Why Easter and Christmas matter. March 31, 2013Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas, Easter
Our friend Ben was horrified to read an ad in yesterday’s local paper proudly trumpeting services being held at a “traditional” Christian church that celebrated neither of those “pagan” holidays, Christmas or Easter. To dismiss the two greatest holidays of the Christian church and call yourself Christian is akin to ripping out the engines of cars and calling yourself a mechanic.
I can certainly understand churches that want to remove the commercial and frivolous trappings that have accreted on the two holidays over the years—Santa Claus, the focus on presents and baskets of candy, the Easter bunny. As fun as these are, they tend to reduce the significance of these holy days to the level of the leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day and trick-or-treating on Hallowe’en.
But commercialism aside, there are essential reasons to celebrate Christmas and Easter, and some of their oldest symbols: the evergreen tree at Christmas, symbol of eternal life, the egg at Easter, symbolizing rebirth. If various churches choose to frown on the celebrations, the carols, the focus on food and good fellowship and partying that accompany these holidays, so be it. But to deny the holiness of the days themselves is to deny why Christianity is, to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
After all, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism to my knowledge all venerate Jesus as an enlightened prophet. Where they differ from Christians is in acknowledging Him as the Son of God. It sounds like this so-called “traditionilist church” in the paper is doing the same. Which is perfectly fine, but it isn’t Christian.
All of which ultimately led our friend Ben to a problem I have, and have always had, with genuinely traditional Christian interpretations of the significance of the life and events in the life of Jesus. Each year, we are given the season of Advent, of joyous anticipation, and Lent, of renunciation and sacrifice, to prepare for these great holy days of Christ’s birth and His death and resurrection. Anticipation builds, we are encouraged to explore and go deeper into our faith, and then, at last, the miracle happens: Jesus is born. Jesus is reborn from the dead.
To me, by far the greater miracle is that God Creator, who after all had the entire universe in His keeping, would so love the world that He would send His only-begotten Son to be born in this world in human guise and try to save it. To save us. To care about what happened to us. This is so unprecedented, so inconceivable, that it surely must be the greatest miracle of all. This is what Advent and Christmas celebrate.
That Jesus died for us and rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven to sit beside His Father is also a miracle. But to me, that God should have condescended to send His Son to begin with is the great miracle, the farthest reach. What a humbling thought!
This blessed Easter, let us rejoice and give thanks on both accounts: That Jesus was born, and that He went to the Cross for us. And if you want to go on an egg hunt or eat some Easter candy, that’s okay with our friend Ben!
Take Joy. December 17, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas, Fra Giovanni, Fra Giovanni's Christmas Prayer
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Each Christmas season, we here at Poor Richard’s Almanac like to post a prayer that, for us, epitomizes Christmas and our Christmas wishes for all our readers. It was written in 1513 by a Franciscan monk, Fra Giovanni. We hope that each of you, whatever your faith, takes joy in it as we do.
Fra Giovanni’s Christmas Prayer
I salute you! There is nothing I can give you which you have not, but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take Heaven.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present moment. Take Peace.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within our reach is joy. Take Joy!
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.
This can’t be December. December 5, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Caribbean Christmas, Christmas, Jimmy Buffett, warm Christmas, white Christmas
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were recently down in Nashville visiting family. The weather was beautiful: sunny and 70 degrees. Tee-shirt weather; it was all we could do not to sneak out and go for long walks along the tree-lined streets.
OFB and Silence grew up in Nashville and spent many a December there, so we can say with certainty that this is very unusual weather. It may not have snowed every Christmas while we lived there, but it was cold, and we often had white Christmases. Nobody was walking around in tee-shirts and bare legs; coats and mittens were standard December outerwear.
Here in scenic PA, we had snow in November and have had our woodstove chugging away. So we experienced a bit of culture shock (or perhaps “climate shock” would be more like it) down in Nashville. We’d pass a row of leafless trees and OFB would say, “Those poor trees! I wonder what killed them?” Silence would see a Christmas tree strapped to the top of a car, or a retail clerk in a Santa hat, and assume she was losing her mind. (Comment suppressed on that. Ow! Just kidding, Silence!)
Our experience makes us think of all the parts of the world where it’s consistently warm to hot at Christmas, and of Jimmy Buffett’s song “Christmas in the Caribbean.” We’re not generally fans of snow—shoveling, slipping and sliding, falling, breaking branches, skidding cars, ugh—but we do like a white Christmas. Our ideal would be a nice snowfall on Christmas Eve, a white Christmas through New Year’s, and no more snow until the following Christmas Eve. (Our dogs strongly disagree; both our dear departed Molly and our beloved black German shepherd, Shiloh, love and loved to race around making snow rings.)
