Sunday, December 14, 2008

Festivals of light in the season of darkness

My assignment for this week: making a bunch of these!

It's only one more week until Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. We definitely celebrate that here in Alaska -- our days are so short now that people are much more atuned to day-length (or shortness, as it may be).
At home, we've got out advent wreath on the dining room table, with three candles lit tonight: only one more Sunday before Christmas. On Saturday morning, December 13th, we celebrated Sant
a Lucia, a tradition from Scandinavia where the oldest daughter dresses up as Santa Lucia with a wreath of candles on her head, bringing trays of baked goods. Liesl has inherited this important job when Eldest left for college, and she stayed up late with her brother the night before baking German Lebkuchen (literally "Cakes of Life"), which are basically gingerbread. They were yummy, and nevermind the mess they left in the kitchen!

Next weekend the Nature Center holds it's big SOLSTICE event, and I'll be busy getting ready this week. First, I make a ton of ice lanterns for around the building and paths (instructions follow). Then I guide craft programs making lanterns for the lantern walk: we have a procession to a big bo
nfire where we all sing songs, roast hot-dogs and celebrate the return of the sun.
The Lantern Walk idea was imported from Germany by our founders, who witnessed Sankt Martin's Day parades when they lived in Heidelberg.

All over the world people celebrate the season of darkness by making light, such as Hannukah or lantern festivals in China. Here's a picture from the Philippines of one the ornate Christmas lanterns I remember from living there.

Here's how I'll be spending my week making ice lanterns:
#1: The yoghurt container Method:
Fill a bunch of 32 oz containers with water and place outside. It helps if it's NICE and COLD. Right now it's hovering in the low single-digits (so for you Europeans, it's minus 15 C). Let freeze for 5 hours or so (if it's seriously below 0F you may get away with 4 hrs; at 10F will need at least 6 hrs; if it's hovering in the upper 20's, you probably need all day or night 8-10hrs). Test a couple before bringing them all inside -- if they break handling (sides are too fragile), then give them more time in the great outdoors!

I do this next step at the sink: Run some warm water to loosen ice -- then invert (TOP will become bottom of lantern)
as the bottom is the weakest spot. Using a sharp kitchen knife, punch thru ice at the weak spot, then keep on widening/carving the circle until it's large enough to put a candle inside. Empty the ice-cold water, and rinse with some warm/hot water to get rid of any sharp ice protrusions.

#2 Balloon Method:
Fill birthday-party balloons with water. Stick them in a snowbank with the knot down, or else
place on individual plates or bowl -- but don't let them touch. When frozen, bring a couple inside to test. Again, the weakest point is the bottom. Cut and peel off the plastic balloon, and using a sharp knife, make a hole at the bottom to drain the water.
My husband invented a great way for the next step: Heat a heavy duty pan on the stove and "melt" off the jagged edge until you have the desired sized opening.
Also, you can use pan for flattening the other end: the ice is really thick there, and you
may want it flat to be able to place lantern on a level surface. Otherwise, just stick the wobbly lanterns in the snow!

HINT: If you're making a great # at a time, wear Refrigiwear gloves!


denise said...

Those are great! We tried making an ice candle holder today - but tried to make more of a tray with holes for several candles to sit up top. They are ok, but it was too windy for lights to stay lit. I think we'll try both of your ideas tomorrow - I like the idea of the candles being down inside the ice. :)

Naturelady said...

As I'm now in the middle of making these by the dozen, I realize I need to write a better tutorial for the balloon method. I'll take some pictures today.
Several of the water balloons I stuck in a snowbank just fall over to the side, and then you end up with sideways egg-shaped lanterns. Best to freeze them each in their own bowl.
Once at the final stage, the hot frying pan makes all the difference -- it's well worth the trouble, and makes a beautiful finish to the rim, keeping it from being jagged and injuring the poor bloke who has to put the candle inside and light it. Also -- it helps if you have one of those long utility lighter with flexible neck!

Kitchen Sister said...

Could you stick a bowl on TOP to flatten the top (future bottom) as it freezes? You can also stick pretty stuff like sticks and berries in the ice if you want a non-flammable wood wreath around your candles.