Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Jesse Tree

This post is not so much about Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, but flows from my last post about the Christmas Tree – a subject I found quite fascinating. There is so much I can write about the symbology of trees! In my search for stories about the Christmas Tree I came across something I had never heard of before: the Jesse Tree. What caught my eye was all the beautiful illustrations of this tree from centuries ago: the frescos, reliefs and stained-glass windows were stunning and if the masters were recreating this tree it must be something special.

The Jesse Tree is not a Christmas icon, although it seems to have become associated with Christmas and has become incorporated into the Advent tradition because of the tree image, and because it celebrates the birth of Jesus. It is a pictorial family tree tracing the ancestral line of Jesus back to Jesse, the father of King David. It seems to have been very big in medieval times, with most of the stunning art associated with the tree having been created in this period of history. In a more modern version each of the fathers (and Mary) is represented by a different icon that tells us something about their life, associated with a scripture reference.

Looking at the Jesse Tree reminded me of a symbolic representation I created to honour my own family line – not just the fathers, the mothers too. A couple of years ago, inspired and directed by my High Priestess mentor, who first created this symbol for herself, I made a wall-hanging that illustrates this concept – not so much a family tree but more of a family web with myself in the middle, and a web of parents spreading out to the edges. There I am, a little dot with my parents either side, and their parents surrounding us, and their parents surrounding them … and so on. It could go forever and it still doesn’t even factor in siblings and cousins and step-families! Not all the dots representing parents can be seen well here in this picture, but I love gazing at it and wondering which little bits of my DNA can be attributed to which parent. I find it a very comforting image – that I always carry with me a little wisdom and experience of my family, and that my family is with me and embracing me at all times.Keep the blessings going ... To me, the Jesse Tree is intriguing because of the pictures that are now used in association with each of the ancestors of Jesus: an ark for Noah, a ram for Isaac, a ladder for Jacob… I love the idea that these little icons tell a story about each of the people on the tree, because we all have our own story. I wonder what picture would be chosen to represent my life, or in my family web, which pictures would represent my generations of parents and grandparents? In my web the outer ring alone has 64 parents … what are their stories?

I think it is perfect, at Christmas time, to spend a moment considering the awesomeness of our existence, the gifts of our parents and the branches of our lives – family, friends and community – all gathered together under the light of the shining star that is our collective wisdom, experience, spirituality and love.

angelWM

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Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom Story

This story continues from Advent Week One – when Mary and Joseph begin their journey with their donkey. In the first week they found reason to be grateful for the gifts of the Mineral Kingdom, and this week they continue to travel:

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Advent Week Two Story: The Plant Kingdom

written by Jennifer McCormack

And so the journey continues, with weary travelers three:
Joseph walking slowly, leading Mary and Donkey.
Mary was pregnant with a baby, a gift from God above.
She walked a bit, but Donkey mostly carried her with love.
Back to Bethlehem they walked, Joseph’s town of birth.
Across the rugged landscape, over the rocks and earth.
The path was rocky, the rivers deep, the hills and land were wild
But with love upon the travelers three, our Mother Earth smiled.
She smoothed the ground, sent crystal light, and rolled the rocks away,
So Joseph, Mary and Donkey could travel far each day.
When their food ran out, Mary cried for poor Donkey
“He has so far to go, and I am getting so heavy!
I hope that we can find some food to keep our Donkey strong,
and you dear Joseph need strength too, as you walk along”
That night they gave their thanks to God and Mother Earth so wise,
And when they woke upon the morn, they could not believe their eyes.
For overnight there had grown a pasture like a bright green sea,
and feasting upon its healthy goodness was Donkey, so happy.
Upon the trees they found their breakfast: nuts, seeds, berries and fruit,
And from the ground, for other meals, they found vegetables and roots.
Mary searched for fresh herbs, collected healing bark from wood.
They filled their tummies, filled their baskets, harvested all they could.
Now feeling nourished, feeling fresh, they rested in the shade.
Mary picked some flowers to celebrate this day.
That evening as they made their camp underneath the stars,
Mary and Joseph said “How fortunate we are,
To have the blessings of abundance from the plants around
Nourishment, shelter healing and beauty growing in the ground.
Thank you to the trees and bushes, for the shelter you provide.
For the beauty of the many flowers, growing alongside
Thank you to the fruits and berries ripening on the trees
Thank you for the gift of herbs and healing energy,
Thanks for vegetables, nuts and roots, for everything we need.
And best of all, the gift of life deep within your seeds.

