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.

COME SEE US!
“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!

 

Roses, Light, the Midst of Advent

And now we are midway through Advent, well into December, closer and closer to the Midwinter Solstice and all the holy days of light that revolve around it: Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa. In Latin America, it is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sacred to all the countries of Latin America, but most especially to Mexico. Her day comes on the 12th of December. The 13th will bring St. Lucy’s Day: the Feast of Santa Lucia in Italy (where Lucia is pronounced loo-chee-a) and Sankta Lucia in Sweden (where the C is soft: loo-see-a). So much beauty in these two days and nights.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is important to us in this house for perhaps an odd reason: she is, in her way, responsible for what Convivio Bookworks has become. This has to do with the very first December that Seth and I spent in our little old house in Lake Worth, in this town that has such a large Mexican and Mayan population. We were at the table, eating dinner that 12th of December in 2000, when suddenly we heard fireworks exploding overhead. I knew what day it was, and there was, I decided, only one explanation: there was a festival going on downtown celebrating Our Lady of Guadalupe! We dropped everything and didn’t even bother to clean up or finish dinner but instead hopped into the truck and headed downtown for the festivities. We drove to Bryant Park on the lagoon, but it was silent, and so were the grounds of Sacred Heart Church, as was the plaza off the City Hall Annex and none of the downtown streets were blocked off, either, for this wonderful festival that we had concocted in our own minds.

I had left the house that night all excited for the singing and dancing and for the food but also to run into the street vendor who would be selling the traditional painted tin ornaments from Mexico that I’d been longing for… but of course there was no festival and there were no ornaments. Nothing. The fireworks probably were shot from the street outside the home of one very enthusiastic family. So Seth and I drove back home, disappointed.

But that night, with all its excitement and disappointment, was a seed that eventually bloomed into what we do now, for I decided that if I couldn’t find the traditional painted tin ornaments I wanted locally, I’d go out and find them where they came from. And that maybe other folks would want them, too. And so that Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th of December at the tail end of the last century had a big effect on bringing you the Convivio Book of Days Catalog, where we sell authentic traditional handicrafts pertaining to the seasonal round of the year, which evolved eventually into this blog. And still I am diligently working on the next logical step: a real book called The Convivio Book of Days that you can pull off your bookshelf to confer with when you wish, like an old friend. (Guess what? The book proposal is just about done!) And so if you love this Book of Days, you can thank Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As for Our Lady, as the story goes, in 1531, a fellow named Juan Diego was on a hill near Mexico City and there he saw an apparition of a woman. She asked him to build a church in her honor there on the hill. She spoke to him in his native Nahuatl language and he recognized her, by the things she told him, as the Virgin Mary.

The iconic image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that we know so well miraculously appeared inside Juan Diego’s cloak on the 12th of December, 1531: on one of his visits to the hill, Mary told Juan Diego to go to the barren top of the hill, but when he got there, he found it not at all barren but awash with blooming roses. He and Mary gathered the roses and she arranged them inside his cloak. And on this, her feast day, Juan Diego opened his cloak before the bishop of Mexico City. When he did, the flowers all fell to the floor, revealing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The bishop took it as a sign. The church was built, and the image from Juan Diego’s cloak, or tilma, hangs still inside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill, Mexico City.

As our story goes, I imagine that next morning after the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe we probably ate lussekatter for breakfast, for while we have a lot of Mexicans and Mayans here in Lake Worth, we also have a lot of Finns, and the bakeries that keep the Finns happy generally make baked goods that relate to their Scandinavian neighbors, too… so when it is near the Feast of Sankta Lucia, they make lussekatter: saffron buns in the shape of an S, made each year for Sankta Lucia’s Day. Where the traditions are held onto tightly, it will be the eldest daughter of the family who comes around to all the bedrooms of the home, dressed in white and a sash of red, a wreath of candles on her head illuminating the predawn darkness. Her gift is coffee and lussekatter. And light: the light emanating from the crown of her head. It pierces the midwinter darkness. Lucia’s story, I feel, deserves more breadth and time… and so please tune in tomorrow to this blog, so I can share with you more of this beautiful night. But do, for sure, get yourself some lussekatter first, should you be lucky enough to be near a Scandinavian bakery.

Image: Handmade glass ornaments made by artisans in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The artisans make the ornaments in three designs and we carry them in our online shop. One set features calaveras, another set features Frida Kahlo images, and this set features images of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

COME SEE US!
Christkindlmarkt last weekend was so much fun! Thanks to all who came by. And now this coming weekend brings our final four pop up shops before Christmas arrives. Local friends: we hope to see you… “Yule” love what we have at each of these markets!

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!