Tuesday, December 15, 2015
by Jean Henry Mead
While researching Christmas customs around the world, I discovered that the first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510 in Germany and Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). And in many countries Santa Claus is known as Father Christmas. In Latvia he places gifts under the tree and a special dinner is prepared of brown peas with bacon sauce, small pies, sausages and cabbage.
In Finland, where children believe that Father Christmas lives above the Arctic Circle, they call him Korvatunturi. Their three holy days include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (a public holiday in many countries known as the second day of Christmas). Finnish people eat rice porridge and a sweet soup of dried fruits on Christmas Eve, then decorate a spruce tree in their homes. A "Christmas declaration" is broadcast throughout the country at mid-day via radio and television. And that evening a traditional Christmas dinner is served consisting of casseroles containing liver, rutabaga, potatoes and carrots with ham or turkey as well as various salads, sweet and spiced breads and cheeses. They also attend church and decorate the graves of their departed relatives. Children receive their presents on Christmas Eve from someone in the family dressed as Father Christmas.
In Hungary the Winter Grandfather (Santa Claus) arrives on the sixth of December when children place their carefully cleaned shoes outside the door or window before retiring for the night. The following morning they find candy and small toys in red bags placed inside their shoes. Youngsters who don't behave find a golden birch branch next to their shoes, which is meant for spanking, although it's rarely used. On Christmas Eve, children visit relatives or attend movies while baby Jesus delivers Christmas trees and presents to their homes. Candy and other edibles are hung on the tree as well as glass balls, candles and sparklers. Fresh fish with rice or potatoes and pastries are usually served that evening for dinner, after which the children are allowed to see their decorated tree for the first time. Christmas songs are then sung and gifts opened. Older children usually attend Christmas mass with their parents later that night and on Christmas Day the kids are allowed to eat the sweets hanging from their tree.
In Belgium Sinterklays (St. Nicholas) is also celebrated on December 6, and is observed separately from the Christmas holiday. Santa Claus is known as Kerstman or le Pere Noel because there are three languages spoken within the country—Dutch, French and German. Santa Claus brings gifts to the children on Christmas day and small presents for family members are placed beneath the tree or in stockings hung near the fireplace. Sweet breads called cougnour or cougnoleand and shaped like the baby Jesus are eaten at breakfast.
Romanian children receive small gifts on December 6 from St. Nicholas in their freshly-polished shoes. Rural families "sacrifice”a pig on December 20, and each part of the pig is cooked in a different way, such as sausage or mince meat cooked with rice, onions and spices. They also dress up as bears and goats to sing traditional songs at each house in the village. Children visit other homes, not unlike our Halloween, to sing carols and receive sweets, fruit or money. Transylvanians serve stuffed cabbage on Christmas Eve and eat the leftovers for lunch the following day when they return from church services.
Brazilians call Father Christmas Papai Noel and the date of celebration differs in various regions of the country. Christmas trees are decorated by even the poor who have plastic trees or simple branches decorated with cotton to represent snow. Christmas dinners for the affluent usually consist of chicken, turkey, pork or ham served with rice, beans and fruit, often served with beer. The poor usually have chicken, rice and beans with beer or colas. For desert they enjoy brigadeiro made of chocolate and condensed milk.
Christmas is called Noel in France and Father Christmas is known as Pere Noel. Christmas dinner is an important family gathering with the best of meats and finest wines. Christmas trees are often decorated with red ribbons and white candles, and electric lights adorn fir trees in the yard. Most people send New Year’s cards instead of at Christmas to wish friends luck, and Christmas lunch is celebrated with fois gras, a strong pate made of goose liver followed by a meal of seafood.
House windows are decorated in Germany with electric candles and color photographs as well as wreathes of leaves with candles called adventskrant, which signal the arrival of the four-weeks before Christmas. Additional candles are added as the holiday grows nearer. Father Christmas, called Der Wihnactsmann, delivers presents to the children during the late afternoon of Christmas Eve after celebrants return from church. A member of the family rings a bell to announce that presents are under the tree. Christmas Day is celebrated with a meal of carp or goose.
Father Christmas delivers gifts to Portuguese children on Christmas Eve. Gifts are left under the tree or in their shoes near the fireplace. Christmas dinner usually consists of dry cod fish and boiled potatoes at midnight.
During the reign of the Soviet Union, Christmas celebrations were prohibited. The New Year was celebrated instead when Father Frost brought gifts to the children. Now in Russia, Christmas is celebrated on December 25, or more often on January 7, the date the Russian Orthodox church reserves for religious observances. Christmas dinner consists of cakes, pies and meat dumplings.
New Zealanders celebrate by opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. They then have Christmas lunch at home or a family member's house. A dinner of chicken or turkey is eaten, followed by tea time and dinner cooked on the barbie, served with beer or wine. And in Sweden, a special dinner is served on Christmas Eve of ham, herring and brown beans. Many attend church early on Christmas Day before gathering to exchange gifts with family members.
Christmas customs in this country are too numerous to list, and I'd like to wish all our blog visitors a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year, no matter where you happen to live, or how you plan to celebrate the holiday.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
I never dreamed of converting interviews from my Mysterious People blog into a book when I established the site in 2008. But such good advice and life stories evolved that I couldn’t allow the material to disappear into cyber space. I recycled a great many interviews and decided to make them available to all Amazon.com readers.
Before the interviews were accepted for publication by Poisoned Pen Press, I submitted them to three publishers, all of whom accepted, so I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go with PPP, which only offered to publish a Kindle version or two small, well respected presses, which offered a print version but wanted to make changes. I finally decided to accept Poisoned Pen’s contract with the hope they would also publish a print edition or sell the print rights to another publisher. Eventually they released a large print edition (shown above),
Interviews with unknown writers usually don't sell books and I found the best time to approach a bestselling author is just before a new release, which is probably why Sue Grafton agreed to an interview when V is for Vengeance was released. Embolded from acceptances from Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block,Carolyn Hart, Nancy Pickard, J.A. Jance and other publishing giants, I asked Janet Evanovich for an interview. So far I haven’t received an answer, but you can’t win them all.
I’ve featured quotes from interviewees on one of my Facebook pages. Among my favorites is one from Nancy Means Wright: "Vermont writer Howard Frank Mosher nails up rejection slips and adverse reviews on the side of his barn and shoots holes in them. I just leave mine in a cardboard box and let my Maine Coon cats make a nest or pee on them. So send that manuscript out again!"
And from Louise Penny: "Finish the book. Most people who start books never finish them. Don't be one of those. Do it, for God's sake. You have nothing to fear--it won't kill you. It won't even bite you. This is your dream--this is your chance. You sure don't want to be lying on your death bed regretting that you didn't finish the book." Lawrence Block was more succinct with his advice: "Write to please yourself. And don't expect too much."
I've had so many good interviews since Mysterious Writers was accepted that I published another, The Mystery Writers. I began my writing career a news reporter so interviewing is second nature. And the rewards are immeasurable.
I hope aspiring writers will discover something in these collections to help them in their struggle to publication, which is the main reason for the blog site as well as these books. Mystery readers also enjoy reading about their favorite authors.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
If you haven't read the Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense series, now's your chance to sample a copy for only 99 cents. Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty survive a tornado and run for their lives from a killer who follows them as they flee to Texas as well as the Alaskan outback where they find themselves in even more danger. The sixth novel in the series is on sale at Amazon.com from December 4-6.
Other novels in the series:
A Village Shattered
Diary of Murder
Murder on the Interstate
Gray Wolf Mountain
Murder in RV Paradise