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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dec. 21st – HOLIDAY EXPLOSION!!!

December 21st is host to several worldwide holidays and events, particularly those involving the marking of the winter solstice. I’d love to give each of these their own blog post, but I’ve been a bit pressed for time lately, so I’m providing links to each of them so that you can explore them on your own.Image

Winter Solstice – The literal “reason for the season,” this astronomical event occurs when the sun’s path across our sky creates the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. (Wikipedia – Winter Solstice)

Soyal – The winter solstice ceremony of the Hopi and Zuni, to “bring back the sun from its long winter slumber” (Wikipedia – Soyal)

Yaldā – An Iranian winter solstice festival marking the birth of Mithra, the Persian angel of light and truth. The holiday is celebrated with food (especially red foods like pomegranates and watermelon) and gifts, and has a special significance to engaged couples. (Wikipedia – Yaldā)

Saturnalia – A Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn. This one has been going on since the 17th, and will end on the 23rd. (Wikipedia – Saturnalia)

Pancha Ganapati – A five-day Hindu festival (21st-25th) celebrating Lord Ganesha, Patron of the Arts and Guardian of Culture. As you can probably guess, I like where that Ganesha guy is coming from. (Wikipedia – Pancha Ganapati)

Today is also the last day of Zappadan, a totally made-up holiday celebrating the life and music of Frank Zappa, which runs from December 4th (the day of his passing) to the 21st (his birthday). Fans celebrate by listening to and sharing his music, and making blog posts about concerts they’ve seen or other Zappa-related memories. In the past, I have participated by creating artwork based on some of his songs (as seen above, for “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?”)

Whew. That’s a lot to pack into one day. We may have to spread it out a little over time!

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Dec. 13th – Saint Lucia Day

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“What in the world are they doing NOW? They’ve got candles on their heads or somethin’!” – Our neighbors, peeking out of their windows

Saint Lucia Day or “Saint Lucy’s Day” is the feast day of Saint Lucia of Syracuse, and is most commonly celebrated in Italy and Scandanavia. Stories of Saint Lucia (whose name means “light”) tell of her unwavering faith and devotion to the Christian way, despite persecution from the Romans.  She is often portrayed as wearing a white dress with a red sash, and a wreath with candles on her head. This unique choice of headwear comes from another popular story in which she helped persecuted Christians escape through the catacombs during the oppressive rule of Emperor Diocletian.

Saint Lucia Day was intended to coincide with the winter solstice, but is now celebrated on the 13th instead, due to a discrepancy between the Gregorian and Julian calendars.  In Italy, Saint Lucia brings gifts to good children and coal to bad ones sometime in the night between the 12th and 13th, and children leave coffee for her and a carrot for her donkey. If any children dare to sneak a peek at her while she delivers their gifts, she throws ashes into their eyes, blinding them temporarily.

In Scandinavian countries, Saint Lucia is honored with processions, hymns, and services, and is considered a “beacon of brightness” in the darkest time of the year.  (Wikipedia – Saint Lucia’s Day)

To honor the day, the girls both dressed as Saint Lucia, and I whipped up a couple of quick candlelit wreaths for their heads (we stuck with the electric variety, for safety).

And as we did so, we considered our own fortunate situation, being relatively non-persecuted ourselves – at least not in any way that is directly harmful or dangerous – and very thankful to live in a time and place where persecution is rather low, and an ongoing effort is being made to eliminate all of it that remains.

Dec. 8th – Bhodi Day

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The Buddha in front of our home, who greets all of our visitors, and reminds me that I really need to rake the leaves someday.

Bhodi Day is a Buddhist holiday commemorating the day that the Buddha experienced enlightenment after meditating on the root of suffering whilst sitting under a tree.

