“Is Santa real?”
“Does Santa exist?
“Is there really a Santa Claus?”
How many times has a child asked such questions?
When we are able to
… love others
When we are able to
… identify with the marginalized
… care for the animals and this planet earth
… support the oppressed
… advocate for justice and human rights
… acknowledge that ‘they’ are ‘us’
That’s when our inner Santa emerges
giving hope and joy to others.
Isn’t that what Santa is about?|
Santa is real.
There really is a Santa.
© June Maffin
She appeared out of nowhere.
I didn’t intend to create her.
The doodled angel
emerged for me
It was a mystery.
It was a gift.
As I thought about
and prayed for friends going through a difficult time
and about the fear and grief and anger felt by so many,
I doodled on a scrap of cardstock
and then, unexpectedly,
I was in awe of her appearance
not just because she appeared
but because she seemed to be a reminder
and reassurance of the presence of God, Holy One, Creator.
Perhaps not seen or felt or even believed in,
the presence of the Creator or something (SomeOne)
gives strength to move through a difficult time.
whether believed in
… or not
the Presence will emerge.
It is a mystery.
It is a gift.
© june maffin
This time of the year
in many parts of the world
evening skies don’t reveal gorgeous sunsets
birds are seldom seen flying overhead dotting the horizon.
There’s really nothing spectacular in the sky.
that’s the wonder of it all.
The slight colour differences in the sky
… peering through the almost-barren-trees
in this photo I took from the back yard bring
a sense of tranquility
a feeling of calm
a gentle presence of the Holy
especially in these more-than-politically-trying-times
and are reminders of the themes of the four weeks of Advent:
Hope. Love. Joy. Peace.
I am making an intentional choice
… focus, focus, focus on those themes.
Not ignore the realities, implications or consequences
of the more-than-politically-trying-times and personal concerns
but choose to focus on that which can
encourage, nourish, enrich
body, mind and spirit.
Whether waiting for Christmas
… and the Son to be born anew at Christmas
or waiting for Winter Solstice
… and the Sun to be born anew,
may the next coming four weeks of Advent bring blessings of
to this world, relationships and personal lives
in ways that can’t even begin to be asked or imagined.
I choose to focus on
the wonder of the message of the skies
the wonder of the possibilities
… albeit seemingly remote.
I choose to focus on
“The Wonder Of It All.”
© june maffin
Advent is coming. It begins this Sunday for many … four precious weeks which begin a gentle countdown to Christmas when waiting, anticipation and preparation for Christmas become the focus as themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are observed.
While Advent is celebrated by many Christians, many non-Christians follow some of these customs as well and adopt them as part of their holiday preparation. So, let’s journey together and explore the Season of Advent, its traditions and customs.
SYMBOLS AND TRADITIONS OF ADVENT
Blessing / Gratitude Box/Jar: Advent is an opportunity to “be still” and be aware of the blessings in life and the Gratitude/Blessing (Box/Jar) is a tangible way of encouraging such an attitude.
Take a small box, put a slot in the lid, wrap the box to look like a gift, place it in a central location so that gifts of money can be placed into it each day in thankful gratitude. Invite everyone in the family/house to note the things for which they”re grateful and then have each person choose a currency for each ‘blessing’ on the list and contribute accordingly from their allowance, spending money, earnings, savings etc.. For example – Deposit a quarter (or nickel or dime or dollar or whatever (for each notation on the list) if you had at least two meals that day – for each glass of water consumed that day – for each hour of television you watched that day – for every electrical appliance you used that day – for every light bulk in your home – for each person who has visited a doctor in the past year – for each phone call or text you made that day – for each toilet in your home – for each bath/shower you used that day – for each time the dryer, washer, dishwasher, iron were used that day. Add a quarter (or dime or loonie – whatever) if you’re wearing clothes that have only belonged to you, if you have a bed of your own to sleep, if your house is kept warm (or cool) by anything other than the weather. Have adults add up the total number of years your family members have gone to school and put a dime/quarter/etc. into the box for each year and each person. The list is individual for each family and individual and many other things could be added to the list. The collected money can then be given to a local/global charity.
