Giving Gifts

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Santa Claus may have gone back to the North Pole to rest, but it doesn’t mean the gift-giving (and receiving) is over — at least not for the thousands of children in Latin America and Spain anxiously awaiting“El Día de los Reyes” Celebration on Jan. 6th.

  • Children leave their shoes right outside their doors so the Three Kings will leave their gifts inside, the bigger presents are placed around them.
  • Many families leave a box of grass (or hay) and water for The Three King’s camels to eat. Similar to the tradition of leaving out cookies and milk for Santa Claus. Camels are known for being a bit sloppy and leaving a trail of hay behind that children can often follow to their gifts!
  • Hispanic families will usually celebrate Three Kings Day with a scrumptious dinner that is topped off with the King’s Bread (Rosca de Reyes) for dessert. Children also sometimes make crowns to wear at the table in honor of the kings.

For many Christians, the holiday season doesn’t officially end until the 12th day of Christmas known as the “Feast of the Epiphany” or “Three Kings’ Day”.

The holiday marks the biblical adoration of baby Jesus by the three Kings, also referred to as three Wise Men or Magi. According to the Gospel of Matthew, the men found the divine child by following a star across the desert for twelve days to Bethlehem. Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar — representing Europe, Arabia, and Africa respectively — traveled by horse, camel, and elephant in order to present baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts.

  1. Gold
  2. Frankincense
  3. Myrrh

The gold offered by one of the wise men is a symbolic acknowledgment of Jesus’ royal standing as “King of the Jews,” while the frankincense manifests the divine nature of the baby’s existence, since he is not an earthly king but the Son of God. And finally the myrrh, often used to embalm corpses, was gifted to the newborn as a symbol of Jesus’ mortality — foreshadowing his death as a means to cleanse humanity of its sins.

Reyes festivities come in different shapes and sizes across the globe from community parades to three-day celebrations at Disneyland. In Mexico, thousands gather every year to taste a mile-long “Rosca de Reyes” (Kings’ Bread) while others simply make the holiday staple at home honoring the tradition to hide a baby Jesus figurine within the bread — the person whose slice has the figurine must prepare tamales for everyone on the Day of the Candles on Feb. 2!

Source: Huffington Post

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In Italian folklore, Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus.

In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.

Befana is invoked in many Italian spells, especially those for good fortune. She brings sweets for children but may be persuaded to bring the sweetness of life to adults as well.

  1. On Epiphany Eve, write her a note expressing your desires.
  2. Place it beneath a red witch-shaped candle and burn.
  3. Accompany with offerings.

She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both. Popular tradition tells that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn’t wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds.

She is also referred to as the Christmas Witch. Continue reading

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In Japan, January 1st is the Shichi Fukujin, the Celebration of the Seven Deities of Luck.

Shichi Fukujin is usually translated as “Seven Spirits of Good Fortune,” but literally means “Seven Happiness Beings.” Six are male and one is female (Benten). Each is an important, powerful spirit. They hail from different traditions. Unlike the comparable Seven African Powers, they do not all derive from the same spiritual base. Some are Shinto, some Buddhist; Hotei originally derives from Chinese Taoist traditions, but wherever they came from, all are now significant to Japanese folk religion.

Each of the Shichi Fukujin is venerated independently. Some are also venerated in smaller groupings. (Daikoku and Ebisu are frequently paired.) They are most frequently depicted all together sailing in their treasure ship, the Takarabune. The Seven Spirits provide blessings of health, h appiness, protection, and longevity and everything that is good and desirable in life. If invoked together they are able to provide all blessings.

The Shichi Fukujin are:

  1. Benton: goddess of love, music, eloquence, fine arts
  2. Bishamonten: god of happiness and long life
  3. Daikoku: god of prosperity
  4. Ebisu: patron of work
  5. Fukurokujo: god of happiness and long life
  6. Hotei Osho: god of good fortune
  7. Jurojin: god of longevity and happy old age

The seven sail into our realm during New Year’s festivities to distribute gifts to the worthy. Place an image of the treasure ship complete with all Shichi Fukujin under your pillow on New Year’s Eve to receive a lucky dream.

Their imagery is ubiquitous in Japan, extending even as far as on children’s undewear. Next time you’re in a Japanese restaurant, look around: it’s likely that you’ll find the Shichi Fukujin in residence. Envision yourself cruising along with them, and beseech their blessings.

