Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Traditions of the Winter Holiday Season -- A UCM compilation

In November our worship theme was "Attention."  We gave some attention to the UCM tradition of the Holiday Fair.  This has been a tradition in our church for over 100 years!  The children made play dough to sell in the Kids Room at the fair, and also decorations too!

I got the request from some families to find out ways to celebrate the holidays without spending lots of money.  It seemed like a great reason to continue giving attention to traditions, since many of these take little to know money, but are really what make the holidays special.  I hope this can be a compilation that we add to each year.

Thanks to everyone who submitted something!  I acknowledge that many of these traditions are centered around Christmas. While Unitarian Universalists come from many religious and cultural backgrounds, this is just what was submitted via the e-news link and Facebook in the short time frame I had to round them up.  I'd be thrilled to add some that include other holidays such as Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, and others!  You can email me 100 words (ballpark) here.


Homemade Coupons - Sasha Thayer

Inspired by then Rev. Scudder Parker, decades ago when my daughter was young, we started exchanging "coupons" for various things as gifts. Within our family, a favorite was a batch of chocolate cookies. When my daughter got older and got her cosmetology license, another favorite was for a haircut. Every family is different, and will be able to come up with their own gift coupons. Perhaps for an elderly family member or friend, it's making lunch, or taking them on an errand, or folding their laundry. For a child, it could be an afternoon doing a favorite activity, or helping with a difficult task. A child making a coupon for a parent could offer to bring order to the sock drawer, or help stack wood.... And, of course, adding some kind of decoration to coupons is always well received, whether it's original artwork, or pretty stickers accompanying return address labels.

Sinterklass - Susan Koch

When our children were growing up, they always put their shoes out on the eve of Dec. 5th for St Nicholas to fill . Their Dutch dad celebrates Sinterklaas and kept up the tradition. In the morning they would find small chocolates and clementine oranges in their shoes. Sometimes Dutch treats would arrive( with help from Oma) and the family would have Dutch chocolate letters and windmill cookies( speculaas) at dinner time. Our family still takes a few minutes on that day to be in touch, and wish each other a Happy Sinterklaas!

Games -- Nancy Schulz

My four siblings and I live in different parts of the country. In lieu of being together, we create a different game each year that we all can participate in. This year the game involves writing trivia questions about our childhood, parents, relatives, etc. and submitting them to my sister. She'll compile the questions and send them out before Christmas and we'll all see how we each do. There are prizes in our games some of the time, but there are laughs all of the time.  

Caroling door-to-door 
Mentioned by Kris Pavek, Elaine Ball, and Tory Rhodin

Tory said, "That is our family's tradition as well! My best friend when I was a kid and I both came from big families, and we went carolling around our neighborhood with all our brothers and sisters. One of my sweetest memories is when some Italian neighbors invited us in and we sat on their living room floor in front of the Christmas tree and creche, singing in harmonies."  

Risengrød (rice porridge) - Irina Markova 

After my family immigrated to USA from Danmark when I was 10, we continued to celebrate Danish traditions. One was the whole family all eating a big bowl of “risengrød “ ( Rice porridge made with milk, sugar and cinnamon.). The person who found the one almond in the porridge got a marcipan pig as a prize. Some of the risengrød was always shared with animals including the rats in the attic.
(Years ago I shared this risengrød tradition with the entire UCM congregation !) 
After the meal , everyone held hands and danced around the Christmas tree which was lit with live candles.  

One version of the recipe is here.  

A special book each year - Rachel Nelson

We get a new Christmas book each December, and we read them together throughout the month. It is usually a picture book, with one exception. We chose a chapter book one year.

We started with the traditional 'Twas the Night Before Christmas and worked from there. We have a dinosaurs' version, a pop up book wherein Santa's sleigh is broken, 
and many more. We never did any Christian Christmas stories as it doesn't align with our views... which led me to start writing some books myself.
My favorites are probably the ones that were specific to Utah and the Vermont version. Our selection mirrored our move, so it was fun and personal. I think they're called "Santa's Coming To (insert state here)". We truly love The Twelve Days of Christmas though, as we each chose our own pages to read...and we sing them. It sort of stuck and the kids remember their own lines/pages each year. (They also do a new funny voice each round.) 

Cutting down a Christmas Tree - Mary Alice Bisbee

My brother, father and I always went up towards our sugar house in Waitsfield, below Bald Mountain to pick out the best spruce tree we could find, cut and drag down for our Christmas tree in the living room.

New Year's Eve Memory Jar reading - Liza Earle-Centers

This is a newer tradition in our family. My first year working at UCM I needed an activity for the church kids to do on New Year's.  I found Memory Jars. The idea is that throughout the year you add notes of special times that you want to remember.  It could be something small like "Cadence made delicious pancakes for the family!" or something big like, "Lincoln joins the Gospel Choir." Make sure it has a central location in your home, with scrap paper and a pen or pencil nearby.  At least once a month try to sit down and remember a few highlights of the recent weeks. We read them aloud as a family on New Year's Eve, to cherish the past year. Then I put them in an envelope labelled with that year, and save it for decades of nostalgia to come!  Works for individuals too! 

December 3, 2019 ~ Culmination of Understanding Antisemitism workshop

It was an honor to learn alongside all these thoughtful people last night as UCM hosted neighbors from Beth Jacob Synagogue for a special evening. Many thanks to all--participants and facilitators--who helped make this series possible. UCM co-facilitator, Gail Falk shares these thoughts: "The culminating session of our series on Understanding Antisemitism was an evening of rich, lively exchange. Sixteen people from Beth Jacob gathered with 11 UCM participants in the Children's Chapel Tuesday 12/3/19 to tell one another what we had learned and examine questions our separate discussions had raised.
Both groups had delved into the long history and many-faceted aspects of antisemitism. The Beth Jacob participants shared insights into what it is like to be Jewish in Vermont. The UCM group had wrestled with the deep complexities of the relationships between Palestinians and Israelis.
We identified ways non-Jews can be allies to lessen the impact of antisemitism, such as
  • Not scheduling important events or meetings on Jewish High Holidays
  • Speaking up for school holiday celebrations that give everyone a sense of belonging
  • Confronting and interrupting hate speech and antisemitic stereotypes
  • Showing up for Jewish joy, not just Jewish horror
  • Be curious, ask questions.
Participants from both congregations talked about how much they had learned from the sessions and particularly appreciated our joint meetings. Many of us were eager to continue our exchanges – there is so much more to learn and talk about together. We look forward to future gatherings in 2020."

Owls take over the church!!! (10th-12th grade O.W.L. Overnight)

On Friday November 22nd there were not just pigeons on the steeple, there were owls soaring through the sanctuary.  The three facilitators and eight families who are part of this year's 10th-12th grade Our Whole Lives sexuality education program were fabulous!  Parents and youth pitched in for a delicious taco dinner to kick off the evening, followed by a 2 hour workshop session (incredible focus for a Friday evening) and then time to socialize until just before midnight. Parent chaperones and the youth all agree to some overnight guidelines and the youth made great choices.  The kids always have the best time just getting to be kids in the big, beautiful, vast sanctuary space--somersaulting down the center aisle, leaping across the chancel.

Many thanks to everyone who helped out on so many levels to make the overnight possible!

Here are some photos of the overnight, though mainly it is around meal times:

Above: Julie and Jen help with dinner clean-up.  

Above: Bill and Kairn were our fearless chaperones who stayed through the night for the campout on the chancel.  

Waking up. Fueling up for a 2 hour morning workshop session!

Yes, that is a someone in chicken pajamas.  These kids couldn't get any cooler!!!!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

November 8, 2019 - Crossing Paths youth attend Shabbat Service at Beth Jacob Synagogue

Above: Our Crossing Paths middle schoolers with parents and some of the kids and parents from the shared Shabbat Service and Dinner at Beth Jacob synagogue.  

Last Friday evening was magical--our very first "faith field trip" as part of the yearlong Crossing Paths program. 12 middle schoolers and 9 of us adults/parents trekked the snowy sidewalks to visit, appreciate and learn from our neighbors at Beth Jacob Synagogue. (One family we knew from when they participated in OWL last year!) The youth spent two full workshop sessions learning about Judaism as preparation and we were being welcomed to join in a Friday Shabbat (Hebrew for 'sabbath') Service and Potluck Dinner. Serendipitously, it was a special service, led by the kids and youth and adults of their Hebrew School.
Our UCM youth were so respectful. You all would have been SOOOO proud of them. They were friendly, curious, open minded, willing to engage and listen--really all of the Eight Practices of Welcoming that we've been talking about with them from the start of Crossing Paths in September. I think I speak on behalf of all the adults present that we are so proud of them.
On the walk home in the snow we reflected on many things, including the following thoughts of the kids and parents--I've not captured them all but here are some:

  • how warm and comfortable the space was
  • how delicious the fresh challah bread was
  • how beautiful and ancient Hebrew sounds and looks, and how neat it is to know that Jews around the world have been saying these prayers and words for thousands of years
  • that each Torah is handwritten and part of a long scroll
  • that Jews all over the world follow the calendar readings of the Torah and for the bar/bat mitzvah they read their week
  • that the Torah is all set to tones/music
  • there's a strong element of justice seeking to Judaism as well as Unitarian Universalism
  • kids as both congregations like being part of such a friendly community
  • that kids do a lot of work for their bar/bat mitzvah
  • that each religion has it's metaphors, and it was a good fit for Kara (who helped lead the service) because the metaphors really worked
  • it's neat to start the weekend with a big family/community sacred and celebratory gathering
  • how beautiful the Ugandan prayer song was, and how we don't think of Jews in Uganda when we imagine Jews, but they are really in every country of the world!
  • the visit and the entire unit has been powerful for some people who have Jewish ancestry but haven't dug into that much

Thank you so very much to all who made the visit possible--from parents and youth helping with food prep for the potluck, accompanying us, and just fitting drop-off and pick-up into your evening despite the weather! And of course deep, deep gratitude to our warm hosts at Beth Jacob. We felt so welcomed! And thanks so much to our facilitator team: Cara Robechek, Jeremy Beaudry, Julie Bond, and Nancy Schulz! This Sunday the group begins their study of Christianity, and January will be Islam.

Above: Settling in for the service in their worship space--also called a sanctuary, just like ours! We were told it is considered respectful for both Jews and non-Jews to wear a kippah (Hebrew = cap) or yarmulke (Yiddish). As you enter their synagogue there is a large bowl that people can choose from if they'd like to try out wearing a kippah. Traditionally, only males wear kippahs; however, they say "we're egalitarian and anyone who wants is welcome to wear one." However, it's not required. Many of our youth and adults chose to wear a kippah.

After the service and blessing of the food, while the final potluck preparations were being made,
our youth got to ask questions of the three boys studying for their bar mitzvah this year. Many of
them are peers at school, and it was great to have kids talking questions of faith together--like
'What is your favorite part about being Jewish? What is hard about being Jewish?'
They were fabulous teachers!

Kara Rosenberg showed kids who were curious what was inside the special wooden cabinet that holds the Torah. They actually have three Torahs, and they are beautiful!

Above: The tzedakah (loosely "charity") box where people can put a small charitable donation.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

November 7, 2019 - Practice Session Launch: How to Speak Up When You Hear a Biased Comment

 Last night Lifespan Spiritual Exploration and Central VT Showing Up for Racial Justice launched our second year of collaboration on a series of workshops meant to empower people to speak out when they hear a biased or prejudiced comment.  

This was the first of four Practice Sessions: Interrupting Hate and Addressing Unintended Bias.  

Additional sessions will be: 

Wed. 1/15, 6-8pm
Sun. 2/9, 1:15-3:15pm
Tues. 3/31, 6-8pm

Many people choose to come to multiple sessions to get more practice.  The scenarios for practice change each session.  

The free sessions are open to everyone including the wider community.  No experience is needed. Come to one or all. Lite refreshments provided.

The practice sessions are a combination of whole group time and time in triads to practice different sample responses to real-life scenarios of biased comments.

High School Youth Group Applesauce Making

Many thanks to the youth who spent several hours Sunday morning turning the apples they harvested two weeks ago into applesauce for UCM's Monday Community Lunch.  

They spread good smells AND smiles through the building and the applesauce will be frozen and much appreciated throughout the winter at the Community Lunches!  

Upcoming youth group events:
Sun. Nov. 17rd, 11am: Worship, 12:15pm: Pizza with Rev. Joan in the Bell Tower Room:  Chat about worship over some slices of yumminess.


November 3, 2019 -- Attention through Mindfulness

The preschool - 4th grade Explorers launched November's worship theme of attention by learning some mindfulness activities to tune into our bodies.  Paying attention to our bodies by slowing down, breathing deeply, and listening to our inner selves can help us better understand what we're feeling.

 Below: In small groups, kids practiced mindfulness activities, like this one of visualizing yourself as a mountain, with waves of emotions lapping at your base.

 Kids made "Feelings Octopus" or some other animal of their choice, like this "Feelings Cow."  We used cups that nested.  The bottom cup had different facial expressions connected with different moods.  The top cup had an outline of an animal with the face cut out, so kids could rotate through the various emotions on the cup below: sad, happy, fine, surprised, silly, sleepy...

When kids finished their "Feelings Octopus" (or other animal) they played games that require paying Attention--Spot It, Jenga, Set and more.

Traditions of the Winter Holiday Season -- A UCM compilation

In November our worship theme was "Attention."  We gave some attention to the UCM tradition of the Holiday Fair.  This has been...