lenten season

lenten season

For years and years I struggled just to love my life. And then the butterfly rose, weightless, in the wind.
“Don’t love your life too much,” it said, and vanished into the world.

—Mary Oliver

Lent—that penitential season of the Church year that precedes Easter— has arrived, and I thought it might be nice to offer some ideas for observing this special time with children. Below you’ll find two crafts focused on the concept of metamorphosis, which I feel works really well as a metaphor for the Easter story, that is, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It also serves to illustrate the central tenet of our faith: Like the mystery of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, the mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection makes it possible for all of us to be transformed into something magnificent and beautiful, too.

Lent & Easter Garden

Creating an Easter garden with children is a wonderful way to experience the miracle of the Resurrection. At the beginning of Lent, or anytime before Holy Week, fill a shallow planting dish with garden soil, then add rocks, a twig for a “tree,” and a small clay cave to the scene. On Maundy Thursday, sprinkle some wheatgrass seeds on the soil, cover with another layer of soil, and water generously (keep moist by watering daily). On Good Friday have children make a caterpillar from clay, wrap it in gauze, and place it in the cave. On Easter morning, parents can replace the caterpillar with a beautiful tissue paper butterfly. The wheatgrass seeds should pop up right on time—the dead and empty garden will burst into life overnight.

lent garden collage
lent garden 3
lent garden 4
lent garden 5
lent garden 6
lent garden 7
lent garden 8
easter garden collage
easter garden 4

Lent Vine Table Runner

To construct this table runner, you will need a piece of thick, white fabric (I used a small linen table runner I bought at a discount store), a few colors of green plus some black acrylic paint, a paintbrush, and a smooth, flat rock of some kind. Paint a green vine with green leaves, sweeping back and forth from side to side, with one leaf for each of the forty days of Lent. The last three leaves are painted black, to represent Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The rock is painted the same color as the green leaves on just one side, and once that first layer is dry, a caterpillar is painted on top of the green background. If you’re not artistically inclined, you can just use a sticker. The other side of the rock will remain unpainted.

Throughout Lent the caterpillar will travel to a new leaf each day. On Maundy Thursday, the rock will be turned over to the dark, unpainted side and will remain that way as it moves through the next two days. On Easter Sunday, parents can remove the rock and leave in its place a beautiful butterfly. This could be a picture of a butterfly, a paper cutout, or even some sort of decorative object (available at most craft stores).

lent vine 1
lent vine 2
lent vine collage

candlemas

candlemas

Raphael_Presentation_in_the_Temple

Presentation in the Temple by Raphael

Candlemas is the common name for a Christian holy day that commemorates the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.[i]  At the time of Jesus’ birth, Jewish tradition dictated that on the fortieth day after giving birth a woman would go to the temple to present her child to the Lord.[ii] Forty days from Christmas day brings us to February 2nd, the day on which Christians celebrate the occasion of the Holy Family’s visit to the temple in Jerusalem for the presentation of the Christ Child.[iii]

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. — 1 John 1:5

There is no consensus among historians regarding the exact origins of this feast day, though there are a few theories. It’s possible that the Roman Catholic Church instituted the celebration of Candlemas sometime between the fourth and sixth centuries; others believe that Candlemas is the result of the Church’s efforts to Christianize various pagan celebrations that took place during the month of February.[iv] Regardless of its murky origins, one can imagine why the first public presentation of Jesus, who is called The Light of the World, might come to be associated with the lighting of candles.[v]

In earlier times, Candlemas was seen as the official end of the Christmas season, which lasted much longer than it does today. Even as recently as the late 19th Century it was common not to remove the Christmas greenery until Candlemas, at which time it was traditionally burned in the family fireplace.[vi]

Other Candlemas traditions naturally arose over the centuries, perhaps the most well-known being the “blessing of the candles.”  We can take a closer look at this tradition by becoming acquainted with a branch from my very own family tree.  My mother’s family traces its roots to the French colony of Acadie, located in Atlantic Canada and comprising such places as New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia.[vii]  In fact, my maternal line (my mother’s mother’s mother…etc.) recedes back through time to a woman named Catherine LeJeune who lived in Port Royal, Acadie (now Annapolis, Nova Scotia) in the mid-17th Century.[viii]

Like her fellow Acadiens, my ancestor Catherine LeJeune was a Roman Catholic from France and she would, no doubt, have been quite familiar with Candlemas.  Historical documents show that the annual blessing of the candles in Acadie, during which time families would bring their year’s supply of candles to be blessed by their parish priest, goes back several hundred years.  For example, in 1693 Joseph Robineau de Villebon, a commanding officer in the Acadien colony, delivered sixty candles to Beaubassin (in Nova Scotia) on behalf of the inhabits of the parish to be blessed by their priest on Candlemas morning.[ix]

In Acadie, the blessed candles were used for many purposes throughout the year—to protect the house, to use when the priest came to a home to bring communion to the sick, or to burn while the family kept vigil over the body of a loved one who had died.  Some midwives would light a blessed candle during a difficult birth, and Acadien fishermen sometimes kept a blessed candle on their boat to light during stormy weather.[x]  The blessing of the candles was preserved in Acadien parishes until very recently.[xi]

Another Acadien tradition that took place on Candlemas was the door-to-door collection of food to be used for a community meal later in the day. Anyone with a large enough house could host the party.  This activity was not only entertaining for all involved, but it was also an act of charity—any food that was left over after the party was given to the poor.  In some villages the collection of food was done almost exclusively for the purpose of providing for the sick, the widows, and the poor.[xii]

Nous sommes les gens de la Chand’leur
Allez-vous nous donner d’la fleur?
(We are the Candlemas people,
Are you going to give us any flour?)

— from Arsenault’s “Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day”

I invite you to celebrate Candlemas on February 2nd—perhaps with a candle-making activity.  I also encourage you to make a donation to your local food shelf, in the spirit of the Acadien Candlemas collections of long ago.

You might also enjoy this traditional Acadien recipe, traditionally eaten on Candlemas day.

Crêpes à la Neige (Pancakes with Snow)

1 c flour
1 1/4 c milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 c fresh, hard-packed snow
1 c vegetable or olive oil

Mix all the ingredient together to make a smooth dought. Grease a griddle or pan with butter. Drop batter by the spoonful onto the griddle. Flip over when beginning to brown. Serve with molasses or grated maple sugar.

Adapted from Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day by Georges Arsenault, 2012


Sources:

[i] Arsenault, George, Acadian Traditions on Candlemas Day, Charlottetown, PEI, Canada: Acorn Press, 2012, 15.
[ii] Breathnach, Sarah, Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990, 61.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Arsenault, 15.
[v] Powers, Mala, Follow the Year, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985, 58.
[vi] Breathnach, 61.
[vii] Arsenault, 8.
[viii] Roostan, Wendy Pitre, “Family of Francois Savoie & Catherine Lejeune,” http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pitretrail/myline/paternal/fsavoie.htm, 01 Mar 2014.
[ix] Arsenault, 15.
[x] Arsenault, 19.
[xi] Arsenault, 16.
[xii] Arsenault, 45-46.

epiphany

epiphany

epiphany 2013

The 6th of January is the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord, also called Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night in some places. The word “epiphany” is derived from the Greek word Ἐπιφάνεια, (Epiphaneia), which means “manifestation.” The etymology of the word points to its origins in the Eastern Church, and it was historically a celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, varying locally in its observance of different events from Jesus’s childhood. The first mention of a celebration called Epiphany comes from the writing of the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, who noted in 361 A.D. that it was considered Christ’s Birthday. In the Western Church a particular focus on the visitation of the Magi, also known as the Three Kings or Wise Men, has developed over the years.

Epiphany 2016 8

My mother-in-law is a retired high school French teacher, and has introduced many French traditions to our family. The French celebrated Epiphany with great fervor until the French Revolution, when anything religious or related to the monarchy fell out of favor or was outright banned. Despite no longer being a public holiday, many in France still celebrate Epiphany with the Gallete des Rois or Kings’ Cake.

