Catholic Activity: First-Fruits Festival for Assumption Day
August 15, the feast of the Assumption, is a harvest feast day. Traditionally the blessing of fruits, herbs and flowers is one this day. This is an idea for a fund-raiser or adjust it to fit a little party.
August fifteenth commemorates the great Church Feast of the Assumption, the "festival ... on which the Holy Mother of God underwent temporal death, yet could not be holden by the bonds of death."
Because of the many charming folk observances connected with this religious holiday, Assumption Day provides an ideal background for a picturesque summer garden party or outdoor festival. Use it to raise funds for some pet charity or community project, or to add a few shekels to the empty coffers of a church or club. Or use the same idea, should you prefer, for entertaining your own friends or for honoring a guest from out of town. If you live in a metropolitan center and cannot give the festival out of doors, decorate your hall or auditorium to look like a garden and carry out the same plan indoors.
Before planning for the festival, let us recall a few of the many quaint customs and traditions that make this day universally beloved as an outdoor fete.
In many Catholic countries Assumption Day marks the period for invoking blessings on vineyards, herbs and plants. In England, before the Reformation, herbs carried to the church on this day for the priest's blessing later were converted into medicinal uses.
"The blessed Virgin Marie's feast hath here his place and time, Wherein, departing from the earth, she did the heavens clime; Great bundles then of hearbes to church, the people fast doe beare, The which against all hurtful things, the priest doth hallow theare"was written in "The Popish Kingdom" (as translated by Barnaby Googe), in allusion to the custom of blessing plants [Flowers and Herbs] on August fifteenth.
In the East, where the Assumption Feast originated, the day is commemorated with elaborate ceremonies for blessing fruit trees and grain.
In modern Syria, both Moslems and Christians celebrate the holy day by offering new wheat and small triangular cakes to the Virgin. At the Monastery of the Virgin, near Damascus, August fifteenth is the occasion for annual merrymaking and reunion of the people from all the surrounding towns and villages. Horse races, folk dances and feasting are held in the monastery orchard, where, so say the Syrians, the Virgin appeared to Justinian.
Armenian communities all over the world bless grapes on Assumption Day and celebrate it as the nameday feast of all the women and girls who are called Mary. Great trays are piled high with ripe grapes and carried to church, where they receive the blessings of the priest. In the afternoon, friends and relatives assemble in one another's vineyards to bless and eat the new grapes and hold festival in honor of the village Marys.
Louis XIII made Assumption Day a great national festival when he formally placed his kingdom under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In modern times the day continues to be celebrated widely, not only as a church holy day but as an occasion for picnics and excursions in the open.
Hungary, like France, regards August fifteenth as a great national holiday, for, according to tradition, Saint Stephen, the country's first Christian king, dedicated Hungary to the Virgin and placed it under her patronage.
Since August fifteenth traditionally is the day for festivity and rejoicing over the first grain, grapes, and other produce of the season, a garden party held at this time of year quite naturally becomes a First-Fruits Festival. Refreshments, decorations and articles for sale all may carry out the first fruits theme.
INVITATIONS Attractive invitations are in the shape of fruit-basket folders cut from buff-colored construction paper. Various fruits — peaches, grapes, apples — cut from colored papers, are appliquéd to the basket. Across the handle is written, "First-Fruits Festival." Within the folder is the announcement that your community organization, church or club is holding a benefit festival on August fifteenth, at a given time and place; that there will be refreshments, dancing and a "first-fruits" sale.
More formal invitations are written on white cards, decorated in the corner with attractive fruit cut-outs or stickers.
In addition to the written invitations there will of course be many oral announcements of the event through the community's various churches, clubs and other organizations, through notices at the public library and advance write-ups in the local papers.
DECORATIONS An ideal setting is a large lawn with a natural background of flowers and trees. If such a place is not available, however, even a modest garden may be transformed into a veritable fairyland with the aid of Japanese lanterns, gay garden tables and chairs, colorful umbrellas and artistically arranged booths.
Set up posts at regular intervals about the sides of the lawn and string wires between. The lanterns and festoons of decorative gourds, or large crepe paper fruit cut-outs (mounted on cardboard and made the same on both sides) are suspended from the wires. Decorate the posts with bunches of wheat and painted gourds.
Small tables, each with a centerpiece of fruit or grains and garden flowers, are set about cozily under beach umbrellas or, better still, under Japanese paper umbrellas, with tracings of strange dragons and ethereal looking blossoms.
THINGS TO SELL At one end of the lawn arrange booths or stalls for the articles on sale. Make the booths look as much as possible as if they belonged to an Old World market. Striped awnings, gaily costumed vendors, wandering musicians and flower girls all add color and animation to this part of the scene and insure both interest and custom.
Here are a few suggestions for articles appropriate to sell at a first-fruits festival:
Herbs and All Kinds of Herb Products: Dried herb teas; jellies to go with meat and fish; sweet lavender sachets; candied mint leaves; several packages of choice herb seeds attractively put up in small envelopes and tied with ribbons; bottles of dried herbs for seasoning; homemade cookies made with anise, caraway, cardamon or sesame seeds; books on herbal cookery; old-fashioned scent-balls made from herbs, dried rose leaves and spices.
Fruit Cookies, Cakes and Pies: Fresh peach layer cakes are irresistible offerings at an August sale. Use any good white cake recipe and put the layers together with thickly spread peachbutter icing. Watch the cakes disappear! All kinds of fruit tarts are acceptable, as are also lattice-topped fruit pies and delectable little cookies filled with mixtures of ground dates and walnuts or figs and almonds. And since this party takes place at the Feast of the Assumption, why not make your filled cookies triangular in shape, to suggest Syria's cakes baked in the Virgin's honor?
Be sure to have an order book, so additional orders may be taken, should you run out of your stock of baked things.
Jellies, Preserves, Fruit Juices,: Jellies — mint, grape, crabapple, raspberry, currant — who can resist a glass of sparkling homemade jelly to accompany roast meats, breakfast toast or teatime crackers? And fruit compotes and jams, some with spices, nuts, or a tang of ginger? Or luscious home-preserved pears, peaches and berries? Or bottles of old-fashioned raspberry shrub, grape juice or blackberry cordial? There is no end to the appetizing and delicious fruit products that find a place at this booth. And don't be so intent on jellies, preserves and juices that you forget the possibilities of gift packages of orange and grapefruit peel — red, green and yellow — or candied cherries and preserved fruits of various kinds.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables from the Garden
Ornamental Gourds and Grasses: Gourds make amusing winter ornaments for sun porch or dining room. Try to get together as many different kinds as possible — spoon gourds, nest eggs, Hercules' clubs, sugar troughs and others. Shellacking makes the gourds more shiny and decorative. Arrange them attractively in gay baskets or bright earthen dishes and sell them separately or in the containers. Dried flowers or grasses also are in demand for winter decorations. Arrange these in pretty, exotic-looking bouquets.
REFRESHMENTS Refreshments consist of all sorts of tempting foods and drinks made from fruits, herbs or berries. For example, instead of the conventional fruit punch and lemonade almost invariably served at garden parties, you might have grapeade (grape juice combined with orange juice and fresh mint leaves, slightly crushed), delectable raspberry delight (made with red raspberry juice mixed with orange and lemon juices and just the right amount of spices to give a subtle flavor), mint sparkle (a refreshing summer beverage made of orange and grapefruit juices, orange pekoe tea, ginger ale, a dash of lemon and fresh mint leaves) or, for those who like hot drinks in summer, orange pekoe tea served with candied mint leaves. To make these, dip the fresh mint leaves in slightly beaten egg white, then cover with granulated sugar. The leaves are stiff and very attractive to look at. They should be served on a small dish with the tea, and may be used either in the drink or separately as a confection.
All kinds of fresh fruit cakes, tarts and pies, fresh peach ice cream or meltingly tender shortcake with whipped cream are sure to sell like the proverbial hot cakes. For business people who arrive at the Festival hot and tired after a day at the office, a cool and delicious supper will be acceptable. A charge of fifty to seventy-five cents might be made for the supper suggested below.
FIRST-FRUITS SUPPER MENU
STRAWBERRY PUNCH STUFFED PEAR SALAD (pears filled with cream cheese, nuts and ginger) ASSORTED FRUIT SANDWICHES PEACH SHORTCAKE HOT TEA WITH MINT LEAVES
Serve the supper on gaily decorated paper plates and have paper napkins to match. For favors, an attractive girl with a basket of herbs goes from table to table and presents each guest with a small bunch of herbs tied with cellophane ribbon. The significance of the favor is enhanced by an accompanying white card on which is written a literary or Biblical reference to the herb in question. Here are a few suggested quotations for various herbs:
"As for Rosmarie, I let it run all over my garden walls, not only because my bees love it, but because it is the herb sacred to remembrance, and therefore, to friendship."- Sir Thomas More.
"Lavender for lovers true."-Handful of Pleasant Delights1584.
"The smell of mint doth stir up the mind and taste to a greedy desire of meat."- Pliny.
"There's fennel for you, and columbines."-Hamlet, Act IV, Scene V.
"The camoumile shall teach the patience which riseth best when trodden upon most."-The More the Merrier-I6o8.
Strawberry Punch: is made with 2 cups of strawberry juice, 1 cup pineapple juice, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/3 cup of honey and 4 cups of cold water. Mix thoroughly and serve in tall glasses with plenty of crushed ice.
Assorted Fruit Sandwiches are made from whole wheat and white bread filled with mixtures of cream cheese and currant or mint jelly, or cream cheese, candied grapefruit or preserved ginger and chopped sweet basil, or cream cheese and chopped maraschino cherry. Cut the sandwiches in attractive shapes with fancy cookie cutters.
ENTERTAINMENT SUGGESTIONS After supper people want to be entertained, so plan to have dancing if possible. Tickets, with some fruit symbol in the corner, are sold at ten cents for each dance. Have a dancing platform erected in the center of the lawn (probably you can get the lumber and work furnished without cost through some local factory or construction plant), and decorate attractively with rows of lighted Japanese lanterns.
Strolling minstrels or a gypsy band are more attractive than a regular orchestra, and give an air of greater informality.
An apple-barrel grab bag furnishes lively amusement. Fill a barrel with sawdust and sink into it all kinds of inexpensive gifts, each wrapped attractively and tied with ribbon. Have the favors suggestive of the occasion. Packets of herbs, flower seeds, lavender sachets, candied fruits, etc., all may be used. At ten cents a "grab," the old apple barrel will prove profitable before the evening is over.
The evening's entertainment may close with community singing under the leadership of a good song director. Since the Festival of First Fruits (as should be explained to the audience) corresponds to the harvest festival in many lands, all kinds of familiar harvest songs have a place on the program.
If desired, a dramatic presentation of the harvest customs of other lands appropriately may be given. The various foreign episodes described in the play entitled, The Pumpkins' Thanksgiving Eve, fit well into such a dramatic presentation.
Activity Source: Holiday Parties by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, The Womans Press, New York, 1939