It’s the last day before Christmas vacation and Rudolpha the reindeer, the teacher at the North Pole Animal Day Care has organized a gift exchange among the children. After they open their presents, the room is quiet.
Rudolpha looks around. Storm the fox gazes forlornly at a necklace. Snowflake the polar bear frowns at a jar of honey. Bianca the rabbit sighs at an elf doll. Mistral the penguin pushes his new book away. Frost the snowy owl shakes his head, a remote-controlled car on his lap.
The teacher is confused. Why aren’t they more excited after opening their gifts? They should be happily playing by now. “Is everything okay, kids?” she asks.
“I…” starts Bianca, looking uncomfortable.
Rudolpha thinks she’s starting to understand. The children don’t like their gifts. Before the reindeer can say anything, the rabbit continues. “Mistral gave me a Dr. Stethoscope elf doll, but I already have one.”
“Oh no! I didn’t know that. Sorry, Bianca,” apologizes Mistral.
“That’s the only elf I don’t have in my collection,” says Snowflake excitedly. “Can I have it?”
“But then I won’t have a present,” complains Bianca.
“You can have this jar of honey Storm gave me. I’m allergic,” offers Snowflake.
Storm gasps, “I forgot! Sorry, Snowflake.”
“I love honey!” Frost says “but I can’t trade anything for this car. It’s missing a wheel.”
“Is it?” asks Bianca. “It wasn’t broken when I wrapped it!”
“That’s okay,” says Mistral, “my father is the best fixer-upper in the world. And I’ve always wanted a remote-controlled car. Does somebody want this book about dinosaurs? It’s too scary for me.”
“I love dinosaurs! Who gave it to you?” Storm looks at the book happily.
“I did!” Frost holds up a wing.
“Awesome, thanks! Bianca, you can have this pretty necklace Snowflake gave me. It’s too small for me, but it’ll be perfect for you.” Storms hands her the necklace.
“Wow! Thanks Storm, thanks Snowflake!” says Bianca.
Rudolpha watches the gifts get swapped. Within five minutes, the room is filled with the sounds of happy children playing and laughing. She smiles and thinks, next year, we’ll make wish lists.
Written by Johannie Dufour and Sarah Beauregard
Translated by Cyan Caruso-Comas
March 17th: St. Patrick’s prayer of the deer
While St. Patrick is one of the most well-known figures of modern folklore and festivals, ironically he is less known for his touching and beloved role in Irish faith and literature.
Among the writings attributed to him is the beautiful prayer The Deer’s Cry, also known as the Shield of St. Patrick, or the Breastplate of St. Patrick. This prayer was written as an invocation of protection to shield St. Patrick and his monks from enemies lying in wait in the Irish forests.
Having gathered his followers around him, St. Patrick was leading them past the hostile forces at Loegaire, Ireland, where the son of King Niall laid ambushes. Patrick’s enemies did not want him to bring the Christian faith to Tara.
In the morning before Patrick and the monks proceeded, they gathered and prayed a long and musical prayer of protection, including the words:
I arise today, through the strength of Heaven: Light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendor of Fire, speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea, stability of Earth, firmness of Rock…
I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me: God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to secure me…
Christ to protect me today, against poison, against burning, against drowning, against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left.
With such a powerful prayer, tradition says Patrick’s enemies were completely fooled. In the forest, as they waited to attack the missionaries, his enemies saw only wild deer (St. Patrick and his monks) and one fawn (St. Benen), following along behind, carrying books. They let them pass.
Today this lovely prayer of the deer is used to light and bless the Easter fires, as St. Patrick did when he arrived at Tara. It is still used as a shield against devils, poison, envy, and sudden death.
Great love letters endure
Love — mysterious, forbidden, secret, new love, and old — inspired some of the greatest letters ever written, notes so grand they are still treasured today.
Longest-lasting love letter – Arguably the greatest love letter has been read for literally thousands of years: The Song of Solomon, which appears in the Old Testament of the Bible. Written in 600 BC to one of his 700 wives, King Solomon writes: “…thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes … How much better is thy love than wine!”
Tormented love – A 17th-century Portuguese nun, Mariana of Alcoforado, wrote broken-hearted letters to her lover of two years: the scoundrel Noel Bouton, Marquis de Chamilly. Proving himself a cad, Bouton published the letters, thus creating a new word in French for love letter: Portugals. One of Mariana’s lamentations: “… all my pleasure is in repeating your name a thousand times a day. Some nuns, who know the deplorable state to which you have reduced me, speak to me of you. I leave this room you visited so often as little as I may, and spend all my time gazing on your portrait, which I love a thousand times more than my own life.”
Mystery love – Scholars still debate the identity of Ludwig van Beethoven’s lover who, in 1812, he famously calls his ‘immortal (or eternal) beloved.’ It was a love not to be: “Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us.”
Presidential love – President Richard Nixon’s love for his wife Pat was well known. In the early years of their relationship, he writes to Pat, referring to himself in the third person: “…when the wind blows and the rains fall and the sun shines through the clouds (as it is now) he still resolves … that nothing so fine ever happened to him or anyone else as falling in love with Thee — my dearest heart.”
