First Annual Winter Solstice Event at Anya’s Garden Perfumes – Day Five

by | Dec 25, 2012 | Anya's Garden Perfumes | 36 comments

Christmas Day is a fixed date and thus always comes a few days after the Winter Solstice, with the growing days, in the northern sky plays a big role in the Biblical story of the Three Wise Men following the star that led them to the Christ child’s manger in Bethlehem.  Today’s blog is a very personal one, it’s my story of growing up in the largest Catholic parish in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

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 Upper church of Most Blessed Sacrament Southwest Philadelphia. Church closed in 2007. photo courtesy Bob Giampietro

Most Blessed Sacrament Church was a magnificent structure, with an upper church (pictured), a lower church, rectory, convent for forty nuns and three school buildings.  The forty nuns were needed to teach the 3,500 students in grades k-8.  Every bit of our daily lives was lived under the influence of the church, it seemed.

We lived in mid-sized row homes, with postage-stamp sized yards, but we felt we were connected to something larger due to the grandeur of the church, clad inside in marble, oil paintings, mosaics, and huge stained glass windows.  I’d call it a mini-cathedral.  Sunday mass was mandatory, and Christmas mass was a solemn time, even if we children were hyped up in anticipation of the presents we’d get on Christmas day. Starting in first grade, we were taught a strict Catholic doctrine from the Baltimore catechism.  I hadn’t even thought of the word catechism in years, until I wrote that line, and it came back to me, a long-lost memory.  I suppose when you are drilled to repeat rote questions and answers from a book for years, it is buried deep in your subconscious.

As i wrote earlier, even though I rejected the harsh teaching of the church, I still respected their beliefs in religious matters.  The blessed mother was to be adored, the baby Jesus was the son of God, and Christmas was his birthday.  Years later I put it more into perspective: the Catholics adored him as the son of God, the Muslims said he was a great prophet, and he was undeniably Jewish, so everybody recognized him, his place in history, they just all had a different place for him.

At Most Blessed Sacrament, he was the cornerstone of our church and belief, and on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day all our thoughts were on him and what he meant to us.

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Aerial photo of Most Blessed Sacrament Church in the 1960s with surrounding neighborhood. photo courtesy Bob Giampietro

Someone on a Facebook page devoted to the old neighborhood added that wistful caption to the photo. Growing up with up to 100 students in a classroom, 25,000 parishioners packed closely in a small urban area, I suppose we never thought that era, that culture, would end.  In the late 1960s the neighborhood began to change, and crime became commonplace, and the mass exodus began.  I left in 1970, at age 20, and moved to Berkeley, California, rarely to return.

When I began forming this post in my mind a few days ago, I felt very positive, but last night and today I became very sad, and spent a lot of time crying.  I realized the feelings of an era that passed, coupled with my mother’s death in March, and my having a slowdown in energy the last month, was taking a toll. When my ex called yesterday, I missed his call.  I know he was concerned about my first Christmas without my mother, whom I had taken care of for the last 14 years. I called him back today, and started choking up a bit, but held off until we hung up.  Facing the demise of Most Blessed Sacrament, the neighborhood, the stark reality of ‘you can’t go home again’, with my mother passing seemed like a double whammy.  After hours of crying, I was beginning to worry about myself – that isn’t like me.  Then I began in earnest to start to collect the images for this blog, and research some dates and specifics, and I stopped crying.  Just like that.

I suppose it is true what they say, that work can distract you from sorrows – it can also take them away when you fully face them.  The nuns did try to instill in us a picture of being part of an eternal community, something that I still believe and feel, even if I don’t follow the church’s teachings, and regard myself as a Jew with Buddhist sensibilities. I have never attended Christmas mass since leaving Philly in 1970.  I carry my faith and spirituality within me, yet I must acknowledge that the church taught me to be strong and believe in a higher power, and that Jesus, the center of the church’s teachings, deserves recognition and thanks on this, his day.

To the hundreds of thousands of Most Blessed Sacrament’s former parishioners, now scattered all over the Earth, thank you for being a part of my childhood, for being a part of a great community, and if you are still attending Christmas Mass, I know your thoughts will be back in that grand church in southwest Philly, where we thought life would go on unchanged, for Eternity.  Life has a way of upending your plans, either thorough sociological changes, or physical ones, like the lives affected by Superstorm Sandy.  For those suffering through the loss of their homes and livelihoods and neighborhoods due to that storm, my thoughts are with you and I hope that you find faith and rebuild your lives, making them even better than before.  That’s my Christmas wish for you.

