Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Advent Holidays!

When we think of Sabbats, or of other holidays, we often think of them as a single day.  Some people get even more specific, and think of them as a particular time within a day (especially for Solstices and Equinoxes, where there is a moment at the tip of the fulcrum).  But the idea of celebrating a Solstice on a particular day (often marked from either sundown the previous day or sunup the day of) is something that is ingrained deeply in many people. 

And yet, this is a very common question and concern that pops up for many people:  is it okay to honor the Sabbat on another day?  There are so many reasons why holding to a strict time for a holiday might now work well for someone.  Perhaps they have to work that day, or they have family stuff going on.  If it is for a group ritual, not everyone might be able to make a day.  Middle of the week might mean there is a conflict with children, or you may need to get up early the next day for work.  You might be sick, or just not have energy that day.

Now, group work is a bit more complicated, because for most people, finding time to meet with their group is hard enough, but extending a celebration over several days is virtually impossible.  So, for group work, holding one ritual, on a day that is most convenient for the group as a whole is the best thing. 

But for your personal practice, there is nothing that says you have to do all your holiday activities on just one day!  In fact, I'm finding that only spending one day on a holiday leaves me feeling like I am not fully appreciating all it has to offer.  It serves to separate that celebration, and makes it feel disconnected, like "Oh, I'm going to honor this thing, and now I'm done."

If I think back to my childhood, taking Christmas for example, while we did most of our big Christmas celebrations on Christmas morning (opening gifts), we started doing Christmas stuff pretty much when Thansgiving was over. 

There was a lot to do, and I wouldn't consider us huge celebrators of Christmas.  I don't remember us having Christmas parties, though we did attend a few church services (normally we'd get invited to someone's church nativity play, so we'd go, watch the kids act out the Christmas story and sing carols).  But we listened to Christmas music, decorated the tree and house (which was at least one day's worth of activity!), and we always read the advent story.

I loved the advent!  Even when it wasn't a chocolate advent (but of course those were the best!), but we had a reusable advent calendar, with little windows that we could open every day, and a book to read alongside it.  I enjoyed that daily build up.  I felt like it heightened my appreciation of the season.

And we always baked cookies, to leave out for Santa.  We would open one present on Christmas eve, and then the rest in the morning.  I always had rules for how early I was allowed to wake up my parents (and that's a rule we kept with our son....7am was when Christmas started lol).  We would open presents, have a nice breakfast and enjoy the day.

Looking at the Wheel of the Year as an ongoing cycle, I really think the perspective of one Sabbat naturally turning to the next makes more sense than having eight points around the wheel that we recognize, but kind of ignore the whole rest of the wheel.  I also think that extending our holidays, spreading out our activities over a span of time, not only deepens our connection with them, but it lets us do more in little makes our celebrations more manageable, even when we are busy.

My practice has evolved a lot over the years.  When I was starting out, most of my ritual work was done in purely temporary space.  I had an altar that was always set up, but it was more of a small bit of sacred space.  When I wanted to observe a Sabbat, I would break out all my stuff, go to the largest chunk of floor space we had (so the living room), lay out a blanket and then set up my circle and altar for that specific ritual.  So my Sabbat altar was only up for the ritual itself.

Somewhere along the way, I started adding seasonal bits to my main altar.  But I wasn't very organized about it.  I didn't always remember to change my altar to match the Sabbats (and I didn't have things for all of them...actually I still don't, though I make do with what I have). 

Then, this past year, it was part of my year long goal to not only honor every Sabbat, but to keep up with my altar and changing it every Sabbat as well.  Being the first year that I've actually done this, I had altar set up as part of my 'right around the Sabbat' practices.  Typically I'd swap altar decorations a few days before the Sabbat.

So, while this did help give my actual rituals less set up, it didn't have the flow that I wanted.  I think next year I'm going to swap my altar a week or two after the Sabbat, so that I have a more fluid changeover.  The same for my computer/phone backgrounds (I've been noticing this a lot this computer is still set for Samhain, and it feels sort of weird and disjointed).

Since I've been thinking about extending holidays, I've encountered some really lovely ideas for putting this into practice.  And I think a lot of people still like having that proper Sabbat ritual (even if it is a day or two shifted to fit your life), but taking some of the preparations and other activities and spreading them out in the weeks before and after.

Crafting is one thing that I think can definitely be spaced out.  Many Sabbat rituals include both recipes for seasonal foods, but also ideas for things you can make and include in your ritual:  decorative brooms, wreaths, dollies, wands...the list is endless.  But you don't have to actually wait until your ritual to make your crafts!  You can take a day or days, earlier in the season, to work on making things to use or bless in your ritual. 

If you are doing solitary rituals, like I do, you may not do ritual food for Sabbats (I don't).  But that doesn't mean you have to miss out!  Most ritual foods honor the things that are in season, or the spirit of the season, so why not look to Sabbat recipes for meal inspiration throughout the Sabbat season!  This is especially great if you need to bring a dish to a gathering.  And since many Sabbat recipes aren't obvious, you can bring these dishes to any gathering, not just a witchy one!

I love dressing for ritual, but this is another thing I don't do in my regular practice.  Most of the time, it's just me, and I don't have a lot of ritual clothing, so I do ritual in whatever I'm wearing.  Even for group ritual, I may try to dress to match the season, but sometimes weather or other concerns will be more pressing.  I will wear what I need to in order to stay warm, or to be protected from sun and bugs, and then try to dress around that.

I do try to add seasonal touches with jewelry though.  I love jewelry, and I have pieces that speak (to me) to the different seasons, and so I'll often pick seasonal jewelry to wear, which really helps me to stay in the spirit of the season.  I also like to match my nail-polish to the season, so I will pick colors based on what part of the year we are in.

