Category Archives: Thanksgiving

In This Spirit of Thankfulness

It’s Thanksgiving. We gather, break bread together and remember all we are thankful for. That’s the day at its core. It had a rough go at first, Thanksgiving did, and almost didn’t make it this far through history. It was President George Washington who, in 1789, in his very first presidential proclamation, declared a day of national thanksgiving. But interest waned, as it sometimes does, and Thanksgiving became a mostly forgotten holiday until President Abraham Lincoln felt compelled to revive the tradition. When he did, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November, 1863, as our national day of Thanksgiving. It was something we needed as a nation, back in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. And still we need it, in the midst of whatever it is we are going through now. Many seem to think it is ok to be rude and belittling and not civil toward each other, an example set before them by the highest office in the land. This is not something with which I agree. This is not the way things are supposed to be.

With Thanksgiving, we get a day to reflect and to take pause. To think about what is important to us. It could be nothing more than the pumpkin pie on your plate, and that’s ok. But it could also be all the people who are gathered around you at the table, and all the people who lift you up, rather than weigh you down, and all the things in life that bring you joy and peace and solace. For me, it also includes all of you who read this Book of Days and all who take time to comment and engage with it, and all the people we meet at pop up markets and all the people we never meet, but tell us things that sometimes make me so emotional, like this comment that came from a reader who, just a couple of weeks ago, ordered one of our vintage German Chimney Sweep ornaments. I made the chimney sweep our cover star for today (photo above), and here’s what our reader had to say, a few days after his order arrived in Virginia:

We received our order today and couldn’t be happier!!! Thank you so much. Just so you know why this is such a nice purchase for us. Me and my wife were both military brats and grew up overseas in Germany. We met in Berlin Germany, my wife has been looking for this type of ornament for some Time now, this is very similar to a Christmas ornament that her parents had when she was growing up. The chimney sweep ornament was her father’s and he always hung it last. Well this year my father-in-law passed away and my wife wanted to get this in remembrance of him and the traditions her family grew up with. I can’t tell you how much having this ornament will mean to her for the rest of our lives. She thinks her father may have gotten the ornament in east berlin when she was a child. Either way we will love and cherish it forever.

Stuff like this chokes me up, because I get it, I understand those feelings exactly. And so I am thankful that we get to be part of this journey with you, sometimes in these very strange ways. From Seth and me, to all of you: Happy Thanksgiving.

COME SEE US!
We’re popping up at quite a few local South Florida venues in the next few weeks!

City of Lake Worth Tree Lighting
Saturday November 30 from 6 to 9 PM
at the Cultural Plaza in Downtown Lake Worth, right behind the City Hall Annex
414 Lake Avenue in Lake Worth
This is not, at the time of this writing, a confirmed venue for us, but there’s a very good chance (let’s say… 85% likely) that we will be there in a tent on the plaza with a pop up shop of our Christmas artisan goods from Sweden, Mexico, and Germany, as well as traditional sparkly German advent calendars and advent candles, and a few of my mom’s famous candy wreaths. (And yes, our town was recently re-christened “Lake Worth Beach” by a slim margin in the last election… but I’ve not yet been able to bring myself to utter a name that contains both “Lake” and “Beach.” But you know where to find the tree lighting and us, should we be there in our tent, this Saturday evening: Good old Downtown Lake Worth, right behind the beautiful City Hall Annex and across from the Library.)

Real Mail Fridays: Winter Card Writing Social
Friday December 6 from noon to 6 PM
at Jaffe Center for Book Arts in the Library at Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Road in Boca Raton
There’ll be a mini Makers Marketplace at this annual event so you can do a little shopping, but also bring your Christmas cards and Hanukkah cards and New Year cards and get the task of writing them started (or tackled) in a festive environment with other like minded souls. Great fun!

