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Feb 14th

Saint Valentine’s Day, commonly shortened to Valentine’s Day, is a holiday observed on February 14 honoring one or more early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine. It is traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”).The day first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. It was first established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD, and was later deleted from the General Roman Calendar of saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.

February 14th is probably one of the most anticipated (by which I mean dreaded) days of the year. Valentines Day is upon us once more *insert joke about how many cards/wedding proposals I received or something about our postman’s bag being especially heavy this morning*

Valentines day can be pretty stressful and it is usually men and singletons who bear the brunt of it. I just saw a competition for women on facebook “tell us how your Mr Right has suprised You this Valentines”. I can imagine men thinking “I’m Mr Right and I have to surprise you? Will a curry and a DVD not do you?”On Valentines day men must must live up to the female chick flick fantasy and protests such as “I don’t need a DAY to be romantic, I’m always romantic” or “Id rather be spontaneous” will not be tolerated. Even women who insist that they think the day is completely ridiculous and of course they don’t expect a present are usually lying. They are deep down hoping that their partner will be transformed into Ryan Gosling as Noah in The Notebook or will pull a Mr Darcy, wrestle their rivals in a fountain and save their girlfriend from a stint in a Thai jail (OK that might be a bit far).

Men may intend to be original but a last minute panic can often result in girlfriends beind subjected to one of these:

Single people are even worse off. In the same ways as New Years Eve brings it’s pressure to go out and have a “good time”, on Valentines day couples have to do something to show that they are loved up, while single people have some other sort of event to prove that they are cool with their singleness. It’s really not important, its just another day but we still notice it go by. We find ourselves casually asking friends “so em what are you doing for valentines day?” (read “PLEASEsayI’mnottheonlypersonstayinginandwatchingTVwithmymumanddad”). Even that ridiculous teddy starts to look kind of cute. Romantic even. I’m not really sure what most single people do on valentines day, stay in and eat chocolate? perform some kind of ritual burning of an ex’s belongings? go on a girls night out and talk about how useless men are (but still try to kiss one at the end of the night) ? But I do know that the day has some kind of hold on us that makes us act in crazy ways.

So if it’s such a dreadful day do I think we’d be better off without it? Probably not. Yes it’s cheesy, its full of cliches, it’s awkward and embarrassing, but I guess I still think nice that we have a day to celebrate love. It’s a wonderful human emotion. Whether we are in a relationship or single our lives are all full of people we love. So to all the people I love (if you are reading my blog you are probably one of them) happy valentines day! 🙂

The price of a person

In the USA Barack Obama has declared January 2012 Human Trafficking Awareness Month and January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. There are more slaves today than there has been at any point in human history with it being estimated that there could be as many as 27 million slaves worldwide.

It is often said that you can’t put a price on a life, but apparently you can. On some peoples anyway. And its not worth an awful lot. Today a slave costs an average of $90 (at the height of the slave trade a slave cost $40,000)

Slavery Footprint offers an online survey which uses certain information provided by you to calculate how many slaves you have working for you today. My total was 36, which means that an estimated 36 real people have been enslaved to provide me with the clothes I wear, the food I eat and the phone I use.

It seems truly unbelievable that this could happen in so-called civilized societies. In all honesty we are probably quite indifferent to it. It’s hard to care about someone you don’t know and can’t see. I often read articles on human trafficking for sexual exploitation and slave labour and I will feel genuinely upset and enraged for a while but then I just go back into my usual routine and give little thought to where the clothes I buy and food I eat have actually come from. And it’s hard to find out.  You don’t see a dress with a label saying “made by child laborers”. If I like a dress I usually buy it, and the cheaper it is the better. Most people are probably the same as me on this, but the reality is that it is just a chance of birth that we weren’t born into the position of one of the 27 million slaves and them into ours.

It’s not fair, and we can easily put all the blame on the traffickers (and they do deserve blame!), but we also have to realize that they would have no job if there was no market for their “goods”. People traffick women to work in the sex industry because other people are willing to buy sex from trafficked women. People force children to work in sweatshops because other people will buy their cheap goods. While it is the traffickers who buy and sell slaves, it is those of us that provide the market that make it such a lucrative trade.

www.stopthetraffik.org

www.freetheslaves.net

www.ruhama.ie

www.blueblindfold.gov.ie

10 Lords a Leaping

Today our Christmas tree was taken down and I realized my noble quest to rediscover advent was a bit of a flop. I ended up working lots before Christmas and my home-made presents amounted to a slightly short scarf and a teddy with no arms (later completed.) I finally finished work on Christmas Eve, got the bus home and headed to the Christmas eve service with my dad.  It was nice, we lit candles, sang carols and shook hands with people we don’t know. We were both glad we took the hour out to reflect on what Christmas time is really about. As we walked home my dad let out a yell as he trampled in dog turd. “you go to church and this is what you get!” he exclaimed as if baby Jesus was playing a cruel prank.  It was probably the highlight of my evening as he traipsed along beside me, occasionally stopping to scrape his foot on the ground and muttering about what he’d do if he found out who was responsible.

