Homekeeping Today
The Feast of Saints Anne and Joachim

Cookies and Cockles on St. James's Day

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For me, one of the key things to remember when celebrating the liturgical year, is to keep things as simple as possible. Certainly some weeks - especially those around Christmas and Easter - the projects will be more involved: Advent calendars, O Antiphon houses, Lenten charts and Paschal candles. But for the most part, on most weeks, I like to keep our plans really easy - because if they're easy to do and prepare for, then they are easy (or easier) to fit into an already busy week.

Today, the Feast of St. James, was a good example of keeping things simple. On the one hand I had lots of ideas. (Which tends to happen when you know so many wonderful resources and own as many idea books as I do.) And, if all I had on my plate this week was to plan a feast day celebration, it might have made sense to tackle some of the more involved projects. Then again, maybe not. I do find that the weeks things are kept simple and understated are the ones that my boys enjoy the most.

For today, I planned a little after-lunch treat, some nice madeleine cookies I found at the store. These are plain butter cookies baked in the shape of a shell. (The scallop shell is the symbol of St. James, and you can read more about why further down in my post.)

Now, in my orginal notes I mentioned some crazy idea about purchasing a madeleine cookie pan and whipping up these cookies from scratch. Then reality set in and I realized the pan was a bit expensive, and the recipe too time-intenseive. Thankfully it is quite easy to find madeleines at the store; these were from my regular supermarket and by golly, they were good. (More like little pound cakes than cookies.)

Next we set about making a small, easy St. James Grotto. Again, lots of ideas swum in my head - most involved holy cards, cardboard boxes, seashells and a piping hot glue gun. Now, I do have all these things on hand, but I decided to go with something much easier to prepare:

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A small glass candle holder set upon a white china plate. I placed a tealight inside and let the boys "embellish" the inside and outside with craft shells. The tiny size filled in right around the candle, while the small white shells fit perfectly around the edge of the plate. This was a particularly nice project for Earlybird, who often finds the crafts we do beyond his attention span. But spilling and sorting shells? Right up his alley.

I'd like to share with you this passage about the tradition of making small shell-and-candle grottos on this day:

"Why grottoes? St. James, like all the other Apostles except for St. John, was eventually martyred for his faith. He met his death in the year 42 in Jerusalem at the hands of Herod Agrippa. His body was later brought to Spain and buried there. The journey was a difficult one by sea and so the symbol of the saint became a scallop shell. The place of his burial  - Compostella in Spain - rapidly became a great centre of pilgrimage. Today the great shrine still stands and still attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. In the middle ages, many pilgrims went there from England. To raise money to help the poorer pilgrims, it became a tradition to build small grottoes of scallop shels - people would pay a penny, light the candle in the grotto, and say a prayer for the pilgrim." (Source: A Book of Feasts and Seasons)

Now, I don't allow my children to light candles just yet, but for fun, I had them rustle up some change and "pay" for the privelage of blowing out the flame, which they actually enjoy even more than the lighting. We set up a large shell and one by one the boys plunked down their coins, said a quiet prayer for the poor, and then blew out the flame. I acknowledged each generous gesture and promptly re-lit the candle for the next "pilgrim." This was great fun and a memorable way to honor the day. On Sunday, the boys will drop their "shell money" in the poor box at church.

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Another quick and easy centerpiece for the day would have been our red novena candle (the liturgical color for today) similarly surrounded by shells. We bought ours at the same grocery store where I found the cookies. They're nice to have on hand - look for them in the ethnic foods aisle.

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There are plenty more St. James Day ideas and information at my friend Jenn's, and do check out her food blog for recipe ideas. I know this feast day is associated with eating oysters, but I was glad to read that any shellfish is appropriate for today (not a big fan of oysters, myself). So Bill is bringing home scallops from a local take-out place for supper, along with corn from the farmstand and a batch of crispy fries. It will make a tasty, fun meal. :)

If you wanted to tie today's feast into the natural world (something I enjoy doing), you could plan a picnic by the sea. Spend the morning collecting shells and then dig into a pasta salad (shell-shaped of course!) for lunch. Or if it's raining, you could stay home and spend an hour or so making shell candles (we did back in January, as shown in this post).

Now with all this talk about seashells, I want to take a moment to mention the upcoming Loveliness Fair, celebrating the joys of the seashore at A Wink and a Smile. (Such a lovely blog ~ I could sit and listen to that music all day! Love Harry Connick.)

All told, this week's liturgical "tea and a craft" took about half an hour. Time well spent, I think, and some nice memories made.

Well, have a lovely evening, my friends. See you sometime tomorrow ... :)

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