Category Archives: Traditions

Have a blessed Epiphany

Today, January 6, is Epiphany. It is the last day of the Christmas season and is also known as Three Kings Day and Twelth Night, depending on the country and custom. To celebrate this day in a meaningful way, in this post, I will share information about the three kings, an excerpt from the Bible about their visit to the Christ child, some customs associated with Epiphany, a short story about one of these customs and a carol. Enjoy!

Origin of Epiphany

Like many Christian holidays, Epiphany has ancient origins. In pre-Christian times, Egyptians drew water from the Nile for holy water, as it was considered to be purest on January 6. This festival became associated with the baptism of Christ when Egyptians converted to Christianity. Four hundred years after Christ died, the date of December 25 was fixed as the date of his birth and Christmas began to be celebrated as an important Christian observance, heavily influenced by existing stories and customs, and the date of January 6 soon became marked as the finale of the Christmas festival.

The Gospel According to Matthew

The Biblical account of the journey and visit of the three wise men is as follows:

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the King, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should  be born.

And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.

And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed, and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

And when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.

The Three Kings

Three Magi, or wise men, were said to visit Jesus. In the early Christian times, they were deonoted as Kings although they were not known to have dominions. Magi were Persian priests, scientists and astrologers who had observed the stars on the night of Jesus’ birth. Legend has it that they brought three gifts to the Christ child.

  • Balthazar, from Ethiopia, brought frankincense. Frankincenes is an incense that was used in relgious rites. The symbolism is that the child was acknowledged as a future priest.
  • Melchior, from Arabia or India, brougt gold. Gold was a tribute to a young king.
  • Caspar, possibly Greek, brought myrrh. Myrrh was an incense and ointment. It was a symbol of a healer.

Although I do not know if it is still done today, in some countries, it was the custom in the past for boys or men to dress up as the Three Kings and process or deliver gifts. We are accustomed to our children receiving gifts on Christmas Day but in those countries, Kings brought the gifts, just as they did to the Christ Child, on January 6. In Italy, La Befana, an old woman, delivers the gifts that day.

We Three Kings

One of my favorite carols is We Three Kings. I like how the melody sounds like the slow plodding of camels and kings on their way to Bethlehem. Listen to the carol as sung by the great jazz singer and Virginian Ella Fitzgerald.

Three Young Kings

The beautiful and moving short story, Three Young Kings, written by George Sumner Albee in 1956, describes the procession of the Three Kings in a Cuban town. You can listen to it here or read the text here.

The King Cake

In France, they still celebrate Epiphany with a King Cake. A delicious pastry is topped with a golden crown. Whomever finds the baby inside is king for a day. This tradition has continued in New Orleans, although now King Cakes are more associated with Mardi Gras.

You can order and buy delicious, French-style King Cakes or King Cake slices at the franchise restaurant, La Madeleine, typically through January 6, while supplies last.

Farewell until November!

For many years, my Christmas has extended past New Year’s until January 6, when I wistfully take down my tree and put away my Christmas decorations. Epiphany also marks the last day of the season I post on Cool Yule. Please visit often and come back for new content about the winter holidays in November 2022. May God bless you and keep you all year. — Mary

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

You know, I love New Year’s Eve. To me, it is one of the most glamorous and sparkling of holidays. But I think sometimes we forget about New Year’s Day! It gets a little eclipsed by New Year’s Eve. But New Year’s Day is special in its own right.

Here are some New Year’s traditions to help you celebrate New Year’s Day to the fullest. Many of the traditions of New Year’s Day are associated with good luck and good health.

Creating New Year’s Resolutions

I take my resolutions very seriously! I devote hours to reflection and planning for the new year in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But if you have not written your resolutions yet, New Year’s Day is the perfect time to begin. Good to have on hand is a 2022 planner or calendar and a notebook or computer.

First Day Hike

I don’t know if this is a country-wide tradition but in Virginia, all the state parks are open for the First Day Hike. It’s simple. You simply take a good, long hike outdoors on New Year’s Day.

Why Do We Eat Blackeyed Peas and Collard Greens on New Year’s Day?

The Southern custom of blackeyed peas goes back to the Civil war era. Blackeyed peas were one of the few foods avaialble at the end of the war in the South and people felt lucky to have them. After the war, it became a tradition to eat these on the first of January every year to bring good luck and prosperity to the household.

Some people say the peas represent coins, the greens represent bills (money) and cornbread represents gold.

These foods are healthy and delicious, so starting off the year eating them is not a bad idea.

