From May 18, 2014
On the morning of the race, I felt well prepared. I had purchased my hat for the Preakness weeks before the race at the Downton Abbey exhibit at Winterthur in Delaware. I waited until the day of the race to purchase the flowers to decorate it, hoping for them to be as fresh as possible. The Black-Eyed Susan is the state flower of Maryland, as well as the official flower of the Preakness, so I was certain that local florists and farmer's markets would be abundant with fresh blossoms to adorn my hat for the day's race,. There wasn't a Black-Eyed Susan to be found. Well, at least not of the floral variety.
There weren't even any silks available. I purchased a garland of daisies and hurried home to paint the centers with acrylics, thankful that it was a quick drying paint. Next year I'll be prepared, and may even try to force some blossoms for the event.
Even California Chrome, the winning horse, was deprived of the thrill of wearing an authentic garland of the official flower. Instead his 10 foot long, 4,200 bloom blanket was made of golden yellow chrysanthemums with black in the center.
Numerous people, including a local florist, told me as recently as the day of this year's race, May 17, 2014, "the flowers used for the race and the blanket that covers the winning horse are daisies with the centers painted with black lacquer or shoe polish." However, more reliable sources state they haven't used that technique for over fifteen years.
Susan Reimer, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, noted that the archives of the Sun first mentioned the Black Eyed Susan taking the place of the rose blanket for the Maryland Preakness race in the late 1930s. "In 1939 the Sun described what it said was a blanket of black-eyed Susans gracing the neck of Preakness winner Challedon. Racing writer Jesse Linthicum said the change gave the race 'a real Maryland flavor'."
As far as the origin of the daisies with the centers painted black, Reimer reveals the beginning and the end of the mystery. The Black-Eyed Susan, a wild flower too delicate to hold up to the technique of being woven into a blanket and remaining fresh and hardy for a couple of days, doesn't even bloom until late June. "It was Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Price Day, writing in The Sun in 1946, who revealed that florist and devoted horse lover George Cook had been painting the center of yellow daisies with shoe black for years. He'd made every blanket from 1928 to 1953, and he died just days before the 1954 race."
The choice of the Black-Eyed Susan is in honor of it's position as the official flower. The state legislature of Maryland officially endorsed the Black Eyed Susan as the Maryland state flower in 1918. There are thirteen petals, as there were thirteen original colonies which included Maryland, and the black and yellow beautifully represent the colors in the Maryland flag. Admittedly, other than its untimely debut and fragile nature, it is a worthy choice for the official Preakness flower!
Holly has no rivals as a protective plant! It guards against poisons, evil spirits, lightning, and theft. Carry it with you if you are expecting to see any lions or tigers or bears - oh my! All you have to do is throw it in their direction and they will immediately stop their attack, lie down and take a nap! Handy!
Holly is a masculine plant, an herb of the planet Mars, so men will find it particularly useful in promoting good luck and protecting them from witches!
For centuries, holly, also called Holm, Hover Bush or Bat's Wings, was a pagan plant.The name holly means 'prickly'. After the birth of Christ, it began to be associated with Christianity. One legend states that the holly plant sprang up under the footprints of Jesus. Another states that at one time the berries were white, but after Christ's death, they turned red from the blood he shed for all mankind. The prickly leaves are associated with the crown of thorns, and the white blossoms symbolize purity.
It is one of the most often used greens of the holiday season. Whether you need protection, a splash of color or both, it is an ideal decoration. It will also determine who will rule the house for the coming year. If the leaves are prickly, the man will be in charge, and if it is of a variety with smooth leaves, the woman will rule the home.
Ivy is another herb frequently associated with Christmas. It is most often mentioned in association with holly, its male counterpart. Ivy is the feminine, a plant of the planet Saturn.
The three points of ivy remind us of the Holy Trinity. She is an herb of protection and healing, often seen in bridal bouquets, providing good luck, fidelity and health.
The traditional English Christmas carol (carol translates to "a dance of celebration"), The Holly and the Ivy, dates back to 15 or 16th century. It was re-introduced by Cecil J. Sharp (1859-1924) in his collection of hymns and carols, in 1911.
There was a contest between the holly and the ivy to determine which should be the 'best in the hall.' I'll let you decide who took the prize!
The Holly and the Ivy
The holly and the ivy,
when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
the holly bears the crown.
Chorus:Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet savior.
The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
Juniper is another of the trees who offered protection to the holy family. After hearing of the birth of a baby destined to be king, Herod issued a command to have all new born baby boys killed. The family fled from the manger. As they were traveling, thunder began to rumble and lightning pierced the sky. They asked the trees to offer them protection, but they refused for fear of Herod's retaliation. The humble little juniper bush bravely offered shelter to the family, and they were safe, warm and dry during the storm. The juniper's reward for its bravery was to remain ever green. To this day, juniper is known for providing shelter from storms and lightning.
