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Feliz Navida 2014

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Did you know Clement Clarke Moore didn’t want ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ published?
Also known as ‘A Visit From St. Nicholas,’ the famous Christmas poem that practically invented the modern concept of Santa. Moore, a 19th century author and classics professor, wrote the poem for his family to celebrate Christmas in 1922, allegedly drawing inspiration for Santa from a pudgy Dutch driver who took his family on a sleigh ride. But Moore never intended for it to be made public. In fact, a close friend of Moore’s actually sent the poem to the Sentinel newspaper, where it was published anonymously. The writer felt the poem was beneath his talents, and when it was published and became a huge hit, he denied authoring it for nearly 15 years. (It was eventually included in an anthology of Moore’s work thanks to the urging of his kids.)

I love to read and share odd and interesting facts about familiar things, and what is more familiar to us than Christmas?

AND SO, HERE ARE SOME INTERESTING AND UNUSUAL FACTS SURROUNDING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON:

Most of Santa’s reindeer have male-sounding names, such as Blitzer, Comet, and Cupid. However, male reindeers shed their antlers around Christmas, so the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh are likely not male, but female or castrati.

Norwegian scientists have hypothesized that Rudolph’s red nose is probably the result of a parasitic infection of his respiratory system.

The Germans made the first artificial Christmas trees out of dyed goose feathers.

Each year more than 3 billion Christmas cards are sent in the U.S. alone.

All the gifts in the Twelve Days of Christmas would equal 364 gifts.

The “true love” mentioned in the song “Twelve Days of Christmas” does not refer to a romantic couple, but the Catholic Church’s code for God. The person who receives the gifts represents someone who has accepted that code. For example, the “partridge in a pear tree” represents Christ. The “two turtledoves” represent the Old and New Testaments.

In A.D. 350, Pope Julius I, bishop of Rome, proclaimed December 25 the official celebration date for the birthday of Christ.

According to the Guinness world records, the tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221-foot Douglas fir that was displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, Washington.

The traditional three colors of Christmas are green, red, and gold. Green has long been a symbol of life and rebirth; red symbolizes the blood of Christ, and gold represents light as well as wealth and royalty.

According to data analyzed from Facebook posts, two weeks before Christmas is one of the two most popular times for couples to break up. However, Christmas Day is the least favorite day for breakups.

Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates during the Christmas holiday are low. The highest rates are during the spring.

The world’s largest Christmas stocking measured 106 feet and 9 inches (32.56 m) long and 49 feet and 1 inch (14.97 m) wide. It weighed as much as five reindeer and held almost 1,000 presents. It was made by the Children’s Society in London on December 14, 2007.

Christmas trees have been sold in the U.S. since 1850.

Christmas trees usually grow for about 15 years before they are sold.

Many European countries believed that spirits, both good and evil, were active during the Twelve Days of Christmas. These spirits eventually evolved into Santa’s elves, especially under the influence of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas (1779-1863) illustrated by Thomas Nast (1840-1902).

Each year there are approximately 20,000 “rent-a-Santas” across the United States. “Rent-a-Santas” usually undergo seasonal training on how to maintain a jolly attitude under pressure from the public. They also receive practical advice, such as not accepting money from parents while children are looking and avoiding garlic, onions, or beans for lunch.

Bolivians celebrate Misa del Gallo or “Mass of the Rooster” on Christmas Eve. Some people bring roosters to the midnight mass, a gesture that symbolizes the belief that a rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Jesus.

The British wear paper crowns while they eat Christmas dinner. The crowns are stored in a tube called a “Christmas cracker.”

In Poland, spiders or spider webs are common Christmas trees decorations because according to legend, a spider wove a blanket for Baby Jesus. In fact, Polish people consider spiders to be symbols of goodness and prosperity at Christmas.

Alabama was the first state in the United States to officially recognize Christmas in 1836.

Christmas wasn’t declared an official holiday in the United States until June 26, 1870.

Oklahoma was the last U.S. state to declare Christmas a legal holiday, in 1907.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is from the Anglo-Saxon word misteltan, which means “little dung twig” because the plant spreads though bird droppings.

Ancient peoples, such as the Druids, considered mistletoe sacred because it remains green and bears fruit during the winter when all other plants appear to die. Druids would cut the plant with golden sickles and never let it touch the ground. They thought it had the power to cure infertility and nervous diseases and to ward off evil.

Evergreens (from the Old English word aefie meaning “always” and gowan meaning “to grow”) have been symbols of eternal life and rebirth since ancient times. The pagan use and worship of evergreen boughs and trees has evolved into the Christianized Christmas tree.

A Yule log is an enormous log that is typically burned during the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25-January 6).

Some scholars suggest that the word yule means “revolution” or “wheel,” which symbolizes the cyclical return of the sun. A wheel also symbolizes Angels. A burning log or its charred remains is said to offer health, fertility, and luck as well as the ability to ward off evil spirits.

Because of their pagan associations, both the holly (associated with the masculine principle) and the ivy (the feminine) and other green boughs in home decoration were banned by the sixth-century Christian Council of Braga.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs, who called the plant Cuetlaxochitl (“flower which wilts”). For the Aztecs, the plant’s brilliant red color symbolized purity, and they often used it medicinally to reduce fever. Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous, but holly berries are.

