Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas isn't just a song

I have a confession. I've started this blog about a dozen times (maybe more) but holiday festivities keep getting in my way. If it's not a house filled with friends and family, it's an all-day baking extravaganza or a napping session after over-indulging in all those baked goods.

But I'm working on a story that begins shortly after the Christmas season, so Medieval merrymaking is very much on my mind this year (although I couldn't find anyone who wanted to try a figgy pudding). Medieval Christmas celebrations were very different and yet very much the same as ours.

Most of the festivities centered on feasting and friends, with gift giving and worship rounding out the corners.

Rather than a month-long build up to Dec. 25, however, most of the holiday mirth and merrymaking began Christmas Day and ended Jan. 5, the beginning of Epiphany, which celebrates the Wise Men's arrival to present gifts to the baby Jesus.

During the early Middle Ages, Epiphany was the primary winter holiday with no fixed date to celebrate Christ's birth. However, in the 4th century, Pope Julius I set Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate the Nativity. Over time, various pagan customs associated with the Winter Solstice were incorporated into the seasonal celebrations until Yuletide became the time for feasting, socializing and praying.

Christmas courts were opulent affairs, marked by music, feasts and remnants of pagan rites. Nobles competed with each other to put on the biggest and most varied feasts. Lavish celebrations weren't just for the elite. Minor nobles invited servants and retainers to the castle, and leftovers were given to the poor.

Twelfth Night celebrations included more food and friends. Gifts were usually exchanged on Twelfth Night rather than Christmas eve or day, and Christmas decorations were taken down.

Today, most of the holiday season happens between Christmas and New Year's. We hear very little about Epiphany outside of church services, but I know many people who still take down their tree by Jan. 5 without realizing it's part of the medieval holiday tradition.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twas The Night Before Christmas Poem

Prior to the creation of the story of Twas the night before Christmas St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, had never been associated with a sleigh or reindeers!

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

The author of the poem Twas the night before Christmas was Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863). It was published anonymously by the New York Sentinel.  It has become a tradition in many American families to read the poem every Christmas Eve. The first publication date was 23rd December 1823 and it was an immediate success. It was not until 1844 that Moore claimed ownership when the work was included in a book of his poetry. Clement Clarke Moore came from a prominent family and his father Benjamin Moore was the Bishop of New York who was famous for officiating at the inauguration of George Washington. The tradition of reading Twas the night before Christmas poem on Christmas Eve is now a Worldwide institution.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Conversation with Mistletoe

Greetings all, I am Mistletoe. You know me--the green plant with white berries you most often see at Christmas time. My association with Christmas arises because I am an evergreen and will remain green even in the dead of winter, but you can see me all year if you know where to look. Mainly on apple and oak trees.

Most often, people hang me or one of my relatives from chandeliers or above doorways so gentlemen can kiss their sweethearts. Ah, Christmas love. I thoroughly enjoy my role as Christmas matchmaker.

I enjoy it so much, that I am the hero of Linda Banche’s Mistletoe Everywhere. What, you say? How can a plant be a romance hero? Isn’t Sir Charles Gordon the hero? Well, he thinks he is, but my name is in the title, not his. And I have the pivotal role in the story.

In any event, how can the didactic Charles be the hero? He never again wants to see the lovely Penelope because she jilted him. Or so he says. Meanwhile, according to Penelope, Charles withdrew his marriage proposal after she had accepted. While I have no intention of taking sides, something havy cavy is going on.

Although I am best known as a Christmas fertility symbol, I have another persona as the plant of peace. In medieval times, enemies who met under the mistletoe had to lay down their weapons and call a truce for twenty-four hours. This ceasing of hostilities afforded them a chance to talk out their differences rather than resorting to violence.

Can either of my identities help Charles and Penelope? I flatter myself that I am just the plant to do it. As luck, or perhaps, design would have it, I am on the scene as both fertility symbol and plant of peace in Mistletoe Everywhere.

Let me see if I can reunite these erstwhile lovers.

Thank you all,

As told to Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!
Mistletoe Everywhere Buy Link: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/mistletoe-everywhere-p-4295.html

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Christmas Tree

A Christmas Tree

I have been looking at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high above their heads. It was brillantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects. There were rosy-cheeked dolls, hiding behind the green leaves; and...sugar-plums; there were trinkets for the elder girls, far brighter than any grown-up gold and jewels...there were teetotums, humming tops, needle-cases, pen-wipers...real fruit, made artificially dazzling with gold leaf; imitation apples, pears, and walnuts, crammed with surprises; in short, as a pretty child, before me, delightedly whisped to another pretty child, her bosom friend, "There was everything and more."

-Charles Dickens, Household Word

I just finished decorating my tree and I'm sitting in my living room, enjoying the view with a glass of wine. It doesn't matter if it is 2010 or the 1800's -- a Christmas tree is a thing of beauty. I hope you all have a wonderful, safe Christmas and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 6, 2010

An ancient Roman Holiday - and an early (free) Christmas present?

It may not have been Christmas exactly, but the ancient Roman Saturnalia (17th-23rd. December) was certainly an opportunity for feasting and gift-giving. Over the years, this time of merry-making, sacrifices and gift-giving expanded to a week and the poet Catullus - who knew a thing or two about parties - called it 'the best of days'.

In many ways this ancient festival was rather like Christmas:

Schools were on holiday.

Gambling was allowed.

Shopping at special markets was encouraged.

Holiday clothes were worn - the informal, colourful 'dining clothes' instead of the plain, bulky toga.

Presents were given - parrots, wax candles, dice, combs, perfumes, little pottery dolls.

Feasting was indulged, with Saturn himself in charge as Lord of Misrule.

People wished each other a merry Saturnalia with the evocation, 'io Saturnalia!' ('Yo Saturnalia!')

The Pompeiian partygoers in the picture come from the BBC's Ancient Rome pages.

My historical romance, 'Flavia's Secret' is set in Roman Britain and has its climax during the Saturnalia. As a possible early Christmas present, Bookstrand have Flavia's Secret on offer as a free ebook from now until Valentine's Day. If you haven't tried one of my books yet, here's a chance!

For details of the book and the free download, go to:
http://www.bookstrand.com/flavias-secret .