We’ll stay in PA this Christmas, thanks. How about you? Are you a white Christmas person or a Caribbean Christmas person?
‘Tis the season to be tempted. November 11, 2012Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas, Christmas catalogs, holiday catalogs
Silence Dogood here. Our Tasmanian blogging friend Fran (http://theroadtoserendipity.wordpress.com/) reminded me that conspicuous consumption had become the order of the day aound the holidays, and that it behooved us to try to celebrate in a manner befitting the meaning of the season. I hate it that now, the day after Hallowe’en, it’s become the norm for stores to put out the Christmas stuff and completely override Harvest Home and its major festival Thanksgiving, with its dual themes of abundance and gratitude.
But there’s one aspect of the hype and hoopla that I love: The gorgeous gift catalogs our friend Ben and I receive every year around this time. I love to see the food and cooking equipment, the jewelry, the ornaments, the household items (from homespun to sumptuous), the crafts, the museum catalogs with their exquisite cards, the plants and garden supplies, the cookbooks, the travel books—pretty much everything. And of course, I want all this luscious stuff for myself.
Need I say, the holiday season is expensive enough without spending additional money on yourself. So how can you let yourself enjoy the endless temptations of the season without succumbing to them? With catalogs, it’s easy, since it’s not as easy to actually shop as it is in a store or online. I’ve developed a two-step process that allows me to indulge myself while keeping my credit card safely in my purse.
I find catalogs to be perfect bedtime reading: They appeal to the senses while demanding nothing from the mind. This allows me to relax with a tempting catalog and savor every photo and description while keeping my mind from revving (if I start thinking immediately before bed, I often don’t sleep for hours). Then, in the morning, I put the catalog away. And promptly forget about it. I’ve had my fun, indulged in my fantasies, and protected my feeble checking account. Try it, I think you’ll like it!
‘Til next time,
What do you really want for Christmas? December 18, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas, Christmas gifts
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have been discussing this topic over the past week, for several reasons. First, we have little money to spare this Christmas, and most of it has gone to gifts for others. We want to make sure the gifts we buy each other with what little is left are things we really want. Silence has narrowed her choices to an amber bracelet or new fish and plants for our aquarium plus a bottle of Campari. Our friend Ben admits that all I really want for Christmas this year is a bottle of tawny port and a wonderful Christmas dinner. I hope I can keep Silence from going overboard!
Another reason we’ve been talking about the concept of Christmas gifts is because of my sister and a good friend of Silence’s. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we never open Christmas presents until Christmas day. Blasphemy! We love to let the anticipation build up. (This of course would not apply to live gifts like fish and plants.) But my sister apparently operates under no such restraints. We received an outraged voice mail last week to the effect that one of our nearest and dearest had sent her two nickel-plated bracelets for Christmas. She added that she hoped we fared better.
Meanwhile, Silence’s friend made it more than clear that her choice of Christmas presents would be to not be bothered by us this Christmastide (we’d offered to drop by with their gifts, which we’d collected carefully all year, at their convenience, or to drop them off at their work, or to mail them, though that would have resulted in financial hardship). Silence was devastated to think that anyone would view the most-beloved holiday, not to mention a visit from old and good friends, as an intolerable burden, and our friend Ben, seeing her distress, was apoplectic.
But all of this certainly made us think about the concept of gifts and what they mean and should mean. OFB has an aunt who, for the past few years, has gifted Heifer International in our names as a Christmas gift. Heifer International is an organization that provides livestock (from chickens to cows) to the poorest of the poor worldwide to assist them to become self-sufficient. In our present financial state, we’d be so grateful for a bag of nuts, a box of oranges, or a few dollars for ourselves. Yet what my aunt is giving is the chance for a family to change its entire life, surely the greatest gift one person could give another. We’re so pleased and proud that she is doing this in our name, when we’re not able to do it ourselves.
We (perhaps I should say, Silence) devote a great deal of thought year-round to choosing the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. This year, Silence has added beautiful homemade scarves to the list for people she knows would appreciate and wear them. (I’m hoping that would include me.) But, knowing us, you won’t be surprised to learn that “perfect” doesn’t equate to “trendy” or “expensive.” Nobody’s getting an iPad or Rolex this year (or any year) from us. We comb through antiques stores, flea markets, farmers’ markets, and online sites like Amazon to find the most wonderful gifts. We also patronize local shops and crafts shows for one-of-a-kind treasures. And, yes, we do make our own.
