On the Æthelmearc Facebook group, it was asked whether Æthelmearc has a theme song.
Some Kingdoms do have theme songs — Calontir uses The Song of the Shield Wall, while Ealdormere uses Rise, and the Debatable Lands has its own theme song in Marce Baroniae — but Æthelmearc has never settled on a single song. Instead, we have a wealth of songs from which to choose, many of which are available online at the bardic website: www.aebards.org
One good candidate for an Æthelmearc theme song is “Banners of Scarlet” by Brehyres Gwendolyn the Graceful, a past Sylvan Bard. Gwen notes: “It might interest the Gazette’s readers that a group of five performers put together a video version of “Scarlet” for the First Bardic War in 2021.” That video, which includes lyrics, is shown below.
The autocrat for the A&S Faire in Nithgaard on April 29th has announced two new competitions in addition to the already scheduled Arts & Sciences display, Queen’s Prize, rapier tourney, and heavy weapons tourney.
The Beer Pit Tourney
This contest will occur after the rapier and heavy weapons tourneys are completed. Judges are requested; we will need at least one judge for every six entrants for reasons that will become evident.
Each entrant is expected to being a six-pack of some potent potable and a designated driver. One can/bottle will be given to the judge. Contestants will then consume however much of the remaining five bottles or cans they desire while they regale the judge and the audience with tales of their derring-do, martial prowess, and ability to best the other entrants. While alcohol is expected to be consumed, this is not actually a drinking contest. It is a storytelling contest, lubricated by some adult beverages. Points will be awarded for a good story, good kit, and good contributions to the judge’s cup. Extra points will be awarded to entrants bringing their own home brew.
While telling their tale, contestants may swing a stick to demonstrate their smooth striking, their majestic might, or their focused fury. However, actually striking another contestant or the judge will result in immediate disqualification.
Designated drivers will then be available for both the contestants and the judges.
Asked about this new competition, Master Morien McBain said “It’s about time that we had a contest recognizing both bardic and drinking prowess!”
New A&S Category
A prize will be awarded for the best entry that was completed on the car ride to the event. This will include the drive from wherever you slept the night before to the site, or for larger projects the drive from your home to wherever you crashed the night before the event. Entries must be accompanied by an attestation from the driver of the vehicle in which the entry was completed. Drivers are not allowed to enter physical items as we do not sanction unsafe driving. Spoken word or sung entries may be entered by drivers, but they will need an attestation from a passenger that they heard the driver rehearsing their entry.
THLady Fede di Fiore lauded this new contest as right up her alley, but lamented “The drive from my house to the event site is too short to get much of anything done, especially with the baby wailing in the back seat. Why couldn’t they have held it at Ice Dragon?” Her husband, THLord Cassiano da Castello, grumbled that brewing in a car would be quite hazardous, but agreed that this was a competition whose time has come.
The autocrat, Baroness Elena de la Palma, hopes contestants and spectators will enjoy both of these new activities.
One more weekend, and it is time to pack the camping gear, head out of town and enjoy the copious A&S activities at the Æthelmearc War Practice! With the Return of the Great Hall, boy, do we have a line up… There will be Artisan Playtime, there will be Scribal Playtime, there will be Brewing, there will be Bardic – as well as a woodworking demo and whatever other projects the populace brings for show and tell. Reserve some time out of your busy schedule of martial activities and classes for the many Cool Things happening in the Great Hall yet once again!
Brews and Bards in the Barn Social from 4-8pm in the Great Hall
Master Morien MacBain performs on the field.
To start the weekend off with a bang, the Brews and Bards in the Barn social will happen Friday from 4-8 PM in the Great Hall. Sylvan Bards THLady Maggie Rue and Master Morien MacBain plan a bardic circle together with the pouring of libations by the Brewers Guild. Master Morien would invite prospective Bards to partake of his Eleanor of Aquitaine Challenge! He offers a pair of prizes, one for Joglars or Best Performance and one for Trobars or Best Poem or song Composed on-site, during the evening! He will announce the topic at 5PM and composers may either present their work themselves, or designate another to do so. Eleanor of Aquitaine was the great patroness of the troubadours; the trobars were the writers, the joglars were the singers and a person could be both.
