This blog was originally written for the holiday lore blog at Amber Lotus. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, like the stringing of Christmas lights on trees and houses, and the lighting of the Advent candles, celebrates light during the darkest time of the year. The Jewish holiday calendar is still a lunar calendar and that means that the theme of light and dark can play out in the timing of the moon as well as the sun. Hanukkah always begins on the 26th of Kislev, three days before the dark moon closest to the full moon that is closest to the Winter Solstice, so at the darkest time of the moon and at the darkest time of the sun. Most Jewish holidays are linked to a pivotal moment in Jewish history. For Hanukkah, that moment is the victory of the Maccabees against the Hellenistic overseers of the Land of Israel who outlawed Jewish religious practices (and punished them with death) while reinstating pagan rituals. In 166 BCE, when the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem, they chose the 26th of Kislev as the day to purify and rededicate the temple which had been desecrated three years earlier. But the temple contained only one sealed flask of oil, only enough to light the lamps for one day. Miraculously that oil lasted for the eight days of the ceremonies. But as Arthur Waskow points out in his wonderful book on Jewish holidays, Seasons of Our Joy, the Greeks were probably celebrating a Winter Solstice ritual on that day and by claiming the same day for their festival the Maccabees
were rededicating not only the Temple but the day itself to Jewish holiness; were capturing a pagan solstice festival that had won wide support among partially Hellenized Jews, in order to make it a day of God’s victory over paganism. Even the lighting of candles for Hanukkah fits the context of the surrounding torchlight honors for the sun.
The main ritual for Hanukkah involves lighting candles in the menorah, a candelabra that contains eight candles in a row. The first candle on the right is lit on the first night (December 16 in 2014) and each night an additional candle is lit until all eight are burning. Since the lit candles are not to be used for any practical purpose, many menorahs have a space for a ninth candle, a shammas or shammash, which is set above (or below) the others and used to light them. The candles are lit just s night falls and are left to burn for a half an hour. No work is to be done while the candles are burning (just as the candles are not to be used for practical purposes). Instead this half hour is a time for contemplation, for saying blessings and singing songs, eating special foods and playing games. In some Sephardic communities, women do not work at all on the first and eighth days of Hanukkah, and in some places, they don’t work on any of the eight days. Just as the Sabbath is the day for rest provided during the week, so are the eight days of Hanukkah a time of rest at this pivotal point in the year. Hanukkah foods are cooked in oil: potato latkes and fritters and jam-filled doughnuts, all recall the miracle of the long-lasting oil. Children play with a dreidl and are sometimes given gifts, particularly Hanukkah gelt. I’ve always loved those thin gold-foiled chocolate coins which remind me of the gifts of money so common at New Year festivals (the Romans, for instance, gave coins as New Year Gifts) and certainly,with the return of light in the darkness, the new year is born. Photo of Hanukkah gelt was taken by Liz West and posted at Flickr. Photo of the silver menorah (found at Wikipedia) was taken by Ladislav Flaigl and released into the public domain.
Most Americans know the semi-mythological story of the first Thanksgiving, how the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony after a successful harvest in 1621 shared a meal with members of the Patuxet People of the Wampanoag tribe who had helped them plant their crops. But what we may not realize is that they were both acting out long-standing cultural traditions. The harvest festival, although it is celebrated at different times of the year and with different foodstuffs, is something found in every culture around the world.
The English settlers probably brought with them memories of the Michaelmas feast (September 29), the harvest festival on the English holiday calendar, a time to return home to eat together. The Wampanoag tribe had their own harvest festivals which coincided with the appearance of green corn and the arrival of certain fish species. In many African countries, the harvest festival, Odiwera, occurs at the time of the yam harvest. In Ireland, the first potatoes. In Hungary and Italy and Argentina, the grapes. In Papua, New Guinea, the pigs. In Bali, the rice. Everywhere, the festival usually involves a lavish meal, dancing, drinking, and ceremonies expressing gratitude to those (the gods or the farmers) who provided the food.
I am sometime annoyed by the insistence on recreating the ideal big family experience that accompanies Thanksgiving, an experience that is elusive but even in sitcoms, always triumphs over the forces of dysfunction arrayed against it. But I am ever so grateful that we have one holiday on the American holiday calendar that has not been co-opted by consumerism, that gathers us around a table to celebrate the food we’ve raised and cooked and shared with those we love.
This blog post first appeared at the Amber Lotus website, as part of a commissioned series of weekly posts on holiday lore.
