Poetic Illustrations on YouTube

Poetic Illustrations on YouTube
Poetic Illustrations on YouTube

Have yourself a Cultured Little Holiday!

What would the holidays be like without the influence of immigrants in our culture? If we’re honest, we’re all immigrants. We’re first, second, third, fourth…you get the idea…we’re all immigrants of some generation if we’re not of an indigenous tribe. 

I grew up here in the United States, but I have a family that spans the world both through marriage and adoption. We are multicultural, and we have many different religions in our family. So my youth was spent learning about and celebrating our diversity.  Azy moved to the United States as a first generation immigrant when she was nine years old. She has simultaneously celebrated multiple cultures in her own way, and she teaches me a bit about her faith through the process of our work. We love learning about the cultures our country represents and how our modern celebrations are a fusion of such diversity, though few really understand where it all begins or why we celebrate the customs we do!

During this holiday season I wanted to share a bit more about what I learned as I grew up. Although, I wanted to learn more for myself as well. In celebration of the holidays, I decided to take a look at a few of my favorite basic traditions. I wanted to learn more about where they came from, how they came to be, and what made them so popular here in the United States. I learned a bit, I was surprised by some of what I read. I was inspired and humbled by my research as well. I think this past week as I’ve been posting these hi-lights on our Instagram page, I’ve been gradually building my anticipation for our family time spent together, which is ultimately the part I cherish the most as it is the true gift of the season, and it has been a nice reminder of all of the loving details that go into the holiday season. 

The Christmas tree is an iconic symbol of the holiday season, thus it is a good place to start in reflecting on the history of how varied and diverse the history of such an important part of our holiday season came to be. There are many stories of trees of different kinds from Northern Europe. Some were handmade, while natural trees, such as pine or fir were cut down or even potted. Many communities shared a tree and moved it from place to place or home to home as a tree was an expensive item for a family to purchase. This promoted the intended communal gathering. Regardless of where the trees were located, or how they were assembled and used, they were consistently adorned with decorations. 

Image Source: Me, Myself, & I

Check into the history of the Christmas tree! It’s interesting to see what kinds of decoration were used in places like Latvia or Germany, or how it has changed as it gained popularity across Europe as more came to utilize this tradition in places like England and throughout the United Kingdom.  Here in the United States we’ve experienced significant changes in how we decorate our own trees over the past decades. From the invention of the electric lights that we now string our trees with, unlike the days when the beautiful glow of a candle would unintentionally set a tree ablaze, we now enjoy a myriad of designs and color to compliment pretty much any choice we can think of to illuminate our tree regardless of whether it is natural, or stored away each year after use.

What’s your custom? Do you cut down your own tree? Is it a tradition in your family? Who is the wise one who chooses the perfect tree with the best needles and the straight trunk? Or is your tree the kind that stands the test of time and makes a yearly visit, and just keeps on ticking? Do you have more than one tree? Many do. Some like them large, some like them small. Here in the states we like them all!

Tinsel is something I really did not expect to learn much about, but I was WRONG! Tinsel dates back to the 1600’s when trees were draped with silver! The silver was eventually replaced with aluminum then lead foil which had to be replaced due to the risk of ingestion toxicity in children. Modern tinsel is made of mylar. 

Image Source: WhyChristmas.com

Did you know the use of tinsel first began to mimic the look of spiderwebs? In tales from Eastern Germany, Ukraine, Finland, Scandinavia, and Poland the spiderweb magically turned to silver or gold. Remember the song? Silver and gold comes from a folktale that tells that in poorer households the spiderwebs on trees would magically turn to a glistening magical strand by morning the result children took as proof that St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or Das Christkindkommt had been there to deliver his magic. Info Source: WhyChristmas.com, Photo Source: Aunt “Didder” Kate Romero

Image Source: Aunt Kate

Poinsettias, probably my favorite story of the year yet! The folktale goes that a young Mexican girl named Pepita had no gift to give the baby Jesus. So in trying to comfort her, her older brother explained to Pepita that it wasn’t the gift that she would give him that mattered, but the love and intention that she put into it that would mean so much to him. As she walked to go meet the baby, she gathered weeds along the side of the road. Upon laying them next to the Christ child, the weeds miraculously transformed into the beautiful bouquet we all know and use so popularly at this time of year to decorate and adorn our homes! 

