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Category Archives: Seasonal

Loops of Life

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Flu BugIsn’t it amazing that the smallest of life forms can upend your life, change your priorities overnight, and put your schedule, and even deadlines, on hold?  Otherwise known as the flu bug.  It knocked me for a loop or three just after the New Year, and I’ve been battling it off ever since.  Everything, and I mean everything, gets put on hold at such times.

I’m sure you all know that there is no convenient time for a flu, but sometimes it’s easier on the schedule than others.   I’m grateful that it was after Christmas, because on Christmas Day I was at last able to complete the first draft of my next novel!  And later this month I don’t need it, because I get to go and stay in a posh resort overnight, also known as a hospital bed, to catch a few hours of sleep while they remove a few plates and lots of screws from one of my ankles, making it easier to get through airport security.  My bone will look a bit like Swiss cheese after they’re done, which means I get a few weeks of feet-up-and-read-lots-of-books time, followed by the ability to walk, exercise, and get a bit of muscle tone back.  Woohoo.

I began thinking about loops, in the wider scope, while I had some down-time this past month:  They come in all shapes and sizes; sometimes they’re hiccups in relationships, jobs, studies, goals or even social or environmental challenges.  Those loops, we can handle; they’re all essentially first-world problems, so I won’t complain; at least my loops don’t include wondering where my next meal will come from, where I’ll be sleeping tonight, or how to find clean water and a safe hiding place from men with guns hunting me down.  Even though my schedule has gotten thrown on its ear, and I feel like something the cat dragged in, I will count myself blessed.

If you’re going through loops of your own right now, look for the things in your life that remind you that you are blessed, and remember that jumping through loops will make us stronger in the end.

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Happy Lammas Day! Happy Birthday, Switzerland!

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The original Thanksgiving day, Lammas has a centuries-old tradition in some English-speaking countries.  “Lammas” comes from the Old English hlafmæsse, meaning “loaf mass”, and was a celebration and a time to give thanks for the harvest.  Everyone would bring a loaf of bread to the church on that day, made from freshly-harvested wheat; it would then be blessed by the minister as a symbol of giving thanks for the entire harvest.  Perhaps this is the Eucharistic overtone admitted by J.R.R. Tolkien* in a private letter concerning the Lembas Bread of the Elves; this bread might have been based on Hardtack texture-wise, but the name itself is a quite clear connection to Lammas. 

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it is mentioned several times, and there it is referred to as the “feast of the first fruits”. To read more about this celebration, click on the image below.

And before I close, I will also say, “Happy Birthday, Switzerland!”  Today is our Founding Day, the first being in 1291.  Fireworks, here we come!

Breads, Harvest, Lammas Day

*Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-31555-7

Swiss Samichlaus and Schmutzli

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Samichlaus and Schmutzli in traditional Swiss costume.

Samichlaus and Schmutzli in traditional Swiss costume.

With Christmas coming up, I thought I’d share a Christmas tradition from Switzerland:

Here in Switzerland, Santa has come and gone!  In Zürich alone, the Swiss Santas (“Samichlaus”, also known as “Sankt Nikolaus”) will make roughly 1,000 visits this year; within a few days around 6 December each year, just over 30 Santas, 50 Schmutzli and 50 drivers are underway from the Zurich Samichlaus organisation (not counting those organized between friends and family).  Now I’m fairly certain most of my readers are familiar with Santa; but here in Switzerland, his helper is called Schmutzli.  Parents throughout the land book Samichlaus and his assistants, and fill in a form for their children:  Names, ages, their favourite subject in school, and the most important questions:  What have the children improved in since the last visit by Samichlaus, and where do they need to improve?  Making their bed, cleaning their room, being nice to their siblings, or sharing more often?  The Samichlaus goes to the home at the appointed time with his assistants (often two Schmutzli, who are the

Thomas Fetz, a local Schmutzli.  Image Credit: Migrosmagazin

Thomas Fetz, a local Schmutzli. Image Credit: Migrosmagazin

“coal” bearers, often with coal-blackened faces, and who carry large baskets with some coal, a besom broom, and I’m sure a bit of room for gifts given back to them by grateful parents).  They sit down to speak with each child, reading from a great book they carry with them.  Each child is then given a “Samichlaus” bag, and perhaps a gift sponsored by the parents.  Now Swiss Samichlaus and Schmutzli are not the hygienically, politically correct version of countries like America; the large sack they carry was originally (and up into my husband’s generation) shown to bad children who might get kidnapped and taken off if they don’t learn to behave before their visit the following year (they still might threaten it here and there even today).  It might have something to do with Swiss children in general being so well-behaved…  Children are in general very respectful of Samichlaus and his two assistants, even though Mr. Fetz (pictured) looks more like a big teddy bear than someone who might threaten to kidnap naughty children!

Rather than reindeer, here in Switzerland Samichlaus and Schmutzli lead a donkey laden with gifts.  Now I have it on good authority (our local “Unterländer” newspaper) that there are precisely 8,356 donkeys registered in Switzerland to help on the day.  As Swiss are very nature-minded, there are strict regulations with how much a donkey is allowed to work or carry:  They are only allowed to carry up to 90 kilograms, and only 25 kilometers per day.  That means that these donkeys could carry a one-kilo gift to each of the 715,000 4-to-12 year olds in Switzerland!

One of the 8,356 donkeys, ready to go!

One of the 8,356 Swiss donkeys, ready to go!

Since 6 December is the official Samichlaus Day, it is customary on that day to give “Samichlaussäckli” (Santa Claus Bags) to friends, family, neighbours and coworkers.  They are great winter gifts to take when visiting friends; if you’d like to know how to make one, please click here.

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