Holiday Full Disclosure and Tolerance

The winter holiday celebrations can be as divisive as politics. Which is sad given what they celebrate. There are some Christians who say Santa, trees, etc. have nothing to do with the birth of Christ, and non-Christians who say most traditions of Christmas were stolen from pre-Christian celebrations. Some Jewish people put up Christmas trees, others say that isn’t right. There are people who love Christmas music, those who hate it……the list goes on and on of other religious and cultural controversies this month.

a bit of whimsy made by a local carver

I thought I was becoming cynical about Christmas. Even Solstice. We celebrate both. What I thought was cynicism was the feeling that I have to be so sensitive this time of year around pretty much everyone as to not offend anyone, and very private about how we celebrate. Often I don’t even know which way is the “right” way to avoid offense.

Here’s an illustration of what I mean. One Christmas, when I had been very ill for months, Mike and I were enjoying a rare, leisurely, festive time together a few days before Christmas. At the gallery of a local artist who illustrates children’s books, Mike purchased a print of a little shepherd boy, taken from a book about the Christmas story. Mike loves Christmas and because of his Basque heritage he identifies with the shepherds in the Christmas story. (The Basque who came to this country, including his maternal great uncles, herded sheep in the isolated hills of California, Nevada and Idaho. A job no one else wanted). We walked out of the gallery and saw a friend to whom Mike enthusiastically showed his purchase. The friend’s only comment, said with disdain after Mike said why he bought it, was “but it’s so Christian.” My heart aches even now when I think of how crestfallen he was.  This person would not think of them self as intolerant. Yet this is the sensitiveness many people have around this season.

Though we celebrate in our house the way we want, it is like belonging to a secret society of two. How we celebrate has changed over the years, adopting new rituals, traditions, letting go of older ones. That’s the way life is. Of course new religions incorporate the traditions of older ones, its human nature. Archeological finds show just how long we’ve been adopting the ways of those before us, or from other places and cultures. Life is not either/or, people are not either/or……well, yes they are, and we see the results of that in our divided, polarized country, and in other countries, where everyone on all sides of the political spectrum talk of the “others” as though they had nothing in common and were from another planet. This intolerance of differences generates violence, at least in thought, and too often in action. Violence toward others is not taught in any major religious or spiritual tradition that has stood the test of time.

I’m quite certain I have much in common with someone who may have voted differently than me. We may both love birds, read plant books, support women’s shelters, have had cancer, drive the same car……who knows. I choose not to talk politics with people with different political ideals, but politics is not all life is about. Political choices may represent important individual values, but I know people who vote as I do and do not share all my values. They may not even tolerate how and what I celebrate this month. We are far more complex as a species and as individuals to put each other in boxes and categories based on limited knowledge of the “other.”

So here in our secret society of two, where Decembers past has often been a time of healing and recovery (i.e. recovering from surgeries, colds, flu, etc.) our celebrations are low key. Up until a few years ago we spent Christmas Day with family, usually elsewhere, occasionally here. We miss these family gatherings, but also enjoy just being “home for the holidays”. I have had a long standing “bucket list” item of spending Christmas in a cabin somewhere, then I remember – I live in a cabin somewhere.

the greeter on our front door

So here at this cabin in the woods is what is important to us when it comes to holidays. I apologize if any of this offends you. Actually, I don’t want to apologize, rather invite you to share with me what you celebrate this month that might be different, maybe I would enjoy your traditions and celebration also. Or perhaps you don’t celebrate anything you just enjoy December plain!

1) A nativity set, there are several to choose from, the tiny one from my childhood or various wooden ones. I have few friends who put up a nativity, but to Mike and I that is what Christmas is about.

2) Lights and candles are important because that’s what celebrating the Solstice is about, bringing back the light, celebrating the cycles of dark and light. And because here in Washington December is just plain dark and days are short.

