometimes unkind, natural world, they sought for comfort and direction in prophecies and fortune telling games.
ghosts rising from the dead They feared that the ghosts of the dead who returned could cause mischief, misfortune, and damage to crops. The Celts wore costumes made from animal heads and skins to avoid being recognized by the spirits of the dead. They hoped that the spirits, intent on mischief, would be fooled into passing them by. They also set out bowls of food to appease the ghosts and prevent them from entering their homes. This could be where trick-or-treating originated.
By 43 A.D., the Romans held power in the Celtic lands and, during the course of the four hundred years they ruled, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.
The first was Feralia, a day that started out in February that was intended to give rest and peace to the dead. The Romans made sacrifices to honor the dead and said prayers for them.
Pomona, Goddess of orchardsThe second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of orchards. Her symbol was the apple, and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

Martyr tied to a tree and shot with arrows

St. Sebastian

By 800 A.D., Christianity had spread to the Celtic lands. Around this time, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, which was a time to honor saints and martyrs. The faithful were admonished to spend their time contemplating the gruesome ways that Christian saints had been tortured to death and how they themselves might be called to martyrdom someday. The celebration was called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before All-hallowmas, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve, eventually becoming Halloween.
Even later, around 1000 A.D., the Catholic Church named November 2 All Souls' Day, to honor the faithfully departed. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and costumes of saints, angels, and devils. Eventually all three celebrations were put together, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', into one event called Hallowmas.
evil-looking  pumpkinsCarving Jack-o-lanterns is a tradition that came from the Celts—they carved skulls and lanterns out of turnips. The legend starts with a man named Jack, who was a notorious drunk and practical joker. Jack was said to have tricked the devil into climbing up a tree. He then carved an image of a cross into the tree’s trunk and trapped the devil in the highest branches of the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that said if he would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down. Legend says that after Jack died he was denied entrance to heaven because of his sins. Jack was then denied entrance into hell because of the trick he had played on the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the cold, dark winter. Jack placed the light into a hollowed out turnip so it would burn longer. The earliest written evidence of a Jack-o-lantern is an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1663. The earliest written account of pumpkins being used for Jack-o-lanterns on Halloween was in 1866 in the Daily News (Kingston, Ontario, Canada), where youngsters of the city "sacrificed pumpkins to make transparent heads, lit by tallow candles".
Latin skeleton fiesta, Dia de los MuertosOther countries also celebrate "Death-themed" holidays around the same time. In Mexico it is called “Dia de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, which coincides with All Souls’ Day and blends Catholic and Native American traditions. Mexicans decorate their homes and the graves of their relatives with paper skeletons, and set out food for wandering spirits. In England, Guy Fawkes’ Day has largely taken the place of Halloween. It is celebrated on November 5 as a patriotic holiday. Revelers go door to door with a straw effigy of saboteur Guy Fawkes and ask for, "a penny for the guy" then spend the money on fireworks and candy. The effigy is then burned on a bonfire.
engraving  of Guy FawkesThe holiday has a gruesome origin. Guy Fawkes and his conspirators attempted to kill King James I of England, his family, and most of the aristocracy by blowing up the House of Lords in what came to be called the Gunpowder Plot. They failed when one of them sent a letter of warning to a Catholic friend in Parliament. On November 5, 1605, Fawkes was caught in a cellar under Parliament, about to light the fuse on 36 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes was tortured for three days before he confessed and revealed the names of the other conspirators. After his trial he was tortured again and executed publicly on January 31, 1606. The holiday commemorates the Crown's victory over anarchism. In an ironic twist, Guy Fawkes has come to be viewed as a rebel hero and is said to be "the only man to ever enter parliament with honourable intentions."


So, from its beginnings to now this fall holiday, in all its various guises, has been a time to mock and revere the things that frighten us—whether they are death, ghosts, demons, torture, or even terrorists. Its as though our ancestors looked at their bountiful harvest, bulging storerooms, and safe, warm dwellings, and said, "Oh, Winter, you can't harm us. We spit in your face." And though we have tamed our environment, we still have a need to square our shoulders against the unknown because, in the end, its still our nature to invent evil out of shadows and find courage through humor so we, too, can spit in the face of Death.

Originally published Aug 17, 2007 by Kim Matzke of Chivalry Sports

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Entertainment Issue

Elizabeth Returns

Queen Elizabeth in a pink ruff
Cate Blanchette
as Elizabeth I in The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age takes up the story of Elizabeth I where the 1998 movie Elizabeth: the Virgin Queen left off. Elizabeth has remade herself from a tender young princess into a formidable iconic figure, a goddess Queen. Acadamy Award® winners Cate Blanchette and Geoffry Rush reprise their roles as the Queen of England and her head counselor Sir Fancis Walsingham. Samantha Morton (Agatha in Minority Report, Elizabeth Barry in The Libertine) plays Mary, Queen of Scots, who is plotting to depose her cousin Elizabeth, even from her imprisonment.

Clive Owen in a doublet
Sir Walter Raleigh
Clive Owen (Children of Men, King Arthur) joins the cast as Sir Walter Raleigh, the object of the Queen's intense interest. Though her heart is as passionate as any woman's, she must deny her desires, having sworn that no man will be her master. She encourages her favorite lady-in-waiting, Bess, to befriend Raleigh just to keep him near. However, this strategy forces Elizabeth to observe their growing intimacy. Religious and political tides threaten to overthrow the nation from within even as the Spanish openly attack England with the largest armada of ships in the world. The king of Spain is determined to restore Catholicism to England and bring with it the Inquisition. Never has there been more at stake for England or Elizabeth.
Much of the original team returns to give The Golden Age the magic touch. Producers Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan join co-nominees director Shekhar Kapur, cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, and costume designer Alexandra Byrne on this extravagent film. The first movie was nominated for 7 Acadamy Awards and 3 Golden Globes, so look for more Oscar® buzz on this one next year.

Hundreds of ships
The Spanish Armada
invades English waters with an army of 10,000.

Though this is the same subject matter that was so brilliantly covered in the 2005 television mini-series Elizabeth I that won a best actress Emmy for Helen Mirren, judging by the recently released theatrical trailers this film will do what movies do best—big-screen spectacle. There are no holds barred in bringing the Spanish Armada to life and sweeping us up in the absolute beauty of the locations, costumes, music, and gorgeous actors on screen. This looks like a succulent feast of a movie you will need to see on the large screen and then purchase on DVD to study in detail later.
Release Date: October 12, 2007. PG-13. Visit the Official Website.

