Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Broccoli Cheese Soup - The Perfect Meal For Candlemas!

It is hard to believe that February will be upon us on Saturday! We live in Central Virginia where the temperatures thus far have been unseasonably warm. We've only turned our heater on twice and then only for a few hours to chase the chill out of the apartment. Most days I have the screen door cracked to let in a little fresh air. I'm beginning to wonder if we're going to pass winter up this year altogether and move straight on to spring. And speaking of spring . . .

This coming Sunday is Candlemas, one of my favorite days in The Year of the Lord, and I've got the perfect recipe for you to try! Even little ones who turn their nose up at anything green love this recipe primarily because the vegetables are hidden away in that wonderful creamy, cheesy soup!

In many cultures this day is observed as a celebration of the return of the light (have you noticed that the days are ever so slow getting longer?), and with that, the hope of spring. The lovely golden color of the soup reminds me of the sun, flecked with tiny bright bits of carrots, and the broccoli itself serves as a reminder of how beautiful and green everything is in the spring, which makes this recipe, in my opinion, the perfect way to celebrate!

If you are a fan of Panera's broccoli cheese soup, I just have to tell you, this one beats it, at least in my book, and may make it into your regular menu rotation!


1 tablespoon + 4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small/medium sweet yellow onion, diced small
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock if you prefer)
2 cups half-and-half heavy cream
3 cups broccoli florets, diced into small pieces
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder (optional)
A pinch cayenne pepper, optional and to taste (does not make soup spicy, just adds flavor!)
8 ounces grated high quality extra-sharp cheddar cheese, plus a small amount for garnishing. (I use 1/2 sharp white cheddar and 1/2 sharp yellow cheddar)

In a large pot add 1 tablespoon butter, the diced onion, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent and barely browned, about 4 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and set pan aside. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Once onions and garlic are removed, in the same pot add 4 tablespoons butter, flour, and cook over medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly, until flour is thickened. This will make a roux and you want it to be thick so that the soup will thicken in the cooking process.

Slowly add the chicken stock, stirring constantly.

Slowly add the heavy cream, stirring constantly.

Allow mixture to simmer over low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it has reduced and thickened. You will notice a "skin" form on the top, which is normal. Just stir it occasionally and blend it back in.

While mixture is simmering, chop the broccoli and carrots. After simmering 15 to 20 minutes, add the broccoli, carrots, and the onion and garlic you previously set aside.

Add the salt, pepper, paprika, dry mustard (optional), and cayenne (optional).  Stir to combine.

Allow soup to simmer over low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until it has reduced and thickened some. Stir occasionally to blend in the ‘skin’.

While soup simmers, grate the cheese. For this recipe it is better to use a high-quality cheese, because the flavor of the soup depends on it. Do not use pre-grated cheese, as it is treated to help preserve it and thus resistant to melting. After simmering for 20 to 25 minutes, add the 8 oz of cheese, stirring until melted.

Transfer soup to bowls and garnish with additional cheese, and serve immediately.

This soup will keep for 5 to 7 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It is best to re-heat it slowly in the microwave, 30 seconds to 1 minute increments stirring after each rotation.

And with that, I hope you'll give this recipe a try, and if you do let me know how you like it! The Super Bowl is also this coming Sunday, which I personally could care less about but as my husband loves football, I'm sure I'll join in. Hopefully somewhere in the midst of all the hoopla, I'll be able to set aside a little time for some quiet reflection and observation of the lovely significance of this day.

Until then,


Friday, January 24, 2020

Candlemas: Celebrating The Return Of The Light

February 2 marks one of my favorite liturgical observances and celebrations, Candlemas. Also known as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and likewise,The Feast of the Presentation of Christ, Candlemas symbolizes the day when Mary went to the temple to be purified with her newborn son.

You might be more familiar with Groundhog's Day being observed on this day, but as with so many of our Americanized holidays and observances, its roots have a much deeper and symbolic meaning, which I'll outline in this post.

Depending on what part of the world you grew up in, Candlemas symbolizes a number of different events, or, in our home, a combination of them all.

The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Under Mosaic law, a woman was viewed as unclean for 7 + 33 days  40 days) after child birth, and as such, could not go into the temple. From the 25th of December, February 2 marks forty days.
See Leviticus 12:2-8, Luke 2:22-24

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ
But long before the Church in Rome began observing the day of purification, other branches of Christianity, such as the Greeks and the Armenians centered their observance around Christ first coming to the Temple, and was known as "the redeeming of the firstborn," or in Hebrew, pidyon ha-ben and is why this day is also known as The Feast of the Presentation of Christ.
See Exodus 13:2, 12-13, Numbers 18:15-16

It wasn't until some time in the 600's that the Roman Church began referring to the day as The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So while the Eastern Church focus was more upon Jesus, in the Western Church the emphasis was upon Mary. Today is primarily observed by the Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.

The Feast of Light (Return of the Light) or The Feast of Candles
Though candles didn't really play much of a factor in the observance, some time in the 11th century the day came to be  commemorated as "The Feast of Light" ("Lichtmess" in German) or "Feast of the Candles" ("Candelaria" in Spanish, and "La Fête de la Chandeleur" in French)  based upon the prophecy of Holy Simeon -- the "just and devout" man of Jerusalem who was inspired by the Holy Ghost to know that he would live to see the "consolation of Jerusalem" -- and the encounter with the aged widow, Anna the Prophetess, who lived in the Temple and confessed Christ upon meeting Him.  In Luke 2:32 Simeon referred to Jesus as "the light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of people Israel."

