During the month of December, there are many celebrations from various cultures, faiths, and events to remember.
Many of these are linked to the winter solstice, which has been celebrated throughout history as the “rebirth of the sun.” The natural rotation of the earth was not known in earlier times, so the shortest day of the year (December 21) and the gradual lengthening of days afterward took on a meaning that has largely been forgotten.
We don’t know the exact date of the birth of Jesus, but over time, his birth was also associated with this “birth of the sun,” or many say “birth of the Son.” Early Christian celebrations were generally observed on days that were already holy days, such as the solstice, to help make the transition to Christianity.
…Shab-e yalda, the rebirth of the sun, was an ancient Iranian ceremony that reflected the basics of goodness and light against evil and darkness. (from Suite 101 – see link)
There are many other interesting days of celebration listed on that last link, including The Festival of the Wild Women!
Because I spent many years in Arizona, and Tucson in particular, one of my favorite December traditions is Las Posadas. This procession is a reenactment of the trip Mary and Joseph made from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A group dressed as angels, shepherds, and the holy couple go from house to house seeking shelter. The word posadas means “lodging” in Spanish. At each home, these “pilgrims” are served various foods, including tamales.
There are many other dates to honor during December, but three stand out for me as a special way of honoring this season of lights. They are World AIDS Day on December 1, Pearl Harbor Day on December 7, and Human Rights Day on December 10.
One of the joyous downfalls of anyone who tries to watch their weight is the number of Christmas parties. I try to watch what I eat, but sometimes it’s so hard! These pictures were taken at the home of Robyn and David, dear friends up the road.
With all the fabulous goodies spread around, I put on ten pounds just looking at it. So rather than eat too much, I decided to take pictures of it and show you. Not too many calories were consumed in the making of this post.
I am a “Featured Publisher” with foodbuzz.com, so when I found this video/recipe for a special brie baked in puff pastry on their website recently, I knew I had to try it. I made it for this particular party, and will make it again soon for another party! It made quite a hit at the party, and I’m afraid I did indulge.
Even here in Hawai`i we love the atmosphere of a fireplace. Believe it or not, at an elevation of 3500 feet, the warmth feels good. The crowd of people made an actual flame unnecessary this time, however.
Jaunty white bears were scattered around the house.
The extra potent eggnog was a family recipe from another friend. One cup was all I could handle, since I don’t drink anything else all year. There was also a “virgin” eggnog available, but I stuck with my diet tonic after one cup of the “real” stuff.
The flash on my camera wasn’t able to get the right light for all the pictures, so some are darker than they should be. It’s a good thing I took this picture early in the evening. You wouldn’t have been able to see the counter of pupus or table loaded with goodies for the mob of people gathered around.
We all rolled into our cars after such a grand feast, but it was worth every bite! Thank you, Robyn and David, for helping me get into the Christmas spirit!
Today’s post is a bit of my short fiction.
From time to time, I post something on that order.
This banner is one I made many years ago.
Luz de la Vida
The StoryTeller woman lives in a harbor this side of the sea, near a spurious border between two kingdoms. Once, as long ago as yesterday, the whales and dolphins and other creatures of the sea gathered around to assist on the day of her birth. The name they wrote on her Certificate of Birth was Luz de la Vida, “the light of life.”
From the moment she emerged out of that watery place of all birthing, those briny creatures of wisdom saw the light hovering in the ovaries – in that deep, warm and wet dwelling place of all seed.
“Look!” they said, as they celebrated the wonder of her birth. “There is a light! It must have always been there, but it was not visible until this very moment – not until her birth!”
A few scattered herders of sheep, keepers of land animals, scurried across the fields and arrived in time to witness an inconceivable birth — the birth of Luz de la Vida. This happened merely because they heard some curious music in the wind. They came to see for themselves what was happening.
Still, it was those wise creatures of the deep who first saw Luz de la Vida. They saw the light hovering within her. They followed it and they brought her gifts. In that moment everyone around came to know Luz de la Vida in their own hearts.
Luz de la Vida developed into a lovely, luminous and wise woman. Everyone knew, but no one said, that Luz de la Vida even knew when the sea was born. No one knew, and everyone said, that Luz de la Vida had no name for herself, but was known by all as simply Luz.
Now, each day before the Sun grows up, Luz sings her lullaby to the Moon, and offers her day to the world. She sings her message of Emmanuel as the sea gulls play the wind and the pelicans sit on the rocks to eat their fish. She sings her message as she bakes her bread, hangs out her laundry, scrubs her floors, as the coffee pot perks out a rhythm. She tells her stories to all who stroll by and does her best to lighten their day in her other-world by the sea.
Many wonder if Luz really is, or if stories need a figure to play out her special role. Luz looks under rocks, under seaweed, under docks or among the crabs, she watches the waves for life. She consults the universe with the mind of a million years. We never escape her — she’s crazy, she’s wonderful. She’s fun, she’s scary, she’s unreadable and she lives.
