Advent Day 4: St Barbara

It is 10.30 p.m. on Monday 4th December, and I have just got home from an Admissions meeting with colleagues of many colleges. I am fuelled by an unexpectedly not-horrible elderflower Schloer, a quantity of flapjack, ravioli, and caffeine. Given my schedule for tomorrow, some or all of this may become a problem. I’m not sure how admissions chimes with Advent as a season of preparation, but both processes are intimately connected with justice, thanksgiving, community, and chocolate.

the_holy_family_with_st_barbara_and_young_saint_john_uffizi_1565

Paolo Verenese, ‘The Holy Family with Saint Barbara and young Saint John’, 1565.

I thought I’d tell you (in some haste) about St Barbara. Today is her feast day. As saints go, she scores highly: A Woman, if not Definitely Real. She is the patron saint of those who work with explosives, and invoked by anyone with a dangerous job; her feast day is marked by the armed forces. She’s also invoked in one of my favourite plays, The House of Bernarda Alba, by Lorca, with the words ‘Blessed Santa Barbara, your story is written in the sky, with paper and holy water’. Her father, Dioscorus, was a wealthy Roman governor who enclosed her in a tower; left alone in contemplation, she became a Christian through independent thought and study. She refused her father’s suitors, and wangled some freedom which she used to meet other Christians. When he built her a bath-house, she used it as a space to perform healings and miracles. When he tried to abuse her, she ran away; ultimately, after a lot of torture alongside another Christian woman, Juliana, Barbara was beheaded by her own father. Seconds later, lightning struck him dead. Showed him. Barbara has become important to Yoruba practitioners of African religion in the Caribbean, where she represents fire, determination, and commitment. She’s also a popular saint among Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian Christians, who – today – will celebrate Eid-il-Burbara with anise, barley, pomegranates, walnuts, and almonds.

I am glad not to have a job requiring the special protection of St Barbara. I would, however, love to celebrate Eid-il-Burbara in Lebanon. Costumed children visit neighbours’ houses singing songs about how Barbara defied her father, and receive sweets in return. Evidently, our lightning-slinging heroine inspires a kind of festive Hallowe’en remix! It’s very Blink-182, only with more barley.* Hurrah for St Barbara.

 

*Watch the full video for Point Horror realness, sub-par starlets, and a bald cat (??). MERRY ADVENT. I still haven’t made any mincemeat.

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Support Syrian refugees: a follow-up

This post is in addition to yesterday’s post about how to help the Syrian refugees at Calais by donating items in Oxford. Here are some more resources and information about ways to help, including a few more regional links:

  • This Amazon wishlist helps you buy items specifically requested by those working with refugee groups. This crowdfunding account raises money for those in ‘The Jungle’, the Calais refugee camp.
  • The big charities are also soliciting donations – try MSF, who are doing migrant search and rescue in the Mediterranean sea, Save The Children, who are campaigning for the children of Syria, or the British Red Cross. You can donate at any of their websites.
  • By the end of September, there will be over 26,000 unaccompanied children in European refugee camps. This petition urges David Cameron to allow 3,000 of them (number suggested by Save The Children) to be fostered in the UK, as Jewish children were following the Kindertransport before World War II.
  • Warwickshire residents (and presumably also Oxford residents) can donate to Emmaus Oxford, who are leading a donation trip to refugees at Calais at the end of September, and they’re seeking the following items: trainers/outdoor shoes, non-perishable food, cooking equiptment, waterproof coats, tents, sleeping bags, torches/solar lights, kindling, underwear, roll-up mats, sanitary and hygiene products, water containers, bicycles. Email sandychamberlain [at] hotmail [dot] co [dot] uk for more information.
  • Glasgow residents can donate clothes and other items here.
  • Folkestone United are collecting items for Calais from the local area, as well as donations.
  • Attend and donate money at a solidarity event showing that refugees are welcome in your city – there’s one this Sunday in Oxford‘s city centre. On 12 September, there will be a London Day of Action for Refugees. Similar organising meetings are also being held in other cities, including Norwich.
  • Keep supporting local outposts of UK charities. I’ve seen complaints and concerns that mass donations to refugee charities will take away from UK charities helping British people. This is a very difficult time of year for Brits on low incomes: the summer holidays have meant an income gap as free school meals became unavailable, and the early cold weather is bringing the “food or fuel” question forward early. However, there are three really important points to make here!
  1. The refugees need specific items like men’s clothes, kitchen equiptment and tarpaulins. If you don’t have these, why not buy them from charity shops and donate them? Double win!
  2. I’ve seen a lot of people asking how to donate things that certain groups like CalAid don’t currently need, like baby wipes, nappies and tampons. This is a really good idea! Don’t put these back in the cupboard, get in touch with your local food bank, women’s refuge or homeless shelter! Oxford Baby Baskets are making up packs for new mums and mums-to-be in Oxford, including refugees.
  3. Lots of Syrian refugees will shortly be British residents (thank God). And they’re going to need our charity shops, food banks, shelters and drop-in centres to be in fighting form, not least because – let’s face it – the government strategy for helping people once they arrive is probably going to be abysmal. Supporting your local charity shop, food bank or shelter is a way to support refugees (and always has been).

If you have other links about drop-off points for donations to help the Syrian refugees, charities taking aid to Syrian refugees, or events along the lines of Refugees Welcome, please post them here – and share this post, if you can!

Oxford: drop off donations and help the Syrian refugees at Calais

This post is aimed at Oxford residents who want to help the Syrian refugees by sending supplies to refugees at Calais. I’m making it in hopes of reaching an audience beyond Facebook! An Oxford group is taking donations down to CalAid’s London drop-off point on 20 September. The list below (which I’ve taken from the Facebook group) tells you what supplies the refugee camp at Calais does need and what they don’t currently, need.

NEEDED

  • Trainers, Hiking Boots & Wellies: only sizes UK 7-9, EU 41-43
  • Tents (covers, tarpaulin)
  • Jackets: sizes S, M only
  • Travelling Bags
  • Socks
  • Candles or any other lighting
  • Belts
  • Tracksuit trousers
  • Blankets
  • Jeans (sizes 28 to 32)
  • Smartphones with SIM cards
  • Sleeping bags
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Plastic bags
  • Woolly hats
  • Pants
  • Pots
  • Pans

NOT NEEDED RIGHT NOW

  • Women’s clothes or shoes
  • Children’s clothes or shoes
  • Jumpers or sweaters
  • Nappies, baby wipes etc.
  • Tampons or other feminine hygiene products

NOT NEEDED

  • Sheets or pillows
  • Suits
  • Formal shoes

Donors are asked to sort their donations by type, so they can be easily stored & distributed to the refugees once the donations arrive in Calais. I’d also suggest using your imagination slightly on the above categories – remember that children need different-sized toothbrushes and types of toothpaste, ditto shampoo. Picture trying to look after your dentures in a refugee camp (other suggestions welcome!). Bulk-buy offers are also your friends (Boots has 3 for 2 on shampoo, and a lot of offers on dental products; many places will also be having kitchenware sales as the university terms approach).

In Oxford, donations can be left at the Turl Street Kitchen (I went there this lunchtime — ask a staff member to show you where you leave your things), Oxfork, the Magdalen Arms, and the Star pub (21 Rectory Road, East Oxford). The Facebook group gives contact names for additional drop-off points at Brookes uni, Kidlington, South Oxford Community Centre and South Oxford Farmers’ Market.

More information can be found on Facebook, or at the CalAid website. Cash donations to CalAid, used to help the refugees, can also be made (from anywhere, obiously) via JustGiving. Please share this post!