Jan 172021
 

Today is the celebration of St Anthony or Anthony the Great, (251 – 356), a Coptic monk from Egypt, distinguished from other saints named Anthony such as Anthony of Padua, by various epithets of his own: Anthony of Egypt, Anthony the Abbot, Anthony of the Desert, Anthony the Anchorite, Anthony the Hermit, and Anthony of Thebes. For his importance among the Desert Fathers and to all later Christian monasticism, he is also known as the Father of All Monks.

The biography (Vita) of Anthony’s life by Athanasius of Alexandria helped to spread the concept of Christian monasticism, particularly in Western Europe via its Latin translations. He is often erroneously considered the first Christian monk, but as his biography and other sources make clear, there were many ascetics before him. Anthony was, however, among the first known to go into the wilderness (about 270), which seems to have contributed to his renown, and he was apparently the first ascetic to develop a monastic community. Accounts of Anthony enduring supernatural temptation during his sojourn in the Eastern Desert of Egypt inspired the often-repeated subject of the temptation of St. Anthony in Western art and literature. Anthony is appealed to against infectious diseases, particularly skin diseases. In the past, many such afflictions, including ergotism, erysipelas, and shingles, were referred to as St. Anthony’s fire.

Anthony was born in Coma in Lower Egypt to wealthy landowner parents. When he was about 20 years old, his parents died and left him with the care of his unmarried sister. Shortly thereafter, he decided to follow the gospel exhortation in Matthew 19: 21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven.” Anthony gave away some of his family’s lands to his neighbors, sold the remaining property, and donated the funds to the poor. He then left to live an ascetic life.

For the next 15 years, Anthony remained in the area, spending the first years as the disciple of another local hermit. There are various legends that he worked as a swineherd during this period. At the time there were already ascetic hermits (the Therapeutae), and loosely organized cenobitic communities were described by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria in the 1st century as long established in the harsh environment of Lake Mareotis and in other less accessible regions. Philo wrote that “this class of persons may be met with in many places, for both Greece and barbarian countries want to enjoy whatever is perfectly good.” Christian ascetics such as Thecla had likewise retreated to isolated locations at the outskirts of cities. Anthony is notable for having decided to surpass this tradition and headed out into the desert proper. He left for the alkaline Nitrian Desert (later the location of the noted monasteries of Nitria, Kellia, and Scetis) on the edge of the Western Desert about 95 km (59 mi) west of Alexandria. He remained there for 13 years.

Anthony maintained a very strict ascetic diet. He ate mostly bread, salt and water and never meat or wine. He ate at most only once a day and sometimes fasted through two or four days. According to Athanasius, the devil fought Anthony by afflicting him with boredom, laziness, and the phantoms of women, which he overcame by the power of prayer, providing a theme for Christian art. After that, he moved to one of the tombs near his native village. There it was that his Vita records those strange conflicts with demons in the shape of wild beasts, who inflicted blows upon him, and sometimes left him nearly dead.

After 15 years of this life, at the age of 35, Anthony determined to withdraw from human habitation completely and retire in absolute solitude. He went into the desert to a mountain by the Nile called Pispir (now Der-el-Memun), opposite Arsinoë. There he lived strictly enclosed in an old abandoned Roman fort for about 20 years. Food was thrown to him over the wall. He was at times visited by pilgrims, whom he refused to see; but gradually a number of would-be disciples established themselves in caves and in huts around the mountain. Thus a colony of ascetics was formed, who begged Anthony to come forth and be their guide in the spiritual life. Eventually, he yielded to their pleas and, about the year 305, emerged from his retreat. To the surprise of all, he appeared to be not emaciated, but healthy in mind and body.

For five or six years he devoted himself to the instruction and organization of the great body of monks that had grown up around him; but then he once again withdrew into the inner desert that lay between the Nile and the Red Sea, near the shore of which he fixed his abode on a mountain where the monastery that bears his name, Der Mar Antonios is still active. He spent the last 45 years of his life here, in seclusion, not so strict as Pispir, for he freely saw those who came to visit him, and he used to cross the desert to Pispir with considerable frequency. Amid the Diocletian Persecutions, around 311 Anthony went to Alexandria and was conspicuous visiting those who were imprisoned.

Anthony was not the first Christian ascetic or hermit, but he may properly be called the “Father of Monasticism” in Christianity, since he organized his disciples into a community and later, following the spread of Athanasius’ hagiography, was the inspiration for similar communities throughout Egypt and, elsewhere. Macarius the Great was a disciple of Anthony. Visitors traveled great distances to see the celebrated holy man. Anthony is said to have spoken to those of a spiritual disposition, leaving the task of addressing the more worldly visitors to Macarius. Macarius later founded a monastic community in the Scetic desert.

In 338, he left the desert temporarily to visit Alexandria to help refute the teachings of Arius. When Anthony sensed his death approaching, he commanded his disciples to give his staff to Macarius of Egypt, and to give one sheepskin cloak to Athanasius of Alexandria and the other sheepskin cloak to Serapion of Thmuis, his disciple. Anthony was interred, according to his instructions, in a grave next to his cell.

Accounts of Anthony enduring supernatural temptation during his sojourn in the Eastern Desert of Egypt inspired the often-repeated subject of the temptation of St. Anthony in Western art and literature. Anthony is said to have faced a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage to the desert. The first to report on the temptation was his contemporary Athanasius of Alexandria. It is possible these events, like the paintings, are full of rich metaphor or in the case of the animals of the desert, perhaps a vision or dream. Emphasis on these stories, however, did not really begin until the Middle Ages when the psychology of the individual became of greater interest.

Some of the stories included in Anthony’s biography are perpetuated now mostly in paintings, where they give an opportunity for artists to depict their more lurid or bizarre interpretations. Many artists, including Martin Schongauer, Hieronymus Bosch, Dorothea Tanning, Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalí, have depicted these incidents from the life of Anthony; in prose, the tale was retold and embellished by Gustave Flaubert in The Temptation of Saint Anthony.