Comedian love – From bad-boy comedian George Carlin to his wife Sally Wade:
“Sallyburger, If you took the number of sub-atomic particles in the universe and multiplied that number times itself that many times; and then added the total number of microseconds since the beginning of time, times itself; and then added 803 — you would still have only the tiniest fraction of a billion-billionth percent of the amount of love I have for you. Love, your candle partner, the romantic Mr. Carlin, your eternal flame.”
Valentine’s Day trivia quiz
Test your knowledge with this fun Valentine’s Day quiz.
1. What Italian city receives thousands of cards addressed to Juliet every Valentine’s Day?
2. In Canada, you can find Love (the village) in what province?
a. British Columbia
2. According to the Greeting Card Association, approximately how many cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day worldwide?
a. 250 million
b. 500 million
c. 750 million
d. 1 billion
3. What ancient pagan festival was once celebrated in Rome on February 14?
4. According to historians, the first valentine love letter was written in 1415 by an imprisoned duke. What language was it written in?
6. In the Middle Ages, what organ was associated with love?
a. The heart
b. The stomach
c. The liver
d. The kidneys
Answers: 1b, 2c, 3d, 4a, 5b, 6c
On the 12th day of Christmas: Much less fun.
One of the most fun stories of the Christmas season is that of the Three Kings visiting the baby Jesus, bringing him gifts.
That gift-giving day is on the calendar as the 12th day after Christmas, Jan. 6, just about the time when most of us are packing away the gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the year.
Some people undecorate on January 1. If decorations have been up since before Thanksgiving, removing them right after New Year’s Day is recommended. The neighbors are probably tired of your lighted Santa, reindeer, and trees. The real Christmas tree and wreaths are getting pretty dry by that time.
Still, many people are sad to see their outdoor and indoor decorations go and wait until the unofficial undecorating day of January 6.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that undecorating day is prime time for falls. The CDC urges using steady step stools and ladders when taking down outdoor and indoor decorations. Take your time. Use the same amount of care as when putting them up.
Here are a few tips from professional decorators:
* Take photos of inside decorations and groupings you especially like so you will have a guide for next year. Box the groupings together.
* Discard broken pieces and donate redundant pieces to a charity. If you have ample storage space, save the giveaways until next October before donating.
* Clean decorations before storing them. Dust shiny tree ornaments. Clean white cotton objects, like white lambs, with a toothbrush and then coat with cornstarch. Toss artificial poinsettias in a bag with a half cup of salt to move the dust.
* Store decorations thematically or in their original boxes. For tree ornaments, it can be convenient to store according to color. Next year it will be easier to choose colors for the tree.
* Put artificial trees in their original boxes to protect them for future use and for convenient storage.
* Store outdoor decorations together in the garage, basement, or attic.
6 clever tips for storing Christmas decorations
Are you tired of untangling Christmas lights and trying to salvage squashed ornaments when you decorate for the holidays? Here are six storage tips that can make things easier.
1. Insert strands of Christmas tree beads into separate plastic bottles
2. Wrap string lights around pieces of cardboard or empty wrapping paper rolls
3. Thread rolls of ribbon onto a paper towel holder
4. Place small Christmas tree ornaments in egg cartons
5. Bundle wrapping paper rolls in a garment bag
6. Hang wreaths on hangers in a closet
Once your decorations are organized, stow them in clear plastic bins so you can easily see what’s inside. Also, remember to label each container.
Red velvet bites
This bite-sized version of red velvet cake will allow your guests to sample all the desserts at your next holiday spread. You can count on these to be a crowd-pleaser.
Start to finish: 3 hours (1 hour active)
Servings: 40 bites
• 3 cups sugar
• 3 cups flour
• 1/2 cup cornstarch
• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
• 4 large eggs
• 1-1/2 cups buttermilk
• 1-1/4 cups warm water
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon white vinegar
• 2 tablespoons red food dye
• 4.5 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
• 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
• 2 cups icing sugar
• 28 ounces white chocolate
• 1/4 cup red decorative sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 7 by 11-inch baking dish. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, use a whisk or hand beater to mix the sugar, flour, cornstarch, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, warm water, vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, vinegar, and food dye. Blend until the mixture is uniform.
3. Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
4. In a large bowl, blend the cream cheese, butter, and the rest of the vanilla. Slowly incorporate the icing sugar by blending at low speed until the mixture has a smooth, even texture. Set aside.
5. Once the cake has completely cooled, place it in a large bowl and use your hands to crumble it until it has the consistency of wet sand. Add about a 1/2 cup of the cream cheese icing to the cake at a time and mix well. The final texture should allow you to form balls that keep their shape.
6. With your hands, form 40 cake balls and squish them slightly to create a disc shape. Place the balls on a baking sheet, and put them in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
7. In the meantime, melt the white chocolate using a double boiler or water bath. Let the chocolate cool slightly while ensuring it remains a liquid. Using a fork, dip each cake ball into the chocolate, so they’re completely coated. Place the balls on a baking sheet and immediately sprinkle the decorative sugar. Put the balls in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.