The painting is called “The First Thanksgiving” and it’s by Jennie Brownscombe. I think it nicely illustrates the semi-mythological nature of the first Thanksgiving.
I really liked my friend Joanna Powell Colbert’s idea of declaring Friday (or Freya’s Day) as Link Love day and posting some of her favorite links from the past week. (Love because Freya is the Norwegian goddess just as the name for Friday in Latin and other Romance languages refers to Venus.)
So I’ve been collecting some links that I loved this past week and wanted to share them with you. Almost all came from following the threads found in Pam Montgomery’s latest newsletter. (I took Pam’s wonderful Plant Communication workshop at the University of British Columbia’s Botanical Garden in October of 2010.)
Pam mentioned the TED talk about 6 ways mushrooms can save the world given by Paul Stametz which I found here. I wasn’t sure if I could believe Stametz when he said that fungi were more similar to humans than humans are to animals but I found this article on “Rearranging the Branches of the Tree of Life” by William K Stevens that makes the same point.
Probably my favorite link of the week also came from Pam’s newsletter: a link to this amazing video showing a plant singing in the Italian intentional community of Damanhur. It reminded me of one of the exercises Pam gave us when she was teaching us to talk to plants: we were supposed to sing to our plant. I felt very self-conscious about doing this but it did help me establish a connection with my plant (which was the lovely tree pictured in the photo above: a Japanese cedar).
[this is a reprise of the article I wrote two years ago, but I've added a few gems here and there, including reader recommendations]
I love this time period between the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, when my new calendar is still empty and the old one is full of memories. I comb through one and look forward to filling up the new one. Here’s a list of some of my favorite calendars. Calendars make great gifts, for you and for your friends.
If I could buy only one calendar a year, this would be the one. It contains all the calendrical information I need for the year: the dates of major Christian, Jewish and other festivals, plus moon signs, moon void of course, eclipses (and where to view them), the best meteor showers of the year, planetary transits (including Mercury retrograde), and much more, all for my time zone (Pacific; there’s also one for Eastern time). I’m not sure why I love this calendar so much. Other calendars — Llewellyn’s astrological calendars and the WeMoon almanac — provide the same information. Maybe it’s the compact size. Maybe it’s because Jim Maynard was the first person to teach me about that mysterious time interval called “moon void of course” (a transition time when the moon is “in between” signs). Maybe it’s because so much is information is packed into such a small package. You get everything I mentioned above plus a blank horoscope wheel for writing in your own chart, a visual map of the planetary motions, explanations of the qualities of each zodiac sign and planet, an article on planting by the moon and much more. Orrder one at this web site.
In a totally different realm, the realm of scheduling, I would be lost without my Planner Pad which is like the control panel for my complicated, multi-faceted life. Unlike traditional planners in which one tends to write mainly the dates of external obligations (appointments, etc.), the Planner Pad system encourages you to think of what you want to do in different areas of your life and then assign them time in your schedule. (I imagine this is similar to the Covey system which I’ve never used, though I have incorporated many insights from his books into my schedule, like putting first things first (my spiritual life, then my writing) in both my schedule and my day.) I’m going to adapt some of the Planner Pad ideas into my Natural Planner. I just found a great post online from Diane who loves using a Planner Pad for organizing as much as I do and she breaks down the process in great detail. If you are interested, you might want to read her post. For years I used the 8-1/2 by 11 size, but the year I ordered the smaller size, I had a lot more time (not so many lines to fill up with tasks), so I’m going back to the smaller size in 2012. To order go to the web site.
Besides my handy astrological guide and my planning system, I always like to keep a beautiful wall calendar on my wall. Both Pomegranate and Amber Lotus offer many beautiful choices. I think you can use calendars as a focal point for your dreams, which is why I sometimes give friends calendars as New Year Gifts, calendars that feature places they want to travel (Greece, Italy, etc. ) or activities they love (yoga, writing, knitting, etc.). One year I chose a William Morris floral design calendar which helped inspire my flower essays.
For the past few years, I’ve been enjoying my own French Republican calendar. The lovely photo of frosty leaves was taken by Melissa Gayle West and illustrates the month of November or Frimaire (Frosty).
