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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 1, number 15
October 2, 2003, Chrysanthemum Day


  • Welcome
  • Update: Michaelmas at the Beach
  • Living in Season: Sukkot - Full Moon Harvest Festival
  • New on the Web Site: October, Stuffed with Holidays
  • New on the Web Site: Links to Sukkot
  • Current Offerings: Halloween Packet
  • Copyright
  • Subscribe - Unsubscribe

Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. And a special welcome to the many new subscribers from Beliefnet. Please forward this newsletter if you enjoy it.

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Update: Michaelmas at the Beach
This newsletter is a little late for 2 reasons:

1) October is stuffed with holidays this year so it took me longer than usual to update it and longer than usual for my hard-working webmistress, Joanna, to set up all the links but it is ready now!

2) I finally took the vacation I've been planning all year — pared down a little from the original plan which was to go to Italy for three weeks. Instead Michael and I enjoyed three days on the Long Beach peninsula at the Lighthouse motel, a place I've been going for years with Chester the Dog, who likes to run on the beach and chase little birds through the surf. The weekend we were gone it was sunny in Seattle (which was experiencing what the Italians call "Michael's little summer," meaning a spate of nice weather around Michaelmas (September 29)) while at the coast it was cool and cloudy. But that was fine as my idea of a good vacation is reading in front of a blazing fire — this time I was lost in 17th century England, doing research for a novel that takes place during the English Civil War.

Living in Season: the Full Moon Feast of Sukkot
Last month I wrote about the full moon of September, celebrated in Japan as the Mid-Autumn Moon. That article was reprinted at www.beliefnet.com (bringing me many new subscribers — welcome!) and inspiring me to focus on this month's full moon holiday.

The full moon has always been prime time for celebrations, both because of the brilliance and beauty of moonlight which makes it possible for people to travel and gather at night, and also for that extra burst of exuberant sociable energy that has always been linked with the full moon (hence the word lunatic).

Full moons gather around them an abundance of rituals and this one is no exception. In ancient Greece, it was the culmination of the women's only festival of Thesmophoria (which honored Demeter). On this full moon, the Chinese opened the temple of the God of Wealth. And the ancient Romans made offerings at wells and fountains to the Camanae, oracular water nymphs. But I'm going to focus on one festival which is still going strong: the Jewish harvest celebration of Sukkot, which begins at sundown on October 10th.

I've never celebrated Sukkot, although I've enjoyed the beauty of early autumn evenings in the sukkah constructed by my friend Rose on the deck outside her house in Wallingford (that's Seattle, not England). As a person with many Jewish friends but little practical experience with Jewish ritual, I've always been leary of describing Jewish holidays I haven't experienced. But my current interest in this holiday was piqued by an email from one of my readers, Charity Dell, who has developed a Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles celebration for her pentecostal church in
New Jersey.

I've always been an advocate for adapting holiday customs to suit your beliefs and your place on earth. People have been doing this forever. Christians found pagan symbols useful for expressing their beliefs (for instance, Christ as the light in the darkness at winter solstice) and later African slaves, forbidden to worship their deities, found in the images of Catholic saints, equivalents to Erzulie and Ogun whose holidays they could then adopt in the syncretic practices that came to be known as Voodoo. So I appreciated Charity's flexibility, enthusiasm and inclusiveness.

Charity first experienced a church Harvest festival when she was a child attending a black pentecostal church. The church was decorated with autumn produce, like fruits and nuts, while cans and bags of dried beans lined the altar steps. The festival lasted for seven days (just like Sukkot) from Sunday to Sunday during the last week of October, and the services were held at night. The kids marched around the sanctuary with noise-makers and party roll-outs singing "Bringing in the Sheaves" while the ladies waved large handkerchiefs and the men waved Bibles.

Much later, after she'd finished graduate school, Charity started researching Jewish and Christian festivals and realized her little church had been celebrating Sukkot-they just didn't know how to build a sukkah or where to get a lulav. She writes "once a Jewish friend donated a lulav to me after the festival and I saw a 4-year-old boy's eyes light up with delight, I was hooked, and it's been lulavs and etrogs ever since!"