Advent Calendar: Many Advent Calendars have little doors numbered for each day throughout the Season of Advent which open to reveal a small gift, treat, symbol of Christmas, Bible verse and each day of Advent, a door is opened.
Advent Candles: Used for centuries to symbolize Jesus Christ as the Light of the World, they remind believers of the way that Jesus changed the darkness of hatred and evil into the light of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love … themes of the Season of Advent.
Colours of the Season of Advent:
In Roman and Orthodox Christian traditions, purple is the preferred colour while in Protestant and Episcopal/Anglican the colour of royal blue is growing in popularity. The colour blue is reflected in Nature during Advent’s time of the year in much of the western hemisphere when slight colour differences in the sky peer through almost-barren-trees (like this photo taken from our back deck), evening skies no longer reveal the gorgeous sunsets of summer, and birds flying overhead dotting the horizon are seen less frequently. Really nothing spectacular. And yet, maybe its simplicity is its beauty, encouraging us to slow down and be mindful of the gentle wonder of the Season of Advent.
The Advent Wreath: is circle-shaped as a reminder that God has no beginning and no end; always has been, is now and will be, forever … a reminder of eternal life forever with God. The four candles around the wreath (one lit on each Sunday morning of the Season of Advent) represent the four Sundays of Advent. The colour of the candles is either purple or royal blue (refer to Advent Colours above) except for the one in the middle of the Advent Wreath which is white candle, symbolizing the light of Jesus and is the last candle to be lit (on Christmas Eve). Some traditions include a pink candle on the third Sunday of Advent.
The Yule Log has the longest history of all Advent traditions. A burning log was a symbol of home and safety even back in the days of cave-dwellers where fire kept wild animals away from the cave.
The Yule Log tradition (a variation of the Advent Wreath) began in Scandinavian countries when, months before Christmas, a tree was chosen, cut down and allowed to dry so that when it was decorated with ribbons and candles were inserted and then set ablaze (lit from a portion of the previous year’s Yule Log – symbolizing eternity), families made amends with one another. All quarrels were to be forgotten and families were to draw closer together in love and they prayed that their hearts would remain warm throughout the coming year.
The Yule Log sometimes has sufficient candles to represent each day throughout Advent including four royal blue (or purple) candles for each Sunday in Advent and a large white candle in the centre to represent the birth of Jesus. As in the Advent Wreath, the intensity of light grows each day, with each candle that is lit until there is a blaze of light when the birth of Jesus is celebrated on Christmas.
Blue Christmas: In the afternoon/early evening of the third Sunday in the Season of Advent, a liturgy (known as ‘Blue Christmas’ … or ‘When Christmas Hurts’ … or ‘Time To Mourn, Time To Heal’) is offered in many churches, communities or funeral homes. For some, Christmas may be a painful reminder of their loss of a loved family member or friend who has died. It may be a stressful time due to financial constraints. The constant refrain on radio and tv and in shopping malls about the happiness of the holiday season and getting together with family and friends can remind people of what they have lost or have never had. The anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the fear of possible ramifications of political decisions – each can contribute to a feeling of being alone in the midst of celebrations.
Cards: The tradition of sending Christmas greetings began in England as school children, away from home, wrote Christmas letters home during the Season of Advent to their parents in their best penmanship. Adults also sent Christmas cards to their friends. In 1840, the Christmas card as we now know it, is said to have first appeared.
Designed by William Egley, a young engraver’s apprentice, the card showed people singing Christmas carols, giving food to the poor and dancing. Since that time, the tradition of making homemade Christmas cards and sending Advent letters reviewing the events of the past year have become part of the Christmas preparation.
The Nativity Scene: The creche / manger / Nativity (representing the scene of Jesus’ birth) was first made by St. Francis of Assisi around the year 122 C.E. when he realized that people in his little village in Italy had lost sight of the real meaning of Christmas. When the Nativity Scene is on display in homes or public areas during Advent, the creche/manger where Jesus was born is empty until Christmas Eve or Christmas morning when the Baby is added. The Magi are reserved for the Season of Epiphany (which begins January 6th in western celebrations) and are not added to the Nativity Scene until that time.
Holiday Foods: There are many fascinating customs throughout the world when it comes to Advent and Christmas celebrations. Armenians eat fried fish and boiled spinach; Albanians eat pancakes made without oil or butter leaving a spoonful of food on the plate indicating gratitude for having more than they need. In Poland, special nativity cookies are baked which are stamped with scenes of the Nativity (Creche/Manger) and they exchange nativity cookies in the same way others in Advent exchange Christmas cards. When dinner is served, an empty chair is placed for the Holy Child and a few straws are scattered on the dinner table to remind everyone of the Stable in which Christ was born.
In North America, mince pie is a favourite tradition which began in England as mutton pie, first baked in loaf pans in the shape of the Manger; the top crust was cut to look like the baby wrapped in cloths and the suet looked like straw; the apples and raisins represent “plenty” – the generosity of God; and the spices represent the gifts of the Magi. At one time, eating pies was believed to bring good luck so people would eat one pie each day between Christmas and Epiphany perhaps heralding the making of little pies (tarts) of today.
Christmas Gifts: In the pre-Christian Roman Empire, it was common to give symbolic gifts at the beginning of the new year: a gift of sweets to make the year sweeter for the recipient … a gift of a lamp so the year might be filled with light … the gift of a coin so it would be a prosperous new year. Early Christians didn’t make much of Christmas (the day of Christ’s birth). It wasn’t until the Bishop Liberious of Rome decreed that people should celebrate December 25th as when Christ was born possibly because the Romans had used that date as the feast of Saturn, the sun god, and Christians honoured Christ as the Light of the World.
Around the 16th century, people commonly received three gifts representing something pleasant (e.g. perfume), something useful (e.g. a wooden spatula) and something to enrich their spirituality (e.g. a book on prayer). In some countries, gifts are exchanged on Epiphany, January 6th because presents symbolize the gifts brought by the Magi to the Christ Child.
Christmas Ornaments: In Germany, the first Christmas trees were decorated with fruit, gilded nuts, paper roses and the Christ Child. Later, glass balls in beautiful colours replaced the fruit. In North America, the first ornaments were homemade – long strings of popcorn and cranberries, paper chains and paper stars. On trees in Poland, peacocks and birds joined angels and stars on the tree. Swedish people hang gaily painted wooden ornaments and straw figures of animals and children. In Denmark there are mobiles of bells, stars, snowflakes, hearts and sometimes tiny Danish flags. The Japanese adorn their trees with tiny fans and paper lanterns. Lithuanian women make straw birdcages, stars and geometric shapes. Czechoslovakian trees are hung with ornaments made of painted eggshells and a spider and web for good luck because of the legend of the poor woman who had nothing to put on her child’s tree until Christmas morning when she woke to find the branches covered with spider’s webs turned to silver by the rising sun. Chrismons (see below) are special ornaments.
Christmas Stockings: Bishop Nicholas (later to be known as St. Nicholas lived around 325 C.E. and he secretly would give a gift of money to needy families. When he tossed the gold coins in the window one night, some landed in the stockings that had been hung to dry in front of the fireplace, so people hang Christmas Stockings in the hope that the spirit of St. Nicholas will visit them, too.
The Christmas Tree: is a symbol of everlasting life – living forever with God. According to legend, the first Christmas Tree was revealed one Christmas Eve over 120 years ago. The English missionary, Winfred (later named St. Boniface) was trying to win people for Christ. He found a group gathered at a large oak tree about to sacrifice a little prince to their god, Thor. Winifred stopped them, cut down the tree and as it fell, a young fir tree sprang up. Winfred told the tribespeople about the birth of Christ and that the fir tree was a symbol of goodness and love that should be taken into their homes.