Laura Michelle Kelly
as Galadriel

May 2007–March 2008.

Frodo Sings!

At £25 million, The Lord of the Rings is the most expensive musical ever brought to the London Theatre. After its out of town trials in Toronto the director tightened up the rambling story and ragged staging by cutting 45 minutes from the overall length and giving it more punch in the process. Now it is bringing in record crowds in London and those of us in the USA are hoping that it will cross the pond to Broadway, LA, or even Las Vegas, which is rapidly becoming the the new West End for musicals and theatrical spectaculars. Unfortuately no plans have been announced yet. But if you are planning a trip to London in the next 9 months, you should look into booking tickets now.
The long-awaited stage spectacularThe Lord of Rings, based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien, opened in London at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in May to mixed reviews. Though some fans of the novels and movies fault it for leaving out storylines and characters they love, it still covers much of the original material in a 3-hour musical with two intermissions.
Sam and Frodo
Peter Howe and James Loye
as Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins

But instead of trying to create a strict version of the books, the authors Matthew Warchus and Shaun McKenna have used the magic of the stage to find a new way to tell one of the greatest epic myths of our time. They weave an enchanted tapestry of color, music, dance, and emotion to draw the audience into the fantasic realms of Lothlorien and Mordor. The music and lyrics bring life to inner thoughts and emotions of the characters and define the mystic races. Michael Therriault gives an emotional performance through his tortured dance and jerky postures as Gollum that starts with his first appearance climbing from the rafters to trail Frodo and Gandalf and never relents until he falls into the Cracks of Doom.


Michael Therriault as Gollum
Tree ents and hobbits

Merry and Pippen call on the Ents for help

The composers A. R. Rahaman and the musical group Värttinä come from India and Finland to create a new sound that blends Bollywood musicals with ancient folk music and Enya-style Celtic arias. The staging is breathtaking with over 70 actors, Cirque acrobats, and dancers. The sets are created from wicker forms that seem to materialize before your eyes and rotate to reveal the action on all sides. Parts of the stage rise and fall and spin as battles burst from the revolving stage into the audience and up into the air like Kabuki warriors. Tiny Merry and Pippen wake the Ents of Fangorn who are on stilts so incredibly tall they have to lean on staves like little old men. There are creepy battles with orcs on springy prothetic limbs who move like no humans move, and the spider Shelob is every bit as frightening as a nightmare.


Orcs and Uruck Hai battle

Each scene is a dazzling, special-effects filled experience that will leave you breathless.The seat prices range from £15 (about $30 US) for the upper balcony to £60 for a stage side stall or seat in the dress circle. Since so much of the action takes place high in the air above the sets and the sets are made to be seen from above all the seats have great views.
You can view video of the performance, backstage preparations, and listen to music from the Lord of the Rings on their Official Website.

Peter O'Toole joins the cast of The Tudors

Young Henry
Jonathan Rhys Meyersas Henry VIII
O'Toole at the Oscars

Peter O'Toole
The Tudors returns to Showtime next spring with Peter O'Toole playing the role of Pope Paul III, who threatens King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) with excommunication and eternal damnation for his pursuit of Lady Anne Boleyn.
While O’Toole is possibly best known for his Oscar®-nominated work in the title role of David Lean’s sweeping epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), he made cinematic history by being only one of four actors to earn Best Actor Oscar® nominations for playing the same role in two different films: he played Henry II in Becket (1964), and, opposite Katharine Hepburn, in The Lion in Winter (1968). He has earned a total of eight Oscar® nominations, most recently for his work in last year’s indie drama Venus. In 2003 he was awarded a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar®.
In the first season finale of The Tudors , Henry and Anne’s passionate affair has reached a fevered pique and Henry’s obsession with making her his queen has grown all-consuming. As Season Two begins, Henry’s desires are thwarted by the Church, an obstacle that makes him even more determined to separate Parliament from Church. After Henry secretly marries Anne and has his marriage to Katherine (Maria Doyle Kennedy) declared invalid, Pope Paul III (O’Toole) moves to excommunicate Henry and the two have an ongoing feud with a fallout that has repercussions in England to this day.
The Tudors Official Site on Showtime

Originally published July 31, 2007 by Gael Stirler

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Renaissance Magazine needs you now!

Renaissance Magazine* has announced the publication of it's Special Directory Issue. This special issue will include Faires, Guilds, Merchants, and Performers in the Renaissance, SCA and other Medieval related communities.
If you work in anyway with the Renaissance market, they are asking for you to provide them with your correct listing by filling out the form at www.renaissancemagazine.com/directory.html.
Please also share this exciting opportunity with any other merchants, performers and guilds by forwarding this email.
Receive a FREE bi-monthly E-Newsletter. Sign up at www.renaissancemagazine.com/newsletter.html. Advertise with a banner ad and 30 words for only $50 a month or $100 for 3 consecutive months. Reach 1000's of Renaissance Enthusiasts for pittance. If you would like to advertise in this upcoming Special issue, please contact Renaissance Magazine directly regarding rates.

*Not a Chivalry Sports Renaissance Store Publication.

Originally published June 27, 2006 by Gael Stirler

Dressing the Part

For Fun and Comfort at the Festival
by Kim Matzke
Kim It seems that every year there are more and more people who dress in costume when they attend their local Renaissance Faire. Is it really more fun? What do you need to make your costume great? Well, let's find out.

I attended my first Renaissance Faire about 11 years ago. I took my two boys (then ages 6 and 8) with me. We all had a blast!!

The costumes were fabulous! The shows were wonderful! The shops were fantastic! The games were genius! The King and Queen's Court was impressive! And, the jousting was amazing! The only thing that would have made it better would be if we had been in costume, too. But it was my first Faire and what did I know?
Well, you can rest assured that the next year when we went to Faire, we were all dressed in costume. And you know what? We all had an even better time than the year before!

Hail and well met!
The Royal Welcome
at the Colorado Renaissance Festival

As we approached the entrance, the minstrels and players acknowledged us as Lords and Lady and complimented us on our appearance. It was wonderful to see my boys beam with pride as they were recognized by the performers.