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Christmas Tree

Advent Tree WMI am so enjoying this process of meaning-making at Christmas time. I’ve never given it much thought in previous years … just sat each year with the unsettling question of “Why do we do this?” and it feels so good to finally address this. As a result all our usual icons at Christmas are now revealing their stories to me and I’m gaining a greater appreciation for tradition, a greater understanding of humanity and using it all to create my own meaning at Christmas time, and making some new family traditions too.

Why a Tree?

I haven’t really found out where the idea of the Christmas Tree came from. I have read some very interesting stories though! Like Santa, the Christmas Tree has evolved over the centuries, and I was right about it being an enduring pre-Christian, pagan symbol of Nature. I read one story about the fir tree becoming the symbol of Christmas because a monk used its triangular shape to describe the relationship of the Holy Trinity. I am sure it is probable that explanation happened at some point but the tree as a symbol of Christmas is more likely to be because fir trees are evergreen and were a symbol of strength, continuity and hope through the winter. The reverence of evergreen trees has been a Germanic tradition for thousands of years before Christianity and I was horrified to read the story of Donar’s Oak, an ancient tree that was miraculously felled by St Boniface (with a bit of Divine assistance, apparently) who then built a Catholic church upon the site to celebrate the town’s ‘conversion’ to Christianity. Can you imagine?

There are many stories associated with the tree at this time of year: the Yule log, the Solstice Tree, the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. Go and look them up, they are really interesting! It seems to me most festivals are in some way associated with birth and re-birth, with life and death and the mystery surrounding it that holds us all fascinated with how the world works. For me it comes back to the quality of the life I am living, the birthing of my own self as I move through this life journey on this Earth. We can make our own meanings in symbols, we can start new traditions, and I think it is important that we do.

The Tree Inside

Ever since I read the story “The Little Fir Tree” by Hans Christian Andersen I’ve been wondering about the reason we have trees inside our home at Christmas time. I often find Hans Christian Andersen’s stories more than a little melancholic … and this one is as sad as “The Little Match Girl” to me. This little tree was curious about the world, and had his wish for experience granted. He thought he would rejoice when it was his turn to go inside the houses in the winter like his fellow trees do each year. Instead he felt the pain and stinging cut of the axe, enjoyed a few brief moments of Christmas cheer and was then hacked to pieces for burning after Christmas. Hans! Must you?! I could never bear to use a real live tree branch after that – the whole story would shroud the tree in sadness rather than bright and cheery Christmas joy! The good news is, I have since re-written that story for myself and have also found another one about a fir tree, written so exquisitely, and called The Story of the Tree That Dreamt a Flower by Isabel Wyatt in “The Seven Year Old Wonder Book”, which also tells the story of how it came to be that we place stars on top of the tree. This book also has some really lovely stories about St Nicholas in it too. I recommend it as part of your Christmas reading to your children. We’ll be starting it tonight.

So one story heals the experience of another and, thanks to Isabel Wyatt, I’m recovered from yet another scarring Hans Christian Andersen experience (I am sure not all his fairy tales were intended for children). It still doesn’t sit right with me that we celebrate Nature in our living rooms each year by cutting trees down, and bringing them inside the house to die. I must still be missing something here. Christmas tree farms are big business now and they do provide habitat for animals year-round even though the trees are cut down or repotted to be used for one month of the year. The other side of this is that an artificial tree will last for a few years in your home but when you throw it away it will endure for centuries in a landfill. What to do? I’m not sure Christmas would be the same without the tree.

I grew up with a plastic tree. Part of our ritual each year was to take it out of its box from the garage, set it up in the garden and then spray it with the garden hose to wash off a year’s worth of dust. This was just as much fun as decorating it, I think. Christmas in summer in Queensland is hot and sweaty and any opportunity to play with water in the backyard is a delightful one. I also loved the sparkling water drops on the branches, like it was decorated already, and the contrast it made: a perfectly shaped plastic tree ‘growing’ out of the middle of our lawn.

