Category Archives: Christmas

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!


A Sale Instead of a Street Fair

We’re approaching Hallowe’en and soon after, Dia de Muertos, Day of the Dead. It is the time of year when we traditionally remember those who have gone before. Normally, you’ll find us at two very big events in South Florida around now, as we set up shop at the street fairs for Dia de Muertos Lake Worth and Florida Day of the Dead in Fort Lauderdale. Both celebrations are such great fun and such beautiful events that bring our community together. This year, due to social distancing, these gatherings won’t be happening… so instead of finding our artisan goods at a street fair, we thought we’d offer you a sale, instead. It’s an opportunity for you to stock up on all you might need for Dia de Muertos and Advent and Christmas, too, with our Autumn Sale. Here it is (click on the picture to make it bigger!):

Save $10 off your purchase when you spend $75 or more at our website, plus free domestic shipping. That’s a substantial savings of $18.50. Use the discount code STREETFAIR when you check out. 

Click here for our catalog pages, which are filled with traditional artisan goods for Dia de Muertos from San Miguel de Allende, Quintana Roo, Jalisco, and other parts of Mexico. You’ll also find traditional sparkly Advent calendars from Germany to count down the dark nights toward Christmas the month of December (as well as Advent candles from England), and an abundance of artisan goods for Yuletide, too: all made by hand in Germany, Sweden, Italy, and Mexico. Plus lots of great stocking stuffers: fir balsam pillows from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine, plus their full line of herbal teas and culinary herbs. Our new line of beautiful embroidered protective face masks, made by an extended family of artisans in Chiapas, Mexico, also make great stocking stuffers.

So, while we won’t see you this year at Dia de Muertos Lake Worth or Florida Day of the Dead, or at the Sankta Lucia Festival or at the Christkindlmarkt, either… a big sale like this is perhaps the next best thing. Please support small businesses and artisans: your transactional support at uncertain times means the world to real people who make real things. We all appreciate it, honest. Don’t forget to use the discount code: STREETFAIR.


Sage Advice

Busy weekend ahead! For those of us who want a goblin-free home (and let’s face it, who doesn’t these days?), it is time to remove all remnants of yuletide greenery. This is sage household advice that comes to us from the 17th century British poet, Robert Herrick. Herrick included a poem, “Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve,” in his book Hesperides. Here’s an excerpt:

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe ;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall :
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind :
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

This advice was nothing new in Herrick’s day; Herrick was simply recording an old custom, one that is as good as any to follow. So if you, like us, still have a Christmas tree in your living room… well, tradition would suggest it’s time to let it go. For us, it’s been a fine Christmas season with that tree. We got it just before Christmas and didn’t get around to decorating it until Christmas night, and so it’s been no trouble at all keeping it all this time. Haden the Shop Cat loves sleeping in her kitty tower beside the tree, and chances are quite good––if we are to judge by her habits––that although the tower will remain there, once the tree is gone, she will stop sleeping in it. Cats, too, seem to have their yuletide traditions. And so on Saturday night, which is Candlemas Eve, we will pack away the ornaments for another year, and the lights, and we will bring the tree out to the garden, where it will rest for all the months to come. All through spring, summer, and fall, we will steal occasional whiffs of Christmas from it as it dries. And come next Midwinter Solstice night, we will use it as fuel for our outdoor fire to illuminate the darkest night of the year.

Ah, but already the nights grow shorter, less dark. It’s been just about six weeks since the solstice of December, and daylight in the Northern Hemisphere has been increasing a little day by day, and now we come to February and a cross quarter day in the round of the year: February 1 brings St. Brigid’s Day, and the old, mostly forgotten holiday known as Imbolc. It is the first step we take on the bridge from winter to spring, and how fitting her name, then: Brigid, as bridge. It is traditional, for her day, to fashion St. Brigid’s crosses out of rushes or straw and to leave an oat cake and butter on a window sill in your home; this, to encourage Brigid to visit your home and to bestow blessings on all who live there. She is the bridge from winter to spring but more immediately from Christmas to Candlemas, which comes on the 2nd of February. The Christmas decorations will be packed away and the greenery returned to nature, and as the sun sets on Candlemas day, it is traditional to go through the house, illuminating every lamp, even for just a little while. In many parts of Europe, crepes will be served for dinner. In Mexico, it’ll be tamales with hot chocolate, heavily infused with cinnamon.

Here in the States, perhaps the best known marker of these important days that bridge winter to spring is the groundhog who comes up from his burrow every Second of February. Candlemas is a traditional weather marker (If the sun shines bright on Candlemas Day / The half of the winter’s not yet away) and this is what survived for us, of all things. Me, I prefer the tamales and the hot chocolate and the lighting of lamps. With Candlemas, we are now forty days past Christmas. This takes us back to an old Hebrew tradition: forty days after the birth of a son, women would go to the temple to be purified. And so Mary did this, for it was her tradition, and when she did, it was there at the temple that she and her infant child ran into the elders Simeon and Anna, wise and all seeing, who recognized the child as the light of the world. This is the narrative basis for Candlemas, for the blessing of candles this day, and the connexion between the story and the celestial events that bring us closer to spring. And so here is my favorite music for Candlemas: It’s an old hymn called “Jesus, the Light of the World,” recorded by one of my favorite ensembles, the Boston Camerata. It’s from their album An American Christmas. I think of it as more a Candlemas song than a Christmas song, and it’s a fine song to sing or hum as you light all those lamps in the house and a fine album to play as the last vestiges of Christmas are stored away for yet another year. And with that, the bridge we stepped upon at the start of Christmas is behind us, as we step upon the bridge that lies ahead of us, the one Brigid lays before us, toward spring.

Image: A quickly made print, printed on the Vandercook press today, from handset metal types. More sage advice.