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Half a Million Trees, Art, Commerce, and Service

During this holiday of giving thanks, we’re honored and excited to share this wonderful news (first published on Elephant Journal):

500,000 trees planted!What do art, commerce, service, and 500,000 trees have in common? They are all an integral part of the mission of Amber Lotus Publishing. We are an independent publisher of mind-body-spirit calendars and greeting cards that recently reached a significant milestone of 500,000 trees planted through our partnership with Trees for the Future (TREES). What began as a simple strategy in 2008 to offset the number of trees used to produce our products has morphed into a fundamental component of our ongoing mission.

We are now carbon negative many times over as the trees we have planted will reduce enough CO2 each year to cover our current annual carbon footprint by more than 25 times. (We have already planted 155,000 trees in 2014, which exceeds the year’s usage of 2,300 trees by about 69 times.) What is most striking is that, unbeknownst to us, our tree planting offset strategy was implicit in our three values of Art, Commerce, and Service. Continue reading

Celebrating Winter Solstice — Renewal In Silence, Gathering With Friends

Earth Is My Witness 2015 wall calendar by Art Wolfe

Earth Is My Witness 2015 wall calendar by Art Wolfe

Many years ago I read in the Oxford Companion to the Year that December 21 was when the Romans celebrated Angerona, the goddess who advocates for silence with her finger to her lips. The connection between the shortest day of the year and silence intrigued me and led me to develop my favorite Solstice ritual: I spend the day in silence and without using any electricity. I don’t watch television or listen to the radio or work on my computer. I don’t turn on the lights. I don’t answer my phone. At dusk, I go for a long walk in the park near my home. At night, I light candles, take a bubble bath, and go to bed early. I love the way this practice places me inside a delicious pool of quiet and serenity, allowing me to move more slowly and to listen to my own thoughts and feelings more closely. This year it will be a challenge to observe this ritual, because my other Winter Solstice tradition is to host a Solstice party on the Sunday closest to Solstice, and since Solstice falls on a Sunday this year, my party is on that Sunday.

Over the years we have developed rituals around the Solstice party that our guests have come to expect. I make several kinds of traditional Christmas cookies in the weeks leading up to the party: a circle of shortbread (scored and fluted to look like a sun), Zimtsterne (German cinnamon cookies), stag’s antlers (flavored with cardamom), and kourabiedes (Greek cookies in the shape of little balls, which are rolled in powdered sugar and rose water and have a clove in the center). We always serve mulled apple cider from a slow cooker, with sliced apples and cinnamon sticks floating in it.

The party is scheduled from 6 to 9 to take advantage of the darkness (the sun sets in Seattle at 4:20 PM on the Solstice). Around 7 PM, I turn off all the lights and blow out all the candles and ask everyone to stand for a few minutes in the dark and stillness and silence, reflecting on this turning point in the year. Then I talk about how St. Lucy’s Day is celebrated at the darkest time of the year in Scandinavia. We sing a version of the St. Lucy song, with words created by my daughter years ago:

Darkness is at its peak
But light is on its way
Springtime is coming soon
Winter will fade away
She brings light to our lives
She brings joy to our hearts
Santa Lucia
Santa Lucia

And out of the darkness, she appears—clothed in white and with a crown of candles burning on her head—and moves through the assembled crowd to light the Sun candle in the center of the Advent wreath, before disappearing as mysteriously as she arrived. Then all the guests gather around and light a votive candle from the Sun candle and make a wish for the new year while music plays in the background (we like “Here Comes the Sun,” “I Can See Clearly Now,” and “Let the Sun Shine”).

Fractal Cosmos: The Art of Alice Kelley 2015 wall calendar

Fractal Cosmos: The Art of Alice Kelley 2015 wall calendar

About an hour later, once all of the excitement of St. Lucy’s visit has subsided, we play Snapdragon, a Victorian Christmas game that I originally learned about from reading the Annotated Alice in Wonderland. I heat brandy in a pan on the stove until it’s just warm, then pour it into a shallow fireproof dish with a layer of raisins (or currants) at the bottom. Then I light the brandy. It flares up with flickering blue flames (like a Christmas pudding) and the guests take turns snatching burning raisins out of the brandy and popping them into their mouths. Although there is some warmth from the flames, no one has ever been burned: the real danger is getting the drippings all over your furniture or carpet, so be sure to play Snapdragon on a table covered with tinfoil or plastic.

It seems my two rituals represent the two contrasting impulses of winter holiday traditions. The impulse to hibernate, to go within, to cherish silence and stillness. And the impulse to gather with those close to you to drink and feast and sing and welcome the promise of the new year. I hope that your rituals and traditions help you celebrate this most magical time of the year.


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”

 

 


2015 is just around the corner!
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KD_50offHappy Winter Solstice!
50% off  A Knock at the Door 2015 wall calendar.

Special price expires at 10:00 p.m. (PT), Sunday, December 21. No coupon code required.

