Planning Ahead: The Twelve Days of Christmas

This is one of those posts to nudge you to think ahead a bit – Christmas is coming, but that day is solely the FIRST day of twelve days of Christmas!  In my religious tradition, we actually call it “Christmastide.” The waiting of Advent is over and the celebration of food and Christmas carols is just beginning on Christmas Day!  It is a happy, festive time ending with Twelfth Night (January 5th) and Epiphany, or Three Kings Day on January 6th.

This is such a lovely time of year.  Some families  give and receive gifts and visitors throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas, making it a time of warmth and connection.  Others celebrate the Feast Days of the Christian Church. Some focus on having the Three Wise Men make their way throughout the home to the Holy Family in time of the celebration of Epiphany.  Some plan on wonderful experiences as a family to create memories that last the whole day through. (And I love the idea of experiences, and will be creating some of that during this year’s Christmastide celebration!)

In the spirit of the Waldorf School, the joyous  Twelve Days of Christmas have an inner, reflective state known as the Twelve Holy Nights.  Lynn Jericho writes about the meaning of these nights on The Wonder of Childhood.  Here is another article by Fairy Dust Teaching.   I will be honest and say I do not connect with the the esoteric astrology of the Twelve Nights.  At this point, I find value in the Anglican traditions surrounding Christmastide, but the inner reflective state does deeply resonate with me.  This is one of my most favorite times of the years due to that quiet strength of connection to the spiritual world.  It is enlivening and invigorating to really sink into inner work, praying, and  planning my passions and ideas in a fresh way for a new year.

This year, I am planning on focusing on twelve different aspects of how I wish to see change in me, my family, and the world.  I don’t have all of the details ironed out yet, but am brainstorming.  In my head, I have tied each day to a quality I associate with each of the twelve months.  I believe the first day I will focus on Warmth – what the potential for connection to take place in warmth and love and openness, and how I can make my physical home and my emotional state warm to myself and others.  The second day I am considering Love – the unselfish and compassionate love of putting someone else higher than oneself – and how this fits into my family life and my work in the world.  And so forth.

I am also interested in really meditating and praying for our children, and to see what areas that we would love to help guide and develop in them so they can go out into the world and share their gifts with all of humanity in a way that is helpful, generous, and encouraging for mankind.

If you are interested in this, you may appreciate some of these back posts.

2008 (plans for the Twelve Days of Christmas)

2009

2011

More 2011 (Day by day through the Christian Feast Days of Christmastide)

2012 (a day by day list for biography work)

2013 (Celebrating Christmastide)

I hope everyone is having an Advent of wonder and anticipation.  I would love to hear what you are doing and what is wonderful.  It can be an overwhelming time of year for some, a grumpy and too fussy of a time for others, and sometimes just hearing the small positive things about this season can be a light.  Please consider sharing and uplifting other readers.

Blessings and light,
Carrie

 

 

The Third Week of Advent: Faith

This is a beautiful week in Advent, and one of my favorites.  This is the Advent Verse from the London Steiner School for this week:

The third Light of Advent, It is the light of beasts:
The Light of faith that we may see In greatest and in least.

I have always loved this imagery.  Faith may be associated with a strong belief in God or a religious doctrine.  There is no proof; it is just the believer.  Faith is also defined as unwavering trust and confidence in something.  The Children’s Ministry Director at my parish would often use the phrase in conversation that she would “trust” that this little part of Sunday School would go well when we were planning lessons.  She would “trust” that the child would find what needed to be revealed to them in the seasons of the Church, and in all due time.  Her lessons were watching the moon in the fall, planting bulbs in the spring, noticing the beauty all around us.  Trust in the process of life, and in the people we know and love, is all around us if we can let go of the “should’s”.

Such a small word; trust.  I have started working with a Passion Planner.  Do you all know what that is?  There are several different versions out on the market.  I have been thinking ahead about Christmastide and the Twelve Holy Nights.  What I want to do is pick twelve different areas I would like to bring my thoughts, attention, connection to and then to “trust” that I can do the work in these areas and let it go and see what beautiful things happen.  2017 should be beautiful!

So, back to trust in Advent. The animals are all preparing and waiting.  What beautiful imagery to share with children!  I have some ideas in this Advent post from 2012.  Many of my ideas focus on the birds, the mice, creating treats for our pets, and getting outside in nature.  Thinking about the migration cycles of birds in your area can be another way to tie in the faith and joy of this week as our feathered friends travel thousands of miles. There are book and activity suggestions for this week in this post from 2015.

One thing that is coming up this week (on December 13th)  is the beautiful day of Santa Lucia. Here are back posts from:

2015

2013 (link to story)

2011 (a sweet and gentle story)

2010 (lots of links)

2009 (a song)

2009

2009 (handwork)

 

Lastly, I would like to make a plea. This week can become very busy, especially for those of us with older children who are involved in things. Please plan some hiking, some ice skating, (or if you are in the Southen Hemisphere, are you all swimming?)  Plan some game nights for older children and teens.  Enjoy slowing down and being together!  Our two oldest children have been very busy with music right now – it is that time of year, but the actual downtime is so important!  Please share your plans, ideas, and celebrations for this week.

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

Some Favorite Holiday Gifts!

Today, our focus is on the act of giving gifts for our family members, although I want to say right away  that my favorite gift  is a gift that “gives” to our children but the physical results may go to someone else. Please consider volunteering, buying  gifts for, or helping in any way someone or an organization who needs help around the holidays.  This might be the most important part of the holidays, and I think is vital for teenagers who should be moving into a stage of love for all of humanity and a sense of responsibility to help others.  Many teenagers I know have their basic needs met and some of their “wants” too, (and don’t really need more “stuff”) but instead need to start to penetrate the meaning of generosity, giving, and love for humanity.

That said, we are talking about gift-giving today, and I would love to hear everyone’s favorite holidays gifts for different ages, and also to hear what YOU want for a holiday gift.  There can be many traditions around gift-giving depending upon religious and cultural backgrounds.  I have readers from all over the world and it is always fun to hear about gift-giving traditions in different countries!   Many of the  households here in the States involved in Waldorf Education exchange simple gifts, some spread gifts out throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas, some spread out gifts all the way from St. Nicholas Day to Candlemas!

Here is a run-down on just a few of my favorite gifts:

For Dads and  Moms:  coupons for massages,  folks who knit might like special yarn or plant-dyed felt or yarn bowls, woodworking supplies, art supplies, gardening supplies, books on any special topic of interest, equipment for exercising/hiking/skiing/kayaking, an overnight getaway with spouse/friends if the children are old enough! Please chime in with some fantastic ideas for fathers especially!

For Waldorf Homeschooling Parents especially:  Any of the wonderful Waldorf homeschooling books that are difficult to afford during the school year, art supplies.  Gift certificates for “time to plan” LOL

For tiny children under the age of 7:  open-ended toys, play silks, clips, a special doll, outdoor toys for older children in this age range such as a balance bike or a rocker.  For more suggestions further broken down by age,  see this post on holiday gifts for children and keeping things reasonable! or the popular post  Toys, Toys, Toys where things are really broken down by age for this Early Years group.

For children ages 7-10:  I love games.  My new favorites are Ocean Labyrinth and Shadows in the Forest.  Other ideas include craft kits, knitting supplies, crocheting supplies, embroidery, good art supplies, beeswax, candle making and decorating kits, toys for outside play – slack lines, bikes, a trampoline (!!).  Dollhouses, castles, little wooden figures.

For children ages 10-14:  Games, books, art supplies as mentioned for ages 7-10, outside play toys such as stilts or a unicycle or more advanced bike, musical instruments, experiences outside the home with memberships to places of interest, coupons for dates out with a parent alone.   Many children in this age bracket also are in the height of Lego play so whilst that is plastic, I think it is realistic that many children would like that!

For children ages 14 and up:  I still like games, books, and art supplies; tickets to concerts or the opera or ballet; coupons for dates with a parent alone; experiences or memberships to local museums, nature centers or other places of interest; some teens are interested in more musical instruments; puzzles;  gift certificates for a class they want to take or for supplies to support their favorite hobbies.

Can’t wait to hear all of your ideas!

Blessings and love,
Carrie

 

The Magic of the Feast of St. Nicholas

In the book, “Gazing Into The Eyes of the Future :  The Enactment of Saint Nicholas In The Waldorf School,” by David Tresemer,  it is written: “Augustine, another saint, said, “Our whole business in this life to restore the health of the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”  The St. Nicholas that visits the classrooms in a Waldorf School is searching and seeking soul to soul with the child in front of them in an intimacy of the heart, and in a  special moment to communicate to the child a thank you for being here in this time and space and for being part of the healing of a broken world in the future. What gifts, talents, and dreams do these children bring?  We have gratitude for this with the children in front of us.

