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Happy St. Brigid’s Day!
February 1, St. Brigid’s Day, Imbolc in the Celtic calendar, and Ground Hog’s Day (Feb. 2) in the U.S., are associated with the arrival of spring. It certainly feels like spring where I am, although that might not last.
As you might know, the Irish saint Brigid is special to me. Many years ago I began to learn about her, and I thought I should tell people what I learned. Eventually this led to my historical novel. Last year I published a Kindle version. It was only available on Kindle but I will soon change that to make it available in other book formats as well. I have updated the Kindle file with better formatting, which I hope will be available by the time you read this. If you’ve already purchased it, you should be able to go upload the new updated version. Same text, just looks better. And this summer the sequel, Pages of Ireland, should be available in both print and ebook.
Why Brigid is Special
For me, it’s all the stories of her amazing generosity. The miraculous way God restored her goods–the items she gave to the poor–so that she and her followers never went without. The fact that she was born a slave and became the most venerated woman in ancient Irish history.
There are three patron saints of Ireland: Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille. She’s the only woman. And her cross? I had never seen anything quite like it before, and the story behind it intrigued me. Traditionally, school children in Ireland weave a new St. Brigid’s Day cross on this day. The cross has an odd shape, at least to the non Irish. Some say it’s shaped like a wheel and indicates the four seasons.
Learn More About St. Brigid
Here are some links to previous blog posts I’ve written on St. Brigid. I’d love to hear what you think.
Happy St. Brigid’s Day!, 2011
Happy St. Brigid’s Day, 2012
St. Brigid’s Eve (How to Weave a St. Brigid’s Cross)
St. Brigid’s Day, 2010 (Brigid’s Oat Bread recipe)
About That Sequel, Here’s a Sneak Peek!
“I am Brigid, Abbess of Cill Dara. We welcome you, traveler. You come without a torch, so we assume you seek sanctuary here. You have found it.”
Aine hadn’t realized she had been holding her breath until that moment.
Lowering the cowl from her head, the woman’s hair flowed freely in the night air.
“’Tis you, Brigid! I knew it!”
Brigid clutched the arm of the woman standing next to her as she spoke to Aine. “God be with you, child. There is welcome here for you.” She narrowed her eyes to gaze in the dim light. “Do I know you?”
“I do not blame you for not remembering. I was just a girl when you healed me on the road to Aghade. We learned to read together, remember? My Uncle Cillian taught us.”
Brigid brought a hand to her mouth. By the light of the torch held by one of Cill Dara’s sisters, Aine detected tears forming at the corners of Brigid’s eyes.
“Aine? You are so grown up now.” Brigid reached for the girl and gave her a tight squeeze.
I’ve found it helpful to keep track of the books I’ve read using Goodreads. I also do a challenge, which I did not meet this year. It was too optimistic. I would have loved to have read 55 books this year, but I only made it to 35. Goodreads also tells you the shortest and longest books you read. For me, the shortest was an ebook called How To Make a Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn and the longest, Ulyssess by James Joyce. My average length was 370 pages. The book I read that was the most popular with Goodread users was, no surprise, To Kill a Mockingbird. Surely I’ve read it before. I watched the movie, but I thought I should re-read it. I wanted to be ready for Go Set a Watchman.
A Few of My Favorite Books
Not all of what I read was released in 2015. But some were. I loved Cathy Gohlke’s Secrets She Kept! Another favorite: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Actually 2014, but it still seemed new.) I Read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins just to see what all the fuss was about. It was a very good book. For the same reason I read Go Set a Watchman, the controversial book that was kind of a new story, kind of not. And actually, for me, both of those books by Harper Lee had disappointing endings. Kind of like no ending at all. But I’m still glad I read the “new” one. She was a talented author.
And I read some oldies. Like Ulyssess. I listened to that one or I surely never would have finished it. What an odd book. Still, I can say I’ve read it now!
A surprise was Jane Kirkpatrick’s The Daughter’s Walk, published four years ago. Very good historical fiction. I love how Jane makes people who lived long ago seem like someone you’d like to know today.
Another oldie was Mariana by Susanna Kearsley, published in 1994. Very good, but really, really liked Sophia’s Secret, 2008. Very clever plot, and of course I’d love a story about a novelist. I read these because on the advice of my friend Rebecca I went to hear Susanna speak.
It Was a Good Reading Year
As usual I read a variety of things from a biography of C.S.Lewis, a work from Thomas Merton, and Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker, to a few baseball books, more clever, enjoyable novels, and few I didn’t care for all that much. I liked all of them somewhat, however, or I would not have finished them. There were some of those this year. I’ve decided life is too short, there is too much out there to read to settle for an uninteresting book.
I’m going to set my 2016 goal for 35.
What Good Books Did You Read in 2016?
How Making It Easy Works
Years ago, at the end of the calendar year, I began following the steps outlined in a book and on a web site called My One Word by Mike Ashcraft, and Rachel Olsen. I answered these questions:
- What Kind of Person Do You Want to Be?
- What Are the Characteristics a Person Like That Possesses?
- What Word Do You Choose From That List?
Pretty simple. The task does not focus on failure, which is what the making of New Year’s Resolutions does for many people. Instead, the focus is on reminding yourself of what ONE thing you can concentrate on this year to make a difference.
You Already Know What It is
I believe this is true. Maybe you want to be healthier. Maybe you want to be a better worker, more successful, more focused, more committed. Whatever it is, I believe the desire is already within you. Because I’m a person of faith, I believe God has placed that desire in your heart and mind. Choosing one word helps you focus. It reminds you of what you need to be doing this year, of what you CAN accomplish, instead of what you can’t. There will probably be many characteristics you will name in step number two above. But you only choose one.
Choosing One Word Often Comes With Surprises
Sometimes people who do this think the word will mean one thing, and it turned out to mean something different as they progressed through the year. For others the word had the meaning they expected, but they were impacted much more than they had imagined. Sometimes the work continues beyond the calendar year, but for most people who dedicate themselves to choosing a word instead of a resolution, the word inspires them and moves them forward toward becoming the person they want to be–who God wants them to be.
Have You Tried This? Will You Choose a Word?
Please let me know in the comments. My word for 2016 will be CREATE.
As most people who enjoy learning about the past, I am intrigued by past Christmas traditions. The Christmases of our ancestors were varied depending on the culture they came from. In book one of my Ellis Island series, Grace McCaffery, a recent immigrant from Ireland, must learn to prepare Christmas dinner for her American employees. Here is a excerpt from the book:
Grace muttered under her breath later in the day as she polished crystal glasses and placed them back in the dining room sideboard. Christmas Eve and she was expected to create such fancy dishes as she’d never seen before. “Spiced chutney and turtle soup and butter crème pie. How am I supposed to make those things? And why would anyone want to eat them?”
Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 165). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Grace grew up in a poor house in Ireland. Her experience with Christmas traditions was limited.
“…We didn’t much celebrate Christmas in Ireland.” She stretched the truth a bit. Some Irish folks would expect visits from Father Christmas, but Grace held few memories of holiday traditions herself. Even before the workhouse, they’d had no time for it. They went to church and roasted whatever portion of lamb their neighbors could spare. Nothing more.
Thomson, Cindy (2013-05-17). Grace’s Pictures (Ellis Island Book 1) (p. 204). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
“Nothing more.” Observing Christmas was simpler in the olden days.
Is Christmas Different Today?
Christmas is certainly commercialized today, but even back in the early 1900s, people complained. They thought too much emphasis was put on toys, too many of them in store windows. Too many? Still to come was the Christmas catalogue and lines to sit on Santa’s lap and give him our wish list. But even so, those complaints seemed to sense what was to come. It’s easy to romanticize the past, but despite how different our versions of Christmas might be, people are not all that different. We still want peace–on earth and in our homes. All the rest is just glitter and wrapping.
Families still gather together. People go to church for candlelight services. Most people who don’t work in service essential jobs like fire fighting or nursing still have the day off because it is a special day, a sacred day. That was true back in the early 1900s. It is still true today.
Grace, like the characters that follow in the next books of the series, learns that although people are different in their customs, their economic status, and social interactions, everyone wants the same thing: to be loved. As the Grinch learned in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, perhaps Christmas is about something more–something more than we tend to think it is. Perhaps, after all, it is about love.
Thanks to all of you who voted. I understand the competition was fierce. But since it was a competition between books, it was friendly. I think the other books had some great covers and are worthy of checking out.
Why a Competition?
The winner gets free exposure on several blogs, and hopefully new readers will discover the book. There is literally an ocean of new books published every year, so it’s hard to get noticed. As an author, nothing makes me sadder than to write a book no one knows about. I encourage people, whenever they find an author they enjoy reading, to write a review for Amazon, Goodreads, and Barne & Noble. And to tell their friends.
For voting and for reading! I write my stories for YOU!
I wrote this post two years ago on an older blog. It has received so much attention that I thought I’d post an updated (and better edited) version here. If you know something who might enjoy this, please pass it on.
- They came to escape poverty.
This was probably the BIGGEST reason. For the Irish, famine, particularly the Great Potato Famine–an Gorta Mór– in the 1840s to early 1850s, compelled people to seek their living in another place. Throughout the centuries there have been other seasons of failed crops and/or disastrous weather conditions that drove people to leave their homelands. If you know the year your ancestors left, look for what else may have happened during that time to get a better look at possible motivations.
They came for religious freedom.
We’ve all heard that this is why the pilgrims came to America. Many of our ancestors’ narratives passed down contain this reason. But don’t forget that in centuries past the church ran the government, so in a sense they were coming for liberty. However, religious freedom is one of our rights we cherish in America. Today we refer to this as people being marginalized. When a group of people feel that they are in the minority in terms of something that is of major significance to them, they are likely to seek a more hospitable place to live.
They came to avoid prosecution.
I’m sure that reason does not appear in any family Bibles, but the practice was feared enough at one time that the US government put in place stringent immigration rules in an attempt to avoid harboring all the world’s criminals. This did not appear to be a widespread problem at the turn of the 20th century, however, according to this paper. I’m sure there are some good stories out there, though, about folks who ran from the law.
They came because a relative was already here.
Among certain immigrant groups, like the Italians, men would often come first, get a job, earn money, and then send for their wives and children. Or older children in a family would come first and prepare the way. Many Irish girls went to America and then saved money to bring their siblings over. Some immigrants had uncles waiting to help them get a good start. I’m sure many people have stories in their families about reunions at Ellis Island and other immigrant stations. At Ellis Island, in the room where folks rejoined their families, there was a pillar referred to as “The Kissing Post” because so many loved ones had been reunited there.
They came not to stay.
This was particularly true of some Italian immigrants in the early 20th century. They brought no family, sent for no one, and came over just to work and save enough money to buy their own businesses or farms back in their native country. This was the time of the Industrial Revolution. They built the railroads, worked in mines, built the skyscrapers. America needed workers. These immigrants put up with squalid living conditions so that they could hoard as much as they could to send home to their families and to invest in businesses.
This is not a story you hear very often when you look at those tenement pictures. I’m not saying everyone who came chose that kind of life, but some did. Many used the Land of Opportunity to get a better financial footing back home. However, there were some who had planned to stay temporarily but ended up never going back.
What stories have you heard? Why did your ancestors immigrate?
The Lost Season
There’s Christmas, and then there’s the Twelve Days of Christmas, and then Epiphany. But, not yet. First, it’s Advent. The meaning of that season seems to be getting buried. Anyone else feel that way?
We once had a pastor who insisted that the music in the service be Advent music. No Away in a Manager or Joy to the World, because Advent leads up to that. Don’t get ahead of things. The hymns that we should be singing are O Come O Come Emanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. And the Baby Jesus in the manager? Nope. Not until Christmas Eve.
Who Likes to Wait?
I understand that patience is a virtue. It’s hard to wait, especially for Christmas. After all, I know what’s coming. I know the story. It’s no surprise. Let’s just celebrate! Many people are complaining about how early Christmas is observed these days. When I was a kid, we put up our Christmas tree the week before Christmas. Who does that now? No one I know, including me.
The Gift of Preparation
Most people do, however, feel a need to prepare when an event is coming up. That includes Christmas, at least the way most people usually prepare: shopping, wrapping gifts, baking cookies, planning meals, inviting guests…
But that’s not the kind of preparation I’m talking about. Advent is a season the church recognizes as a time to prepare our hearts for Jesus. True, he has already been born, died, crucified, buried, risen, and ascended into heaven. And yet by observing the religious tradition of remembrance, I find I am able to receive him anew in my heart each Christmas, IF I observe Advent and don’t rush right to the prize. By taking the time to reflect, pray, and ask myself if I were one of the people in the Biblical Christmas story, how would I respond, I am preparing myself. I think that’s a gift.
“At this Christmas when Christ comes, will He find a warm heart? Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”
― Mother Teresa,
What’s the hurry? Maybe I’m just getting old, but the pace that life seems to want to push everyone along on bothers me. I’m going to make an effort to slow down, listen, watch, and enjoy more.
What about you? Do you feel that the season rushes by faster than you’d like? What will you do differently this year?
“God is here. This truth should fill our lives, and every Christmas should be for us a new and special meeting with God, when we allow his light and grace to enter deep into our soul.”
― Josemaría Escrivá,
Conversations That Matter
No, not politics or even religion. Not currently, anyway. Holidays are often the only times we get extended family together, so you should take advantage of the opportunity to build the story of your family’s heritage and then preserve it. Here are some things you definitely should talk about.
You did not all grow up at the same time. At least I’m assuming you’ll have multiple generations present, as most people do. Did you always have turkey? Were there Thanksgiving services at the church? When did everyone start watching football? Prompting with just a few questions can ignite some stories that might have otherwise been lost.
Who Was Invited to the Dinner?
Was there a kids table? Did you ever invite the neighbors? Who was the most unique guest you’ve ever had at your table? Were there special events this time of year that encouraged generosity? Has anyone ever been on the receiving end of someone’s act of good will? Asking questions like these will give younger generations a picture of the family’s hospitality and perhaps encourage them to continue the practice.
Have You Ever Tried to Cook a Frozen Turkey?
I imagine every family has had some Thanksgiving cooking disaster. Confessing these might be humorous. On the other hand, these stories might help to show that no one’s perfect and mishaps in life happen to us all. It’s the journey that’s important.
Record the Stories
These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling, but when people start talking be sure to either write down the stories or record them on video. The time will come when seats are empty at your table. Save those stories while you can. For more ideas on conversation starters, see this article from Family Tree Magazine.
It was my third time to be interviewed on WVXU radio’s program Around Cincinnati. If you’d like to know more about Sofia’s Tune, have a listen.