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]

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*EarthSky.org

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]

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There’s light, and then there’s enlightenment

You know how it is when you’re sitting in a darkened room basking in the glow of your Christmas tree… and you let your eyes get all squinty so the tree lights will blur into magical glimmers? Everything else disappears except those tiny bits of illumination.

Lights 2

I love the abundance of lights at Christmas time. They always make me think of the message repeated at our church every Sunday morning when a child lights the Christ Candle and proclaims, “Jesus said, ‘I am the Light of the world.'”* At the candlelight service late on Christmas Eve there were many candles burning in addition to lights on the tree, and the soft glow was soul-warming.

Lights 3

But light isn’t just something to look at, it’s something to live by — it reveals, illuminates, enlightens. It helps bring things into focus, helps keep us from stumbling. Walking in the light is an intentional action.

It’s true in life and it’s true in writing. (Of course this last post of the year has to have a writing application!)

A recent tweet from my daughter Shari Green (@sharigreen) announced, “Ooh, look! A light at the end of the Revision Tunnel!” Like me, she’s been working to polish a writing project and it’s beginning to look like we may both finish by year end. It hasn’t happened by itself, by waiting for inspiration to provide a way, but by deliberately sitting down and wrestling with words. Our efforts may have started in darkness, but by working consistently we’ve made progress towards the light… and we’re almost there. I love it when I suddenly realize I’m on a roll!

As 2013 draws to a close, a lot of people will be making New Year’s Resolutions. Not me. I gave up that discouraging practice a long time ago. I adopt key words for the year. As I squint at our tree in these final days of Christmas time, I think mine for 2014 will be:

Light (as in, following it)

~

If you’re in need of further end-of-the-year encouragement, here are links to a few of my previous posts:

2010
(Resolutions and the journey of life and writing)

2011
(Making the most of your December writing time)

2012
(What will this New Year mean for your writing?)

~

* Again Jesus spoke to them, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

~

LIGHT OF THE WORLD  (Chris Tomlin) – a music video

Light of the World
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore you
Hope of a life spent with you

(chorus)
Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that you’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
altogether worthy
altogether wonderful to me

~

“… if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus His Son
cleanses us from all sin.”

1 John 1:7

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Christmas Week

I’m taking a bit of a blogging hiatus during Christmas week. I’ll monitor any new comments on last Friday’s post, of course, and draw a winner for the copy of Jody Hedlund’s book, REBELLIOUS HEART, after the deadline of 11:59 p.m. Christmas Eve.  The winner’s name will be announced here on Friday.

In the meantime I wish you and yours every blessing. Have a joyous, wonder-filled Christmas!

Red Twig Willow in the Snow

Red Twig Willow in the Snow

~

UPDATE

In case you missed it on Friday’s post,
the winner of the draw is

DARLENE FOSTER

Congratulations, Darlene!

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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?

DSC09176

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It’s just a Nativity set, isn’t it?

Crude black grease pencil numbers mark the underside of the painted clay manger bearing the Baby Jesus.  They say 79 cents. That was its price back in the mid-1970s when it was purchased in the now non-existent Woodward’s Department Story along with the other figures joining the Babe in our family’s first crèche.

Nativity G1

Budget constraints governed the choice then, but long after we could have afforded to replace them with better quality, we didn’t. We grew accustomed to them – each year carefully unwrapping the familiar figures and setting them into the shelter made by my hubby from a handful of leftover cedar shakes.

I didn’t particularly care for the look of them but after so many years there was a certain loyalty at stake. I admired other nativity sets – one particular ‘other’ – but couldn’t justify buying a second set when the original had nothing wrong with it.

Forty-some years later my wonderful hubby decided the time had come to indulge my dream, and last year for Christmas he bought me the Willow Tree Nativity set.

 Nativity G2

Just as in home decorating, clothing styles or vehicle choices, people’s tastes will differ here. We are attracted to things for many reasons. I love the simplicity of the figures in this set… the hand sculpted look and the emotions they evoke, as I visualize that Bethlehem scene over two thousand years ago.

In art there are many different interpretations of the manger scene. There are some… um, unique ones, too, as discovered by youth pastor Mark Oestreicher who has now expanded his collection from last year’s twenty-seven to this year’s impressive forty-two of what he calls “the worst nativity sets”.

Our old set doesn’t qualify for his collection. It’s old fashioned, but typical. We still have it, although we didn’t unpack it this year. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it since it has earned its place as one of our many Christmas treasures and I can’t quite give it up.

Christmas is all about the arrival of Jesus the Christ into our messy world. However simple or elaborate, nativity sets are not meant to take their place in our homes as just another Christmas decoration. While we shouldn’t need miniature figures to remind us of the Love-made-incarnate that came to us that night long ago, they do give us something to focus on when we tend to slide past his birthday celebration into mere social activities.

Come to think of it, it couldn’t hurt to have a set in every room of our house. Maybe I should go unpack the other one.

Is a nativity set part of your family’s Christmas traditions?

 ~

I’m taking a blogging break for the next couple weeks. I’ll still be around and will turn up online periodically, but in addition to my writing I want to take extra time to focus on family activities and the significance of the Christmas season.  In the meantime, consider this quote from Max Lucado:

 “Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him — and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.” *

May he come to you this Christmas.

(* Max Lucado in “The Arrival” from Christmas Stories for the Heart)

 

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What about Christmas details in our writing?

Pine? Fir? Spruce? If you erect a tree in your home this month, does it matter to you which species you select and whether it’s thick and cultured or naturally grown? Or is the big decision maybe between real and… blech… artificial? (Sorry, but I have a bias!)

Lodgepole pine tree

Lodgepole pine tree

I realize there are people living in some cultures, locations, or situations where evergreen trees are not included in the celebration, but our home is not one of them. While “O Tannenbaum” isn’t among my favourite carols, I never feel quite ready for Christmas until our tree is in place. Believe me, the fragrance of fresh cut greenery in the house is better than any scented candle!

Those of us who advocate for a “real” tree often have very strong opinions about what constitutes the ideal one. Many of the trees I grew up with were Lodgepole pines because that’s the variety commonly found in the area of our Cariboo property. Their long branches can be a little ‘gawky’ at times, but I like them, even if I’ve occasionally referred to one of ours as a ‘Charlie Brown’ tree.

Identifying the species or subspecies doesn’t matter a whole lot to me, as long as I like its looks, but if I were writing about the Christmas tree gracing my protagonist’s living room, I’d be in trouble with that attitude. For readers living in pine country, the description might elicit a particular mental image, so it had better be accurate. It’s not enough to mention the existence of a generic Christmas tree, either; details are important. And if there are cones being saved for a craft project, they’d better be typical of the species.

Lodgepole pine cone

Lodgepole pine cone

Have you ever been reading a novel and come to a grinding halt at some inconsistency – some detail you know is not correct? John Grisham* may be tired of hearing from readers about his incorrect reference to the Inuit living in Newfoundland and a woman “born in an igloo” there, but it’s a lesson for all writers. Remember, if you send your characters out into the woods to cut down a long-needled Ponderosa (or bull pine) Christmas tree, the story needs to take place in an area where they grow in the wild.

Ponderosa pine

Ponderosa pine

Does your Christmas decorating include a tree? What’s your idea of a perfect one? Do you use specific details like these to enrich your writing?

~

*The Testament (John Grisham)

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