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Archive for holidays

Eco-Friendly Holiday Celebration Ideas

When you ponder the idea of making their holiday season (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other) an eco-friendlier one, there are ways to achieve your goal. You could debate that most modern traditions do some harm to the environment in some manner – no matter how small. But if you look into the ‘roots’ of your yearly celebration you can find inspiration. This article mainly focuses on Christmas, but many other celebrations incorporate a few basic types of items.

Greenery – Holly, Mistletoe, Wreaths, and Trees
Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. In many ancient cultures boughs and holly where hung over doors and windows, in hopes that the branches would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. In the Northern hemisphere, ancient peoples celebrated the winter solstice, and evergreen boughs symbolized the greenery that would return in the summer months as the sun regained its strength after becoming weak and sick. The Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death when Ra, their sun god, began to recover from the illness.

Early Romans marked the winter solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, their god of agriculture. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs and holly and holly wreaths as a form of decoration and also gave them as gifts. The Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The Vikings thought that evergreens were the special plant of their sun god, Balder.

Mistletoe was once held sacred by the Norse, Celtic Druids and North American Indians. Mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality). The plant also was thought to be a symbol of peace, and anyone standing below it should receive tokens of affection. When enemies met beneath mistletoe, they had to lay down their weapons and observe a truce until the next day. This is how the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe likely began, and why a ball of mistletoe is now hung in homes during Christmas, a season of peace and affection.

Those who hang real mistletoe and holly around their homes should be mindful of pets and children. Mistletoe and holly are considered to be moderately to severely toxic, and ingesting the leaves could be dangerous. Mistletoe is commonly hung up high, but holly should be hung high as well. Early Christians also participated in the tradition of hanging holly on their homes to appear like the masses. Eventually as the number of Christians grew, the tradition became less of a pagan one and more associated with Christians and Christmas. Some people have inferred that holly and its prickly edges is symbolic of the crown of thorns Jesus wore at his crucifixion, with the red berries representing blood. Wreaths, although used all year long, are also connected with the pagan holiday of Yule, marking the winter solstice, which was celebrated by ancient Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. This 12-day festival was held to honor the returning of the sun and the seasonal cycle. The wreaths used during Yule were meant to symbolize nature and the promise of spring. They held candles that were lit in hopes of the return of the warmth and the sunlight.

Christmas wreaths are made by twisting or bending evergreen branches, thought to have been left over after shaping a tree to fit inside a house, into a large circle which are then decorated with pinecones and a red bow. A wreath’s circular shape is said to symbolize eternal life and the unending love of God. In the 16th century, the use of wreaths during Yule was adopted by Christians and became a custom in the form of Advent Wreaths. These wreaths were traditionally made of evergreens, which also symbolize eternal life, holly oak, and red berries. The red berries and the thorny leaves of the holly oak represented the crown of thorns worn by Jesus and the drops of blood that they drew. The Advent Wreath is meant to hold four candles, three purple and one pink. The first candle to be lit during Advent is meant to symbolize hope and is a purple one called the Prophecy Candle. On the second Sunday of Advent, another purple candle, called the Bethlehem Candle, is lit. It symbolizes love to some and the manger of Jesus to others. The pink candle, called the Shepherd Candle, represents joy and is lit on the third Sunday of Advent. Peace is represented by the Angel Candle, which is the final purple candle and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Sometimes, a fifth white candle is added to the center of the wreath. This is referred as the Christ Candle, and it’s lit on Christmas Eve. These candles symbolize the coming of the light of Christ. Today, a wreath that’s hanging on the door at Christmas may symbolize the invitation of Jesus into one’s home, or it may be inviting the spirit of Christmas into the home along with good luck.

Some early Christian across many parts of northern Europe, also adopted the use of evergreen, cherry, and hawthorn trees. The evergreen tree was viewed as a sign of everlasting life with God. It is thought that around 1000 years ago in Northern Europe the fir tree was first used as Christmas trees. Many of these trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains. The cherry and hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) were put into pots and brought inside so they would hopefully flower at Christmas time. If one couldn’t afford a real plant, people made pyramids of woods that were decorated to look like a tree using paper, apples and candles. Sometimes they were carried around from house to house, rather than being displayed in a home.

It’s possible that the wooden pyramid trees were meant to be like Paradise Trees. These were used in medieval German Mystery or Miracle Plays that were acted out in front of Churches on Christmas Eve. In early church calendars of saints, 24th December was Adam and Eve’s day. The Paradise Tree represented the Garden of Eden. It was often paraded around the town before the play started, as a way of advertising the play. The plays told Bible stories to people who could not read.