3) We listen to a lot of music. (Mike can watch the same Mormon Tabernacle choir Christmas special DVD every year, me not so much, I like something new!).

back porch trees, two golden crest cypress

4) Though I often vow NO TREE, and NEVER thought I’d have an artificial tree, we always have a tree, sometimes a small table top artificial one, or a potted tree on the porch outside the window, or a cut tree. Sometimes more than one. Mike is delighted when we decorate a tree. In his younger adult years, up until we married, he didn’t really celebrate Christmas with anyone. Thirty Christmases later, he is still making up for it.

advent wreath

5) We now do an advent wreath to help us stop and focus on the spiritual aspect of this holy season, we light a candle each week, do a reading, meditate and slow down. Mike was in the emergency room last Sunday so we postponed our candle lighting to Monday, it helped “ground” us back into the season’s vibrations after a stressful Sunday.

6) We try to take a ride in the mountains, a walk somewhere quiet, depending on my body’s willingness. Connecting with Nature and the calm gray/green of winter in the northwest is very important to me this time of year. Nature reminds us human species that it truly is a time of peace on earth, and at least in the northern hemisphere, a time of rest.

7) Gift giving is minimal, fortunately an attitude shared by extended family and close friends. Something simple or homemade, if anything at all. (And this year I liberated myself from Christmas card sending by sending Thanksgiving cards.)

8) We have a special Christmas meditation with those in our meditation group.

little angel from my childhood on this year’s indoor tree

In a small house, where there isn’t a lot of room for decorating, besides the tree and nativity, you might find these favorite symbols of the winter season and holidays – snowmen, angels, deer, a variety of evergreens and their cones, red and white carnations, and (I have a mixed relationship with them) maybe a poinsettia, which Mike loves.

So if you’re in the neighborhood and don’t find our holiday celebrations offensive, drop by, we’ll share a cup of wassail! And if you too like the songs of the season, we could have a sing-a-long!

little china snowmen quartet

Just a few of many other posts of the season…

Solistice Thoughts

Christmas Eve Lessons From Nature

A message of peace

Sweet Silver Bells

Solistice

Seasonal Reflections

January holds tranquility

Are you among those who think January is a difficult month, one to ‘get through’, not necessarily a time to thrive?  The run of distracting holidays from October through New Year’s is over, the Solstice has come and gone – “hurray for the light returning”. We rejoice and celebrate, yet in truth, nights are still on the long side, and days are short and cold. Here in the north half of the northern hemisphere, skies are frequently gray.  To top it off, it’s one of the long months – 31 days!

In the NW signs of spring’s impeding arrival appear well before January 1. Many plants have fattening buds, bulbs are sending up shoots, there are even a few hardy winter blooming shrubs. Rarely do we have snow covering the ground, if at all, for more than a few days, except in the mountains. The tendency is to look for these signs, to look ahead to the season of verdant forests and colorful flowers. To be in waiting for spring.

on a quiet drizzly morn, a doe grooms her youngster.

But are we cheating ourselves? In the woods bare deciduous tree branches reach high into open skies. Unobstructed by the summer canopy of their own making, they let in the low, soothing winter light, warming the soil, teasing seeds, bugs, spores, larva, all kinds of life buried snug in the coolness. It is quiet, birds not yet ready to begin their spring flings. Many animals hibernate or semi-hibernate, and those who don’t, conserve their energy to forage for food. Nature knows better than we how to embrace each season.

Perhaps January is not just a month to endure, but a month to contemplate, dream, rest, find strength of mind and peace of heart to prepare for the energetic demands of spring and whatever the new year may bring.

It is a time to acknowledge there will always be winters in our lives, times that seem bleak.  In seeking to find peace during those times we can be more accepting of them. In allowing ourselves to rest, we will be prepared for what comes next.

Try like the trees to embrace the cool gray skies, to wait in the quiet, while snuggled in, and to listen to the secret murmurs of the new year while learning the lessons of the old.

