Category Archives: Advent

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!

 

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 www.jaffecollection.org. 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.

 

Blackbirds, or Your November Book of Days

Most every evening these days, Seth and I watch the blackbirds fly from west to east, from the mainland to the mangrove islands of the Lake Worth Lagoon. They do this in vast flocks, emerging from the western sky as far as the eye can see. Thousands and thousands of birds, moving both individually and as one great pull of life, not so unlike the massive school of fish that my neighbor Earl saw when he tells the story of the day he saw the Santa Margarita, the legendary Spanish galleon that sunk off our shores in the 1500s, from his boat above the surface of the Atlantic. As above, so below. While Earl’s fish were silent, the blackbirds flap and squawk. Yet both the fish and the birds move together in a great ballet as they ascend and descend in wondrous swoops. It’s an amazing thing to see.

And so the blackbirds are our guides these mysterious autumnal days, and they are our cover stars for the (finally!) published Convivio Book of Days calendar for November.

I won’t even bother to apologize for being so belated. When it’s on time, I like to think of the calendar as a companion to this blog. Well, ok… even when it’s late. It is a PDF document, printable on your home printer, on standard letter size paper. The photo for the month does not capture a vast blackbird flock, but rather a few stragglers that lighted above us on an Australian Pine, close to their nightly destination. The calendar comes to you in time for Martinmas this week, our point of closure to this annual time of remembering our beloved dead, and it comes to you in time for Thanksgiving later this month, and for Stir-Up Sunday, which leads us to the First Sunday of Advent at the end of November. Of course, that means that Christmas is not all that far away.

We love the anticipation of Advent as much as we do the joyous days that follow. And since typically at this time of year you’d find Convivio Bookworks locally at wonderful events like the Sankta Lucia Festival in Boca Raton that’s put on by the Swedish Women’s Educational Association, and the Christkindlmarkt at the American German Club in Lantana––events that are canceled this year––we’ve decided to shift our Autumn Stock-Up Sale to a Christmas Stock-Up Sale and instead, in a virtual way, bring these street fairs to you. Here’s the deal (and if you click the picture, you’ll make the visual larger):

So yes: at our catalog, take $10 off your purchase of $75 or more across our catalog, plus we’ll ship your domestic order for free. That’s a savings that totals $18.50, which is not too shabby. And there are so many fine things to choose from: traditional sparkly Advent calendars from Germany and handmade daily Advent candles from England to help mark daily the transition to Christmas; winter incense and traditional wooden artisan goods for Christmas from Germany and Sweden and Italy, including ornaments and incense burners and pyramids and nutcrackers (some vintage GDR!); sparkling painted tin ornaments and nativity sets from Mexico (one of them is a pop-up!), and our popular embroidered protective face masks from Chiapas (they make fine stocking stuffers); handmade soaps for Hanukkah and Christmas from our local soap maker Kelly Sullivan; fir balsam pillows that smell for all the world just like Christmas itself––they are from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine, who also offer you bags of their homegrown culinary lavender and their full selection of herbal teas and culinary herbs; letterpress printed books and broadsides that we make here in our workshop… oh and how about a Day of the Dead themed nativity set handmade in Mexico (one of our most popular items ever)?

Take a look around our catalog and see if we can’t help fulfill some of the shopping on your list (while saving you a bit of cash, too). Your transactions translate into real support for a very small company AND for other small companies, real families, local friends and family, and as for the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community, well… they are the only remaining active Shaker Community anywhere, and America’s oldest religious community, established in 1783. All of the folks we work with are deserving of your support on this transactional basis, especially now, in strange, more challenging times. Companies like Amazon are enjoying record-breaking sales and profits right now… but it’s the little guys that are struggling to make ends meet. The small companies and artisans we work with appreciate every sale, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s just like voting. Purchasing what they make is your vote for them; it means you believe in what they do. Please consider supporting what we do so we can continue to support the artisans we know. And please take a look around at the small businesses in your area, too. Especially small family-run restaurants. They need your business to make it through to the other side of this.

My promise to you is to write Convivio Book of Days blog posts that describe, as best I can, the street fairs we’re missing this year, and we’ll keep that sale, with discount code STREETFAIR, going through the Christmas season, too.

Here’s a link to our catalog. Thank you for your support!