The first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is argued between the cities of Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia. Both claim that they had the first trees; Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510. Both trees were put up by the ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ which was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners in Livonia.

Little is known about either tree apart from that they were put in the town square, were danced around by the Brotherhood of Blackheads and were then set on fire. This is like the custom of the Yule Log. The word used for the ‘tree’ could also mean a mast or pole, tree might have been like a ‘Paradise Tree’ or a tree-shaped wooden candelabra rather than a ‘real’ tree.

A picture from Germany in 1521 which shows a tree being paraded through the streets with a man riding a horse behind it. This man is dressed as a bishop, possibly representing Saint Nicholas of Myra, also known as Nicholas of Bari. He was an early Christian bishop of the ancient Greek maritime city of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His reputation evolved among the faithful and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus.

The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531. In 1584, the historian Balthasar Russow wrote about a tradition, in Riga, of a decorated fir tree in the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. There’s a record of a small tree in Bremen, Germany from 1570. It is described as a tree decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers”. It was displayed in a ‘guild-house’ (the meeting place
for a society of businessmen in the city).

Germany is credited with starting the modern Christmas tree tradition during the 16th century. Devout Christians-primarily Lutherans, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics-brought decorated trees into their homes. One of several legends state that it was the German preacher and Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who was the first to bring a tree into the home and place candles in its branches. It goes: one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. However, the custom of having Christmas trees could have easily traveled along the Baltic sea, from Latvia to Germany. In the 1400s and 1500s, the countries were then part of two larger empires which were neighbors.

In Germany, the first Christmas Trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Then glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. In 1605 an unknown German wrote: “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlors of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.” At first, a figure of the Baby Jesus was put on the top of the tree. Over time it changed to an angel/fairy that told the shepherds about Jesus, or a star like the Wise Men saw. The Christmas tree made its way to North America following the German immigration patterns in the 1700s. They brought with them many of the things associated with Christmas-Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies and Christmas trees. The trees weren’t well received due to entrenched cultural attitudes, and a fear that a leisurely celebration such as Christmas would reduce labor productivity. In fact, in 1621 Puritan governor William Bradford wrote that he tried to stamp out the “pagan mockery” of the Christmas tree, arguing that it promoted excess and lacked any origin in Scripture. A few years later, the Puritans of New England made observation of the holiday illegal, and if anyone was caught celebrating they would have to pay a fine.

The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the early 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy. But even then, New Englanders sustained their disdain for the Christmas tree and the holiday, to the point that carolers would be prosecuted for “disturbing the peace.

The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

The first Christmas trees came to Britain sometime in the 1830s. They became very popular in 1841, when Prince Albert had a Christmas Tree set up in Windsor Castle. In 1848, drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” was published in the Illustrated London News. The drawing was republished in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Philadelphia in December. The publication of the drawing helped Christmas Trees become popular in the UK and USA. Live Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850. The first Christmas tree retail lot in the United States was started by Mark Carr in New York, in 1851. In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.

Real Trees
Today 98% of real Christmas trees are grown on farms; whereas only 2% are cut from the wild. To ensure enough trees for harvest, growers plant one to three seedlings for every tree harvested. More than 2,000 trees are usually planted per acre. On average 1,000-1,500 of these trees will survive. Almost all trees require shearing to attain the Christmas tree shape. It takes six to ten years for a tree to attain a ready to harvest height of six to seven feet. Growing Christmas trees provides a habitat for wildlife. Christmas trees can remove dust and pollen from the air. An acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. The most popular trees are: Scotch pine, Douglas fir, noble fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Virginia pine and white pine.

Most Christmas trees are cut weeks before they get to a retail outlet. It is important to keep them watered thoroughly when they reach the home. In the first week, a Christmas tree in the home will consume as much as a quart of water per day to prevent them from drying out. Live Christmas trees are involved in less than one-tenth of one percent of residential fires, and mostly when ignited by some external ignition sources. The major factors involved in Christmas tree fires are electrical problems, decorative lights, candles, and a heat source too close to the tree.

93% of real Christmas tree consumers recycle their tree in community recycling programs, their garden or backyard. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs. Recycled real Christmas trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers and been placed in ponds for fish shelter. Cook County, IL uses old Christmas trees to rebuild housing structures for natural wildlife that has been destroyed through development.

You should not burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace as it can contribute to creosote buildup. However, it can be burned in a brush pile for fertilizer. When placed outside in the backyard it can naturally decay while providing a habitat for numerous small creatures, birds, and mushrooms. It can be ground up in a chipper and used for mulch. Also, they can be chopped up and crafted into any number of wooden objects, such as boxes and jewelry.