In keeping with the reference to "the light", the tradition of blessing the annual supply of the Church's candles was established. Beeswax candles were blessed by being sprinkled with water and having incense swung around them, and were then distributed among the members.  Today, parishioners bring their own beeswax candles to be blessed. In some churches, the blessing is the followed by a procession in which people carry lighted candles while the choir sings. The procession represents the entry of Jesus as light of the world into the temple. Afterwards, church members take their candles home and place them in their windows as a symbol of light during the darkest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are a few of the symbols and traditions associated with Candlemas, as well;

Doves are a symbol of Candlemas, as they were offered by Joseph and Mary as a sacrifice at the presentation. Their symbolism is significant, as they were poor and unable to afford a lamb for sacrifice. Traditionally, those who were unable to do so were allowed to offer a pair of doves instead.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are also known as "Candlemas Bells" because, being the earliest to bloom in the depths of winter, and often shortly before Candlemas, though some varieties bloom all winter long in some places. Legend says that they sprang up by the hand of an angel, who then pointed them out as a sign of hope to Eve, who was weeping in repentance and in despair over the cold and death that entered into the world after she and her husband sinned. Because our Hope is Christ, the Light as referred to by Simeon ,it is providential that the snowdrop should bloom so close to this feast day. If possible, gather some Candlemas Bells to bring inside. Legend tells that bringing them indoors before this date is bad luck, and bringing them indoors on this day "purifies" one's house. These flowers, along with carnations, are also the "birth flower" for those born in January.

And while most of us have taken all of our Christmas decorations down by now, some people do hold on to them until February.

Taking Down the Final Remnants of Christmastide
The eve of this Feast is the absolutely last (and best) day for taking down the Christmas tree, putting away the creche, etc. In some Latin countries, the creche isn't just put away, but is replaced with a figure of the Child Jesus sitting on a chair, acting as a sign that it is time for the devotion to the Divine Childhood to give way to a focus on the grown-up Savior and the public ministry, forty days of fasting, and Passion to come.

In any case, when Candlemas is finished, all feelings of Christmas give way to the penitential feelings of Septuagesima and then Lent. The English poet, Robert Herrick (A.D. 1591-1674), sums it up in his poem "Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve" -- and reveals a folktale in the process:

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and misletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all,
Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall:
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind:
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected, there (maids, trust to me)
So many goblins you shall see.

The very ancient carol, below, also speaks of the departure of Christmas on this day. It is called "I Am Christmas," and was written by James Ryman, a Franciscan Friar, ca. 1492. The reference to Hallowtide (the days of the dead centering around All Saints Day) here refers to the fact that it was during Hallowtide that monarchs used to announce where they would be spending Christmas.

I Am Christmas

Here have I dwelled with more or lass
From Hallowtide till Candelmas,
And now must I from you hens pass;
Now have good day.

I take my leve of king and knight,
And erl, baron, and lady bright;
To wilderness I must me dight;
Now have good day!

And at the good lord of this hall
I take my leve, and of gestes all;
Me think I here Lent doth call;
Now have good day!

And at every worthy officere,
Marshall, panter, and butlere
I take my leve as for this yere;
Now have good day!

Another yere I trust I shall
Make mery in this hall,
If rest and peace in England fall;
Now have good day!

But oftentimes I have herd say
That he is loth to part away
That often biddeth 'Have good day!";
Now have good day!

Now fare ye well, all in fere,
Now fare ye well for all this yere;
Yet for my sake make ye good chere;
Now have good day!

Some likewise view this day as the first official day to symbolize the return of spring, but because our biggest snowfalls in my neck of the woods are often in March and even as late as April, mentally, I'm just not there yet. However, I do keep a phenology wheel and because of that, I am very aware of how the days are lengthening and the light truly is returning.

Groundhog's Day
As I mentioned earlier, Candlemas Day is also known as "Groundhog's Day" in America, the day when, if the groundhog sees his shadow, there'll be 6 more weeks of winter. There is a similar belief in Europe about how Candlemas weather foretells the length of winter. The English have a saying, "If Candlemas Day be bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." The Germans also have a few sayings about how the weather at Candlemas bodes ill or well for the nearness of Spring:

When the bear sees
his shadow at Candlemas,
he will crawl back into his
hole for another six weeks.

or this one;

If Candlemas is mild and pure,
Winter will be long for sure.

And finally;

If it storms and snows on Candlemas day
Spring will not be far away.
If Candlemas is bright and clear,
Spring is not yet near.

In our home we've used a variation on these poems;

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.

But I also came across this lovely little poem just this week, which is so much like the poems we've traditionally used during Advent that I wish I'd found it when the girls were young.  At any rate, if you followed along with my Advent plans last year, perhaps you'll enjoy it.

Candle, candle burning bright,
Winter's halfway done tonight.
With a glowing, we are knowing,
Spring will come again!

While Punxsutawny Phil is fun, personally I much prefer the loveliness of Candlemas.

Ideas For Observing Candlemas
If you want to conduct an actual Candlemas Ceremony, you'll find an outline here.

- Let children roll and make their own beeswax candles, or if you want to get really adventurous, perhaps make some by dipping them a few days ahead.  Here's a kit for making your own rolled candles, or you and also purchase them ready made. I also love these orange peel candles, so beautiful how so many of the same elements are used in decorations from Advent through to the days before Lent. If you do make your own candles, here's another lovely poem to share with the littles in your life.

“A candle’s but a simple thing, it starts with just a bit of string. But dipped and dipped with patient hand, it gathers wax upon the strand. Until complete and snowy white, it gives at last a lovely light. Life seems so like that bit of string, each deed we do a simple thing. Yet day by day on life’s strand, we work with patient heart and hand. It gathers joy, makes dark days bright and gives at last a lovely light.”

- Light candles and set them in the windows. You can use the electric or battery operated ones that are popular at Christmas for safety.

- Go on a nature walk and try to locate some snowdrops. If possible, bring a few in and put them in a vase.

- This candle ring is particularly pretty, especially with the sun in the middle symbolizing the return of the light and lengthening days.  You could easily make one out of bread dough, even just a small one using birthday candles. There are twelve candles around the outer ring, one of each month in the year and then the sun candle in the middle.  If you want to make it a little bigger, you could use emergency candles which I usually purchase from the dollar store. It might make a pretty centerpiece for your table to share a special meal.

Traditional Food
Traditionally foods associated with Candlemas are crepes and pancakes because of their round and golden texture, symbolic of the sun (light).  I've never made crepe's, but I do love pancakes, especially buttermilk pancakes!

But this year, I've actually got my eye on these Bacon and Corn Griddle Cakes.

But if breakfast food isn't what you're looking for, in Mexico, tamales are the candlemas tradition! But then again, tamales can be a LOT of work, so instead, you could try out one of these.

My personal favorite, Chicken Tamale Casserole, a dish I've made MANY times! So easy, and so good! But if you'd prefer beef, this recipe looks good, too, Tamale Pie.

You could make these Mexican Cookie Rings with the littles in your life and let them decorate them with bright, festive sprinkles and serve them with Mexican Hot Chocolate.  You could also make simple cut out sugar cookies in the shape of a dove, perhaps sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

I also love the idea of this Cardamom Coffee Bread Wreath, it would be lovely topped with some small candles and perfectly fitting!

Well, I hope by now I've given you enough history and plenty of ideas for celebrating! Candlemas is such a lovely celebration, and as with so many other aspects of The Year of the Lord, filled with deep meaning and symbolism.  I hope you will try out a few of these ideas and savor in the beauty of this lovely day with your family.

"No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow!"

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Weeding Through and Dreaming Big

Walking through the kitchen a few days ago, I was struck by the beauty of the light that fell across the towels I have hanging on the front of the stove. I bought these on clearance at Hobby Lobby just after Christmas and I love them. This may not be their permanent resting place, however, as I've already noticed a tiny splatter of spaghetti sauce that we made earlier this week, and since my plan for these towels is more decorative than functional, I'll have to see.

I don't really have a lot to share today. It's been a busy week of freshening up spaces post-Christmas and I've started the process of downsizing a bit and selling things on the various Facebook yard sale groups that we belong to. January is usually a slow month for sales, so I wasn't expecting much, but I sold five items the first day. What's left for now are some higher ticket items which are usually slower to sell. I really hate the constant maintenance and having to go in and refresh the posts to bring items back to the forefront, but it beats setting everything up on tables and working in the elements, plus in an apartment there's really no way to do that. I still have other items to post, but to keep things manageable I'm posting five items at a time and adding new items as others sell, and so far that pace seems doable.

I've also been muddling my way through all of the bookmarks on my computer, and there-are-so-many. I am so bad about coming across things and thinking I might want to look at them later, and before I know it, its out of control! So I'm being considerate about what I keep, and rather than keeping it as a bookmark, I'm putting things into documents and saving them in a somewhat manageable format. Most of the ideas are for celebrating and observing the seasons and the liturgical year, and there are TONS of recipes, of which I've actually eliminated about half. At some point my goal is for the seasonal and liturgical ideas and resources to find their way here, then I will have access to them in more than one place and they'll be organized in a way that makes sense, instead of all of those random book marks. Once I finish with the book marks then I'm going to begin the time consuming process of weeding through the files on my computer and keeping the things I truly want and deleting the rest. And then . . . there's Pinterest, which is daunting, especially in light of the fact that I apparently can-not-help-myself, and I just keep pinning!

But there's a bigger end goal for all of this weeding and organizing, and that is my long-time dream of a writing a book! In my mind it would be much like the seasonal day keeper's I've compiled, but on a larger scale. I haven't decided at this point if I will still break them up by season, or just write and compile them in one large volume, and that's not even a question I have to answer right now. But what I do know it that it will include ideas and resources for observing and celebrating the seasonal and liturgical year, including recipes and craft ideas. I also love quotes and book passages, as you might have gathered based on the number of times I post them here, so I want to include them, as well, for some added embellishment. My original goal was to complete it this year, but as I've been weeding through things I think perhaps a more realistic goal would be to have the autumn, or depending on how things progress, perhaps the winter edition ready to go by the end of the year. That is why I think it might be better to write and compile four small volumes rather than wait until I have all of them completed before I make it available. I also had the idea to write four smaller volumes, and then once I have them all done, I might compile them into one large volume and add a little bonus content to it. This is all very much in the beginning phase right now, so nothing is set in stone. I would most likely offer them for purchase as .pdf downloads so that I don't have to bother with actually publishing it, but I am still toying with that as well. Anyway, I'm rambling again, so let me wrap this up. As this is an ongoing process (I am committed to working on it daily!), I'm sure I'll share more in the days to come.

But before I go, I wanted to share this sweet little poem I came across earlier this week.  It reminds me so much of one of my favorite passages in scripture;

"And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."

- 1 Kings 19:11-12

Small Things

It usually starts taking shape
from one word,
reveals itself in one smile,
sometimes in the blue glint of eyeglasses,
in a trampled daisy,
in a splash of light on a path,
in quivering carrot leaves,
in a bunch of parsley.
It comes from laundry hung on a balcony,
from hands thrust into dough.
It seeps through closed eyelids,
as through the prison wall of things, of objects,
of faces, of landscapes.
It’s when you slice bread,
when you pour out some tea.
It comes from a broom,
from a shopping bag,
from peeling new potatoes,
from a drop of blood from the prick of a needle,
when making a blanket for a child
or sewing a button on a husband’s burial shirt.
It comes out of toil, out of care,
out of immense fatigue in the evening,
our of a tear wiped away
out of a prayer broken off in mid-word by sleep.
It’s not from the grand,
but from every tiny thing
that it grows enormous,
as if someone was building eternity
as a swallow its nest,
out of clumps of moments.

by Anna Kamienska

Today I pray that in the pause you look for the little things, and in that, you will find Him there!

Until then,

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Dance of Time

Chapel at Randolph College.

I've posted this before, but in light of my all that I shared with you here yesterday, it seemed fitting and I was happy to come across it again.  If taking note of the seasons and building rhythm into the fabric of your days appeals to you, perhaps this will bless you, as well.

In ancient days, the world itself served as a vast clock. People closely watched the seasons change. Winter thawed into spring, which warmed into summer, summer surrendered to cool autumn, until the first freeze of winter descended and the cycle began again.

The heavens kept time with the earth, the sun dependably marked off the day's hours as it journeyed westward across the sky: one circuit of the sun from dawn to dawn is in fact, the very definition of a day. The sun also acted like any sensible person, retreating from winter's cold and returning with the warming days of spring.

After sunset, in any season, the lambent moon rose to guide travelers through the night. The moon also mysteriously, but conveniently, changed its shape, growing from thin crescent to full orb and shrinking back to crescent again in a cycle that took about twenty-nine days. The inconstant moon proved a reliable measure for longer stretches of time, from new moon to new moon. The ancient Germans called this period of about thirty days a monath, and but for a sliding vowel, so do we still.

From the ancient times, people recognized that the earthly and celestial turning points of the year were linked. The sun's travel delineated the seasons. The solstices, when the sun reached it farthest northern and southern position in the sky, inaugurated summer and winter, the equinoxes; when the sun and moon stood midway between the solstices and and the length of day and night were equal, marked the advent of spring and autumn.

The gauzy night sky held other signposts. Certain stars appeared annually, like heralds announcing the seasons. Throughout the Western world, the great hourglass shaped constellation of Orion warned of impending winter, while Leo the lion's right triangle marked a sure sign of spring. The Pleiades, so diaphanously lovely that to really see them one had to look the other way, led summer into fall.

All nature obeyed the dictates of cyclical time, not least human beings. Just as the sun waned from blazing summer strength to a feeble spark on the far horizon, so too, did the young eventually grow old. Just as the trees in the forests and the crops in the fields withered with the onset of fall, so did human beings age, sicken, and die. Nature yearly reiterated the life cycle of humankind, and each individuals fate reflected the dance of the cosmos.

Although life was shorter, time was longer, moving with the steady but unhurried sun from one season to the next, changing in increments with the moon, wheeling with the great circle of the stars. Then around 1350, carefully stowed beneath the decks of trading ships, keeping company with gunpowder and the astrolabe, the first mechanical clocks arrived in Europe. Modern time made its debut, and forever changed its creators."

- Michael Judge The Dance of Time

Monday, January 13, 2020

Keeping Winter

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it; the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." 

 - Andrew Wyeth

Despite the fact that winter has been with us nearing a month now (January 21), in my neck of the woods it has yet to arrive. (The pictures in this post are from January 12, 2019). It feels more like early spring, and on Sunday with temperatures in the high 60's I could almost believe it was going to pass us by altogether. But according to the experts, after this week things should be cooling down a bit, and winter, hopefully, will begin behaving more like itself. This news makes me happy, as winter is my second favorite season! I'm not put off at all by the colder weather and dropping temperatures. I can always put on enough clothes and wrap up in enough blankets to be warm. And I am also admittedly blessed to be a home keeper, so when the cold days come, unless I choose to I don't have to get out in them.

With the predicted forecast in mind, I've been thinking about winter. Recently I read that back in the 18th century there was an old English expression of "keeping" a season, which referred to the traditional ways that people in the country restored their bodies and nurtured their souls by honoring in their daily routines, the rhythms of the natural world. Sowing, reaping, rest. In those days when the deep snows of winter came, there were no plows to come and dig people out, or trucks to salt the narrow roads. In the winter, in the country you "kept" yourself and your family at home.

In today's world the very idea of "keeping" any season, much less winter, is unheard of. For the most part, businesses remain open and employees are expected to brave the less than ideal conditions and report for duty. Both my husband and my daughter work retail jobs, and it is a rare thing for them to not have to show up for work because of the weather. It's made for a few nail biting moments for me as I anxiously awaited news that they had arrived to work and back home safely. But even those of us who are blessed with the luxury of staying at home don't really "keep the season", at least not in the sense that such a statement evokes for me. In this day and age, technology keeps us joined at the hip, rarely missing a beat. As long as we don't lose power, we march forward, undaunted.

But for me winter especially is an invitation to rest, or at the very least, to slow, and on the rare occasion that we are all able to stay home together as a family, I do my best to insure that those days are exactly that. An unexpected and welcomed reprieve. Sleep in. Stay in your pajamas all day.  Cuddle up under a blanket and dive into a good book. Play board games. Make hot chocolate, and with as little effort as possible, put a pot of hearty soup or stew either on the burner, or even better, the crock pot! Typically when they are calling for a possible storm of any significance, we have a few days warning and time to prepare. In those cases I plan our meals accordingly and make sure I already have everything I need on hand to make up something warm and filling. For me, this is "keeping winter".

In her book Romancing the Ordinary: A Year of Simple Splendor, Sarah Ban Breathnach writes;

"If you can't even remember the last time the very thought of snow brought a twinge of pleasure, take yourself to the children's section of the library (preferably without a child so that you can dawdle).  Ask the nice lady behind the desk to point you in the direction of the winter picture books. Take a few or as many as you can carry. Sit in a little chair and slowly peruse the pages as if you're discovering winter for the first time as an adult."

So the next time there's a winter storm in your forecast, why not plan ahead, maybe borrowing from a few of the ideas and resources I'm suggesting and linking below, truly "keep winter", at least for one day!
First, if you know at least a few days in advance, plan ahead.  Look through this selection of soups that can cook away all day in the crock pot. There's sure to be one you and your family will love.  Maybe add a simple salad and crusty loaf of garlic cheese bread, and you're good to go! And to keep lunch simple, kid's typically love grilled cheese sandwiches, and if you just happen to have a mitten or snowflake shaped cookie cutter around, you could press a cute pattern into one side of the bread for and added touch!  No kids?  Check out these recipes for those of you with a more "mature" taste!

For these games, it's simple, all you need is a deck of cards, all the instructions are here.  Snow days are also perfect for classic board games like Monopoly, Life and Scrabble!

FUN (Not just for kids, but for the kid in all of us!)
- Build a snowman.
- Have a snowball fight.
- Make snow angels.
- Go sledding.
- Make paper snowflakes.
- Make ice lanterns. (right)
- Make suet ornaments for the birds.
- Make snow ice cream!
- Build a blanket fort and fill it with comfy layers of pillows and more blankets!
- Have a read-a-thon.

And in the event you yourself have never truly enjoyed the pleasures of winter, here are a few of those picture books that Sarah mentioned. I would encourage you to not only read them, but to dive deep into the beautiful illustrations and learn to see winter with new eyes.

- Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares For Winter
- Over and Under The Snow
- The Mitten
- The Hat
- Owl Moon
- The Snowy Day
- Snowballs

I hope that you have been inspired and that several days in the coming season will find you "keeping winter".  To me it's such a lovely season, and I'd love to help and encourage everyone to find its beauty and come to truly appreciate it!

To close I want to share one of my favorite children's poems which I think is fitting for this post.

Picture Books In Winter 

 Summer fading, winter comes—
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children’s eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are,
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies’ looks,
In the pictyure story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

- Robert Louis Stevenson

Until then,

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

My Word for 2020 - Dwell

The plan was to pack away all of the Christmas decorations yesterday, but with snow in the forecast, the thought of twinkling lights and softly falling snowflakes was enough to cause me to bring that idea to a halt. In the end it lasted for a whopping total of about ten minutes and nothing stuck. But it was beautiful while it lasted and I take satisfaction, misconstrued though it may be, in knowing that it snowed while the Christmas decorations were up. Yep, I'm weird like that.

To be honest I've been struggling with the thought of taking them down at all. I struggle every year. There is just something about the days leading up to Christmas, the anticipation, that sense of having something wonderful to look forward to, that once it passes always leaves me with an aching emptiness. There is no other season filled with so much, and I love every-single-minute of it. Then January comes along, and believe me I stretch that season out as far as I can. But once Christmas day has passed, and especially after the turn of the year, the enchantment begins to fade, the lights dim and life-as-we-know-it resumes.

This year is especially hard because of all the impending changes in our lives. I have no idea where we will be when Christmas rolls around again at the end of the year, and if I'm honest, I'm struggling. I've been a homebody all of my life. I like to stake out a place and call it mine and live in it. I don't care much for change. And yet deep down I know, that where I am in these moments is exactly where I should be, and more importantly, that it is God's will for me.

Not surprisingly my word for 2020 is DWELL. As in years past I began intentionally praying for it to be revealed late last autumn, and in His faithfulness, it came. In songs, in my reading, it seemed wherever I looked was the constant refrain of dwell. At first it seemed too easy, my life psalm is Psalm 91, and in particular verses 1-2.

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my strength."

And while I liked the idea of this being my focus for the year, in some ways it seemed too familiar.  But then this week, and especially today, it started to become a little clearer.

D W E L L 

What does "to dwell" mean to me? The first things that came to mind were scenes of home, of nesting, of home keeping, of not just occupying a space but truly living in it. It is me to my core, it rests in the very soul of me. But in light of it being my word for the year, how does that factor? What is the deeper meaning that He wants to communicate in speaking this word over my life for 2020? So this morning, I read Psalm 91 again, and that was when I saw it. Why, when I think of dwelling, especially in light of my claim that Psalm 91:1-2 is my life verse, is God not the first thing that comes to mind? Is He, have I TRULY made Him my resting place? Is my desire for Him greater than my desire for all of these things, this stuff? Where is my heart truly at home? In Him, or in the world?

As with so many other things in life. it was as if the blinders had suddenly been removed from my eyes and for the first time I could clearly see. This venture, this dream that I feel called to pursue with my husband,  is about so much more than minimizing our lives down to what will fit inside of a Ford F 350 passenger van. So much more than leaving "home" and seeking out adventure. This is about stripping me of anything that would bind my heart and hold me too tightly to this earth,  and calling me fully into the dwelling place of the Most High. This "stuff", these images that come to mind so easily when I think of dwelling and home, are but a shadow of all that awaits me. And please don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with filling our homes with pretty things, and making a comforting and inviting place for our families to rest. But for me personally this space that I occupy has become my safe place, my refuge, and in essence, I realize that all of this stuff that I've surrounded myself with, holds my heart too tightly.

I tried to convince myself that if the ceiling of my home were to open up and God were to reveal Himself to me in that expanse and ask me to choose that SURELY I would choose Him. But then I thought of the hundred little moments every day when I am faced, essentially, with that same choice and I choose other things over Him. All-this-stuff I surround myself with, that give me the illusion of safety, of refuge. All of these mortal things that fail in comparison to all that He has for me. I think of Matthew 19, and of the rich man. When he looked on his life he could check off all the boxes, he'd made all the right choices, but the one thing he lacked . . . his riches meant more to him than Christ himself. He missed heaven because His heart was bound too strongly to earth. OUCH! That one stings, because. . . . . I am he.

So how does this play out, what does this look like? I'm not even sure I know. I don't feel the Lord calling me to sale all of my possessions. Our plan all along has been for our daughter to use much of it as she will be taking over the lease when we leave. Then at some point, when we feel it is time to end our traveling, and depending on where she is, we will settle somewhere and our things will be waiting for us. By then much of it may be in storage, as Kate will most likely want to purchase her own furnishings and decor to suit her personal taste. So much of how this is all going to play out is really unknown and will unfold over time, but this is the idea, anyway. I guess what I'm saying is, we don't feel it would be prudent to simply sell everything and then once we are finished traveling to have to buy it all over again. And since Kate doesn't have the financial means to furnish an apartment right now, it just makes sense for her to use what is already here until she either no longer wants it or we need it again. That being said, it's not so much that I feel a need to rid myself of my idols as much as I am being freed of their hold on me. Less of me (and all of my stuff that I hold so dear), and more of Him.

Another thing that has been revealed over the past few days, is that while "dwell" is my word, Psalm 91:1-2 is not my verse for the year. You see, in addition to making my physical home my refuge and needing to learn to dwell in Him, I likewise don't tarry well in the waiting. I don't like not knowing what is coming or how my life is going to play out. But honestly, do any of us? The not knowing is built into life I believe essentially to lead us to place our trust in Him. He is the only known, the one constant, the true assurance. By learning to dwell in Him, I likewise am entrusting myself to Him. I can control my surroundings, with carefully articulated choices and considered placement, I've created a beautiful illusion, not only of safety but of control. God wants to strip me of both, and in that this verse lept from the pages yesterday, and I knew in an instant.

"Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him."

- Psalm 37:7

In my dwelling, in making Him my refuge, in leaning into Him as "home" and being reminded that we were never meant to feel as "at home" on this earth as I'm afraid I've made myself, I likewise have to trust Him. I don't know where I'll be this time next year. . . how many times have those words crossed my mind over the days and weeks as I've essentially mourned the impending changes? But truthfully, I don't even know what is going to happen in the next hour! Oh how much control I've been fooled into believing I yield. I know nothing, save for His relentless faithfulness to me. I would have given up long ago.

And as for Christmas and essentially packing away all the joy to just "resume life as usual", you can bet that wasn't wasted, either. Why is it that I attach the joy of the anticipation of His coming to these earthly symbols? And again, please don't think for a moment that I am dissing Christmas and all-that-it-entails. I will FOREVER love this season. But honestly, every day of my life, of our lives could and should be lived in the joyful anticipation, not only of His birth, but of His second coming, of His glorious return. Every single day of our lives is lived in advent, in awaiting. As a Christian there is no such thing as "life as usual", there is only "life in Him".

I came across a book a few days back, The Practice of the Presence of God by Father Lawrence, and I feel the Holy Spirit leading me to read it. The title alone is at the heart of dwelling in Him, so that's a starting point. Likewise, I feel the urge to find a way to "keep Christmas" in the here and now, in every moment of these ordinary days, and from what I've read so far, Father Lawrence lived such a life. Christ was very much at the center of every task he undertook.

And now, if you've stuck with me this far, then I applaud you! Over the coming weeks I'll be sharing more, and I've no doubt that dwelling, and resting will be a common theme, so if anything in this now very long post has intrigued you, then I hope you'll follow along. Do you have a word for the year? And if so, what is it? I always love hearing about such things, and seeing how the Lord weaves them into the fabric of our days. Leave your thoughts in the comments, and let's catch up again soon!

Until then, dwell in Him,


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Epiphany - The End of Christmastide

Often lost or overlooked in the quieter days following the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Epiphany (January 6) approaches. Observed as the end of Christmastide, Epiphany ushers in Ordinary Time.

We celebrate the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, retelling the story of their journey to Bethlehem as we reflect upon what it means to seek Christ today, and what gifts we can offer.

It is perhaps the timing of Epiphany that makes it one of my favorites. It is the dawn of a new year, a fresh slate, and an opportunity to realign my path with God's purpose and offer Him my very best.

Celebrating Epiphany is a joyous occasion, whether you share in the fun with the littles in your life, or even in a quiet, personal observance alone or with your spouse.  With stars and crowns and kings, it sheds a golden light upon the darker days of winter.

Today I'm sharing a number of ideas for ways that you can observe and celebrate this special day. Of course, I am by no means suggesting that you do all of them. So why not sit back with a warm cup of tea or your favorite beverage, maybe nibble on a few lingering holiday treats, if you still have them around, and decide on a few ideas that seem do-able to you. You can always come back to this post next year (it will be easily tucked away under Christmas and Epiphany).

Grass Boxes - after their long journey, the camels the three kings rode in on will be tired and hungry. Have your child leave a box of grass (you could easily buy some fake straw or maybe even use some easter grass) under their bed for the camels. The next morning they will awake to find a few small treasures (gifts), the camels left in appreciation.

The Blessing of the Home - traditionally a priest blesses the home, but the head of the house can carry out the blessing as well. The traditional ceremony can be found here.

The Chalking of the Door
(if desired the head of the home can bless the chalk, prior to chalking the door)

20 + C + M + B + 20 

The C, M, and B are placed in between the numbers of the current year, with crosses in between each symbol. The three letters have two significations: the invocation Christus Mansionem Benedicat (Christ bless this house), as well as the first initial of the names of the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.

The Blessing of the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh  - Some traditionally include their gold (wedding bands, etc) or other precious jewels blessed as well.

Epiphany Prayer Boxes - I love this idea, Will you give Jesus your heart? Will you give Jesus your mind? Will you give Jesus your treasures?
Three Wise Men Paper Toys - These would be quick and easy to make, and fun for the littles in your life.
Three Kings made from toilet paper rolls. Just use materials you already have!
Here's another cute Three Kings craft, made using popsicle sticks, construction paper and glitter!
Glittery Crowns - another simple craft idea. These would be pretty made up and sitting on the table with a small votive candle in the middle.
Three Kings Crowns - a simple crown for your child to wear.
Three Kings Ornament - just print it off and let your child color and decorate it.

King's Cake - this recipe is actually for Queen Mary, but would be perfect for the Epiphany.
Eggnog Pound Cake - I just love the sound of this recipe, and think it would also be fitting.

Whatever recipe you use, be sure to hide Baby Jesus inside which is symbolic of the Holy Family's flight to avoid King Herod.  Whoever finds the baby in the slice of cake receives a special blessing for the upcoming year.

Wassail - Wassail is popular throughout the Christmas season, but is also traditionally served on Twelfth Night and/or on the Epiphany.  This recipe is for an easy one, made in the crock pot.

The Gifts of the Kings - the are made using Pringles cans, but it would be lovely to place the contents in bowls for your table.

Jewel Bark - this candy would be lovely to make especially for this day.

Other Ideas
Watch The Star, for little ones, but maybe your not so little ones, too.
The Star, for the older ones

The Star of Bethlehem - The Symbol of the Epiphany

The Star of Bethlehem The next great symbol of Epiphany, is the glorious Star of Bethlehem. There are so many theories now as to what, exactly, this "Star of Wonder" was. Some believe it was a comet or a supernova. Some believe it was actually a conjunction of planets. 2 The Fathers, like St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 50 - c.100), though, believed it was completely miraculous, like the pillar of fire of
Numbers 13:21:

"And the Lord went before them to shew the way by day in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire: that he might be the guide of their journey at both times."

St. Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians:

"A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of Which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment. And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else in the heavens."

St. John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407) (and St. Thomas Aquinas after him), also believed it was a miraculous event. He wrote in his Commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew:

"For if ye can learn what the star was, and of what kind, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only, we shall easily know the other things also. Whence then will these points be manifest? From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not, there is not any star that moves by this way, but whether it be the sun you mention, or the moon, or all the other stars, we see them going from east to west; but this was wafted from north to south; for so is Palestine situated with respect to Persia."

The apocryphal Protoevangelium of St. James (ca. A.D. 125) has the Magi saying to Herod:

"We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him."

Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461) described it like this in his thirty-first sermon:

"To three wise men, therefore, appeared a star of new splendour in the region of the East, which, being brighter and fairer than the other stars, might easily attract the eyes and minds of those that looked on it, so that at once that might be observed not to be meaningless, which had so unusual an appearance."

But perhaps St. Ephraem (a.k.a. Ephraim), d. 373, describes it best in his "Hymns for Epiphany":

"In the Height and the Depth the Son had two heralds. The star of light proclaimed Him from above; John likewise preached Him from beneath: two heralds, the earthly and the heavenly. The star of light, contrary to nature, shone forth of a sudden; less than the sun yet greater than the sun. Less was it than he in manifest light; and greater than he in secret might because of its mystery."

Its exact nature aside, we're not sure about precisely when it appeared or for how long. Did it appear at the Annunciation, giving the magi more than nine months to make their way to Bethlehem? Did it appear on Christmas night? Some time in between? No one knows for certain, but whatever it was, this great sign was predicted by the wicked Balaam, as recorded in the Books of Moses:

Numbers 24:15-19
"Therefore taking up his parable, again he said: Balaam the son of Beor hath said: The man whose eye is stopped up, hath said: The hearer of the words of God hath said, who knoweth the doctrine of the Highest, and seeth the visions of the Almighty, who falling hath his eyes opened: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth. And he shall possess Idumea: the inheritance of Seir shall come to their enemies, but Israel shall do manfully. Out of Jacob shall he come that shall rule, and shall destroy the remains of the city."

-- and the Magi knew it.


Show natural symbols of the Star to your children inside a cross-sectioned apple, in poinsettias, on one side of a sand dollar, in the flower called "Star-of-Bethlehem" (Ornithogalum umbellatum), etc.

Folded Origami Nature Wreath
While these are technically wreaths, I think they look very similar to a giant star and would be the perfect craft for the Epiphany.  You will find the instructions for making them, here.
Another flower associated with the Star of Bethlehem is the Ox-Eye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), also called "Mary's Star." Legend says that after the Magi followed the Star of Bethlehem to the right town, they didn't know where exactly to go. St. Melchior looked down and saw the Ox-Eye Daisy, noticed its resemblance to the Star they'd been following, so plucked it up. When he did, the door to the place of Christ's nativity opened, showing the Magi where the King of Kings lay. *Photo from The Hidden Way

If you prefer a true five point star, these instructions will show you how.  A string of them hanging across a window would be pretty. And here is another take.  These might be fun to make with some of your leftover wrapping paper.

Christmas Scented Salt Dough Ornaments
Another fun craft idea are these Christmas scented salt dough ornaments. You'll find the instructions for them, here. *Photo from Rocky Hedge Farm

Other Ideas
Here are some other ideas for fun crafts to make featuring stars.

- Star of Bethlehem Clothes Pin Ornament 
(featured at top) *Photo from Equipping Godly Women
- Wrapped Yarn Stars
- Twig Stars 
- Crocheted Stars
- Evergeen Stars - I LOVE these, definitely putting them on my list of things to make next year!
- Star of Bethlehem Craft
- Apple Star Ornaments - using dried apples.
- Wool Felt Ornaments - these are actually part of a garland, but you could easily make them as individual stars. But even a garland draped across a window would be lovely for the Epiphany.
- Orange Peel Star Garland - I made one of these last year and just love the look of it!
- Orange Rind Votives - I've made these before as well and just loved the look of them. They do mold quickly though, but if you rub the inside with a little petroleum jelly they last longer.

Well, hopefully one of these ideas has sparked your interest. I've tried to include ideas that range from simple to perhaps a little more involved.  If you're like me, you're probably going to tuck a few away for next year!

~ Enjoy!

Twelfth Night

The Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, January 5, marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. It is known as Twelfth Night. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings to the birthplace of Christ. The Three Kings, also known as the Wise Men or the Magi, were: Caspar, King of Tarsus, the Land of Myrrh; Melchior, King of Arabia, the Land of Gold; and Balthasar, King of Saba, where Frankincense was said to flow from the trees.

The Kings presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child. Gold symbolized kingship, frankincense depicted godliness, and myrhhr represented a painful death. In return, charity and spiritual riches would be offered for the gold, faith for incense, and truth and meekness for the present of myrrh. The Wise Men returned home and, in 7 A.D., Saint Thomas discovered the Kings in India and baptized them. They are said to have become martyrs and their bodies buried within the walls of Jerusalem. It is believed the remains were later moved to Turkey by the Emperor Constaine's mother and, later still, to Milan until they were finally laid to rest in Cologne.

Twelfth Night also begins the celebration of Christ's revealing His Divinity in three ways, which is formally celebrated on January 6, The Epiphany.

Jesus revealved His divinity to . .

- to the Magi who, guided by the great and mysterious Star of Bethlehem, came to visit Him when He was a Baby (Matthew 2:1-19)

- through His Baptism by St. John, when "the Spirit of God descending as a dove" came upon Him and there was heard a voice from Heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1), and all Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity were manifest (Note: the Baptism of Our Lord is also commemorated on the 13th of January)

- through His first public miracle -- that of the wedding at Cana when Our Lord turned water into wine at the request of His Mother (John 2). Just as God's first miracle before the Egyptian pharaoh, through Moses, was turning the waters of the Nile into blood, Our Lord's first miracle was turning water into wine.

In many Christian homes (especially Italian ones), it's not Christmas Day that is for giving presents to children, but the Feast of Epiphany, when the gifts are given in a way related to the Magi. So today will have a "feel" of Christmas Eve, and because of the Epiphany's association with the Magis' gift-giving, tomorrow is often referred to colloquially as the "Little Christmas."

It is today that the Three Kings should reach the creche (heretofore, they should be kept away from it) and that Baby Jesus should be adorned with signs of royalty, such as a crown, ermine, and gold or purple cloth. Set up golden candlesticks around the manger where He lies.


Typified in the Old Testament by the Queen of Saba (Sheba), who entered Jerusalem "with a great train, and riches, and camels that carried spices, and an immense quantity of gold, and precious stones" in order to ascertain King Solomon's greatness (III Kings 10), the three Magi entered Jerusalem bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the newborn King. The Fathers see in their gifts omens of Christ's life:

the gold as a sign of His Kingship. The gifts of gold and frankincense were both prophesied by Isaias in the sixth chapter of his book.

the frankincense -- a gum resin (i.e., dried tree sap) from the Boswellia tree, native to Somalia and southern coastal Arabia -- as a sign of His Deity. Mixed with stacte, and onycha, and sweet galbanum, it was used by Moses to set before the tabernacle as an offering to God, and was considered so "holy to the Lord" that it was forbidden to use profanely (see Numbers 30).

the myrrh -- a brownish gum resin from the Commiphora abyssinica tree, native to eastern Africa and Arabia, and used in embalming -- as a sign of His death. Myrrh, along with cinnamon and cassius, was used by Moses to "anoint the tabernacle of the testimony, and the ark of the testament" (Numbers 30). It has analgesic properties, too, and was offered, mixed with wine, to Christ on the Cross, which He refused (Mark 15:23). Nicodemus brought myrrh to annoint Our Lord's Body after death (John 19:39).

The Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, describes the gifts thus:

...by these three be signified three things that be in Jesu Christ: The precious Deity, the soul full of holiness, and the entire Flesh all pure and without corruption. And these three things be signified that were in the ark of Moses. The rod which flourished, that was the Flesh of Jesu Christ that rose from death to life; the tables wherein the commandments were written, that is the soul, wherein be all the treasures of sapience and science of Godhead. The manna signifieth the Godhead, which hath all sweetness of suavity. By the gold which is most precious of all metals is understood the Deity; by the incense the soul right devout, for the incense signifieth devotion and orison; by the myrrh which preserveth from corruption, is understood the Flesh which was without corruption.

A song perfect for the day, "We Three Kings of Orient Are," (listen here),written in 1857, speaks of the gifts' symbolism:

We three kings of Orient are,
bearing gifts we traverse afar
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.


O star of wonder, star of night,
star with royal beauty bright;
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light!

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain,

gold I bring to crown him again,
King for ever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign. (Refrain)

Frankincense to offer have I:

incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, gladly raising.
worship him, God Most High. (Refrain)

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume

Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. (Refrain)

Glorious now behold him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice;,
heaven sings, alleluia;
alleluia the earth replies. (Refrain)

The three Magi -- Caspar (a.k.a., Gaspar, Kaspar or Jaspar), Melchior, and Balthasar -- are seen as the "first fruits of the Gentiles" -- those outside of Israel who came to faith. They undoubtedly travelled from Persia (modern Iran, a distance of about a thousand miles from Bethlehem), and their ancestral origins are probably found in Persia, Babylon (modern Iraq), Arabia, India, and/or Ethiopia.
Now, if they were Magi -- members of the priestly class -- why are they called "Kings"? Because of these verses from Sacred Scripture:

"He shall come down like rain upon the fleece; and as showers falling gently upon the earth. In his days shall justice spring up, and abundance of peace, till the moon be taken sway. And he shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. Before him the Ethiopians shall fall down: and his enemies shall lick the ground. The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts: And all kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him"

- Psalm 71::6-11

"Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the. strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord."

Isaiah 60:1-6

How do we know there were three? We don't know that from Scripture, but tradition relates that were were three, and that there were three gifts mentioned supports this notion as well. Tradition says, too, that these three men were representative of the three ages of man and of the three "racial types" of man, the three families that descended from Noe's three sons (Sem, Cham, and Japheth). According to tradition, Caspar was the young, beardless, ruddy descendant of Ham who brought frankincense. Melchior was an old, white-haired, bearded descendant of Sem who brought gold. And Balthasar was a bearded black descendant of Japheth, in the prime of his life, who brought myrrh (see the works of the Venerable Bede). The three Magi: symbols of all the races of man, invited to worship the One God as one, and all equally beloved by Him. As different as the peoples of the world may be, as different as the cultures and languages that have arisen, and as prudent or imprudent our living together in one place may be given differences in various groups' ways of life, we are all potentially one in Him.

Tradition also has it that the kings were baptized by St. Thomas, and they are considered Saints of the Church. Though their feasts aren't celebrated liturgically, the dates given for them in the martyrology are as follows: St. Caspar on 1 January; St. Melchior on 6 January; and St. Balthasar on 11 January.

The cathedral in Cologne, Germany contains the relics of the Magi, discovered in Persia and brought to Constantinople by St. Helena, transferred to Milan in the fifth century, and then to Cologne in 1163. Their trip to Cologne -- said to have taken place on three separate ships -- is the genesis of the carol "I Saw Three Ships" (listen here). The lyrics of which were later amended to speak of the Holy Family rather than the Magi, and of their sailing to Bethlehem (a physical impossibility in real life) rather than to Cologne.

The modern lyrics are:
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

Our Savior Christ and His lady,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Pray whither sailed those ships all three,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the souls on Earth shall sing,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the souls on Earth shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice again,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Then let us rejoice again,
On Christmas day in the morning.

The three stars that make up the belt of the constellation Orion are often called "The Three Kings" or "the Magi" in honor of the men who travelled so far to honor Our Lord. On a clear night, this constellation is easily seen in Winter's southern sky, so take your children outside to see a beautiful symbol, made of stars, of the men who followed the Star of Bethlehem. If you follow the line of the belt southward, you will see lovely bluish-white Sirius (the Dog Star), the brightest star in the night sky. It's as if "the Magi" are following the "Star of Bethlehem" forever.

Text from various sources, primarily found at Fish Eaters