Friday, 29 May 2009

Whitsun and Pentacost - The White and the Red

Pentacost, for those not in the know, is this Sunday, and in our church we celebrate by wearing something red for the occasion symbolising, I suppose, the wind and fire that came to the Apostles when they were visited by the Holy Spirit - am I the only one who has a mind's eye picture of a William Blake engraving when they read Acts 2:1-4? Traditionally, in England, Pentacost is referred to as Whitsun, a word derived from the phrase "white Sunday". Pentacost was a time when many were Baptised and Confirmed, a time when many people would wear white - hence white Sunday, Whitsun. Now, just to be confusing, there was a national holiday (Holy Day) on Whitsun Monday for years and years, but in relatively recent times the holiday has been secularised into Spring Bank Holiday, which sometimes falls on the actual Pentacost and sometimes falls a week before or after. However, people still call the Spring Bank Holiday "Whitsun", and get bewildered by what is what. Have I befuddled you? I jolly well hope not!

I do like a nice hot Whitsun weekend. Not just because fiery weather seems appropriate to the coming of the Holy Spirit, but because Whitsun always signifies to me the very start of the summer. We've had a beautiful day today, and we've done a few Pentacost preparations to help us celebrate the festival as a family. First, we've made a starter for a fiery Ginger Beer, somehow appropriate for Pentacost, but not to be imbibed this Sunday but on Midsummer day, when the whole brew will be ready for a picnic (weather permitting). Oh, and Midsummer often falls on the feast of John the Baptist's birthday - what John the Baptist has to do with Ginger Beer I don't know, even I can't stretch the liturgical food link to that extent! Anyway, here's a pretty traditional recipe for Ginger Beer.

In a large jar put:

1 tbs dried yeast

2 cups of water

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp dried ginger

Feed this every day for 7 days with a tsp of ginger and a tsp of sugar. Keep it in the fridge, it's very volatile in hot weather. Don't stir it. After the 7 days are up, strain it through a jelly bag (or somesuch) and add:

the juice of two lemons

2 pints of boiling water

1 lb sugar

Make this mixture up to a gallon with cold water and bottle it (use plastic bottles if you fear explosions) and pop the beer in a cool place for a fortnight. It will be ready to drink by Midsummer if you make it this week.

Oh, you can keep the residue from the jelly bag and use it to start another batch of beer. Just halve the residue and add 2 cups of water, 2 tsp of ginger and 2 of sugar and begin again (just like Finnegan).

You could be understandably mistaken in thinking that the above picture was a steaming bowl of pond weed, but in fact it is the beginnings of Elderflower Champagne, a grandiose name for a very simple country drink. If your elderflowers are out, now is the time to pick them - a nice, dry day.
1/2 - 1 lb of elderflower and their stemmy parts (no leaves)
6 oz sugar
The rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 1/2 pints of boiling water
Put all ingredients into a large bowl. Steep for two days and two nights. Strain and bottle. My book says to keep "for some years if you wish a still Bordeaux". However, can be drunk young and fizzy on Midsummer along with the Ginger Beer!

Now, if you don't quite feel up to making hedgerow homebrew you can gather those beautiful, abundant white blossoms and still put them to good use. Why not try this Elderflower and Gooseberry Jam I posted about last year? Or, perhaps my beloved Hugh's Elderflower Cordial (if you're a novice freeze, don't bottle, the cordial, just so you don't have to get citric acid from the chemist...the lady from Boots thinks I run a crack den).

How about a bit of Whitsun crafting? We made a mobile of white doves this afternoon, and they dangle gracefully over our kitchen table. You can find the template for the doves on this site, and you can decorate them in any way you wish.

I suppose it would be obvious to decorate them with the Gifts of the Spirit, but eagle eyed readers will spot that we have the Fruits of the Spirit on our doves, simply because I found it easier to explain the "fruits" to my five-year-old. How can you properly define wisdom? What do you say about speaking in tongues!?! Another option would be to put simple prayers on the wings of the doves. Anyway, I'll list the gifts, and then I'll list the fruits, so if you're new to it all you have a bit of a one-stop-shop of Whitsun dove making!
The Gifts of the Spirit are: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, divers tongues, interpreting tongues.
The Fruits of the Spirits are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.

Now, are you mystified with all of this talk of gifts and fruit and Pentacost and Whitsun? All right then, you're allowed to go and put your feet up and have a nice, chilled glass of Ginger Beer!

Finally, a great medieval poem I like to think of when I see the sap rising and the sun shining!

Cuckoo Song
Summer is y-comen in,
Loude sing cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
And sping'th the woode now-
Sing cuckoo!
Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Low'th after calfe cow;
Bullock starteth, bucke farteth.
Merry sing cuckoo!
Cuckoo, Cuckoo!
Well sing'st thou, cukcoo:
Ne swike thou never now!
Sing cuckoo, now! Sing, cuckoo!
Sing cuckoo! Sing cuckoo, now!