But returning to the topic of this post, we think that it’s always awkward to receive gifts you don’t really want, especially from people you know can’t really afford to give them to you. If you’re not close enough to someone to know what they really want or need, maybe you shouldn’t give them anything but heartfelt good wishes.
We keep reading that giving gifts sets up the expectation that you’ll get gifts in return, which we feel is not just wrong but awful. We give gifts because we love to surprise and delight our friends and family, not because we want something from them. The greatest gift anybody could give us is happiness and delight in the gift we’ve given, not in a feeling of obligation. And if we receive a gift we simply can’t use, we know many thrift stores and secondhand shops that would love it. It makes us joyful to think we’ve brightened the holidays of someone we’ll never meet.
So, please, this holiday season, give some thought to what you’d actually want for Christmas or Hanukkah. Talk it over with your family, and see what they’d really want. Keep your financial constraints in mind. Consider what sorts of gifts you could make this year (fudge, brownies, cookies); you’d be surprised how much everyone appreciates the effort of a yummy homemade gift. Don’t feel bad about enlightening a friend or relative who suggests that they or their family would really like an expensive, out-of-budget gift. And if someone, like Silence’s friend, tells you that the best gift you could give them is to simply stay away, give them the benefit of compassion, not rage. Love them anyway, for that is, ultimately, the greatest gift of all.
A Christmas card from Mother Teresa. December 17, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas, Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa Christmas quote, quotes from Mother Teresa
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“It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.”
—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Mother Teresa is one of our friend Ben’s favorite saints (and yes, I know that she hasn’t been officially canonized yet, but still). So I was thrilled when Silence Dogood returned from a local crafts show with a packet of handmade Christmas cards bearing the beautiful quote with which I began this post.
Silence had bought the cards not only because they reflected Mother Teresa’s deep compassion and profound understanding of God and man, and not just for the wonderful Pennsylvania Dutch fraktur illustration that surrounded the quote, but because the artist had put this message inside each card: “May you celebrate Christmas often in the New Year.”
What a wonderful way to keep the joy of this blessed season alive in our hearts throughout the year! May we, and you, celebrate Christmas often—the Mother Teresa way—in the year to come.
A wonderful weekend for Christmas shopping. December 1, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christkindlmarkt, Christmas, Christmas shopping, folk art, Glick's Greenhouse, Goschenhoppen Christmas Market, Goschenhoppen Historians, Mennonite Heritage Center, Mennonite Heritage Center Pennsylvania German Folk Art Sale, Pennsylvania German art
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If you live in, or within driving distance of, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood’s home area—basically Berks, Montgomery, and Lehigh Counties in Pennsylvania—our friend Ben would like to alert you to the fabulous and fun things going on in the area this weekend. Our friend Ben and Silence go to all these every year, so we can guarantee that they’re worth the trip. And fortunately, some of them continue throughout the month, so you can plan a future weekend or weeknight trip. Check it all out:
The Christmas Market. Presented by the Goschenhoppen Historians and located at Red Men’s Hall, Green Lane, PA, this amazing combination of folklife museum and Christmas sale is delightful. There’s a bake sale featuring Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish Christmas specialties, including the wonderful Amish lemon sponge pie (we’re not leaving without one), tons of homemade Christmas cookies, “home canned sweets and sours,” the famous molded Pennsylvania Dutch clear toy candies, which make beautiful Christmas ornaments, and even lunch and beverages. But Silence is jabbing our friend Ben in the ribs to get me to stop talking about food and get on to the actual exhibit, which has a wonderful display of themed Christmas trees and holiday arrangements, a sale of handcrafted Christmas gifts and ornaments, a sale of vintage Christmas ornaments, local books and Christmas cards, and “researched period Pennsylvania German Christmas customs and folk practices,” including the PA Dutch skinny, scary Santa, Der Belsnickel. December 3rd and 4th (Saturday and Sunday). Find out more at www.goschenhoppen.org.