Each year on January 16th, the eve of the festival of Saint Anthony, the town of San Bartolomé de Pinares, located in the province of Ávila, Castile and León, in Spain, celebrates the traditional Luminarias festival. The festival has purportedly been held for five centuries, and appears to trace back to some kind of

ritual purification to preserve the health of the horses in the village. Bonfires are lit in the central streets, and horses jump through the flames, with the smoke intended to protect the animals from disease.

Anthony’s diet consisted mostly of bread and water, so why not celebrate his day with the classic Egyptian bread, aish beledi?

Jan 092021
 

Today is the saint’s day of Adrian (also spelled Hadrian) of Canterbury (c.637—710). He was a North African scholar in Anglo-Saxon England and the abbot of Saint Peter’s and Saint Paul’s in Canterbury. He was a noted teacher and commentator of the Bible. According to Bede, he was a Berber from North Africa, and abbot of a monastery “not far from Naples” called Monasterium Niridanum (which has never been adequately identified). His identity as a Berber is what encourages me to write this post because the internationalism of this period in Medieval history strikes me as greatly at odds with the nationalism of these latter days.  Apparently, no one in Anglo-Saxon Kent thought twice about having a North African resident abbot, and the pope thought he was a suitable candidate for archbishop of Canterbury.  To be fair, Augustine of Hippo, certainly one of the most influential scholars of his day ( https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-augustine-of-hippo/ ), is also presumed to have been a Berber – or, at least, that his mother was. But he spent almost all of his ecclesiastical career in North Africa.  Adrian knew the world.

When first offered the vacant archbishopric of Canterbury, by pope Vitalian, Adrian declined. Instead he recommended that it should be given to Andrew, a monk belonging to a neighboring monastery, but he also declined on the plea of advanced years. Then, when the offer was again made to Adrian, he suggested his friend Theodore of Tarsus, who happened to be in Rome at the time. He agreed to undertake the charge, but Vitalian stipulated that Adrian should accompany him to Britain. He gave as his reasons that Adrian, having twice before made a journey into Gaul, knew the roads and the means of transport in the region. As I said, Adrian knew the world.

The two set out from Rome on 27 May 668, and proceeding by sea to Marseilles, crossed the country to Arles, where they remained with John, the archbishop, until they got passports from Ebroin, who ruled that part of Gaul as Mayor of the Palace, for the minor king Clotaire III. Having then made their way together to the north of France, they parted company, and went separately to hole up for the winter, Theodore with Agilbert, bishop of Paris, Adrian first with Emmon, bishop of Sens, and afterwards with Faro, bishop of Meaux. Theodore was sent for in the following spring by king Ecgberht of Kent and was allowed to depart. He reached England at the end of May 669; but Adrian was detained by order of Ebroin, who is said to have suspected him of being an emissary of the Greek emperor sent to stir up troubles against the kingdom of the Franks.

At length, however, Ebroin relented, and Adrian was permitted to proceed to England, where, immediately on his arrival, he was made abbot of the monastery of Saints Peter and Paul (afterwards called Saint Augustine’s) at Canterbury, an appointment which was in conformity with instructions given by the pope to Theodore. Adrian was known to be well versed in the Bible, as well as in Greek and Latin, and an excellent administrator. Under his direction the abbey came to have substantial, far-reaching influence.

Bede describes Adrian (or Hadrian, as he calls him in the Ecclesiastical History), as not only a distinguished theologian, but eminently accomplished in secular learning. He and Theodore, we are told, toured Britain extensively, gathered multitudes of scholars around them wherever they appeared, and employed themselves daily with equal diligence and success in instructing those who flocked to them not only in Christianity (which was a novelty to many),  but in the several branches of science and literature available at the time. Bede particularly mentions the metrical art, astronomy, and arithmetic (which may be considered as representing what we might now call rhetoric and the belles lettres, physical science, and mathematics); and he adds, that as he wrote (in the early part of the 8th century), there still remained some of the pupils of Theodore and Adrian, who spoke Greek and Latin as readily as their native tongues. A record of the teaching of Theodore and Adrian is preserved in the Leiden Glossary.

King Alfred appears to allude to Theodore’s and Adrian’s scholarly outreach in the preface to his translation of Pope Gregory I’s Liber Pastoralis Curae, in the latter part of the ninth century, where he says that it often came into his mind what wise men there were in the country, both laymen and ecclesiastics, in a former age; how the clergy in those happy times were diligent both to teach and to study, and how foreigners then came to England to acquire learning and wisdom; whereas now, in his own day, if any Englishman desired to make himself a scholar, he was obliged to go abroad for instruction.

Adrian is said to have lived for 39 years after he arrived in England, continuing until his death to preside over the monastery at Canterbury. He died in 709 and was buried in the monastery. When he was canonized as a saint, his relics were re-deposited in the new monastery on 9th January 1091, which is now his feast day.

The iconic Berber dish is the tagine – one of the reasons for the post at all.  The name “tagine” refers both to the cooking vessel (which is easily recognized) and the various dishes made in it.  It dates back to around the time of Adrian – just slightly later, but not by much.  Modern Moroccan Arabic طجين ṭažin is derived from Berber ṭajin “shallow earthen pot” from Ancient Greek τάγηνον (tágēnon) “frying-pan, saucepan.”

There are numerous tagine dishes, and you can find numerous recipes online or on YouTube.  This one is an excellent introduction to the method:

Jan 082021
 

Today is the birthday (1891 [O.S. December 27, 1890]) of Bronislava Nijinska (Polish: Bronisława Niżyńska; Russian: Бронисла́ва Фоми́нична Нижи́нская), a Polish ballet dancer, and an innovative choreographer. She was part of a well-known family of professional dancers, including her brother, Vaslav Nijinsky with whom she frequently collaborated.

She began her training in various dance techniques, which included traditional Slavic dances, ballet, and some circus acrobatics, at home with her parents. At age nine she entered the state ballet school in St Petersburg and in 1908 she graduated as an Artist of the Imperial Theatres. From there she followed her brother into the Ballets Russes, where he had become a virtual overnight sensation, and assisted him in his creations of L’Après-midi d’un Faune and Le Sacre du Printemps. It is, however, all too common for dance historians to write of Nijinska as “Nijinsky’s little sister” which, apart from its obvious sexist implications, seriously undervalues her contributions to dance throughout the 20th century.

Nijinska appeared in Sergei Diaghilev’s first two Paris seasons, 1909 and 1910, and became a permanent member of his company thereafter. Here initially she danced in the corps de ballet, e.g., in Swan Lake (the Czardas), in Les Sylphides (the Mazurka), and in Le Spectre de la Rose, but as she developed on the professional stage she was promoted, and eventually given significant parts. Her brother coached her for the role of Papillon [the butterfly] in Fokine’s Carnaval (1909), in part danced with feet and hands fluttering in a coordinated rhythm at an accelerated prestissimo tempo. She also transformed the role of the Ballerina Doll in Petruchka (1912) by changing the doll’s demeanor from theatrical in a tutu to realistic in street clothes, thus modernizing the role. She also steadfastly kept in character rather than slipping back into the default look of classical ballet.

In the 1912 production of Cléopâtre, she at first danced the Bacchanale (replacing Vera Fokine). Then she switched roles, being given Karsavina’s role of Ta-Hor. “Karsavina danced the role on toe, but I would dance it in my bare feet.” The next year she performed in her brother’s Jeux (Games), and then assisted him in the creation of Le Sacre du printemps. She helped create the Chosen Maiden role, but when she became aware she was pregnant, she told Nijinsky she’d have to withdraw and miss its opening performance, causing a rift between them.

Subsequently she worked on developing her own art in Petrograd and Kiev during the years of WW I, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent civil war. During the war years she danced in experimental works as well as in classics. In Petrograd the 1915 theatre program listed her as “the prima ballerina-artist of the State Ballet.” The program included music by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, and Borodin. She performed in her own choreographed solos, Le Poupee or Tabatierr, and Autumn Song. Then in Kiev in addition to dancing, she established her ballet school and began to choreograph programs. She danced in solos while costumed in tunics, e.g., Etudes (Liszt), Mephisto Valse (Liszt), Nocturnes (Chopin), Preludes (Chopin), and in company performances, e.g., Twelfth Rhapsody (Liszt), Demons (Tcherepnine), March Funebre (Chopin). In 1921 she left Russia and never returned.

From 1921 to 1924 with Ballets Russes, Nijinska reprised several of her old roles including those she helped her brother create. More and more, however, she took prominent roles in her own choreographies and designs, such as, the Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty (1921), the Fox in Le Renard (1922), as the Hostess in Les Biches (1924), as Lysandre in Les Fâcheux (1924), and as the Tennis Player in Le Train Bleu (1924).

Subsequently, for her own ballet companies and for others, she danced in roles of her own invention: in Holy Etudes, Touring, Le Guignol, and Night on Bald Mountain (all 1925); for Teatro Colón in Estudios religiosos (1926); in her Capricio Espagnole per Rimsky-Korsakoff in 1931; and in the 1934 ballet based on Hamlet per Liszt. Throughout the 1930s she played various roles in Europe and the Americas. As Nijinska reached her 40s, her performance career neared its end. What caused her trouble, and hastened the close of her performance art, was an injury to her Achilles tendon suffered in 1933 while at el Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires.

Due to the outbreak of war in 1939 she relocated from Paris to Los Angeles where she continued working in choreography and as an artistic director, as well as teaching at her studio. In the 1960s she staged revivals of her Ballets Russes-era creations for the Royal Ballet in London. In her last years she assembled a life’s worth of notes which she began casting into her Memoirs, but on her death in 1971 she left 180,00 pages of notes for her daughter, Irina, to edit into a manageable volume.

In among Nijinska’s Memoirs are numerous references to food as a general topic, including her careful control of her brother’s diet because he tended to love carbs and gain weight.  She tried to keep him trim on steak and vegetables.  Once in a while she mentions exquisite banquets she had attended but rarely says more than something like, “the dishes were exquisite,” but spends page after page on describing the place settings, the room décor, the outfits of the footmen serving the food, and whatnot.  But she does describe one dinner in a palace in St Petersburg, and mentions that one of the hors d’oeuvres was marinated mushrooms.  That hint gives me a chink to widen into a recipe.  Marinated mushrooms are not an especially “exquisite” dish normally, but I would expect that in the Frenchified Russian court of pre-revolutionary Russia, the chefs would have taken pride in their offerings.  First, and foremost, I would imagine that these mushrooms were hand-picked wild mushrooms and not the tasteless, white, cultivated things that get called mushrooms in Western supermarkets.  These would have been rich, black, woodland specimens – morels even.  Certainly something with a robust flavor.  So, for this recipe hunt down the most succulent mushrooms you can find, and make sure they are small.  Here is Asia I am spoilt for choose – do your best.  Then turn your attention to the marinade.

Typical marinades begin with a 50-50 mix of oil and vinegar.  The oil part is no problem – the best extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on.  More often than not I use lime or lemon juice (freshly squeezed) rather than vinegar because I do not care for the rough edges of most commercial vinegars.  I do use well-aged Asian rice-wine vinegars in my cooking and something of the sort would be all right here also, but citrus juice is my first choice.  Now consider your flavorings.  Finely chopped garlic is standard, as is chopped onion (which I use chopped leeks for).  Freshly ground pepper is also common.  After that the default is something like fresh thyme, rosemary, parsley and the like, but we can be adventurous.  I like freshly chopped young ginger root, a little allspice, and a hint of powdered cloves.

Preparation also varies considerably.  Blanching the mushrooms as a first step is common, but I find this process to be the opposite of what you want – extracting rather than adding flavor.  I add ½ cup of olive oil to my skillet, add in the mushrooms so that they form a single layer (you need a wide skillet, or other vessel), and then gently heat the oil over low heat.  Your goal is not to cook the mushrooms but to bathe them in warm oil for a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and add an equal quantity of citrus juice (or vinegar of your preference) to the oil, plus the seasonings of your choice.  Gently mix everything together, cover, and let cool.  Once cool, place the mushrooms and marinade in a suitable jar with a tight-fitting lid (with the marinade covering all of the mushrooms) and leave in a cool place for at least 24 hours. Longer is better.  These mushrooms can keep for a week or more.

Jan 072021
 

Today is the birthday (1912) of Charles Samuel Addams, a US artist and cartoonist known for his darkly humorous and macabre characters. Some of the recurring characters, who became known as the Addams Family, have been the basis for spin-offs in several other forms of media.

Addams was born in Westfield, New Jersey, son of Grace M. and Charles Huey Addams, a piano company executive who had studied to be an architect. Addams’ father encouraged him to draw, and he did cartoons for the Westfield High School student literary magazine, Weathervane. He attended Colgate University in 1929 and 1930. He also attended the University of Pennsylvania 1n 1930 and 1931, where a fine-arts building on campus is named for him. He then studied at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City in 1931 and 1932.

In 1933, Addams joined the layout department of True Detective magazine, where he had to retouch photos of corpses that appeared in the magazine’s stories to remove the blood from them. Addams complained: “A lot of those corpses were more interesting the way they were.”  Addams’ first drawing for The New Yorker, a sketch of a window washer, ran on February 6, 1932, and his cartoons ran regularly in the magazine from 1937, when he drew the first in the series that came to be called The Addams Family, until his death in 1988. He was a freelancer throughout that time.

Addams’ original cartoons were one-panel gags and the characters that eventually became known as The Addams Family were sometimes drawn as a group, sometimes as individuals interspersed with regular society.  As such, they were undeveloped and unnamed and remained so until the first television series production in 1964. Addams described them as follows:

Gomez and Pugsley are enthusiastic. Morticia is even in disposition, muted, witty, sometimes deadly. Grandma Frump is foolishly good-natured. Wednesday is her mother’s daughter. A closely-knit family, the real head being Morticia—although each of the others is a definite character—except for Grandma, who is easily led. Many of the troubles they have as a family are due to Grandma’s fumbling, weak character. The house is a wreck, of course, but this is a house-proud family just the same, and every trap door is in good repair. Money is no problem.

Until the development of the television series, the individual characters were simply bizarre foils for cartoon humor. They became fully-fleshed, three-dimensional people with a complete family dynamic when series scripts needed more than one-liners. Thus they became a satirical inversion of the ideal 20th-century US family: an odd wealthy aristocratic clan who delight in the macabre and are seemingly unaware or unconcerned that other people find them bizarre or frightening. They are not in any sense evil. In their own way they are loving, kind, caring, and generous, and especially loyal to one another. They love to laugh, play games, and make art and music.  They just happen to be a trifle odd in the ways they carry things out.

I could give you a recipe that does the kind of thing that IHOP did when it invented its Addams Family Menu, with such items as buttermilk pancakes decorated with spider motifs. But that seems a bit tame, and is also something you can come up with yourself based on the numerous Halloween-themed recipes that abound every October.  Instead, I give you casu marzu – much more exotically macabre.

Casu marzu (literally ‘putrid cheese’), also called casu modde, casu cundídu and casu fràzigu, is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live insect larvae (maggots). A variation of the cheese, casgiu merzu, is also produced in some Southern Corsican villages. The cheese is derivative of pecorino, but goes beyond the typical fermentation to a stage of decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly of the Piophilidae family. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese’s fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called làgrima, Sardinian for “teardrop”) seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, roughly 8 mm (0.3 in) long.

Casu marzu is created by leaving whole pecorino cheeses outside with part of the rind removed to allow the eggs of the cheese fly Piophila casei to be laid in the cheese. A female P. casei can lay more than 500 eggs at one time. The eggs hatch and the larvae begin to eat through the cheese. The acid from the maggots’ digestive system breaks down the cheese’s fats, making the texture of the cheese very soft; by the time it is ready for consumption, a typical casu martzu will contain thousands of these maggots.

Casu marzu is considered by Sardinian aficionados to be unsafe to eat when the maggots in the cheese have died. Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is usually eaten, although allowances are made for cheese that has been refrigerated, which results in the maggots being killed. When the cheese has fermented enough, it is often cut into thin strips and spread on moistened Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau), to be served with a strong red wine like cannonau. Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 cm (6 in) when disturbed, diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping. Some who eat the cheese prefer not to ingest the maggots. Those who do not wish to eat them place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a “pitter-patter” sound. When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.

Dec 292020
 

The Wounded Knee Massacre took place on this date in 1890. It was a domestic massacre of nearly three hundred Lakota men, women, and children, by soldiers of the United States Army. It occurred near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, following a botched attempt to disarm the Lakota camp. The previous day, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them 5 miles (8.0 km) westward to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp. The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, led by colonel James W. Forsyth, arrived and surrounded the encampment. The regiment was supported by a battery of four Hotchkiss mountain guns.

On the morning of December 29th, the U.S. Cavalry troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. Specific details of what triggered the massacre are debated. According to some accounts, Yellow Bird began to perform the Ghost Dance, telling the Lakota that their ghost shirts (part of the Ghost Dance ritual) were bulletproof. As tensions mounted, Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle; he spoke no English and was deaf, and had not understood the order. A Lakota said: “Black Coyote is deaf,” and when the soldier persisted, he said, “Stop. He cannot hear your orders.” At that moment, two soldiers seized Black Coyote from behind, and (supposedly) in the struggle, his rifle discharged. At the same moment, Yellow Bird threw some dust into the air, and approximately five young Lakota men with concealed weapons threw aside their blankets and fired their rifles at the soldiers. After this initial exchange, the firing became indiscriminate.

