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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sulamith Wulfing - Christmas Angel

Sulamith Wulfing

This exquisitely subtle illustration is by the German artist Sulamith Wulfing who featured in one of my earlier posts this year.  This work is both signed and dated -1931.  I found the inclusion of the date interesting as this is another illustration I think is timeless - without knowing when it was painted I would probably have placed it much later, most likely during the era of my own childhood. I love the way the angel's hair merges with the bauble she is sitting in to become part of the decoration.  (I'm sorry a bit of the side is cut off but I couldn't fit this picture into my scanner.)

I'd like to wish everyone who reads this a Very Happy and Blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.         

Please forgive me as well if I don't visit or post anything for the next little while.  Besides Christmas Day, St Stephen's Day (what the 26th is called here) and New Year's Day I'm working throughout the whole festive season and I'm feeling a bit exhausted already - so I'm going to take a bit of my own advice from a couple of week's ago and take a break!

I'll be back in Bloggyland again in the New Year.  See you then.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

13 December - St Lucia's Day

St Lucia's Day - artwork by Michael Hague

In the countries of the north, where winter darkness held longest, people's yearning for light found focus on the feast day of St Lucia of Sicily - her very name, they thought, meant light. 

Early calendars marked December 13th as the winter solstice.  Later when the date of the solstice was changed to the 21st and the calendars reformed, the feast of Lucia was retained and continued to mark the beginning of Christmas in Sweden and Norway.

Older folk said on the eve of the day that Lucia herself might be seen, skimming across the snowfields and frozen lakes, a crown of light upon her hair.

In towns, torchlight processions were held to summon back the light.  The daughters of each house rose in the early dark - dressed in white, crowned with wreaths of lingonberry or holly and blazing candles - they would take food and fire to their sleeping elders, singing all the while to mark the morning of St Lucia's Day. 

Usually in winter I walk a different route to work from the station, meandering around Trinity College instead of taking my normal stroll through the park.  I always assumed the park would be closed in winter, so was surprised this year to find the gates open, even though it is still dark.

I've continued walking though the park because 'my' swan family are still together.  Usually the cygnets disappear quite early in the season, but this year is different and they appear like ghostly shadows out of the gloom - swimming towards me to say 'hello'!  (I love the cheeping noises the young swans still make.)  As you can see it is now too dark to photograph them successfully, even with a flash.

Last week I realised something.  Five out of the six cygnets that I originally photographed survived.  That means there are two adults and five adolescents - or seven swans a'swimming - just like in the Christmas carol!  

The park has a beauty all of its own at this time if year.  I love the way the branches with their delicate tracery are silhouetted against the early morning light.  And it was as cold as it looks - yesterday morning when I took this photograph the lake was starting to freeze over!

For anyone interested in this sort of thing - today is 12/12/12 and there are 12 days to go before Christmas. In my lifetime there won't be another day when all the digits are the same like this again.

St Lucia taken from 'The Enchanted World - The Book of Christmas' - Brendan Lehane / Time Life Books
Published 1986.   

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Light Triumphant - Why We Celebrate Christmas in December

The Nativity - Susan Gallagher

Contemporary accounts provide us with little detail about the nativity.  We know from the Bible that Jesus was born in a cave or stable.  An angel informs shepherds of the miracle birth as they tend their flocks on a hillside nearby.  Later three wise men arrive from the East, led by a wondrous star.  They bring with them gold, frankincense and myrrh - traditional gifts for a king, although also attributed with spiritual meaning.

In a nutshell this is as much as the gospels tell us.  All other traditions have been added during the centuries that followed.  It would be three hundred years before the month was set as December and the date fixed as the 25th.

So why celebrate Christmas in December?

Detail from 'The Stork' - artwork by Yvonne Gilbert

From time immemorial people in Northern Europe have held rituals during the winter solstice.  The word 'solstice' means 'the sun stands still'.  The 21st December marks the point when the earth's axis in the Northern Hemisphere is tilted furthest away from the sun, it's path low in the sky as it travels from horizon to horizon and its weak rays offering little light and warmth.