Hanukkah: A Festival of Lights

HE15-11-blog

Hebrew Illuminations 2015 wall calendar by Adam Rhine

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, like the stringing of Christmas lights on trees and houses and the lighting of the Advent candles, celebrates light during the darkest time of the year. The Jewish holiday calendar is a lunar calendar, which means that the theme of light and dark can play out in the timing of the moon as well as the sun. Hanukkah always begins on the 26th of Kislev, three days before the new moon closest to the full moon that is closest to the Winter Solstice—so, at the darkest time of the moon and at the darkest time of the sun.

Most Jewish holidays are linked to a pivotal moment in Jewish history. For Hanukkah, that moment is the victory of the Maccabees against the Hellenistic overseers of the Land of Israel, who outlawed Jewish religious practices (and punished them with death) while reinstating pagan rituals. In 166 BCE, when the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem, they chose the 26th of Kislev as the day to purify and rededicate the temple, which had been desecrated three years earlier. But the temple contained only one sealed flask of oil, only enough to light the lamps for one day. Miraculously, that oil lasted for the eight days of the ceremonies.

As Arthur Waskow points out in his wonderful book on Jewish holidays, Seasons of Our Joy, the Greeks were probably celebrating a Winter Solstice ritual on that day and, by claiming the same day for their festival, the Maccabees:

were rededicating not only the Temple but the day itself to Jewish holiness; were capturing a pagan solstice festival that had won wide support among partially Hellenized Jews, in order to make it a day of God’s victory over paganism. Even the lighting of candles for Hanukkah fits the context of the surrounding torchlight honors for the sun.

Adam Rhine

Hebrew Illuminations 2015 wall calendar by Adam Rhine

The main ritual for Hanukkah involves lighting candles in the menorah, a candelabra that contains eight candles in a row. The first candle on the right is lit on the first night (December 16 in 2014), and each night an additional candle is lit until all eight are burning. Since the lit candles are not to be used for any practical purpose, many menorahs have a space for a ninth candle, a shammas or shammash, which is set above (or below) the others and used to light them. The candles are lit just as night falls and are left to burn for half an hour.

No work is to be done while the candles are burning (just as the candles are not to be used for practical purposes). Instead, this half hour is a time for contemplation, for saying blessings and singing songs, eating special foods and playing games. In some Sephardic communities, women do not work at all on the first and eighth days of Hanukkah, and in some places they don’t work on any of the eight days. Just as the Sabbath is the day for rest provided during the week, so are the eight days of Hanukkah a time of rest at this pivotal point in the year.

Hanukkah foods are cooked in oil: potato latkes, fritters, and jam-filled doughnuts all recall the miracle of the long-lasting oil. Children play with a dreidl and are sometimes given gifts, particularly Hanukkah gelt. I’ve always loved those thin gold-foiled chocolate coins that remind me of the gifts of money so common at New Year festivals (the Romans, for instance, gave coins as New Year gifts), and certainly, with the return of light in the darkness, the new year is born.


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”

 

 


Hebrew IlluminationsHappy Hanukkah!
50% off the Hebrew Illuminations 2015 wall calendar.

Special price expires at 10:00 p.m. (PT), Thursday, December 18. No coupon code required.

Artist Spotlight — Celtic Artist Jen Delyth

We are delighted to share this guest post written by one of our contributing artists, Jen Delyth. Her intricate Celtic illustrations have been included in some of our best-selling calendars and cards for over 10 years. Here she shares more on her process and love of Celtic culture:

CM15-0CFor many years I have enjoyed creating original Celtic art to communicate the ancient symbols and archetypes that still speak to us today. I use the ancient language of Celtic patterning to create new work, rather than reproduce the designs from antiquity, as Celtic art is a living tradition that continues to evolve into our time.

This is exciting and challenging for me—and I feel so lucky to have found this path—as an artist, and fulfilling my love of mythology and folklore, of exploring symbols and how to communicate their meaning through a visual form.

Growing up in Wales, my mother encouraged us to explore all the many wonderful ancient places around us. They were full of history and resonance that inspired and formed me. It often seemed as though the land itself was haunted by the long-ago people, and I could sense the mythic quality of things even as a young child.

I became a self-taught artist, drawn to the folk art of my own culture as an authentic medium to express the beauty and mysticism of nature—the mythic archetypes that continue to speak to us today.

MCMSIXI have enjoyed the creative partnership with Amber Lotus Publishing, creating a line of “Celtic Mandala” calendars, journals, greeting cards, as well as publishing my book, Celtic Folk Soul: Art, Myth and Symbol, which I wrote and illustrated. It has been a wonderful opportunity to publish my paintings and artwork with a company that appreciates and supports their artists as well as the creative and spiritual community, and to be an author, sharing my love of the Celtic mythic tradition, the symbols and archetypes that we find in the old stories, songs, and poetry.

Inspiration comes from many sources; for me, it is from nature—the mythic, magical connection we have with the living world. The lives of the ancient Celts were intricately entwined with the spirits of the land, more than may be true for many of us today. But the universe—with her creatures, plants, and elements—continues to be our home, and our connection to the beauty and spiritual life within all things is still our heritage.

D15CM-1It is often a design puzzle to create intricate patterns and stylized abstractions that include mythic elements drawn from the Celtic tradition, as well as to depict universal archetypal symbols drawn from within the natural world—the Celtic Tree of Life; the Triskele and spiraling forms; the creatures, plants, and deities that represent aspects of our psyche, such as the owl, the raven, the fox, the Selkie (seal woman, Anu), the Earth Mother, Lleu, the Warrior. I try to balance complexity and detail with simplicity and clarity to create designs and artwork that communicate the essence of the symbol in a two-dimensional form—the third dimension being the meaning, or our resonance with the symbol somehow.

In my book, Celtic Folk Soul: Art, Myth and Symbol, which was a labor of love and learning, I enjoyed collecting my artwork into one body of work, so the mysticism, mythology, and symbols could “sing” together—tell their larger story, connecting to an ancient thread and journeying into our times. I also had the opportunity to explore word craft—deepening my studies through Celtic mythologists, poets, storytellers, scholars, and archeologists—most especially listening to the voices of the people from at least the turn of the century and before, who still had a living connection with the Celtic tradition. The book became a deeper immersion into my process as an artist.

My creative process spirals between different mediums and methods, depending on what pulls me toward it at the time. I most love painting with egg tempera on gessoed birch boards, making my own “paint” from egg yolks and ground pigments. This is an ancient method, although traditionally the Celtic artists used egg whites with pigments and painted on thin vellum (calfskins) to create the luminous manuscripts, some of which we can still see today.

CM15-05I also enjoy using the tools of our time—digital drawing and painting—and collaging sketches, paintings, and photographs together in an organic style that I have developed over the years. I print my own limited-edition fine-art prints in my studio and enjoy making jewelry and textiles as well as working with publishers—such as creative collaborations with a wonderful team at Amber Lotus Publishing, who are incredibly supportive and know how to channel the creative forces of the artists they work with.

I prefer to communicate directly through my work, rather than “discussing” my work, so I have chosen an excerpt from my book:

“The Celtic Folk-Soul dances at the heart of a living tradition, representing the vitality of her people, their stories, their land, and their memories, from the early tribes to us today. An ancient thread weaves back through art, myth, and poetry, connecting us to a complex mysticism that expresses the interconnection and balance of all things.

CM15-03Celtic Art speaks to us through an intricacy of symbol and form, that enchants while it mystifies, and yet is somehow the perfect way to talk about that which is abstract, sometimes invisible and yet essential.

Throughout the many challenges and migrations of the Celtic people, the Folk-Soul sings of the beauty of life, even within the darkness—perhaps particularly then. This is the language, the poetic key to the Mysteries, that is the source of my inspiration and journey as an artist.”

 


Jen DelythJen Delyth is a Welsh artist whose work is founded in her deep connection to her Celtic heritage. She creates intricate paintings and illustrations using traditional egg tempera and contemporary digital techniques. Her original, iconographic style is inspired by the Spirit in Nature and expresses our mythic connection to the natural world. To see all of Jen’s products with Amber Lotus visit her Artist’s Page. For more information on all of Jen’s tapestries, jewelry, and more, please visit her website.


AMBER LOTUS CELTIC CELEBRATION!
For a limited time all Celtic calendars, cards, and journals
are 50% off at AmberLotus.com.

Sale ends at 10:00 a.m. (PT), Saturday, December 13. No coupon code required.

St. Lucy or Santa Lucia

Environmental Art 2015 wall calendar

Environmental Art 2015 wall calendar. Moment of Decision © Cornelia Konrads.

The winter holiday season is teeming with mysterious figures shrouded in myth, like Saint Nicholas, who became Santa Claus; the mysterious Frauen of German tradition; and Befana, the old witch of Italy who sweeps away the Old Year at Epiphany. One of my favorites of these numinous characters is St. Lucy or Santa Lucia, who appears at the moment of greatest darkness (her feast day is December 13) to bring light back to the northern hemisphere. Continue reading

Advent

Land Art 2015 wall calendar

Photo © Sally J. Smith. December Feature / Land Art 2015 wall calendar.

For Christians, the four weeks before Christmas are a special time called Advent (from the Latin for “to come”), a time spent anticipating the coming birth of the Christ Child. Even before the rise of Christianity, at this darkest time of the year, people living in the Northern Hemisphere looked forward to the return of the Sun, counting the days to that moment of standstill (the Winter Solstice) when the Sun pauses in its journey to the South and then slowly and majestically changes direction, heading back North and bringing a few more minutes of light to each day. Continue reading