Others believe that the Christmas Tree tradition began in the 16th century with Martin Luther who was inspired by the beauty of tall evergreens against a starry sky. He cut down a tree, took it home to his family, placed lighted candles on the branches and said that they stood for the stars in the heavens above Bethlehem.
Chrismons: are ornaments made in the shape of Christian symbols – reminders of God’s unconditional love expressed through the life of Jesus Christ. The word ‘Chrismon’ is a combination of ‘Christ’ and ‘monogram’. Many of the monograms of Christ were used by Early Christians to identify themselves to one another and to designate meeting locations and places of worship often secret location). Usually made in colour combinations of white, gold and silver to symbolize the purity and majesty of God’s son, Chrismons are often hung on Jesse Trees during the Season of Advent, which are lit by tiny lights (white to represent the Light of the world; blue to represent the Hope of the world – and the Season of Advent). In former times, Chrismons were crocheted from white cotton but more recently, they have been made from felt (sometimes styrofoam), decorated with gold and silver spray, braid, sequins, glitter etc. and white ribbon is used to hang them on the Jesse Tree.
Some symbols used as Chrismons include: STAR (the star that guided the Magi); LIGHT (Jesus, the Light of the world); BOAT (with Christ, the storms of life can be sailed through; FISH (connection to Early Christians who used the fish symbol to self-identify their home as a Christian home); BIRD (dove/Holy Spirit which encourage the spiritual journey); ANGEL (angels who awoke the shepherds announcing Jesus’ birth); CIRCLES (reminder of the earth / Creation and God’s love which has no ending; different colours remind of the various colours of people on earth); PAPER CHAIN (the linking together of the Nations and People who are held together by God’s love); BELLS (announced “good news” of Jesus’ birth); CANDY CANES (the staff/cane of shepherds who were the first to visit the Christ Child); TRUMPET (the heralding of Jesus’ birth); and so many more. Sometimes, images and people in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are used to decorate Jesse Trees and Scripture is read as the symbol was hung on the tree Moses – burning bush (Exodus 3); Noah – rainbow (Genesis 9); Jacob – ladder (Genesis 28); Joseph – coat of many colours (Genesis 37); Abraham and Sarah – tent (Genesis 21 & 22); David – Star of David (1 & 2 Samuel) etc.
Holly: In the time when Christians were being persecuted because of their religion, they decorated their houses as the Romans did so they wouldn’t be noticed. As the numbers of Christians grew and Christianity became accepted, they gave the holly new meaning and it became part of the tradition of preparation for Christmas. Because holly keeps its berries all year, it signifies everlasting life.
Jesse Tree: The Jesse Tree had its beginnings in medieval times and in early times, churches added Jesse Trees to large carvings, tapestries and stained glass windows to help the illiterate people of the time to learn about the Bible from Creation to the Christmas Story. The ‘name’ (Jesse) comes from the father of King David (an ancestor of Jesus). The people of Israel expected their Messiah to be born from King David’s line (“A sprout from the root of Jesse”) and the image of ‘tree’ revolves around an understanding that tree branches are signs of new life/ new beginnings. As Jesus was a descendent of King David, Christians believe that the Jesse Tree is Jesus’ “family tree.”
In recent times, the Jesse Tree has been used as an Advent Calendar where each day through Advent (or when used in congregational settings, just on the four Sundays of The Season of Advent) a Chrismon is hung on the tree
Advent Around the World: Advent Calendars date back to the 1800’s In Germany. In Southern Germany, Advent is the time of “Knocking Nights” – when children go door to door making lots of noise and receive candy and/or money in return.
In Denmark, three things mark the Season of Advent: Nisse decorations (Nisse are the Danes’ response to Santa’s elves) and house cleaning home/yard/stables and barns (which must be completed by Christmas Eve), Calendar Candles (candles that are lit and burned just a little bit over night until it is finished on Christmas Eve) and Christmas Calendars where students bring a small wrapped package and then students take a trun opening a gift one of the days leading up to Christmas.
In Finland, candles play an important role in the Season of Advent and often snow lanterns with candles burning in them show up in front and back yards.
In the Netherlands, December 6th (St. Nicholas Day) is a day of great excitement for the children. Sinterklaas arrives by boat and then strolls through the town and city streets, delivering candies, nuts and treats in the wooden shoes the children leave out before they go to bed that night.
In Mexico, the nine-day Las Posada procession begins on December 16th where a boy and girl are chosen to play Joseph and Mary and others carry candles, lanterns and and often, an empty manger. Often the procession sings at a particular house, asking for a room for Mary and Joseph and the homeowners respond in song. Other Advent Mexican customs include the breaking of a star-shaped pinata, the sharing of a meal and the sharing of Nacimientos (small creches – often homemade).
In the Philippines, Advent begins at 4:00 am on December 16th when church bells ring and the Misa de Gallo (theMass of the Rooster) begins (some believe) to show penance. The Philippines hold the title of the “Longest Celebrated Advent/Christmas Season) because carols are sung from September to January as parols (star-shaped lanterns) are usually lit with candles.
In Ukraine, all house and field work must be completed by December 4th (the Feast of Presentation celebrating when Mary was presented as a child at the Temple) and many partially fast during the Season of Advent.
© June Maffin
As I walked through the halls of the Holocaust Museum in Orlando, Florida yesterday,
and as I stood in silence on Remembrance Day a few days ago in British Columbia,
I was reminded of other wars, other moments in time, other places of terror and suffering:
Beirut, Syria, Paris, a school named Sandy Hook, the Twin Towers, a marathon in Boston,
Indian residential schools, slave ships, a night club in Orlando, Las Vegas, a church in Texas …
The words of Rabbi Michael Lerner “The task… at this moment is to reaffirm a different consciousness
remind ourselves that we are inextricably bound to each other and to everyone on the planet”
echoed through my mind as I drifted off to sleep last night
… remembering the lessons of the past
… wondering if we will ever truly remember and learn.
A question kept running through my thoughts last night.
That same question was still there when I awoke this morning:
© june maffin
On November 11th each year
communities across Canada gather at local Cenotaphs
people take a moment where they live, work, go to school
Remember the sacrifice of those
who have served, suffered, died on lands far away
who have served, suffered, died here at home
that we might live.
And we uphold in our remembrances
the men and women who serve today
on our behalf as part of the Canadian operations
and peacekeeping forces at home and around the world:
… Operation Artemis: Arabian Sea
… Operation Attention: Afghanistan
… Operation Calumet: Sinai Peninsula of Egypt
… Operation Crocodile: Democratic Republic of the Congo
… Operation Foundation: Tampa
… Operation Gladius: Golan Heights
… Operation Hamlet: Haiti
… Operation Jade: Middle East
… Operation Kobold: Kosovo
… Operation Proteus: Jerusalem
… Operation Saturn: Darfur
… Operation Serval: Mali
… Operation Snowgoose: Cyprus
… Operation Soprano: Republic of South Sudan
Thank you all who have served.
Thank you all who are now serving.
Than you to those who are about to serve.
We are grateful.
We will not forget.
Photo taken at the Remembrance Day ceremony in Duncan,
Text & Photo
© june maffin
What do you do when you’re stressed?
Or bored, frustrated, grieving,
angry, sad, lonely, in pain?
What do you do
for fun, for challenge, etc.?
Well, to be honest
Sometimes that creativity happens in the kitchen with food.
Sometimes it happens in the garden with earth and bulbs and plants.
Sometimes it happens in the Studio with paper and paint and cardstock.
Sometimes it happens in my recliner chair with the laptop computer.
Sometimes it happens on an airplane or the deck with yarn and fabric.
Sometimes it happens on the bus, hospital, dentist’s office with pen & ink.
But it happens.
And when it does, I discover
physical pain diminishing
emotional sadness lessening
spiritual dis-ease becoming transformed
But what if what is created turns out to be a mess?
Or not what was intended?
The old adage “give it a try” often whispers in my mind.
Like this summer when I found some records in a church fall sale
and thought I’d see what happened when I poured acrylic paint on them.
Didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
I was going to paint over them
but then decided to try writing on them instead.
… like this one.
It “sort of” worked
… but the rough surface wasn’t easy to write on.
But that won’t stop me.
I’ll “give it a try”
… both record and Micron pen.
And in the meantime
I continue to play and create
and whatever the “it” is at the time
“give it a try.”
photo & text © June Maffin
… has been most of the day
gently dropping light flakes from the sky
over flowers that seem to be in a petrified state
by last night’s frost.
power remains on
fireplace glows with soft light and gentle warmth
soup bubbles on the stove
quiet music plays in the background
blessed to be safe and warm, fed and relaxed
but many are not
they are outdoors at night
they are outdoors during the day
they are cold and hungry and fearful
clothing can be shared
food and shelter can be provided
what to do about the emotional and spiritual
dis-ease that continues to devastate
perhaps hope can be offered
by these flowers from our garden
frozen on the vine this morning
this afternoon they were transformed
into an arrangement of unusual beauty
… the key
to open the chamber of fear
to speak to wounded hearts
to address societal wrongs
to set-free creativity and joy
to bring about reconciliation, transformation
and welcome hope.
Photo and Text © June Maffin
First power outage of the season today.
How quickly the house got cold!
But it was great preparation before the next power outage
because it will happen.
And before it does
there’s time to review and take care of
* recliner chair back-up battery system that didn’t work
* finding the extra flashlights
* learning how to make the little generator work
The portable phones didn’t work in the power outage
… so grateful I kept the old plug-in land line.
While I miss DH, Hans every single day
it’s in situations such as this that remind me
what a calming influence he was
in power outages and tsunami warnings.
Within minutes he would “take charge” of the situation.
So this afternoon, I invoked his spirit
and before I knew it
I had taken charge of the situation.
And as I did, once again
I could hear his words
“Remember, you’re stronger than you think you are.”
Our loved ones really are with us.
Just in a different way.
© Photo & Text: June Maffin
“Trick or Treat!”
as the door opens
and they hold open their bags.
“I’ve got the treats.
What trick or song or dance or joke or riddle can you give?”
Happy faces on accompanying parents.
And then the jokes come.
The dancing feet tap.
The songs erupt.
The riddles come forth:
“Why is a seagull called a seagull?
Because it flies over the sea
and if it flew over a bay
it would be called a bagel.”
A little girl, about three
recites her numbers in Spanish.
A little boy says
“I remember you and this house.
I’ve got my joke ready for you!”
And he did!
In some parts of the world, this night begins
the ancient Christian three-day observance of Allhallowtide
predated from Celtic harvest festivals such as Samhain
designed as a time to remember those who have died.
For some, Hallowe’en is a secular celebration
… carving pumpkins
… apple bobbing
… visiting haunted attractions.
For some, it’s part of their Christian religious observance
… attending church services on All Saints Day
… lighting candles in remembrance of loved ones
… visiting graves.
Whether secular or religious
Hallowe’en is a reminder that
death is a reality for all
and reminder that death need not be feared.
As the children leave with treats in their bags
… and smiles on their faces
I close the door
turn out the lights
reflect on the innocence
the fun of the night
in the faces of the children and their accompanying parents.
I extinguish the candle
inside the zendoodled pumpkin
with a wee prayer of gratitude
that a spirituality of play is still celebrated
as “shadows of a thousand years
rise again, unseen
and voices whisper in the trees
“tonight it’s All Hallow’s Eve!”
Photo & Text © June Maffin
How I love the ornamental cherry tree in our front yard.
In the springtime, its blossoms are bountiful.
In winter, its branches bend as snow falls.
In summer, its leaves invite all to experience its shade.
And now, as it sheds its colourful leaves on the gentle winding stone path,
Mother Nature creates a beautiful and welcoming Leaf Carpet.
In every season, the cherry tree is beautiful!
‘Tis a gentle reminder that whether we are
… in the spring, summer, fall or winter of our lives
© June Maffin