Because I was dressed as a “wench” in skirt, bodice, and chemise, I must say that I truly enjoyed the attention that my costume garnered from the players during the shows and even the merchants as I ogled their wares and they, in turn, ogled my .. um .. assets.

The boys had a great time attending to the period games and rides and seemed to feel much more comfortable interacting with the game attendants and wandering minstrels. It was as if they had almost transformed into true medieval lads romping about a medieval village.

I must say that it was a magical day for us all and we were, all three, reluctant to leave as the sun began to set on the Faire. We all vowed that we would return again the next year and the vote was unanimous that our return absolutely MUST be “in costume.”

Keep your choices simple and functional

If you decide that you'd like to attend your local Renaissance Faire in costume, here are some tips to help you with your costume.

Children laughing
love to dress up in garb

When shopping for children who have the pesky tendency to just grow right out of their clothing, try to buy the clothing a bit larger than what they need right now. The Child's Commoner's Vest, Little Lady's Chemise and Little Lady's Irish Dress are designed to be size flexible to accommodate several sizes through a child's development. The natural fiber fabric and tough seams ensure that they'll grow out of these clothes before they wear them out. That should give you a good idea of the quality of these clothes.

Our ancestors wore hats and veils for a reason. Aside from the fact that they didn't want to mess with their hair everyday and hats would easily hide their untidy locks, hats are also good for keeping the sun off of your head, and brimmed hats, like the Elizabethan Cap, will keep the sun out of your eyes. Hats like the Muffin Cap hide modern hairstyles and are versatile enough to wear a number of different ways. Ladies can also use a snood or a veil to keep the sun off their head or conceal a modern hairstyle. The right hat not only completes your costume, but it will also help keep you comfortable whether it is hot or cold at the Faire.

Some other ways to “battle” the weather during your day at the Faire are to bring an umbrella or a parasol to provide shade when none other is available. And while it distracts a little from the ambience, please either protect your eyes with a brimmed hat or sunglasses.

Good advice to help you put together the perfect costume

What to wear under
Wear natural fibers like cotton and linen

The proper Lady should start with the correct undergarments for maximum comfort. Start with a chemise and bloomers. A chemise is usually a full-length under-dress made from a light fabric (like cotton) that is easily washable. This garment is designed to sit next to your skin and absorb any sweat that might soil your outer gown. Bloomers are wonderful for preventing chafing if you happen to attend the Faire on a warm day. Hoop skirts hold big skirts out from the legs at an attractive angle and have the added benefit of allowing air to circulate under the skirt to keep you cool on a warm day.

Next you will want to find the perfect gown, dress or bodice and skirt. These items are usually made from more elaborate fabric since they will not need to be cleaned as often as your chemise and bloomers because they rarely come in contact with your skin.


Tapestry Cap
Elizabethan Cap
worn with a lace snood

Finish off the outfit with a few accessories like a hat, snood or veil, a belt with a pouch and one or two tankard straps (these are great for holding your keys) with a tankard, and any jewelry that will compliment the outfit.

Finally, I recommend socks and comfortable shoes or boots. I place heavy stress on the word “comfortable.” Sandals and open-toed shoes are probably not a good idea when attending a Faire and heels are simply impractical for the sometimes rugged terrain. Even a pair of black tennis shoes would be better than uncomfortable shoes since they will rarely been seen from under your gown or skirt.

The gentle Lord will need either a hat or a biggen. The benefit of a biggen is that it can be wetted at the water fountain and then placed on the head to cool off on a hot day.

Next, he will need an undershirt of light fabric (cotton and other natural fiber fabrics breath well while polyester doesn't breath at all and can make it seem like you are wearing a plastic bag), an over-tunic like a doublet, jerkin, or a vest (this can be removed if the weather gets too warm or put back on if it cools off). Again the over-tunic can be made of a more elaborate fabric because it will rarely touch your skin. Don't forget pants, of course.

with a belt, pouch, and tankard strap
Finish the outfit with a belt and pouch, a belt-knife, a tankard, one or two tankard straps, and any “manly” jewelry that will compliment the outfit. Perhaps a chain or a ring. For men, I recommend socks and comfortable boots. Boots make every man's costume that much more dashing. And if your Faire allows, you may want to wear your sword.

A child's costume is less involved. Girls need a chemise and a dress made from fabric that is machine washable. Boys need a light undershirt and a pair of pants and possibly an over-tunic that is easily cared for. Both will need a hat or a biggen, a belt, and socks and shoes. I also highly recommend that you hang a favor (small scarf or tie) on their belt that bears the child's name and contact information should they be separated from the family.

One thing to keep in mind is that clothing layers are your friends. If you dress in layers, then you will be prepared for whatever the weather may have in store for you. You may even want to bring a cloak or two in case it turns chilly or if you're planning to stay after dark.
A Few More Tips

For those who might be attending their first Renaissance Faire, make sure that you bring some water with you and keep yourself hydrated through the day. Water will be available on site too, so you can buy it there if you forget to bring some with you. Sunscreen and hand sanitizer, however, will probably not be available at the Faire. Definitely plan to bring your own supply and use it, use it, use it. You also may want to bring or buy canvas tote bags. This will help you keep the ambience and hold your purchases, excess clothing, and other essentials throughout the day.

knight charging
Jousting at
Bristol Renaissance Faire

And finally, in each of our newsletters, we provide you with information and links to Renaissance Faires throughout the country. Check out the website of the Faire you are planning to attend and get information about the site. What will it cost to attend? Are there fees for parking and how much are they? What merchants will be in attendance and what do they sell? What kind of food is available and does it fit within your eating plan? Are you allowed to wear a sword, or should you leave it at home? These websites can be a wealth of information and are designed to give you the answers you need to make your day at the Renaissance Faire a great and grand adventure.

With these tips, I have every confidence that you will be able to select a wonderful costume to wear to Faire and have the most magical day possible.

If you need more help choosing the perfect costume, feel free to call The Renaissance Store and talk with one of our helpful sales people. They would be more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge with you.

Vivat my Lords and Ladies! And have a grand time!