Image Source: The Miracle of the First Poinsettia

The Poinsettia, or first called by its Latin name, the Europhobia Pulcherrima, was brought to the United States by the first ambassador the Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett, who owned several greenhouses in South Carolina gifted then to several friends and sent many to botanical gardens here in the United States. The first known sale of the plant for the use around the holiday season was in Philadelphia. The beauty of the plant was seized upon and recognized for it’s compliment for the holidays!

Image Source: Me, Myself, & I

The Poinsettia, once used in Mexico for dying fabrics, fabricating cosmetics, and for use in producing latex (the white milky sap on the inside of the stem), is now a favored traditional selective of festive holiday decor in the United States! Thank you Mexico! Info & Image Source: the Miracle of the First Poinsettia, WhyChristmas.com

Gingerbread Houses, which are usually highly decorated with recognizable and festive adornment have long been an artistic way of representing culture during the holiday season. For me, the gingerbread house has always been a symbol of warmth and kindness. They're often gifted by the maker as a gesture of friendship. I found it interesting to learn that they have been used to manipulate those who consume them in an effort to bribe them. For instance, these amazing creations brought to the new world by English colonists were often used in an effort to sway voters! However, nowadays they have become a much more benign common staple of the holidays. 

Gingerbread House decorating contests are held annually, and a grand display of artistry can be seen. While some of the designs and customs related to the yearly traditional display of gingerbread fair date back to ancient China when ginger was discovered as a medicinal ingredient. 

Image Source: Crosbys.com
Image Source: whydyoueatthat.wordpress.com
Image Source: bedandbreakfast.com

Middle Age Europeans had their own recipes, and often decorated custom cookies and cakes with extravagant designs topped with gold leaf for times of celebration, or court gatherings. England, France, Holland, and Germany are all known for their recipes, but the German style gingerbread house is most notably credited as being the first associated with Christmas, whereas other recipes for gingerbread were traditionally used for fairs and other types of celebrations and parties. They were often so highly decorated that they eventually influenced architecture. This is where the term Gingerbread Home comes from. The gingerbread houses we decorate yearly may not be show-stoppers, but we have fun making them, and now we’ll know the history of this tradition to share. Info Source: PBS.org

Image Source: LewisFamilyPlayhouse.com

The Nutcracker ballet may serve as the quintessential point each year for many to feel the holiday season has arrived. Tchaikovsky’s music is timeless, and this piece of work rarely disappoints, regardless of its interpretation. With its classic beauty and endearing charm, regardless of how each company may have subtle changes and unique assemblage, it is a masterpiece that crowds have enjoyed since the 1800’s. This image from lewisfamilyplayhouse.com located near Los Angeles, California provides an example that this production originated in Russia yet is seen worldwide annually in just about every major city. The first time it was performed outside of Russia was in England in 1934. It later came to the United States and was first performed in San Francisco by the San Francisco Ballet Company in 1944. Ten years later, The New York City Ballet started performing the famous Balanchine Nutcracker in 1954. The story of this toy soldier, our honored Nutcracker, takes place at Christmas time and follows a young girl who receives a him as a gift from her uncle. The young girl who is referred to by several names, ranging from Marie to Clara, depending on the adaptation of the story, falls asleep with her toy Nutcracker and awakens to find herself in a magical winter wonderland. She and the Nutcracker turned Prince experience an adventure beyond her wildest dreams. By morning, she wakes at home to find that her Prince has returned to a nutcracker toy.  She remembers he told her that the magic will always be there for those who see it. I guess we can all use the reminder that a little belief in magic fills your heart with hope and anticipation, dreamy far off places and a glisten in a loved ones eye sure don’t hurt either. Cheers to believing in magic! Info Source: Moscow Ballet 

The Yule Log was admittedly one that I tried to shy away from. I was asked to research this one, and I’m glad I did. After so many corny references about this one, I wasn’t sure I’d find something inspirational that would leave me so close to Christmas with a warm and fuzzy. I was more worried it would leave me with steamy stomach turning thoughts. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the research related to the Yule log showed me that it is actually a lot more diverse than I even suspected!

It dates back to Medieval Times when Pagan Nordics participated in the Yule, or Winter Solstice festivals in Scandinavia, and other European countries. Initially, the log was ceremoniously chosen and doused with cider or wine followed by the trunk being placed in the fire while the remaining part of the tree would lay inside the home. The log from the prior year, stored for safe keeping, and burned over the twelve days of Christmas would be used to light the new Yule Log. This practice varied from Holland to Ireland and the United Kingdom as each country used different species of wood, conducted their own ceremonies, and had different names for their logs. In the UK, the log is known as the Mock. The Mock is first dried and cleaned of its bark before its brought into the house in parts of Ireland. Additionally, a candle may be used in lieu of a log. 

