It has been a while since I’ve had a seasonal table. We set one up for Advent, Christmas and the Summer Solstice but then we moved house and just didn’t make a place for it. It has felt a little like something has been missing in our house – a reverent space to honour transitions. So I took care of that today!!
Mother Earth has come out to watch over our home. This month I have been working a lot with the impulse of Hestia, and I find her in Mother Earth this season, standing there reassuringly with her broom, ready to welcome people into our home, keep good energy flowing in and out of our front door, and to sweep away the cobwebs, keeping our home fresh and clean.
Autumn is a subtle seasonal shift in Queensland. We don’t get blazing red and gold leaves on our trees, only some in the colder parts of the hinterland. In fact some of our native trees produce new leaves this time of year, but they are baby soft and red before they mature so we still get colour. We have grevilleas flowering, golden cassia creeping through the gardens and roadsides, and golden panda flowers exploding from their branches. Leopard trees have the last of their big bright orange flowers, and birds of paradise parade their golden and purple plumage too. We have colour in Autumn, but it is the colour of life, not the colours of transition to winter.
I like my seasonal tables to reflect this energy too. Apart from some traditional autumnal decorations made by my daughter, this seasonal table is still very green, very floral and flowing in abundance. A bowl of seasonal fruit is present as an offering (although some of it is felted, so choose your fruit with care!). Flowers and foliage from our garden, and nature spirits – we have mushrooms popping up everywhere, but these are a lot brighter than the brown and grey stems in our moist garden.
And our tree is adorned by a string of colourful leaves. I will change this mini leave garland with the seasons. I think we may hang some little fruit from it too – a magical tree that produces all seasonal fruit at once! Pears, apples, limes, persimmons … wish I had a tree like that in my yard!!
This is the last week of the Four Kingdoms of Advent, and we celebrate the Kingdom of Humans. I have written about the Mineral Kingdom, the Plant Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom individually, and we as humans carry the blessings of each of these Kingdoms in our bodies: in our bones and bodies we have the strength, structure and physical condition of the Mineral Kingdom. Our life force and sense of vitality is a gift from the Plant Kingdom, who also share with us the gift of adaptation, nourishment and beauty. We share skills of social interactions, behaviour, instincts and feelings with the Animal Kingdom – all of these blessings combine and have allowed us to develop something that makes us different.
The Human Kingdom contains the power of creative knowledge and the ability to transform ourselves and our world around us. As Amber Greene described it, “we are CALLED to use this gift!” It is the eternal wrestle of mankind to be something more than we are, and those with hearts that are called to beauty, truth and goodness in the world will find out how best to use their creative intelligence.
The Advent tells the story of the birth of the Christ Child, who was recognised as one who would grow to be a great teacher and leader – a king among men who had access to divine wisdom that he would share with the world. Putting ‘religion’ aside, I still see this story as one that is important and very accessible to us all. Whether or not you believe in Heaven or God or Jesus, in the Advent Story that has been unfolding over these last few weeks we have everything in place for us to birth ourselves anew, and with consciousness. To me this is a story that perfectly describes the potential within each of us to be great and to use our creative potential in the world in wonderful ways, no matter how ‘humble’ we feel our talents are.
Mary, in her pregnancy, carries the idea and the potential for something wonderful, and looks for the blessings in life even when life was not be making it easy for her. She represents the power of birth and creative transformation – a divine gift given to her by the Holy Spirit. Joseph is an old man who has lived a long, hard-working life. He realises this child Mary bears comes from something ‘beyond’ him. I know that feeling – of not really being my children’s mother. I look at my children in utter wonder at where these spirits came from, and feel humble and proud that they chose me to be one of their parents. In this relationship Mary has connection with Heaven, wonder, beauty, spirit, positivity, gratitude, creative power, while Joseph has connection with the Earth, goodness, values, wisdom, work, perseverance and loyalty and together with their love they share their gifts with another human being – this Christ Child who stands with one foot on the Earth and the other in Heaven.
I think the Advent Story tells us that WE are the Christ Child. We have the potential to grow into something beyond ourselves because at the moment of our births we are given the gifts of Mary and Joseph, and the blessings of the Mineral, Plant and Animal Kingdoms. We are human, and we have faults but through divine gifts we have the potential – ALWAYS – to look for something better, brighter and more beautiful in ourselves.
THE BLESSINGS OF THE KINGDOM OF HUMANS
Written by Jennifer McCormack
Old man Joseph, Mary and Donkey have travelled far together,
Through all kinds of landscapes and through all kinds of weather.