The Æthelmearc Guild of Brewers, Vintners, and Meadhers is working hard on restoring the Pennsic Bar and intends to have it up and running to be able to serve cold brews and fruity meads during the Brews and Bards in the Barn revelry. The first part of the evening the Brewers Guild plans a social get-together or round table for all our brewers old and new to meet and greet the many familiar and perhaps not so familiar faces we have not seen since far too long. Have you kept on brewing? Bring something to share. Are you looking for feedback? Definitely bring something to share! We welcome all, and will also have non-alcoholic beverages available.
Artisan Playtime from 1-5 PM in the Great Hall
A plow plane used for cutting the groove for a panel in a frame.
My personal favorite, woodworking virtuoso Master Robert of Sugargrove will bring his collection of hand tools to demonstrate commonly used period techniques. He shared with me: “I usually do a little stock prep – rough scrub plane & finish smooth plane – how we make a flat, true board; then either some dovetail work or mortise & tenon joinery.”
Master Robert likes to get random folks to try plane work; to give them a sense of what is involved in just getting out a board for a project. He hopes woodworkers will stop by with questions, like what type of wood to use, which joint where, how do I lay out for joinery and such, which Master Robert does not think “really anything unusual or cool,” but I beg to differ!
Teaching the populace the proper way to handle a plane.
Scribal Playtime from 1-5 PM in the Great Hall
Is woodworking not really your thing? THLady Eleanore Godwin is coordinating Scribal Playtime during the same time slot of 1 – 5 PM. She recently secured supplies from her locals the Barony of the Rhydderich Hael (thank you, Mistress Cori!) and looks forward to sharing her tables with the populace. Would you like to get feedback on an existing project? Bring it and share! Are you new to the art but curious to try your hand? Choose a bookmark or perhaps a scroll blank and give it a swing! You never know until you try, right?
At Artisan Playtime, everyone is welcome set up a table and chair and share what they are working on, or to stop by and be inspired by what others are working on. Artisan Playtime is a most wonderful way to see artisans in action, to socialize and network – and to get out of the rain / sun / whatever Pennsylvania Spring has in store for us!
KMoAS Consultation Table from 1 – 5 PM in the Great Hall
A reminder, the Kingdom Ministry of Arts & Sciences will arrange for an A&S ConsultationTable during Artisan Playtime for those new, and not so new, to the arts & sciences to chat about projects, progress and inspirations. Come hang out with us, ask questions about research, documentation and entering for future events, or just plain enjoy the view of art happening in real time!
Hope to see you there.
Please Contact Me if you would like to know more.
It is probably not a bad idea to bring a comfy chair.
Populace in Focus today features King’s Bardic Champion Master Morien MacBain and Queen’s Bardic Champion, The Honorable Lady Maggie Rue.
Could you give a little background about how and when you started performing as part of the Bardic Arts community?
Morien: I found the SCA back in ‘86. The very first event I went to, in what is now Ballachlagan, had a bardic circle, like pretty much all events did in those days. Lord, they were fun! Lots of Irish rebel music, Sci-Fi/Fantasy Con filk, dirty puns, blood, and iron stuff. Pure joy! The bards that had the greatest impact on me back then were Donnan the Solitary and Morgan Caer Graeme. I learned a great deal from them and miss those performances and those songs.
Maggie Rue: In the SCA, this was really my first performance. While I have hung out around a few Bardic circles among households and groups, I generally don’t sing; it occurred to me at the onset of this competition that I may not need to. Surprise!
What types of Bardic arts performances do you enjoy doing?What is your most / least favorable type of performance?
Morien: I’m still primarily a bardic circle guy. I like the informality of it, the lack of pressure, the faces in the firelight, the willing audience, and the “renao” (which is a wonderful Mandarin word for the noise, happy chatting, laughter, and activity of life happening that forms a backdrop to a performance). My least favorite would have to be live bardic competitions. You usually only get to do one piece, impostor syndrome kicks in, and my will to compete is safer if the other person is wearing armor! If I’m going to fight to win, I want it to be with weapons, not a bit of my heart.
Maggie Rue: Not a great singer and my improv skills are more action-related than a lot of speech. So, I’d go with memorizing an old poem or writing a new one and reciting it as first and foremost. Least favorite would be improving a song. I could be wrong though—enough immersion into a subject and I might get better. We’ll see.
Have you done any type of performance arts outside of the SCA?
Morien: Sure! I sang in the church choir for years when I was in middle and high school, which was the best vocal training I’ve had. I did the school musical every year, plus summer theater, which were usually musicals. I’ve sung in a few bars, once on a tiny stage where Patsy Cline sang when she was starting out. That felt like a church. No one threw anything. I’ve done poetry slams in clubs a couple times. Now I am a high school English teacher, so a lot of my work is essentially storytelling to a tough audience!
Maggie Rue: Yes, indeed. I performed for a time as a character in Jesus Christ Superstar in Middletown NY for a couple of years, doing chorus parts and dancing. I’ve done a number of high school performances as well. During my years as a Game Designer, I ran the convention circuits and had to talk up game products—spiels, really—and became really good at impromptu game sessions. In addition, my parents were both members of the Philadelphia Folk Song Society and I went to a number of music Festivals in my early years… You’d be surprised as to how many SCA songs I’ve heard before in other places in different interpretations.
How much time do you spend researching bardic performances and practicing in preparation for doing a performance?
Morien: Most of my research for the last few years has been on the poetry side of my bardic practice. I work in a wide variety of forms from different periods and cultures, so there is always more to learn! However, I don’t really practice singing enough. I have a playlist of songs I am working up and sing along with it in the car. I have attempted to learn the hard, and suck quite badly at that. I should learn to drum much better, so I could accompany myself on a bodhran. I think I’ll get to work on that…
Maggie Rue: Given this was my first real SCA-based performance, I took two weeks to prepare.
What SCA events / Bardic competitions have you performed in previously and what types of performance did you do?
Morien: I’ve done bardic circles all over, and I’ve taught classes on writing poetry at SCA Fifty Year, Pennsic, AEthelmearc Academy, and Atlantia University. I’ve done “Music in the Key of D”, a bardic contest hosted by the Chalk Man Pub at Pennsic a few times. I also sing battle hype songs with fighters while we are on our way to the battlefield at Pennsic to get our blood up. On these former occasions, I find you seldom go wrong with Irish or Scottish rebel music, or filthy rugby songs.
Maggie Rue: This is it.
When you chose to participate in the Quest to be Sylvan Bard, did you do a type of performance that you have done before, or did you come up with a completely new performance?
Morien: I broke out two I had written before, “The Green Fields of Pennsic”, and “The Ballad of Big Bad Jehan”. Both are staples of the campfire music I like.
Maggie Rue: So, I took a number of courses in college that were medieval in nature and “Chaucer” was one of them. The teacher insisted we learn a number of lines in Middle English, taking out his personal recordings from the library to learn the lilts and rhythms. Seventeen years later, I still hear his voice. What I performed for the competition was longer than what he had us memorize, though, so I had to go find some recordings on which to base my own performance.
How did it feel to do a performance via the online community versus doing a live performance at an event?
Morien: I loved it! I liked that I got to strike and vanish like Zorro and could just focus on what I was doing. The competitive side with all its nasty thoughts and lust to win did not make an appearance!
Maggie Rue: It was actually pretty comfortable.
Did you face any challenges with performing in the sylvan bard competition?
Morien: Yep! I am a goofball at tech, and my performance of “Big Bad Jehan” kept turning out badly because I didn’t understand how to make my phone work, so I wound up just sending in “Green Fields of Pennsic” by itself.
Maggie Rue: None
Being one of the sylvan bards within the kingdom, can you share your plans / ideas for keeping the bardic arts alive in the kingdom during your tenure?
Morien: Heck yeah! We are looking at maintaining the practice of monthly online bardic hangouts on the first Tuesday of each month of the year starting at 8 in the evenings. Rue will be handling the tech, rest assured, although I will try to learn it as well. We’re also looking at starting a sort of “Bardic Boot Camp”, an ongoing series of classes (both online and in person) on subjects like vocal training, storytelling, playing instruments, poetic composition, and so on. We’ve already started reaching out to teachers from across the kingdom and the known world, and people seem enthusiastic! Also, I plan to start a FB group that should be an ongoing poetry writing workshop combined with a book study circle on various forms and skills from beginner to advanced. I’m working up a syllabus for it, and reaching out to established poets to participate, although the focus will be on bringing new aspiring poets into the field. So, COVID or not, we’ll be helping people along! We will also be working to ensure that live bardic circles and performances happen at in-person events, never fear!
Maggie Rue: So, there’s been talk of having a Novice Day like the one they had in the East Kingdom, which I attended, and one of the biggest beefs was that there was no Novice Bardic competition. So, we’re changing that. In addition, I’m going to incorporate Bardic Arts in my other A&S specialties, researching and performing songs that would also be of interest to the Herbal and Apothecary Guild as well as the Assassins’ Guild. Master Morien and I will continue the Bardic Competitions and we’ve got plans to get the Bardic Arts everywhere.
What advice would you give to other populace who would like to pursue the quest to be involved in bardic arts and perform in bardic arts competitions?
Morien: Come join us for the First Tuesday Onlines! Join in! If you aren’t ready, just listen for a while, and then pipe in! Join the FB groups for “AEthelmearc College of Bards”, “SCA Bardic Arts”, “AEthelmearc Arts & Sciences”, and the FB group for “Bardic Boot Camp” and “AEthelmearc Poetry Workshop”, once I get them running! Perform anywhere you can. Make a playlist of songs you want to learn and sing along with them in the car at high volume! Do NOT worry about what you sound or look like. Don’t listen to the haters. Read, listen, and watch good performances not just as an audience, but as a crafter, see what they are doing, and how they are doing it. Remember that you can learn as much from a bad performance as from a good one. A poet is one on whom NOTHING is wasted. I have a FAT list of books for you to get into if you like! LET’S DO THIS!!
More advice! Remember, your performance begins from the moment you are called, and doesn’t end until you are off the stage. Entrances and exits matter! Also, when in doubt, pretend to be slightly drunk, or more drunk than you in fact are. People like a drunken bard, and if you mess up, they will forgive you and enjoy it. Schadenfreude!
Oh, and one more piece of advice: When composing, even if you aren’t working in a purely alliterative form like Anglos-Saxon or 14th-century Alliterative Revival or something, get that alliteration in there. It’s like salt in cooking. People may not notice it, but they WILL like it!
Maggie Rue: Just do it. Get involved with everything sooner or later. I have been on a tear these past few years of just reaching out and getting involved. Look where it landed me. I don’t care if all you know are nursery rhymes: give it a try. Can’t sing? Me, neither. Let’s go learn stuff together.
Interested in participating in Populace in Focus? Find out how below:
Such an odd phrase, “dead as a door nail.” It is one of those phrases that has been around so long that we hardly ever think about using it, even long after our doors no longer have nails in them. I place it in the same family as “to film someone,” “blow off steam,” “been through the wringer,” and “dial the phone”; phrases that are ingrained in the English language so deep that we continue to use them long after their meanings are forgotten.
“Dead as a door nail” has been around a long time, since the days of the beginning of the English language. The oldest known written account is from the 14th century poem “The Romance of William of Palerne,” which is a translation of a 13th century Flemish poem called “Guillaume de Palerne.”
hurth the bold bodi he bar him to the erthe, as ded as dornayl te deme the sothe. 
The anonymous 14th century poem “The Parliament of the Three Ages” contains “There he was crepyde into a krage and crouschede to the erthe. / Dede als a dore-nayle doun was he fallen.”  In William Langland’s Piers Plowman, [1370-90] we find the phrase “Fey withouten fait is febelore then nought, And ded as a dore-nayl”.
William Shakespeare used it twice in “Henry IV part 2”:
Act V, Scene 3: “Falstaff: What! is the old king dead?
Pistol: As a nail in a door.”
and again in Act IV, Scene 10:
Cade: Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was
broached, and beard thee too. Look on me well: I
have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and
thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead
as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.