Image Source: whispersofyggdrasil.blogspot.com

A twist on the variation of flames is an interesting touch as well, as the use of various chemicals one can add to the log can provide a myriad of color when burned. The use of: potassium nitrate for violet, barium nitrate for apple green, borax for vivid green, copper sulphate for a blue tone, or for bright yellow one may use table salt. 

Image Source: oetker.co.uk

As traditions do, the Yule Log eventually became popular in France and Belgium where a new take on the celebration formed, known as Buche de Noel or Kerststronk in Flemish. We certainly enjoy these here in the US! These chocolate desserts mimicking the look of a log are made from layers of rolled sponge cake and cream, covered with decorated icing. Some are heavily adorned with woodland features, while others are more simple. 

Apparently Americans like a good log burning. Interestingly, in 1966 when the WPIX TV Station in NYC was left with 1.5 hrs of dead air time to fill, a decision was made to run a close up of a burning log in a fireplace, adorned by stockings with festive music playing in the background. It was wildly popular! So much so, that it became a standard until 1989 when it became popular to own it on VHS, then DVD, and eventually it moved to its permanent home on the web, good old YouTube. My grandma gifted my parents a copy of the VHS format. It was amazing. It may have been just about the absolute cheesiest gift we’ve ever received, but clearly Grandma knew her stuff! Who knew? Grandma knew. Of course Grandma knew. Info Source: whychristmas.com Photo Source: whispersofyggdrasil.blogspot.com, oetker.co.uk

The Christmas Stocking, ah! A traditional favorite of my childhood that without, the day just wouldn’t be the same. No matter the size or the contents, this piece of holiday decor is a must! When we lived in Haiti we learned that the children would leave their shoes outside for Papa Noel, and he would fill them with treats. Here in the states we use stockings of all sizes. I wanted to know why, and where this tradition started. The European tradition is thought to have originated with Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus placing presents under the tree while leaving gold coins or oranges in stockings hung from a mantle or bedpost for children to find in the morning. Apparently the use of stockings started as legend tells, when a recently widowed man who needed dowry for his girls found golden coins left by Saint Nicholas in stockings he had hung to dry near his fireplace one night. The following morning his girls awoke to find the coins, and they joyously celebrated that they’d have honorable marital opportunities thanks to an unknown kind soul. Thus, the custom of hanging special stockings began! 

Image Source: Smithsonian.com

Germanic and Scandinavian Christmas tales differ a bit, and actually seem a bit more like the Haitian custom. Children in these parts of the world fill their boots with straw, carrots, and sugar for Odin and his flying horse. Odin would repay their kindness with gifts and candy. 

Image Source: Smithsonian.com

Whether your stockings are mismatched or recovered from the dryer sock monster, carefully restored vintage finds, needlepoint gems with painstaking impressions of leaping carousel horses, or sewn from up cycled burlap with that perfect coffee stain paired with an amazing ribbon you found on clearance somewhere with just the right kind of piping, whether they’re store bought, or home made, big or small, here in the states we love them all! We just don’t want to find them neglected by morning…or worse, filled with coal, a universal sign that you’re on the naughty list! Info Source: Smithsonian.com, thoughtco.com. Image Source: smithsonian.com

We hope that your stockings are filled with more than just the items you might have in mind. We hope they’re filled with love and anticipation of more time spent with those you care about. We hope that your lives are enriched, and that your minds are broadened and filled to the brim. We wish for you a year of bounty, but also safety and health. We hope that you all have a wonderful holiday season filled with the warmth of your families, near or far. Please keep the happy glow of giving in your heart. And we hope that next year a copy of our book is at the top of your giving list!

Happy Holidays from Poetic Illustrations!

Jen & Azy

Major Announcement: We have an AGENT!!!

This is a shout it from the rooftops sort of moment! We are very excited to announce that we have an agent, an extremely important step in the process of becoming published! 

Azy and I are coming up on the one year anniversary of deciding to begin the collaboration that is Poetic Illustrations, the effort to bring our book to life. It began when Azy started posting an image along with a short blurb on Facebook just over a year ago. She wanted to share the range of contributions immigrants have brought to the United States and to the world. I saw her posts, and LOVED them from the start. One night we spoke about this daily effort she was making, and she mentioned that her family had been encouraging her to turn it into a book. I thought this was a beautiful idea, and I encouraged it further by telling her that if she turned it into a book I would illustrate it! Within a few weeks, we were on our way!

