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Origins of Christmas Traditions

Pine trees are being strapped to vehicles. Giant sized socks are being hung in the living room. Blue, white, and multi-colored lights are flashing all over the place. I’m forcing my kids to smile with threats of no electronic gifts to get a decent photo. An overweight man in his 60’s has sent elves to spy on my ten-year-old.

If an alien race was to observe us right now, they’d be totally confused, decide the depleted ozone must cause brain damage, and move on to conquer other worlds. Thus, leaving us to enjoy another fantastically, peppermint-sticky, tinsel-encrusted holiday season.

Where did these well known traditions start? 

There were many pagan celebrations centering around the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year (December 21st). Christmas was originally called the Feast of the Nativity. It was originally thought that Jesus was born in the spring. However, in 350 AD Pope Julius I chose December 25th in an effort to absorb the traditions of the pagan Satumalia festival, a hedonistic festival lasting a full month when food and drink was plentiful and Roman social order was reversed (slaves became masters and peasants were in command of the city). Christmas was celebrated in England starting in the 6th century.

In the middle ages, a Lord of Misrule was elected to rule over the Christmas festivities. Quite the jester, if people did not follow his proclamations they often were terrorized with mischief. In Scotland, this character was called the Abbott of Unreason. In France he was called the Prince des Sots.

When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they cancelled Christmas. Charles II, the Merry Monarch, reinstituted the popular holiday when he was restored to the English throne. However, in Scotland, even though the ban on Christmas was lifted, people did not observe it since the strongly Protestant nation felt it was a Catholic holiday. Scottish people did not start celebrating Christmas, with a day off work, until 1958! That’s 400 years of little or no Christmas.

The pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas, so they didn’t bring the holiday to America. In fact from 1659 – 1681 Christmas was outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings! Talk about Bah Humbug! It wasn’t until June 26, 1870 that Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States.

Christmas Trees:

Evergreens have been a symbol of health and renewing life for thousands of years. Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when they would bring evergreen trees into their homes. Some built wooden pyramids and decorated them with evergreen branches. Martin Luther, the 16th c. reformer first put lit candles on his tree to recapture a beautiful starlit night sky he saw through the branches of evergreens.

The first record of a Christmas tree on display in America was in 1747 by German immigrants, but many saw it as a pagan symbol. It wasn’t accepted by most Americans until after the 1840’s.  In the 1890’s tree decorating was on the rise in America. In Europe, celebrators kept their trees small (about 4 ft high) while Americans liked their trees to stretch from floor to ceiling. In the early 20th century Americans decorated their trees with homemade ornaments. With electricity came Christmas tree lights, making the trees a popular decoration about towns.

The huge Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in New York City started off as a small, unadorned tree placed by construction workers in 1931 at the center of the construction site. Two years later another tree was placed there with lights. These days the giant Rockefeller Center tree is a well known symbol of the holidays and holds over 25,000 lights.

Stockings:

The idea of the Christmas stocking came to America from the Dutch. In Holland, the children kept their clogs near the hearth, filled with straw for the reindeer. They also left a treat for Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) near the fireplace. In return for the treats, Sinterklaas left some gifts for the children.

Santa:

St. Nicholas, a monk born around 280 AD in modern-day Turkey, is credited with being the origin of the familiar jolly elf. He was admired for his piety and kindness, and thousands of tales of his charitable work with the poor and sick abounded. He became known as the protector saint of children and sailors.

St. Nick became popular in America towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, a New York newspaper reported that Dutch families were honoring the anniversary of the saint’s death (Dec. 6th). The name Santa Claus evolved from Sinter Klaas, which was shortened from Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for St. Nicholas).

In the early 1800’s, Santa Claus was described as everything from a “rascal” with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and Flemish trunk hose. It was Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, who in 1822 wrote the long poem ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas for his three daughters. It was originally titled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” and is still read today.

In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on the poem to create the modern Santa image. He gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with fur, the North Pole workshop, the elves, and his darling Mrs. Claus.

These are just a few of the Christmas traditions we know today. It’s fun to dig into history to see how the customs we’ve lived with our whole lives began. For an author of historical fiction, I also make certain that I don’t force my characters to follow anything outside their historical customs. No, Mr. Darcy, you may not dress like Santa Claus in a bright red suit to hand out gifts to poor orphans to win the heart of Elizabeth Bennet.

