Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Tag: Christmas

Riding The Winter Skies

Sunset across field

In a couple of weeks it will be the Solstice – Midwinter is almost upon us! Belief in the Wild Hunt is widespread at this time of year. Here in Wales it is led by the King of the Tylweth Teg, Gwyn ap Nudd, who as psychopomp has a very particular function to fulfil. I invite you to sign up for the December Walking With The Goddess module and take your own guided journey with Gwyn across the winter skies.

Similarly, this months module gives you the opportunity to learn the functions of Mother Holly who, in similar fashion, guides her reindeer-driven sleigh through the frosty atmosphere. Both guided journeys are written out with the audio recording embedded within text so that you can experience the journey just as you wish. Mother Holly also helps to facilitate the deep healing of parental/family problems and rifts, especially where mothers and children are concerned. Try it and see – the support is provided to help you access your own innate wisdom, qualities and strength.

Just as importantly, whilst many Christmas activities are destined to be very different this year due to the effects of the pandemic, I encourage you to take this opportunity to completely re-evaluate your Midwinter/Christmas celebrations. To be truly authentic to your own beliefs and spiritual needs, whatever you participate in during Christmas should make your heart sing. If it doesn’t, don’t do it… or change the way you perceive and approach it. Hospitality, love, friendship, forgiveness and peace – everything you participate in over Midwinter should encompass at least one of these qualities, and if it doesn’t, scrap it altogether and do something else. If nothing else, surely the pandemic has taught us that life is too short to waste and opportunities to be out and about and to spend time with other people are far too precious to squander.

Lastly, I suggest ways in which you can embrace the Darkness of this time of the year and work with it rather than resenting and fighting it.

Give yourself a completely different experience and a real refreshing treat and come Walking With The Goddess this December…

Buy December’s module now: https://www.earthwalking.co.uk/checkout?edd_action=add_to_cart&download_id=771

More information: https://www.earthwalking.co.uk/walking-with-the-goddess/

I wish you all much joy over the Midwinter period and that you find deep healing and peace.

With my love.

Light In The Darkness

Daffs at Fron GochYesterday, I ventured out from my home and the almost hermit-like existence which has become habitual over the past eight months and went to visit my local garden centre. I haven’t been down there since last January and the first shock was to discover that there has been an extensive programme of extension and rebuilding and I hardly recognised the place! The second shock to my system was to be among so many people again – so many families with young children… ah, there is still life – and hope – out there!

As I sat in a new outdoor cafe area sipping a scaldingly hot latte, I reflected that here was truly a miracle. After all that has happened this year… the fear, worry, tension, loss, bereavement and grief… the political argy-bargy and wrangling… here are families – my local community, bless them – celebrating and enjoying the time of year and each other’s company. Their eager excitement and anticipation was almost palpable.

Tucked away indoors was the usual array of mind boggling glitz and glitter – the amazing sensory overload which constitutes the seasonal display of Christmas decorations.  Normally I revel in the sheer exuberance of it all, a counterbalance to my very personal, private and mystical experience of the Midwinter, but somehow it all seemed too much for me this time.

I took myself off outside and, while my husband went to browse the bookshop and organic market, I found myself wandering the aisles of winter plants. Here I regained my perspective of what our Christmas/Midwinter celebration is all about; a gaudy, frenetic event of light and light to illuminate this darkest time of the year – an island of colour and hive of activity in a sea of stillness and shadows. For the exhibition hall containing all the sensual overload of Christmas festoonary sits couched in a sea of winter flowering shrubs and plants… a miracle of life unostentatiously displayed in blooms, berries and foliage.

Beyond the confines of the garden centre itself, the leafless trees and sere fields lie sleeping, a counterpane of mist and cloud dulling  edges and softening stark realities. Here is my true Midwinter reality; that no matter what happens in the world – no matter what disasters and plagues and heartbreak – life carries on. Held within the palm of dead winter sits the beating heart of new life… new vegetation and abundance, new human life and potential – totally irrepressible, unstoppable… and utterly inspiring and heartening!

Here is to the continuation of life and to new beginnings… and blessings for all.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Advent candlelight in the dining room

Advent candlelight in the dining room

I hope that you have all had/are having a wonderful Midwinter/Christmas?

This Advent got off to a cracking and early start with my trip to Germany and the amazing Christmas markets – not to mention lots of time spent with Holger’s family. I have also been invited to more Christmas parties and gatherings than ever before. It saddens me a little that everyone celebrates Christmas in Advent and then, after we get to Christmas Day, there is nothing left to do. All the lovely carols and Christmas music played on Classic FM radio stops abruptly after Boxing Day and people start to talk about taking down their decorations. Some of our decorations were only put up in the last days before the Solstice. Perhaps it is because many put their decorations up so early – end of November and early December? That is what I mean about people celebrating Advent rather than Christmas.

Despite my great love of Christmas, this was actually the first time I have seen a Christmas tree lit with real candles – and I have to say that it was utterly enchanting! Holger and I attended a seasonal gathering for all employees and their families where he works at Trigonos and one of the directors had supplied her own living tree, with presents waiting beneath it for all the children. In true traditional custom, there was delicious food to eat, games to play which generated much laughter and good-natured silliness, and story-telling to quieten us down again. Then, in time honoured fashion, just before everyone went home, the lights were dimmed, everyone came to sit expectantly around the tree and the children were allowed to come, one by one, to light a candle each upon the living tree.  It was magical and the children’s faces were a real picture… as I expect mine was too!

Mince pies

This is what over ninety mince pies really looks like… and I made four dozen mini pies as well!

So far, I have to say that this Midwinter and Christmas has been as near perfect as is possible… and a very welcome break from the outside world into the bargain. With my last blog/Facebook post wishing everyone a happy Christmas, I stepped back from my computer and slipped into the wholehearted loving embrace of my immediate family.

Wreath Cake

Our Solstice cake, lighter fruit cake made in a wheel shape and decorated with fruits and holly leaves fashioned from marzipan.

We had some of our friends from the druid grove here for the Solstice on the 22nd and walked up the valley into the woods which have grown up around the old quarry and gathered among the trees there. As the daylight faded, we lit a small fire and held sparklers in our hands, sharing chocolate Yule log cake and beakers of hot, mulled wine. There is always something particularly special about this one time of late afternoon and dusk. There is something particularly magical about being present in the silent woods as the daylight fades and we find our way home in near darkness, singing and laughing, slipping and sloshing through mud and puddles as we approach the welcome lights of the village. this year, two owls accompanied our festivities with their haunting cries from one side of the valley to the other. Well, we are the Cylch Blodeuwedd after all!

Christmas parcels

Gifts wrapped in recyclable brown paper and decorated naturally.

Just two days later, on Christmas Eve, we gathered around the dining room hearth to share a German afternoon tea with sugary stollen and fragrant spice cakes and chocolate treats of every kind – the fire blazed and the thirty or so candles in the pyramids, flying buttresses and holders cast shadows from all the decorations. We had just paused in our carol singing and were pouring cups of tea while Dafydd was roasting chestnuts on the fire, when a new neighbour dropped in with a card and gift and I suddenly saw us as we must have appeared to him… almost a scene from  Victorian days or a Dickens novel, ha! ha!

This year, more than ever, I have really tried to follow my own growing beliefs about the preparation for Midwinter and Christmas celebration, although seem to have had even less time in which to do so. I made my own crackers for the Christmas lunch table (in which I placed sweeties and questions to ask one another around the dinner table rather than silly gifts which no one wants). I have  made some ‘fortune crackers’ for our New Year’s dinner table too, in which I have written ‘words of wisdom’ for 2020 and jokes to give us all a laugh and start us off on a jolly note! I made some of my own gifts too – hideously late finishing them and the evening of the 23rd saw me sat with my sewing basket expeditiously stitching away.