Shichi Fukujin sushi is a beautiful roll containing seven smaller rolls.

Iconography: Many prints and sculptures depict the seven sailing on their treasure ship on the Sea of Good Fortune. Individual alter images are also available.

Sacred sites: A pilbramage route in Kamakura, Japan, involves visiting seven shrines, each associated with one of the Shichi Fukujin.

From: Encyclopedia of Spirits

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This holiday, celebrated on Dec 26,  derives from the Old English custom of giving Christmas “boxes” to tradesmen, postmen, and servants. The original boxes were usually made of earthenware and contained money, which could be retrieved only by breaking the boxes open. These days, a gift of money is usually contained in a greeting card and given before the holiday. Where celebrated (Great Britain, Canada, and Australia), Boxing Day is welcomed as a quiet day of recuperation from the season’s hectic festivities. It is also the biggest day of the year for soccer playoffs.

Source: Almanac.com

ofrendasHonoring the dead occurs in ancient cultures all over the world, and even in modern times it plays an important role in religions. It is founded on the belief that the dead live on and are able to influence the lives of later generations. These ancestors can assert their powers by blessing or cursing, and their worship is inspired by both respect and fear. Rituals consist of praying, presenting gifts, and making offerings. In some cultures, people try to get their ancestors’ advice through oracles before making important decisions.

The dead are believed by the peasantry of many Catholic countries to return to their former homes on All Souls’ Night and partake of the food of the living. In Tyrol, cakes are left for them on the table and the room kept warm for their comfort. In Brittany, people flock to the cemeteries at nightfall to kneel, bareheaded, at the graves of their loved ones, and to anoint the hollow of the tombstone with holy water or to pour libations of milk on it. At bedtime, the supper is left on the table for the souls. In Bolivia, many people believe that the dead eat the food that is left out for them. Some claim that the food is gone or partially consumed in the morning.

The Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and other countries can be traced back to the indigenous peoples such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Mexican, Aztec, Maya, P’urhépecha, and Totonac. Rituals celebrating the deaths of ancestors have been observed by these civilizations perhaps for as long as 2500–3000 years. In the pre-Hispanic era, it was common to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

day of the dead

The festival that became the modern Day of the Dead fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, about the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, known as the “Lady of the Dead,” corresponding to the modern Catrina.

In most regions of Mexico, November 1st honors deceased children and infants where as deceased adults are honored on November 2nd. This is indicated by generally referring to November 1st mainly as “Día de los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents) but also as “Día de los Angelitos” (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2nd as “Día de los Muertos” or “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Dead).

Many people believe that during the Day of the Dead, it is easier for the souls of the departed to visit the living. People will go to cemeteries to communicate with the souls of the departed, and will build private altars, containing the favorite foods and beverages, and photos and memorabilia, of the departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so that the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events and anecdotes about the departed.

Plans for the festival are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the period of November 1 and November 2, families usually clean and decorate graves; most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas, or offerings, which often include orange marigolds called “cempasúchitl.” In modern Mexico this name is often replaced with the term “Flor de Muerto” (“Flower of the Dead”). These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos, or little angels), and bottles of tequila, mezcal, pulque or atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Ofrendas are also put in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”) or sugar skulls and beverages such as atole. The ofrendas are left out in the homes as a welcoming gesture for the deceased. Some people believe the spirits of the dead eat the “spiritual essence” of the ofrenda food, so even though the celebrators eat the food after the festivities, they believe it lacks nutritional value. Pillows and blankets are left out so that the deceased can rest after their long journey. In some parts of Mexico, such as the towns of Mixquic, Pátzcuaro and Janitzio, people spend all night beside the graves of their relatives.

Some families build altars or small shrines in their homes. These altars usually have the Christian cross, statues or pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pictures of deceased relatives and other persons, and scores of candles. Traditionally, families spend some time around the altar praying and telling anecdotes about the deceased. In some locations, celebrants wear shells on their clothing so when they dance the dead will wake up because of the noise. Some will dress up as the deceased.

Public schools at all levels build altars with offerings, usually omitting the religious symbols. Government offices usually have at least a small altar, as this holiday is seen as important to the Mexican heritage.

Those with writing talent sometimes create short poems, called “calaveras” (“skulls”), mocking epitaphs of friends, sometimes describing interesting habits and attitudes or some funny anecdotes. This custom originated in the 18th-19th century, after a newspaper published a poem narrating a dream of a cemetery in the future, “and all of us were dead”, proceeding to “read” the tombstones. Newspapers dedicate calaveras to public figures, with cartoons of skeletons in the style of José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator. Theatrical presentations of Don Juan Tenorio by José Zorrilla (1817–1893) are also traditional on this day.

