When Emus Have a Blue Christmas

Meet my buddy, Seven. He is super cute. Recently I was helping him in art class and he painted a very blue Christmas emu and then wrote the words ‘Merry Sad Christmas’ next to it. When I asked him why the emu was sad, Seven broke into song:

‘Hello darkness my old friend…’

I helpfully joined in and sang the next line with him. Seven stamped his foot and said,

‘Hey! How do you know THAT song?’. I said (very cool like),

‘Because I heard it. Back in the 70s.’ Then I asked Seven what made his emu so sad and he stuck out his bottom lip and replied,

‘Because last Christmas his present was clothes’.

Poor emu.

Not all of us feel overly joyful at Christmas.

This is the third Sunday of Advent when we light the Joy candle. Hmmm….

The Christmas vibes in my neighbourhood have been strange this year. We have all been trying to get on with being Christmassy against an ominous backdrop of smoke and a steady stream of bushfire updates. Much of our state has gone up in flames. Homes and lives have been lost. It is an eerie, deeply unsettling feeling. Not so joyous.

Also, this year, I am hundreds and thousands of kilometres away from people who are dear to me. I am missing them terribly badly. So that adds another layer of not feeling so joyous.

What I have been thinking though, is maybe joy doesn’t always come to us consistently and comprehensively. Maybe a few snippets of joy, here and there, are enough to keep us going. Kind words, a meal, a hug, a flower, a song, a poem, an invitation, a smile, can all help. These have been the snippets of joy for me recently. And Seven. He makes me laugh so hard.

I have also been thinking that to keep joy alive, we have to keep bringing joy to others, in spite of how we feel. There’s nothing to lose, is there? As Anne Frank said,

‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’

Speaking of Australian fauna, one of my favourite Christmas books is called Wombat Divine. It’s written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent. My heart swells with joy every time I read it. At the very same time tears spring to my eyes. It really is something special. If you have any little ones in your life, make sure you find a copy and read it to them soon. Or just read it to yourself.

I hope you don’t have a Merry Sad Christmas but if you are feeling a little blue, think of Seven and his emu and let’s pray their presents aren’t clothes this time.

Waiting and Wonder

I remember waiting for the mail when I was in my late teens. I had a boyfriend in Canada and we wrote to each other for 2 years. Our hand written letters would take about two weeks each way. They would be several pages long and I’d read his over and over while I waited for the next letter to arrive.

These days, the idea of having to wait for anything is most unsavoury. No one likes waiting for a train or in a queue for the check out. Hardly anyone waits at home for dough to rise or for clothes to dry on the line. Advertising is littered with words like ‘instant’, ‘fast track’, ‘express’, ‘tap’, ‘click’ and ’24/7′. Around the clock we have immediate access to movies, books, music, food, messages, news and money.

But is waiting always bad for us?

“…isn’t waiting itself and longing a wonder, being played on by wind, sun, and shade?”

Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

As Annie suggests, perhaps there is something special about anticipation.

The season before Christmas is called Advent and for me Christmas isn’t completely Christmas without it. The word Advent comes from a Latin word which means ‘approaching’. It is a time of looking forward; of preparing for the celebration to come. It is also a time to reflect and remember.

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and we mark it by decorating our home with a Christmas Tree and an Advent Wreath. Each of the four Sundays focuses on a theme starting with Hope, then Peace, then Joy, then Love. Every Sunday a candle in the Advent Wreath is lit for each theme and we take time to reflect on what the words mean to us.

Our Advent Wreath was bought from Ebony and Ivy in Glenbrook a few years ago, but you could easily make your own. You can use any pliable branches or greenery from the garden and place them in a circle on a large round tray or platter. In the middle of the wreath place four red candles (Hope, Peace, Joy and Love) and then a white candle in the centre. The white candle is called the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas day along with the other four. The Advent Wreath makes a beautiful centrepiece for any table.

We also have a homemade Advent calendar of little cardboard boxes that count down the 24 days until Christmas. I write messages for each day and leave treats as well. My children are getting older but they still enjoy it.

We like having a Christmas tree and this year we found the loveliest tree made of woven vines and branches. Local artisan Branching Out Designs makes them here in the Blue Mountains and also runs workshops to show people how to make their own.

Here are some other options for eco-friendly Christmas Trees:

  • A couple of large bare tree branches in a pot can look very chic and minimalist.
  • Stack some of your favourite books in a tree formation.
  • Make a tree shaped wall-hanging with branches and string.
  • You could also buy a real potted tree each year and then find somewhere suitable to plant it. Getting a tree native to your area would be ideal.
  • Also check out #ecochristmastree on Instagram for more ideas.

We had such fun decorating our tree today. Keeping decorations simple, spending less and being eco-friendly is important to me and thankfully my children are catching on.  Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of tinsel, make paper chains or bunting.
  • Make your own wreath or garland from items in your garden.
  • Make origami stars to hang on the tree or string some together.  
  • Felt is also an easy material for making tree ornaments.
  • When buying ornaments or decorations look for those made from wood, ceramic, fabric, metal or paper.
  • Buy local and fair trade!

One of the best decorations at Christmas is music. It sets the mood and reminds us about the Christmas stories and themes. There are many beautiful songs and compositions inspired by the Christmas season. Making a Christmas playlist is a great family activity.

Follow this link to listen to our Christmas compilation for 2019. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4V0PSEpncXPQyUcV7Jj6tB

Today is the first Sunday of Advent and the theme is Hope. I have been listening to this beautiful song about Hope sung by Katie Noonan:

https://sonichits.com/video/Katie_Noonan_&_Tim_Freedman/Maybe_This_Christmas

What does Hope mean to you and what do you hope for?

Cherry Picking Christmas

Christmas in Australia is affectionately known as the ‘silly season’. Being a contemplative kind of girl, most years (usually around the end of November) I find myself wanting to time travel away from the scramble at the shops, the string of parties and plastic presents. I wish Christmas could be peaceful and simple.

One of the best things about having Christmas in summer is that cherries are in season! I figure making Christmas simple is like picking cherries: discard all that is irrelevant or unappealing and savour all that is beautiful and meaningful. Naturally this process will be different for everyone, but I started with the origins of Christmas.

Christmas has evolved into a fascinating muddle of traditions that have been adapted and tweaked by various cultures over time. Many Christmas customs hark back to ancient celebrations of Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Yule logs, candles, boughs of holly, roast dinners, sleigh bells, snow and the centrepiece for many homes at Yuletide, the evergreen tree.

Santa Claus is also a popular feature of modern Christmas. He is loosely based on the 4th Century Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is on 6 December. In some countries, the benevolent Saint Nicholas has had his day rolled ahead to 25 December and has been assigned a red suit, a North Pole address, flying reindeer, elves, a magical sleigh and an omniscience about children’s behaviour. 

As the word ‘Christmas’ denotes, 25 December is also when people of Christian faith celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In reality it was most likely not on that date. No one really knows when it was but a few hundred years after Christ was born, someone with clout declared 25 December as his birthday and we’ve stuck with it. From the Christian tradition of Christmas we have the Nativity, the baby Jesus in the manger, Mary and Joseph, the angels, the shepherds and their sheep, the star, the magi with their gifts.

So between Yuletide, Santa and Jesus there’s a lot going on at Christmas. How to simplify it? Here’s me:

To be authentically Australian, I avoid the winter references and embrace the summer-ness of our Christmas. I trade the baked dinner and hot pudding for salads, cherries and ice cream. I swap ‘roasting chestnuts by an open fire’ for icy drinks and and beach getaways. I forgo imitation mistletoe and holly for sprays of fresh eucalyptus, flannel flowers and Christmas bush.

Then there’s this newsflash: Santa isn’t my cup of tea. Sorry kids! However, one thing that the original Saint Nicholas offers at this festive season is the reminder to be kind and charitable, not just to the ones we love but to our wider community and especially to those in need. I’ll take that.  

The date isn’t accurate, but the opportunity to reflect on the birth of Christ fits well with my values. The Nativity story is very moving and honours humility, courage and faith. Stars and angels are my favourite decorations and listening to Christmas carols is one of the things I like most about this time of year. 

Plus cherries. Cherries are everything good.

Over the next few weeks I will write more on keeping Christmas eco and simple when it comes to decorations, food and gifts. In the meantime, if you have Spotify, here is a playlist of my Christmas favourites to check out: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4V0PSEpncXPQyUcV7Jj6tB