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It’s Christmastide! And it lasts for 12 days. Sound familiar?

December 25th, 2009 by stephanie

Well, Merry Christmas, one and all.

Wishing you a special day filled with happy memories, peace and rest.

For those of you who are into holiday trivia or history, the fun has just begun.

If the the words, Partridge in a Pear tree sound familiar, you will appreciate the scoop on today’s festive blog.

Few realize these days, that the 12 Days of Christmas, actually begins on Christmas Day. And day 12 arrives on January 5 — the day many of you may remember in known as Epiphany.

Our Colonial forefathers, as we are all well aware,were English, and thus brought many holiday traditions with them to our shores. One of those traditions was a  homemade wreath that was made from greenery and any fruits that might be available. Making the wreaths was one of the traditions of Christmas Eve.  And would be hung on your front door beginning on Christmas Night (1st night of Christmas) through Twelfth Night or Epiphany morning. Meanwhile, aswas the tradition back in England, all decorations would be taken down by Epiphany morning.

Interestingly, a special cake, the king cake, was also baked at that time for Epiphany. But we’ll talk more about that later.

For now, Merry, Merry Christmas and a VERY happy New Year.

Best,

S.

Well kids, it’s the final Sunday of Advent this weekend.

December 17th, 2009 by stephanie

The season of Anticipation is just about to hit a high note. This Sunday, we will finally light that pink candle in the wreathe that we’ve all been looking at and wondering about. So, here it is. The scoop on the Rose Colored Candle.

 And, in case you didn’t know, the “Late Advent Weekdays”, December 17-24, mark the singing of the Great Advent ‘O antiphons‘. Now, you may not be familiar with those diddies, but you may recognize the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.   And I have to tell you, it’s one of my all time faves.

One of the very first solos that I ever performed was at a Christmas pageant. And I was thrilled when I was told it was that very hymn I would be singing. It was tough! Let me tell you. If you haven’t heard it, the tune is in a minor key and I truly had my work cut out for me. But I was so excited, and the words meant so much to me (even at the age of 12!) that I made it through. But back to that fourth candle of ours.

It’s apparently known as the angels‘ candle, symbolising the angelic proclamation of joy at Christ’s birth .

Now, I have a surprise for you. If you like, there’s one more candle we can add and light together after this Sunday. I personally add a 5th candle. Let me tell you about it. You can put it in the center of your wreath, and they usually suggest that it be white. It is the “Christ Candle”.   It can be lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  

Just so you know, there are a variety of ways to celebrate advent and the tradition of the wreath. You may not celebrate the same way as your neighbor, but don’t let that throw you.  Get a green wreathe (green represents eternity), try to find 3 purple candles, one pink and one white, and you are good to go for next year if you weren’t able to join us this year. (They’ll be on special after the holidays if you want to get ready now. 🙂

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost here! The culmination of everything we’ve been looking forward to – together. And I can tell you, it’s been very special to share my annual tradition with YOU.

So, here’s to what has been, is, and is to come. 

One last thing…if you can, try to squeeze in the reading of Luke chapter 2 on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year- do it. Our family does, and believe me, there isn’t a dry eye in the place.

Merry, Merry Christmas my friend. I look forward to hearing from you about how ADVENT was for YOU this year.

Stephanie

What are You Celebrating this Christmas?

December 14th, 2009 by stephanie

“I don’t remember seeing commercials growing up where people gave each other cars for Christmas.” Such were the words I heard as I turned to see the bemused thirty-something commenting on how the holidays might be getting a bit out of hand. I had to admit, she had something there. It’s supposedly the season of giving and of joy, but how often we hear, or are even personally reminded about, how lonely and difficult the holidays can actually be.

If a loved one has passed away this year, their absence will be sorely felt at the holiday table. Some have experienced the loss of a relationship. Many have lost jobs. I personally know some folks that have had a difficult and painful 2009. “What’s there to celebrate?” they might rightfully ask. You know, good question. It depends on what they celebrate at Christmas. And why.

When I thought it over a bit, I realized that regardless of situations, the expectations of the season (whether real or imposed) not only seem to be upon us, they seem to build with each passing year. Once again, the questions are raised: what are we truly expecting in return this holiday, and, why are we really doing this?

How did we get from the story of a baby in a manger with angels and shepherds to fruit cakes, cookie and gift exchanges, travel plans, decorating, shopping, wrapping and more? When, too, did we come to feel that the season owes us happy memories, warm conversations and amazing gifts? If you ask me, isn’t that just a bit much to put on one simple day out of 365 every year? It’s something to consider.

What if we simply allowed Christmas to be little more, well, simple this year? Or, perhaps, what if we not only cut ourselves some slack, but our expectations as well. You know like, let Uncle Joe tell that corny joke, and expect Aunt Martha to make that inappropriate comment. Accept the fact that Bob and Linda may start an argument at the table right after you bow to give thanks. And if your sister does insist on bringing that one special dish she feels you all can’t live without, so be it. What if that person you were counting on doesn’t propose to you and produce the ring? What if that gift isn’t the right size, color or style? Or, what if you really don’t get much in the way of gifts this year at all? Will it truly be the end of the holiday spirit as we know it? Will it really spoil the entire day?

I guess it boils down to: what are you celebrating this season? And why? Is it a chance to get off work and hit that resort? Is it lights, and tinsel and Santa Claus? Is it carols and food and that notorious office party? Or is it, perhaps, something a bit more.

Only you know the answer to that question. Let’s take a moment to ponder it together this December, shall we? Maybe putting the Merry into Christmas needs to be something we take a fresh look at this time around. Who knows. Maybe I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life too many times over the years. Or, maybe, just maybe, we’re on to something here.

Wishing you even a little Merry this Christmas. Regardless of what has been, is, or what is to come.

Just my thoughts.

Stephanie

It’s Advent. This Sunday, light the candle of JOY.

December 10th, 2009 by stephanie

It’s Gaudete Sunday. Wow. $3 prize for whoever got that word right.
For those of you new to this blog, welcome. We’ve been taking a look at Advent (the season of anticiption) this month, with a few sidebars along the way.

If Advent is a bit new to you, here’s the deal. This coming Sunday, churches and homes around the world will light the third candle in the Advent wreathe.

If you’re into colors and symbolism, the last two candles that were lit during the past two Sundays, were purple. This week? It’s a rose colored candle. (Some churches just go with blue candles I hear.) The point is, this is the JOY candle.

But, back to Gaudete. You will find that it comes from the latin phrase “Gaudete in Domino semper” translation: Rejoice in the Lord always. Thus our candle of Joy. [You Marines caught that word Semper, at least? Semper Fi = Always Faithful.] Anyway…in certain High Church environments, the priest will even change from his purple vestments of the past two weeks into rose colored ones. The church moves from a season of fasting and repentance into one of joy.

So, if you see any of these symbols or colors or wreathes this coming weekend, you will certainly feel more “in the know”. If anything, that will put a smile on your face. And if you have a moment, why not read Luke Chapter 2. If you missed the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, it’s the passage that Linus reads during the Peanuts kids’ Christmas pageant.

Rejoice!

Just my thoughts,
Stephanie

St. Nick a Mid Easterner?

December 8th, 2009 by stephanie

Well, kind of. Some of you may remember the days when the land currently known as Turkey was called Asia Minor. That’s what we saw on our maps at least in school and what we were told in geography. But I certainly don’t remember my teachers telling me about the most famous “Turk” of all. Did you know St. Nicolas was a Catholic Bishop? Yep. It’s true.

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born about 300 years after Jesus in the village of Patara (on the southern coast of Turkey). His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Taking to heart Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his entire inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Due to his sincerity, he was soon made the Bishop of Myra. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. If you’re a sailor, you may recognize that he became the patron saint of said watery kind.

Stories of the saint have been handed down through time. One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance for a young woman to land a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry.

Without dowries, these girls, were destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home. The bags of gold, were supposedly tossed through an open window only to land in stockings or shoes left near the fire to dry. (Thus the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. )*

If you’re into theology and stuff like that, you might find it interesting that under the Roman Emperor at that time (Diocletian), Christians like Bishop Nicholas suffered for their faith, were exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. An added tip for you Religious History buffs, after his release, it is said that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

As you can see, the original Saint Nick is a bit of a far cry from the Americanized Santa we have managed to create and enjoy over the past 100 or so years. Nothing wrong with enjoying Santa if you ask me, but it never hurts to know “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. It sure makes for some interesting Christmas party conversation to be sure.