Originally published June 27, 2007 by Kim Matzke

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tracking the Tudor Tailor

by Gael Stirler

Lady Anne Boleyn
by Lucas Horenbout
a Tudor fashion trendsetter
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a talk by the authors of the The Tudor Tailor (item CFP62556) at the Phoenix Museum of Art. Ninya (pronouced NIH-na) Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies kept an audience of costumers and reenactors stitched to our seats for two hours as they interpreted the lives of two women of the early 16th century through their relation to their garments and each other.
Jane portrayed Ann Lauther, a woman of the gentlemanly class who lived in Yorkshire with her husband on a stipend of only £100 a year! With that she could maintain a fine house and 12 servants. Nina portrayed Kat Myldmay, a women of the village, who occasionally worked for Ann Lauther on contract. She would assist the house servants one day a month for a year with the linen washing for the grand sum of 4 pence a year! She also made extra money by mending clothes and assisting in other chores when needed. Between this money and other sums earned by her husband and children, the family lived comfortably on less than £1 a year.
Ninya Mikhaila
as Kat Myldmay
in her Sunday Best
I was surprised to learn that a suit of clothing often cost as much as a Tudor person earned in a year. Jane explained that there were 12 shillings in a pound and 20 pence in a shilling. A yard of inexpensive wool to make a kirtle for Kat Myldmay was dear enough at 2 shillings and 8 pence and a kirtle took 3 yards of fabric. That cost more than a half year's wages for one garment. Kat could only afford one kirtle and had to wear it everyday! But she could dress it up with accessories. She also owned two aprons, two linen head scarves called "yard squares," a pair of detachable sleeves of green wool broadcloth, a partlet of black worsted wool, and a felted knit flat cap. She would only wear the nicer accessories on Sunday when she went to church. Nina explained that the wool garments never were washed in water so they lasted a long time with care, so Kat Myldmay was very careful with her clothing. Everyone worn linen undergarments like smocks, shirts, and chemises to keep body oils and sweat from the outer garments. Kat owned three linen chemises—one to wear, one to wash, and one nice smock for Sunday. The kirtle and sleeves were lined with linen, too, which could be replaced when it became worn and soiled. This was called "freshing" the garments.
Jane's character, Ann, had to dress more elegantly as the mistress of a big household. Even so, she only owned one black silk gown which she wore to church and on special occasions. In the demonstrations Ann asked Kat to attend her while her own maids were not available. As Ann changed out of her everyday clothing and into her finery, the two authors lectured on clothing, economics, social customs, and English history, sometimes speaking as their characters and sometimes as narrators.
Under Ann's loose robe and surcoat she was wearing her chemise and a light wool kirtle. The kirtle, which was also called a petticoat by Tudors, was a combination skirt and fitted bodice with narrow straps over the shoulders that was worn as a foundation garment. It laced in the front. The most amazing fact they discovered was that of all the kirtles mentioned in wills, inventories, and bills of sale, a full 89% were some shade of red.
A French hood
with a gold frill and garnets on the billiment
There was no boning in the kirtle, but the next two garments were boned. According to the authors, boned corsets, called "bodies," were not in evidence in the historical documents for their class until Elizabethan times.
The next garment that Kat helped Ann Lauther into was her undergown of Damask silk. Only the hem, forepart, straps, and the front section of the bodice were of brocade—the rest was plain silk taffeta. This item of clothing was boned from waist to mid-chest all the way around. Because it laced in the back, it tended to flatten the bosoms, nearly pushing them under the arms. This created the typical Tudor sillhouette with a slight mounding above the decolletage. "Rather than," as Kat Mildmay would put it, "serving melons on a platter." The neckline of this gown was decorated with "fake pearls because Ann couldn't afford real ones." Even in Tudor times there was a vigorous industry in cheap costume jewelry.
Blackwork cuffs

Then Kat assisted Ann into her black brocade silk outergown with wide sleeves that were turned back to the elbow. The gown was tightly laced over the midriff in the front. The authors pointed out that the eyelets for lacing were on separate strips of sturdy silk fabric that were boned and sewn on either side of the front. That way they could be easily replaced when they wore out from the strain of lacing. Both of the gowns were fully lined with linen or silk where the lining might show. The skirts were also innerlined from the waist to the knee with a fluffy wool fabric called "cotton." There was no cotton in it at all, but the innerlining resembled the fluffy plant fiber. This innerlining gave the skirts the proper bell-shaped drape without the use of hoopskirts or bumrolls. The last step was to cover the lacing in the front with a placard of matching black brocade silk. Kat Myldmay pinned the placard in place with handmade brass pins. She said that the pins were the same as the ones that Queen Anne Boleyn used to pen her placard in place. Then she finished the process by pinning the shoulders to the undergown so that they wouldn't gap.
Fabric swatchbook
compiled by the authors
After they were done with the dress, Ann put on a lovely French hood that was all of one piece, but she said that was only for convenience sake. A Tudor woman would have worn a French hood that had many parts starting with a linen cap next to the hair and ending with a silk veil pinned to the crescent. Her other accessories included her blackworked cuffs, false sleeves, jewels, a pair of woolen hose, and sturdy leather strapover shoes.
The Tudor Tailor
by Ninya Mikhaila

and Jane Malcolm-Davies
After the demonstration, the authors mingled with the audience at a reception and book signing. They graciously answered questions and invited us to touch and examine the clothing they were wearing. They also made other items available for close inspection, including a child's kirtle made of rough spun wool, a man's shirt of Holland linen, and a reference book of fabric swatches.
Ninya and Jane have headed back to England after a whirlwind book tour of California and the Southwest. Hopefully they will return soon. The talk they gave in Phoenix was only one of six different presentations that they regularly perform. You can read more about them and view pictures from the book on their website, "The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing 16th Century Dress." The other talks cover men's clothing, the upper classes, and full Elizabethan court wear. There is a Yahoo group that you can join, too, to discuss the book. The book The Tudor Tailor includes clothing and accessories for all classes, with facinating background on the lives of these people, many color and black and white photographs, historical examples from paintings, statues, and extant garments, and detailed patterns for all the garments. The 160-page book is available from Chivalry Sports Renaissance Store for $34.95.

Originally published --June 13, 2007-- by Gael Stirler

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Romance and the Pirates

The Buccaneer
was a Picturesque Fellow,

Howard Pyle (1853-1911)
From "The Fate of a Treasure Town,"
Harper’s Monthly Magazine,
December 1905

An essay by Gael Stirler (AKA daughter of the Great Pirate)

As some of you know I am the owner of Chivalry Sports and a reenactor myself. In that world I am Mistress Dairine mor o'uHigin, which is old Irish for Pirate! I have had a love for pirate lore since childhood. But I'll be marooned at sea in a tin cup if I can figure out why little children are so attracted to pirates. Now that I am about to be a grandmother, the last thing I want is my granddaughter becoming fascinated with a bloodthirsty, remorseless, pox-ridden, dirty, dog-running, piece of jetsam that would no more kill her as look at her. Let's face it, pirates really were vile criminals, who were a pack of murdering marauders that none of us would ever want to meet in real life. But then again...