Helleborus niger was valued as a medicinal plant long before it became associated with Christmas. The first mention comes from 900 B.C. when her discovery was attributed to a shepherd. He used it first with restless, agitated animals and then a neighbor who was considered insane. The king of Argus heard of the cure and contacted him to heal his three daughters, all convinced that they were cows. The shepherd's treatment was successful and his reward was marriage to the youngest princess. You can't make this stuff up!
The association with Christmas came from another shepherd, a young girl named Madelon. It was a cold and bitter night when three wise men following a star passed by her watch. They told her of the wondrous birth and she followed them to the manger. When they arrived, all had gifts for the baby Jesus - frankincense, myrrh, gold, honey, fruits and herbs. She had nothing to give him and began to cry. An angel appeared and asked her why she was so unhappy. She explained that she had no gift for the new born King. The angel took pity on her and turned each of her tears into a beautiful white flower edged in pink. Madelon was over joyed as she presented her gift of the Christmas Rose to the tiny baby.
Joseph of Arimathaea carried a staff made from the hawthorn to Glastonbury, Somerset, England when he journeyed there to share his ministry of Christianity to the ancient Britons. He arrived at wearyall Hill, exhausted from his long journey, and thrust the hawthorn staff into the ground. The tree took root, grew leaves and is said to blossom twice annually, in the spring and again in the winter on the birthday of Christ.
The famous Abbey of Glastonbury was built next to the famous Glastonbury Thorn, and pilgrims traveled there for years to seek the blessing of the thorn. The original tree has been propagated several times by grafting. Sadly, the original tree was burned during the English Civill War. It was replaced in 2010. Cuttings from the tree have been grafted since ancient times and one was taken to the National Cathedral in Washington, D. C. where it is currently growing in the Bishop's Garden.
When Christianity arrived in northern Europe and the legend of the Christmas tree became known, three angels, Faith, Hope and Charity were sent from the heavens to find the perfect tree!
The perfect tree was to be as
Great as Faith
High as Hope
Sweet as Charity
It was also to have a cross on every bough.
The search ended when they found the fir tree.
They lighted it with stars and it became the first Christmas Tree.
"As for rosemary, it is the herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship." Sir Thomas More
When Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus fled through the Egyptian desert from King Herod's soldiers, they found shelter in a rosemary grove. Mary draped her blue shawl over one of the white flowered bushes before she retired for the night.
The next morning when Joseph removed the shawl, they found that the white flowers had changed to the shade of blue of Mary's shawl. Since then, most rosemary blossoms are blue and traditionally flower in December around the time of the celebration of Christ's birth.
St. Lucy's Day is currently most often associated with Sweden, one of the celebrations of light in the midst of winter's darkness. Little Christmas, or the Feats of Saint Lucy, is a favorite advent celebration. In the early morning, the Lucia Bride, usually the youngest daughter, is dressed in a long white gown with a myrtle or bilberry crown and lighted candles. She awakens the family, often bringing coffee and tea, and braided Lucia twists, flavored with saffron and cardamon. After the family is served, she visits the barns, taking food to the animals.
In addition to the home celebration, the young girls attend services at the church dressed in their lighted crowns. St. Lucy represents the promise of the light in the darkness and the sun's return.
Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and those with visual challenges. Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily in the 3rd century. She was born to wealthy Christian parents and at an early age she secretly vowed to remain a virgin and serve God by helping others.
Her father died when she was young. When she came of age, her mother arranged her marriage to a pagan but Lucy rejected him. It was the time of the Diocletian persecutions and when her suitor denounced her as a Christian, she seemed destined to death by burning or life in the brothels. Her fate was to be martyred by a sword through her throat.
In another story she escapes the marriage by tearing her eyes out in frightful desperation. She is often depicted carrying her eyes on a tray.
Miraculously, her sight was restored and she was able to serve God and mankind as she has intended. She is celebrated for giving sight to the blind, food to the hungry, and light to the darkness. The name Lucy comes from the root word Lux, meaning light.
Herbs associated with St. Lucy's Day
Saffron Myrtle Dill Goldenrod Bilberry
St. Lucia's Saffron Braided Bread
I teaspoon saffron, soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Let cool
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
4 T softened butter
3 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
I cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried bilberries (blueberries) or raisins
5 to 6 cups unbleached flour
1. Prepare saffron.
2. Dissolve yeast in water.
3. Mix the butter with eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
4. Add milk to butter and eggs.
5. Add almonds and dried fruit
6. Stir in saffron mixture.
7. Add flour gradually and stir with wooden spoon until it is is smooth and forms a ball.
8. Place on floured board or counter and knead until smooth - about 5 minutes.
9.Put into a greased bowl, turn it over and cover with a towel in a warm place until double, about an hour and a half.
10. Punch down dough, divide into 3 sections. Braid and form into a circle shape.
11. Place on cookie sheet and let rise until double - about 30 minutes.
12. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
13. Bake about 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
14. Remove from oven, cool and ice.
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Combine and gradually add water until it is the consistency of icing.
Drizzle on to bread.
Decorate with slivered toasted almonds and/or dried fruit if desired.
Top with candles
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!