Advent

Advent wreath with center decorated Christ candle

By Kittelendan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The celebration of Advent are hundreds of years old. In the fifth century, Bishop Perpetuus, in the diocese of Tours, gave an order that starting with the feast of St Martin on 11 November, until Christmas, there should be fasting three times per week. The Council of Tours of 567 ordered the monks to fast every day in the month of December until Christmas. It seems that originally fasting was a very important part of the Advent period. A far cry from starting the season with a massive shopping spree beginning with Black Friday.

Beyond shopping, there are still many other customs associated with this period of preparation for Christmas, one of the most beautiful being the Advent wreath. The Advent wreath originated among German Lutherans in the 16th Century. The modern version of the Advent wreath was invented in 1839 by Pastor Johann Hinrich Wichern who ran a mission school among the poor.  The constant pestering by children impatient for Christmas led the pastor  to his creation. He then made a circle of wood, with nineteen small red tapers and four large white candles. Every morning a small candle was lit, and every Sunday a large candle, giving the children a way to count down the days.

Pastor Wichern's original Advent wreath with four white and nineteen red candlesThe ring or crown is traditionally made of fir  branches tied with a red ribbon and decorated with pine cones, holly, laurel and sometimes mistletoe. It incorporates many ancient symbols signifying several things; first of all, the crown symbolizes victory, in addition to its round form evoking the sun and its return each year. In it’s Christian use the victory is that of Christ, bringing salvation and the return is the anticipation of his return. The number of four represents, in addition to the four weeks of Advent, the four seasons and the four cardinal points, and the green color is a sign of life and hope. The greens, too, have meaning; the fir tree is a symbol of strength and laurel is a symbol of victory, for Christians, over sin and suffering. Along with holly, these evergreen which do not loose their leaves represent the eternity of God. The flames of candles are the representation of the Christmas light approaching and bringing hope and peace. Many more examples of symbolism in the wreath can be found, many coming from the vision and inspiration of various church pastors.

In Sweden, the candles are white, symbol of festivity and purity, and the crown is reserved for the feast of Saint Lucia on 13 December. In Canada, the Advent wreath is adorned with three violet candles and a pink candle; The pink candle being lit on the 3rd Sunday, it evokes the joy of the completion of waiting. In Austria, candles are purple, a sign of penance. The colors for the most part are chosen from the colors associated with the liturgy for the period but sometimes other colors are used. In the Orthodox churches there are sometimes crowns with six candles, because of the longer duration of Advent.

Table full of Moravian Christingle

By JaneDixon2014 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A result of an Advent no longer observed by many is the beginning of decorating for Christmas starting around the first of December. In the United States this comes just after Thanksgiving and many take advantage of the days off to put up outdoor lights and other decorations. People bring out their Advent calendars, as  I do, as well as putting together their Advent wreaths, or making Christingle, another Advent candle burning device. It had it’s origins in the Moravian Church. It is built with an orange as the foundation, representing the world. A candle is pushed into the center  of the orange, representing Jesus Christ as the light of the world. A red ribbon wrapped around the orange or a paper frill around the candle represents the blood of Christ, his sacrifice. Finally, dried fruits and/or sweets skewered on cocktail sticks pushed into the orange, representing the fruits of the earth and the four seasons, making this a great project for children. It can be made even more child friendly and safe by replacing the candles with glowsticks as Chelmsford Cathedral in the U.K. began to do several years ago.

Many old customs have gone extinct and many are observed only locally. Just as know one any longer goes begging for “soul cakes” in the northern counties of England there was a now vanished custom for poor women to carry around the “Advent images”, two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest. Unique among Advent rituals is the entry into Rome in the last days of Advent of the Calabrian pifferari, or bagpipe players, who play before the shrines of Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Italian tradition, the shepherds played these pipes when they came to pay homage to the infant Jesus. They have been doing this for centuries.