The “Oxford English Dictionary” gives the following:
Door-nail: A large-headed nail, with which doors were formerly studded for strength, protection, or ornamentation: now chiefly in the alliterative phr. as dead, deaf, dumb, dour, as a door-nail: see DEAD a. 32b., DEAF a. 1d., etc. (Conjectured by Todd to be “The nail on which in ancient doors the knocker struck.” No evidence of this appears.)
c1350 [see DEAD a. 32b]. 1350 in Riley Lond. Mem. (1868) 262, 3000 dornail..7200 dornail. a1400-50 Alexander 4747 Dom as a dore-nayle & defe was he bathe. 1593-1680 [see DEAD 32b.]. 1854 MRS. GASKELL North & S. xvii, Thornton is as dour as a doornail. 1866 ROGERS Agric. & Prices I. 497 Door-nails, floor and roof-nails.
dead a., entry 32b. dead as a door-nail, dead as a herring: completely or certainly dead. Also, (as) dead as the (or a) dodo, (as) dead as mutton.
c1350 Will. Palerne 628 For but ich haue bote of mi bale I am ded as dorenail. 1362 LANGL. P. Pl. A. I. 161 Fey withouten fait is febelore en nout, And ded as a dore- nayl. 1593 SHAKES. 2 Hen. VI, IV. x. 42 If I doe not leaue you all as dead as a doore naile. [1598 SHAKES. Merry W. II. iii. 12 By gar, de herring is no dead, so as I vill kill him.] 1664 BUTLER Hud. II. iii. 1148 Hudibras, to all appearing, Believ’d him to be dead as Herring. 1680 OTWAY Caius Marius 57 As dead as a Herring, Stock-fish, or Door- nail. 1792 I. BICKERSTAFFE Spoil’d Child II. ii. 32 Thus let me seize my tender bit of lambthere I think I had her as dead as mutton. 1838 [see MUTTON 7]. 1856 READE Never too late lx, Ugh! what, is he, is he Dead as a herring. 1884 Pall Mall G. 29 May 5/2 The Congo treaty may now be regarded as being as dead as a doornail. 1904 H. O. STURGIS Belchamber iv. 51 The Radicalism of Mill..is as dead as the dodo. 1919 W. S. MAUGHAM Moon & Sixpence ii. 10 Mr. Crabbe was as dead as mutton, but Mr. Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. 1935 Ann. Reg. 1934 II. 305 References appearing in the London newspapers to the effect that “war debts are as dead as the Dodo” were cabled to the American press. 1960 Guardian 24 Mar. 11/1 Mr. Menzies..refused a request for a boycott..saying he had hoped this “was as dead as a dodo.”
But, what does it mean? I do not know, but there are some theories.
The first among them is that the phrase refers to the method of attaching hinges to doors. The hinges were mounted on the outside of the door via straps and the nails were hammered into the door, through the straps, from the outside, and then bent around and driven back into the door from the inside, driving the life from the nails so that they could never be used again.
While that makes it almost impossible to pull the nails out of the door from the outside, I do not buy the idea that the nails could never be straightened out, once removed, and used again. They were iron; they could be heated and pounded straight. But, I will concede that for the average person (i.e., not a blacksmith) once you remove a bent-over door nail, it was useless as a nail. But, how often were doors taken apart?
The second theory is that the door nail was the nail hammered into the door on which the door knocker would hit. Some sources indicate that after years of being hit, the door nail would loosen and fall out of the door. Apparently, when the nail hit the ground, it would make a “tink” sound instead of ringing like a new nail; thus, the door nail was dead. I don’t like this idea either. If a knocker is pounding a nail into a door, it is not very likely to fall out of the door on the side to which it is being struck. Plus, I’ve visited houses and churches which have stood for a few hundred years that still have functioning door knockers. If a door knocker and strike nail can withstand a couple of centuries of abuse, I think that it is not very likely that the strike nail would fall out and “die” often enough for the phrase to enter the English language.
Another theory related to the door knocker is that the strike nail was hit on the head in the way royalty was struck on their heads to ensure that they were truly dead and not just sleeping. A: I cannot find any period confirmation of this practice. and B: it’s stupid. “I’m sorry for hitting you in the head with a hammer, Your Majesty. I wanted to see if you were dead or just napping.” Thank you, Internet.
My thought is that the strike nail, when hit by the door knocker, sounds dead. Not a high pitch “ting” that one would get if you drop a nail on a flagstone, but a “thunk” noise that might sound more like a coffin being nailed shut then if you hit two pieces of metal together.
We might never know the true meaning of the phrase, but, since English is the pack-rat of languages, I predict that “dead as a door nail” will be used far into the future when everyone will have Star Trek-style automatic, sliding doors.