And with that I shall say, anon, gentle reader!


monix said...

What a superb, comprehensive post. You have me wishing my children were still small so that we could make some doves.
I was always intrigued about the gifts of divers tongues and interpreting tongues. I imagined a whole crowd of people speaking in a strange language but not knowing what they were saying and another group able to understand but not speak it. 50 years on from my Confirmation, I still can't explain it.

Word verification is: spousing. How lovely.

Angela said...

Lovely post.
A thought - perhaps John the Baptist flavoured his ginger beer with wild honey, not sugar [see Matt 3!] and made it with filtered water from the Jordan??

The doves are great

Pentecost Blessings!!

Left-Handed Housewife said...

Oh, I do love the church calendar--especially when it involves beer!

You make me proud to be an Episcopalian (even if I'm hanging out with the Moravians at the moment--and the Moravians do make lovely cookies, I might add, though they're not pentacostal cookies, to my knowledge).


Anonymous said...

Those doves are cool. Am bookmarking site.

Speaking of divers tongues. A chappie from our church spoke a prophesy in Israel in tongues. A bystander was amazed that he spoke in Hebrew (which the chappie from church couldn't speak). Our Pastor spoke in tongues once in prayer with a sick fellow minister who told him the language he spoke in was Koine Greek (which is the old Greek of the New T.) our Pastor is no Greek scholar but his minister friend was. I suppose the best way to explain is that God enables the speaker to speak in tongues so that it speaks in a special way to others (so that perhaps those of a foreign language can understand) and confirms that the message/prayer is from God. There needs to be an interpreter (i.e. someone who understands) because otherwise the gift is wasted.

On a slightly different tack, our Pastor preached once and the deaf mother of a church member heard every word. How cool is that! I think sometimes we forget how much God can really do...being God after all! :)

I'm sure all that is very garbled. I don't speak in tongues myself but have heard them spoken and interpreted a few times.

As for explaining wisdom...hmmm perhaps you could talk about Solomon? He had the gift of wisdom from God.

Wish I had that gift ;)


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Monix
I too like a satisfying word verification. As for "divers tongues" all I can say is "great is the mystery of faith."

Hi Angela
Thanks for the scripture tip! There's so much you could do with honey to say Happy Birthday to St John the Baptist. How cool would that be (bee)? (DH has just come in and said : "how does this Angela know J the B had a ginger beard?")

Hi Frances
Moravians make great cookies, eh? I want to taste these mysterious Moravian cookies. It sounds spicey and exciting, and very un-Anglican. I try to include beer in the church calender whenever I can. Thank you for your kind words, m'dear.

Hi Sarah
Well, I knew you pastor had a few gifts but I didn't know you were an interpreter. Are you keeping your lights under the proverbial bushel, m'dear? I shall send small children oop North to complete their Christian education, forthwith. Will two or three months be enough do you think...?

Anonymous said...

Oh no I'm not an interpreter. Did it sound like I was? Lol. No I never interpreted the tongues it was the relevant people that understood them - wouldn't know Hebrew or Greek if you chucked 'em at me. I've heard tongues and heard the interpretation, but never done either meself! :)

Gumbo Lily said...

I didn't know that beer went with Pentecost and Midsummer Day. I like that. I have to ask, is the beer a sweet-ish drink? Or more like beer? I'm thinking of a spicy homemade wine type of "beer." I made some hard apple cider last fall and took a swig of it the other gosh, that stuff is "hard" all right, and it was still a bit fizzy when I opened it so it must still be working.

Happy Pentecost! Happy Beer and Wine making.


Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
My mistake, but for a minture there I thought you were a scholar of ancient Greek!

Hi Jody
There's a very long tradition of home brewing in the UK. It's died out now, but beers varied from household to household and from region to region. Children were given very light beers and fruity beers, the recipes I've given are for mildy alcoholic fruity beer. The elderflower champagne is made with airborn yeasts, just like sour dough bread, and traditionally ginger beer was made that way too. I've got a ton of recipes for these wines/beers in my old books, and often I'm too chicken to try them out (my last foray into wine making was a disaster). But I'm going to bite the bullet and give it another go. Ooh, regarding rough cider, I once made myself poorly on that stuff. Ouch! What a headache!

~~louise~~ said...

As a child we celebrated Pentecost with rose leaves scattered about the table. At church, leaves fell from the ceiling in remembrance of the miracle of the fiery tongues. The Italian name Pascha rossa comes from the red colors of the vestments used on Whitsunday. Here's a link recipe for Pentecost Cake. I know it's a bit late but perhaps you would like it for next year's beautiful presentation. I used the same link for Ember Day on my blog.

Hope you had a peaceful Whitsun, Dulce

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Louise
What a lovely traditional! It sounds very Italian. In the Church of England the vestments are red and white too. Thanks for the link to the Pentacost Cake, I'll be making it next year!