Songkran

Reclining Buddha, photo by Shaw Fitzgerald

Reclining Buddha, photo by Shaw Fitzgerald

The New Year began in mid-April in the ancient Buddhist calendar. In Thailand, Buddhists celebrate their New Year between April 13 and April 14. Water is an important element of the festival. Statues of the Buddha are bathed in water and people throw water at each other until everyone is soaking wet. There are boat races, parades, plays, concerts and fireworks. Women add gold leaf to a statue of the Buddha as an offering. [Rosen]

In the morning, young people wash their parents’ hands in scented water. Then everyone goes to the temple, where statues of the Buddha are washed with flower-water, a ritual which is also repeated in each home. Young girls purchase small live fish and take them to the river to set them free. The same is done with songbirds. Along the river banks, people build pyramids of sand into which they stick tiny colored flags. The newest accoutrements to the festival include Miss Songkran beauty pageants and gifts of towels (to sop up all the water). [Rufus]

Rosen, Mike, Spring Festivals, Bookwright Press 1991
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book, Harper San Francisco 1994

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Spring Equinox

Photo Joanna Powell Colbert

Photo Joanna Powell Colbert

The spring equinox is one of the four great solar festivals of the year. Day and night are equal, poised and balanced, but about to tip over on the side of light. The spring equinox is sacred to dawn, youth, the morning star and the east. The Saxon goddess, Eostre (from whose name we get the direction East and the holiday Easter) is a dawn goddess, like Aurora and Eos. Just as the dawn is the time of new light, so the vernal equinox is the time of new life.

The New Year

In many traditions, this is the start of the new year. The Roman year began on the ides of March (15th). The astrological year begins on the equinox when the moon moves into the first sign of the Zodiac, Aries, the Ram. The Greek God Ares is equivalent to the Roman Mars for whom the month of March is named. Between the 12th century and 1752, March 25th was the day the year changed in England and Ireland. March 25, 1212 was the day after March 24, 1211.

I like to celebrate the festival of Nawruz, Persian New Year, which falls on the spring equinox. We fix a special dinner of seven food dishes that begin with ‘S.’ Since we don’t know the Arabic names for food, we use English words and eat salad, salami, soup, squash, etc. The table is decorated with a mirror, a bowl of water with one freshly-picked green leaf floating in it, a candleabra containing a candle for every child in the house, a copy of the Koran (or other sacred text), rose water, sweets, fruit, a fish, yogurt and colored eggs.

The Coming of the Spring

Although we saw the first promise of spring at Candlemas in the swelling buds, there were still nights of frost and darkness ahead. Now spring is manifest. Demeter is reunited with her daughter, Kore (the essence of spring), who has been in the Underworld for six months and the earth once again teems with life. The month of March contains holidays dedicated to all the great mother goddesses: Astarte, Isis, Aprhrodite, Cybele and the Virgin Mary. The goddess shows herself in the blossoms, the leaves on the trees, the sprouting of the crops, the mating of birds, the birth of young animals. In the agricultural cycle, it is time for planting. We are assured that life will continue.

Gilbert Murray in Five Stages of Greek Religion writes about the passion behind the Greek celebration of Easter:

Anyone who has been in Greece at Easter time, especially among the more remote peasants, must have been struck by the emotion of suspense and excitement, with which they wait for the announcement, “Christos aneste,” “Christ is risen!” and the response “Alethos aneste,” “He has really risen!” [An old peasant woman] explained her anxiety: “If Christ does not rise tomorrow we shall have no harvest this year.” We are evidently in the presence of an emotion and a fear which, beneath its Christian colouring and, so to speak, transfiguration, is in its essence — a relic from a very remote pre-Christian past.

Resurrection from the Dead

Murray then goes on to recount the myths of the Year Gods — Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus — who like Christ die and are reborn each year. These gods are always the son of a God and a mortal woman. The son is a savior who saves his people in some way, sometimes through sacrifice. He is the vegetation, dying each year (at harvest) to be reborn in the spring.

In ancient Rome, the 10-day rite in honor of Attis, son of the great goddess Cybele, began on March 15th. A pine tree, which represented Attis, was chopped down, wrapped in a linen shroud, decorated with violets and placed in a sepulchre in the temple. On the Day of Blood or Black Friday, the priests of the cult gashed themselves with knives as they danced ecstatically, sympathizing with Cybele in her grief and helping to restore Attis to life. Two days later, a priest opened the sepulchre at dawn, revealing that it was empty and announcing that the god was saved. This day was known as Hilaria or the Day of Joy, a time of feasting and merriment.

Sound familiar? Easter is the Christian version of the same myth. Even the name Easter is stolen. It comes from the Saxon dawn-goddess Eostre, whose festival was celebrated on spring equinox. The date of Easter is still determined by the old moon cycle. It is always the first Sunday on or after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

On Good Friday, Christ is crucified, a willing sacrifice. Altars are stripped, candles extinguished to represent the darkness of the grave. But on Easter, light springs from darkness, Christ rises from the tomb. If you’ve never attended an Easter vigil, I highly recommend it. (I usually go to a Russian or Greek Orthodox church, so I don’t know what the ceremony is like in other Christian churches.) Shortly before midnight all the lights are extinguished and the thronged church is dark and silent. Everyone is holding an unlit candle. The priest lights the Paschal candle, which has been ritually blessed and inscribed with the year. He then lights the candles of those nearby, who light the candles of their neighbors, until the church is ablaze with light and filled with song.

According to my Catholic missal, one of the prayers used during this part of the service (which is called the Service of the Light) goes like this:

We pray you, therefore, O Lord, that this candle, consecrated in honor of your name, may continue endlessly to scatter the darkness of this night. May it be received as a sweet fragrance and mingle with the lights of heaven. May the morning star find its flame burning, that Star which knows no setting, which came back from limbo. Christ is like the morning Star because he descended into Death (the Underworld) and emerged again, like Attis, like Kore, like Inanna and Ishtar.

Eggs and Seeds

Eggs are one of the symbols of this festival since they represent new life and potential. Folklore tells us (combining two themes of the season) (and Donna Henes has demonstrated in public egg-balancing ceremonies in New York City) that eggs balance on their ends most easily at equinox. Z Budapest in Grandmother of Time says that eggs were dyed red (the color of life) on the Festival of Astarte (Mar 17). The beautifully decorated eggs from the Ukraine (pysanky) are covered with magical symbols for protection, fertility, wisdom, strength and other qualities. They are given as gifts and used as charms.

Seeds are like eggs. While eggs contain the promise of new animal life, seeds hold the potential of a new plant. In ancient Italy in the spring, women planted gardens of Adonis. They filled urns with grain seeds, kept the in the dark and watered them every two days. This custom persists in Sicily. Women plant seeds of grains — lentils, fennel, lettuce or flowers — in baskets and pots. When they sprout, the stalks are tied with red ribbons and the gardens are placed on graves on Good Friday. They symbolize the triumph of life over death.

Celebrating

Blend ideas from the many traditions described above to create your own ceremony to honor the spring. Decorate with budding twigs, flowers, willow catkins, sprouting bulbs. Red and green are the colors of this festival. Red represents blood, the blood of sacrifice and life. Green symbolizes the growth of the plants. Honor various spring deities with their flowers: Narcisus and Hyacinth with those blooms, the red anemone for Adonis, violets for Attis, roses and lilies for the goddesses.

This is the traditional time for a great spring feast and the decoration of the table is as important as the food. There are many traditions from which to choose: Nawruz, Passover, Easter, St Joseph’s Day, Maimuna — all are variations on the theme of the spring feast, in which every item is symbolic.

Helen Farias in her seasonal newsletter, Octava, points out that certain foods are associated with springtime festivals: cheese, butter, eggs, pancakes, wheaten cakes, hot cross buns. Since this is a time when young animals are being born, milk is now available for making cheese and butter. In Poland, according to Dorothy Spicer in The Book of Festivals, a little lamb made of butter or sugar is placed in the center of the Easter table, which is laden with food and decorated with eggs, red paper cut-outs and festoons of green. Eggs symbolize new life, of course, and wheaten cakes, grain. In Italy, colored eggs are baked in braided loaves of bread on Easter, combining the two symbols. Hot cross buns, a traditional Easter food, may be very ancient. A wheaten cake marked with a cross was found in Herculaneum, preserved since 79, and may have been used in the spring rites.

Decorating Eggs

This is one of my favorites ways to celebrate spring. I’ve decorated eggs with nail polish, with food coloring and vinegar, with commercial egg dyes and with natural dyes. Pauline Campanelli in The Wheel of the Yeardescribes many natural substances that dye eggs. One of my favorites is boiling a single onion skin with a few eggs to get a soft orange. A handful of onion skins produces rust, a half teaspoon of turmeric gives a sunny yellow and beet juice and vinegar make pink. If you boil eggs with vinegar and several of the outer leaves of cabbage and allow them to cool overnight, the eggs will be a bright robin’s egg blue, but they must be handled carefully since the dye comes off easily.

A few years ago, I finally purchased the appropriate tool, a kitska (I got mine in the art supply department of our local university bookstore), and started making pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs). You place a bit of beeswax in the funnel of the kitska, then melt it over a candle flame and draw on the eggshell. It helps to have a lathe to hold the egg if you want absolutely even lines. Begin with a white egg and put wax on all the areas you want to stay white, then dye the egg yellow and cover all the areas with wax which you want to remain yellow, and so forth through orange, red and a dark color (brown, purple or black). When the egg is done, place it in a low temperature over for a few minutes to melt the wax, which is then rubbed off to reveal the intricate designs and glowing colors of your egg. I love the delicacy of the designs, the smell of the wax and the candle, and the trance-like quality of the whole process.

This is a great project for doing with a group. In the Ukraine, only women created these special eggs and they did so at night, when the children were asleep. If you want to use the eggs as talismans, they should be raw and whole (not blown out). Decorate them with symbols of the qualities you wish for yourself and your family and friends in the coming year. For example, draw sprouting leaves on an egg and bury it in your garden to help stimulate your plants.

 Blessing and Planting Seeds

Several years ago, my family celebrated with a very simple but effective ritual, based on the ceremony suggested by Nancy Brady Cunningham inFeeding the Spirit. Each person chose a seed or bulb that was meaningful to them. We blessed the seeds with a prayer from Campanelli: Now is the dark half of the year passing Now do the days grow light and the Earth grows warm I summon the spirit of these seeds Which have slept in darkness Awaken, stir and swell Soon you will be planted in the earth To grow and bring froth new fruit Blessed be! We sat quietly and visualized our plants in full bloom. Then we invoked each of the four elements necessary for the plants’ growth. We placed the seed in a pot of soil and patted down the earth, poured water on it, breathed on it to represent air and held the pot over a candle (or up to the sun, if outside) to represent the element fire (the warmth of the sun).

Add another layer of meaning to this ceremony by choosing seeds which represent the things you want tog row during the new year- — wisdom, understanding, patience, etc. Visualize those qualities coming into full bloom in your life as you plant your seeds.

This text comes from my book, Celebrating the Seasonal Holy Days, which is also available as a download when you sign up for my newsletter.

Sources
Budapest, Zsuzsanna E, The Grandmother of Time, Harper & Row 1989
Campanelli, Pauline, The Wheel of the Year, Llewellyn 1989
Cunningham, Nancy Brady, Feeding the Spirit, Resource Publications 1988 [I believe this is out of print but it can be purchased online] Farias, Helen, Octava no longer exists but some of Helen’s writings on seasonal holidays can be found in back issues of The Beltane Papers.
Murray, Gilbert, Five Stages of Greek Religion, Doubleday 1955

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Candlemas

February 2 is one of the great cross-quarter days which make up the wheel of the year. It falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and in many traditions is considered the beginning of spring.Awakening the Ground

In Western Europe, this was the time for preparing the fields for the first planting. Even in Seattle, you can begin turning over and enriching the soil in anticipation of the first sowing in March. Pamela Berger has written a book, The Goodess Obscured: Transformation of the Grain Protectress from Goddess to Saint, about the rituals celebrated at this time of year, when the ground is first awakened and the seed placed in the belly of the earth. This is a significant moment in a community which depends on the earth for sustenance. The fields were purified and offerings were made to the goddess.

This medieval Anglo-Saxon plowing charm, recorded by Berger, was said by the farmer while cutting the first furrow.

Whole be thou Earth
Mother of men.
In the lap of God,
Be thous as-growing.
Be filled with fodder
For fare-need of men.

The farmer then took a loaf of bread, kneaded it with milk and holy water and laid it under the first furrow, saying:

Acre full fed,
Bring forth fodder for men!
Blossoming brightly,
Blessed become;
And the God who wrought the ground,
Grant us the gifts of growing,
That the corn, all the corn,
may come unto our need.

The promises of the return of the light and the renewal of life which were made at the winter solstice are now becoming manifest. It’s the dawn of the year. It’s the time when a woman who is pregnant begins showing. It’s time to creep out of the hibernation of winter, cautiously, like the Ground Hog who supposedly emerges on this day to check his shadow. It’s the time of germination. This is a traditional time for new beginnings. Covens of witches usually initiate new members at this time.

St. Brigid, the Grain GoddessIn Ireland, this holy day is called Imbolc and begins at sunset on February 1 continuing through sunset February 2nd. There are several different derivations offered for the name Imbolc: from Ol-melc (ewe’s milk) because the ewes are lactating at this time, from Im-bolg (around the belly) in honor of the swelling belly of the earth goddess, and from folcaim (I wash) because of the rites of purification which took place at this time. All of these explanations capture the themes of this festival.

February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began her life as a pagan goddess and ended up a Christian saint. She was a fire and fertility goddess. In her temple at Kildare, vestal virgins tended an eternal fire. On her feast day, her statue was washed in the sea (purification) and then carried in a cart through the fields surrounded by candles.

The legends about the goddess, Brigid, gradually became associated with (the somewhat spurious) Saint Brigid who founded the first convent in Ireland (where else?) at Kildare.

To celebrate St. Brigid’s day, people put out a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the Saint and an ear of corn for her white cow, offerings for the grain goddess like the loaf buried in the first furrow. A small quantity of special seeds are mixed with those to be sown. Wheat stalks are woven into X-shaped crosses to serve as charms to protect home from fire and lightning.

In the HIghlands, women dress the corn doll or last sheaf (from Lammas or the autumn equinox) in a bridal gown and put her in a basket, which is called the Bride’s bed. A wand, candle or other phallic object is laid across her and Bride is invited to come, for her bed is ready.

Purification

The Catholic Church, as it was wont to do, found an opportunity to superimpose a Christian holiday on this pagan festival. Jewish women went through a purification ceremony 40 days after the birth of a male child (80 days after the birth of a female child). So in the 6th century (according to J.C. Cooper in The Aquarian Dictionary of Festivals,February 2 (which falls 39 days after Christmas) was declared the feast of the Purification of Mary. The theme of purification remained a link between the two holy days.

Like many miraculous babies, Jesus is recognized as a future hero from the time of his infancy. One of these recognitions occurs in Luke 2:21 when he is being presented in the temple (at the time of Mary’s purification ) and a holy man, Simeon, recognizes him as the Christ, calling him “a light for revelation.”

This is the ostensible reason given for the custom of bringing candles to church to be blessed by the priest on February 2nd. They are then take home where they serve as talismans and protections from all sorts of disasters. This custom is the origin for the name Candle-mass. In Hungary, according to Dorothy Spicer in The Book of Festivals, February 2nd is called Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman (Gyertyazsenteio Boidog Asszony). In Poland, it is called Mother of God Who Saves Us From Thunder (Swieto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej).

Actually, this festival has always been associated with fire. In ancient Armenia (writes Spicer), this was the date of the pagan spring festival in honor of Mihr, the God of fire. Originally, fires were built in his honor in open places and a lantern was lit which burned in the temple throughout the year. When Armenia became Christian, the fires were built in church courtyards instead. People danced about the flames, jumped over them and carried home embers to kindle their own fires from the sacred flames.

Since Lent can sometimes begin as early as February 4th, some Candlemas customs became associated with Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and the beginning of Lent, which is a time of purification.

Saint Brigid
Celebrating CandlemasCandles and Christmas Greens

The main element of your decorating scheme for Candlemas is fairly obvious: candles. You can gather all the candles in your home in one room and light them from one central candle. Or place a candle in each window (but watch them carefully).

Candlemas is one of the traditional times for taking down Christmas decorations (Twelfth Night, on January 6th, is the other). If you are very careful (because they are tinder dry), you can burn them. Or, better yet, return them to the earth mother by using them for compost or mulch.

Certain foods are traditional for Candlemas, including crepes, pancakes and cakes, all grain-based foods. Pancakes and crepes are considered symbols of the sun because of their round shape and golden color.

If you have a fireplace, clean out your hearth and then light a new fire. Sit around the fire and reflect on your hopes for the coming year. What do you hope to accomplish? What are you passionate about? What seeds do you wish to plant? Discuss these ideas with others or write them down in a journal but make them concrete in some way so that on Lammas (August 2nd, the festival of the first harvest), you can look back to see what progress you’ve made.

Brigid is the goddess of creative inspiration as well as reproductive fertility. This is a good time for sharing creative work, or, if you don’t think of yourself as especially creative, an idea that worked or a plan that materialized. Thank the Goddess for her inspiration, perhaps by dedicating a future work to her.

Making Pledges and Commitments

Since Candlemas is a time of new beginnings, this is a good day to ritually celebrate all things new. Plan a ceremony to name a new baby, officially welcome a new person into a family or plight your troth to your beloved. Make a commitment to a goal (like a New Years resolution): this would be an especially powerful thing to do in a group.

In San Francisco, the Reclaiming Collective sponsors a big public ritual called Brigid, which focuses on political commitment. After acknowledging despair over the events of the past year, the participants reflect on the source of their own power and then make a pledge in front of the community about the work they intend to do during the coming year. During this ritual, the flames in a cauldron represent Brigid’s Sacred Flame, the fire of inspiration and passion, while a punch bowl filled with waters gathered from all over the world represents Brigid’s Holy Well, the source of healing and purification.

If you plan your own ceremony, use these two powerful symbols: fire and water. For instance, wash your hands and bathe your face in salt water, which is especially good for purification. Light a candle as you make your pledge. Incorporate the third symbol of the holiday — seeds — by planting a seed or bulb in a pot to symbolize your commitment, or by blessing a bowl or packet of seeds that you will plant later.

Purification and Renewal

Have you ever given anything up for Lent? If not, you might consider it. You don’t have to be Catholic to gain spiritual benefits from the voluntary surrender of something you cherish. You can give up something frivolous or something serious, but it should be something you will notice. Folk wisdom says it takes six weeks (or approximately the 40 days of Lent) to establish a new habit, so you may end up with a lifestyle change.

The kids in our neighborhood have eagerly embraced the idea of giving up something for Lent. We know one little girl who gave up TV for Lent and another who gave up catsup, her favorite food. In the last two years, I’ve given up alcohol and coffee for Lent. Forty days is enough time to notice the difference in the way you feel without a favorite substance or distraction.

Since Candlemas is often considered the beginning of spring, you can perform another ritual act of purification: spring cleaning. This would be a good time to do a thorough house cleaning, sweeping the floors with salt water, banishing the gloom of winter and creating a sparkling, shiny new setting for spring.

From my book, Celebrating the Seasonal Holy Days, which is available as a free download when you subscribe to my newsletter.

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Alasitas

In La Paz, Bolivia, the new year is welcomed with the month-long festival of Alasitas. The festival has its roots in the custom of the indigenous people, the Ayumara, who prayed for good crops in the coming year and gave each other gifts. In pre-Conquest times, these gifts were often miniatures representing what they would like to receive or achieve in the New Year.

Leslie Jamison writes about this tradition in The Empathy Exams: “For three weeks, markets around the Parque Urbano are full of tiny objects, tiny everything: tiny horses, tiny computers, tiny diplomas, tiny houses, tiny Jeeps, tiny llamas and tiny llaminiaturesma steaks, tiny passports. People buy models of whatever they need most: a new house, a new farm animal, enough food to last the year. They offer their miniature figurines to a miniature man—Ekeko the midget, the Aymara god of abundance, a smoking doll cloaked in bright wool. They pin their miniature desires to his miniature poncho.”

Originally held in October, the festival was moved to January 24 to coincide with the celebration of Our Lady of Peace for whom La Paz is named. Here’s a lovely blog post by Mick Huerta about the festival which is where I also found the photo.

Consider making a representation of what you most want in the new year. I’m gathering with friends this year to make my New Year collage which is my version, but it would also be fun to create or purchase a three-dimensional symbol of your dreams for the coming year.

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Candlemas Collages

My New Year’s practice is to make a collage that represents the experiences I hope to enjoy in the new year. For the past few years, I’ve been making Soul Collage (R) cards to embody the themes I’ve chosen for the year.

To the left, you can see my three themes for 2010 as works in progress: Refreshment, Sustainability and Sovereignity.

On the other side of the table you get an upside-down view of the collage my friend Janis made.  We love this ritual which we have been sharing for years. We light candles, make wishes, drink tea, nibble on cookies and play with images.

In 2011, my theme cards were Spaciousness, Clarity and Surrender to the Mystery.

Spaciousness

Clarity

(I did note that most of the images in this card were out of focus and the goal remained fuzzy as well; however the bird theme really showed up in my life in 2011)

and

Surrender to the Mystery, a theme that stayed mysterious all year.

Here’s a photo from my 2013 session. This card is called Presence, not pasted down.

Once they are done, I put them up on the wall in the entry way of my home where they will remind me every time I enter of my themes for the year.

Here are my 2016 collages on the piano:

new year collages

From left to right, Creative Expession, Rising Above the Drama, [mystery card? maybe Flow?], Spaciousness and Abundance.

Originally published 2/9/2010.

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New Year’s Eve

If New Year’s eve night wind blows South,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If West, much milk and fish in the sea,
If North, much cold and storms there will be;
If East, the trees will bear much fruit;
If North-east, flee it, man and brute.

From Charles Kightly, The Perpetual Almanack of Folklore

Out with the old and in with the new. Before midnight, sweep and clean your house and take out all the trash because you don’t want to sweep tomorrow (you will sweep the good luck away) or take anything out of the house (you only want to bring new things in to insure abundance during the coming year). Be sure you finish any work you have in hand for a task carried over will never prosper.

Everything you do on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is freighted with significance. The American custom of spending the night with the one you love and kissing them at midnight insures that the relationship will flourish during the coming yeRoyalFireworksar. In Vienna, the pig is the symbol of good luck. Pigs are let loose in restaurants and everyone tries to touch it as it runs by for luck. In private homes, a marzipan pig, with a gold piece in its mouth, is suspended from a ribbon and touched instead. In Saratoga Springs, New York, it’s a peppermint pig that brings good luck and good health for the coming year. The pig is cracked with a hammer after a holiday meal and shared among the guests.

In Italy, I’ve been told, you have to watch out for falling objects on New Year’s Eve, as people shove their old sofas, chairs and even refrigerators out of the windows of their apartments on New Year’s Eve. In Greece, according to Patricia Storace in Dinner with Persephone, it’s customary to throw a pomegranate wrapped in silver foil on the threshold, to spread the seeds of good luck for an abundant year.

The first person to cross your threshold after midnight brings luck into the house. In medieval Britain, the best possible first-footer was a tall dark-haired handsome man, who brought gifts of whisky, bread, a piece of coal or firewood and a silver coin. He entered in silence and no one spoke to him until he put the coal on the fire, poured a glass for the head of the house and wished everyone a Happy New Year. If this concept doesn’t work for you, figure out what would and make sure it happens.

In Spanish-speaking countries, people put twelve grapes into their wine or champagne class at midnight. The grapes are twelve to represent the months of the old year and the new year. At the stroke of midnight, after toasting each other with the wine, people eat the grapes as quickly as possible, an act which brings luck. According to Saveur (Nov 2011), this custom began in 1909 when grape growers in the provinces of Alicantae and Murcia promoted this as a way to get rid of their bumper crops. (I have to admit I’m a dubious about this as I don’t see how having each person eat twelve grapes on one night a year would really have much impact on a bumper crop.) They ate one grape each time the bell tolled to mark midnight. I’ve also been told this is a Greek tradition—the difference being that you had to stuff all twelve grapes into your mouth on the stroke of midnight.

One popular method of divination, used to determine your future in the new year, is to prick a newly-laid egg at the smaller end with a pin, and let three drops of the egg white fall into a bowl of water. Interpret the designs it makes to get a glimpse of what will happen to you in the new year. Another traditional method of divination is to open a Bible at midnight and interpret the passage beneath your finger.

Image: A VIEW of the FIRE-WORKES and ILLUMINATIONS at his GRACE the Duke of RICHMOND’S at WHITEHALL and on the River Thames on Monday 15 May 1749

 

 

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The Year End Book

My collage for 2009

One of my favorite rituals of the year is my ritual of review. I reserve the time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve as a time of reflection on the year past. (I share this ritual through my 12 Days of Christmas class and also a book I’ve put together that contains the ideas below and much more.)

I go over my records of the past year (my journals, my planners, the photos I’ve taken, my financial records) to get a sense of the year. My journals contain dreams, writing logs, kvetches, reviews of books read, and new ideas, all neatly indexed at the back of each notebook, so this is not as onerous a task it might be. I developed this indexing system to make this process easier. I make top ten lists, print financial reports, look for an image or title that describes the year (I’m currently playing around with the idea that it has been the Year of Hiding).

I know other people use different systems for conducting a year-end review. Chris Guillebeau uses metrics and a spreadsheet. (I love his system!). Several of my Facebook friends are currently posting their Status clouds (I get nervous when a FB application says it’s going to access all my information, including the names of my friends, so I haven’t tried this yet). I think you could come up with something similar on your own (just pull out the status reports you like, put them in a block with adjusted spacing and wing-dings between entries, and add some decorative elements).

I like to end up with something concrete, something that can symbolize the year. One year I invited all of my friends to a creativity party and asked them to bring something that symbolized the year past. People brought poems and collages, paintings and sculptures; one woman did an interpretive dance! It was pretty amazing and entertaining.

Last year I found a software program that helped me create a gorgeous little book that’s like a love letter to my year. I’ve been dancing a happy dance in my brain all year, just anticipating the pleasure of making another one this year.

The software is called BookSmart and I found it at a web site called Blurb. You download the software to your computer and use it to create your book. It does have a learning curve; it’s not terribly user friendly but it is intuitive. Basically you get your choice of different templates and you can pull your photos and text into them. It reminds me a little of the old design program we used to use to create The Beltane Papers. You choose templates (you can use a different one for every page) from the top left of the screen. You can also upload your pictures to a bar on the left and then just drag them into the screen.

This screen shot shows two sample pages from last year’s book. (if you click on it, you can see a larger version.) At the bottom of the page you can see the thumbnails of other pages in the book. That yellow triangle with the exclamation point is trying to tell me one of my pictures isn’t of high enough resolution to reproduce well. I just ignored it because this wasn’t for professional purposes, just for my own entertainment.

Of course, you could create your own book using a design program that you know well and then turn it into a PDF and then send it to a print-on-demand company like Lulu. I used them happily to publish my Slow Time book. But the advantage with BookSmart is that they’ve come up with a design template that is ideal for arty little books. The disadvantage is that they’re a little more pricey (per book) than other print-on-demand companies but since I’m only using them to make one precious, glossy, pretty copy for me, that doesn’t bother me. There are also options that allow you to share your book with your friends online, for instance, via Facebook.

I hope whatever rituals you employ to reflect upon and summarize your year are satisfying.

Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher and dancer. She founded School of the Seasons, edits Living in Season and is the author of Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life.

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September New Year

applewreathFrom early on (OCY suggests 462), this was the first date of both the calendar year and the religious year in Greece. It is still considered the start of the year in the Greek Orthodox calendar.

Since this is the beginning of the autumn sowing season, Greek farmers take seeds to church to be blessed (much like farmers in France on February 3rd). In Greece, people also make first-of-the-year wreaths with fruits and herbs which symbolize abundance. On the island of Kos, people use pomegranates, grapes, quinces, garlic bulbs and plane-tree leaves; on Rhodes, they work with walnuts, onions, garlic, grapes, tufts of cotton and bags full of grain. Just before dawn on September 1st, the children take the old wreaths down to the sea and throw them in; the new ones are dipped in the ocean water for good luck. Only after the new wreaths are hung up can the sowing begin.

Another new year tradition involves collecting 40 pebbles from the beach and water from the tops of 40 waves in a jar which is taken home and kept as a protection charm.

This is an ominous day as well as a beginning, for this is the day the Angel of Death writes down the names of all those who will die in the coming year, expressing the quality of judgement also found in the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashana, which falls on the new moon of September. This suggests the two holidays derive from the same source as the first of September would have been the new moon (first day) of the lunar month.

Blackburn, Bonnie & Leofranc Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, Oxford University Press 1999
Rufus, Anneli, The World Holiday Book: Celebrations for Every Day of the Year, Harper San Francisco 1994

Photo credit: The apple wreath is modern but seems emblematic. It was found here.

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My Favorite Calendars

Photo by Melissa Gayle West

[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.

Jim Maynard’s Pocket Astrologer

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.

Planner Pad

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.

Wall Calendars

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.

Almanacs

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.

Creative Calendars

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.

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