Weekly Journals or Engagement Calendars
I often use beautiful calendars as journals. I have one I kept the year my daughter was turning two and it’s full of hilarious stories about her adventures and a detailed record of her vocabulary acquisition. We both still enjoy reading it. I also have a Book of Days that came illustrated with Japanese seasonal paintings which I use as a phenological journal, where I track the seasonal changes in my life, noting the first whiff of sweet box in January, the first ripe raspberries in my garden in June, the first time the radiator comes on in my apartment in September. I put each entry under the appropriate day and write the year in parentheses, so that over time the book has become a palimpsest of over a decade in my neighborhood. I can say with certainty, “the lilacs are blooming earlier this year.”
I heart the inspiration for the Ecological Calendar, which is available both as a wall calendar and as an engagement calendar. It’s beautifully designed and meant to help you notice the natural rhythms of the year. In the engagement calendar, each weekly page shows celestial events, the ratio of sun to darkness, natural seasonal events, the tides and a preview of what’s to come. The right hand page offers space to write in your commitments or comments. It begins on Winter Solstice, as every calendar should. I love it that the creators have named the months and the days fanciful, seasonal names, just like the creators of the French Revolutionary calendar. Winter is Celeste, Sleet and Bluster. December 24 is MoonGlow, December 25 SnowLine, December 26 Ice Floe and December 27 Frozen Lake. But these names point out one problem of seasonal calendars: they don’t fit all regions. There are no frozen lakes in Seattle, and I’d be surprised if the emphasis on snow in winter works for residents of Florida or Southern California.
Pam from New York state asked me what I thought about the Sacred Journey Daily Journal which is available from Pomegranate. I actually haven’t seen a copy of this engagement calendar but it looks like it would be wonderful. There’s a grid for each month and also a pair of pages for coming up with gratitudes, affirmations, opportunities and goals. It looks like it offers room for considering goals as well as tasks like a more typical engagement calendar.
For the past four years, I’ve been enjoying the treasure trove of seasonal information collected by Bill Felker who publishes Poor Will’s Almanack. Felker started paying attention to the weather patterns where he lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio after his wife gave me a gift of a barometer, and that expanded into a passionate devotion to all indications of seasonal time. He predicts weather patterns, lists flowering plants for every day of year, provides a pollen count and a SAD index (hours of sunlight available), describes what’s happening in the night sky, and writes a perceptive and elegant essay to begin each month. You can order the 2012 edition at his web site.
One year when I was really struggling to find balance in my life, I made a collage calendar showing the year as a circle with different slices of pictures for each month. December and January were time off months, months for dreams and visions, which I depicted with a starry sky background. February, April, July and October were months I wanted to focus on my teaching, indicated by fields of lavender. March, June, September and November were months I planned to focus on my writing (I used the image of a page of handwriting). May was my month for sending out my work (I figured if I could get it all done in one month of the year, I’d be relieved of the pressure I always feel to market my work). I indicated this month with flowers and a hummingbird drinking from them. August was a vacation month (camels in the desert). This calendar proved to be enormously useful to me since every time I was feeling frantic, I simply looked at it to figure out my priorities.
Twyla Tharp describes using a circular calendar in her book The Creative Habit. She says she keeps track of multiple creative projects by drawing circles within circles on a piece of paper with the deadlines scrawled inside the borders. Although each circle is unique it rubs up against or enfolds other circles. She writes; “If I follow my circles and match things up with my calendar, the progression begins to make sense.”
It’s easy to make your own calendar. Many convenience stores, like the Walgreens in my neighborhood, offer templates you can fill in with your own photos. I’ve used their template for the last few years to make a calendar featuring photos of my daughter’s Chihuahua, Pepe (who is also the hero of my novel, Dial C for Chihahua). We give them as presents to Pepe’s fans (he has many).
A few years ago, after finishing a big genealogy project on my mother’s family, the Wittaks of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I made a calendar that featured significant family dates on the date grids and displayed photo collages of the ancestors of the family and the houses they lived in. I sent a copy to all of the relatives who had helped me with my research. It made a great gift.
As you can see I love calendars! I’d love to hear about the calendars you love.
Last month, my theme was Spaciousness and I decided to work with this theme in four different ways. The first was to create spaciousness in my time by getting rid of clutter time.
This concept came to me courtesy of Rebecca Ross of the Composed Domain. I took her clutter class at North Seattle Community College. It was a great class and helped me shift the mountain of stuff under which I am buried (you can get a glimpse of what I’m facing in this photo of my living room).
Many of the techniques Rebecca taught were ones I had learned before, like the sequence of sort, purge, contain and maintain, a maxim which I first picked up from Julie Morgenstern. It matches the way I normally clean which felt validating.
Rebecca also encouraged us to honor our own way of organizing. Two years ago, I rearranged all my file folders and I’ve been confused ever since. I am going to restore them back to their original order in my next wave of cleaning.
But this is not a blog about clutter in space but about clutter in time. Rebecca gave us a list of possible kinds of clutter, many of which I recognized.
Masquerade clutter is something that is valuable but you don’t use it, like exercise equipment.
Bestowed clutter is something someone gave you that you will never use, like a book you will never read, or an item of clothing you will never wear.
Memorabilia is anything you are keeping because it reminds you of a person or event that was precious. Rebecca suggested we deal with this by preserving the memory, for instance in a photo or piece of writing, but letting go of the item.
Bus stop clutter is simply clutter that is on its way somewhere else, for instance, items you are going to return or take to the Goodwill.
“Dust me décor” clutter is the name Rebecca gives to tchotckes, all those decorative items that line your shelves and cover your windowsills. For me, this category mostly consists of rocks which I pick up every time I go some place.
Someday clutter consists of items that you will do someday, like magazines you will read someday or, in my case, the shattered remnants of favorite dishes I will make into a mosaic someday, or the scraps from old clothes that I will turn into a quilt someday.
I amused myself after the class by trying to come up with comparable kinds of clutter in time. I couldn’t come up with exact correlations but I did notice a few kinds of clutter in time.
No Longer Meaningful Time Clutter: This is an activity that was once meaningful but now I’m only doing it because it’s a habit. I was able to get rid of several instances of this kind of clutter.
No Longer Prime Time Clutter: Some activities that I used to do regularly at certain times of the day, like writing my blog entries in the evening, had not been done at that time for over two years, yet I kept writing them into my schedule for that time. Clearing this kind of clutter simply means noticing what I was really doing and accepting it. If I really want to write the blog entries, I might have to find a different time.
Brain Wasting Time Clutter: TV is the prime example of this. I watch it because it’s on and it catches my attention and then it’s hard to turn off. So I put myself on a TV diet: one hour a night is all I’m allowed (some exemptions are given for Project Runway and So You Think You Can Dance). Then I turn the TV off. Although at first, the house feels weirdly quiet, I soon get totally absorbed in my writing or my computer research.
Doing Someone Else’s Work Time Clutter: This would be time you spend doing something that really belongs to someone else. In my house, this would be an uneven distribution of chores, which it really is time to sit down and list and then parcel out in a more fair way.
Unrealistic Expectations Time Clutter: This is sort of like Someday Clutter in that I think I can really do 12 hours of work in 4 hours. I’ve had some luck correcting this kind of time clutter by actually estimating how long I think it will take to do all the things on my to-do list (for instance, last Monday I had on my list 1) make breakfast 2) sort out the trust 3) take all the files to the storage place 4) edit the Pepe novel 5) sort out the books 6) finish the Waverly Fitzgerald web site. I figured out how much time I thought it would take me to do each one, then worked through them in order of priority and actually got 5 out of the 6 done.
Too Many Choices Time Clutter: I’m always working on a number of different projects and this can become its own kind of clutter, as at any given moment, I could choose to do one of 20 things on my to-do list. To deal with this issue, I limited myself to six ongoing projects (writing a mystery novel, working on my non-fiction book on nature in the city, taking a photography class, teaching a writing class, updating Living in Season and uncluttering the house). I assign only one thing to do each week on each project and give each one its own day. It’s been weird but gratifying to experience the sensation of having completed a task and having nothing else to do that day. Wow!
Someday is Right Now: I’ve also decided to move some things off my Someday list to my Right Now list so I signed up for the photography class I’ve been wanting to take for three years. It will mean my Fall is a bit crowded but I don’t wait any longer for some day.
I’d love to hear about your Time Clutter and how you deal with it.
I’m in the middle of reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. In fact, I’m in July. I thought the book sounded annoying: too chipper, too cheerful, too prescriptive. And at times, it can be all of those things. But, for the most part, I find it charming, informative, inspiring.
Rubin noticed one day that although she was reasonably happy with her life—and her husband, her two young daughters, her work as a writer—she always had a nagging feeling she should be happier. So she created the Happiness Project. She assigned themes to each month (of course, this made me happy, because this is what I did in My Year in Flowers book). Her twelve themes for the year were:January: Vitality February: Marriage March: Work April: Parenthood May: Leisure June: Friendship July: Money August: Eternity September: Books October: Mindfulness November: Attitude December Happiness
She spent each month reading about the topic and applying certain principles she distilled from her reading to her own life, for example, during the month of July (Money) she worked with these concepts: Indulge in a Modest Splurge, Buy Needful Things, Spend Out, and Give Something Up.
Naturally I was enchanted by this idea. I love putting things in boxes (hence my fascination with planners) and, in fact, I was contemplating posting a monthly theme on my web site. So I decided to create my own Happiness Project and these are the themes I chose (carefully chosen to be seasonal, naturally):January: Serenity February: Relationship March: Health April: Clarity May: Beauty June: Play July: Creativity August: Spaciousness September: Mystery October: Work November: Legacy December: Gift-Giving
I’m still tinkering with these. I stole some from Rubin. Others are my theme words for 2011. I’m already sad I missed some (Play!) but they’ll come around again next year (my Happiness Year apparently starts in July).
Right now I’m having a great time figuring out what to do during the month of Creativity. My principles so far are Borrow Creativity (a trip to a museum or attending a concert or maybe just looking at an artist’s site each day). Go on an Artist Date (I’m planning a trip to my local art supply store; maybe I can count a perfume shop as another one). Try Something New: I want to try a different artistic medium each week, but am having a hard time figuring out what besides my two favorites (outside of writing): photography and collage. Attend Art Events: Luckily I am already attending the opening of the Long Shot photo exhibit at Photo Center Northwest on July 23 (I’ll have a photo in the exhibit! As will everyone who participated). I also found some great events sponsored by the Henry Art Gallery: a workshop on art books (maybe I’ll be inspired to make one) and a talk on the future of book stores by one of the people who is reshaping publishing, Matthew Stadler.
My assignment is already reshaping the way I approach my life/time. I spent a couple of happy hours this morning looking at various visual artist’s sites and following a chain of links to all sorts of cool projects that parallel my own, like the Long Walk, a project by artist Susan Robb and this article on Hamish Fulton, who makes art resulting from the experience of individual walks, which also led me to an article on How To Get Lost in a City, about Amira Hanafi, who produces art from walks she takes. I have no idea what a situationist derive is but I think I should learn. (Actually I just found out by going to Wikipedia: it means taking a drifting (unplanned) walk through a city, noticing ambiance and what appeals.) Come to think of it, this will be my fourth art form: a walk. Which is really the subject of My Year in Flowers book so it all wraps around in a neat circle, like the seasons.
Photos by Waverly Fitzgerald
Thursday, June 23 is Corpus Christi, a Catholic holiday that arrived on the Church calendar fairly late (the 13th century), a holiday devoted to the veneration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is often celebrated with a procession in which the priest carries the blessed Host (which represents the Body of Christ). I remember it from my Catholic childhood as the most golden of holidays, with the priest wearing gold vestments, and walking under a gilt-fringed canopy, holding aloft the gold vessel containing the host, flanked by altar boys swinging glittering thuribles emitting the smoke of frankincense.
The most amazing celebrations of this holiday have evolved in Spain and Italy where people create carpets of flowers over which the procession can pass. I wrote about this in 2007 in my blog when I discovered some fabulous flower art in my neighborhood.
A few months ago, I happened upon a form of flower art that is even more simple but in some ways more poignant. I was on my way to the University of Washington when I spotted this flower, poised on top of a concrete-filled pipe, obviously carefully placed there. I was so surprised and moved, I took a photo. Then a few steps further on, I found another camellia tucked into the corner of a re-paving project.
So I challenge you to create some flower art of your own on Corpus Christi. Find a flower, and place it where someone else will find and enjoy it.
There’s a section in my Slow Time book about tempo. Researchers have found that tempo is related to environment. The bigger the city, the faster the tempo. Heat is also a factor. Slower cities tend to be closer to the equator. A study of 36 big American cities done by Robert Levine (A Geography of Time) found that Boston was faster than New York City and Los Angeles was the slowest.
I was thinking about tempo recently because I was walking behind two guys who were walking really slowly. I was, of course, trying to get past them but they were hogging the sidewalk, so I decided to start walking at their pace. And it was really interesting because I found that by slowing down to their tempo, it actually changed my attitude. I felt much more relaxed and sort of curious about the world.
This is an experiment I think I will repeat, although there is one warning. If you are walking behind someone, don’t be too obvious about copying their walk or they will get nervous.
That’s my friend, Art, walking down the steps at a museum we visited in San Francisco. It turns out I don’t take many photos of people walking.