The Gift of Sharing

Today/tomorrow is winter solstice - the shortest day and the longest night in the year. Marking the darkest and the most difficult time of the year, where light and warmth is sparse, this is when human being around the world have created other ways to supply themselves with these important resources – by spending those dark, long, cold nights with one another and enriching them with sharing their experiences.

Storytelling, music and dance have been a natural way to combat the winter fatigue, depression and anxieties. In modern day living, when the communities have been broken down and families are spread all over the world, this time of year is a special one, when people actually do get together and set that time aside to nourish each other and keep each other company in the dark.

Some cultures have incorporated fragrance into the winter celebration. The following are a few ideas for adapting these customs into modern day living – whether you are religious or not.

Well, you all know what my people do to brighten up the winter. We light those candles on a 9 branched candlestick called Chanukia. Each night, one candle is added until in the 8th night of the holiday, the Chanukia is all lit up.
While Chanuka is over, the possibilities of lighting candles are not. Candles have a warm, soft light and make each situation feel somewhat more intimate and less intimidating. I always light candles in parties rather than have a full-blown electric light, to make my guests feel more comfortable and to set a different, more festive mood. If you have fragrant candles, all the better. Soy wax or beeswax candles are the cleanest burning and are better for you and the environment.
If your candles are unscented, you can scent them yourself by anointing them with your own oil. Simply rub the outside of the candle with an oil based perfume, and the room will be filled with a gentle aroma and a gentle light. I recommend using a natural perfume oil for that matter. I used to do that with my Moon Breath perfume with spectacular results, and I’m sure you could do the same with more simple combinations of oils that appeals to you. Use a base of jojoba, almond or olive oil for best results.

In Japan, yuzu fruit are added to hot baths for a festive winter solstice bathing ritual. And indeed, I can’t recommend a better time for a citrus bath than now. While public bathing is rarely part of Western culture, this might be a good time to share your bath with those who you feel comfortable with and depending on the size of your bath. Citrus scented bath at this time will also have none of the photoxic risk (unless you live in a sunny country), as your skin will most likely be non exposed to the sun after taking the bath… Even if taken alone, this rejuvenating fragrant bath is sure to chase away the winter gloom and bring in positive thoughts like sunny orchards.

yuzu-yu, originally uploaded by ranjit.

Here is a recipe for a nourishing and fragrant citrus bath oil.

Yellow Yuzu Bath Oil
100ml Almond Oil
2 capsules vitamin E
20 drops Lemon essential oil
20 drops Litsea Cubeba essential oil
50 drops Yuzu essential oil
20 drops Grapefruit essential oil
5 drops Clementine essential oil

Frankincense and Myrrh were gifted to Jesus Christ upon his birth, and have played a symbolic role in other places in the New Testament (myrrh was given to Christ on the cross to relief his pain, as it is an analgesic). Symbolically, frankincense is associated with the sun, while myrrh is associated with the earth. There couldn’t be a better time to burn incense. An incense made of equal amounts of frankincense tears and myrrh resin would be very appropriate. Burn it on a hot charcoal in a censer to create an atmosphere in your gathering and bond between those presents; or, burn it in your home to clear it energetically, flowing new energy into the rooms where the incense is brought into, and creating space for more sunlight and warmth.

Botafumeiro, originally uploaded by antonioVi.

Once upon a time, my parents decided to buy a wood stove to heat the little hat they built in the Western Galilee. And a very clever idea that was, as there was no better way to heat the house other than that. So, they took me and my baby brother for a sleepover in a Druze family in the village of Hurfesh in the Upper Galilee, who brought us the next day to Beith Jan to buy the said wood stove. The family lived in one room, and in the night time, mattresses were placed all over the floor for the family members to sleep. There were only two additional rooms to the house – an outhouse, and the kitchen. And in the living room (which is were everyone really did live), there were only two pieces of furniture – a wood stove for heating the space and a dining table. The three kids that lived there had no toys at all, but they did have markers and paper. And they drew rooms with light bulbs hanging from their ceilings – something that seemed very odd to me (we did not have electricity in our village). Somehow, the bareness of their home seemed to be quite inspirational to my parents and I can’t remember myself being bored there even for one moment, as the kids were welcoming and shared all they had with us.

A wonderful spice tea that is served during the winter months in most Druze homes in the Galilee and the Golan heights is called “Hulnejan”. It is a combination of three spices: dried ginger root, dried cinnamon bark and a root called “hulnjan” that is spicy and earthy all at once. It releases a beautiful aroma in the home when cooked. Practically, it is left on the fire place the whole winter, and the family members and guests will gather to drink it (it is very spicy), sweetened with sugar and topped with freshly unshelled pecan nuts. It is still a mystery to me what “hulnjan” is or where to find it out of the Druze community, but a similar tea can be brewed, with spices of your choice.

chai, originally uploaded by uncommonmuse.

A tea ceremony of any kind is an excellent way to enjoy togetherness during the winter time. You can prepare your own chai tea with your own whole spices. I made this chai during Hanukah and we sat together and ate donuts and drank chai. It was unforgettabley delicious… I’m no tea expert, so take or leave what you like of this recipe. But one thing is for sure – homemade chai is so much better than those tea bagged chai teas from the supermarket.

2 tsp. Assam tea
1 star anise
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 small piece of whole, dry ginger root
6 green cardamom pods
4 clove buds
1 cinnamon stick
8 pimento berries
½ nutmeg nut
½ cup water
4 cups whole milk
4 tsp. sugar

In a small pot, cover the spices and tea with water and bring to a boil. Add 4 cups of whole milk. Bring to a simmer. Add 4 teaspoons brown sugar and cover the pot for 5 minutes to allow the milk to absorb the aroma. Strain and serve in small cups to encourage everyone to ask for more many times!

Oil Bath with Coconut and Vetiver

S.P.L.A.S.H, originally uploaded by Nidriel.

Following the previous line of thought about vetiver and its healing properties, I decided to treat myself to an oil bath this evening. Unlike a "bath oil" this is actually bathing in oil, with no water at first. It is a special ritual you can do for yourself on a daily basis or as often as you wish. Paying attention to every part of your body and self-massaging with the oil to smooth out pains and strains and release tension can make all the difference in how you feel. Aside from nourishing your skin with the rich, nutritious oil, you will be taking care of each and every part of your body, making sure it gets positive attention.

Most of us avoid self-massaging and leave it either to the "professional" (which we usually see only when we are already in real trouble), or wait patiently for our significant other to come around and find the moment to treat us to one. This is where the biggest advantage of self-massaging lies: you can give it to yourself as often as you want and as long as you want!
Although there is the obvious disadvantage of not being able to reach all body parts in an equal ease and apply the same amount of pressure, you will still find self massaging to be quite special and beneficial because you know your body best and you know what places need more attention than others.

For the Oil Bath:

Simply fill a small bowl with three tablespoons of organic virgin coconut oil, (this evening, mine had the consistency of smooth icing). Coconut oil liquefies in warm temperatures and solidifies in cool temperatures. The only time I've seen it clear and mobile was when I heated it gently on the stove, but that's because I live in Vancouver; If you live in a warmer climate, your coconut oil might be completely liquid.

Add two drops of vetiver oil, either wild crafted or or organic. I used my wild Haitian vetiver, which is my favourite for its completely inoffensive qualities - it is sheer pleasure. In aromatherapy, I learned, more is less; I recommend not using more than three drops for this ritual of self-healing. The therapeutic qualities of the oil will be more effective when it is used in the smallest doses possible. High doses may be counter-productive, especially when applied on large areas of the skin.

Stand or sit in the bath, and scoop large dollops of the semi-solid oil with your fingers. If the oil is liquified, just dip your fingers in it as needed. Massage onto your body, starting with the head and the shoulders, smoothing out rough corners and focusing on areas that need attention. Move from head and shoulders downwards to your lower back and legs. Don't forget to apply oil and massage your arms as well - they will be working hard all this time. Once your entire body is oiled and lubricated, you can use a gentler touch, trying to push out gently any excessive stress that may still remain behind, directing it outwards of your body. You may also gently massage your face - forehead, cheeks, chin - with whatever oil is left on your fingers (you won't need to oil your face like the rest of the body...

When you are finished, fill the bath with warm water and relax. You may choose to either wash the coconut with soap, or you may leave it on your skin. You skin will remai soft and nourished, and with a gentle yet very noticeable scent of coconut and just the slightest hint of wood from the vetiver.

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