May your New Year ring in peacefully!

 

 

Solstice

“In a way winter is the real spring, the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.” Edna O’Brien

Living in the woods, I miss the sun on the days it shines because it hides behind tall conifers. Looking forward to the sun coming out of its hiding places!

There is a moody magic to winter with its extremes of brisk windy days and calm still days. Perhaps because the northwest is my birth place and is “in my genes”, I find cloudy days and rain bring comfort. Though there is much going on around us that is upsetting, stirring the energies of our hearts and minds, try tuning into the winter message to go within, find your own stillness, make time to allow yourself to rest and incubate dreams and actions for the new year and prepare oneself for what the new year brings.

Animals know far better than we do how to honor the shifting energies of the seasons, using those shifts for their own well-being.  Some animals hibernate in winter, especially in colder climates, some semi-hibernate, coming out on warmer days to restock winter stores, clean house, and get a little exercise, those who stay active all winter sense the weather changes and behave appropriately, bedding down for a cold winter’s night or storm. A matter of survival? Perhaps we need to learn from them for our own survival! Instead, most of us  ‘soldier’ on at the same pace, winter, spring, summer & fall!

Wishing you peace and love however and whatever you celebrate during this mid-winter time!

Winter posts:

In my last post, Nature’s way & a few mandalas!, there are listed other posts for the Solstice.

The previous post, Decking the halls – wandering thoughts on seasonal decorations, lists many Christmas posts.

Spice up, warm up, your winter days! is good for self care and warm coziness through the winter!

I also highly recommend a blog post from Amadea Morningstar, a person who has been a mentor and Ayurvedic health practitioner in my life. It is a thoughtful piece to consider during these dark days of winter and challenging times, especially as we move to a new year: Moving into the new with intention and the five elements.

 

Nature’s way & a few mandalas!

IMG_0110We humans make much of changing seasons, dividing life cycles into tidy quarters, twelfths, etc. It’s understandable. Dependent on Nature, people have always strived to understand Nature’s transitions, to find order & predictability. Nature’s seasons are more a river whose waters bubble, divert and twirl even while moving predictably in one direction. Water sidetracks into eddies, reversing direction; some into calm pools, resting, taking its time; some rushes predictably, down stream and over cascades. Weather, water and plants challenge our need for predictability in life. Maverick plants bloom “early” or “out of season”, we have a Rhododendron that often blooms a single blossom in September, months after other blooms on the plant have died. Roses love to do this (thus the story of the Christmas rose.) Primulas bloom in early spring, yet the soft yellow one shown above brightens a gray December day with many blooms, joining red winter berries & evergreens. Early? Out of season? To the plant the time is just right! 💚

Nature, like life, is not so predictable!

Enjoy the coming winter solstice!

Solstice posts:

Candlemas & Imbolc

Evening Light & Tagore

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Snow berries brighten winter woods along with a variety of red berries.

 

When carrots give hope!

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

January 20 was an uncomfortable day for many people, myself included. Not wanting to focus on the ‘changing of the guard’ in Washington D.C., and recovering from my second bout of flu/cold virus, I did not want to feed myself, or the universe, fear and negativity. I’d had enough of that. So I went to the woods. A peaceful walk down our trail ended in a place where I often offer prayer. I poured out my heart to the Divine above and the Earth below. Part plea, part invocation, I felt heard in that somewhat quiet place, with Nature as my only witness.

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Turning around, I was enchanted, as always, by the winter sun filtering through the open canopy of a mixed conifer and deciduous forest. The bare branches of giant, aptly named, Big Leaf Maples allow the low, side-ways sun to flood places shrouded in shady tones under the summer canopy. This light will eventually awaken the first signs of wild bleeding hearts, nettles, and other early spring plants, which will thrive until the Maples block the light. But it is early, and the winter has been exceptionally cold for the NW. Here on our hill the ground was frozen with heave and ice crystals from mid-December until just last week. No signs of spring in the woods…but signs of survivors. Impressive are the tender leaves of little-green-plants-whose-names-I-forget that are fresh and green, while others around them succumbed to weeks of being frozen.