Glick’s Greenhouse Poinsettia Show. This may not sound too exciting, but trust me, it is. In addition to a massive display of 10,000 poinsettias—including the latest varieties—Glick’s always has a themed show with judged entries from local goups and businesses. A couple of years ago, the theme was wreaths celebrating Route 66, including one memorable wreath made from old license plates. This year, the theme is A Cowboy Christmas: Christmas in the Wild, Wild West. Live music, free food (hot, fresh popcorn, PA Dutch hotdogs with all the trimmings, including sauerkraut and relish, cider, and beyond), and free admission make this event a must-see. Besides poinsettias, Glick’s has an extensive selection of perennials, houseplants, water-garden plants, and wreaths available for sale at great prices. Silence and I have bought our Christmas wreath at Glick’s for the past five years—the quality and price simply can’t be beat. We’re looking forward to getting this year’s wreath on Saturday. Glick’s is hosting its poinsettia show Friday 12/2 from 9-9, Saturday 12/3 from 9-5, and Monday 12/5 from 9-9. Check it out, and get hours, directions, and an entertainment schedule, at www.glicksgreenhouse.com.
Mennonite Heritage Center Pennsylvania German Folk Art Sale. Our next stop will definitely be the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, PA. On Saturday the 3rd from 9:30 am to 4 pm and on Sunday the 4th from noon to 4 pm, there will be an open house featuring the finest Pennsylvania Dutch (aka German) handcrafted folk arts for sale, as well as craft demonstrations (woodcarving, tinsmithing, and elaborate papercutting, aka scherenschnitte). You can enjoy the museum’s folk art and lifestyle exhibits and browse their unequaled selection of PA Dutch folk art, including redware, quilts, scherenschnitte, fraktur, furniture, weavings, tinwork, toleware, carved birds and animals, and much more. Our friend Ben and Silence make sure we have our Christmas gift list drawn up before we head over here! There’s also an amazing selection of books pertaining to PA Dutch lifestyles and history, the history of the region, regional cookbooks [yes!!!---Silence], children’s books on Colonial lifestyles, and local music CDs. We recommend our favorite local group, DayBreak. We love all their CDs, but their Christmas CD is an outstanding introduction. Can’t make it this weekend? Lucky you, the sale continues through December 30th. Check it all out at www.mhep.org.
Christkindlmarkt. We adore this gathering of artisans and traditional German and Austrian craftsmen held in Bethlehem, PA, every year. We buy “smokers,” the wooden people and Christmas scenes with hidden cavities for incense, and frankincense to burn in them. We’ve bought glass Moravian stars, beeswax candles, handcrafted jewelry and leather goods, fantastic paintings and photographs, precious stones, and locally made salsa. We make a point of buying spiced hot almonds every year, admiring the ice sculptures, and checking out the cuckoo clocks. Each week brings a new assortment of craftspeople from all over the U.S., as well as the unchanging selection of German and Austrian craftspeople. This year, Christkindlmarkt has moved to the SteelStacks on Bethlehem’s South Side, an arts and community center in the former Bethlehem Steelworks. The astonishing light displays at night are not to be missed! Fortunately for us, Christkindlmarkt continues not just this weekend but every Thursday through Sunday through December 20th. Did we mention that there’s tons of food and live music? Check it out at www.christmascity.org.
Our friend Ben is sure there’s a lot more going on in the Berks-Montgomery-Lehigh area this weekend. These are just the ones we can personally vouch for. So if you’re in the area, check them out. You may be able to do all your Christmas shopping, and get your family and friends unique, handcrafted, authentic regional crafts, as we try to do each year. And if you see a tall, blond, worried-looking man trying to restrain a short, dark-haired, supremely enthusiastic woman from buying everything in sight, come on over and introduce yourselves. Our friend Ben and Silence would be delighted to meet you!
Welcoming the Christmas season. November 30, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Advent, Advent calendars, Christmas, Christmas music, Christmas preparations, Tasha Tudor, the Christmas season
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Silence Dogood here. Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, when our friend Ben and I very sadly bid farewell to the season of Harvest Home that culminates in Thanksgiving, which we love, and turn our faces to our very favorite time of year, the Christmas season.
Mind you, it’s not even December yet, so you won’t find us putting up our tree or cloaking our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, with lights, or anything like that. We like to build up to Christmas to keep the excitement going. But we do like to acknowledge the change in seasons with a few significant changes.
First, to celebrate the Advent season, when all the Christian world prepares to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, we set out our Advent calendar. In our case, it’s one by the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Tasha Tudor, whose early 19th-century lifestyle we admire enormously. Advent calendars have little “doors” (usually paper, as in the case of ours) that you open each day to reveal an illustration, thought, or scripture passage, leading up to Christmas. The excitement of opening a new door every day awakens the child in all of us.
