Make Our House Fair as We are Able

This weekend, we’ll clean the windows and put an electric candle on the sill inside each to illuminate the night. It’s a winter tradition that Seth brings from his family, and one that has come to signify the start of Advent in this house. Pure white light piercing the darkness; one of the simple pleasures I love about this time of year as we begin our time of expectation for Christmas.

And while we will begin lighting our daily Advent candle and opening each night a window on our Advent calendar on the First of December, the actual Advent season arrives a bit earlier this year: Sunday brings the First Sunday of Advent. The Advent ring is center for each of the four Sundays to come: a ring of four candles in a wreath of pine. In the Catholic tradition, three of the candles are purple and one is rose. Purple, the color of penitence and rose the color of joy. It is a time of expectation and preparation and of making our house as fair as we are able, as a French Advent carol goes… the “house” being not just the literal house but the figurative one, as well: the heart, the soul––the need to feel joy before we start singing all those songs of joy once Christmas actually arrives. And so on this First Sunday of Advent we will light one purple candle. The following Sunday, two purple candles. The Third Sunday, which is called Gaudete Sunday, we light the two purple candles and we add the rose candle, too, as that third week focuses on the joy of anticipation. And finally, on the last Sunday before Christmastime, we light all four candles.

The candle colors vary among traditions. Some denominations use blue and white candles, for instance, others, all white and others, red. But the concept remains the same: that in this time of increasing darkness, as the nights get longer and longer on the road to the solstice of Midwinter, we respond with ever increasing light of our own. If you are religious, it will represent the light of Christ. If you are not, let those candles represent the light within: your own light, your compassion and kindness: Hide not your light under a bushel.

Advent serves another purpose, too: It is part of what we have come to call the Slow Christmas Movement, which to me is about setting the stage to make a proper welcome for the yuletide season that arrives once Christmas Eve begins. But it’s been a tough year, hasn’t it? Lord knows we’ve all set the stage for needing joy over the course of this entire year. You do what’s right for you. Here, we will still follow these old ways, for that is what makes us happiest. What matters is we find joy where we can, and share it with others. That’s the whole point of hiding not your light.

It’s not too late to order from our selection of sparkly Advent calendars from Germany and our daily Advent candles from England! We ship Priority Mail (2 days to most US destinations) AND we’re running a sale: It’s our Christmas Stock-Up Sale: $10 off your purchase of $75 plus free domestic shipping; use discount code STREETFAIR at checkout. Or earn free domestic shipping with your purchase of $50 (no code required). “Yule” find many great gift ideas at our online catalog!


The Ragamuffin Thanksgiving

As someone who loves Hallowe’en and who remembers every single costume I ever wore as a boy, I am naturally fascinated by old photos of Hallowe’en costumes and stories of trick or treating. But years ago, when I was old enough to start getting curious about my family’s own stories, I inadvertently stumbled onto a bit of a mystery. I had asked my parents about Hallowe’en costumes and trick or treating when they were kids in Brooklyn, and they both said the same thing: that they didn’t really do much of that for Hallowe’en. Mom, however, piped in that she did remember dressing up and going door to door on Thanksgiving. “Anything for Thanksgiving?” was the phrase the costumed kids uttered when folks opened their doors. When I learned this from Mom, all those years ago, I think I just tucked the information away in my head under a category called That’s Weird, for I had never heard of such a thing, and it was definitely not the answer I was looking for when I had asked the question.

Be that as it may, this strange Hallowe’en-like Thanksgiving tradition, it turns out, was prevalent across the country in the early 1900s, but most especially in New York, where Mom and Dad grew up, and where the word Ragamuffin became associated with the Thanksgiving begging. There was even an annual Ragamuffin Parade. These things would eventually be frowned upon by leaders seeking a more genteel city––an early victim of gentrification. Nowadays, this old Thanksgiving custom is hardly known, faded with other relics of distant memory of that place once known as New Amsterdam.

