Ready for Candlemas?

A major feast is upon us.  This Thursday Christians around the world will pause to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  Many know this feast as Candlemas, a term used due to the connection of candles with the day- more on that later.  This feast is one of the oldest in Christendom, recordings of its celebration can be found as early as 312.  The feast marks the end of the 40 day period begun with the birth of Jesus on December 25th.  In the time of Mary, the Laws of Moses dictated that all firstborn children must be brought to temple for the ritual of the first-born.  This was to purify the mother after childbirth.  Mary and Joseph made their way to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Practice held that a lamb would be brought to sacrifice by the young couple.  Not having the funds for a lamb, Mary and Joseph most likely took the secondary option as outlined in Leviticus.  If no lamb, then two turtle doves, young pigeons.  [Another connection to the 12 Days of Christmas!!]  At the Temple they encounter Simeon, who through his prophecy proclaims the baby as the Christ, a “light for revelation”.  By the 6th century the date of the feast had been set as February 2nd, then known as the Feast of the Purification of Mary.

February 2nd!  An important day for so many.  It is 40 days since the birth of the Christ child.  But it also lines up with some other key seasonal dates of importance.  The second marks the half-way point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  Many consider it the unofficial beginning of Spring, a time to plant and to focus on new birth or growth.  It is the point of the return of light, signified with the lighting of large fires and candles (told you we’d get back to those).  In Ireland the time aligned with the Gaelic celebration of Imbolc.  This was a festival for the pagan goddess Brigid, later transformed to honor St. Brigid.  St. Brigid was a nun who established the first Irish convent in Kildare.  Traditional celebrations in Ireland include placing a loaf of bread on the window for the saint and an ear of corn for her cow.  One other, more curious, connection to the date deals with witches!  Covens often chose to initiate new members on this day because of  the connections to renewal and birth. [Yes- there is another connection on the 2nd- we’ll tackle the groundhog tomorrow]

Back to the candles though.  Candlemas includes a mass celebration with the blessing of beeswax candles.  These candles are used to bring light into the world for the new year.  Families and churches often have lovely displays of candles.  It is a time to renew religious vows in the light of the newly blessed candles.  Candlemas is another option to take down your holiday decorations, especially those of live greenery or plants.  If you didn’t dispose of these items on Twelfth Night, Candlemas is the day to remove them, and then safely burn them.  Superstition holds that to keep these items past the second will bring a death within the congregation before another year ends.  Take time to clean out your fireplace and light a new fire too.  New fire for the new purity!  In addition to the candles and fire there are traditions involving food and more.  Come back tomorrow to read more about the fun you can have on February 2nd!

Countdown Podcast #6- 328 Days to Go!

Donkey Time– Click to hear this week’s Podcast.

This week Natalie & Jeremy planned to talk all about snowflakes.  Since it is unseasonably warm and it’s supposed to be over 60 the next two days, they weren’t in that mood at all.  So a last minute change was made and a new show created (much to their assistant Hildy’s dismay).  Today’s topics include more on Donkeys at Christmas- they show up in a number of songs.  Discussion also begins on Candlemas coming up on February 2nd.  Listen in to hear Nat’s review of Christmas Jars and their rough idea for a new holiday song classic.

Football at Christmas

Seems that the next big American holiday is upon us.  Hours of TV specials, decorations, parties, great food, and time with family and friends.  That’s right the Super Bowl is next Sunday!  What does Christmas have to do with football you might be wondering.  Usually football is not a part of Christmas celebrations.  Football is connected more to Thanksgiving.  Traditional NFL games are hosted by certain teams annually.  Families flock to the backyard for annual bragging rights in “flag” football domination.  2011 was one of those years that Christmas fell on a Sunday.  Sundays in December are prime football territory.  Teams are vying for playoff spots and millions tune in to see the story of the week.  So what happens when the two meet?  Usually there are 14 games on a Sunday in late December.  How is it decided what happens?  Believe it or not, the NFL has guidelines/rules about football and Christmas.

