Miscellany

A Postcard to Commemorate George Washington’s Birthday

Among the Archives and Collections of the Folklore Society is a large postcard album given by Mrs Barbara Aitken (née Freire-Marreco) who was an active member of the Society at the beginning of the twentieth century. One of her main interests was American culture and this album contains postcards of Native American subjects, especially the tribes of the Southwest, and colonial America. An entire section is devoted to Mount Vernon, Virginia, the home of America’s first president, George Washington. Among the views of the house and its rooms is a postcard commemorating the birthday of America’s first president on 22 February.

Christmas

For the first three centuries of Christianity, there was no liturgical feast specifically celebrating the physical birth of Jesus Christ. On 6 January, however, the Eastern Church centred on Constantinople celebrated the Epiphany (i.e. ‘manifestation’ or ‘revelation’) of Christ’s divine nature by the supernatural events at his baptism, and at some point they added a commemoration of his birth to the liturgy of this day. The earliest record of a feast of the Nativity on 25 December comes from a Roman church calendar of 354 A.D., and gradually spread through both Western and Eastern churches (except the Armenians, who still observe the Nativity on 6 January).

Tarasque

Throughout Provence, the most southerly part of France, there was a strong medieval tradition that the region was converted to Christianity soon after the death of Jesus, not by one of the apostles but by his personal friends – the family from Bethany, consisting of Mary Magdalene, Martha, and their brother Lazarus, together with two unrelated Marys mentioned in the gospels (the mother of James and John, and Mary Salome). They had all come to live there, fleeing from persecution. At Tarascon, a town near the Spanish border, attention was focused on St Martha, to whom the local church is dedicated.

The Pearly Festival

In her autobiography Round About Three Palace Green, written when its author was fifty years of age, Estella Canziani referred to her extensive interests and experiences:- 'One day I might be talking to a real crowned king or queen, and the next to a pearly king or to a queen crowned with feathers in an English slum.'

Valentines

The story of St Valentine’s Day begins with some unknown medieval birdwatchers, probably in France rather than England, who reckoned that birds begin mating in mid-February, and decided to give this a precise date: 14 February. (They may have followed some folk tradition – in Slovenia this is still said to be the first day of spring, when plants start growing, and birds mate.) As was normal at that period, they expressed the date as the feast-day of a saint; in the Catholic Church every day in the year celebrates at least one saint, and for a public who had no printed calendars it was easier to remember dates by names than by figures. It happens that 14 February is dedicated to one or other of two early Roman martyrs, both named Valentinus, believed to have died on that date. This does not mean that there is anything to link the martyrs themselves to birds, or to human love; it is by arbitrary chance that their name appears, and if the birdwatchers had picked on the 15th (St Faustinus’s Day) rather than the 14th, we would be now sending one another ‘Faustines’ as love-tokens.