Writing It Instead Of Carrying It

When this image appeared on my Instagram feed this morning, my immediate response was “Yes!”

Image text: Remember. If you are not speaking it, you are storing it, and that gets heavy. Christina Isobel.
I don’t know who created this image. I acquired it via Instagram.

This is why I have been writing and posting poetry and blog posts to help me deal with my feelings about my first Christmas without two very special people in my life, my father and one of my closest friends, both of whom passed away within five days at the end of June.

I have been doing everything I can to make Christmas joyful. Part of that has been working through my feelings and accepting the changes in life that have happened in this mixed up and turbulent year.

It is not that I have no joy or excitement. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate or focus on the positives in life. It means I need to works out how to manage the shades of guilt I experience when I feel joy, and the weight of sorrow at the very same time as enjoying the lightness of excitement and anticipation.

I fully realise that Christmas is very different for many, many people this year. Lockdowns, halted travel plans and distance have made sure of that. Like me, many people are grieving. Others are facing different sets of challenging circumstances.

The fact is, though, that it is my life that I am living. I have to manage my grief and work out how to balance things for myself. Nobody else can do it for me, and it has to be done. To refuse or fail to deal with my feelings isn’t healthy.

So, I write poetry and blog posts. I blurt my feelings and ideas down onto the page, then shape and craft them into something that both expresses how I feel and lets  others in similar situations know that they are not alone, and that their feelings are not wrong or abnormal.

That is my Christmas gift to the grieving people of the world; empathy, understanding and the room to feel as they do without judgment.

Writing It Instead of Carrying It
#emotions #grief #WritingCommunity

With Love, Me.

I wrote this poem not just for myself, but also for my family and friends who are really feeling the absence of a loved one this Christmas.

I don’t think it requires any explanation. I just wanted to share it with you here.

As always, any feedback is greatly appreciated.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Dear Santa,

I’m writing you this Christmas letter
Because I thought you should know
That there’s something that means more to me
Than presents, trees and snow.

I am missing someone this Christmas
And I’d love to have them back,
But you don’t collect from heaven
Or carry angels in your sack.

I already have lots of memories
And photos and souvenirs,
That fill my heart with longing
And flood my eyes with tears.

So there’s nothing you can bring me
That might heal my grieving soul,
And nothing you can do to make
My broken spirit whole.

But if you could work a miracle
In people’s hearts and minds,
Could you make them think of others
And teach them to be kind?

Could you make them value family
And enjoy them while they are here,
So Christmas might bring true happiness
To be remembered…

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Tinsel.

Image by Adina Voicu from Pixabay

I love tinsel. It’s so glittery and cheerful and colourful. It’s instant Christmas decoration that you can pull out of a bag and strew around the room and it immediately feels more like December.

Tinsel seems like a fairly recent invention, and in its current form, it is. Its history, though, goes back five hundred years to the very fine strands of hammered silver used in Nuremberg, Germany, in the early 1600s. At first, it was used more often to decorate sculptures or statues than trees., but it’s ability to sparkle and magnify the light from the candles used to illuminate Christmas trees caused its popularity to grow.  

Flawed by both brittleness and tarnish, early types of tinsel were nowhere near as hardy or long-lasting as what we have now. Over time, various other tinsel-like decorations were made using various different shiny or sparkly materials: silver or gold thread, or pieces of shiny fabric, and foil made from lead, copper or aluminium. During the 20th century, the advent of plastics made production of what we now know as tinsel cheaper and easier, while the dangers of other more flammable or toxic materials caused them to decrease in popularity.

The word tinsel dates back to the mid-1400s when it was used to describe cloth with gold or silver thread woven through it.

It is this sense of the word that is used by Shakespeare in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ where Margaret describe’s Hero’s fine wedding gown as being enhanced with a “bluish tinsel”.

The word came from Old French estencele, or estincelle — the es- was not pronounced– which meant ‘sparkle’ or ‘spangle’. From the 1590s onwards, tinsel was the name given to very thin sheets, strips or strands of shiny metal or fabric. This Old French word is related to the Latin word scintilla  meaning ‘spark’ , which in turn most likely came from the PIE roots*ski-nto, from which English also gets ‘shine’ and ‘scintillate’. It is also related to ‘stencil’.

By the mid 17th century, tinsel was also used in a non-literal sense to mean something showy or shiny, but not with any real value.

Sources:
Etymonline
The History of Tinsel
The Tumultuous History of Tinsel
This Is Why We Hang Tinsel At Christmas

Tinsel.
#christmasdecorations #Christmas #words

Why Are Christmas Songs Called Carols?

Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

I recently heard someone insisting that there was a difference between Christmas carols, which were all about baby Jesus and the angels, the star and the wise men, and Christmas songs, such as Jingle Bells or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

It sounded like a feasible explanation, and the guy put up what seemed like a good argument– mostly due to his confidence and the underlying implication that he knew more about it than anyone else.
(See malapert and ultracrepidarian.)

That’s what triggered me to research the question. I confess it was more out of my desire to possibly prove him wrong than to actually know the answer that I took out my phone and searched Etymoline for ‘carol’. To my delight, he was wrong! It does seem to be a popular belief, but it’s not consistent with the etymology of the word carol.

Carol is a very old word that dates back to about 1300 in both its noun and verb forms.

At this time, the noun meant both a joyful song and a form of dance in a circle or ring. Both of these meanings probably came from the Old French word carole that referred to that kind of circular dance, which was sometimes accompanied by singers. The origins of the word before that are unclear, but it certainly does paint a festive picture.

It wasn’t until about 1500 AD – two centuries later – that the word had also come to refer to a hymn or song of joy sung at Christmas. Thus, the religious connotations of the word came much later than the secular meaning.

The verb form to carol first meant to dance in a ring or circular formation. The sense of the word that meant to sing with joy or celebration had developed by the late 14th century.

The verb carol did not mean to sing Christmas songs, often moving from place to place to do so, until the late 1800s. It does seem, though, that the practice of carolling is believed to be a much older tradition that was outlawed in Britain, along with the celebration of Christmas itself, by the Puritans who governed in the mid-1600s.

So, Christmas songs are called carols because of their festive and joyful nature. Given that a. the word was originally far more specific about the type of dance than the type of songs being sung, other than that they were joyful, and b. Jingle Bells and Rudolph are as festive in their own ways as Hark The Herald Angels Sing or Joy to the World, there is no reason to classify them differently. They’re all Christmas carols, and that’s that.

Sources:

Carole: European Dance
Etymonline
Medieval Circle Dance: Carole
The History of Christmas Carols

Why Are Christmas Songs Called Carols?
#ChristmasSongs #ChristmasCarols #blogpost

67 Years.

This morning, my sister and I visited Mum and Dad’s grave on the 67th anniversary of their marriage.

On this date, every year since 2011, I have been purposeful in spending quality time with Dad as he spent the anniversary without Mum. He often had some tears, as did I, and we would talk about family times and happy memories. There would invariably be coffee and cake involved at some point of the day.

This year, Mum and Dad are together again, and we are without them both for the first time.

Instead of coffee and cake, we went out for breakfast together before heading up to the pretty little cemetery on top of the hill.

Nature blessed us with a beautiful morning: sunshine, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. The grass is starting g to cover the grave now, so it looks less  fresh and confronting. Still, it was the first time my sister, brother-in-law and husband had been back to the grave since the day of Dad’s funeral, so in that respect it was harder for them than for me.  I quite like cemeteries, and I have been back to visit Mum and Dad’s grave on several occasions. 

Neither my sister nor I had a big howly cry, which we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit because we have both done it several times before, but we both had some tears. We’re not ashamed of those, either. Crying is healthy, and so is owning your emotions.

Christmas won’t be the same this year. For the first time in our lives, we will be doing it without our father. I haven’t bought boxes of chocolate-coated ginger or liquorice allsorts for the first time in decades.

It’s all kind of weird, and it hurts, but we are doing our best to make it positive and memorable. Before visiting the cemetery, we went out for breakfast with our husbands. We bought a little Christmas poinsettia, which Mum always loved, to decorate their grave instead of taking fresh flowers this time.

Most importantly, my sister and I are spending Christmas together. I am so enormously thankful that, after months of lockdown and closed state borders, she and my brother-in-law can be here.

There are gifts under the tree, plans for special meals and treats, and neither of us has to navigate the first Christmas as orphans on our own. Our other siblings and my nieces can’t be with us, but they will be with family. We will video call and spend time together that way. It’s not perfect, but it beats not being together at all.

As I observed in my post on Dad’s birthday, the firsts are hard. There are so many feelings, and it can be challenging to know how to mark the date without being morose. It’s good to honour the memories, but the fear of people thinking you spend too much time in Memoryville or Griefland is real.

Will they want to read another Facebook post or blog about it? The fact is, some won’t, and that’s okay. At the same time, there are plenty of others who will. We are not the only ones grieving for a loved one for the first time this Christmas.

