Recipe: Polka-dot Cake

IMG_2787In all my efforts to make cakes and muffins and cupcakes without grains and sugar this has to be the simplest and most satisfying cake I’ve made. I made it today – very spontaneously to celebrate Fete des Rois, or Festival of the Kings, because today is Epiphany. Epiphany is the end of the Advent story when the three wise men arrive to pay their respects to the Holy Baby. They treated Jesus as they would an earthly king by falling to the floor and presenting him with expensive gifts.

Had I given myself more time to organise it I would have had a crown ready and perhaps some games but that was not to be today. You can read about our past Fete des Rois celebrations. Today, however, I had forgotten all about it. January 6th, already? How did that happen? I didn’t realise until the afternoon so I quickly made up this cake for afternoon tea. I couldn’t find the right recipe I wanted in all my books and scribblings because they were either too complicated or I didn’t have the ingredients –  so I cobbled one together with the ingredients I had and it worked.

The traditional French galette des Rois is an almond-cream filled puff pastry type thing with the feve baked inside. The feve is traditionally a hard bean and whoever finds it in their slice becomes King or Queen for the day. My friend has been making a few delicious gluten-free versions of French regional cakes for our past fete des Rois celebrations. Today I thought an almond cake would do the job, and for the feve I used a date because I didn’t want my two-year old to end up accidentally choking on something small.

The cake was pretty colourful! I had intended to make the polka-dots with blueberries dropped in to the batter just before cooking, like a clafouti, but in a real Mother-Hubbard moment I discovered we had no blueberries or cherries or any other suitable fruit, not even any dried fruit except for the dates. All we had was Dad’s stash of Christmas candies and so I decorated the cake with candy covered chocolate polka-dots …. I know!! Not exactly sugar-free, paleo or GAPS but very pretty and very tasty. WITH the blueberry polka-dots this cake makes a very delicious breakfast served with yogurt and fresh fruit. Incidentally it can be made without the baking powder so it can be suitable for GAPS and paleo too. It might not rise but it will be more flat like a clafouti, which is how I make it for breakfast.

In any case the cake rose and cooked beautifully and we had a delicious afternoon tea with a bit of fun to go with it. As it happens I don’t think I will use a date again because when I cut the cake, I cut the date in half and then two people ended up with the feve in their slice – so we had two Kings this year!!

Here’s the recipe:

IMG_2788

Polka-Dot Cake

(grain-free and sugar-free … almost!)

INGREDIENTS

250g almond meal

1/3 cup honey/maple syrup

100g coconut oil

6 eggs

2 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp baking powder

blueberries or cherries / (in this case I used Smarties!)

something to use for a feve – don’t use a date! A large (clean!) coin, a dried bean if you don’t have little kids eating the cake, perhaps some trinket from the Christmas crackers?)

METHOD

Mix all but the last ingredient together and blend well.

Add the feve to the mix and pour it all into an oiled spring-form cake tin, making sure that the feve is well hidden and then drop in the berries/cherries/things you are using for polka-dots in a pleasing pattern.

Cook at 170C for about 25 – 30 minutes … sorry I didn’t pay attention to how long it was in there for. I took it out when the top was a light brown colour and the knife came out clean. Mine was in about half an hour I think.

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Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Resources for Celebrations

linden garland 3I believe that our celebrations should be given thought – there should be an understanding of what we are celebrating – and why – and then we should consider how to celebrate it according to where we live. It has always felt strange to me to celebrate winter festivities at Christmas time when it is summer in Australia … and Australia is a country with great variety in landscapes so each celebration for each family would be strengthened with an inclusion of local foods, plants, animals, landscapes and people.

The following posts are my journey into understanding Christmas and Advent, and making it real for us according to where we live. I hope you enjoy them, and I would love to hear your ideas too.

ADVENT POSTS

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: Advent

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere: The Four Kingdoms

Advent Week One: The Mineral Kingdom

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom

Advent Week Two: The Plant Kingdom Story

Advent Week Three: The Animal Kingdom

Advent Week Three: The Animal Kingdom Story

Advent Week Four: The Human Kingdom

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: Epiphany

CHRISTMAS IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE POSTS

Finding Meaning In the Festive Season

What to Do About Santa Claus?

The Christmas Tree

The Jesse Tree

The Summer Solstice

CHRISTMAS RECIPES

Raw Gingerbread

Christmas Spice Muesli

Raw Chocolate Cherry Christmas Stars

CHRISTMAS CRAFT

Handmade Fabric Christmas Garlandslinden garland 3

OTHER CHRISTMAS ARTICLES AND RESOURCES

Christmas in the Middle Ages Part 1

Advent Week 3: Story

This is the third part of the Nativity story, as told with the Four Kingdoms. The first two stories tell the blessings of the Mineral Kingdom and the Plant Kingdom. This week Mary and Joseph discover the blessings of the living creatures around them. There is one more story after this one – the completion of the Advent journey.

Rosella and DOnkeyWM

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM STORY: ADVENT WEEK 3

Written by Jennifer McCormack

Mary and Joseph have travelled far on their way to Bethlehem

With the gifts of God and Mother Earth forever blessing them.

The landscape softened to help them pass, crystals lit hope at night,

They found nourishment on roadsides and flowers blooming bright.

They collected healing herbs, gathered roots and offered up their thanks.

And still they journeyed, with their Donkey, along tracks and river banks.

Donkey carried Mary and the Holy Infant, still yet unborn,

He walked all day, steady and strong, and rose early every morn.

It was his joy to serve with love, to carry our tired Mary,

To keep them safe and take their load ’till the end of their journey.

Each morning as the sun arose the birds gave their gift of song

And each day to keep them company the birds flew right along.

They showed Joseph and Mary where to find the best ripe food

And sang so sweetly to the travellers about all that is good.

The bees danced on the flowers, so busy and funny

They showed the way back to their hive where they shared sweet honey.

They were getting closer to Bethlehem, and on their way down,

They began pass through some friendly villages and towns.

The children came to greet them, and their dogs guided them through,

And showed them all the houses and all they could do.

They swapped supplies for fresh eggs and nourishing, creamy milk,

And visited the markets to marvel at the silk.

That night as they lay wrapped in their blankets of warm wool,

They lay in comfort, feeling rested, blessed and grateful.

“We give gratitude to the living things with whom we share this land

Who each have their own gifts, whether humble or grand.

We thank the birds and animals for their company,

For their work and their devotion, and for their loyalty.

For gifts of milk, wool and silk, the bees for their honey,

For caring for the world around, and caring for me.”

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

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.

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.