04 May 2016

Should Old Customs Be Forgotten...

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/08/2e/56/082e566d14386d6a097a8978fe135a81.jpgIf you read as many books about Christmas customs as I have, you'll discover several writers quoted quite commonly. Charles Dickens, of course, is one, and Marjorie Holmes, from her At Christmas the Heart Goes Home, is another. But for Christian celebration customs, one writer is mentioned more than the rest: Francis X. Weiser, a Jesuit priest who wrote the classic The Christmas Book. Lesser known is Weiser's The Easter Book, which was written a few years later.

This is a very plain book, no fancy color illustrations or slick paper (there are line illustrations at the beginning of each chapter), just Weiser's lively narration about the Easter season, starting from the very first Easter (and tracing some of the pagan aspects greeting the spring that still remain in the celebration) and tracing ancient and modern celebrations from preparations before Lent through the Ascension. (I was amused at the revision of the tale of the Maypole, which was originally a pagan fertility symbol.) I learned several things here which I had never known before, one being that the word "quarantine" comes from preparations for Lent ("quarantine" referring to the forty days of Lent) many years before it was used for restrictions due to sickness. Also, there was always the joke when I was a schoolkid that it was really called "Length" because it lasted so long. Actually the word "Lent" does sort of mean that: it comes from Anglo-Saxon Lengten-tide (springtime), "lengten" referring to the days lengthening as the summer solstice approaches. Not to mention that the Sunday after Easter is "Low Sunday" because Easter Sunday through "Low" Sunday is all part of Easter week, with Easter being the "High" Sunday.

This book was published in 1954 and the one thing you wistfully wonder when you read it is if 62 years later the charming customs Weiser details so lovingly—sprinkling water in Hungary and Germany on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, not washing clothes on Good Friday, skipping rope in one English village, red eggs only in Greece, wearing mourning or at least dark clothing in Poland during Lent, etc.—are still kept. Even before I left home in the 1980s, it was no longer common to see Septuagesima Sunday, Sexagisima Sunday, and Quinquagesima Sunday listed in our missalettes (not to mention the aforementioned Low Sunday), although they were delightful tongue-twisters to a word-worshiping child. This book will make you nostalgic for seemingly innocent days when children reveled in finding home-made Easter baskets and you could hold open house where any stranger could walk in and not worry about being attacked.

A good edition to anyone's holiday library if you can find a copy at a decent price. This was the first one I found that wasn't over $50!

And I've finished this review just in time because tomorrow is Ascension Thursday...

25 April 2016

Rudolph Day, April 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

An Old English Christmas—for some these are magical words, having read books about classic Christmas celebrations in Regency, Victorian, and wartime Britain. The streets of 20th century London can be seen here. Even older celebrations exist: wassailing of apple trees, mince pies baked for good luck, choral singing, church bells, Royal Christmas trees.

London still glitters today:

Image result for London Christmas


A London Christmas, edited by Marina Catacuzino
This is a lovely entry in Sutton Publishing's line of "A ____________ Christmas" series—one for each shire, some specialties (A Jane Austen Christmas, A Victorian Christmas, A Wartime Christmas, etc.), and of course this one, for the capitol city. They are collections of excerpts from nonfiction ranging from diaries (like Pepys and Swift) and police reports and memoirs (including children's writer John Garfield), and fiction from George Gissing and Charles Dickens (yes, of course from A Christmas Carol). There are descriptions of Christmas markets groaning with food, the rich going Christmas shopping, and a man mourning the Victorian fashion of children's Christmas parties. However, not all is jolly: poor costermongers going "a-Christmasing" describe their hard work, the bitter "Christmas in the Workhouse" appears, and two bleak holidays are described by Gissing. Historically we visit William the Conqueror's crowning, frost fairs on the Thames, London in the Blitz, medieval banquets at the Middle Temple, and the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.

Certainly color photographs would have been much better, but these are decorated with vintage black and white prints and engravings that complement the text. Great for nightly readings before Christmas or, like today, as a respite against already sultry temperatures. If you see one at a used bookstore, give it a try!

27 March 2016

Happy Rankin Bass Easter!

I believe these are all available on DVD now! Buy these restored versions for yourself!

And my favorite of all:

22 March 2016

Something to Hold You Through the Long, Endless Summer

William Stanley Braithwaite

THERE is music in the meadows, in the air —
     Autumn is here;
Skies are gray, but hearts are mellow,
     Leaves are crimson, brown, and yellow;
Pines are soughing, birches stir,
     And the Gipsy trail is fresh beneath the fir.

There is rhythm in the woods, and in the fields,
     Nature yields:
And the harvest voices crying,
     Blend with Autumn zephyrs sighing;
Tone and color, frost and fire,
     Wings the nocturne Nature plays upon her lyre.

01 March 2016

For St. David's Day

St. David, patron saint of Wales.

19 Facts About St. David and His Day

25 February 2016

Rudolph Day, February 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Check out some of the wonderful black-and-white photos of Christmas tree past, nothing pre-lit, nothing shaved, just natural pine tree (or sometimes other kind of tree):

Vintage Christmas Tree Photos

Did you know the Irish always leave a candle burning in the window? This wonderful custom is supposed to welcome Jesus/the Holy Family. But there's another side to the custom.

Smart TV but no fireplace? Here, find this on your television browser! Now have some cocoa and put on some Christmas music!

Have you ever noticed this moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas?

02 February 2016

Candlemas Day

Merry Candlemas! It's Time to Undeck the Halls

Candlemas is a Fitting End to the Traditional Christmas Season

Wait! Does this have something to do with Groundhog Day? Well, yes, in a way:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.

The original animal to stick his nose out of his den to see his shadow was the badger.

Celebrating Candlemas - School of the Seasons

BBC: Holy Days, Candlemas

Candlemas Day: The Christian Festival of Lights

Candlemas: Jesus as the Light of the World

Candlemas and Traditions

From Chambers' Book of Days:

From a very early, indeed unknown date in the Christian history, the 2nd of February has been held as the festival of the Purification of the Virgin, and it is still a holiday of the Church of England. From the coincidence of the time with that of the Februation or purification of the people in pagan Rome, some consider this as a Christian festival engrafted upon a heathen one, in order to take advantage of the established habits of the people; but the idea is at least open to a good deal of doubt. The popular name Candlemass is derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely, a blessing of candles by the clergy, and a distribution of them amongst the people, by whom they are afterwards carried lighted in solemn procession. The more important observances were of course given up in England at the Reformation; but it was still, about the close of the eighteenth century, customary in some places to light up churches with candles on this day.
At Rome, the Pope every year officiates at this festival in the beautiful chapel of the Quirinal. When he has blessed the candles, he distributes them with his own hand amongst those in the church, each of whom, going singly up to him, kneels to receive it. The cardinals go first; then follow the bishops, canons, priors, abbots, priests, &c., down to the sacristans and meanest officers of the church. According to Lady Morgan, who witnessed the ceremony in 1820:
'When the last of these has gotten his candle, the poor conservatori, the representatives of the Roman senate and people, receive theirs. This ceremony over, the candles are lighted, the Pope is mounted in his chair and carried in procession, with hymns chanting, round the ante-chapel; the throne is stripped of its splendid hangings; the Pope and cardinals take off their gold and crimson dresses, put on their usual robes, and the usual mass of the morning is sung.'
Lady Morgan mentions that similar ceremonies take place in all the parish churches of Rome on this day.
It appears that in England, in Catholic times, a meaning was attached to the size of the candles, and the manner in which they burned during the procession; that, moreover, the reserved parts of the candles were deemed to possess a strong supernatural virtue:
'This done, each man his candle lights,
    Where chiefest seemeth he,
Whose taper greatest may be seen;
    And fortunate to be,
Whose candle burneth clear and bright:
    A wondrous force and might
Both in these candles lie, which if
    At any time they light,
They sure believe that neither storm
    Nor tempest cloth abide,
Nor thunder in the skies be heard,
    Nor any devil's spide,
Nor fearful sprites that walk by night,
    Nor hurts of frost or hail,' &c.

The festival, at whatever date it took its rise, has been designed to commemorate the churching or purification of Mary; and the candle-bearing is understood to refer to what Simeon said when he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and declared that he was a light to lighten the Gentiles. Thus literally to adopt and build upon metaphorical expressions, was a characteristic procedure of the middle ages. Apparently, in consequence of the celebration of Mary's purification by candle-bearing, it became customary for women to carry candles with them, when, after recovery from child-birth, they went to be, as it was called, churched. A remarkable allusion to this custom occurs in English history. William the Conqueror, become, in his elder days, fat and unwieldy, was confined a considerable time by a sickness. 'Methinks,' said his enemy the King of France, 'the Ring of England lies long in childbed.' This being reported to William, he said, 'When I am churched, there shall be a thousand lights in France I' And he was as good as his word; for, as soon as he recovered, he made an inroad into the French territory, which he wasted wherever he went with fire and sword.
At the Reformation, the ceremonials of Candlemass day were not reduced all at once. Henry VIII proclaimed in 1539:
'On Candlemass day it shall be declared, that the bearing of candles is clone in memory of Christ, the spiritual light, whom Simeon did prophesy, as it is read in. the church that day.'
It is curious to find it noticed as a custom down to the time of Charles II, that when lights were brought in at nightfall, people would say—' God send us the light of heaven!' The amiable Herbert, who notices the custom, defends it as not superstitious. Some-what before this time, we find. Herrick alluding to the customs of Candlemass eve: it appears that the plants put up in houses at Christmas were now removed.
Down with the rosemary and bays,
    Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly now upraise
    The greener box for show.

The holly hitherto did sway,
    Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter day
    Or Easter's eve appear.

The youthful box, which now hath grace
    Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
    Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
    And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin',
    To honour Whitsuntide.

Greeu rushes then, and sweetest bents,
    With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
    To re-adorn the house.

Thus times do shift; each thing in turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.'

The same poet elsewhere recommends very particular care in the thorough removal of the Christmas garnishings on this eve:
'That so the superstitious find
No one least branch left there behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.'

He also alludes to the reservation of part of the candles or torches, as calculated. to have the effect of protecting from mischief:
'Kindle the Christmas brand, and then
    Till sunset let it burn,
Which quenched, then lay it up again,
    Till Christmas next return.

Part mast be kept, wherewith to tend
    The Christmas log next year;
And where 'tis safely kept, the fiend
    Can do no mischief there.'

There is a curious custom of old standing in Scotland, in connection with Candlemass day. On that day it is, or lately was, an universal practice in that part of the island, for the children attending school to make small presents of money to their teachers. The master sits at his desk or table, exchanging for the moment his usual authoritative look for one of bland civility, and each child goes up in turn and lays his offering down before him, the sum being generally pro-portioned to the abilities of the parents. Six-pence and a shilling are the most common sums in most schools; but some give half and whole crowns, and even more. The boy and girl who give most are respectively styled King and Queen. The children, being then dismissed for a holiday, proceed along the streets in a confused procession, carrying the King and Queen in state, exalted upon that seat formed of crossed hands which, probably from this circumstance, is called the King's Chair. In some schools, it used to be customary for the teacher, on the conclusion of the offerings, to make a bowl of punch and regale each urchin with a glass to drink the King and Queen's health, and a biscuit. The latter part of the day was usually devoted to what was called the Candlemass bleeze, or blaze, namely, the conflagration of any piece of furze which might exist in their neighbourhood, or, were that wanting, of an artificial bonfire.
Another old popular custom in Scotland on Candlemass day was to hold a football match, the east end of a town against the west, the unmarried men against the married, or one parish against another. The 'Candlemass Ba', as it was called, brought the whole community out in a state of high excitement. On one occasion, not long ago, when the sport took place in Jedburgh, the contending parties, after a struggle of two hours in the streets, transferred the contention to the bed of the river Jed, and there fought it out amidst a scene of fearful splash and dabblement, to the infinite amusement of a multitude looking on from the bridge.
Considering the importance attached to Candlemass day for so many ages, it is scarcely surprising that there is a universal superstition throughout Christendom, that good weather on this day indicates a long continuance of winter and a bad crop, and that its being foul is, on the contrary, a good omen. Sir Thomas Browne, in his Vulgar Errors, quotes a Latin distich expressive of this idea:
'Si sol splendescat Maria purificante,
Major erit glacies post festum quam fait ante;

which maybe considered as well translated in the popular Scottish rhyme:
If Candlemass day be dry and fair,
The half o' winter's to come and mair;
If Candlemass day be wet and foul,
The half o' winter's gave at Yule.'

In Germany there are two proverbial expressions on this subject: 1. The shepherd would rather see the wolf cuter his stable on Candlemass day than the sun; 2. The badger peeps out of his hole on Candlemass day, and when he finds snow, walks abroad; but if he sees the sun shining, he draws back into his hole. It is not improbable that these notions, like the festival of Candlemass itself, are derived from pagan times, and have existed since the very infancy of our race. So at least we may conjecture, from a curious passage in Martin's Description of the Western Islands. On Candlemass day, according to this author, the Hebrideans observe the following curious custom:

The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women's apparel, put it in a large basket, and lay a wooden club by it, and this they call Brύd's Bed.; and then the mistress and servants cry three times, "Brύd is come; Brύd is welcome!" This they do just before going to bed, and when they rise in the morning they look among the ashes, expecting to see the impression of Brad's club there; which, if they do, they reckon it a true presage of a good crop and prosperous year, and the contrary they take as an ill omen.

25 January 2016

Rudolph Day - January 2016

"Rudolph Day" is a way of keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long. You can read a Christmas book, work on a Christmas craft project, listen to Christmas music or watch a Christmas movie.

Check out some free Christmas cross stitch patterns.

Some poetry for the day!

[little tree]
By E. E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel"

07 January 2016

Scrooge the Detective

The Humbug Murders, L.J. Oliver
Ebenezer Scrooge solves the mystery of who killed his old master, Fezziwig.

Sounds intriguing. I thought so. Bought the book.

Fezziwig comes to Scrooge as a ghost, pleading with him to help his young assistant Tom Guilfoyle, just as a young woman, Adelaide Owen, comes to the counting house to apply, to Scrooge's astonishment, for the clerking job he's advertised. When Scrooge and Adelaide go to Fezziwig's home to see if he is indeed dead, it's revealed that Tom is well known to Adelaide, and that the local constable believes Scrooge himself murdered Fezziwig. Next thing you know, Scrooge is endeavoring to clear himself, with the help of Adelaide and a young reporter named Charles Dickens, in the terrible underbelly of London's slums.

Let's say this is no cozy about Scrooge helping to find a murderer. Before chapter four is over Scrooge has been beaten up by some underworld types and been exposed to a brothel catering to wealthy men. Mixed up in Fezziwig's death is a Chinese merchant, a nobleman, an obese businessman, a well-known actress, aforesaid thugs, and a prostitute named Annie Piper. Along the way we meet a whole contingent of Dickens' characters, including Bill Sykes, the Artful Dodger, Nancy, Fagin, a gang of boy thieves, Miss Favisham, John Jasper, Mr. Crisparkle, and Mr. Pickwick, not to mention Dickens himself, and are involved in murder, mutilation, torture, sexual slavery, depravity, drug addiction...this is not a pretty book!

We all know London at the time of Dickens was like this, so the whole thing wouldn't be so bad, wading through the gore and abuse, if the book wasn't full of historical inaccuracies and Scrooge here doesn't jibe with later Scrooge—in fact, this book describes him here, in 1833, as "young Ebenezer" when ten years later in A Christmas Carol, he's suddenly "old Scrooge"—and the modernisms that creep into the text are alarming and often hilarious. The police didn't operate the way the author states, Marley is Scrooge's competitor, not partner, and four years after the first photograph was taken suddenly photos look so good that pornographic ones are being sold to toffs for £40 each. As for the modernisms: Scrooge tells a constable "Cut to the chase," which dates back only to silent movies. A page later he tells the same man, "You have a mind like a steel trap. Anything entering gets crushed and mangled"; "mind like a steel trap" goes back to 1836 but this is a direct quote from later on. On page 51 Scrooge believes he will get "hypothermia" from falling in the Thames and lose "core motor skills." Would a 19th century man have used those terms? On page 75 Dickens refers to the Chinese man as "the Asian." Really? Back then they were "Orientals" or, jocularly, "Celestials," when more crude referrals were not used.

The book is very good describing the sordid London underworld of the 1830s. There are some truly terrifying situations and passages. But as a prequel to the character of Scrooge and A Christmas Carol? I'll say it...humbug!

06 January 2016

One More for Epiphany

Reminisce Christmas
A 2010 publication by "Reminisce" magazine, this is a follow-on to their previous compendium of memories, The Christmases We Used to Know. These aren't fictional experiences, but stories about Christmas by the people who lived them, from the 1930s to the 1960s (with a smattering of photos from the 1920s). Vintage toys, World War II military-themed Christmas cards, special pajamas or cowboy suits, family photos, faith-based stories, and vintage advertisements are pictured, paired with memories nostalgic, funny, and a few times just plain sad, some of them full stories, some just vignettes. There are even lined, blank spots every 30 pages or so where you can write down your own memories of Christmas past.