Artificial Trees
Artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century and later became popular in the United States. These “trees” were made using goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to wire branches. The wire branches were then wrapped around a central dowel rod that acted as the trunk. In the Edwardian period Christmas trees made from colored ostrich feathers were popular at ‘fashionable’ parties.

Around 1900 there was even a short fashion for white tree. In 1930 the U.S.-based Addis Brush Company created the first artificial Christmas tree made from brush bristles. The company used the same machinery that it used to manufacture toilet brushes, but they were dyed green. Artificial Christmas trees made largely from aluminum were first manufactured in Chicago in 1958. Over the years, artificial trees have been made from feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass, and many different types of plastic.

Today, most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC plastic. PVC trees are fire-retardant but not fire-resistant. Eighty percent of artificial trees worldwide are now manufactured in China. Artificial trees will last for an average six years of use, but for centuries in a landfill. They can be resold or donated when no longer of used to a home. One can also up-cycle them into small bits of greenery for other decorations.

Living Trees
A live tree can be a beautiful home accessory while serving as a decorating centerpiece for the holiday season. While there are plenty of uses for cut trees, a living Christmas tree can either be used year after year, or it can be planted in the yard to supply shade and wildlife habitat, and act as a living windbreak for decades to come.

A few things to consider before buying a living tree include: where to plant it-in a pot or yard, looking for varieties that are well-suited to one’s local climate, specific soil type, and level of sun exposure where it will eventually be placed. Different tree types required different care. If one doesn’t have a location suitable for planting a living Christmas tree, one can still buy and enjoy it during the holidays if there are friends, family, or community organizations that has a place to plant it afterward. Keep in mind that there are other varieties of trees that could be used instead of the traditional firs that can live year-round indoors, such as the Norfolk Pine.

A potted Christmas tree can be kept in its pot and moved outside to live after the holidays, and then brought inside each year for the festivities, but will require a fair bit more care than one that gets planted outside. It will dry out faster than one in the soil, so regular watering is a necessity, as is periodic re-potting to a larger container to allow for growth. And, since the roots are above ground may mean that additional protection is required in cold climates.

Before transferring the tree from different environments, one will want to allow the tree to acclimate slowly, with the general recommendation being to place the tree in an unheated but sheltered location, such as a garage, for a week or two. During this time, the roots of the tree should remain damp but not soaking, so periodic watering may be necessary. Also, a living Christmas tree is much heavier than a cut tree.

When picking the location for the tree in the home, try to choose a place that isn’t directly exposed to warm air from heaters or vents, or selectively close nearby dampers to avoid large temperature swings in that room. A cooler location is better than a warm one, and one with plenty of natural light is preferred. Water the living tree regularly according to species. Any dampness or overflow can be stopped by either placing a large saucer underneath, it or by wrapping the pot in plastic.

To water the tree slowly so that the soil can absorb it, use ice cubes. Depending on the size of the pot, anywhere from one to three trays of ice cubes can be placed on the surface of the soil, where they will melt and gradually water the tree. Covering the soil with mulch can also help keep it from drying out as quickly.

Decorate a living Christmas tree gently, and take care not to hang heavy ornaments on branches that may get damaged because of the weight. While the older incandescent Christmas lights put out too much heat to string on a living tree, many of today’s cooler LED strands can be used to light the tree, but be sure to plug them in and check the operating temperature before stringing them up.

The general guidelines on keeping a living Christmas tree indoors is to limit it to a week to ten days maximum, after which the tree should be moved back to an unheated yet sheltered transition location for at least a few days. If the ground is frozen, the tree can be moved to an outside location that is sheltered from direct winds until planted permanently. If the ground isn’t frozen, the tree can be planted outdoors as per the specific planting instructions for that variety, and the soil should be well-mulched as protection from the cold and to conserve moisture. For keeping a potted Christmas tree year-round, move it to a more permanent location with plenty of sun after the transition, where it can also benefit from a heavy mulch.

If all of this is not feasible one can always decorate a living tree that is already growing outside in one’s yard. The decorations need to be weather and wildlife friendly, such as pine cones, birdseed treats, small houses, nuts and fruits. It is within the Spirit of the Season to gift all creatures, not just fellow humans.

From Victorian times and through the early 20th century, rural Americans cut their trees in nearby forests. The tree would have been decorated with homemade ornaments made from paper, nuts, twigs, candy, and dried fruit, while the German-American sect continued to use primarily glass ornaments, apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn garlands were made after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.