By the time the massacre was over, more than 250 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men and 47 women and children, some of whom died later); some estimates placed the number of dead as high as 300. 25 soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded later died). 20 of the soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

These are the voices of two survivors:

Black Elk (1863–1950); medicine man, Oglala Lakota:

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth, — you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

American Horse (1840–1908); chief, Oglala Lakota:

“There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce … A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing … The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through … and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys … came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.”

In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the military awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. The Wounded Knee Battlefield, site of the massacre, has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1990, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed a resolution on the historical centennial formally expressing “deep regret” for the massacre. Such resolutions are meaningless tokens.  The oppression of marginalized people in the US continues to this day unabated.

I gave a small appraisal of traditional Lakota cooking here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/kicking-bear/ which you can consult for today’s recipe.  There I talked about meat stews.  Today I will focus on wojapi, Lakota fruit sauce.  Like meat stews, there is not much to cooking wojapi.  Take about 4 cups of native berries, and ½ cup of water and slowly simmer until the fruit breaks down to form a thick sauce. The main point here is not to use sugar, as you might do with similar recipes to make jams, and, more importantly, you must use berries indigenous to North America.  These include blueberries, chokecherries, juneberries, and salmonberries.  You won’t find them by foraging at this time of year, but you can get them (frozen) online.

Dec 272020
 

Today (Holy Innocents https://www.bookofdaystales.com/holy-innocents/ ) used to be the day for the boy bishop custom which was widespread in the Middle Ages across Europe. A boy was chosen, often from among the cathedral choristers, to parody the real bishop. In England the boy bishop was sometimes elected on December 6th (the feast of Saint Nicholas https://www.bookofdaystales.com/st-nicholas-of-myra/ the patron saint of children), and his authority lasted until Holy Innocents’ day. The real bishop would, symbolically, step down at the deposuit potentes de sede of the Magnificat (“he hath put down the mighty from their seat”), and the boy would take his seat at et exaltavit humiles (“and hath exalted the humble and meek”).

After the election, the boy was dressed in full bishop’s robes with miter and crozier and, attended by other boys dressed as priests, made a circuit of the town blessing the people. The chosen boy and his comrades took possession of the cathedral and performed all the ceremonies and offices, except Mass. Originally, the custom was confined to the cathedrals because they were the seats of bishops, but over time it spread to many parishes.

Various Church authorities attempted to suppress the custom over the years because of its sacrilegious nature, but its popularity made it resilient for centuries. In England the custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1542, revived by Mary I in 1552 and finally abolished by Elizabeth I. On the continent of Europe it survived for quite some time in Germany, in the so-called Gregoriusfest, said to have been founded by Gregory IV. It is still practiced (in revival) in some cities in Spain. The custom has given rise to some popular misconceptions, however, one of which is the traditional misidentification of a miniature episcopal tomb effigy in Salisbury Cathedral as a boy bishop: this is more likely to commemorate a secondary burial (heart or viscera) of a real bishop, possibly Richard Poore.

There have been some recent revivals both in the English-speaking world and on the continent. Most famous perhaps is that of Hereford, revived in 1973 for a special children’s service, with full and traditional ceremonies following annually since 1982. The boy bishop preaches a sermon and leads prayers at various diocesan Advent services. A single revival took place in 1959 at St George’s Parish Church, Stockport. Such ceremonies are now also found at Westminster Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, and a number of parish churches throughout England, including All Saints’ Church, Northampton, Claines, Worcestershire, and also St Christopher’s Parish Church, Bournemouth, (early 1950s), where the Boy Bishop was installed on St Christopher’s Day, (July 25), and ‘reigned’ for one year, preaching and ‘presiding’ at youth events. The market town of Alcester, Warwickshire has its very own St Nicholas night complete with the boy bishop on December 6th each year.

The custom was likewise revived in Burgos, Spain, where the boy-bishop feast had been extremely popular before the cathedral choir was closed in the 1930s. After its re-establishment, the boy bishop was revived in 1987, and has since been celebrated every year. Other Spanish cities such as Palencia also hold the ceremony, and the one celebrated in the Monastery of Montserrat by L’Escolania is especially renowned. The festival was also revived in Chavagnes International College, a Catholic boarding school in France.

The Boy Bishop custom – along with festivities such as the Lord of Misrule, Mock Mayor, and Feast of Fools – is what I have called a social safety valve in my academic writing, and what is referred to in anthropological research as a ritual of inversion.  In modern times, trick or treating in the US serves a somewhat similar function.  I’ll give you the short version of my analysis.  Rituals of inversion turn the normal social order on its head: the poor, weak, and downtrodden in the community get to have some semblance of power for a short period, and use that power to mock the system that keeps them subordinate most of the year.  As such they can “let off steam” – with impunity. During the Commonwealth in England the Puritans banned all such activities, forcing the country into a massive imbalance of the powerful over the powerless, and, in consequence, the people rebelled and brought back the monarchy under Charles II who took little time to decree that all the rituals of inversion were to be restored – immediately.  Unlike his father, he kept his head and his throne.

A Yule log (or bûche de Noël) seems like a suitably celebratory dish for today – that is, a log that is not a log – and something to be enjoyed by children. They can also help in the decorating.  I used to make one every year, but I mostly cheated.  I would buy a Swiss roll cake and then decorate it with chocolate frosting.  Making one from scratch was a bit over the top for me when I was already making gingerbread castles, plum puddings, mince pies, Christmas cakes, et al.  It made an attractive centerpiece all the same.  Here is a video on how to make the real thing:

Dec 272020
 

Today is the birthday (1571) of Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer (no doubt named after John the Apostle because this is his saint’s day https://www.bookofdaystales.com/san-juan/ ). Kepler is a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution, best known for his laws of planetary motion, and his books Astronomia nova, Harmonices Mundi, and Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae. These works also provided one of the foundations for Newton’s theory of universal gravitation which augmented Kepler’s concepts of planetary motion.

