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Category: Holidays and Special Occasions

Native Fruit: Cranberry for all Seasons

Is there a food in North America more intrinsically linked with the landscape of the past and nostalgically intertwined with a holiday feast than the cranberry? From Cranberry Lakes in Nova Scotia, Cranberry River of West Virginia, Cranberry Pond in Sunderland, Massachusetts, the Cranberry Isles of Maine, Cranberry Mountain in New York, Cranberry Meadow in New Jersey, and many a Cranberry Bog dotting coastal areas, the plant deserves the appellation of First or Founding Fruit. It is one of the indigenous foods in North America widely cultivated today. The narratives of the places where the berries once grew wild and of the loss of these habitats can be recovered from historical sources.

Beer on Board in the Age of Sail

Fierce ship of war in Lazari Bayfii Annotationes in legem II De captiuis & postliminio reuersis (1537; link)

Brewing and seafaring are mainstays of ancient human endeavors. Beer was first fermented by at least the 5th millennium BC in Mesopotamia. From the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers of the Fertile Crescent, the grain beverage either traveled along trade routes or was spontaneously developed in other ancient civilizations (including Egyptian, Grecian, Roman, Norse, Aztec, Chinese) before landing in northern Europe in the early medieval period. Producing beer became a standard domestic chore in households, and later, on a slightly larger scale, in taverns and monasteries.

Musical stuffed bunnies still sing it…..

Red orange cover of sheet music for 1933 musical revue As Thousands Cheer.
(L:) As Thousands Cheer. Irving Berlin Inc. of New York City, 1933. The bright red cover has a bottom silhouette illustration of people jubilantly marching in the Easter parade. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library (uncat)

“Easter Parade” is still a popular song- lots of little kids today know this old tune from their musical animal toys. You might know the lyrics and tune to sing along with the first 2 lines of the chorus of  “In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it…”  Written by Irving Berlin in 1933, the song was also the basis of the iconic 1948 movie musical starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire. The song was introduced by Marilyn Miller and Clifton Webb on Broadway as part of the musical revue As Thousands Cheer (1933), in which musical numbers were strung together on the thematic thread of newspaper headlines and the lives of rich and famous people.

The Wondrous Winter Wonderland that was 16th-Century Sweden

An entry into this magical season can be gained through the Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus (History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus, first published in Rome in 1555. It is a work greatly valued by Smithsonian curators and researchers and other scholars, since the author – a true Renaissance man – wrote down his geographical, anthropological and naturalistic observations of a land unknown to much of Europe of the time. In the present day, the book’s vivid descriptions and woodcut illustrations offer a wealth for modern study: early shipbuilding, fishing and whaling practices, meteorology, agriculture and mining techniques, warfare, daily occupations and religious practices of the Scandinavian peoples. It also provides wonderful images for what we have come to perceive as traditional for the winter holidays.