Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 2, Number 20
December 25, 2004
- My Season: On Holiday Time
- December Calendar Up!
- On the Web: The Twelve Days
- New Years in the School of the Seasons
- Subscribe - Unsubscribe
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My Season: On Holiday Time
All month I've been planning to send out a newsletter shortly before Christmas full of ideas about how to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Then I realized I should set a good example for you by doing myself what I always recommend to you: taking these twelve days off for rest and renewal, relaxation and celebration. So what follows is a shorter version of this newsletter.
As the year ends, I want to thank you with all my heart for subscribing-there are now over 3,400 of you on the mailing list. Just knowing you are there inspires me to continue doing the research and writing I love so thatI can share it with you. I also appreciate your purchases, your complimentary emails, your gentle corrections when I get something wrong and your helpful suggestions of new places to look for resources.
Almost ten years ago I was driving back from my friend Helen Farias's house, during the days when she was dying, I had just learned that she was willing me her collection of books on seasonal holidays. Somewhere between Mount Vernon and Lynnwood, on I-5, I was struck by the conviction that this was my life's work-to continue sharing the information that she and I both loved about how holidays were celebrated in the past to help all of us reconnect with sacred time.
I am so grateful for the development of the Internet which made this possible and all of you for supporting the work I do.
May you experience all the joy of the season,
Living in Season: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Last weekend I enjoyed a perfect day of silence and solitude. For months, I've been sharing my house with my often boisterous daughter who loves to process her thoughts by talking out loud and who creates chaos (shedding clothes, books, pieces of paper, her glasses, etc.) like trees shed leaves in autumn. But on this day she was out with her friends and I had devoted my time to working on my Nanowrimo novel and a deep house cleaning (somehow everyone I know has been gripped by this impulse in the past few weeks). I woke up slowly, sipping my morning tea, writing my morning pages, taking the two dogs for a walk. After breakfast, I sat down in a delicious silence and spent two hours at the computer working on my novel (a historical mystery set in Victorian London), followed by another two hours of satisfying physical labor (moving bookcases, dismantling a broken futon, pulling out boxes from the shadowy recesses of the closet, taking out the recycling).
Another walk with the dogs, a quick lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers, and I started over. Writing followed by a flurry of cleaning, sweeping, dusting. I loved the rhythm of the two activities, the way they balanced each other, with the cleaning grounding me in this reality and the writing sweeping me away. I don't know how I would have felt if my silence and solitude had extended into the night but fortunately my favorite band was playing at one of my favorite dance venues so I got to dress up (in a pair of slinky brown velvet pants I found while cleaning) and go out to talk and dance and flirt far into the night.
The next day was much more difficult. My daughter was back home, watching TV, and I had to figure out how to put back in some kind of useful order all the things I had dragged out from the closet the day before. I realized as I struggled to reconcile my desire to connect with my daughter and my need to organize (which to my surprise required a lot of mental concentration) that I'm a person who needs a lot of solitary time and a lot of silence.
Which reminds me of my favorite winter solstice ritual. Long ago I read in Patricia Monaghan's wonderful Book of Goddesses and Heroines that the Roman goddess of the winter solstice, Angerona, was shown with a bandaged mouth and a finger to her lips enjoining silence. This cryptic description inspired me to create a ritual which I've been practicing ever since. I spend the day of the Winter Solstice (December 21 this year) in silence. I don't answer the phone, I don't use my computer, I don't listen to the radio or watch television. I don't go shopping or engage in any social activities where talking would be expected. I hide the clocks and avoid using anything that requires electricity. My usual activities for the day include sleeping in, reading and going for a long walk in the nearby park. When dusk falls, early of course since it's the shortest day of the year, I light candles instead of turning on the lights and usually go to bed early, after a candlelit bath. I've been celebrating solstice this way for many years and I love my oasis of peace and serenity in the midst of the chaotic holiday season.
The twelve days are a magical, liminal time which may once have been celebrated between the new moon and the full moon (or, like this year, between the full moon and the new moon). In ancient Babylon, the twelve days were a time of chaos between the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new one. This has always been a time to abstain from work, to throw off your normal schedule and roles.
I find it interesting that the twelve days are twelve, like the months of the year, and like to celebrate them by reviewing each of the past months of the year, January on the first day, February on the second day and so forth. Since this year the Twelve Days fall on a waning moon, it would be particularly appropriate to look backward, to reflect on the year past, perhaps putting photographs in albums, gathering up your financial records, reading through your journal, updating your resume, etc.
You can also use the twelve days to look forward to the year ahead. Supposedly the weather of each of the Twelve Days presages the weather of the corresponding month in the new year, thus the weather on the first day will be like the weather in January, etc. The Chinese dedicate each of the days after their New Year (which is tied to the lunar cycle) to significant animals and plants: Dog Day, Pig Day, Sheep Day, Cattle Day, Horse Day, Human Day, Grain Day, Hemp Day, Pulse Day. You might choose twelve beings or objects that are important in your life and honor them on the Twelve Days. Or perhaps you could just plan twelve days of indulgence and self-nurturing for each of the Twelve Days.
On the Web: The Twelve Days of Christmas
Patrick Porter has a great website listing folk traditions for each of the Twelve Days:
And Teresa Ruano's lovely website Candlegrove also lists customs associated with the Twelve Days. Just click on the candle on the home page and then click on "today" to see what's happening each of the Twelve Days:
A few newsletters ago I gave you a link to the University of Wisconsin at Madison's text of Robert Chamber's Book of Days, a Victorian compendium of calendar folklore. Because they had scanned in the actual pages, this site was glorious to look at but hard to print and slow to load. Now there is a hyper-linked, searchable version of the 1869 edition at this site:
If you click on Today's date during any of the Twelve Days, you can learn about the British customs for that day.
New Year in the School of the Seasons
I've got some exciting plans for the New Year, including an online version of the Spring correspondence course, starting in February, and a calendar (I'm still pondering exactly what form this will take). I'll let you know more about them in my next newsletter, which will also feature New Year food traditions.
Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2004.
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