There is that romance of freedom that tugs at us whenever we hear, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life..." Who hasn't wanted to run away and sail off to adventure; to do exactly what we want, when we want; to let all our baser nature take hold and fight like a wild thing, mindless and heedless of whatever may happen in the next moment. And when the fighting ends, if we lived, because we lived, we would celebrate like heathens in ports created to fill the desires of cold-hearted, hot-blooded, cutthroats like us. Havens where every shameless vice could be found in abundance for our indulgence. But then, in a matter of days, hungover and stinking of rum, blood, sweat, and every other filthy fluid, the dawn would find us heading back to the ship once more, totally broke and needing the fresh wind at our back and a tall mast overhead. We would find ourselves yearning for the quiet of nightwatch duty when all our mates slumber down below. A fragrant bowl of tobacco in a long clay pipe would be the only distraction as we scan the moonlit horizon.

We know that you weren't always a pirate. You escaped poverty in England only to become a slave in HM navy where work was hard, rewards meager, and life too short. At least as a pirate you were a stakeholder in a crew and entitled to a fair share of the booty. All the rules were rules you and your shipmates voted on together, and if you didn't have faith in your captain anymore, you could all vote him out and select a new leader.

I don't think I understood the finer points of democratic politics when I was a child. But, I liked the idea that pirates said, "No!" if they didn't want to do something. If they hated someone, they just took their revenge! They tied up their enemies with thick ropes and threw them into the brig or made them walk the plank. They didn't eat vegetables if they didn't want to and no one could make them! They had so many chests full of treasure they had to bury the excess on desert islands. Years later I realized what a pirate I had become when unloading goods to sell at an event. Only my chests were rubbermaid tubs instead of wood and they got buried in the storage room between shows.

When I was a child I loved pirates because they were rebellious against authority. They wore whatever they pleased even if it didn't match, and they got dirty just for the fun of it. They didn't have to take baths or go to sleep at 8 o'clock. It never occured to me as a child that when pirates did go to sleep it was in a hammock, in a room filled with 40 other snoring, farting, teeth-grinding, sweaty pirates, or that the boat was pitching and creaking all night long.

The romantic vision of pirates is born in our hearts as children when we are throwing tantrums. Little children just before they are really able to speak and make their desires known with words are the real pirates.. When they scream and growl to get their way. They demand time and attention on their schedule and we dutifully comply until they are old enough to learn how to play nice and behave. But deep inside, no matter how old they get, they still want their way like the greedy little pirates they really are.

That's why we love Jack Sparrow. He totters around like a toddler, issuing orders like he is the only one who understands what is going on, yet is totally befuddled by the world around him. But he always does exactly what he wants and invites us all along with him. He's like a floppy headed rag doll or an eager puppy. You just want to pick him up and play with him. And when you do, shiver me timbers, all the rot around you, all the danger and fear, all the stress and anger, just slips into the wake of the Black Pearl as it heads into another adventure, far away, on the high seas, with silk banners flying and the salt foam mist rising from the wave crests like snow from the peak of Mt. Everest.

So who wants to be a pirate?

Originally published May 31, 2007 by Gael Stirler

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Bouquet Confection to Delight your Love

Believe it or not this Spring bouquet by Scott Clark Wooley is made of sugar!
During medieval feasts it was customary to serve a soteltie as a part of the entertainments. Today the tradition of decorated food is carried on with elaborately decorated bithday or wedding cakes, molded patés and vegetable carving. Sotelties can be foods of one kind made to look like another kind, or to look like something that is not even food, like a basket or a book. Medieval cooks used sugar paste to make sculptures, buildings, fountains, flowers, and other fanciful designs. They even fashioned dishes and goblets out of sugar paste that the guests could actually use, just as in the Willy Wonka song, "you can even eat the dishes!" Food coloring can be kneaded into sugar paste before it is rolled out, cut, impressed, pinched and assembled into fantastic bouquets of flowers and other fancies. Scott Clark Wooley of New York City is considered one of Americas finest teachers of this ancient art form. His book, Cakes by Design, the Magical Art of Sugar Paste is available from the publisher for a limited time at a discount. This is a good place to start learning how to make flowers, bouquets, and wedding cake designs.

A period recipe
This is from Thomas Dawson, The Second Part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell, 1597, entitled "To make a paste of Suger, whereof a man may make al manner of fruits, and other fine things, with their forme, as Plates, Dishes, Cuppes and such like thinges, wherewith you may furnish a Table."

"Take Gumme and dragant as much as you wil, and steep it in Rosewater til it be mollified, and for foure ounces of suger take of it the bigness of a beane, the iuyce of Lemon, a walnut shel ful, and a little of the white of an eg. But you must first take the gumme, and beat it so much with a pestell in a brasen morter, till it be come like water, then put to it the iuyce with the white of an egge, incorporating al these wel together, this done take four ounces of fine white suger wel beaten to powder, and cast it into the morter by a litle and a litle, until they be turned into the form of paste, then take it out of the said morter, and bray it upon the powder of suger, as it were meale or flower, untill it be like soft paste, to the end you may turn it, and fashion it which way you wil, as is aforesaid, with such fine knackes as may serve a Table taking heed there stand no hotte thing nigh it. At the end of the Banket they may eat all, and breake the Platters Dishes, Glasses Cuppes, and all other things, for this paste is very delicate and saverous." More on historical Sugar Paste.

Dragant was another name for gum tragacanth. It comes from one of the many species of the Astragalus plant. This spiney weed with tiny starlike flowers is also called goat thorn and milkvetch. The gum made from the roots of the variety that grows wild in Asia Minor (Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) has been prized for centuries for its exceptional qualities in cooking, baking, and confections.

Here is a modern recipe, or you can use a pre-mix—I have used Wilton's gum paste pre-mix with great results.

