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Living in Season from Waverly Fitzgerald

Living in Season
The official newsletter of School of the Seasons

December 21, 2006
Winter Solstice


Seasonal Quote: W S Merwin
My Season: High Winds and Christmas Trees
Feedback Loop: New Approaches to Xmas Gifts
Return of the Blog
Living in Season: Twelve Days of Transition
New Holiday Packet: Twelve Days of Christmas
Cool Calendars for the New Year
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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Happy Winter Solstice!

Seasonal Quote: W S Merwin
This is what I have heard
At last the wind in December
Lashing the old trees with rain
Unseen rain racing along the tiles
Under the moon
Wind rising and falling
Wind with many clouds
Trees in the night wind.

My Season: High Winds and Christmas Trees

The poem above, which I found at Sara Post's great Soul Collage website, seems particularly appropriate as we just experienced a ferocious wind storm here in the Northwest with gusts of up to 50 miles an hour. Many people are still without power and trees are down all over the neighborhood. I have never been so appreciative of the wonders of shelter and warmth and light.

One of the advantages of the wind storm is that there are many fragrant evergreen branches lying about for the taking and decorating. There's a cedar tree that was blown down a block away and I am gathering up the branches for garlands.

This year I didn't get a Christmas tree. This has nothing to do with the controversy about the Christmas trees at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. Did you hear about that? A rabbi asked if they would put up a menorah to honor his holiday tradition along with the Christmas trees and instead the airport managers took all the trees down, saying that since they couldn't be certain they had included symbols of all religious traditions, they would put up none. That caused quite a ruckus and eventually the Christmas trees were reinstated.

But what no one seems to have noticed is that Christmas trees aren't religious symbols. Sure they have the word Christ in them but they're not part of the Christian religion. Despite attempts to connect them with Christianity (like the apocryphal story that Martin Luther put up the first Christmas tree), they are not part of Christian mythology. As Sheryl Ann Karas points out in her book, The Solstice Evergreen, evergreens have been part of the winter holiday celebrations for centuries.

May you enjoy the warmth of shelter, and the fragrance of evergreens.
Waverly Fitzgerald

Feedback Loop: Against Shopping

I heard from many of you who dislike shopping and share my desire to find quieter, simpler more heartfelt ways to acknowledge the season. Several readers make small, hand-made gifts. Joy in Chula Vista creates ornaments using glass slides. Dedri works at her local art association and suggests supporting local artists if you are looking for gifts. Some of you don't give presents at all. Triana buys gifts for birthdays instead and says she enjoys the relief from the pressure to overspend at Christmas time.

Hanne Blank, a writer, whose new book, Virgin: The Untouched History, is being published by Bloomsbury in March 2007, sent me a long letter about her abdication from the holidays which contained so many great ideas I'm reproducing it below:

After years of being driven quite mad by the demands of traveling and going to parties and shopping and entertaining and Heaven-knows-what-all between the end of October and the beginning of January, I decided to opt out.  A few years ago when I turned 35 I simply decided that for the sake of my mental health and general well-being, I was no longer traveling between Hallowe'en and New Year's.

In fact, I was going to give myself blanket permission to remember the winter holidays with small, happy little token gifts, preferably homemade, and surprise people with more substantial gifts at other times when they would probably enjoy them more.  I wasn't going to run myself ragged buying crazy quantities of presents, or making myself crazy with the kind of lavish "outdo-the-Joneses" holiday entertaining that some folks seem to go in for at this time of year.  I wasn't going to romanticize some manufactured version of a holiday that never really existed, nor was I going to try to make what is technically "my" holiday, Hanukkah, fill in for that imaginary version of Christmas.  

I was, in short, all but abdicating from the American "holiday season."

None of this was about being a dour old sourpuss or a cranky scrooge.  It was about staying sane, and not letting myself be shoved around by someone else's priorities.  It was also about having enough time to take nice long walks with my dog during brilliant cold days, and curl up and enjoy being cozy on long nights, without feeling like I had to be doing a million other things just because it was The Holiday Season.  It was about getting to celebrate midwinter in ways that felt right and respectful to myself and the people I love, however that might be.

I've done varying versions of this for the past three years now, and it's great.  My out-of-state family accepted my blanket statement that I wasn't traveling with great equinamity: they are happy to have me visit at other times.  My friends have appreciated the quirky cards and letters and gifts. This year my partner and I are making homemade marshmallows in exotic flavors, and homemade caramels, to send in small boxes to our dear ones.  My friends seem also to appreciate that my calmness and happiness during this hectic time of year is, it seems, a little contagious.  (I think it's really helpful for people to have someone they can turn to who will tell them it's okay if they don't do whatever-it-is, that no, really, no one is going to dock you points if you're not broke and insane by December 25!)

If you want to learn more about Hanne and her book, check out her website at

Return of the Blog==================

Now that National Novel Writing month is over, I'm returning to my blog. But in a more sane way. Instead of trying to feature a new plant every day, I'm going to focus on a plant a week. To find out what I'm writing about this week go to:

This was inspired by seeing that Susun Weed is offering a new correspondence course featuring 52 herbs, which I so want to take but I'm afraid I'll be overcommitted (the very concept of overcommitted was not in my vocabulary until I turned 50). Here are the details.

