22 Dec 2013

Advent IV - Christmas is nearly here

We lit the last candle on our Advent wreath.  The middle candle represents Jesus as the Christ-light which helps us in our family to remember what Christmas means to us when we're enjoying the Christmas festivities.
Tomorrow our local grandchildren will be over as we shall be looking after them some of the time during the school holidays, as usual.  Hopefully, we'll be able to get out and about with them. Below is their Advent calendar and their home-made cards in a corner of our home. Our children will be with us at different times over the holidays and we're also looking forward to seeing a sister-in-law and her husband who are coming over from Italy to stay with their son and family.

Mary, Joseph and the babe, Jesus
(taken 2012 before the reconstruction work
in Sheffield Anglican Cathedral)

20 Dec 2013

York: the historic centre at Christmas

Yesterday I went into our city centre to do my last lot of Christmas shopping although I always try to avoid the Christmas crowds as much as possible so I didn't stay long. Do you like to shop in a covered mega centre where everything can be found under one roof or do you enjoy browsing and buying from small outlets and craft fairs?
Last year in early December I went with a group of ladies to York, travelling by coach so all the photos are from that trip. Travelling by train or a special coach is the best way to get into a city centre rather than car these days as most have pedestrian only shopping areas and the park and ride option can be a convenient alternative, but with expensive charges.
York is only a short train journey away for me so hopefully I'll go there more often in the new year.

18 Dec 2013

Christmas trees past and present

I decided that I would like a Christmas tree with roots this year so off we went to our two local nursery garden centres to have a look and choose one.  At the second nursery the trees were priced individually with all the labels and instructions which I thought was a good thing and the above is the one we chose.  It's a Nordman Fir and quite small and bushy so I've not decorated it with all the usual ornaments I had stored away, but a lot of vintage glass baubles instead. I haven't used many of these since our pet cat became part of our family!

Here's Gino in 2011 as a kitten taking a great interest in the ornaments and, like all active kittens, he used to hook the balls off the tree when we weren't looking.  Now he's more interested in going straight to his favourite cushion, curling up and sleeping and unlikely to bother with the tree.

Below are some of the baubles and other decorations on this year's tree. The ones with the painted flowers are very pretty.

I like seeing the Christmas lights and decorations in a town, but there's something special about those that are put up locally. This Christmas tree has been planted on the village green down in the valley near where we live and it looks pretty when the little twinkling lights are on in an evening.

In Italy, at least in my husband's village, there isn't a tradition to decorate the home for Christmas as we do elsewhere.  Each country has it's own traditions and the Nativity Crib is still the central focus. Some families decorate an evergreen tree that's already growing in the garden and here lies a cautionary tale which we will think about when we choose where to plant our own newly acquired little fir tree.


In the early 1990s our Italian front garden was just becoming established after we installed the well and had a better supply of water. For our first Christmas (when we were living there with our son who was on a gap year before going to university) we decided to buy a northern spruce tree to use indoors as a Christmas tree. It then got planted in the new year.  We also planted some olive trees, a front hedge, rose bushes, fruit and nut trees in one corner and a row of cypress trees.

As you can imagine, all the trees have shot up and are in need of constant pruning and trimming. The photo below was taken in 2005 and the little Christmas tree has grown tall and sturdy. That corner of the garden is like a small wood of persimmon, walnut and hazel trees and it's where I can hang a hammock as a place to rest and read in a shady place. 

We have a big plot of land in Italy so there's plenty of room for trees to grow and spread out away from the house, but that's not the case in our English garden so we shall be thinking about where we plant our present fir tree and the magnolia that was a gift from our daughter (which is still in a pot). Hopefully the Christmas tree will survive the Christmas holiday period indoors and do well when planted out.

15 Dec 2013


Advent is a door into a place where everyone is welcome.
This Advent may we be assured of acceptance
as we enter once more into the wonder of salvation's story.
'Families Worldwide' Mothers' Union resource for prayer and action


Christmas is a gift of love wrapped in human flesh
and tied securely with the strong promises of God.
It is more than words can tell,
for it is a matter of the heart to receive, believe and understand.
Source unknown

12 Dec 2013

Certosa di Trisulti: The Nativity Crib Scene


When we visited the Charterhouse in the mountains at Trisulti in the Summer we went into the church which is situated in the courtyard of a papal palace of Innocent III (the pope who gave his blessing so that Francis of Assisi, the humble man of vision, could continue with his work as a friar preaching the gospel of love, justice and peace; demonstrating the way of Christ to the church and society in general).
A baptismal service was taking place at the time and many of the side chapels and adjoining rooms were open.


In the courtyard the shepherd boy placard indicates the open door into a semi-darkened room where there's an illuminated Nativity Crib set in a village with scenes and figurines of country folk who are engaged in a traditional way of life and working on different crafts. Some of the models are moving so it's a dynamic and endearing permanent display that has been there for many decades.
The nativity scene or il presepio was first introduced by Francis of Assisi on Christmas Eve of A.D. 1223 when the people of Gubbio in Italy created a living nativity scene in the woods and Francis preached the joyful message of the birth of Jesus Christ - 'the child of Bethlehem'.


10 Dec 2013

Advent II

Another Advent candle was lit on our advent wreath on Sunday.
I've enjoyed seeing all your beautiful decorations around your homes in preparation for Christmas.

We've been concentrating on some maintenance work outside.  Now that the weather has improved after the storms of last week we've been washing down the garden slabs and the covered yard. Some fence panels have fallen down that separates our daughter's back garden from the allotment and it will take some time and effort to repair them and put them up again as the land is on a slope with steps down to the vegetable plot.

We haven't started decorating our rooms for Christmas yet apart from having a lot of candles around. I think the pot plants look pretty especially as they've started to flower again!  I'm going to keep things simple this year, although I shall enjoy decorating the Christmas tree by the end of the week with all the baubles and other decorations that have been collected over the years.

The stored pears are just right for eating now and half of them have been bottled and will be enjoyed over the next few weeks. They turned out to be a different variety than we thought we had got when we bought the tree a year or two ago - probably Bartlett from the shape and texture - so we're pleased with the outcome and the amount and soundness of the produce this year.

6 Dec 2013

The feast of St. Nicholas - a children's festival

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas who was born in Patara, part of present-day Turkey, who became a Christian bishop and is believed to have died on the 6th December 343.  Stories of his work for the poor and legends about him spread far and wide and he became known as the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift giving. In Holland he continues to be an important figure and the children put out their shoes the night before the 6th December in the hope that St Nicholas (Sint Nikolaas or Sinter Klaas) will leave gifts for them. In America Sinter Klaas became Santa Claus (the modern day Father Christmas).
Because St. Nicholas was such a popular saint in Europe until the Reformation in the 1500s many old churches and chapels are dedicated to him.

St. Nicholas' Church in High Bradfield is one of them. There was an Advent service there yesterday afternoon with an invitation to local women's groups as part of the patronal festivities, but since 87 m.p.h. gales were being recorded up there and being relayed to the local news programmes I decided not to go. Apparently High Bradfield felt the full force of the wind - the strongest gales in the area, which is not surprising being so high up and exposed to the elements. Thankfully, the weather has calmed down.

The chapel in Haddon Hall, Derbyshire has wall paintings including some in the chancel that illustrate incidents associated with the life of St. Nicholas - resurrecting three children and calming a storm at sea. St. Nicholas was associated from early times with the chapel.  The 'chapel of St. Nicholas' was mentioned in a marriage settlement of 1180.

Anyway, coming back to present-day festivities as we approach Christmas I've included a collage of the chocolate figures that our grandson no. 2 has been making ready for packaging for the chocolate shop, patisserie and cafe owned by a family friend in the south west of England and where a grandson no 3 sometimes works, although he has less time now that he's a trainee chef in a local hotel restaurant. In the bottom photo you can see some milk chocolate St. Nicholas figures, but I wonder how many shoppers will associate these with the popular Father Christmas? I've been told that a huge Father Christmas has been made which will be sold and the proceeds will go to a local charity.  
Below are some more of the chocolate work creations that are made on site and displayed in the patisserie shop window.