Before I pull my Advent calendar out of storage I get a piece of paper and write twenty five things I want to do or get during the coming year. This gives me two treats a month plus one for my birthday, not excessive but enough to maintain morale. I don’t always get them all; in a few lean years I got very few. Still it helps to start the years with optimism and a sense of fun. I cut the paper list into pieces and shake them up in a container. When I get the calendar out without looking I pick one and put it in day one’s little box, repeating until the papers are gone and the calendar is full. This year I am a bit behind. My strips are ready but I haven’t had a chance to get to my storage. On November 30 I went to the city for banking and shopping and to see if Mr. Mohammed had found a new place. He has not given up and is looking hard. Yesterday I cleaned the house with the help of my cleaner, as there is no point in decorating a house which needs cleaning.

Advent wreath with light blue candles and silver decoration

By I.Sáček, senior (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Then I had a special errand. On my way home from Georgia with the new cat tree I stopped at an IHop restaurant to eat and get directions. Road construction had caused me to lose the route I was following. It was a very busy, crowded place in a rural area on a Saturday mornng. There was a waiting line. But all the staff were friendly and efficient and I enjoying my pancakes with lingonberry sauce, something I hadn’t had in ages. Three and a half hours after I left, I was almost back to Virginia when I stopped for gas and discovered my wallet was missing. I called the IHop and miracle of miracles they had the wallet! Any of those many people could have walked of with it but no one did!

I was tired and coming down with something which turned out to be sinusitis and bronchitis. The idea of driving back to get the wallet and spending another night in a hot, dry hotel was sheer misery. The woman I spoke with said she would mail it back to me on Monday when the Post Office opened. Sure enough it came priority in Wednesday’s post. So I put what she had spent mailing it back to me into a Christmas card and went out and got a pair of gifts cards and posted it to her. She said she didn’t need the cards but I was so thrilled to encounter a Good Samaritan in this day and age I sent them. So my Christmas season started on a very appropriate note. Getting my Advent calendar out a day late was nothing in comparision to not having to get a new license and stop my credit cards or even driving back to get the wallet. Oh, and in case you wonder how I got home with no wallet, I always separate my personal and financial things when I travel. My gold card and checkbook were in my suitcase and I drove home very carefully, but I was able to buy gas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Julekalender Variant

In Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden there is also a tradition of having a so-called Julekalender  in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve.  I like this idea of a special entertainent counting down the days to Christmas. Of course marking the days with various steps, rituals and celebrations is far older than radio and television. Many of the Julekalendar shows are for children but some are for adults. Some have become “classics” that people return to year after year, the way Americans watch the same Christmas themed movies.

Old German Advent CalendarThe season preceding Christmas day is known as Advent. Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s Day. Advent calendars have long been used to mark the days of this season. Since the date of the First Sunday of Advent varies, falling between November 27 and December 3 inclusive, many Advent calendars, especially those that are reusable, often begin on December 1. Those that are produced for a specific year still often include the last few days of November that are part of the liturgical season. The Advent calendar was first used by German Lutheran in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now ubiquitous among adherents of many Christian  churches and is often used secularly  as well 

I myself possess a large wooden Advent calendar into which I put small bits of paper in each compartment.On the bits of paper I write “bucket list” sorts of things, not big ones but small ones; things like a visit to the Korean spa, a sushi dinner, or a wine tasting. Some years I manage to “give” myself allof them, soe years only a very few.

This year I intend to do a julekalender of posts, stuffing the season like an old, large stocking. I and many others,I’m sure, need as much joy and celebration we can get.

 

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Minor Snow (節氣). Xiǎoxuě 22 Nov

The solar term of  Xiǎoxuě (Chinese), Shōsetsu 小雪(Japanese), soseol  소설 (Korean), Vietnamese Tiểu tuyếliterally means “minor snow” and  is the 20th solar term. It begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 240° and ends at the longitude of 255°. In the western calendar, it usually begins around 22 November and ends around 7 December.

Cluster of bats hibernating in a silver mine

Bats Hibernating in a Silver Mine (Japan)
By メルビル (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The pentads for this solar term, which ends December 7th, make much more sense than some others. These pentads are describing the change of seasons in terms of the activity of qi. The first pentad is “‘Rainbows are concealed from view 虹藏不見”. Rainbows were considered to be the result of mixing yin and yang energy. Winter is heavily yin, there is no mixing and no one sees rainbows. In the second pentad, “The qi of the sky ascends, the qi of the earth descends.” 天氣上騰地氣下降. The qi is retreating into it’s place of origin and activity in the natural world is diminishing. The last pentad or ten day period of the term is called “‘Closure and stasis create winter 閉塞而成冬”. As mixing ends completely and the qi retreats into the earth and sky, the natural world enters a state of dormancy.  This is exemplified by plants dying back to their roots,trees shedding leaves andanimals going into hibernation.