Since having my own family we’ve swayed between real trees and plastic trees. We’ve gave our plastic tree away 2 years ago and have since been using potted trees,  however we’ve never had much luck with real trees in pots at Christmas, even native pines. I might as well have cut the tree down in the first place because my good intentions to replant it usually end up with it instead dying a longer, more drawn-out death in the pot, because nurturing pot plants is not one of my skills, and besides since leaving home I have always lived in rentals so planting a potentially enormous pine tree in someone else’s backyard isn’t really an option either. This year I thought we would buy a fruit tree instead. I think I am more likely to plant a fruit tree in our garden, and our landlords are more likely to appreciate this gift, and I am also more likely to want to take care of it. I also thought that planting the tree in a prepared hole might be part of the ritual of taking the tree down after Christmas. Our son can dig the hole, our daughter can sing the ceremony story, our toddler can get dirty, the tree will have a home, our garden will be blessed and we’ll all be happy.

Adorning the Treechristmas tree

I had no idea, before writing this, that I have more control issues surrounding the Christmas Tree than I did about Santa! Lucky I know how to laugh at myself and am getting better at letting things go! I love the idea of decorating a tree, and it is the part of Christmas I really gain a lot of enjoyment from – provided I can do the whole thing by myself with no input from ANYONE else!! Only I know where those ornaments have to be hung! Woe betide anyone who differs in opinion or who mucks around with my arrangement – that goes for toddlers too! In the past few years our Christmas Tree has been up on a shelf or a little table so little hands don’t disrupt it. I like to make it just so, and I think I don’t breathe properly around the tree until it is all packed away.

Well, we all have our little vices. I’ve tried letting go of it all and last year I think I did rather well, letting the children decorate it (and the house) and resisting the urge to make things symmetrical/evenly spaced/balanced in colour, form and shape. One thing I do hate with a passion (and which my husband loves) is tinsel. Can’t explain why … it makes me wonder what we are celebrating by covering a tree – a symbol of Nature in our homes – with a completely synthetic product that doesn’t even try to mimic anything in nature, and that also sheds little bits of tinsel that stick to my feet and blow all over the house. Man’s dominance over the natural forces? Perhaps I’m taking it a bit too far here! I won’t go on about it. Let’s just agree to maximise household happiness by minimising tinsel in my home. This year I would like to make our own garlands from my expansive scrap fabric stash, and I have some lovely gold fabric to use that may satisfy the family’s urge for shiny, sparkly things.

I may not love tinsel but I do love sparkly things. In all this reflection and thinking about Christmas, the most joyful memory from my childhood is that of lying underneath the Christmas Tree at night, with all other lights in the house turned off, everyone else in bed … just me and the tree and the colourful twinkling lights. I find lights on a tree so mesmering and I was always drawn to the tree lights at night time, totally lost in the peace and beauty of the whole thing. I would lie with my head next to the wrapped up gifts and wonder about their contents. I’d look up through the branches and see the tree from underneath – a whole new perspective of layers and colour and shadows. I even still remember the smell of the dust.

Today is the first day of December and for many families it is tree-putting-up day. I think I grew up with the tradition of putting the tree up two weeks before Christmas and taking it down two weeks after. Other families have their tree up in November. This year I have to say I am rather excited about putting up a tree and making decorations for it, but I don’t think we’ll do it until we can give it proper attention, which for us means waiting until school is over for the year, a whole morning with nothing else to do, carols, holidays. Embracing the light and joy of ceremony, tradition, expression and creativity!

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom

Can you believe this magical place is in my backyard?

The first week of Advent (the Mineral Kingdom) is approaching, beginning this Sunday. I am preparing for a small community celebration with my playgroup… which involves learning how to sing one of the most complicated carols/hymns: Ave Maria. Yep! I’m going to give it a go, even if we fall in a heap laughing half way through! I’m also going to add another activity to my Week One Advent list – go and visit Mount Warning. What a great opportunity to appreciate the sheer force of power and strength of the Mineral Kingdom by visiting the site of an ancient volcano. Incredibly – I’ve never been there before.

