Monthly Archives: December 2014

An Open Letter to Churches Regarding Christmas

Dear Church:

It’s just after Christmas and I’d like to talk to you about a certain experience I had while visiting the United States for the holidays from my home in Japan.

Let me start by talking about traditions. There are a great many traditions that, especially in Evangelical churches but even to some degree in certain Protestant churches as well, tend to be forgotten—for example, catechisms and hymns. Catechisms, of which there are many (heck, there are at least three Baptist catechisms that I found in a cursory Google search, at least one dating back a couple hundred years, so this is not solely a Catholic thing), are a great way to teach basic doctrine to children and new converts—and God knows there are too many “Christians” who know nothing about their own religion, a recipe for abandonment later on. I think we should all adopt (or re-adopt) the use of catechisms in our churches, but I can cognitively comprehend (though I strongly disagree) why some people might consider it “too Catholic” and refuse to adopt it.

Similarly, hymns are great sources of doctrine. For example, in an era where most praise and worship music consists of the messages that “God loves me” and “I love God” and “life’s great when I love God,” it’s easy to forget deeper doctrine. For example, a man once lost his wife and daughters at sea when a storm hit while they were sailing to America to join him. In response, he wrote the words, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, / When sorrows like sea billows roll, / Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, / ‘It is well, it is well with my soul!’ ” What a great reminder of the lesson Paul taught in Philippians 4:11, “…for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Being a Christian and obeying God is not a shield against calamity, but “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28), and knowing this, we may learn contentment even in troubled times—such as the tragic deaths of your spouse and children at sea. Worship songs wherein the message goes no deeper than “life’s great when I love God” leave Christians unprepared for situations like these.

Traditions bring your belief system to life, especially for children. I think that’s probably a huge part of why God prescribed so many detailed traditions for the Jewish people. If you celebrate the Passover every year, and every year thereby your children learn an important part of your religious and/or ethnic history, you’re all much less likely to forget it. As an adult, I once took part in a Seder meal, and it’s amazing how many tiny details you remember, but also how much of the “why’s” and “what-for’s” you forget if you only do it once, which is why it’s so important to observe the traditions every year. After all, if you were raised in the church, how many millions of times did you hear the story of Jesus’ birth during the Advent and Christmas season? Most people who spent some time in the church can tell you the Christmas story, and maybe the Easter story, including several tiny details and the “why’s” and “what-for’s,” but can’t tell you any other stories from the Bible. That alone speaks very strongly to the power of tradition in helping people to remember important facts.

Now, allow me to veer sharply in a completely different direction very briefly. Most missionaries and expats living in Europe, Central and South America, or Australia see and hear a lot of Christian traditions on display. Even some missionaries and expats living in Africa may experience the same depending in large part on the colonization history of and spread of Islam in the specific country in which they live. However, I would venture to say that most missionaries and expats living in Southeast Asia experience very little in the way of Christian traditions. As an American living in Japan, it doesn’t surprise me when people don’t celebrate Independence Day on July 4 (an American political holiday celebrating our independence from the British Empire in 1776). It *does* surprise me when a few non-Americans celebrate Thanksgiving (an American historical holiday celebrating God’s providence for our first settlers in the 1600s). However, it’s very depressing to me to see Japanese celebrating “Christmas,” which they understand to be a time when you decorate in bright colors, maybe have a tree, eat KFC (no, I’m not joking), and give small gifts before the REAL big holiday, which for the Japanese is New Year’s, wherein families gather in large groups to their old stomping grounds, visit important religious sites, eat huge traditional meals with the family, and give lots of expensive gifts, especially to the kids. To the Japanese, Christmas is completely divorced from its religious roots. There’s no one falsely claiming Christians hijacked the Winter Solstice celebrations of prior pagan religions (in reality, Jesus’ birth was known to have taken place sometime in December, and Christmas was set as December 25, exactly 9 months after March 25, because March 25 is considered to be the date of Mary’s conception) because *no one cares* because it’s not religious to them at all. Like Halloween, it’s just a fun Western holiday to imitate.

This is where Christmas carols come in. Long story short, because of the divorcement of Christmas from its religious roots in Japan (as probably in most of Southeast Asia), and because of the importance of traditions, many missionaries and expats to that part of the world may come home and become quite depressed at an experience like the one I had. My husband, my daughter, and I all went to our parents’ churches while visiting. On the last Sunday before Christmas, we walked into the auditorium and sang four songs—none of them related in any way to Christmas. We sang exactly zero Christmas carols*. Just like back in Japan—only this time, it was the Christmas that was eliminated from the religion rather than the religion that was eliminated from the Christmas.

