The color red symbolizes steadfast faith. Some Christians believe it represents Christ’s blood. But the cardinal inspiration I’m talking about isn’t from the Catholic church — it’s from those eye-catching red birds that perk up winter’s indeterminate grey, like a spark of hope in darkness.
When faced with challenges like enduring the winter cold, the cardinal bird chooses to sing a lovely song. It stays strong and positive, exhibiting persistence and grace.
I am increasingly convinced that Mother Nature guides us by offering her own Divine space to us as a spiritual well. We simply need to open our eyes to see, accept, and contemplate her generosity.
Such is the case with the red cardinal.
Some believe the cardinal encourages us to “find our life song,” to create new ways to love our life and show our gratitude for it.”
Others say the cardinal warns us to be mindful of our thoughts and what we are creating. Are we continually replaying past hurts, thereby deepening the groove of misery (and setting the stage for more to come), or are we choosing to be at peace in the present moment? It may be helpful to visualize that red stop sign when these negative thoughts occur.
Many cultures believe cardinals are messengers from someone who has passed.
Five years ago on the morning of New Year’s Eve, my dear friend Mary died from breast cancer. A lover of nature and all animals, Mary encircled her home in the woods with numerous bird feeders. On the day of her memorial a red cardinal held vigil at the window to the room where Mary passed in her home. We believed it was telling us that Mary’s spirit lives on.
Others have had similar experiences. How ’bout you? Do you have your own story of a symbolic message a cardinal carried into your life?
Starring the close of each year and darkest, darkest night, the Poinsettia’s striking winter appearance hails worldwide wishes of generosity and good cheer.
A Plant of Many Miracles…
Rooted around miracles and the power of love, Mexican legend paints a heartwarming story around the Poinsettia. While details vary, it’s essentially about a meager child having nothing to offer the baby Jesus except some roadside weeds. Once placed on the Christmas Eve altar, however, they miraculously transformed into brilliant redand green flowers. Can you imagine witnessing the unfolding of such beauty, like the ugly duckling turned swan, or springtime buds bursting into bloom? You know, it’s how your heart feels when overflowing with love. How you feel when giving (or receiving) from the heart.
Exemplifying the giving season, Poinsettias achieved stardom once sold under the botanical name Euphorbia Pulcherrima. Nearly 70 million plants now sell from Thanksgiving to Christmas, generating $250 million in sales.
Today, more than 100 varieties of Poinsettias range from burgundy to red, salmon to apricot, yellow to cream and white, and solid to marbled, not to mention the dyed blue and purple ones or those speckled with glitter.
The United States commemorates December 12th, the date of Poinsett’s death, as National Poinsettia Day.
As much as I love gardening, and can rarely bear discarding any broken plant stems (several cuttings are rooting on my windowsill now), I admit I never gave Poinsettia’s their proper care. Sure, I didn’t toss them after the holidays when their bracts (often called flowers) fell, and a few hung around awhile as green house plants, but I didn’t keep them in total darkness so they would turn red for the holidays next year — a process Certified Nursery Consultant, Rick LaVasseur calls photoperiodism. A process I call a miracle if I remember to do it.
Also known as the Christmas Eve Flower or Flowers of the Holy Night, some Christians symbolize the plant’s shape as the Star of Bethlehem which guided the Wise Men to Jesus, and the red color as the blood of Christ.
Love the way holly’s distinctive green leaves and vibrant red berries adorn your holiday table, especially under candlelight? Then you better wait close to its show off date to bring it indoors. This robust winter beauty begins to shrivel in the heat. And if you are superstitious at all, wait until Christmas. Legend has it that it’s bad luck to bring holly into the house beforehand…or removed before Epiphany Eve on January 5th.
Of course there are some who avoid these problems altogether by decorating with artificial holly which doesn’t wilt but contributed to the economical decline of small town Milton, Delaware.
Holly is What You Make it…
Once claimed to be the holly capital of the world, Milton thrived in wreath-making businesses from 1920-1950 when holly grew wild and abundantly in Sussex County. (Two men could pick enough holly each day to make 450 wreaths.) When state resident Charles C. Jones, Sr. began shipping holly wreaths and products, Delaware became the leading supplier of holly nationwide; and in 1939 Delaware named American Holly (Ilex Opaca) as its official state tree.
This cash crop was short-lived though and by the 1960’s Delaware’s commercial holly industry died. The introduction of industrialized production, plastic wreaths, wage laws for piecework businesses, and development depleted much of Milton’s holly groves. Sadly, the only holly harvesting in Delaware today is in backyards. Hmmm…an early lesson in conservation…
…And What You Believe it to Be
If you don’t live in Delaware, any idea why you decorate for the holidays with holly? Is it simply a standard at this time of year? The lively colors? Perhaps it’s family tradition, religious symbolism, or superstition from long ago.
Believed to have magical powers, Druid’s hung holly in homes for good luck and protection. Cutting down a holly tree was considered bad luck.
Christians associate holly’s red berries to blood spilt by Christ, and its prickly leaves to Jesus’ crown of thorns.
Romans connected holly to Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest, and decorated with it during the popular Saturnalia festival. Originally a two-day event beginning on December 17th, changes in the Roman calendar extended the celebration to December 25th, near the date and time of the winter solstice.
Scottish tradition placed an ivy leaf in a bowl of water on Hogmany (New Years Eve). If the leaf remained fresh and green until January 6th (Little Christmas) a good year was forecast; if it withered with black spots, ill-health would come. Hopefully, the house was cool…
Considering holly’s prickly leaves as masculine and ivy’s smooth leaves as feminine, pre-Christian parades costumed a boy in holly leaves and a girl in ivy to bring Nature through the darkest part of the year and re-emerge for another year’s fertility.
Some believe the household will be dominated for the coming year by the gender of either the holly (prickly or smooth) or the person first bringing it into the house.
Who brought the holly home at your house— was it Mom or Dad? Are you thinking of offering to bring it home this year? Before you do…
In heraldry, holly symbolizes truth. So when you say, “Honey, I’ll pick up the holly this year,” will you tell them why?
Better yet, decorating with both prickly and smooth (aka he and she) holly is said to create a very balanced and harmonious year for the household. Makes sense to me. Why not get them together, make some luscious hot chocolate while decorating, then snuggle by the fire?
Mixed Nuts What do you think about when you think about squirrels? Ravaged bird feeders? Acrobatic acts? Rabies? The park? Nuts? Well, yes, nuts. That also comes to mind when I think about the December holidays.
Not just the type of nuts we eat — like roasted chestnuts, walnuts on that sumptuous apple pie, or honey coated peanuts in the snack dish, but nuts as in gathering frantically like a squirrel, and nuts as in foolishly excessive holiday behaviors. It’s a bountiful season for sure, but will it fill us up or leave us feeling exhausted, robbed and empty?
Filling Up More than Stockings Each of us can choose to step back and celebrate in simpler, more meaningful ways. You can create a holiday celebration of choice and one that enriches, rather than depletes, you or loved ones — physically, emotionally, and financially. Take time to think about what Christmas really means to you.
Is it that important to try and create the perfect Christmas of yesterday, or a happier one now? If so, dig deeper and ask yourself why.
Will taking on additional activities amidst an already crammed schedule affect your ability to give others your undivided, in-the-moment attention…or leave you feeling distracted, tired and resentful?
Is it worth it to over-spend, searching for an ideal gift when expectations and disappointments often cancel out efforts of holiday goodwill?
Are your actions obligatory or from the heart? Compulsory sentiments and gifts noticeably lack holiday cheer for both the giver and receiver.
Will you honor your self-care with adequate rest, nutritious foods, exercise, asking for help, and being financially responsible? Or will you set yourself up to sour your holiday mood?
Do your actions make sense? Do they seem a little nuts to you? Be honest.
Enlist Creativity If you own a bird feeder, you’ve witnessed a squirrel’s analytical creativity accessing it — including those supposedly “squirrel proof” feeders. Be as innovative.
If others are involved, ask each person to select the one thing about the holidays that makes their heart sing. Avoid the inner critic’s beleaguering to add just one more thing then another because you’ll be right back to the overload you tried to lighten. Determine what is absolutely necessary then sew those pieces together to broaden smiling faces around a more joyful holiday. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover it’s not a holiday of lack but one of overflowing abundance from the spirit within.
Apply Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s sentiment to the holidays… “Once you identify your deepest intention, you have a chance to be true to yourself, to celebrate the kind of holiday you’d like to have, and to be the kind of person you’d like to be.”
Trudging through Tradition Several years ago I happily exchanged some traditional activities for what means most to me. Quieter gatherings, tuning in to nature and the gifts she generously offers day in and out, gladden my spirit. (This is not to say I don’t host or attend holiday parties. But I keep them manageable, not falling prey to Madison Avenue’s message that I must decorate my house with a thousand lights, bake cookies, and overextend my bank account purchasing lavish gifts.)
A friend, looking frazzled and slumped in her chair, told me yesterday how overwhelmed she felt filling out 300 Christmas cards! Three hundred cards? Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed? But, was it really necessary? It’s important to connect with others and tell them how much they mean to us but if it adds a layer of stress it doesn’t make sense to me — it’s nuts.
All in a Nutshell Make the holidays what you want them to be and create cherished memories. Don’t worry or fret. Otherwise you may become like the red squirrel whose coat turned grey from stress. 🙂
By now, you know my feelings about the overuse and addictive characteristics of social media, particularly as it hampers one’s interest in human to human communication and experiencing the natural environment. I offer Christina Farr’s article in the hopes it will help those of you trying to detox and return to a more serene, content and manageable life. As a society, we do have the ability to take back our lives. Have you noticed a recent wave of people saying, “Enough is enough” and unplugging to stop the progression of anxiety, depression, chaos and confusion that social media has introduced into their lives?
While Christina offers her personal experience of attending a formal camp to unplug, you can reduce stress and create a more rich and satisfying life by asking yourself a few introspective questions like:
What is truly important to me? Personal time with friends and loved ones, or how many likes I’ve received?
If I had one day left on this planet, what would I do — would I post on social media or respond to that inner nudge to do something I always wanted to do like mountain climb or learn to play a musical instrument? What have I always wanted to do but spent my hours on social media instead?
How do I feel inside when taking a walk in nature, looking at someone in the eye and seeing their smile versus hearing constant pings on my device?
Is my time better spent helping someone through volunteer work or trying to impress and compete with the virtual lives of others?
What makes me feel content? What makes me feel anxious or depressed?
Make a list if you need to. Let it look you squarely in the eye and you’ll know what you need to do to truly live a meaningful life. Here’s how Christina handled her social media addiction:
Social media detox: Christina Farr quits Instagram, Facebook
Christina Farr used to spend 5 hours a week posting and interacting with friends on Instagram. She quit cold this summer, and her life changed dramatically for the better.
December often conjures up complaints about the cold, snow shoveling, and dangers of falling on ice, but just as often I am awestruck by winter’s beauty contrasted against a backdrop of barren starkness. And so is life. One is necessary for the other.
So, rather than more of the usual holiday hype for this month, I’m focusing instead on Mother Nature’s vivid gifts. What comes to your mind this season…?