Dec 17, 2013

Not Even A Mouse - Animals Appearing at Christmas

When you think of animals associated with the holiday season, flying antlered deer most often come to mind. Although the legend of reindeer powering St. Nicholas' yearly excursion has been around since the 1800's, (pre-dated by St. Nicholas appearing on a white horse,) there are other beasts that are connected to Yule and Christmas.

I, said the cow, all white and red,
I gave Him my manger for His bed,
I gave Him hay to pillow His head;
I, said the cow, all white and red.

The nativity story wouldn't be quite what it is without the donkey that carried Mary or the co-habitants of the stable where her son would be born.  The song "The Friendly Beasts" or "The Gift of the Animals" allows the animals themselves to sing their praises, or more accurately, report of their gifts to the newborn king.

The idea of the animals acknowledging the Christ child is echoed in the later tale that tells of how animals might kneel down to pray at Christmas.

"My mother told us that at Christmas, at the hour when baby Jesus was born, that the ox and the donkey beside the manger began to speak.  She also said that if you went to the barn at that very moment you would hear the animals talking."

And a derivative of that story, with a less happy ending:

"An old woman told me about a man who didn't believe in anything. They say that at midnight, when the good Lord came into the world, the animals kneel down. 'I'll go and see for myself,' he said. When he went out to the barn, all the animals were on their knees.  He thought that was silly so he said to them: 'What are you doing?'  'God was born this night,' one of the oxen replied, 'and tomorrow we'll take our master to be buried.'  The man was so frightened that he dropped dead."

~ from Acadian Christmas Traditions, Georges Arsenault

In Sweden (and in a similar way in Norway, Finland, and Denmark,) small bearded men called tomte or nisse bring the holiday gifts, entrusting goats and sometimes pigs to help haul the goods.  In older times, the tomte (or tomtar) were more farm-hand type fellows who helped with daily chores and animal care.  Their identity as holiday visitors developed over the years and more modern tomte have begun to look like Santa Claus.

The Yule Goat, the figure that visited households before the tomte gained popularity, was the helpful spirit of the last harvest, who might bless (or at least keep an eye on) the progression of the Yule celebration.  This goat was symbolized by a straw or corn dolly and kept in the house, and now appears more often as a traditional tree ornament.

I can't seem to track down much about mice having a role in the holiday festivities, but in my family a pair of Christmas mice have always made an appearance and are still hung each year at my parents' home.  Aside from "not a creature was stirring..." and this charming mouse song from Norway, the only other mention I can find of a tradition is the sugar mice that are so common in the UK as a holiday treat.  

"There never was such a goose," says Dickens as he describes the Cratchit family's Christmas meal.  Although we gravitate to turkey these days, the goose was traditionally the more common and affordable meal option.  I went out searching for a goose last month for Thanksgiving.  The most reasonable one I could find was $60.00.  The 20lb turkey beside it was $11.00.  Times have changed.

As we sing the final praises of animals at Christmastide, don't forget that a full 23 of the items listed in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" are animals (all birds) and that's before taking into account what the "eight maids a milking" were working with.  It seems that the holidays would be considerably less cheerful (and tasty) if our celebrations excluded the animal kingdom.

Do you include any animals or animal stories in your holiday celebrations? I'd love to hear!

* all photos from creative commons and linked back
* sources include:
Ingebretsen's (Scandinavian folklore and culture)
Acadian Christmas Traditions by Georges Arsenault
Wikipedia "Tomte" 

Dec 9, 2013

A Few of My Favourite Things

I've been pretty stress-free about the entire gifting situation this year.  I'm not particulary worried about what to get whom, and my family has decided to cut back because we simply buy ourselves what we need and want throughout the year.  I do like to find something special for a friend, or have a few cool gifts on hand in case I've forgotten anyone, or someone unexpected comes for dinner (our family tends to invite everyone we know/see on the street.) I tend to do quite a bit of shopping online now, because I can find unique items and I'd rather support small businesses.

This week is pretty much your last chance to hit the online shops with any assurance that your holiday loot will arrive in time for the big day(s).  Although you'll want to check with the individual shop owners and read their policies, most places will be able to get you what you need if you order right away.

Here are some last minute ideas for those people you haven't quite gotten to on your list (or yourself - you deserve a treat too!)

The Pretties
"Hekate's Key" by Tveir Hrafnar

Although commercials will try to convince you that every girl wants a diamond, many of us lean far in the opposite direction when it comes to jewellry.  Forget boring pieces that you can buy in every mall in North America - we want those charms around our neck appearing in a much more clever form.  

*  Aidan of  Tveir Hrafnar, creates striking silver charms that are as lovely as they are meaningful.  Choose one of his gorgeous designs or work with him to create something that suits you.  Because Aidan creates all his charms by hand, this is not likely something that will arrive by the holidays - but it's going to be completely worth the wait.  (I can't decide between the different keys or the stars, but I'll be adding one of these charms to my neck sometime in the future, for sure.)

