The new old ways to reclaim Christmas
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!
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!
A Magical Process
Thursday, 9 August 2018
I am living inexciting times! Everything is now coming together rapidly in preparation for the publication of my first book, 'Merry Midwinter'. All the edits have now been completed; the design and wording for the cover is agreed upon and complete, the publishing date decided upon.
As this is my first book to be published, the whole process has been something of a learning curve, but I have to…
All Down Hill From Here!
Tuesday, 26 June 2018
The Summer Solstice is now past; Midsummer and the Longest Day occurred a few days ago; as from last Sunday evening the days will now begin to grow shorter again as we beigin the very gradual descent towards harvest time, autumn and winter. Yes, I do know that we are currently in the middle of a heat wave and drought and that many of us haven't even had our summer holidays yet! But the fact remains…
My Seasonal Blogs... Take a Look
Thursday, 31 May 2018
It has just struck me that I have two blogs which you might like to take a look at. The first, dealing with topics related to the season of Winter, the Solstice and Christmas can be found at www.merrymidwinter.com and reflects - but does not repeat - some of the topics which I have written about in Merry Midwinter. Being seasonl it is only active during the three Winter months of November, December…
Friday, 25 May 2018
A huge 'thank you' to everyone who has pledged to support my work! You are all related to me, one way or another; family, friends, aquaintances, past students... and you are all immensely important to me, and significant to the creation of this book. Each and every one of you has contributed to my life and development, helping to form the person I have become and write 'Merry Midwinter' - even those…
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…
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 11.am. to hear me talking about 'Merry Midwinter'? The weather is due to be beautiful and spring-like, which is just…
These people are helping to fund Merry Midwinter.