Sunday, December 12, 2010

Celebrate...the Poinsettia


December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

The Poinsettia is indigenous to Mexico and Central America.  The plant is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1828.

It isn’t the flowering plant we think it is.  Actually the bright red, orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled parts are actually leaves.  The “flowers” are the small yellow pieces in the center of each leaf bunch.

The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The story is that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Red "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. In the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico introduced the plants in their Christmas celebrations. They introduced the idea of the star-shaped leaf symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color representing the blood of Jesus.

There is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly poisonous. That is because most plants of this genus are toxic.  It is mildly irritating to the skin or stomach.  It could cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten.  If sap got into a person’s eyes it could cause temporary blindness. An American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed no fatalities, and that most were accidental, involved children, and did not result in any type of medical treatment. POISINDEX, a major source for poison control centers, says a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 bracts to be toxic. An Ohio State University study showed no problems even with extremely large doses.  So, it is not poisonous, but is still mildy toxic and probably should be kept out of reach of small children or pets or anyone sensitive to latex or other irritations.

So, go ahead, enjoy the beauty of the plant and the season.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

Tonight (December 05), we’re celebrating Saint Nicholas Eve. The tradition of Saint Nicholas Day is a festival for children related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts.
De Goedheiligman
Saint Nicolas
Sinte Klaas
Kris Kringle
Father Christmas
Santa Claus

Whatever you want to call him, his day of celebration is December 6, or St. Nicholas Day.  It is a feast day for the saint who inspired the legend of Santa Claus The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, and of course children.

Although he was the patron saint of Russia, Nicholas of Myra was Greek. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents and was very religious from an early age. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic, while Nicholas was still young, and he was raised by his uncle who was a bishop. Nicholas spent time at a monastery and led a devout life which is full of tales of his exploits.  Perhaps the most famous is about a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably end up as prostitutes. Hearing of the man's situation, Nicholas decided to help him but wanted to do so anonymously.  Version one of the story has Nicholas going to the man’s house at night and throwing three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window. Another version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. A third rendition has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes "of age". Invariably, the third time the father hides, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In yet another version, the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In one last story, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan to discover his identity and drops the third bag down the chimney instead, but this variant says that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

It’s easy to see how that story created the traditions that vary somewhat from country to country.  For some, like the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas’ Eve is the chief occasion for gift-giving. Children open presents that night. But most countries have some form of children putting out their shoes either in front of the fireplace, or outside the front door before they go to bed and then waking up to find presents, typically small trinkets and sweets around the shoes on the morning of the 6th. The story says Sinterklaas brings presents to every child that has behaved his or herself in the past year but in practice, just like with Santa Claus, all children receive gifts without distinction.

In recent years, Christmas (along with Santa Claus) has been pushed by shopkeepers as another gift-giving festival, with some success; although, especially for young children, Saint Nicholas' Eve is still much more important than Christmas. The rise of Father Christmas is often cited as an example of globalisation and Americanisation.

As a rather sad footnote, the metamorphosis of Saint Nicholas into the more commercially lucrative Santa Claus, which took several centuries in Europe and America, has recently been re-enacted in the saint's home town: the city of Demre. This modern Turkish town is built near the ruins of ancient Myra. As St. Nicholas is a very popular Orthodox saint, the city attracts many Russian tourists. A solemn bronze statue of the Saint by the Russian sculptor Gregory Pototsky, donated by the Russian government in 2000, was given a prominent place on the square in front of the medieval church of St. Nicholas. In 2005, the city’s mayor had the statue replaced by a red-suited plastic Santa Claus statue, because he wanted the central statue to be more recognizable to visitors from all over the world. Protests from the Russian government against this action were successful only to the extent that the Russian statue was returned, without its original high pedestal, to a corner near the church.

While feasts of Saint Nicholas are not observed nationally, cities with strong German influences like Milwaukee, and St. Louis celebrate St. Nick's Day on a scale similar to the German.  Gifts often include chocolate gold coins to represent the gold St. Nick gave to the poor and small trinkets.  In these areas the tradition of St. Nick's Day is firmly established with parents often continuing to observe the day with their adult children.

I, for one, will be celebrating in whatever small manner, the life and memories of someone with true compassion and love of children.

Happy St. Nicholas Day to you.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tis the season for compassion...

I've been having a lot of fun with the Block Lotto the last few months.  It's an online group and we make quilt blocks and then there is a drawing, and you might "win" blocks from others so you have enough for a quilt, and if not, you mail the blocks you made off to one of the winners.  I started this when I stumbled upon the site and they were making these blocks that I really liked, that were a technique I had never tried.  While all the blocks were following the same instructions, they were different and unique.  I joined as an opportunity to push my skills, both technically and creatively.

I was so excited the month I won the blocks.  Some were so incredibly perfect, way beyond my current capabilities.  Others were like mine.  Some were design-wise gorgeous, and others not as interesting, but true to the directions of the block.  I have put off finishing my quilt as I didn't want to disrespect the effort of all the different people who made these blocks for me.  I consider myself so grateful to have won a month and want to make sure the finished project is as special as it can be.

Well, in an effort to establish the plan for the Block Lotto next year, a lot of discussion has been turned to "problem" blocks.  Really?  I am probably naive, but I assumed that everyone was doing their very best to make these blocks.  The skill level on the site ranges from beginners to people who have been quilting since the beginning of time...(well maybe less than that, but a long time anyway). 

Now, I'm doubting myself and my contributions.  Have my blocks not been up to the winners' standards?  I wouldn't have ever thought to complain about any of the blocks I received, no matter what they were like, as I know that someone spent time to make the block, using their own fabric, and then mail it to me.  I have the option of putting the blocks together anyway I want.  If I really didn't like one, I could leave it out, or I could try to fix it to my satisfaction.  Even the discussion of "problem" blocks has taken some of the "fun" out of the Block Lotto for me.
In this Christmas season, I truly want to be compassionate of the feelings and efforts of others.  I want everyone to know that I appreciate what they do.  May we all head into 2011 with a little less criticism and a little more gratitude. That would apply to all aspects of our lives....home, work...and even online.