Fur hat and scarf

One of the winter fake fur hats and scarves I managed to complete.

I didn’t get everything made that I would have liked to, but at least I completed everything that I had started and everyone received something from me. We also tried out having a ‘pledge box’ for the first time ever and ended up opening it as a completely separate activity on Boxing Day (26th December) while we were having afternoon tea. Some very interesting and worthwhile pledges came out of that little box which was decorated and left in a prominent place in the hall a few days before the Solstice. It also struck me as so appropriate to open a pledge box on Boxing Day, when the apprentices and poor of the parish used to be given tips or alms for the year in boxes which had to be broken open.

As a family, we celebrate most of the twelve days of Christmas, which only come to an end with Epiphany on the 5th January. We actually only had our official Christmas Dinner on the 27th December, when close family and friends could join us and we could all celebrate together. I actually opted for the longer version of the meal this year, although as I juggled seven pans across the top of my aga and four roasting tins inside the ovens, I began to seriously wonder if I had finally bitten off more than I could sensibly chew! We began with chicken liver pate (with an avocado pate option for the vegetarians among us), followed by squash, coconut and ginger soup. The main course was roast turkey, sausages and chicken rolls with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce and red currant jelly with all the vegetables and two kinds of gravy – vegetarian and non-vegetarian. The vegetarian main was a selection of winter vegetables from the garden, roasted and then folded with cheese into a wreath shape made from triangles of croissant dough, which is the lightest and butteryest dough imaginable! There was Christmas pudding to follow, served

Drawing Room

Our (smaller) Winter Tree in the drawing room

with sweet white sauce and dollops of rum butter. Dafydd ‘fired’ the pudding with ethanol from his herbal dispensary… pretty blue flames licked around the dark fruity globe upon the china platter until the tall sprig of holly stuck in the top also caught fire and everything then had to be quickly extinguished! A cheese board, mince pies, fruit, candied fruits and chocolates followed along with a tray of coffee, but these we took with us into the drawing room and gradually picked away at as we opened even more gifts from beneath our Winter Tree… in fact, we were still grazing among the remnants of our ‘Lunch’ at eight o’clock that evening!

This past few days, the games cupboard has also been raided and Holger and I have challenged each other to some games of draughts which I used to play with my father when I was a child but haven’t played for well over fifty years. I no longer had my original board and set so earlier this year I ordered a new one over the Internet – the toy shop in Caernarfon could only supply me with cardboard and plastic – so I found a lovely wooden board which folds into a box in which to keep the wooden draughts, chess and backgammon pieces. Needless to say, Holger won most of the games!  Holger and I went to the cinema one evening to see the new Star Wars film, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, which I thoroughly enjoyed but found FAR too loud and had to watch some battle scenes with my finger stuffed in my ears!!!

And no, life isn’t quite so perfect… we found that mice had found their way up the wisteria into our loft and chewed a few of our seasonal decorations – the tallest section of wisteria was immediately removed! And our oldest feline member of the family (just turned twenty!) chose this Midwinter to make her journey and pass over into the Summerlands. But these are all a part of on-going life too…

Solstice fire Now it is New Year’s Eve. We might have a small bonfire out in the garden this evening to celebrate, weather depending. Wherever you are and however you might be celebrating this incoming new decade, I hope that you are well, comfortable and at peace with yourself and the world around you.

A very happy New Year to you all… as always, with my love.

The Very ‘Hairy Child’

Front of Bryn at SunsetMisbehaving moustaches, inventive costumes and props, imaginative sound effects and a very supportive audience. All successful children’s nativity plays have a team of hard-working and dedicated adults behind them. Our own Christmas celebration at the Quaker Meeting House yesterday was no exception.

Our Meetings for worship are usually largely silent, but once a year, just before Christmas, we break with tradition. Each year a theme is chosen. This year it was the turn of the lowly shepherds. Interspersed by periods of reflective silence we gustily sang shepherd-related carols, (in both English and Welsh), listened to beautiful music composed by Schubert and played by one of our members and heard a poem by Welsh writer R.S.Thomas about welsh hill shepherds read aloud.

However, the highlight of the whole proceedings was surely the children’s dramatic contribution! Based on a mediaeval mystery play entitled ‘The Hairy Baby’, the story was of shepherds guarding their sheep and the daring – and very desperate man – who comes and steals one of the lambs with which to feed his starving family.

The enterprising thief had disguised himself in a voluminous black cloak and recalcitrant paper moustache which persistently floated to the ground, only to be pounced upon by one or other member of the cast and unceremoniously slapped back into place on the hapless young actor’s face. Gales and winter storms were conjured by use of a long plastic tube which was periodically flailed around the head of the pianist causing the Master of Ceremonies to cringe and duck for fear of getting a clout around his head.

The action took place across the whole of the Meeting Room and we, the audience, sat bemusedly in the round as irate shepherds with a varied assortment of ‘sheep’ – including a large woolly seal and a little lamb which had been sewn to his shepherd’s sock – dashed off amongst us in hot pursuit of their stolen lamb. I am not quite sure how even weary and simple-minded men were supposed to mistake one of their own animals for a remarkably hirsute human child! Eventually the true identity of the baby is revealed and the luckless family left empty-handed as the thief is discovered, only to be saved in the nick of time by the appearance of an angel, come to announce the birth of a much more important baby in a stable nearby. Drama was added to the action by the syncopated and regular sniffs of some of the cast who were recently recovering from heavy colds.

The enthusiasm and flamboyance with which our young members delivered this simple story was highly entertaining but also thought provoking. It was pointed out that here was the nub of the whole message of Christian Christmas. That the inspiration for kindness, humility and love had been presented in a way that everyone – even the lowliest and most humble shepherds – had instant and unquestioned access to. That this humble birth of a carpenter’s son represented a universal hope and entitlement that is as fresh and valued today as it was two thousand years ago.

So I give great thanks to the children of my Meeting for reminding me of this fact… and to their dedicated parents who made it possible. We all had a good chuckle and I am sure that we all were well entertained, but more than anything, I hope that we were touched by this blessed message – that of universal equality, hope and love.

Happy Christmas!

A Wonderfully Unique Opportunity…

Jess' Workshop PictureJust a reminder that this amazing day of seasonal creativity and celebration is almost upon us!

I shall begin the morning by giving a short explanation of why we decorate our homes with evergreenery at Midwinter/Christmas and what some of the decorations specifically signify. Then everyone will have the chance to make their own decorations to take home with them:- fir cone gnomes, Welsh calennigs, Advent wreaths and kissing balls. There will be hot mulled fruit cup to fortify you along the way. This will be followed by a gorgeous, three-course, vegan Christmas Lunch, after which, Lee will give a cookery demonstration of how to make some of the dishes that were served at the Christmas meal.

Lastly, we shall gather around a blazing fire in the library where I will lead a discussion on how to celebrate the Midwinter and Christmas festival more authentically, ending with the singing of alternative carols by candlelight and hot chocolate to drink by the fire.

£79 for the day – including a recipe booklet especially designed for event containing all the Christmas Lunch recipes.

Bed and breakfast rates for those coming from further afield.

TO BOOK:

Tel. 01286 882 388 or email info@trigonos.com
For a booking form, visit Trigonos’ website www.trigonos.org
Address: Trigonos, Plas Baladeulyn, Nantlle, Nr. Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales. LL54 6BW

 

Merry Vegan Midwinter!

Jess' Workshop Picture‘MERRY VEGAN MIDWINTER’: an alternative festive feast of delights, Sunday, 24th November, 2019, Trigonos, Gwynedd, North Wales
Early bird offer £69 – ends 8th November
Regular day ticket £79

Author, Gillian Monks, and author and TV chef, Lee Watson, are teaming up to bring you a day of seasonal enjoyment, inspiring experiences and magical treats.

Prepare to be inspired!

INCLUDES:

  • Three course vegan festive lunch and welcome drink
  • Workshop with Gillian making authentic traditional Christmas decorations from locally foraged evergreenery
  • Cooking demonstration with Lee
  • Candlelit afternoon tea with special hot chocolate, storytelling and carols by a blazing open fire
  • Selection of teas and fresh coffee available throughout the day
  • Full recipe booklet, especially designed for the day – try all the recipes at home.

Early bird offer: £69, until the 8th November
Normal day ticket: £79
Bed and breakfast rates also available for those coming from further afield

TO BOOK:
Tel 01286 882 388 or email info@trigonos.org
For a booking form visit Trigonos’ web site
Address: Trigonos, Plas Baladeulyn, Nantlle, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales

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Add A Little Sweetness…

Luscious golden globes of infinite tangy sweetness!

Ah… back to more normal reality! Seeing both my books published and republished and celebrating that fact has been immensely exciting, but now it is time to turn my attention back to the more usual seasonal tasks for this time in October – and also some domestic activities which should have been seen to much earlier in the year!

For instance, the candying of peel. I usually complete this in the summer when we are enjoying lots of relaxed breakfasts with the doors and windows all thrown wide to the soft mountain breezes or sat in the sunshine in the garden. Then there are copious quantities of grapefruit  and orange peels left over. Rather than simply consigning them to the compost bin, it is far better to preserve them for use later in the autumn and winter.

This is really simple – even though it takes several days to complete. It is a process of boiling the peels in an increasingly sweetened sugar syrup and leaving them to marinade in it for days in between. (For anyone wishing to try this for themselves the recipe is included in ‘Merry Midwinter’.) I can really recommend it!

The crucial point comes at the end of the procedure when the peels are lifted out of their syrupy bath and left to drain on a wire cooling rack and then placed in the bottom oven of the Aga for several hours. The trick is to allow them to dry and set in a gentle heat for just the right amount of time so that they are dry and handleable but still soft and moist. The length of time to achieve this varies from batch to batch, depending on the size of fruit and exactly how hot my ‘cool oven’ is at the time, and no two batches of peel are ever the same.

I did actually candy a batch of grapefruit several weeks ago, but it was right in the middle of the time we were getting ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ ready to go to print… and I forget them. Rather than the two or three hours in the coolest part of the oven, I only remembered them twenty-fours after first placing them there to dry out. When I ran to retrieve them, they were a deep brown in colour – otherwise known as burnt – and so rock hard they could have shod a horse! Sadly not one of my finest moments!!! But sometimes these things happen. You either laugh or cry and it is by far better to laugh about it.

I prefer to candy grapefruit peel – which produces lusciously thick sticky slices of decadence – and which adds real luxury and fresh, fruity zest to home made Christmas cakes and puddings. This year I have also candied orange peels too. they give very distinct flavours and both can be sliced and dipped in melted dark chocolate for the ultimate experience with freshly brewed coffee at the end of your Christmas dinner.

Why not try it for yourself? It is really easy to do. One of these days I might even try candying whole small fruits, like clementines, which were my mother’s favourite and which always used to arrive packed in wooden boxes from Fortnum and Mason. I can strongly recommend it. You end up with a far superior product full of gorgeous sweet tangyness rather than the drier, more tasteless bought version.

Oh, and if you have any left over, it is absolutely delicious baked into Hot Cross Buns for Easter. Candied peel made this way will easily keep in an airtight container for at least twelve months.

Be adventurous! Have a go – and make something which will really set your Christmas baking apart this year.

Finished!

Book Illustrations

At last, all twenty-six illustrations for my new book, ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’, are completed! I suppose that twenty-six full-page illustrations is quite a feat… but even more so when you are no artist!!! What a relief, not to mention an achievement.

Perhaps it was just as well that we had to postpone the volunteering weekend originally organised for tomorrow and Sunday (due to key volunteers suddenly being without transport and the threat of bad weather). It has meant that I have been given some time and space to sit down and finish the last three. Oh, the blessings of a stormy, wet morning and some solitude!

Next stop is the book itself!

The Path Leads Onwards!

First draft finished – another manuscript now ready to enter the editing and production process! And yes, it is another book centred around Midwinter and Christmas but is applicable to any time of the year. ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ is based on the traditional twenty-four doors, with an extra special door to open of the twenty-fifth of December.

Advent calendars are usually based on giving us something nice to enjoy. This calendar differs in that – far from taking – it is all about what we can give back to the world around us. There is an introductory chapter to explain the origins, aims and development of the advent calendar and also an explanation of the ethos behind Advent itself. This is followed by twenty-five short chapters, each one suggesting a way in which you can make life pleasanter and happier for everything that lives around us – and here I am including animals, plant life and inanimate objects as well as the human element.

Each door will be marked by a large, seasonally illustrated numeral which the reader will ‘open’ by turning the page. There is a simple task or challenge for every day; ideas like giving a hug to people, making someone a hot drink, spending quality time with someone, making people laugh, feeding the local birds, planting seeds, and so on. I also include why these things are important… what real benefit they bring to those around us. Yes, we are mostly aware that it is good to promote such actions… but then we often forget to keep on doing them, especially in the hustle and bustle of the weeks before Christmas when in reality this is just the exact time we should be focusing even more on selfless thought and activities – not less.

But nothing we do, think or say is without its consequences and nothing we participate in is simply one way – there are ultimately the benefits that accrue to the perpetrator as well. Simple kindness can bring immeasurable fulfilment, satisfaction, joy and love. Our interactions with others are always a two-way street.

So, if you want to give yourself or your loved ones an early Christmas present look out for ‘The Alternative Advent Calendar’ which will be available to buy from the beginning of October onward. There is also a final short chapter on how the ideas can be applied to any time of the year – January is a wonderful time to instigate these activities… brighten the cold dark world of post Christmas and cheer everyone (including yourself) by doing so.

This whole idea began as a series of blog posts dashed off in the heat of the moment last December while I was rushing around promoting my first book, ‘Merry Midwinter’. Once Advent had come to a end it seemed such a shame to merely discard the idea, so earlier in the spring I began work on rewriting them and taking the time to truly consider what I wished to convey. The result will soon be in the hands of my editor.

I have also been having long conversations about how I wish to portray the seasonal numerals which will represent the ‘doors’. I finally knocked up some very rough sketches to show everyone what I had in mind. They were warmly received and now – although I am no artist at all – am left with the task of doing the job properly for inclusion in the book. I just hope that it does not also fall to me to execute the cover… words are one thing but lines on paper have a habit of refusing to do what I expect. Come to think of it, so do my words! Ah well, such is life – jolly exciting isn’t it?

Celebrating the Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice 2018

On my way into the woods

Celebrating the Winter Solstice yesterday came as a timely antidote to all the travel and excitement of being in London the previous day. Nothing could possibly be more different from the hustle, bustle, noise and frenetic movement of several million people crammed into a relatively small space. The deserted mountains of Snowdonia thickly cloaked in swirling blankets of grey cloud lay like moody sleeping giants around us. Occasionally the lowering skies wept gentle showers of rain. Everything lay damp… and very still… and very quiet.

Carrying baskets of torches and candles, firewood and goodies, we walked deeper into the woods which now cover the deep scars of what was once one of the biggest slate quarries in North Wales. We headed for our usual spot amongst the birch, willow and oak trees and here we lit our Midwinter fire and our coloured lanterns to hang among the trees.

We came to reminisce about the year just passing; to set out intentions for the coming cycle of seasons; to sing our old, beloved carols and songs; to give great thanks

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