Lately, I’ve come to learn more about this tradition, mainly through stories I’ve heard in recent years on NPR. The stories all back up my mom’s story, making her experience sound less bizarre. Rather than retell the story myself, I’m going to send you to one of those stories in the archives of the NPR website. Fittingly enough, it’s titled When Thanksgiving was Weird. The story is accompanied by some wonderful photographs. I probably wouldn’t even have thought about it this year were it not for the fact that my friend Jim Hammond, of Florida Day of the Dead fame, mentioned the Ragamuffin tradition recently on a social media post. So thank you, Jim, and thank you, Mom. And thank you to each of you who faithfully reads this blog. It means the world to me that you do. Happy Thanksgiving. May it be weird for you, in only the best way.

Image: Thanksgiving Maskers, circa 1910–1915. Photograph, Bain News Service / Library of Congress.

Please do keep in mind our big Christmas Stock-Up Sale continues! $10 off your purchase of $75 at our catalog, plus free domestic shipping, makes a savings of $18.50. So many wonderful gifts to choose from, including Mom’s own handmade Millie’s Potholders, some new things from the Sabbathday Lake Shakers that smell incredible (plus their teas and herbs and rose water that taste wonderful), plus sparkly German Advent calendars and handmade British Advent candles, and a brand new shipment of Mexican painted tin ornaments arriving this week. And more, more, more. Your support of our mission on a transactional basis like this means you believe in what we do and in the work of all the artisans we support, too. That’s a powerful thing in these uncertain times.

Looks like we WILL be popping up in a safe way this Christmas season! Watch our Facebook and Instagram feeds (@conviviobookworks) for current news of days when we’ll be setting up shop at our favorite Christmas tree lot, Mr. Jingle’s Christmas Trees, in the heart of Downtown West Palm Beach at the corner of Quadrille and Lakeview, just across the tracks from Rosemary Square (formerly known as City Place). Proper address: 419 Lakeview Avenue, West Palm Beach 33401. Current plan is for Convivio Bookworks to be there for the first time this season the weekend of December 5 and 6 (and other days, as well), with a big selection of our Christmas and Advent artisan goods from Germany and Sweden and Mexico, our Shaker herbs and teas, Millie’s Famous Candy Wreaths (and her potholders, too), and more. It’s an open outdoor space so it is as safe as it gets these days, and face masks are required when shopping in our open tent, off to the side of the big tents at Mr. Jingle’s. Get your tree, too, while you’re there, from our pal Brandon Helfer. He knows his trees and will steer you in the right direction. We’ve been getting our Christmas trees from Brandon for years now. He’s a good guy.



Stir Up, We Beseech Thee, the Pudding in the Pot

I love a bit of perfect timing, and today, we get just that. It begins with a prayer, and here it is:

Stir up, we beseech thee, o Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Or something to that effect. The language is often updated nowadays, replacing the thees and the plenteouslies with more contemporary words, but I think you get the general idea. It is the collect––the prayer––after communion in the Anglican Church this last Sunday in ordinary time before we shift to the Four Sundays of Advent, our annual time of preparation for Christmas: the time when we make our houses as fair as we are able. The timing of this prayer each year happens to coincide nicely with the ideal timing for the preparation of some traditional English yuletide desserts: in particular, steamed puddings and fruitcakes, which require a good four weeks to age and become sufficiently brandy-soaked to reach their best depth of flavor.

And so, since at least the 1830s, this day has been known as Stir-Up Sunday, both for the collect and also for the celebratory kitchen tasks. Ask folks in the congregation and they may very well have their own version of the collect, which goes more along these lines:

Stir up, we beseech thee, the pudding in the pot,
Stir up, we beseech thee, and keep it all hot.

