The month of December seems overstuffed and overwhelming, perhaps because it really was intended to be the tenth, and last, month in a 10-month cycle. Anthropologists and other scholars agree that 10, and multiples of 10, occur easily to human reasoning, probably because we have ten digits. Ten “feels” like a perfect number to us on many intuitive levels. Twelve is overkill.
Blame it on Julius and Augustus, who expanded our modern calendar from 10 to 12 months. There’s a lot to like about the Romans (cool armor, great language), but they weren’t exactly known for their restraint. Excessive ego ruled. No surprise, since the Romans gave us the word “ego” itself!
These two emperors, the story goes, insisted on inserting months named for themselves—July and August—into the original 10-month calendar. This is why September, October, November, and December still contain the Latin prefixes for 7, 8, 9 and 10. (How February got its name is another story altogether.)
Personally, by December 1, I’ve had more than enough. In November, my freezer and pantry are packed, ready for feasts of thanksgiving. Then, as the Bears of summer, Ursus Major and Ursus Minor, depart for the season, and the belt of Orion appears in the night sky, the bones are picked clean. There is a sense of bareness at the year’s end. Austere and spare.
Those of you who love traditional shakuhachi playing will be reminded of the classic “A Bell Ringing in An Empty Sky”, and the specific feelings of the season invoked by the sound. But, in American culture, we fight these feelings.
So, December typically is a month of major consuming and indulgence in our society. We buy and binge, as cultural traditions. I find that the simplest, gentlest way out of this feeling of “too much-ness” is a pot of tea. I usually like to share, but in this instance, enjoying tea in solitude may be the most cleansing.
The Art of Tea menu really speaks to me this time of year with several purifying and tonic brews. Green teas especially seem to invite the falling-away of excess, through their purity and simplicity.
- UJI GYOKURO – The most precious and sought-after Japanese green tea, with high levels of chlorophyll and a bright green vegetal essence.
- YUN WU CLOUDS MIST FAIR TRADE GREEN TEA – Poetically called Mist and Cloud tea, harvested in a mystical environment which rarely sees beyond its cloud-cover.
- FRESH GREENS – Because we do believe in spring, lemon verbena and lemongrass are added to the green mix, suggesting sun.
- LIQUID JADE—Award-winning blend of white with green, with gorgeous sweet-notes of bergamot, honey and citrus.
- ZUISHO PINE SENCHA – Premium deep steam organic green tea, with leaves resembling pine needles, making it a fitting choice for December. Art of Tea is the first trader to bring this unique Japanese tea stateside.
- SNOW DRAGON – Clean, refreshing, breath of early spring frost, from Fujian, China.
- GUNPOWDER GREEN TEA – The distinct rolled shape of these leaves, along with the whiff of smokiness behind the grassy infusion, makes this tea ideal for those days when you’re feeling especially overwhelmed.
And, if the weeks around the Winter Solstice do involve overindulging, Art of Tea offers Pre-Tox and Post-Tox brews. Pre-Tox helps to prepare your body for an onslaught of wanton a-wassail-ing or other excess, blending green tea with Dandelion Root and other naturally cleansing botanicals. In the aftermath of partying, caffeine-free Post-Tox soothes and restores, with singular botanicals including Fennel Seed, Chicory Root and Milk Thistle.
I also follow the advice of my favorite Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners when making my tea in anticipation of a new year. I regard my stove—my fire-source—as a metaphor for my finances (another reason to never microwave water for tea!).
With this in mind, I use every burner on my stove (I happen to have a great gas-range). In other words, keep the fire moving; keep all of the burners engaged. Don’t just favor one burner. In a single day, I probably use each of the four burners at least once, which some sages say will bring more fire, meaning more prosperity, to my house in 2012. May it do the same for yours.