Sugar Paste (also known as Gum Paste)

1 tbsp glucose or corn syrup
3 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp Wilton Gum-tex™ or tragacanth gum
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (about 1 lb)

In a large bowl, mix Gum-Tex™ into 3 cups confectioner's sugar. Make a well in the center and set aside. Mix water and corn syrup in a glass measuring cup and blend. Heat in a microwave oven on high for about 30 seconds until mixture is clear. Pour into well of 3 cups confectioner's sugar and mix until well blended (mixture will be very soft). Place mixture in a plastic bag and seal tightly. Let mixture rest at room temperature for about 8 hours. Knead remaining confectioner's sugar into gum paste when you are ready to use it. As you work it in, gum paste will whiten and soften. Work with only a small amount of gum paste at a time and keep the rest in the plastic bag.

Clay-like gum paste can be rolled thin and impressed with textures for fine detail. Insert wires into flowers before they dry. The paste will dry to a hard, porcelain-like finish overnight. It can also be formed and painted to make sugar jewelry boxes, beads, pendants, and rings.

Baking 911-Gum Paste Flowers
Instructions on how to make your own gum paste flowers, where to buy tools and lots more.

Pheil and Holing
Buy the ingredients or ready-made sugar paste flowers.

Sugar Paste Confections
Amazing sugar paste creations by Elise Fleming (Countess Alys Katharine, SCA) including plates, goblets, books, heraldic tiles, and coronet boxes.

Originally published February 2006 by Gael Stirler

Spitting And Giggling: The Origins Of Courtly Love

A humorous look at love
by Sir Guillaume "There's No Adults Here" de la Belgique

Today's notion of romance goes something like this: Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan (or, possibly, Sandra Bullock if neither of the other two are available) receives a mis-routed, anonymous e-mail from a sensitive, misunderstood espresso bar proprietor who is searching for his soul mate to help him raise his darling little nephew who he adopted when his sister died in a tragic plane crash. So, Julia or Meg (or possibly Sandra) spends the next two hours trying to find this perfect man until she realizes that the guy who comes into her neighborhood Post Office every Friday to send cookies to the Angolan refugees is the same man who wrote the letter. He's played by Tom Hanks or Hugh Grant (or, possibly, Harrison Ford if the movie includes machine guns or jet aircraft at any point).

Today's stories of unrequited romance have their roots in the medieval concept of "courtly love." This idea began in the mid-12th century when Eleanor of Aquitaine gathered the influential young women of Europe to her palace in Gascony for what was, in essence, a 20-year-long bridal shower—which, like most of events of this type, involved a lot of starry-eyed young women sitting around daydreaming about boys. As news of Eleanor's court of lovesick young heiresses spread, every knight from León to Liechtenstein—including the Crown Prince of England—came to Gascony in the hopes of impressing this band of giggling air-heads with some feat of gallantry. Of course, any attempt to actually perform a feat of gallantry resulted in all the knights dog-piling on top of each other, punching, spitting and calling names, as the ladies ran off, shrieking and giggling, to another corner of the barony. Finally the King of France, who was angry at being disturbed from his peaceful dinner by a bunch of rowdy kids, put a stop to things by storming into Gascony and shouting, "Young ladies! Is this how I taught you to behave? And if you boys can't come up with something constructive to do, I can find a Crusade for you to fight!"

So, the knights and ladies returned to their daily routines of whipping their servants and starting civil wars. But the poems and tales of courtly love told in Eleanor's court quickly spread throughout Europe, bringing the ideal of gentle dalliance and graceful courtship to a culture which, until then, had regarded the concept of "romance" with the same degree of sentiment as we reserve today for things like bank mergers. Even in the 21st century, medieval tales of courtly love remind us that passion can reach higher than lust, that true love can overcome any obstacle, and that it is possible, even after being yelled at by the King of France, to fall in love with an e-mail message.

In this month's column, Eleanor of Aquitaine was played by Julia Roberts, Henry Plantaganet was Hugh Grant, and the King of France was Rodney Dangerfield. Sir Guillaume intended to produce thorough documentation for this article, but was unable to complete the necessary research when he became unexpectedly ill after "gallantly" attempting to drink a latté from his wife's shoe. Guillaume's column "I Didn't Expect An Inquisition" appears monthly in the SCA newsletter "The Crown Prints."

About Author
Sir Guillaume is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, where he is a knight, Pelican and baron, much to the dismay of the other members of those orders. His column, "I Didn't Expect An Inquisition," which appears monthly in The Crown Prints, has received several awards and was once described as "completely devoid of social value."

Originally published February 2006 by Gael Stirler

12th Night History

by Patricia Purvis
Recipes edited by Gael Stirler

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse a-far
Field and fountain
Moor and mountain
Following yonder star!

Twelfth Night or Twelve Nights, as it is called in some places, celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings to the birthplace of Christ. It is observed on January 5th, the night before Epihany, and marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, although Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings on a different day.
The Three Kings, also known as the Wise Men or the Magi, were traditionally called Caspar, King of Tarsus, the land of myrrh; Melchior, King of Arabia, the land of gold; and Balthasar, King of Saba, where frankincense was said to flow from the trees.

The Kings presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child. Gold symbolized kingship, frankincense depicted godliness, and myrrh represented a painful death. In return, charity and spiritual riches would be offered for the gold, faith for incense, and truth and meekness for the present of myrrh. The Wise Men returned home and, in 7 A.D., it is said, Saint Thomas the Apostle discovered the Kings in India and baptized them. They are said to have become martyrs and their bodies buried within the walls of Jerusalem. It is believed the remains were later moved to Turkey by the Emperor Constaine's mother and, later still, to Milan, Italy until they were finally laid to rest in Cologne (Köln) on the Rhine River in Germany.

Twelfth Night was a part of the year-end festivities in the British Isles and France. These celebrations originated in the 5th century when French and English churches created the "Feast of Fools." "Temporary Bishops" and "Archbishops of Fools" play-acted, reveled and generally caused mischief. By the fifteenth century, such ceremonies were banned from church by the French government due to lewd behavior. A new street festival was created and a temporary "king" for the season known as the Prince des Sots was elected. In England, this king was called the "Lord of Misrule" and, in Scotland, the "Abbot of Unreason." The king's reign began on Halloween and lasted for three months.

