Three weeks ago, I opened my home to interested individuals who wanted to experience Advent consciously. My only requirements : commit to all sessions and come on time. Predictably, there was a fallout. What started out as a group of eight has dwindled to six, but last week we started to feel what can arise when a vessel is kept whole by a group of truly committed people with a shared purpose. This year, we are working with the theme “integrity”. On one level it means showing up consistently and on time, being responsible, being true to your word, and on another it means being upright, gathering all our parts towards wholeness and alignment.
Just like that we are at the first week of Advent. Where did all the days go? I can see myself at this very desk last year, in a place where the immediate future seemed crystal clear. Weeks later I was thrown straight into the middle of the unforeseen. It was unexpected, difficult and completely changed the course of my life.
Now here I am again, a deeply changed individual, experiencing this threshold for the umpteenth time but also, it seems, for the first. I carry a wakefulness about the space I am entering. It is dark but not empty. It is full of cosmic possibility. I am meeting the season from a sacred internal space with renewed respect for transitions, deaths and awakenings. We are all there now, in this space of ending a year in our lives, but also marinating in the possibility of what we can create for the next.
That’s how I’ve come to look at our Christmas tree: our story tree. We finished decorating today, two days earlier than usual. When the children were smaller, the tree would suddenly appear on Christmas morning, trimmed and lit. Now that they are older, they ask to help me decorate and do it earlier so that they can have more time to behold it, before they leave for Christmas with their father.
Today, I basked in memories shared as each ornament was retrieved from its sleeping place. “Oh,” someone exclaimed, “we made this in the first grade!” I feigned tears and sobs as I held up the photo ornament of my teenager’s first Christmas. My firstborn. He was five months old. Yes, I dressed him in an outfit complete with a black vest and a tartan bow tie. He was my best Christmas present that year. He was Christmas. That is forever immortalized on our tree.
My younger son, who is always the one who asks when we will trim our tree, went for the little wooden figures given by a friend many years ago. He has started his own tradition of going for them first, hanging a few on the tree, and then sitting down to play with them, forgetting the main task. We always have to lure him back to the tree.
This year the boys tried to put each other’s photo ornaments on the back of the tree where no one would see them. The younger one called the older one mean even as he did the same, and the older one took it as a compliment. Gone are my days of decorating alone in total peace and quiet. This was new and it was all good.
As we recalled the story behind each ornament, we created new memories, new stories we laughed over. I wonder which ones we will remember when we lift our little treasures out again next year. They are not just ornaments anymore, but keepsakes that tell a little something about our past and are placeholders for more stories in our future.
There was a time when my artificial tree was shiny and full, lit from top to bottom, trunk to tip with electric bulbs. I had beautiful ornaments bought by the dozen. I had different sets, too, from the time I had a blue theme, to the time I found a source of very pretty clear ones with artistic swirls on them. I even had plastic grapes that captured the light in a very enchanting way. They were all wonderful, colorful, and random; beautiful yet empty. My trees spoke of sophistication and polish, but none of those ornaments could have told the stories of the simple ones I own today. They have been accumulated over time, some of them handmade by the boys, me, beloved aunts and teachers. Each one has a story, was given by someone who was in our life at one point or another, or was bought with real care and thought. On the eve of the 24th, when the boys are fast asleep, I will finally put the fresh roses on. This I still do myself and they will wake up to the heavenly scent of beeswax and roses–the smell of our Christmas.
Our tree tells the story of a life made simple, a life made real. I am always grateful for this tree and for being able to review the story of my family every year as we say goodbye to the old and usher in the new.
I am not one for parties. I never have been. I’ve organized only two birthday parties of my own: my sixteenth and thirty-fifth, and I have to say they weren’t big by any measure. I have not had any big to-dos since. My older son is much like me. Every year, we celebrate his special day quietly, sometimes he’ll have a friend or two over, but that’s it. For his fourteenth, he asked for Tita Mae’s special sinigang and super adobo and I made sure he had a delicious chocolate cake. He wanted to invite our two other constant boys, but they were abroad. Just us, then. And it was grand.
This year, being his last before he moves to a different high school, he was encouraged by his father to have a party at last and invite friends over. He acceded and I only heard about it when they came home after the usual weekend with their dad, after having already given out the invitations. And that’s when all the earnest mealtime discussions between him and his little brother began. His classmates have younger siblings, and some assumed they were invited as well, though they apparently were not given invitations. I can’t blame them as it is a small school and some get-togethers in the past simply included everyone. My younger son, the party guy, invites more people and doesn’t mind so many people about.
My older boy is a little more circumspect. He worried when he found out cousins were invited as well. He didn’t want to leave anyone out, but he also didn’t want to have to be away from his classmates, or to have to divide his time. He was torn when asked if a good friend and his brother were invited, because he hadn’t planned on it. His focus was really to spend time with his classmates. He said he didn’t want to have to worry about other children. He wanted to just be with his band of friends for once, because it was the first and last birthday party outside of school with them before they all went their separate ways. I encouraged him to stand for what he truly wants. I told him it was his own celebration after all.
I am proud that he wants to be fair and that he doesn’t want to offend anyone, but I am more proud that so far he has held strong for what he wants. I don’t agree with our culture of inviting everyone and their mother to life milestones just because “nakakahiya” or “sasama ang loob”, because to me it takes away from the substance of the celebration. Celebrations are expressions of the soul and I want my children to be as authentic as they can about it, to feel empowered that they can keep things small, simple, and just the way they like it. I go against elaborate celebrations with people you don’t know who are there just because you couldn’t say no. I like my own family celebrations to be full of people I know, like and love. I want the same for my children.
I listened to many conversations between my sons as they threshed out the logistics of this little event, and I was proud that even my younger one understood exactly where his brother was coming from. I felt as though a whole new world was opening up, even for him. He was fully aware that his brother had a different set of needs for this celebration and seemed to have the utmost respect for it. He had one invite for a friend and he chose carefully, bearing in mind his own brother’s goals. I had to laugh inside when he then started asking me how so-and-so ended up at his last party when he didn’t even know them. I was happy to be able to say I had no idea. I don’t practice that at home and I make sure my kids’ celebrations have only their friends in it.
I feel this is a rite of passage for my son, and as his mother I look on with pride as he battles with issues of loyalty, the desire to please everyone, his own emotions, and the struggle to find clarity in his heart to go for what he feels is right. A man who can hold his own against the pressures of conformity is a man who can open the door to change, even as the rest of the world clings to the old. There is nothing I want more for both my sons.
It isn’t just a party after all, is it?
|This ball was lovingly hand-painted by a dear friend, Joy, for the boys.|
|It has their name, the year she gave it and some lovely boughs.|
|This catches the light beautifully. From my lovely friend,
Denise. 2 little baby balls and 1 mama ball.
|Some of them I made.|
|This my child made.|
|This little guy was made by Joy as well.|
|Along with this little fellow.|
|And this cutie is also by my son.|
| These are photo ornaments of my sons, from their first Christmas to the
present. On the left are handmade ornaments from friends and one ornament
that accompanied an I Can Serve Christmas card many years ago.
These are some of the special ornaments we always have on our tree. Each one has a story behind it and is loved and cherished by us. On Christmas Eve I will put the final touches of 30 red roses and 3 white, and the 33 candles which will glow for me and my boys on Christmas morning. Our tree is a story of the life we continue to make together. What’s yours like?
Today is St. John’s Tide, or the Festival of St. John. We celebrate this in the Steiner schools with a story about John, some songs, and a meal of fruit, nuts and honey. In our church, The Christian Community, this festival lasts four weeks.
What is this festival about? First, it is the festival of the human being—-not just any man but an extraordinary human being—-which is what John the Baptist was. Can you imagine being put on earth with the task of preparing the way for the coming of the Christ? I would probably turn back. But he faced it squarely, even if it did mean the end of his earthly life. He knew what his destiny was and fulfilled it with love.
St. John’s Tide is also a harvest festival; a celebration of the summer solstice. Ancient peoples, watching the sun reach its highest point at this time, lit evening bonfires to encourage it to shine and ripen their crops. We come dressed in flaming colors when we celebrate this festival. Some parents have even built real bonfires for their children to experience. I like to think this is a symbol of an inner harvest—a flame that drives us to be better, to purify the old, no matter what our circumstances are.
The message of St. John is clear: Change. Change your thinking. Make straight the crookedness in your soul and in your thoughts. Remove all the obstacles that have kept you stuck in negative cycles. Strengthen the will through spiritual work. In short, get your act together and be all that a human being ought to be.
I think this is particularly relevant today given the way things are in our country. The dissonance is deafening. We are such a Catholic country but also one of the most corrupt with probably one out of every two Catholic husbands fooling around with their Catholic girlfriends (or Catholic KTV girls) while their Catholic wives grin and bear it. Shudder. Let’s not forget the very Catholic president who prays fervently but calls (probably Catholic) Garci on the side.
Change yourself. Make things right, even if the path is difficult and unpopular, because you know that’s what needs to be done so that good can permeate the earth. That’s what John stood for even if it cost him his head. He knew his life meant serving others to make a better world possible. It was his destiny, he saw it clearly and accepted it fully. He met it with strength and grace.
I find these lessons simple yet so profound. If we go by his example, we have an idea of what it means to be human—-to be a vessel through which Christ’s work can be fulfilled. Sure, it no longer means moving rocks and stones that lie on his path the way John did; nor does it mean baptizing people in the river so that they awaken to who they are and change their ways. But it means making a conscious effort to change what we can about ourselves—things we already know must be changed– not just for ourselves but for others. Being a man means being faithful to the demands of the spirit, awake to our life’s task, guided by the courage to go for it. Being human means to harvest and transform the gifts of the earth within us to make our lives matter for mankind.
These are but a few thoughts to help us reconnect with the Christian festivals and discover what they mean for us. John the Baptist was a special man—but a man nonetheless–just like you and me. We celebrate his life and strength by cultivating that which can be extraordinary in us. A bountiful inner harvest to all!
If you’re looking for a fun, simple, yet meaningful way to celebrate Easter, please join us. Just click on the photo to view the details. I shun commercial easter egg hunts because the true meaning of the festival is totally lost and I feel that celebrating the Christian festivals properly is such a gift to the children. There is nothing like celebrating simply but purposefully. I hope to see you there.
Have you started on your Easter tree yet? I’ve gotten some emails from Waldorf moms asking for ideas on how to celebrate Easter with the kids. The basic theme of Easter is renewal and new life, so I made sure to put greens with the branches I found. This is a shot of my very first Easter tree. I put this up several years ago while on vacation. The children and I had lots of fun decorating the eggs. I used both food coloring and natural (from vegetables like beets, onions)coloring. I experimented with beeswax. I also bought those easter egg decorating kits and just used whatever. Then I crocheted little caps to cover the hole on the eggs, though you can tie the string on a bit of toothpick and insert that through the hole. (For the newbies, the hole is there after you’ve blown out the egg.) There’s still time left to do this. It doesn’t have to be so elaborate. You can also do it slowly through the 40 days of Easter so that it can build up through the days and the celebration isn’t focused on just the egg hunt and everyone can feel that Easter is really more of a season. I usually start the day by gathering around the table and lighting a candle then telling an Easter story. After the story, the children can go and hunt for eggs–real eggs, of course, also lovingly prepared (though this time, in secret)and hidden in the garden.