Hibernating During Halcyon

Welcome to the October 2012 Simplicity Parenting Carnival: Holidays

This post was written as part of the monthly Simplicity Parenting Carnival hosted by The Lone Home Ranger and S.A.H.M. i AM. This month we are discussing how we simplify the holiday season. Be sure to read to the end to see a list of the rest of the excellent carnival contributors.

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Licht / LightIt’s getting colder out. This year there was no gradual change to speak of. It seemed that we had gone from 100 degree temperatures to freezing nights in the course of a few weeks. With it, came a feeling that my family should be hibernating, cuddled up under blankets, reading lovely books, and sipping hot cocoa. This feeling also stems from the fact that our schedule has been a bit over packed this fall. Normally we do pretty well at keeping it under control so that our family of introverts receives the time at home that we need. This fall, with extra weekly activities getting packed in last minute on top of what was a nice schedule, we are all feeling it. We are looking forward to a slower pace and more time at home to snuggle and contemplate.

Our family’s main winter holiday is Halcyon. Technically, it’s not a day and it doesn’t even occur in winter, as we celebrate Halcyon leading up to the Winter Solstice. With dropping temperatures, I think we can effectively call it a winter celebration. Typically, we celebrate Halcyon starting with Thanksgiving and culminating on the night of the Solstice. This year, however, I’m considering starting on November 1, as is typical. I’m ready to contemplate.

Halcyon is a time of peace. It’s a time of contemplation and introspection, of considering where our lives are and where we want them to be. It’s about realigning ourselves on our journey, refocusing ourselves, and taking a moment to redirect that inner compasses. Halcyon is a time of darkness and quiet as we await the return of the light. Halcyon is meditative and healing.

I think that this year, for me, Halcyon is also about hibernating and enjoying.

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Thanks for reading the Simplicity Parenting Blog Carnival! We hope you’ll take time to read these other great contributors’ posts:
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  • Making Halloween – JW at True Confessions of a Real Mommy says “No need to spend a lot this Halloween! Check out some easy, frugal ideas for dressing your family up!”
  • Hibernating During Halcyon – Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children and her family are gearing up for the Halcyon celebrations and enjoying some quiet time as a family.
  • Savoring Family Time (or, Simple Homemade Gifts) – Emily at S.A.H.M. i AM is trying to prepare for the holidays early so she can slow down and enjoy time with her family as the days grow shorter and a new baby enters their lives.
  • 7 Green Gifts for Toddlers – Shannon at GrowingSlower shares unique green gift ideas for kids this holiday season that are sure to be green mom approved.
  • Less is More: Simplifying the Holidays to Make Room for More of What Matters – Amy at Anktangle shares a few easy strategies she uses to keep the holidays manageable, stress-free, and fun!
  • buy nothing x-mas? – mama lola at bear & lion describes what christmas is all about to her and her family; treats, music, crafts and LOVE!
  • DIY holiday fun – Justine at The Lone Home Ranger revels in thrifting for and making her own holiday gifts and decorations.

Thanks to all the fabulous writers and readers for being a part of our simplicity parenting community! Stop by The Lone Home Ranger and S.A.H.M. i AM to see how to join us for a future carnival.

Orange Pomanders

I’ve always known about orange pomanders. They were once used as air fresheners during the winter, a time when bathing was limited. I’m certain I even heard about my mother making them as a little girl. However, until recently I had never made an orange pomander.

I bought a bunch of oranges and bulk cloves for our recent Solstice Party. I had no idea how fun they would be to make. My children and I made more after our guests left. Poking an orange with a toothpick and then inserting cloves into a design is surprisingly peaceful and something that all ages can do. I believe we may have found a new tradition.

Simplifying the Holidays

Welcome to the December Mindful Mama Carnival: Staying Mindful During the Holiday Season

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants
have shared how they stay mindful during the holiday season. Please read to
the end to find a list of links to the other carnival
participants.

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Our family celebrates Halcyon and the Solstice, along with some other holidays such as Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. It’s something that is at odds with the area of the country we live in, where one is bombarded with Christmas every time you step foot out of the door. In previous years, I think I have, to some extent, tried to normalize my children’s experience, one based on a need for authenticity, by trying to do too much – making all of our gifts by hand, planning fun activities to go along with our solstice calendar, finding all-inclusive activities in which we can participate without the insistance that everyone must celebrate Christmas.

An incident this summer, in which several people told me that I should not expect all-inclusive winter events and activities to be accepting of everyone participating, had me re-evaluating things. I realized that I was trying to find community in the wrong places. I looked at the 5 dozen blown out eggshells I had collected with plans to make lovely hand-painted krysanky ornaments and realized how ridiculous it all was. I began cutting things out – ornament exchanges, card exchanges outside of our normal list, large group events, etc.

Then I reminded myself that simple living isn’t only about handmade. So, while I have made most of my children’s stoclittle items and gifts, I decided it was okay to not make everything myself. I don’t have the energy to do everything, and I was the only one who really expected it of me. So, I purchased comfortable pajamas to give our children on Solstice Night rather than sewing them. We found a $9 gingerbread house kit which took so much work off my back and was more affordable then if we had purchased supplies for the kids to decorate a homemade version. WE ordered fewer holiday cards this year to mail.

We scrapped coming up with something special to do everyday and vowed to celebrate just our family and Halcyon however we saw fit each day. It’s been relaxing and calming, and our little family has enjoyed the season just as much; I have enjoyed it more. So, we make our special treats together, play games, watch movies, snuggle, share our memories and talk about everything important to us and forget about the rest of the world. Sure, we still make gifts for others and donate to families  in need, something we do regardless of the time of year. However, we are remembering that we aren’t about the holidays – the holidays are about us.

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The Winter Solstice

Ellen Jackson has a series of children’s picture books regrading various Earth-based holidays. So, when I ordered a copy of The Winter Solstice years ago, I had great expectations. Instead, I found a book focused solely from a Judeo-Christian perspective, even stating empirically that we now celebrate the winter solstice with Christmas and Hannukah.

The Winter Solstice

Most families searching for books of this nature are looking for something that doesn’t revolve around Christmas. Jackson completely missed the mark on this book. I would even have been happy with a book which talked about how Christmas traditions are actually taken from Winter Solstice celebrations. Instead, it’s a book which discounts everything about the solstice and fails to acknowledge the light and goodness which has been shown around the holiday throughout the years.

I won’t refuse to read the book to my children, but I will make clarifications when reading it. I would not purchase this book again.

The Shortest Day

If you are looking for a children’s picture book about the Winter Solstice that doesn’t mention Christmas, Wendy Pfeffer’s The Shortest Day will meet your requirements. Of the few childen’s books available about the Solstice, almost all mention the Christian holiday. This fact alone makes the book worth purchasing for families who celebrate the Solstice.

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Jesse Reisch’s colorful illustrations are true to form for a picture book, engaging the youngest readers. Suggested activities, although nothing spectacular, and solstice facts at the back of the book garner extra points from me.

The book is based on factual information, which normally would have me overjoyed. However, the facts are a bit questionable. Most notably, the dates for how long various solstice traditions have occurred around the world are off. Perhaps it’s a smal detail, but one I find greatly annoying. Despite that, it’s a good starting point for families with young children who celebrate earth based holidays and one I would purchase again based on the great lack of books available for families such as ours.

A Solstice Tree for Jenny

There aren’t many books available for children whose families don’t celebrate Christmas, or at the least Hannukah. Children in families who believe differently are often at a loss as to how they fit in with the nonconscious religious ideology which surrounds us.

A Solstice Tree for Jenny (Young Readers)

A Solstice Tree for Jenny by Karen Shragg tries to bridge that gap. Jenny, the daughter of two free-thinking scientists who don’t adhere to any religious beliefs, finds herself in a new position one year when her family is in the States during the holidays. She notices the differences between those families celebrating and hers and feels at a loss.

An understanding teacher suggests that her family may be interested in learning about the Solstice and celebrating in a secular way. She presents the idea to her parents and the family decides to do just that.

The book is not without problems, the least of which are Heidi Schwabacher’s illustrations. The colorful  front cover is in complete contrast to the black and white pencil drawings which range from simple to disproportionate. The over-simplification of her parents decision regarding religion is almost laughable, as the majority of individuals who decide that they cannot celebrate a religious holiday in a secular manner do so out of a strong sense of honesty and authenticity.

However, due to the lack of children’s literature in this area, the book does have merit. It holds appeal not only to atheist families but to other minority families for its discussion of unity and focus on finding something that works for each family, and I would recommend to any of those families to at least check it out.

Honoring Belief and Authenticity during the Holidays

Photo by Scott Vuocolo

Before my husband and I had children, we discussed how we planned to handle various aspects of holidays. We aren’t Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so it only seemed natural to me that we wouldn’t bring the commercial aspect of Santa Claus into our home for the Solstice.

It wasn’t something I would miss. Not only was there the overly commercial aspect and the blatant lying, but I didn’t have fond memories of the jolly old man. I have the obligatory pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap, tears streaming down my face at having been forced to sit on a strange man’s lap. At the age of four, I informed my mother that I didn’t believe in Santa Claus. I knew she left the gifts, and I wanted to appreciate her effort and thought rather than some mythical stranger.

However, my husband did have fond memories. He enjoyed the magical aspect as a kid and actually pretended to believe in  Santa Claus long past when he actually quit believing in order to receive an extra gift.

There were discussions. In the end, we compromised. We would discuss the spirit of giving with our future children and Father Time, a representation of that spirit, would leave gifts. I was a bit unsettled by this but recognized the need to honor my husband’s wishes, too. And then we had children…

Gazing into that tiny face, so trusting of us, we knew we couldn’t lie to him. We had no desire to break the special trust held between parent and child. So, life went on. We celebrated our solstice traditions and thought nothing more of Santa Claus or Father Time for five happy years.

The year our oldest turned five years old, he brought up the topic. We had read books about what other people believed and what other holidays people celebrated. We were surrounded by the commercialism of Santa Claus every time we went out.

One fateful day the question came. “Mommy, does Santa Claus exist?” There was an internal cringe, I’m sure. I explained that some people believed he did. Others didn’t. Some people believed in other forms of a spirit of giving. And then I asked him what he believed. He told me that he thought Father Time would leave presents for him and his siblings.

The morning after the longest night of the year, as we got up to open gifts, there were three unwrapped presents sitting on the sofa. My husband and I said nothing about them. We neither claimed to have given them nor that they were from Father Time. While we wouldn’t lie to our children, we also didn’t wish to squash any magic from what they wanted to believe.

The next year, at the age of six, he asked is Father Time was really real? I told him that I could answer his question and that the answer would be one of two – either yes or no. If it was yes, life would go on as it had and he would still believe. However, if it was no, would he be happy no longer believing? I asked him a hard question. Which was more important to him: knowing for certain what the answer was or believing regardless? He chose to continue believing, knowing that at any time he could ask me and I would answer truthfully, whatever that may be. His four year old sister piped up that she didn’t believe and that she thought that when I filled everyone’s stockings, I also left the gifts on the couch. I replied that different people believe different things.

We now have four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and 7 months. Listening to their conversations about the subject is interesting. I still stick to my need to be authentic and refuse to lie. I also will not force my beliefs on someone else and tell them they are wrong. Honoring honesty and authenticity doesn’t have to conflict with honoring the magic of childhood.

Edited to add: After that first year, the gifts have all been digital media for our library - either movies or music cds. Its a tradition we plan to continue, regardless of what our children believe and one which we can feel honest about.

Easy Sun Wreath

Today’s activity on our Solstice Calendar was to make a wreath for our front door. I had originally planned something a bit more modern, but budget and time constraints, along with the fact that our steel door can get very hot in the sun (my original plan was edible), dictated some changes.

I cut a simple wreath shape out of a cardboard box that was in our recycling bin. You could purchase an actual wreath form at the store, but cardboard is free and reusing items is always good for our planet. Strips of fabric were cut from my stash. This is actually a good project to use up some of a fabric stash that has been sitting around for a while.

The kids debated about what colors to use. Traditional Yule colors of red, green, and gold were suggested, along with cheers for blues, a suggestion of a rainbow wreath, and others. They eventually settled on the colors of the sun – oranges and yellows, which fit in beautifully with our discussion.

Strips of roughly cut fabric are tied onto the form. The only caveat with this wreath is that you probably don’t want any cardboard showing. We opted to just tie on a lot of fabric. However, if I hadn’t had any children older than preschool age, I think I may have first wrapped the cardboard in fabric and then had them tie their pieces on. Scrunching the fabric together to hide the cardboard meant a lot more time spent on the wreath.

When we finished the wreath (I helped tie at the end), we were able to discuss the symbolism involved.

  • the sun wreath represents our celebration of the return of the sun, and longer days
  • the circular form represents the rotation of the planet, ofthe ever turning cycle of life and seasons
  • the multiple fabrics are both different and similar, representing our world is made of different peoples and cultures but that we are still all people
  • the ends of the fabric are the sun’s rays, radiating out and helping living things. Our actions not only affect ourselves but also affect others. When we do acts of kindness for others, theose people are more likely to have a good day and spread more kindness.

Solstice Calendar

My husband grew up with an Advent Calendar. Every day his mother would dole out butterscotch candies that were pinned to it. A few years ago, he mentioned it to me, saying that it was a tradition he enjoyed and missed. We don’t celebrate Christmas, so we needed to come up with something that would work with our beliefs and holidays.

We ended up with a Solstice calendar. I’m not certain why I felt it necessary to hand stitch all of the tiny pieces of felt on, but it does look nice. The same ribbons that we use to hang it tie the calendar when it is rolled up. It’s also quilted, so it’s rather sturdy.

It happens that the Winter Solstice is not always on the same calendar day, so the last row of pockets has snaps so that we can change numbers or pictures. Rather than have the calendar be about receiving a treat, we made it about the gift of giving, with the idea that after receiving something nice yourself, you would pass it on by doing a kindness for someone else. The little face showing in the first pocket is a simple shape gnome. I realized after I finished the calendar that we needed a visual representation to move each day, so I grabbed one of our handmade toys. The little gnome has lived in the calendar ever since.

 

This year, we have added a small piece of paper to each pocket with a special thing to do. Some of the items are fun things and some are of a more giving nature.

  1. Put together Holiday Helper gift
  2. Make wreath for front door
  3. Ornament Swap
  4. Buy  2010 Solstice Ornaments
  5. Hang outside lights
  6. Paper snowflakes
  7. Mail holiday cards
  8. Make gingerbread house
  9. Make fudge
  10. Surprise Daddy’s coworkers with fudge and food
  11. Make cut out cookies
  12. Buy a holiday treat
  13. Drop off food at fire station
  14. Torch lit hike
  15. Leave cookies for mailman
  16. Surprise someone with baked goods
  17. Deliver Goodies to Neighbors
  18. Hot chocolate and games
  19. Drive around to look at holiday lights
  20. Celebrate the Solstice Party
  21. Make Yule log
  22. Open Gifts