40 // 52

40 // 52 // Lillia
40 // 52 // Zane

“A portrait of my children once a week, every week, in 2015.”

Lillia: This week you had two days off from school for parent-teacher conferences. For each of your classes you had to do a self-evaluation and talk about your strengths and weaknesses, and your overall performance. In just about each presentation you mentioned that your biggest weaknesses were disorganization and the fact that you hate group work. You have a keen sense of self-awareness for someone your age. I think you were overly critical of yourself, but you have always been like that. The old adage “we’re our own worst critics” certainly applies to you! Still, you are doing very well in all of your classes, and all of your teachers really seem to enjoy having you as a student. I hope you continue on this path.

Zane: This week your school also had parent-teacher conferences. Your teacher, Melissa, said that you are a joy to have in class. She said she doesn’t think she’s ever had a student that loved school as much as you do, and I tend to believe that she’s right. She said you are really right on track in your development, and had no concerns. She said that some things that still challenge you are using scissors properly, and one-to-one counting of objects. You know all of your colors, can recognize in print all of the numbers up to 8, and most of the letters of the alphabet. You can write all the letters in your name, though not in the right order — your “E” has about 8 legs on it which is just adorable. I already knew that you’re a bright little boy, but it was nice to hear it from your teacher, too.


39 // 52

39 // 52 // Lillia
39 // 52 // Zane

“A portrait of my children once a week, every week, in 2015.”

Lillia: This week was Michaelmas. We had a little celebration at home, but these special days don’t seem to excite or engage you the way they used to. For me, it’s a little sad to see what growing up really takes from us, and I do hope that someday you will get back some of the joy you’ve lost. The melancholic years of young adulthood seem to be worse for you — a person who was born world-weary. You are cynical in the way of an almost-twelve-year-old, and perhaps this level of apathy, distrust, and disdain is normal? I would be very hesitant to jump to any conclusions at this point. I do wish I could remember just a little bit better what it was like to be your age. Perhaps I should have a talk with your grandmother — I’m sure she remembers!

Zane: This week you really enjoyed helping me get ready for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Unfortunately, it was raining this year so we couldn’t go out in the woods together to gather flowers and colored leaves for our table. But, you did help me make all of the food! After dinner we read about St. George and the Dragon, and then you wanted to play knights and dragons with some little wooden figures we have. I love how children re-create their experiences in their play, re-living again and again the moments that made an impression on them.


38 // 52

38 // 52 // Lillia
38 // 52 // Zane

“A portrait of my children once a week, every week, in 2015.”

Lillia: This week your school was invited to a “district-wide” dance in the neighboring village of Charlestown. Even though you knew there was a chance that none of your friends would be there, you still wanted to go. When you and your dad arrived you were feeling very nervous, and briefly decided that the whole situation was too scary. You were on your way back to the car when you changed your mind. On the second go-round you saw a boy who goes to the Walpole school standing in line, and so you struck up a conversation with him. When you finally came home a few hours later you said that you did have a good time, and that you met a new girl from one of the other schools. I am so impressed with your bravery — I would NEVER have had the courage to go to a dance where I didn’t know anyone. Every day you amaze me, Lillia.

Zane: This week I kept you home from school on Monday because I wanted to spend some time with you. Now that you are at school five days a week, I miss our little adventures. I asked you, “Would you rather go to school or stay home with mama?” You can guess what the response was. So, we spent the whole day together and we did all kinds of fun things — we went apple picking, we walked in the woods, we did some serious garden clean-up, and we played in the sandbox. I had such a good time, and I’m pretty sure you did, too. I know you really love school, but sometimes it’s nice to be home.


ember days

Fasting days and Emberings be
Lent, Whitsun, Holyrood, and Lucie.

— Old English Rhyme

apple picking 9

If asked to name times during the year that are of great importance to Christians, most people would suggest Christmas and Easter; not many of them would say “Ember Days.”  But, in fact, Ember Days are an ancient tradition that predates Christmas, Advent, and many other Christian celebrations, and can be traced all the way back to the time of the Hebrew Scriptures, when a fast of the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth months was prescribed. During Jesus’s time there was also a Jewish custom of fasting every Tuesday and Thursday of the week.  The first Christians carried on these two traditions, but chose to fast instead on Wednesday and Friday, the day Jesus was betrayed and the day he died, respectively.i

There are several different explanations for the origins of the name “Ember Days.”  Some say it is a corruption of the Latin name Quatuor Temporum, which means “Four Times” or “Four Seasons.”ii  It’s also possible that the term could be derived from the ancient Saxon language, where Emb, or embe, means a “course” or “circuit.”iii  The Ember Days are a quarterly series of Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, taking place at the beginning of each natural season, that are set aside as a time of fasting and prayer: Michaelmas Embertide in September, signaling the beginning of autumn; Advent Embertide in December, ushering in the winter season; Lenten Embertide, which arrives in spring; and Whit Embertide comes at the start of the summer season.iv  These three days each season provide the faithful with an opportunity to contemplate the wonder of God through His creation – that is, the natural world – and to engage in self-reflection. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th Century CE, provides an excellent model for Embertide contemplation. He writes,v

If any man attempt to speak of God, let him first describe the bounds of the earth.  Thou dwellest on the earth, and the limit of this earth which is thy dwelling thou knowest not: how then shalt thou be able to form a worthy thought of its Creator?  Thou beholdest the stars, but their Maker thou beholdest not: count these which are visible, and then describe Him who is invisible, Who telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names.

In addition to their associations with the changing seasons, Ember Days also correspond to other feasts during the Christian Year.  Michaelmas Embertide follows the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14th); Advent Embertide comes on the heels of St. Lucy’s Day (December 13th); Lenten Embertide is paired, of course, with the start of Lent; and Whit Embertide, as its name suggests, is associated with Whitsunday (Pentecost).  By observing the Ember Days at the beginning of each season, we are retrieving this ancient aspect of our ecclesiastical history, which is said to have originated with the Apostles themselves, as well as our shared cultural history.  Even those who are not practicing Christians can appreciate the historical significance of the Ember Days — anyone with European roots will be in good company with their ancestors, for whom these four weeks during the year were of great importance.  So, let’s take this opportunity to pick up where the collective “we” left off. Let’s spend a little bit of time: fasting1, using our skills or resources for the benefit of others, and contemplating God and His creation (which was placed in the care of our most distant ancestors, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden — so the story goes).

This year’s Michaelmas Ember Days begin Wednesday, September 23rd (tomorrow). I’ve put together a little booklet of readings that I hope you might enjoy — mostly poetry, and some Bible verses — called Readings for Michaelmas Embertide (click on title to download). Please feel free to share this post and/or my booklet, non-commercial use only. Thank you.


1 Fasting provides an opportunity to consider God’s gifts and how to use them in moderation.  Fasting on Ember Days means one regular meal per day (two smaller meals in morning and evening, no snacks) on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, with the addition of abstaining from meat on Friday.


i “Ember Days, Rogations Days, and Station Churches,” Holy Trinity (German) Catholic Church, www.holytrinitygerman.org, 5/13/15
ii Ibid.
iii “Ember Days,” an excerpt from A Companion for the Book of Common Prayer by John Henry Hobart, Anglican Bible & Book Society, www.anglicanbible.org, 9/19/12
iv Ibid.
v “Ember Days” by Tracy Tucciarone, Fish Eaters, www.fisheaters.com, 7/30/06