Winter time childhood magic. What ingredients are your childhood winter memories made of? Mine for sure include: candle light, heavenly baking smells from Mami’s cookie sessions filling the house, oranges, clementines and cinnamon included in every meal, the Samichlaus visiting at home, writing wish lists to Santa, the twinkling lights and the tree, and of course thematic parades, Samichlausumzug oder Räbeliechtliumzug. We wanted to go to our local lantern parade. And E’s Kita also invited us to a “light festival”. Of course we had to have our own Räbeliechtli (turnip lantern) for the occasions. Do you want to know everything about Räbeliechtli?
Well, while everybody else was preparing for their Halloween, I couldn’t be bothered. I find Halloween so horrific, pun intended, and don’t see why we should incorporate a foreign custom, just for the sake of having something more to celebrate? Although I’m ususally in the “celebrate everything” team, and you know that. But autumn and winter are filled with so many nice festivities and ways to celebrate, do we really need another one? Why not embrace the customs we have here! But that’s just my side note, ahaha.
So when the first invitation from Kita arrived a couple of weeks ago, to join their “light festival”, when turnips of all sorts appeared on the farmers’ market scene, we knew it was time to introduce E to her first “Räbeliechtli”, a simple turnip lantern. So instead of carving pumpkins – we carved turnips! Or to be precise: hubbie did. He is just so good with stuff like that, forever the perfectionist. He put so much love and dedication into E’s turnip. It was almost a little too much. But the result is maybe the best lantern I’ve ever seen. If only we could freeze it and make it last…? But then I guess the beauty is that it slowly but steadily wilts away outside on our balcony.
Things you will need:
1 oblong turnip
3 pieces of household string
1 sharp kitchen knife
A couple of cookie cutters, heart-shapes or trees or stars, whichever you like best
1 carving toolwith different points
1 melon baller
1 pair of scissors
1 awl or needle to pierce holes
1 bucket for the turnip waste (you can cook it if you want!)
1 cutting board to act as a work surface
1 bucket of water to store the carved lantern in until used
A couple of votive candles (we’d go for an electric one the next time though, for the sake of the parade)
Enough matchsticks to light the candle over and over again
Start by cutting off the lid (about 1/3 from the top). Carve it to your liking before removing the flesh from the core of the turnip. You can use cookie cutters for the shapes, then remove the turnip peel carefully. We used a linoleum carving tool with differently sized tops. When you are finished decorating your turnip latnern, hollow it out with a melon baller. Also hollow out the lid just a bit. Cut a hole into the top, so the heat from the candle can escape. Pierce three holes about 1 cm below the upper rim of your lantern (bottom). And then pierce three holes at the exact same places into the lid. Put a piece of string through the bottom hole and make knot. Put the string also through the lid hole. Tie all three strings together about 20-30 cm above the latnern and make a simple knot. That’s where you can hold your lantern. You can also use a stick for extra safety.
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Note on preservation
If you have to make your lantnern ahead of time (i.e. not the same day), then I’d suggest to just store it in the cold (not in the fridge, imh). Some suggest to keep it in a bowl of water, but for me that didn’t work too well. The turnip soaked up too much water and burst in places. Look, much to our surprise, after several days (almost a week!) after we made and used it, the lantern is still holding up and beautiful. A bit wiltered, maybe, and softened. But not less beautiful. E loves watching the lanterns detoriate away, by the way, haha.