Monthly Archives: December 2019

All is Bright

And now it is Christmas. It is my favorite part of Christmas as I write this, the deep and dark hours of the night of Christmas Eve, well past midnight, in the close and holy darkness. Our traditional Italian dinner of many fishes is past and so is all the hustle and hubbub: Things that did not get done in time for Christmas’ arrival remain undone and suddenly it doesn’t matter anymore; we’ll just do them as time allows through the Christmas season, or maybe we’ll save them for next Christmas. Despite the darkness, all is bright: the tree, which is illuminated but still not completely decorated, and the wreath on the door, and the lights on the European fan palms outside the door. Tomorrow we can finish decorating the tree.

We have reached the peaceful time of Christmas, this late night. It is the time when all the magic traditionally occurs: the gift bearers who sneak in presents beneath the tree and into empty stockings, the animals who kneel, the wells and rivers that run with wine, the star and the child, all that Christmas means to anyone happens now in this night of calm and bright. The magic sometimes is as simple as memories of Christmases come and gone. I sit here with the lighted tree and remember all the people who have come and gone through my Christmases. My grandparents, aunts and uncles, my dad. I think of the neighbors across the street when I was a boy, Mildred and Paul, who decorated their front door with big multicolor Christmas lights each year: a single strand of lights, the old fashioned kind, the kind with bulbs you screw in, stapled to the doorframe. A magical portal if ever there was one. I last saw Mildred and Paul and their portal of lights 43 years ago, and yet this is what comes to mind as I sit here tonight, and it comes back to me, fresh as if it was yesterday. This is Christmas magic for you.

Remember through these days to come that Christmas has just begun. This magical night ushers in Christmas Day, and though there are two schools of thought on how to calculate the Twelve Days of Christmas, we subscribe to the venerable one that places the first six days of Christmas in the old year and the next six days of Christmas in the new. Our ancestors liked balance and so it seems only right, to us, anyway. Please join us in celebrating Christmas through all these days, to the season’s close on Epiphany, the 6th day of January. If your heart truly loves Christmas, do things in your own time, and know that in many traditions, Christmas is a season that carries on all the way to Candlemas, on the 2nd of February. Do what feels right to you, that’s my recommendation. Even if it seems out of step with the dominant culture. At this house, we will be doing just that.

In years past I’ve written each day for the Twelve Days of Christmas, but I don’t know that that will be the case this year. We’ve a garden fence to build, and raised beds to plant, and still there are the ornaments to place on the tree. I’ll write when I can, I promise, but it won’t be every day. My recommendation? Stock up on red wine and mulling spices and chestnuts, for mulled wine and roasted chestnuts are an important part of Christmas and the twelve nights that follow it. We sell some wonderful mulling spices and we can get them to you in a couple of days in most cases: plenty of time for the celebrations ahead. You can also check out past editions of the Convivio Book of the Days to learn more about what is traditional for each day of Christmas.

For now, though: Merry Christmas.


Deepest Joy

And now, the longest night arrives. With each passing day, since the Midsummer Solstice of June, we have been shaving a bit of daylight off our daily tally. By September’s equinox, day and night were balanced. Darkness continued to overtake light. On the 21st of December, though, our planet’s Northern Hemisphere will experience its longest night, and at 11:19 PM, Eastern Standard Time, its solstice moment, when things begin shifting again the other way. It is the constant rearrange, the back and forth of vast celestial mechanics, all based on the scientific fact that the Earth spins on its axis at a tilt of about 23.5 degrees. As we orbit the sun, that 23.5 degree tilt means that at this time of the year, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the sun as we spin, while the Southern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. Give things six months and we will find ourselves in the opposite situation, as the Northern Hemisphere will be tilted toward the sun. But that is summer, and this is not; this is winter. It begins by the almanac with the solstice, though traditionalists will view this point as midwinter, which is why many of us will stand in dark churches come Christmas Eve and sing “In the Bleak Midwinter” as tears well in our eyes. We are tapping into those old ways when we sing that song on these long dark nights, and still the circle proceeds: it is the round of the year, with no beginning and no end.

The solstice is linked inextricably with all the celebrations of light that revolve around it: Advent, Sankta Lucia, Yule, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Epiphany. We call down the light in each of them, to burn bright in the darkness. Light, a symbol of hope, of warmth, of kindness, of the passing of generations. Light is the central theme of Hanukkah, which begins with the setting sun this year on the 22nd, the day after the solstice. In ancient Jerusalem, during the defeat of oppressors by the Maccabbees, a small flask of oil, enough to keep the lamp of the Temple illuminated for a day, kept the lamp illuminated for eight days and nights. That miracle is commemorated each year during the eight nights of Hanukkah; each night, an additional candle is lit on the menorah. This year, that First Night of Hanukkah is met with the Fourth Sunday of Advent: we’ll be lighting all the candles of the advent ring: three purple candles and one rose candle, completing the circle of light, for Christmas is now just a few days away.

