Community Holiday Crafting

I’ve spent the past few years embracing holiday crafting with my family. I’ve written a lot about our traditions on this blog (see “Permission to Play: Holiday Crafting Edition, “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date,” “Handmade Holidays: The Next Generation,”Holiday Crafting with Teens,” and “Holiday Crafting with PreSchooler (and Glitter!)

This year, my attention’s been turned outward. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I’ve found myself crafting with the community more than my kin.

I attended a stitch ‘n bitch session at Wholly Craft, a handmade gift shop hosted by a local organization that supports women’s reproductive choice – Women Have Options. Ohio legislators recently passed measures to outlaw abortions past 20 weeks of conception. Women, and supportive men, throughout our state are enraged and looking for ways to move on and prepare for the challenges ahead. I attended “Felt and Feminism” to connect with women actively working to protect women and our reproductive options and make some fem-inspired XMas ornaments.

This past Sunday, I hosted a Chanukah Menorah making session as a follow-up to my last post, “Tis the Season for Solidarity.” I rented time at Paper Moon Art Studio, gathered supplies, and got some general design ideas to share. I invited a few creative friends to help me get things set up, play around with the material to imagine ways they might be used, and think through the best ways to get people started on the project. I was impressed with all the ways folks found to put the materials together that I hadn’t imagined. The event was attended by Jews and Jewish allies and at the end of the night, 16 new menorahs walked out into the world.

Finally, a friend and I hosted an Winter Solstice Eve party for some kids from school and their parents. We set the party up just after school and had snacks and crafts. Mostly the kids wound up running wild while the adults sipped spiked cider and chatted in the kitchen. But a few joined the adults poking cloves into oranges to make pomanders and cut paper snowflakes.

With all the crappy things happening in the news, I needed this time with friends (old and new) making things to give me hope that we will carry on, and we will make the world beautiful as we do so.

Happy Holidays!

‘Tis the Season for Solidarity

Growing up in Great Neck, NY, the “quintessential Jewish suburb” (Goldstein, 2006), December was a time for Chanukah candles, not Christmas lights. Still, I remember the few houses around town that were decked out for that holiday. I loved and hated those lights. I loved to see them twinkling through the crisp winter nights. I hated that they reminded me of this great big and seemingly amazing thing I wasn’t a part of.

Today, I live in Columbus, OH where most of my family, friends, and neighbors celebrate some derivation of Christmas. At times I have felt uneasy participating in their seasonal traditions. Afterall, as the Chanukah story teaches us the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the right to be different, not to blend in.  But, as I’ve written in this space before, I now feel comfortable sharing the joy my friends and family feel at this time of year. (See, for example: “Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home,” and “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date.”)   In turn, I’ve shared my Chanukah traditions and together, we’ve found light in the darkness.

kidschanukah

Sharing the magic of Chanukah candlelighting with some non-Jewish friends.
(Columbus, OH 2007)

Times seem pretty dark for many of us at this moment in time, and it’s not just because the sun is up fewer than 10 hours a day. Many of us are afraid of the direction our country will go when our president-elect takes office in January.

The appointment of Stephen Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President set a lot of Jews on edge. We fear that with someone like Bannon in the White House, someone who has supported racism through the spread of white nationalist messages on Breitbart “News” Network, prejudice and violence against minorities will not only increase, but be condoned. When the story broke of Richard Spencer’s speech at the white nationalist movement conference in D.C. last month, our worst imaginings seemed even more like real possibilities.

After watching Spencer’s talk and the response from his audience, I had a sickening thought. With Chanukah around the corner, would I feel comfortable setting our menorah in the window per tradition? I voiced this fear to my husband, Dan, who was raised Catholic but does not associate himself with the church any longer. While he is not Jewish, he is supportive of my commitment to my Jewish heritage and my desire to raise our daughter, Cora, with a sense of Jewish identity. Dan assured me we would light the candles and display them for the world to see, and that we would get others to join us. (I really love that guy.)

So, here’s your invitation.

