Podcast #53- 259 Days to Go!

angels1Podcast #53- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Recycled Angels and Famous Santas!

Natalie and Jeremy are back!  It’s been over a month since we last did a recording.  Far too long!  We have both decided that the new method of posting and recording isn’t really working for us.  We don’t do well with the every few days and every couple of weeks Christmas fun.  We need the daily Christmas joy and excitement to keep the spirit alive.  This week’s podcast starts with something to DO: make angels out of recycled soda cans.  Natalie found the plans and we tried them out today.  Hear how we did it and listen to our  opinions of the craft.  Next we get to things we need to PLAN: like our very own Festival of Trees.  Listen in to see how we are planning to bring this activity to our own place of work.  We challenge you to plan a way now to increase the joy of Christmas with others this year.  Finally we close out our recording with something to KNOW: your introduction to the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.  Wet your appetite for interesting Santa tidbits.  Find out why Mickey Rooney was inducted into the Hall in 2012.  We will be posting more on this topic in the coming days but this is a good start.  Merry Christmas!


Good King Wenceslas and the Feast of St. Stephen

Happy St. Stephen’s Day!  St. Stephen was one of the Catholic Church’s earliest martyrs, and his day is mentioned in one of my least favorite Christmas carols, “Good King Wenceslas.” ( Jeremy described one of the St. Stephen’s Day traditions, the hunting of the wren, in his March 13, 2012 post. Check it out here.)

weneslas1Last night, I listened to the Stuff You Missed in History Class episode that describes the historical figures of “Good” King Wenceslas and St. Stephen. After listening, I have renewed respect for the figure in the carol, and, after reading all of the lyrics (as opposed to the first verse that we all have memorized), it’s a lovely story of good deeds–whether true or not.   Seems that the pictures we see of King Wenceslas are more imagination than reality. (The illustration to the right is the typical depiction–more like St. Nick.) The 10th century Bohemian prince, who wasn’t a king at all, was a young man when he was murdered by his brother, Boleslav the Cruel.

I’m a big fan of the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class.  In this podcast, co-hosts Deblina Chakraborty and Sarah Dowdey discuss both historical figures and give insight into their good deeds.    They reference of the stanzas of the carol,

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed

As Wenceslas and his page walk forth to take a meal and firewood to a peasant, the king’s very goodness melts the snow beneath his feet.

In the podcast, Chakraborty mentions that she edited another How Stuff Works blog post, “10 Myths About Christmas.”  It gave me the idea for a future blog post to research the history of the glass pickle.  Jeremy gave me one for Christmas, and now I want to know more!

Here Comes… St. Nicholas? (Song of the Week #21)

That’s right.  Here comes St. Nicholas.  Today I was all prepared to write about our Song of the Week #21, Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane).  Then I was reminded that today is the feast day for Saint Nicholas.  You see, we switched days here at the log, so I was a little off.  My solution is to combine the two.  Seems like a good song to share on the feast day for the man who would help to form the characters of American Santa Claus and British Father Christmas.  So first- the man, the mystery, the saint.

Saint_NicholasNicholas, or Nikolaos, was a Greek priest living on the island of Myra in the 4th century.   He would become the Bishop of Myra known as the “Wonderworker”.  Born of wealthy parents he was orphaned at a young age and raised by his uncle, also a priest.  He took to religion early in like and was devoted to the fasts and practices of the church of the day.  As a priest he was also known as a secret gift giver.  He would put coins in the shoes of people who left them out for him (sound familiar?).  He is said to have resurrected three boys who were killed by a butcher in a time of famine.  He also is known for convincing sailors to give the town part of their wheat destined for the emperor in Constantinople.  The miracle was that they left over 2 years worth of wheat, but when the sailors arrive in port at the end of the voyage, there was no wheat missing.  He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, students and children.  Also, curiously, for pawnbrokers and thieves too.  When he died his relics were kept in the church in Myra.  In 1071 his remains were stolen during a period of war and taken to Bari in Italy.  Odd that thieves stole his relics, right?  The remains are still there today (although the Turkish Government has filed an appeal to have them returned to Myra).  These remains have a miracle property of their own.  Each year on December 6th they exude a clear liquid smelling of roses called manna, or myrrh.  The liquid is sold at the Cathedral and is said to have healing powers.  St. Nicholas Day is today and is a festival for children.  He is known to be the starting place for the British Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus.  So, here he comes!

Here comes santa2Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane) was written by Gene Autry and Oakley Halderman.  Autry got the idea for the song while riding his horse in the 1946 Santa Claus Lane Parade in Los Angeles.  Today the parade is known as the Hollywood Christmas Parade, held the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The first demo version was made by Johnny Bond.  He improvised during the recording, using a glass of ice cubes to make the sound of some jingle bells.  Autry liked it and added the bells to the first recording he made in 1947.  He liked the song so much he even used it in his 1948 movie The Cowboys and the Indians.  The song has simple lyrics of a pop type but with a solid sacred message.  Hundreds of versions have been recorded over the last 65 years.  Take a moment to listen to a few:

Gene Autry– Original recording from the 40s. (version from his 1948 film, too)
Elvis Presley– It’s Elvis- a classic
Bing Crosby– Crooner takes on the song with the help of the Andrew Sisters
Ray Conniff– Ray and his singers (just for Natalie!)
Mariah Carey– drippy version from an ABC TV holiday special
Bob Dylan– Yup, Bob Dylan…


Saint Francis Xavier, One of the Christmas Saints

Today I decided to do a little reading to find out more about the Saints related to Christmas.  Of course I found most things to be written about the most well-known: St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Nicholas.  As I read more and looked to less familiar sites online, I discovered some writings about the “Christmas Saints”.  These are the main Saints with feast days during the advent season.  There are saints for almost every day in the Catholic calendar, but only the “major” saints are considered Christmas Saints.  AS best I can tell, their feasts are celebrated during advent in part because of the important work of these faithful servants.  For today I picked one to find out a little more about, Saint Francis Xavier.

Saint Francis was born in 1506 in Navarre, part of modern-day Spain.  He was the son of an aristocratic family, but much of their wealth and stature was lost when his father died and the Catholic Spanish forces invaded Navarre.  Francis moved to Paris to study and was ready to become an academic as his family had planned.  Instead, he joined with a new friend to devout his life to missionary work.  He was good friends with Ignatius of Loyola and with 5 others they would form the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. In Paris on Montmartre they took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.  From France he would move first to Venice and then on to Lisbon.  There he would begin his real life’s work as a missionary.  He took out to bring the word to the Peoples of Asia and those Portuguese living in the empire.  He based his work in India and preached to the poorest of the poor.  He lived among them and shared their food and housing.  Much of his work was with lepers and the very sick.  His work moved him into Malaysia and then Japan.  In Japan he would convert the first Japanese Christian.  From Japan he planned to move into mainland China.  Unfortunately he caught fever and died before making the journey.  Saint Francis is said to have converted the most people to Christianity since Saint Paul.  His work with the masses was heavily partnered with music.  Francis put the verses of study to local music to help the indigenous people hear the message.

“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16:26)  These words from Jesus are believed to be the ones that caused Saint Francis to devote his life to faithful mission work.  He is included as one of the Christmas Saints because of his tireless efforts to show all people the joy we receive with the arrival of the baby Jesus.  He led a life of pure sacrifice.  Sacrifice is leaving yourself behind at times for a greater good, the good of prayer, the good of helping someone in need, the good of just listening to another. The greatest gift we have is our time. Francis gave his to others.  Pray for his intercession during the advent season if you want your time spent in advent to bear fruit long beyond the season.  He is the patron saint of Japan and of all missionaries.

St. Francis

Do you need St. Joseph to be your real estate agent?

Roger and I have a beautiful home on the market in Uniontown, Maryland, but the future satisfied owners of this house have not yet appeared.  Roger’s mother gave us a St. Joseph statue to bury, upside down, in the back yard.  Upside down?

In our latest podcast, Jeremy and I disagreed about the upside down practice.  He acknowledged that there is a huge following of the St. Joseph real estate tradition, with actual home sale kits, but upside down?

I did a little research into this issue.  First, there’s the 2003 best-selling resource by Stephen J. Binz,  St. Joseph, My Real Estate Agent.  This is no crackpot publication.  While it has a humorous tone, Binz is a theologian and counselor in Louisiana, with over 20 scholarly publications to his name.

And the home sales kit itself is available on respectable websites, like Catholic Supply, Inc. of St. Louis.   While I couldn’t determine the religious origin of st.josephstatue.com, the website has testimonials from hundreds of successful home sellers.

To be clear, the prayer aspect of the ritual is the most powerful part of the sales technique.  The stjosephsite.com has the complete 9-day novena.

The origin of the St. Joseph home-selling tradition is said to have begin with St. Theresa of Avila in (1515-1582), who prayed to St. Joseph (the patron saint of the family and household needs) for more land for Christian converts and encouraged her Discalced Carmelite nuns to bury St. Joseph medals in the ground as a symbol of their devotion.

According to The Straight Dope, he is buried upside down and facing away from the house if you are burying in the front yard and right side up toward the house in the back yard.  Other websites encourage upside down exclusively.

Our house has a beautiful new coat of paint, and if that doesn’t bring a buyer, I’m ready for a little St. Joseph help.

Podcast #21- 216 Days to Go!

Podcast #21- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Saint Joseph gets some love too!

This week we start with our usual review of the past week and talk just a little about flash mobs and Christmas in July (more on that in July of course!).  We mainly discuss the lives and times of Saint Joseph, Mary’s husband by most accounts.  Unlike Mary there is little written on Joseph.   We do know that from what is written there is little agreement.  No definitive text exists to explain the life of Joseph.  Was he a widow?  Was he old?  Did he and Mary ever consummate their union?  Were they even married?  We don’t offer answers but do discuss some plausible maybes.  We leave open a difference on the actual divinity of Joseph.  Did he have a similar connection to God as Mary and Jesus?  More research will tell.

Mary stays busy!

Mary is honored and celebrated by the faithful world-wide.  She is the most holy of all women and we’ve discussed her various roles, most importantly in the Christmas story.  Mary continued to appear to the faithful thousands of years after here lifetime.  These apparitions are seriously investigated and researched by the church.  Over 500 have been reported but very few gain the “approval” of the church.

The Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in 1531.  Diego was a poor old Aztec widower who lived in a small village near Mexico City.  He was headed to mass one evening and passed near the hill Tepeyac.  As he passed he heard music like the cries of birds and a cloud appeared.  In the cloud was a vision of a native American girl dressed as an Aztec princess.  She spoke to him in his native tongue and told him to go and see the Bishop of Mexico.  He was to instruct the bishop to build a chapel on the site where she appeared.  Diego went to the bishop and did as he was asked.  The bishop asked Diego for a sign from the Virgin Mother.  She again appeared to Diego and provided him roses, which were not in season, to take to the bishop as proof.  Diego carried them in his cloak and when he reached the bishop they all spilled out.  In his cloak remained an image of the Virgin Mary.  This visit from the Holy Mother changed the church and still serves the peoples of Mexico, and the world, as an inspirational tale for god living.  A basilica was built in her honor in Mexico and the image is kept there, even today.

Mary makes another unexpected appearance in 1858 outside the village of Lourdes in France.  A poor young girl named Bernadette and her family were living in a local jail.  Bernadette was out searching for firewood with her sister and a friend.  They came upon a cave known as Massabielle.  There Bernadette has the first of many sightings of the Holy Mother- a lady dressed in white with a blue sash ans yellow roses at her feet.  There were nearly 18 additional visions.  Many treated Bernadette with skepticism and lacked belief, including the local priest.  The priest and all others were convinced when Bernadette shared that the lady told her that she was the “Immaculate Inception”.  With no way for Bernadette to have known of that title or meaning, the priest was convinced.  A spring was discovered on the site and healings occur on the site for the faithful.  Lourdes is one of the most visited holy sites in honor of Mary in the world.  Nearly 6 million people visit annually.  Lucky for us here in Maryland that we can get to a local shrine in honor of Lourdes.  The National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is located in Emmitsburg, MD.  It is the oldest replica of the original dating back to 1875.  The gardens and grounds are beautiful at all times of the year.  A peaceful walk to the shrine at Christmas can be very fulfilling!

No, not THAT Madonna.

Far too many people think of Ms. Ciccone and her conical shirts when they hear the word Madonna.  Obviously that’s not true here at the Yule Log.  As Natalie wrote about in her post yesterday, our material girl is THE original Madonna, the virgin mother.  The term Madonna is an Italian word used generally to refer to the mother of Jesus.  In the art world it refers to any work where Mary is the center focus.  Most specifically it should be used for Italian pieces of art of Mary.  The literal translation is simply “my lady”, similar to the French “our lady” or Notre Dame.

Art of the Madonna is nearly as old as Christianity itself.  Ancient tombs and catacombs in Rome have cave drawings of the Virgin Mother.  Her image has endured in every type of art for over a thousand years.  Name an artist and you will most likely find some type of work of the Madonna.  From da Vinci and Michelangelo to even Salvador Dali, artists love the image of Mary.  There are all types of groupings and titles for types of depictions of Mary in the arts, categorized by medium, subject, etc.  One very specific type of Marian art is known as Hodegetria.  This is a type of artistic portrayal often found in Greek or orthodox icons.  The composition of the image is detailed.  Mary holds Christ in her left arm and gestured towards him with her right hand.  Her fingers are stretched out and pointing to the babe as he is the way to salvation.  The baby Jesus’ right hand is raised in a blessing.  The term Hodegetria translates to “she who shows the way”.  The original work was located in a monastery in Constantinople (Istanbul) built just to hold it.  The portrayal was said to have been brought from the Holy Land in the early 400s.  Somehow it was lost, and may be in Russia or Italy today.  When you look at this depiction, you definitely see one of the most familiar images of the Madonna and Child.

Miriam- Christmas Mother

May is devoted to Mary, as we have previously discussed.  Mary.  So many names for the mother of Christmas.  Mary, Miriam, Maryam, St. Mary, Mother Mary, Virgin Mary, Blessed Virgin, Holy Mother, Mother of God, Chosen One, Purified One, Truthful One, and maybe thousands more.  Natalie and I were discussing in this weeks recording about the role Mary plays in various religions and denominations.  Most surprising to many might be the role the Mother of God plays in the Qur’an.

Mary is worshipped and honored by Muslims and is a key figure in Islam.  She is the mother of Jesus (Isa) who is created through divine intervention.  In the Qur’an Mary is called Maryam.  She is the most honored woman in the holy text and is mentioned more in the Qur’an more than she is in the Christian New Testament.  She is the only woman directly mentioned in the entire readings.  There are only 8 of nearly 150 chapters (sura) in the Qur’an named for people and #19 is the only named for a woman, Maryam.  Muslims see her most similarly to Roman Catholics, referring to her as “Our Lady”.  Muslims share the view of her as a virgin mother of God  and she is “exalted above all women of the universe”.  They also share in the belief of her immaculate conception- her parents were barren and her mother prayed to God to grant her a child and she was rewarded with the birth of Maryam. Her life chronicled in the Qur’an is almost identical to the events outlined in the Gospel of Luke.  She truly is the holiest of women.

You will regularly see lines from her sections in the Qur’an on the mihrab of many mosques, most notably the Hagia Sophia.  The mihrab is the important wall that identifies what direction to face towards Mecca.  Throughout the Islamic world Maryam is an example to all women and they regularly visit shrines in her name.  Having grown up a Roman Catholic this resonates well with me.  Mary was always THE example of the perfect Christian woman.  Looks like we aren’t alone in our veneration of the Mother of God.

Podcast #20- 223 Days to Go!

Podcast #20– Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Blessed Mother Mary.

This week in recognition of Mother’s Day we honor all mothers everywhere.  Natalie and I both realize that our love and happiness at Christmas and through the rest of the year comes from the examples and lessons provided by our mothers.  In today’s podcast we start a discussion on knowing more about the Mother of God, Mary.  We plan to look into the history of this woman and her role in Christianity and other world religions this week.  Listen to our brief opening chat to get things going.