Luckily, my Christmastide Highlander romance takes place in the 1520’s, before Christmas was banned. In THE ROGUE OF ISLAY ISLE, my characters bring in a yule log (originally it was a whole tree, burned over the twelve days of Christmastide) and the Abbott of Unreason.

I’m sure some of you have special holiday traditions. What does your family do to make the season bright?

The Royal Assassin and Fangirl Friday

Ruby Sister Kate Parker’s newest arrived this week with a pretty cover perfect for a royal bride who is an accomplished painter. Princess Kira, great-granddaughter of Nicholas I of Russia, is engaged to the Duke of Sussex, great-grandson of George III of Great Britain.

The_Royal_Assassin2There will be a royal wedding, if the bride and groom can get to the cathedral in one piece. The Russian soldier assigned to guard the princess is murdered on English soil. Then the princess starts to slip away from her chaperones to meet with a young woman and the two speak hurriedly in Russian. Then one night, the princess disappears.

Scandal is about to break over the couple’s heads. Georgia Fenchurch, a prim and proper bookshop owner as well as an investigator for the Archivist Society, has been brought in to teach English to the Russian princess. She also secretly spearheads an investigation into the death of the Russian bodyguard. Now she has to rescue the princess from her own folly, find a killer, and stop a devilish plot by anarchists.

If all does not go well, Queen Victoria, the groom’s cousin, will not be amused.

The Royal Assassin, the third Victorian Bookshop Mystery by Kate Parker, will arrive July 7th at all the usual bookstores in paperback and ebooks.

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Ruby Release: CAPTURED HEART by Heather McCollum

Hosted by Liz Talley

Finally, I get to host a Ruby Release with Heather McCollum, which is a very good thing, indeed. When Heather’s first book was released, I was slated to be her host, but that debut fell during a really rough time for Heather (see last week’s post regarding ovarian cancer) when she was dealing with things way more important than a celebration. So I’m extremely thrilled to celebrate Heather today, with her debut release with Entangled Publishing. So let’s get this party started!
1. First up, let’s talk about the book. I read the description and it sounds fascinating. I love stories of healers. Tell us about the idea for Captured Heart and why you chose a healer as the heroine.
Thanks so much, Liz, for having me on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog! I’m thrilled to be here on CAPTURED HEART’s release day. The idea for the book started over thirteen years ago. In fact, this was my first born book. My mother still has the original in her attic. Of course when I wrote it the first time it had 40,000 extra words, different character names, and every strange scene I’d ever imagined all stuck into one hefty tome.
Meg, though named Emma at the time, was always a healer. The art or “magic” of healing has always fascinated me. So much of what we know today about medicine would have been magic back in the 16th century. Although Meg does possess a supernatural power to heal, she doesn’t know how to use it and until she meets her aunt, it is more of a curse than a gift.
There is also a fine line, which I’ve learned first-hand this year as I fought cancer, between healing someone to life and healing someone to death. A lot of our miracle medicines are poisons. Doctors need to know how much and when to dose a patient or the cure becomes lethal. Meg experiences this as she learns to use her magic blue light (and yes, I imagine it a teal blue) to heal.
2. And since we’ve talked heroine, tell us about the hero. How does Caden embody the perfect hero?

