Dec 31, 2009

Merry Hogmanay or Happy New Year

photo via creative commons by Laurence Arnold
New Years is a major holiday in Scotland called Hogmanay. It's the day gifts are given and on New Year's the house is cleaned in a symbolic whisking out of the old to bring in the new. After the stroke of midnight the first person (called the First Footer) to enter your house should be a tall dark-haired man, usually carrying certain items like a lump of coal and some whiskey (probably because a blond coming to the door--read Viking--meant bad luck.) The origin of the name might be Anglo-Saxon or French one really knows for sure.

But just why do the Scots put more emphasis on the celebration than anyone else? The answer is found (like so many answers are) in history. After the Reformation, the celebration of Christmas (Christ Mass) was associated with the Catholic Church and thus banned (or probably more accurately in more recent years, discouraged) by the Kirk (the Church) in Scotland. One source I read said Christmas was not celebrated until the 1950s in Scotland!

So, New Years was the winter holiday and celebrated with gusto. What song do we all sing at midnight on New Years? Auld Lang Syne, that old Scottish tune!

Right now, in Scotland, the celebration has already begun. In fact, it started two days ago. See what's going on here. Apparently Scottish revelers are in for a cold one this year.

I'm not sure how the Thomson household will celebrate Hogmanay this year, but Tom and I both have Scottish roots. It's certain that our "First Footer" will be a dark haired male. Kyle is the only one using the front the door right now. One thing is for certain, we will not be celebrating with haggis! (Neither on New Years or more traditionally Robert Burns Day.) Yuck! I guess my Scottish roots lose out to American traditions on that one!

Whatever you do to celebrate, enjoy, be safe, and may God bless 2010!

" A guid New Year to ane an' a' and mony may ye see."

Dec 27, 2009

What is a Wren boy?

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze;
Though his body is small, his family is great,
So, if you please, your honour, give us a treat.

The new year is represented by a robin, and the old year is a wren.

By National Library of Ireland on The Commons - December 26Uploaded by oaktree_b, Public Domain,
I'm talking about an old Celtic tradition involving a procession through the streets with a dead wren. This link explains everything:

Dec 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day!

photo via creative commons by Stewart Black
While it's not really a Celtic celebration, it is observed in some Celtic countries. It has nothing to do with the sport, just in case you were wondering. Boxing Day is celebrated in Australia, Britain, New Zealand, and Canada.

Boxing Day began, as far as I can tell, in the nineteenth century. It's an extension of the Christmas celebration, which I think it is a pretty good idea. How the tradition started is debatable, just like all good traditions. ;-) On the day after Christmas people with means gave away food and goods to the needy, and bundled it all up in boxes to deliver it, of course. And children boxed up their extra toys and gave them away after receiving new ones for Christmas. Or maybe the term Boxing Day refers to alms boxes set up outside of churches. Either way, it's a day to be generous without expecting a gift in return.

Know something I don't about Boxing Day? Please, leave a comment!

Dec 22, 2009

Winter Solstice- The Tea Party (Cover)

Welcome to the Celtic New Year. This is a video I found of a very talented young guitar player. Enjoy!

Dec 21, 2009

Did Ireland steal Santa Claus?

photo via creative commons by TimmyGUNZ
The real Saint Nicholas is generally believed to be a 4th century bishop from Turkey. Legend says that he was wealthy and gave away most all of his fortune. One tale is about a poor father who had no dowery for his three daughters. They were destined to become slaves without a dowery, but for three nights in a row Saint Nicholas of Myra secretly threw bags of gold in through the man's window, thus saving the girls.

There are other tales of this bishop giving away gifts. He was buried in Turkey around 346AD and was immediately considered a saint because of his generosity.

During the crusades saint relics were often taken into battle for protection--a sort of good luck charm. It's believed that this happened with Saint Nicholas's remains. They were first taken to Italy and then around 800 years ago they were reburied in Ireland by a relative named Nicholas de Frainet near Kilkenny. The spot is now on private farmland, but it once was a medieval abbey. There is a gravestone there that dates from the 13th century bearing an image (believed to be Saint Nicholas) and two heads (believed to be the two Norman crusaders who brought the remains to Ireland.)
Grave of Saint Nicholas at Newtown Jerpoint
photo via creative commons by Jody Halsted

Dec 18, 2009

More Irish Christmas Traditions

Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin
photo via creative commons by Michael Foley
You can find all kinds of Irish Christmas decorations now. I found an Irish Christmas angel ornament at a local department store. But the truth is, America decorates in a much more lavish manner than other countries do. Actually, that might not be a surprise to you if you've noticed, like I have, the explosion of lawn ornaments and lights in your neighborhood.

In Ireland it's traditional to put a lit candle (one) in a window to welcome the holy family. Here are some more traditions from Holidays Kaboose.

In many areas, on Christmas Eve, a lit candle is placed in a window (nowadays it can be an electric light!). This goes back to traditions of hospitality in ancient times. The idea is to help light the way of the Holy Family or any other poor traveller who is out on that night. There can be a White Christmas, but snowfalls are rarely heavy. As in many countries, it is very important for family members to be together for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
People often have Christmas dinner in the afternoon, any time between 1 and 3 p.m.. As a child, I remember being served more than one 'fowl' for Christmas dinner - usually a goose and sometimes chicken, duck or pheasant as well, along with stuffing, roast potatoes and gravy. Now turkey is much more common along with a ham, and sometimes spiced beef. Dessert is Christmas pudding with rum sauce or brandy butter and cream. Sometimes a trifle is served as well! Christmas Crackers are on the table, and everyone pulls one with the person next to them. Whoever ends up with the longer end gets the contents, which include a party hat, a small toy and a riddle.
I think the important thing with traditions is that you have them. You can start new ones that your children and grandchildren will cherish. What is your favorite tradition?

