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The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 25, 2018 at 12:02 am

Alt, Advent Cal. 25Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

THE EXTRA DOOR:

Advent calendars usually only have 24 doors, ending on Christmas Eve. But as the Merry Midwinter calendar has in no way resembled an ordinary advent calendar so far, I thought that an extra door would be appropriate.

This is a door which I want you to open literally. It is the door to your home… your own front door. Step outside it. Take some deep breaths. If anyone is walking past, smile and call a seasonal greeting to them. If anyone is driving past, smile and give them a cheery wave. Look around you. Notice the buildings, the trees, the plants, birds and animals. Know that you are connected to them all. Know, too, that in some measure you are also responsible for them all. They are a part of you and you are a part of them. Nothing is isolated or separate in this world – this is an illusion which humanity has built up around itself out of fear or a feeling of superiority. Give to ALL your appreciation and thanks on this very special and blessed day.

Think back over some of the things which you have done this past twentyfour days. Did you find them easy… difficult.. challenging… satisfying… heartwarming, …distressing… enjoyable? What do you think the effects of your endeavours might have been? Was it worth it? (Although you can never really tell exactly what effect your actions may have had on others.) How do you feel about your Advent activities now? How have they made you feel?

It was suggested that you did these little acts of thoughtfulness and kindness for the community around you in the run up to our very special Midwinter celebrations to help you get into the spirit of things. But why stop doing this sort of thing now, just because we have reached the 25th December? Does a certain date mean that we can forget to be kind, to take care, to be involved and actively concerned, to show our love?

When you return inside, I would like you to open another door… an extremely special and unique door – the door to your heart.

A very merry Christmas to you all, with my love.

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 24, 2018 at 10:44 am

Alternative Advent Calendar 24Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER TWENTYFOUR:

Mother’s Night.

This is it… Christmas Eve and the last door of the Advent Calendar! However there is an extra door which I would like you to open tomorrow – Christmas Day – can you guess what might be behind it?

Today’s door is not really about today but about this evening. In many places around the world, but especially in Britain and parts of northern Europe this is when Mother’s Night is celebrated. The archetypal ‘mother’, grandmother’ or ‘crone’ is an ancient feminine figure – in the singular or plural – and predates many of the more recent masculine deities.

In Italy there is Santa Lucia; in Russia, Snegurochka; in Germany, Frau Holle and her sacred work of birthing souls into life on Earth but also birthing souls back out of earthly life onto a higher plain. She then became translated into English as Mother Holly while here in Wales we have the goddesses Modron and Rhiannon. Looking at the 25th December as the day when the solar event of the Solstice is completed and the Sun/Light is reborn – as reflected historically in the celebration of the birth or rebirth of so many solar deities such as Isis, Mithras and Apollo – the night before any birth must surely be spent with the mother in labour – as with Mary in the stable before giving birth to Jesus.

However you look at it, this is a sacred time when the feminine aspect within all of us is called upon to birth this annual celebration into our world and nurture those around us. Your task for today – or this evening – is to remember your own mother, or the woman or women who have fulfilled that role for you at different times in your life. If she is still with you on this Earth perhaps you might like to take a few minutes to tell her that you love her and thank her for all she has done for you.

Conversely, as a mother yourself, you might wish to gather your children about you and let them know how much you love them – or if they are not with you, then pick up the phone and call them.

At the same time, do not forget to honour that of the Mother and that aspect of a tender, nurturing nature within yourself – whether you be male or female – we all have a feminine side to our nature.

This evening, when all the last minute preparations have been seen to and the rest of the family has bustled away to finish wrapping their gifts or flake out in front of the television or whatever it is they need to do, find a quiet corner for yourself. Light a single candle and pour yourself a glass of good wine – or make yourself a hot non-alcoholic drink if you prefer. Sit quietly and think about this sacred feminine role which so many of us seek, to some degree, to fulfil… or sometimes totally avoid. How do you demonstrate your feminine aspects? How have you seen others demonstrate theirs? What is so especially important about them? Why do we thrive surrounded by feminine care and attention and crave it and suffer if it is missing from our life?