Island Pacanda, Lake Patzcuaro Mexico – Dia de los MuertosA common symbol of the holiday is the skull (colloquially called calavera), which celebrants represent in masks, called calacas (colloquial term for “skeleton”), and foods such as sugar skulls, which are inscribed with the name of the recipient on the forehead. Sugar skulls are gifts that can be given to both the living and the dead. Other holiday foods include pan de muerto, a sweet egg bread made in various shapes, from plain rounds to skulls and rabbits often decorated with white frosting to look like twisted bones.

José Guadalupe Posada created a famous print of a figure that he called “La Calavera de la Catrina” (“calavera of the female dandy”), as a parody of a Mexican upper class female. Posada’s striking image of a costumed female with a skeleton face has become associated with the Day of the Dead, and Catrina figures often are a prominent part of modern Day of the Dead observances.

The traditions and activities that take place in celebration of the Day of the Dead are not universal and often vary from town to town. For example, in the town of Pátzcuaro on the Lago de Pátzcuaro in Michoacán the tradition is very different if the deceased is a child rather than an adult. On November 1 of the year after a child’s death, the godparents set a table in the parents’ home with sweets, fruits, pan de muerto, a cross, a Rosary (used to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for them) and candles. This is meant to celebrate the child’s life, in respect and appreciation for the parents. There is also dancing with colorful costumes, often with skull-shaped masks and devil masks in the plaza or garden of the town. At midnight on November 2, the people light candles and ride winged boats called mariposas (Spanish for “butterfly”) to Janitzio, an island in the middle of the lake where there is a cemetery, to honor and celebrate the lives of the dead there.

In contrast, the town of Ocotepec, north of Cuernavaca in the State of Morelos opens its doors to visitors in exchange for ‘veladoras‘ (small wax candles) to show respect for the recently dead. In return, the visitors receive tamales and ‘atole‘. This is only done by the owners of the house where somebody in the household has died in the previous year. Many people of the surrounding areas arrive early to eat for free and enjoy the elaborate altars set up to receive the visitors from ‘Mictlán‘.

In some parts of the country, children in costumes roam the streets, asking passersby for a calaverita, a small gift of money; they don’t knock on people’s doors.

Some people believe that possessing “dia de los muertos” items can bring good luck. Many people get tattoos or have dolls of the dead to carry with them. They also clean their houses and prepare the favorite dishes of their deceased loved ones to place upon an altar.

Collected from various sources.

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The celebrations on the eve of All Souls Day, called Halloween, (October 31), stem from the Celtic New Year celebration called Samhain. When the Sun goes down on this eve, there is a time between the old year and the creation of the new. Specifically, this occurs at sunrise.

In this twilight of the years, the veil between this world and the world of the spirit is thin. It is a time when ghosts and spirits can interact with the living, and a time when divination is most effective. This is a sacred time when all warriors were to keep their swords sheathed.

Samhain literally means “end of the summer.” This day marked the last harvest of the summer, and so it is a harvest celebration. But, because there were only three months in the ancient Celtic calendar, and no autumn, it is also the beginning of the winter death that will lead to next year’s regeneration.

Ancient Celts believed that at Samhain, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was extremely thin, allowing the dead to cross over into the world of the living. Sometimes they appeared as apparitions and sometimes in the form of animals, most particularly black cats. The living lit bonfires and dressed in costumes to confuse the spirits and keep them from re-entering the world. On this night, the lord of death reigns, and the Celts protect themselves from this threat with bonfires and animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice is closely associated with divination.

In most ancient cultures, the remains of the sacrificed animal were examined to discover the will of the gods and to predict the future. The Druid priests would take advantage of this auspicious time to look into the events of the upcoming year—at least up until Beltane, which marked the year’s midpoint.

Although predicting the future is not necessarily the best use of the tarot, this is a good time to try reading the future. You can do this by laying out three cards for each of the six months from Samhain to Beltane (you should have eighteen total cards). Read each set of three cards as a story that will pertain to that month.

During the period of Samhain, the time when the world of the living is closest to the world of the dead, it is often a good idea to make offerings to the spirits to keep them from doing harm. Traditionally on Halloween night, gifts of milk and barley are left out beneath the stars to acquire the blessings of ghosts and prevent them from harming your household.