Dec 16, 2009

Irish Christmas Traditions

©Cindy Thomson
Want to partake in an Irish Christmas tradition? Go whitewash an outbuilding.

The four weeks prior to Christmas (Advent) were traditionally times when folks in Ireland cleaned, preparing for the blessed event. Men whitewashed the outhouse while the women scrubbed the floors inside the house. Before the Christian era this tradition was thought to be a kind of spring cleaning, except that it took place in advance of the winter solstice. After Christianity the tradition was in preparation of the coming of the holy family. If Christ came to your house tonight, would you be ready? Apparently lots of folks in Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born were not ready because Mary and Joseph were turned away repeatedly.

I suppose we do continue this tradition today as we decorate, bake, and clean to welcome family and friends to our homes during the Christmas season. But still, I wonder...does this preparation do anything to welcome the coming of Christ in our hearts?

Just something to think about....

Dec 14, 2009

The Wild Boar is Back!

BRIGID OF IRELAND is set in the 5th century. There are many things about ancient Ireland that do not exist today. However, the wild boar is not one of them. Once extinct in Ireland, the animal has been spotted in several counties. One of its primary predators in Medieval times was the Irish wolfhound, which does not roam around hunting boars anymore. Farmers and naturalists are concerned about the reemergence of this beast. You can read about it here or here.

photo via creative commons by Dylan

Dec 11, 2009

Instructions from St. Patrick

©Cindy Thomson
Continuing with St. Patrick, we find in his writings that he left a "suggestion" for us.

From my book, Celtic Wisdom:

"Patrick desired that his legacy would be passed on: 'I wish only that you, too, would make greater and better efforts. This will be my pride, for 'a wise son makes a proud father.'"

As I've noted in the book, this is a reference to Proverbs 10:1:

The proverbs of Solomon:
A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish son grief to his mother.

And Proverbs 15:20:

A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.
(quoting from the NIV)

I wonder how many of us have thought of ourselves as being "sons" of St. Patrick. But we are sons and daughters of those who have gone before us. I wonder if I've done enough to bring joy, especially to my Father who made us all.

Dec 10, 2009

What Voices Do You Remember From Your Past?

My grandmother was born on December 10, 1900. Her ancestors were Scots-Irish, although I doubt she knew that. She collected names and dates and photographs, and I inherited those and traced the family tree.

She died in 1977. We called her grandmother by her own request--not grandma or worst of all in her mind, granny. (I still remember my little cousin Jenny getting in trouble for that one!) The title "Grandmother" fit her because she was old school, not a cuddly granny-type.

I remember her voice and some of the things she said, not all of them nice. But in her defense she suffered from cancer during a time when there was little treatment available. Old people can be grouchy. Sometimes they have reason.

A few years after she died I had a dream. I was standing in front of her like I so often did for photographs. She was wearing her usual large fake pearl necklace and earrings and a homemade dress. She was an excellent seamstress, a skill I didn't inherit. But in the dream she was missing her usual stoic manner. She seemed regretful and told me that she loved me. I don't remember her ever saying that to me when she was alive. The kinds of things I remember her saying included overhearing her tell my mother that I was fat and that she needed to do something about that, that we must get the ants out of our house because she feared she would wake up with them in her bed, and probably lots more that I've forgotten.

But that's just the point. The dream made me forget the trivial stuff and remember that she did love me. It also served to remind me that I want to live so that when people think of me they remember a voice of love rather than that of crabbiness.

Do I believe she spoke to me from beyond the grave? No. But I do believe she spoke to me from the past--from my memories. What voices from the past do you hear? Learn to listen to the ones that build you up and teach you and ignore the rest.

Dec 9, 2009

Celtic Voices

public domain via Flikr
Celtic Voices, the title I chose for this blog, refers to the voices St. Patrick heard long ago. Many people credit Patrick for bringing Christianity to Ireland. In principle this is true, but technically there were Christians in Ireland before he came, first as a slave at the age of 16, and later as a willing minister. The reason Patrick returned to a land where years earlier he had escaped captivity had to do with a dream.

In the dream a man, perhaps an angel, came to him. Quoting from my book, Celtic Wisdom:

"One night a man named Victoricus visited him in a dream, bearing many letters from Ireland. He gave one to Patrick that read 'The Voice of the Irish.' Immediately Patrick heard the voices of those he'd known in Ireland crying out together, 'We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and shall walk again among us.'"

The result of Patrick listening to those voices and acting on what he heard was that Ireland was blessed with a valuable patron saint who ministered to the lost, many of whom went on to develop learning centers (monasteries) and teach others, both in Ireland and on the European continent.

I think these kind of Celtic voices (not necessarily in dreams but in legends and stories) speak to us today, and I wanted to explore this idea on this blog. I hope you'll join me!


Dec 7, 2009

Passing of an Irish Legend

A few days ago the world learned of the passing of Liam Clancy, who along with the Clancy Brothers and Makem, was a legend in Irish music. But as this article explains, these folks (of whom he was the last living) were extremely important to Irish music because they saved and promoted the old traditional tunes. Without their efforts, the world might never know that tradition.

A great tribute to those Irish music preservationists is beautifully portrayed in Tommy Sands's BALLAD OF TOMMY MAKEM. I couldn't find a youtube video, but you can buy the song for just 99 cents.

I for one am grateful for those who kept the tradition alive, and for those like Tommy Sands who "keep on singing."