Archive | seasons and holidays

How to Celebrate St. Lucia’s Day

how to celebrate st. lucia's day

Why us?

Yesterday, as I ran a few errands by myself, I decided to try to find some new radio stations to listen to while I was in the car. I’ve recently been “broadening my horizons” by reading books, blogs, and news articles from different perspectives. No more tunnel vision, I’ve told myself. Monday I listened to NPR (and found it fascinating) and also followed them on Facebook which has been great. Yesterday I came across our local Catholic radio station and, though I enjoyed listening in, it confirmed something for me: I’m not Catholic!

So why would I be so excited about celebrating a saint’s day, you may wonder? Well, for starters, my great-great grandmother came over on a boat from Sweden (I wrote about that at Kindred Grace a while back.) She brought with her a recipe for powdered doughnuts for which I will always be indebted to her. She also brought the tradition of celebrating Saint Lucia’s Day on December 13th. The tradition has been passed down by each generation as a way to kick off The Twelve Days of Christmas and it has become, as I recently told a friend, a very important holiday in my family. Just as most Americans, Catholic or otherwise, recognize Saint Patrick’s Day and Saint Valentine’s Day, my family recognizes a day honoring an Italian saint very special to our homeland of Sweden.

A Brief History Lesson

The history of Saint Lucia is a bit muddled, as many stories from some 300 years AD tend to be, but it is generally believed that Lucia was an Italian Christian who was martyred when she refused to marry a nonbeliever. She is now the patron saint of Syracuse.  There are many other stories about her (some quite gory!) but the most famous is probably the story of her service to the persecuted Christians who had fled to the catacombs under Rome. Supposedly, this kindhearted girl wore a crown of candles to light her way as she carried food down to the hungry believers.

So why is she so popular in Sweden? Well many years after her martyrdom in 304AD, Lucia is said to have arrived on a ship to Sweden during a famine and saved the Swedish people from starvation. Whatever it was that Lucia actually did and no matter where, she is now a symbol of faith and hope in Italy, Sweden and even Texas, now that my family has settled there! Our neighbors are even becoming acquainted with St. Lucia’s Day!

What We Do

Traditionally, the eldest daughter rises early and bakes “lussekatter;” a type of sweet, saffron bun. She then dons a white robe, red sash (the symbol of martyrdom) and a crown of Lingonberry branches and white candles and serves her family in bed. Our family’s tradition is to all get up at a decent hour and make our great-grandmother’s Swedish doughnut recipe. She used to make these doughnuts whenever they had guests (lucky travelers!) and we’ve adopted the recipe as our “lussekatter” because it’s Swedish, it’s from our family and, most importantly, it’s one of the most delicious things you’ll ever taste.

After frying a double batch of doughnuts and rolling them in powdered sugar, my older sisters does indeed don a crown! We have a plastic wreath of evergreen with battery-powered candles. Hey, we don’t need to celebrate with flaming hair to remember our ancestry!

As we eat our doughnuts and drink our coffee and milk, we usually each take a turn wearing the crown because-hell0-you only get this chance once a year. Then we all gather in the living room where our Christmas tree is standing tall and luminous. By December 13th, our tree is already surrounded by 70+ gifts! These are the gifts the siblings all exchange with each other. We do not exchange gifts on Christmas Day because, there being nine of us, that became too chaotic and factory-like. We each choose something for the other eight (usually something small like a book, a scarf, a movie or a coffee cup) and wrap them anytime between Thanksgiving Day and Saint Lucia’s Day. Then, one at a time, we go and choose our gifts for our siblings from the tree and watch as they all open at once. It’s great fun to make so many people happy at the same time.

After this, we sit around the fireplace and look at our loot…probably drink more coffee and eat more doughnuts. Later we usually deliver a plate to our neighbors. We also have an Advent devotional that evening, with our wreath of candles lit on the coffee table. I think it’s wonderful that the message for December 13th is usually about light!

We’ll also probably read Lucia: Saint of Light  by Katherine Bolger Hyde, which is just a simple picture book about the real “Lucy” for whom the day is named. The focus of the day is on Jesus being our light, which is what Saint Lucy represents for us. She walked into the dark catacombs where we thought God had forgotten us and brought us light and nourishment. Rather than hiding her light, she died for her faith.

