Category Archives: Holiday Lore

Bringing in the May

Image from our Fireweed 2021 wall calendar featuring artwork by Anahata Joy. Click for more info.

Many May Day customs involve flowers and green branches. Flowers are woven into wreaths to exchange as gifts between lovers or to hang on doors as decoration. Or flowers are placed in baskets and left on doorsteps for the recipients to find when they arise in the morning.

In Ireland, Beltane is the only safe day for wearing Irish lilacs. In France, the flower of May Day is the lily of the valley. Any wish made while wearing it comes true. The marsh-marigold or kingcup is called the herb of Beltane and is strewn against evil in the Isle of Man. Rosemary is another Beltane herb.

In England, there was a tradition of carrying about May garlands. At Horncastle in Lincolnshire, young boys carried May gads: peeled willow wands were wreathed with cowslips. In other parts of England, the garlands are small wooden crosses covered with flowers and greenery. But the hoop-garland is the most common: made from a framework of intersecting hoops so that the final effect is of a flower-covered globe. Sometimes a May Doll (sometimes said to represent Flora) is placed within or upon it. In Italy, the Bride of May carries the maggio, a green branch garlanded with ribbons, fresh fruits and lemons.

Sometimes flowers were given as messages: plum for the glum, elder for the surly, thorns for the prickly, and pear for the popular. In Lancashire, the flowers rhymed with their qualities. Any kind of thorn meant scorn (except for whitethorn or May), while holly was folly, briar for liars, rowan for affection and a plum in bloom rhymed with “married soon.” According to Porter, in Cambridgeshire, boys gave the popular girls sloe blossoms, while “the girl of loose manners had a blackthorn planted by hers’ the slattern had an elder tree planted by hers; and the scold had a bunch of nettles tied to the latch of her cottage door.” According to Hole, lime (which rhymes with prime) was a compliment and so was pear which rhymed with fair. The rowan (or quicken) since it rhymes with chicken was a sign of affection. But briar, holly and plum stood for liar, folly and glum while the alder (pronounced “owler” in some districts) rhymed with “scowler.” Other plants you did not want to receive included nettles, thistles, sloes, crab-tree branches and elders. Obviously there are some contradictions in this list, and some unkindness as well.

I find it interesting that the three plants most often associated with May Day: Sweet Woodruff, Lily of the Valley, and Hawthorn, all are connected in folklore with the heart. Summer is the time when Chinese medicine places the emphasis on strengthening the heart and the circulatory system. It also seems appropriate for the time of the year when we are focused on relationships and coupling.

References:
Field, Carol, Celebrating Italy, William Morrow 1990
Hole, Christina, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Granada Publishing 1976
Hutton, Ronald, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, Oxford University Press 1997
Porter, Enid, Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore, 1969, quoted in Hutton


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald was a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shared her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. Waverly passed away in December 2019 and is remembered for being kind, talented, and generous—especially in the aid she provided to many writers, both aspiring and well-established, with her wellspring of knowledge.

 

 


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Celebrate Pi

Photo from Pillsbury.

We love celebrating special days during each month of the year. It’s even better to celebrate by sharing pie!

Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (3/14 in the month/day format) since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day. UNESCO’s 40th General Conference decided Pi Day as the International Day of Mathematics in November 2019.

Math Solutions offers more intriguing information:

Pi Day is when mathematicians and math lovers around the world celebrate pi, often approximated to 3.14, which is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

The circle is often the first shape many learn in childhood, and can be observed in nature in pinecones, apples, oranges, the cornea in our eyes…the circle is everywhere!

The first calculation of pi was done by Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212), an ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer. He calculated the area of a circle with the use of the Pythagorean Theorem.

Pi has been used by different cultures throughout history. The ancient Babylonians and Egyptians used approximations for pi when calculating the area of a circle. Zu Chongzhi (429–501), a Chinese mathematician, created his own ratio that approximated pi in much the same way Archimedes did. Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-1788), a French mathematician, showed that Pi could be calculated with probability.