My mother loved all the perfumes I made.  She lived long enough to smell Royal Lotus, my 2011 launch.  I haven’t launched a new perfume this year, even though I tried.  I just ran out of energy, and needed down time. Wax melts and soaps were easy to launch, but perfumes are the soul of my art, and my soul needed time to heal.  For today’s giveaway, I’m offering a box of samples of my 11 perfumes, glimpses of my soul, expressed as fragrant visions of eternal scent, blended with care and love.  Just leave a comment about any aspect of this rather unfocused, but nostalgic post about my childhood memories, the catholic church, neighborhoods and people who pass away, or your memory of Christmas day in this time of the Winter solstice, when the sun’s ray linger longer on the Earth, warming us and giving us faith that Spring will once again come.  Comments may be left until 10 a.m. December 26 and the winner will be notified by email.

36 Comments

  1. Brian Shea

    I vaguely remember Christmas at church. We went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and in later years would come back home and open presents in the immediate family. I don’t remember much of the mass really, but I remember the walks to and from the church, with all the lights in the neighborhood and the church itself, often with snow. Beautiful.
    This sounds like it was sort of a traumatic, yet healing post for you to write, Anya. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

    Reply
  2. Tamara Shortt

    Dear Anya,

    May the Supreme Being bless you, and keep you in it’s grace. Amen Merry Christmas to you, and may the new year bring you renewed energy, serenity and purpose.

    Reply
  3. Chanelle

    Many blessings to you and yours. Love your blog

    Reply
  4. Julia

    Thank you for sharing your story! I hope your soul will heal soon and your energy level will recover with it.

    Reply
  5. Monica H.

    Merry Christmas Anya! Thank you for sharing so intimately from your experience and for lending much of yourself through your creations and this blog. You have been through alot this past year and I pray that 2013 will bring you great joy =)

    Reply
  6. Suzinn

    Dear Anya, just wanted to wish you a Sweet, healing Christmas. I think understand you feelings. I just finished feeding some dear friends and tomorrow I get to see my grand baby but I got a little teary eyed when I read about your mom. Mine is her mid 80’s and starting to have issues and I so want her to be happy and healthy but have no control over those options. She doesn’t really “get me” and doesn’t like my perfumes but I know she loves me unconditionally and that is a rare thing and perhaps something we can never replace and so must appreciate while our mothers are here despite the other “stuff”.
    Take good care, XO

    Reply
  7. MICHAL SHIMONI

    I wonder how the church treated perfumistas in the darker ages-were they witches-brewing pleasures.
    I have faint memories of being burnt.
    It takes courage to be fully who we are as women, given our history.

    Reply
  8. MICHAL SHIMONI

    Sorry to hear about your mom. Hope she is happy and peacefull where ever she is,smiling at you.
    Who knows,maybe she will wisper an angelic perfume formula in your dream.

    Reply
  9. Magdalena Roza

    “11 perfumes, glimpses of my soul” – this is it :-)

    Reply
  10. Molly

    Thank you for sharing this moving personal story. Happy Christmas!

    Reply
  11. Catherine Symonds

    Dear Anya~

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart, and your life, with us. My 64-year-old mom died last year, Sept. 3rd, of bone cancer that had spread throughout her body, unbeknownst to all of us, herself included, for goodness knows how many years. She was diagnosed late June, and came to live with me and my family until she left this earth, peacefully, to the sounds of Christmas music (oh how she loved Christmas music!) in our living room. I thank God for those last 3 months with her. I wish I could’ve done more with her, before she became completely bedridden, but I’m grateful for His love and mercy, and the peace I’ve had, and still have, in knowing that she has gone home to the Lord.

    Praying that the Lord fills you, dear Anya, with His peace, love, and joy that surpasses all understanding, comforts you, heals every area in your sweet soul, and renews your strength and energy. You are a blessing and inspiration to so many. May the Lord’s blessings and favor be upon you continually. Merry Christmas!!!