So if you want to join us in celebrating this year, make sure your family knows that December 13th is Saint Lucia’s Day! Grab yourself a copy of Lucia: Saint of Light on Amazon or print out some facts about her from the internet. Find a traditional Lussekatter recipe or your favorite sweet breakfast (beignets, scones…whatever floats your boat.) Find candles…lots of candles! Maybe even make a wire crown and add some holly? Then think on Jesus Our Light as you enjoy your breakfast. Maybe hide some trinkets in the tree to commemorate the occasion. Carry a plate of goodies to someone you know or want to know. (My mother used to drive to her grandmother’s house to deliver doughnuts when they still lived in the same town.) And then, enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas!

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Beyond Pop-Up Books: 8 Christmasy Titles to Put You in the Spirit

EP beyond pop-up books

Disclaimer: this post contains a few modest affiliate links. At no cost to you, your clicks and purchases support a struggling blogger. ;)

Eyrie Park is home to thousands of books. There are books in every bedroom, in the den and living room, in the kitchen and in closets. At Christmas time, we empty a couple of high cabinets and put out baskets and seasonal reads. We have many picture books about Baby Jesus, Santa Claus and snow. We have pop-up books and easy readers and beautifully illustrated picture books that get read at this time each year, preferably by a blazing fire!

However, in the past few years I’ve realized that Christmasy reading doesn’t have to be a contained in a 32 page hardback about a reindeer with a red nose, which is why I’ve compiled this list of chapter books perfect for cozy December nights. Several of them would be great to read aloud to kiddos, others are intended for adults. Without further adieu, I give you 8 Christmasy Titles to Put You in the Spirit. :)

1. The Coat-hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estes

I have been an avid Estes fan since I was a wee lassie. I cannot exactly explain why I love her books so much. There’s something special about them. I think it’s the way she wrote real life into her children’s books without being preachy, dramatic or dull. They’re just great. I didn’t read The Coat-hanger Christmas Tree until I was a young adult, and it will never replace Ginger Pye in my heart, but I did really like it. In the New England based tale, ten-year-old Marianna desperately wants a Christmas tree but her mother refuses to be “like every tom-dick-and-harry.” As we know, kids find their own ways of doing things, hence the Christmas tree made of coat-hangers. Sadly, this gem is out of print, but I know you could find yourself a copy. You can do it!

2. The True Saint Nicolas: Why He Matters by William Bennett

This title was new to me last year, but I gobbled it up in time to lend it to my grandmother when we saw her for Christmas. She and I both agree, it’s a fascinating little book! If you’re like me, you’ve heard of Santa Claus/Old Saint Nick/Father Christmas your whole life and had some random ideas of who these mythical characters came from, but no clear story in your mind. This book quickly covers the real person named Saint Nicolas, the myths and legends about him, the other mythical characters who have been combined with Saint Nicolas over the years and the origin of our modern “Santa Claus” traditions, such as why he leaves gifts in our stockings, etc. Mostly it’s just interesting and super fun. It made me excited for Christmas and for teaching my little siblings about a real man who exemplified the true meaning of Christmas many a year ago.

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3. Christmas with Anne by L. M. Montgomery

L. M. Montgomery, Christmas…how could you go wrong? This little collection of stories features our beloved Anne-with-an-E in her tale of puffed sleeves (real Anne fans could never forget that one) and fifteen other heartwarming, holiday tales. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the entire book yet, but I know it will be delightful. Montgomery’s eloquence set in P.E.I. during Christmastide will make me throw another log on the fire, I’m sure.

4. Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Didn’t know Tolkien wrote a Christmas book, did ya? Well, he kind of did, at least. This lovely book is a compilation of letters Tolkien’s children received in the mail every December “from Father Christmas.” The letters detail life at The North Pole, the life and work of the author (Santa) and included original artwork. If you get this book, you will love Christmas a little bit more. And maybe wish Tolkien was your dad.