Minor Snow refers to the time when it starts to snow, mostly in China’s northern areas, and the temperature continues to drop. An ancient Chinese book about plants explains that “in Minor Snow, the weather is cold and it is going to snow; while the earth is not frozen enough and the snow is light.” The temperature of most areas in the north drops to zero degrees and below. While in the lower and middle reaches of the Yellow River, the average time of the first snow is in the Minor Snow solar term. The snow is light and frozen at night, but melts quickly during the day. In Virginia we have had frozen nights but no precipitation during the ight. My friend in upstate New York had a first light snow last week.

In China, starting in Minor Snow, the wind blows from the northeast a lot. Because it is not bitter yet, many people do not yet wear hats or scarves. In fact, according to an old Chinese saying, “the head is the place where all passages of the body gather”. It is sensible to beware that one’s head can’t be frozen. But  it is also true your head is a place from where you loose heat, so while your head might not be cold, it is leaking te bodyʻs heat.

During Minor Snow, indoor heating begins to work. Thus the air indoors is dry and most people might feel their nose and mouth are dry. Their inner heat energy can’t get out. Where I live in Virginia the humidity drops by half and we also get very dry indoors. Symptoms appear, including dental ulcers or more pimples on a person’s face. Some people have sinus trouble or get nosebleeds. The way to solve this problem is to drink more hot soup, such as cabbage with bean curd soup, spinach with bean curd soup and mutton with radish soup. In some areas of south China, people have glutinous rice cakes in the early 10th lunar month, which is around Minor Snow.  I am partial to these but have to travel far to get them. Making them is possible but it does take time which I donʻt usualyy have.

Platter of sliced pork belly for presrvingAfter Minor Snow, the temperature declines sharply and the air becomes dry. It is the best time to start making preserved pork. This is because the pork will be hung to dry and so cure better in the dry air. Until the Chinese Spring Festival, it will be made and enjoyed. In the past, when storage conditions were poor, people created many ways to store food and preserved pork is one of the more popular.  Thus even in the bitter winter, the whole family could enjoy meat without going out. Some even say preserved pork tastes more delicious than fresh meat but this also could be due to the fact the cut used is pork bellies, very popular in many cuisines.

For centuries, the people of Nanjing, Jiangsu province have welcomed Minor Snow with pickled vegetables cooked in different ways.  In the past, due to inconvenient transportation, vegetables she old in Nanjing were few and expensive. Thus people there made pickled vegetables for the winter.

On cold days, people want to have some hot and spicy food to keep warm. Experts say that it is wise not to eat overly spicy food, since that will enhance inner heat. But certainly a bowl of hot and sour soup or a nice chili would work perfectly well.

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Giving Thanks

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I won’t be with my cats for this Thanksgiving. Wilma, pet sitter extraordinaire will be minding while I visit my father in Georgia. There wouldn’t have been a turkey in the house in Waynesboro. The cats who liked turkey are on the other side of the rainbow bridge and I don’t buy meat of any kind from commercial producers, so no turkey.

I’ll be on the road Tuesday to beat the holiday traffic and coming home Saturday to avoid all those folks driving home on Sunday to be back for work Monday. Sunday will see a lot of truckers on the road too, getting products where they need to be after the business closings and shopping days of the prior week. I used to enjoy driving if the weather was good but people now are too inattentive, frantic and aggressive. Now I focus on arriving at my destination in one piece. My cats count on me.

WordPress is still driving me crazy, refusing to reconnect me with Facebook and continuing to post a notice I should do so before I post. I still have many more files to change permissions on in the website WordPress. This post got “disappeared” three times, as well. But I am going to insist the glass is full as my friend Roger taught me. It may be the top half is full of air but the glass is full. The time and stress of driving to Georgia is offset by making my father happy with a visit and the new cat tree I’ll be bringing home for the cats.