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The peacefulness I was feeling as I stooped to photograph the brilliant green glistening water of a wintertime mini-pond was rudely interrupted by loud repetitive gunshot. For the past few years we have been hearing gun shot frequently. A gun enthusiast  seems to spend his free time on holidays and weekends shooting whatever, somewhere across the street from where we live. But this was closer, and louder. After a minute or so of repetitive shots, there was a long volley, and then it stopped. I suspect it was a celebration salute to the moment of transition in D.C.

My moment of woodsy peace was broken. Abby was gone, though I didn’t see her leave. Though I wanted to make a mandala in the woods, I reluctantly walked back to the house to find a shaking dog on the front porch. Not willing to go inside myself, mandala making took place on the back porch, with whatever I found close at hand.

"survivor" carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

“survivor” carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

The biggest surprise find was the carrots. I noticed them when the ground first froze and heaved back in December. Left behind when I dug out our two little rows in the fall, the frozen ground had pushed them up, but also held them tight. I wrote them off as frozen food, soon to be mush when the thaw came. I forgot about them as I struggled through December into the New Year being sick. Frozen carrots in frozen ground were not on my mind!

But on this sunny day, there they were, brightest color around, freshly washed from the rain, half out of the ground, green tops long gone.  They stood like little round-topped, slightly tipsy sentries, and not the least bit mushy! About a dozen carrots, most small, edible, and tasty!

I made my mandala and thanked Mother Nature for giving me a small, somewhat humorous sign, that “we can survive” (and even be bright and colorful doing so!).  The next day, as millions marched peacefully throughout the world, I have no doubt we will!

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A medicine mandala for hope, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial usnea, leaves of pain-relieving fever few, another survivor of the below freezing temperatures.

How did you survive inauguration day?

Survivors

As we dip into the 20s again, I went out to gather bits for a mandala.  After last week’s temperatures in the teens, there are still masses of hardy violet leaves, green and bright, even a few purple buds (two broke off at the base where the ground froze).  The plants look like they think spring has arrived!

I’m always impressed by the tenacity of Nature and these violet leaves are a wonderful example, remaining green as everything around them turned brown under a thin layer of icy snow in below freezing temperatures.

A sage plant has some browning, but hanging in there,  leaves still soft fuzzy green, and of course there’s the conifers, including big Douglas firs (who lost branches in last night’s wind storm) who keep the woods ever-green! The needles I gathered today are going into finishing salt.

Little geranium blossoms greet me from the back window sill every day from a jar where I crammed plant cuttings on a cold day in early December, before the first big chill. Gathering together potted geraniums to put inside, I attempted to dig and pot up a plant growing in a raised bed, only to discover it already had rotten roots. The leaves of the cuttings all turned brown, dried, and fell off, but quickly there were new roots,  new leaves, then tiny clusters of cheery red-orange flowers blooming. Survivors.

img_6871Together my little collection of survivors make up my mandala today.

Now for some sage and violet tea!

(Note: this post was an experiment in posting via a WordPress app on my iPad, using photos taken by iPad camera. Not so pleased with quality of photos, nor limited options posting through the app. Experiment and learn, eh? )

A Christmas Eve lesson from Nature on Gentle Strength

christmas-eve-mandalaAs I thought of each plant while making the mandala above, (neither as pretty or even symmetrical as I’d hoped for Christmas Eve!) I pondered how in Nature gentleness, softness or diminutive size are traits not exclusive of strength and purpose.  A lesson from Nature.

Dusty Miller’s soft fuzzy leaves hardily survive in the garden next to plants blackened by below freezing temperatures. Flexible Cedar trees sway in the wind, thin tops vulnerable to breaking out in strong storms, yet baskets woven of cedar bark will carry stones and some have survived hundreds of years.  Star Anise’s fruit, fleshy and soft, when dried hardens into pods hard as the shells of nuts, protecting tiny seeds.  Delicate white blossoms of the spider plant are fragile, yet spider plant is a powerful detoxifier of polluted air. The Lilliputian ‘cones’, barely noticed on the forest floor, fall from Red Alder, a tree straight and tall whose wood, strong enough for building houses and making furniture, makes for hot fires. (My analogies aren’t a perfect fit, but you get the idea! And there are many more examples!)

The celebration of Christmas focuses on the birth of a tiny babe over 2000 years ago who grew up, according the gospels written after his death, to teach of love and forgiveness, to teach that in the eyes of God everyone was equal and anyone, regardless of social status, whether they were criminals or ‘sinners’, men or women, could find the “kingdom of God within“.   The stories and events of his life will forever be discussed and debated, but it is known that he lived at a very tumultuous time in history and was likely seen as a revolutionary leader with a growing following who, among other acts of defiance, confronted greedy money changers and disagreed with the ‘temple tax’ every man had to pay.  An advocate of the poor and working class at a time of tyrant leaders, Jesus represented a caring, protecting presence and gave hope to those who followed him, but to those in power he was a rebellious troublemaker.  He died young, a victim of political conspiracy because  he was ‘anti-establishment’ and his ability to attracted great crowds of people was a threat to religious and political leaders.  He was, from what was written after his death by those closest to him, a compassionate person, kind to all, who could be strong as steel and hot as fire when he needed to be, especially in the face of what he saw as injustice.

Whether you are celebrating the birth of Jesus this weekend, or the the miracle of light as Hanukkah begins, I hope you have an opportunity to spend time in Nature on these wintry days and see what she has to teach you.  In the winter Nature can be peaceful and calm, for it is a time of rest before the energy burst needed for spring. But she also has a powerful stormy side as witnessed in winter storms.  She can teach us the same lessons that Jesus and other great religious leaders have taught – be gentle when gentleness is needed, and strong when strength is needed.  Love all, protect those in need, and stand up to those who are unjust and driven by greed for power and money.

Not much has changed in 2,000 years has it?

Peace and Happy Holy-days!

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Solstice Thoughts About Our Thoughts

A few seasonal thoughts and a warming recipe with star anise, my gift for you!

from-the-dark-to-the-with-glowHere in Northwest USA, where days are quite short on the Winter Solstice, frosty fog obscures the sunlight, a fitting welcome to this turning of the seasons! Outside my window three deer munch along the trail into our yard, hesitate, and munch back up the trail. I have not seen them in months and it is a sweet solstice gift to know they survived hunting season.

If you are not feeling celebratory as we enter this holiday season, I hope this quote posted on Facebook by a friend, might help you along.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.            img_6473-2
All things break.  And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
L.R. Knost

Christmas and Hanukkah both celebrate hope, love, peace.  Because many are feeling we are entering a time, not of light, but of darkness and despair,  it is doubly important to embrace the message of hope, love and peace and carry it into the New Year in all we do.  Let it influence how we relate to others as we fulfill our responsibilities at work, in our families and in our communities.  Let it influence actions we take, decisions we make.  Most of all, let it be in our thoughts.  Regardless of outer circumstances, or who is in “power” we alone control our thoughts, and our thoughts have power.