If you are Jewish and haven’t lit Chanukah candles in a while, please join us.
If you are a friend of Jews, please join us.
If you want to show the world that you are not afraid to stand up for those who have been persecuted for following beliefs that don’t mimic the dominant culture, please join us.

The Jewish calendar is lunar based which is why our holidays don’t fall on the same secular dates each year. This year we’ll be lighting candles for eight nights beginning December 24th. I’m excited by the idea of millions of chanukiot (a name for menorahs used on Chanukah which have 9, rather than 7 candleholders) taking their place beside Christmas trees, Kwanzaa Kinaras,  that night.

There are lots of ideas for DIY menorahs out there as well as well as information about the candle lighting traditions. If you have a Jewish friend or neighbor, they might have an extra one you can borrow.

Dan and I made up the following secular blessing which we welcome you to use if you are so inclined. It speaks to the spirit of the traditional Hebrew blessing, but is something we believe Jews and non-Jews can say without fear of contradicting their own religious or philosophical beliefs.

“Thank you for being here with me tonight,
to celebrate the miracle of the Chanukah light.
Peace out.”

(NOTE: I hope to come up with a catching #hashtag we can all use to connect on this project, but I need help. Please send your suggestions or post them as a comment below.)

Save

Save

Save

Save

Acts of LOVING Kindness

I was out of the house today attending a conference. When I got home, I found these on the kitchen counter.

IMG_4849

Since Cora and I started making Valentine’s last week, I’ve left the materials out on the counter in the hope that the other kids might get inspired. I didn’t expect to Dan to get in on the action. But I probably should have. He’s always loved making little love notes – for birthdays, lunch boxes, for my suitcase on business meetings.

IMG_4850

He told me Cora gave him some directions for his making, including on the card he made for her. Above, you can see she gave him permission to use as many gems as he wanted on her card.

IMG_4860

After dinner the rest of the family spontaneously accepted my Valentine invitation. As always, Cora was mesmerized by her older siblings and stayed up way past her bedtime cutting, gluing, drawing, writing, and singing along to cheesy love songs.

IMG_4862

Rosa got so far into the flow that she didn’t stop working for 2 1/2 hours.  She finished 14 unique cards and is looking forward to sharing them with family and friends.

I believe that actions speak louder than words, greeting cards, and even chocolate. Probably another one of those things that goes back to my Jewish upbringing where we are taught that gemilut hasadim, acts done for others out of love and compassion which tie us together as human beings, are as important as giving charitable contributions of work. We show one another our love through acts of empathy and generosity – from putting the dishes in the dishwasher to taking a moment from our busy lives to knock on a neighbor’s door and see how they’ve been. We show love through our communion.

Having my family in the kitchen all together and crafting tonight was the best Valentine I could have asked for.

Rethinking the Valentine

Okay. I admit it. Valentine’s Day has never meant all that much to me.

It’s not that I’m not romantic or anything like that. But, I have historically thought of it as a market-driven holiday; our love for one another measured by the store-bought cards kids pass around at school and candy conversation hearts which never appealed to me on any level.

Likewise, as an art educator, I put holiday crafts in a category of work not worth the time of serious contemporary art educators. As at this time last year, I just finished a unit on the history of holiday crafts in art education (see Paper Heart and the History of Art Education). My students shared their perspectives on the issue, most suggesting that there isn’t much time for holiday crafting in their artrooms even if they wanted to bring it in. They questioned which holidays would be addressed, could be addressed, in a multicultural classroom. And that they feel misunderstood when administrators expect them to celebrate and decorate for holidays like this. I share their views.

But this year, as Crafty Cora and I got to work on tokens of affection for her classmates, we got to talking about what Valentine’s Day is all about. I found our basic research personally edifying as I grew up with some vague idea that (Saint) Valentine’s day isn’t for Jewish people. It also gave me ideas about how it might be meaningfully addressed in a comprehensive art program – not that I’m arguing it ought to be…

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that, as with Christmas, Valentine’s Day predates the saint for which it is named. According to the History Channel, it started as a fertility holiday known as Lupercalia and, paralleling the social history of romantic relations, morphed into a holiday about romantic love.