As we lay out the traditional gifts of St. Nicholas (citrus, dates and golden walnuts are mentioned particularly for the older children and high schoolers), let us ponder the beautiful continuinty of the seasons through many , many years of doing this for our children.  May the light embodied in this festival shine into our children and for their place in the world.

Younger students, those under fifth grade, can hear stories of St. Nicholas’ great courage and generosity.  Older students, oddly enough, in a Waldorf School, may hear something about Rupert. Rupert is seen in Waldorf Schools as have fallen mightly and yet can still be touched and transformed by the light of St. Nicholas.  He may be mischevious when he visits the schools, but St. Nicholas often says, “He is trying to be good.”  Together, St. Nicholas and Rupert reflect the duality of the human being in so many ways, and the compassion we must show one another in the struggle.  What a valuable lesson for all older children, especially those in high school. This is often an aspect  I find often not considered by homeschooling families.  There is a story about Nicholas and Rupert in the back of book mentioned above that could be shared with older children.

Other wonderful traditions for this day could include dipping candles, creating a gingerbread house, or making gingerbread.  Crafting rosettes, frost paintings, or even paper snowflakes could be fun activities for the day as well.  I always remember the line in the book, “All Year Round, ” that states that adults often experience struggle or depression during Advent. How much more edifying and nourishing it is to keep these traditions of joy year after year!

Many blessings,

Carrie

 

 

The Second Week of Advent: Constancy

The Second Week of Advent Verse from the  London Steiner School:<!– [if lt IE 8]> http://ie7-js.googlecode.com/svn/version/2.1(beta4)/IE8.js <![endif]–>

The second Light of Advent It is the Light of plants:
Plants that reach up to the sun And in the breezes dance.

In this beautiful second week of Advent, the kingdom of plants, along with the minerals of the Earth, are preparing for the event that becomes the turning point in humanity; a turning point of love.

I was thinking of the giant redwoods and sequoias, who have remained steadfast in the growth and light of the sun and the seasons.  Some of these ancient trees were alive at the time of Christ’s coming to Earth.  Perhaps one of the spiritual qualities within this second week is enduring constancy, and how we show this to our families.  Are we  steadfast and constant in our love and joy toward our families?  Toward all of humanity? That has become my meditation this week.  Constancy in love toward all.  The action I find I most often need to take to do this is to not react strongly to something at first; but to let things sit and filter through my mind and then react later; to hold my thoughts to not try to “fix” anything but to be present and attentive as a support; to hold hope.

This is a lovely week to make simple little crafts for the home and for gift-giving that involve plants.  Things we have planned include making pomanders ( I like this blog post on Simple Bites),  creating moss gardens in a tub of water and floating little half walnut shell beeswax-filled boats (see the book “Earthways” for more), slicing and dehydrating lemon, orange , and apple slices for your Christmas tree, a garland, or an outside tree for the birds.  This week might also be a wonderful time to make some herbal gifts.

I also thought of donating to an organization that plants trees in varying places – you could do this for a local organization or one that plants trees internationally.

Here are some back posts about the second week of Advent:

2015  (book suggestions)

2012

2010

This is also the week of The Feast of St. Nicholas!  There are some wonderful stories in this post; here is a back post about this special day.  There is also a post about some more traditions for this day here from 2009.

Many blessings to you this week in this week of constant love,

Carrie

 

Advent for All Ages

Every year, we celebrate a number of feasts along the way to Christmastide, including the Feast of St. Nicholas, Santa Lucia Day, and then through Christmastide itself ending in Epiphany.

For those of you with tiny children, you may be establishing your holiday traditions and how you want to celebrate Advent.  For those of you with older children and teens, you may be re-evaluating what works and doesn’t work.  And, those of you with upper grades children (middle school aged, ages 12-14), may be feeling pulled in the middle that the traditions of the early years and early grades no longer hold as much magic, but you are reluctant to let go of traditions or forge something new.

For those of you establishing traditions, my advice is to take it slow and add a little bit each year.  If your children are so, so small (ie, under seven), they may not even remember things from each year and by the time they are nine or ten and you have traditions in place, they will just consider that “this is how we have always done it.”