I recently listened to an interview with Anthony Ray Hinton, sentence to death for murders he did not commit, held on death row in solitary confinement for 30 years.  His story is compelling. I read other articles and interviews of him, wanting to know all I could about how a person survives such a horrific journey into darkness.  Anthony Ray, a good person, raised to live a decent, law abiding life, was convicted because he was black, though evidence did not prove he was even at the crime scene. Anthony Ray went through many phases of anger, mental escapism, and spiritual faith.  He said he learned he could take his mind wherever he wanted to go. For 30 years he went every where, beautiful places, football games, to visit the Queen of England. No, he did not lose his mind and go crazy.  He survived through the power of controlling his thoughts, for his surroundings and circumstances where not intended for his survival.  He consciously and with intent created a life through mind power, a life he was deprived of by an unjust criminal justice system. Bryan Stephenson, attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative worked for 16 years to open the case with new evidence, and was turned down three times. Finally, the case was reopened, the evidence examined, and April 2015 Anthony Ray was released into a world he knew only in his mind.  (His case was not overturned because of DNA, but DNA testing has resulted in many other people freed after equally long prison terms for crimes they did not commit.)

Anthony’s story is an example of the power of the  mind, not the usual example where people say they ‘manifest’ what they want in their lives, or bring about miracle healings, etc., compelling as some of those stories are.  His story is the power of the mind to bring light and beauty into ones soul regardless of outer circumstances. To survive in the face of feeling powerlessness. It is a story of hope.

Let your mind take you where you want to go in the New Year, let it envision the world as you would like it to be, regardless of how outer circumstances may appear.

Have a wonderful holiday season, celebrating in whatever tradition you celebrate, the message of hope, love and peace!  Let peace guide your actions, carry hope in your mind and love in your heart, even when outer circumstances do not seem to reflect any of these three.

Below – a recipe for a warm, spicy, easy winter comfort food, made from most the elements of this mandala. You’ve probably made it yourself, if not, it’s a yummy treat alone, or as a condiment or sauce with other foods.  To make it sweeter, I recommend adding maple syrup to taste. (Makes everyday morning oatmeal a holiday treat!)

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I’ve add many seasonal mandalas to my mandala page: Flora Mandalas.

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Odsc01752ther posts for the season:

Seasonal Reflections
Sweet Silver Bells
Spice Up Your Winter Days
Christmas
The Turtle and The Star
The Chaplin’s Christmas Message

The View

 

the view on these frosty 24 degree mornings!

the view on these frosty 24 degree mornings!

New day, New Year. Mike and I both having a second go around of a winter bug. Yesterday was Mike’s day of misery, which I was hoping to avoid it, but today Mike is better and I’m miserable (those who’ve had this bug know the misery!) and grumpy, so grumpy Mike called me a professional grump!

The peach tree out my window in winter frost and full of birds, all that is visible is a plump Varied Thrush.

The peach tree out my window in winter frost and full of birds, all that is visible is a plump Varied Thrush.

Yes, grumpy. I was hoping for a healthier start to the New Year. Last year began while I was recovering from a mastectomy, two years ago I was diagnosed with my first bout of invasive breast cancer right before New Year’s Eve. Lots of health challenges and surgeries over the years have given me more than my share of ‘sickly’ New Years! So the ego is grumpy, feeling like I’ve paid my “dues”. I wanted a year that started off relatively healthy, in spite of a painful, dysfunctional knee that has a torn meniscus.

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But as I lay in bed being grumpy, I’m also deeply grateful. Grateful for this view. DSC06244Through decades of health challenges, through the seasons of life, through the seasons of the years, this view of trees….in mid-day sun, or swaying in the wind on a stormy day, or silhouetted in the moonlight… deciduous trees winter bare or green with new spring leaves, towering evergreens reaching for the sky, a flowering currant ablaze in hot-pink blossoms in spring, or it’s bare, red bark branches adding color to the winter landscape….fills my view.

DSC09531When I lay in bed I can watch birds and chipmunks eat the red berries and seek shelter in the Honeysuckle vines covering the garden gate trellis.  Intertwined with pink roses in the summer……they add to a view alive with life, color, and seasonal change.

If I open the window, I sometimes hear birds that fill the branches of the peach tree, or between the car noise on the road, the sound of stillness. The stillness is less and less, but it’s rarity makes it more precious.

peach tree in spring

peach tree in spring

from my bed I only see the trees and sky.

from my bed I only see the trees and sky.