And yet no matter how rough their ride, they went with gratitude,
For they knew that journeys are easier with a positive attitude.
They were closer now than ever before, to their destination,
And when they reached Bethlehem there would be a celebration.
For Mary carried the Holy Child who soon would be birthed,
and this Babe was destined to be a great Teacher on this Earth.
They’d been travelling through villages, lots of little towns.
It was lovely to see some other people about and all around.
When they finally arrived, their lengthy journey at an end,
They were surprised to see how busy was the town of Bethlehem!
Travellers like them had taken rooms at all the available places.
People turned them away from their doors with the saddest faces,
“I’m sorry we have no room for you, but you could try next door,
Perhaps they’d have a place for you to sleep upon the floor?”
A child had been watching poor Joseph and Mary growing in distress,
They were weary, hungry, so very tired and having no success.
He said “I know a little place, it really isn’t the best.
But it’s warm and dry and it would be a place for you to rest.”
He took them to his father’s inn and asked if they were able
to rest a while with their donkey in a corner of the stable.
The innkeeper looked at them with kindness on his face
and said, “Of course, my rooms are full, and it is the only place.
It’s clean and dry and very warm, you’ll rest well with my cows.”
He brought them blankets, food and water and left them with a bow.
And that night Mary birthed her Babe, in that quiet shed
With Joseph at her feet and the Donkey by her head.
They were all spellbound by the beauty of this tiny Holy Child
Mary slept a healing sleep and when she woke she smiled.
“This Babe was born upon the ground, and a great teacher he will be,
I shall teach him all I can, and then he shall teach me.
I am grateful for friends and families and for places filled love,
and for this special little Babe I thank the Holy Spirit above.
I give thanks to the kindness of others, when they see a need
who can see that inside another lies potential, like a seed.
We all have the ability to grow and learn, to open up our hearts,
and try to be and do the best we can, its the greatest way to start.
For every parent anywhere knows the awesome power of birth
That love and trust and honest work will transform this Earth.”
It 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 …
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.
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.
… fire fairies come to us …
… and the fire fairies come …
…bringing golden light from the sun …
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.
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!
Gramma Sun and the Summer Solstice
Written by Jennifer McCormack, Hollie-B Lunation, Lorrie-Corrie Clemato, Victoria Edmond and Elizabeth Murray.
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. 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.
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,
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!
2. Plant Meditation/Observation – in drawing or storytelling
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
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/
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!
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.
There are many traditions surrounding Christmas and Advent from all around the world, however my experience with Advent has been all about presents and cheap chocolate behind little cardboard doors. Despite the fact that most advent calendars supply a present for every day leading up to Christmas, Advent isn’t about the presents – they are they happy fringe benefits – and it isn’t about cheap chocolate. Amazingly, Christmas is not just about presents either (sorry for the sarcasm!).
Advent and Christmas has been around long enough that I think it is pretty safe to say that the event that was anticipated with such excitement was not originally the coming of Santa’s sleigh laden with gifts. We all know the original reason for celebrating Christmas is the birth of baby Jesus, but in a culture that is no longer predominantly Christian this appears to have become a story associated with Christmas, rather than the origin of the celebration.
I no longer identify with being a practising Christian myself, but it is important to me that the origins of a celebration that is so dear to people all over the world are not overlooked. I also seem to have developed the affliction of always looking for meaning in celebrations and festivals – I can’t just celebrate something ‘just because’, although that is the Australian way! This sometimes makes things very difficult for me, particularly when seasonal festivals clash (don’t get me started on Halloween!) I write this blog from Australia, and Christmas for us falls at a time when the weather is so warm that we are all wearing little more than swimmers and shorts so images of Santa in his winter woollies and reindeer and snowmen are out of place here. Baby Jesus is almost an after thought, glimpsed on the odd Christmas card, in shop-window nativity scenes and outside of churches.
So I cannot help but ask myself, if Christmas is a Christian celebration by origin, coinciding with the northern hemisphere’s pagan winter solstice celebrations, and kidnapped by commercialism, is it one that is appropriate for me and my family? Every year I wish I do not have to ask myself this question, and every year I have to find new meaning and consider how to participate in Christmas, even if it is just a moment of personal introspection.
Well I have found meaning in Christmas and Advent – beyond (and inclusive of ) Christianity, commercialism and paganism. I have found meaning that honours the roots of the festival, our seasonal impulse and our own little family’s values of simplicity and joy. I’m going to share them with you, and travel the Advent journey with you each Sunday until Christmas. We’ll look at how we can make Christmas relevant in the southern hemisphere, share ideas and stories and I’d love you to join the discussion too.