    Reply
  12. Alicia

    Thank you for your post, it was a sad yet wonderful piece to read on Christmas morning. I have wishes of love, energy and inspiration for you and hopefully the new year will bring it for both of us! Have a special day and my thoughts are with you!
    -Alicia

    Reply
  13. Karen

    Dear Anya,
    Your blog was the first thing I read this Christmas morning. Something made me open it up and explore it today, when there are so many posts and emails in my inbox. I was swept away by your descriptions and photos, and the imagery you conveyed felt very visual and real to me. I know of you as a prominent natural perfumer and owner of the Natural Perfumery email group, but had not realized all that you’ve gone through in the past year. Your writing struck a chord of emotion in me that I identified with.

    My mother passed in May of 2007, and even now, I miss her often, though I would say that every year I have healed more, and this year has been the easiest in terms of feeling close to her in a happy way, and not weighed down by sadness. Last night, I did my annual ritual of lighting a candle in memory of her, my father (who died in 1994) and a dear family friend, Mahmut, who we knew when we lived in Turkey. This is a ritual that was begun every Christmas eve by his wife Wilmar who now lives in the Netherlands, as she had to leave her beloved Turkey after he died, and go back to where she was from originally, but which has never felt like “home” to her. Since about 2002, even before my mother died, on Christmas eve I join with Wilmar in spirit, and together, though miles apart, we have honored those we loved who are no longer with is physically in this dimension. Then she always calls me on Christmas day, and says “And did you remember to light the candle?”

    Thank you for sharing your story and taking the time to write the beautiful article.
    Warmest regards and blessings,
    Karen

    Reply
  14. JK

    Merry Christmas to you, Anya! You know that your mother–and all those others from the Most Blessed Sacrament–are with you in Spirit!

    Reply
  15. joyce

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story today. While it made me cry, I could still shut my eyes and remember some childhood memories of mass on christmas eve, the snowy dreamlike feel of wonder walking to the church, frankincense burning at the altar and hymns still sung in latin. If my mom were still alive I know she too would love my perfumes. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you Anya and if you ever want to talk just call me.

    Reply
  16. Eileen Jackson

    Yes Anya it takes time to heal. I joined a support group after my divorce and separation from my childhood church. It was the widows and divorce group. In the group they mention about the holidays how now it is so diferent now that we are no longer with our loved one. Also I had a grieve counselor, but not till I went to my Astrologer Joni Patri and show me another world to live. I decided to learn a new believe system because the old one did not work to find answers to my grieving. One thing I learn while grieving, do not be by yourself and work hard to acomplish something new. When I feel sad, I tell my self it is ok, that sometimes we don’t have the answer to all the why’s and to trust that everything will be fine. Death/loss is like Perfume. They will be things that will tigger a memory and with memories emotions. Holidays triggers those emotions. It is the mechanics of our Universe. The death of a mom is always a big loss that we can not replace and we have to accept the loss that we can’t change. In the Course of Miracles we learn that we all have to give our lifes back to the Universe where we came from. In our athoritharian churches for some reasons they did not have a good attitude about death and instilled us fear. Our attitude is the only thing we are in control, our inner self. You being a Libra, it matters a lot becase probably she was your center. Now in times of losses, we have to pull inside and invent a new life. Moms are our best friends. I am planning to make a Perfume in honor of my grandmother and name it her name. They were very advanced corageous womans. Even if they are dead their memory guides my life today and in the time of my loss. I even pray to them because they are alive in Gods memory. Is all energy. We are stars of energy. Always follow your passion, The Opus.

    May Divine Mother grant you with her grace.

    EJ

    Reply
  17. Gail

    Peace and blessings to you, Anya. Thank you for this beautiful post. May your New Year be filled with happiness, strength and a renewed sense of purpose.

    Reply
  18. Dana Tate

    (((hugging you real tight)))

    My family had Christmas gathering on Sunday so all of the *satellite* families could get together for one meal. I looked at my cousin’s fiance (this was our first meeting, and they have been together 2 1/2 years), and I said, “It’s so interesting to see how Christmas has changed in my lifetime; I remember how we would have ‘our’ Christmas celebration in the morning, and then we would all meet up at Nanny’s house for Christmas that afternoon. Now that we are grown, my mom and Uncle Jim will be the ones to lead our family celebrations.” My mother is becoming the beautiful Matriarch of our family, and she loves it.

    I love family time, but my sacred time is when I am quiet in my home… in my yard and around my trees. My holy time is spent with herbs and resins and salves.

    That is where my soul leans in and says, “Thank you.”

    Reply
  19. Suzy

    Let me just start by wishing you, Anya, and everyone a Merry Christmas! And thank you so much for sharing your very personal story. It puts me in such a nostalgic mood this morning–rather a sacred one. I’m ready for the day ahead. I grew up in a town with the majority of the population Mormons. As an individual from a minority religion in this town, my mother struggled to keep us close to our own faith. Perhaps that is why I chose to do my undergrad dissertation on Women and Religion. Today I still struggle with women’s role in religion and through the years I have gathered my own beliefs from Buddhism, Christianity and Gnosticism. As my daughter grows I now am wondering what spiritual and religious beliefs I want to pass onto her. And for now I’ve decided it’s not so much about the teachings as those can be refined later on but rather the sense of community that she will benefit from in the years to come by attending services. So thanks for touching on that aspect of community because it reinforces my decision to take her to church at least some of the time. Which church will be a decision to be made this coming year. Best to you in the year ahead. And thanks again for this lovely Solstice giveaway event.

    Reply
  20. Renee/Efrat McCleary

    Anya,
    Thank you for sharing your personal story and your pain. It is very touching.

    I have never celebrated Christmas but my husband is ex Catholic who found his way into Judaism when he came to visit Israel. He shares your sentiment about Catholicism being harsh and he particularly doesn’t like their view of sin. For the last few years orthodoxies of any kind don’t speak to us anymore although we do believe in a larger spirit.

    I have samples of your perfumes and they inspire me every time I sniff them. My favorite ones are Fairchild ,RiverCali and White Smoke.

    I wish you happy holidays and you are in my thoughts.
    Renee

    Reply
  21. Rae Lynn Reffruschinni

    I, too, lost my mother last year on April 15. I have felt her loss more keenly these last few weeks. She was the soul and center of our family. She used to say that our church was going to the desert each Sunday. I understand how your energy level for creating perfume would be low. Creating is soul work and grief for your mother is taking up that space right now.

    Reply
  22. Cheri Howard

    Hi Anya,
    Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. It is much appreciated. It’s been a rather depressing holiday season for me and my family, and I certainly understand what you’ve been through. I hope your holiday season brings you comfort and light.

    Reply
  23. Lindaloo

    I was brought up without religion but was free to attend with various friends or Girl Guides as I wished. Once when I was about 12 I attended a Catholic Christmas Eve mass with a friend. I remember almost nothing of the mass, but I do recall the beautiful, celestial blue and gilded domed ceiling. The next time I attended mass there was, unfortunately, for the funeral of the father of that same friend about three years later. I feel fortunate that I didn’t have to face the deaths of my parents until I was in my 30s and I have very fond memories of my mother decorating the tree and the house.

    Reply
  24. Karyn

    Anya, your mother must have been very proud of you, and she must have been thrilled to be able to savor each and every one of your new perfume launches.

    Blessings to you. May you find Peace, even as you grieve.

    Reply
  25. cbstarker

    Anya, your account of your childhood is a very tender one that not only gives me a glimpse of a time and a place that are foreign to me but also reminds me that despite similarities or differences with others we all have deeply spiritual connections to places in our past. Although the environment was foreign to me, the feelings conveyed were all too familiar. I grew up in a small rural town in the South that couldn’t be any more different but my sense of nostalgia and a helpless sense of loss and hope are the same. Your prose is very touching and beautiful, not unlike your fragrances.

    Reply
  26. Susan

    Hi Anya,
    Thank-you so much for sharing your poignant, intimate reflections. That you have written them down to share with us, shows the generosity of your spirit. This sharing, in addition to your willingness to gift some of us with the fruits of your work; “glimpses of my soul, expressed as fragrant visions of eternal scent”. I truly look forward to trying them some day. They will inspire poetry, no doubt. Your blog is wonderful. Thanks again:)

    Reply
  27. Kim

    Merry Christmas, and thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply
  28. Anya

    Molly H has been chosen at random and is the winner of the 11-sample set of my perfumes. Congratulations Molly!

    Reply
  29. Carole Molan-Ingenito

    Ann thank you for sharing….I enjoyed being taken back to a time when life was a good time and era….thinking back to those days you are so right we took for granted that life and the people that made up our parish of MBS would always be there…it sickens me seeing that beautiful parish shuttered…and I miss all of my old classmates and memories but that is the one saving grace…we have our fond memories of times past…I am so sorry to hear of your Mother’s passing and I know that this time of the year (Christmas) is a sad time especially the first year…I remember so well attending Mass on Christmas Eve ….and staying up late that night. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Sincerely,
    Carole

    Reply
  30. Hemla

    Oh, Anya, what a beautiful post.
    You are healing, I just read through the posts backwards, from most recent back to here, and It is very good of you that you are sensitive to your need to spend time focusing inwards.
    May you find a new kind of connection to your mother, and feel her presense, in a good way.
    Happy Holiday season and new year
    Hemla

    Reply
  31. Kenneth

    I went to MBS from 1970 – 76, we moved to Cherry Hill, NJ. I was also an Alter boy during that time. It is very sad to see the “old neighborhood” turn into a terrible mess. I remember buying comic books at, what we called “The Trick Store” on Chester ave and also Johns Bargain Store were my mom used to shop for us as kids. I also remember a bank was located on Chester ave lol, I had an account there and took money out to buy my “girlfriend” and I mood rings lol! I am sorry to see things go down hill in that area. God Bless you all.

    Reply
  32. tish o'malley

    thank you for sharing, thank god i still remember being so much of that community, i used to make the deposits at the bank for the school everyday at beneficial bank on chester ave. guess they were pretzel deposits. my great uncle died after falling down the steps of the church one sunday and i was there, only family member to be there, heart still breaks when i remember this…

    Reply
  33. Peggy

    Anya thank you so much for my nostalgic adventure down memory lane. I too grew up in MBS Parish in the late 1950’s to 1972 when my father decided his family would be better off in the far Northeast. I have many fond memories of a simpler life in Southwest Philly as a child without a care in the world. For us, life would never change with the hardest decisions being what kind of penny candy we could buy for the nickel we were lucky enough to have. I think I have missed this neighborhood more than any other I’ve lived in over the years. Your beautiful pictures of the church I spent many years attending Mass brought back such memories of lighting prayer candles, to incense smells, mass in Latin as well as mandatory 9:15 children’s masses with our classes. Never would we think of missing for fear of the nuns. I have never felt the same feelings in any other church that I felt at Most Blessed Sacrament and for that I thank you Anya for this post.

    Reply
  34. Celeste Harmer

    Hi Anya!

    I stumbled upon this page while Googling Southwest Philadelphia. I’m a SWP native just like you. My father was from MBS parish, and his family lived there until the late 60s. Thanks for this lovely article!

    Best,
    Celeste

    Reply
  35. Peggy

    I happened across your post purely by accident and that picture of MBS brought my childhood crashing back. Although I bit younger, I too left my Chester Avenue childhood home in 1970 at age 12, and can honestly say although we moved to another Philly neighborhood I never returned to SW Philly again. It was with a sad heart that I heard of this once beautiful filled to capacity churches closing…I felt as if it permanently closed a door on a very important part of my childhood. We were so young carefree and naive growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. nothing could ever go wrong because of that closeknit family centered neighborhood that as you said revolved around that church. I have many memories of going to each grade in MBS and how excited we all were to move on to another building since each of the school buildings housed specific grades. The nuns were another story, some older than anyone we knew in our own families. Many a wonderful times added to lifelong memories I still carry today. I find it hard to explain those times to my own children who never had the opportunity to grow up in a church centered small feeling community.
    Thank you for allowing me to take a walk down memory lane with you…a very bittersweet walk but a welcome one no less. These are memories of a childhood full of happy carefree times.

    Reply
  36. Sr. Joyce Candidi

    Ann I believe we were in the same class at MBS. I am Sister Joyce Candidi, an Oblate Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. You and I were the first in our class to learn of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 when together we were sent on an errand to the Pius X building. There was a man fixing a broken basement window in the school. He had his transistor radio playing and he had just heard that the president was shot. We reported this to our 8th-grade teacher, Sister Consuela Marie. I pray you are well.

    Reply

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