Maine is so much more than Lighthouses and Stephen King* and Martha Stewart’s Summer Home. Here are five things that you probably didn’t know came from The Pine Tree State.
1. The Microwave. Percy Spencer, from Howland, Maine invented the Microwave, back in the 1940s. As a child of the 80s, I have a special fondness for the microwave, which was my Mother’s preferred method of cooking from ‘83 – ’86. Did you know you can cook a Thanksgiving turkey in a microwave. You can. Trust me.
2. Earmuffs. Okay, if you are at all familiar with Farmington then, of course, you know about Chester Greenwood and his Earmuffs. Our local elementary school devotes pretty much the entire second-grade curriculum to learning about earmuffs.** You’d have to live under a rock in Franklin County, not to know that one of the greatest fashion trends of the 19th Century started right here in Farmington, Maine. But for the rest of you people From Away, now you know.
3. Bakewell Cream. Like baking soda, but so much more sexy. Created as an alternative to cream of tartar during WWII, Bakewell Cream promises “lighter, flakier biscuit…” like I said, sexy. Check it out.
4. Whoopie Pies. Pennsylvania tried to declare the whoopie pie as their idea (they call them Gobs in PA, as if) but Maine will always claim whoopie pies as their own. Personally, I’m not much of fan – too much frosting filling, but they are definitely a Maine food icon.
5. Italians. The sandwich, not the people. Also known as submarines, these sandwiches feature the perfect mix of meat, cheese, and fresh vegetables, with oil, salt and pepper (some people put mayo on theirs, but that’s just wrong). When I was growing up these were a go-to lunch option for beach days at Popham. The best Italians still come from local Mom & Pop convenience stores, made to order. Hold the tomatoes, please.
What’s your favorite Maine thing?
Buon Natale! (Good Christmas)
The Christmas season in Italy begins during the Novena (the eight days preceding Christmas) and lasts until the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th). During the Novena Italian children go from house to house, reciting Christmas passages. In return for their performance they are gifted with coins, to buy themselves some candy. In rural areas of Italy, musicians dressed as shepherds, going about playing bagpipes.
The Italian Christmas is centered around the presepio, or nativity scene. The first presepio was introduced in Italy by Saint Francis of Assisi. Similar to the role of the Christmas tree, every Italian household has their own unique presipio, some of which have been handed down through many generations. Throughout Italian towns and cities large and small presepios are displayed. Great cathedrals will often feature life size figures of people and animals.
A presepio may be placed on a ceppo, a Christmas pyramid with three or four shelves, brought out specifically for the holidays. Along with the family presepio, other decorations may include the Italian flag, pine cones, puppets, and figures of angels. Small gifts may be placed on the bottom shelf. The main day for gift giving, however, is not Christmas Eve or Day, but rather the Epiphany, when Italian children eagerly await the arrival of La Befana (her name is a variation of Ephania).
According to Italian legend, La Befana was a witch living at the time of the birth of Jesus. The three wise men (also known as the three kings) were on their way to Bethlehem, when they invited La Befana to come along. She was busy with her housework and declined. Later, once she had finished her cleaning, she set off on her broomstick with toys for the Gesú Bambino (Baby Jesus). However, she could not find the Three Kings and soon lost her way. Italian children believe that La Befana is still looking for Baby Jesus, and on the eve of the Epiphany, she flies down the chimney of each house, and leaves gifts in the children’s shoes, which are left by the fireplace, just in case Baby Jesus is there.
Italian Christmas Eve
Catholic Italians follow a strict fast 24 hours leading up to Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve feast might feature baked eel, a variety of pasta, chicken stuffed with chestnut dressing, and a Christmas cake called a panettone.
Following dinner, parents will read aloud letters written by their children. In the letters, children wish their parents a good Christmas and promise to be well behaved in the coming year. Once the letters have been read, the father burns them in the fireplace. Candles are light around the presepio and at about nine o’clock, everyone goes to church for the traditional Christmas Eve Mass.
