angel

I hadn’t realised until I started doing some research for this post, but almost every world faith has stories about angels. For me, this makes them even more incredible.

They always seem to be supernatural creatures, often having a human shape. I am used to thinking of angels as being a beautiful human with enormous feathered wings, surrounded by a divine light. I am also used to thinking of them as part of the story of the Christmas story where they deliver important messages to Mary, to tell her she is going to give birth to Jesus, and delivering news of the birth of Christ to the shepherds. Almost always in every faith, angels are there to deliver messages from God to Human Beings.

Many faiths also believe in guardian angels, appointed to look after specific people.

I drew a picture of one way of making a paper angel for you this week. I was thinking that this simple papercraft project would make nice decorations and cards and gift tags and something lovely to put on the Christmas tree.

Now that we have entered Tier 4 and we have had to adapt our Christmas plans, the idea of us all sharing angels in our homes is strangely moving. There is a story-like comfort in each of us having an angel to look after us.

Julian of Norwich was a Holy Woman who was born in 1343 and lived in Norwich. The city suffered tremendously from the Black Death and the Peasants Revolt or Great Rising, which was an uprising of the ordinary people in England who were suffering socially and financially from the after effects of the Plague and the fallout from the conflict between England and France. The reason I am mentioning Julian (or Juliana) is that she wrote a lot. One of her most famous prayers finishes like this, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” For me this is a reminder that things might feel rubbish, but there is always something good out there to fix my eyes and thoughts on.

To all of you who celebrate a faith and to those of you who follow your own path, please stay wise and strong. And let’s hope for a peaceful year ahead.

*By the way King Richard 2nd met with Watt Tyler, one of the leaders of the Great Uprising in Mile End and agreed to meet many of their demands. That makes me quite proud to live in this corner of Tower Hamlets.


pomander

Originally a pomander was a hollow sphere that had holes punctured in it. Inside the sphere were spices and herbs or ambergris, things which smelled both beautiful and strong. If you were rich, they would be made of gold or silver and they would hang on a chain from your belt, or be made very tiny to fit onto a ring. The idea of course, was to have something to hold beneath your nose or waft delicately around you to keep at bay the smells of sewage and dirt that were all around.

Nowadays, they are most often little china ornaments filled with lavender that you put in clothes drawers to make things smell fresh. But at Christmas they are something else again: an orange with cloves studded all over it in patterns and hanging from a tree or sitting on a shelf, not to keep bad smells away, but to bring beautiful festive scents into your room.

Oranges are fairly affordable now, and you can buy large bags of cloves in lots of our corner shops here in Tower Hamlets for a couple of pounds. This is a lovely thing to make in the darker winters days, the bright colours of oranges is always magical and the smell of the zest and the tang of the cloves combined are a joy. You may end up making some just for the pleasure of it, if so, they make lovely little gifts for neighbours and friends.

Despite everything, enjoy the days.


mudchutewreath

Like most of our Christmas traditions, the evergreen wreath has a long history that dates back to very early times. In Greece a wreath of greenery was awarded to a champion athlete as a prize. And in the colder European climates, evergreen branches were used to decorate the inside of houses to brighten up the long dark winters and remind people that the spring would soon be with them. So it became a sign of hope for the future, so that it made homes feel beautiful, and carried a very special message too.

In early Christian days the evergreen leaves were a sign of everlasting life and the triangular shape of a fir tree was a symbol of the trinity, the three aspects of God. Evergreen trees, the ones that we think of as Christmas trees in particular, were brought into homes in the heart of winter at this period too. It is thought that these trees were trimmed into neat triangular shapes and the off cuttings were used in decoration around the home, because the people at this time couldn’t afford to waste a scrap of anything. Sometimes they were woven into circles along with ivy and holly. These were either hung on the Christmas tree to decorate it or decked around the house or put on the front door. The colours of rich green and bright red are still with us now as a big part of our Christmas traditions, and so is the front door wreath.

If you would like to have a go at making your own front door Christmas wreath it is easier than you think.

There are lots of places, even in our cities where we can forage for holly and ivy. Cut long trails of ivy. It is these that will form the circle of your wreath. Please take sharp scissors with you to cut what you need, and no more, as neatly as you can. Remember to take gloves with you too, holly is and uncomfortably prickly thing.

Decide how big you want your wreath to be. Holding the widest and thickest end of your ivy ‘twigs’ make the size of circle that you want by making a circle of it ending in the hand that is grasping the end of the twig. Then wrap/coil the rest of the length of the twig around and around the loop of the circle. This should make the wreath shape hold onto itself. The more ivy you twist around the circle the stronger and thicker it will be.

(Some of you may have made willow crowns with us at Mudchute before lockdown. The idea is exactly the same.)

At this point you an start weaving in the holly so that the berries show from the front, you can wrap in some pine branches too, and ribbons and battery operated fairy lights, tinsel, whatever you like really. If you want to use things like pine cones or Christmas baubles you will have to tie them on with string or wire. The same goes for making a loop to hang the wreath from your front door, or you could use a big fancy ribbon.

You can make these for little or no money, and the more of them you make, the better the results will be, honestly! They might make nice gifts for friends and neighbours, seriously, you will get that good at making them if you try.

The idea that this traditional decoration came out of frugal ways of living, when everyone made their own beautiful things for their homes at Christmas is lovely. If this strange old year has taught us anything, it is that we can do amazing things, and value time, and each other. This wreath is another marker or tradition for the pattern of our lives that we can be proud to share with our children.