To take a note from the advent calendar, you can create your own advent calendar for any of the Sabbats!  You might find lovely quotes or images that really speak to you about the Sabbat, and make a beautiful calendar that lets you open up a window each day.  Or, perhaps you have a list of activities you want to do, and you can write them on slips of paper, and tuck each one in an envelope, so you get to surprise yourself with which activity you will be doing on a given day.  You may even include small gifts for yourself, things you have found that embody the season.

Breaking free from the idea that a Sabbat is a single moment in time can really expand your experience of the Wheel of the Year.  It can help you to weave your practice into your life, and to find ways that work best for you.  It can spread out the celebration, so you don't feel stressed or like you can't find time to do what you want to do.  And it can make you more mindful of what is going on, both in the world around you, and within yourself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Creating Cozy

I love winter, I always have.  I think part of my enchantment with the season was my love for snow as a child.  It changed the world.  There was something really magical about waking up and seeing familiar places transformed.  This delight has never left me.

I have always loved the cold to.  Now, don't get me wrong, I kind of hate being cold, that bone-deep chill that doesn't seem to go away.  I chill easily (and overheat easily....I'm all kinds of wacky with temperature lol), and it takes me forever to warm back up once I get cold.  But I think that is why I love cold weather...because the process of warming up is so much fun!

When you are cold, and you surround yourself with something warm, it's absolutely magical.  I don't think there is any feeling like it.  No matter how refreshing standing in front of the air conditioner is when it's a million degrees, that is relief, not cozy.  Bundling up and feeling warm after being cold is something entirely different. 

I'm a blanket gal, but I am sort of picky about blankets.  I like blankets that are big, there is nothing worse than trying to snuggle under a blanket and not being able to get both your shoulders and feet under (which at 5'10 is a very real struggle!).  I like soft blankets, I want it to feel nice against my skin (and I've found that soft is often warmer...).  As nifty as those color changing sequins are that are all the rage right now, the blankets with them make me cringe. 

And when I say I'm a blanket person, I have blankets everywhere.  There are three on my side of the bed, two in the living room, one on my computer desk chair.  And when I'm really cold (which happens a few times a month), all of those will get piled on the bed or I can't sleep.

This time of year is steeped in cold, and because of that, we spend less time outside.  There is less light in the day, and we are out in it even less than we could be.  It is a stressful time for many people, with family obligations, gift-giving and busy schedules.  It is a time that many people struggle with feeling down.

The thing with cozy is that it embodies the feeling of home.  That happy, safe, loved sensation, where everything is right in the world.  And we can create this feeling by infusing more coziness into our lives.

Cozy can mean different things to different people.  Take clothing for example.  Many people think of big, warm sweaters as being cozy, and I do as well.  I love finding sweaters that swallow me up, that dangle past my fingertips, and well past my waist.  But I also find fuzzy leggings cozy.  It's the stretchiness, which is like being surrounded by a hug.  Kind of like those thunder jackets they sell for pets.  It's a fine line, it has to be tight enough that you can feel it, but not so tight that it starts pinching. 

I love spicy food, but only certain spicy foods are cozy to me.  Chili is one of them.  I love having chili in the winter, when it's cold.  Soups are also cozy, but they have to be hearty.  Chicken and dumplings, with a nice thick broth, or beef marrow with barley...yum!

Hot drinks are great for calling up cozy.  Many of us have favorite hot drinks from childhood, whether it was hot chocolate with marshmallows or spiced apple cider.  As adults, we may add tea or coffee to that list.  I actually loved instant chicken noodle soup (the kind with almost no chicken or noodles, that comes dried in a packet).

That soup was my favorite when I wasn't feeling well, and I think that's another time we naturally seek out cozy things.  Whether it is a physical illness or an emotional one, when we aren't feeling our best, we want to sink into a big puddle of cozy.

One thing that really makes me feel cozy is watching a favorite movie.  This is a tradition for many families over the holidays, and it brings up so much nostalgia and memories.  But your cozy shows might just be a personal favorite, that you've watched so often that you know all the words, but it always makes you happy.

I have books that fill this need as well, and I know that when I'm feeling certain ways, I can turn to them.  I can loose myself, for a while, in their pages, and it's easy and will make me feel better.

We can also share cozy!  Snuggling with a child, a loved one, a friend or a pet...these can all be wonderful ways to embrace being cozy.  I love when our cats come and lay on me.  There is something super peaceful about having a little warm, fuzzy, purring body draped bonelessly across your lap.  It makes me feel calm and loved, knowing they feel that safe with me.

I don't always wait until I'm feeling down to turn to cozy.  Sometimes, I just feel like spending an evening doing something nice and indulgent.  I'll pick out some favorite snacks, pull up a show or movie on the tv, grab a blanket and nest.  Which is quite literally now, because our living room furniture is giant bean bag chairs (which is awesome!).

You know you've embraced the cozy when you don't want to get up.  But it's not just being lazy or dreading doing whatever you need to do once you get up, instead it's that sensation of being so content right where you are that you don't want things to change.

Coziness is one of the reasons I loved winter as a child.  It gave me an excuse to come in, cheeks and hands cold, take off all my cold (and often wet) cloths, put on something warm and dry, get something hot to drink and snuggle in front of the tv with a blanket.  I still love that transition, from cold to cozy. 

So, when the weather is biting and your feeling frazzled with all the holiday rush, take some time to find your own cozy!  Use it as a reward, and keep the image of cozy in your mind, as you go about your tasks, knowing that when you get done, cozy is waiting for you.  Sink into cozy, and let it renew you.