This post is about the second week of Advent. I’m posting it early so you can begin to think about what you might do. Perhaps you’ll find some ideas here. If you’d like to plan some Advent activities or gain a deeper understanding of the experience I invite you to have a read of these posts of mine: Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Advent, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms, Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom,

And these posts of Amber Greene’s: The Four Kingdoms of Advent, Felted Advent wreath , Mineral Kingdom –  and here’s Amber’s post on the Plant Kingdom too.

The Plant Kingdom

The second week of Advent celebrates the Plant Kingdom. When we celebrate the Plant Kingdom we celebrate the gift of life and longevity, of beauty and diversity. Plants contain the life force that tells them what they need to DO, and they cannot help but ACT and GROW. In doing so they share their life force through their beauty, their healing properties, their nutrients, their colour, and their interconnectedness with all other life forces.

Minerals can only move when they are acted upon by outer forces. Plants contain an inner force that begins from within the smallest seed and moves upwards and outwards until growth is complete or until environmental conditions make it impossible for the life force to work. The life force of a plant may be strong and determined, but it does need feeding in order to thrive. As does our own life force. What conditions make you thrive? How can you create better conditions for your life force to help you grow upwards and outwards until you feel complete?

Immersing ourselves in the plant world is pure joy! Wow! What a week we will have while celebrating the Plant Kingdom! The Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia is where I live, and it is rich with a variety of landscapes. I live in the hinterland, we also have the coastal area. In between there are some swampy places that haven’t been developed yet (not many!), and we have our rainforests and freshwater creeks too. I’m looking forward to some tramping about, not to mention just enjoying the grass our house is surrounded by, and our own little garden at home.

MEDITATING WITH THE PLANTS

Have you ever just SAT with a plant? I had this experience during spring last year at MoonTree’s Spring Seasonal Gathering. I sat with Grevillea for about 20 minutes. Observing her in wonder and admiration, feeling joy and a profound respect for her presence. I began to receive messages from her about her story and her purpose. I felt her life force as distinct from my own, and I felt her presence and purpose as important as my own. I was so excited about this experience … I then sat with Grass and Clover and had a very different experience. No plant is too humble for you to give your loving and unconditional attention to. I would like to share this experience with my children during the second week of Advent. Of course we’ll be doing it by sharing stories as we sit with the plants or work/walk in the garden together: What it would be like to be that plant? What would we like about where we live? Who do we share our space with? What do we like about ourselves? Developing an empathic relationship with our environment is an important part of environmental education, and therefore protection.

Could be interesting! I think my five-year old daughter will really love the storytelling. I think my eight-year old son would enjoy some technical plant drawing, and I think my two-year old daughter will enjoy picking tomatoes and eating them.

WEEK TWO ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS

I think it is important for the activities to directly involve the plants themselves. There are HEAPS of craft ideas you could do around a plant theme, but I think we’ll appreciate more about plants if we touch them and live with them than if we represent them in felt or paper. But I’ll be doing those things too 🙂 Here’s some simple ideas you can think about doing with your family. We won’t be doing all them, just a few. I’m looking forward to doing some herbal brewing with the kids!

1. Bushwalking

2. Plant Meditation/Observation – in drawing or storytelling

3. Gardening

4. Making herbal teas and tinctures

5. Make a Christmas wreath and stars from vines and sticks.

6. Weaving with grass

7. Cooking delicious raw food! Including creating a new salad

8. Investigating local bush tucker

9. Finding plants that provide homes for native animals

10. Visit the local Aboriginal information centre to learn more about people’s relationship with plants.

11. Look at the patterns plants contain with them: spirals, mandalas, symmetry, combinations of colours …. oh joy … I see lots of drawing coming up!

WEEK TWO CAROLS

Oh this was an easier one. Lots of carols involve plants – although mostly northern hemisphere ones. Let’s write some Aussie ones! I did find a curious carol about Mary and the Cherry Tree … I thought it was a bit surreal when baby Jesus spoke to Joseph from within her belly, but I totally understood Joseph’s really human reaction when Mary broke the news about her pregnancy to him!

