Echo and Narcissus

Echo was a chatterbox. She was a beautiful nymph, lively, and generally good-spirited, but she could talk and talk.

Zeus, always one with an eye for the ladies, enjoyed spending time with the nymphs. Hera, his wife, didn’t enjoy him spending so much time with them. She felt he should be spending more time with her and doing little jobs around Olympus.

“You’ve got to help me!” he groaned to Echo one day. “Hera is driving me mad – on at me to fix a leaky tap and redecorate the kitchen. I’m a god – and the king of the gods at that. I shouldn’t be expected to do the decorating!”

From then on, whenever Hera passed by, Echo kept her talking, giving Zeus chance to slip away. “Hera! I love what you’ve done with your hair… What divine earrings! Where did you get them from?… You simply must give me the recipe for your nectar cookies – the other nymphs and I were all talking about how delicious they were were…”

Hera, enjoying the attention and flattery, would stop to chat twirling her hair and whispering about her secret ingredients. Eventually, however, she realised what Echo was up to, and cursed her. She took away a Echo’s gift of endless chatter, and condemned her to a life where she would only ever be able to repeat the last word she had heard.

No longer so much fun to be around, the other nymphs didn’t spend so much time with her and she took to wandering alone through the woods.
One day she saw a handsome young man sitting by a pool, and she fell instantly in love with him…

Narcissus knew he was a handsome young man because everybody told him so. People stopped and stared as he walked past, and all the girls secretly hoped that he would notice them. He never did. No mere girl was good enough for him – not such a handsome man as he was. Only a goddess could ever make him a suitable wife.

One warm summer’s day, he sat at the side of the pool to rest and to enjoy the feeling of the sun on his face. As he glanced around, he saw the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Surely this must be the goddess he was destined to be with.

Echo stepped out of the woods and walked slowly towards Narcissus. Once upon a time she could have captivated him with her wonderful stories; now she could only hope he would be equally captivated by her face. She gazed at him longingly.

Narcissus felt her presence behind him and turned. “Who are you?” he demanded, irritated at being dragged away from the beautiful face in the pool behind him.

“You,” replied Echo, smiling hopefully.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” he snarled.

“Ridiculous!” repeated Echo, smiling rather less hopefully. This wasn’t going well .

“Oh go away and leave me alone!”

“Alone!” cried the heartbroken Echo, heading back to the cover of trees to hide her tears.

Peace at last. Narcissus turned back to the face he had fallen in love with. “Will you be with me forever?” he asked.

Although he saw the lips moving he heard no reply from the beautiful face.  “Can’t you speak?” he asked, and he reached out to touch it. The water rippled and stirred, and the face disappeared. “Oh don’t go!” begged Narcissus. “I promise not to try to touch you again.”

As the water settled, the face returned, and Narcissus settled down to gaze at it. Unwilling to leave without his true love, Narcissus stayed by the pool, never eating, never sleeping, until he took his last breath and expired.

Soon there was nothing left of him, but on the land where he had lain, beautiful white and yellow flowers sprung up, and these flowers still bear the name of Narcissus as a reminder of that vain young man who fell in love with himself.

As for Echo? She has never been seen since that day, but she can still be heard, repeating the last words of passers-by. You may have heard her yourself… yourself… yourself…

The story of the Flor de Nochebuena

Once upon a time, everyone in Mexico was taking flowers to the church. It was Christmas time and they were taking them to offer the baby Jesus as a welcoming gift.

One young girl was so poor that she couldn’t afford any flowers, so she stopped at the roadside and gathered up a bunch of weeds. People pointed and laughed at her as she arrived at the church.

“You can’t give weeds to the baby Jesus!” said one lady, horrified.

“Show some respect or go away!” cried a young man in disgust.

Undeterred, she made her way to the Nativity scene, and laid her weeds alongside the many extravagant gifts near the manger. Suddenly the weeds transformed into the most beautiful flowers of the deepest red, with rich, lush green leaves.

Everybody gasped in disbelief at this miracle, and the flowers became known as Flores de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve flowers, or Holy Night flowers).

To this day these flowers bloom every December, and are the ones we know as poinsettia.

How do they celebrate Easter in France?

decorated eggOn the Thursday evening before Easter Day, the church bells in France fall silent. Adults tell the children that the bells have flown off to Rome to visit to the Pope and to collect the Easter eggs. The bells remain silent (absent) on Friday and Saturday, and then on Easter Sunday they return to the churches, droppings the eggs off along the way, and ring out over the country. They are known as “Les Cloches Volants” or the flying bells.

One game that is played on this day is to throw and catch a raw egg. If you drop and break your egg you are out, and the winner is the last person left with their egg still intact.

