As part of our Advent celebration, we took a day for crystals of many different shapes and sizes. Our first project as to get the Borax Crystal Christmas Ornament experiment under way. The kids helped me select the colors of pipe cleaners that we should use and tried their hand at twisting shapes together. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the metal factor, I’d gladly spend $2.10 on what would likely be hours of pipe cleaner fun. In the end I did most of the pipe cleaner twisting as it required a bit more small motor skill than the kids were able to muster. It was a bit difficult to get them to be satisfied with the number of ornaments we had created. They had plans, though, for giving them as gifts to our neighbors and family as well as decorating our trees (including L’s “tree with breakable duff on it”) so it was of the utmost importance that we have enough.
We actually had an issue with the ratio of containers to ornaments meaning that I had to find a way to hang multiple ornaments in each container. We set our ornaments aside and returned two hours later to find…crystals! Super nifty!
To carry on with our crystal theme we also took the remainder of the “melons” (aka oranges) from the fridge and made the candied orange peel recipe from this blog. Both J and L found them super tasty! We’re thinking of taking the candied orange peels and using them to make chocolate covered pretzel rods studded with the peels. I thought they looked a bit like sunshine on a plate – the perfect antidote to the darker days so prevalent in Winter.
Oranges have a traditional significance in the Christmas and Winter celebrations of the past. In some regions they functioned similar to apples as fertility symbols and reminders of the sun. The sun, of course, being a central focus to Winter holidays in Europe. I can imagine that the declining hours of sunlight would have been frightening for early Europeans who would not have had the understanding of why it was happening. The German tradition of hanging glass Christmas balls on the tree finds its roots in these practices. Oranges would also have been considered a sign of affluence as citrus fruit was not readily available like it is today.
The symbolism is definitely lost on the kids. They’re far more interested in the process of crystallization and the sweet taste of sugar on their lips. As for me? I welcome the symbolism and the bits of brightness along the way. Winter is far too long, too cold, and too dark not to notice. It matters little to me whether Jesus was actually born in December. I could care less that December 25th was the European missionaries’ attempt at usurping the place of Saturnalia or any other similar celebration in Europe (wise on their part considering the fact that it’s easier to win people over when your big holiday falls on the same day as theirs).
The simple fact of the matter is that the winter ebb and flow of light (and cold…gosh it’s cold!) can help us to remember the Light that came to Earth. The cycle of the Church year and the practice of counting down through Advent can help to center our hearts and mind. As we watch for the Light, we remember:
If everyone were holy and handsome, alter Christus shining in neon lighting from them, it would be easy to see Christ in everyone. If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet, then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for himself, now when he is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.
– Dorothy Day