Here in Ireland we have Newgrange in County Meath - older than both the pyramids and Stonehenge - perfectly aligned to the winter solstice with the path of the passage tomb illuminated once a year by the dawning light of the rising sun.

In ages past in the frozen north Celts, Lapps, Finns, Danes and Huns gathered around blazing fires, decorating their houses with holly, ivy, mistletoe and evergreen - plants that cheated the deathly grip of winter and were therefore thought to be charged with special power.

People did not take for granted that the sun would return victorious.  They performed ceremonies and rituals, sometimes even including human sacrifice to ensure that summer would return.  When darkness began to descend on the world they arranged great feasts and celebrated winter rites.  The Celts in Ireland observed Samain, the Norsemen celebrated Yule with festivals that were spread over two months.

Further south the Roman festival of Saturnalia occupied the week ending on the 24th December.  It was a feast of reversals - masters served slaves and slaves commanded masters.  People gave each other presents and decorated their homes with greenery.

In Persia the followers of Mithras (the god of light who was born in a cave and drove away the darkness) celebrated the birth of their deity on December 25th.

Bringing in the Yule Log - Troy Howell (1986)

When Christianity began to spread into Europe people married the ceremonies they were used to with the new religion.  They cherished their past without fear and felt no discomfort in fitting their memories of the old into the pattern of the new, absorbing all under the mantel of Christian celebration.

Today many people still observe these traditions, even though their origins have been forgotten.

Traces can be found in the continuing devotion to the flames of candles, great Yule logs that once burnt in hearth and hall are remembered by a (much smaller) chocolate covered treat (often decorated with holly).  We mirror the past by feasting and with the choice of foods we enjoy, decorating our homes and giving each other presents.

Melchior (who brought the gift of gold), Odin and St Nicholas (see last week's post) have merged to become the bluff and jolly Father Christmas/Santa Claus.  Even our Christmas trees carry a distant echo of Yggdrasil, the great World Tree of ancient Norsemen.

My own decorations always tend to veer towards the traditional.  I love the rich colours of red, dark green and gold.  (A bit like my favourite lunch of salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and cheese!)  My tree is packed with memories.  Most of my decorations originally belonged to my mother and date from the 1950's.

 The significance of placing Christmas in the heart of the Northern winter ensures our festivities remain intertwined with the great natural crisis that has its apex on the shortest day of the year.  It keeps mankind wedded to the natural rhythm of the seasons.  To our ancestors placing the nativity at the darkest time of year seemed natural, linking past with present, the old with the new.

But most of all placing the Holy Birth in the heart of winter carries within itself a profound covenant - the attributes of Christmas are those of light and dark.  It is a time for joy and worship, celebration and goodwill.    In the Child born at Bethlehem there is the promise of Spring in the heart of midwinter, the divine gift of a bright, cleansing flame to drive away the fear of death.  The power of light and love over darkness - and the promise to all who believe of life eternal.

'Fear not,' the angel said.
'For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
Which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David,
a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you.
Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,
lying in a manger.'
                              (Luke 2:10) 

Source material - The Enchanted World - The Book of Christmas - Brendan Lehane / Time Life Books

Published 1986.      


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Importance of Being Well Rested

Ron Embleton - The Magic Apples

Last month I was contacted by Allison M who had come across a post of mine called Taking a Break in which I wrote that I was going to take a short break from Blogging and 'unplug' for a while.

Allison has put together an infographic called Take a Break which details the benefits of taking regular breaks during the course of the working day.

It is sound advice and reading through Allison's infographic is a good idea for anyone like me who is office bound for hours on end each day.  I had to smile though at the suggestion to check Facebook or other forms of social media regularly.  Where I work most employees are not permitted internet access - and those of us who require it for business reasons are forbidden from visiting personal sites on pain of disciplinary action or dismissal!  In my case wandering over to the water cooler (or visits to the loo) are the only options I have to break off from what I am doing!

Ron Embleton - The Magic Apples
By complete coincidence I came a across an article in the newspaper this morning stating research has shown one extra hour's sleep a night can help reduce blood pressure levels (especially for people like me who get less than 7 hours sleep a night.)  I would love the luxury of sleeping more but need to get up at 5am to be at work on time, get home at 7pm, and by the time dinner is over, I've bathed/showered, tried to spend some time with my neglected family, caught up with some blog friends and done a few small chores - I've run out of hours!!  As high blood pressure is responsible for a significant percentage of strokes and heart attacks benefiting from that extra hour sounds like a good idea - note to myself - try a bit harder!

Ron Embleton - The Magic Apples

 By a strange contradiction the times we are the most productive are often when we are juggling a number of different activities.  I suppose that is where the saying comes from - 'If you want something done ask a busy person.'  Just when my working life has become far more demanding I'm also trying to write a novel in my spare time, keep this blog going and contribute to OPDAG (the Original Paper Doll Artist Guild) - my most recent hobby.

But I think this level of activity can only be sustained for a finite amount of time.  And so Allison's email and her infographic are a timely piece of advice.

Check it out - and take a break!  

All illustrations in this post are by the brilliant Ron Embleton from the story 'The Magic Apples'

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Days of Winter Magic

Deck the Halls - artwork by Yvonne Gilbert

Deck the hall with boughs of holly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la,
'Tis the season to be jolly,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Don we now our gay apparel,
Fa-la la-la la la la,
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,
Fa la la la, la la la la.

See the blazing yule before us,
Fa la la la la , la la la la.
Strike the harp and join the chorus,
Fa la la la la , la la la la.
Follow me in merry measure,
Fa-la la-la la la la,
While I tell of Yuletide treasure,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Fast away the old year passes,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Sing we joyous all together,
Fa-la la-la la la,
Heedless of the wind and weather,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.        

December 6th - Saint Nicholas' Day

St Nicholas - artwork by Michael Hague

When the old gods ruled the world, Odin the All-father rode the skies of Germany and Scandinavia in winter with a crowd of elves and spirits; those mortals who offered him reverence were rewarded with gifts.  In later years Odin's horse, elves and gifts became the accouterments of a Christian saint named Nicholas.

Nicholas lived in Asia Minor.  Because he calmed storms at sea during his life, he became the patron of sailors, and because he restored life to three murdered youths, he became the patron of boys.  But the most famous tale concerning him was that of three maidens whose impoverished father planned to sell into slavery.  Nicholas redeemed them with three bags of dowry gold, which he flung down their chimney one night .  It landed on their shoes set to warm before the fire.  For this deed he became the patron of maidens, and Frenchwomen prayed to him for husbands.

He also became the patron of pawnbrokers, and his bags of gold are remembered in the three golden balls that are the sign of the trade.  But gift giving was his most important act.  In Germany, Austria and Holland, children set out their shoes on the eve of his feast day (6 December), filling them with hay and carrots for his white horse, just as provender had been left for Odin's horse by their ancestors.  Nicolas, they knew, would ride over the rooftops in the night with his elvish companion, Knecht Ruprecht.  Ruprecht carried a switch to use on naughty young ones.  But Nicholas carried baskets of toys and sweets, to be left in the shoes of all good children.

Russia - The Snow Maiden  

Victor Vasnetsov (1899) - Tretyakov Gallery

A Russian tale tells how a couple shaped a maiden from the snows of the cold season.  She came to life and spent her days among mortals, but those days were brief.  The sun of Springtime melted her to mist.

All taken from The Enchanted World - The Book of Christmas - Brendan Lehane / Time Life Books
Published 1986.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

December Sunbeam (2012)

Another month is almost over and its time to bid a fond farewell to Jan at ArtSings1946 and Victoria at Finding Harmony: Body, Mind, Heart and Spirit.   Hope you both enjoyed your time in my sunbeam's little glow.

This month Sharon's Little Sunbeam will shine on the lovely ladies at The Secret DMS Files of Fairday Morrow (Hi Jess and Stephanie!).  Their fabulous blog will be well known to many of my own blog friends, but if you are not already a regular pay them a visit and you will not be disappointed.

My second choice for December is a recent discovery - Harriet at Victoria Stitch.  Harriet is an illustrator so her blog is one I thoroughly enjoy.  I especially liked Victoria Stitch Makes Paper Snowflakes which gives details of how she made the marvellous 3D scene for her new header.

This festive month my little sunbeam is yours to bask in and enjoy - hope you like it!

(Starting in the New Year I want to repeat the original recipients of my sunbeam who only spent a week on my sidebar. If you were part of this list watch out for your name as I'll be following the original order!)  

Sharon's Little Sunbeam is my own personal 'no strings attached' award.  It is my way of thanking the people who enrich my blogging experience.  After the recipient has been introduced a link to their blog remains on my sidebar for a month.  There are no conditions attached to the award.  The recipient does not need to answer any questions, pass the award on or even acknowledge that they have received it.  All they need to do is bask in my little sunbeam and enjoy it!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Enchanted Lion (Part 2) - Jesus Blasco

These two illustrations were previously included in Wonderful Weddings and Handsome Heroes

Last week I posted the first half of the lovely story The Enchanted Lion, beautifully illustrated by Jesus Blasco.  I wouldn't have thought of including this story myself as it is quite a bit longer than those I usually choose to post.  I received such a good response to Part 1 though, that I am glad I received the request to share it, and hope everyone who enjoyed last week's offering will like seeing the rest.    

This story appeared in 'Once Upon a Time' children's magazine.
Today's post contains 2 of 4 issues:
Issue #117 published 8 May 1971 and
Issue #118 published 15 May 1971

Tomorrow would have been my Mom's birthday.  She passed away in 1999 when she was just 69 years old.  I was very touched by the comments that were left on a previous post when I mentioned my Mom and how she encouraged me to write.  Like me I know there are some of you who have also lost your own mothers as well, but feel they are still here with you in spirit.  My Mom's presence is with me all the time and I don't think a day goes past when I don't remember her in some way. I can still hear her voice talking to me now

To me my Mom was a beautiful fairy princess - I guess most little girls see their mother's that way!

My Mom - Molly

Every year I send my sister a calendar from Ireland for the new year (she still lives in South Africa).  They always contain a photo of Kylemore Abbey.  It is on the west coast of Ireland and is the one place I have not been able to get to yet that I would still love to visit.  Below is this year's photo of Kylemore Abbey that was also chosen for the calendar's cover.  I'm not sure if they still do it but at one time it was possible to have a tree (I think mainly oak) planted in someone's name as part of a reforestation scheme.  I always wanted to 'adopt a tree' in memory of my Mom.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Enchanted Lion (Part 1) - Jesus Blasco

The Enchanted Lion - Jesus Blasco

The last time I posted one of my 'Sunday Stories' I received a request for this classic fairy tale called 'The Enchanted Lion' illustrated by the brilliant and incomparable Jesus Blasco.  I've come to appreciate Jesus Blasco's work more and more as an adult - what really appeals to me about the stories he illustrated is that he used a variety of different artistic techniques and this brings an incredible richness and depth to his work.

This story is much longer than those I usually choose to post.  Because of this I've decided to split it into two posts - half this time and the rest next week.

This story appeared in 'Once Upon a Time' children's magazine.
Today's post contains 2 of 4 issues:
Issue #115 published 24 April 1971 and
Issue #116 published 1 May 1971

Even now that the winter chill is well on its way there is still some seasonal colour in the garden and fresh flowers for me to pick so I can still have a pretty posy in a vase.

I also couldn't resist showing this off.  Yesterday while I was at work my husband and son decided to bake a cake.  They followed a recipe on Youtube and made a chocolate cake with ganache icing (decorated with Maltesers).  I think its a first for either of them - I was very impressed - its delicious!

I'm also still able to forage for tomatoes and the last few salad leaves in the greenhouse.  We've realised its best to pick these cherry tomatoes while they are still green or they go soft on the vine.  After I took this picture I collected another bowl this morning so the kitchen window sill is overflowing with these little beauties that look like a child's collection of marbles!  (Do children still play with marbles?)



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