The "state duties" of both the French and English kings ended on Twelfth Night. A cake called Galette du Roi or "King's Cake" was consumed and marked the end of the celebrations. In addition, a large cake with a hole in the center was placed on the horns of bulls for the Twelfth Night Games and wine and ale was imbibed by all. Originally, cake was a symbol of the pre-Christian Goddess. Bulls' horns represented the consort of this Goddess and her spirit was the ale and wine. This custom is the origin of communion.

Celebration of such Twelve Nights festivities was no longer a tradition by the mid-19th century, but were replaced with "Mummer Plays," which are still performed today throughout the British Isles. The troupes of performers are known as Morris Dancers and consist of six men who dance complex steps to the accompaniment of an accordion or fiddle. One of the men is dressed as a woman and is called Maid Marian. Other characters include Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. Another man, dressed in a horse-skull mask and a wide-hooped petticoat, chases young women and covers them with his skirt. He is known as the "Hobby Horse."

Supernatural events are thought to occur during the Twelve Days of Christmas. The "Wild Hunt" and "Faery Host" are thought to ride through the countryside collecting souls. In Ireland, these beings are referred to as the "Yule Host."

In Whittlesey, the Sunday before the first Monday after Twelfth Night is the "Procession of the Straw Bear." A man wrapped in straw from head to toe dances through the streets while other Mummer Plays feature such characters as the "She-Males." These are men who dress up as old hags for the celebrations and represent the Goddess of Winter.

During early times in rural Austria, the Twelve Nights between December 25th and Epiphany (January 6th) used to be referred to as "Smoke Nights," due to the fact that incense was burned. Today, this is done on January 6th. The head of the household moves through the farm with incense in order to "smoke out" any evil spirits. Holy water is sprinkled on the house, the grounds and the barns. The head of the family then uses chalk to mark the door with the initials of the Three Wise Men—K(aspar), M(elichor) and B(althasar)—along with the number of the year. This lettering replaced the original pentagram chalkmark of ancient times which prevented evil spirits from entering the home.

Austrian Twelve Nights celebrations also feature parades of costumed characters who blow horns and crack whips intended to drive away spirits. In Styria, a parade of bellringers known as Glocklerlauf takes place on January 5th. Elaborate headdresses are made for this occasion. On December 6th, children dress up as the Three Kings and the Star of Bethlehem in order to go caroling. They are rewarded with hot chocolate and gingerbread. In certain areas of the Alps, the traditional Twelve Nights custom is to light bonfires.

In the Netherlands, midwinter horn blowing known as midwinterhoornblazen is an ancient Yuletide tradition that dates from 2500 B.C. The sound is designed to drive away evil spirits and sometimes the horns can be heard up to three miles away. The instruments are specially carved from birch and elder trees, with a competition held on January 6th to decide the most proficient musician. "Saint Thomas Ringing", called St. Thomasluiden by the Dutch, is continuous bell-ringing in the bellhouses of Friesland cemeteries. The bells toll for the death of Saint Thomas a Becket, the English Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his Cathedral on December 29, 1170. January 6th is known as"Three Kings' Day" or Driekoningendag. An Epiphany cake is baked and whoever finds the bean inside is king for the day, complete with gold paper crown. After this ceremony, the holiday season comes to an end and families remove their decorations. Many Dutch towns have organized burning of Christmas trees.

In France, the Twelve Nights feature the displaying of a creche or crib. This was invented by Saint Francis of Assisi in Italy on Christmas Eve, 1223 A.D. He turned a nearby cave into a stable, erected a manger and held a service. The French creche or manger scene is put up in the home and gifts are exchanged on January 6th. Young people dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses go to midnight mass at church carrying drums and pipes and torches to find their way. The French carol, "Bring a Torch Jeanette-Isabella" is a lyrical illustration of this custom.

Galette des Rois
This marzipan-filled puff pastry is a favorite Twelve Nights treat in Paris, northern France and Belgium. It is usually decorated with a golden paper crown like this. You can prepare this cake ahead of time, refrigerate, then bake it just before serving.

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry about 10 inches square
1 stick of butter (½ cup)
2 eggs
1 cup store bought marzipan or use recipe below
1 or more dried beans, metal charms, or tiny porcelain figurine.

For Marzipan, blend:
½ cup powdered almonds
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tsp rum, kirsch or other spirit.(optional)
1 egg

Thaw puff pastry in the refrigerator overnight. Take the puff pastry out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature before using it. Pre-heat the oven to 450° F. Roll each sheet of the pastry to 10" (if necessary) and cut off the corners to form a 10" circle. Butter a medium size pizza pan or a cookie sheet and lay one circle of puff pastry on it. Cream the butter and one egg in a bowl. Add the marzipan and mix them thoroughly. Roll or pat marzipan paste into a circle. Lay the paste on the pastry base, leaving two finger widths all round. Bury one or more beans or charms in the paste.

Lay the second circle of puff pastry on a work surface and decorate by slitting the top layers with the point of a sharp knife. Beat the other egg in a small bowl. Brush the beaten egg on the edge of the pastry around the marzipan. Place the other decorated puff pastry circle on top, gently pressing down the edges to seal them. Brush egg over the top layer. Place the cake in the pre-heated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. When the pastry is all puffed up and the glaze is golden brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool 10 minutes. Best if served warm, but it can also be eaten cold. Place a gold paper crown on top before serving and crown the "King of Festivities" when the bean is found. (Serves 6-8)

Orange Epiphany Cake (or Goddess Cake)
This cake comes from the British Isles and uses fresh oranges, imported from the Mediterranean this time of year. Decorate the cake with candy to make it look like a jeweled crown for the Three Kings or, in homage to goddess traditions, bake the cake with a hole in the middle and decorate with fruit slices. Either way, you can hide a bean and a dried pea in the cake batter before baking. When it is eaten, the person who finds the bean is the King of Fools and the one who finds the pea is the Queen, regardless of the gender of the finder!

1 cup butter
1 ½ cups sugar
grated peel of 2 fresh oranges
3/4 cups orange juice
2 eggs
Self-rising flour
¼ cup Triple Sec (optional)
Gum drops, candied fruit, etc.