It matters to me, and to them, that we know we are not alone in our feelings, nor are we weird or wrong for feeling the way we do. It’s completely natural, and the best thing to do is acknowledge it: cry and laugh when we need to, retell the family stories, share memories, and deal with it in the most positive and constructive ways we can.

It’s also important to be deliberate about creating new memories and treasuring our time together, so that we make this first Christmas as merry and bright as we can.

Jolabokaflod: An Icelandic Christmas Eve Tradition For Book Lovers

A Christmas Eva tradition we are adopting for the first time this year is the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, pronounced yo-la-bok-a-flot. (Hear it here.) it means ‘Christmas book flood’ and that’s exactly what it is.

It is the practice of giving books on Christmas Eve and then going to bed and reading them.

My little pile of book gifts for the family on Christmas Eve.

The tradition began in Iceland during World War II when imports were hard to come by and paper was relatively inexpensive. The publishing industry did not operate year round, but rather swung into action toward the end of the year, and culminated in the Bokatidindi—a catalogue of every new book published in Iceland, given free of charge to every home in the country. From there, people choose the books they will give their loved ones.

It’s no wonder that book lovers all over the world are looking on and thinking they’d like to get in on that action. That was certainly my response.

Sources:

Jolabokaflod: Iceland’s Christmas Eve Tradition
#ChristmasEve #jolabokafloð #booklovers

Baubles.

‘Bauble’ is a word used more in December than at any other time of the year.

Photo: Joanne Van Leerdam

On Saturday night we were out for a family dinner — we’re finally allowed to go out here, now, after months of lockdown and restrictions— and one of the young kids at the gathering commented to me that they liked the pretty balls on the light fittings, and then asked me if that’s what they were called.

I explained that they are called baubles, and added that the beads on her bracelet could also be called baubles because they are pretty things designed for decoration. They’re both different kinds of ornaments, and it’s cool how there are often multiple useful words to use for things.

This got me wondering about the origin of the word ‘bauble’. I suspected it was French, simply because of how it sounded,  but such assumptions are not safe. As always, my trusty Macquarie dictionary and Etymonline had my back.

‘Bauble’ came into English in the early 14th century, meaning a decorative trinket or ornament. It came from the Old French word ‘baubel’ meaning a child’s toy or trinket. That may have come from the Latin word ‘bellus’ meaning “pretty” which gave us belle, as in ‘belle of the ball’,  or it could be related to ‘babe’ or ‘baby’. The sense of bauble meaning something of little or no value is later, dating from the early 1600s.

Long ago, ‘bauble’ was also the name given to a staff with a decorated or carved head, carried by a court jester and designed to mock the sceptre carried by a monarch. This meaning has fallen out of use, much as the position of court jester and the practice of a monarch carrying a sceptre have done.

So, now ‘bauble’ only relates to the pretty things. It is important to understand, though, that just because something can be called a bauble does not automatically mean that it has no value. It’s fair to say that while some baubles, such as Christmas decorations and the beads in a child’s bracelet, might usually be fairly inexpensive, there are other kind of baubles that tend to be more valuable.

Thus, the two meanings of bauble remain distinct, even though they can both apply at the same time.

Fairy Lights: A Reflection on Brokenness at Christmas Time.

I wrote this poem a while ago, but it seems so relevant at this point of 2020. Every time my Christmas fairy lights flick on lately, I think of this poem.

It’s the time of year when people want me to attend parties and end of year gatherings for work or other groups. They want me to sparkle, but I feel as though I am still so tangled and frayed and broken, I just can’t.

Yet again, I find myself ‘faking normal’ and smiling and nodding while wishing I could go home and go to bed instead. It’s a well-practised skill that, quite honestly, I wish I had never had to learn in the first place.

Hence my choice of new Christmas decoration, hung lovingly on my tree in honour of the mess that 2020 has been.

It’s fair to say I enjoy this bauble far more than I have enjoyed this year.

Photo by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels.com

Just like a bundle of fairy lights, stowed carelessly,

I am a mess of entangled emotions

A jumbled catastrophe, knotted and messy,

Some parts are missing, some coloured glass broken;

Synapses misfire in slightly frayed wires:

There’s danger in causing my power to surge,

I don’t always light up the way others desire

But I can be quite lovely when I have the urge.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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Christmas in Australia.

For my overseas friends, a few notes about how Australians celebrate Christmas.

My comment yesterday that I was playing songs full of snow even though I live in Australia generated some interest in what Christmas is like here, so I thought I might share a little about how Australians celebrate Christmas.

I’ve got some of the gifts wrapped and under the tree.

Many of our traditions are the same as everyone else’s. We sing the same songs, send Christmas cards, decorate with Christmas trees, tinsel, wreaths and lights, and hope that Santa will visit and leave us gifts. We have Christmas music in all the shops and soppy Christmas movies on TV.

There are a few key differences though.

Christmas happens in summer here. When we sing ‘Let it Snow’ and ‘White Christmas’ it’s wishful thinking— usually because it’s ridiculously hot outside. My little Canadian spruce is decked with tinsel and fairy lights, but it will probably never see snow– at Christmas, or at any other time of year.

Because it is summer, kids are on their long break between one school year and the next. Term 4 finishes sometime in the middle of December, and the kids return to school sometime toward the end of January.

This gives people the opportunity to more easily travel longer distances to visit family, or to spend Christmas near the beach or in other desired locations. While this certainly happens in other countries, Australians have made a time-honoured national tradition of ‘going away for the Christmas Holidays’.

Some of the traditional Christmas songs like Jingle Bells have been rewritten to reflect Australian conditions, and we also have some of our own songs that probably aren’t sung anywhere else, except for maybe New Zealand. Many of these are less well-known now than they used to be, partly because our culture is significantly led by American and British influences, partly because their lyrics and subjects are outdated, and mostly because they were ridiculously hard to sing.

Many of us still have traditional Christmas food like turkey and ham, but we’ll often have salads on the side instead of hot vegetables. Some people barbecue steaks and other meats instead, while others opt for seafood for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas pudding is often accompanied or even replaced by cold desserts like cheesecake, trifle or iconic Aussie desserts like pavlova or chocolate ripple cake.

It’s still a day for family and friends, but lots of Australians spend Christmas or Boxing Day gathered at the beach or by the pool. Christmas meals are often eaten outdoors, hopefully under cover or in the shade. It’s not unusual for Aussies to enjoy their post-Christmas-dinner nap in the cool of the air-conditioning or in front of the fan.

Our Christmas table setting last year, in our outdoor courtyard.

One of my absolute favourite Australian Christmas traditions is Carols by Candlelight. Crowds gather outdoors, often picnic style, and sing Christmas songs together. There are local events all over the country, but there is also the nationally televised showbiz charity event held in Melbourne on Christmas Eve every year. Santa usually makes an appearance, as do various celebrities of TV and the music industry who, supported by a band, an orchestra, and premium choirs, entertain and delight the nation.

You can see clips from Carols by Candlelight of previous years on YouTube, including my favourite performance of recent years: Grown Up Christmas List by Aussie singers Silvie Paladino and Anthony

Because of Australia’s longitude, we start our Christmas Day while most of the world is still full of anticipation on Christmas Eve. Only New Zealand and some small Polynesian nations of the Pacific Ocean start their Christmas before we do.

While the rest of the world is waking up to Christmas morning, Australians can often be found gathering outdoors again for a game of cricket in the back yard, or another dip in the pool or at the beach.

On the 26th, many Australians will tune in to the Boxing Day Test Match— also cricket— on the TV or radio, broadcast from the Melbourne Cricket Ground where up to 100 000 dedicated fans attend the game in person for each of the five days scheduled for the match. Don’t let that surprise you – we’re a sports-mad nation, and the cricket lovers among us are as dedicated as any.

After all the excitement of Christmas, things settle down for a day or two before we get the barbecues out and gather together again to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

Undone.

Photo by Laura James on Pexels.com

This morning, I came undone. 

I had my Christmas playlist on in the car. I defamed of a white Christmas with Frank Sinatra , I shared a grown-up Christmas list with Michael Buble, and then it happened. ‘Christmas Without You’ by Human Nature began to play. I held it together for the first verse, but I also knew it was time to pull over. There would be no driving through the rest of the song. 

I couldn’t even play the whole thing. I had to turn it off because the big,  ugly, messy cry was already just about out of control. 

Knowing Christmas this year will be spent without two people I love dearly is hard. I’ve had to consciously motivate myself to do the shopping, put up the tree and hang the tinsel. This is highly unusual for me: I am generally a big kid when it comes to Christmas. . Buying and wrapping gifts is fun, but even that brings its own reminders of whose presents won’t be under the tree. 

I will keep on playing Christmas music, but I have edited my playlist for this year. I have taken that song out, along with Blue Christmas, Please Come Home For Christmas, and All I Want For Christmas Is You. There will be fewer sad songs and more bells, reindeer and snow along with baby Jesus and the angels. 

I will do my best to enjoy Christmas with my loved ones. I will drape tinsel over the broken bits, and perhaps keep some spare strong tape handy in case I come unstuck again. Bring on the merry and the sparkles. 

Undone.
#christmassongs #emotions #Christmas2020