Fastern’s E’en and Fastelavn

Today (Sunday 26/02/17) it’s Fastelavn in Denmark. The word comes from Low German vastel-avent, meaning the evening (and by extension the day) before the fast (Lent), which means that it always takes place on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday.

When I was a kid, we dressed up and went guising, and we took turns beating up a barrel containing sweets with a bat. I’m not sure many kids go guising any more, but the barrel smashing (“at slå katten af tønden”) is still very popular.

Interestingly, in Scotland Shrove Tuesday used to be called Fastern’s E’en, which is clearly etymologically the same word as Fastelavn. It was marked in various ways, but eating pancakes doesn’t seem to have been one of them.

In the Borders it was traditional to have a Baw game:

Here are a list of the various traditions I’ve managed to find on Tobar an Dualchais:

  • On Shrove Tuesday they had a big bannock with a ring, a sixpence and/or a button in it.
  • Up till about the First World War, a ba [handball] game used to be played on Fastern’s E’en (Shrove Tuesday). People ate currant dumplings on that day.
  • On Shrove Tuesday children went round the houses for bannocks containing a ring or a button. The one who got a ring would be first married.
  • Fastern’s Een [Shrove Tuesday] was celebrated with the baking of special cakes.
  • In the Melrose marriage ball game, which replaced an earlier Fastern’s Een handball game, the bride kicks off a rugby ball in the square and the young men scramble for it. There has been an attempt to stop the tradition because of the danger from traffic. In the earlier game, there were no teams, just small groups trying to run away with the ball. It had to be hidden (not in a house) for three days in order to win the game.
  • On Shrove Tuesday Mrs Hailstones’ mother, who was English, used to make big pancakes and sugar them and roll them up. Scottish families did not do this, but Mrs Hailstones used to do it for her own children.
  • Shrove Tuesday was the day before Lent started. There used to be a big feast on the evening of shrove Tuesday. It was believed that something bad would happen during Easter if Shrove Tuesday was not properly celebrated.
  • The contributor’s great-grandmother (who lived to be 120) was once without a chicken for Shrove Tuesday. A pigeon came in, and so it was killed instead.
  • On Shrove Tuesday children went round the houses for bannocks containing a ring or a button. The one who got a ring would be first married. A button meant an old maid or a bachelor. They had a half day off school on Shrove Tuesday.
  • On Shrove Tuesday a sheep was killed and there was a feast. A broth was made with barley that had been threshed with a ‘cnotag’, a stone with a hollow in the middle.
  • The contributor explains how a bannock was made with barley meal, butter, eggs and sugar, to celebrate Shrove Tuesday. She has never seen it made, but her father saw it in Barra.

It would be nice to see a revival of some of these traditions!

What happens to grandparents in the Harry Potter universe?

Portrait of the artist as Augusta Longbottom, a character from the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling.
We were all (re-)watching the Harry Potter films over the holidays, and at some point I suddenly noticed something I’d never paid attention to before: There are very few old people, and in particular almost no grandparents in the wizard world.

The old people we see are mainly school teachers (like Dumbledore and McGonagall) or authors like Bathilda Bagshot, and they’re all single. The only prominent grandparent I can think of is Neville Longbottom’s grandmother (and she’s of course a widow).

At the same time, it’s clearly the case that wizards and witches have children at a very young age, typically starting in their early twenties. In other words, the grandparents that are missing aren’t old at all (they should be in their late fifties or early sixties when their grandchildren go off to Hogwarts for the first time).

So what’s happening? Here are some possibilities:

  • Perhaps magical abilities wear out the body quickly. That would be biologically plausible, but it doesn’t explain why unmarried wizards and witches can live for a long time, perhaps longer than muggles.
  • Maybe older ones get clumsy and die due to magical accidents (a bit like the way Luna’s mum died). Again, it doesn’t explain why the ones who remain single can live so long.
  • Another possibility is that it’s the magical equivalent of a midlife crisis that kills them, either by making them kill each other or by committing suicide. But again, why should this only affect married couples?
  • Perhaps the children murder their parents a few years after having their own. I’ve no idea why they would do this, but it would explain why the childless ones survive.
  • An intriguing possibility would be some sort of slow-acting magical STD that kills people around 30 years after having sex for the first time. Again, this would fit a lot of facts, but perhaps not how Neville Longbottom’s granny managed to survive.
  • Finally, it could be that there is some sort of magical retirement home that is so wonderful that nobody who goes there ever wants to come back. Perhaps the children need to pay for it, which is why the ones without children cannot go.

I’m not really sure which option I prefer, and it is of course much more likely that Rowling just thought that grandparents would be an irrelevance to the story.

The traditional East Asian seasons work really well in Scotland

Just to escape from all the Brexit madness, I read a couple of Wikipedia articles about the traditional East Asian calendars that divide the year into 24 solar terms instead of 12 months.

The solar terms are defined in terms of celestial longitude, and the same is true for the four seasons:

  • Spring (315°–44°): 4th February–4th May
  • Summer (45°–134°): 5th May–6th August
  • Autumn (135°–224°): 7th August–6th November
  • Winter (225°–314°): 7th November–3rd February

(The dates are approximations – they can vary by a day. And I haven’t really sussed why the four seasons aren’t exactly the same length.)

The funny thing is that these seasons seem to work much better than the traditional ones in Scotland. Phyllis and I have often said to each other that spring seems to start around our birthdays (4th and 8th of February), and my mum’s birthday (5th of May) is often the first warm day with green leaves on trees. Also, this year – without having read the Wikipedia article – I posted this on Facebook on the 7th of August: “Here in Scotland, hairst is in the air the day. Haste ye back, summer!”