Kepler was a mathematics teacher at a seminary school in Graz, where he became an associate of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. Later he became an assistant to the astronomer Tycho Brahe in Prague, and eventually the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II and his two successors Matthias and Ferdinand II. He also taught mathematics in Linz, and was an adviser to General Wallenstein. Additionally, he did fundamental work in the field of optics, invented an improved version of the refracting (or Keplerian) telescope, and was mentioned in the telescopic discoveries of his contemporary Galileo Galilei. He was a corresponding member of the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome.

Kepler lived in an era when there was no clear distinction between astronomy and astrology, but there was a strong division between astronomy (a branch of mathematics within the liberal arts) and physics (a branch of natural philosophy). Kepler pulled together astronomical observations with mathematics and physics to build the foundations of astrophysics. He also incorporated religious arguments and reasoning into his work, motivated by the religious conviction and belief that God had created the world according to an intelligible plan that is accessible through reason. Kepler described his new astronomy as “celestial physics,” as “an excursion into Aristotle’s Metaphysics,” and as “a supplement to Aristotle’s On the Heavens,” transforming the ancient tradition of physical cosmology by treating astronomy as part of a universal mathematical physics. When Newton said that he saw so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants, Kepler was one of those giants.

Delving into all that Kepler accomplished is way too much for a short blog post, so let me focus on his perhaps most famous formulation, his laws of planetary motion.  The three laws state that:

  1. The orbit of a planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.
  2. A line segment joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time.
  3. The square of a planet’s orbital period is proportional to the cube of the length of the semi-major axis of its orbit.

The elliptical orbits of planets were indicated by calculations of the orbit of Mars. From this, Kepler inferred that other bodies in the Solar System, including those farther away from the Sun, also have elliptical orbits. The second law helps to establish that when a planet is closer to the Sun, it travels faster. The third law expresses that the farther a planet is from the Sun, the slower its orbital speed, and vice versa. As such, Kepler refined the theories proposed by Copernicus.

If the eccentricities of the planetary orbits are taken as zero, then Kepler basically agreed with Copernicus:

1. The planetary orbit is a circle.
2. The Sun is at the center of the orbit.
3. The speed of the planet in the orbit is constant.

The eccentricities of the orbits of those planets, known to Copernicus and Kepler, are small, so the foregoing rules give fair approximations of planetary motion, but Kepler’s laws fit the observations better than does the model proposed by Copernicus. Kepler’s corrections are:

1. The planetary orbit is not a circle, but an ellipse.
2. The Sun is not at the center but at a focal point of the elliptical orbit.
3. Neither the linear speed nor the angular speed of the planet in the orbit is constant, but the area speed (closely linked historically with the concept of angular momentum) is constant.

If you are lost at this point – or don’t care about these points – I won’t beat you up, and I certainly won’t add any equations, or the like. It’s enough to be aware that the planetary orbits are elliptical rather than circular. Kepler shows us that physics is in a perpetual state of refinement (that never ceases). Newton added his bits and much later Einstein added his. Understanding is in a constant state of change, leading to a general acknowledgement that change is the only constant. Scientific theories never explain everything: there are always observations that cannot be accounted for by current theories. Hence the periodic revolutions in scientific thinking.

I will admit that my eyes have the habit of glazing over when I see something like r=p/1+ϵcosθ (or more complex) and it’s not because I do not understand the formula.  It’s because my interests do not lie in delving deeper into the implications.  There’s the nub of the matter. I accept the conclusions and move on. But . . . there are people like Kepler who are never satisfied. The work of Copernicus was fairly close to the truth, but the anomalies bothered Kepler and he worked tirelessly to get yet closer to the truth.  This is one of the reasons I get so aggravated with flat earthers and other science deniers.  They think that some vague intuitions based on limited sensory information can challenge the exhaustive work of dedicated professionals.  I despair – sometimes.

Kepler was born in Weil der Stadt, currently in the Stuttgart Region of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Among other things, it is well-known for its Fasnetsküchle which will be available very soon (after Epiphany). Fasnetsküchle are similar to the so-called “Berliner,” or jelly doughnuts, or “Krapfen,” which are available year round. But the Swabian version is distinctly different: it must be flat and square or rectangular, never round nor as tall as a Berliner, and it’s not supposed to be filled with jam – it should be plain inside and out. True Swabians insist that Fasnetsküchle may not even be sprinkled with cinnamon or powdered sugar. But times change and you now find them with a dusting of sugar (and cinnamon).

Fasnetsküchle

Ingredients:

2 cups whole milk, warmed to 110F/43C
4½ teaspoons active dry yeast (two packages)
¾ cup and 1 pinch granulated sugar, divided
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
oil for deep- frying (lard is traditional)

Instructions:

Pour the warm milk into bowl. Stir in the yeast and a pinch of granulated sugar. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it has become bubbly. Add 2 cups of flour to the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot for 30 minutes. By now the mixture should have risen and become bubbly.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until pale yellow and frothy (about three minutes). Add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt, and whisk until combined and smooth.

Add the egg mixture to the dough and hand-knead until mostly combined. Add the melted butter and mix. Gradually add three more cups of flour to the mixture and continue to knead until very soft dough comes together (it will be rather slack and a bit sticky.) If necessary, add up to another cup of flour, a spoonful at a time, until the dough firms. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, or a kitchen cloth, and let it set in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size (20 to 30 minutes).

Remove the dough from the bowl and turn out on to a floured work surface. With your fingers, or a rolling pin, push down the dough into an even layer. Sprinkle flour on the dough and roll it out to about ½-inch thickness. If the dough doesn’t hold its shape and springs back, cover with a damp towel and let it rest for a few more minutes and try again.