Epiphany 2016 collage

We always celebrate Epiphany with my in-laws. My mother-in-law cooks several dishes inspired by the flavors of the Middle East. We also have gingerbread cupcakes instead of a cake. For fun, my mother-in-law bakes a bean into one of them. Whoever finds the bean is crowned king or queen, and gets to wear the special tinfoil crown. It’s always a joy to be the one to discover the bean. The Kings also bring little gifts wrapped up in brown paper–often books–that are hidden throughout the house for the children to find.

VIVE LE ROI – the true king, Jesus Christ!

Epiphany 2016 7

SELECTED SOURCES: “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” NewAdvent.org; “Origins of the Epiphany,” TravelFranceOnline.com.

Menu suggestions for Three Kings’ Day–recipes courtesy of my mother-in-law, Sharon Wilson.

Tabouli

1 c bulgur
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c boiling water

1/3 c lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil

3/4 red onion, diced
5 plum tomatoes, diced
1 European cucumber, diced
3 cups fresh parsley, chopped

Pour boiling water over bulgur and salt. Cover and let sit for thirty minutes. Add olive oil and lemon juice, and refrigerate until chilled. Finally, add the onion, tomatoes, cucumber, and parsley just before serving.

Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Sauté in 8 quart pot for three minutes:
2 onions, chopped
2 tsp oil
2 Tbsp bottled ginger
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp curry powder

Add to pot and simmer for two minutes:
2 cans chickpeas
2 cans diced tomatoes, undrained

Add to pot, and cook for one minute or until wilted:
8 c fresh spinach
1/2 tsp salt

Serve over basmati rice and pita bread.

Gingerbread Cupcakes des Rois
Adapted from Family Circle Light & Easy Meals, 1996

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c granulated sugar
1/3 c packed light-brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c light molasses
1/4 c applesauce
1/4 c milk
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 egg whites
1 whole egg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line twelve 3.5-inch muffin pan cups with cupcake liners. Stir together flour, sugar, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses, applesauce, milk, oil, egg whites, and egg in another bowl. Fold in flour mixture until just moistened and spoon batter into muffin cups–don’t forget to put a bean into one of them! Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

advent embertide

advent embertide

advent 3

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.


— Old English Rhyme

When asked to name times during the year that are of great importance to Christians, most people would suggest Christmas and Easter; not many of them would say “Ember Days.”  But, in fact, Ember Days are an ancient tradition that predates Christmas, Advent, and many other Christian celebrations, and can be traced all the way back to the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, when a fast of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months was prescribed. During Jesus’s time there was also a Jewish custom of fasting every Tuesday and Thursday of the week.  The first Christians carried on these two traditions, but chose to fast instead on Wednesday and Friday, the day Jesus was betrayed and the day he died, respectively.i

There are several different explanations for the origins of the name “Ember Days.”  Some say it is a corruption of the Latin name Quatuor Temporum, which means “Four Times” or “Four Seasons.”ii  It’s also possible that the term could be derived from the ancient Saxon language, where Emb, or embe, means a “course” or “circuit.”iii  The Ember Days are a quarterly series of Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, taking place at the beginning of each natural season, that are set aside as a time of fasting and prayer: Michaelmas Embertide in September, signaling the beginning of autumn; Advent Embertide in December, ushering in the winter season; Lenten Embertide, which arrives in spring; and Whit Embertide comes at the start of the summer season.iv  These three days each season provide the faithful with an opportunity to contemplate the wonder of God through His creation—that is, the natural world—and to engage in self-reflection. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th Century CE, provides an excellent model for Embertide contemplation. He writes,v

If any man attempt to speak of God, let him first describe the bounds of the earth.  Thou dwellest on the earth, and the limit of this earth which is thy dwelling thou knowest not: how then shalt thou be able to form a worthy thought of its Creator?  Thou beholdest the stars, but their Maker thou beholdest not: count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible, Who telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names.

In addition to their associations with the changing seasons, Ember Days also correspond to other feasts during the Christian Year.  Michaelmas Embertide follows the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th); Advent Embertide comes on the heels of St. Lucy’s Day (December 13th); Lenten Embertide is paired, of course, with the start of Lent; and Whit Embertide, as its name suggests, is associated with Whitsunday (Pentecost).  By observing the Ember Days at the beginning of each season, we are retrieving this ancient aspect of our ecclesiastical history, which is said to have originated with the Apostles themselves, as well as our shared cultural history.  Even those who are not practicing Christians can appreciate the historical significance of the Ember Days—anyone with European roots will be in good company with their ancestors, for whom these four weeks during the year were of great importance.  So, let’s take this opportunity to pick up where the collective “we” left off. Let’s spend a little bit of time: fasting1, using our skills or resources for the benefit of others, and contemplating God and His creation (which was placed in the care of our most distant ancestors, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden—so the story goes).

I’ve put together a little booklet of readings that I hope you might enjoy—mostly poetry, and some Bible verses—called Readings for Advent Embertide (click on title to download). Please feel free to share this post and/or my booklet, non-commercial use only. Thank you.


Notes:

1 Fasting provides an opportunity to consider God’s gifts and how to use them in moderation.  Fasting on Ember Days means one regular meal per day (two smaller meals in morning and evening, no snacks) on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with the addition of abstaining from meat on Friday.


Sources:

i “Ember Days, Rogations Days, and Station Churches,” Holy Trinity (German) Catholic Church, www.holytrinitygerman.org, 5/13/15
ii Ibid.
iii “Ember Days,” an excerpt from A Companion for the Book of Common Prayer by John Henry Hobart, Anglican Bible & Book Society, www.anglicanbible.org, 9/19/12
iv Ibid.
v “Ember Days” by Tracy Tucciarone, Fish Eaters, www.fisheaters.com, 7/30/06

advent season

advent season

The First Sunday of Advent is fast approaching, and I wanted to share with you a few ideas for celebrating this beautiful season in the Christian year. Advent calendars are big business these days, and there are so many creative and unique ways that people choose to count down to Christmas. But, one thing I’ve noticed is that most Advent calendars, even Christian-themed ones, don’t have the right number of days! Advent very rarely begins on December 1st, and yet most Advent calendars begin their countdown, I assume to ease production costs, on that day. Here are a few ideas for celebrating Advent with children that are adaptable to allow for the right number of days.

advent spiral

This little angel will travel around on the stars (completely adaptable for Advent seasons with up to 28 days — the maximum amount) until she reaches the center on the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, Christmas Day. To create this, I used an 18″ square piece of blue flannel, onto which I needle-felted a spiral of green wool roving. I cut out the stars from yellow felt, and crafted the little angel from a 3.5″ tall peg doll. It sits on a little side table, just the right height for little eyes and hands. Each day my children can take turns moving the angel along the path toward the arrival of Jesus in the world.

This could just as easily be made of paper, or felt, or whatever materials you have around the house. The goal of around the year is to provide inspiration, not frustration! And, I always want to emphasize that it’s not about spending money–engaging in the task is what’s important.

advent crafts 1
advent crafts 2
advent crafts 3

cardboard advent wreath

We have this little Advent wreath set up in my son’s play kitchen area, and I made it so that he can “play” along as we light our own Advent candles throughout the season. The “candles” were made of none other than humble toilet paper tubes painted purple, pink, and white with craft paint. The “flames” are painted popsicle sticks with construction paper fire glued on to them. I happened to have the small grapevine wreath and green playsilk already, but they’re not necessary. The candles do stand up pretty well on their own, but you might want to wrap a piece of yarn or string around them to make sure they’re not toppling over constantly. You could also wrap a long, thin piece of green cloth around the base of the whole structure to imitate greenery–or use real boughs if you have them!

advent crafts 4
advent crafts collage
advent crafts 5

glass jar advent candles

Last year I realized that it was the First Sunday of Advent and I hadn’t ordered any candles! So, I decided to create my own Advent candle wreath using glass jars, tissue paper, Mod Podge, and some small white candles I already had. I think, in some ways, it’s even more beautiful than the traditional wreath.

corners of my home // advent 1
corners of my home // advent 2

Follow around the year’s board Liturgical Seasons // Advent on Pinterest.

michaelmas embertide

michaelmas embertide

apple picking 9

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.


— Old English Rhyme

When asked to name times during the year that are of great importance to Christians, most people would suggest Christmas and Easter; not many of them would say “Ember Days.”  But, in fact, Ember Days are an ancient tradition that predates Christmas, Advent, and many other Christian celebrations, and can be traced all the way back to the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, when a fast of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months was prescribed. During Jesus’s time there was also a Jewish custom of fasting every Tuesday and Thursday of the week.  The first Christians carried on these two traditions, but chose to fast instead on Wednesday and Friday, the day Jesus was betrayed and the day he died, respectively.i

There are several different explanations for the origins of the name “Ember Days.”  Some say it is a corruption of the Latin name Quatuor Temporum, which means “Four Times” or “Four Seasons.”ii  It’s also possible that the term could be derived from the ancient Saxon language, where Emb, or embe, means a “course” or “circuit.”iii  The Ember Days are a quarterly series of Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, taking place at the beginning of each natural season, that are set aside as a time of fasting and prayer: Michaelmas Embertide in September, signaling the beginning of autumn; Advent Embertide in December, ushering in the winter season; Lenten Embertide, which arrives in spring; and Whit Embertide comes at the start of the summer season.iv  These three days each season provide the faithful with an opportunity to contemplate the wonder of God through His creation – that is, the natural world – and to engage in self-reflection. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th Century CE, provides an excellent model for Embertide contemplation. He writes,v

If any man attempt to speak of God, let him first describe the bounds of the earth.  Thou dwellest on the earth, and the limit of this earth which is thy dwelling thou knowest not: how then shalt thou be able to form a worthy thought of its Creator?  Thou beholdest the stars, but their Maker thou beholdest not: count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible, Who telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names.

In addition to their associations with the changing seasons, Ember Days also correspond to other feasts during the Christian Year.  Michaelmas Embertide follows the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th); Advent Embertide comes on the heels of St. Lucy’s Day (December 13th); Lenten Embertide is paired, of course, with the start of Lent; and Whit Embertide, as its name suggests, is associated with Whitsunday (Pentecost).  By observing the Ember Days at the beginning of each season, we are retrieving this ancient aspect of our ecclesiastical history, which is said to have originated with the Apostles themselves, as well as our shared cultural history.  Even those who are not practicing Christians can appreciate the historical significance of the Ember Days — anyone with European roots will be in good company with their ancestors, for whom these four weeks during the year were of great importance.  So, let’s take this opportunity to pick up where the collective “we” left off. Let’s spend a little bit of time: fasting1, using our skills or resources for the benefit of others, and contemplating God and His creation (which was placed in the care of our most distant ancestors, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden — so the story goes).

I’ve put together a little booklet of readings that I hope you might enjoy — mostly poetry, and some Bible verses — called Readings for Michaelmas Embertide (click on title to download). Please feel free to share this post and/or my booklet, non-commercial use only. Thank you.


Notes:

1 Fasting provides an opportunity to consider God’s gifts and how to use them in moderation.  Fasting on Ember Days means one regular meal per day (two smaller meals in morning and evening, no snacks) on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with the addition of abstaining from meat on Friday.


Sources:

i “Ember Days, Rogations Days, and Station Churches,” Holy Trinity (German) Catholic Church, www.holytrinitygerman.org, 5/13/15
ii Ibid.
iii “Ember Days,” an excerpt from A Companion for the Book of Common Prayer by John Henry Hobart, Anglican Bible & Book Society, www.anglicanbible.org, 9/19/12
iv Ibid.
v “Ember Days” by Tracy Tucciarone, Fish Eaters, www.fisheaters.com, 7/30/06