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Living in Season from Waverly Fitzgerald

Living in Season
The official newsletter of School of the Seasons

November 24, 2006


My Season: Buy Nothing Day
Seasonal Quote: Thomas Merton
Living in Season: Gift Giving at Yule
Holiday Packet: Yule
Yule Gifts from School of the Seasons
Advent Sunwheel
Thirteen Cookies
Signs of Winter
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Welcome to my semi-monthly newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. We've finally updated the newsletter format so we can provide a much prettier version.

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My Season: Buy Nothing Day

Just before I sat down to work on this newsletter, I was watching TV and most of the commercials were promoting Thanksgiving weekend sales.

It's easy for me to resist these messages. Mainly because I hate shopping. Always have. I'm the sort of person who doesn't go to a store unless I already know what I want. I march in, buy the item I want, and march back out again as quickly as possible. I have friends who are artists of shopping, who approach it with a creative flair. Not me. Perhaps it's due to childhood memories of standing around in department stores during back-to-school sales while my mother outfitted each of her three children. But that doesn't make sense either because we all went to Catholic school and wore uniforms so back-to-school shopping would have been a breeze.

But there are other reasons I won't go shopping this weekend. I hate crowds. I hate driving. It is cold and dark and wet here in Seattle. And I don't get up at 5 in the morning, which is apparently the best time to start shopping on this weekend. I'm also supporting the National Buy Nothing Days (Nov 24 and 25), loosely sponsored by Adbusters, an organization which advocates stepping back from the rampant consumerism of Christmas. Their point seems to be that consumption causes ecological and economic ills. I believe it also causes spiritual damage and that it is at odds with our natural tendencies at this time of year.

But I have to admit that despite all my good reasons to avoid shopping, I was occasionally tempted by the idea of obtaining some item I've always wanted at some incredibly low price. And that made me wonder if the impulse to shop on this weekend might spring from a reaction to the emptiness of winter, which becomes so obvious on this holiday weekend, when there is not much to do but cook and eat. Perhaps we crave lights, parties and shopping in the winter because it's so uncomfortable to sit with the quiet and the stillness of the season.

My plan for this Thanksgiving weekend is simple. I plan to stay inside as much as possible. I'm hibernating. But I've got plenty to keep me busy. I'm writing a novel (I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month for the fifth year in a row), trying out new recipes (I love cooking on Thanksgiving even if I'm not hosting a big dinner party), putting the year's photos into a photo album and organizing the souvenirs I've collected during the year as I get ready to tell the story of the year during the Twelve Days of Christmas.

May you enjoy the peace and quiet of winter,
Waverly Fitzgerald

Seasonal Quote

We are going through the grey cold days that come just before Christmas, which seem empty but are really very wonderful. You miss their emptiness there, where you have stores all over the place. Here there are no shop windows, only the bare trees, and a marvelous silence, and the rain. And fasting.

— Thomas Merton in a letter to Jacques Laughlin dated 12/21/1953

Living in Season: Gift Giving at Yule

The connection between Christmas and present-giving is fairly recent. In earlier times, people gave small symbolic gifts at Christmas time, gloves, pins, a coin, flowers, candy, a clove-studded orange, or sugar-coated figs. These were usually New Year's gifts, small tokens to indicate wishes for luck or prosperity during the coming year.

Unfortunately, in twentieth century America, spurred on by the advertising industry and the enormous boon for retail businesses, the giving of presents has become a major focus of the holiday season. All too often this practice becomes a burden, causing financial and emotional hardship.

The simplest way I've found to get off this Christmas gift-giving merry-go-round is to refuse to go shopping at all. Luckily my daughter was a somewhat cynical adolescent before I made this choice. The winter holiday season has always been a time for honoring the child, whether that child is the Baby Jesus or the New Year's baby, so a less radical solution might be to give gifts only to children.

Several years ago, my daughter and I decided to make all of our Christmas gifts (we agreed that birthdays would be the time for store-purchased gifts). That year I made her a hand-painted silk scarf and a flannel nightgown. She gave me pictures she had painted. In subsequent years our gifts have included flannel sheets, a bracelet and earrings, a hand-painted ceramic mug, a warm winter hat. One year, when she was gone visiting her dad for Christmas, I painted the walls of her room in colors she had chosen.