Christkindlmarkt
Saturday & Sunday December 7 & 8 (2 to 9 PM on Saturday; 1 to 8 PM on Sunday)
at the American German Club
5111 Lantana Road in suburban Lake Worth
Convivio Bookworks will be part of this old time German Christmas market at the American German Club, west of the town of Lantana. At our booth you’ll find traditional handmade German Christmas items, and we’ll throw in some other handmade items from our Swedish and Mexican collections, too, as well as Shaker herbs & teas, some letterpress goods, and my mom’s famous handmade candy wreaths.

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 herbs and teas and more (including my mom’s famous candy wreaths again!). They’re serving mimosas!

 

I Know I Don’t Possess You (Holiday Blues)

For all we talk here about celebrating the ceremony of a day, I know that for a lot of you, for one reason or another, this time of year is not easy. The holidays are hectic, overstimulating, excessively commercialized, and we put so much pressure on ourselves to make them perfect. Not only that, this time of year can more easily dredge up feelings of loneliness and reminders of loss. I’ve been there; I understand. I was there for a bit just last week. It was a week of worry: my mom had been dealing with an infection (she’s better now), the cat seemed not quite right, either; she wasn’t eating as heartily and wasn’t following her usual routines (she’s better and more her usual self now, too), work was not someplace I cared to be, and on top of all this, it was coming on to Thanksgiving and I was feeling like there wasn’t the time to do all I wanted to do to prepare. And then, at the back of my mind and in the core of my heart, was the reminder that Dad wouldn’t be at the table. Our second Thanksgiving since his passing was not feeling much easier than our first.

But Thanksgiving dinner was nice. Just the four of us: my mom, my sister, and Seth and me. At the table, I remembered Dad (I always do; I sit in his seat now at the head of the table––even though we were just four people that’s where my plate was set) and I remembered Grandpa, whose birthday was very often on Thanksgiving.

After dinner, after pie and coffee and after cleaning up the kitchen, we four settled into the living room. Mom wanted to watch a Doris Day movie but she was soon nodding off in her chair, sleeping off her meal, so she was overruled. My sister wanted to watch a new DVD she had just bought: Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. I know, I know: Mamma Mia!, the 2008 film version of the Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus musical featuring the music of ABBA, is not the most intellectually stimulating film. If you’ve not yet seen the sequel, well, I have news for you: it’s just as dreadful as the original. But that’s part of what we love about these films. They are pure joy and fun and no one enters into a film like this expecting a life-altering experience.

This is probably a good place to tell you that I was not very popular in high school. ABBA’s popularity back then was a bit like soccer’s: hugely popular throughout the world, but here in the States, not so much. And me, I was quite possibly the only Florida member of the ABBA International Fan Club. I had all their records, I knew all their songs, even the obscure ones. I wore ABBA t-shirts and the ABBA International Fan Club Magazine arrived in my mailbox from Europe four times a year. When I was old enough to drive, while other students at my school were blasting Pink Floyd and Blue Öyster Cult out of their car windows, I was the one playing songs like “Waterloo” and “The Name of the Game.” I was never beaten up at school, but I walked a fine line. Most of the kids at Deerfield Beach High School took the high road and just chose to ignore me.

These days, I feel slightly vindicated. There’s not been a lot of Blue Öyster Cult action in these post-high-school days but thanks to the Mamma Mia movies, almost everyone now recognizes “Dancing Queen” as soon as they hear that first roll of the piano keys, and they even know the words. And when a band like Arcade Fire, critical darlings of the independent music scene, release an album like their most recent one, “Everything Now“–– one that is infused with ABBA-inspired harmonies and keyboards––well… I can feel a bit smug about that for all the unpopularity I endured in high school.

