Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Tag: Hanukkah

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

Winter Solstice is December 21.

A month of holidays

December is a month of holidays. For several years, I’ve labored to create blog posts about the holidays that fall during this month. When I realized I was focusing exclusively on December holidays but no others, I started my “Holidays Project” last summer.

At this point I’ve done feature posts on nearly every major religious holiday that usually falls in December, as well as several more minor ones and at least two that are secular in nature. Why so many holidays in one month?

Winter Solstice is December 21.

Blame it on the Solstice. 

The astronomical event of the Winter Solstice creates the shortest daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It falls on December 21, nearly every year. Combine that fact with the nature of humans, and a holiday of some sort is near-inevitable

We humans have a psychological and spiritual need seek out hope and a cosmic picture of the Universe that makes sense. And we probably need it most of all when food is short and we’re in danger of freezing to death. That’s why December is a month of holidays.

I explored Solstice traditions in some depth, in a blog post from 2016 that still gets many hits every yearGet drunk, eat dumplings or fruit, and party down. It’s traditional! 

Festivals of light

Not surprisingly for holidays that originated during a month of long nights, a lot of December holidays feature candles or fires. 

A Solstice festival of light/fire is YuletideIn a 2013 post, I focused on the Yuletide legend of Krampus, but the tradition of burning the Yule Log (originally a whole tree, or most of one) is probably more well-known to those of us whose ancestors hail from the British Isles, where the related custom of Wassailing also originated. Of course, many people prefer their “Yule Logs” to be made of cake, rather than wood!

Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine, in this photo from Bangor.
Winter Solstice bonfires are a feature of a celebration in Maine. (Bangor Daily News/Eric Michael Tollefson)

Last year, the first Sunday of Advent and the first day of Hanukkah both fell on the same day, December 2. This year Advent started on December 1, but Hanukkah doesn’t begin till sunset on December 22.

Compared with Yom Kippur and several of the others, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that has gained a greater following because of its proximity to the Christian holiday of Christmas, celebrated on December 25 each year.

Christmas originated as a religious holiday, and it still is one of the most important holidays of the Christian year, preceded by the Advent season and smaller holy or feast days such as St. Nicholas Day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and St. Stephen’s Day.  If you think about it Christmas is a month of holidays, just by itself.

Secular observations

Especially in recent years, many individuals, cultures and traditions have embraced some of the more glamorous elements of Christmas, including Santa Claus, Christmas trees, holiday lights on buildings, and Christmas presentswithout much interest in the Christian religious aspects.

There will likely always be people who decry a “war on Christmas” (meaning a minimization of the religious aspects), it seems unlikely that these exuberant and sometimes garish secular holiday traditions will go away anytime soon. They’re too darn much fun.

The colorful lights outline each building and go on for blocks and blocks each year on Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.
The granddaddy of municipal Christmas light displays is the annual display in Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza (unattributed photographer/KC Kids Fun)

One, somewhat peculiar spin-off of Christmas is Festivus, inspired by a TV show and celebrated with greater or lesser levels of devotion by aficionados.

considerably more spiritual, but not religious, celebration is Kwanzaa. I explored the days of Kwanzaa in some detail, back in 2017. Although the first day had to share billing with Boxing Day, the secondthirdfourthfifth, and sixth days got their own posts. The seventh day of Kwanzaa is also New Year’s Day.

However you celebrate this month of holidays, I hope you find love, joy, and peace among the hectic pace and the welter of traditions!

IMAGES: I created the “Winter Solstice” composite with help from Ksenia Samorukova (Ukususha) and Rawpixel at 123RF. Many thanks to the Bangor Daily News and Eric Michael Tollefson, for the photo of the bonfires in Maine, and to KC Kids Fun (and their unsung photographer) for the photo of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza holiday lights.

Let there be light!

This morning . . . 

The first Sunday of Advent is when we light the “Hope” candle. Image by Erika Sanborne.

This evening . . . 

The first evening of Hanukkah, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim. Photo by Sebi Berens, taken 12/24/2016.

Whatever your heritage, may your winter nights be filled with the light of love.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Rachael A. Keefe, whose “Bidding Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent – Hope” offers a lovely little prayer litany for those who might like one for the occasion, for the “Hope” Advent image by Erika Sanborne; and to Jewish News Syndicate and photographer Sebi Berens, for the First Night of Hanukkah photo.

5 slick tips to make your own wrapping paper

The Artdog Images of Interest

It’s December (I know. Already!) Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, The Winter Solstice, BrumaliaYule, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Boxing Day, or anything else, it’s likely you’re wrapping presents in December. So this year, on the first three Saturdays of December, the Artdog’s offering some creative gift-wrapping solutions.

1. Designer Marian Parsons used stamping to create this wrapping paper–but this only scratches the surface of the possibilities with kraft paper, butcher paper, newsprint, etc., and stamps. In this case Parsons used a wood block stamp and white paint, but those are more like guidelines. Your imagination is the limit.

The ideas in this post involve, as you see, some personal craft capabilities, and require some advance planning. That’s why I’m running it first. Gives you more time to plan, and execute said plans.

2. Here’s another brilliant idea from Marian Parsons: making decorations with stencils. Use butcher paper for this, so the paper won’t pucker. Parsons uses diluted acrylic paint. You’ll probably want to make some test runs on scraps of butcher paper before you take on a big piece, to get your mixture just right. Otherwise your stenciling efforts could get really smeary (voice of experience, here).

Don’t hog the glory. Most of these ideas are easy enough that kids can do them. If you’re going to make a mess anyway–and if you have the odd child rattling around the house–by all means, deal them in! (Even if they’re not odd, they’ll probably enjoy it).

3. Speaking of children, here’s a project that’s actually designed for them. First, wrap your boxes in plain blue construction paper.The uniform round circles are made from a pencil eraser, dipped in diluted white craft paint then stamped onto make the design–snowflakes, a snowman’s body. Then add permanent-marker arms, eyes and mouth, and a wedge of orange paper glued on for a nose, and a snowman appears. Of course, it’s okay for adults to do this project, too. Thank designer Morgan Levine for this one!
4. Here’s another ultra-kid friendly idea from Marian Parsons: Potato prints! Never heard of them? It’s not only easy, it’s a lot of fun. Parsons offers step-by-step instructions for this project here. You’ve never had such brilliant wrapping paper! Give it a try–even if you don’t have any kids around. Big people can excel at this, too.
5. Here’s another stamping project, only this time you’re using a wine cork, cut to make the oval shape of a Christmas light. Might want to make several, perhaps one for each color. Wrap your boxes in butcher paper or sheets of unprinted newsprint. Then brush the paint onto the cork stamp(s) and alternate colors in a row (maybe you could “cheat” and add a pencil line to follow). After they dry, go back and darken or draw in the line with a permanent marker. This genius idea is from Morgan Levine.

As you can see, these five ideas all require gathering things up in advance, and planning a work-space that can withstand a little wet paint. But with some advance planning and acquisitions, I think you’ll find these are fun and easy creative ways to make wrapping paper that will most definitely impress. Have fun!

IMAGES: I must confess, all of these images and ideas were really easy to find–they’re from a gallery of 50 Christmas Gift Wrapping Ideas presented on HGTV’s website. Many thanks for all the great ideas, and for rounding up all the bright-eyed designers!

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