Brought up as I was with Italian Christmas customs, it was fun to see what other nationalities had "on the menu," so to speak: roast goose, lutefisk, Cajun gumbo, etc., but every turn of the page is a delight for Christmas lovers. There are tales from servicemen and -women in faraway places on Christmas Eve, stories of poor children who received special gifts in a needy time, people who received that special toy (and in the case of one child, a special gift that turned out to be a baby brother), Christmas pets, visits to Santa (and learning the truth about him), those "skinny Charlie Brown trees" from the past, and other Yuletide keepsakes.

If you like "Reminisce," nostalgia, or Christmas, this is the book for you!

Star of Wonder

On the first Christmas, Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus were visited not only by shepherds, but by three kings, who brought the baby gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Well, not quite. The visitors who brought these gifts are not present in Luke's gospel, which features the shepherds. The story of the visitors is from Matthew's gospel, and says, in fact, that the Holy Family were living in a house and most translations say Jesus was a child, not an infant. So it is probable that the visit took place later than the birth in the stable.

The visitors are never identified as kings, but as astrologers, men who study the stars for portends, also known as "magi," magicians. Nor are strictly three identified. No mention is made of how many magi visited, or whatever other gifts are given; only mentioned are the gold, frankincense, and myrrh (which, scholars tell us, are symbolic gifts: gold for godhood, frankincense for priesthood, myrrh, which was used on bodies of the dead, predicting His crucifixion), so tradition makes it three.

Epiphany 2016

Readings for Epiphany

Reflections for Epiphany

Epiphany at Cute Calendar

Reflections on Epiphany 2016

Three Kings Day

King Cake

05 January 2016

Poetry, Songs, and Annual Favorites

The Carols of Christmas, Andrew Gant
I have several books on the history of Christmas carols, so I was very pleased to see a new one in the stacks of Christmas publications. Gant's is pretty much devoted to the story of English carols, although "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Jingle Bells" make appearances, so if your favorite carol isn't here, that may be why.

This book's greatest novelty is also what might turn people off about it: it's written for people who have a knowledge of music and musical terms. If you're confused by the use of terms like "demi-quaver" and "semi-quaver" and "plainsong" or don't wish to pick your way through Latin and French verses, you might want to pick up Ace Collins' simpler Stories Behind the Most Beloved Songs of Christmas. For those who stick with Gant, you'll enjoy his puckish sense of humor as he traces some of the well-known hymns back to old folksongs sung in regional variations by the poor, some of them even rather bawdy. Then there's "Good King Wenceslas," with its words set to a French song about the spring! From Advent through Epiphany, you'll learn what "wassail" is, which carols have different melodies depending which side of the Atlantic they're on, and a theory about how the partridge, a ground bird, got up that pear tree. Great reading, especially for music lovers.

The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems, edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark
This is a companion book to The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories, both ostensibly for children, but as I commented in my review of the latter, definitely for older children, since you won't find cloying sweetness about puppies and Santa here. In fact, some of the poetry is definitely aimed at adults, from T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" to W.H. Auden's "Well, That is That." The poetry ranges from winter odes through Christmastide and through Epiphany and the dead of winter, some playful, some thoughtful, a few even tragic, like the grim Victorian "Christmas in the Workhouse," with a few terrifying pen-and-ink illustrations. A charming "Haiku Advent Calendar" enlivens the endpapers and a magical poem about a boy's discovery of the Nativity is told in "Journey Back to Christmas." Worth finding if you are a poetry aficionado or just wish to read some different and descriptive verse for the holiday season.

Re-read: The House Without a Christmas Tree, Gail Rock
This "novelization" of the classic Christmas special about Addie Mills has no dependence of the special itself, and indeed Rock gives the characters more background than they were able to provide in the filmed story, expanding Addie's exploration of her world and especially giving more depth to Grandma and her eccentricities. Seeing that this story is based on Rock's life, we may have gotten more insight into what the grandmother who cared for her was like. We also see more of Carla Mae's home life, and the end of the story is structured differently from the television production. The wonderful illustrations by Charles Gehm are also a plus. A must-have for an Addie Mills fan.