Candles were used to represent stars until the invitation of the electric lights which were seen to last longer and be less of a fire hazard. Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first produced in 1890 at a cost of $300. However, many rural areas were still without electric services. Despite these setbacks Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition. In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees. The first commercially available electric string of lights, were advertised in 1903 when a string of 24 lights cost $12 or one could rent lights from $1.50. In 1917 Albert Sadacca thought of using the lights in long strings and painting the bulbs bright colors like red and green.

Tinsel and The Christmas Spider
There are stories from Eastern Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Finland and Scandinavia about how tinsel was created by the Christmas spider. In some of the tales a tree grows from a pine cone inside a house of a pauper. When the children of the household go to sleep on Christmas Eve a spider covers the tree in cobwebs. Then on Christmas morning the cobwebs are magically turned into silver and gold strands which decorate the tree. Some versions of the story say that it’s the light of the sun which changed the cobwebs into silver and gold but other versions say it’s St Nicholas.

To this day in parts of Germany, Poland, and Ukraine it’s meant to be good luck to find a spider or a spider’s web on the Christmas tree. Spider’s web decorations are also popular in Ukraine. These decorations are normally made of paper and silver wire. Beaded spiders are popular in the United States.

Tinsel is a type of decorative material that mimics the effect of ice, consisting of thin strips of sparkling material attached to a thread. Modern tinsel was invented in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1610, and was originally made of thin strips of beaten silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, other shiny metals were often substituted. It was used to represent the starry sky over the Nativity.

Before the 19th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. Eventually, it was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree. By the early 20th century, manufacturing advances allowed for a cheap aluminum-based tinsel to be made. Lead foil was a popular material for tinsel manufacture for several decades of the 20th century until 1971 when the FDA concluded it caused an unnecessary risk to children.

Today, tinsel is typically made from PVC film coated with a metallic finish. Coated Mylar film also has been used. These plastic forms of tinsel do not hang as well as tinsel made from heavy metals such as real silver and lead.

Stockings
A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that is hung on Saint Nicholas Day or Christmas Eve so that Saint Nicholas can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts when he arrives.

The first stockings were children’s everyday socks, but eventually special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose. Stockings were traditionally used on Saint Nicholas Day although in the early 1800s, and then came to be used on Christmas Eve.

While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas Stocking, there are popular legends that attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition. In some stories, the contents of the stocking are the only toys the child receives at Christmas from Santa Claus. In other stories, some presents are also wrapped up in wrapping paper and placed under the Christmas tree. Then, in others a child who behaves badly during the year is threatened that they will only receive only a piece or pile of coal. However, the gifts in the stocking is thought to originate from the life of Saint Nicholas, himself, as several folklore state.

One such legend has several variations, but the following is a good example: St. Nicholas wanted to help a poor family, but knew that the father wouldn’t accept charity. He decided to help in secret. After dark he threw three bags of gold through an open window, one landed in a stocking. When the family woke up the next morning they found the bags of gold and were, of course, overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after. Other versions of the story say that Saint Nicholas threw the three bags of gold directly into the stockings which were hung by the fireplace to dry. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so, the start of believing St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

Candy Canes
According to a folklore, in 1670, in Cologne, Germany, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral, wishing to remedy the noise caused by children in his church during the Living Crèche tradition of Christmas Eve, asked a local candy maker for some “sugar sticks” for them. In order to justify the practice of giving candy to children during worship services, he asked the candy maker to add a crook to the top of each stick, which would help children remember the shepherds who visited the infant Jesus. In addition, he used the white color of the converted sticks to teach children about the Christian belief in the sinless life of Jesus. From Germany, candy canes spread to other parts of Europe, where they were handed out during plays reenacting the Nativity. As such, according to this legend, the candy cane became associated with Christmastide. On Saint Nicholas Day celebrations, candy canes are given to children as they are also said to represent the crosier of the Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas; crosiers allude to the Good Shepherd, an epithet associated with Jesus.

A record of the 1837 Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, where confections were judged competitively, mentions “stick candy. A recipe for straight peppermint candy sticks, white with colored stripes, was published in 1844. The “candy cane” is found in literature in 1866, though no description of color or flavor was provided. The Nursery monthly magazine noted them in association with Christmas in 1874, and the Babyland magazine mentioned canes being hung on Christmas trees in 1882.

