activities, feasts and seasons, little holydays, liturgical year, projects, recipe, saint celebrations

Feast of St. Brigid

St. Brigid was a 5th century nun who founded the monastery at Kildare in Ireland. Born to a mother who was a slave in a Druid household, she was named for the Celtic goddess of fire and is the patron of the hearth and the domestic arts. (She is also the patron of County Kildare, for obvious reasons.) Many of the stories about her are about her bringing warmth and light, so it is fitting that February 1st is her feast day…the first day of spring in the old Celtic calendar.

When we visited Ireland, George and I picked up a St. Brigid’s cross to bring back with us for our Christmas tree. It has been our tradition to find Christmas ornaments everywhere we travel and reminisce about our trips as we decorate the tree each year. I learned today that many people in Ireland make St. Brigid’s crosses on her feast day and place them near the hearth or stove (or sometimes, on the front door of the house).

Since we had already put away our St. Brigid’s cross with the other ornaments (are you impressed that our tree and ornaments are put away?), SuperSam and I decided to make our own St. Brigid’s cross to celebrate her feast today. They are traditionally made from straw or reeds. We followed this great tutorial from Catholic Icing and made ours from pipe cleaners. It was very kid-friendly, even for a preschool-aged boy with a short attention span for such things. (He pretended the pipe cleaners were eating each other, complete with “nom nom nom” sound effects.) It only took us about 20 minutes, and we ended up with two very colorful crosses to show for our efforts.

For dinner, we used this recipe for a chickpea soup from Carrots for Michaelmas. It was simple and tasty. Best of all, it was ready in an hour…the same amount of time it took to make this easy Irish Soda Bread. For dessert, I cut up some apples and topped them with oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts and baked them at the same time as the soda bread. It was simple, quick food, but it felt totally worthy of a feast.

The way this week has gone, I feel in serious need of a patron of the domestic arts, so I put my St. Brigid’s cross in the kitchen window. At the very least, the bright colors will perk me up first thing in the morning before the day gets going while I’m waiting on the coffee to finish brewing.

For another make-your-own-St. Brigid’s cross tutorial, try here. And check out Sarah’s post on how her family celebrated St. Brigid’s Day at two Os plus more. For a devotional resource on the saints (neither strictly Catholic nor strictly biographical, but with some ideas for prayer practices included), try Tom Cowan’s The Way of the Saints: Prayers, Practices, and Meditations. It’s not comprehensive, by far, but he writes about ways to honor some of the saints and apply their lessons in daily life. We enjoy having it as one resource in our library. (Yes, that is an Amazon affiliate link back there, just to be clear.)

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Advent, cookies, feasts and seasons, little holydays, liturgical year, Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, saint celebrations

Why I’m baking biscochitos

Biscochitos are tiny little crispy bits of heaven by way of New Mexico. They are the state’s official cookie, and they are eaten at Christmas and other festive occasions. When we visited New Mexico two summers ago, we loved them and vowed we would make them at home. All of the recipes I could find then were a little more complicated than I could manage that year. Then last Christmas, I had less time than ever for baking (or anything, really) with the two baby twins needing my care.

This year, I am a more confident baker, and I am baking biscochitos for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.

The real way to make biscochitos is to use your New Mexican great-grandmother’s recipe that has been handed down in your family (and about a pound of lard). I have no New Mexican great-grandmother, and this isn’t a family recipe. It doesn’t belong to me at all- I found it on the website for a New Mexican newspaper – but I’m adding it to my family’s traditional celebration for this feast. (No lard, though. I used butter and just a tiny bit of Crisco. Crisco is scary, but lard scares me even more.)

I love Our Lady of Guadalupe. She doesn’t belong to me, exactly…maybe no more than the cookie recipe does. Her story, though, reminds me that God always finds ways to meet us where we are and that God is big enough for all of us.

On December 9, 1531, an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego encountered the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac Hill. His people had been under the rule of Spanish conquistadores for many years, and the Christian faith had been forced upon them. When he saw the Virgin Mary, though, she looked like him: she was wearing native dress, had brown skin and features like his (instead of like the Spaniards), and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his own language. Juan Diego reported the encounter to the archbishop, who requested proof that the lady was who she claimed to be. The lady instructed him to fill his tilma (cloak) with the roses growing on the hill and take them back to the archbishop. (It was the middle of winter, so the presence of the roses was in itself miraculous.) When Juan Diego followed her directions and opened his tilma to show the roses to the archbishop, they both saw a clear image of the Virgin Mary imprinted on the fabric.

Because the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego’s people as one of them and spoke to them in their own language, millions of people converted to Christianity. Where the Spaniards had tried (and failed) to force the people to accept their faith, this apparition brought a message of love and acceptance: truth isn’t the property of the people who are persecuting you, there is room for you here, and God wants you just the way you are.

In Mexico and across the United States today, there are Masses and parades and celebrations honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. At our parish, there was a Mass at 5 AM to start the day off, and there will be a dinner with a dance this evening. At our house, there will be a feast of fajitas, queso dip, and tamales. We’ll play Mexican music and enjoy each other’s company as we remember that God is the God of everyone…including each of us, even when we aren’t looking for God. And we’ll eat biscochitos for dessert.     
                                                          
We cut the biscochitos in the shape of stars for Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her mantle is full of stars, like the night sky…and it’s big enough to cover all of us who want to stand beneath it. From now on, these cookies will be our way of remembering how she came to share God’s love with everyone.

activities, Advent, cookies, feasts and seasons, frustration, little holydays, liturgical year, parenting, saint celebrations, St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, take one

This is our family’s first observance of St. Nicholas’ Day. Our logical, intellectual, science-loving preschooler was about to throw all belief in the invisible out the window after seeing Santa in a mall near my mom’s house at Thanksgiving. Sensing that we needed to shift the emphasis a little from the Santa question, I suggested we start celebrating this feast to honor the historical person of St. Nicholas, who was so much cooler than Santa, anyway (see Haley’s excellent post on him here at Carrots for Michaelmas).

I won’t go so far as to say it was a bad idea for us to do this. I just think I went about it wrong. Interested in learning from my mistakes? Here is the breakdown of what you should do if you want your St. Nicholas feast day celebration to feel like it’s turning out badly:

  • Realize that you aren’t sure whether to set out the shoes on the night before (St. Nicholas’ Eve?) or the night of the feast. Pick the night before because you’re excited. (Ignore the sneaking suspicion you may have at this point that this is about you and not about St. Nicholas or the children. A moment of self-awareness at this point could ruin all the fun.)

  • Be sure to get treats that are too big to fit into the children’s tiny shoes (more because of their tiny feet than the bigness of the treats). Attempt to shove the card game into your child’s shoes anyway and get frustrated when it doesn’t fit. Decide to save the Santa-hat-wearing rubber ducks for the children’s stockings because you hurt your hand trying to cram them into the shoes.

  • Let your child have hot chocolate at breakfast (it’s a feast day, right?), then grumble at him when he’s too full to really eat anything. 

  • Unsuccessfully try to read your beautiful new St. Nicholas book to your child, who will only talk about planets and runs away shouting something about nebulae when you try to change the subject. 

    • Decide to bake cookies with the child, but don’t bother to double-check the ingredients (especially if you bake and generally have all that stuff). Realize that all the traditional cookie recipes for St. Nicholas’ Day call for anise. (Who has that?) Decide to substitute cloves. Grumble at the child when he jumps up and down on his stool and spills flour all over everything and everyone.

    • Don’t chill the dough fully because you’re in a hurry to get to a playdate and you want to take fresh baked cookies along to share. Struggle to roll out sticky dough, even though you know better. When your child approaches and is chattering at you about VY Canis Majoris and how it’s the biggest star and how it can burn up everything in our solar system, tell him, “Sssssshhhh!” in a very aggravated way. Feel guilty, but keep struggling with the dough.

    • Burn your hand while taking out the cookies. Say, “Awesome,” in as sarcastic a voice as possible. When your child asks what is so awesome, roll your eyes at him.

    • Anger the babies while waking them up early for the playdate (for which you are already quite late). Feel frustrated with them for being fussy. Allow a small part of your brain to think they are doing it on purpose just to annoy you.

    • Realize that your celebration feels entirely uncelebratory and that it’s your own fault.

    My attitude needs a reset button today. I am the cause of my own frustration – it’s not really about my kids or the cookies or any of it. I have an idea of how I want to celebrate the feast, and I’ve tried to force our day to fit it. Really, it ought to be the other way around. Really, I should start with the day I have, and then see what I can do to make it feel like a celebration.

    My children are kind of grumpy today. I’m kind of grumpy, too. We’re making each other grumpier. We did the shoes and the cookies. That might be all the celebrating we need to do this year.

    You know what? It’s okay. It’s enough. Sometimes, on a day like today with little kids, you have to just cut your losses. SuperSam might remember the shoes for next year, but the girls won’t remember anything – it will basically be a blank slate. So for now, instead of worrying about what kind of feasting we should be doing at dinner tonight, I’m going to take a nap. I might even end up ordering pizza and calling it a St. Nicholas’ Day gift to myself.

    No judgment.

    Happy St. Nicholas’ Day, y’all.

    Advent, feasts and seasons, little holydays, liturgical year

    Advent linkup: in case you haven’t had enough…

    I’m participating in an Advent linkup with some other bloggers this morning. It’s being hosted by Carrots for Michaelmas, Dualing Moms and Molly Makes Do. People will be posting about Advent traditions, upcoming holy days, music, crafts and activities, simple gift giving, how to teach children about the liturgical year, and more. There are a bunch of great writers participating, and we’d love for you to come and check it out. Just click on the button below to find out more.

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    activities, Advent, feasts and seasons, Jesus, little holydays, liturgical year

    Names of Jesus advent chain

    This morning, SuperSam and I found ourselves with some time to fill. He was feeling crafty, which doesn’t happen all that often. There are probably a thousand exciting, beautiful, intricate Advent project ideas out there right now that we could choose to do together. Sometimes, though, the simplest projects are exactly what I need to help me connect with my children and with the season. Today, we made an Advent paper chain with one of Jesus’ names on each link.

    Jesus is called by many names in the Bible. When the angel comes to announce to Mary that she will bear God’s son, he tells her that the baby will be called Emmanuel. Some of his names are taken from ancient prophets, like Isaiah. Each Gospel writer introduces new names for Jesus, and St. Paul gives us many more names in his letters to the early church. Finally, some of the powerful images for Jesus come from names used for him in Revelation.

    Our Advent chain has 24 links, one for each day until Christmas Day. SuperSam and I worked together to choose our favorite names of Jesus and wrote one on each link of chain. Our plan is to remove a link each day and read the name of Jesus and the scripture verse where that name originates.

    Here is how to make your own Advent chain, if you want to join us in this practice.

    What you’ll need: 

    • Paper to cut into strips for the chain links (we used scrapbook paper)
    • Scissors
    • Tape
    • A writing implement (pen, pencil, marker, stub of crayon – whatever you have will work)
    • A calendar (optional)

    You probably know how many days there are from the beginning of Advent to Christmas Day. Since SuperSam is just beginning to understand how days and weeks and months and seasons fit together, he asks me every day if it is Christmas yet (I like to send him here for the answer and a giggle). I thought it would be helpful to have him count the days on the calendar to figure out how many links we would need. We started with the first day of Advent (December 2) and made a link for each day until Christmas.

    First, cut your paper into strips. Our strips were 6 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide, which made nice, fat links. If I were doing this again, I would make them almost twice that long so they would be easier for SuperSam to link together.

    This is a great way for a young child to practice cutting. I made “starter cuts” for SuperSam at the edge of the paper, and he followed them up with his scissors to make the cuts (all the while saying “squeeze squeeze SLIDE, squeeze squeeze SLIDE” and making a noise like squealing brakes when he reached the edge. Ah, crafts with preschool boys…never boring.

    Once you have a pile of strips, write one of the names of Jesus on the back of each strip. (There is a thorough list available here.) Here are the ones we used with the scripture references, in case you’d like to borrow any of them:

    A Precious Stone – 1 Peter 2:6
    The Builder – Hebrews 3:3
    The Vine – John 15:5
    The Son of the Living God – Matthew 16:16
    Emmanuel (God with us) – Matthew 1:23
    The Truth – John 14:6
    The Root of Jesse – Isaiah 11:10
    Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6
    A Sure Foundation – Isaiah 28:16
    The Word – John 1:1
    Lily of the Valley – Song of Songs 2:1
    The Resurrection – John 11:25
    The Lamb of God – John 1:29
    The Way – John 14:6
    The Bread of Life – John 6:35
    Alpha and Omega – Revelation 1:8
    Dayspring from on High – Luke 1:78
    The Head – Ephesians 4:15
    Lord of Lords – Revelation 17:14
    Light of the World – John 8:12
    Bright and Morning Star – Revelation 22:16
    The Sun of Righteousness – Malachi 4:2
    King of Kings – Revelation 17:14
    Messiah – John 4:25
    King of Glory – Psalm 24:10
    Savior of the World – 1 John 4:14
    The Good Shepherd – John 10:11

      
    To make the chain, form the first link into a circle and fasten it with a piece of tape. If you want to be fancy, you can use double-sided tape so it doesn’t show. We are not fancy, so we used regular old transparent tape (which is never quite transparent, so you can see if it you look closely!). Insert a second strip through the first strip to link them together, then make another circle. Keep going until you have threaded all the links together to form a chain. If you’re working with a child who can’t do this part by himself, this is a good time to work together. SuperSam lined up pieces of tape all along the table edge and chose which strips should go next in the chain. He also liked putting the piece of tape on each link while I held it (although his success rate with that was about 50% – we had to redo a number of them when the tape totally missed the seam). It’s all about the process, right?

    Finally, SuperSam wanted to make a star to put at the top of the chain and write “Jesus” on it. His star is a Jesus Star, he said, but it’s most like Rigel (one of his favorites because it’s a double star and it’s blue- the hottest kind of star). He also drew planets orbiting the star (because we just can’t do anything without including planets these days).

    I hope this simple craft gives you time to reflect on some of the many different facets of Jesus. We often think this time of year of the little baby boy who was born in a manger, but taking a step back to consider the bigger picture of who Jesus was and is can be a good thing, too. A great number of these names for Jesus show up in hymn texts and carols we will sing during Advent and Christmas. Taking a few minutes to remind ourselves (or to learn for the first time) some of the names now can make singing those favorite songs even more meaningful this year.
    Blessings during this first week of Advent!

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