 “and bears him down to the earth, as dead as a door nail.”
 “He had crept into a cave and crouched to the earth / Dead as a door-nail down he had fallen.”
 You are on your own with this one.
Hulme, Frederick Edward. “Proverb Lore: Many Sayings, Wise Or Otherwise, on Many Subjects, Gleaned from Many Sources.” Elliot Stock, 1902
Langland, William; Economou, George. “William Langland’s Piers Plowman: The C Version : a Verse Translation.” University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
“The Oxford English Dictionary.” Oxford University Press
“The Romance of William of Palerne: (otherwise Known as the Romance of “William and the Werwolf”) Translated from the French at the Command of Sir Humphrey de Bohun, about A.D. 1350; to which is Added a Fragment of the Alliterative Romance of Alisaunder; Translated from the Latin by the Same Author, about A.D. 1340.” Early English text society, 1867
Shakespeare, William. “The Second part of King Henry the Fourth.” The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. The Tech, MIT
Skeat, Walter W. ed. “The romance of William of Palerne: (otherwise known as the romance of “William and the werwolf”)” London, Pub. for the Early English Text Society, by N. Trubner & Co. 1867
Getting tired of these cold and wintry weekends without boisterous SCAdian companionship? Join Their Majesties King Gareth Kincaid and Queen Juliana Delamere, the illustrious Sylvan Bards, and bards from around the Known World and the Kingdom for an evening of fellowship, song and story, and the announcement of Their Royal Majesties choice for Sylvan Bardic Champion.
Saturday the 5th of February at 7pm
Enjoy the performances, perform if you like, and compete if you can! We’ll all cheer each other on, and soak in some good old-fashioned bardic vibrancy. Vivat!
Everyone over here knows about jolly old white-bearded Santa Claus, delivering gifts through a chimney, lured there by the enticing smell of cookies and good behavior on Christmas eve. Many know this modern character is a reinvention of the European December 6th celebration of Saint Nicolas. What many might not realize is that the Saint Nicolas celebration is based on a real historic figure. And that the celebration itself, the giving of gifts, or coal, to our children goes back for so many centuries the tradition is actually SCA period. Forget Santa Claus and leaving him chocolate chip cookies – let’s celebrate Sinter Claes and have an historic excuse to hurl ‘pumpkin spice’ cookies & candy at the kids instead!
Saint Nicolas and the three boys he supposedly brought back to life (a variant of the three daughter legend). This is a typical Dutch wall insert, 16th century, at the Dam in Amsterdam, of which saint Nicolas is the patron saint.
The saint Nicolas is the patron saint of children, the poor, seafarers, butchers and merchants and became the patron saint of numerous churches in merchant cities like Antwerp (Belgium) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands). Currently more than seventy churches in the Netherlands are dedicated to Saint Nicolas, he’s that famous! The person Nicolas was born in Turkey, which was part of the Roman Empire at the time. He became bishop of Myra and died December 6th, 342 CE. A church was built on top of his grave which then became a popular pilgrimage destination. Centuries later, in 1087 CE, his remains were relocated to South Italy out of fear Muslim invaders would destroy them. At first, Saint Nicolas was only revered in Eastern Europe, but after his relocation, and as a patron saint of seafarers, he quickly gathered following in Western European coastal nations as well and by the 13th century December 6th had become his official name day or saint’s day.
This all sounds pretty normal for many of the Christian saints… So, what happened that morphed Nicolas of Myra into the well-known modern children’s icon Sinterklaas, as he is now known and celebrated? There are only a few historic stories (legends?) known about Nicolas of Myra. The best known is about a poor man with three daughters whom, thanks to the gifts of Nicolas of Myra, could properly marry instead of being sold into prostitution. To help them, Nicolas strew money through the open window, the likely genesis of the practice of strooigoed (strewn candy, specifically associated with this celebration) and, later, chocolate coins.
The Painting “De sinterklaasviering” by Jan Steen from ca. 1665 shows several traditions still in use today: the singing of saint Nicolas songs, the chimney with gifts in front of it, candy – and a whipping cane in the shoe of the bad kid (there is always one)
The celebration of Saint Nicolas coincided from about 1300 to 1600 with the folk celebration kinderbisschopsspel (children’s bishop game). A child plus retinue would be chosen December 6th as the Children’s Bishop and provided with food and gifts until December 28th. The other kids would receive a gift of money and a day off to celebrate December 6th. Probably the oldest mention of this practice, dating to 1360, was found in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, quickly followed by a similar mention in Gouda, in 1363. By 1403 we first see the connection with spiced cake in the mention “honic, claescoeck en taert aen die kynders, op hunne patroen St. Nyclaes” (honey, klaas cake and pie for the children, at their patron saint’s day St. Nicolas). Medieval German and French cloister schools would celebrate Saint Nicolas Day with a miracle performance, where Saint Nicolas himself would appear to praise good students and reprimand the lazy ones.
A modern rendition of the medieval Klaaskoek, made with the help of a carved wooden mold.
In the late Middle Ages, in conjunction with the Saint Nicolas festivities arose the Saint Nicolas Markets; a similar development as the modern day European-style Christmas markets, inspired by the traditional German Weinachtsmarkt although perhaps a wee bit rowdier! The market would be visited after church, to buy gifts for the Saint Nicolas celebrations. One of those gifts could be the klaaskoek.  Hopeful boys would offer this cake, which is in the shape of a man and spiced with speculaas spices,  to a girl and if she accepted the klaaskoek… Quite likely inspired by the legend where Nicolas of Myra helped the three poor daughters get married.
The klaaskoek is still known to this day and age, even if its use as a marriage maker is mostly forgotten.  Another practice, and one that has become ubiquitous with the Sinterklaas celebrations even today, is the leaving out of a shoe. By the 15th century, poor people would leave a shoe in the church for the rich to donate money which would be distributed under the poor. Descriptions from the 16th century tell of children leaving out a shoe filled with oats and straw.  Parents would trade the contents of the shoe for toys, candy, ginger cookies, marzipan, pepernoten (peppernuts) and speculaas (speculatius cookies) – both made with speculaas spices. Other traditions would be the strewing of candy, often by an unseen entity, the singing of Sinterklaas songs and the giving of gifts on saint Nicolas eve – all traditions still practiced today.
Page of the 1600 Keurboek with the prohibition of the saint Nicolas festivities
Of course, after the Reformation not everyone was as amused with all the frivolity associated with a religious festivity and party pooper protestants tried to cancel the festivities, thinking them to be catholic superstition. Around 1600 Delft forbade the celebration of Saint Nicolas and other cities forbade the putting out of shoes and the sale of saint Nicolas specific cakes and candies. Instead, and influenced by Martin Luther, the saint Nicolas celebrations changed from a religious to a folk festivity. Even though the saint himself lost standing after the Reformation, the tradition was so popular that the celebration never completely stopped, not even with ultra-conservative protestants. Over time, the religious festival changed into an outdoor folk festival which again changed into a family celebration.
Interestingly, Saint Nicolas was not always portrayed as a stately bishop with a white beard and a red miter.  Likely due to the prohibition for northern Dutch protestants to portray catholic saints, saint Nicolas became portrayed as a scary black dude with leg-chains he would rattle to mortify kids into good behavior.  Sometimes called Zwarte Klaas (black klaas), this iteration of saint Nicolas developed into Zwarte Piet (black Peter), beloved by twentieth century kids’ helper of saint Nicolas, handing out candy to the good kids, giving coal to the bad – but also slightly white washed, so to speak, as twentieth century Zwarte Piet is assumed to be black from traveling up and down the sooty chimney to deliver the goods. Guess our parents’ generation was not that proud of that bit of Golden Age either – and the twenty first generation did away with Zwarte Piet altogether. Not quite sure about their substitute,  I doubt many kids will take candy from a Krampus!
By the 18th century, the back story of Saint Nicolas now portrayed him as coming from Spain – somewhat plausible as his ‘second’ home in South Italy at one point was part of the Crown of Aragon, associated with Spain. But whether he was thought to come from Spain, or only traveled to Spain to source oranges and other delicacies – the connection between saint Nicolas and Spain, his travel by steamboat and his servants gained a permanent foothold in the public imagination with the publication “Sint Nikolaas en zijn knecht” in circa 1850 by teacher Jan Schenkman. His book was so popular, that even its illustrations influenced public perception and saint Nicolas’ look as a stately old man with white beard, red bishops’ hat and mantel, and entourage of many black servants, the zwarte pieten, became the standard from then on. The ever-popular family tradition gained one more phenomenon in the mid-twentieth century hen gifts would start to be packaged in fun and unusual ways,  often accompanied by rather sketchy poetry.