I met Luz one day. She called me from darkness into the light of my own birth.
“Come,” she called. “Come find a light in the midst of your chaos.”
It was in this way that the luminous spirit within Luz gave me a new beginning. Like the Magicians — those others who were led by Luz — I, too, was given her bright star for direction and endurance.
“Here,” she said, “here is the path that leads to the presence of light.”
Her hovering presence lingers in curious ways. She is there when the tired, stifled center of the typhoon passes through my days. She hovers silently during those ceaseless shadowy struggles within my soul. Luz stands by with healing poise as I shiver fearfully in the hospital. Luz swirls through the ruthless torments of my spirit.
When I permit it, she seeks me out as I grapple with responsibilities. When I believe I can find my way without her light, Luz emerges. When all purpose for my life is misplaced, she calls me into a light of rebirth. She arrives in seasons of resurrection. Luz touches my body, my spirit, my mind. She comes, calling my name, your name, Luz comes. I see her, I hear her call. She demolishes my darkness, invites me to dance, nudges me forward to answer to life.
NOTE: I mistakenly posted something else on the evening of December 23, so if you can’t open it, that’s why. You’ll get that post on Monday, December 28.
Christmas Eve is an appropriate time to share a little bit about one of my trips to the Middle East. I was still in active ministry at the time, making everything I learned there more valuable.
So much of what we saw on that trip was exactly how most people picture that part of the world – wide expanses of desert with Bedouin and their camels.
When I was offered a chance to ride a camel, I quickly agreed. Riding a camel certainly has been one of my more unique experiences! I’d been riding horses for many years, so I thought a camel would be a cinch. How wrong I was!
Camels have a nasty disposition! Also, along with their constant complaining, they bend down in stages to let you climb on, which gives you the sensation of being on a very fluky rocking chair (or a slow roller coaster).
In just a few days, we will celebrate the magi following a star to visit a baby in Bethlehem. In the meantime, I want to say that I can appreciate those guys even more now. I can empathize with the grueling ride they must have had on those camels!
A few Christmases ago, my brother gave me a gift certificate from Ace Hardware. I bought an old-fashioned grinder like the one I remember using to grind up cranberries for the bread our mother often made. It is still one of my favorite fruity breads.
There is a funny incident that goes along with this recipe. All I could find here was a snippet of paper with my mother’s handwriting that said “4 cranberry bread.” It had these massive amounts of flour and sugar and eggs, but with absolutely no mention of cranberries or how much. It had probably been her way of making sure she had the right amounts when she made up four loaves of the bread.
So I called my daughter, Debbie, to see if I had given her the recipe at some point. She pulled out a cookbook I’d made up for her as a wedding present many years ago. Sure enough, there it was. She read it off to me and I offer it to you here.
2 cups coarsely chopped cranberries (I used my hand-grinder above)
½ cup chopped nuts
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Juice and grated rind of 1 orange
2 tablespoons butter
Water as needed, but leave the batter rather stiff.
Combine everything except the cranberries and nuts. Fold cranberries and nuts into batter. Line bread pan with greased waxed paper.
A year ago, I wrote about one of my favorite times of year here in Hawai`i, in what we call “winter,” and the dazzling banks of poinsettias that line the road. I thought about trying to take more pictures this year, but the highway is narrow and curving with almost no place to pull over. I did notice that some of the photos are a bit hazy, so it must have been voggy the day I took some of these. Please enjoy these pictures that show our winter scenes.
Yes, there is a difference between summer and winter here. Even in Florida, Southern California, and Arizona (all states where I have lived in the past), there is a distinct change between the temperatures in July and those in January.
Here, there is no noticeable change in temperature from month to month all year. From late November until mid-March, however, there is a change in what is blooming along the roadsides and in our gardens.
For example, the road I drive to the college where I teach seems like one huge embankment of of poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima). “Pulcherrima” means “very beautiful,” and it is. There is no way to compare these with the little pots of poinsettias you might purchase in grocery stores. Against our rich forest green, the brilliant reds are almost florescent. Then throughout March, I look for those little drops of red in the midst of jungle growth that keep hanging on. When they are all gone, I know that it is winter is over!
My first experience with poinsettias took place back in the early 70s when I was a student in the ornamental horticulture department of California Polytechnic Institute, San Luis Obispo. We made a field trip to visit the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA where over 70% of the poinsettias in the United States and over 50% worldwide actually begin. There were acres of greenhouses filled with poinsettia cuttings in all varieties and stages of growth. Please follow that link to view the history of that ranch as well as the history of poinsettias in general.
Poinsettias flow over onto the ground and almost seem to take over everything else.
I love the way they intermingle with the yellow hibiscus. Such a dazzling display of color!
This is a sight few of you will see at Christmas.
Many of the poinsettias have found their way into the wild tangles of growth.
Others are a featured part of a home’s entryway.