Our search uncovered an interview with Valentine collector Nancy Rosin which positions the Valentine as an interesting bit of visual culture. Rosin suggests they are “important as a social chronicle. Personal communication between people…fascinating stories.” Watching her video, I could imagine using Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to talk with students about the history of romance, the practice of arranged marriage past and present, and the industry of greeting cards (love it or hate it, it’s out there and it’s huge, and a professional venue for artists and illustrators). Rosin shares her knowledge and perspective as a curator about the history of Valentine productions – mass-produced and handmade. I love her notion that the handmade cards bear “the fingerprints of love.”

I had all this in mind as Cora and I got out a big box of papers and started cutting out hearts. She practiced some of the same skills she worked on last year – tracing, cutting, composing, pasting, sewing – and we listened to Motown love songs. A light snow fell outside. It was the perfect weather for crafting.

As we worked, I questioned the benefits of the activity. After a bit of cutting, she passed  that job on to me. After a little gluing she outsourced that as well. Eventually she declared herself in charge of the sewing machine and told me, “How about you do your stuff at that table and I do mine at this table.” And just like, she chose the job she liked best and declared herself the director of our little Valentine factory. She even kept track of how many we’d made on the calculator.

If there is any value left in the notion of holiday arts as motivator for students, I think there could be the start a lesson plan here around the essential question, “Can art be mass produced?”

Mass-production.

Factories.

The Factory.

Andy Warhol.

???

Handmade Holidays: The Next Generation

DSC_0297

Cora’s gift for our dog, Thompson

I’ve been blogging about my family’s handmade holidays for a few years now. It’s provided me space to work through my feelings about Christmas as someone who grew up in a conservative Jewish home (see: Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home, 2012 and Culturally Inappropriate Holiday Crafting, 2013), how to meaningfully engage the teenagers in my life (Holiday Crafting with Teens, 2014), and my relationship with glitter (Holiday Crafting with Preschoolers (and Glitter!), 2014),

As in the past, the days leading up to Christmas this year were filled with crafting activities.

Cora and her buddy Maya made some wrapping paper.

DSC_0145

Rosa made some paperwhite planters, at my request. (She also did some of her own crafting in her room leading me to believe she was my secret Santa. Which turns out is exactly what she wanted me to believe, even though she wasn’t my Santa. She said she was trying to mess with me, and get me prepared for a time when she might have to make something for me in secret. She’s a sneaky one…)

DSC_0182

Cora had some more fun with glue and glitter,

and I got hooked on Borax snowflakes (which are incredibly difficult to photograph).

DSC_0170

Like Rosa, George came up with his own crafting ideas this year. But, unlike his sister, he brought them down into the kitchen to work on with me. His presence was the greatest gift I got. (see Mindfully Foraging Family Time and Holiday Decorations) We spent a solid day and a half together, off and on, as he worked, asked me for advice, and critiqued my holiday music choices (turns out he’s a real traditionalist).

DSC_0180

Wood burning a sign for his dad.

Cora loved watching him paint a blue jay for Grandma. I was so glad they had this time together. It doesn’t happen often enough.

IMG_4229

After nearly a decade, I feel  certain that the future of our family’s handmade holidays is secure. And with that, I wish you and yours a Happy and a Crafty New Year.

Mindfully Foraging Family Time and Holiday Decorations

It’s no secret to those who know me well that I’ve been struggling to connect with the teenagers in my life as of late. I’m about one month into some new experiments, guided in part by The Happiness Project, by which I’m making more fervent attempts to engage them. You might read this as “force them to spend time with me.” That’s basically what it is, but I’m trying my best to prevent them from seeing it that way. (I guess it’s good neither of them actively follow this blog…)

Two weeks ago, they each got to cook dinner with me one night. They decided what we would make and I tried to get be a guide on the side, rather than the master chef. It was good time together, something Rosa and I have done a lot of (see My Step Monster’s Kitchen), just not lately. For George, it seems like a lot of our interactions come down to, “in two years this is all going to be your responsibility,” so you might call this college (or life) prep in the kitchen.

