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On the Fifth Day of Christmas

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I brought some new color into my house in the form of two poinsettia plants left over at church.

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However, these two cream-colored plants are not the interesting story here.  It’s the plant in the middle that is most surprising to me.  At this time last year it was a typical red poinsettia.  The surprise is that it has continued in good health for a full year; I’ve had to trim it back a little once in a while.  In the past, I’ve been pleased if my Christmas poinsettia lasted until Easter.

I don’t know why this one lasted, but I hope it is partly that I paid more attention.  I have only this year made it a habit to check my houseplants every morning.  It has become part of my routine, while my morning tea is steeping, so I don’t forget and let them go dry.

Will I remember to report back on how the new plants do?

Happy second half of Christmas and I wish all a good new year.

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The Best Stories

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As I set up the creche this week, it occurred to me, as it does almost every year, that no one has ever asked me why there are five kings.

P1010187The reason is that two sets have been combined, one we had in my childhood at home, and a second smaller one my mother got when we found ourselves in Rome for most of a year when I was twelve.

P1010183So there are not only extra kings, there are two Marys and two Josephs.  It’s interesting to note the fixed iconography of these figures.  Though their poses differ, their clothes match: Joseph in white and brown, Mary in pink and blue, with a white head covering.  And all the figures are on green bases, as if they were out in a field.

It’s easy to deal with the extra Mary and Joseph.  They become the innkeeper and his wife.  Has anyone told this story from the perspective of the Innkeeper’s wife?  I’m not aware of any, but it seems a logical extension.

P1010185The proper question then, should not be “Why are there five kings” but “Why aren’t there six?”  How did one get lost?  I have no idea.  And I wonder if anyone has ever done a story about a king getting lost (not, like Monty Python, sending them all to the wrong house).  What would become of the astrologer who read the stars differently and went off in another direction?  What might he discover?

The best classic stories offer new avenues to explore.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

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. . . it’s time to start taking down the ornaments.  We had a unique ornament for the top of our tree this year.

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Is it a star?  Is it an angel?  Maybe it’s both.

This year we also decided, after many years of having no lights outside, to join local tradition and put out luminarias.

p1000936Thanks to son Jack for getting them properly staked among the rocks.  It was quite a job to get them in, and today, on the twelfth and last day of Christmas, it was another job to get them out.

Today begins the season of Epiphany – the light coming into the world – and we are watching for light coming sooner in the mornings.

Seasonal Work and a Poem

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The shipping companies are looking for workers this month because an increase in internet orders means an increase in deliveries.  For wives and mothers the seasonal work of this time has another dimension.  A set of extra tasks are added to an already full schedule.   Shopping to do, packages to wrap and mail, cards to prepare, all this has to be fitted in.

For me, the most important seasonal task is baking.  The other tasks will get done, but cookies mark the progress of advent..  I stock special ingredients to make certain special cookies, the recipes all handed down from somewhere.  For a time, when our boys were young, I was baking three different kinds of cookies; the recipes came from my family, my husband’s family, and their favorite babysitter.  These days I only do one or two – all the recipes are so large there aren’t enough people around to eat all I can make.

While setting out molasses, flour, spices and so on for the German cookies from my mother’s family today, I remembered how baking works as a metaphor for other kinds of creativity.  The combination of elements becomes something more than the sum of the ingredients.  The following poem uses the image of a pie rather than cookies.  I don’t make many pies during December, but I must not forget the Christmas breakfast coffee cake!

Baking

The fingers that curl
around my pencil
knead butter in a bowl:
flour sprays onto the counter.

Butter’s a better
conductor than graphite.
Words slide down
the greased slope.  Rolling pin
presses them in.  I crimp
the edge in even meter.

When I give you a slice
of this pie, you will be
eating my words.

“Baking” was first published in Rockhurst Review # 23, Spring 2010.

Happy New Year

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Light a Candle for Advent

Light a Candle for Advent

The cycle of the year turns and we come to another new year, this one in the Christian liturgical calendar.  November 25 was Christ the King Sunday, the end of the old year. December 2 is the first Sunday in Advent.  We switch to a different gospel for our readings as a sign that we are at a new beginning.  I heard a church member ask, “What is Advent, anyway” last Sunday.  All he knew was advent calendars, the ones with little doors to open that help a child wait for Christmas.

Advent means “Coming.”  Advent is a season of preparation, but not just for Christmas.  Coming has a double meaning.  It refers to the coming of the Christ Child.  It also refers to the last days, the “second coming” of Christ at the end of time.

It’s a lot easier to get ready for Christmas than to ponder the end.  Appropriately, ideas about the end time have a complex name: they are called “Eschatology.”  Perhaps it is part of the wisdom of the early church to remind us of the end when we are thinking of the beginning, because it is easier to bear that way.  More likely, the coming of Christ was understood as a breaking into history that was the beginning of the end.  There is a piece of Lutheran liturgy which includes the phrase, relating to the appearance of Christ, “at this end of all the ages.”  It is now 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus.  2,000 years is a lot longer than early Christians like Paul believed we would be waiting, but it’s not so long measured against the great scale of the earth’s existence.

Eschaton is Greek for end.  Advent is Latin for coming.  The church has gathered its language and its customs from all over.  In early centuries the Christian church was very savvy about absorbing and combining the religious practices of peoples.  That, as you probably know, is why Christmas is set for December 25, four days after the solstice.  It plays into all the “pagan” holidays of light at the turning of the year from growing darkness to increasing light.

I have a pendant I wear during Advent.  A simple candle, the primary symbol of Advent, light shining in the darkness (“and the darkness has not overcome it,” John wrote).  On the back of the pendant is written: “to give light you must endure burning.”  That is Advent for me: a time to recognize that there is nothing simple about the birth of a baby.