The Christmas Tree


The Christmas tree has become the centerpiece of most modern Christmas celebrations. Whether its origins are Christian is unclear. Legend has it that Protestant reformer Martin Luther began the tradition of adorning trees with candles around 1500 A.D. after being awestruck by moonlight reflecting on a stand of evergreens. He brought a small fir tree home and decorated it with candles lit in honor of Jesus Christ’s birth.

Some claim that the Christmas tree has secular origins that range from the early Egyptian worship of evergreens to the Romans’ Saturnalia festival or Druidic rituals practiced during the winter solstice.

Whatever its origins, the modern Christmas tree represents something different to people who celebrate the holiday now than it did to their ancestors. The evergreen is a changeling in the sense that it can take any shape or form. It can be any color, tall or short, big or small, real or artificial, filled with lights, candles, garland and tinsel or none of them, topped by a star or angel, glittering or austere, and filled with identical ornaments or a hodgepodge of collectibles. The tree looks like whatever the person who puts it up wants it to be.

The only aspect that hasn’t changed through the centuries is that the tree should be a coniferous pine. Perhaps its evergreen nature symbolizes that it will always have a special place in people’s hearts, no matter what form it takes.

Tree

May your holidays ever be filled with the Christmas spirit.

 

 

snowflakeM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

The Christmas Nativity


The Nativity, or crèche, is one of my family’s favorite Christmas symbols. Introduced to Europe in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi, who wanted to emphasize Jesus Christ’s birth at Christmastime by reenacting the event with humans and animals, the Nativity has become an iconic part of the Yuletide. Nativities can be both live or inanimate with pieces in all shapes and sizes.

My family loves to collect Nativity scenes from around the world. Each one is unique with cultural influences from the places where they were made.

Here’s a wooden one from Africa.

Nativity (1)

This one is a ceramic set made in China and bought at a store in the United States.

Nativity (2)

This is a ceramic Nativity from Peru in South America.

Nativity (3)

This set was made of cloth, metal, and twine in Zambia, a country in southern Africa.

Here’s a porcelain Nativity with Thai figurines from Thailand.

Although each set it different, they all symbolize Christ’s birth, and that has special meaning to our family on Christmas.

Have a blessed Christmas! May it bring you peace and joy.

 

snowflakeM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Santa Claus and the Spirit of Giving


Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas. Kris Kringle. Father Christmas. Known by many names, Santa is an almost universally recognized part of the Christmas celebration. To some, he’s an integral symbol of the holiday; to others, he’s a controversial, commercialized figure who’s pulled the holiday too far away from its origins honoring Jesus Christ’s birth.

To me, Santa represents the embodiment of a giving spirit. Like the 4th Century Greek bishop Nikolaos of Myra, or Saint Nicholas, who gave gifts anonymously and hid coins in the shoes of children, Santa Claus recognizes even the littlest among us. Like Santa and Jesus Christ, who lost his life for preaching a message of salvation, giving to others in need is something we can all do at Christmastime.

Whether in his Swedish, Chinese, American, or incarnation, Santa is one of the world’s most recognizable figures. I haven’t visited his home in the North Pole or Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland (if you ask the Finns), but he often stops by our home to give presents to good children and those who are young at heart.

Santa (1)

My son and I track Santa’s progress via the NORAD Tracker as he delivers presents to children around the world on Christmas Eve. When he’s a time zone or two away from arriving at our house, Alex writes St. Nick a note with his Christmas wish list, puts out milk and something sweet to eat, and darts off to bed. Whenever my son asks me if Santa Claus exists, I simply answer that he only visits those who believe in him. Those who don’t aren’t ready to accept his gift.

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May this Christmas season be a gift to you!

 

snowflakeM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Christmas Greetings


For general Christmas greetings and more, visit my Thoughts & Sayings.

I want to depart from travelogues for a few days to focus on my favorite holiday, Christmas.

I love Christmas and its many traditions. The celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth and the trappings of the season hold a special place in my heart. No matter where in the world I live or what cultural events and traditions I observe, Christmas will always be my favorite.

When I was young, I used to draw illustrated Christmas cards for family and friends. In the days before technology made it easier to do graphic design, I spent hours sketching cartoon characters and winter scenes by hand. I haven’t had time in years to sit down and sketch a Yuletide scene — I barely have time nowadays to send out an annual Christmas letter — but I still enjoy looking at cards from Christmases past.

Here are some of them. I hope they make your holidays a little brighter!

Card (1)

Card (2)

Card (3)

Card (4)

Card (5)

Card (6)

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season!

 

snowflakeM.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, Thailand


This is the final installment of a five-part series about Ayutthaya, Thailand. This article features Wat Mahathat, the ruin of Buddhist temple dating back to the Ayutthaya Kingdom period (1350-1767). Previous posts discussed the historic City of Ayutthaya; the temple ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram; Buddhist monastery Wat Phu Khao Thong, and temple ruins of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon.

