Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Beginning

"Sacred living is living in the knowledge that we are part of something larger than ourselves. It is being grateful for life while we live it. It is observing and celebrating changes as they come every day, whether they are seasonal or personal. It is being with what is and creating commemorative moments through rituals or ceremonies when it feels right.
Life is a mystery - awe inspiring like nothing humans can create or invent. It is self-cleansing, self-balancing, and constantly nurturing. Celebrating that mystery brings us into closer communion with life and with each other."
Sacred Living: A Daily Guide by Robin Hereens Lysne

Tomorrow begins a new year. With each new year brings a fresh start, a clear path, a new beginning.
All around the world people have special rituals and celebrations to bring in the new year and ensure that it is a great one. One custom holds that placing coins on your windowsills at night on New Year's Eve will draw more prosperity your way in the coming year. Charge some coins by placing one on each windowsill in your home. Pick them up the following evening, and be sure to use them over the course of the week when making purchases. The idea is that by using them, they will return you multiplied.

It is considered bad luck to engage in marriage proposals, break glass, spin flax, sweep or carry out the trash on New Year's Eve.

In some parts of the country a large bird is constructed from chicken wire, and participants attach pieces of paper on which they have written their hopes for the new year. The following new year's eve, the bird is set on fire, and a new one is constructed. Think phoenix rising from the ashes.

A slightly different version of this is weaving wish or blessing strips into a Yule wreath.. At midnight, during a round of toasts, oaths are made. These oaths are taken very seriously, the term for this is orlog - what is done and said sets the tone for the coming year. Orlog can be thought of as the law of how things will be, laid down by wyrd or fate. Suffice it to say the oaths are not said in jest, but meant. At dawn of the new year, the Yule wreath is burned amidst great noise, such as bell ringing.

One ritual that I have participated in myself, is the Burning Bowl Ritual. On strips of paper, write down anything you want to release from the past year - bad habits, ways of thinking or being that no longer serve you, relationships that have ended. Burn these strips of paper in a fire, either in the fireplace or a firepit outdoors. Once these strips have been burned to ash, make a new list on a new sheet of paper, writing down those things you want to keep or improve upon or accomplish. Fold it up and keep it in your pocket.

As always, my family makes sure we welcome the First Footer. It just wouldn't be right if we didn't!

Some rituals I came upon that are wonderful ways to wind down the old year before beginning the new:

As we all know, the end of the year is an excellent time for new beginnings. Cleansing yourself with complementary alchemical agents can enhance this opportunity for rebirth by drawing on the basic elements of life. In a large pot, bring the following ingredients to a boil, then strain, cover, and let cool until warm to the touch.
1 bottle of red wine
1 apple, diced
1 book of matches (for the sulphur)
1 T. anise seed
3 T. sea salt
1 cup of apple juice
2 cups of pure spring water or fresh river water
When ready, stand naked in a full, warm bathtub. Lift the pot over your head and drench your body in the brew of rebirth. (Do not drink the body wash). Feel the water embrace you as you return to the womb of the Great Mother. Allow your pains and sorrows to leave you, let her take them from you. When you have finished, drain the tub. Feel this water break as the inevitable force of change and when the water is all gone, slide or crawl from the tub and learn to stand once again.
(Rebirth - Estha McNevin, Llewellyn, December 31, 2010)

A few minutes before midnight, light a white candle to symbolize the new year. Then set it in a prominent place and move to your front door. Open the door wide and say the spell as the new year is born.
"As the clock strikes twelve, so begins a new calendar year.
Now ring in prosperity, health, happiness, and good cheer.
I welcome this magical year with hope and open arms.
May I keep my vows to help, to heal, and to cause no harm.
By the powers of hearth and home this spell is spun,
As I will it so shall it be, and let it harm none."
(A New Year s Affirmation - By Ellen Dugan, Llewellyn's Spell-a-Day, December 31, 2007)

To make a magical money charm to attract wealth to your own empty pockets you will need a small square of green or gold cloth and a matching ribbon, several coins, a few small cinnamon sticks, and some patchouli oil. Early on New Year's Eve spend some time fondling the coins, infusing them with your desire for prosperity. When you have done this for as long as you can, place a drop of patchouli oil on each of them and place them, with the cinnamon sticks, in the center of the cloth. Pull up the ends of the fabric and tie the top shut. Place the charm in your pocket or purse which will be with you when the year turns.
At midnight, or whenever else you (or your magical tradition) observe the change of time, hold it tight and remember that it is there for you, releasing its wealth of magic for the coming year.
(A Prosperity Charm for the New Year - Edain McCoy, 1994)

But what if you just plain want to have some fun? The past is the past, you say, and you just want a night to play?