Acknowledge and celebrate the mother(s) in your life, including your own mothering capabilities, and also remember the greatest mother figure we have which is the Earth herself. Be gentle in your evaluation and reflection.

My greatest respect to all of you who are filling the role of ‘mother’ tonight.

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 23, 2018 at 11:02 am

Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

Alternative Advent Calendar 23DOOR NUMBER TWENTYTHREE:

Bless your home.

It’s getting very close to Christmas Day now. there may be chaos on the kitchen, pandemonium in the sitting room, hysteria in the hall and tears in the bedroom… so now is exactly the time to STOP. Stop everything that you are doing and put the kettle on, or get out that half drunk bottle of wine… that box of gorgeous biscuits or chocolates you were keeping… or put some mince pies in the oven to warm. You are going to take a few minutes break.

Sit down, put your feet up.

You may wish to keep this moment of relative calm to yourself – and that is absolutely fine, you owe it to yourself – or you may decide to extend this brief oasis of sanity and peace to the rest of the family or other people resident where you live. If you choose the latter, put on some Christmas music, put more water in  the kettle, get more glasses out of the cupboard, sacrifice more biscuits/chocolates/pies or other goodies.

After all, THIS is Christmas. All this work, panic, running about is all a part of our winter celebration. Yes, there are certain chores which need completing, specific things which have to be done. It is not so much what needs doing as your frame of mind while you are doing it which is important. In extreme circumstances, you may have to decide that some things just will not get done. Even with help from others we have to be realistic and admit that we do only have so much energy, time (or money); that perhaps we have been a bit too ambitious this year – or have had other more important activities which have taken our time. So be honest with yourself. Prioritise. Shelve the rest!

We do not have to spend all of these lovely, exciting pre-Christmas days rushing around trying to make everything perfect. Very often we are only doing these things on our own account. We have the idea of how our Christmas is going to be and come hell or high water, that is what everyone is going to get. It doesn’t have to become a contest. For those things which are an absolute must, see if there is anyone who can give you a hand… or is there something that you can buy instead of bake?

NOW is what is important. It is the accidents, chaos and things that went wrong which tend to cause the most hilarity and stick in the memory long afterwards. So as the kettle comes to the boil, smile and take a deep breath. Sit yourself down with whatever drink you have chosen, put your feet up – literally – close your eyes and simply take in what is around you… the sounds and smells of your home… the decorations which are or aren’t yet up, the warmth, the smells of incense, fruit, cooking, perfume, flowers, (the wet dog!); the sounds of the cat purring, rain beating on the window, music playing, birds chirping outside (have you fed them today?) or perhaps just blessed silence… and stillness.

Can you begin to see and understand how lucky you are, to have what you already have? No matter how imperfect… how incomplete.

If you decide to call your family or friends into the room to share your little respite from all the seasonal hurly-burly, give them this as a gift. Greet them with a smile (no matter how you might have had to crack you face to force it on to your features) and a bright welcome to come and take a break. Give them a warm hug… make a little joke as you hand round the drinks and goodies. Again, think how lucky you are – some people would give everything they have to be able to sit with others as you are doing now.

This is what it is all about. And not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.

Now take that break!

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 22, 2018 at 7:43 am

Alternative Advent Calendar 22Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER TWENTYTWO:

Deep appreciation.

Following on from the solar event of the Winter Solstice yesterday, the feeding of the birds or other wildlife and the setting of personal intentions for the coming year, it is a good idea to spend a little time today focusing on the Earth itself.

If the weather permits, step outside for a few minutes. Close your eyes and breath deeply… yes, even breathing in the fumes of the city, because we have created them – are responsible for them – and they are also a part of our world.

