See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Christmas legends and lore...



Mistletoe.
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The use of mistletoe dates back to pagan times of course, just as the Christmas tree, advent wreaths, and the use of other greenery does. It is actually a hemiparasite plant that grows upon tree trunks. It was once considered an aphrodisiac by the ancients and associated with fertility by the ancient Celts and Germans. The idea of kissing under the mistletoe originated with Saturnalia, the ancient pagan feast, and later extended into pagan marriage rites.
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The custom of kissing under the mistletoe continues into modern times, although some have taken advantage of the practice and landed in jail.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Poor Christmas: Great expectations.



Foxes and rabbits have holes, birds have nests... Being content with a sufficiency.

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I love to watch the rabbits and mice and voles in my garden. I see their tracks in the snow and I'm consoled to think some of them live in the foundation of my garage, although it is not heated in there, it may be a bit warmer than the outdoors. I often wonder how the little critters endure the snow and below zero temperatures, although an abundance of snow, as well as their winter coats, and fur-woven-with-twigs-and-mulch nests would provide much needed warmth.

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I began to think how in our times, we Americans have the luxury of unprecedented comfort. We have homes that have no comparison with any other period of domesticity in history, what with our heating and air-conditioning, air purifiers and filters, lighting, refrigerators along with all sorts of appliances, and so on. Our cars are heated, and if one can afford it, even the seats are heated, and the kids can watch TV in the back seat. We all know this, and take it for granted, often complaining when we are deprived of something or other, as when the power goes out. God forbid one's connection to the Internet is interrupted.

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Yet like the rabbits, human beings once lived in badly heated homes without any modern conveniences at all. Even royalty had a tough time of it in those huge stone castles. I shiver just thinking about it. For thousands and thousands of years man led a rather deprived existence - compared to our modern standards - and survived quite well. They wanted for much less than we do, simply because they never had a great deal to begin with. Only the very few lived in any sort of luxury - although it never equalled what we take for granted today.

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It is very difficult for those who have just lost their jobs, or their home, or their life savings to understand that it is not the end of the world, that people need much less to get by than they ever imagined.

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The rabbits remind me of such things. Indeed, I sometimes recall how, while on my pilgrimage to Compostella, I looked for lodging in a heavy rainstorm. I had hardly any money at all and it was late at night. I prayed St. Joseph to find me a dry place to sleep, reminding him how he found a place for the Virgin in Bethlehem. As I turned the corner in the little village I was passing through near the Spanish frontier, I saw a vegetable cart, with a canvas tarp. I quickly crawled in and slept the night, grateful St. Joseph provided me with the shelter. The next morning I knew better than to complain that my night had been quite uncomfortable with damp and cold, considering how the Saint provided similar conditions for Our Lady. In both situations, the accommodations were quite adequate, albeit not the least luxurious. The next night I found lodging in a garden shed filled with hay.
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Very often, we require a lot fewer things than we imagine - while in reality, we are 'entitled' to even less.

Christmas is a week from today.


Pretending.
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I can't remember exactly when I began pretending - telling stories about how my family celebrated Christmas, with all of the lovely old world customs and so on. It may have started when I was in 5th grade - a pivotal year for me in so many ways. I remember pretending to my classmates how I had received everything I asked for that Christmas, and described Christmas Eve as being full of magic, decorating the freshly cut tree, loaded with lights and ornaments, delicious food, and so on. I never realized I had been lying, reasoning I was "just pretending" - to avoid either being made fun of, or worse, the object of pity.
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I later employed the same tactic for people I worked with, as well as my family after I had moved away. I told coworkers who were worried I would be alone on Christmas, that I was going home; my excuse to my family was that I would be with friends instead.
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Anyway, after I was firmly on my own and began working in display, my Christmas memories became rather grand, a little like Hans Brinker's. I charmed people with stories of visits from St. Nicholas, absolutely incredible Christmas trees and creches, and of course the Italian Christmases with my friends. Although my Italian Christmases were not exaggerations - completely - except for the occasional inclusion of a few details I employed to embellish my own experiences at home. I learned how to perfect the art of pretense from a wonderful woman named "J", an Audrey Hepburn look-a-like, act-a-like, talk-a-Add Imagelike, dress-a-like, who happened to be one of the nicest phonies in the world - and one of the most believable at that. Her stories were absolute royalty. It took decades for me to shake off that influence.
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"J" was so charming. Many times she insulted me to my face during the course of a "teddy-bear" lunch or coffee, and I never even realized it until years later.
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Anyway. Don't worry, I stopped pretending about my Christmases many years ago when I realized I could make them as magical as I wanted all on my own; the traditions I pretended my family observed, I began to observe myself - often doing for others what I wanted for myself. Thus Christmas was no longer pretend. Now days, it is even more real, albeit much more simple. (Correction - I continued to fabricate stories for concerned coworkers as to the where and with whom I celebrated Christmas - I don't have to do that any longer. I know, I'm a liar.)
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I'm invited to my relatives next week. Ah. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Except I do not lie any more - I just say I can't make it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sagrada Familia

Magnificent.
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Detail of the Catalan Cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, designed by Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). The official title of the church is "Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia". Construction began in 1882 and is scheduled to be completed in 2026. Construction was interupted during the Spanish Civil War. Antoni Gaudi is also a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church. For more information and additional photos on the Cathedral, go here.
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Links:
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Official Site

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More on Christmas cards.

When you care enough to send the very best.
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I just ran across a blog that advises one should only send Christmas cards with a Christian image and greeting, in order to let the manufacturers know what sells. I doubt I even have to say what I think of that nonsense.
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Capturing the charm of that "hand-made" look.
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The image above is an example of a type of humorous Christmas card I like to send to friends who either are not religious, or simply like a good laugh. When one opens the card, which appears to be home-made, the verse looks as if it had been typed on an old fashioned type-writer. In this case, the verse reads:
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"the kids? out back playing with their new empty boxes. season's greetings."
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How lovely and thoughtful. Now who wouldn't know this is a Christmas card? This card would be perfect to send to a family on welfare, or even those newly weds with children, who live in a house they can't afford.
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Suitable for framing.
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I like to refer to this type of card as; "dysfunctional greetings". Yet the producers of the greeting card line describe their product as; "greetings that push buttons, poke fun, and provoke something." Whatever, it is all in fun. Send it to the right people and you may never have to bother with sending another card to them again.
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This line of cards has been around for several years now, and I never tire of them. The company is MikWright, Ltd. The cards retail at about $3.50 each. MikWright also produces cocktail napkins. The napkins use the same photo format with captions that poke fun at, ridicule, and shame alcoholics back into drinking. They are great for AA meetings and get togethers.
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Tim and Phyllis have a website too: www.mikwright.com

Cheers!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poor Christmas: Staging it back a bit.


Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete means rejoice - it is the 3rd Sunday in Advent.)
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As everyone knows, many people are losing their jobs, not to mention their houses as we sink deeper into recession. People die at this time of year just as they do all year long. Recently a woman was knocked down in a store parking lot and was killed when the drunk driver ran over her head. Horrible crime! People's houses burn down, as did a teacher's from my parish school last week.
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Another woman I deeply respect and admire is going in for surgery this coming Wednesday - she has stage 4 ovarian cancer - please keep her in your prayers. Another man I know, like many others this time of year, is going through severe mental and emotional trials. At this time of year, a time of inordinate expectations for happiness and joy on the natural level, the drama misfortune occasions is often heightened and can be too much to bear for some.
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It is good to pull it back a bit at times. To be temperate without being too sober. To have fun and to plan fun without being too demanding or obnoxious. To be kind and considerate without being patronizing or condescending. To cry if you need too, without being full of self-pity - or God forbid - self-loathing.
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And never forget we are all in this together, so if nothing else, we need to pray for one another.