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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 1, number 20
December 18, 2003 Our Lady of Solitude


  • Welcome
  • Good News
  • Update: Still Hibernating
  • Living in Season: Time Out of Time
  • Supplements to the Yule Packet
  • Story for Solstice: Singing to Deer
  • In the Library: Winter Solstice Books
  • On the Web: Yule Links
  • Free Sample: Yule Packet
  • Holiday Packet: Yule
  • Copyright
  • Subscribe - Unsubscribe

Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward it.

If a friend send you this newsletter, welcome! You can subscribe for free at my website: www.schooloftheseasons.com
We never rent, sell or give away subscriber information.

Good News
My goal for this year was to double the number of subscribers to the newsletter and I'm happy to say that happened. We've reached the 1000 mark.

Thanks are due to Beliefnet for publishing many of my articles, including a current one on Winter Solstice:

Good news for Beliefnet too. They won an award for general excellence for web sites of their size (they were up against Microsoft's Slate) from the Association of Online Journalism.

And thanks are due also to Molly Gordon, whose Authentic Promotion course helped me value what I do and feel more confident about offering it to others.

Plus thanks to my wonderful webmistress, Joanna Powell Colbert, who suggested the idea in the first place and created such a beautiful site.

But mostly thanks to you for subscribing. I love sharing what I've learned in my reading and research. And I love it that you keep me inspired by asking questions, guiding me to new resources and letting me know you care.

P.S. If you wrote me after the Thanksgiving newsletter and I didn't respond, please write again. I lost a few emails around that date.

Update: Still Hibernating
We're enjoying a rare spell of winter sunshine here in Seattle. The sunlight is a pale golden color which reminds me of champagne.

I spent last week writing the Yule packet and finally realized why I put off writing this one. I have more than enough material in my files (without doing any new research which is my favorite part) to create 7 holiday packets: one on Yule food, one on Cookies (luckily I already wrote that one), one on the magical gift-givers of the winter night, one on Yule greenery, one on Midwinter holidays, one on Midwinter saints and one on Yule songs. Even though it's the biggest packet yet, I had to leave a lot out.

So I'm posting some of it on the web site as supplements to the Yule packet (see below). I'm also listing some of the amazing resources I found, both books and web sites, in the library & links section below.

I'm still struggling to find a balance between conviviality and solitude in my life this winter. But the hibernating impulse is winning out.

I usually hold my winter solstice party on the Sunday closest to Solstice and spend the day of Winter Solstice in a quiet and silence. Since the dates coincide this year, I decided to cancel the party and observe my solitary Solstice ritual instead.

On the Solstice I spend the day in silence. I don't answer the phone, turn on my computer, TV or radio. I turn over or hide the clocks to increase the sense that this is time out of time. During the short hours of daylight I go for a long (pilgrimage) walk to the nearby park and cemetery. And when night falls, I don't use electricity but light candles instead. Sometimes my self-imposed solitude and silence seems artificial and I break it. But this year I'm really looking forward to my oasis of peace and serenity in the midst of the chaotic holiday season.

I hope that whatever way you choose to celebrate Winter Solstice, brings you peace and joy.

Living in Season: Time Out of Time
For many years I've been celebrating the famous Twelve Days of Christmas, a magical time between the end of the old year and the start of the new one.

The idea of twelve significant days is an ancient one. In Babylon, the twelve intercalary days between the Winter Solstice and the New Year were seen as the time of a struggle between chaos and order, with chaos trying to take back over the world. The notion that these are days outside of ordinary time shows up in many cultures. In Scotland, no court had power during the twelve days. The Irish believed that anyone who died during these days escaped purgatory and went straight to Heaven. One folk custom says that you can predict the weather of the next twelve months by observing the weather of the Twelve Days of Christmas (I've had quite a bit of luck with this system).

In medieval England, work was forbidden. That was why the Monday after the Twelve Days was called Plough Monday (back to work for the men) and the day after Twelfth Night was St. Distaff's Day (back to spinning for the women). In Germany, it was said that no wheels could turn during this time (no milling, no spinning, no carts) and the goddess Holle would punish women she found disobeying. In Jewish homes, no one is supposed to work while the Hanukkah candles burn and in some Sephardic communities, women are not supposed to work at all during Hanukkah.

It seems clear that this is a magical period, a time out of time, whatever dates you choose. It is a special time, existing outside of the usual rules, when work is forbidden and all routines should be turned upside down.

I like to use this time period for reflection and review of the year past and incubating visions for the year ahead. In an ideal world, one in which I really didn't have to work at all, I would spend each of the Twelve Days reflecting on that month in the past year, but usually I just set aside a few days to review certain significant areas of my life. I read through all my dreams and make a list of dream titles. I make another list of books I've read during the year (I've learned to record what I'm reading in my calendar). I make a timeline of significant events.

I also set aside time to gather with friends to share our reflections on the past year and to create images and wishes for the future. We consult our favorite oracles for guidance and make wish lists of what we would like in the coming year. Barbara Sher suggests writing a description of your ideal day in her first book, Wishcraft. This is a normal day (not a weekend or vacation day) but it contains everything you would most like to do. You write in present tense, starting with first thing in the morning and put in as much detail as possible. For instance, "It's 9 o'clock and I get up (I'm alone) and put on my black silk bathrobe with the dragons embroidered on it and go into the kitchen…") I've done this many times. Now I try to live New Year's Day as my ideal day. I do a little bit of every kind of activity I want to have in my life in the coming year: meditating, dancing, feasting with friends, writing my novel, preparing for a class, reading and researching for my next newsletter.