Feel the ground beneath your feet. You are standing on it with all the weight of your body. Really register that there is something solid beneath you, that this is planet Earth which nurtures and supports us in every physical way. Send feelings of deep appreciation down through your body and out of your feet into the ground and deep into the Earth. Where would we be without it? That might sound like a silly question but think about it. This is our land, our place, our planet. And what have we done to it? So take this opportunity to begin to reverse our thoughtless and ignorant despoiling of this incredible place and replace our rape and ruination of it with some very personal and sincere gratitude and thanks.

Next turn your attention to the air which you are breathing. It may be flawed and polluted, but then again, imperfect as it might be, where would we be without it? Simply focus on the fact that we have an atmosphere to breath and that it gives us life. As you breath out, with every exhalation, breath out your appreciation and thanks.

Now pause to consider all the wondrous species of animals, insects, birds and fish which inhabit the globe, in, on and under this earth of ours. All the amazing, bizarre and stunningly beautiful forms of life which breath the same air, eat, sleep and live their own lives along side us. How privileged we are to co-exist with so much rich and fascinating diversity – and you might also wish to extend this to the human species as well. Actively become aware of sending out your appreciation of all.

Finally, bring your mind to bear on all the gorgeously lush mantle of plant life which cloaks our world; which is mind-blowingly beautiful with a staggering ability to survive and thrive… which feeds, protects, shelters and heals us and which also acts as the filter and lungs of the planet and without which we could not breath.

Send some deep appreciation out from the centre of your chest – from your heart – to all these numerous and stunning life forms. They all play an integral part in the place and survival of the human race. We are all physically made up of earthly molecules and energetic matter; we are all connected to each other by our common source of physical origin.

This concept might make you feel uncomfortably small. Conversely it might succeed in giving you the impression of being a part of something so much greater, so much more amazing, so much more wondrous and beautiful than we could ever be just on our own. Life – ALL life – is truly incredible and, whether we like it or not, we are all a part of it. Surely this is something to celebrate and rejoice in?

So, at least for today, appreciate your natural world around you and acknowledge with gratitude your place within the whole grand scheme of things.

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 21, 2018 at 10:26 am

Alt, Ad, Cal,21Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER TWENTYONE:

Sow some seeds.

This is the day – the Winter Solstice! In our whole year this is the day of least daylight, (the ‘shortest day’) and the longest night, or greatest length of darkness. The word ‘solstice’ comes from the Latin solstitium which means ‘sun stands still’ and marks the time when the days get neither shorter or longer but appear to pause… until the morning of the 25th December when the increase in daylight is once more perceptibly measurable by just over one minute and so is looked upon as the day of the birth or re-birth of Light and the Sun/Son.

Today we can definitely turn our faces away from the past year and the recent dark and dreary days towards the new year, the springtime, the lighter, longer, warmer days. This is not to say that the cold, miserable days of winter are over – we have hardly begun with the really bad weather yet! – but it does mean that we have turned the corner. For some time yet the hours of daylight will still be terribly short but the quality of the daylight will have changed; the actual darkness becomes a little less dense and the daylight takes on a brighter quality.

Which is why today – and Christmas morning – are times of great celebration. If you have been following the old Celtic calendar then you might have spent from the end of October (the Celtic new year) metaphorically hibernating; slowing down on all the hustle and bustle of life and seeking quieter, more sedentary occupations… turning within and taking time to re-evaluate all that you have done and all that has happened in your past year. Just as importantly you might have been thinking where you go and what you do next.

This is the day to literally begin to put those new plans into action! These are the ‘seeds’ that I am referring to. Your hopes, dreams, wishes and plans for the coming few months. But it is not much use if you are indecisive, unsure, or want to achieve something but are already convinced that it will never really happen. You have to be firm in your intention and very clear about exactly what you do want out of life. You don’t have to understand or work out how you might accomplish it, simply know that this is what you want and this is what you are going to get.

First of all you have to decide what you want. Next, write each aim, goal or wish very clearly on a small piece of paper and fold it up tightly. Then I want you to literally plant them in the ground (whether that be a pot of soil, out in your garden, in your local park or on a piece of waste land. Know that your wishes will grow out of the soil with whatever else emerges from the soil into the spring light and warm summer sunshine.

As the daylight fades – or later this evening in the inky darkness – you might like to light one or more candles or tea lights. Place one in the centre to represent and encourage the returning central Sun, then light others to represent each of your wishes for the coming year and place them in a circle around your Sun candle, then sit with them for a little while and contemplate what you have just done.

And for those of you who have planned to give your local birds/wildlife a feast today, don’t forget to put it out for them.

May I wish you all a gentle Solstice filled with good thoughts, positive actions and peace.

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 20, 2018 at 8:51 am

Alternative Advent calendar 20Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER TWENTY:

The unexpected gift.

I have already mentioned various aspects of this idea several times during the course of this Alternative Calendar, but I don’t think that it can be overstated at any time of the year, let alone at the key point in our annual cycle when giving is so prominently in our thoughts. Midwinter/Christmas is traditionally the time to give of our time, goods, resources and love. We offer selfless acts of hospitality, money, hard work , time, care and thought more freely at this time of year than at any other.

Traditionally, Midwinter has always been a time of peace… a time to lay down one’s arms when weaponry was locked away – banned – and even hostile factions could come together – think of the iconic truce between the Germans and the Allied Forces during Christmas, 1914 – they were instinctively following an ancient tradition.

We may not now be at actual war (although there are far too many places on the planet that are) but we all experience problems and challenges with people we either do not like for some reason, have had differences of opinion with in the past, or simply do not know, but in our ignorance feel wary or suspicious of.

Today I want you to extend the hand of friendship to one of these people in your life. They are all just regular human beings going about their business, like you; struggling with such challenges as illness, exhaustion, lack of money, difficult jobs, oppressive employers and difficult or worrying relatives. There is enough prejudice and hostility in the world. There is no justification for it. Be the first to activate a change… to initiate something better… to break down the barriers of ignorance, suspicion, resentment and fear.

Yes, there are some people who, for no reason… no fault on their part or yours, you simply cannot take to. That is simply a fact of life. No one is asking you to be best buddies with everyone, but that is also no reason why you shouldn’t be courteous, considerate and offer a friendly smile, word or comment whenever you come into contact with them… no reason why you shouldn’t be aware if they are in distress and perhaps, just for once, need your company, time and support.

This Midwinter, let your inner light of friendship and care shine out of you. Choose someone you either do not know or do not particularly like. go out of your way to speak to them kindly, write and personally give to them a Christmas card (doesn’t matter if they do not share your religious beliefs – we all understand something kindly and sincerely meant), or find a very simple and inexpensive gift to pass on to them – the gift of light is a really good choice and so appropriate for this time of year, so perhaps a couple of coloured candles tied with a silk ribbon? Simple but useful, appealing and topical. It isn’t the item itself, it is what it represents.

You never know, in the process you might just discover an absolute gem of a person who becomes a very dear friend.

What have you to loose? But what might you stand to gain in terms of friendship, good will, future co-operation and understanding.

Go on, give it a go!

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 19, 2018 at 8:07 am

Alternative Advent Calendar 19Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER NINETEEN:

Tell someone you love them.

As mature, rational adults we are encouraged not to show our deeper feelings, although thankfully this has begun to change over recent years. Many people assume that their nearest and dearest must know that they care, so why state the obvious? But conversely, I would ask why not? We have got very much better at showing our feelings, but not at expressing them verbally.

It is a sad fact that often, if you tell someone you love them, they respond with suspicion: ‘Why, what do you want?’ or fear, ‘Is something wrong?’ ‘Are you ill?’ How dreadful is that? Why should something have to be dire before it is acceptable to express our most dearly held feelings?

Bite the bullet! Today make a point of saying to someone how much you care. For a friend you may wish to tell them how much you appreciate them being in your life, how much you care for them; for a child, parent or partner how much you love them. It is good to clear one’s throat and actively, openly speak out. These days we are encouraged to speak our truth, to let the world know how we feel, to not just merely defer to others but to speak up for ourselves, so why not apply the same principles to expressions of care, gratitude, fondness and love?