I would also encourage you to go simple and set a model of much hand-making of gifts and cooking and baking and helping others.  Some families have Kindness Calendars for Advent.  Some have traditions of things such as baking little loaves of bread and leaving them on neighbor’s doorsteps for the Feast of St. Nicholas.  At any rate, keeping things simple, including the number of gifts a child receives, is really important.   Children do not need to plow through a roomful of gifts in order to have a meaningful holiday and in fact, once the adrenaline high of ripping paper off of packages is done, they are typically disappointed and sad (and the younger ones burst into tears).  So, think carefully about how you would like to handle gifts (and when- throughout the season, throughout Christmastide, solely on Christmas?).  If you would like some more suggestions about gifts, please see this Holiday Gifts for Children and Holiday Gifts For Children: How Much Is Too Much?  Here is a list of gifts up to the age of thirteen.   Lastly, I always found this back post by Christine Natale, with her musings on Saint Nicholas Day and starting new traditions , to be quite reassuring.

Santa Claus is another area that needs thoughtful consideration.  Different families deal with “Santa Claus” in different ways.  Some feel he is an American helper to St. Nicholas;  some feel he has no place in this season of hope and light and is purely a commercial figure, some include Santa and his reindeer as a part of Christmastide.  At any rate, if you do have Santa Claus as part of your family traditions, I am going make a plea that Santa does not give the best or biggest gift.  This is just a personal opinion – that I feel the most special gifts should come from the family – and you may feel differently.  Or some families give gifts throughout Christmastide anonymously to each other.

If you have children in the upper grades (again, around the twelve year change to add fourteen or so), I would be very careful NOT to discard traditions you think might be too “babyish” for your now older child.  Crafting, baking, and slowing down is something that is important for this age.  This may be  easier to do if you actually have younger siblings or cousins about, but sometimes even holding that magic  for a small neighborhhood child can be helpful.    I find some children around the age of 10 or so realize the “truth” about Santa Claus, but I also find that is most cases the child really doesn’t want the magic to end and may even feel sad about this.

I think the other thing to consider even more movement away from consumerism and  toward acts of kindness, toward any sort of volunteering in a community setting if that is available.  The holidays should be about fostering light throughout the world.  I find some children of this age have a tendency toward wishing for a lot of fancy, expensive, technological gifts for themselves.  Some families have no trouble with this; some families coming from a Waldorf setting look to the curriculum and see when these subjects are introduced in a Waldorf School.   In this latter  instance, not only moving toward helping others but providing appropriate boundaries consistent with your family’s values (and budget) without feeling guilty  is of import.  If you would like to think more on this subject, there are a few posts on here about gaming, about introducting computers in general, and about Pondering Portals ( a series of four posts).

Teenagers can be happy with simple things if you have built up your traditions by this time to include slowing down, enjoying the time as a family and in helping others, and limiting a huge number of commercial gifts.  Teens who have developed interests can be easy to create or buy gifts for, and the love of the wonder of nature never goes away.  Christmastide: Forest, Farm, Field, and Stream  and its follow up post  may be of interest to you in this regard.  Planning outside time for hiking, skiing, cross country skiing, (or surfing and swimming depending upon where in the world you live!) can be utterly satisfying for teens – especially if it includes a little bit of the element of something new they have not tried before!

Lastly, for all ages, limiting the calendar to the most meaningful things for your family is important.  There will be more parties, get togethers, and things to do than you can possibly attend.  Limit your calendar to the most important things that reflect your values. It is an important model to show children the truly most important things about the holiday season – being together, sharing your value or religious-based traditions, and enjoying this special time of year in helping others.

Much love to you all,
Carrie

 

Martinmas: The Light of Compassion

This week, as we continue to celebrate Martinmas, let us show the light of Martinmas as compassion that begins in our own families.  This beautiful light that begins here can then radiate out into the world.

Compassion begins first and foremost with ourselves. I speak with mothers every day who are so hard on themselves.  They are constantly thinking, “Am I doing enough for the children?  Too much?  Do I have enough boundaries or am I spoiling them?  Am I modeling a million things correctly for them so they will grow up to be good people?”  So many things to consider, and sometimes we lose the compassion for ourselves in the process.  How can we authentically model this for our children when we cannot shower ourselves in compassion?

Compassion requires listening.  It requires being open enough to really hear not only the words, but the subtext beneath the words.  Modeling this is how small children learn. Actions are the shining path of compassion.  We work on our mistakes with restitution.    We show our forgiveness and we admit our mistakes .

Kindness in the family is the first line of compassion in our entire society.  Some further ideas include this posts that I liked about the Family Kindness Project  over at My Little Poppies.  I have written about kindness in parenting as a journey back in 2009.  All it takes is a few first steps to start, to get back on track, or to consider kindness and compassion as a top priority in your home.

Let’s all use this week in celebrating Martinmas as a way to shine our light in our families.

Many blessings to you all,

Carrie