Christmas Comes AFTER Thanksgiving

I’m a person who loves all the seasons, and especially loves them in order, but lately it seems as though Christmas is getting earlier and earlier every year. This very year, two weeks before Halloween even, Target was already running a Christmas shopping commercial. (For some strange reason, listening to Christmas carols while I’m carving pumpkins just doesn’t do it for me.) Seriously, Christmas commercials before Halloween? That’s just too early.

As far as I know, Christmas still comes AFTER Thanksgiving, which in itself comes after Halloween. It’s gotten to the point where our society’s economy is so reliant on people shopping for the holidays that a store’s entire year now seems to revolve around that mad rush of shopping and gift giving. The ironic part is that a large portion of the shopping being done involves purchasing items that were probably cheaply made in another country. Continue reading

Christmas Card Lampshade

Here’s a good way to upcycle old Christmas cards and broken lampshades while ending up with a free decoration for next year.

You will need:
An old lamp shade
Old Christmas cards
Silver or gold paper
Red or green bias tape.

We don’t throw much out at my house, and Christmas cards are no exception. We usually end up with stacks of all the prettiest ones from previous years. The question is, what to do with all the left-over beauties? The answer came this year in the form of a cracked lampshade. I realized there was no better way to give new life to both the lampshade and the cards than by putting the two together.

First find an old lampshade. It doesn’t matter how stained or cracked it is because the cards will cover the surface. If there is fabric on the outside of the lampshade, cut it off. Cut the backs off the Christmas cards; you’ll be using only the fronts for this project.

Glue several cards to the outside of the lampshade, laying them so that the top edges just overlap. There will be 1-2 inch spaces between the card bottoms. To fill those, cut triangular strips of gold or silver paper and glue them to the lampshade covering any open spaces between the cards. Next glue a piece of red or green bias tape to the top and bottom edges of the lampshade.

Next year use the shade to give your lights a holiday feel. You can either change the lampshades for the holiday season, or if your Christmas card lampshade is large enough, just set it right over the other lampshade.

A Christmas Cookie Party

Most everyone who celebrates Christmas also takes part in the simple joy of making Christmas cookies. There is something very satisfactory about rolling out a lump of cookie dough and pressing in cookie cutters of all shapes and sizes. The aroma of the baking cookies fills the kitchen as more cookies are cut and once they’re all baked to that perfect golden hue, the real fun of frosting them arrives. What can make this holiday tradition even more fun, however, is turning the event into a whole cookie-baking party.

Assuming you get along well with your extended family, invite everyone to take part in a fun night of cookie baking and decorating. Make several batches of cookie dough a few days ahead of the party and keep them in the freezer. On the day of the cookie party, pull them out a few hours before the cookie makers arrive. If you don’t have a large table, spread the cookie cutters, rolling pins and frosting containers out on several tables to ensure there is plenty for all. And if someone runs out of something, the cookie supplies can easily be passed back and forth between tables. Waxed paper taped to the tables and sprinkled with a little bit of flour will protect the tables and make a good dough-rolling surface.

Have one person in charge of the oven who can collect the cookie trays filled with cutouts and bake them. It will keep everything flowing smoothly. Also don’t limit your party to just sugar cookies. With so many people, everyone might have different tastes. Ginger snaps make excellent cutouts, especially when smeared with vanilla frosting, and there are many chocolate cookie recipes that lend themselves well to becoming Christmas cookies.

And most important of all, don’t forget to have fun! There are no rules when it comes to cookie making, they can be as traditional or as crazy as you like, and in my family we’ve found that when the cousins get together, the cookies usually end up pretty crazy. This year we created a batman cookie out of an angel whose head ended up with pointed ears in the oven. And out of the last bits of dough, we fashioned the dark mark from Harry Potter, which ended up being frosted with an appropriately eerie shade of green. (Don’t ask us what that had to do with Christmas, because we don’t know, we just know it was fun!)

The Real Halloween

Everyone instantly recognizes the familiar signs: witches on broomsticks, black cats, spiders. We wait for the costumed trick-or-treaters to come knocking at our doors requesting sweets (well, out here in the country, we wait, but they never actually come). Carved jack o’ lanterns adorn every doorstep. This is Halloween, one of the most beloved Holidays in America.

For many people it is a day to step into costume and become someone else entirely. For others it is an excuse to show off their artistic talents carving squashes. And for still other it is an opportunity to perform mischievous pranks in effort to scare the living daylights out of another person. For most it is a holiday to celebrate the spirit of fun, though there are a few people here and there who condemn it as an evil holiday due to its emphasis on magic. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as many of the more “evil” symbols associated with the holiday came centuries after the original celebrations.

Hundreds of years before Christ, the Celts ruled Europe. Like many of the ancient cultures, the Celts had holidays celebrating the changing of the seasons. Of all those holidays, the most import was the end of the year festival.

The ancient Celts recognized only two actual seasons, summer and winter. They also felt that the start of the day was at sunset rather than sunrise and consequently that the start of the new year should be during the darker months of the year. In the Celtic calendar, the end of summer, and thus the end of their year, occurred when the sun reached 15 degrees Scorpio. The festival was called Samhain, which was Gaelic for “summer’s end.” This date is roughly around October 31.

Samhain night was a time of remembrance of the dead, as the Celts believed that on the last day of the year, doors were opened into the Otherworld. This could also be a very scary time as the Celts feared that evil demon spirits might be able to pass freely through the open gates as well. In effort to keep evil spirits away, the Celts would dress themselves as demons and lead huge parades out into the hinterlands in hopes that any evil spirits would follow them and stay out of the villages, while the good spirits would easily be able to remember the way to their former homes. This custom eventually became the trick-or-treating we have today.

As the Celtic new year, Samhain was one of only two days that people could extinguish their hearth fires (the other day was Gamhain, now often known as May Day, which meant “winter’s end.”) It was considered unlucky to let the fire go out any other time of year. The druids (Celtic priests) would build huge bonfire on top of hills to give thanks for the bountiful harvests of the light half of the year and to encourage the sun to return after the dark half of the year. It was considered very good luck for people to restart their hearth fires with coals taken from the druids’ bonfires. The Celts would carry the coals home in hollowed out turnips. To keep any evil spirits at bay, they would carve scary faces in the turnips, a practice which eventually evolved into our current tradition of carving pumpkins.

With the coming of Christianity, the holiday began to change. The Christians originally planed to convert everyone and leave the old ways behind, but they soon found that some of the Celtic customs could not be so easily washed out. Knowing that the Celts would never embrace the Christian faith as long as they still held so closely to their own traditions, the Christians decided to meld the Celtic beliefs with their own in a sort of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” effort to ensure that the Celts would be converted. The two most notable examples of this were the greatly revered Irish goddess Brigid, who the Christians turned into their St. Brigit, and Samhain, which the Christians turned into All Hallow’s Eve.

Keeping with Celtic tradition, the Christian holiday of All Hallow’s Eve was the one night of the year when the spirits of the dead could walk the earth. However, they gave this holiday the set day of October 31 to remove the pagan astrological associations. They also labeled the druids as devil worshipers to prevent them from restoring the original holiday traditions. (There is no devil in Celtic belief) In time the new holiday’s name was shortened to Hallow’een (this spelling is often seen on vintage Halloween postcards), and eventually the apostrophe was removed altogether giving us the Halloween spelling we have now.

As time progressed, different generations and cultures have added their own traditions to the holiday giving us the familiar celebrations we have now. Perhaps this year as we carve our pumpkins and don our costumes, we should take time to reflect on those people so long ago who did the very same things. In doing so, we will be remembering those who have gone before us, and thus we will be celebrating the day just as they did so long ago, albeit without the fear of evil spirits.
Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf