Category Archives: Holiday Lore

Random Acts of Kindness Week

It’s that moment when we have become present and offered a kindness – or the intention of kindness –  where there’s a real transformation. — Tara Brach

Image from the Present Moment 2017 wall calendar published in partnership with our friends at Sounds True.

Image from the Present Moment 2017 wall calendar published in partnership with our friends at Sounds True. Photo © Katsiaryna Yudo.

Random Acts of Kindness Week, which will be observed February 12-18, 2017, 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.

Visit the foundation website to learn more about events in your area. Or you can simply make a personal commitment to practice more mindfulness during that week to create waves and waves of kindness in the world.

From the RAK Foundation website, here are some fun scientifically proven benefits of being kind:

KINDNESS IS TEACHABLE
“It’s kind of like weight training, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.” (Dr. Ritchie Davidson,  University of Wisconsin)

KINDNESS IS CONTAGIOUS
The positive effects of kindness are experienced in the brain of everyone who witnessed the act, improving their mood and making them significantly more likely to “pay it forward.” This means one good deed in a crowded area can create a domino effect and improve the day of dozens of people!

KINDNESS INCREASES:

THE LOVE HORMONE
Witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the “love hormone” which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving our overall heart-health. Oxytocin also increases our self-esteem and optimism, which is extra helpful when we’re feeling anxious or shy in a social situation.

ENERGY
“About half of participants in one study reported that they feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth” (Christine Carter, UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center)

HAPPINESS
A 2010 Harvard Business School survey of happiness in 136 countries found that people who are altruistic — in this case, people who were generous financially, such as with charitable donations — were happiest overall.

LIFESPAN
“People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying early, and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church.” (Christine Carter, Author, “Raising Happiness; In Pursuit of Joyful Kids and Happier Parents”)

PLEASURE
According to research from Emory University, when you are kind to another person, your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, as if you were the recipient of the good deed — not the giver. This phenomenon is called the “helper’s high.”

SEROTONIN
Like most medical antidepressants, kindness stimulates the production of serotonin. This feel-good chemical heals your wounds, calms you down, and makes you happy!

KINDNESS DECREASES:

PAIN
Engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins — the brain’s natural painkiller!

STRESS
Perpetually kind people have 23% less cortisol (the stress hormone) and age slower than the average population!

ANXIETY
A group of highly anxious individuals performed at least six acts of kindness a week. After one month, there was a significant increase in positive moods, relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance in socially anxious individuals. (University of British Columbia Study)

DEPRESSION
Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine found that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly improved. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced and well-being and good fortune are increased.

BLOOD PRESSURE
Committing acts of kindness lowers blood pressure. According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, acts of kindness create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide, which dilates the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure and, therefore, oxytocin is known as a “cardioprotective” hormone. It protects the heart by lowering blood pressure.


About the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

An international nonprofit, The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, believes that kindness is key to making the world a better place. This nonpolitical, nonreligious organization leads the way by reminding people that they have a choice to be kind and provides them with free tools to make kindness common in their everyday lives.


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Lunar New Year — Preparing for the Chinese New Year Festival

Chinese New Year decorations

Photo by Warren R.M. Stuart / Flickr

Please don’t get overwhelmed, just choose a handful of preparations from below that thrill and excite you!

  • Do give your home a clear out and deep clean before the evening of January 27 which is the Eve of Chinese New Year’s (January 28 for 2017) — you absolutely want to clear out the old stagnant chi and welcome in fresh new energies! As you clean, imagine you’re sweeping away all illness, obstacles, bad luck, negative attitudes, and anything causing grief, stress, anxiety or frustration to members of your household or business. Dispose of anything broken or with unhappy memories. This is a time for your spaces to SPARKLE! GLIMMER! SHINE!
  • Repair and refresh any leaking faucets, squeaky door hinges, broken locks, burnt-out light bulbs, squeaking beds and so on. And toss any broken or cracked china or crockery — they bring bad luck.
  • If you have a red front door, give it a fresh coat of glossy vermillion red paint.
  • Schedule your hair cut and color, manicure and pedicure before Chinese New Year’s Eve so you don’t “cut” away any luck in the new year.
  • Send out your invitations for a special celebratory meal or celebration to occur anytime during the two-week Lunar New Year Festival which begins on January 28th, New Year’s Day. Have a noisy, uplifting and happy party with an abundance of food, music and laughter! Especially auspicious days for 2017 would be on January 27th or 28th; February 3, 4th or 11th.
  • Make amends with anyone with whom you’ve had a row or falling-out.
  • Start to pay down or off all your debts as best you can. And pay your current bills so you go into the New Year feeling debt-free.
  • Shop for new clothes for the New Year — ideally some red outfits or even just red accessories for the celebrations.
  • Treat your home and business to one piece of new furniture or décor so you’re continually up-leveling and refreshing the energy.
  • Start to find fifteen very special gifts, one for each day of the Chinese New Year, to woo your beloved one(s) and expressing your love, cherishing and care.
  • Send out some Chinese New Year greeting cards—snail mail, hand-delivered or email.
  • Treat yourself to a brand new red purse and wallet and fill it with lots of cash such as 108 or 27 crisp uncirculated bills or 9 or 27 gold one dollar coins. Add money from a wealthy person and 3 Coins on Red Ribbon.

    Gwynne WarnerGwynne Allyn Warner is the founder of 10,000 Blessings Feng Shui and practices Black Sect Tantric Buddhist Feng Shui as a disciple of Grandmaster Professor Lin Yun. She was certified as an Advanced Feng Shui Consultant by Helen and James Jay of Feng Shui Designs. Gwynne began her studies in Buddhism in her early twenties while living in London where she became enamored with Kuan Yin and thereafter received her Bodhisattva Vows with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Her expertise has been treasured by creative small businesses, service professionals, performing artists, Chinese medicine practitioners, healers, and interior designers among others. For more information and to sign up for her newsletter, please visit her website.


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Continue reading

Twelve Days of Christmas

Winter Angel

Winter Angel holiday card featuring artwork by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more info.

I’m always searching out forgotten holiday traditions, and one of my favorites that I am trying to revive is the custom of honoring the Twelve Days of Christmas. Some scholars believe the Twelve Days start on Christmas Day and end on January 5 with Twelfth Night. Others (including me) observe them from December 26 through January 6, Epiphany.

But it has been suggested that originally the Twelve Days spanned the time between the new moon closest to the Solstice (this would be during the time of Hanukkah) and the first full moon of the new year, or perhaps the time between Saint Lucy’s Day (December 13) and New Year’s Day.

Continue reading

Celebrating Winter Solstice — Renewal In Silence, Gathering With Friends

Present Moment 2017 wall calendar

Image from our Present Moment 2017 wall calendar. Photo © Kichigin. Click image for more info.

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. My other Winter Solstice tradition is to host a Solstice party on the Sunday closest to Solstice. Continue reading

Saturnalia: A Golden Time

The Book of Awakening 2017 wall calendar

Image from The Book of Awakening 2017 wall calendar. Eurasian Bullfinch on frozen branches © Markus Varesvuo. Click image for more info.

This Roman holiday is sometimes viewed as the pagan version of Christmas, even though it was certainly being acknowledged long before the Biblical events that are celebrated around the time of the Winter Solstice.

Saturnalia, as it was practiced in Rome for centuries before the birth of Christ, has many elements found in other end-of-year rituals, including Hanukkah and Twelfth Night. This seven-day festival, which begins on December 17, was a time when courts did not meet and war could not be declared, so it was a time outside of time, like the Halcyon Days. Continue reading

Halcyon Days: The Calm of Winter Solstice

Environmental Art 2017 wall calendar

Image from our Environmental Art 2017 wall calendar. Abstract Circles Inspired by the Inverted Mandelbrot Set © Simon Beck. Click image for more info.

Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, the god of winds. She was so happy in her marriage with Ceyx, son of the Morning Star, that they called themselves Zeus and Hera (surely not the couple that comes to mind when searching Greek mythology for an example of a happy marriage).

At any rate, this made Zeus mad and he struck down the ship on which Ceyx was sailing with a thunderbolt. When her husband’s ghost appeared before her, Alcyone threw herself into the sea and drowned. Some pitying god transformed them both into kingfishers. Continue reading

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Rose photo by Emilian Robert Vicol / Flickr.

Rose photo by Emilian Robert Vicol / Flickr.

In 1531, on December 9, so the legend goes, an Indian farmer named Juan Diego was passing by the hill called Tepeyac outside of Mexico City on his way to an early morning Mass when he heard birds singing overhead, whistles, flutes, and beating wings. Then he saw a maiden dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess.

She spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec language, Juan’s language, and had skin as brown as cinnamon. She told Juan that she was Maria, the Mother of God, and that he should tell the bishop of Mexico City to build her a chapel on the site. The bishop, however, was not impressed by this message and demanded some proof. Continue reading

Advent

Peace Angel greeting card by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more.

Peace Angel greeting card by Kinuko Y. Craft. Click image for more.

For Christians, the four weeks before Christmas are a special time called Advent (from the Latin for “to come”), a time spent anticipating the birth of the Son of God. Choosing this date to honor this moment was not accidental. For centuries, people had been eagerly anticipating the Winter Solstice and the arrival of the Sun at the same time of the year. Whether waiting for the birth of a divine child or the rebirth of the Sun, this is a time of anticipation in the darkness of winter.

Different customs help Christians count the days until Christmas: Advent calendars have a new little window to be opened each day; adding a piece of straw every day to the manger in the nativity scene; and the lighting of candles on an Advent wreath.

You can also create your own customs to mark the four Sundays before Christmas or Winter Solstice. I inherited one of my favorite Advent customs from my friend, Helen Farias, who wrote stories based on winter gods and goddesses. She suggested reading one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas while sipping on warming holiday drinks, nibbling on traditional holiday cookies, and lighting the next candle on the Advent wreath. Continue reading