Have you seen my cover? Caden definitely em”bodies” the perfect Highland hero! I like to tell people that my husband posed for the cover and watch their eyes pop- LOL!
Caden is the perfect clan chief. He’s been raised as a rugged warrior but has an intellect that makes him question the reasons behind war. He’s built a system of accountability for himself by visiting ten cottages in his village every day to talk with his people. So when he is enraged and wants to react foolishly out of revenge or some other selfish emotion, he recalls the faces of the men, women and children who depend on him to act with honor and in their interests, not his own. It chains him to the right path in a time when many leaders acted recklessly to further their own pursuits.
As a chief to a large clan, Caden is definitely alpha-male. Doesn’t talk much and doesn’t reveal his plans except when he must. He is just as capable of surviving as a lone wolf as he is leading a clan away from the brink of starvation. He can slice an Englishman from stem to stern yet pluck a leaf from Meg’s wild curls. He could have many women but decides that he wants only one. Ah, and there is the conflict. What if the one he wants is the one whose sacrifice will save his clan?
3. This is your first book with Entangled and so many have been fascinated with the wild success they’ve achieved with their books in such a short time. Tell us about selling to Entangled and how it’s been different from previous publishers.
My agent, Kevan Lyon, was very impressed with Entangled Publishing when she proposed my book to them. Until now Entangled has focused on contemporary and YA romance. CAPTURED HEART is their first Scottish Historical romance and is part of Entangled’s Select line.
Owner, Liz Pelletier is amazing! She worked for all of her authors to sign a deal with a large national book distributer and still had time to brain storm with me on my trilogy. Her talents, for running a successful business, and her heart, for doing her absolute best for the authors and editors, are endless.
I was assigned an editor right away as well as two publicists. Libby Murphy kept us on track with edits and is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and dig into making a book perfect. Heather Riccio and Barbara Hightower worked together to line up blog tours and events for my release. They are so supportive and always looking for ways to put CAPTURED HEART in front of the reader.
Between Liz’s fabulous leadership, Libby’s sharp eye and book sense, and Heather and Barbara’s constant efforts to promote, I’m not surprised that Entangled’s books are all over Amazon’s top selling romance list. I’m so fortunate that CAPTURED HEART has found a home with them.
4. You shared with me that your mother actually had a hand in this book. Tell us a bit more about her role in your book.
My mother, Irena Rea, is an artist (among other things), and I’m so proud to have her sketches in my book! Each chapter starts with an excerpt from Meg’s mother’s medicine journal about the curing benefits of a particular herb. My mom sketched the herbs to be included with the chapter headings. They look wonderful! Now she’ll have to read the book despite the spicy parts : )
5. Finally, your dedication in the books is pretty personal to your experience over the past year. How has your journey in fighting ovarian cancer shaded your writing? Do you come at scenes and characters differently than before?
I dedicated CAPTURED HEART to all the women fighting against ovarian cancer, women just like me. I also dedicated it to my teal (ovarian cancer color) army of supporters, because when you’re diagnosed with something like cancer, you can’t fight it alone. You need help, and love and lots of prayers and good karma. You need to believe that winning is not only a possibility but inevitable. My teal army (think Xena warrior princesses in teal leather : ) made me believe that I couldn’t lose, because I couldn’t, not with three kids aged 4, 10 and 12 and a husband who lost his own mom to breast cancer when he was just 9.
When you go through something horrific, it changes you. I had written CH before the diagnosis, but my agent sold it while I was going through chemo (Kevan knew I’d be back, that I’d make it). I was worried that my voice would have changed so much that I wouldn’t like what I’d written before.
What I’m discovering is that my voice in my writings hasn’t changed much, well perhaps I pay more attention to the beauty in my made-up world, but otherwise it has stayed the same. What’s changed though is that I live truer to my written voice. Huh? Well, I used to write about intangibles like discovering the most important things in life and really loving someone. I wrote about them, but did I really understand them?
Just like when we read those refrigerator magnets that tell us to “stop and smell the roses.” We all agree that we should take the time to fill our senses with the beauty around us, but do we really do it? Not unless we happen to be enjoying a tea party in a glorious rose garden or judging a rose competition. So we nod and agree with the magnet, but we don’t really do it.
My writing was the magnet and my life was, well, my life with all its hectic, crazy, too-busy schedule. Fighting against the beast that threatened to take all that away from me, threatened to take me away from my kids and shatter my family – surviving that fight suddenly made all the magnet sayings make sense. I began to live what I wrote. So has my writing changed? Well if it has, it rings with more truth. My characters never took life and love for granted, and now neither do I.
Thanks again, Liz, for interviewing me today. I am so excited about CAPTURED HEART coming out! I used to walk through big book stores and look at the books in the “M” section of romance and imagine my book being next to Judith McNaught. I plan to go to my local Barnes & Noble today and find my book in the shelves. And instead of just smiling and walking by, I’m going to stop and smell them.
Wow, such a fabulous journey you’ve made and all the Rubies are so proud of you (yes, I’m totally speaking for everyone ‘cause I know this great group of women). So Heather has gone through a lot to keep writing and releasing books, what methods have some of you used to get back into the game when writing had needed to take a backseat in your life?

The Latest Comments

  • Autumn Jordon: You’re very welcome. I learned a lot.
  • Bev Pettersen: Such a helpful post, Thanks Autumn. And also thanks to Vivi, Rae and Judy!
  • Autumn Jordon: Everyone of these cover designers is so talented. I wish I had their eye for detail.
  • Autumn Jordon: I totally agree, Kate. I think it takes a certain eye to make an awesome cover.
  • Autumn Jordon: They did a amazing job answering my questions, didn’t they. I also learned a lot.

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