when wonder comes wrapped in exclamation!
nose pressed to the windowpane, watching the whirl blow in, i’m inclined to think i’m not alone in counting this mandatory pause among the gifts of the season. the world stilled amid the madness that preambles christmas. i proclaim it perfect.
it ushers in a particular, succulent quiet. reminds us how little we are. how frail against the forces that blow, that stir, that upturn the outside, right down to the toppling pinecones.
oh, sure, it’s thrown a few maybes into the yuletide equation: maybe the flight will be canceled; maybe the package won’t plop; maybe the lights will go out (and so too the fridge, which would be a considerable bummer since a beast of considerable proportion is currently napping inside, and unlikely to wait out a warming).
but then again, it’s a grand excuse for extra-thick blankets and long afternoons turning page upon page. it stirs me to kindle candlewicks. simmer cinnamon sticks and starry anise, fistfuls of cranberry and wedges of orange.
and, oh, the sound of wind whistling…
in keeping with the quiet, i’m simply leaving here a few little trinkets in hopes that one, two, or all will add a bit of glimmer to your blizzardy almost-christmas day: my favorite christmas poem; a twelfth-century recipe from hildegrad of bingen; two passages from those who’ve considered the longest night, one from a children’s picture book and the other from the great naturalist henry beston, whose writings i cannot get enough of. and, never too late, a wonder of hand-painted blessing: an inspiration candle made by one of my favorite souls on the planet, the glorious elizabeth marie, who dreamed up these beacons of light with which to kindle your prayers, hopes, and wishes…
merry blessed christmas. merry quiet christmas. merry wonder out the window.
we begin with a poem i count among my very favorites….
The Work of Christmas
by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
and, should you be inclined to bake one last batch of deliciousness, here’s a recipe from the twelfth century’s hildegard of bingen, a recipe sent my way by a dear friend of the chair, a modern-day saint by the name of kerry.
HILDEGARD JOY COOKIES
For St. Hildegard – a beloved mystic, prolific writer, medicine woman, Benedictine nun, herbalist, musician and one of only four female Doctors of the Church – Joy cookies are to be eaten often! Literally, she said three or four a day! The recipe is found in her book “Subtleties of the Diverse Qualities of Created Things” and comes under the heading for nutmeg.
Nutmeg (nux muscata) has great heat and good moderation in its powers. If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up his heart, make his judgement free from obstruction and give him a good disposition. Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole spelt flour and water.
In her own words she wrote, “nutmeg … will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open the heart and impaired senses, and make the mind cheerful. It purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors. It gives good liquid to your blood and makes you strong.”
Hildegard also loved spelt flour, which she believed soothed the mind, so together these two ingredients account for a large part of the positive effects of Hildegard cookies.
Joy Cookies Ingredients:
3⁄4 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 1⁄2 cup spelt flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
Let butter soften and then cream it with the brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Sift the dry ingredients. Add half the dry ingredients and mix. Add the other half and mix thoroughly. Dough may be chilled to make it workable. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Form walnut- sized balls of dough, place on greased and floured cookie sheet and press flat. Bake 10-12 minutes (till edges are golden brown) Cool for 5 minutes, remove from cookie sheet and finish cooling on racks.
and with a nod toward the longest night, the winter solstice, of this past week, i share two considerations. the first from a children’s book, and the second from one of the last century’s finest naturalists, the great henry beston.
an excerpt from susan cooper’s The Shortest Day, illustrations by carson ellis:
So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
and may your year, too, be kept very much alive….
and from henry beston:
In the old Europe which inherited from the Bronze Age, this great feast of the Solstice was celebrated with multitudinous small fires lit throughout the countryside. Fire and the great living sun — perhaps it would be well to honor again these two great aspects of the flame. It might help us to remember the meaning of fire before the hands and fire as a symbol. As never before, our world needs warmth in its cold, metallic heart, warmth to go on and face what has been made of human life, warmth to remain humane and kind.Henry Beston, Northern Farm
and finally, and with regret for not having shared this sooner, my brilliant friend elizabeth marie (one of the most artful souls i know) was inspired one good friday to paint the blessed virgin mary on a tall votive flask, into which she tucked a pillar candle, and named it the intention candle, the idea being that we might kindle our prayer, and set forth our intentions, all while a flame flickers. each one of elizabeth marie & co.’s intention candles (there are now three designs: lily madonna, golden madonna, our lady of hope) is hand-crafted, and wrapped with equal attention to detail and beauty. i think they’re breathtakingly lovely, and imagine friends here at the virtual table might think so too. take a peek here. and maybe send to someone you love, including your very own self!
image atop this post is from tasha tudor’s heavenly Take Joy! a compendium of christmas-y merriments, published in 1966
and how do you take your wonder come the season of glistening light in the night…..
and may yours be the merriest of christmases, be it quiet or raucous, in whispers or shouts, and may you be surrounded by those you most dearly love, whether in flesh or by heart…bless you this christmas most deeply….
Oh, this has to be one of my favorites of yours…bless you. Thank you. Merriest of Christmases to you and a most joy-filled new year!
Those paintings under the Henry Beston poem…are those from his book, too? I am absolutely enchanted ❤️
Much ❤️ to you and yours…
they are, sweetheart. i couldn’t find the little thing to caption them, but yes yes, those images are also from The Shortest Day…..
merry merry, beautiful. xox (hope you’re under some mighty thick blankets right about now. winds hurling…..)
Thank you for all the trinkets! Wishing you and your family a lovely Christmas! 🌲
and a lovely christmas i wish for you, too. may the stars glisten brighter than ever against the cold dark night….
We are hunkered down here also, watching the swirling clouds of wind and snow. Blessed and Merry Christmas to you, Barb! It will be a quiet day here on Sunday, but on New Year’s Eve, my boy and his fam arrive and there will be much merry-making so my heart is pretty full. Thank you for this wonderful Christmas package this morning. Henry Beston:one of my all time favorites.
tis a day for inhaling Mr. Beston, but then i’d vote for inhaling Mr. Beston any day of the year. i could read him till the end of time. and john burroughs too. but Beston, oh Beston…..merry blessed everything to you, too, dear Mary. and may your new year be extra glistening. it will be, i know…..
I await your annual yuletide gift of wonder and inspiration the way I used to anticipate the visit from St. Nick. This will be filed among the most memorable (oh! for a color printer). The wind has been howling so much, it is hoarse. The radiators are cranking so much, I’ve got a window open, all the better to hear that wind. I also hear the chickadees, so must bundle up and feed them. Merry, merry holidays to the amazing Mahany + Kamin family.
Oh I love that the wind is hoarse from all its howling. And I love that you’ve opened the windows to absorb every decibel of whisper! You are a wonder to me—and to alllllll the chair! ❤️❤️❤️
Merry, merry Christmas to you and your family, BAM, as well as all those who ready this. Thank you for sharing such wonderful poems. I think I’ll have my granddaughter read it as our prayer before we eat on Christmas day.
ohhhhh, that is truly beautiful, and how glorious that howard T will be coming to your Christmas table. imagining a child’s voice reading it is especially stirring. really lovely. and merry merry to you, dear J.
💫 Joy To The World through cookies is the best way to welcome back the light. They have been baked this afternoon and will be part of Christmas Day. Mother Nature has mothered us into a “time-out”. I hope the disruptions in plans have not been to hard for those at this table. Blessing the mess here and may the next forty-eight hours land softly for you all. ♥️ Thanks for you gift of words and bits of glimmer Bam. 🎄
Sent from my iPad
oh, gracious! i LOVE that you already baked twelfth-century cookies! i melt whenever i hear that a recipe from here, or from a book, has been made. do they smell delicious?!?!?!? how come hildegard seems like such a natural kitchen partner for you? for all of us, really……sometimes i think we should all shuffle off to a monastery for a weekend. what if we took over the kitchen and only cooked twelfth-century morsels?
p.s. the wind has REALLY picked up since the dark fell. it is sounding especially eery here along the shoreline…..
merry christmas, beautiful. savor your snowy woods.
I needed an extra dose of Joy and they are easy peasy cookies to bake. ♥️ I love me some Hildegarde!!
Sent from my iPad
❤ ❤ ❤ !!!!
Barbie, I’ve really enjoyed reading the past three weeks of your very merry contributions to the table! You’ve stirred the Christmas spirit within me to show itself, and for that I most sincerely thank you! Unfortunately, our trip to Chicago has been plagued with barricades at every turn. When we first arrived home there was no heat, and it took a week to pinpoint/fix the problem. Sewage had backed up into our shower of all places. The kitchen had a nasty gas leak coming from the oven. Then our Christmas Eve dinner plans had to be cancelled due to 25% of the guests coming down with sinus infections and the flu. And just a little while ago, as we played Santa by delivering the gifts that were supposed to be opened tonight, we were rear-ended by a huge semi. We’ve been trying in earnest to build bridges over these barricades, but can’t help holding our breath in anticipation of what might go wrong next! I feel like such a Debbie Downer whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing. In light of all of this mayhem, I will be going back to re-read your December essays in order to find, and stir up, my Christmas spirit once again! May God bless you and your family today, tomorrow, and throughout 2023!❤️
oh, lordy, honey, i am SOOOOOOO sorry. that sounds like a christmasy nightmare. the shower. oh, geez. but the semi! are you all ok? oh, sweetie…….
you have brought such joy to this chair, i can’t bear the thought of your christmas being so so so hard. sending love. xoxo
Thank you for letting me vent, but no more complaints from Debbie Downer! Here’s something that my cousin sent to me, one Christmas long ago…
A Wish for the New Year
May we break down boundaries, tear down walls, and build on the foundation of goodness inside each of us. May we look past differences, gain understanding, and embrace acceptance. May we reach out to each other, rather than resist. May we be better stewards stewards of the earth, protecting, nurturing, and replenishing the beauties of nature. May we practice gratitude for all that we have, rather than complain about our needs. May we seek cures for the sick, help for the hungry, and love for the lonely. May we share our talents, give our time, and teach our children. May we hold hope for the future very tenderly in our hearts, and do all that we can to build bright tomorrows. And may we love with our whole hearts, for that truly is the only way to love.
beautiful, beautiful. merry Christmas. merry birth….hope this day wraps you gently, and glisteningly. xox
Merry Christmas Barb! It’s been far too long since my chair has been pulled up to your beautiful table. I’m happy to be back! Thank you for this beautiful post. Sending you & yours happy new year greetings too!!
hello dear liz, and welcome back! coming and going is all part of the flow here. so far, it’s just quietly here and all are welcome to come and flow as the spirit so moves them….blessed new year from a few streets to the north.
Howdy. I’ve read Beston’s The Outermost House. It’s great. I should take a look at more of his works.
every single thing he’s written is heavenly to me. Northern Farm is another beauty. the collection titled, The Best of Beston, brings some of the best into a single binding.