The Holly and The Ivy

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

O, Christmas Tree

The Cherry Tree

WEEK TWO STORY

You can read the story for the second week of Advent here: https://lavendilly.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/advent-week-two-the-plant-kingdom-story/

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: What to do about Santa Claus?

Santa Claus is real.

He’s been around since the 4th Century when he was the Bishop Nikolaos of Myra, who became a Saint when several miracles were attributed to him. He was a kind, generous and well-loved man. You can read about his interesting story if you Google ‘Saint Nicholas’. Since then his reputation has lived on, and has been so meaningful to so many people that he has become real in people’s hearts for centuries. He’s also known as Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Sinteklaas, Santa Claus and the Holly King. (I love the Holly King. Yes, it is very European and I guess we could make him the Wattle King … but it doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? He’s the Spirit of the Earth, the male energy that connects us to our Mother Earth and gifts to us the wild and free spirit that we all feel this time of year. He gives me goosebumps).

It doesn’t matter to me any more that Father Christmas is all rugged up for cold weather. He may be a tradition imported from Europe but he is still real for us here in Australia because his spirit moves beyond locality and he gives us a glimpse of the other experience. There is always another side of things. At Christmas time the two hemispheres of the Earth are united in Christmas Spirit because of Santa Claus. He’s a pretty special guy.

Saint Nicholas’s name has changed over the years, but his deeds live on. What touches me about this is how long our acts of kindness and generosity can be remembered – long after our death – and how they can be shared and multiplied when everyone continues to recreate the memory … and this is where Santa Claus comes from. He is real because he showed enduring kindness and he is real because we make him so.

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

What about the idea that we are lying to our children by perpetuating the story of Santa Claus? There are many ‘fantasy’ characters in our culture that are real to children: Santa is one, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are others. Many families choose not to bring Santa into their Christmas celebrations, many choose to explain his presence in our popular culture, to expose the ‘myth’. This is of course a very personal choice, and one that each family is right to make for themselves.

Santa is real in our family, although I prefer to call him Father Christmas. In our family we also have elemental beings who visit: the cheeky gnomes and the fairies (who each have their own jobs), dragons, giants, unicorns Mother Earth and angels – to name a few. They form a part of our imaginative life together, they help us connect to the spirit of our environment, igniting wonder and respect and helping to explain nature (and therefore science) in a way children can relate to. They are important to us.

These things evolve and become deeper and richer and more detailed as children evolve and want to widen their experiences of the world, because at some point, we realise that these beings are not as tangible as they were in our childhood. At some point the magic of this experience starts to transform, or we may catch someone we know in the act of ‘deception’. We may still want to believe in the same way we do as a child – unquestioning – but at the same time we are learning to understand the world in a new way.

My son is standing at the cross-roads of this experience at the moment. Some of his friends at school have told him that Santa is really mum and dad and he’s been talking about that idea since the middle of the year, so he’s given it some thought! At the moment though, it appears that his desire to believe that Santa is a real magic man still outweighs the desire for the evidence of his existence. He knows there are people who dress up as Santa and they are not Santa himself, and yet every year he looks forward to seeing Santa go past in the Rural Fire Brigade truck, and not just for the lollies that Santa tosses to the children who come out to see him. Santa + fire truck = Hero. We’ve talked about this together. We’ve talked about the idea of Christmas Spirit (love, generosity, wonder, magic) and how the spirit of Christmas can take many forms: wishing stars, Christmas trees, the happy feeling you get when you hear a particularly beautiful Christmas carol, planning and making or shopping for gifts to make another person feel special and loved, Jesus and the Nativity … and Santa who embodies all of this and reminds us that it is easy to be generous, and that even small tokens of generosity can be very special indeed. We can all be Santa if we want to.