You can see why I’m obsessed with taking just the right pictures to illustrate this stunning plant.
Poinsettias are originally from Mexico and named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico in the 1920s. The rest, as they say, “is history!”
During his stay in Mexico he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.
I remember when I lived in Southern California how people would plant the small potted plants they bought at Christmas time. Many of the homes there had nice stands of poinsettias, but none reached the size or proportion of the ones here.
If you are interested in what to do with your Christmas poinsettia plant, go here to read up on it. Another good site on how to choose and care for your poinsettia, and what to do with it at the end, go here.
I really do empathize with those of you who are suffering under ice storms and record-breaking snowstorms. I have lived in Alaska, Illinois, and Rhode Island, so I know what you are experiencing. But I couldn’t go back to it, now that I’ve lived in Paradise!
Whether you are celebrating Hanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, Kwanzaa, or any other festival at this time of year, poinsettias are a celebration in themselves!
We may not get snow, and Santa may be wearing his surfer shorts, but here in Hawaii, we do everything we can to create a holiday atmosphere. Tiny ukekeles adorn this holiday wreath.
A stroll through any of the hotel lobbies in Waikiki definitely needs to be on your agenda, if you want to experience the true Hawaiian Christmas spirit! Each hotel has its own unique way of decorating.
The Moana Surfrider Hotel, built in 1901, has an interesting history. Click on this link to read about it and thumb through pages with old pictures of Waikiki from its beginning. Their Christmas display in the lobby includes a snowy version of the hotel.
This shot of their Christmas tree gives you a glimpse of the interior.
Outside, lights swirl around the stately columns.
Across the street, you’ll find another charming display in the Princess Kaiulani Hotel lobby. What a delightful snowy village in Hawaii! This hotel was built on the estate of Hawaii’s last princess, Kaiulani.
I wrote about the Royal Hawaiian Hotel earlier this fall. The tree outside that hotel towers over shoppers and sightseeing visitors to our wonderful state.
When the weather looks like this, a hot cup of wassail can really hit the spot! When I was growing up, we seemed to have a big pot of this simmering in the kitchen all the time.
There are actually two ways of using the word “wassail.” Many of us know the song “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” which meant that we were going caroling, or singing for friends and neighbors. For all the words, click here. The word “wassail” comes from an old English word meaning “be healthy,” or “here’s to your health.”
So when people were singing or caroling, they actually were giving a blessing of good health to those they visited. In turn, they would be offered a cup of hot wassail. Traditional wassail was probably mead or beer, or some sort of mulled wine.
My home was a tee-totalling Methodist preacher’s home, so no alcohol was involved. Over the years, as an adult, I would occasionally add a little rum, but it’s just as good without any added spike. Keep a pot of this going on your stove, and not only will it warm your tummy, but it will make the house smell wonderful and Christmasy!
* * * * *
HOT WASSAIL BOWL
2 large oranges
2 sticks cinnamon
2 T whole cloves
1 c. sugar
6 c. water
1 gallon apple cider
Squeeze and reserve juice of oranges and lemons.
Add orange and lemon skins to water with cinnamon, cloves and sugar.
Simmer in covered saucepan for 1 hour.
Strain and add to cider with reserved juice.
Reheat but do not boil. Serve hot. (Good with rum added).
I haven’t made mine yet this year, so I’m off to do that. Even living in warm Hawai`i without the snow, I’m sure one batch won’t be enough!
From 1979 to 1996 I owned a 37’ O’Day sloop-rigged sailboat named Lothlorién. Five of those years, I lived on board in the Oceanside Harbor of Southern California. Each year in December, the sail fleet of the Oceanside Yacht Club had their Christmas Parade of Lights. Just before I moved to Hawaii, I sold that boat and I still miss her.
The first Christmas I spent in Hawaii, I went to the Annual Parade of Lights and stood at the Aloha Tower Marketplace to watch after dinner. It brought tears to my eyes, remembering the joyful times I’d had on the Lothlorién. The photo above is only one of the boats that night. It was dark, so I’m not sure you can see it clearly. But look at the crowd of spectators that gathered at the docks to watch!
There was a great ritual around that parade. Because we were sailboats, we didn’t have the electricity that the powerboaters had. So there was the process of trying to locate a generator to power up our lights. Then the night of the parade, there was a big scuttle to see in which order the boats would go.
Of course, all the boats were always moving, so lining up wasn’t an easy task. Once we were all in position, the local Coast Guard cutter led us out to sea and along the coastline. We all finished up at the Yacht Club for a little more celebration.
I love the simple beauty of sailboat Christmas lights. We would string up lights fore and aft making it look like a giant triangle, or Christmas tree. It was rather stately, I thought.
Please pardon the bias, but the powerboats were usually too loud and gaudy. You might already know that there is a friendly rivalry between sailors and powerboaters. But in the spirit of Christmas and human kindness (Mitzvah), it was all in fun!