It’ll be interesting to see whether winter starts on the 7th of November this year!

I am a man and I’m wearing a hat

My old friend Kakha from Georgia was visiting us last week, and at one point I asked him whether Rabbie Burns was well-kent in Georgia.

“Absolutely, we love the song about the man and his hat,” replied Kakha.

“The man and his hat?!?”

“Yes, you know: კაცი ვარ და ქუდი მხურავს (‘I am a man and I’m wearing a hat’),” said Kakha. He started to sing: “კაცი ვარ და ქუდი მხურავს // ქედს არ ვუხრი არავის. // არც არავის ვემონები // არც ვბატონობ არავის.” (“Ḳaci var da kudi mxuravs // keds ar vuxri aravis. // Arc aravis vemonebi // arc vbaṭonob aravis.”)

I managed to find a YouTube clip of Georgians singing this:

At first I couldn’t find any poem by Burns that matched the lyrics, but the line “არც ვბატონობ არავის” (“and I don’t rule over anybody”) gave me a clue. It must be “I hae a wife o’ my ain“:

I Hae a wife of my ain, 
I’ll partake wi’ naebody; 
I’ll take Cuckold frae nane, 
I’ll gie Cuckold to naebody. 

I hae a penny to spend, 
There — thanks to naebody! 
I hae naething to lend, 
I'll borrow frae naebody. 

I am naebody’s lord, 
I’ll be slave to naebody; 
I hae a gude braid sword, 
I’ll tak dunts frae naebody. 

I’ll be merry and free, 
I’ll be sad for naebody; 
Naebody cares for me, 
I care for naebody. 

Georgians love this song — they feel it describes them. It’ll never cease to amaze me how Burns was able to write songs that reach out to people from all countries at all times.

Oh that she were…

A banana and a medlar.
A banana and a medlar.
When I last blogged about the medlar, we hadn’t had any fruit in our garden yet.

This year, however, our tree is full of beautiful bletting (i.e., rotting) fruit. We need some more frost to speed up the process, but that has been promised for next week, so I’m really looking forward to feast on rotten open-arse fruits soon.

I would have loved to plant a poperin pear tree next to it (cf. the famous lines in Romeo and Juliett: “O Romeo, that she were, O that she were // An open-arse and thou a poperin pear!”), but as far as I know, that specific cultivar has disappeared.

Its cultural role as the phallic fruit par excellence has been taken over by the banana, of course, but I’m not sure it’s as easy to grow medlars and bananas side by side.

A new definition of marriage

Anna and Daddy
Anna and Daddy, a photo by PhylB on Flickr.
A few years ago, I wrote:

[T]he state could treat you as married if you had either had a child together or lived together for three years, and it could treat you as divorced if you had either “married” somebody else through the above-mentioned actions or lived apart for two years.

Now an Indian high court judge seems to have had the the same idea:

The court said that if a bachelor has completed 21 years of age and an unmarried woman 18 years, they have acquired the freedom of choice guaranteed by the Constitution. “Consequently, if any couple choose to consummate their sexual cravings, then that act becomes a total commitment with adherence to all consequences that may follow, except on certain exceptional considerations.

The court said marriage formalities as per various religious customs such as the tying of a mangalsutra, the exchange of garlands and rings or the registering of a marriage were only to comply with religious customs for the satisfaction of society.

This is brilliant! In a Scottish context, this would men that if two people are sixteen years old and have sex, they’re married.

It’s a beautiful simplification of marriage, but I do wonder when you divorce according to the Madras court — unless that’s automatic as well, lots of people will end up multiple bigamists!

“Trods alt det” af Rabbie Burns

I Danmark er det eneste kendte Burns-digt vel Skuld gammel venskab rejn forgo, men Jeppe Aakjær var faktisk en stor beundrer af den skotske barde og oversatte mange andre af hans digte.

I Skotland er A man’s a man for a’ that vel stort set lige så berømt some Auld lang syne, og det var også blandt de digte, som Aakjær oversatte.

Desværre oversatte han det dog til rigsdansk, ikke til jysk, og resultatet er et ret højtideligt sprog, som ikke er nært så mundret som den skotske original og Aakjærs jyske digte.

Men i det mindste havde han styr på versefødderne, så oversættelsen kan synges lige så godt som originalen:

  1. Om en af ærlig Fattigdom
    gav Kampen op, og alt det,
    den Stymper gaar vi udenom,
    i Nøden stolt trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    vort sure Stræb og alt det:
    Din Rang er blot Dukatens Præg,
    dens Guld du selv, trods alt det.

  2. Og er vor Dragt end lidet fin,
    vor Kost kun knap og alt det,
    giv Taaber Silke, Skjælme Vin,
    en Mand er Mand trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    trods Gøglets Glans og alt det,
    Retsindets Mand, om nok saa lav,
    er størst blandt Mænd trods alt det.

  3. Se dristigt paa hin Herremand,
    betragt hans Pragt og alt det;
    har han end tusind Tønder Land,
    er han en Nar trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    hans Baand og Kors og alt det,
    et stolt og uafhængigt Sind
    har ikkun Smil for alt det.

  4. Baroner bages bedst ved Gunst,
    Lensgrever med og alt det,
    men det steg over Kongers Kunst
    at skabe Mænd trods alt det.
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    et malet Skjold og alt det,
    den klare Kløgt, den sunde Sans
    i Rang staar over alt det.

  5. Gid hver maa se det store ske
    — og ske det skal trods alt det!
    at Brav-Mands Dont Evropa rundt
    faar Hæd’rens Plads trods alt det!
    Trods alt det og alt det,
    den Dag er nær trods alt det,
    da Mand og Bror er samme Navn
    al Jorden om trods alt det!