I don’t remember when Santa’s identity was revealed to me as a child. I feel like I have always known, but I have happy memories waiting for Santa – overcome with thrills of excitement at unexpected moments. Even when I knew ‘the truth’ about Santa I still remember waiting in excited anticipation … and pretending that I still believed. When the time comes to answer the question “Is Santa real?” we will keep talking about this Spirit of Christmas and how when we grow up we all become Santa so that we can show our generosity to others, and delight in making other people feel wonderful. Here is another idea to explain the idea of Santa – http://www.cozi.com/live-simply/truth-about-santa – this letter moved me deeply. It was very respectful of a child’s need to know ‘the truth’ and still maintain a connection to the wonder and Spirit of Christmas.

RECEIVING IS IMPORTANT TOO

I used to have a bit of a problem with Santa Claus, despite what I’ve written here. He is WAY overdressed for an Australian climate. For some reason Santa Claus and Saint Nick are clearly overweight, although pictures of Father Christmas and Saint Nicholas most often show him as tall and slim even with all his warm winter woollies on – mind you all the beer Australian families leave out for him probably doesn’t do him any good. He also has THAT book where all the naughty and nice children are recorded. He has leverage and bargaining power. He is in all the shops from October onwards endorsing this thing or that thing as presents. The commercial aspect of Santa can easily tip the balance between the joy of receiving and the sense of entitlement for a present – or lots of presents. I think the magic of Christmas in Santa is in his simplicity.

In our home Santa can nibble on a treat when he arrives (this year it will be raw gingerbread) brings one gift to unwrap, and places a few small special treats in the children’s stockings. It’s enough to delight our little ones. It is also unconditional. There is no book where good deeds and bad deeds are recorded. My children don’t need to be examining their conscience in the days leading to Christmas. There is no room for blame and guilt at this time of year, just love.

It was the same when I grew up although I remember Santa often sent presents to us through our grandparents too. The stockings were laid out on our beds overnight and in the morning they were full of wonderful little things to unwrap when we woke at the crack of dawn … busy little things to keep us entertained until breakfast. These memories bring back to me the idea that a child’s experience is different to an adult’s, and it is important to keep wonder and delight alive into our adulthood so that we can understand a child’s perspective.

Early on as a parent I had worries about my kids growing greedy about Christmas just so they can have presents and more presents and have all those wants and desires satiated, and I resented the big fat man for being the cause of that. Every time we went grocery shopping the kids looked at everything with longing and started chanting “I want, I want, I want …” – clearly he wasn’t in line with our family values! Well, the kids still do chant “I want” but the values we have in our family are strong enough for generosity and gratitude to win out in the end. Let them have their excitement, as I well remember my own. The moment I reached this understanding is when “Santa” transformed into “Father Christmas” for us – someone who loves us and knows what is important to our family. Someone who knows how to have fun, how to share a joke, knows what children love and keeps that sparkle alive in the twinkle in his eye.

My partner from Sacred Essence,  Melissa Joss wrote me these delicious words: ” I just feel that the act of giving to one another is one of those highest forms of human functioning and that we need to do this at Christmas, because it feels right.  And you know what, there’s something in receiving too….. it just fits.  The more we can open our hearts to feel ready to give and receive love, the more Christ-like we become…..” Father Christmas has his place at Christmas time right there with baby Jesus: the very embodiment of love.

Recipe: Raw Gingerbread

I’ve had so much fun with this recipe. I think it may be my favourite raw recipe so far. Definitely up there with the Cashew Crunchies and the Raw Banana Cookies. The mixture is so fragrant and in these days leading up to Christmas it is really putting me in the mood for the festive season. I’ll be making them again during Autumn for sure – there is something warm and spicy about these little yummies that suits Samhain too. I’ve been making these each week and nibbling on them throughout the day. It is quite rich and filling, even as a tiny gingerbread, and fortunately for me it appears to appeal to a more ‘adult’ palate as only my ginger-loving son is regularly asking for them. So between him and I we share the stash of gingerbread, guilt-free.

These can be made into cookies and then dehydrated, or they can be rolled into balls and kept in the fridge to eat raw. I’ve tried cooking them in the oven but the texture just isn’t the same, and they burn very easily unless you have it on the very lowest setting and are prepared to wait for hours – in which case it is better to use the dehydrator overnight, and get on with your life while they do their thing. Much more appealing than heating up the kitchen for hours in summer!