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving and back to the movie. And spoiler alert––in case you’ve not yet seen it: Being the kind of movie it is, dripping with joy and happiness, I was surprised that Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, was killed off somewhere between the original and the sequel. And––again, being the kind of movie that it is––I expected all through the film that she would come back, that her death was all a funny misunderstanding and she would show up at her hotel on Kalokairi again and all would be well. But she doesn’t; not quite. At any rate, here we all were on Thanksgiving night, my mom, my sister, and Seth, and then me, off to the side, in Dad’s chair, watching this movie, filled with all this music that I knew by heart and that I could remember my dad sometimes singing along to (he liked to do the oom-pah-pahs in “Super Trouper”)… well, it all came welling up eventually. The worry over Mom and the cat, the feelings of loss, all those emotions. By the baptism scene in the church, with the song “My Love, My Life,”––one of the few songs for which Andersson and Ulvaeus wrote new lyrics for the movie––well… I was a blubbering mess, though I did my best to contain it. I was not sobbing but I was pushing it close, and anyone could steel a glance away from the movie and at my chair to see that it was rocking back and forth, something I didn’t even realize I was doing with my foot until I stopped it, the rocking apparently my last ditch attempt at keeping it together.

And then I got mad at the movie. You do not watch a movie like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again to wreck yourself and get all emotional. I got mad at the song and I got mad at Benny and Björn for killing off Donna (though I’ve since learnt it was Meryl Streep’s idea, and I can’t stay mad at Meryl). And I got mad at myself for letting another movie make me cry.

But sometimes, this is what the holidays do to us, no matter how strong we feel going in. They push us to the edge of the cliff and dangle us there. It may take a silly film or a visit to a dark church or a perhaps a quiet fireside moment, a walk in the brisk air. But you know what? No one expects you to be happy all the time, least of all me. I’ve said it before: an underlying tenet of this Book of Days is that there is always a seat at the table for Death. Loss is a natural part of our lives and it is part of what makes celebrating the ceremony of a day so special. If we had all the time in the world, would we feel the need to celebrate? And in marking our days in our revolutions around the sun, we create lives worth living, traditions worth teaching those who follow us. Some of the recipes we’ll be baking this Christmas go back to time immemorial. Grandma taught them to Mom, and now she teaches us each year, helping us improve our technique. Grandma learned the recipes from her mother, who probably learnt them from her mother, and so on. Some are distinct to their region of Italy, Apulia. And when we make and eat these things today, we remember all these people, this long line of ancestors.

That’s a big reason why it feels so strange when those who come before us up and leave. But also why we should continue what was given to us. We keep them present through simple acts. And when you get right down to it, those are the most loving acts, the ones that keep the channels open across space and time. It’s the same reason why, for many of us at least, it’s good to keep the tissues nearby at movies.

 

Chalk a lot of the emotional 1-2 punch to the power of music, too… perhaps appropriate enough since Thanksgiving this year fell on St. Cecilia’s Day, Cecilia being a patron saint of musicians. I remember in 1982, not long after Grandpa had died, driving Mom to our store and on the car’s cassette player, since it was my car, was ABBA. It was a song called “One of Us,” full of mandolins, just like the songs that Grandpa played. “Oh, Johnny,” said my mom a few minutes in, “this song is making me cry.”

Image: Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Universal Pictures, 2018.

 

The Slow Christmas Movement

I was chatting with a friend over the long Thanksgiving weekend who told me she was feeling like it was already too late to bother with Christmas. “But we still have another week of November,” I said. Christmas is a long ways away. Still, I understand how it’s easy to perceive that it’s all passing you by already. And so it seems a good time to reprint this particular chapter of the Convivio Book of Days. It was first published on the 17th of November, 2013. But the words are timely now on our approach to Advent, which itself marks the approach to Christmas. So breathe deep, take a few moments to read these few lines, and be reminded that all is well––there is plenty of time to do all you want to do this holiday season, and the slower you take it, the more content you just may be.

*

My neighbor Mr. Solderholm is a grumpy old Swede who can easily muster up a rant over just about anything. A good guy when you get right down to it, but you don’t want to get in his way or cross him, even accidentally. I am nothing like Mr. Solderholm and we both know this and we respect each other’s ways, but if there is one time of year where I sense a bit of Solderholm-style ire creep into my being, it’s usually about now: I find myself grumbling and shaking my fist at houses that are all decked out for Christmas in mid-November, a season for Indian corn and pumpkins, not holly and balsam. I think it’s because I am always championing the little guy, and Thanksgiving, it seems to me, is one of those little guys: an all around nice holiday that gets a bit trampled by the bigger holiday that follows it. I do not, however, want to be as disagreeable as Mr. Solderholm. What I want is to encourage folks to give Thanksgiving its due and to take the rest as it comes.

Today’s installment of the Book of Days is simply an invitation to you all: Join us in what we call “The Slow Christmas Movement.” Rather than rush headlong into Christmas the day after Thanksgiving (or even earlier), we invite you to take your time and appreciate the approach.

What comes after Thanksgiving and before Christmas is Advent: a time of preparation. We prepare our houses, we prepare ourselves––heart, mind, soul––we set the stage for joy to enter at Christmas by making it welcome and appreciating its presence. There are songs for Advent, our favorite being a carol called “People, Look East” that is set to an old French air known as Besançon. These are the lyrics for the first verse:

People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

It may be my instinctual desire for things domestic that makes me like that carol so much. If there was a verse about polishing the copper, I’d be right at home. What that carol speaks of, mostly, is preparing, and I think preparing is an important part of ceremony and celebration… which may be why I like Advent so much.

My grandparents used to get their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. This is most traditional, and while Seth and I don’t wait quite that long, we are usually visiting our friends at the tree lot quite a bit later than most people. Here’s what you’ll see at our house before the tree arrives: candles in the windows, and an Advent calendar and Advent candles nearby. We light the traditional Advent wreath each of the four Sundays of Advent, we light a daily Advent candle each evening during dinner, and we open a window of our Advent calendar each evening, too. These are slow, simple and meaningful ways to mark the days as we approach the solemnity and the celebration of Christmas… which, of course, begins its own twelve days of celebration.

What’s odd nowadays is that the dominant culture celebrates Christmas before it actually begins, and then shuts things down well before Christmas is over. Old Mr. Solderholm once punched a man in the nose for tossing out his Christmas tree on the 26th of December. Granted, there were some other things going on between them, too, but it was the tree on the curb that instigated the argument that finally pushed Mr. Solderholm over the edge. And while I would never go as far as to punch a man in the nose over anything, there is a part of me that applauded Mr. Solderholm for that act as he stood up to defend the sanctity of old traditions. We may not see eye to eye on most things, he and I, but we do seem to agree on the importance of taking things slowly and respecting the traditions of the ceremonies we keep.

The Slow Christmas Movement means keeping Thanksgiving and keeping it well and keeping Christmas, too, but in its own time. Do so and here’s something else that happens: you almost magically have more time to enjoy everything. Thanksgiving retains its independence, Advent prepares you for “Love, the guest,” and sure, there may still be a frantic rush to the 25th of December… but once it has passed, there are twelve days of Christmas still ahead to celebrate with good food, good company, and good spirit. There is no rush.

*

At our online shop, www.conviviobookworks.com, you’ll find all kinds of traditional German Advent calendars (the ones with lots of glitter you remember from your childhood) as well as British ones, and some very lovely Advent candles, handmade in England. These simple things are a big part of our Slow Christmas Movement and a reason why in this house we appreciate Christmas as much as we do. (Free domestic shipping, by the way, when you spend $50 in our shop!)

FIND US on Saturday, December 1 from 10 AM to 4 PM at the Midwinter Makers Marketplace at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Free admission, free easy parking, live music, letterpress printing and crafts for the kids, plus we’re supplying the amazing doughnuts and the Louie Bossi’s Wood Burning Oven Pizza Truck will be there, too, and you’ll find about 20 local makers selling their wares. We’ll be there with our Advent offerings and plenty of great handmade stuff for Christmas, plus our full line of culinary herbs and herbal teas from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Community in Maine. Follow the blue and white MAKERS MARKETPLACE signs posted on FAU campus roads to the Satellite Studios of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, located at FAU’s historic T6 Building on the northeast corner of campus.