A Natural Holiday
|Photo courtesy of Bartlett Arboretum, Connecticut, USA|
For the winners of the book drawing, see below....
One of the best ways I know to limit consumerism is to replace shopping time with time in nature. The world created by God is an effective antidote to the man-made glitter and hype of the marketplace. When I'm tired of the crowds or the traffic or the constant pop renditions of Santa songs, even a walk through the park can restore my sense of peace and joy.
For me, being more aware of the natural world seems to deepen the spiritual impact of Christmas.
As the winter solstice approaches, the period of daylight grows slowly shorter. Sunsets come earlier, and the welcome glow of Christmas lights and candles, and the sparkling winter constellations, remind me that even when things seem dark, the light of faith can shine brightly. And isn't that the central message of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other winter holidays?
So much of our culture is about making money. Our world is in thrall to consumerism, and the month of December demonstrates that more than any other time of the year. And yet, in the month of December most of us are also at our most generous. The busyness and hype of this holiday season can make us impatient and greedy, and yet this season also inspires us to be cheerful and friendly.
It gives one reason to hope.
We all have the capacity to be nasty or nice. We can choose to display our better selves. It's not always easy, but with God's help we can behave in ways that being more light and kindness to the world, instead of adding to its injustice, cruelty, and darkness.
Spending time in nature as part of your Christmas celebration will provide a good reminder of the blessings of growth, new beginnings, and the hope that God's love brings to us and our world.
The winter solstice marks the reversal of the sun's ebbing presence in the sky. Early Christian leaders chose December 25 as the celebration of Jesus' birth (which many Biblical scholars believe actually occurred in the spring) because it coincided with ancient solstice festivals. By Christianizing those festivals and their symbols, the early church offered a way for new converts to understand the meaning of Jesus' birth.
6 Nature Activities to Celebrate the Solstice
1. Watch the sun set on the shortest day.
This year, it's this Saturday, December 21. Alternatively, you could watch the sun rise on Sunday morning.
2. Take a walk in the woods or a park to collect evergreen cones, and bring evergreens into your home.
Evergreens represented eternal life to ancient people, because unlike other plants they did not seem to die in the winter. Holly, ivy, pine, fir, cedar, rosemary, and juniper are all ancient symbols of life and rebirth.
A Christmas tree is also a symbol of life. Pope John Paul II said that it should remind Christians of the Tree of Life in Genesis chapter 2, and of eternal life through God's son Jesus. Many Americans put up a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, but it is more traditional to bring it in on the evening of the solstice.
Use several types of evergreen cuttings to craft a wreath. The wreath's circular shape extends the symbolism of continuity and eternity.
Take a walk in the park or a field where you can see the moon and stars. The winter constellations are so brilliant! My favorite is Orion, with the orange star Betelgeuse, diamond-blue Rigel, and the incredibly bright Sirius following behind.
Spend some time in the silence and the darkness and the radiance of the sky. Imagine the miracle of angels appearing to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus, or of a group of kings (or, more likely, scholars) traveling far from their homeland to find the royal child whose birth was heralded by a remarkable star.
4. Burn a Yule log.
The ancient Norse called this time of year "Jul," meaning "wheel." Because the seasons of the year rotate predictably, we can count on the return of spring and of harvest. A yule log symbolizes that faith and hope for the future.
If you have a fireplace or an outdoor fire pit, burn an oak, pine, birch, or ash log on the night of the solstice. If you'd like, write a bad habit or a wish for the coming year on a slip of paper and add it to the fire.
5. Create a Christmas tree for wild birds.
Feeding birds in winter improves their nutrition and helps them prepare for successful spring mating. It also allows you to enjoy the birds' colors, habits, and songs at close range.
Choose a tree that can be seen from the living area or kitchen of your home. An evergreen tree will offer birds protection, but a bare deciduous tree with bushes nearby offers space for birds to perch, feed, and find shelter.
Use string or natural twine and craft nutritious bird treats:
- slices of apple and orange
- strings of raisins, fresh cranberries, and unsalted air-popped popcorn
- pine cones covered with natural peanut butter and sunflower seeds
- garlands of unsalted in-shell peanuts and original, unsweetened Cheerios
6. Go caroling.
It's an old tradition to go singing from door to door. Originally, it allowed the poor a chance to receive alms from the wealthy, to "sing for their supper."
Bundle up, and enjoy the opportunity to get outside and stretch your legs a bit. It's practical to carry lanterns or flashlights with you, but light shining in the darkness also symbolizes hope, faith, and the triumph of good over evil.
Share tidings of comfort and joy about Jesus, the Light of the World:
- "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
- "Joy to the World"
- "Go Tell it on the Mountain"
Include songs that mention solstice symbols:
- "The Holly and the Ivy"
- "Oh Christmas Tree"
- "Deck the Halls"
End with "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," that famous begging/thank you carol that's been sung for more than 400 years.
Dear readers, thank you for your comments here on the blog and via my Contact Page. My husband randomly drew four names of people to receive my books. I have two copies of Minimalism A to Z and two copies of Minimalism for the Holidays to give away.
And the winners are... Lisa, the native New Mexican who finds that hygge is integral to her life; Jennifer, who wrote that she just discovered this blog and wants to slow down and appreciate life; goseigirl, celebrating the virtues of natural light and less TV at her new home in New Mexico; and Georgi, who writes that experiencing hygge every day might change the world.
The next step is for you four to use the Contact Form way down at the bottom of this page to send me your mailing addresses, or just email me directly at kmtrefzger @gmail.com. I'll get your packages in the mail ASAP.