The Solstice and Seasonal Turnaround

Late dawn. Early sunset. Short day. Long night. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, the December solstice marks the longest night and shortest day of the year.” *

Solstice Sun

In last Friday‘s post I mentioned Sunday would mark several things — the fourth Sunday in Advent, the beginning of Christmas week, and the Winter Solstice. Someone on Facebook today said, “What? Wait! You mean this is only the first day of winter?”

Yes, it’s the first official day. I don’t mind winter, but it’s the one season here on the B.C. west coast I wish were a little bit shorter. Misty, grey days get tiresome. Still, today we can take heart in knowing that from now on, daylight hours will slowly begin to increase again.

I wish the moody seasons of writing were equally predictable.

Writing every day is a habit for me, but I admit the quality and quantity of my words are often seasonally affected. During November I concentrate on NaNoWriMo, but when December arrives I love to focus on Christmas. The days (and evenings) fill up with special activities and there is less energy leftover for creative writing. With the approach of the New Year I start thinking about my need for a renewed commitment to my W.I.P. (work in progress), whether that means adding new material or revising what I have.

Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but I’m not one of them. I don’t see the point of deliberately setting myself up for failure. Convincing myself that when the calendar page flips over I’ll magically be able to change my ways… well, I know from experience it doesn’t happen. It will still be winter in January. I’ll continue to put words on a page but it will probably be a good time to work on scenes that require darker emotions.

A new season is under way; the year is beginning to turn around. It’s the season for indulging our fictional fancies, maybe starting something altogether new…a different genre, a fresh theme or plot.

Winter is just right, too, for fleecy sweatshirts and cosy sweaters, shearling slippers, afghans and lamplight. Just right for settling in with mugs of sweet tea and hot chocolate. Time to hunker down and survive.

Spring is coming. I promise! :)

~

“For as long as Earth lasts,
        planting and harvest, cold and heat,
    Summer and winter, day and night
        will never stop.”

[Genesis 8:22 – Msg]

~  ~  ~

*EarthSky.org

What Kind of a Welcome?

Welcome

Many years ago we repainted our front door. Finding the right colour was challenging. I was on a ‘green kick’, as anyone who has been inside the house can attest, but green with the bluish-gray trim didn’t seem quite right. Plus, green is considered a cool colour, and I wanted something warm and welcoming. I didn’t think red would be an option with the salmon tinge of the bricks. I even considered black, which would have looked fine but definitely wouldn’t have been welcoming. The door remained its original sickly off-white during the months of my indecision.

In desperation I finally decided “it’s just paint”, and tried a red. I was surprised at how much I liked it, and I have never been tempted to change it to any other colour. Last June, while attending a garden tour at writer-friend, Katherine Wagner’s home, I discovered she also has a red door and her home is clad in brick almost identical to ours. Her home seems very welcoming to me, and seeing that front door validated my own colour choice.

How we welcome people into our homes says a lot about us and about the hospitality that we plan to extend to visitors. People don’t generally approach a home where they expect to encounter hostility. Of course, painting a front door red isn’t going to change what a visitor will find inside. That’s up to us.

Sunday will be the first day of Winter — the shortest, darkest day of the year — and the beginning of Christmas week. We come face to face with Advent IV, where the focus is on Love. I’ve been thinking about how the world is waiting. We say we’re waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, but the nature of the world into which God sent His Son isn’t very loving or welcoming.

With 185 villagers kidnapped and 35 killed in northeastern Nigeria, 132 schoolchildren killed by Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, an economic crisis happening in Russia, eight children dead in Australia, the Sony cyber-hacking giving rise to discussions of cyber-war with North Korea — no, I’d say it isn’t a very loving world at all.

We are devastated by the terror, cruelty, pain and poverty of the world, and frustrated because our cries of protest aren’t heard by the perpetrators of hatred. While a few people are able to physically or financially make a significant difference to victims, others are consumed by helplessness.

