St Barbara’s Day Dec. 4th- Miner’s and Cherry Blossoms
On December 4th, some Germans remember St. Barbara by placing a branch with buds in water. But what is St.Barbara’s Branch? And who is St Barbara? The Patron Saint of miners and explosives, she is still celebrated in Catholic areas, especially in the coal mining regions of Poland that were once Silesia.
Who is St. Barbara?
St Barbara was the daughter of a king (or rich merchant…stories vary) in Phoenicia. Her mother died when she was very young. When she was a young women, her beauty was legendary, so her father locked her in a tower to hide her from the outside world. Through the window in her tower, she saw God’s beautiful creations, and chose to turn from her father’s “pagan” teachings, and converted to Christianity. She dedicated herself completely to her faith, choosing to live as a virgin. When she refused to marry her father’s choice, she was tortured and killed. (Lightening struck and killed her father for having her killed).
During her incarceration she kept a cherry branch alive by sharing her drinking water with it. She was consoled by the blossoms that appeared just before her execution by beheading.
St Barbara is the patron saint of armorers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners and others who work with explosives. She also watches over those who suffer a sudden death, for example, from lightening strike. The Roman Catholic Church venerated her as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, saints that people could pray to for intersession when they needed immediate help. (The concept of the Fourteen Helpers first appeared in the Rhineland in the Thirteenth Century, around the time of the Black Death. St Christopher, the Patron Saint of travelers is another. )
Sadly, Barbara was removed from the General Roman Calendar after Vatican II… but that doesn’t stop people from following the traditions.
“Whoever does not drink on Barbórka, he will meet his end in the mine”.
In parts of Catholic Germany, St Barbara’s day is cause for celebration… especially for anyone in mining or who studies geology (you’ll find many parties in University geology departments).
And in Upper Silesia (today Poland), where most of the mines are located, St Barbara’s day miners and their families come together to celebrate Barbórka. The day begins with a Holy Mass with prayers for miners. Then the miners take to the street in parades wearing full regalia. Naturally, the parades end in the local pubs, for a feast and of course, drinking. There, the mining anthem is sung, and prizes are awarded to top workers.
Celebrating St Barbara’s Day
In Silesia, women do not sew on Barbara’s Day. It is said that should they prick their finger with a needle, they will suffer a painful death.
Instead, unmarried women go out to a local orchard to cut a Cherry Branch from the tree. At home, the branch gets placed in a vase of water. Should the buds bloom in the warmth of the home by Christmas, then women believed that they would be married in the next year.
(I’m sure more than a few put it close to the stove for a little extra insurance of blossoms!)
Today, on December 4th, St Barbara’s Day, people still put a cherry branch (or another flowering branch) is put in a vase with water. It usually blooms by December 25th, if the blooms appear right on December 25th it brings good fortune for the year.
The blossoms are a nice touch of springtime in the darkest days of Winter.
How to “Force” Branches to Bloom for St Barbara’s Day
You can make buds bloom before their time by “forcing” them… basically, you confuse the branch into thinking it’s spring.
On a mild day, pick branches that have swollen buds and cut stems. In some areas you may have to go to a nursery or florist to get branches. Crush the ends of the branches, and place them in a tub of cool, not icy, water for several hours. Arrange the branches in a large vase of water. For a few days, leave the branches in a cool area. As the buds begin to swell, you can bring the branches into a warm room, but not in direct sunlight, and not on the heater! Spritz with lukewarm water from time to time, and when the blooms appear, place the branches in a sunny window. Change the water every two days. Thin branches “force” more quickly than thick ones; the blooms should appear in one to five weeks.
Good Luck for the Year
If your branches bloom… you will have good luck! And the blooming branches make a beautiful decoration.