From Wikipedia: “Traditions vary on what happened [during his meditation]. Some say he made a great vow to Nirvana and Earth to find the root of suffering, or die trying. In other traditions, while meditating he was harassed and tempted by the god Mara (literally, “Destroyer” in Sanskrit), demon of illusion. Other traditions simply state that he entered deeper and deeper states of meditation, confronting the nature of the self.” (Wikipedia – Bhodi Day)

Traditions for Bhodi Day are simple and unencumbered, as you might expect – meditation, chanting, studying the Dharma, and performing acts of kindness.  Some Buddhists add a meal of tea and cake (though it’s not specific about what kind of cake…)

We’re still a bit behind on our celebrations, and doing our best to catch up – so I’m commemorating a Belated Bhodi Day by spending some time in quiet meditation, and preparing some acts of kindness that we will be performing in the near future, in honor of this and several other holidays. (I may even listen to some Nirvana as I do so!)

Do you celebrate Bhodi Day? If so, tell us about it in the comments!

Nov, 27th (sunset) – Dec. 5th (sunset) – Chanukah

Chanukah (or Hanukah, Hanukkah, etc.), also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day holiday celebrating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev (a month in the Hebrew calendar), and may occur anytime from late November to late December.  This particular Chanukah is rare in that it coincides with Thanksgiving – an event that last happened in 1888, and won’t happen again for over 79,000 years.

Chanukah is celebrated in many ways by the Jewish people – prayers and blessings, reading the Torah, the lighting of a special candelabra (called a menorah), the singing of hymns, playing games with a top/die called a dreidel, and (my favorite part, of course) the preparing and eating of special foods, including potato cakes called latkes.

Chanukah is actually a minor Jewish holiday, but has seen increased importance with many Jewish families, especially secular Jews, in the latter part of the 20th century.  Many regard it as a cultural alternative to Christmas, and some families will even cease their Chanukah celebrations once the children have grown and left the home.

(Wikipedia – Hanukkah)

We celebrated Chanukah with our friends George and Carol Mason, who we met through our involvement in the local community theatre.  George is a cantor, a member of the clergy who leads worship, teaches, and performs other duties in the Jewish community.  When we asked if they would be willing to teach us a few things about Chanukah, they generously offered to have us come to their home to have dinner and celebrate the holiday with them.

Once there, we enjoyed latkes with sour cream and corned beef and fried chicken and some really awesome cole slaw that George made himself (Secret ingredient: sour cream! Go figure!). We listened to stories about the Maccabeean Revolt and the miracle of the oil. We sang traditional songs, and some non-traditional ones. (George had us sing the Dreidel Song, but with our own lyrics, changing what the dreidel is made from each time. Mine went something like “Dreidel dreidel dreidel, I made you out of rock, and so nobody finds you, I keep you in my sock!”)

We lit menorahs – one for each of us – using the shamash, the “attendant” candle that has a place either above, below, or behind the others in the menorah.  We played a heck of a lot of dreidel – first by spinning them on foam plates with numbers written on them to score points, and then in the more traditional way, using Tootsie Rolls for gelt.

It was wonderful and fun and educational and loving and all of the stuff that a holiday should be.  I don’t think I can say any more than that, really. Many, many thanks to the Masons for welcoming us into their home, feeding us wonderful food, teaching us, and making us laugh. L’chaim!

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Latke Larry is NOT an official Chanukah mascot. I checked.

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The Masons (Carol and George) lead us in lighting the menorahs.

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The Masons had enough menorahs for all of us…

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…and an awesome collection of beautiful dreidels.

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George had more than enough dreidels to go around.

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Jelly doughnuts are a Chanukah tradition. I’m coming very close to converting. (Also – dreidel cookies made from Fig Newtons!)

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Other friends have told us that Chanukah candles are often difficult to find this time of year. I think it’s because the Masons buy them all!

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Our Hebrew was a bit rusty. (Okay, VERY rusty. Okay, we didn’t know what ANY of those characters mean.) Thankfully, there were translations, so we could join in the blessings.

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We sang Chanukah songs!

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We want the gelt. Gotta get that gelt.

Do you celebrate Chanukah? If so, tell us about your traditions and stories in the comments!

Time for some catch-up!

We’ve been very busy with some other life activities, so it has been tough for me to find the time to write up our most recent holiday celebrations. This is just a note to let everyone know that I’ll be catching up with those in the next few days. Thanks to all for being so patient!