In this modern age of numerous technical devices which all make it so much easier to connect with one another, one of our greatest downfalls is still our bad communication skills. All the devices in the world are not going to solve the problem for us if we still have difficulty actually  articulating the words and recognising and acknowledging the sentiments behind them.

It is good to hear these words of affection too. Sounds good in your own ears and certainly sounds good to other people. Have a practice while you are by yourself. Go on. Say ‘I love you’ out loud… now. And don’t forget yourself in all this. Tell yourself how much you really care too. We habitually leave ourselves out and although this Alternative Advent Calendar is focused on what we can give to others in the run up to Christmas, in this instance, telling yourself how much you care is also a gift because we so often ignore ourselves, deprecate ourselves, or at the very least leave ourselves out of any appreciation or consideration.

I shall start the ball rolling. To all of you who are reading this now, I care very deeply about you, even though I might not know who you are, and if you were standing here in front of me now I would give you a great big smile and open my arms to you and give you a great big bear hug. I truly and deeply appreciate all my readers.

Now it’s your turn. Be bold. Be definite. Stop beating about the bush. Do it. Make someone’s day. Tell those around you just how much you care.

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 18, 2018 at 7:21 am

Alternative Advent Calendar 18Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER EIGHTEEN:

Share a living gift.

Decide who you might like to give a living plant to this Christmas and make time to visit your local open air market or garden centre to choose one. Or perhaps you have an abundance of plants already potted up in your own garden? I particularly like to give pots of my scented geraniums as gifts, especially at this, the darkest, dreariest time of year. Fresh green growth and sweetly scented foliage brings a vibrant message of springtime, warmth, optimism and hope.

If you have a garden – or even a small back yard – you might like to plan growing some plants to give as gifts for Christmas 2019. This is really a project for the new year, but you may like to give it a thought now as an antidote to all the other Midwinter thoughts whirling around in your head right now.

Growing something from seed and watching it develop and flourish can be amazingly satisfying and bring much joy with it too. You needn’t tackle anything difficult or complicated. Culinary herbs are a perennial favourite and you can group three or four together in a broad-topped pot to make a really attractive and useful display – sage, thyme, oregano and chives are all very easy to grow (but there are lots of others too) and will happily co-exist together. When the time comes to distribute your gifts, clean the outside of the pot by scrubbing it with water and a stiff brush, allow to dry and then tie some brown (compostable) paper around the pot with a broad silk ribbon and there you have the perfect gift, all natural, useful, recyclable.

Whether you grow your own pot plants or buy them, giving the gift of a growing plant is a wonderful thing to do because it changes the whole ambience of any room or area it stands in, just as cut flowers improve and lift the mood and feeling of wherever they stand. A growing plant changes the energies around it and helps to bring us into right relation with our natural environment. They can help to balance and heal us, which is why we take flowers to a sick person.

So I will repeat, take a few moments today to think who you would like to give the gift of living growth to this week, and then have a bit of fun choosing the plant and ‘dressing’ it ready to present to it’s new owner. Remember to take some pleasure and fresh living energies from the task yourself. Who said that giving to others couldn’t bring its own rewards to the giver too?

Enjoy!

N.B. If you are tempted to re-pot any plants at this time of year, think twice about it… they can catch cold… and certainly never pot anything up (or plant it out, for that matter) if the weather is very cold or frosty.

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 17, 2018 at 7:04 am

Alternative Advent Calendar 17Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER SEVENTEEN:

This is it! Monday again and the beginning of the last full week before Christmas. Still so much to do/buy/achieve? Consequently ‘Monday blues’ might be greatly multiplied this particular week. We are all subject to such reactions and stresses. Everyone is in the same boat… more or less. (An unfortunate number of people might feel that they have completely fallen out of the boat and are thrashing around in choppy, inhospitable waters.) But this is the very time that you need to take action to combat the strain of getting it right… doing your best… not letting everyone else down – both for yourself and others around you.