Then I hear of the $3800 raised by kind-hearted people to pay for prosthetic legs for a dog who lost his back legs when they were frozen to the ground; and others who came forward to help replace the belongings of a family whose house was demolished in a mud slide.

Money is donated to relief agencies, food is given to food banks, people volunteer to cook and feed the hungry — seemingly small and insignificant gestures from a global perspective, but life-changing to individuals in need.

We may not be able to change the entire world, but we can make a difference. As we prepare to welcome the Christ back into our hearts and homes this week, I hope He will approve of our love and how we are demonstrating it.

~

Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say,
‘Master, what are you talking about?
When did we ever see you hungry and feed you,
thirsty and give you a drink?
And when did we ever see you sick
or in prison and come to you?’
Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth:
Whenever you did one of these things
to someone overlooked or ignored,
that was me—you did it to me.’

[Matthew 25:37-40, MSG]

~  ~  ~

When the power goes out…

Let there be light; and there was light!

[Genesis 1:3]

Let There Be Light

Regular visitors here will have discovered the absence of Friday’s post. That was just one of the by-products of a windstorm that caused a thirty-hour power outage affecting our area.

Our daily habits require adequate light for reading, use of our computers, the Internet and television, garage doors that open and close with the push of a button, and abundant water that allows (among other things), flushing toilets and showering.

Because we live rurally, we’re on a well. Without power to operate its pump or to keep the pressure up in the water storage tank, we don’t have water, so we had to rely on a five-gallon jug from our emergency supplies. Fortunately we had a wood-burning fireplace for heat in the main living area, and coal oil lamps to offer a meagre bit of light in the evenings. We ran the generator periodically to keep food in the fridge and freezer cold, and we prepared meals (and coffee!) on a propane Coleman camp stove set up in the garage.

It’s easy to take the conveniences of daily life for granted, and to be annoyed when they’re suddenly snatched from us. We’re spoiled. When we have to resort to living like pioneers, we think we’ve been stripped of some of our rights.

Instead of grumbling, I wrapped myself in a sweater and sat in the breakfast nook using the light from the windows to handwrite Christmas notes. I felt a sort of kinship with characters in historical novels, returning to basics. In this third week of Advent we’re meant to focus on joy*, and, looking past the inconvenience of our power outage, I realized it was giving me the chance to slow down, to take extra time to consider the Coming that we await during this season of preparation.

Today’s entry in our Presbyterian Prayer Partnership brochure says, “During the consumer-driven days leading up to Christmas, pray for a spirit of gratitude and an awareness of ‘enough’.” The power outage was an appropriate opportunity to do exactly that! (Although I admit I was glad to discover power had been restored this morning.)

~
*The four Sundays of Advent:
Advent I – Hope
Advent II – Peace
Advent III – Joy
Advent IV – Love

~  ~  ~

Advent II – Peace

.

This singular moment between seasons
offers its own unique beauty.
The calendar may say otherwise,
but fall is over
and winter hasn’t quite begun.

.

Clematis in Winter

 

Snow comes and goes while
Leaves die and drop.
Regret for the passing pairs with
Anticipation for the coming.
We rest in limbo
And wait.

*

The season of

Peace

Advent II

~  ~  ~

It’s called a theme

Red and green are traditional Christmas colours, and they’re my favourite. I’m not sure why I bother to experiment with others, because eventually I always come back to some variation of red and green. For a few years we had two trees. One always had a random collection of family heirloom ornaments hung alongside homemade ones and whatever lights we weren’t using on the other tree.

photo

The other tree had a ‘theme’. For a few years one of our daughters had a collection of musical ornaments, with a garland of notes on a wired staff to create a musical-themed tree. There have been our all white years, when we’ve decorated from our collection of snowflakes, snowballs, and white frosted pinecones.

This year we’re back to red and green again… mostly red, with a little gold and a few frosted snowflakes displayed against the evergreen Fraser (or is it a Douglas?) Fir branches. Yes, the tree is up, the earliest it’s probably ever been, but so far that’s the extent of my Christmas preparations.

My hubby dutifully brought all eight of our Christmas-marked bins up from the basement and I picked through them, choosing what we’d use for this year’s theme. I suspect I gave it more thought than I do when I’m writing and trying to settle on a theme for my stories.

Theme isn’t easy to define… at least, not for me. It’s one of those story crafting experiences that is more  intuitive than planned. In his book, Story EngineeringLarry Brooks says:

“You intuitively know what [a good book or movie] was about, and usually on two levels: it was about the plot…and, in a different experiential context, it was about what the story means… the theme…. Theme is what our story means. How it relates to reality and life in general. What is says about life and the infinite roster of issues, facets, challenges and experiences it presents.”

That sounds reasonable, but ask me what my theme IS, and I’m back to square one! Ha!

How would you describe ‘theme’ in fiction? Is the definition as elusive for you as it is for me?

~  ~  ~

It Begins Again

For weeks now I’ve muttered about the advertisements on television — you know, the ones that start promoting Christmas shopping before Halloween arrives, and the ones that display brightly decorated homes before our friends in the USA get to celebrate their Thanksgiving. But suddenly Christmas is less than a month away!

Nativity

This is the weekend we’ll unpack our nativity scene and direct our thoughts to the new church year that’s just beginning. (Advent is the first season, so this Sunday it will all begin again — Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.)

It’s also the weekend when our family’s Christmas traditions begin to emerge. Besides our Nativity, a miniature ceramic village will be unpacked. It’s a nod to my childlike nostalgia… a fascination with tiny figures in an old-fashioned snowy ‘Currier & Ives’ kind of setting. An evergreen tree will be next, followed during the week by an assortment of decorations accumulated from many different sources.

A friend posted on Facebook this evening that it was snowing at her home on Vancouver Island, and I was instantly envious. I know envy is a sin, but what can I say? Nothing quite beats a bit of drifting snow when it comes to putting me in a let’s-start-getting-ready-for-Christmas mood. A half hour ago I happened to turn on the back deck light (checking for the bear, of course!) and whoa!!! there’s snow here, too — an inch, and it’s coming down steadily!

So I’m all set… ready to begin again this weekend. My NaNoWriMo efforts have run down. (I accumulated 14,000 words… a far cry from the goal of 50,000 but still more than I would have had without the month-long focus.) (UPDATE: Looks like I’m finishing up the month with 19,707 words.) I’ll continue my daily writing, but there will be other priorities during December.

After all, it’s beginning again… “the most wonderful time of the year!”

I’d love it if you would share how your Christmas preparations begin. :)

~

The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.

[John 1:1-5, MSG]

~  ~  ~

 

Christmas preparations, secular and sacred

Our family has a dual heritage when it comes to Christmas preparations. There’s a combination of the sacred and the secular because my hubby and I came from those two backgrounds. Christmas was always a special time when we were children, but for different reasons, and celebrated in different ways.

DSC06837

When Advent begins, along with the nativity figures, our decorations come out, lights are strung and a tree goes up. Christian friends might wonder how we can put energy into all the secular preparations and still focus enough on the anticipation of such a holy season, but somehow we do.

DSC09165

Last night, for the umpteenth time, we watched the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street“.  “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will probably be next, along with “It’s a Wonderful Life“, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and assorted other television specials. Years ago we watched these with our children. Now we’re on our own and we still watch them.

Soon I’ll turn my attention to a bit of baking. Not a lot, since there aren’t many of us to eat it, but we need a few of the annual goodies, like Shortbread, Melting Moments and Peanut Butter Snowballs. We’ll also be caroling to shut-ins, finding delight in the children’s Sunday School Pageant, singing a Cantata with our choir, and of course attending all the special Christmas worship services.

There’s a little magic and a lot of mystery associated with Christmas, and we experience both, in ways that are meaningful to us. I doubt that God minds our strange muddle of traditions. We still meet Him at the manger.

What are some of the meaningful traditions you’ll experience again this Christmas? In your writing, have you allowed your characters to establish traditions?

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~  ~  ~