Since its discovery, pi has been used every day. Engineering, construction, GPS, simulation, radio, TV, telephones, power generation, motors…all of this is possible thanks to the magic of pi! Some historians even debate whether pi was used when the ancient Pyramids of Giza were constructed because the structures are nearly perfect geometrically.

If you want to make pie to celebrate pi, here are 100 recipes from Taste of Home. Yum!

And here’s a fun video about pi from TEDEd:


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International Women’s Day 2021: #ChooseToChallenge

Image from our Girl Power 2021 wall calendar featuring illustrations by Kelly Angelovic.

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.

The theme for 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. Here’s an excerpt from the IWD website:

A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.

We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.

From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.

Visit the IWD to read about more ways to celebrate.


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Random Acts of Kindness

Illustration by Clairice Gifford from The Art of Kindness 2021 wall calendar.

Random Acts of Kindness Week, which will be observed February 14-20, 2021, is an annual opportunity to unite through kindness. Formally recognized in 1995, this seven-day celebration demonstrates that kindness is contagious. It all starts with one act — one smile, one coffee for a stranger, one favor for a friend. It’s an opportunity for participants to leave the world better than they found it and inspire others to do the same. Since inception, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation estimates that millions of individuals, celebrities, businesses, schools, and partners have participated in these weeklong celebrations.

Here is more from their website about the theme for 2021:

We are upholding this annual tradition of celebrating kindness because we know everyone can use more kindness in their lives. Scientific evidence shows us the positive effects of doing kind acts for others as well as receiving or even witnessing kindness. Even the smallest act of kindness can change a life.

In 2021, we encourage everyone to Explore the Good and Make Kindness the Norm.

Stories come to us on a daily basis. They are beautiful and heartwarming, but mostly they give us hope. We hear of seemingly insignificant moments where a stranger helps another stranger and impacts the rest of their life with a small gesture. When we tune into kindness happening around us, the day seems a little bit brighter. The week seems a little more manageable.

These stories are nothing new or unique. They are YOUR stories. They are OUR stories. Help us Make Kindness the Norm by spreading it in the simplest ways.

Even with all the challenges facing society, the Random Acts of Kindness foundation wants to remind the world that there is still so much good going on.

There are lots of wonderful resources and free downloadables on the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website.


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Imbolc and Candlemas: Spring Growth

Brighid’s Mantle by Jen Delyth featured in the Celtic Mandala 2021 wall calendar.

Last week we looked at the Hindu festival of early spring. This week we welcome the early spring with a few British Isles holidays in honor of new growth: Imbolc and Candlemas. Celebrated on February 1 and 2, they fall halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and can be considered the beginning of spring.

Imbolc is the Celtic name for the holiday celebrated on February 1. The name is alternately derived from words that refer to washing and pregnant bellies and ewe’s milk, because this is the time when lambs are born out in the fields and the earth is prepared for sowing, a time to ask for protection for young animals and tender crops.

February 1 is also the feast day of St. Brigid, who began her life as a pagan goddess and ended up a Christian saint. The goddess, Brigid or Bride, was a fire and fertility goddess with a temple at Kildare where an eternal flame burned, tended by vestal virgins. The saint, Brigid, was born in the fifth century and established the first monastery in Ireland at (where else?) Kildare. Many of the saint’s legends resonate with the qualities and aspects of the goddess. St. Brigid is often associated with light and fire, she multiplies butter and milk, she brings people sheep and cattle, and she can control the weather. To celebrate St. Brigid’s day, people leave a loaf of bread on the windowsill for the saint and an ear of corn for her white cow. Wheat weavings called “Brigid’s crosses” serve as charms to protect homes from fire and lightning.

February 2 is known as Candlemas in the Christian church, thanks to a passage from Luke 2:21 in which the baby Jesus is heralded as “a light for revelation” when Mary goes to the temple for the rite of purification required for women 40 days after giving birth to a baby boy. The spark of the candle burning in the darkness becomes the symbol of new life. Candles are brought to church to be blessed on this day and taken home to serve as protection from disasters. In Hungary, according to Dorothy Spicer in The Book of Festivals, February 2 is called “Blessing of the Candle of the Happy Woman.” In Poland, it is called “Mother of God Who Saves Us from Thunder.”

In North America we celebrate February 2 by observing a groundhog who predicts the weather for the upcoming 40 days by rousing from hibernation to check out the sunshine. If he sees his shadow (meaning it’s a sunny day), he goes back inside and winter continues. If he stays out, then spring will come early.

If you are lucky at Candlemas you can see the stirrings of spring. Here in Seattle, the witch hazel and the boxwood are blooming, perfuming the air with sweet scents. Snowdrops (the flower of St. Brigid) are opening their snowy white bells. In colder climates, you might look for signs of a thaw or just treasure the extra few minutes of light each day.

Originally published January 2015. 


Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald was a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shared her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. Waverly passed away in December 2019 and is remembered for being kind, talented, and generous—especially in the aid she provided to many writers, both aspiring and well-established, with her wellspring of knowledge.

 

 


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Día de los Muertos: November 1–2

Fascination with the Morbs © Cynthia Frenette from our Day of the Dead 2021 wall calendar. Click for more info.

Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is not a Mexican version of Halloween.

Though related, the two annual events differ greatly in traditions and tone. Whereas Halloween is a dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities unfold over two days in an explosion of color and life-affirming joy. Sure, the theme is death, but the point is to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members. In towns and cities throughout Mexico, revelers don elaborate makeup and costumes, hold parades and parties, sing and dance, and make offerings to lost loved ones.

Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other Nahua people, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts. It takes place on November 1 and 2—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic calendar—around the time of the fall maize harvest.

Literary Calaveras
Calavera means “skull.” But during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, calavera was used to describe short, humorous poems, which were often sarcastic tombstone epitaphs published in newspapers that poked fun at the living. These literary calaveras eventually became a popular part of Día de los Muertos celebrations. Today the practice is alive and well. You’ll find these clever, biting poems in print, read aloud, and broadcast on television and radio programs.

The Calavera Catrina
In the early 20th century, Mexican political cartoonist and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada created an etching to accompany a literary calavera. Posada dressed his personification of death in fancy French garb and called it Calavera Garbancera, intending it as social commentary on Mexican society’s emulation of European sophistication. “Todos somos calaveras,” a quote commonly attributed to Posada, means “we are all skeletons.” Underneath all our manmade trappings, we are all the same.

In 1947 artist Diego Rivera featured Posada’s stylized skeleton in his masterpiece mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.” Posada’s skeletal bust was dressed in a large feminine hat, and Rivera made his female and named her Catrina, slang for “the rich.” Today, the calavera Catrina, or elegant skull, is the Day of the Dead’s most ubiquitous symbol.

Altars
The centerpiece of the celebration is an altar, or ofrenda, built in private homes and cemeteries. These aren’t altars for worshipping; rather, they’re meant to welcome spirits back to the realm of the living. As such, they’re loaded with offerings—water to quench thirst after the long journey, food, family photos, and a candle for each dead relative. If one of the spirits is a child, you might find small toys on the altar. Marigolds are the main flowers used to decorate the altar. Scattered from altar to gravesite, marigold petals guide wandering souls back to their place of rest. The smoke from copal incense, made from tree resin, transmits praise and prayers and purifies the area around the altar.

Source: National Geographic by Logan Ward


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Dreaming of 2021… Wall Calendars, Planners, and Desk Pads 

Remembering Waverly Fitzgerald — Writer, Teacher, and Calendar Priestess

Waverly FitzgeraldWaverly Fitzgerald was a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shared her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website, in her book Slow Time, and here on the Amber Lotus blog. We were very sorry to learn that Waverly passed away in December 2019. We will miss her deep wisdom, clever insight, and generous spirit.

Her friend Joanna Powell Colbert shared these beautiful thoughts after Waverly’s passing:

I am mourning the loss of my beloved friend Waverly Fitzgerald, who died Friday night of cancer. I am not at all surprised that she left us on St. Lucia’s Day, calendar maven that she was. We had conversations over the years about how many people who walk the Wheel of the Year during their lives tend to leave on a significant date. Marija Gimbutas died on Brigid’s Day 1994, our friend Helen Farias died on Autumn Equinox 1994, and another friend died on Winter Solstice 2013.

I posted a photo of St. Lucia in the doorway Friday night as I was holding vigil for Waverly along with an entire community of her friends, our candles glowing on altars in all our homes. I imagined St. Lucia aka Freya arriving in her golden chariot drawn by cats, gathering Waverly up, and heading out across the starry sky — their pathway lit by blazing candles.

My head is bowed in grief and grace. I will miss you so much, my friend.

The Wild Hunt shared the sad news with their community:

Fitzgerald was based in Seattle and wrote both fiction and non-fiction, though many Pagans may remember her for her work on The Beltane Papers with Helen Farias. Fitzgerald became editor of the Beltane Papers in 1994 after Farias death and continued in that role until 1998 when she resigned to focus more on her writing and teaching.

Fitzgerald was a noted folklorist and published several books of interest to Pagans: Slow Time: Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life, and several books that focused on the crafts and customs and rituals surrounding Pagan celebrations, most notably: Celebrating Spring Equinox and Celebrating Summer Solstice. Her writing also was featured in the publications Sagewoman and Gnosis. 

She taught classes online, for Hugo House in Seattle, and also offered correspondence courses through her site, School of the Seasons. In 2014 she opened her own publishing company, Rat City Publishing.

She is noted by others for being kind, talented, and generous — especially in the aid she provided to many writers, both aspiring and well-established, with her wellspring of knowledge.

What is remembered, lives.


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Women’s History Month: International Women’s Day 2020

Image from our Women Who Rock 2020 wall calendar featuring artwork by Rachel Grant. Click for more info.

Women’s History Month 2020: Valiant Women of the Vote

Each year, the month of March is designated by presidential proclamation as a time to recognize and honor women’s contributions to American history.

Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County California Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a Women’s History Week celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.

In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians—led by the National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance)—successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.

Subsequent presidents continued to proclaim a National Women’s History Week in March until 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the president to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, each president has issued an annual proclamations designating the month of March as Women’s History Month.

The National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes a yearly theme. The 2020 Women’s History Month theme is “Valiant Women of the Vote,” which honors “the brave women who fought to win suffrage rights for women, and for the women who continue to fight for the voting rights of others.”

Visit the National Women’s History Museum website to learn more.

International Women’s Day 2020: #EachforEqual

International Women’s Day on March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

International Women’s Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.

The theme for 2020 is #EachforEqual. An equal world is an enabled world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations, and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender-equal world.

Visit the IWD website to learn more.

Women Who Rock Our World 2020 Wall Calendar

It’s no secret that, throughout time, societies have emphasized men’s roles and rights. Laws were written by men, for men; education was developed with men in mind; and women were denied equal rights in nearly every aspect. But over the centuries, more and more women have stood up to say, “This isn’t right.” To those women, we raise a fist in reverence and gratitude. They have shown us how to change the world.

Each month of the Women Who Rock 2020 wall calendar highlights one revolutionary woman’s inspirational words paired with dynamic original art by Rachel Grant and a short biography. All of the women in this calendar faced obstacles. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was told she couldn’t be both a lawyer and a mother. Angela Davis was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Dolores Huerta was assaulted by police while protesting the conditions of farmworkers. Marie Curie’s passion for scientific knowledge eventually killed her. These women were not necessarily liked in their time. But instead of listening to the criticism, they focused on the voices of the people they were inspiring and, in many cases, saving. They stayed true to their values, acknowledged the risks they faced, and raised their voices even louder. We have so much to thank them for, from June Jordan’s powerful words of encouragement to Elizabeth Warren’s extraordinary persistence in making her voice heard.


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