Although I stopped buying major presents for my daughter, I do buy gifts in certain categories which have become traditional. I always buy her an ornament, gloves, socks, a book to read, a new calendar and a game to play in those empty hours of Christmas afternoon.

Besides making gifts for my daughter, I also make small token gifts for other people. That first year, I wrote stories about our pets — Chester the Dog, and Faithfull the Cat — and Shaw illustrated them. We had them photocopied and bound into little books which we distributed to close friends. We are still reading that little book together, as well, and it has become even more precious now that Chester died.

For other Christmases, I've designed other books, including the original version of the Thirteen Cookies book which I sell at my web site and a collection of seasonal haikus and photographs. This year, I'm compiling the research I did for my Twelve Days class last year.

I don't always make a book each Christmas. One year I gave out hand-made soap and another year I made decorative tin lanterns. I have a friend who always makes a tape of his favorite music for the year — these tapes are treasured bits of history as they chart his evolving taste in music. Other friends give gifts of food: a loaf of pumpkin bread, a jar of chutney. Although these creative projects are probably more time-consuming than shopping, they are much more satisfying. It's a great way to withdraw your support from the consumer frenzy of the Christmas season, a mentality very far from the quiet, inward focus of winter.

Holiday Packet: Yule

The Yule holiday packet is a big one: 60 pages stuffed with information on midwinter holidays, magical gift-givers, recipes for Christmas morning porridges and warming beverages, menus for Christmas dinner, instructions for making luminarias and pomanders, and a selection of Yule songs.

I've posted some sample pages from my Yule packet at my website so you can see how it turned out. This link will take you to pages on the tradition of lighting lights in the darkness. (PDF format)

It is available in an email version for $9 (sent within 24 hours) or via snail mail for $14 (please allow 10 days for delivery). Visit our Store to order.

Yule Gifts from the School of the Seasons

Advent SunWheel by Helen Farias
A portfolio of ideas for celebrating Advent, including instructions on making an Advent wreath, recipes for traditional cookies and beverages, suggestions for a weekly ritual and carols with pagan lyrics. Plus four stories adapted by Helen from the Scandinavian tradition, perfect for reading out loud while the Advent candles burn: The Ice Ship, Holle and Holler, Sul's Return and Hulda's Ride. I've been using this wonderful package to celebrate Advent for years.

Print Version: The print version costs $14 and will be mailed within a week of receiving your order. Which means you have to order now if you want it before the first Sunday in Christian Advent (Dec 3). It's already too late for Pagan Advent (the four Sundays before Winter Solstice) which begins Sunday, November 26.

Email Version: Last year my daughter and I spent hours re-typing and re-formatting the Advent Sunwheel, so we could send it out via email. Unfortunately my computer developed problems shortly afterwards and in the cleaning of the computer, that file was wiped out in its entirety. If you are one of the lucky people who received it via email, please let me know. I'd love to get a copy.

Meanwhile we're going to recreate it all over again. I'll send it out on a weekly basis to those who wish to receive it via email. You will receive the first installment on Wednesday, November 29, with instructions on how to create an Advent wreath, plus recipes, songs and the first story. Every Wednesday for the next three weeks, you will receive another installment until you have the whole packet.

To order either version, visit our Store.

Thirteen Christmas Cookies
It was Helen Farias who told me that it is traditional to bake thirteen different kinds of cookies during the Christmas season, a charge I try to carry out by making three different cookies each week of Advent. You can order my little book of recipes for 13 traditional Winter Holiday by visiting our Store.

The Thirteen Cookies book is also now available via email as a Word document so please indicate if you prefer the email or print version when you order.

Signs of Winter

The berries are particularly noticeable right now in Seattle, so bright against the grey skies and the bare branches. On my walk, I encounter firethorn (with its lovely little star indents on the bottom of the berries), baneberry (also called doll?s eyes), holly berries, yew berries (which look like a cross between olives and pink gumdrops but are toxic), and hawthorn berries (supposedly sweet enough to eat right off the plant after the first couple of frosts?I haven?t tried yet).

Where ever you live, send me your signs of the season and we will post them at the website at Signs of the Season.


Copyright © Waverly Fitzgerald 2006
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