So today, I want you to make people laugh – or at least bring a smile to their faces. Tell a joke (even if it makes the listener groan… it’s an inverted form of laughter), try a little gentle teasing, act the clown… do a silly walk or dance, cross your eyes or pull funny faces (so long as the wind doesn’t change and they stick like that!). Surprise people – even shock them a little – that will also help to loosen their reserve and bring the reaction of laughter to the surface.

Break the tension. Everyone and everything gets so serious and intense, especially at this highly emotionally charged time of year. Just make one person smile and then feel how the whole atmosphere around both of you changes. How do you feel now? Do you also feel different… better… more relaxed… lighter of heart? It’s be a win/win situation.

If you are staying in at home today, or work on your own, pick up the phone and give someone a call and bring a smile to their lips… a chuckle in their throats… a grin to their face… a belly laugh to the world.

Remember that laughter is also very beneficial – it promotes good health. It lowers blood sugar levels, boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Physically it also tones muscles, improves respiration and circulation. Emotionally it unleashes inhibitions, and lowers barriers generating better communication and team building and encourages positive thinking. What an amazing cocktail of wonderful benefits!

Yes, people might think that you have suddenly taken leave of your senses. The down side is that some people prefer to wilfully remain miserable and can grow increasingly cross the more you try to jolly them along. If you come across someone like that, don’t upset them even more, leave them to it. There are plenty more to crack a joke with!

Happy Monday everyone – at this very darkest time of the year go and spread a little metaphorical sunshine!

The Alternative Advent Calendar

  • Posted on December 16, 2018 at 8:39 am

Alternative Advent calendar 16Merry Midwinter’s countdown to Christmas with a difference!

DOOR NUMBER SIXTEEN:

Give someone the unexpected pleasure of a Christmas stocking.

As children, many of us – if we were lucky – have known the excitement of finding a bulging, knobbly stocking at the bottom of our bed on Christmas morning. The joy of lying in the dark, tentatively prodding, poking and investigating all the tantalisingly anonymous shapes and anticipating just what they might be could be almost more satisfying than unpacking it all!

Why not bring a measure of that same excitement and – in this case – unlooked-for pleasure and anticipation into the life of an adult this year? Perhaps an elderly relative or neighbour… or as an alternative Christmas gift for a work colleague or friend… or the harassed lass working flat out on the checkout at your local shop or supermarket… or the homeless person sitting in the street? If you wish to avoid possible embarrassment you may wish to contrive to give your stocking anonymously.

Yes, it does take just a little time and thought but no, it doesn’t have to involve much financial outlay – in fact it is better if doesn’t because your actual gift is surprise, anticipation and a return to uncomplicated childhood rather than one of adult expense and glitz.

Start off by buying a pair of socks – ordinary socks or slipper socks – one of which will be used to hold everything else and the other one which you can roll up and stuff into the toe of your ‘Christmas stocking’ so that the pair may be worn normally after Christmas. Of course, the rest of the contents may be as varied as you could possibly wish, but try and stick to useful and inexpensive with a dash of indulgence, so you might include things like a pen and notebook, a comb, nice soap, a bar of chocolate or a little bag of sweets… just simple, useful, everyday sort of items. Wrap each individual item and of course, don’t forget to add the traditional absolute prerequisites of an apple, clementine or orange and a few chocolate (or real) coins into the foot of the stocking along with its rolled up mate.

This form of presentation, (and consequent constriction on size), can be adapted to form a very special gift for someone close to you – perhaps the significant ‘other’ in your life. Then you can allow your imagination to take flight and be as imaginative and lavish as you you want!

But for now, just stick to cheap and cheerful… and that all important element of surprise at being given what is , ostensibly, a child’s gift, but with an adult interpretation. After all, why should children have all the fun?

Having said that, planning a Christmas stocking for some unsuspecting grown-up can provide just as much pleasure for the giver as the recipient.

Happy days to all you would-be Father Christmases!

 

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