“As Saint Gabriel to Mary flies: this is the end of snow and ice”
This delightful old proverb from Upper Austria illustrates well the age-old connection between the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord and the end of winter.
On this day — March 25 — when the Blessed Virgin’s “life with fruit was blessed” — it was traditional throughout all of Christendom to celebrate the end of winter and prayerfully implore her help with their crops. The next day, they would start sowing their summer grains confident that no inclement weather would threaten their fields.
This wonderful story comes from Father Francis X. Weiser’s compendium of traditions and customs of the Catholic faith entitled “The Holyday Book – The Celebration of Holydays, Feastdays and Festivals” -a treasure which remains as fresh and vibrant today as it did back in 1956 when it was published.
When I searched the Internet looking for some inspiration about how to weave the Feast of the Annunication into the fabric of Keeping the Feast, Father Weiser’s work emerged as one of the most insightful. It’s wondeful to know that this old treasure is still in print and can be ordered from many Internet sites!
Father Weiser’s insights on The Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord – also known as “Lady Day” – include the fact that it was once such an important observance that it marked the official beginning of the New Year — a custom that held in New England until the early 1750s.
He pointed out that this tremendously important feast was celebrated by Eastern and Western Christians. There were mystery plays in the great cathedrals of France, Italy, Germany and England on the feast day itself or on a Wednesday in Lent when a “Golden Mass (Missa Aurea) was was sung memorializing the moment when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.
Processions were held in which the “Virgin” was led through church yards and churches. In Germany, it was the custom for a boy dressed as an angel to slowly descend from the ceiling of the church to adress “Mary” with the words of Gabriel.
Father Weiser noted that in Russia, priests blessed large wafers and presented them to the faithful after the liturgy. Returning home, fathers would hand a small piece of the wafer to each member of the family. Later in the day, the families would take the remaining crumbs of the “Annunciation Bread” out into the fields and bury them as a protection against blight, hail, frost and drought.
In Sweden, the feast was known alternately as “Maria bebadelsedag” – Maria Annunciation Day – or “Varfrudagen” – The Day of Our Lady.
Swedes still attribute the culinary custom of eating waffles on this day to the generally accepted hypothesis that when the word “Varfrudagen” is mumbled, it sounds like “Vaffeldagen” – Waffle Day”. This may sound far fetched but it would account for the fact that waffles remain the food of choice in Sweden on March 25 even though the Catholic symbolism has long been reformed away.
To celebrate the feast at home, I thought it would be lovely to borrow the Swedish waffle tradition and “baptize” it with a bath of blueberry sauce and a topping of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream – culinary references to Our Lady’s purity and the mantle that has warmed her image in art down through the ages.
Blueberry sauce ala Maria
Ingredients: 1/2 cup sugar; 1 tablespoon cornstarch; 1/3 cup water; 2 cups frozen blueberries.
Directions: In a large saucepan, combine the sugar and cornstarch and gradually stir in water. Add the blueberries and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Serve warm or cold along with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (or both) on top of breakfast waffles heated according to package directions.