This is not something we are particularly aware of in my family, Catholics as we are, and Italians, too. But my sister does make a good fruitcake most Christmases, brandy-soaked like the best of them, and she does make it early, long before Christmas’s arrival. Same goes for her delicious Pfeffernüsse, the spicy German cookie that requires weeks to develop its flavors. It is said, though, that a good British Christmas pudding should contain thirteen ingredients––one for Jesus and each of his disciples––no more and no less. And when it is prepared on Stir-Up Sunday, each member of the family should give the pudding a stir, making a wish as they do. The stirring must be from east to west: the same direction the Magi traveled to visit the newborn child.

It is, as well, this 22nd of November, St. Cecilia’s Day. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. It is traditional to attend a concert on her day, a custom since at least the 16th century in France. This year, though, we know that is not in our best collective interest, and so we wait for perhaps next St. Cecilia’s Day for this particular tradition. Tomorrow, the 23rd, brings my grandfather Arturo’s birthday––at least we think so. His birthday may possibly have been on the 21st. Nonetheless, we always celebrated on the 23rd, which also happens to be St. Clement’s Day, and another rhyme comes to mind:

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

St. Clement’s Day in times past was a time to go “Clementing”–– kind of like trick or treating, only on the 23rd of November. Kids would knock on doors, hoping for treats in exchange for singing rhymes like the one above. Old Clem is a patron saint of blacksmiths and metal workers, though, and they had their own mysterious song for Old Clem’s Night, which certainly involved ale:

Come, all you Vulcans, strong and stout,
Unto St Clem I pray turn out;
For now St Clem’s going round the town:
His coach and six goes merrily round.

I am reminded, too, each year on this approach to Thanksgiving, that there is an old, mostly forgotten begging tradition of New York in which kids would go door to door on Thanksgiving Day. My mom, who never went trick-or-treating at Hallowe’en, does remember doing this when she was a little girl in Brooklyn. I often wonder if there is some connexion between this and the Clementing of November 23, especially since, some years, Thanksgiving falls on St. Clement’s Day.

Here in our home, we’ll soon be dusting off music for the Advent season, the time of preparation before Christmas that I love perhaps as much as Christmastime itself. I am, at heart, a guy who loves anticipation. I think of St. Cecilia each year as the figure who reminds us that it is time to do this, to bring in the music that was put away once Christmas Eve arrived last year.

Speaking of anticipation: it is, by the way, a good time to order Advent candles and calendars from our Convivio Book of Days Catalog! Especially if you feel a bit rushed by Christmas, even before Thanksgiving has come. A simple thing like an Advent candle that you light each night or an Advent calendar that you open a door on each day can really help bring some perspective to things. Ours are the traditional kinds, made in Europe, where these traditions began, and it’s all part of what we call the Slow Christmas Movement. We always offer free domestic shipping when you spend $50, and this year, since we won’t be showing in all the local Christmas markets, we’re running a bigger sale: It’s our Christmas Stock-Up Sale: spend $75 on anything and everything in our catalog, and save $10 plus get free domestic shipping: a savings of $18.50. Just use discount code STREETFAIR at checkout. We’ve got lots of wonderful things to choose from, and more to come: lots of your favorite German artisan goods for Christmas are on their way and should be restocked this week.

Image at top: “The Christmas Pudding” by Robert Seymour. Etching for The Book of Christmas by Thomas K. Hervey, 1836.

Join me this Wednesday (November 25) at 11 AM EST on Instagram Live: my friend Manal Aman of Hello Holy Days! will be chatting with me about the things we do at Convivio Bookworks and some of the great things we offer at our catalog (including Manal’s beautiful cards for Ramadan). Manal is the creator of #purpleramadan and the fictional #ramadandrummer and an all-around fine person. Find Manal on Instagram @helloholydays and us, of course, @conviviobookworks.

3 PM EST that same day, join me for Book Arts 101: Thanksgiving. It’s a live Zoom session featuring some pretty amazing artists’ books from the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. You’ll be able to register for it come Monday by visiting the EVENTS page at You may also view a simulcast on Facebook Live at the Facebook page of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, or catch the video later at the Jaffe Center’s Vimeo Channel.