Bartlemas: watermelon festival, bun run, & mead blessing

Happy Lammas, friends! This is the time of year when I can really start to feel the turn toward Autumn. Each month, I’m trying to focus on one particular holiday to really dive deeply into, and I’ve been learning so much.

For August, I chose St. Bartholomew’s Day – or, Bartlemas (Bartholomew’s Mass), celebrated on August 24. This started as a challenge…I knew next to nothing about this feast day, or about St. Bartholomew.

This unassuming celebration holds a plethora of beautiful, meaningful traditions that have enlivened my vision of who St. Bartholomew was, how gracefully he bore his mission, and how the traditions accumulated over time have borne witness to this.

(Did you know that sunflowers were called “St. Bartholomew’s Star,” and churches were decorated with sunflowers for his feast day? You’ll notice sunflowers in all these photos below…they’re fresh-picked from our farm, the first sunflowers of the year to bloom).


WATERMELON FESTIVAL

A tradition hailing from Rome, a watermelon festival was held annually on Bartlemas at a basilica dedicated to St. Bartholomew: the San Bartolomeo all’Isola, on an island in the middle of the Tiber River. The watermelon crop was plentiful at this time, so a lively festival was held, with vendors sporting beautifully decorated displays of watermelon, games, and more. As is so often the case, a connection was made between a holy day, the rhythms of nature & the agrarian year, and folk customs.

The association that was forged between St. Bartholomew’s Day & watermelon spread to other countries, too; in parts of Spain, children carved watermelon lanterns for Bartlemas.

Pinelli Bartolomeo: Il cocommeraro. 1816 (Public domain; via CooksInfo.com)

Stories of the Italian Bartlemas watermelon festival, and this gorgeous 19th century etching above, inspired me to paint a Bartlemas elk. His antlers are clad in garlands & ribbons, freshly cut watermelon, and a waving festival flag. I like to think that he’s the local watermelon vendor out to share his crop with other woodland critters.

Here he is – as well as a photo showing my process in painting him: from research, to a thumbnail sketch, to a test drawing, and finally the finished painting.


ST. BARTHOLOMEW’S DAY BUN RUN

Another beautiful tradition – one that still takes place to this very day! – is the St. Bartholomew’s Day Bun Run in England. In Sandwich – a town in the district of Kent – a hospital was founded in 1190, with St. Bartholomew’s chapel being added in 1217. On Bartlemas, after a service in the chapel, children race around the exterior and receive a currant bun when they finish (mimicking pilgrims receiving food along the journey). Adults receive a St. Bart’s biscuit, stamped with the town arms. This tradition seems to have replaced an earlier one, when visiting children would receive “St. Bartholomew’s Dole” – bread, cheese, and beer. This, in turn, had represented the Wayfarers’ Dole – food offerings given to pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.

I knew I had to make paper dolls out of this sweet tradition! Since sunflowers (aka St. Bartholomew’s Star) have traditionally been used to decorate churches on Bartlemas, a little crop of sunflowers serves as an outdoor chapel for woodland critters. Three bunnies race around the sunflowers – and as each one completes a circuit, she receives a currant bun from the bowl! Three buns can be placed into the bowl and removed.

Isn’t that fun? I’ve found that I really love making paper dolls so that kids (or those of us who are children at heart!) can learn more about these holidays by playing with them.

These paper dolls are available as a free printable to my newsletter subscribers!


MEAD BLESSING

Again reflecting the rhythms of the agrarian year and nature’s cycles, it’s traditional to harvest honey on Bartlemas. St. Bartholomew came to be associated with honey, beekeepers, and mead – there is still a church (at Gulval, in Cornwall) in which they bless mead on Bartlemas!

I thought this was the perfect tradition for one of my little Vignettes – a wee bird is blessing a mazer-bowl full of mead on Bartlemas, surrounded by honeycomb and bearing a bright sunflower. Legend says that St. Bartholomew spread the gospel in Armenia, so the bird I chose for this is the Eurasian golden oriole.


LITURGICAL CALENDAR BINDER SHEETS

Do you have a way to organize all your liturgical calendar resources at home? Years ago, I found that keeping a binder helped me to distill everything into what our family/community actually used, and it’s been a really handy reference.

I’ve been steadily working on making liturgical calendar binder printables for you, to help you set one up from scratch – in the meantime, I’ve also been working on monthly info sheet printables for you. If you have a binder, you can pop them in there!

This Bartlemas info sheet is available in three different versions; all identical, except for prayers specific to each tradition (Anglican, Catholic, & Lutheran – and if you’d like to see your tradition’s prayerbook resource represented in these, please let me know!)

I also have a cover sheet for you, featuring a Bartlemas sunflower. If you collect these cover sheets and put them into a binder or file system, you’ll have an ever-growing liturgical year bouquet!

These are also available as free printables to my lovely newsletter subscribers.

Have you celebrated Bartlemas before? If you have, I’d love to hear about how you celebrate!

Best wishes,
Kristin

Sources consulted are listed here: Resource Library

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