Frosted Window Panes, or Your December Book of Days

Welcome to December, the opposite side of the year from June. Ever since the solstice in June, Midsummer here in the Northern Hemisphere, the nights have been growing longer and darker… and soon, on the 21st of this month, we reach Midwinter. A new solstice, when the pattern will change, when sunlight begins to return in the form of lengthening days. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. For now, these first three weeks of December, nights continue to grow longer. We counter this with increasing light in our celebrations: Advent, Santa Lucia, Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa… all of these ceremonies call down the light, bring it closer to us and to those we love: Darkest night, deepest joy.

It’s a full month to be sure. To help you keep track, here is our gift to you: your Convivio Book of Days calendar for December. It is, as usual, a printable PDF, a document you can print on standard US Letter size paper, a nice companion to the blog. Our cover star this month is some of that light called down from the darkness: lights through a frosty window pane, from inside our cozy Lake Worth home last Christmas. (Yes, even here in Lake Worth, “where summer spends winter,” it can sometimes get a bit frosty this time of year.)

I’ll be writing about most or all of these red letter days in December, though maybe this year I’ll group some together during the Twelve Days of Christmas that begin once Christmas Day has passed. This way you’re not getting an email notice from me every one of those Twelve Days. Not sure yet. I do worry sometimes about sending you too much mail and the last thing I want is to be a bother. Best to keep the vibration on a higher level, and perhaps that means more consolidation, more editing. Less verbiage. We shall see what we shall see. Meanwhile, while I ponder that and figure that out, a good start of this month to you. May it be filled with many good things for us all.

 

Taking Things Slowly

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make things just right and perhaps there’s even more of that pressure in these days of Instagram and Facebook, where everything looks so wonderful. Not many people are posting pictures of the messes in their lives, after all. It’s pretty easy to feel a bit inadequate and a bit left behind, too.

I’ve felt this a lot lately. In just the past few days, since Thanksgiving, Instagram and indeed the world all around me has exploded into Christmas lights and trees. And though I love Christmas, I don’t feel at all ready for it. And I’ve even felt a bit this weekend like it’s passing me by. Already.

All right then. Let’s sit back a moment, and take time to pause. One obvious thing that hits me, when I really think about it, is it’s not even December yet. This already makes me feel more at ease. Advent, the time of preparation before Christmas, won’t even begin until next Sunday, the Third of December.

Here at our little old house in Lake Worth, there is still Indian corn hanging on the door and pumpkins on the porch. Next Friday, when December begins, we will open the first window of our Advent calendar, and we will begin burning our daily Advent candle. Over the weekend, Seth will make an Advent wreath and on Sunday, we will light the first candle: purple. The Sunday after, two purple candles. The Sunday after that, two purples and a rose candle. The Sunday after that, which will also be Christmas Eve, all four candles will be lit: three purples and one rose. All this time, we will slowly be shifting toward Christmas: cleaning home and hearth, baking, lighting candles in the windows. By mid December we’ll get our tree and begin illuminating our home, just as the darkest night approaches. It is a slow and gradual process here, marked with doing things with care. It is a process that brings us peace in an otherwise hectic time. We call it the Slow Christmas Movement.

If things feel far too fast for you, too, we invite you to join us. It also means celebrating Christmas for its full Twelve Days beginning only after Christmas Day itself has passed. This is not for everyone, for it will put you in a place decidedly outside the dominant commercial Christmas culture. But it will bring you, I think, as it brings us, a Christmas season (and an Advent season, too) that feels calmer, less rushed, more peaceful, and if Christmas is about peace on earth, goodwill toward all… then maybe this––tapping into the ancient traditions of the holiday––is where it begins.

I don’t often encourage you to buy things, but the Convivio Book of Days Catalog places a big focus on Advent. We sell the traditional glittery German Advent calendars I remember from my childhood, and we sell daily Advent candles that are made by hand in England. We’re also running a special this year on the traditional purple and rose candles for Advent, and the metal ring to burn them in. The link above will take you to our homepage, where you can shop Advent and Christmas and all of our lines. Oh hey! Spend $50 or more and we’ll pay the shipping on domestic orders (there’s a flat shipping fee of $8.50 if you spend less than $50). We ship US Priority Mail, so you should have your order in plenty of time for the start of Advent if you order in the next couple of days. If you’re ordering for a destination outside the US, you’ll be charged a $30 shipping charge, but we’ll calculate your actual shipping charge and we won’t charge your card until we contact you with that information to let you know what it will be (N.B.: usually it’s considerably less).

I’ll leave you with one last thing today, a musical gift. I talk a lot about Jane Siberry and her indirect influence on my writing, my creative endeavors, even my approach to work and my daily life. My introduction to her was on MTV’s “120 Minutes,” late on a Sunday night in 1987, with the video for a song called “Ingrid and the Footman.” I bought the record. The song that really sealed the deal for me, though, in terms of Ms. Siberry’s genius, was at the end of the record: a song that ran over 11 minutes long called “The Bird in the Gravel.” I think of this song every late autumn, just about this time. Jane made a short film for the song back then, one of her first adventures into the medium. A song that’s 11 minutes long forces you to take it slow. Between that, and the barren trees, and the quality of the sunlight… well, I don’t know if Jane Siberry made this film in late November, but it feels like it to me. If you have 11 minutes to spare, and I hope you do, “The Bird in the Gravel” is my gift, through Jane, to you today.

Wishing you peace.
John

 

Today’s image is a still from “The Bird in the Gravel” by Jane Siberry, 1987.

Counting our Blessings

I took only two photographs at Thanksgiving dinner last year and this is one of them: Mom and Dad, at the table, in their usual seats, with two of Mom’s homemade pies: cocoanut custard and pumpkin. Ours will be a quiet celebration this year, our first without Dad. It’ll be Mom and my sister and Seth and me. There may have been more than the five of us last year; I really don’t recall. The year before that, we were all in Illinois, seated at a table for 17. Thanksgiving is like this––you never know year to year what it might be like.

Even though it is just the four of us, Mom and Marietta, my sister, have been cooking up a storm and they’ll be roasting a turkey that is just shy of 20 pounds. We don’t know how to cook small in my family. There will be leftovers and plenty of them.

We gather and we will certainly remember those who are not with us, but we will gather and appreciate that we are there for each other. For us, it’s been a year mixed with good and bad, a year that helps us truly appreciate our blessings. And so we give thanks for them and for each other. And I give thanks for you, too, for being with me on this journey each year around the sun, for reading every now and then and for letting me know that you do. I can’t thank you enough. From my family to yours: Happy Thanksgiving.

John

 

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