As Poisson d’avril is so close to Easter, chocolate fish as well as chocolate eggs are included in the sweet treats at his time.

Related posts: Easter in England , Christmas in France , Easter in Germany  , Easter in Switzerland


Saint Andrew’s Day

November 30th is the feast day of Saint Andrew, best known in the UK as the patron saint of Scotland.  It marks the first of a series of Scottish winter celebrations, which continues with Christmas, Hogmanay and Burns Night.

Like other festivals in Scotland, St Andrew’s day is marked by a celebration of Scottish culture – traditional food, music and dance.  The very sociable Ceilidh dancing is popular, with large events being held around St Andrew’s Day in major Scottish cities, especially Edinburgh and Glasgow.

While the day has been celebrated by Scottish people for many years, in recent times it has taken on a more official status, largely due to the increased political autonomy that Scotland has enjoyed with its devolved government.  The day has officially been a public holiday in Scotland for ten years.  In 2002, the Scottish parliament passed a law stating that all public and government buildings would fly the flag of Saint Andrew (known as the saltire) on 30th November, and this has become a very noticeable element of the way the date is marked.  One notable (and controversial) exception to this rule is Edinburgh Castle, which continues to fly the Union Jack due to it being the base for a detachment of the British Army.

Like most patron saints, the links between Saint Andrew and Scotland are rather complex.  The saint himself is one of the twelve disciples of Jesus named in the New Testament, and according to legend subsequently preached the Christian message in South Eastern Europe.  He is said to have founded the first cathedral in Byzantium (modern day Istanbul) and also preached throughout Ukraine, Romania and Southern Russia (he is the patron saint of all of these countries).  Legends state that he was martyred for his Christian beliefs in the city of Patras, Greece, where he is said to have been crucified on an X-shaped cross.  Traditionally, it is believed that he insisted on this as he felt himself unworthy to be executed on the same type of cross as Jesus (although this tradition did not really become established until several centuries later).  The shape of that cross (saltire) became the symbol of Saint Andrew, which is why it is used on the flags of countries that have him as their patron, including Scotland.  According to legend, his bones were collected after death as relics by a local monk and he set out to take them to “the ends of the world” to protect them.  Sailing West towards the edge of the known world, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland and the relics were brought ashore and kept at the town that now bears the name Saint Andrews.  Another tradition says that the relics of Saint Andrew were actually brought to Scotland by a bishop who was a keen collector of relics.  However it happened, it is almost certain that bones believed to be the saint’s relics did reach Scotland, and are still kept at Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.  Veneration of such an important saint began soon afterwards.  In 832 AD, a Scottish leader by the name of Oengus II was set to fight a battle against the Angles.  The night before, he prayed to the saint and promised that if he won he would designate Saint Andrew as Scotland’s patron saint.  The following morning, pure white clouds were said to have appeared in the shape of an X in the blue sky and, despite being heavily outnumbered, Oengus’s army was victorious.  As promised, he named Saint Andrew patron saint, and the white X-shaped cross on a blue background has been the flag of Scotland since that day.

Like many biblical and early Christian figures, the life of Saint Andrew is shrouded in legend and conflicting traditions.  But regardless of actual historical events, there is no doubt that the name of Saint Andrew and, especially, the saltire flag have been an important part of Scotland’s national identity for many centuries.  It is fitting that his feast day on 30th November will be a time when Scots can celebrate their cultural traditions and proudly fly the flag.

This was a guest post from my amazing husband, Ian Braisby, Blue Badge Tourist Guide

Related posts: St David’s Day    St George’s Day    St Patrick’s Day

The Story of the Dragon Nian

Once upon a time in China there lived a terrifying dragon called Nian. His home was under the sea, but once a year, on New Year’s Eve, he came to a nearby village where he ate their grain, their livestock and any young children who happened to be outdoors.

Not surprisingly, the terrified villagers used to run and hide in the mountains on this date leaving their homes behind.

One year a wise old man visited the village just as the villagers were fleeing, and he asked them why they were leaving. “The terrible dragon is coming!” they said. “You must come and hide with us for he may eat you.”

The old man said he wasn’t afraid and that he knew how to deal with the dragon, and so he stayed behind in the village.

When the villagers returned there was no sign of Nian, and amazingly their grain and animals were untouched. The old man said that he couldn’t protect the village every year, but he could show them how to protect themselves. “The secret,” he said, “is that the Dragon is frightened of the colour red and of loud sounds and bright lights.”

Now every New Year, the Chinese dress up in red clothes, hang red decorations in their doors and windows, and they set off fire crackers so that the noise and the lights will scare away the Dragon.

It must work because the dragon Nian has never been seen again since this wise old man’s visit.

Related post: Chinese New Year