IMG_3767

Thanksgiving day I went out in the garden to gather some herbs. I came in with a fistful of sage, rosemary, time, and parsley. I went around the house with it inviting everyone to take a few deep cleansing breaths. Cora wanted to go out and find more and I suggested we gather some greens and things to decorate the table. Then I thought, we should all go. It was unseasonably warm – thankfully – so it didn’t take too much convincing when I gave Dan and the big kids thirty minutes to get ready for a family walk.

We wandered around the neighborhood for nearly an hour chatting, playing, singing, and foraging. We gathered dried blossoms and branches, berries, and evergreen boughs, pine cones and nuts and came home with an overflowing basket of materials to work with.

IMG_3773

I decided not to do anything with them right away. Instead, we waited for Dan’s mom to arrive. She is a florist so I solicited her to work on arrangements. Rosa helped and it was lovely to see this activity turn intergenerational.

DSC_0519

The finished product was beautiful from every seat at the table, complete with the kitcschy Pilgrims and Native Americans my mother-in-law used to use at her house. We also included a beeswax candle Rosa and I made last year at Christmas-time. (That was part of another one of my concerted efforts to spend time with the teens which I documented in “Holiday Crafting with Teens.”)

DSC_0543

Just after Thanksgiving the latest edition of Rodale’s Organic Life came to the house complete with an article on foraged holiday crafts and decorations. And just like that, I had ideas for next time.

 

Paper Hearts and the History of Art Education

DSC_0142The course I’m teaching on the history of art education explored the history of holiday arts in school last week. Just in time for V-Day. Students had interesting discussions, based on our readings and their classroom experiences, about whether, to what extent, and how the holidays might to play a role in the art curriculum today. Not surprisingly, there was a mix of responses.

19th century schools operated seasonally and so the holidays were important benchmarks in the academic year. It made sense to bring them into the school as a way of marking time with students whose lives, and livelihoods, were also tied to the seasons. During the industrial revolution, holiday arts served as a respite from day-to-day routines, and as motivation for students trying to conform to a more and more systems-driven society. Holiday projects were also used as a way of acculturating immigrant children to traditions of the dominant culture (read European-descendant and Christian).

But, “contemporary recommendations for a balanced, multifaceted art education suggest that holidays and related arts and crafts should be neither an organizing principle nor a major focus of the art program, whether taught by a generalist or specialist” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 68). I agree with this statement and have worked most of my professional life in accordance with it. However, as I have written about extensively in the past, over the years, I have some to embrace holiday arts and crafts in my home life and art education of my own children. Today I had an experience that could relate to classroom practice as well.

I abide by the Charles Schultz philosophy of holiday gifting, handmade is best. And so over the years I have made lots of Valentine’s with the older kids, mostly Rosa. This year, for the first time, Cora was celebrating the holiday at school, so we got a project going. We used air dry clay to make heart shapes into which she pressed all kinds of materials to create patterns and texture – forks and spoons, a potato masher, seashells, old perfection pieces, a toothpick. She painted them, and added glitter before we glued magnets to the back. She got lots of compliments, and was the only kid with something homemade to share. (Yes, I’m bragging.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After watching Charlie Brown’s Valentine specials with her G-Ma last night, Cora woke up ready to cut some paper. So we did. She got great practice cutting along a line and had a chance to try using the scissors in her right hand as well as her left, which she typically favors. She glued the hearts together to make a few of these.

IMG_9354As she was cutting and gluing, I was sewing a pillow cover. When she was finished with her collages, she asked if she could use the machine. She made about 25 passes before we got distracted and moved on, but by the end of the session, she was independently lowering and raising the presser foot and needle and cutting her line so she could start again. Not bad for a four-year old.

DSC_0139

So while I’m not prepared to advocate a return to our roots in which “every day [was] a festival” (Stankiewicz, 2001, p. 67), I am convinced that a symbol like the heart or a star, or product such as the valentine or ornament, could serve as a vehicle for material exploration and practice. I’m sure some of the T.A.B. adherents reading this will have experience in this department. Any advice for others interested in using holidays as meaningful motivators for student learning?