Well, you'll need hats. And confetti. And things that make noise. Get some of those otherwise obnoxious, but perfectly acceptable for tonight, kazoo horns. String tiny bells on nylon thread and make jingly, tinkly bracelets.

Make or buy a piñata that looks like the face of a clock. Fill it accordingly to suit your guest list, from candy for kids (and adults!) to cheap jewelry.

If you have already removed all the ornaments from your Christmas tree, consider leaving it up, but this time decorated with items related to New Year's Eve. This is limited only by your imagination.

If your celebration is just you and your kids, play board games and write the name of the winner inside the box lid. Next year see if a new champion can be found.

At midnight, after you sing Auld Lang Syne, consider having a candlelit breakfast and talk about your hopes for the new year.

And never, ever, forget to have plenty of food to snack on and drinks to quench your thirst. Have fun, but keep it safe. Invite friends and family to stay the night, if you need to, in order to make sure everyone remains not only safe, but sound.

And remember, make every day a day to celebrate. Happy New Year!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hana Matsuri

Today is Hana Matsuri, or a flower festival celebrating the birth of Buddha. While historians may debate both his actual birth and death date, the story surrounding his birth is filled with beautiful symbolism.

As the story goes, his mother, the queen Maya, had a dream. In her dream, angels carried her high into the mountains and clothed her in flowers. A white bull elephant carrying a lotus flower in its trunk approached her. After walking in circles around her three times, it struck her on her right side with its trunk and disappeared into her. When she awoke, she told her husband, King Suddhodana, about her dream. He summoned Brahmans to interpret her dream. They revealed that she would give birth to a son, and the son would either be a conqueror or a buddha. Which destiny would be determined depending on whether or not he ever left their household.

When the queen was near birth, she desired to take a trip to her childhood home to give birth. Passing a grove of beautiful flowering trees, Queen Maya chose to enter the grove. As she reached up to touch a blossom, her son was born. At that moment, mother and son were showered with flower blossoms and gently falling rain.

During Hana Matsuri, an altar is decorated with flowers and a statue of the infant Buddha is placed in the middle. The statue is bathed in tea made from hydrangea flowers to represent the rain that fell the day he was born.

Today be certain to take the time to smell the flowers. Slow down. Have a cup of tea. Celebrate life. Read and learn more about the life of  Siddhartha Gautama. And remember this:

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. - Buddha

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An Entire Room Devoted to Valentines!

A lot of people complain about the commercial and corporate interests of Valentine's Day. Others promote Single Awareness Day or SAD. Not me.

I adore Valentine's Day, mostly because of all of the pinks and reds and hearts. Granted, I do have a husband who buys me things, so I can't lie - that is definitely appealing. But it is not why I love the day. I truly do love it like I said, for the colors and hearts.

So much, in fact, I dedicated a room to it. There is a little room between the master bedroom and the master bath that accesses our closets. It has a little built in vanity, and I realized I spend more time in there than my husband does. He gets in his closet or walks through to get to the bathroom. Since I had an abundance of heart themed treasures, I had an idea.

And my Valentine room was born.

It started with a collection of heart candy boxes.

And continued from there. I picked out a shade of pink that I liked; not too pink but not too pale. I stripped off the wallpaper that had been there since we moved in and repaired the walls before priming. Two coats later and I was in love!

I couldn't wait to start hanging up all the heart themed shelves!

I took some shelves that had been intended for over the commode but never worked well, had my dad cut it in half and attach them side by side and painted it a dark rose color.

I bought some pink and rose colored stones to trim it with, but haven't gotten to that point yet. I can finally display my sweet cherub boxes again!

My collection of heart baskets were all spray painted either pale or darker pink and hung over the doorways.

The little vanity is back in action and distinctly girlified!

I found a home for the adorable hat box I bought.

And most importantly, my collection of Valentine themed stuffed animals have a place to reside.

I even have a heart trash can!

Did I mention the trash can liners are rose scented?

I can't walk into or through the room without grinning. I bought rose candles to scent the room. I'm planning small heart cross stitched pieces for the picture frames that I don't fill with pictures of family.

I haven't painted the trim yet. I want to find a pearly sparkly color, and haven't had much chance to look yet.

Now to find something to do with these heart ornaments!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras!

Party time! Today is Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras is French for *fat Tuesday*.  It is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40 period of fasting and penance known as Lent. Because practitioners were expected to give up animal products are a part of their fasting, all of those foods were to be consumed or thrown out by midnight. One common way to use up everything was in large feasts, especially the making of pancakes.

Another term for today is Shrove Tuesday, from the word shrive, which means confess. This is explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon "Ecclesiastical Institutes" translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric (q.v.) about A.D. 1000: "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then my hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]". I suspect the celebrations leading up to Ash Wednesday may have created much to confess! ;)

It is known as Fasching in Bavaria and Austria, Fosnat in Franconia, Fasnet in Swabia, Fastnacht in Mainz and its environs, and Karneval in Cologne and the Rhineland. The beginning of the pre-Lenten season generally is considered to be Epiphany (January 6), but in Cologne, where the festivities are the most elaborate, the official beginning is marked on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. Merrymaking may get underway on the Thursday before Lent, but the truly rambunctious revelry associated with Fasching usually reaches its high point during the three days preceding Ash Wednesday, culminating on Shrove Tuesday. The names of these final days also vary regionally. (Encyclopedia Britannica) Historically, during Fasching the lower classes were allowed to wear costumes and masks and to mimic aristocracy and heads of church and state without fear of retribution for mockery. Take a look at any modern Mardi Gras celebration, and you will see plenty of costumes and masks!

From Epiphany (Den trí králu) until Ash Wednesday (Popelecní streda), the people in the Czech Republic celebrate a season of merrymaking and masquerading called masopust. Literally, the word masopust means "good-bye to meat".

This carnival atmosphere is what is known as a valve custom. With the enforcement of restrictions upon eating, drinking and sexuality, "valve customs" developed, occasions "to live it up," to satisfy cravings and thus restore a psychological balance in individuals and populations. Some scholars explain Carnival traditions as remnants of pre-Christian, Teutonic or Celtic rites. Indeed many features can be traced to end-of-the-year festivals which were celebrated during the winter solstice as the birthday of the sun god, honored not only by the Germanic peoples, but also by Egyptians, Syrians, Greek and Romans under differing names. Many customs made their way from the Renaissance and Baroque courts into cities and towns and from there into villages. Other customs evolved in the more recent past.

You can celebrate today easily enough by making, of course, Mardi Gras colored pancakes or waffles. You can find out how to do that here. Other ideas might include:

Have a party! Break out the colorful masks or make your own.

The idea is to feast until you feel like bursting, so pull out all the stops and make everyone's favorite dishes, invite guests to bring a potluck dish, order several pizzas.

Decorate in greens and purples and golds. Mardi Gras beads can be purchased at party shops, so stock up. One thing I saw in New Orleans that I loved was all the beads in the trees!

This is a dress up event, the crazier the better! Take plenty of pictures!

Have fun, but stay safe, and don't post any pictures of the festivities that include people without their permission. You want your guests to feel safe to be a little crazy.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

St. Agatha

St. Agatha's feast day is February 5, commemorating the day she died, as is the case with all saint's feast days. Agatha died ca. 251 during the Christian persecutions under Decius. She was known to have been a very pretty girl from a wealthy family, who had the misfortune to catch the eye of Quintian, the Governor of Sicily. Agatha refused Quintian's affections, having taken a Christian vow of purity and devotion to Christ. Quintian had Agatha first sent to a brother, then later imprisoned and brutally tortured and her breasts were severed. Quintian's tortures continued and she finally died unshaken in her dedication to Christ.

Devotion to her spread beyond Sicily and she is honored for her courage in suffering and her devotion and commitment to Christ. St. Agatha is the patron saint of Sicily, nurses, bakers, miners, jewelers, Alpine guides, and those suffering from breast cancer. She is also the protector against earthquakes, volcanoes, fires and thunderstorms.

The devotion to her is greatest in the village of Catania, in Sicily. Starting on the 2nd of February and ending on the 5th, the Saint Agatha festival is celebrated by the entire village.

Feasts for Saint Agatha Day include the blessing of the bread. This tradition may have originated due to misconceptions that renditions of St. Agatha with her breasts on a platter were mistaken for her presenting a platter of bread.

Another tradition is the making of Minni di Virgini, a cake shaped like breasts. The cake is made with sponge cake, ricotta cheese, chocolate and candied fruit. A red candied cherry completes the cake.

Ways you can celebrate or honor St. Agatha today might include making your own version of Minni di Virgini, or perhaps shaping bread to resemble a breast.

Make a donation to breast cancer research. One way we did last year was to donate a car to a breast cancer research organization. We chose them because the bulk of their money goes to research and not administration. Look around and see if there is anything like that where you live.

Agatha is the patron saint of nurses and bakers, so bake something special and take it to your favorite nurse or nurses as a way to say thank you.

If you haven't done a breast exam lately, make sure to do one today. If you need to schedule a mammogram, do so. If you know someone who has or has had breast cancer, take them out for lunch or supper and show them you care about their struggle. If they are currently being treated, ask what you can do for them. Cancer is an ugly beast, and sufferers deal with it each in their own way. You won't know how you can help unless you ask.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

National Bubble Bath Day

Do you think bubble baths are for kids only? Wrong! They are for everyone! I love taking bubble baths, and I am many years past childhood. They are soothing, they are fun, and well, I just plain like them.

Many adults today are always in a rush. They don't have time for a bath, they say. Instead they hop in the shower. It cleans you just as well, right? Sure, but isn't nearly pleasant an experience as a bath. Especially one with bubbles...

You can buy them readily at most retail outlets, but it is a simple enough thing to make your own.

Mix 1/2 cup of baby shampoo with 3/4 cup of water and 1/2 t. of glycerin and 2-3 drops of your favorite essential oil. Citrus oils are great, but do some research into what oils are safe to use and make sure you aren't allergic to any. Add 1-2 T. of this mixture to warm running water. Experiment with different scents. Indulge and soak in your favorite bath.

To get the full effects of bathing as a relaxation tool, lie back comfortably in the tub and close your eyes. Listen to your breathing. By listening, you are concentrating, which allows your mind to quiet itself of all other stresses. Do this for about 5 to 10 minutes and you will feel very relaxed and replenished. You just meditated! To help set the peaceful mood, light some candles (not too close to the tub!) and turn on soft, relaxing music on low. Bath pillows are a necessary addition.

You just indulged yourself. Wasn't it great, if only in your mind? Now, go run some hot water and make some bubbles. I can already hear the sighs of pleasure.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Celebrating St. Basil's Day

Today Greeks celebrate the feast of St. Basil. Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great,  was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. He was the first bishop to establish orphanages and hospitals and old age homes.

New Year is perhaps even more festive and important than Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of St Basil's kindness to children and the stories of how he would come in the night and leave gifts for the children in their shoes. He is sometimes associated with Santa Claus, known by some as “Agios Basilis”.

In many Greek homes, a special cake is baked on the eve of St. Basil's Day with a gold or silver coin hidden inside. In the evening, just before midnight strikes and the new year begins, all the lights are turned off for a minute to signify the dawning of a New Year. Wishes for "A Happy New Year!" are given and the cake, or vasilopita (St. Basil's cake) is cut: one slice for St. Basil, one for each family member, one for each of the pets, and then the largest slice of all is cut for the poor people of the world. In one of these slices is hidden the coin, which brings blessings to its recipient throughout the year.

I didn't have time to make a cake for today, so instead will be trying out something entirely different. Cake balls. You turn dried out cake (in our case, rum cake!) into crumbs and mix with frosting. Chill. Roll into balls and dip into melted chocolate. Eat. Sounds decadent even to me!

If the excitement of Christmas is over and you want to have some fun, this is a day to do it. Make the gifts come from either a dollar store or be homemade. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant, just fun.

Other fun traditions to do include Hogmanay (with your First Footer) and traditional foods of blackeyed peas and collards. You can find recipes for those (including Hoppin' John) here and here.

From my house to yours:  'Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit!' A prosperous New Year!

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