Polegnala e Todora

A couple of weeks ago, Jeff and I sat down with our Franklin Planners and worked out the month of December. Wanting to avoid last minute craziness and Oh Sh*t moments where we realize we should have gotten things in the mail two days ago, we instead broke it all down. December is packed to the hilt with festivities, yet all evenly spaced, with sanity and slowness built in.

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One of the homeschooling traditions that we like is The Nature Table. However, since we are so limited on space, this branch that initially was for hanging The Eggs of Ostara has become our seasonal rep. We’ve decorated with Usnea, red berries and psychedelic spirals that we got at SCRAP for pennies.

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Ms. Moonshine’s most recent post delves into the goodness of simple tradition and exuberant love for the season, an experience for which she says might seem “sappy”. Like A Charlie Brown Christmas, all around me I hear that debate as to whether or not the holiday season has lost its meaning to consumerism and the striving for perfection. So many people I know greet December with disillusionment and cynicism.

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Planning ahead has given me space to pack in a lot of craft time and the kids LOVE it.

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This weekend, we began with celebrating St. Nicholas Day (without Black Pete…oi).

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A couple of years ago I fretted about creating our own solstice and Christmas traditions, unclear on how to bring in the multilayered stories, wondering if I needed to separate everything out for clarity sake. This year I see our style taking shape, with festivities, activities and books that create warm and simple understanding. Spreading it out over a month gives time for integration.

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Both kids were elated to learn the “real” story of Santa Claus, and even though the books we read to them were complex, they asked for repeated readings. I have a tender spot for this fella, and have always loved the archetype of Santa Claus…I still get teary whenever I hear “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”.

We aren’t Christian, so it feels a little odd to celebrate a completely religious figure. Christmas can so easily be celebrated as Solstice that I had skirted the whole Christ thing until now. Moving through the traditions through stories helps impart understanding to my daughter, without making it an overbearing belief system, and also helps highlight what I think of as the true meaning…Christ – Mass…The Birth of the Light.

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We began the ritual of making a slipper to leave out for St. Nick, with their own offerings for the weary traveller and his donkey (in the form of drawings). In the morning, their slippers were full of gold coin candy and stickers.

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I have always had unfailing “Christmas Spirit”. I love the depths of Winter, the meaning of Yule celebrations, the traditions that infuse the season. I delight in gift giving and gift making (although the past few years have seen me challenged for time). However, the one experience I have almost every year does revolve around money…anxiety about dwindling funds, plus disappointment and shame around not being able to just buybuybuy for the people I love.

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For the past four years, I have racked my brain on how to create a reusable advent calendar for Fern (I didn’t like the ideas I found online). This year, when I found this little cabin on sale, I decided to make it one of her main presents. The sides of the house are little doors numbered 1-24, and each contains a little woodland animal. In the future, I can put in different surprises or re-use the critters.

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Advent really brings home one of the meanings of Winter…the waiting. Embodying patience through the short days and long nights as we count down to Christmas helps all of us to be more present.

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The dark and cold of winter can bring up fears related to survival or perpetuity…in some way, concern over finances feels like a modern connection to the worries of my ancestors. Will we make it through the long night? Will the sun return? Will the darkness end?

We do what countless generations before us have done. We focus on hearth and home.

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This act of bringing it back to heartfulness is the best antidote that I know to cynicism. Let the corporations and the capitalist machine ring their silver bells of More! More! More! We aren’t buying it. Literally.

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Throughout our days, we keep up the emphasis on Kindness and Generosity. Establishing what will be another central component to our celebrations, we begin the tradition of Giving Back. Here in California we’ve had a cold snap (stop laughing, East Coasters)…and what will the Robin do, poor thing? He’ll sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing. Poor thing.

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At night we watch Rudolph and the next day the kids bounce on the bed, shrieking with laughter and repeating “Nobody wants a Charlie in the Box”. Fern rehearses her perfect Charlie Brown dance.

There is so much more to come and yet we already feel satisfied. Starting celebrations early negates the high speed chase towards Dec. 25th that ends up in a crash and burn. It already is Christmas.

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And let’s not forget the music. Along with Pandora holiday radio, we’re already enjoying wintry favorites.

How do you discover the spirit of the season?

6 thoughts on “Polegnala e Todora

  1. I needed this post.
    We are exhausted here. Christmas party after Christmas Party and heat and sun and mugginess and rain. I would love Christmas to be a time of slowing down; I think the opposite happens here, as the weather finally allows it, people are running outdoors and having bbqs and going swimming, trying to fit it all in before the next rain. Long days. The kids are tired, school ends in two weeks; there is no learning to be had at this time of year though, it feels like school is a creche for these last couple of weeks, while parents clean house and get their sht together for the big day. I much prefer it being Christmas throughout the month as you’ve told us yours above….slow time and gentle celebration. I feel myself relaxing as I read through your Yuletide plans. That Advent house you found is such a treasure. Well done you! A wintry Christmas….it is the stuff little New Zealanders dream of. And sometimes adult New Zealanders too. Thinking of you. xoxo

  2. So on the same page with you. In Finland we celebrate our Independence day on the 6th and it kind of kicks of the holiday season. Unfortunately for our Christmas prep here we put a lot of effort into Solstice and we’d be happy with just that, only of course family wants to celebrate christmas with us. It’s tough because the two are only a few days apart and then right after christmas is C’s birthday. Luckily I’m really taking a leaf off your book this year and just taking it easy and rejoicing in making it all be fun and mellow. Ask me again in a week, of course…

  3. I love that little advent house- I’ll have to try to remember that idea for next year. This year I bought a book with 12 myths/legends about the return of the light- I’m hoping that reading one a day up to the 25th will gently put the idea of solstice into our traditions. We feed the birds too this time of year- by making ‘bird cookies’ (basically suet cakes formed with cookie cutters- they freeze solid here so they keep their shape well), and bring out the forced spring bulbs on the 21st. I feel like we’re gently, slowly finding our own traditions too, as everyone else in our family is Christian- it’s just sort of the default- so we have to be very mindful to expand the meaning for ourselves.

  4. i keep coming back to this post. i have to search your blog too, i have a feeling that you posted last year or earlier on more about some of your specific traditions? i need to brush up, you guys are so inspiring: i just love the way your family does holidays, it seems like such a nice manageable blend between the “norm” and your own style and refreshing additions. it is such a wonderful time of year and we are just embarking on the hows and wherefores of what we will do each year to bring deep meaning to the occasion for our children. i have to check out the santa legend book….we are trying to figure out that whole aspect for the future. thank you for the merry merry photos (these two are at the PERFECT age for such celebrations!) and the great ideas.

  5. mary, you are the best! I needed this post too. Growing up Christian (albeit in a very secular way), marrying into a Jewish family (also very secular), but feeling a personal calling to paganism/nature-based spirituality – this was inspiring and just perfect!

  6. oh oh oh this is the absolute best!!!
    it appears you are the queen of keeping it together and leading the way of beauty for your children!
    i struggle with creating routine, ritual.
    having teddy start school has been one of the most grounding things for my fidgety family because:
    we are up at the same time.
    breakfast at the same time.
    bath and bed time, at the same time.
    i was never able to construct anything like this before, and i do crave it.
    rhythm.
    and i now i am trying to build something off of the seasons.
    buuut…maybe it’s not my style?
    but i want it to be?
    i’m happy when my kids find some cool sticks and rocks on a walk. i feel like i’ve succeeded as a parent, that i’ve allowed that sort of freedom for them.
    but i do want to create, and build.
    and tonight after reading everybody’s (you and h’s) blogs about wintry activities i panicked and made cocoa and put on something christmasey on netflix. and cringed.
    i’m not a natural. i’m learning.
    and i hope to learn more over time.

    me and my kids read this together, and link loved the little st nick’s.
    teddy really wants to make a pine cone for the birdies.. so thank you.

    i tend to be the more cynical type, “be thankful for breath” kind of debbie downer, but i want my kids to know other types of magic and fun!

    longest rambling comment ever?
    clearly this blog sparked a lot in me.

    i love fern’s dress near the end, and you are lovely.
    those cookies are adorable and i’m wicked curious about that amazing advent animal shanty! maybe you could post more about what the advent season means to you?
    i’m so glad the whole season is festive and appreciated at your hearth!
    inspired!

    teddy and i are going to learn about the history of father christmas, too.
    i’m not done here but i’ll stop. 😉

    xoxo love the blog and it’s author!

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