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The new old ways to reclaim Christmas

Do you love Christmas, but sometimes find it stressful, expensive and over-commercialised? Are you looking for a better way to take a breath and reconnect with home and hearth and other humans? Have you ever wondered why we celebrate the festivals we do, in the ways that we do? And did you know that Santa's reindeer are all actually girls...?

Merry Midwinter is a gentle and warm investigation of winter, which explains why it is important to celebrate the whole season, not just one or two days. It puts into practical terms the physical and spiritual relevance that the solar activity around the Winter Solstice holds for every living thing, and tells us how our most well-known and best-loved Christmas traditions have little or nothing to do with any one religion, but everything to do with the continuation of life and the importance of family and community.

The book contains lots of simple, accessible, down-to-earth ideas about how we can rekindle the true essence of Midwinter celebration by doing and giving of ourselves. Each chapter also includes memories of the author's own unusual childhood of the 1950s and 60s and examples of how she and her family now celebrate. There are traditional family recipes taken from her mother’s manuscript cookery book along with her accompanying seasonal comments. It also has lots of instructions for how to make seasonal decorations using evergreens and other natural items.

The book is completely non-religious – a celebration of life in general and humanity in particular - and demonstrates how we can surmount our different beliefs and practices to come together in loving commonality; a time and season we can all identify with, when humanity can freely share gifts of compassion, recognition and community. Perhaps more importantly, it sets out a potential framework of loving awareness and service for life in general. Celebrating Midwinter is not about what you do, buy, eat or spend but what your attitude to life is. Christmas and Midwinter are a state of mind and a way of life - all year round!

Born in Lancashire, my family home was a 300 year old cottage set in its own secluded valley among fields and woodland, with a river, a stream where we drew our water supply, generated electricity (but often preferred candles and oil lamps) and a two acre jungle of garden.

I trained as a teacher and gained my Honors Degree at Lancaster University. Later I ran my own business making miniatures (doll’s houses for collectors), attending fairs and providing a mail order service all around the U.K. and Europe. I wrote regularly for several international miniatures magazines as well as producing my own specialist magazine for smaller scales.

I am a Quaker, a Theosophist and a Druid and help to facilitate a grove based on the deep appreciation of nature. I have five acres of land where we are growing/developing a spiritual retreat and where I lead self-development and spiritual workshops.

I love home and my garden and kitchen in particular; also history and the arts, especially all forms of music and dance. I live with my husband and son, five cats and two dogs in an old Victorian house in the heart of Snowdonia.

Beginning in the 19th Century it was proclaimed in America that Santa Claus was a more up to date interpretation of Saint Nicholas, the tradition having been originally brought over from Europe by the Dutch community who celebrated the saint's day back in the Netherlands. But Saint Nicholas, the amiable gift-giver, didn't appear in America until after Santa Claus had become an established figure. What is more, the Dutch colonists in question were members of the Dutch Reform Church and as such had no time for the celebration of saint's days as they were strongly opposed to the Catholic church and all such 'papist shenanigans'. In actual fact the legend that the Dutch brought Saint Nicholas to America was invented by Washington Irving in an 1809 satire, the fictional 'Knickerbocker History' and has no basis in fact. (A typical example of something getting into print and therefore being faithfully believed as gospel truth… including my ideas and theories here… take what I say and go and check it out for yourself!)

It is rather to Saint Nicholas' reprobate companion, glowering from the shadows, that we must look back for the origins of Santa. With his coat of hair, dishevelled beard, bag and face blackened with ashes, he isn't laughing a merry “Ho! Ho! Ho!” He is in fact the creature who fathered Father Christmas, not Washington Irving or even some Asian saint.

It was the German immigrants in Pennsylvania who celebrated the Yule season with one of their most notable traditions – a character called Pelznichol, which literally means 'Furry Nicholas'; Pelz in German meaning hide or fur coat – the word that has become 'pelt' in English. Pelznichol was indeed “dressed all in fur from his head to his foot” and was known by many variations of his name, including Bellsnickle and Bellschniggle among others, following in a global spiritual belief that calling a god or deity by its real name should always be avoided at all costs.

The forms in which the Christmas visitor appeared in early Pensylvania might have been lost to us if it hadn't been for a man called Albert Shoemaker who wrote a book entitled 'Christmas in Pennsylvania: A Folk-Cultural Study'. Shoemaker tells us that early 19th Century Pelznichol went, whip in hand, from house to house with cookies and chestnuts, rewarding well-behaved children but frightening and whipping those who had been naughty. Pelznichol's appearance varied but he was always black-faced, bell-jingling, dressed in animal skins or patches and carrying a whip or bag.

The 'Philadelphia Gazette' of December 19th, 1827 describes Bellschniggle as

Ebony in appearance, dressed in skins or old clothes, his face black, a bell, a whip and a pocket full of cakes and nuts… It is no sooner dark than Bellschniggle's bell is headr flitting from house to house… He slips down the chimney at the fairy hour of midnight, and deposits his presents quietly in the prepared stocking.”

Here, surely, it is easy to see the fore-runner characteristics of our jovial but shy Santa!


Loving the Radio

Thursday, 19 April 2018

What an amazing day I've just had! Lovely trip over to Wrexham... the countryside looked absolutely stunning in this glorious warm sunshine that we are having! and then a wonderful hour spent talking on air to the delightful Denise Oliver of Calon FM. I think that I could definitely take to going on the radio - it was such great fun! If you would like to hear us chatting about my book 'Merry Midwinter…

Radio Interview

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Venturing into getting a book published is a fascinating process and has some quite extraordinary - and unlooked for - results! This coming Thursday (19th April) I am being interviewed on one of the local radio stations, Calon FM, so if anyone is in the area, why not tune in around to hear me talking about 'Merry Midwinter'? The weather is due to be beautiful and spring-like, which is just…

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