Next, we get out our Christmas incense, balsam and pine and frankincense and myrrh and every good Christmas thing, and our Christmas candles, pine-scented, cinnamon- and clove-scented, bayberry, and so on. We love candles and incense, and we love changing them according to the seasons, so this is an important seasonal ritual for us, ushering in the Christmas season.
We don’t want to rush Christmas decorating, but we always set out two harbingers of Christmas on our mantel on the first Sunday of Advent: a small olivewood Nativity scene from the Holy Land that I acquired as an undergraduate, and a delightful Mary Engelbreit card of Santa approaching a chimney with “Believe” written below. We do believe in all that the magical season of Christmas has to offer.
The only other early-Christmas effort we make is to get out and start playing our collection of Christmas music. Every year, we try to add a CD or two to our collection, and, loving music as we do, nothing says Christmas to us (besides the smells of the season) more than music. We’ll share our faves with you tomorrow.
Soon, we’ll begin watching our annual “Scroogefest” of various DVD interpretations of Charles Dickens’s beloved A Christmas Carol. We’ll read our favorite Christmas classics. We’ll decorate our tree, mantel, and table, put up a wreath on the front wall of Hawk’s Haven, our cottage home, plan our Christmas meals, write our Christmas cards, gather all our Christmas gifts. We’ll prepare to delight each other and spoil our dog, cats, and birds, surprise our neighbors, and give our very best to our families and friends when the big day comes.
Meanwhile, we’ve got a lot to do. And a lot to enjoy. And the enjoyment starts now!
‘Til next time,
Knitting up some tinsel magic. January 15, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas, Christmas past, handmade scarves, joys of knitting, knitting, Moonlight Mohair yarn, tinsel
Silence Dogood here. As a child, I hated tinsel. Seems like I was always the one who had to hang those bazillion silver plastic noodles on our tree, being the oldest (and thus at that time, tallest) child, getting stabbed by sharp evergreen needles and criticized by everyone else if the tinsel wasn’t perfectly distributed. Worse still was having to take off every strand of the wretched stuff when we undecorated the tree, and the needles were even sharper. Ow! Yow! *&%$#@!!! tinsel!!!
I only came to love tinsel when I discovered antique German tinsel as an adult. The silvered, fuzzy tinsel ropes glistened softly in the light, and you wrapped them ’round the tree like strings of popcorn. When Christmas was over, it took five minutes to take them down and fold them in their box. No fuss, no muss, and best of all, no pain!
Thoughts of Christmas glitter must have still been with me on our friend Ben’s and my recent trip to North Carolina to visit family. When our hosts suggested going to nearby Seagrove, NC, a mecca for pottery lovers with over 100 potteries, I of course jumped at the chance. But little did I know that yarn lurked behind one of those innocent-looking storefronts.
Yarn and Silence Dogood are a dangerous combination, as OFB knows too well. (He fled the store and sulked—I mean, sat—in the car until I emerged with my package.) As I proceeded to the back of the store where the yarn was waiting, I saw the most gorgeous hand-crocheted shawl. Like tinsel, it glittered quietly in the light, its soft texture and many colors singing a siren call. But I didn’t want a shawl. I didn’t even want to make a shawl. I wanted to make a scarf.
Searching the shelves, I quickly located the yarn—Moonlight Mohair in “Rain Forest.” But aarrgghhh, there were only three skeins left, not the four I’d been counting on! What to do? I saw that each skein showed a knitted scarf on the front and promised that, if you used size 13 needles, you could knit it with a single ball (skein) of yarn. (Complete instructions were printed inside the label.) It looked attractive, but of course I had something else in mind—a wider, longer scarf knitted on size 7 needles.
After agonizing at unseemly length (OFB was actually asleep when I returned to the car), I finally decided to get the three skeins and just see. Back home, I put Mary Chapin Carpenter on the CD player, cast on 34 stitches on my size 7 wooden needles (wooden and bamboo needles are my favorites, though I do cherish some of my grandma’s vintage plastic needles), and started knitting. What a thrill to see the tinsel-like gold metallic thread wound with the many mohair colors flashing in the light! It looked like magic come to life.
So far, I only have about 8 inches of scarf knitted. But I’m so looking forward to continuing! I find knitting as relaxing as some people find meditation. And, though the colors of this particular yarn look lovely in daylight, they’re especially beautiful, thanks to that gold tinsel, by lamplight. A lovely finish to the day. And who doesn’t want to keep that Christmas magic alive?
‘Til next time,