The NFL has only played Christmas games since 1989.  There have been 17 games played on Christmas day and only 16 teams have participated.  Here’s how it’s all figured out.  When Christmas is on a Sunday, most of the games are moved to the 24th, Christmas Eve, and one game will be played on Christmas night.  This was the case in 2011.  The games moved to Christmas Eve must be played before 9 PM local time. This is due to the guideline that no games be played from 9 PM local time on the 24th until 5 PM Eastern Standard Time on the 25th. They even have it covered in case Christmas Eve is a Monday.  When this happens they make sure to schedule West coast teams for Monday Night Football.  This fits within the rules.

2011’s Christmas game was played in Green Bay at Lambeau field.  The Packers beat the Chicago Bears 35-21.  This is the second time the two teams met in Green Bay for a Christmas contest.  In 2005 the visiting Bears were victorious.  If it all seems a little complicated to you, don’t fear.  You have until 2016 before the NFL will have another Christmas Sunday.  

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Which NFL team has played the most Christmas games at five?  Post your response in the comments section. Correct responses will get some recognition from us here at The Yule Log.

Santa gourds in Berlin, Maryland

Lacey and I were shopping in Berlin, Maryland, a few miles from Ocean City,  and it was a surprisingly lively town for a January Saturday.  One would expect the stores to be closed in the middle of the winter, but the sprawling Town Center Antiques, at either end of Main Street, attracts a nice weekend crowd.   The quaint town, which was featured in Julia Roberts’ movie Runaway Bride, is a perfect day-trip adventure.  (If you’re a fan of the movie, there’s a walking tour.)  I suspect the summer beach-weary (Do people get tired of the beach?), retreat to Berlin.

On Main Street, Downtown Video (a relic from the pre-Redbox days) had a beautiful window display of hand-painted gourds.  I couldn’t resist and had to investigate.  Joanne’s Original Gourds are featured in one section of the dimly-lit store, which is otherwise lined with shelves of videos.   Joanne uses dried gourds to paint red and white Santas and other figures, including an octopus, a skier, and small cannonball gourd Christmas ornaments.  Some are painted like Russian nesting dolls.  The tole painting is detailed, with the kind of patterns one might see on Czech Easter eggs or Amish quilts.

The price for one of her hand-painted gourds, a ginger-bread-colored Santa, approximately 12 inches high, was a reasonable $30.00.  I asked her if she had a website or an Etsy account, but she isn’t looking to expand because she says she enjoys the painting as a hobby and not as a pressure-filled business.  I’m sure I wasn’t the first to inquire.

I remembered that when Roger placed his seed order this year, I asked for gourd seeds.  That received a quick “No.”  They need a lot of room (vines spreading 30 feet or more) and a lot of sun—we’re short on both.  In addition, Joanne told me the gourds need to dry for about a year before they’re ready to be transformed into decorations.  A little detective work, though, and I found they are easy and inexpensive to order online. (There are whole kits, paint included.)  I see some birdhouse painting in my future!

I figure I’ll be ready with my own gourd Santas in, I don’t know, four years?  Meanwhile, if you want the real McCoy, head to Berlin!

Songs You Never Knew

Natalie and I have a secret desire to create THE definitive listing of all Christmas music.  We have spent tens of hours discussing this idea and all the variations on it.  You will see this obsession play out over the year I’m quite sure.  We were talking at work today and I mentioned a song I sang with my class in elementary school  Shocking to me, Natalie had never heard it (you’ll have to listen to our podcast on Monday night to find out the song).  That got me thinking about songs that maybe none of us may have heard or even know exist.  There are literally hundreds of songs that we don’t get in the usual rotation each December.  Some of these are true gems that should be played often and discovered by all.  (Check out Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia as an example)

We’ll discuss lots of those hidden wonders, but it’s so much fun to delve into the more unique and unusual.  To start us on this quest for odd tunes, let’s look first to donkeys.  Donkeys showed up earlier in our discussion on nativity scenes and now I have two tunes to share with you.  First up 1960’s Dominick the Donkey.  Have you heard this musical legend?  (Click on the title to get a listen) Natalie and I agree that this well definitely be on our list of tunes to be eliminated.  Maybe that’s due to the high number of plays it had this past Christmas.  Turns out the tune had an amazing upswing on the charts in the UK.  It was the #2 song on iTunes in Britain for the week leading up to Christmas 2011.  Go figure!  Next donkey tune is more obscure.  I think I vaguely remember it from those CBS/ABC special presentations at the holiday since an animated show was built around it in 1977.  The same creative geniuses that created the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special brought us Nestor the Long Eared Donkey.  It tells the story of Nestor and his abnormally long ears and how they helped Mary in Bethlehem.  The song was written by a trio of writers that included Gene Autry.  Now this little wonder could easily spike back into popularity with the right marketing.  It’s reported to air on ABC Family each year at the holidays.  Click on the name to hear the signature song.  You can also search it on YouTube and view the entire special.

Finally, a challenge.  This number was recorded by unsigned artists in 1978.  Once record execs heard it they offered the band a $250,000 recording contract.  What do you think of that decision?  Brilliant?  Insane?  Decide for yourself when you hear Christmas at Kmart.

Auction treasures

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Each Tuesday, Associated Auctioneers & Appraisers holds an auction at the Howard County Fairgrounds.  The excitement starts at 3:00 p.m. and continues throughout the evening, auctioning several out-buildings worth of furniture, household items and box lots, and, inside, at 5:00 p.m., fine items and jewelry.  I drive by every week on my way home from work, and this week, I gave in to my curiosity.

After securing my bidder number, I wandered in at out of the unheated buildings.  Dressed in a skirt and thin shoes, I was hardly ready for the unyielding concrete floors.  I froze before I had a chance to bid, and it’s just as well, because in my mind, I was shelling out hundreds of dollars for curiosities.  In one box, I found an entire wooden, carved chess set, each figure 12” tall.  In another, I dug through fabric scraps and unearthed several pairs of dressmaker shears, still in their velvet-lined boxes.

In the second building, I examined more than one box of Christmas items.  One was filled with holiday embroidered fingertip towels (new or never used), linen printed Christmas napkins, and several Christmas-themed fabric placemats.  These, once washed, would have made beautiful gifts, like using the linen napkins as basket liners for gifts of muffins, cakes, or cookies.

There was an entire crate of boxed Christmas cards, including holiday-themed “Thank you” notes.  This would have sufficed for every recycled Christmas card craft I could have made in a lifetime!

There were three slender ceramic wise men, about 18 inches tall, glazed entirely in gold, and in another box, there were yellow Depression glass plates that would have been perfect for displaying homemade fudge.   One box held a tall wooden birdhouse with holly, pinecones, and a few other ornaments entwined.  A couple of dollars of crafting material from Michaels, and no one would have guessed it wasn’t purchased from a boutique store.

Sure, there was a lot of junk, no kidding, but with a little creativity, I was ready to transform a lot of it into gems.  I spent a while gazing at an entire box of 45’s, thinking about all of the up-cycling I could do with those.

My mind racing like an engine, but my feet blocks of ice, I decided to return some future Tuesday when I was better prepared to follow the auctioneer and his crowd of buyers around the room.  The problem with auctions is the seductive power of bidding.

I left, empty-handed, except for my Bidder number 285, but next time, I’m bringing Roger’s truck to haul away my treasures!

And the secret to the perfect Christmas is…

…still a secret.  For now.  Today is January 25th.  It’s been a month since the joy of Christmas 2011.  If you are like most, those wonderful moments and memories seem like ages ago.  Our plan is to fill the next 11 months with all types of thoughts, ideas, memories, and more to keep the joy alive.  We’ve been talking about setting some specifics topics for specifics days.  I’ve decided for us on a couple to start.  On the 7th of every month we’ll be checking in on my poinsettia to see their progress and to find out what you should be doing with your plants that month.  On the 25th we wanted to be sure it was something special, so each month on the 25th day we will reveal one our Top Ten secrets to making the perfect Christmas.  Follow our secrets and you will be assured a fantastic holiday.  In addition to sharing a secret each month, we’ll also share a funny or interesting Top Ten list.  

For our first funny list, where better to start looking that the Late Show with David Letterman?  Letterman really put the Top Ten list on the map.  Here’s one of his many funny Christmas related lists courtesy of the Late Show on CBS.


10. Bells on clothing target for jeers at truck stops
9. Need two pieces of I.D. to buy beer
8. Santa’s union-busting goons killed a guy last spring
7. Black elves control the weight room
6. R&R weekends in Aleutians spoiled by trigger-happy shore patrol
5. Incredible markup at North Pole 7-11
4. Workmen’s compensation doesn’t cover “mistletoe-lung”
3. The Colonel practically runs my life (Sorry, that’s a Elvis complaint)
2. Dead elves just tossed out on tundra
1. Santa only invites his favorites to join him in the Jacuzzi

Hopefully you are familiar enough with Letterman to appreciate his special brand of irreverent humor!

Coming on February 25th- Secret #10.

Stories we love and moments we remember

When I was making the Shelfari site, I asked our readers to share their favorites.  Denise Reynolds told me about 24 Days of Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle.  She used to check this book out from the library each year and read it to her girls.  Later, she decided to purchase copies for them, but the new copies didn’t have the same special look and feel—they didn’t smell like the old library book, and the cover wasn’t the same.  The girls appreciated the thought but spotted the imposters right away.

I know the feeling.  My dad, when we were small children, would read The Night Before Christmas to us on Christmas Eve.  I have a vivid memory of him in an armchair with three of us (Susan was not yet born) sitting in his lap.  This is a real memory, or, perhaps,  the memory of a wish.  Did he only do this once, and I’ve romanticized it into a series of Hallmark greeting-card sentimental moments?  Maybe.  However it happened, I have the 1970’s version of the Big Golden Book still.  The insides are torn and fallen away from the cover.  Yet, in all of these years, I haven’t been able to bring myself to update or replace it.

Each holiday season, I look over newer versions of The Night Before Christmas.  It’s a classic poem, but any other illustrations (no matter how much more artistic) don’t satisfy.  They are either too “cute” or two serious or too something.

The newer books don’t smell like my book either.  An E-reader can’t take the place of that old, musty book smell.

Countdown Podcast #5- 335 Days to go!

Snow, Snow, Snow– Click to hear this week’s Podcast

This week we look a little more closely at snowmen and how they fit into keeping our holiday spirit alive.  Topics include white Christmas, high altitude, moose, Burl Ives, Gene Autry, and of course snowmen.  Natalie gives Jeremy a little quiz on the Classic 1969 television special Frosty the Snowman.  Is it a button or a carrot for that nose?  Coming soon… more discussion on the role of snowmen and the perfect way to build one, and how they show up in lots of strange places.

Krusteaz Sugar Cookies: A shortcut worth taking

When we were kids, baking and frosting my mom’s homemade sugar cookies was high on our list of anticipated Christmas activities.  I am still partial to the 8-piece red plastic set of cookie cutters that was my mom’s, and I just can’t settle in to using the newer metal ones.  It may sound odd now, but we sucked a hole into each raw cookie with a straw so that they could hang from the tree at Christmas. I had no qualms then about eating them off the tree.  Now, it would be a different story.

Rolled and cut sugar cookies, of all the Christmas treats are, in my humble opinion, the most labor intensive.  In the years when my Christmas spirit doesn’t develop, the sugar cookies are the first to be sacrificed.  The solution, I discovered this year, is to cheat.

At Thanksgiving, we were trolling the aisles at Costco, presumably buying “only what’s on the list,” but our cart was already full of extras, when we stumbled upon an enormous back of Krusteaz Sugar Cookie Mix.  In full impulse shopping mode, we bought a $17.00 bag that advertised it made 21 dozen cookies.

We made our first two batches in early December, dropping the dough on the pan.  They were thin, crisp, and amazingly sweet (even without sugar sprinkles).  We proceeded to make more batches through the holidays, using the alternate recipe on the bag for rolled and cut cookies.  Perfect every time (even I didn’t ruin them).  No frosting needed.

We calculated that we got our money’s worth:  total investment (with butter and eggs), $22.00.  That’s less than 10 cents a cookie.  Voracious cookie eaters, we couldn’t bake and eat enough to finish the bag until I baked them for a birthday party tonight, in late January.  I cut them into heart shapes and sprinkled them with red sugar.

I discovered this size bag is available November – December at Costco, but plenty of grocery stores nearby stock the regular single-batch,  3-dozen variety year-round.  Making a list of things to remember for next year?  (Who doesn’t ?)  Keep your eyes peeled in November for Krusteaz.