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5. The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Ann’s long time love of the Advent season finally bore a book last year! If you’ve followed her Advent devotional in the past, you are familiar with the stunning way she weaves the entire love story (Bible) into Christmas. Her writings completely changed how I view Jesus’ genealogy (it actually matters-a lot!) and the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Grab a copy early and work your way through the season. You won’t regret it.

6. The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’engle

You know her from A Wrinkle in Time and some really deep theological books, but you might not know that she penned a winter’s tale as well! In this little book (complete with twenty-four short chapters) the Austin family lets you in on their holiday traditions each day of Advent. There’s a lose, sweet plot happening all along. The ending may make you sigh with joy. Maybe.

7. A Quiet Little Woman by Louisa May Alcott

I’ll read anything by Alcott. She’s my literary heroine. This is a short story by Alcott which I enjoyed when I was younger but would probably bawl through today, simply because it’s about a girl who needs a family. Patty cannot bear another day in the orphanage. Even after a family finally does come for Patty, it is only because they need a servant. But there is one person who does care about Patty! Will Patty find her family in time for Christmas?! I especially enjoy reading about the origin of this story: “The young Lukens girls had written to Miss Alcott telling her that they were so inspired by the examples of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, that they, too, were launching their own literary publication.Soon the Lukens girls received a very special gift-a Christmas story from Miss Alcott about a lonely orphan girl who finds a family to love her. Following its publication, the story stayed in an old magazine until many years later, a reader chanced upon it.” (From Amazon) Kate’s Choice is another very sweet Christmas tale by Alcott.

8. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

If you’ve never read this before, you need to get yourself a cute little copy like mine and get to it! It’s a very un-intimidating read. You may know the story from various plays or picture books or (heaven forbid) Mickey Mouse movies, but Dickens wasn’t just a story teller, he was a writer. You must read it in his own words at least once. It has some fantastic little quotes. It definitely touched my heart!

What books do YOU love to read at this time of the year? Share in the comments!

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what the transfiguration taught me about blogging

smart phone photo

One day, Jesus and I walked to the top of the mountain and Jesus was transfigured, showing me all of His glory. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and they started chatting it up like old times. And I said, “Jesus, it is a good thing I’m here, because I have an iphone and this totally needs to be on Instagram!”

Besides the fact that it was actually Peter and not me, this story is pretty much a retelling of the true transfiguration story in Matthew 17. The actual scripture sounds just as ridiculous.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

It may sound like a stretch, but this is what the transfiguration taught me about blogging. Peter has just seen Jesus Christ transfigured and Moses and Elijah, both long-dead, standing and speaking, and yet it isn’t until God Himself speaks from a cloud in heaven that Peter falls on his face. First, as my Bible says in the notes, he desires to set up an appropriate memorial for this moment.

I love that it says that God interrupted him. Memorials are all fine and dandy, but Peter was, as is the often the case with myself, missing the point. God commands Peter and the other present apostles to listen to His son. They fall on their faces and, when they look up, see nothing but Jesus. This is exactly as it should be. We hear from God and fall down and worship, seeing only Him. And yet, I think we have a tendency to go with Peter’s first inclination.

Something amazing happens: a mountain top moment. I hear from God! I witness a miracle, receive a message, see a vision. The next thing I want to do is blog about it, tweet about it, instagram it. I want to share with the world immediately! What great blog fodder that was, God! Now I’ll help you out by spreading that message to the world via social media! It’s a good thing I was there, because this needs to be documented!

Here God, let me tag you in this picture so all the world may glorify you! Let me hashtag #thewondersofyourname that we might worship you! Let me get the SEO just right on this post so we might share your good news! And then God knocks me on my face and says, “This is my son we’re talking about. Listen to him.”

And I lie there panting in the dust for a moment before Jesus touches me and says, “Rise and have no fear.” And for a beautiful moment, I’m actually focused on Him.

Not focused on being a Christian, but on being in the presence of Christ. 

It is so much easier to talk about God and tweet about God and use God as a marketing tool than to actually see Him. It is so much easier to “live the Christian life” than to fall down in his presence and listen to him.

As they walked down the mountain that day, Jesus and James and John and that guy Peter with whom I often relate, Jesus tells them not to tell this story until later.  It was not the time or the place to whip out the smart phones. It was not their story to tell. He would be glorified later, He assured them. And after seeing him “transfigured before them,” his face shining like the sun and his clothes white as light, you’d think they’d trust him on that one. You’d think I would too.

We serve an unseen God who listens to the prayers of unseen people in unseen places and works unseen miracles. Everything that happens on this earth is preparing us for an “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Just wait for that weight of glory, beyond all comparison. I don’t think social media will even cross our minds when that day comes.

P.S. I understand the irony of this blog post about something God taught me. That’s really not the point either. We are told to share the things God teaches us, but more importantly, we should worship God. He put this on my heart many months ago, perhaps this was the right time to share? 

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how to truly end waste

spanish moss

This post is part of a series. Part One, Part Two.

I am hesitant to sign up to host an angel, because I’m not always a perfect hostess. What if I’m in a bad mood and fail to make conversation or I burn the casserole and forget to buy butter? And yet, when scripture says some of us will “entertain angels unawares” we are being warned not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers. Do we not think that human strangers also report to God? That He is not watching them just as closely as He watches His angels? We are to be hospitable to everyone (never knowing if they are an angel or “merely” a child of God.)

I think we tend to keep our planet and it’s animals, eco-system and human life very separate from the spiritual realm. Stories of miracles and angels interacting with mortality are like quick visions of meteors streaming across our view of the milky way. If you believe in them at all, you think they happen once in a blue moon and never guess that you yourself might be looking up when such a thing occurs.

That is probably why it has taken me so long to write this series. I had a lot of thoughts on waste, but they all seemed disconnected. There was the truth that kept sinking deeper into my mind that God wastes nothing in our lives, not even pain or loss. And then there was the ordinary type of waste. Actual trash we put in our dumpsters and time we spend worrying about our crooked mouth and un-plucked (or as I like to call them, “free range”) eyebrows.

I do believe in meteors and I believe that sometimes they crash into planets or other things in space before they burn out, like a miraculous meeting of two kindred spirits (only a little more explosive.) That’s the way this series was born. Suddenly I realized that my thoughts were connected. All waste is the same. Everything comes from God. God wastes nothing. We waste everything.

Material waste is a huge, huge issue in our world. Not only is it greatly hurting the planet itself, it is hurting people directly. I recently read that 1.3 billion tons of food produced world wide is wasted or lost each year. (That’s 1/3 of the annual production.) While some of this food is lost or wasted in production, most of it is wasted by consumers, particularly in the United States. In 2010, an estimated 33 million tons of food waste went into U.S. landfills and incinerators.

How is this hurting people? A billion people are malnourished today.

While I was whining about what was on my plate and wishing I could throw my stir-fry to the dog, my baby brother was being born in Port-Au-Prince and growing a huge, bloated belly. Waste hurts people because they need what we are throwing away.

Do you know the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? Do you know why God had to burn the whole county down with fire from heaven?

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49, emphasis mine.)

And that’s when I realized how to truly end waste. Waste has a natural enemy, and it’s not recycling. The natural enemy of waste is gratitude.

compost

You never, ever throw away something you are truly grateful for. I was not grateful for the ice left in my cup after drinking a glass of water, but the children at the orphanage would clobber for the sink to grab it from the drain, grateful (if not also a little greedy.) We throw away food and clothing and time and relationships because we simply don’t appreciate them. We do not bow our faces to the floor and thank God for the things we scrape off of our plates.

When you cultivate a heart of gratitude, you cease to waste. And when you see the gift and the beauty and grace in everything that comes your way, you never think of throwing it out. You keep it, you use it, you share it, but you don’t waste it.

If the people of Sodom had taken their excess of food and used it to aid the poor and needy, we would’ve know they were not proud. They would’ve been a grateful, humble people, probably honored in scripture rather than held up as an example of despicableness. That’s the irony of the holiday season. We want more, grab more, covet more and waste more during this season than any other. Why can’t we see that we have more to be grateful for than we have to complain about? Why don’t we see that we are filthy, filthy, filthy rich?