The last batch of gingerbread I turned into fudge because I wanted to eat them sooner. The nuts went into the food processor straight from their soaking water and spent a little too long in there so they started turning into nut-butter. The mixture was very soft. I added a bit of coconut oil to it when I noticed how squishy the mixture was, to help it firm up when cold. These turned out to be quite delicious and fudgy when rolled in spiced cacao powder and placed in the freezer to firm up a bit. I served them up at playgroup and I think my two-year-old was the only one who declared “I no like it”, and returned to me a pre-chewed gingerbread bite. But her opinion doesn’t count in this instance. Since learning this phrase, it seems she doesn’t like anything at the moment …

RAW GINGERBREAD

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup dates

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp dried ginger

2 cm ginger, peeled and grated

(FOR RAW GINGERBREAD FUDGE)

2 tbs coconut oil

1/3 cup raw cacao powder mixed with a little of your favourite spices (cinnamon/ginger/cloves/nutmeg)

METHOD

I like to activate nuts before I eat them – this involves soaking them overnight, then drying them in the dehydrator. It isn’t necessary but activated nuts are easier to digest and you can access more nutrients from them.

To make the Raw Gingerbread Cookies, blend the nuts together. Add other ingredients and blend again! Blend until the ingredients are finely chopped and stick together, then take small amounts at a time, pat flat to about .5cm thickness on a baking sheet(to stop them getting sticky) and cut out shapes. I found a wet cutter got less sticky. Details can be added with a skewer or you might like to press small pieces of dried fruit on top to decorate. Lay flat on a dehydrator sheet and dehydrate on highest setting until they feel firm to touch on top, turn and continue dehydrating until the other side is no longer soft. The cookies should be evenly dried throughout.

To make the Raw Gingerbread Fudge then soak the nuts overnight or at least for a few hours and blend them after they are drained. Mine became fudgy when I left them in the blender a little too long and they began to turn into nut butter. DON’T blend until you get nut butter (although that WOULD be yummy too!) but just until the oils are released and the mixture is softer. Add other ingredients and blend again and until well mixed. With wet hands roll mixture into balls and roll them again in raw cacao powder that you’ve added some of the spices from the recipe into. Keep in freezer until an hour before you are ready to eat them … although I have found that even keeping them in the freezer doesn’t really make them last longer because I eat them straight from there too ….

Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom

The first week of our Advent honours the Mineral Kingdom: the earth, rocks, stones, variety of landscapes, the essential minerals and elements that make up our land and our bodies. It honours the hard journeys we experience in our lives, which can be made softer and easier by cultivating reverence, forgiveness, joy and gratitude. the following ideas are ones we will use in our family, for other ideas you can go to MamaMoontime and have a read: http://www.mamamoontime.com/2009/11/week-one-of-advent-mineral-kingdom.html

Week One Activities

As the days of the first week of Advent roll by we will spend some time in nature exploring our environment, particularly the minerals. I’m going to be realistic and say that with three little children home full-time on holidays just before Christmas I won’t have much time for lots of crafts, so our activities will be nature-based – and kitchen-based. We will do a little clay craft for our community celebration though.

1) We will make rock towers down by the creek,

2) Scrape rocks with water to make paint, then paint our faces and bodies with it

3) Decorate some special rocks to represent the things that make us joyful and place them in our garden,

4) We’ll collect beautiful shells from the beach

5) We’ll play at our local creek, shifting rocks to channel the water

6) Spend time making forms in our landscape: tracing figures in the dust, making mud castles

7) Create a specially arranged collection of crystals and shells for our Seasonal Table.

I think the important thing is to get outside and enjoy the gifts of our local community. We may take photos and transform it into a little book to read each first week of Advent, along with some of the things we are grateful for given to us by the mineral kingdom.