Other traditions involve leaving a plate of food outside the home of the souls of the dead. A candle placed in the window guides them to the lands of eternal summer, and burying apples in the hard-packed earth “feeds” the passed ones on their journey.

For food, beets, turnips, apples, corn, nuts, gingerbread, cider, mulled wines and pumpkin dishes are appropriate, as are meat dishes.

It’s also told that the Fairy Folk became very active during Samhain, pulling pranks on unsuspecting humans. People use to dress in white (like ghosts), wear disguises made of straw, or dress as the opposite gender in order to fool the spirits and traveling after dark was was not advised. The holiday’s bonfires and glowing turnips (yes, turnips) helped the dead on their journey while protecting the living.

Magick is in the air, and it’s important to just let things happen. Keep good fun thoughts in your mind, with hope for the future. These positive thoughts will turn into Magick energy and be released… that is the power of Samhain!

Here are 5 ways to celebrate Samhain:

1. Honor the dead

Honoring the dead is one of the best ways to create Magick on Samhain. How do you honor the dead? By remembering them. Think of all the people that have passed on in your life, and don’t let their memories fade. Spend some time looking through old photographs. Think deeply about what they were like in life, what did they do… what did they feel? Tell them you miss them. Tell them you love them. Talk about them to friends and family.

2. Have a “dumb” supper

Pick a person (alive or passed away) that has qualities you admire… maybe someone you love and care about that isn’t with you. Have dinner as usual, but leave an empty plate for them and “pretend” they are there.

You can either talk to them…ask them how they are doing. Or you can have dinner in complete silence, and think about them deeply. Treat your “guest” with a delicious meal, some good wine, and a tasty dessert. The person you are honoring will feel the energy, and you’ll boost your emotional and Magick sources.

3. Carve a pumpkin

Pumpkin carving is a pagan pastime. It actually has it’s roots in the belief that carving faces into turnips would keep evil away. Pumpkins work just as well and are easier to carve. Yes, it’s fun, and it will also keep any bad luck and negative energy away.

4. Feast… feast… feast!

This is one of the best ways to celebrate Samhain because the positive emotions that build up will directly influence the effects of your divinations and rituals. If you have like-minded friends or family, get together and make a feast! There are many special recipes that work wonders for enhancing your Magick…

5. Do your Divinations

This is the BEST time of the year for seeing what is to come…and don’t let it pass by without doing at least one divination ritual. You could do Tarot, Runes, Scrying, Pendulum divination, Tea Reading, and any other divination techniques that resonate with you. It’s best to do your divinations AFTER the feast because that’s when the energy is at it’s peak.

 

Note: Information collected from Robert Place, Rose Ariadne, and various other sources.
Another Note: You can find more posts of interest by exploring the following links…

e6b13dec32c89ebbd13d29ea8ac39093According to Scottish custom, the first Monday of the new year was the time to give children and servants a small gift, or handsel. Literally something given into the hands of someone else, the gift itself was less important than the good luck it signified. The handsel was popular as a new year’s gift from the 14th to 19th centuries, but it also had a broader application to mark any new situation. It continues today in the form of a housewarming gift to someone moving into a new home.

Source: Almanac.com

The Kalends of January (Jan 2nd, the 9th day of Christmas) was a significant part of the Roman Midwinter celebrations, and has lent its name to Midwinter festivals all over the Western world. For example, in Provence in France the festival is known as Calendas, in Poland it is called Kolenda, and in Russia, Kolyada. In the Czech Republic it is called Koteda, in Lithuania, Kalledos, and in Wales and Scotland, Calenig and Calluinn respectively – all these names derived from the Latin Kalendae, and all referring to the festival of midwinter.

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Initially the Kalends followed Saturnalia, beginning a few days of rest to allow aching heads and stomachs to recover! At this time new consuls were inducted into office, and for at least three days a high festival took place.

Houses were decorated with lights and greenery and gifts were exchanged. It was also the custom to give special presents to the emperor. These, called Votae, were left in the porch of the imperial palace, and it is recorded that the Emperor Calligula not only demanded these gifts from everyone, but also stood in the porch to collect them personally!

It may have been the memory of this that prompted the 4th century writer Libanius to describe the festival in terms that might be easily applied to the modern celebration of Christmas as to the celebrations in ancient Rome:

The impulse to spend seizes everyone..

