Thursday, 9 February 2012


“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” - Martin Luther

Tu B’Shevat is a minor Jewish holiday, occurring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat (in 2012 this occurred from sunset on February 7 through the time when you can see three stars in the sky on February 8). During Biblical times, Jewish farmers set out trees on this day and performed ceremonies to bless the standing orchards.  It was also customary to plant a new tree for every newborn child - a cedar for a boy and a cypress or pine for a girl.  It was also usual for boughs of these trees to form the marriage canopies for the bridal couple.  Children of modern Israel celebrate this day with tree plantings and outdoor games.  In other lands, Jews observe the Tu B’Shevat Festival by eating oranges, figs, pomegranates, dates, raisins and other fruits that grow in their homeland.

On February 9th, it is St Apollonia’s Feast Day. Apollonia was an aged deaconess of Alexandria. She was martyred by having all her teeth pulled out one by one. The mob of heathens then threatened to burn her alive unless she renounced her Christian faith. Apollonia eagerly jumped into the flames herself rather than submit to any further torture or threats. She is invoked by the faithful in cases of toothache and she is the patron saint of dentists.

February can be one of the coldest months, as this folk rhyme advises:
            Walk fast in snow
            In frost walk slow;
            When frost and snow are both together
            Sit by the fire and save shoe leather.

The Northern Hemisphere is experiencing some very severe weather at the moment, with extremely low temperatures, snowfalls, ice and freezing of rivers and canals. In the Netherlands, the Elfstedentrocht (Eleven Cities Tour) looks like it will run this year, something which only happens in very cold winters. At almost 200 km, is the world's largest speed skating competition and leisure skating tour. It is held in the province of Friesland, Netherlands, only when the ice along the entire course of waterways is at least 15 cm thick.

The tour, almost 200 km in length, is conducted on frozen canals, rivers and lakes between the eleven historic Frisian cities: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker, Dokkum, then returning to Leeuwarden. The tour is not held every year, mostly because the ice is not thick enough every Dutch winter, and also because about 15,000 amateur skaters may take part, putting high requirements on the quality of the ice. The last tours were held in 1985, 1986 and 1997. All skaters must be members of the Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities. A starting permit is required. Skaters must collect a stamp in each city, and at three secret check points, and must finish the course before midnight. The finishing point of the Elfstedentocht is a canal near Leeuwarden, called the “Bonkevaart”, close to the famous landmark windmill, De Bullemolen, Lekkum.

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