At noon on Christmas day, crowds of people gather in Vatican Square, in Rome, for a blessing from the Pope. Children may receive gifts on Christmas Day, from either Gesú Bambino or Babbo Natale (Father Christmas),
Originally published at Suite101 History of Christmas in Italy
All images used are from the Public Domain
All Rights Reserved (c) Lorri Brown 2015
Many of the Christmas traditions in Norway originate in ancient times, based on festivals of Saturnalia and other pagan holidays. However, many more modern Norwegian Christmas rituals are based on the countries new national independence and national spirit in the face of Nazi occupation during World War II.
Julestria – The Christmas Rush
Also known as Advent, Justria refers to the weeks leading up to Christmas. Originally not celebrated by most Norwegians – mainly just the clergy- following World War II, Advent (the coming of the Lord) became mainstream. People use advent wreaths and advent calendars as a way to celebrate the impending holiday.
Christmas Eve in Norway
Just as in many other European countries, Christmas Eve is a time of great feasting and merry-making for Norwegians. During Christmas Eve day, people hang a sheaf of grain, sometimes referred to as a “bird tree,” in their front yard, to share Christmas with the local animals. By four o’clock on Christmas Eve, people are dressed in their finest and the festivities begin. People eat from the Julebord, or Christmas Buffet, dining on ribbe (pork ribs), pinnekjøh (steamed mutton ribs) or sylte (headcheese). And of course there is lutefisk, a gelatinous cod dish that people either love or hate.
On Christmas Eve, Julesvenn (similar to the Danish Julnisse) brings gifts. This tradition is a holdover from the ancient Jul feast of Viking days. December 23 is known as Lillejulaften, or Little Christmas Eve, and is when most Norwegians put up their Christmas Tree. Lucky children get to open on present on Lillejulaften.
Christmas Trees in Norway
Norway ratified its first constitution in 1814, after 400 years of Danish Rule. It became fully independent in 1905, when it left a union with Sweden. Because the Norwegian independence coincided with the rising popularity of the Christmas tree (via Germany and then Great Britain) the new Norwegian flag became a popular holiday ornament, remaining so to this day.
Christmas in Norway and World War II
Norway was occupied by the Nazis for five years during World War II. During this time the Norway flag and constitutional ribbons were outlawed. However, Norwegians found ways to declare their opposition to German rule. Christmas cards printed during the Nazi occupation featured Nisse, a Christmas gnome popular since the mid 19th Century, with the Norwegian flags and captions that read God Norsk Jul – Merry Norwegian Christmas. Despite the Nazis’ attempt at destroying the cards and forbidding printers to distribute them, many of these World War II Christmas cards still exist today, a testament to a nation’s determination to reclaim its freedom.
Bevilacqua, Michelle, Brandon Toropov. The Everything Book of Christmas. Avon:
Adams Media Corporation, 1996.
Stokker, Kathleen. Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land.
St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.
Originally Published at Suite 101.
All rights reserved (c) Lorri Brown 2015
Images courtesy of Public Domain
In France, Christmas goes by the name of Noël. This stems from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles,which means “the good news.” This is in reference to the gospel and spreading the word of Jesus Christ’s birth. Santa clause is called Père Noël, meaning “Father Christmas.” He is dressed in old fashioned robes trimmed with fur, and carries a sack of gifts.
Gift Giving in France
Like many countries in Western Europe, the Christmas season in France begins with Saint Nicholas’ Day, December 6th. In eastern areas of France, particularly Alsace-Lorraine, parents give children their Christmas gifts on Saint Nicholas’ Day, as opposed to Christmas Day, which is reserved for religious services and a family dinner. In other parts of France, Père Noël comes bearing gifts on Christmas Eve for the good children. He places small treats and toys in the children’s shoes, which they leave by the fireplace. Adults often wait until New Years Day to exchange gifts with one another.
French Christmas Symbols
Christmas trees can be found in France, though they are not as popular as they are in Germany, Great Britain and the United States. By far the most popular Christmas symbol in France is the nativity scene, or Christmas Crèche. Introduced by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1224, the Christmas Crèche did not really catch on in popularity until the time of the Renaissance of the 16th Century.
Many regions of France also use Santons in their Christmas decorations. Translated, santons mean little saints. The small village of Aubagne, in the Provencal region of France, is considered the world capital of santons. Santons became popular during the French Revolution, when many churches were closed and larger nativity scenes were outlawed. Along with biblical figures, santons can also represent everyday people, such as a mayor, a baker, policemen or a local priest.