Week One Carols

I love singing Christmas carols – but I am also so tired of all the usual carols that are sung this time of year. A month of “Jingle Bells” is too much for me! I love the wistfulness and romance of the wintery, snowy carols but they don’t speak to our experience here in Australia. I don’t think that’s a reason not to sing them … just not to immerse myself in them. Christmas to me largely involves a good dose of Bing Crosby and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

I had a good look around and finding carols relating to the Mineral Kingdom was a challenge! So I’ve put together a list of carols that tell the story of shelter, home, belonging, and that celebrate Mary and her beautiful baby. Ave Maria is sooooooo beautiful. It is quite a complicated song though, however I’m determined to learn it this year. Here are some carols you can enjoy together in the first week:

O, Little Town of Bethlehem – this is Sarah McLachlan

Ave Maria – this is Sarah Brightman’s performance

Gabriel’s Message – this is an interesting percussion and marimba arrangement! Or you might prefer Sting’s version, where the lyrics are a bit clearer.

Silver Bells – this song is a bit wintery and not very Southern Hemisphere but it does echo the sense of anticipation and joy, and the homeliness and warm community feeling that we like to feel when we begin inviting Christmas into our homes – and it is sung by the Master of Christmas Carols himself, Bing Crosby

Week One Story

In previous years I have read the children stories from Collette Leenman’s “Advent Sunday Stories”, which tell the Nativity tale through the Four Kingdoms each week of Advent. This year I wanted to write my own stories.  We’ll begin the week’s celebrations with this story, and each night of the first week we’ll light our first Advent Candle. This little story I wrote for my family, and to share with my community because it incorporates the beginning of the Nativity (to be continued as the weeks to Christmas pass) and it also honours my personal path of earth-based spirituality, while also being respectful to the Christian roots of the original Nativity story.

I haven’t yet prepared props for this story. I usually go very simple and use nature items for my storytelling, rather than making puppets. I love children to use their imaginations and  bring a natural object to life in their own minds. Perhaps some simple images could be painted on the rocks to represent the main characters and honour the mineral kingdom both at once. This time, however, I would LOVE to tell this story at twilight with a sequence of transparencies made with cardboard and tissue paper, lit with a candle behind. Each one a different scene from the story. We’ll see how I go! For my Seasonal Table, the scene will be simple: set with green, brown and blue cloths fashioned into a landscape. We will place rocks , shells and crystals that we have found in our nearby area along the path that Mary, Joseph and their donkey are on. There will also be the Archangel Gabriel there in the sky.

Week One Advent Story: The Mineral Kingdom

Written by Jennifer McCormack

An Angel came from Heaven and told Mary she’d be a mummy

That a very special baby was now growing in her tummy.

The Angel said that very soon people all around the Earth,

Would smile with joy and lift with hope, and celebrate this birth.

Mary, Joseph and their special secret set off on a long track,

All the way to Bethlehem, Mary on their donkey’s back.

The way was long and difficult, back to Joseph’s home,

Donkey carried pregnant Mary over the sharp stones.

They walked up mountains, into valleys, through rivers, over streams,

And though the land looked rough the way was easier than it seemed,

For Mother Earth knew Mary’s baby was a very special child,

And she made the journey gentle, though the landscape was wild.

Joseph, Mary and their donkey each night lay down to rest,

Sheltered by a warm cave, knowing they were blessed.

To Father Sky and Mother Earth the travellers said a prayer,

Grateful for the gifts of earth, water, fire and of air.

“Thank you for the mountains, the valleys and the plains.

For the rivers, lakes and oceans who give their water up for rain.

Thank you to the rocks and stones, for the ground beneath our feet,

for deep inside this wondrous Earth a warm heart will always beat.”

Recipe: Christmas Spice Museli

I’ve shown you my muesli recipe before – it’s pretty yum! I make it as the basic grain-free recipe in a large batch, then before toasting it I separate some for myself and add oats to the batch for the rest for the family. This time I added some extra spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and some VERY special dried fruit that I made on the day of the solar eclipse. I was inspired by the celestial happenings while I was chopping up fruit for the dehydrator … and then decided to cut them with the cookie cutters. Little stars and moons (or eclipsed suns if you choose to see them that way!)

After they were dried they looked like this. So pretty just in the jar! And such intense bites of deliciousness.

I had to add them to our muesli  – along with some dried goji berries and cranberries for a bit of colour. This is gold-plated muesli. And from each batch I make (because this one is already eaten!) I am saving some for presents. One jar of muesli doesn’t stretch far, but it is delicious as a topping on yogurt and ice cream too.

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.