Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays!
Advent One – 2014

Happy New Year! In case you are scratching your head in puzzlement, let me explain. For the more than two billion Christians in the world, today is indeed their New year. Today marks the first Sunday in Advent and Advent is the first season on the Christian church calendar.

In 1910 there were nearly six hundred million Christians in the world. In 2010 that number had increased to over two billion. In fact, the world’s population had risen from an estimated 1.8 billion in 1910 to 6.9 billion in 2010. Christianity is the world’s largest religion but there are many others.

During this twenty-eight days of Advent 2014 I hope to explore some of the different religions in the world, their stories, the cultures from which they grew, and their contributions to us all. After all, religion influences every aspect of every day in every culture in every land. Individuals and nations use religion as an identifying marker and the rituals of our lives like marriages and deaths are greatly influenced by the religions in which they occur.

While every religion is unique with its customs, dress, worship, and beliefs, there are also strong similarities between the religions of the world and the folk myths from whence they sprang. Religion has been the cause of wars but also the proponent of peace and the healing from those wars.

Integral to religion are the celebrations each has. Celebrations are far more than just a special occasion or a reason to party. Celebrations mark milestones in our lives and separate the daily from the accomplished. The various holidays of the world are varied in both their meanings and their level of seriousness or joviality.

Two day ago, those in the Baha’i faith celebrated the Ascension of Abdul’l Baha. As mentioned before, today is the First Sunday in Advent for those in the Christian faith. December 8th is Bodhi Day for the Buddhists and the date of the Immaculate Conception of Mary for those of the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. December 17th – 24th is Hanukkah for those in the Jewish faith. Wiccans and some Christians will celebrate the holiday of Yule on December 21st and then all Christians will celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Eastern Orthodox Churches will celebrate the Nativity of Christ also on December 25th. While in England December 26th is known as Boxing Day, a day to show kindness to the working class with gifts generally given in boxes, for those practicing Zoroastrian religious principles, it will be the day to celebrate Zarathosht Diso.

In her book “Reach Your Dreams: Five Steps to Being a Conscious Creator in Your Life”, Dr Alice Chan talks about the importance of celebrations. “Celebration signals to your subconscious – and your inner critic – that you are thankful for the progress you are making toward your dream.” Dr Chan encourages us all to celebrate not just the big religious events in our lives but the smaller, daily accomplishments. “When you celebrate with loved ones, not only do you get the benefit of riding on the high of accomplishing a goal, you get the double benefit of basking in the energy of those around you who feel happy for you. What is more, your success may inspire them, too. Whatever gives you pleasure and marks the occasion in a meaningful way for you makes for a good celebration.”

And so, during this season of Advent, which means to come or to prepare, we will discuss various religions and their customs. I will also give a simple recipe for celebrating such. Today I will simply say that not every celebration has to be elaborate or expensive. The first time host or hostess needs to simply plan an event that will allow every to enjoy the communion of celebration. Save the complicated recipes for another time. Today’s recipe is as easy as they come!

Today’s celebration will be making an Advent Wreath. While the colors of the candles have become varied, most use blue, purple, or pink. The all pink wreath is a very modern change with the color representing the purity and love of the season. Churches often use purpose or blue to denote the Virgin Mary and the baby born being the King of the Jews but usually the third candle is pink, for reasons previously given.

Most wreaths include some greenery like holy or cedar branches but even artificial ivy looks great. Weave some around four candle sticks if you haven’t a proper round wreath holder. Even four cups with votive candles in them can be your Advent Wreath. If you are using the battery-operated candle, excellent for households with small children, try wrapping the appropriate color construction around the base of the candle. On each of the four Sundays in Advent, a candle is lit. The corresponding prayers or sayings vary from denomination to denomination so feel free to Google these to find.

Even if you are not a Christian, the Advent Wreath can be a celebratory way to mark the passing weeks. After the wreath is prepared, put out the leftover turkey or ham from Thanksgiving (or purchase some) and let people build their own Advent sandwiches. The bread or bun, the meat, the condiments, and the garnishes are the four corresponding foodie elements. Then have everyone play a game like Light the Candle, an Advent version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Have some blindfolded attempt to put the flame (cut-out of construction paper) on the candle (also made from construction and posted on a wall). A store-bought dessert can complete this celebration marking the beginning of Advent and get rid of those leftovers!

We come to each day, preparing for the rest of our lives. To quote the great Henri Nouwen: “Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”

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