Christmas day was lovely with nice food and minimal arguments. The evening ended with a game called Elefun (i think?). Basically it’s this little blue elephant that shoots butterflies out of its trunk and the competitors must catch them in their nets. The person with the most at the end wins. It started with some adults being roped into playing to humour my four year old niece but ended in fierce competition. My grandad (Christmas cracker crown askew) commanded everyone to take three paces back (to make it fair) and then proceeded to elbow me in the ribs as he lunged forward ensuring he captured more of those little tissue paper butterflies than the rest of us combined. He won and my niece resigned to picking the few we had missed off the floor and putting them in her net.

My attempts at a different Christmas were far from brilliant  but I did enjoy cooking, having dinner with friends, late nights trying to perfect my knitting and making a conscious effort to be aware of the world around me. For more stories on how people made things a bit different look on http://www.facebook.com/AdventConspiracy. And as a few have pointed out, Christmas is not quite over yet (we are on 10 Lords a leaping) so enjoy the rest of it and remember there’s only 357 shopping days left till Christmas 2012 :-0 

Snow Globe

Queues are always longer at Christmas but when I saw a particularly long queue I had to go a little closer to investigate. It wasn’t long before I was faced with this feast for the eyes- the Coca Cola snow globe (you get a free picture in the globe and can of coke.) Maybe I’m being  miserable Scrooge, completely lacking in Christmas spirit but it just seems so naff. Perhaps I’m an awful Grinch with a cherry on top but it really has nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything. It’s a giant ball of lunacy. It is the epitome of commercial Christmas crap.

A few meters along I found a less significant stand that had attracted a few curious shoppers. It’s banner read ” Please Help to Stop the 12 Years Persecution of Falun Gong in China!” If we are honest it’s not the joviality we crave at this festive time of year. We want and elf to take our picture. It’s kind of like in the run up to Christmas we to enter into this fantasy world.  But beneath the layer of pseudo-festive cheer we are still the same families that argue, the same lonely people with our insecurities and the same world that for many people is a horrible place to be in.

Advent Conspiracy (AC) is a group of people who believe that Christmas can still change the world. However, that requires us to face up to what the world is really like and make a conscious effort to do something different (however small it is).  Rethinking Christmas  can mean spending less on meaningless gifts (I’m going to TRY and be creative), giving more time to the people you love and caring for those who are normally overlooked.  While often coming up to Christmas we buy gifts out of duty I believe there is really more to people than that. I have been touched when I have seen people quickly hide presents from relatives because they want it to be a surprise or when I have heard of the lengths people gone to, to find that perfect present. People do want to show love at Christmas but we are told that we do that by spending  a lot of money fast. AC envisage  a season where “love wins, peace reigns and a king is celebrated with every breath.” Consumerism controls Christmas and it enslaves us. We need to say no to this kind of Christmas and yes to  a Christmas where we a free to love, laugh, give (our time and resources) and know when to stop buying.

Advent Kalender

The origin of the Advent calendar started in Germany in the 19th century. Different methods of counting down the days to the celebration of Christmas were used. Drawing a chalk line to mark off the days, later lighting a candle every night or putting up small religious pictures marked each day until Christmas. The first printed calendar was produced by Gerhard Lang in Germany. When he was a child, his mother attached little candies to a piece of cardboard and each day Gerhard would take one off. His first (printed) calendar consisted of miniature colored pictures that would be attached to a piece of cardboard each day in December. (About.com)

Advent Calendars have become pretty commercialized, but traditionally they are greatly symbolic and have been used for years as part of the advent celebrations. This year I planned to be traditional and buy one with the nativity pictures. However I left it a little late and found it harder to come by one than I had imagined. I thought that along with the Christmas jumper, nativity calendars would be in the “so uncool it’s cool” category (look at my retro calendar- no chocolate!), But alas, this was not the case. Perhaps this was for the best as I was actually picking it out to give to someone else and I could not expect the recipient to muster up Father Dougal style excitement at the sight of a shepherd or a lovely angel (or father jacks fervent hope that one day that little piece of cardboard will be pulled back only to reveal a pair of women’s knickers.) If I had planned ahead I could have made my own calendar, but aside from that I think chocolate is a safe bet.

Advent

Advent (from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming“) is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. (Wikipedia)

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent (this I know from the ceremonial candle lighting), while tomorrow brings us to the 1st of December. The Coca-Cola van is in town and holidays are indeed coming. The run up to Christmas brings out both the best and the worst in people. while people are more inclined towards charitable acts, the pressure of Christmas shopping can turn the most upstanding of citizens into an insufferable arsehole (people who work in retail know this better than anyone).

We go through our yearly rituals: bring the tree out of the cubbyhole, realize the tree is broken, stick it together with masking tape, spend an afternoon untangling the fairy lights only to discover that they don’t work, remind the person who packed them away that this is in fact all their fault. Then there are the lists: decoration lists, food lists, present lists (who produced more sprogs during the year that need a gift?) and of course the Christmas card list. We remind ourselves of those who neglected to send us a card last year (no point wasting stamp money on those miserable fecks!).

By the time Christmas Day itself arrives many people are left feeling burnt out, glad the madness is finally over (but ready to begin next years shopping once the January sales begin). It seems that the essence of Advent has been lost over the years and for that reason, I have decided to record my experience of Advent this year whilst trying to rediscover what this period of expectant waiting is really about.