People are not only generous themselves,
but also towards their fellow men.
A stream of presents pours itself out on all sides.

The Kalends festival banishes all that is 
connected with toil, and allows men to give
themselves up to undisturbed enjoyment.

From the minds of young people it
removes two kinds of dread:
the dread of the schoolmaster and 
the dread of the pedagogue.

The slave also it allows, as far as possible,
to breathe the air of freedom…

Another great quality of the festival
is that it teaches men not to hold too fast
to their money, but to part with it
and let it pass into other hands.

Source: The Winter Solstice

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Hanukkah (Hanukah / Hanuka / Chanukah) is a festival of lights that is symbolized by the candelabrum known as a menorah. Hanukkah celebrates a lighting miracle when one night’s worth of oil lit candles for 8 days. Special foods and gift-giving are also a part of Hanukkah.

This eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev – celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

Here’s the Story:

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.

When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.

On Chanukah,  the Hallel and Al HaNissim are added in the daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”

Chanukah Customs Include:

  • Eating foods fried in oil – latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts)
  • Playing with the dreidel – a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there”
  • The giving of Chanukah gelt, (gifts of money), to children

janusIn ancient Rome, January 9th (according to some sources it was Jan 11) was the Agonalia or Festival to Janus, god of gates and doorways. There seem to be many different legends about the history of Janus. One has him the son of Uranus and Hecate. Another says he had a son named Tiberinus whose accidental drowning named Roma’s river. According to another he was a son of Apollo and the first king of Latium. His colony near the Tiber is supposed to have given the name to the Janiculum Hill. Another story says that Janus welcomed Saturn to earth after the latter was driven out of Olympia by Zeus.

Not much is known about how this festival was celebrated. During this festival, according to some sources, the Romans gave dates, figs, and honey sealed in white jars to the god Janus. Such gifts, and also money, would be given to family members as well. My source for the  information on gifts of dates, figs, and honey from Etsy, and I cannot vouch for it’s validity. I do, however; like the idea of sweet gifts to the God Janus and also  family members during this (his) month, and at this beginning time of the year.

From Ovid we have this:

Janus must be propitiated on the Agonal day.
The day may take its name from the girded priest
At whose blow the God’s sacrifice is felled:
Always, before he stains the naked blade with hot blood,
He asks if he should, Agatne? and won’t unless commanded.
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because
The sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur).
Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia,
‘Of the lambs’, dropping a letter from its usual place.
Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water,
The day might be so called from the creature’s agony?
It may also be that the day has a Greek name
From the games (agones) that were held in former times.
And in ancient speech agonia meant a sheep,
And this last reason in my judgement is the truth.
Though the meaning is uncertain, Rex Sacrorum,
Must appease the Gods with the mate of a woolly ewe.” 

Janus was very important in Rome because the weakest point in any building or municipality is its doorway. Anything from human enemies to evil spirits could enter via that route. So strong was this feeling that Romans always carried corpses out of buildings feet first so that the departed spirits would be less likely to find their way back in.

In 260 BC the Romans built an important gateway temple to Janus after a victory against the previously unbeatable Carthaginian fleet. This was left open in times of war and closed when the armies had returned to the city.

This seems puzzling since one would think that during war the gate would be closed for protection and left open for peacetime. But the meaning of this can be seen in that the gateway was not used on a regular basis, but only for generals marching out to war and when returning in a triumphal procession. During the time the gateway was open, Janus was out fighting for Rome while when it was closed it meant that the god would not abandon Rome.

Januarius was not always the first month of the year. Earlier it had begun, perhaps more sensibly, in March (Martius) with the onset of Spring. Januarius and Februarius were added by Numa Pompilius, one of Rome’s kings in the pre-Republic days. He also moved the beginning of the year to Januarius and set the number of days equal to 29 because Romans considered odd numbers lucky. Notice that all of the festivals are held on odd-numbered days. Centuries later Julius Caesar set the length to 31, as well as adding days elsewhere to fix the problem of the months no longer corresponding to the seasons, a result of the fact that the Roman year was shorter than the actual solar year.

If the first month is seen as the gateway to a new year, naming it after Janus (the -ary means “pertaining to”) actually makes sense. His most common depiction is of a head with two faces, one looking back, the other forward.

This was a festival originally for the protection of the king. A ram was the usual sacrifice victim. Probably originally held on the Quirinal Hill.

Sources: Histmyst and Novaroma

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