For over 35 years I’ve watched these trees grow, and watched some come down. It is not a ‘picture perfect’ view, not a ‘million dollar’ view…it includes the functional surroundings of our life…a duck coop, a rainwater tank, our trailer, and a garden sometimes lovely, often weedy, in the winter rather bleak. But is it still a window on Nature that keeps me sane when the body has kept me housebound. It is the view I stare at when life has overwhelmed me, when the mind is numb, when my thoughts don’t know what to do with themselves, except stare at the trees. And when I am feeling grateful.

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My 2016 resolution…. let gratitude grow like the trees out my window. Even the most challenged of lives has blessings. May your view in the New Year include seeing your blessings daily. Even when you’re feeling grumpy!

Picture taken through my window last year of occasional visitors.

Picture taken through my window last year of our occasional visitors.

 

 

Sweet Silver Bells

 

IMG_3888Whether silver, brass, tin, ceramic, glass or some other material, bells are as much a part of winter holiday celebrations as holly, mistletoe, and twinkly lights. Bells have a long, rich history, and have been rung for many reasons – to warn people, gather people, guide ships, to celebrate. Bell making grew with the advancement of metallurgy. Beginning in China and spreading throughout Asia, the art of bell making eventually spread to Europe where early monks were among the first to create bells of different distinct tones and use them to create music.

IMG_3858Bells seem to have a role in all major religions and spiritual traditions. Their association with Christmas likely is due to church bells calling people to worship, a tradition some say began with St. Patrick. Church bells called folks to weddings (thus the term ‘wedding bells’), funerals, and other festivities and celebrations. Bells were thought to not only call out to mere mortals, but to ring to the heavens above!

IMG_3892Whatever the reason, bells are a part of Christmas and other winter celebrations…..sleigh bells, silver bells, Salvation Army Bells, jingle bells, bells on elves shoes, on reindeer harnesses, on trees, doors, in choirs and orchestras. There’s a long list of seasonal songs that feature bells. My personal favorite, especially when played by a bell chorus, is “Carol of the Bells”IMG_3951

 


“Sweet silver bells, All seem to say, Throw cares away.”

The original lyrics of Carol of the Bells had nothing to do with Christmas. The song was a Ukranian folk song written as a “winter well-wishing song,” according to Anthony Potoczniak, a Rice University anthropology graduate student who studied the song’s history. Photoczniak explains:

“Written in 1916 by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich and titled ‘Shchedryk’, the song tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful year that the family will have. The song’s [original] title is derived from the Ukrainian word ‘shchedryj’, which means bountiful……”

Potoczniak explains that American choir director and arranger Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovich’s work and it reminded him of bells so he wrote new lyrics to convey that imagery.

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These bells, likely made in India, and have a beautiful floral design on them.

Another favorite is I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day based on a poem Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in 1863, two years after the death of his beloved wife from an accidental fire caused by a candle. Longfellow’s oldest son ran off against his father’s wishes to fight with the Union army and was severely wounded. This news caused the already grieving Longfellow to write this poem of despair, ending with hope. In 1872 the poem was first put to music by English organist John Baptiste Calkin, though there have been many other musical versions of it.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

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Tiny china bells, part of childhood Christmases.

Written during a bloody war that tore our nation apart, by a grieving man, it became a Christmas song of hope, justice, peace.

May the bells on this holy-day, 152 years later, when it again seems “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men” also ring “loud and deep” a message of peace on earth, hope and goodwill to all.

IMG_4028Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Hanukkah blessings……. whatever you celebrate….let your bells ring out!

Read about famous bells, bell making, the story of the largest bell ever made  (it  lays at the bottom of the sea), and a brief history of bells at: historyofbells.com

To read more of the history of:  Carol of the Bells

 

A  youtube version for listening: