Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Embracing Change... While Preserving Tradition

All of us derive our value systems and rituals from a plethora of traditions passed to us largely through nurture. That is to say that from our very beginnings, we are basically formed products... of our parents' cultural, religious, moral principles and background. For the most part, we generally embrace and practise traditions formulated from these experiences for most of our entire lifetime. Such a practice conveys a sense of uniqueness in our identity... a sense of belonging and a stronger feeling of permanence in our lives. When we marry, or choose a life partner and perhaps begin our own families hopefully, the traditions of each partner will be blended to create a new tradition which honours important aspects of each side. There exists no greater example of the strength of such tradition than the fast-approaching celebration of "Christmas" in the North American Christian-Judeo tradition.

While many of us choose to celebrate this tradition in the Americas, there is currently much controversy afoot as to the "political correctness" of terms and rituals associated with this Christian tradition. It seems to me, that for most of us, we simply would agree to share a common view that one should be entitled to choose to celebrate... or not celebrate "Christmas" in the manner to which we are accustomed. My choosing to call my own celebration "Christmas"... intact with Christmas card exchange... a Christmas Tree... singing familiar Christmas carols and sharing a Christmas turkey with my family and closest friends is my tradition. I look forward to... and celebrate it quietly within my home with Joy and great pleasure. It is quite simply "High Mass" in the Sherman year of many rituals and traditions. This is not to be seen as a judgement of others... nor is it a manifesto. It is merely intended as another opportunity to share my life and the family blessings that I enjoy with my readers and  blogging Friends.

"The Gathering of the Green"

Project One - Christmas Garlands

This tradition created in my childhood home by my Mom remains "ever.... green" in my own Christmas rituals. It was the early precursor that lead us gleefully into our actual Christmas festivities. I am unaware of any evidence that this practice is continued today in the homes and lives of any of my siblings. Here is a brief description of the ritual as it began... and pictures to show how I continue to practise and enjoy the ritual in my own fashion. Even Deb is excluded (by her own choice) in accomplishing the activity. Quite frankly,  I enjoy completing this ritual under my own steam. It perhaps is my own version of the Advent Calendar tradition...  practised by many children and their family members beginning December 1st in many homes. Mine does not (thankfully) involve chocolate... but derives firstly from my entering the woods to gather two types of specific evergreen species to be used to complete the two pre-Christmas activities. The first species is an evergreen runner which we call creeping cedar. It is found on the floor cool, damp and shade of forested areas... usually in the company of white pines and spruce. Here is a  picture of it as it grows in its forest habitat. It too... prefers quiet and solitude!


 One must go to gather it before frost has frozen or it cannot be harvested. We usually harvested after church  in late November and kept our harvest in black garbage bags in the garage or in a cold storage area. One simply grabs one part of the creeping vine and gently breaks the vine. Little by little, the vine which is lightly embedded just below the surface of the leaf and needle-strewn loamy soil of the forest floor. If one extricates it slowly and methodically... one can create long and unbroken lengths which make perfect real green garlands which remain green throughout the entire Christmas season.

My mother created a challenge for our group to see who could pull the longest chain. She always added more enthusiasm and a creative challenge to us in all things we did together. Later, we would weave these lengths into longer garlands that could be inter woven and  used to decorate newel posts and the stairwell... or attractively along the length of the the fireplace mantel. Artificial poinsettia can be interspersed easily and provide that traditional Christmas green and red combination. Here is a picture of our stairwell circa Christmas 1959. Pictured are my beloved maternal Scottish Grandparents... Andrew and Christina Birrell. Don't they look "brolly"... and infinitely... deeply in love? They were generous ... loving souls... and remain much a part of my current life and my Christmas thoughts!



Here is our outside patio staircase railing this season... ready to welcome "Islesview" Christmas visitors


Project Two - Christmas Wreaths

The second evergreen variety we harvested each Christmas... I call "Princess Pine". I learned where to find it and about its decorative use at Christmas from my caretaker friend Bob at Front of Yonge School in nearby Mallorytown. I then brought it into my family's decorating tradition. This wee plant derives its name from the fact that it strongly resembles a miniature version of a favourite and traditionally used scotch pine fir. At its tip it has a greenish-yellow spike when it is fully mature... not unlike the top of most pruned Christmas tree varieties. It can be easily removed and again stored in a cool place in black garbage bags so it doesn't dry out.

The plant is used to create long lasting wreathes. A wire coat hanger is first bent into a completely circular wreath shape and this forms the base for attaching this greenery. Three to four strands of this wee tree are bundled to form a bunch with one common step. It is then wired to the base by wrapping this bundle snugly to the coat hanger using florist's wire, or thin copper wire from electrical motor windings. Either are easily acquired and the green coloured florist's wire is available from most craft shops for a very reasonable price. This act is repeated until the wire coat hanger is completely covered,. Bows and other decorations of choice can be also purchased at most good crating shops at reasonable prices... to fit ones whims and tastes.

Pictured here are the results of this year's foray. I discovered the source while painting en plein air at The Eagle Point Winery at the Harvest Paint Out in early October. I was unable to get sufficient amounts of the Princess Pine to create two entire wreathes from that species alone. So I unincorporated what I had remaining for the second wreath with bundles formed from cuttings taken from the remaining creeping cedar strings. This blend actually created quite a dense and unusually attractive blend for the wreath... so it might well become the new traditional wreath... to be handed on to the Allison to carry forward and teach.


Here is a wreath in progress. Note the coat hanger base and pile of yet to be attached  individual strands at the  upper left

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Here is one of the competed wreaths simply but colourfully decorated. NO real expense... and the joyful experience of creating your very own Cheery Christmas decorations!



This is the view of our deck and bay window. Note my use of one tired single snowshoe... recycled for a "second chance" as a Christmas installation. Check out yard sales and flea markets. These can be found everywhere... in cold...snowy Canada! HA HA!!.... MUSH!!!




Stay tuned! Later in the week I will share further traditional Sherman family Christmas activities as they unfold. Art can be expressed in so many more ways than framed paintings on a wall. In our family... young and old can join in to create the festive fabric of our Christmas celebrations.I am most happy to share it with each of you who might be interested!

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....".... in Rockport Ontario!

Good Painting!... and Season's Greetings to ALL!!!

9 comments:

  1. Oh how beautiful Bruce!! I love Christmas and those who make it merry seem to enjoy it as much as I do. I am not sure how, but I never managed to instill that love of the holiday into my own kids. I still get excited for the holidays each and every year and it is so nice to know that at least one other enjoys it as much as I do.

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  2. Hi Bruce thank you for your most informative post about Christmas decorations. I was wondering how you prevent the wreath from drying out, as there doesn't seem to be any moisture or oasis ring to keep the plant moist. I was admiring some lovely table decorations using holly, soft pine, pine cones and a candle. There would have been some more greenery in there perhaps ivy.

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  3. Good morning Sherry!... It brings me great joy to share the wonder and beauty of the Christmas Season with "Those"... who continue to believe!

    You might be surprised how deeply your own sense of wonder and Christmas joy are actually presentr in your children and their traditions. Stay tuned... and watch!

    The greatest gift and pleasure of Christmas for "Me"... has always been in the sharing and making part of it. No one can diminish that flame if you keep it alive... as you do throughout the entire year Sherry!

    Merry Christmas to "You" and yours!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

    PS Keep an eye out for the mailman!

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  4. Good morning Lass!...Thanks for dropping by and for adding your comments!

    These two particular evergreen varieties do not dry out for several weeks when used inside... for months when used outside. They seem by their nature to retain the moisture... or to derive more through the atmosphere. That is the main reason that I use them. Simply no watering... little drying out... no fuss... no mess!

    Merry Christmas to "You"... and Yours Caroline!
    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  5. Greetings laddie! I wonder if your home is kept at a cool temperature. I would think warm dry air would not be a good idea. Our home is quite cool so I may well think about trying to make a similar Scottish version, I have found an old coat hanger!

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  6. Hi there Lass!... While our house is hot at a hot house level... it is warm and comfortable in our living quarters. The fact is... that these two particular evergreen varieties do indeed dry out somewhat indoors... they remain green for the entire Chrtistmas Season... and beyond!

    Good luck with your Scottish version... I look forward to possibly seeing it!

    Merry Christmas Lass!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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  7. Dear Bruce, a big THANK YOU for your recent visit to my blog. Your comments were very, very much appreciated. At times I question what I am doing but I always seem to feel the need to push the envelope .......which doesn't always work! Your supportive words were exactly what I needed.
    I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2014!

    Helen

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  8. Dear Helen!... Thank you ever so much for visiting and leaving your uplifting comment! I pleases me greatly the the few well deserved words that I left you offered you encouragement to continue your fine work!

    At times we all feel that we aren't making headway. It is the bane for all artists! Having the support of our peers is a great blessing. I believe that to be as important as actually creating art. Sharing and caring is a part of the obligation we must offer to create our art legitimaely as expression.

    Merry Christmas to you! May 2014 offer many new painting ideas and prosperity to you!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,
    Bruce

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