I highly recommend the evening banquet tour. You enjoy a wander through Hobbiton at sun down including a visit to Bag End, Bagshot Row and the Party Tree. Then arrive at the Green Dragon for a fabulous feast fit for Hobbits and finish with a lantern tour back through Hobbiton.
Professor Tolkien’s descriptions of Hobbiton and surrounds leap off the page and you are magically transported to the Shire for a little while.
One way to define advent is the anticipation of a coming event. Historically Advent has been associated with the lead up to Christmas and involves particular rituals and traditions in the Christian faith.
These days advent has taken on a number of different meanings. I think for many people today the “anticipation” is simply the stress of being caught up in the consumerism juggernaut that is the lead up to the festive season, worries over finances and being able to afford the “expected” way to celebrate or sadness at what can be the loneliest time of year for some.
For me, it has always been “the most wonderful time of the year”. And what I have come to realise is just how much this season means to me and my mental and emotional well-being, of all things!
Anticipation of a coming event. To me this anticipation is the expectation of a positive experience, a child-like excitement. At my age I certainly can’t put this down to getting up at the crack of dawn to open Christmas presents…. those days are long gone!
Now advent is steeped in ritual.
Some advent rituals are around preparation for the coming celebration that is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the family time we are so privileged to share. Advent in my world is a way of keeping those loved ones who have passed or that live far away close by…. part of our reflection and celebration, always in our hearts.
Other rituals centre around my need to reflect – on the year that has been as it winds to a close, checking in with my dream life goals, a gratitude practice…. and gradually beginning to set the intent for the coming year.
A reflection this advent is just how lucky I am to have these positive, uplifting memories of childhood Christmases to draw on. As well as a rich source of family ritual and tradition to continue observing. And how lucky I am, being so wired to the idea of seasons and cycles, that my work allows me to take the time at this time of year to acknowledge advent in my own quirky way.
As part of my journey with Dr Tererai Trent’s book – The Awakened Woman – I have been reflecting a lot about the place of ritual in daily life.
She talks of the importance of ritual in helping her on the path towards her sacred dreams. In the companion journal I am working through there is a section titled “grow your soul through ritual”. She writes about the richness of her culture in the part of rural Zimbabwe where she was born. There is such beauty in the connection of her people with natural world and the rituals that result. It is an inspiring read.
Dr Trent is not the first woman I have come across who speaks of the essential place of ritual in her life.
One of the prompts in the Awakened Woman journal was
to list any rituals you practise already.
At first it was difficult to think of any rituals in my own life. Looking to the past, my ancestry, the idea of
a rich cultural history is fraught. My
ancestors come from a group of people who’s past actions and values I would
prefer to distance myself from in many ways.
Then I started thinking closer to home, to my family and my childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up with my great grandparents and grandparents on both sides. Family tradition in abundance. As I began to list our family traditions a realisation occurred – it was me who turned many of these traditions into ritual. Especially at this time of the year as we head towards the festive season I have become the keeper of my family’s rituals. So without consciously thinking about this before, ritual has played an important place in my wellbeing – in feeling connected with the spirit of the past and in rooting deeply in the present to grow into the future.
There is another quote from the Awakened Woman journal I like,
“Rituals are the actions we can take to help us walk the path to our dreams. They connect us to a more authentic version of ourselves, allow us to pause and focus on what’s important and strengthen our beliefs”.
So what can ritual look like? I think it can be any action sacred to you, that you deliberately and thoughtfully repeat. I believe ritual becomes a very personal thing. I have rituals around prayer, meditation and a mindfulness practice… oooh and time on my Shakti mat! Finding time for stillness in the day to day busyness of life has become essential for me. Particularly as I currently live and work in a busy city – an environment that drains my energy.
The next prompt was to consider how the rituals you practise
help move you closer to your dreams. Definitely
a concept I had never considered!
One of my dreams goes around treading lightly and respectfully on the Earth. And so I got to thinking about whether ritual plays a part in my attempt at living sustainably. And upon reflection it does.
My family has a lot of ritual around food. We use food and precious family recipes as a way to commemorate family occasions, mark anniversaries and the passing of seasons. As immigrants our food rituals connect us to a spirit of place and time as well.
And what I now realise is that I have come to think of food and food preparation as a way to honour what Mother Earth provides – there is ritual in that. I still choose to eat meat – not in large quantity and only if I know where and how it was produced. I focus on what’s seasonal and grown locally. In a country like New Zealand I am extremely lucky to easily know where and how meat, eggs, milk, butter, fresh fruit and veg are produced and make my consumer choices accordingly. While cooking and preparing meals, I have now added in quirky little prayers of thanks to living things, plants and animals, that have given their energy to allow me mine. A weird ritual perhaps but one that has given me “pause and focus on what’s important and strengthening my beliefs”.
All this has made me ponder the food thing when travelling. How can you be comfortable without really knowing where the produce is coming from or how it was produced? I then remembered my time as F&B manager at an ecolodge in the Okavango Delta. The thought that went into sourcing food to provide a 4 star offering in a very remote location. We did source locally as much as possible. We did create menus based on seasonal availability. So the food side of things became as considered in the journey towards a sustainable organisation as the energy use, green building materials or waste minimisation strategies.
Above are some images from my time in Okavango…. best office in the world!
So even on safari in really out of the way places, treading lightly and living sustainably is possible. I take comfort in the knowledge that in their own way many eco-conscious tourism operations in Africa today do incorporate ritual. Ritual that makes them respectful of the wildlife and wild space in which they operate. Ritual that makes them sensitive to the communities they impact and include in their conservation intention. Ritual that ensures their guests are supported to also tread as lightly as possible in their journey of exploration.
Only a few more sleeps until the Big Day. Time to set the mood. Truth be told I have been setting the mood with my Christmas playlist for the last month or so.
My playlist varies a little year to year but my absolute favourite that always takes centre stage is any Christmas song by Bing Crosby (he reminds me of my Grandad a lot). Then there is Harry Connick Jr’s What a Night! A Christmas Album and, of course, Michael Bublé’s Christmas – you cannot go wrong!
This year’s find is definitely Christmas at Downton Abbey – old school and fabulous! A highlight being Carson reciting ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Now the music is sorted, you can’t go past a good advent calendar. Jacqui Lawson creates the most spectacular electronic advent calendar each year…. a must have for me. I love how interactive it is – making snowflakes, decorating the tree, arranging flowers, wrapping gifts for under the tree – all to wonderful Christmas music. A fabulous replacement gift instead of sending Christmas cards.
And then, of course, there is the menu. Us girls tend to start talking menus around the time we decorate at the beginning of December. These days our plan is our side of the family at Mom and Dad’s on Christmas Eve and then my sister and her hubbie and the nephews join my brother in law’s family Christmas Day. So we aim to keep things simple and only do one cook up so the leftovers take us through the next few days.
Kitchen day is therefore Christmas Eve. Our menu is all about the meat, we are South African after all. That definitely means one cut of meat needs to be barbecued – that will be the lamb this year. Mom will have a secret recipe herb rub I could never divulge. I will have a go at brining turkey breast before adding a herb butter wrapping it in bacon and maple syrup and cooking. This is our take on a Donna Hay recipe. And finally we will glaze a gammon with plum and chilli. The accompaniments will be salads and baby potatoes using all the beautiful fresh produce we are so blessed to have access to here in NZ. Dessert is my take on an I Quit Sugar For Life recipe – sugar free individual lemon meringue pies in jars.
We will try and fit in our homemade Christmas Pud and Vanilla Custard for a quiet Christmas Day dinner or perhaps wait till Boxing Day.
I haven’t covered the Christmas mince pies, gingerbread men or the summer fruits sangria we will also indulge in – three days of complete excess really. Having experienced Christmas times the complete opposite of this – alone and with no means for a feast – I am so incredibly grateful for all we have been given to enjoy.
I wish you happy planning and anticipation – it is half the fun!