One way to make black eyed peas more palatable is to make Hopping John. Hopping John is a South Carolina dish made of black eyed peas, ham hock, stewed tomatoes and of course, rice. It can’t be Carolinian without rice!

Vegetarian Hopping John

You can buy canned Hopping John or seasoned black eyed peas. But it is not hard to make. i used to make a vegetarian version with canned black eyed peas, rinsed, and canned tomatoes with juice. To this mixture, I added sauteed garlic, chopped green bell pepper and chopped yellow onion, salt and pepper and bay leaf. You could also add green onions and chopped celery to the saute mixture. This is most delicious if you make it a day a head and reheat. Serve with or without rice, as you like. But greens are a must! 🙂

Why Do We Eat Pork and Sauerkraut on New Year’s Day?

The Pennsylvania Dutch (and other Pennsylvanians) eat pork and sauerkraut for good luck. The pig roots for food moving forward. For this reason, it is considered lucky. Long shreds of sauerkraut are said to represent a long life — and some people also equate cabbage with money.

 

Twelve More Days of Christmas!

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

December 26th can be a huge anti-climax. A grouchy let-down because Christmas is over. Darn!

Or…is it? 🙂

No, Christmas isn’t over! It’s still here. There are 12 Days of Christmas and the first day of Christmas is today! Happy First Day of Christmas!

My son and I have celebrated the traditional 12 Days of Christmas — the first day of Christmas is December 26 and the 12th day is January 6, Epiphany. I’ve got some good reasons why you might want to consider adding this holiday tradition.

  • It eases you out of the holidays and into the new year in a more gentle and gradual way. I find this really helps me and my son seemed to enjoy it. And it is the antidote for post-Christmas let-down.
  • It has no focus on presents (except the post-Christmas card shopping for bargains and using gift cards). So, the pressure is off and you can enjoy other aspects of the season. Strip away the commercialism, and what do you have — only the best and most beautiful parts of Christmas, the good will, the coziness, the beauty of the lights and decorations, the spirtiual aspects, and the time with family and friends. You might like Christmas BETTER after December 25!
  • If you have children at home, you typically have at least a week of winter break AFTER Christmas Day. So, it gives you a chance to have Christmas-y fun during that week before they go back to school — like going ice skating, drinking cocoa with a peppermint stick in it and going out to see light displays. And also doing good works – like helping out at home, volunteering or donating.
  • Some of the Christmas attractions are still open (and still festive!) but will be significantly less crowded, including the National Tree, Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights, Bull Run Festival of Lights, Tinsel!, Christmas Town Busch Gardens and Winterfest at Kings Dominion.
  • It allows you time and space to celebrate some of the more spiritual aspects of the season after Santa returns to the North Pole. You might read some passages from the Bible or reflect on the impact of Jesus’ birth or celebrate neo-pagan Yule traditions.
  • It gives you extra mileage out of your Christmas “stuff” — fuzzy socks, pyjamas, holiday teas, candy canes,  books and decorations, movies, and music, since you have almost two more weeks of the Christmas season after Christmas Day.
  • You can legitimately still send presents and cards, in case you are really running late this year!
  • New Year’s Eve at your house looks more festive when the tree and decorations are still up.
  • It makes the un-decorating task easier. I leave my decorations up until January 6, Epiphany. But I do phase them out gradually. Pretty much everything stays up until New Year’s, except the stockings of course. And I leave some lights up deep into January to comaat the winter blahs. But the tree doesn’t come down until January 6.
  • It gives you another holiday to look forward to in the bleakest part of winter. My son and I look forward to Epiphany. I will have a special blog post on that day sharing stories and traditions.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Sunday, December 26 – The First Day of Christmas and Thank You Note Day; Candy Cane Day

Monday, December 27 – The Second Day of Christmas and Fruitcake Day; Make Cut Out Snowflakes Day

Tuesday, December 28 – The Third Day of Christmas and Call a Friend Day; Card Playing Day

Wednesday, December 29 – The Fourth Day of Christmas and Still Need to Do Day

Thursday, December 30 – The Fifth Day of Christmas and Resolution Planning Day

Friday, December 31 – The Sixth Day of Christmas and New Year’s Eve and Champagne Day; World Peace Meditation Day

Saturday, January 1 – The Seventh Day of Christmas and New Year’s Day; First Hike Day (Virginia)

Sunday, January 2 – The Eighth Day of Christmas; Motivation and Inspiration Day

Monday, January 3 – The Ninth Day of Christmas and Fruitcake Toss Day

Tuesday, January 4 – The Tenth Day of Christmas and National Spaghetti Day

Wednesday, January 5 – The Eleventh Day of Christmas

Thursday, January 6 – The Twelth Day of Christmas and Epiphany. National Take Down the Christmas Tree Day.

Friday, January 7 – Orthodox Christmas Day

and also coming up…(visit my self-care blog now and through 2022)

Saturday, January 8 – National Vision Board Day

Wednesday, January 12 – Stick to Your Resolutions Day

The story of the birth of Christ

On Christmas Day, one year, I listened to a rector talk about the beautiful story of the birth of Christ in his sermon. Whether or not it is completely true was immaterial, he said. He referred to the meaning of the story and its timelessness.

I agreed with him, but all my life, even when I doubted the existence of God himself, I believed this story happened. It seems too wonderful to not be true. But as the rector stated, that isn’t truly the point. We don’t know the exact date Christ was born and other details are lost to history. The point is that the wrondrous story of the birth of Christ is a story of love, reverence, faith, difficulty, sacrifice and miracles. And that is a story that every person can relate to on some level.

Let’s remember the night the angels sang…

Let’s remember what happened in a little town, as related in the Gospel of Luke. Merry Christmas.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of Davdi, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David: )

To be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

Yuletide Greetings on the Solstice!

Long before Christmas was a celebration, there were celebrations associated with Yule, December 21st, the longest day of the year. Those traditions continue today. Here are some ideas for making today special.

  • Dedicate yourself to your self-care and healthy activities. Today would be a great day for yoga, workouts and meditation. Check off at least one activity on the self-care planner!
  • Take Vitamin D which most of us need in the winter months.
  • Here is a Yule Log to color, courtesy of Wired Magazine!
  • Make a gratitude list for the abundance in your life your health, home and family.
  • Consider making a contribution of some kind as an offering of thanks. You could put some money in the Salvation Army Kettle Very appropriate for moving into the new year – ridding yourself of things you no longer need by making a donation to Good Will. So needed right now – blood donations or donations of canned food.
  • On the longest night of the year, the sun is a focus. Take a walk in the sun today. After today, there were will be more sunlight each day. Revel in the blessing of the sunglight!
  • Air out the house, give it a good cleaning and let fresh air and good luck come into the home.
  • Bring some fresh greenery into the house — pine and cedar swags, holly bunches and mistletoe. Hang a wreath of fresh greenery on your front door to welcome in prosperity and luck.
  • Light some candles on the darkest night of the year. Visualize positive energy set alight in yourself, your home and the new year.
  • Make a warm cup of Christmas tea or mulled cider — with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and orange rind.
  • Snuggle up by a real or video fireplace for the “yule log” experience.
  • Have a special dinner or lunch with Yule log (Buche de Noel) for dessert. You can puchase Yule log cakes (sometimes available by the slice) at Whole Foods and La Madeleine, or dress up a store-bought Red Velvet or Pumpkin roll as a Yule log with frosting or powdered sugar “snow.”

 

Origin of the Christmas Cookie

Today is Bake Cookies Day! Do you bake Christmas cookies? On the right are some of my humble (but tasty) samples.

Did you know that the tradition of Christmas cookies began in medieval Europe? The Dutch brought the custom of baking Christmas cookies to the United States in the early 1600s (Wikipedia).

Cookie cutters were imported to the U.S. from Germany around the turn of the century (early 1900s, that is). In those days, people hung treats and candy from Christmas trees to be removed and eaten by children, so the cookie cutters fashioned cookies to be hung that way.

Children started leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus in the United States in the 1930s.

What kind of cookies will you be baking this Christmas? Tip: after cooling, store sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, spritz cookies, bar cookies and nut balls in a cookie tin with a tight-fitting lid.

Here is a poem that captures the essence of the tradition of baking Christmas cookies

Christmas Cookies by C. F. Kelly

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The mixer in the kitchen purrs;
it twists and tosses as it stirs
the cookie batter Mom will bake
and then let me help decorate.

The silver cutters wait in lines
to shape their own unique designs
when rolling pin has done its job
and flattened out the doughy blob.

She wipes her brow, adjusts her sleeves,
and starts to cut out holly leaves,
then picks the joyful rocking horse
and stars and bells and birds, of course.

The trees and Santas wait their turn,
while angels, next to snow men, yearn
to don their robes and join the crowd—
I’m sure they want to sing out loud.

The powdered sugar frosting spreads
with ease and forms the sticky beds
on which the colored sprinkles rest,
where red-hot buttons look their best.

And I would like to make it clear
that these creations disappear
because in spite of looking neat,
they’re really baked for us to eat.

© by C.F. Kelly

Why we have poinsettias at Christmas

The tradition of the poinsettia as a Christmas flower goes back to the 17th century when Franciscan friars in Mexico used the brilliant flower, in bloom at Christmas, in nativity processions. Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico and also a botanist, brought a specimen of the wild weed to the United States in 1825 and the plant was named after him. The plant was cultivated into the beauty we enjoy today.

Listen to the children’s story, The Legend of the Poinsettia, retold and illustrated by Tomie de Paola.

Happy Epiphany Day!

Today, we celebrate the last day of the Christmas Season, Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, as is known in some cultures. This is also the 12th day of Christmas. Epiphany celebrates the day Jesus was visited by the three kings (or three wiseman) who had observed a star that foretold he was king of the Jews. The story is not told in Luke but in Matthew…

They set out; and there ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The word “epiphany” comes from a Greek word whcih means something that is manifested. In France and now in the United States, some celebrate this day with a golden-crowned King Cake in which is concealed a trinket or small baby Jesus. The tradition is that whomever finds the trinket is given the crown and is “king” for the day. The French galette de rois is a flaky, delicious pastry and can be purchased at French bakeries, including La Madeleine.

And so ends another Christmas. It was a difficult year but there is always hope. I hope next Christmas we will no longer be in a pandemic and can resume the in-person joys of the Christmas season.

Epiphany marks the final post of the year on The Cool Yule Blog. It is has been my pleasure to celebrate the winter holidays with you. I wish you excellent health and happiness in 2021. Please join me for articles on goal-setting and self-care on my Best Life blog. I begin writing about fall and Halloween celebrations in September at Autumn in Virginia. I hope to see you back here in November for new articles and events posted on the Cool Yule Blog. Take care and thank you for reading.

 

The origin of the Yule Log

Photo by Khari Hayden on Pexels.com

As you may know, many of our favorite Christmas customs, such as decorating our homes with greenery, lighting candles and even eating ham, have ancient roots that pre-dated Christianity.

Ancient Romans and Germanic (Celtic) tribes honored their gods with tributes and feasts around the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year (coming up on December 21).

Some Germanic tribes believed the sun was a wheel and the term Yule is thought to be a derivation of the word for wheel. During this dark time of year, many of the customs revolved around light of some kind, such as candles and bonfires, and of course the Yule Log.

Yule log traditions were celebrated in what we now call Norway, England, France, Ireland, Germany and other parts of the world. There were many beliefs associated with the Yule Log over the centuries. Sometimes, the burning of the log prescribed how many days a feast would last, or a break from work. People made wishes around the Yule log. Pieces of the log were kept to protect a home from lightning strikes or to light the log for the next year. Ashes were used for medicine. Before it was burned, the log was sprinkled with flour and decorated with holly; in France, it was perfumed with wine.

The Yule Log-shaped cake is a relatively recent French invention, also known as the Buche de Noel, but Yule cakes have been made and consumed for centuries. Since the Solstice (December 21) is coming soon, maybe you would like to celebrate the day by making or purchasing a Yule log cake, especially if you don’t have a fireplace! La Madeleine sells a beautiful Buche de Noel cake you can order for $35.00.

Or maybe you and the kids would like to make your own mini Yule logs with Swiss rolls (the Great Value brand ones from Walmart are supposed to be pretty good) and frosting, as is done in this video from Hostess. This looks easy and fun! You can make holly leaves by rolling and cutting out green gumdrops.

If you don’t have a fireplace (neither do I), there are lots of fire place “Yule Log” videos you can wath on YouTube on the longest night of the year, such as this one. I watch these ALL the time 🙂 they are so relaxing! Some have music and some don’t. This one is nice because it doesn’t loop.

Or if you are feeling lonely, you can enjoy the fire with Nick Offerman…

You can also purchase one of these fun, electric vintage yule logs on eBay or Etsy.

And last but not least, here is a simple little, crafted oranment you and the kids can make 🙂

  I hope you have a lovely Solstice and joyful holiday.

Toys for Tots deadline is Dec. 12

Every year, the Marine Toys for Tots program collects unwrapped toys to donate to economically disadvantaged children. Donations of toys, plush animals, bicycles, sports balls, board games, electronics and arts and crafts kits from individuals and companies are dropped off at fire stations, doctor’s offices, area businesses and other sites.

Last year, Toy for Tots distributed more than a 100,000 toys to 100,000+ children in Northern Virginia. To donate a gift to a child in the Toys for Tots program, you can go online or donate a gift in person.

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