In her wonderful book, Discipline: The Glad SurrenderElisabeth Elliot writes:

“The goodness and love of God choose the gifts, and we say thank you, acknowledging the Thought Behind as well as the thing itself. Covetousness involves suspicion about the goodness and love of God, and even His justice. He has not given me what He gave somebody else. He doesn’t notice my need. He doesn’t love me as much as He loves him. He isn’t fair.

Faith looks up with open hands. “You are giving me this, Lord? Thank you. It is good and acceptable and perfect.” Pg. 108

So back up a bit, look at the big picture. The sky is full of meteors and you’ve been given eyes to see.

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8 Fair Trade Stocking Stuffers

8 Fair Trade Stocking Stuffers

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

O Holy Night by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure

Christmas is a time to celebrate and be joyous, but that leaves no excuse for trampling anyone, despite what Black Friday shoppers seem to think. During this season of Advent, we should be particularly conscious of the needs of others. ‘Tis a season of giving, not grabbing. This year, many people will spend Christmas on the farm or in the factory where they are enslaved. They will have no time off for the holiday and no Christmas bonus. Remember these people as you celebrate with your friends and family and think of them when you do your shopping.

Fair trade purchases ensure that the money you spend goes back to the laborers, helping them to support themselves and their families. What better way to show your kids or friends that Jesus is really the reason for the season than by giving them gifts that seem to say, “truly He taught us to love one another”? What better way to give back this year than by being a part of breaking the chains of our slave brothers and sisters?

That is why I’ve come up with 8 Fair Trade Stocking Stuffers. I hope you enjoy this list of ideas!

1. Theo Holiday Chocolate Bars

These cute and tasty fair-trade treats are available at Kroger in the organic section, on Amazon and at theochocolate.com. The chocolate industry is a huge battle ground of modern-day slavery and buying products that use ethically produced cocoa is important.

2. Justin’s Chocolate Hazel Nut Spread

Justin’s products are not certified fair trade, but I believe they use fair trade cocoa. Stuff a stocking with these easy-squeezy packets of Nutella-alternative or a whole jar for that crazy fanatic! Justin’s various delicacies are available Kroger, on Amazon and at justins.com

3. Gorgeous earrings from Noonday Collection

Noonday Collection is a huge fair trade company with lots of beautiful products, but their earrings strike me as a particularly nice thing to pull out of one’s stocking. Gift these to a sister or friend and they’ll be impressed with your excellent taste. ;)

4. Ornaments 4 Orphans

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To quote part of their mission statement, Ornaments 4 Orphans stands to: “empower indigenous artisans through the fair-trade purchase of their products, invest in the holistic care of orphaned children with our profits and provide customers with a seasonal opportunity to purchase items that bless others.” We bought one of their glass beaded stars this year. Really lovely!

5. Wood Block Stamps from Connected Goods

wood-block-stamp-hummingbird

I had a really hard time deciding what to share from Connected Goods. They have a huge selection of beautiful products. However, these stamps struck me as unique and special stocking stuffers, so I’m displaying the hummingbird stamp. I also love the goldfish!

6. Toys from Come Together Trading

Come Together Trading started right here in Texas! They have products from all of the world in their Tyler store and also sell online. One thing I love from them is their toys. The wooden toy tractor, the miniature animals and the finger puppet nativities are all adorable. I gave my mom a set of their bird chimes last year…very cute.

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7. Fair Trade “Reese’s” Alternatives

I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about the combination of peanut butter and chocolate that brightens my day. We are no longer buying our beloved Reese’s because they are likely made with unethically produced cocoa, but we’ve found some delicious alternatives. Try Newman’s Own (they’re not just for salad dressing anymore) or Justin’s. Buy them in the organic section your grocery store or online.

8. Punjammies!

PRIYA Capri Front

I really can’t say enough about Punjammies. Adorable pajamas made by women who have been rescued out of forced prostitution in India…well, I wrote a whole review of them for Adornabelle! The girls in my family love these. I would not be opposed to pulling another pair of these out of my stocking on Christmas morning!

How about you? Have you found ethical stocking stuffers this year? Please share!

Other Resources:

“All’s Fair” (my Pinterest board for all things fairly traded!)

Gifts that Give Back shopping guide at rageagainsttheminivan.com

Ethical Shopping Guide at theartofsimple.net

Products Everly Loves

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