Supplements to the Yule Packet
Although the Yule packet at 60 pages, was the biggest of my holiday packets so far, it contained only a small part of the materialI've gathered on this, the Queen of Holidays.

So here are some of the pages I had to leave out (to make the file small enough to send via the Internet and stay within my budget at Kinko's).

If you ordered the packet, print these pages and add them to your portfolio. If you didn't order the packet, these pages will give you a start on your own Yule packet:

How I celebrate Yule:
A description of my Advent ceremony, my solitary solstice ritual, my winter solstice party, the legendary Lucia parties at Bright House and a glimpse of Twelfth Night:

Midwinter poems:
When I put up my winter decorations, I always post a few winter solstice poems on my refrigerator. Then during my party, before I ask my guests to spend a few minutes standing in the quiet and the dark, I read a poem. These are my three favorite poems:

Story for Solstice: Singing to Deer
During my celebration of Advent every year, we read a story while the Advent candles burn. Usually these are the wonderful stories that Helen Farias created for the Advent SunWheel. But last year, Pat Monaghan (the author of many fabulous books including O Mother Sun! and The Book of Goddesses and Heroines) sent me a link to a story she had written about singing to deer and I realized I would add it to my Winter Solstice ritual. It's got everything a solstice story needs: magic, tenderness, a snowy day in the woods, and the recognition that's what important about life is joy: Read it here:

In the Library: Winter Solstice Books

The Winter Solstice: Sacred Traditions of Christmas
By John Matthews With contributions from Caitlin Matthews
Quest/Godsfield Press, 1998

This is certainly the best book I've ever seen on any holiday. The presentation is gorgeous and the information is comprehensive, entertaining and rich. The emphasis is on the pagan roots of this holiday, for instance Matthews traces the roots of Santa back to shamanism. He also includes recipes, crafts projects (I love his suggestions for building shrines instead of creches) and rituals.

The Solstice Evergreen
Sheryl Ann Karas, Aslan 1976

This is the definitive book on the Christmas tree. A critical review on the Amazon web site reminded me of what I didn't like about this book. It's a collection of stories about the spiritual significance of sacred trees but it's a little light on the scholarship.

The Battle for Christmas
by Stephen Nissenbaum
Vintage 1997

Haven't read this one yet but it's getting great reviews at Amazon, including a review that says it contains accessible and entertaining scholarship. Always a good thing. Apparently Nissenbaum looks at the earlier much rowdier celebrations of Midwinter and shows how it was tamed by the Victorians.

Christmas in Ritual and Tradition
by Clement A. Miles
Dover 1976

This got a critical review at Amazon too but that's because the reviewer didn't get what this is. First published in 1912, it's one of those collections of quaint customs by a 19th century amateur folklorist, which contains valuable clues about how the holiday was once celebrated.

1001 Christmas Facts and Fancies
by Alfred Carl Hottes
NY: De La Mare, 1937, reprinted Omnigraphics 1990

Here's another one of those books by an amateur collector of folklore (my favorites) which describest customs from all over Europe that I've never seen elsewhere.

Visions of Sugar Plums
by Mimi Sheraton
Harper Collins 1986 [out of print]

While working on the Yule packet, I found that many of my favorite traditional Christmas porridge recipes came from this book. And not just recipes but folklore as well. I don't own a copy so I must have gotten it from the library.

The Christmas Cookbook
by Marilyn Bright
Harper Collins/Appletree Press, 1992

This tiny gift book was the first source I found that mentioned the 13 traditional desserts served in southern France on Christmas Eve. It also contains traditional recipes like Mont Blanc, Galette de Rois and Glogg.

On the Web: Yule Links
While researching the Yule packet, I found many wonderful web sites rich with winter holiday lore. These are simply the best.

From Kathleen Jenks who put together the phenomenally comprehensive and beautiful compendium of information that is Mything Links.
Links to web sites featuring winter festivals:
And another list of links specific to Yule

From Teresa Ruano, an amazing web site devoted to Winter Solstice which includes a calendar listing activities for each day and interviews with noted solstice experts (that would be me! and Sheryl Ann Karas on the Christmas tree/solstice evergreen)

I found this site looking for images of St. Nicholas and it is both beautiful and thorough, including the origins of St Nicholas, how his holiday is celebrated in many countries, stories and activities for kids and links to St. Nicholas events and churches around the world

If you're looking for traditional and ancient Yule music or an amazing experience (part ritual, part theatre, part sing-along), you should check out the Revels. Unlike other holidays performances, this one has real magic:

Free Sample: Yule Packet
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:

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.

It is available in an email version for $7 (sent within 24 hours) or via snail mail for $11 (please allow 10 days for delivery). Order a copy now through our store.

Current Offerings: Winter Correspondence Course
ISome tender white narcissus just unfolded yesterday in a garden at the end of my block. Meanwhile on my dining room table, a ceramic bunny holds a bowl of sprouting wheat berries, planted on St. Lucy's Day (a Hungarian custom I learned about while writing my Midwinter packet).

Despite these hopeful signs, it's still the depth of winter. And a good time to order my Winter correspondence course, if you're interested in my ideas for aligning with the rhythms of Winter. Visit our Store to order.

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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