640px-Glass-of-water

Another short post, I know, but behid the curtain the little man is frantically manipulating his devices to create brilliant wizardry fit for Oz or anywhere else. October was quite an effort, I really liked putting out all that work, I felt really productive, I am thankful I did it, now I know I realize so many more of the ideas I have. So the blogging glass and the writing glass are also full, but the ideas in the air part have not yet condensed into water.

If you are in the U.S. have a good Thanksgiving and if not have a good week.

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Caturday Thoughts – WordPress Is Driving Me Crazy

WordPress is driving me crazy. I hate redoing things, so I don’t like writing a post in Word or Google docs and then trying to copy and paste it into WordPress and spend time fiddling with the formatting.  It does save time to cut and paste any research straight into the post and do my writing and clean things up and edit all in one place. There is one problem, though. I often will find so much on a topic I want to split my work into two or more posts. Or I get an idea for something more complicated, like a series or align posts to the holiday they are about. You can schedule in WordPress, but it’s a little tiny window and the crummy keyboard on my wonky laptop often sticks and I don’t get the date I intended. It also tends to freeze up and it looks like changes are made but in fact they are not. I know there are scheduling programs you can buy, but again that’s another layer technology to manage plus of course they come at a not so cheap price. Once you schedule it so you can see a calendar sequence of posts it is no longer a draft. They assume it’s finished instead of merely tentatively scheduled. So on occasion I wind up with drafts posting before I am finished.

There are also things that I want to do that work better on a regular website. So I set one up. Over time I have changed my mind about what I want to do with it. Someone at my coding meet-up has agreed to help me with the tech stuff that’s beyond me but I have had to puther off a couple of times. First the website went down and we spent time figuring out the hosting company would have to fix it. Then when that was done WordPress refused to update. I spent literally days manually upgrading permissions on files in WordPress, file by file. No one could account for this problem and I didn’t want to pay the tech for twenty or thirty or even more hours for something I could do.

Now I am behind. I’d take my laptop to work on it when I drive down to Georgia for Thanksgiving but I really don’t trust hotel internet security. Yes I have to stay in a hotel when visiting my family. Don’t ask. Maybe I will take the chance on the hotel internet. One reason I’m driving is the aggravation and cost of getting to and from an airport from where i live. The other reason is a good one though. After years of dreaming about getting one for the cats I am finally getting a custom cat tree from Furrwood Forest. I am just sorry Tony and Mosby never got to play on one. Mosby especially was a climber. This many makes cat trees that are works of art and very sculptural. I am really excited abut getting it and I will sav shipping costs, too. I promise to get my act together with the Go Pro and take pictures. Hopefully Cloud will be interested and go to the top, but he is also putting on extra steps for Mi Sun and Simba and there will be five levels with two cradles at the top so he won’t have to fight with Milk for the top spot.

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Caturday Thoughts – Grey November

String of small bells in front of window with rain frosting the glassWe actually started off with some lovely warm days but as November has  progressed we have had several cold rainy days. Most of this week was rainy. When the sun came out Friday it brought with it cold and wind. What a week!. Monday was overcast but fairly warm. I had to drive over to the new mailbox and office stand-in place I found to sign up and get a new box. The landlord raised the rent on poor Mr. Mohammed who took such good care of me, and now he is closing his business. Wednesday was major work on the truck and yesterday, in the nick of time before the cold arrived two men from the plumbing and heating outfit I found came and checked the furnace and installed a new thermostat so I would have heat. In spite of all this I feel like I am not accomplishing things. I still have work to do to complete my degree, one of my websites is down again, a potential client literally disappeared, and things just keep going wrong. There are not major things but there are a lot of them and it is draining. A major league baseball player must feel much like this in one of those streaks where they can’t get a hit. I think it is the onset of another winter with  many goals not met. And it is the cold and damp and greyness.

