Word of the Year – Intentional

Word of the Year – Intentional

As 2020 wound to a close, my best friend and I were talking about a Word for the year to come. I mentioned how I usually come to mine…namely, I pray about it and wait for something to strike me–or not. She, on the hand, prayerfully CHOOSES one. Something she means to keep in mind in the year to come. Her word for 2021 is “Joy.” Which is lovely, right?

I decided that this choosing business had something going for it. I began to ponder what I felt my word should be, and praying that God would clarify it and help me pick the one He wanted for me. I considered quite a few. Something resonated whenever I considered my need for rest…but rest as a word for the year didn’t seem quite right. I got a feeling of being on the right track whenever my husband and I talked about making a list of what we’ve done in 2020 and then setting up plans to help us stick to the right path in the year to come. And I knew that I wanted a word that also captured how I want to pursue relationships and love my neighbors in all that I do.

It was in a conversation about marketing our books that the word itself hit me.

Intentional.

This is the word that encapsulates everything I’m going for in 2021.

I need to be intentional about my rest–because let me tell you, burnout is a real thing!

I need to be intentional about my writing, focusing on the stories God wants me to write.

I need to be intentional about building relationships and tending relationships, with family and friends and neighbors.

I need to be intentional about pursuing the passion for reconciliation that He has planted in my heart in this tumultuous year.

I need to be intentional about my food choices, my exercise, my health, my family’s health–a lesson diabetes has taught me in the last quarter of 2020, for sure, when “spontaneous” became an impossibility for my son.

Intentional. It’s the word that also speaks to the reason undergirding everything else. My husband and I talk a lot about the value of self-awareness and “knowing your why.” When you know why you’re doing a thing, it helps you focus. It helps you make decisions. It helps you evaluate whether each thing adds or detracts from what you should be doing. We ask “why?” a lot in our family. And having the answer definitely creates intentionality.

I don’t want my life to be defined by happenstance and circumstance. I don’t want life to happen to me. Even when I get tossed curveballs (and 2020 had a few of them!), I want to step forward to meet them, knowing that they might be able to make me pause and regroup and even change up some of my actions, but they can’t change my reason for things.

Do you have a word for 2021? I’d love to hear it, and what it means to you!

Holiday History ~ Christmas Wreaths

Holiday History ~ Christmas Wreaths

Did you know that Christmas wreaths have their origins in Christmas trees? I’d never really paused to wonder where they came from, but upon reading that, it made total sense.

In Europe, where the pine forests inspired the tradition of bringing something green and eternal into the home to celebrate the bringer of eternal life, the wreath soon took shape too. It happened quite naturally–people had to trim and shape the trees they brought inside for Christmas, which meant boughs left over. Well, these people weren’t wasteful–they decorated with the limbs too.

And the idea of weaving them into a circle was apparently a natural one–another symbol of eternity, after all! I found it fascinating to learn that those first Christmas wreaths were not hung on the door or set on the table to hold candles, but were in fact hung upon the tree! Yep, that’s right. The first wreaths were ornaments.

It’s also important to note that throughout history, wreaths were a symbol of victory–just think of Greeks of old wearing a laurel or olive-leaf crown when they won a game. This is an idea that never went away, so creating one from evergreens at Christmas time was just another element to the symbolism of all Christ represents for us.

The idea of an advent wreath in particular is credited to Johann Hinrich Wichern, a Lutheran pastor.

Like many other Christmas traditions that we now consider standard, wreaths began to be adopted by the general populace all throughout Europe and America during the 19th century.

Holiday History ~ The Twelve Days of Christmas

Holiday History ~ The Twelve Days of Christmas

These days, all the hype is leading up to Christmas. So much so that on December 26, it feels kinda like a letdown, right? The all-Christmas-music-all-the-time radio stations are back to normal programming. Some people start taking down decorations. By the time New Year’s rolls around, people look at you like you’re crazy if you’re still wishing them a Merry Christmas.

I do it anyway. Why? Because the Christmas season traditionally begins on December 25. It doesn’t end there.

The Christmas season is about much more than a day: it is about celebrating the miracle and life of Christ. Just as we have the Advent Calendar to count up to Christmas Day, so we also have the Twelve Days, which follow Christmas and lead up to the Epiphany on January 6.

Surviving mainly in Europe today, the Epiphany is a long-celebrated day that remembers the arrival of the Magi. Literally “Manifestation,” the Epiphany is also the day taken to commemorate the second birth or baptism of Christ and the importance of God being made man through that act. In many parts of the world, the Epiphany is just as celebrated (or even more so) as Christmas…and in the days when sweets and citrus fruits were primary decorations, children especially loved this day, because it’s when they got to eat those candies and fruit. 😉

The Twelve Days covers all sorts of important moments in Christianity, like Christ being named 8 days after birth. The importance of the Christmas star. The journey the magi took. The baptism of Christ, as already mentioned. And so much more.

In our family, we like to remember the full Twelve Days and never take decorations down until the traditional day, January 6. And there’s something really special about stretching it out like that. About making Christmas the start of something, instead of the end. Because really, Christ’s arrival was just the beginning. And this helps us to remember that.

Holiday History ~ Boxing Day

Holiday History ~ Boxing Day

So…what’s Boxing Day? Though our friends across the pond don’t even have to ask, we Americans may scratch our heads a bit at this one. We know that it is, just not necessarily what it is.

From reading, I knew that Boxing Day was the day after Christmas, which, historically speaking, servants had off to celebrate Christmas with their families. But obviously there’s more history to it than that, right?

Of course there is! 😉

The phrase itself originated in 1809, but it comes from a practice that dates back to the Middle Ages. The day after Christmas was, you see, traditionally the day when the alms-box located at each church was opened up and distributed among the poor. It also then became the day when servants, service people like postal employees or errand boys, etc, could expect a gift from their employers, usually given in a small box. And then, of course, it was also the day servants could then leave the masters to fend for themselves and go enjoy the contents of those gift boxes with their own families or friends. The boxes usually included gifts of money and leftover food from the Christmas feast.

These days, Boxing Day has become a shopping holiday, filled with sales much like America’s Black Friday deals. It’s when people can expect the best sales of the year. There are certain areas in Canada where this has been banned and retailers are to remain closed on Dec 26, to provide the holiday to their employees. Very traditional, that. 😉 In those regions, Dec 27 gets the good sales instead.

Holiday History ~ Christmas Trees

Holiday History ~ Christmas Trees

Christmas trees. Is there anything more iconic these days when it comes to holiday decorations? But have you ever paused to actually consider why we bring an entire tree into our house once a year…or even go to the trouble of erecting fake ones?

The tradition can be traced back to Germany in the Middle Ages. Evergreens had long been a symbol of eternal life, in many religions and cultures, including Christianity. The idea of decorating a tree at this particular time of year however is, interestingly enough, not because of the celebration of the birth of Christ. Nope. It’s because it’s also the feast day of Adam and Eve, and in the Middle Ages, this included reenactments of the story for the masses, who couldn’t read it for themselves and wouldn’t have owned any expensive books like the Bible anyway. Well, in Europe, the only trees still green at that time of year were, of course, evergreens. And the only fruit that lasted that long when picked was the apple. So apples were tied to evergreen branches to represent the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

But it wasn’t long before that decorated tree began to be a symbol to Germans of the whole season. Each family began cutting down its own tree and bringing it inside–and this came with some rules. The trees had to be trimmed into a perfect triangular shape, to represent the trinity. They were usually decorated with things like apples, pretzels, wafer cookies, nuts, and straw. (Historically, trees were undecorated on Epiphany and the children got to eat the treats!)

Legend has it that Martin Luther was the first to affix lighted candles to the tree, to try to mimic the beauty of stars viewed through pine boughs.

Christmas trees were unique to the area now called Germany for several centuries. But in the late 1700s and early 1800s, German immigrants brought the tradition to America, and it soon caught on here. In England, Prince Albert brought the tradition with him to the palace, and he and Queen Victoria made it iconic there as well in 1848, when the London Illustrated News published an image of them and their children gathered around the tree…with presents underneath. This is the first published record of gifts under a Christmas tree. By the time Albert died in 1861, the tradition had been cemented in England as well, with him getting the credit for it.

 

Holiday History ~ Noel

Holiday History ~ Noel

When I was asking you all for suggestions of holiday words or traditions you’d like to learn more about, someone suggested “Noel.” I knew this was the French word for Christmas, but I admit that’s where my knowledge ended, so it was fun to learn more!

Noel does indeed come to English through the French, and the French word means “Christmas.” But more literally, noel is from the Latin nael, a variation of natalis, which means “birth day.” In Church Latin, this word was used exclusively for the birth of Christ.

We can see other words with this same root in natal and nativity. I knew where those two came from, but it didn’t occur to me that noel was from a variation of the same word. So there we have it!