Thursday, December 04, 2008

Advent: early Advent saints' feasts

I had a discussion this morning (0-dark-30!) with dh about celebrating Advent with all the feasts or celebrating Advent by fasting and repentance in preparation for Christmas. I weigh in definitely on the "teach the kids the joyful with the sorrowful" so since I'm the main teacher, we celebrate as many feasts as we can throughout Advent in our home education journey.


Yesterday, Decemember 3rd, was the feast of St. Francis Xavier. This is one great guy: not only is he Basque (even tho he's from the Spanish side rather than the French side of the Basque region, we'll happily claim him!), he was a Jesuit when Jesuits were "the good, the true and the beautiful", and he evangelized India, Japan, Phillipines and died on his way to China. He was born to wealth and gave it all up to be missionary to Asia. Ya gotta love this guy!

We had gone to Mass at dh's high school in the morning, so we'd heard from Father all about FX's exploits in the Far East, but when we got home we learned even more. 12 years AFTER he was in Japan, his converts still had the neophyte's zeal for his/her faith. This is an amazing achievement as so many other missionaries failed to convert the Far East native populations.

So, in honor of this Basque nobleman who had such an impact on Japan, we (thanks to MaryM's suggestion) did Japanese Origami ornaments for our craft-time (and thus created Christmas decorations at the same time). It was great fun to experiment and play with the origami paper -- I wish we had foil or other fancy patterned paper for this craft, but I could only find the tradtional colored/white paper. For the green one, I glue-sticked the red to the green and altho it was a little heavier than should have been, I really like the way it turned out!

For our Christmas reading we read: Strega Nona: Her Story (where we hear about her early life) and Merry Christmas, Strega Nona (where we find out just how much Big Anthony loves Strega Nona).

We finished up our day with a meeting of the St. Francis (nature study) and St. Clare (needlework) clubs -- the boys cut fresh wild holly for us while the girls crafted plastic-canvas stars. We didn't do any Christmas treat making because dh and Kotch had to be at her school for a Shakespeare night (she recited Horatio's soliloquy) while LegoManiac had a mandatory altar server meeting and I stayed home with StringBean, BamBam and an adorable 4-year-old friend (and made costumes for the kids' drama production next Saturday).

Today, December 4th, is the feast day of St. John Damascene (or John of Damascus). This is the last of the Greek Fathers and a Doctor of the Catholic Church named "Doctor of Christian Art" for his unceasing and direct defense of iconography.

We followed up our learning about St. John with a reading of Gloria Whelan's beautiful book, The Miracle of St. Nicholas. The kids really liked this one: a story of a boy who changes his village forever by dreaming of opening the 60-year-closed village church in time for Christmas Mass. Just beautiful.

This book is such a wonderful tie-in both with today's feast and St. Nicholas' feast in two days. St. John Damascene is famous for his defense of iconography -- what better way to "own" this than to become an iconographer for the day? So, I had the idea to have the kiddoes drew their idea of the book's St. Nicholas icon. StringBean, who really likes the Impressionists (Monet is her favorite artist) did her impression of the icon, while LegoManiac did his almost identical to the picture -- but since he couldn't get the hands right, he just removed the hands and the Scriptures).

They drew these icons to the smell of Syrian Biscochos (basically sugar cookie bars). Since I wasn't sure how these would taste -- check out the list of ingredients: WOW! -- I only made a half batch. The recipe I've included below is half the original -- and it made about 2-1/2 dozen bars. The cookie dough had an odd flavor but a beautiful color; the baked cookie had a great flavor but an odd color. A recipe of paradoxes, huh?

Here's the Biscochos recipe from Food DownUnder's "Syrian recipes" I used (I've given the halved version):

□ 1 cup butter, softened (the original recipe called for shortening, but I just can't bring myself to have that stuff in the house!)
□ 1/4 cup granulated sugar
□ 1/2 tsp salt
□ 1/2 tbls anise
□ 1/4 tsp ground cloves
□ 2-1/2 cups flour
□ 1/2 cup red wine (the original recipe said "wine"; checking around for a more definitive ingredient description, I found the recipes all said "any kind of wine" -- I used burgundy which accounts for the beautiful pink color of the batter)
□ Cinnamon-sugar mix to roll after baked

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine butter with sugar; add salt, anise and cloves.
Slowly add flour and wine to form dough. Continue adding flour (more than given above) until dough doesn’t stick to hands.
Roll out about 1/8-inch think and cut into squares.
Bake for 10 minutes at 375.
Remove and roll in cinnamon-sugar mix while still hot. Cool and eat!

These cookies are REALLY good -- and it turns out there are other countries who "claim" these cookies: Spain, Mexico and it's even the "state cookie" of New Mexico! Who knew?


Charlotte (Matilda) said...

Tell LegoManiac, hands can be a real pain even for someone who has a lot more time to practice them!

JennGM said...

Great stuff, Mary! I love how you make great ideas happen in your house. Implementation is hard to come by over here sometimes. ;-)