Our tradition each Midwinter Solstice night is to light a backyard fire in the copper fire bowl. We dispel the night, as the advent hymns tell us. The fuel for our fire is the remnant of last year’s Christmas tree, which we brought out to a corner of the yard some time after Twelfth Night last January. It’s sat there all these months, near the mango tree, shedding needles, drying, and still for all the world smelling like Christmas, even through spring and summer and fall, and it is good, it is right to have this reminder of Old Father Christmas in our lives all the year long. We will sit at the fire that he provides under the starry night sky and toast him with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. In this small way we pull down the celestial mechanics of our planet and bring it directly to our tiny dot in this universe, and into our hearts, too: the old Yuletide illuminating and welcoming the new, connecting us with the past as we continue to forge that circle, no beginning, no end. With it, we know that Christmas is surely almost here. And so we welcome the solstice and we welcome Yule. And we welcome all the celebrations of light around it.


The Night is Vast

The night walks with heavy steps around farm and cottage.
Around the earth, forsaken by the sun, shadows are lowering.
Then into our dark house she treads with lighted candles,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

The night is vast and mute. Now here reverberate
in all silent rooms a rustle as of wings.
See, on our threshold stands––whiteclad, lights in her hair––
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

“The darkness will soon take flight from the valleys of earth.”
Thus she a wonderful word to us speaks.
The day shall again, reborn, rise from a rosy sky,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia.

It is St. Lucy’s Day: the Feast of Santa Lucia, a celebration that gets jumbled up between things Italian and Swedish for Lucia is sacred to both Italy and Sweden. Even the song that is sung throughout Sweden this night is Italian in origin, an old Neapolitan melody, transformed and rewritten for a place where, at this darkest time of the year, the night is vast.

There are processions tonight throughout Sweden celebrating Sankta Lucia: in churches, in schools, in city streets, on national television. Each will feature a Lucia, donning a wreath of glowing candles upon her head, with scores of her attendants: boys and girls dressed in white, each bearing a candle, and then the Star Boys, each carrying stars on poles and donning tall white conical caps. It is one of the most beautiful sights of these ever-darkening nights on the approach to the solstice.

Our local Sankta Lucia festival was in November: quite early, but that’s when the church hall was available, so that’s when the SWEA ladies––the Swedish Womens Education Association––held their celebration. We were there with a pop up shop of advent calendars and candles and artisan goods from Sweden. All day long, the women spoke to me in sentences that began in English and evolved to Swedish before they ended. I did not understand much. But I did understand Tack (Thank you) and glögg and lussekatter.

In Italy, lucky children awoke this morning to find tiny presents tied to their shoelaces. That’s if they left hay and carrots in their shoes before they went to bed, for Santa Lucia’s donkey. Santa Lucia follows St. Nicholas as the next of the Midwinter gift bearers. Lucia calls down the light at this dark time of year perhaps more strongly than any other saint or gift bearer. Her very name in Italian, Lucia, is rooted in the word luce, which translates to light. She is a patron saint of the blind and the visually challenged, and also of writers like me, and scholars, teachers, and librarians.

Seth’s great aunt was named Lucy. Her father, an immigrant to Maine from Italy, lost his sight in an accident on the railway where he worked. This was in the early 1900s. Aunt Lucy was born soon after the accident, so naturally, her parents named her for her father’s new protector. “But I was no saint,” she would confide to us.

We will think of Aunt Lucy and we will have our coffee and lussekatter and we will have the Santa Lucia song in our heads and on our lips all day and all night, in Swedish and in Italian. All of these things bearing light––luce––to the Midwinter darkness.

“Yule” love what we have at each of these markets! They’re the last of our local pop up shops before the holidays.

Undiscovered: An Inclusive Arts Festival
Saturday December 14 from 10 AM to 4 PM (but we have to pack up by 3!)
at Palm Beach Habilitation Center
4522 South Congress Avenue in Lake Worth
We’re so excited to take part in this inaugural arts fair at the Hab Center, which does such wonderful work helping folks with disabilities become more independent through training and employment. There are art projects that EVERYONE can participate in, and there’s a pop up market; we’ll be there with lots of great artisan goods from our catalog.

Holiday Night Market
Saturday December 14 from 4 to 8 PM
at Social House
512 Lucerne Avenue in Downtown Lake Worth
It’s always a special night at Social House. We’ll be showing our Christmas artisan goods and Shaker teas (and my mom’s famous candy wreaths). One of our favorite markets at one of our favorite places!

Midwinter Makers Marketplace
Sunday December 15 from 10 AM to 4 PM
at Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road in Boca Raton
It’s full swing yuletide and we’ll be showing our handmade artisan Christmas ornaments and decorations from Germany, Sweden, and Mexico and our full line of Shaker herbs & teas and more (like my mom’s famous candy wreaths). Plus there’s live music almost all day: Ella Herrera from 10 to 1 and Rio Peterson from 1 to 4. Look for the blue & white MAKERS MARKETPLACE signs on FAU campus roads.

Revelry Sip & Shop
Sunday December 15 from 1 to 6 PM
at Revelry Lake Worth
17 South J Street in Downtown Lake Worth
Find us in the courtyard with our handmade Christmas artisan goods and Shaker herbal teas and more. They’re serving bottomless mimosas!