In Charity's church, they usually celebrate Sukkot around October 31st, as a Biblical alternative to Halloween (although I'd argue that it is perfectly Christian to pray for the dead and ask for the blessings of the wise ones (saints and prophets) who have gone before us — but that's a topic for Halloween). But in the Jewish festival calendar, where holidays are still tied to the rhythms of the moon, Sukkot is celebrated on the full moon of Tishri (on October 10, this year).

Sukkot has many names including the Festival of Ingathering, (pointing to its old roots as a harvest festival) and the Festival of Booths (as the harvesters lived in huts in the harvest fields).

At Charity's church, the celebration is designed to be include as many people as possible and involve all the senses: taste, touch, sight, sound, smell and movement. People take turns reading from the Bible, performing the hakafot, dancing, etc.

Many Sukkot customs have become beautifully embroidered over time with layers of interpretation and symbolism. Many could be adapted to fit your harvest celebration.

The sukkah, from which the festival takes its name, is a shelter, loosely constructed of branches, open enough so one can see the stars through the roof, decorated with fruits of the harvest. The family takes all of their meals in the Sukkah, and when possible, sleeps there as well, in "the presence ofGod."

The lulav is a blessing branch,usually made from a palm, a willow and a myrtle, all of which have symbolic significance. It is waved in six directions (east, west, north, south, up and down) to acknowledge the divinity in the universe. It is also waved during the psalms of praise.

Hakafot means processing seven times around the sacred space, while waving lulavs and etrogs (a citrus fruit-Charity writes they often substitute lemons, limes and tangerines for the younger children as etrogs are too heavy).

In her celebration, Charity includes lots of singing, dancing (she teaches the hora and people dance to a mixture of klezmer, Messiancic Jewish, black gospel, Latino gospel and Israeli folk music) and feasting. This is a festival of joy, in fact the Talmud says that if you have not experienced it you do not know joy.

Try adapting these ideas for your harvest celebration. Build a sukkah in your back yard. Wave a lulav in six directions at your harvest feast. Write and recite a psalm of praise to the Earth for the blessings you've received. You've already missed a few opportunities for harvest feasting:
Autumn Equinox, September 23 (this year) Michaelmas, September 29
but you still have other opportunities:

  • Sukkot, October 10 - feast under the full moon
  • Canadian Thanksgiving, October 18 (this year)
  • Czech Thanksgiving, October 28
  • Martinmas, November 11
  • American Thanksgiving, November 27 (this year)

New on the Web Site: October
The October calendar is now up and it's a fat one: stuffed with holidays, like the roast goose one might eat on Czech Thanksiving, including Chrsyanthemum Day (Oct 2), Yom Kippur (Oct 6), Dictionary Day (Oct 15), the Orionid meteor showers (Oct 21) and Diwali (Oct 24).

New on the Web Site: Links to Sukkot
There's a lot of information about Sukkot available on the Web. Charity Dell sent me a list of links you can find on my links page, plus my own recommendations!

Current Offerings: Halloween Packet
It's time to order you Halloween packet if you want to receive it in time for planning your celebration of Samhain, Halloween or Days of the Dead. This illustrated, 40+ page portfolio includes:

A panoramic review of how Days of the Dead has been celebrated, including Guy Fawkes, I Morti, All Souls, Samhain & Martinmas

  • How this holiday evolved-a history of our alienation from the ancestors
  • The last of the autumnal transformation mysteries: making cider
  • Divinations for this particular crack between the worlds
  • Recipes for traditional foods like dead man's bones, sugar skulls, bread of the dead and soul cakes
  • Instructions for making skulls, masks and turnip lanterns
  • And much more.

$9 plus $2 shipping and handling. Please allow ten days for delivery. An email version is also available for $8. It will be sent as an attached Word file within three days of receiving your order. You can order through our store.

Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2003.
All rights reserved. You may reprint material from Living in Season in other electronic or print publications as long as you credit me and provide a link to: http://www.schooloftheseasons.com. Please send me a copy of the publication.

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