Tag Archives: Christmas

Bayberry candle luck: A Christmas ritual to warm the soul

“A bayberry candle burned to the socket puts luck in the home, food in the larder and gold in the pocket.”

bayberry-tapers

My mother-in-law burned a bayberry taper candle down to the socket every Christmas Day, to bring the family luck for the coming year.

We adopted the tradition in our house even though I learned that my mother-in-law’s version of the tradition differed from the original. According to online sources, the candles were lit on New Year’s Eve and the flame had to continue burning into New Year’s Day to carry the luck forward.

I thought about changing our tradition to align with the legend, but then dismissed the idea. Traditions are rituals, and rituals should warm the soul, revive memories of loved ones and centre us in what is really important.

If I were to light a bayberry candle on New Year’s Eve instead of Christmas Day, it would feel all wrong.

So I’ll keep on lighting a bayberry candle on Christmas morning. When I do, it will warm my soul, it will remind me of my mother-in-law, and it will centre me in what is really important. 

And that, I suspect, will bring me more luck than anything. 

bayberry-nativity

Many brilliant lights: Paulo Coelho

During one Christmas Eve dinner with his wife, well-known author Paulo Coelho grumbled about something that was not perfect in his life. His thoughtful wife pointed out the beautifully illuminated Christmas tree nearby.

There was one burnt bulb among the brilliantly shining ones.

“It seems to me that instead of thinking of this year as dozens of enlightened blessings, you chose to look at the one light that did not glow,” she said.

What is the ratio of enlightened blessings to burnt bulbs in your life? 

This month, whether you enjoy Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the solstice, Festivus, or any other celebration, may you bask in the glow of so many enlightened blessings that you don’t notice any dark spots.

Read Paulo Coelho’s post here: My wife and the burnt light

If there are burnt bulbs on this tree, I can't see them.
If there are burnt bulbs on this tree, I can’t see them.

I am out of thyme! A Christmas lament with a happy ending

Empty spice bottle with Thyme label

Weeks ago we coordinated the schedules of six busy family members to find a day that worked for everyone to go to the Cedar Hill Christmas Tree Farm. We set the date for December 14 with visions of bright sun glinting off snow-covered fields and our boots crunching in and around rows of perfect trees. We’d picked the perfect fat tree, we’d return to a big dinner, and we’d make eggnog or mulled wine.

It would be perfect.

Then Saturday morning came along. The sun rose, but we couldn’t see it through heavy cloud.

Misty rain fell.

We’ve been renovating our front hall, so all morning my husband and our neighbour laboured at laying tile, grouting and fixing plumbing. All the clothing, and shoes, and boots, and umbrellas, and hats, and scarves, and toilet paper rolls, and surprising other things that normally reside in our bathroom and front hall closet were scattered all over our home. They mixed in with the boxes containing the new toilet and bathroom vanity in our living room.

Messy living room with a toilet in a box and paint rollers, etc.
Our living room: half Christmas, half renovations

We’re dog sitting, and he got loose and ran through the tile glue, leaving doggy glue prints on some of the new tiles.

dog prints on tile

While all that was going on, I set about making the marinade for the crown roast of pork I planned for dinner. The dry rub recipe called for, among other things, thyme. I opened my spice drawer and pulled out the bottle. Empty.

“I’m out of thyme!” I called out.

My husband, panicked, appeared at the kitchen door. “For what?”

I held up the empty bottle, and we both fell apart laughing.

Christmas tree farm in the rain
Not the weather we would have picked for our Christmas Tree excursion.

The six of us trooped through increasingly heavy rainfall. We found a tree that wasn’t quite as fat as we like, but was lovely nonetheless. We made the annual stop at the Pakenham General Store and enjoyed their amazing baked goods. (Date squares for me. A perfect ratio of oatmeal to date filling.) The crown roast was delicious—even without the thyme—and the boys made eggnog and played guitar, and all was well.

Not perfect, but well.

Thyme-less and well.

Pot with homemade egg
Homemade eggnog

Really good shortbread

Shortbread cookies in maple leaf and heart shapes

I recently made shortbread cookies for my church bazaar and since then people have asked for my recipe. I’m sharing it with them, and with you.

Melt-in-your-mouth shortbread takes practice and a bit of fuss, but it’s worth it.

Smith shortbread cookies

  • 1 cup     butter (It must be butter.)
  • 1/3 cup  instant-dissolving sugar (It must be instant-dissolving sugar, sometimes called fine fruit sugar.)
  • 1/2 tsp.   vanilla (If possible, use white vanilla to keep the cookies looking bright.)
  • 2-1/2 cups   cake and pastry flour, sifted (I am Canadian. The flour where you live might be different, and you might need more or less.)
  • Beat butter until light and fluffy, at least 2 minutes.
  • Gradually add sugar, beating after each addition.
  • Add vanilla.
  • Add flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition.
  • Form into a ball and pat the outside with extra flour.
  • Roll on a well-floured surface to ¼ inch thickness, adding extra flour if necessary to prevent sticking.
  • Cut using cookie cutters.
  • Bake at 300° F on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets for 12 to 5 minutes.
  • Makes approximately 2 ½ to 3 dozen average-sized cookies.

Shortbread tips

  • No substitutes!
  • Don’t bake for too long. I bake them until the edges are just starting to brown.
  • To ice them, I mix together icing sugar, water and vanilla. (Use white vanilla for white icing.) I never measure this, so I can’t give you quantities. Do it until it feels right!
Layered heart-shaped shortbread cookie
My original creation – Trinity Cookies. Shortbread, raspberry filling and buttercream.

Music that brings chills, or tears

What music makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen? What songs make you cry?

I’d love to know. Leave me a comment at the end of the post.

One song that undoes me every time is “Silent Night” by candlelight on Christmas Eve. My family knows that I’m a puddle during that hymn, every time. It takes me back to childhood services in a small town church, and to the birth of my daughter on Christmas Eve, and to my father who died shortly before Christmas twenty years ago. The simple hymn ties everything together from my past and gives me hope for the future.

Some songs move us because they remind us of someone we love — a father, mother, grandparent, child or friend.

 “You’ve Got a Friend” James Taylor, written by Carole King

Songs that are haunting and sad and then optimistic and hopeful, acknowledge the lows and highs and tells us to look for the triumph after the despair.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” Simon and Garfunkel

“Nights in White Satin” The Moody Blues

The music of our youth can instantly transport us back to a certain time and place. Where were you when you were listening to The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles . . .? This Loggins and Messina song takes me back to my days working for Wilderness Tours Whitewater Rafting.

“Watching the River Run” Loggins & Messina

A couple of friends of mine are opera fans. Listen to this selection from Dialogues des Carmélites and see if the metallic slice of the guillotine makes your hair stand on end.

Dialogues des Carmélites (final scene – Salve Regina)

Music moves us when it gives us something to believe in even if we don’t want to. Music connects us with something greater than ourselves. I’ll leave you with this combination of “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace.” It gives me chills AND brings me to tears.

“Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace” at an Andre Rieu performance