Just down the river (shoo lie loo)

I’m really enjoying the song “Shoo Lie Loo” by Elizabeth Mitchell. It came to me as a gift just this week in the form of her cd Sunny Day. I recommend it as part of your collection of music for children – joyful songs, great rhythms, real music that appeals to a child’s world. The whole cd feels like adults and children alike had fun making it. “Shoo Lie Loo” has everything my children love: a catchy tune that won’t drive you nuts, simple lyrics that can be adapted, a celebration of childhood. I promise you’ll love it. There’s a clip of it at the end of this post, showing the circle game that goes with it.

Autumn Leaf Fairy3My children and I adapted this song yesterday when we went down to the river – it just burst out when we started taking note of all the bird life we have down there. We live on a quiet part of the Nerang river – just about the point where the water turns brackish and is just a little tidal still. It is more like a creek where we are, with mostly low ankle-deep water running over smooth rocks and soft weeds.

It is an interesting environment with SO MANY interesting birds. It is a very exciting event when we spot the pelican that comes to visit every now and then! It is quite odd, seeing a pelican paddling upon our quiet creek. Once my husband watched an eagle fishing, and I’ve been delighted by the flash of brilliant blue from a kingfisher.

Once we started singing, we just kept thinking of more and more birds we have seen in our area and of course we started to make a list. Our next thought is to take a photo of each of the birds and make a poster or a guide-book of our own with them

Our song goes like this:

This cheeky little one landed in our backyard and lived with us for about a month before flying away again.

This cheeky little one landed in our backyard and lived with us for about a month before flying away again.

Just down the river (shoo lie loo)

To see who lives here (shoo lie loo)

Hey Cockatoo (shoo lie loo)

Fly away over yonder (shoo lie loo)

Our song went on and on with willy wagtail, swamp hen, eagle, magpie, butcher bird, galah, ibis, pelican …. the little ones and I danced in a circle, spinning around with our arms out as we flew away over yonder. So much fun.

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Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Summer Solstice

rosella and linden on beach1WMIt is Midsummer. For me this time of year will always mean hot steamy days, afternoon storms, grabbing swims in pools, creeks and beaches, spraying each other with the garden hose or spray bottles, feeling sticky from layers of sun cream, sweaty from hats, sleeping with legs hanging out of the sheets, battling mozzies in the bedroom at night, lawn mowers going every weekend, listening to the sometimes deafening chorus of summer insects, cricket on the radio, sunburn, homemade ice blocks, tinkling of ice cubes in glasses, ginger beer, vowing never to eat that much on Christmas day ever again …

KsailingWM

How do you relate to the power of the sun at this time of year? I am awed by the power of the sun. I don’t mind the heat but being so fair skinned I am afraid to spend too long outside. The sun bites me and I like to keep a respectful distance between us. I have to cover up just to hang out the washing. My son, after running about for two weeks on holidays, now has three times as many freckles on his face, my daughter’s hair is shining golden and my little one hardly ever wears clothes at all unless she goes outside and then I do my best to cover her up.

This weather has dictated a new rhythm for us: we are up early (5am!) because it is so hot and the sun gets up early.  We eat less and drink more. Our drink bottles are our constant companions and we embrace salads and raw foods for our meals. We go out and about, play and visit and do anything we have to outside before 10am, and then come inside or play in the shade and have some creative quiet time until the afternoon when we burst outside again with renewed energy. It is an interesting stop/start kind of season for us … a mixture of almost frenzied activity followed by complete stillness. Quite different to midwinter when I tend to plod along slowly and steadily. As hard as I do find the heat and humidity I do embrace this obvious seasonal shift.

Today is actually the Summer Solstice – the day when the sun gives us the longest day and the shortest night. It’s the pause before the sun begins its dance away from the Earth, bringing us the cooler weather.  Solstice hasn’t previously been a big part of my family celebrations until recently, and this year I’ll be celebrating both Solstice and Christmas – as well as Advent! Quite different celebrations each of them … but somehow this year it all fits.faerie ring1WM

I’ve been talking to my children about Solstice, and the cycle of the sun for the last week or so, and inspired by my friend Oakwillow this year we invited the Solstice Faeries to come and dance in our garden tonight. We had such a delightful time creating a ring for the faeries to come and dance in. So much thought went in to thinking of what sort of things would invite the faeries in – and where they might like to dance. In the end the spot we decided on was the bean tepee – and then the Christmas Tree was stripped of all golden and yellow ornaments, which then decorated the tepee. Rainbows were added in case the Rainbow Faeries wanted to come and dance with the Fire Faeries and Sun Faeries, although actually I think the only ones who have turned up are the Rain Faeries. I am sure that each of the two beans that have grown on this bean tepee are feeling pretty special at the moment.

magic beansWM

 … fire fairies come to us …

… and the fire fairies come …

…bringing golden light from the sun …

faerie ring2WM

A ring made, a chant sung, and a lengthy call to the Fire Faeries by my daughter (including an eloquent request to let us see them), candles lit and then we crept away to keep watch and see when they might arrive. A vigil was kept from the cubby house, the verandah and through the kitchen window and the kids are SURE they’ve seen some flashing movement in and around the poles of the tepee!! Then when darkness finally fell and the littlest one was asleep (yes, it WAS a longer day today!) we snuggled on the couch and I told the story of Gramma Sun and the Summer Solstice – then one more peek though the kitchen window at the faerie ring (yes! I saw one!) and off to bed.

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Tonight it is hoped that the Solstice Faeries will leave a gift to say thanks for making a special place for them to dance and celebrate the height of summer. I am feeling pretty certain that wish is going to come true ;). I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring!

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Story: Gramma Sun and the Summer Solstice

This story was written as a shared progressive story on my Lavendilly House Facebook page. It was a lot of fun – I began the story and a few friends dropped by to keep it going. Occasionally I got a bit excited and kept it going all by myself … I was very surprised with the direction the story went in (it wasn’t the story I had in my head!!) This is what happens in community – sometimes the story you have in your head is a part of something bigger, and shared ideas offered in the spirit of openness can lead to an even better scenario than was originally conceived. Synergy 🙂 It was very exciting to be a part of an unfolding story, as if it were alive on its own (which is often how I feel about stories) and I am grateful to the contributors for helping to write a very magical Creation Story to explain the Summer Solstice. I have edited it a teeny tiny bit, just to help it flow in story form.Fire Altar Mat (2)

Gramma Sun and the Summer Solstice

Written by Jennifer McCormack, Hollie-B Lunation, Lorrie-Corrie Clemato, Victoria Edmond and Elizabeth Murray.

  Gramma Sun stretched out her arms, her embrace was hot and warm. She rose high in the sky and looked down at all her grandchildren on the earth and smiled. In her children she saw the potential of everything that could be on the Earth. She had deep gratitude for the many possibilities her children could achieve. Her eye was caught by a little girl with pig tails who was sitting in the branches of a shady tree.
  This tree had low branches that could be easily climbed and invited you to come up. The little girl often came to sit there and sing to herself. When she sang her heart would lift and sometimes it felt as if the very tree was listening to her. Today, however her song broke off because she heard a tiny voice from below.
   “Why is it so hot?” this tiny voice cried. She looked around to find where the tiny voice was coming from and to her surprise she spied a wee man, dressed in brown, orange and bright green leaves.  On top of his head sat a very large nut, it appeared as though he wore it as a hat!
  The little girl with pig tails reached down her hand and invited the wee man to climb on and up into the tree with him. She leaned against the trunk of the tree and placed the man on a branch above, in the shade. “Hello. My mum told me it is so hot because it is the summer solstice and Gramma Sun is dancing.”
  “Oh dear child” said the wee man, bowing before the little girl with the pigtails. ” your mother must be absolutely correct! Gramma Sun is so hot because she is dancing!  Do you know why she is dancing?”
  “I don’t, but would you like to find out together?” She replied to the little wee man.
  “Well I suppose we could,” replied the wee man, “Just let me rest a while in this shade. Its going to get hot before long!” He took his seed pod hat off and inside it was a small flask which he drank deeply from. “Ah, that’s better!” He said, “I think you should have some too, it will help you stay cool where we are going. We have to go high and visit the Giant Catfish that lives in the Crystal Pool on top of the mountain.  It is said that the Giant Catfish will answer truthfully one question for those who pay their gift. When it cools down we will first climb the mountain and then we must find a special boat. I have been told that it is moored to the Grandfather Willow Tree, but before we board the boat we must first eat a mushroom, 2 pieces of apple and 13 grapes.”
 “Why ever should we eat those?” giggled the little girl with the pigtails, thinking that a mushroom and a few pieces of fruit would not be enough food to help them climb a mountain.
  “Because the mushroom is magic and will make you small like me, the apple has a star inside that will help us speak the star language and the grapes are just so refreshing, and it is quite a hot day you know!”
  The little girl thought it would be very fun to be small like the wee man, but it might also be difficult to eat the 13 grapes when she was so small … so she ate those first. Feeling refreshed she shared the apple with the wee man and immediately she could hear a faint singing. It was an ethereal music that filled the space around her and yet did not appear to come from anywhere at all. It was above her and below her and all around her. It was as if this music, which felt like a kind of singing was breathing through every living thing. It felt as if her own heart was keeping time to this divine song. Her skin tingled with goosebumps. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, “Who is singing?”
  The wee small man nodded his head so enthusiastically his seed pod hat nearly fell off, “Yes! Yes! You can hear it! I knew you were special. It is the stars. You can hear the language of the stars, who only speak in song. They are sure to help us talk to Gramma Sun. She is too hot to get too close to but she dances to the songs of the stars, just like every living thing does, so they will be able to help us ask her questions, now eat your mushroom and let’s be off!”
  The little girl with pigtails nibbled on the mushroom and immediately began to shrink. Her pigtails and her clothes shrank with her until she was so tiny she was no bigger than a willy wagtail, and also smaller than the wee man, who was not very tall to begin with. He nibbled on the mushroom too and the little girl with the pigtails watched as he and his seed pod hat shrunk to match her size.
  “Let’s go!” said the wee man with the seed pod hat, “The Grandfather Willow Tree is at the top of the mountain by the lake, to get there we must break off this leaf, hop on and hold on tightly, then call for the hot wind to blow us to the top of the mountain.”
  This they did, and a warm gust picked up the leaf and before they knew it they were spinning away, riding the wind. Below them they could see the stream they must follow, and that clever wee man held his hat up and steered them with the seed pod! They flew low, they flew high, and once the breeze nearly stopped!! Before too long though, they floated to the top of the mountain, and it was there that they saw a sight so magical, it took their breath away!
  Beneath them they saw the crystal pool with water so still it reflected the light in the sky and the trees all around. Grasses on the banks of the pool leaned over the edge and looked at themselves in the mirrored surface. It was as if everything was spellbound by the breathtaking beauty of the crystal waters. Above the pool, in the sky, Gramma Sun danced and danced to the music of the stars and her movements reflected on the waters as sparkling sun sparks. Little fire fairies from Gramma Sun’s golden dress danced with her, moving too fast and hot to be caught, flitting across the water and over the trees. Beneath the water the only thing that moved was the Giant Catfish, dancing as smooth and slow as Gramma Sun danced furiously and fast. “As above, so below” whispered the wee man, “they dance together.”
  The wee man used his seed pod hat to guide the leaf down the edge of the Crystal Pool, right at the feet of the Grandfather Willow Tree: an ancient tree that grew with his roots deep in the earth and over the bank of the Crystal Pool. His branches hung low and graceful, some dropping gently into the still water of the Crystal Pool. Grandfather Willow Tree had stood connected between sky, water and earth for an eternity and all who lived in him and about him felt his peace with the world. As the little girl with the pigtails and the wee man with the seed pod hat stepped out of their leaf they felt their breath soften and they became aware of the stillness all about them. Here the music of the stars was clear and bright and it felt as if every living thing swayed with joy to the melody.
  Among the roots of the Grandfather Willow Tree which were growing down the banks of the Crystal Pool and into the water, there was a little boat moored. It was so so tiny that if the little girl and the wee man were not so small themselves they may never have come across it.
  The little girl with the pigtails and the wee man with the seed pod hat untied the boat from its moorings, climbed inside and pushed away from the bank. They used a long leaf each to row with and they made barely a ripple as they rowed to the centre of the Crystal Pool.  The water was like glass and as the little girl with the pigtails leaned carefully over the side of the leaf she could see the Giant Catfish’s entrancing underwater dance. She felt that she ought to feel a little afraid, for the Giant Catfish was an awesome sight: an enormous fish gliding rhythmically to and fro to the music of the stars as if he were performing a spell upon all who watched. He could have swallowed them in one bite and not even noticed, but like everything else in and around the Crystal Pool he moved beautifully and gracefully to the star music and she felt very safe.
“What do we do now?” she whispered to the wee man, because it felt somehow wrong to talk loudly and disturb the peace. All the same, the wee man with the seed pod hat jumped a little when she spoke, for he was also so awestruck by the magical place that he had forgotten she was in the boat with him. The leaf boat rocked upon the surface of the Crystal Pool and made ripples that also began to dance up and down to the music of the stars as they spread out over the Crystal Pool. “We have to give the Giant Catfish a gift, and he will grant us the answer to one question”, replied the wee man.
   “What do we have to give the Giant Catfish? I have nothing with me to offer him as a gift,” the little girl with the pigtails began to feel worried they had come this long way and would not be able to ask their question.
   “Hmm, let me think,” said the wee man with the seed pod hat, ” I don’t think he wants presents. The Crystal Pool has all he needs and he doesn’t look like the sort of fellow who wants treasure. I would think that he would want us to do something for him instead.”
   “But we are so small!” cried the little girl, “Whatever would we be able to do for a Giant Catfish?”
” Give him a gift of ourselves!” said the wee man with the seed pod hat, “what are you good at? What can you share? What do you do that makes you feel happiest? I like to dance,” and he did a little jig in the boat that made his seed pod hat wobble and nearly fall off. He fell backwards, giggling, into the little boat and the ripples on the surface of the Crystal Pool splashed and danced around them joyfully once again.
  The little girl with the pigtails thought about when she was happiest: sitting in the shady tree singing her songs, and she began to sing the one she was humming when she met the wee man with the seed pod hat, before she began this adventure. As she sang, the wee man got up to dance again, jiggling the boat with his steps and soon they began to have such a good time jigging and singing, with the water about them rippling and splashing, that just for a moment they forgot about the Giant Catfish who had glided closer to their little boat to listen.
  “Little People,” said the Giant Catfish, in a surprisingly gentle voice, “why are you here, breaking the peace of the Crystal Pool?”
  The wee man with the seed pod hat and the little girl with the pigtails fell backwards into the boat in surprise. They quickly righted themselves and peered over the edge of the boat at the Giant Catfish, whose face was right up next to their boat and just under the surface of the Crystal Pool.
  “We didn’t mean to break the peace,” said the wee man.
  “No,” said the little girl, “we wanted to give you a gift so that you could answer a question for us.”
   “You have given me a gift,” replied the Giant Catfish. Travellers come creeping here in silence and throw coins and treasure into the pool, and what use are those for me? Nobody has given me such entertainment, and forgotten themselves in the joy of their gift. When you do something you love then you are making the music of the stars, and when this happens all the hearts of all the living things in the world beat to the same rhythm, and just for a moment you were making the music for Gramma Sun.”
   “That is why we came!” cried the little girl, eagerly, “we want to know why Gramma Sun is dancing so fast and so low and so long and so hot! Our days are so much hotter and brighter and longer than ever before, what is she doing? My mum says it is the summer solstice and we want to ask Gramma Sun what is happening.”
  “Gramma Sun cannot speak to you child, but with her warmth she can hug you and help you grow. She watches you all the time and loves to dance while you sing your heart’s song. Sing again, and see what happens.”
  So the little girl with the pigtails thought about how happy she felt when she sat in the shady tree and sang to herself, and she began to sing again. The wee man began to dance again, the ripples of water from the boat began to splash again, the Giant Catfish began to glide around the Crystal Pool again and even the Grandfather Willow Tree looked as if he were swaying his drooping branches while she sang. The little girl with the pigtails sang of climbing trees and drawing pictures, of picking flowers and playing with her friends. She sang of her favourite foods and hugs with her family. She sang of books and bikes and beautiful things that made her heart beat with joy … and then a wonderful thing happened …
  She felt warm all over, and light dazzled her eyes. She felt lifted up as though she had wings and she thought she saw the swish and the sparkle of the sun sparks from Gramma Sun’s golden dress. She was singing for Gramma Sun and Gramma Sun was dancing with her and the stars accompanied them with their celestial orchestra. She saw the wee man dancing in the boat, and the boat dancing on the water, and the Giant Catfish dancing under the Crystal Pool, and it seemed as though all living things danced in sheer joy together.
  She saw the Earth beneath her turn as if it too were dancing with them, and she saw plants and animals and whole landscapes change as the seasons came and went, and sometimes the Earth swung close to Gramma Sun and at others they spun away in their circular, spiral dance. She saw her tree burst into bright green leaves and flowers when the Earth danced close, and then as the Earth moved away the tree began to bare its branches and the light faded, only for the greenness and flowers to return as the Earth and Gramma Sun danced together once more. Sometimes it was as though, even in their dance, that time stood still for a moment, a slight pause when the light was brightest and air was warmest, as though all were taking a rest …  and then the Earth would begin to spin and dance away again.
   Then she understood.
   Gramma Sun danced for the beauty of the Earth and all the Universe. She danced to the music of the stars and the star music expressed the wonder and the magic of creation just perfectly, and while she sung her heart beat in rhythm with all living things. She danced to keep the Earth turning, to keep it alive with wonder and beauty and change.
   It felt as though her song must never end, but once she understood why Gramma Sun danced she had no more words and she danced for a while too, until she and Gramma Sun danced and spun together so furiously and fast that everything about her spun and swirled in a haze …
  Gramma Sun stretched out her arms, her embrace was hot and warm. She rose high in the sky and looked down at all her grandchildren on the earth and smiled. In her children she saw the potential of everything that could be on the Earth. She had deep gratitude for the many possibilities her children could achieve. Her eye was caught by a little girl with pig tails who was sitting in the branches of a shady tree, smiling and singing softly to herself and playing with a little seed pod in her hands.
 

Toddler Joy

Toddlers are the absolute masters of expressing joy at the simple things in life. Today I sat outside with her while I was cutting up strips of fabric for a Christmas garland. Of course, her response was “For me? Oh, THANK you!”

And then she dived in and surrendered to the pleasure of the fabric stash … at one point she lay down among the scraps singing “I’m swimming mum! I’m swimming!”

Oh I’ve wanted to do this many times ….!

Linden garland 1Linden garland 2linden garland 3Linden garland 4Linden garland 5

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms

The Four Kingdoms of Nature is a different way of interpreting Advent. It appeals to me as something to celebrate at Advent time because my spiritual base is now influenced by more Earth-based philosophies rather than solely informed by Christian beliefs, which means that I can incorporate Advent better into our own local seasonal impulse.

Ok – there’s lots of reading here. Read this when you have time to absorb it: make a cup of tea, go to the loo and get comfortable. Get ready for some interesting stuff to think about, and bear in mind this is for you to understand the background of this idea. I’m going to put a disclaimer in here and say that all of this is my interpretation. It is how I have made meaning for myself, based on my life experiences, beliefs and education. It may be a bit trippy but I think it might be important to explain the background to the Four Kingdoms before talking about how we can celebrate it with children. The Four Kingdoms is not my idea, in Anthroposophical circles it will not be unknown. For those unfamiliar with Anthroposophy, I am sorry, I cannot explain it here! Another time, perhaps … lets say for now that it is a lens through which I can choose to understand my world, my self and my relationship to my world. I offer my interpretation of the Four Kingdoms to you as something to think about. You can choose not to consider it all, if you like.

Here’s another disclaimer: the following discussion isn’t something we talk about with children, because they don’t question the relevance of the Four Kingdoms – I believe a child’s job is to revel in and reflect the wonder of their experiences as they experience it, not to dissect them. They may choose to dissect their experiences in their own time, and when that time comes we should be there to help them gently understand the roots of their wonder in an age-appropriate way. In the meantime I believe our job is to make good choices for our families, to mindfully help our young children to have these wonder-full experiences while they are still young. A good bank of wonder can be drawn upon in adulthood and transformed into great ideas and new ways of seeing the world. The posts following this one will offer ideas to celebrate the Four Kingdoms with children, but for the moment this is stuff for adults to chew on and think about.

So, here we go!

The Four Kingdoms tell the story of our relationship with our natural environment and explain our evolving consciousness as human beings, well at least that is how I choose to understand it. In this instance, for the purposes of Advent, we are describing them as The Mineral Kingdom, The Plant Kingdom, The Animal Kingdom and The Human Kingdom. It can be interpreted a little bit deeper this way:

THE MINERAL KINGDOM – refers to the basic elements that make up this earth and everything on it that has a structure or form. Without the mineral kingdom we would not have physical forms, everything from our bones to our skin, blood and hair is made of and nourished by minerals. The mineral kingdom is solid but has no consciousness: rocks, sand, minerals, crystals may contain energy but they do not contain a life force that helps them to reproduce themselves, or to grow and adapt consciously.

When we celebrate The Mineral Kingdom we honour the earth beneath us, our shelter, the diversity of landscapes, the mountains that inspire us and offer us security and hope, the stones that make our foundations and the soil that contains minerals which nourishes all life. When we celebrate the Mineral Kingdom we celebrate the paths that lead us on to new adventures, the crystals hidden in the depths of darkness that light our way and heal us when we are lost and hurt.

THE PLANT KINGDOM – Plants have form and structure, thanks to the mineral kingdom, but they also have etheric life forces, which allow them to grow, transform and reproduce themselves.  There are many different elements and minerals but anyone who has done high school science will know about the periodic table of elements – all the known elements on earth are listed there. There is no way to list all the known forms of plants because they keep growing and changing. I think plants are well aware of their contribution to this earth: they produce flowers and fruits for animal-life to eat so that their seeds can be spread, activated and germinated.

When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we celebrate the gift of life and longevity, of beauty and diversity. Plants know the fragile line between thriving and dying but even in death they gift their physical bodies and life forces to mingle with the Mineral Kingdom and nourish future life. When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we recognise that all things in life form a circle, that sometimes the harvest is plentiful and at other times sparse but life will always find a way to continue. Consider the re-growth that occurs after a great bush fire. The spark of life is a miracle, and it is what makes our planet unique and full of beauty and wonder.

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM – Animals have physical bodies and form, with thanks to the Mineral Kingdom, and thanks to the Plant Kingdom they have life force, diversity, beauty, colour and the ability to adapt, change and reproduce. Animals also have instinct and feelings, they interact socially with one another in a way that plants do not. Animals have evolved their consciousness so that they can interact with each other and their environment in order to meet their complex needs as individuals, and as members of a social group.

When we celebrate the Animal Kingdom we honour the ability to connect with others, we honour the realm of Feeling, and the joy of our senses. We celebrate community and family and friendship. Animals are loyal and brave and funny and interesting. Our relationship with animals has always been closely linked in love and friendship and service, and even nutrition.

THE HUMAN KINGDOM – We are animals and yet we have developed our consciousness to a level where we can think of ourselves as individuals. With conscious speech, writing and the ability to philosophise we have separated ourselves from the animals by making ourselves distinctly individual.

When we celebrate the Human Kingdom we celebrate the power of choice, wisdom and the ability to project our minds beyond our bodies with thought and complex communication. We contain within us the qualities of the mineral, plant and animal kingdom and we have choice. Our individuality is both a blessing and a hindrance – and has had massive consequences, both good and bad, for our planet and all other life forms on it. So with individuality and choice comes wisdom and responsibility.

How do the Four Kingdoms relate to Advent?

I wrote previously of the Nativity story of Advent and the birth of Christ – and what it means to me. You can read about that HERE. I love the story of the birth of Christ not for religious reasons but because contained with each newly born child  – any child – is the all the goodness of the world: the best of the Four Kingdoms rolled up inside the body and spirit of a perfect little child. Every parent has lost minutes, even hours, gazing into their child’s eyes marvelling at the wonder they see reflected there, the miracle of their becoming and the individuality that even this brand new person contains within them. Every child who is born enters our world knowing they are good, and that the world is a good place. As we grow up our experiences of the world develop our knowledge and frame the choices we make. Gradually as we grow older and begin interacting with others we learn other human aspects such as fear, shame, humility, anger, confusion … and how much we take this into our life depends upon the continuity of love and support we receive from our family and community, combined with our individual spirit we brought with us at birth. I wrote more about this in my poem “The Wise One”.

Jesus Christ was born a miracle baby (as all babies are!) He grew up into a man who experienced the best and worst that life has to offer (as we all do in our own way) but he was infused with the Holy Spirit (love) and was able to use that to transcend the negativity on earth. Jesus Christ understood that good and bad are twins who define each other. Goodness is good because of the bad, but what helps us to overcome one or the other is our human ability to weigh up knowledge, experience, faith and to our ability to CHOOSE. Jesus Christ is an archetype of all that humanity can aspire to: he experienced all that life has to offer and still chose truth, beauty and goodness above all else and in making this choice he gave his life force, the way the plants do, to nourish the earth and all life upon it.

That’s the long story! The short story is, by celebrating the gifts of the Four Kingdoms throughout Advent, we are honouring our Earth, the living beings we share our Earth with, all the blessings and gifts they offer us to help us become who we need to be. For children, the message is simply to experience gratitude, to express joy and delight and love and wonder. Us adults can chew over all the other stuff in our own minds 🙂

Using the Four Kingdoms to celebrate Advent allows us to honour our own seasonal impulse and the environment in which we live, by celebrating the gifts of our local landscape, plants, animals and community. Which means making Christmas real for us.

Before each Advent Sunday I will post some suggestions about how to celebrate The Four Kingdoms of Advent with your families: activities, stories, carols and food 🙂 Merry Christmas!

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Advent

Advent is a tradition that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, and the anticipation of his “second coming”. Advent’s Latin translation literally does mean ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The Advent celebration begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas, and each Sunday after that until Christmas Eve.  In Christian tradition it is the beginning of the Christmas season, which begins with Advent and the story of Christ’s birth, peaks at Christmas with the arrival of Jesus and ends with the Epiphany celebrations on the 6th January. I didn’t find this out until I was an adult. I always thought it was about counting down the days until Christmas – and this is truly thrilling anticipation for a child!  There are lots of ways to count the days, and while counting the days to something is a way to celebrate the anticipation of its arrival – but this is not what Advent is about for me any more.

For me (because any interpretation of a festival should be personal) Advent is the inner journey: a peaceful, patient anticipation of and preparation for the coming joy. It can be challenging to maintain this sense of reverence in December if you happen to step foot in a shopping centre, where commercial Christmas is in your face and your ears and under your skin (and in your wallet!) and all around. The quiet, reflective Advent tradition is perhaps also at odds with an Advent calendar that rewards your patience with a little present every day until the day you receive your ‘real’ presents. I love the whole Christmas season, even though I am no longer a worshipping Christian. For me it is a time of reverence and reflection rather than worship, and there are many ways to celebrate Advent in your family:

STORY

Our family connects to the essence of Advent through the sharing of stories. Any story holds within it the lessons and gifts of life, and the story of the birth of Jesus still holds wonder and delight. Out of all the stories and images surrounding Christmas I have found the Nativity the one I identify with most seasonally. You never see Mary and Joseph trudging along with their donkey through the snow. In Australia Christmas is HOT, and I always found it comforting to see images of dry landscapes and shepherds and animals on a hot balmy night.

I love to look at the gems clustered within stories – as a non-Christian, how do we connect to the story of the birth of Christ if we do not believe that he was literally the Saviour? It is so woven in to our cultural Christmas traditions that it can’t simply be overlooked. I think it is better to try to understand something rather than pretend it isn’t there. The story holds within it messages of wonder (the gift of life and love), generosity (how kind of the inn-keeper to offer his stable when everywhere else was full), of gratitude (a warm place to sleep, a safe place to birth), of relief, overwhelming joy, hope and of course the underlying message of GOODNESS. I think that is worthwhile celebrating, don’t you?

To me, Jesus Christ as an archetype for humankind representing the best personal qualities that humanity has to offer, and indeed I believe this is also at the core of the Christian belief. Christ is the example of the best that WE each have inside of US – the story of his birth is as miraculous as the story of our own birth, as miraculous as the birth of ANY child. Which parent has not marvelled at the absolute wonder that a very small person can grow inside another? That from your body came the life of another complete and individual and perfect human being? From you and of you – but not you? This miracle will always take my breath away. Every child is born with untold potential tucked inside them. Whether or not you believe the nativity story in a literal sense, the character of Jesus is still an archetype of LOVE and WONDER and that is definitely awe-inspiring in my books  – and definitely something worth sharing with my children.

ADVENT CALENDARS

Another tradition associated with Advent, that I have briefly touched on already is the Advent Calendar. This tends to follow the calendar month of December, rather than the season of Christmas. I think the focus with many of these calendars is not so much on the virtues of Christmas but rather the anticipation of Christmas day. There are all kinds of Advent calendars and if you do a search on Pinterest you will find some truly amazing ideas … I once made a hand-felted wall-hanging of a Christmas Tree with 24 pockets. In each pocket was a small felt ball and each day of Christmas we flipped out a new ball and the tree was slowly decorated until Christmas day when we placed the star on top. It’s a bit shabby – it was my first ever attempt at resist felting (nothing like leaping in at the deep end with 24 SMALL individual resists!) I don’t use it as a calendar any more because it is not a bit delicate but we still get it out every year.

Last year I decided to celebrate Advent with origami. Origami everyday with children aged 7 and under? What was I thinking? It was a bit ambitious! I had printed out 24 ‘easy’ Christmas origami designs to fold and they were hung on the tree as we made them. “We”, meaning “I”. At that time we had six young children living in the house, each wanting to do their own origami … I think we got to day 12 before the futility of the exercise outweighed the fun of it!

Advent Calendar with resist pockets, and little felt ball decorations hidden inside.

Other Advent calendar ideas include preparing 24 suggestions of things your family can DO to share goodness and show generosity before Christmas. I like this. It might be some ideas you write on paddle pop sticks that you draw from a jar, or cards that you open each day … or tasks written inside tiny boxes that are unwrapped … or conversation topics for dinner time … The Imagination Tree gave a great suggestion for creating an Advent calendar that is personal to your family’s beliefs and passions. Here is the link: http://www.theimaginationtree.com/2011/11/advent-activity-tree.html

ADVENT SUNDAYS

There is another dimension to Advent – playing out over the four Sundays before Christmas. From a Christian perspective each of the four Sundays are devoted to prayer and the readying of the soul for arrival of the Saviour. Some traditions include lighting four candles on an Advent wreath – the circular wreath representing the eternal nature of God (life, love, spirit) – and one candle is lit each Sunday. I believe that we are all born whole and pure and good, so I choose to celebrate Advent from this perspective: each of the candles to me honours a virtue that I already possess (rather than one I am aspiring to in order to prepare my soul) or an offering of gratitude for all that makes my life wonderful, for we have so much to be grateful for.

THE FOUR KINGDOMS

This year my candles will still represent those virtues and gratitudes but also will represent the Four Kingdoms of Nature. Our Advent celebrations will still be quiet and reflective but I will celebrating them with a few of my friends in a small community gathering: with stories, food, craft, family – and simplicity. I will write about the Four Kingdoms next – before next Sunday because I’d love to give you a chance to read about it and think of some ideas to incorporate it into your own Advent celebrations before Advent starts. In the meantime my good friend Amber Greene has written about them at her site Mama Moontime and if you can’t wait to read about it here at Lavendilly over the next few days then you can have a look at her links too:

The Four Kingdoms of Advent: http://www.mamamoontime.com/2009/11/advent-time-celebration-of-four.html

Felted Advent wreath – http://www.mamamoontime.com/2010/11/happy-advent-2010.html

Whatever you decide to celebrate, I think the key thing is that it has MEANING for YOUR family. Christmas is definitely a time to honour the sacredness of life and the specialness of family and however you choose to celebrate that will be right for you.

Celebrating Birthdays

Do you have a special tradition surrounding birthdays in your family? As a family we keep it very simple: family time, special gifts and special food, some friends. When I had only two children then I had little things that I liked to do for them on their birthdays: a string that led from their bed to their gift, with little messages of love tied to it along the way … picture clues to follow around the house and garden in order to find their birthday gift … fun things like that. And then our family got bigger and busier and birthdays slipped past without much acknowledgement for a while there.

With three children, I want birthdays to be special and treasured but at the same time I don’t want to make a big deal out of birthdays, and I don’t want to have to organise a party for each child every single year either. Because I am the one who does the organising. This was the first year I have ventured into an organised party for one of our children. The Lego party was a bit of fun, and we are having a little High Tea for my daughter and a couple of her kindy friends soon. It isn’t something I plan to do each year, but I had fun putting them together this time, particularly once I let go of the idea that every special person you know must come to the party and birthday parties must be held on or near the birthday! My son’s party was held two months after his birthday with a handful of his friends from school, and my daughter’s will be held nearly a month after her birthday, again with just a few of her chosen friends. I’ve also let go of the need to supply party bags – a small hand-made thank you gift perhaps .. but a bag full of lollies and cheap loot doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t like giving things to people if I know they are going to be broken or lost within the week.

Although we haven’t yet developed a consistent ceremonial tradition surrounding birthdays within our own family it is still a very special occasion. I do celebrate their birthdays at playgroup, and my children’s schools also hold special little ceremonies for them too, so we are well versed in ceremony design and preparation in this family! It was my own birthday recently and my daughter spent a long time preparing a special rainbow throne for me to sit on, inside a rainbow circle. She crowned me with a garland of flowers and gave me a fishing rod so that I could fish for my dreams, then the family sang our favourite birthday song. I was very touched at the care and attention my five-year old put into this – for me! Of course now I plan to re-write our playgroup birthday ceremony for next year to incorporate her fishing rod idea. Sweet child!

At the moment our playgroup birthday ceremony is short and sweet: with little ones aged between 1 and 5 years old, and with lots of birthdays to celebrate through-out the year the ceremony can’t be too complicated at playgroup. If they were all a bit older I would indulge some time in a story or a puppet show – my daughter’s kindy do a puppet show for every birthday and despite the fact that the children have seen it many many times, they still sit there spell-bound as the story unfolds. Birthdays are so very special and ALL the little gestures we make to a child on their birthday are remembered and treasured.

My birthday ceremony takes no longer than five minutes. Here it is: I lay a golden cloth over our circle mat and place a golden sun pillow in the middle. Upon the golden sun pillow is a rainbow crown. The birthday child can choose to sit in the middle and wear the crown or sit with their parent to receive the crown. As I sing the rainbow birthday song I wrote I unwind a long silk rainbow cloth (5m length) around the sun pillow. Then I sit down and invite my helper to wind the music box we have that plays “Happy Birthday”. It is so soft everyone has to be really quiet to hear the fairy music, then in our fairy voices we sing Happy Birthday to the birthday child. I light a candle kept in my basket, and they blow it out. That’s all! Then we go wash our hands to eat. Here we are with the gold cloth, golden sun pillow, the rainbow crown (which is made individually for each child as a gift) and the basket with the silk and other goodies.

RAINBOW BIRTHDAY SONG

written by Jennifer McCormack

Sliding down through red and orange

Feeling warm and loved

Sliding down through yellow and green

With wisdom from above

Sliding down through blue and indigo

With trust and hope I come

Sliding down through violet light

I’m safe in my new home

From the rainbow slide I land

In loving arms with loving hands

Held forever close and dear in my family

I am born a rainbow child

With many who love me.