Even though St. Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas Creche (praesepio In Italian) each country seemed to develop their own Creche customs. A beautiful custom started here in France during the Medieval Days. Everyday during advent they would take a little piece of hay and make a prayer as they held the straws. Then they placed the hay into the manger. They would tell the children that they were softening the bed for Baby Jesus. If you just take one moment to contemplate this simple tradition… there are four weeks of advent and 7 days are in one week. This means a person who did this everyday before Christmas would have 28 days of prayers in the Creche. Now if you had a family of three that were also doing this with you would 94 prayers in the cradle before Christmas. This is what I would call a simple spiritual practice that could bring back the Spirit of Christmas into Christmas. This is also most likely why some of the Cradle Grass is called Holy Hay.
The plant I will place in the Creche today is Cradlewort. You might know it from cooking as common Thyme. But it was the Wild Thyme that would be gathered and saved during the spring for the Christmas Creche. It grows wild all over the South of France and Italy. You can see beautiful pink splashes of color among the rugged terrain of the Southern climate and you can understand why impressionist artists love to paint the landscape of this region.
The word wort is the old name for herb. Wild thyme has a unforgettable fragrance that smells like medicine. But it was also associated with the elves and the fairies (Les Fees in French) of the woods and meadows. It is said if you stand on a patch of wild thyme in the middle of a circle of the fairy-ring mushrooms on a full moon night you will have the power to see through the veil into the world of the fairies who are the Earth Angels who care for the Mother Earth’s Kingdom.
There was a point in time years ago I was researching all the plants and their old names of Medieval Europe. I learned all the flower’s names that were connected to the Virgin Mary. My head was full of names like Our Lady’s Slippers, Mary’s Gloves( Foxgloves), Mary’s Thistle (Milk Thistle), the Herbe de la Trinite (Pansy) or Holy Spirit Root (Angelica). I studied and researched and dug deep into old books and the Latin names to uncover fragrments of history. This became my passion and what I enjoy doing in my spare time. One Spring Day, I found myself enjoying a beautiful area in the hills of California. It was the peak of Spring and every flower of the field was in its full and abundant glory.
All of a sudden I had an experience and I saw that all the flowers of the field were the flowers of Mother Mary. This was not an intellectual experience but each flower and its ancient name I merge with as I stood out in the meadow filled with so many fragrant beauties. Mary’s Flax, Mary’s Blue Eyes, Mary’s Shoes, Blessed Thistle, The Virgin Mint, and so many more. The Earth was the body of the Holy Mother and every flower was her expression. It was the beauty of Divine Essence in the innumerable forms in the plant kingdom. A joy swelled up in my heart to have such a sweet communion. I realized people of this time did not know how to read or write, but they knew the ways of nature and lived closely to the land and these stories and legends were a way of weaving the nature with their spiritual life.
Note: You might like to create you own Christmas Crib this year and follow the tradition of praying over a little bit of of hay, or different herbs. I have made many types of Creches each year. Some were made from fresh willow branches and using jute string to tie the branches together to form a manger. But this year I live in Paris and it not so easy to cut a willow from the woods. But I was looking the other day at my kitchen counter and thought my dish drainer would make a perfect crib this year. I had been to the Vegetable Market last Saturday and had purchased four bees wax candles to burn over the holiday. Well yesterday a little Christmas Magic came together and Voila I have my Christ Cradle for the season. Look around your house and work with what you have be even an old shoe box could become a cradle, be creative, the most important part of this is your daily intentions as you place a little herb with your blessing in the crib each day.
Working with the Christ Child Archetype each day can begin to bring healing to unresolved inner child issues . The inner child inside of us is the seat of our creativity. If you have blocks being creative in your life it is time to retreat inside and retrieve the child within. I have found that the wounded inner child can be found down in the belly connected to unresolved emotional tramas. When one becomes brave enough to go down into their bellies to touch this wounded part of their selves and release the trauma through breath and bring that child into the heart center, then miracles can happen.
Suggestion: If you are not comfortable with pray you could say a positive thought or well wishing as you place the straw into the Crib each day….This practice is about creating daily positive energy in your life.