🙂

Just my thoughts.

S.

*http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38


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December 7, 1941. Do you know what happened on that day?

December 7th, 2009 by stephanie

When I was in high school, I used to jog around my neighborhood in order to keep in shape.  My route usually took me past this one particular house with an RV (recretional vehicle) in the driveway that had a “Pearl Harbor Survivor” license plate. Try as I might, I never saw the resident of the home.  One sunny day however, as I came plodding down the sidewalk, to my utter surprise, there was the veteran out washing the RV.  My time had finally come.

Careully approaching him, I pointed to the license plate and our conversation began. “We didn’t sleep for days. We worked with one hand, and ate and took care of personals with the other.” He recalled.  I could see the memories flashing before his eyes as his face changed shape while he spoke.  I was mesmerized. He’d been there. He knew. And I wanted to hear anything he would be willing to share.

If you don’t recall the significance of 12/7/41, let me refresh your memory. For you younger set, 9/11/01 was not the first time we’ve been attacked on American shores.

 Men sleeping soundly aboard U.S. ships suddenly found themselves trying to make sense of what they soon realized were the sounds of alarms, bombs exploding, and gunfire. Dressing as they ran to General Quarters stations they would hear the now famous message, “Air raid Pearl Harbor. This is not drill.” Sadly,  ammunition lockers were locked, aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip in the open to deter sabotage, guns sat unmanned. Men were ashore, on leave, resting. But those on board and able to assist fought and worked valiantly.

The Japanese had called the secret mission that came in three successful waves,  Hawaii OperationOperation Z.  The target? The United States naval base at Pearl HarborHawaii. Target date? the morning of December 7, 1941.  Those on duty in that sunny paradise never saw it coming. Rumor says a person or two had wind of the notion, but we as a nation, never acted on the data.

It was that surprise attack that ultimately threw our country  into the very war we were trying to avoid: World War II.  The enemy was strategic and deadly. 353 Japanese planes  were launched from six  aircraft carriers that day. They sank four U.S. Navy battleships while damaging four others. They also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers,  one minelayer, and 188 aircraft. When the toll was taken, the U.S. listed 2,402 killed and 1,282 wounded. 

The Japanese only lost 29 aircraft,  five midget submarines, and 65 servicemen killed or wounded. Only one Japanese sailor was captured.

Horrifically, many sailors trapped in the damaged and sinking ships would never be abstracted. Their banging to be heard by those nearby. Those longing, but unable to come to their rescue. A nightmare our servicemen hoped to forget. But veterans that were there, and those that diligently sat by their radios and read the papers will always remember.  As may we.  It took that tragedy to force us into a war that would inevitably bring down Hitler and his regime. In time, many others in another land would be freed. And in time, we would all celebrate. That, is something to remember.

I hope you will pause this day, to remember. And perhaps remind a family member or colleague of the significance of this day in our country’s very rich history. May we remember.

 

Sincerely,

S.

 

2nd Sunday of Advent: The Candle of Peace

December 3rd, 2009 by stephanie

I recall one particular Christmas pageant  that I was in when a young girl. You remember those. We used bathrobes with towels on heads for shepherds. The white sheets and the tinsel halos were the costume of choice for the angles. And Mary? She was always in blue.  Anyway, for this particular production, we memorized the entire second chapter of the book of Luke. You know, to this day, I can still recite almost the entire thing. (Something to be said for teaching young folks the Scriptures. It sticks!)

It’s interesting, because that’s the same passage that Linus, of the famed Peanuts gang, quotes on stage during the Charlie Brown Christmas Special (The TV classic which I still love to watch each year.)

This particual portion has continued to be one of my favorites. Especially during  these unsettling times. May be it bring a sense of peace to your heart and to your corner of the world today:

Luke 2:8-14 (ESV)

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 

This past Sunday, churches and homes round the world lit the 1st candle of Advent, the Hope Candle.  [Advent season, which begins the 4th Sunday before Christmas,  is considered the Time of Anticipation.]

This coming Sunday, we will light Advent’s second candle: the Peace candle. In a world where we don’t often see eye to eye, peace is definitely one thing most of us hold dear. 

Peace to you.

S.

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