This past year we have not let a single day pass without calling, texting, or meeting in some capacity to plan and strategize for how we would cover the many people we’ve selected to honor in the body of this work. We have so much passion and commitment for this work and we truly hope that when this project reaches the point of publication that you, our readers, feel the energy and love we are pouring into each and every page. 

About five months ago, Azy and I recognized that we would need help to find the right fit in the publication industry. So we started seeking an agent. This is not an easy task! It takes trust to place your work in the hands of an agent! It also takes the right person to see your vision, and help a publishing house understand the potential you and your work have. We had no idea how many times we would hear the cutting harshness of such a simple word, “NO” nor how many ways the industry can dress it up to try to diminish the pain of the rejection it comes with. However, just under a year after starting this project, we are excited to say that all of our hard work has resulted in the honor of being signed on to work with an exclusive agent by the name of Ronnie Ann Herman. Ronnie is a boutique agent, which means she deliberately keeps her workload and selection of authors and illustrators small. The knowledge of this intensified our honor of being selected to be represented by Ronnie ten fold if not more so. The next steps will be carried out behind the scenes so to speak while Ronnie does her magic! She will advocate for our work within the publishing houses she works with, and she will be in touch with us with their feedback. We hope to be in touch soon to notify you all that we will soon be publishing, and who with!

Thank you for your support! We cannot wait to place our book in your hands!

Jen & Azy

We’d like to share a bit about Ronnie’s vast experience and professional career:

Thanking Christen for keeping Ana Mendieta's memory alive

Portrait of Ana Mendieta
Source: www.as-coa.org

Ana Mendieta was reportedly alone in her home with her husband Carl Andres when police responded to 300 Mercer Street in Greenwich Village, Manhattan after her body went out the window of their 34th story apartment.

After a three year court case, Carl Andres was acquitted of charges of murder in Ana's death and still resides at 300 Mercer Street in the apartment they shared with his new wife. Many believe he is responsible for Ana's death, and that she would never have taken her own life.  She feared heights.   She had a promising career ahead of her. 

She loved him.

Ana grew up in Iowa after being relocated to the United States from Cuba when she was twelve years old. She was a talented Sculptress, and performance artist on the cusp of beginning to experience career success in New York. After her father joined the Cuban rebel army, and was thus placed in a prison camp for eighteen years to follow, Ana's work in the United States gradually took on a fusion of the two cultures she experienced in the formidable years of her growth. She utilized the Cuban traditions she had grown up with, along with what she had learned in her education in Iowa, and additional experiences shaped her work when she traveled to Mexico and Europe. With the financial backing of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts grant she moved herself to New York city, sometimes living in Rome, to pursue a career in the fine arts.  Her work primarily focused on minimalist abstract natural sculpture with a performance quality to it. Though her work was not well known during her lifetime, she has become an inspiration for many since her death. She is an icon in the feminist art movement.

Azy and I try to make contact with as many of the people we are honoring in our book as we possibly can. In the event of not being able to honor Ana personally, we reached out to an artist in New York honoring the memory of Ana, responsible for coordinating a group of individuals who advocate for Ana's work to remain in galleries where Andres' work remains displayed. The captions, "Where is Ana?"  and "I wish Ana Mendieta was still alive" are brief but powerful statements Christen Clifford and the dedicated groups of Ana's supporters often utilize to reinforce their feelings of loss, but also frustration that galleries continue to support the work of Carl Andres, while seemingly forgetting about Ana. We met with Christen at 300 Mercer Street to spend some time talking about Ana's work and what her legacy means to the three of us. We presented Christen with our gift of appreciation for keeping Ana's memory alive, and spent a bit of time in appreciation of womanhood.

Christen is an incredible woman herself, and an extremely talented artist. We sincerely appreciate that she devotes so much of herself to keeping Ana's memory alive. We were very happy to share with her that we look to do the same by including Ana as a cherished hero in our book. Below are links for more information on both Ana and on Christen. We encourage you to look further into their work.

Christen, thank you for your time, your passion for Ana's work and memory, and for your friendship! We look forward to placing this book in your hands, and seeing your sweet smiling face again!

Ana Mendieta's Work:




Christen Clifford's Work:



An article written about Christen's advocacy of Ana's work:


We're happy to see that Ana and her work are receiving some of the attention she and it finally deserve. There was a recent screening of several short films by Ana in advance of an exhibition Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant: Trembling Thinking, at Americas Society in New York on December 6th, 2018: 


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