Wat Mahathat, or the “Monastery of the Great Relic” according to the website History of Ayutthaya, is a former Buddhist temple located in the heart of historic Ayutthaya not far from the old royal palace. It is one of the most famous sites in the Ayutthaya Historical Park.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (1)

Wat Mahathat is best known for the photogenic Buddha’s head embedded in the trunk of a banyan tree. The well-preserved face with a serene look leaves a lasting impression. Experts believe that the sandstone head either fell from a statue and landed in the tree or was left there by a thief who could not haul it away.

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2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (6)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (9)

Although most visitors come to see the famous head, the temple itself is just as interesting.

Wat Mahathat was one of the largest and most important temple complexes in the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Historical records indicate that it was either built by King Uthong (Ramathibodhi I, 1350-69), King Borommaracha I (1370-88), or King Ramesuan (1388-95). The site fell into disrepair in the 1630s and 1730s before the Burmese razed it in 1767. Many of the prang and stupa or chedi (spires) collapsed after years of decay. Efforts have been underway since 1956 to preserve the site.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (11)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (12)

The temple served as the religious center of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and was the seat of the supreme Buddhist patriarch of Siam (early Thailand). It once housed relics captured during military campaigns in Cambodia and elsewhere. During the annual Kathin (royal barge) ceremony, the Ayutthaya kings sailed in a procession of barges down a canal from the palace to the temple, where they would disembark, pray, and make offerings to the gods.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (13)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (14)

Like Wat Chaiwattanaram, the Khmer-style Wat Mahathat was built in the shape of five-pointed structure (quincunx) with a large central prang (tower) more than 50 meters (165 feet) high representing the legendary Buddhist mountain Meru (Phra Men). Four smaller prang on the corners formed a cross symbolizing four continents facing the sea (a large, grassy courtyard). An ordination hall lay nearby. Records indicate that the temple’s architectural style, artwork, and relics grew more ornate during subsequent renovations as befitted a place of religious significance.

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Although efforts have been made to restore or add Buddha statues, most remain headless after being decapitated by the Burmese in 1767.

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2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (27)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (28)

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2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (30)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (32)

Some preserved prang, chedi, and a few murals amid a discombobulated maze of rubble are all that’s left of this once-magnificent place. While not as visually stunning as Wat Chaiwattanaram, Wat Mahathat has a larger footprint and an openness that lets you explore up close monuments of the former kingdom.

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat (33)

2012_08_31 Wat Mahathat
If you plan to visit Ayutthaya and the historical park, make a stop at Wat Mahathat. It’s one site you don’t want to miss!
Video clip of Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, Thailand
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More About Ayutthaya, Thailand

Click here to read about the City of Ayutthaya and the Ayutthaya Historical Park

Click here to read about Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the ruin of a former Buddhist temple

Click here to read about Wat Phu Khao Thong, a historical Buddhist monastery

Click here to read about Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a historical Buddhist monastery

buythumb42M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon in Ayutthaya, Thailand


This is the fourth in a five-part series on Ayutthaya, Thailand about Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a restored Buddhist temple dating back to the Ayutthaya Kingdom period (1350-1767). The first article described the historic City of Ayutthaya; the second, the temple ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram, and the third, Wat Phu Khao Thong. The final post will feature the ruins of temple Wat Mahathat.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, or the “Great Monastery of Auspicious Victory” according to the website History of Ayutthaya, is a restored Buddhist temple located in southeast Ayutthaya. Evidence of a large moat that once existed around the site suggests that it was once an important Khmer-style temple complex in “Ayodhya,” a settlement that pre-dated the Ayutthaya Kingdom. Today it’s a functioning temple with a monastery and restored stupa or chedi (monument). Several smaller chedi ruins dotting the grounds serve as a reminder that the site is historical.

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (3)

Records indicate that Ayutthaya King Uthong, or Ramathibodhi I (1350-69), established the monastery to lay to rest two of his children, Chao Kaeo and Chao Thai, who died of cholera. Its first name was Wat Pa Kaeo or the “Monastery of the Crystal Forest.” The temple built on the site later became known as Wat Chao Phya Thai, or the “Monastery of the Supreme Patriarch,” and was home to monks trained in then-Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).

The temple is noteworthy in Ayutthaya’s history for its role as a meeting place for conspirators involved in palace intrigue. Stories suggest that it was once home to a closely-guarded, priceless ruby that represented the wealth of the gods. In his chronicle of the history of Ayutthaya, Jeremias Van Vliet, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, alleged that slaves were groomed to die in mock attempts to steal the ruby as an offering to the gods.

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (2)

The current configuration of the temple and chedi took shape during the reign of King Naresuan (1590-1605), who reportedly gave it the name “Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon” to commemorate his victory over the Burmese occupiers he ousted from Ayutthaya in 1592. The temple was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 and restored by the Thais in 1957. The tall chedi that stands an estimated 30 meters (100 feet) is almost as high as the one at Wat Phu Khao Thong; its more slender profile that rises in the middle of urban Ayutthaya obscures its true height.