I was also inspired by finding a book called Naming Nature: A Seasonal Guide for the Amateur Naturalist by Mary Blocksma (Penguin 1992) that attempts to do what I have been trying to do with my blog. It shows me both the perils and pleasures of this endeavor. After moving to a new part of the country (from California to Michigan), Blocksma, a librarian, decides to learn about her new landscape by identifying the flora and fauna she encounters. She's at her best when she provides glimpses of her life and explorations but totally frustrating when I can't find the plants and animals she describes either because they don't flourish in my area or because her descriptions (of necessity, it's not a field guide) are too general.

Living in Season: Twelve Days of Transition

For many years I've been celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas by designating that as a time for reflecting on old year and creating dreams, plans and visions for the new one.

Last year I offered an online class called the Twelve Days of Christmas. I sent students suggestions for observing these Twelve Days of Transition, plus information on folklore associated with the Twelve Days. This year, I'm offering the material as a packet you can order, either via email or in a print version (see below). I learned a lot from my students last year and wanted to share with you some of their great ideas.

April who took the class last year is combining Brumalia (a festival of Dionysus) with the Twelve Days of Christmas this year by opening a different bottle of wine each night. A simple but effective way to mark each day of this transition.

Another student from last year, Gwen who lives in Kirkland, reviewed the past year using the structure of the houses of the horoscope. She reflected on each area of her life on the appropriate day: self and image for the first day (1st house), money and possessions for the second day (2nd house), communications and friendships for the third day (3rd house), house and home for the fourth day (4th house), etc. Gwen is also an artist and she started out designing a card to represent each day but found the pace too fast for the thoughtful process she prefers when making art.

I was especially impressed by the elaborate and beautiful tradition created by Pete who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has been celebrating the Twelve Days for years with a friend. Each year they create binders for the year which they call "Augury Books." Pete has books going back to 1992. Each is divided into twelve months and filled with blank paper. At the start of each year Pete writes down his goals for the year which he reviews at the end of each month, when he sets goals for the next month. He also keeps an opportunity log in the binder, noting "the more we recognize the opportunities that come our way each and every day, the more I believe we can become open to the incredible abundance that flows around us and to us as a natural part of our existence."

Pete and his friend get together in late January every year for a ritual that complements the Augury Books. After sharing a meal, they open the letters they wrote to themselves the previous years, read them out loud and check off the goals they've accomplished. Then they write a letter to their future selves, the selves that will be opening the envelopes a year later, offering advice. The envelopes are sealed with wax and someone is designated as the sacred guardians of these messages until the next year.

Pete has found other ways to incorporate wishes for the New Year into his holiday celebrations. He often decorates his Christmas tree with pieces of parchment on which are written wishes, dreams and hopes for the new year. Once taken off the tree, these pieces of paper can be displayed on the wall. He also makes a compilation tape of music that expresses his mood for the year. Usually he chooses instrumental meditative music that goes well with candles and coffee. This concept grew into an internet radio station called Mystic Soundscapes on which he plays this "Augury" music 24/7. You can listen to it too at

May you celebrate this time between the years with your own special traditions.

New Holiday Packet: Twelve Days of Christmas
Closing the Old Year, Opening the New One

All of these suggestions and many more can be found in this illustrated portfolio containing over 40 pages of ideas for celebrating the time between the years and featuring folklore for each of the Twelve Days, including Hunting the Wren, Boxing Day, Wassailing, St Basil's Day, Epiphany and Twelfth Night. Also includes several versions of the Twelve Days of Christmas song and an explanation of its origins.

$10 for the email version which will be sent within 24 hours.

You can order the print version ($20 for a small, comb-bound book) but you won't receive it after the Twelve Days have started as the earliest I could mail it will be December 26. Visit our Store to order.

Cool Calendars

One of my favorite parts of the new year is opening up and using my new calendars. Several readers have asked me if I will create a School of the Seasons calendar and I have been fooling around with designs for over a year now but still have not come up with anything that makes me happy. I promise to keep on working on this. Meanwhile here are some favorite calendars I use:

I love my Planner Pad, a wonderful system for organizing projects which is useful for self-employed people or anyone who is working on several projects simultaneously. (I also like the way it shows every day of the week equally unlike many weekly planners which assume you'll do less on the weekends).

Another favorite is Jim Maynard's Pocket Astrologer, a small calendar showing the astrological aspects for each day and also containing other useful information about eclipses, meteor showers, etc.

All last year I brightened up my windowless cubicle at work with the gorgeous and organic Ecological Calendar, which brings nature and the seasons inside:

I always like to buy a calendar with beautiful images, especially those that remind me of my dreams of travel, creating art, growing herbs, etc. This year my "pretty" calendar features William Morris wallpaper.

Amber Lotus is another great source for beautiful and spiritual calendars:

Signs of Winter

Rasma writes from Salt Spring Island that her favorite sign of the season is the way the snow hangs on the branches of the Douglas Fir trees. Jamie in Tampa, Florida notes the arrival of the northern birds that have come south for the winter; she knows that winter is around the corner when she sees the Redwing Blackbird. And Synovveah in Stockton, California mentions the way the grass crunches underfoot.

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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