Re-read: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson
This is the just plain funny, but ultimately touching, story of six undisciplined kids who terrify their classmates and drive their neighbors crazy. The Herdmans—Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie and Gladys—are pretty much on their own all the time; their father has vanished, their mother works two shifts to support them. They steal, blackmail their classmates, harbor a dangerous cat, and are generally a nuisance. The only place safe from them is church, until a kid named Charlie tells one of them that the minister gives out free treats.

Told in a fast and funny narration by our unnamed narrator (Charlie's sister), we follow the Herdmans as they get involved with the church Christmas pageant—first having to learn the story of the Nativity from scratch. As the chaos grows, the pageant is threatened with cancellation, but a surprise is in store for everyone.

Peppered with such delightful descriptions like "My friend Alice Wendleken was so nasty clean she had detergent hands by the time she was four years old," this is one of my annual reads which brings a smile to my face every time.

04 January 2016

Square Dances, Turquoise, and Fireworks

Christmas in the American Southwest, from World Book
The impression you get of Christmas in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas is light: candlelight, farolitos, luminaria, and electric lights in profusion around gardens, river walks, adobe buildings, and streets. Fireworks are lit off at public celebrations and in the past, Christmas was celebrated with firecrackers and sparklers.

In this volume in World Book's "Christmas in..." series, the gamut of celebrations is chronicled, from Las Posadas to cowboy dances, from Victorian buildings decorated with pinon and tumbleweeds to warm cabins at the very bottom of the Grand Canyon covered in snow, accessible only by mules. The contributions of Germans/Poles/Czechs join Spanish- and Native-heritage celebrations, and of course the annual ranch celebrations are featured. The brilliant color photographs highlight foods, public places, and, yes, lights, lights, lights.

A bright and happy edition to add to anyone's "Christmas in..." collection.

31 December 2015

St. Sylvester's Day

From the Fish Eaters site: "Lucky foods" are eaten, all of which vary from place to place. In Spain, one must eat 12 grapes at midnight to fend off evil in the following year. Pea Soup is a German "lucky food," and in France it is oysters. In the United States, black-eyed peas are consumed, along with collard greens and hog jowls (typically on January 1).

"Silvestering" was an old custom of begging for food on St. Sylvester's night, but now fireworks are usually the case.

St. Sylvester I | Saint of the Day

Catholic Online - St. Sylvester

Fish Eaters: St. Sylvester

A History of New Years

Do You Know What Sylvester Is?

A Death in Christmas Town

Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen, Vicki Delany
This is the anticipated first book in a series taking place in Rudolph, a New York town near Lake Ontario, which has fashioned itself as an all-year-round "Christmastown" after its connection to the War of 1812 ended a bit ignominiously (that's a pretty amusing story, too). Our protagonist, Merry Wilkinson (her dad is named Noel since he was born on Christmas Day) runs the high-end gift shop Mrs. Claus' Treasures, and as the story opens, her float in the town's annual Christmas parade almost doesn't make it in the queue due to its transport not working, just the first in a series of mysterious mishaps. Then, later, after a non-alcoholic post parade party, a reporter from an international travel magazine, in town to do a story on Rudolph, is found dead in the park. Initial verdict: he was poisoned by a gingerbread cookie made by Merry's best friend Vicky, owner of the town bakery.

This is a middle-of-the-road cozy which I didn't love, but didn't hate. I do like the idea of a Christmas town, the main character is appealing (although I think her dog contributes nothing to the plot and it seems she's always leaving him home alone to work or do other things), and there are enough red herrings: a woman determined to oust the local mayor, a jealous boyfriend, and the citizens of Muddle Harbor, one town over, which is economically depressed and no competition for Rudolph—unless its food can't be trusted. Plus I really enjoyed some of the supporting characters, especially Merry's dad (who should be working in her shop, as he always magically seems to know what customers want) and her retired opera-singer mother (who reminded me a lot of Hilary Booth from Remember WENN). Tiresomely, however, Merry's got two gorgeous guys fighting over her, which tends to trip the story into romance fantasyland occasionally, and there seems to be the usual stock characters (nosy landlady, aggressive opponent, etc.) tossed in the mix.

However, I love Christmas, and just the idea of a Christmas town and the characters I do like will overcome what I don't like. Put me down for the next one, too.