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (4)

The temple is perhaps best known for its seven-meter (23 feet) long reclining Buddha constructed during King Naresuan’s reign. One of the largest outdoor reclining Buddhas in Thailand, it was restored in 1965 and is now a major tourist attraction in Ayutthaya.

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (5)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (6)

The large chedi that dominates the temple complex has a square base with smaller chedi on each corner. It rises to a platform with great views of the city. As you ascend the steps, a large Buddha statue greets you at the top with a calm nod. Above the platform rises a bell-shaped tower with an octagonal base that tapers to a point; a chamber on the western side with Buddhist relics serves as a prayer shrine. The temple complex unfolds below in all directions, from the monks’ quarters and ordination hall to the west to a garden with several large Buddhist statues to the east. Manicured lawns with groomed trees and ruined chedi grace the north and south flanks.

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (7)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (8)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (9)

During my visit to the temple in August 2012, I was struck by the number and symmetry of the Buddha statues that meditated around the chedi base. Some such as those in the nearby prayer shrine were unique, but most were virtually identical and sat at attention in a tantric state. My wife did an excellent job capturing this impression with photos of them at artistic angles.

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2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (14)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (15)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (16)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (17)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (18)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (19)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (20)

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (21)

Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon was the last stop on our daytrip to Ayutthaya. We enjoyed watching the encroaching dusk transform the temple from a place that beckoned visitors to one reclaimed by shadows. The site is a great destination to end the day before going for dinner and embarking on an evening tour of the city to see the historic monuments of Ayutthaya at night.

2012_08_11 Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (22)

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More About Ayutthaya, Thailand

Click here to read about the City of Ayutthaya and the Ayutthaya Historical Park

Click here to read about Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the ruin of a former Buddhist temple

Click here to read about Wat Phu Khao Thong, a historical Buddhist monastery

Click here to read about Wat Mahathat, the ruin of a former Buddhist temple

 

buythumb42M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.

Wat Phu Khao Thong in Ayutthaya, Thailand



This is the third in a five-part series on Ayutthaya, Thailand about Wat Phu Khao Thong, a restored Buddhist temple dating back to the Ayutthaya Kingdom period (1350-1767). The first article described the historic City of Ayutthaya; the second, the temple ruins of Wat Chaiwatthanaram. Upcoming posts will feature the ruins Wat Mahathat and the Wat Yai Chai Mongkon temple.

Wat Phu Khao Thong, or the “Temple of the Golden Mount” in Ayutthaya, is a large Buddhist complex located about two kilometers (one mile) northwest of the city center. The restored temple was built in 1387 during the reign of King Ramesuan (1339-95) of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. In 1991, UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site within Ayutthaya Historical Park. Its famous chedi or stupa (pagoda) that rises more than 30 meters (100 feet) above the Chao Phraya River offers one of the best views in Ayutthaya.

Following his capture of Ayutthaya in 1569 at the end of the first Burmese-Siamese War, Burmese King Bhureng Noung began to construct a large Burmese Mon-style chedi on the site to commemorate his victory. The structure was not completed until 1587, when then-Prince Naresuan of the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1590-1605) finished it as Thai-style chedi to honor Ayutthaya’s independence from Burma in 1584.

The chedi was renovated in 1744 to its current form, a large square Burmese Mon-style base that rises at a moderate angle to a smaller base supporting a Thai-style chedi with a steep point. The entire hybrid structure is considered a single chedi. Four sets of stairs, one on each side, ascend to the second base.

2012_08_11 Wat Phu Khao Thong (4)

2012_08_11 Wat Phu Khao Thong (5)

2012_08_11 Wat Phu Khao Thong (7)

A nondescript passageway on the upper base leads to a sacred Buddhist shrine in the heart of the structure.

2012_08_11 Wat Phu Khao Thong (14)

The chedi dominates Ayutthaya’s landscape and offers great views of the countryside west of the city.

2012_08_11 Wat Phu Khao Thong (9)

A contemporary Buddhist temple built on the ruins of its predecessor lies to the south.

The remains of a canal that once linked the temple to the Chao Phraya River borders it to the east. Now accessible by road, the canal fell into disuse following the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767.

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To the north is a monument dedicated to King Naresuan with a statue of the legendary king mounted on horseback. Large, colorful statues of chickens surround the monument, reportedly paying homage to the king’s fondness for the bird.

While not as famous as other historical sites in Ayutthaya, Wat Phu Khao Thong is worth a visit to climb the great chedi and enjoy the view. It’s one of the few places where you can bestride a remnant of ancient Ayutthaya.

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More About Ayutthaya, Thailand

Click here to read about the City of Ayutthaya and the Ayutthaya Historical Park

Click here to read about Wat Chaiwatthanaram, the ruin of a former Buddhist temple

Click here to read about Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, a historical Buddhist monastery

Click here to read about Wat Mahathat, the ruin of a former Buddhist temple

 

buythumb[4]M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fiction-fantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He is author of Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, a non-fiction account of his attempt to summit Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain and a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories. His books are available as an e-book and in print on Amazon.com and other booksellers. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex.

For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at me@mgedwards.com, on Facebook, on Google+, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter.