St. Andrew’s Day

Fran Francken II (Flanders, Antwerp, 1581-1642) painting of St. Andrew’s crucifixion, circa 1620, on exhibit in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

St. Andrew, the first man to join Christ as an apostle, was crucified on an X-shaped cross. He is now widely venerated as the patron of Scotland, Russia, and many other places. His X-shaped cross appears on the flags of many countries that looked to him for protection. His feast–on November 29 in some places and November 30 in other places–is both especially popular for magic that reveals a young woman’s future husband and was believed to be the start of the most popular time for vampires to come hunt the living, which would last until Saint George’s Eve (22 April).

In Romania, it is customary for young women to put 41 grains of wheat beneath their pillow before they go to sleep, and if they dream that someone is coming to steal their grains that means that they are going to get married next year. Also in some other parts of the country the young women light a candle from the Easter celebration and bring it, at midnight, to a fountain. They ask Saint Andrew to let them glimpse their future husband. Saint Andrew is invoked to ward off wolves, who are thought to be able to eat any animal they want on this night, and to speak to humans. A human hearing a wolf speak to him will die.

In Póvoa de Varzim, an ancient fishing town in Portugal there is Cape Santo André (Portuguese for “Saint Andrew”) and near the cape there are small pits in the rocks that the people believe these are footprints of Saint Andrew. Saint Andrew Chapel there was built in the Middle Ages and is the burial site of drowned fishermen found at the cape. (St. Andrew was also a fisherman in the New Testament.) Fishermen also asked St. Andrew for help while fishing.

It was common to see groups of fishermen, holding candles in their hands, making a pilgrimage to the Cape’s chapel on Saint Andrew’s Eve. Many might still believe that any Portuguese fisherman who does not visit Santo André in life will have to make the pilgrimage after they die.

June Wedding Magic

Wearing "something old" represents the bride's past, while the "something new" symbolizes the couple's happy future. The bride is supposed to get her "something borrowed" from someone who is happily married in the hope that some of that person's good fortune rubs off on her. "Something blue" denotes fidelity and love.

Wearing “something old” represents the bride’s past, while the “something new” symbolizes the couple’s happy future. The bride is supposed to get her “something borrowed” from someone who is happily married in the hope that some of that person’s good fortune rubs off on her. “Something blue” denotes fidelity and love.

June is a popular month for weddings. Not only is the weather generally beautiful for weddings and other celebrations, June was considered named after the Roman goddess Juno, the goddess of marriage and the wife of the supreme deity Jupiter.

However, the Romans had slightly different ideas about weddings in June than we do. In ancient Rome, the period from mid-May through mid-June was considered inauspicious for marriage. Ovid says that he consulted the high priestess of Jupiter, about setting a date for his daughter’s wedding, and was advised to wait till after June 15. Plutarch, however, implies that the entire month of June was more favorable for weddings than May.

Throwing rice (or peas, as in the Czech custom!) is a wish for both fertility and plenty of food on the family table in the years to come. Another popular custom, wearing the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the left hand, has a possible medical origin: according to medieval medical theory, there was blood vessel that ran directly from that finger to the heart (allowing a physician to stir medicinal potions and detect any poison in the mixture by feeling a palpitation of his heart) and so the wedding ring on that finger was also tied directly to the heart.

In addition to weddings in June, according to folklore in Iceland, if you bathe naked in the morning dew on the morning of June 24, you are supposed to keep aging at bay for longer!

Wedding Magic: Cranes

My niece sitting beneath the umbrella adorned with 1,000 paper cranes at her wedding rehearsal dinner.

My niece sitting beneath the umbrella adorned with 1,000 paper cranes at her wedding rehearsal dinner.

A close-up of the 1,000 origami cranes my niece and her new husband folded for their wedding.

A close-up of the 1,000 origami cranes my niece and her new husband folded for their wedding.

I was thrilled and honored to attend the recent wedding of my niece in Seattle. As part of the festivities, she and her husband-to-be had folded 1,000 origami cranes to display at the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception.

Why 1,000 origami paper cranes? An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by a crane. Some stories believe you are granted eternal good luck, instead of just one wish, such as long life or recovery from illness or injury. This makes them popular gifts for special friends and family. The crane in Japan is one of the mystical or holy creatures (others include the dragon and the tortoise) and is said to live for a thousand years: That is why 1000 cranes are made, one for each year. In some stories it is believed that the 1000 cranes must be completed within one year and they must all be made by the person who is to make the wish at the end. Cranes that are made by that person and given away to another aren’t included: All cranes must be kept by the person wishing at the end.

Although the thousand paper cranes are traditionally given as a wedding gift by the father, who is wishing a thousand years of happiness and prosperity upon the couple, in this case my niece and her husband made the cranes themselves (in alignment with the custom that the cranes must be made by the person receiving the wish). Cranes can also be given to a new baby for long life and good luck. Hanging them in one’s home is thought to be a powerfully lucky and benevolent charm.

A hearty “Congratulations!” to Mary and Erik and may the 1,000 cranes bring all the prosperity and good fortune any couple could hope to receive!