*  For haunting jewellry that mimics your favourite totem (or body part,) Moon Raven Designs offers a host of earrings, necklaces or rings in life-like designs.  I have one of their silver pendants and it's a prized piece of my collection.

Bath and Body Bliss

*  The Haus of Gloi website is a fantastical ride through soaps, perfume oils and body butters in scents that sound intoxicating.  And they are - maddeningly divine - they leave you soft and smooth and smelling like every kind of wonderous thing.  You'll never be able to choose just one scent.

*  Crunchy Betty isn't just a super-fun blog with recipes for all kinds of ways to put food on your face (in lieu of chemicals and sketchy ingredients found in drugstore face creams and cleansers,) it's also a little shop where you can buy herbalicious scrubs, facial oils and even a natural deodorant that smells like a tropical drink!

"Lucky Dream" oil by Candlesmoke Chapel

Gorgeous Oils and Other Magical Goodies

*  Bri Saussey is a brilliant spitfire.  Sweet and sassy with a whole lotta love for helping people, Bri is the rootworker and intuitive behind Milagro Roots.  She not only offers courses and magical work, but she creates her own line of spiritual oils and baths.

With names like "Balm of Gilead" and "Promised Land," the deliciousness of these products is guaranteed.  I love Bri's baths (I can even use them in the shower because she includes a little muslin bag that hangs perfectly on my shower head.)  I also dab on her oils as perfume and their magical effectiveness is simply a bonus!

**Update December 2014** Milagro Roots is now and Miss Bri is no longer offering oils and baths in a catalogue format, but you can work with her to create a ritual to address your needs

*  The spirit-child of two truly wonderful folks and hella-smart spouses, Joseph and Sara Magnuson, Candlesmoke Chapel is the place to go for traditional condition oils made with great care.  Their products are not just high quality, but are truly the nicest looking oils I've seen. I'm a visual girl, and these oils make me happy before I've even opened the bottle.

Once you do open the bottle - you've got an exceptional oil that lends a good kick to whatever work you've set before yourself.  Their Psychic Boost oil is a favourite.  It really opens me up to getting more out of my card readings, meditations and any work requiring focus or insight.  They also sell herbs, and washes in some of the same wondrous blends as their oils.

Miscellaneous Awesomeness

* I know I've not shut up about this book since I got my hands on it, but Cory Hutcheson's "54 Devils" has completely changed how I feel about playing cards.  If you have anyone in your life who is a card reader, buy them this little treat of a book.

*  As far as tarot decks go, there are so many to choose from - but these animal themed decks from Art by Nakisha are mad cute.  The rat deck and the rabbit deck make me grin!

* My friend Danni at Heartroot Studio creates diminutive mushrooms (and pumpkins) encased in glass bottles that I love so much - I have three of her pendants!  You can get one of her designs or choose your own colour.

I hope your holiday gifting experience is easy and fun, and that you get spoiled in return.

*photographs are property of (and linked back to) Tveir Hrafnar and Candlesmoke Chapel respectively, and are used only to show the quality of the product listed.

Dec 7, 2013

Merry And Foggy (But Still Bright)

Like everyone else who celebrates any kind of winter festival or religious observance, I'm decking the halls and attending holiday parties and eating the shortbread when I should be saving it for company.  I'm also easing my way into the season in a relatively sane way.  I'm not getting worked up about gifts this year - they'll all fall into place, or I'll give folks an IOU on a sticky note attached to an airline bottle of rum.

While I decide if I'm going to keep working on gifts or even attempt to send out cards, I'm enjoying my December in other small ways.  When the temperature isn't -22 degrees like it is today, I still head out for a walk by the river and check out how the landbase is faring.

There are buds here, beneath the low fog, held tight in anticipation of warmer days.

In my quest to try new things I went to a ceramics studio with my cousin and splashed half a dozen layers of paint on some egg cups.  Not particularly artistic, but I can't draw a straight line, so I do what I can.  The pic below shows streaky cups, but the paint isn't dry and it will fire up quite nicely in the kiln they tell me.  My "new things" can't always be exciting - next time I'll try fire spinning.

Instead of mourning the garden, I'm working on appreciating the beauty of death and decay. I've been watching many of my plants die back and purposely not cutting them down (I'll do the extra work in the spring.)  This way I get to witness the allure of each plant stripped down to its bare soul.  Right now I'm fawning over the morning glory skeleton and its twisty loveliness.

I've been decorating today, but I'm going for a more minimalist approach this year.  Less of the same old holiday tchotchkes.  More greens, nuts, pinecones, and more natural decorations.  So far the cats are behaving, but the tree is going up tonight so I'll see if it's still standing in the morning.

Here is my little viking, assisting with the greens.  (She takes after her auntie in the nutty hat department.)  We were fortunate and came across someone's cast-off yard prunings as we were driving up into the hills - perfect for instant holiday decorating!  

I hope your December is coming along festively.  Are you dashing through the snow yet, like many of us northerners, or is your holiday shaping up rather greenly?  Do tell.