Recipes

  • Twig wreath: Willow or any other flexible twig, root, vine, straw, grass, wire, cane or stems Directions: Start to weave the wreath by bending the twig into a loop. Hook both sides to secure. Add the next twig by hooking it into the loop. Gently bend the twig and guide it in and around the loop. Tuck the end into the loop to secure Add another twig and gently bend around the woven twigs. As one weaves the wreath it becomes more secure. Let the natural curves in the twigs guide the direction of the weave. Build up the twig wreath to have a secure and strong wreath. This is a great basic wreath design and ready to decorate. (For the wreath to look windblown add a few loosely woven twigs into the weave.)
  • Old Fashioned Cinnamon Clay Ornaments: 1 cup ground cinnamon, plus one tablespoon; 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg; 1 tablespoon ground cloves; 1/2 cup white all-purpose glue; 3/4 cup applesauce Directions: Combine 1 cup cinnamon with clove and nutmeg in a medium sized bowl. Stir well then add applesauce and glue. Mix by hand to form smooth, clay-like dough. Cover and let sit for an hour. Roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. (If the clay is too stiff, an extra tablespoon of applesauce will make it more pliable. If the dough is too wet, add cinnamon to absorb some of the moisture.) Cut out holiday shapes with cookie cutters. Dust with some extra cinnamon. Add a hole in the top (or on each hand of a gingerbread man) for a ribbon with a straw or toothpick. Lift shapes carefully with a spatula and place on a parchment paper cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees F for 2-3 hours until dry and hard. Tie with a ribbon and hang on the tree or a garland. DO NOT CONSUME!
  • Old Fashioned Holiday Garland: Cinnamon Clay Gingerbread Men Shaped Ornaments (or any shape preferred); Dried apple and orange slices; Twine. Directions: Thinly slice the apples and oranges. Place the fruit slices onto a cooling rack and set the rack into a warm oven (180 degrees F). Crack the oven door so the moisture from the fruits can escape. Leave the fruit slices in the oven until they have dried completely. While the fruit is drying, prepare the cinnamon clay ornaments. When the baking sheet is full of cookies, place it in the oven with the fruit slices. When the fruit slices and gingerbread men are dry, string them along the twine in a pattern of one’s choosing. (If one’s home cannot accommodate a garland, place the dried fruit and ornaments into a bowl with a handful of cinnamon sticks for a natural, spicy potpourri.)
  • Pinecone Birdseed Ornament: Several large pinecones; Crunchy peanut butter; Birdseed; String; Scissors; Butter knife; 2 or more plates (Allergy alert: Many people have allergies to nuts. If it isn’t safe for our family to use peanut butter, you can use vegetable shortening.) Directions: Check pinecones. If they’re tightly closed up, let them sit inside the house for several days so they can “bloom,” or bake them in a 300° oven for about 10 minutes to get them to open up. Attach a length of string to the tip. Pour birdseed onto a plate. Use a butter knife to spread peanut butter all over the pinecone. Be sure to get it into all the cracks and crevices to fully coat your pinecone in peanut butter. (A separate plate will contain some of the mess.) Roll the pinecone back and forth in the birdseed to completely cover it. Once it’s covered, press the birdseed into the peanut butter and roll some more. Press the birdseed into the peanut butter to help it stick. Once your pinecone is completely covered in birdseed, take it outside and find the perfect place to hang it.
  • Bread Birdseed Ornament: Stale bread; birdseed, nut pieces; small pieces of fruit; peanut butter, cookie cutters, string, knife. Directions: Cut bread into shapes using a cookie cutter. Spread a coat of peanut butter on one side of bread. Sprinkle a mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruit onto the bread. Repeat for other side. Poke a hole in the bread and add string. Hang on a tree.
  • Beeswax Candles: Makes 2 (12 oz) candles Equipment: double boiler, stove, wooden chopstick, pencil, scotch tape, oven. Ingredients: 1 lb beeswax; ½ cup coconut oil (melted); 1-2 tbsp essential oil; medium cotton wick with wick tabs attached; wick stickers; glass jars. Directions: Pick up your wick with wick tab attached and wick stickers. Pull one of the wick stickers off the roll and place it on the wick tab, then peel the paper off the exposed side of the wick sticker. Attach the wick to the bottom center of the jar. Melt wax and oil in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, and bringing the water to a low simmer on your stove top. When the beeswax is melted, add essential oils. Stir the melted beeswax, coconut oil, and essential oils together with a wooden chop stick. Pour wax into the glass jars. Set the wick so that it’s in the center by placing a pencil across the jar and taping the wick to it. Place the candles in a warm area to harden, because if they cool too quickly the wax will sometimes crack. (Tip: Preheat oven to 170 degrees F while pouring the candles, then turn the oven off and place candles inside the oven.) Curing Beeswax Candles: Allow to cure for two days, then trim the wick to about 1/4 inch. Cleanup Tip: Since beeswax is usually difficult to remove from the item it was melted in, preheat oven to 200 degrees F, then turn it off and place the item inside. Within a few minutes, the wax is completely melted, making it easy to wipe away with paper towels. After that, just scrub with soap and water as usual. Burning Beeswax Candles: Allow candle to burn long enough so the wax melts out to the side of the jar. This helps to prevent tunneling.
  • Soy Wax Candles: Use 2 cups soy wax flakes for container candles. Follow above for beeswax, omitting the coconut oil. Cure time is overnight.
  • Peppermint Stick Candy (1921): 2 cups sugar; 1/2 cup water; l cup white corn syrup; Juice and rind of lemon; 1 teaspoon extract of peppermint. Directions: Place all together in a sauce pan. Boil without stirring until the crack stage or until a few drops become brittle in cold water. Remove from fire. Add 1 teaspoon extract of peppermint. Divide the candy in two parts and to one part add a little red vegetable coloring. Pour on buttered platters and when cool enough pull each separately then twist one around the other and form into canes sticks or cut into small pieces.

Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ
Jolene Griffiths

Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: pawpaw@thehealthpatch.com. See our blogs and podcasts at www.TheHealthPatch.com. Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!

When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Not Wonderful: A Holistic Approach to the Holidays

For many, the holidays bring family traditions, gathering of family, and sharing of gifts. But when the holidays bring more than a little stress it can often be a very difficult season. When feelings of depression and anxiety replace feelings of joy and happiness it can leave us feeling alone and isolated.

You Are Not Alone
Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from degrees of depression. For various reasons that could include a death in the family, divorce, or a change in finances, feelings of depression are deepened during the holidays. It is important to remember that we are not alone and there are steps that can be taken to make a difficult season a little lighter.

A Holistic Approach

  • Diet—Tis the season for sugar but try to limit the amount of sugar intake. Stable blood sugar can mean a stable mood.
  • Exercise—Even a gentle walk can improve mood by releasing endorphins. It can also be a time to work through the emotions.
  • Talk—Talk to someone you can trust. Talking through our feelings can help us see expectations we may be placing on ourselves. We could gain a new perspective.
  • Supplements—Taking a good multi-vitamin during times of stress can help our body from becoming depleted of important nutrition. Vitamin D is particularly helpful during the winter months when we don’t get outside as often.

Uplifting Aromatherapy
The brain has a more direct connection with the sense of smell than any other of our senses. The sense of smell is tied to the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with emotions and is responsible for alerting us to danger and creating positive or negative feelings. Different scents will determine a reaction in this emotional part of the brain which in turn affects the release of neurotransmitters. Smelling an essential oil can affect our emotional state faster than anything we can ingest. Here are some Essential Oils that can be very uplifting:

  • Frankincense—This oil is so closely related to Christmas as it was one of the gifts brought to Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus.  This oil is refreshing, uplifting and helps ease muscle tension related to stress. 
  • Myrrh—Another gift brought to Jesus, Myrrh helps a person to find inner peace and stillness when feeling anxious.
  • Patchouli—This oil is very helpful during time of over-thinking and worry.
  • Helichrysum—Very helpful when one feels emotionally stuck
  • Bergamot—Uplifting and refreshing
  • Lemon Balm—Uplifting, helping to lift depression
  • Clary Sage—Particularly helpful for women, this oil helps balance the nervous system.

Remember, it is OK if this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. You are not alone and there are proactive steps to take to help this be a more uplifting time.

Health and Blessings,
Kimberly Anderson, ND

Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: pawpaw@thehealthpatch.com. See our blogs and podcasts at www.TheHealthPatch.com. Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!

Uplift Humanity in the Holidays

I am unabashedly Christian. But I am a citizen of the world and have noted that virtually every nationality, culture, religion and human endeavor has at least one holiday this time of the year. So we’d like to think that it is both proper and desirable to use this season of the year to uplift all our brothers and sisters in this world we share together, and it should be easier this time of year to set aside our differences and celebrate our commonalities. I’ve traveled much of the world and find that when we get down to one-on-one we share many common interests: the love of food, family and fun; the desire to live in peace and pursue our dreams; a desire to enjoy, protect and care for the earth on which we share our limited span of days; and the enjoyment of sharing what we have with those around us. So this month we are spotlighting our “alikeness.” Here are some things we may consider:

Holiday foods are special in every culture. They usually include things we may only enjoy once a year. I have another blog that gives you the ingredients and preparation for Wassail or Mulled cider that we enjoy in our home. Lebkuchens from Germany are favorites; we enjoyed Baklava in Greece and Turkey; we love buttered yams and citrus fruits we get from friends from Ghana; Luqaimat (a honey drizzled dumpling) from Saudi Arabia is delightful; I enjoyed Red Papaya for breakfast every morning in Thailand; and my American list of favorites is myriad! Every country and every culture has its delights and I’m a “foody” and would love to try them all.

Because the holidays are often associated with events with family and friends, it may often be a difficult time for many as well. Those with recent losses of family members, close friends, jobs, resources, and other meaningful things in their lives may need a special lift at this time of year. You can do tremendous good by being sensitive to these folks. Visit a nursing home with just cookies and Time to Talk and Listen! My first gift to each grandchild every year is a card telling them a goat has been given to a woman in a third world country in their name. It is the most important gift I give them! Practice and teach charity as a way of life.

Learn to be a good caretaker of our planet. Make “earth-friendly” a way of life. If you use live trees, get one with roots and plant it after the holidays. If yours was cut down, chip it up after the holidays and recycle it as compost or mulch. Make edible ornaments and use them in your gatherings, or use them as gifts. And don’t forget the wildlife when you choose trees and ornaments.

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is “gifting”. Make your gifts special – match them with something meaningful or “special” for the individual. It takes time, but the time is the most special part for most of us. And while gift cards are very popular these days, try to find unique ones. Food cards may be useful and needed by many on your list, as are clothing items, but also consider things like spa services, travel allowances, store cards to help bear the burden of needed vitamins and supplements.

The greatest gift you can give at ANY time of the year is “LOVE’ – and we spell that T-I-M-E! Life is busy; time is precious; and time, once spent, is not recoverable. Make every minute count and show others how important they are to you by gifting them with your very precious time.

For more ideas on this subject check out our staff blogs for this month on our website. Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.

Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: pawpaw@thehealthpatch.com. See our blogs and podcasts at www.TheHealthPatch.com. Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!

Super Spices

spicesSpice up your life! Doesn’t that conjure up exotic thoughts of passion and that “something special” about adding a new dimension to your life? Interestingly, the whole idea of spices is to add that something special. Food can be just nourishment to keep us alive, but add some spices and turn the meal to pure joy! There are thousands of spies; here are some of my favorites.

Cinnamon is listed in most texts as one of the spices that spurred world exploration. Studies conducted by Japanese researchers have shown that it contains a substance that is both anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. It helps to control virulent outbreaks by many microorganisms including the one that causes botulism and staphylococcus. Historically it has been used for treating bronchitis, arthritis, diarrhea, stomach upset, fever, nausea, parasites, rheumatism, and vomiting. Besides, don’t you just love hot cinnamon apples on a cold winter day?

The Spaniards introduced Ginger to the Americas in the 16th century. It is known to inhibit an enzyme that causes cells to clot and, as such, help to prevent “little strokes”. It helps to relieve nausea, to relieve congestion in the sinus cavities, to warm blood vascular stimulation, to treat sore throats, and as a body cleanser. Herbalists have long recommended it as a regulator of blood cholesterol and to improve blood circulation. In China, ginger is used for bronchitis, flu, and the first stages of the common cold. And at the table, it adds a special zing to some otherwise bland cuisine.

Herbalists have used Clove for centuries to cure nausea and rid the stomach and intestine of gas. Its essential oil is today one of the most effective pain relieving agents used by dentists and has broad-spectrum antibiotic properties. It also helps relieve bad breath, poor circulation, dizziness, nausea, and dysentery. Oh, by the way, it is also said to increase sex drive (just what you need on those cold winter nights!).

Star anise adds the delightful flavor of licorice. It was used by the Romans to provide a delightful palette and to help prevent indigestion from overeating. And today it is a popular addition to cough syrups, mouthwashes, candies, and bakery goods. It is a cell stimulator for the heart, liver, brain, and lungs, and its volatile oils can be helpful for treating bronchitis, spasmodic asthma, and emphysema. It can also be used for colds, coughs, indigestion, excessive mucus, pneumonia, loss of appetite, and stimulating most of the glands.

Oregano was named by the Greeks and means “joy of the mountain.” Technically it is wild marjoram. While its aromatic influence is to strengthen the feeling of security, it has anti-viral qualities. It may aid the body in balancing metabolism and is useful as a tea for coughs, stomach and gallbladder problems, and menstrual pains. “Oregano has also been used for nervous headaches, irritability, exhaustion, and as a sedative. It is thought to prevent seasickness. It can be applied externally for swelling, rheumatism, and a stiff neck. Chewing on an oregano leaf provides temporary relief for a toothache.”

