Advent and Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere, Collette Leenman
Libran Press: New Zealand, 2009
Finding meaningful ways of celebrating Advent and Christmas in late spring and summer is the focus of this book. The emphasis is on using natural materials and trying to avoid the materialism which threatens to overwhelm the Christmas festival. The aim of the book is to encourage your creativity to provide a celebration which is appropriate for the Southern Hemisphere and for your own particular situation.
Leenman has synthesised her experiences as a mother, Steiner kindergarten teacher and artist, developing a new aesthetic for Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere. Suddenly, the imagery makes sense! For those of us celebrating this great festival “down under” we need to integrate the set of symbols for coherence in our environs of early summer. Of course you can now buy Christmas cards with a Santa in his togs cooking a barbie at the beach with a pohutakawa tree in flower, (which is a darn lot better than icicles and snowflakes), but for those of us wishing to translate the traditional imagery, this book delivers a fresh and nuanced angle.
The book begins with Advent and discusses the importance of this period leading to Christmas. Advent comes from the Latin ‘advenir’ meaning ‘to arrive’. Leenman shares ideas and with practical instruction, on how to enhance this period for your children by developing a sense of ‘peaceful preparation’ and ‘hopeful anticipation.’
Her ideas include,
•Developing a Nativity scene
•The four weeks of Advent and their corresponding kingdoms (mineral, plant, animal, human)
•An Advent wreath
•Seeking the Christmas star
•An Advent calendar
Another thing you could do with children during Advent, particularly towards the end, is to notice the five pointed star in nature around you. Fruits, flowers, shells etc. are all potential sources. You don’t need intellectual explanations but could simply say in passing something like, “Oh there’s another star, Christmas can’t be too far away!”
And with Christmas Leenman discusses way to decorate your tree, imagery to provide your children, the concept of Father Christmas, the giving aspect of Christmas, the imagery of bells, the shape of Christmas day itself, seasonal food ideas and ideas for celebrating Christmas outdoors whilst camping. Leenman places special emphasis on the actual imagery of the new baby (Jesus) and explains why, above all else, this should be the quintessential image to celebrate, come Christmas morning. She also shares her personal thoughts on some of the occurrences of the season which appear to be in conflict with the message of the festival – great food for thought.
Everything discussed and shared in this book, is done in the spirit of transforming the traditional images we are aware of and simply reworking them to bring clarity and coherence as to why we celebrate Christmas. The simplest image, brought beautifully into the home, may be enough to spark the feeling of the festival for yourself and your family. Her inspiration is humble in nature and is developed to enhance the beautiful simplicity of the season, something often lost entirely in our culture’s materialistic obsession with the festival. Her ideas remind us of the values of the festival and give us platforms to launch our own familial or community traditions of celebration.
The twelve days of Christmas (often referred to as the holy nights) are explored also. This period ends on January the 6th, which is called ‘Epiphany’ or ‘Three Kings Day’. For those of you with European traditions in your family (like me) you will be familiar with this day – the cake – the king – the crown!
During the last part of Advent and Christmas day we focussed on the shepherds as visitors to the Christ Child. They, with heir simple, rustic lifestyle, pure hearts and connection to the animal world have a kind of childlike quality which is appropriate for the very young child. If you have older children, the 12 days of Christmas are the right time to bring in the three kings who are more learned and wise, following the star to arrive at the Christ Child on January the 6th.
Whilst this period is usually completely overlooked (particularly as us southern folk head to the beach and celebrate the new year), Leenman simply describes some elements you might like to introduce to develop this awareness in your children. Something I truly appreciate about her work here, is that everything is created from natural and found objects. The fact we often are at the beach or away from home, holidaying with friends at camp grounds, off on a boat, or living in a caravan during this time, is dutifully factored into her suggestions, enabling us to still bring the imagery to our family whilst in the midst of summer-time fun.
This book is a wonderful place to muse on what the season can look like with complete coherence, in the Southern Hemisphere, and for a family wishing to rejuvenate their sense of Christmas. If you feel there is a deeper significance to the symbology, atmosphere and spirit of the festival and are wondering how to integrate these more consciously, then this is an extremely valuable book.
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