Cut out 3 x 3 inch squares or 3 x 4 rectangles of dough. Transfer the dough pieces to parchment-lined baking sheets. Gather scraps of dough and again roll out and cut until you have used up all of the dough. Cover the baking sheets loosely with a dish-towel, plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until they are almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat at least 1½ to 2 inches or more of deep frying shortening or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or deep skillet over medium heat to 350F/176C. Carefully lower about three or four Küchle into the oil one at a time (be sure not to over-crowd the pan) and fry until the bottom is golden brown. Carefully turn them over and continue to fry until the other side is golden brown.

Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on a wire rack. Repeat for the remaining Küchle. They are best eaten warm.

Dec 262020
 

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa, an annual celebration of African-American culture that is held from December 26th to January 1st, culminating in a communal feast called Karamu, usually held on the 6th day. It was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, based on African harvest festival traditions from various parts of Africa, including West and Southeast Africa. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966.

Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 during the aftermath of the Watts riots as a specifically African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to “give blacks an alternative to the existing holiday [of Christmas] and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” For Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s, the creation of such holidays also underscored the essential premise that “you must have a cultural revolution before the violent revolution. The cultural revolution gives identity, purpose, and direction.”

According to Karenga, the name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning “first fruits”. First fruits festivals exist in Southern Africa, celebrated in December/January with the southern solstice, and Karenga was partly inspired by an account he read of the Zulu festival Umkhosi Wokweshwama. It was decided to spell the holiday’s name with an additional “a” so that it would have a symbolic seven letters.

During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas. He believed Jesus was psychotic and Christianity was a “White” religion that Black people should shun. As Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so practicing Christians would not be alienated, stating in the 1997 book Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture that “Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.” Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba – the seven principles of African Heritage). They were developed in 1965, a year before Kwanzaa itself. These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning “common”. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder for seven candlesticks), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Mahindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks – all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement. Ears of corn represent the children celebrating and corn may be part of the holiday meal.

Every tradition that we follow was invented at some point in history but some are more durable than others.  These days it is estimated that between 1% and 3% of the African-American community celebrates Kwanzaa.  It did have quite a following in the 1970s but in the following decades the custom dwindled in popularity.  I expect there are multiple reasons for fading interest.  The thing is that you cannot create unity among people by simply asking for it.  There has to be a unifying principle.  Right now I would say that racism and racist violence against African-Americans is the single most prominent unifying factor, and it has caused large demonstrations in multiple cities in the US of late.  But protest, while unifying, is not celebratory.  There is a deep cultural lesson in there.

This video highlights some of the dishes from the African-American community that could be part of a karamu feast with a recipe for succotash. I already gave a recipe for succotash here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/benjamin-franklin/ but it bears repeating.

Dec 242020
 

Today is Juleaften in Denmark, the main event of Jul (Yule), which spans most of December, and dates back centuries to old Nordic customs.  Before I get into Yule traditions in Denmark – and today’s recipe – I will celebrate one of the most famous Danish painters of the Danish Golden Age, Nicolai Wilhelm Marstrand who was born on this date in 1810.

Marstrand studied at Copenhagen’s Metropolitan School (Metropolitanskolen), but had little interest in books, and left around 16 years of age. Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, painter and professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen, was a close friend of Wilhelm’s father, and it was to all appearance Eckersberg who recommended an artistic career for young Wilhelm. Wilhelm had already shown artistic talent, tackling difficult subjects such as group scenes with many figures and complicated composition.

At 16 years of age Marstrand thus began his studies at the Academy under Eckersberg, attending the school from 1826 to 1833. Although his interests had a firm hold in genre themes – depiction of the daily life he observed around him in Copenhagen’s streets, especially middle-class society – he would soon reach for the pinnacle of Academic acceptability: the history painting.

In August 1836 he began the first of his many travels, going by way of Germany to Rome, stopping on the way at Berlin, Dresden, Nuremberg and Munich. In Italy, where he stayed for four years, he painted many idealized depictions of daily life, especially festivities. He returned to Italy several times, the last visit being in 1869, and when in Rome he spent summer months each year in the hill towns Olevano Romano, Civitella and Subiaco. He was enchanted with Italy and with the ways of life of the Italian people. He portrayed a colorful, joyous, and romantic view of them, infused with a newfound ideal of beauty.

He also painted a number of portraits during this first stay in Italy. Among these are portraits of other travelling Danish artists, such as Christen Købke and traveling partner Johan Adolph Kittendorff.

Marstrand returned to Denmark at the end of 1841, stopping in Munich and Paris on the way. In Denmark he strove to bring back that which he learned in Italy, and allow it to develop in his home culture. He became a member of the art Academy on 19th June 1843, after submitting the painting “Erasmus Montanus” as his admissions piece. He became a professor at the Academy in 1848. He endeavored to let his students evolve according to their own skills and interests. Among these were the two most renowned Skagen painters Peder Severin Krøyer and Michael Ancher, as well as Carl Bloch and Kristian Zahrtmann. Marstrand continued to travel regularly around Europe throughout his life, to (London, Vienna, Belgium, but especially to Italy and Rome), at times in the company of such fellow artists such as P. C. Skovgaard and Johan Adolph Kittendorff, or of art historian and critic Niels Lauritz Høyen.

History painting displayed what was grand – classical themes from mythology and history, rather than daily life. The traditions, and the taste of traditional art critics, strongly favored it. It was therefore something to strive for, in spite of Marstrand’s equal skill at depicting more modest themes, and of the enjoyment he had in portraying the crowds, the diversions of the city, and the humor and story behind the hustle and bustle. Marstrand’s creative production, throughout his life, never abandoned this inclination toward displaying the simple life of his times.