“Basil was said to have been found growing around Christ’s tomb after the resurrection, and some churches use basil to prepare holy water while others set it around their altars. The Indians swore their oaths upon this herb.” Its aromatic influence is reported by many to help one have an open mind. “Basil is food for the brain. When you feel victimized or criticized, eat some basil.” Basil also works as an antidepressant, is helpful for nervous exhaustion and mental fatigue is anti-viral in its use against the flu and helps to relieve itching and ringworm. It may also be used for indigestion, kidney and bladder problems, headaches, cramps, and constipation. And in Africa, it is used to expel parasitic worms.

These and many other have medicinal value. That can sound dry and clinical, but they also just add joy to our lives. Isn’t that what makes them “Super Spices?” And that is a blessing.

– Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: pawpaw@thehealthpatch.com.

Spicy Holidays

spices, spicy, holiday, turkeyBecause of all the recent interest in herbs for medicinal purposes, many of us forget that “herbs and spices” were first thought of as a cooking term. But it is especially wonderful at this time of year to stop and think about how the herbs and spices that we use in our holiday treats make them special for us. An exhaustive treatment of this subject would require books, but here I’ll present a few of my favorites. Much of the information is from a couple of my favorite books on the subject: Dr. Jack Ritchason’s Little Herb Encyclopedia and Hanna Kroeger’s Spices to the Rescue.

A friend from Puerto Rico gave me the recipe for my favorite way to fix a turkey for the holidays. And therefore we just call it “Puerto Rican turkey”. It is spicy and the skin is “hot” and zesty. Finely chop several cloves of garlic. Add them to one-fourth cup of each of the following: black pepper, oregano, and basil. Add to this mixture one-cup of raw Apple Cider Vinegar and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. This will form a paste when can be rubbed all over the turkey including the inside cavity. Then bake the turkey as you normally would. Your kitchen will smell like heaven and your taste buds will certainly be prepared for the feast to follow.

Why are we attracted to the wonderful taste of these spices? I think it is just one of the ways that God has of drawing us to some nutrients that are really beneficial to us. Look at the health benefits from just the ingredients in this one recipe.

Black pepper cures and prevents many diseases. “It is a digestive aid, relieving gas, and has been used as a tea for running bowels. It is good for constipation, nausea, vertigo, and arthritis. It is a diuretic and a stimulant. Black pepper is loaded with chromium which is needed for proper functioning of the pancreas and heart.” You can also sprinkle a bit of it on some honey and eat it to help alleviate infected sinuses.

Oregano was named by the Greeks and means “joy of the mountain”. Technically it is wild marjoram. While its aromatic influence is to strengthen the feeling of security, it has anti-viral qualities. It may aid the body in balancing metabolism and is useful as a tea for coughs, stomach and gallbladder problems, and menstrual pains. “Oregano has also been used for nervous headaches, irritability, exhaustion, and as a sedative. It is thought to prevent seasickness. It can be applied externally for swelling, rheumatism, and a stiff neck. Chewing on an oregano leaf provides temporary relief for a toothache.”

“Basil was said to have been found growing around Christ’s tomb after the resurrection, and some churches use basil to prepare holy water while others set it around their altars. The Indians swore their oaths upon this herb.” Its aromatic influence is reported by many to help one have an open mind. “Basil is food for the brain. When you feel victimized or criticized, eat some basil.” Basil also works as an antidepressant, is helpful for nervous exhaustion and mental fatigue, is anti-viral in its use against the flu, and helps to relieve itching and ringworm. It may also be used for indigestion, kidney and bladder problems, headaches, cramps, and constipation. And in Africa, it is used to expel parasitic worms.

We could write books (and some have!) about the health benefits of garlic. Helping both the physical and mental bodies, “garlic has been prized by healers for more than 5,000 years. Pyramid builders and Roman soldiers on long marches were given a daily ration of garlic. Garlic is so strong an antibiotic that the English purchased tons of it during World War I for use on wounds. Journals of that period state that, when garlic was used on wounds, there were no cases of sepsis. It is a world-renowned cure-all and home remedy in practically every culture. Today even orthodox medicine accepts its healing powers.”

And if we follow the advice of Dr. Paul C. Bragg, perhaps the best-known advocate of daily use of apple cider vinegar, we’ll use vinegar in many tonics several times each day. He espouses its benefits to the digestive and circulatory systems, the bowel, and certainly the mind.

These are only a few of the spices we may find in our pantries and cupboards. We use them to prepare special dishes all the time. But we probably take for granted the wonderful health benefits they give to us. Perhaps, like my family, you may enjoy a Puerto Rican turkey this holiday season. Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.

– Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: pawpaw@thehealthpatch.com. See our blogs and podcasts at www.TheHealthPatch.com. Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!