In reality, the very first days of the month I noticed that the reds, oranges and yellows were finally showing in the trees. November started out deceptively full of color and it was still very warm when I pulled the quilts out of the storage. Then the November weather began. Even on one of the sunnier days there was fog on the mountain. I don’t know it if is the change in time, the change in the weather or myself becoming frustrated with the constant things needing attention which do not move me toward my goals, but I feel it affecting me. The color is going out of my vision. Not what my eyes see, but my inner vision,

So I must find some way to combat this rather gloomy Eyore-like vision. After all, the truck has been made safe. The cats look at me and I can read their thoughts, “We have heat in the cold, and all the food bowls are full, even yours. There are soft, warm blankets and pads in all our nesting places, especially on your bed. We don’t care if you still can’t get the printer to work, or the website permissions are screwed up. We don’t care if it’s rainy and gloomy, as long as we don’t have to be out in it and we will cuddle against you and purr, so you don’t feel bad.”

I spent a lot of time blogging for October and thought I would cut back this month to get some of those practical things done. I have ticked off a lot of items on the list and think I should get back to blogging more. I have just a couple of unfulfilled commitments to make good on. I won’t be doing a post a day this month but maybe again in December.  I have that website to straighten out, too. And school work to finish up. Those rainy, fogggy days  are perfect for a trip to the library.

Small tree and fence post in heavy fog

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Winter Commences lì dōng 立冬 Nov 7th


Foreground covered in dried leaves and leafless trees against gret sky behindYesterday we passed into the period known as Winter Commences, 立冬 (lì dōng). It will run until November 21st. Colder weather does start in northern China, but winter comes later in the south and thankfully here as well. The pentads for this solar term are ‘Water begins to freeze’ 水始冰, ‘The earth begins to harden’ 地始凍, and finally 雉入大水為蜃’ commonly translated “Pheasants enter the water and become clams’. However, the last character, which can be clams, is also used for waterspouts, and for a marine shapeshifting “monster”. This is another of the inexplicable phrases I find in Chinese lore that fascinate me and I wonder what the pheasants really became.

In ancient times in China, Winter Commences was an important festival as were the first days of the other seasons. Before the start of the festival, the emperor would have a ritual bath and refrain from eating meat. On the day, the emperor and an entourage of high officials would come to the suburbs of the capital to perform the ceremony of welcoming winter and hold a large sacrifice to heaven. Ordinary people still observe the day by eating special foods.

large round platter with three rings of jiaozi on it

By Azchael (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 /3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One of these are jiaozi, known to westerners as pot stickers or dumplings. I love dumplings and eat them all year round as do most Chinese these days. The reason they are eaten on Winter Commences day has to do with a legend of their origin.  The famous physician of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220),  Zhang Zhongjing had retired to his home province of Henan in north central China and noticed the ears of many people affected by frostbite starting around Winter Commences. To remedy this he combined mutton, hot peppers and herbs and wrapped them in dough. To help the people understand their purpose was to warm the body and ward off the frostbite, he shaped the the little packets like ears.

Winter Commences In southeast China in the provinces of Fujian, Guangdong Taiwan, true winter comes later, but on the calendrical day people prepare stewed meats with Chinese herbs to fortify themselves for the cold to come.  In Tianjin, on the northern coast, people eat dumplings stuffed with Chinese pumpkins, botanically known as Cucurbita moschata. They are similar to Japanese kabocha. In Wuxi on the central coast, the special food is tuanzi. It is also a dumpling made with rice flour paste as the outside and filling of sweet bean paste, ground pork or radish. They are eaten at other times as well and often colored green with addition of a wild herb. But those of the Winter Commences time are considered really good because the harvest has just been concluded and the rice is at its best.

This year Winter Commences just after the end of Daylight Savings Time on the 5th. It’s a double reminder to check your furnace and change the filter as well as check your smoke detectors. You don’t want to wait until it’s really cold and find out you need a service technician, at that point they are sure to be really busy and will probably charge more.

I have noticed that the cats are hungrier the past couple of weeks.. I think they are also fortifying themselves for the cold and absorbing the needed nutrition to grow their winter coats. I have been heavier food myself. I bought a big bag of beef bones at the farmer’s market to make bone broth to freeze for the winter. I make an onion free version for the cats, too. I will certainly have jiaozi to celebrate the start of winter.  The cats will get the bit extra they need for a week or two and then go back to their regular, weight watching diet. The seasons continue their transition and it is easier and more satisfying to live in harmony with them, preparing ahead of time, eating appropriately and welcoming them as the emperor once did.

 

Sun setting behind view of bay and darkened foreshore

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