In the evening of Juleaften Danes traditionally eat a family meal consisting of roast pork, roast duck, or – more rarely – roast goose, with caramelized potatoes, red cabbage and brown gravy. The dessert should be risalamande, a cold rice pudding dish, with a hot cherry sauce. The name is based on French riz à l’amande meaning “rice with almonds,” although the dessert has a Danish origin (copying French styles of cuisine in the 19th century). Rice pudding is a favorite dessert in Denmark throughout the year, but risalamande is reserved for Juleaften.  A whole almond is added to the dessert, and the person who finds it wins a small prize such as a marzipan pig, a chocolate heart or a small board game. The finder may conceal their discovery as long as possible, so that the rest of the company is forced to eat the entire dish of risalamande, even after they have already eaten a large dinner.

After the meal is complete, (or sometimes before) the family dances around the Juletræ singing Christmas carols and hymns like “Nu er det jul igen” (Now it is Yule again) and “Et barn er født i Bethlehem” (A child has been born in Bethlehem). Thirty years ago I was invited to a Juleaften dinner by some Danes and we all joined hands in a circle around the tree, which was lit exclusively by candles (superb sight, but a fire hazard), and danced while singing.  After the singing the presents are handed out in turn, followed by more snacks and sweets and the traditional Gløgg.

This video gives the general idea of making risalamande, followed by a more detailed recipe:

Risalamande

Ingredients

2.25 dl short-grained white rice
1 dl water
1 l milk
2 vanilla beans
150 g almonds
2 tbsp sugar
5 dl heavy cream
1 can cherry sauce

Instructions

In a saucepan; add the rice and water. Heat it up and let it boil for about 2 minutes.  Add the milk to the pudding and heat until boiling, stirring constantly. Cut open the vanilla beans, scrape out the seeds and add them to the pot. This is done by slicing the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds using a knife. Also add 2 tablespoons of sugar and the empty vanilla bean skins.

Cover and simmer on low heat for about 35 minutes. The rice has a tendency to burn to so to stir regularly. Remove the empty vanilla beans. The rice pudding part is now done. Let it cool in the refrigerator before you proceeding.

Heat some water until boiling point and pour it in a small bowl. Add the almonds and let them soak in the hot water for about 5-7 minutes. One-by-one take the almonds up and press them between two fingers so that the peel separates from the almond.  Coarsely chop the almonds and mix them with the cold rice pudding. In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream and gently mix the it with the rice pudding. Refrigerate until serving.

Heat cherry sauce in a saucepan until it is warm (not hot).  Divide the rice pudding between bowls and pour the cherry sauce over the top. (The video shows how to make the cherry sauce if you prefer it to readymade).

 

 

Nov 142020
 

Today is the main day of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, usually lasting five days and celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November). Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, with many other regional traditions connecting the holiday to Sita and Rama, Vishnu, Krishna, Yama, Yami, Durga, Kali, Hanuman, Ganesha, Kubera, Dhanvantari, or Vishvakarman. Furthermore, it is, in some regions, a celebration of the day Lord Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana after defeating Ravana in Lanka and serving 14 years of exile.

In the lead-up to Diwali, celebrants prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces with diyas (oil lamps) and rangolis. During Diwali, people wear their finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas and rangoli, perform worship ceremonies for Lakshmi, light fireworks, and partake in family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared. Diwali is also a major cultural event for the Hindu and Jain diaspora from the Indian subcontinent.

The five-day long festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. Diwali is usually celebrated twenty days after the Dashera (Dasara, Dasain) festival, with Dhanteras, or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and making decorations on the floor, such as rangolis. The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi. The third day is the day of Lakshmi Puja and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Lakshmi Puja is marked with the Govardhan Puja and Balipratipada (Padwa). Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj or the regional equivalent, which is dedicated to the bond between sister and brother, while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their work spaces and offering prayers.

Some other faiths in India also celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains observe their own Diwali which marks the final liberation of Mahavira, the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal Empire prison, while Newar Buddhists, unlike other Buddhists, celebrate Diwali by worshiping Lakshmi.

Regional traditions for Diwali are extremely diverse. One tradition links the festival to legends in the Hindu epic Ramayana, where Diwali is the day Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman reached Ayodhya after a period of 14 years in exile after Rama’s army of good defeated demon king Ravana’s army of evil. As per another popular tradition, in the Dwapara Yuga Period, Krishna, an avatar of Vishnu, killed the demon Narakasura, who was evil king of Pragjyotishapura, near present-day Assam and released 16000 girls held captive by Narakasura. Diwali was celebrated as a significance of triumph of good over evil after Krishna’s Victory over Narakasura. The day before Diwali is remembered as Naraka Chaturdasi, the day on which Narakasura was killed by Krishna.

Many Hindus associate the festival with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and wife of Vishnu. In some popular contemporary sources the start of Diwali is the day Lakshmi was born from Samudra manthan, the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons), a Vedic legend that is also found in several Puranas such as the Padma Purana, while the night of Diwali is when Lakshmi chose and wed Vishnu. Along with Lakshmi, who is representative of Vaishnavism, Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Parvati and Shiva of Shaivism tradition, is remembered as one who symbolizes ethical beginnings and the remover of obstacles.

Hindus of eastern India associate the festival with the goddess Kali, who symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Hindus from the Braj region in northern India, parts of Assam, as well as southern Tamil and Telugu communities view Diwali as the day the god Krishna overcame and destroyed the evil demon king Narakasura, in yet another symbolic victory of knowledge and good over ignorance and evil.

Trade and merchant families and others also offer prayers to Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera, who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury and wealth management. In western states such as Gujarat, and certain northern Hindu communities of India, the festival of Diwali signifies the start of a new year.

Tales shared on Diwali vary widely depending on region and even within Hindu tradition, yet all share a common focus on righteousness, self-inquiry and the importance of knowledge, which is the path to overcoming the “darkness of ignorance”. The telling of these tales is a reminder of the Hindu belief that good ultimately triumphs over evil.

Sweet treats are common snacks and offerings in households on Diwali.  These four are typical, although the 40 minute claim is a bit of an exaggeration: