How to switch off from human doing back into human being

A couple of years ago I found myself wandering around doing nothing after a particularly intense period of writing. At first I felt guilty that I wasn’t being productive but the truth was that my brain was exhausted and in desperate need of a rest. In order to become a human being rather than a human doing again, I needed to give myself permission so I made up the word modge.

To modge means to wander round aimlessly, slowly, without purpose or goal until the mind is restored, the body relaxed, the emotions settled and the spirit renewed.

Many of us spend the year focussing on achievement, goals, creating, designing, marketing, blogging, networking and sweating over projects trying to make our way in the work place. Our brains are fizzing and over-active, and, according to research, we are getting three weeks less sleep a year than our grandparents.

With many of us on the verge of burn-out, August is time to make modging into an art form. Modging can be done anywhere but it is especially wonderful when we do it outside. Being in the fresh air is crucial for good health. It re-connects us with nature, brings our minds back into perspective, reconnects us with our spirit and enables our skin to make vitamin D.

The skin contains a cholesterol substance called provitamin D3 that reacts with the ultraviolet-B (or UVB) rays in sunlight to form vitamin D3 so our skin makes it when we are outside exposed in daytime. Technically a hormone, Vitamin D enhances our immune system, is essential for the proper absorption of calcium and helps us to form stronger bones. It also enhances muscle contraction, thereby reducing the risk of fractures and falls. Vitamin D benefits the lungs, regulates blood pressure and helps to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It makes us feel happier and controls our appetite as Vitamin D deficiency makes us feel hungry all the time.

Modging outside therefore enables us not only to relax but also to make much needed Vitamin D. This is also important for children. Modern education and society teaches our youngsters to be obsessively busy. Between school, after-school clubs, activities and homework, they rarely have a minute to themselves. Many children feel completely lost when they are faced with silence and stillness and, like us, they feel guilty if they are not doing something. Teaching children how to modge allows them space in which they can grow, sleep better, be less anxious and reconnect with a greater reality.

Now we have arrived at the holiday month, give yourself and your loved ones permission to modge this August. Of course in the searing temperatures we are having this summer, we do need to be careful outside but modging in the early morning and evening can be utterly beautiful.

So give yourselves permission to switch off and be aimless, goal-less and purposeless for a while so you can recharge, rebalance and restore. Ditch your devices and be as technology-free as possible then smell the air, lift your face to the sky, drink in Vitamin D, smile and do absolutely nothing.

Have a happy, modging August!

Love Laurelle

How to take a holiday without going away

As we approach the much-needed holiday season, we often yearn to go away so that we can rest, recuperate and get away from our everyday lives. But what if we don’t have the money, time or opportunity to fly off to far-away destinations? Could there possibly be an alternative which costs absolutely nothing; a way we could travel beyond ourselves into new and unexplored regions?

Creativity has the ability to take us on holiday from ourselves in the most extraordinary ways. I had a rather surprising experience of this earlier this year when I came downstairs one morning at 2am to finish the trilogy of novels which had taken me nearly twenty years to write. After I had put some seemingly cold ashes from the previous evening’s fire into a large bag of very wet leaves, I set about my task which involved travelling to another world with the wonderful characters I had come to know over such a long time. At 7am I went back into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea and returned to my imaginings. At 8.30, my husband, poked his head around the door, surprised to see that I was there.

It transpired that I had missed a rather colourful drama. At 7.15am, a neighbour had noticed plumes of smoke rising up behind our hedge. By 7.30, the smoke had turned into flames. He had called the Fire Brigade, run to our front door, repeatedly hammered on it and rung the bell, successfully waking Richard. Soon after, a Fire Engine had come screaming up the road. After several of the neighbours had battled with the firemen to extinguish the flames, the children in the road had been allowed to have a ride on the fire engine.

And I had heard absolutely nothing.

As a sound therapist, I purport to have more than unusually acute hearing so how had I managed to miss such noisy commotion?

The fact was that I had been concentrating so hard that everything else had been blocked out. Being ‘in the zone’ is like being on holiday. There is no need of aeroplanes, coaches, cars or queues when your imagination can take you away to wherever you wish to go. You do, of course, have be careful that you are safe. I was very lucky that day that others were minding the more practical side of life for me. (I should have realised that the apparently cold ashes were still hot, but at least I have learned from the experience and now put ashes in an iron bucket so that such an occasion can never arise again.)

The point is that we don’t need to fret if we are not able to get away or feel forlorn when we look at social media and wonder why we are the only ones not away in some exotic, sunny location. Instead, we can use our imagination to take us away to somewhere utterly amazing. If we are not feeling inspired then we can lose ourselves in an exciting novel, listen to a beautiful piece of music or watch a wonderful film, all of which will whiz us off to some far-flung destination, all from the comfort of our own home.

Our imagination gives us wings and is our connection to something far greater than ourselves. So enjoy creativity. Celebrate it and use it, wildly, exotically and with great, great pleasure.

Happy July and happy holidays, wherever they may be!

Love Laurelle

When you don’t know where you’re going…

Recently, I was in a foreign city where I didn’t know the language. We may all realise that life is a journey but I had arrived in a part of mine where I didn’t know where I was going. However, I knew this was an opportunity for me to get out of where I had been and move onto the unknown place I was going to.

Setting out with only a bottle of water and a phone for emergency, I looked for signposts and landmarks to show me where I was so that I could return if necessary. The river, railway line and shops should have orientated me but I am spatially challenged at the best of times and have no sense of direction whatsoever. I tried to memorise the directions I took as I started to walk but, as is my wont, I soon started to daydream and once I had lost my focus I was completely lost.

With no idea of where I was or from which direction I had come, my belly began to flutter with fear. It was a relief not to be in the frantic world I had left behind at home but getting lost in a forest which was one of the last natural homes of bears, wolves and lynx in Europe, was hardly sensible. At this point, I thought about turning round and using Google Maps on my phone to lead me back but I knew I needed to go on even if it was into danger.

Choosing not to become caught up with my emotions and determined to rediscover my instincts, I entered the forest and switched on a part of myself I do not usually use. As the dense canopy of trees closed over me, my energy naturally began to drain downwards away from my head into my belly. The moment I entered this new world I realised that I was in nature’s realm, not mine. Realising that I must tread gently and with consciousness, I slowed down my pace and my feet, as if by magic, began to move as though they knew where they were going. Little by little she opened up to me, revealing flowers that spanned the pathways like daisy chains and trees which reached majestically up to the sky as though in praise to something invisible that only they could see.

As though one line of energy was holding me upright from the crown of my head while another rooted my body down into the ground, the confusion of my life fell away and I began to stand straighter and walk taller. Connected like this, I started to trust both myself and the mysterious eternity that was out there. It was like being un-blinded. The walls of the box I’d crammed myself into simply fell away and at last I was able to expand into something greater. No longer was I putting my soul on a diet. I was free to eat as much of this wisdom as I wanted. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. I was here and I was now and that was enough.

In the end, my feet told me when to turn back and I was able to return to my normal life with a new sense of ease and trust. I had been hemmed in by my life and now I was free. No longer did I want to control the uncontrollable. Instead, I was now ready to embrace experience by being curious. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know where to go next. This was my journey and, as long as I trusted that magnificent antenna that was my body, my feet would take me forward when it was time.

So if you find yourself in a difficult place where you don’t know where to turn, or if you have wrapped yourself up so tightly in a comfort blanket that you can no longer move, go for a walk somewhere you have never been before and dare to get lost. Learn to trust yourself again and remember that the map of your life is yours and no-one else’s. If you tread the world you find yourself in with gentleness and respect, she will let you in and then you will be able to feed upon the bounteous wisdom she will offer you.

Happy June

Love Laurelle

Twelve Keys to Life

Recently, my mother had a stroke. In trying to help her, I have realised that many of the suggested techniques are in fact very useful for life in general. Here are twelve keys for recovery and life:

Self-Belief: If you don’t believe that you are going to improve then you won’t. Self-belief is key to living a happy, fulfilled life both personally and professionally.

Avoiding negative self-talk: Thinking negatively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Practice, practice, practice: After a stroke, it is all too easy to give up on rehab exercises after a short period of no improvement. The brain needs a high number of repetitions in order to rewire itself successfully and heal.

Sleep and Rest: while repetition is important, over-doing it is not helpful. The brain needs sleep and rest so it can store new information in ‘files’ which can then be retrieved.

Passion: Motivation and vision are essential to keep us going when things get tough. When we are passionate about something, we don’t give up however disheartened we may become.

Perseverance: Stroke recovery can be tiring and exhausting. So can life. Sometimes it helps to have a schedule or even someone to keep us accountable. That way our pride can work for us, keeping us going even when we don’t feel like it.

Communication: Just as the brain of a stroke patient needs clear and concrete signs that the exercises being done are correct and helpful, we need to communicate with ourselves that what we are doing is working. If writing is an option, journalling at the beginning or end of a day helps us see the improvements we are making in our lives.

Know when it’s time to work harder: Plateaus happen in all sorts of areas of life from rehab exercises to diets and exercise. Recovery for stroke patients typically slows down after about three to six months but it will only stop when the patient stops trying. Similarly, we can begin a new hobby with great verve – learning to play the piano or a new language, for example. When the enthusiasm inevitably lessens, it is time to double your efforts.

Variety is the Spice of Life: The brain can become used to the stimulation it is being given. New challenges can get us out of ruts and promote a new sense of achievement.

The Importance of Friends: We do not have to be alone. There are teams of therapists and doctors on hand for stroke patients. Support helps us to enjoy our lives. Socialising with friends and family can give great pleasure and sharing concerns can help ease depression and anxiety.

Purpose: Realising that we have a part to play, however poorly we might feel, is vital for all of us.

Altruism: Being interested in others makes us feel good. Listening to others and trying to help them is an important part of being human. It can also be a privilege and teaches us how to be compassionate, gentle and loving. When someone finds it hard to communicate we have to learn to listen not only with our ears but with our instinct, intuition and heart. Such connection often only happens in times of great need and, hard as it is, it can also be extremely beautiful.

Love Laurelle

What happens when you put an orchestra into a failing school?

Imagine a school in a high-rise housing estate with a reputation for poverty, crime and where most of the pupils can barely speak the native language. If you had to find a way of cutting truancy, the high drop-out rate, the appalling exam results and the despair of the wider community, what would you do?

In an age where music is being shifted off the timetable at an alarming rate and learning a musical instrument is only for the rich, a musical solution might surprise you. Eleven years ago, when Bremen East Comprehensive School in Tenever, northern Germany, had a reputation for fighting, aggression and graffiti, it was suggested that one of Europe’s best-known orchestras – the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen – should be moved into the school for rehearsals.

Disaster, you might think; but you’d be wrong. Certainly, the suggestion initially caught both parties off guard. Although the teachers were already hard-pressed to find enough time for learning and the musicians dreaded the prospect of unruly noise and a violent atmosphere, a series of projects was devised to bring the two factions together, including class visits and talks by musicians and the promise of help with an annual opera which was to be written and performed by the students.

Once the orchestra had moved into the school, pupils were given the freedom not only to listen to rehearsals, but also to sit between the professional musicians as they played. This brought them close to the harmonising effects of music and helped them to calm down and find gentler ways to express themselves so that they became more ‘sound’. The students were also encouraged to talk with the musicians and share their stories, broadening perspectives, demonstrating new possibilities, breaking down social barriers and opening young minds to otherwise undreamed of opportunities. Furthermore, as had already been proven by research, the music helped pupils to improve their reading and comprehension, language development, IQ scores and creative skills.

The result of this extraordinary collaboration was that truancy was dramatically cut, drop-out rates fell to less than 1%, exam results improved enormously and the atmosphere of the wider community was transformed. Indeed, the school became so popular that students from all over Bremen, even the wealthiest parts, queued up to join. The experience even benefitted the orchestra because it was discovered that children sitting amongst the instruments improved not only the musicians’ concentration, but also inspired them to make more beautiful sounds.

So let’s bring music on a grand scale into schools and mix people from different educational and social backgrounds together. Let singing and playing, listening and enjoying, sharing and expressing in choirs, orchestras and bands help every pupil from every country to become an inspired member of the community so that we can all learn how to live harmoniously together.

Sounds hopeful, doesn’t it?

Wishing you a happy and joyous Easter, Love Laurelle

The Joy of Making Music, Animal-Style

It seems that we could all do with a little more happiness and calm these days. Animals seem to be less keyed up than we are and perhaps we could take a note out of their books…

Music making is seen as a human activity. However, animals also make music and not just using their own natural sounds. Mozart may have transcribed the melody of his pet starling in a diary; Beethoven may have included representations of real birds in his Pastoral Symphony, and whale songs may have been recorded for meditation purposes, but it seems that animals’ musical abilities go far beyond this.

Elephants, for example, can actually play instruments, especially gongs, drums and even harmonicas which they sometimes blow into their own ears using the flexibility like fingers at the ends of their trunks.

In 2000, Richard Lair, aka Professor Elephant, set up the Thai Elephant Orchestra along with Soldier, an accomplished musician and composer and professor of neuroscience at Columbia University. Together they built 22 giant instruments in a metal workshop, all designed to be operated with the elephant’s trunk or with a stick held in the trunk. Since then, they have gone on to prove that elephants can not only distinguish basic melodies but also set up original rhythms. Interestingly, elephants prefer their music well-tuned. They learn where the sweet spot is on the instrument without being taught and avoid dissonance wherever possible.

The Orchestra has now recorded several albums some of which are improvised and the only cues given to the elephants are when to start and stop playing. Others melodies are renditions of traditional Thai melodies using five note scales. When a (human) orchestra in New York performed an arrangement of one of the elephants’ own compositions, asking the audience who they thought the composer was, the answers came back with names such as John Cage, Dvorak and Charles Ives.

Elephants aren’t the only ones to perform original music. I once had a dog who would sing ecstatically to the harmonica, displaying a quite extraordinary vocal range. Peter Gabriel performed an impressive duet with a bonobo, a pygmy chimpanzee, playing a keyboard. Chimpanzees can play hand-bells and certain monkeys will form choirs and sing together. Philosopher David Rothenberg set up a duet between his flute and a white-crested laughing thrush and captive zebra finches have been known to sing when asked.

In all cases, music making seems to calm the animals and make them happy so perhaps we should consider taking a leaf out of their book by creating a little more harmony. The more of us that get together and make music, the happier and more relaxed we will all be. Our pets will enjoy it too and, you never know, they might even join in…

Happy March!

Love Laurelle

Happy Imbolc!

1st and 2nd February marks the Celtic festival of Imbolc (pronounced Imolc), an honouring of the first stirrings of new life. Outside, trees are beginning to bud, the snowdrops and crocuses are blooming and the birds are definitely getting flirty!

Imbolc means ‘in the belly’, referring to sheep who are pregnant at this time as well as the fertility of the Earth herself. Another name for this festival is Oimelc which means ‘ewe’s milk’ which was an important supplement to our early ancestor’s diet.

Central to the festival is Brighid, the Celtic triple goddess. In early times she was represented in three parts: one would hold a baby, another a sheaf of grain and a third a scroll to represent knowledge. This has been replaced by the modern triplicity of maiden, mother and crone; crone being linked to the word crown and meaning wise woman.

At one time, Brighid was worshipped all across Britain and Ireland and was the particular goddess of the Brigantes tribe in Northern England. Today she is still associated with wells and springs such as Bride’s Well in Glastonbury. She is also the same goddess as Brigantia after whom Britain was named – Britannia was the Roman version of her name.

With the coming of Christianity Brighid became demoted to St Brigid/Brigit, her associations making her the midwife of Christ. Her holy day of Imbolc was then transformed into Candlemas, a remaining vestige of her fire worship. However, solar wheels made of straw or willow and wool, otherwise known as Brighid’s crosses, are still popular protection and blessing in Ireland and across Celtic borders. Corn dollies are also sometimes made and dressed to represent a ‘bride’ and encourage fertility and virility of body or mind.

There are several beautiful and helpful ways to honour Brighid energy, which represents sovereignty both of the nation and of ourselves in the sense of personal power, fertility and the bonds of home, hearth and family. For us in the twenty first century, this might mean honouring the time needed to nourish ourselves with food, rest and knowledge, for example. Try cleansing any negative energy that may have built up in your house over the winter and then lighting a white candle and blessing the flame so that it brings health and protection into your home. It is also lovely to help the birds at this time of year when food can be scare for them. Putting up a bird table filled with fat balls, nuts and seeds can be a glorious way to show gratitude for the food that has lain on our tables over winter and also to welcome in the turning season.

In celebrating Imbolc, we ask for clarity and purity to cleanse ourselves ready for spring. The first shoots will soon bring us encouragement, wisdom and inspiration and show us that we can be reborn whenever we choose. However, do not be too hasty to move ahead. We are still in the quiet of winter rest and this too can be beautiful. Allow yourself sufficient time and space for reflection so that when spring stirs in earnest, you will be ready to walk out into a more active time.


Love Laurelle

2018 – The Year of the Dog

Astrology is a fascinating combination of metaphysics and ancient theories of energy that has been called the “Mother of all Sciences”. The study of the patterns and relationships between the cosmic and human life has developed into three main zodiacs: Chinese, Western and Hindu. Hindu astrology is based on the macrocosm and microcosm whereas Western Astrology is a form of divination based on the time and place of someone’s birth.

The Chinese zodiac is the oldest in the world and divides people into twelve personality types based on animals, the two balancing principles of Masculine and Feminine and the five elements of water, metal, fire, wood and earth. The main difference between the Chinese zodiac and that of the west is that the Chinese is based on the movements of the moon whereas that of the west is based on movements of the sun. Chinese astrology is firmly rooted in the world of human activities and is consulted as a matter of course in China when making important decisions such as marriage partners and business ventures.

On 16th February this year, we will enter the Year of the Earth Dog which will end on 4th February 2019. The dog is a symbol of intelligence, protection and loyalty. Dog people are honest and direct and dislike psychological game playing. They like people to be straight with them and are straight in return. They are concerned that justice is done and seen to be done and they thrive on a sense of fair play, equality and have concern for social issues.

On a personal level, dogs are a fascinating combination of loyalty, love of family and independence. They can appear aloof and cynical and be slow to make friends, preferring to hold their own counsel. Unsurprisingly, they can be dogmatic and view the world in black and white. Someone is either right or wrong; your friend or your enemy. They have lively minds and tongues and will use both of these weapons very effectively either in support of good causes or to bring a perceived enemy down.
2018 is the year of the Earth dog. Earth dogs are stable and secure and happy to take each day as it comes. They are well balanced, practical and realistic as well as idealistic, and they do like to lend a hand to those in need. They are loyal and make exceptionally good friends but their high standards are hard to live up to and they may quickly become disappointed. Fortunately they forgive easily.

Each sign returns once every sixty years and each element every twelve years. Dog years are 1910, 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 and 2018. Famous people born in the year of the dog include Donald Trump, Prince William, Kate Middleton, Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Prince, Mother Teresa, Sophia Loren, Madonna, Alec Baldwin, Dolly Parton, Andrea Bocelli, Benjamin Franklin and Bill Clinton.

So what is this Year of the Earth Dog likely to bring? As the Year of the Rooster comes to an end, it is time to put its waste and unnecessary expense behind us and concentrate on communication, selflessness and generosity. Dogs are active and like to go for walks so 2018 will be a year of action and moving forward. Environment and humanitarian causes are likely to come to the forefront along with a resurgence of idealism. International security may well be prioritised and, at home, property issues may become particularly important. 2018 will be an auspicious year for the family and so an excellent year to get married or have children. It will also be a good year for lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, losing weight and getting fit.

Business wise, 2018 will be a good year to start new ventures and any gnawing problems may dissolve or even turn to advantage. It will also be excellent for new authors. Dogs are confident and self-confidence is paramount for success this year but businesses will also need become interested in the welfare and health of both employees and customers. This means that areas like recycling, renewable energy and social care are likely to grow stronger.

2018 is a time to be caring, protective and loyal and to look beyond ourselves to the needs of others. We need to be aware of the potential for fighting and scrapping but if we can hold our nerve and walk out with confidence and the desire to help, we should end up in a better place by the end.


Love Laurelle

The Different Ways of Celebrating New Year all over the World

Nowadays, we tend to think of New Year’s celebrations as explosions of colourful fireworks and the peeling of church bells but there are many varied and, at times, peculiar ways in which New Year is celebrated round the world.

While England seems to have more traditions associated with Christmas, this was not always the case. The Celts celebrated their New Year with the festival of Samhain on 31st October and their New Year on 1st November with fire using flames to represent light and life springing from death and darkness as well as smoke to ward off evil spirits. In 153 BC, however, the Romans decided that New Year would be 1st January and in 1572 Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian Calendar to establish more consistency around Easter. Catholic countries followed suit but Protestant Britain resisted until 1752 when it finally switched for trading purposes. Nowadays, the Celtic fire rituals still remain central to festivals in modern Scotland and Northern England. On New Year’s Eve in Stonehaven, Grampian, a parade of sixty kilted marchers with pipes and drums swirl balls of fire on wire ropes around their heads. In Allendale, Northumberland, a procession of men in fancy dress called ‘guisers’ carry tubs of flaming tar above their heads to the town square where they are launched onto a bonfire. The last one is thrown to coincide with midnight when the flames reach their zenith and the church bells ring in the New Year.

Sound has become central to the dying of the old year and the bringing in of the new. Church bells ring, ships blast their horns in ports and people run out into the streets banging pots and pans. In Ireland bread is thrown at walls to get rid of evil spirits while Scots celebrate Hogmanay on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day there is the tradition of First Footing in both Scotland and Wales when a dark-haired man lets in the New Year for good luck. He leaves the house by the back door just before midnight on New Year’s Eve and on the strike of midnight knocks on the front door. The householder opens the door and receives salt for seasoning, silver for wealth, coal for warmth, a match for kindling and bread for sustenance. In Victorian times in Wales, it was also considered unlucky to lend anything on New Year’s Day.

In Europe, there are many colourful New Year traditions. In Denmark, unused dishes are saved until the 31st December when they are affectionately shattered against the doors of friends and family. The Danes also climb on top of chairs so that they can jump into the New Year. In Spain, it is reckoned that stuffing twelve grapes into one’s mouth at midnight will bring good luck for the next year, whereas in Switzerland ice cream is dropped onto the floor. In Romania spare coins are thrown into the river for good luck while in Belgium it is the cows who are wished a Happy New Year. In France pancakes are the New Year delicacy whereas in Estonia food is eaten seven times to ensure abundance. In Siberia folk jump into frozen lakes carrying tree trunks while in Finland predictions for the coming year are made by casting molten tin into a bucket of water.

New Year celebrations are not confined to Europe. In some parts of South Africa old furniture is thrown out of the window. In the Philippines, food is baked in circles and coins collected because of the belief that everything round will bring good luck. In Japan bells are rung 108 times for cleanness, whereas in Thailand people throw buckets of water onto each other before they smear each other with grey talcum powder.

Central and South America is home to some of the more bizarre customs. In a small Peruvian village, fist fights settle differences so that the New Year can be begun with a clean slate whereas in Panama, effigies of the famous are burned. Seven waves are jumped in Brazil whereas paper filled scarecrows are burned at midnight in Ecuador along with photographs from the previous year. In some parts of Puerto Rico pails of water are thrown out of windows to drive away evil spirits, coins are baked into sweets in Bolivia to bring good luck and suitcases are carried in Colombia to encourage a year full of travel. And that is not all. In some parts of South America, coloured underwear will determine fate for the New Year with red for love, gold for wealth and white for peace. Chile has one of the more gruesome traditions, however, when families spend the night in the company of their deceased loved ones by sleeping at the cemetery.

New Year, therefore, can be a most colourful time, so, wherever you are in the world, here’s wishing the entire world a wonderful New Year and a 2018 blessed with peace, health and harmony.

Love Laurelle

Celebrations Around the World

Around the world, December is a sacred month full of celebrations and commemorations for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and Zoroastrians.

6th December is the Feast of St. Nicholas. St Nicholas, the fourth century Bishop of Myra had a reputation for piety and the leaving of gifts for disadvantaged children in the dark time of the year. He inspired the legend of Santa Claus, a tradition which began in the Low Countries and spread to the rest of Europe and to North America with Dutch immigrants.

 8th December is Bodhi Day when Buddhists remember Siddhartha Gautama’s vow to sit under a tree in what is now Bodhgaya, India, and not to rise until he was enlightened. The title Buddha means “awakened one.”

8th December is also the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic celebration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, being born without sin.

Ashura is celebrated on the 10th day of the first month on the Islamic calendar. On this day, Sunnis, the largest group of Muslims, remember that the Prophet Muhammad fasted in solidarity with Jews who were observing Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Shiites also recall the death of Muhammad’s grandson in battle, an event that led to their differences with the Sunnis.

12th December is the Hispanic Catholic Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which celebrates the 16th century sighting of Mary by Juan Diego, a poor Indian, on a hillside near to what is now Mexico City.

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah begins at sunset on 20th December and continues for seven more nights. It is the remembrance of an effort to restore the Temple in Jerusalem after a period of desecration. Faithful Jews found only enough oil to light the temple lamp for one day, but the flame burned for eight.

On 21st December, Zoroastrians mark Yalda, a celebration of the Winter Solstice.

December 22nd, the shortest day in the Northern Hemisphere, sees the celebration of Juul, a pre-Christian Scandinavian festival during which fires are lit to symbolise the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. This is also celebrated as Yule and the Winter Solstice by Wiccans, Druids and other pagan and spiritual groups.

25th December is Christmas Day, the celebration of the birth of Jesus by Christians since the Middle Ages although some Orthodox Christians follow a different calendar so that Christmas may fall on a different date for them.

On 26th December, Zoroastrians observe the death of the prophet Zarathushtra, known in the West as Zoroaster, who lived in what is now Iran in about 1200 B.C. His teachings include the idea of one eternal God; seven powerful creations: sky, water, earth, plants, animals, humans and fire; and that life is a struggle between good and evil.

26th December is also the starting date for Kwanzaa, a weeklong, modern African-American and pan-African celebration of family, community and culture.

So, wherever in the world you are and whichever traditions, culture and religions you follow, enjoy this sacred month and have a wonderful December that is full of love, peace and compassion for all.

Love Laurelle