20 October 2020

66 Days Until Christmas: That's What Christmas is All About...

What is Christmas? Well, to some people it's a deeply religious holiday chronicling the birth of the Christ Child and the events surrounding it. Celebrants attend religious services, erect nativity scenes, do good works in the name of Jesus, and some also indulge in the secular events of the season. To most people it's a happy holiday revolving around light displays, a pine tree (real or artificial) hung with lights and shining decorations, gift giving, eating tasty food (some of which is only eaten at Christmas), gathering with family and/or friends, and, sometimes, indulging in activities eschewed during the rest of the year.
To too many people it's a shop-till-you-drop, massive financial outlay, exhausting ordeal of buying presents, erecting tasteful decorations, corralling overexcited children and dour older relatives, cooking until your ankles swell and you hate the smell of cinnamon, and the constant thrum of the advertisers to "Buy! Buy! Buy!" so that your family may be happy and you will be fulfilled.
If that sounds all too familiar, the following three books may prove useful:
Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury by Kristen M. Tucker and Rebecca Lowe Warren
Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli
The Christmas Survival Book by Alice Slaikeu Lawhead

All discuss the crazy hopes we have piled on Christmas, once just a reverent celebration of the birth of a special child intertwined with older, secular customs celebrating the turn of the year, when the days have begun lengthening again, featuring feasting and drinking, games, conviviality, gatherings, and singing: elaborate meals that will dazzle all who eat them, extravagant gifts that will prove our worth or fulfill our dreams, celebrations that will magically heal our marriages, revive our down-at-the-heels home, banish our teenagers' disinterest, cure our ex-spouse's selfish ways...oh, and make it snow. In Phoenix, Arizona. Just this once.

These are a breath of fresh air about how to make Christmas meet your expectations rather than you have to march to its: that you can simplify preparations, work out quiet spots, lose traditions that you hate, plan to deal with the unexpected without being torn emotionally about "how Christmas is supposed to be celebrated." The Lawhead book focuses the most on the Christian aspect of the celebration, and Celebrate the Wonder has a lot more about Christmas customs not native to the United States, but all three have a lot to say about quieter holidays, alternate celebrations, and peace on earth.

The bad news is that these are out of print. The good news is that they can all be found to borrow, albeit under their sad new "borrow for one hour" rule (there's no rule that says you can't read for one hour and then immediately "re-borrow" the volume) at the Internet Archive. I recommend all.

18 October 2020

"When the Frost is on the Punkin'"

James Whitcomb Riley

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys*, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here-
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock-
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries-kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below-the clover over-head!-
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse** and saussage, too! ...
I don’t know how to tell it-but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me-
I’d want to ’commodate ’em-all the whole-indurin’ flock-
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock! 


* Guinea hens, a type of small tame fowl.

** A type of pickling spice, thus the meat preserved with it, usually pork.

08 October 2020

78 Days Until Christmas: The Feast of St. Francis

St. Francis of Assisi, born Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, was the son of a prosperous silk merchant and his French wife. He lived the high life until nearly dying from sickness, although he was always partial to giving gifts to the poor. His illness and a vision converted him to a life of selfless charity, and he was the founder of an order of monks, now known as the Franciscans.

Francis was a known animal lover and preached the Gospel, it is said, even to the birds. All animals were his brothers and sisters, as all men and women were. He is usually represented with at least one bird on his shoulder and perhaps another one in his hand, or at his feet, sometimes other small animals like squirrels and foxes near him, and statues of St. Francis placed in gardens often have him with one hand extended holding a shallow dish for a bird feeder. Today churches often have a Blessings of the Animals day on or near October 8 where people bring their pets to an outdoor service. In 1979, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Francis as the patron saint of ecologists.

St. Francis is connected with Christmas as the person who created the display that today we call a "nativity scene," a "manger scene," a "presepio," "crib," or "crèche." He realized that people still could not grasp the fact that the Son of God had come to earth as a "real person," not some idealized God-figure. He was born as an ordinary baby, raised as an ordinary human child who was to respect his parents, do chores, help his father in the carpenter shop, and grow up to be a carpenter himself, taking care of his widowed mother. So he created the first "living nativity" scene in a church, having villagers take the roles of the figures of the story: the Holy Family, the shepherds, the innkeeper, townsfolk, and the Magi, and he brought live animals to the display, ones that might have been found in any humble stable: the overworked little ass, the ox or cow, the lowly but useful sheep, goats, pigeons, perhaps a horse or mule. While elders complained that this was being a little too realistic, animals doing what animals are wont to do, St. Frances wanted to recreated the conditions of the story, to show the child Jesus of being from lowly origins, not being some patron of the wealthy.

Once the displays became popular, they were recreated with artificial figures. Today one can find expensive porcelain figures down to carved wooden statues all the way down to plastic reproductions and even children's hand-made clay figures. In the middle of the 20th century the "five and dime" stores would have a section of bins where you could buy chalkware and later resin or plastic "manger figures" individually, so even a poor family might add one or two to their scene every year. You might start with the Holy Family and an angel, add some shepherds and a sheep next year, the Magi the year after, an ox and or ass another year, camels and more sheep, perhaps a goat or a dog or a boy carrying eggs as a gift to the Christ child or, especially with Italian figurines, the ever-present zampognari, or bagpipe player. Perhaps even a little drummer boy. In France and other European countries figures are even made for other townspeople: the baker, the butcher, the candle maker, etc. The French call these little figures santons and they can be found in every Christmas market and shop during Advent.

There are almost as many ways to display your nativity scene as there are figures. Some traditionally put their manger scene under the Christmas tree. Some have a special console table or china cabinet top or shelf or area that is cleared out before the holiday and set up with nativity figures instead. Some families leave the crib empty until Christmas Eve, when the Baby Jesus is finally laid inside, and others don't put the Magi out until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, when the travelers finally found the child. In some families the Magi are set up in another corner of the living area and inch their way slowly toward the stable.

05 October 2020

81 Days Until Christmas

What's in your Christmas reading stack?

Here's mine:

Plus I have the new Ideals Christmas ordered.

29 September 2020

Happy Michaelmas Day!

Michaelmas celebrates St. Michael the Archangel on one of the four "quarter days" in Great Britain, holy days which were associated with the paying of rent and renegotiating agreements. The angel Gabriel (who delivered the joyful news to Mary of the conception of Jesus) and the angel Raphael (also the angel Uriel in some versions) are also celebrated on this date. Michael is said to have personally defeated Lucifer in his war against heaven.

A legend associated with the holiday is that when St. Michael defeated Lucifer, described in Revelations 12, Lucifer landed on a blackberry bush. In rage, he spat on and cursed the bush. So you should pick and eat blackberries by Michaelmas, before the devil gets a chance to spit on them!

The traditional main course on Michaelmas Day is roast goose. So traditional, in fact, that old Irish name for the holiday was Fómhar no nGéanna, "goose harvest." Eating goose on this day is considered good luck.

In the northern hemisphere, because Michaelmas falls several days after the autumnal equinox, the holiday is associated with fall and marks the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of preparations for winter.

Pronounced, incidentally, "micklemas."   

Michaelmas Foods and Traditions

British Michaelmas Traditions

Catholic Traditions of Michaelmas Day

St. Michael the Archangel

22 September 2020

Because Something Good Had to Happen in 2020...

With apologies to Edward Pola and George Wyle...it mostly scans:
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
O the pumpkins are glowing,
Chrysanthemums showing,
And sweater time's here--
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
It's the hap-happiest sea-son of all!
It's all cinnamon-smelling
In fall-bedecked dwelling--
Savor the apples of fall--
It's the hap-happiest sea-son of all!
There'll be chestnuts a'roasting
And corn mazes hosting,
And fresh preserves up on the shelf;
There'll be nostalgic stories
Of bonfire glories,
And gingerbread baked by yourself!
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
The leaves are a'changing
With colors amazing:
Gold, red, orange appear--
It's the most wonderful time,
Yes, the most wonderful time,
O the most wonderful time...of the year!

16 September 2020

Christmas Countdown: 100 Days Until Christmas

It's the time of year when I usually pull out my pre-Christmas books, Unplug the Christmas Machine and The Christmas Survival Book (also Celebrate the Wonder), to see what I can do this year to keep the holidays happy and sane. I'm sure it's going to be an odd Christmas this year, what with remaining COVID-19 restrictions. I can't see Black Friday happening, for instance—just too many people in one place at one time. And many people have been out of work, some for only a few months, right now for some people this is ongoing. So this has been seen online and it sounds like a nice gesture.

Some people have pointed out that December 24 seems too late to donate to a food pantry; that food for the holidays may have already been distributed. Why not start your collection on Thanksgiving? (You might locate your closest food pantry first—this is important; last year I had food to donate and the pantry I had intended to give it to, one operating out of a small church, had closed due to a declining congregation—and give them a call to find out if there is a specific date to donate before Christmas?) And, while you're at it, why not start another box on Hallowe'en night, so that you may treat someone before Thanksgiving?

There is no need to limit yourself to brand names. We eat any number of store brands in our home, and they are actually supplied by the same companies that furnish the "brand names" like Del Monte, Kelloggs, etc. We once asked a friend who worked in a meat packing plant what the difference was between Winn Dixie meat and Kroger meat. His answer: "The label."

You can also avail yourself of the pre-packaged bags you can buy at the grocery store for a donation of $5, $10, and $20, but I tend to avoid these as they supply a lot of processed food in these packages. I find I can afford food with better nutritional value from the shelves. You might buy foods with low salt or low sugar, as often people on limited incomes cannot find these in their local grocery stores (we have to go looking for them) and have health conditions where it would be preferable for them to eat reduced salt or sugar.

01 September 2020

31 Things to Do in September | Hello Woodlands

So, we finally made it through the summer months. Now for it to get cool, and please God, someone find a method to combat COVID-19.

04 July 2020

Happy Independence Day!

10 May 2020

"To a Butterfly"

               Thou trifling thing,
          Bright of color,
               Light of wing,— 
Hast thou, then, no other care
Than to ornament the air?
          Hither, thither,
               High and low,
          Why and whither
               Dost thou go?"
"From the garden to the hedge.
From the field-flower to the sedge,
  I flutter, flutter everywhere.
          Save to be fair
               I have no care,—
          An idler am I."
               "Oh, fie! Oh, fie!
Hence, thou useless thing, away!
Nay!—thou needed beauty,—stay!" 

Elizabeth Hill, "St. Nicholas" magazine, August 1892

29 April 2020

"A Jewel Song"

Hey! for turquoise sky and sea,
      Emerald grass and leafy tree
Topaz sunlight, onyx shade,—
      Ho! for Spring, the joyous maid.

Hey! for sapphire ocean blue,
      Opal sky and moonstone dew,
Agate night and amber day,—
      Ho! for Summer bright and gay.

Hey! for garnet bough and vine,
      Amethyst grape and ruby wine,
Golden setting for them all,—
      Ho! for brilliant, sad-heart Fall.

Hey! for silver glistening frost,
      Pearls of snow past any cost,
Diamond ice and crystal air,—
      Ho! for Winter cold and fair. 


12 April 2020

Happy Easter!

25 March 2020

Lady Day

"Lady Day" is the traditional name in some English-speaking countries for the Feast of the Annunciation. In Christian tradition, this is the day that the angle Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.
Luke 1:26-38:
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God.

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her
 In England, Lady Day was one of the four "quarter days,"  "the four dates in each year on which servants were hired, school terms started, and rents were due."
  • Lady Day (March 25)
  • Midsummer Day (June 24)
  • Michaelmas [Feast of Michael the Archangel] (September 29)
  • Christmas Day (December 25)
Before tradition designated January 1 as New Year's Day, Lady Day was considered to be the first day of the New Year, appropriate as by March 25 spring would be in full bloom and the growing year would lie ahead.

The Importance of Lady Day in Regency England

Lady Day on Astrology.com

Catholic Encyclopedia: Annunciation

Lady Day Feasting at Catholic Cuisine

Orthodox Church: Annunciation

Pagan Library: Lady Day

14 February 2020

Happy Valentine's Day