French Christmas Cuisine
The traditional French Christmas dinner usually takes place after the midnight mass on Christmas eve. Called le reveillon, the main dishes of this holiday dinner vary from region to region. In Alsace, goose is served as the main dish, while in Brittany buckwheat pancakes with sour cream are a featured dish. Turkey and chestnuts are popular in Burgundy, while in Paris and Il-de-France region oysters are served. Of course, no French Christmas dinner would be complete without the traditional log shaped cake, Buche de Noel.
Twelfth Night /Epiphany
In Provencal, children would go outside during Twelfth Night (the day before the Epiphany) to meet with the three kings who were on their way to give the Baby Jesus his gifts. The children would give the three kings food for themselves and their pages. In return, the kings would give the children gifts. In honor of this occasion, another popular Christmas dessert, known as the Cake of The King, was served. Decorated with designs of stars, crown, dragons and flowers, a special bean or trinket was baked inside. Whoever got the piece with the bean was “king” for the following year. Popular up until the 19th Century, the Cake of the King still graces the holiday tables in French-speaking Quebec, where old world customs are still practiced. A similar cake, simply called Kings Cake, is served in Louisiana, to mark the start of the Mardi Gras season.
Orginally posted at Suite101 History of Christmas in France
All images used are from the Public Domain
All Rights Reserved (c) Lorri Brown 2015
Feliz Navidad! (Merry Christmas)
Ever since ancient times, the Spanish have celebrated the coming of winter with a unique custom, called Hogueras. Reminiscent of the ancient Roman holiday of Saturnalia and the Northern European tradition of a Yuletide celebration, Spaniards celebrated the Winter Solstice by jumping over a fire, as a way to protect themselves against illness in the coming year. This was especially popular in the areas of Granada and Jaeen. As Christianity gained power during the Middle Ages, Hogueras fell by the wayside, along with many other pagan customs.
Spain has a long history intertwined with the Catholic Church. The patron saint of Spain is the Virgin Mary and tribute to her is evident throughout the holiday season. In fact, the Christmas season in Spain begins on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in her honor. Most Roman-Catholic households have some sort of image of the Virgin Mary illuminated during the holiday season.
Christmas Eve in Spain
Christmas Eve is a time for families to celebrate. They attend the traditional Christmas Eve mass, then return home for a great feast. Much like Italian Christmas traditions, families gather around the nacimiento, or nativity scene, which plays a similar role to that of the American Christmas tree. The nacimiento is similar to the French Christmas crèche, and the German Christmas kribbe. However, in Spain the nativity scene usually includes a bull, the symbol of Spain and a stream of water, where women are poised doing laundry. Other figures, reminiscent of the French Christmas tradition of santons, may include famous torreros (bullfighters) or even well known politicians. Just as in Italy, nearly every home will have their own nativity scene, towns will display large scenes, some even using real people, and animals, just as Saint Francis of Assisi did with his depiction of the first nativity in 1224.
As is common in many parts of Western Europe, Christmas Day in Spain is a quiet affair, reserved for visiting with family and religious worship.
Spanish Christmas Cuisine
Christmas Eve dinner is the biggest meal of the year in Spain and people tend to eat more extravagantly than they normally would. Lobster and other shellfish are popular at Christmastime. A fish soup often makes up one course. Main courses might be roasted lamb or suckling pig, accompanied by assorted cheeses, pates and sweets. A popular Christmas treat in Spain is turron, which is an almond nougat candy. The meal is finished with a glass of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, and perhaps a cup of espresso or Spanish brandy.
Twelfth Day or Epiphany
Twelfth Day, also known as the Epiphany, is th
e main day for gift giving. Children eagerly await the arrival of the Three Kings, who will bring gifts. On January 5th (the eve of the Epiphany) children fill their shoes with straw, carrots and barley for the Three King’s mules. In the morning, their shoes are filled with gifts from the Three Kings. The Epiphany is also the main day for exchanging gifts among adults, as well.
Originally posted at Suite101 History of Christmas in Spain
All Rights Reserved (C) Lorri Brown 2015
All images courtesy of Public Domain