In fact, the sermon also had little to do with Christmas, but I can understand the desire to stray from the usual tactic of telling the exact same story every single year. However, that’s part of where the carols come in. Christmas carols tell the story of Jesus’ birth so that you don’t have to, even providing those tiny details like the exact words the angels sang to the shepherds. They may even tell some slightly deeper theology, such as the reason for Jesus’ birth, as in the case of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Ultimately, however, the kicker for me is this: Depending on your particular denomination, you have only one to four Sundays out of 52 every year wherein you can sing Christmas carols, and there are so many good ones that you may not be able to sing them all every year, so WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU SING ANYTHING ELSE???

In summary… I am an American Christian expat living in Japan. Where I live, I see very little of home traditions, and what I do see is often depressing and severely incomplete. I look forward every year to singing certain Christmas carols, but I particularly looked forward very much this year to all Christmas carols because I see and hear so little of religious Christmas celebrations in Japan. However, I was sorely disappointed, having sung not even a single Christmas carol on the Sunday before Christmas.

In conclusion, I think churches need to take not only general Christian traditions more seriously, but also—perhaps especially—Christmas traditions.

We all need more Christmas carols.

Why the hell sing anything else at Christmas time?

Sincerely,

A Depressed Expat

 

*My husband notes that because it takes an act of Congress to get your child signed in for daycare at church nowadays, we arrived at the church on time but arrived in the auditorium late, so they may have sung carols before we entered. Nevertheless, my point remains that you have very few weeks in the year when you may sing Christmas carols (in some churches, it’s only one week), so I don’t understand why you would feel the need to throw in some theologically-deprived (and even theologically-fallacious) worship songs as filler when you could instead fill the time with those few theology-packed (and theologically-accurate) songs you only get to sing once a year.

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Editing Knitting Patterns

Tell me I’m not the only one… Any time I knit a pattern, I make edits to it along the way, sometimes minor, sometimes severe. Sometimes, it bites me in the butt. Other times, it adds something to an otherwise (intentionally) plain pattern. And sometimes it’s necessary.

Leafy Accordion Hat

photo_medium2Two patterns that I recently edited were out of necessity. In the first case, I needed to knit a winter hat for my daughter due to the change of weather and chose an adorable free hat pattern created by Charlotte Bouchet, “Leafy Accordion Hat.” However, because my daughter loves nothing more than to take off of her head anything I put on it, I decided to add ear muffs and straps so I could tie it under her chin like a bonnet to prevent removal. I thought the best way to accomplish this would be to knit it top-down instead of bottom-up. If you’re interested in doing the same, I included the detailed pattern instructions for doing so on my Ravelry Project Page. However, in the process of knitting it top-down (thank God I chose to do it this way—it ended up saving a lot of time), I discovered that the top of the hat was actually the appropriate size for a toddler hat according to Craft Yarn Council Standards when knitted at the “0-3 month” size listed in the pattern. I ended up relying on CYC Standards to be sure I knitted it the appropriate size for a toddler, which was “0-3 months” for the top and “18-24 months” for the sides.

Toddler Mittens on a String

photo (1)The second pattern I edited out of necessity was a mittens pattern. Again, I chose a pattern to knit for my daughter because of the cold weather. In this case, she needed mittens. I found a free pattern that I liked, Toddler Mittens on a String by Ruth Bendig. They needed to match a cardigan I had previously knitted for her, so I significantly altered the cuffs and the colorwork pattern (the original mitten pattern involved no colorwork) but followed the pattern exactly for everything else—the number of stitches to cast on, the number of rows following the cuff before beginning the thumb gusset shaping, the number of stitches for the thumb gusset, etc. However, I quickly discovered that what another commenter had said about the mittens being too small was very, very true. I assumed a pattern that was too small for toddlers would fit my 15-month-old, whose hands are a little smaller than 12-month size. However, it was WAY too small. I considered using mitten size standards to make the mittens a standard size, but chose instead to simply knit them to fit my daughter’s hands with 0.25 inches growing room. (I detailed the exact measurement issues on my Ravelry Project Page if you’re interested.) Nevertheless, the pattern was great as a specific guide on working the thumb gusset increases. Aside from the cuff and colorwork changes I made as necessary to match the previously-knit cardigan, the only other changes I made were the total lengths of the mittens and the lengths of the thumbs.

Recommendations for Edits

In my experience, your best bet prior to making any edits to the project is to follow three very important rules:

  1. Read Carefully. Before making any edits, very carefully read and re-read the pattern to be sure you really understand what it’s calling for. Only if you understand what it should look like (for example, how many stitches and rows to expect if you’re adding colorwork) or how it should work can you make any intelligent edits.
  2. Look Up Size Standards. If you doubt the size, look up standards to be sure. For example, I thought the first pair of mittens I knitted were too large, but they ended up being appropriately sized for a 6-month-old as expected. However, the second pair of mittens I knitted, the ones described above, were far too small.
  3. Consider the Source. Generally speaking, in life, you get what you pay for. This isn’t always true in knitting patterns, where some paid patterns I’ve purchased were of a lower quality than some free patterns I’ve used. However, a paid pattern has often been test-knitted and standardized to size, whereas free patterns may follow any standard or no standard. When selecting a pattern, look up the comments of people who’ve knitted it. You may find, as I did, that you are not the only one who found the size to be incorrect or other issues. If you do your homework ahead of time, you may save yourself some grief.

じゃあまたね!

Christmas Knits

Since Christmas is coming up, I wanted to share some of the Christmas-themed knitted patterns I’ve found that I particularly like. Many are saved on my Pinterest Knitting Christmas board, but some of them were unfriendly to pinning, so I’m adding those here as well as some of my favorite Christmas knit pins.

Some Favorite Christmas Knit Pins

The following pictures come from the Pinterest pins. Seeing as how those images are already floating around Pinterest, I assume the author permits those photos to be shared so long as due credit is given.

1. Finger-Knit Wreath

This wreath is, according to the author, a great project for kids who enjoy finger-knitting to help you with. Unfortunately, it does require the purchase of a plastic or styrofoam wreath form/mold purchased from your local craft store. Since I now live in Japan, I was hoping to find a knitted wreath pattern that didn’t rely on products widely available in any particular country, but rather products widely available in any developed nation. Nevertheless, this really caught my eye and I would love to make it someday.

knit wreath

 

2. Night Caps

A “night cap” for your “Christmas spirits”! A great stocking stuffer for people who aren’t tea-totalers like me. 🙂 It’s a very simple in-the-round pattern.

night cap

3. Cork Trees

From the same creator of the night caps pictured above, here’s another relatively simple pattern for turning wine corks into Christmas trees!

cork trees

3. 3D Stjärna Stars

These are the nicest 3D stars I’ve seen, perfect for knitted Christmas ornaments. This free pattern is available on Ravelry, but it’s definitely not a simple pattern.*

3D stars

4. Snowman

This simple snowman pattern is perfect for Christmas ornaments. You might even slightly edit it to stuff with candy as a stocking stuffer.

snowman

5. Christmas Gift Bags

Beautiful! Especially if gift bags and wrapping paper are not readily available, as is the case in Japan. I mean, REALLY? It drives me crazy that I have difficulty finding these things here. :-/

gift bag

6. Knit Ornament

Oh, my goodness!! It’s SO FREAKING CUTE!!! Free pattern on Ravelry!

knit ornament

7. Balm Socks

Again, SO CUTE!! These stockings are perfect as combination ornament-gifts. Simply stuff it with lip balm, chewing gum, or other small gifts, and hang it on the tree.

stocking

Some Cool DROPS Christmas Knits

Searching on Ravelry favoriting various free patterns, I discovered a pattern (lol, no pun intended): I apparently love DROPS Design. I’ve never purchased anything from them and they don’t give me money, so you know this is coming from complete honesty–I just like their designs. Well, I recently learned that they come out with a Christmas series of knit and crochet patterns every year, so I looked through this year’s Christmas knitting patterns and picked out some non-clothing favorites.

1. Mouse

I know it’s not exactly Christmasy, but it could be… especially if you toss a couple on a table next to a nutcracker. If you look at the pattern page, you’ll see a reference to crochet hooks, but knitters don’t worry and crocheters don’t get excited–it’s just the tail that’s crochet.

a mouse

 

2. Felted Heart Basket

This basket is apparently intended as a receptacle for Christmas cards, which is an awesome idea, but it could be used for any number of other things.

a felted heart

3. “Sweet Heart”

This knitted heart to hang on the tree could be stuffed with any number of awesome-smelling things.

a sweet heart

4. Holiday Night Candle Votive Cover

These are so beautiful, I just have to make these. I wonder whether the pressure and heat would cause felting.

a holiday night

5. Christmas Lights Candle Votive Cover

Again, so beautiful. And again, I wonder about the felting. Maybe these should be knit in cotton instead of animal fibers. I don’t think synthetic fibers like polyester would be a good idea because they’re essentially plastic and might melt with long-term exposure to high heat. Any experienced knitters want to weigh in?

a christmas lights

 

Well, that’s it for now!

じゃあまたね!

*I will never say “not a pattern for beginner knitters,” because when I was a beginner knitter, I learned to increase my skill set by intentionally choosing difficult patterns. However, I *will* designate patterns as simple or complex.