Powdered Sugar Glaze
1½ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of milk
Pinch of salt

Cream the butter and sugar and add the eggs one at a time until well mixed. Mix in grated orange peel and orange juice. Fold self-rising flour into the batter. Pour into a 9" buttered round springform, angle food cake, or in a bundt cake pan. Bake at 350° F for 55 minutes or until it is browned and pulling away from the edges. Turn out of the pan and poke holes in the top with a fork. Drizzle the Triple Sec liqueur over the top (optional). When completely cool, decorate with sugar glaze, gum drops, candied fruit or orange slices. (Serves 8-12)

Originally published --date-- by Gael Stirler

Midwinterhoornblazen in Twenthe

A midwinterhoorn is an instrument, used in the eastern part of Holland, called Twente. People play it between the first Sunday of Advent and Epiphany. Go to Midwinterhoornblazen for audio of the horn and to see how they are made.

A midwinterhoorn is crafted by splitting and gouging out a curved piece of timber. (mostly birch, alder, willow or poplar). A hole is drilled at the smallest end for the mouthpiece. The two halves are reunited with glue. No instrument is identical to another.

This site shows how the horns are made and played and even has a link for the sound of a horn. A good player can get six to seven notes out of a midwinterhoorn. It has a melancholy sound. When players get together they play a call and response type of song. This is derived from the days when farmers would blow the horn to communicate with their neighbors in winter.

Originally published --date-- by Gael Stirler

Wassailing Away

by Gael Stirler

Here we come a-wassailing
among the leaves so green
Here we come a-dancing
so fair to be seen!
Love and Joy come to you
and to you your wassail, too!
And God rest you and bring you a Happy New Year
And God bring you a Happy New Year!

DestinyLike many lasting customs, wassailing is associated with an ancient legend. A beautiful Saxon princess named Rowena offered Prince Vortigen a bowl of wine while toasting him with the phrase, “Waes hael,” which is an Anglo-Saxon phrase meaning “good health.”

In Saxon times you would have said “Waes hael,” not “Waaassup,” to greet or say goodbye to somebody; it literally meant, “be in good health.” By the 12th century, “Waes hael” had become the salutation one offered as a toast, to which the standard reply was, “drinc hail”, “drink to your good health.” (“Hail” is an older form of our modern word “hale,” meaning “health or well-being” and is closely related to our word “hail” meaning “to salute, greet, or welcome.”) Eventually, the word came to be associated with the alcoholic beverage used for toasting, especially the spiced ale or mulled cider that was drunk on Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night.

If you are having a traditional holiday party and want to incorporate this custom, here is the old way to share wassail. While everyone is gathered, shout "Wassail!" before sipping from a large, festively decorated cup. Then pass the cup to your neighbor. That person replies "Drinkhail," to you and takes a sip. He shouts "Wassail!" to the next person, and passes the cup along, giving a kiss to the recipient who says, "Drinkhail!" Though pre-dating Christianity, this kind of cup sharing custom later became known as "the loving cup" in Christian circles. Unlike the church custom, traditional wassail toasting could get very rowdy and flirty. If you don't wish to drink from the communal cup when offered, you may drink from your own cup and pass the wassail cup with a kiss. If you don't want to be kissed on the mouth, turn your cheek or offer your hand.

The kissing tradition known as "Cloven fruit" probably originated from the wassail bowl fruits which were studded with cloves. In this game someone starts by inserting cloves into a lemon, orange, apple, or pear. Then he offers a cloven fruit to a woman he fancies. If she accepts, she is indicating her willingness to be kissed. If she pulls out a clove with her fingers, she wants to be kissed on the hand. If she pulls one out with her teeth, she wants to be kissed on her lips. After she receives her kiss she is free to offer the cloven fruit to anyone other that one who offered it to her.

Wassail is also a tradition of blessing the crops especially fruit-bearing trees. Wassailers would gather after dark in the orchard and choose the most imposing tree to represent the whole orchard. A young lad would scale the tree and sit in the branches to represent the spirit of the tree. He would be offered gifts of bread, cheese, and cider. Then wassailers sang orchard blessing songs, put bread soaked in cider in the crook of the tree trunk, and poured wassail on the roots of the tree. This would be followed with bells, gunfire, horn-blowing, and other noise to frighten away malevolent spirits and awaken the trees from winter slumber. In Sussex this was called "howling" the orchard.

Another wassail tradition sounds like "Trick or Treat" for grown ups and calls for a group of caroling revelers to carry a pitcher or bowl, festooned with ribbons, from house to house, where they sing and offer the homeowner a cup. At each home the revelers are treated with a refill of their the vessel. This hodgepodge cocktail of varied ingredients may be the reason there is such a diversity of wassail recipes and the origin of frat parties. Here are three Wassail recipes based on cider, ale, rum, and wine for your holiday fare!

Spiced Cider Wassail Bowl
Pre-heating the punch bowl reduce the thermal shock on the bowl and keep the wassail from cooling too fast.

2 quarts apple cider
½ cup brown sugar
juice of 4 lemons
6 cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
12 whole allspice
1 ½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 fifths (or liters) dry sherry
Garnish of orange and lemon slices

Combine juices, sugar and spices in pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove spices and add sherry. Heat until just below boiling. Meanwhile, heat water in a tea kettle. Fill a punch bowl with the boiling water. Let stand one minute, then empty carefully. Immediately fill the punch bowl with wassail and garnish with floating orange or lemon slices, studded with cloves. (Serves 8-12)

Ye Olde Ale Wassail
Make serving your wassail a showy affair with songs and noise and holiday flair.

1 quart ale (or beer if you must)
1 quart rum or brandy
grated lemon peel
3 eggs
4 oz powdered sugar

Heat ale to almost boiling with spices. Beat eggs with sugar while ale is heating up. Combine whipped eggs and hot ale in a large pitcher. Put rum or brandy into another large pitcher and pour from one to another until mixed well. Then pour into a holiday wreathed wassail bowl (or punch bowl). Best served hot! (Serves 8)

Fireside Christmas Wassail
This can be cooked in a dutch oven sitting on the hearth with the fire blazing.

4 cups brown ale
1 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
3 oz brown sugar
4 apples
peel of ½ lemon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger

Wash the apples and peel them just around their waists and stud with a few cloves. Place the apples, brown sugar, and 4 tbsp of the brown ale into a 3-quart or larger dutch oven. Cover and bake in the oven at 350° F for 25 minutes or place one foot from the fire in an open fireplace and simmer until the apples are tender. Remove the apples to a plate and add the remaining ale, sherry or wine to the dutch oven. Stir in the lemon peel, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger and let simmer for a few more minutes. Put the apples back in the wassail and serve warm. (Serves 4)

Originally published December 2005 by Gael Stirler