At around the same time, in the 19th century, saint Nicolas emigrated to America, taking his white beard, red clothing, gifts and cookie tradition with him, and gaining a flock of reindeer along the way.  Having grown up with Sinterklaas, and having a kid growing up with Santa Claus, I think I prefer the one with the best cookies and candy. I am not in need of any klaaskoeken but man, do we miss the pepernoten… Santa Claus has no idea what he’s missing out on!
 ‘klaas’ is shortened from Sint Nikolaas, or Sinterklaas; which in turn became, when translated to English, Santa Claus, in case you were wondering.
 spices of klaas; very similar to pumpkin spice – yeah, not a new thing.
 Sad to say, I had never heard of it.
 for the horse, not saint Nicolas – who’d need a bribe a saint, right?
 the pointy hat; but not at all a wizard’s hat, even though he and the bag of gifts fits through a chimney, and he rides a horse on top of tiled roofs… yeah, not at all magical.
 the history of Krampus goes back a long way, but its connection with Saint Nicolas is country specific. I had never heard of Krampus until Dutch society started looking for a zwarte Piet substitute. And while kids might prefer the brightly clothed, candy dispersing Peters, adults really, really took to dressing up in sheep skins, wearing horns and bells and going on parades to scare each other.
 the gifts would be called surprises, but with a Dutch accent. Ever received a gift-wrapped frozen pig’s head containing a set of silver earrings from your mother-in-law? That’s how that happens. It’s kind of similar to Secret Santa, but person-specific, and so much fun when played with creative people (often needing many months of R&D…).
 unsure how that happened. And why anyone trade in a perfectly fine Dutch Warmblood for a bunch of flying reindeer is beyond me.
 whom quickly caught on that ‘believing’ in both was advantageous.
There is much more to be found on this fascinating multi-cultural, multi-continental celebration. I did not even get to the Scandinavian variant, let alone Krampus! For easy reading check out the suggested WIKI pages – be aware that English counterparts are not necessarily carbon copy translations – and perhaps follow the trail of their bibliographies.
Gentles of Æthelmearc! Fellow lovers of performance and performing! Greetings!
The days of strangeness and plague continue in new and varied ways, but time moves on and so must we.
We – Bran and Gavin – have had the honor and delight of serving as your Sylvan Bard (dipartite) this year, and with Their Majesties Gareth and Juliana’s ascension to the Sylvan Throne, the time has come to determine who will take up the mantle next.
While Kingdom Tradition holds that the successor to the role is chosen by competition at the Kingdom 12th night celebration, the continued pestilence means we will be without that opportunity.
SO, we will create a new opportunity in its place!
**Beginning October 7th, and proceeding through the last day of December, we will be accepting shortish (say 3-7 minutes, hard limit of 10min) performance VIDEO RECORDINGS via the Sylvan Bard email – email here. (Please send us a link to a location we can download from, like dropbox or google drive)
Song! Story! Poem! Bring us your best delightful performance in celebration of the new year, rebirth and renewal, and an eventual return to our desired ways of doing things.
We will send you a receipt email, and will curate the performances together into a 12th night concert/competition, with performances by ourselves, and your wonderful personages, from which Their Majesties will select their new Bardic Champion.
Any questions may be directed to the sylvan bard email above. Thank you, break a leg, and be well and joyful!
Welcome to the Ninth Known World Bardic Congress and Cooks Collegium, to be held online on September 10th, 11th, and 12th. We are hosted this year by the Mid-Realm’s Barony of Ayreton.
Join us for a weekend filled with classes, concerts, and bardic circles. In addition to cooking and bardic, we will also have brewing & vinting, along with instrumental & choral music classes –and more!
We encourage attendees to register on the website. Much like Pennsic, you can use your account to offer classes, suggest others, request stage time, or create your personal schedule.