Santa Claus is based on a real person, St. Nikolas of Myra (also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna, and Nikolaos of Bari), who lived during the fourth century. Born in Patara (in modern-day Turkey), he is the world’s most popular non-Biblical saint, and artists have portrayed him more often than any other saint except Mary. He is the patron saint of banking, pawnbroking, pirating, butchery, sailing, thievery, orphans, royalty, and New York City.

Early illustrations of St. Nicholas depict him as stern, commanding, and holding a birch rod. He was more a symbol of discipline and punishment than the jolly, overweight elf children know today.

Puritan Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas celebrations and carols in England from 1649-1660. The only celebrations allowed were sermons and prayers.

Wassail is from the Old Norse ves heill, meaning “good health.”

Christmas stockings allegedly evolved from three sisters who were too poor to afford a marriage dowry and were, therefore, doomed to a life of prostitution. They were saved, however, when the wealthy Bishop Saint Nicholas of Smyrna (the precursor to Santa Claus) crept down their chimney and generously filled their stockings with gold coins.

There are two competing claims as to which president was the first to place a Christmas tree in the White House. Some scholars say President Franklin Pierce did in 1856; others say President Benjamin Harrison brought in the first tree in 1889. President Coolidge started the White House lighting ceremony in 1923.

President Teddy Roosevelt, an environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912.

It is estimated that the single “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin is the best selling single of all time, with over 100 million sales worldwide.

There are approximately 21,000 Christmas tree farms in the United States. In 2008, nearly 45 million Christmas trees were planted, adding to the existing 400 million trees.

The first person to decorate a Christmas tree was reportedly the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546). According to legend, he was so moved by the beauty of the stars shining between the branches of a fir tree, he brought home an evergreen tree and decorated it with candles to share the image with his children.

The first printed reference to a Christmas tree was in 1531 in Germany.

Approximately 30-35 million real (living) Christmas trees are sold each year in the USA.

Christmas is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass,” which is derived from the Old English Cristes mæsse (first recorded in 1038).

The letter “X” in Greek is the first letter of Christ, and “Xmas” has been used as an abbreviation for Christmas since the mid 1500s.
In 1962, the first Christmas postage stamp was issued in the United States.

In Germany, Heiligabend, or Christmas Eve, is said to be a magical time when the pure in heart can hear animals talking.

The Viking god Odin is one precursor to the modern Santa Claus. According to myth, Odin rode his flying horse, Sleipnir (a precursor to Santa’s reindeer), who had eight legs. In the winter, Odin gave out both gifts and punishments, and children would fill their boots or stockings with treats for Sleipnir.

The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples. At Christmastime, medieval actors would use apples to decorate paradise trees (usually fir trees) during “Paradise Plays,” which were plays depicting Adam and Eve’s creation and fall.

Commissioned by Sir Henry Cole (1808-1883), British illustrator John Callcott Horsley (1817-1903) invented the first Christmas card in 1843.

The Puritans in America banned all Christmas celebrations from 1659-1681 with a penalty of five shillings for each offense. Some Puritan leaders condemned those who favored Christmas as enemies of the Christian religion.

http://facts.randomhistory.com/christmas-facts.html

Happy Holidays, Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

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The Long Wet Summer.

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The Long Wet Summer.

It has been a long, wet summer. We have been busy trying to do outside chores like painting the house and staining the 3 decks in between outbursts of rain that seemed to last for days. It was a lesson in frustration to finish painting over 900 spindles, four sides, two coats, but it is done. The porch has been re-screened. The drive re-graveled. To that end, my focus has been on the home, not on writing. But the books call. And the geese are flying. And, while in other places of this glorious country the snow is already falling, here it is Indian Summer. My taste buds are preparing for pumpkin soup and banana nut bread. The fire has been laid for that first lighting. The plants brought in for wintering over. It is time to fire up the computer, re-read my manuscripts and dive headfirst into the wonderful world of imagination. I don’t intend to come up until Spring–well, except for hosting Thanksgiving dinner and a winter cruise with my sweetie. I can hardly wait to see where my stories will lead me next. Happy Autumn, everyone.

Feliz Navidad

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Memories

Memories

The segment of favorite Christmas memories on the Today Show made me reminisce about my favorite holiday escapades, none of which seem normal, healthy or safe by today’s standards.

Top of my list is the winter of 1975. My husband and I and our three small children were traveling like gypsies about the southern United States in a 1949 Mac bus that we had converted to a home-away-from-home by means of removing the seats and decorating it like a house. It was marvelously comfortable with an oriental carpet, a mohair sofa and an antique propane gas heater. We had curtains and beds and a perfectly suitable kitchen. Our cruise control was a broom handle my husband jammed between the dash and gas pedal. I sat next to him as he drove, perched on a kitchen stool on the top step of the folding door entrance.

The weather was balmy and breezy; a welcome change from the snow in New York as we rumbled along Route 10 through Pascagoula and Biloxi. We were stunned by hurricane-ravaged mansions in Gulfport. Our first look at New Orleans was thrilling. Baton Rouge was beautiful. Before we got to Beaumont, Texas, all three kids had come down with chickenpox.

We headed south to Brownsville via Route 59, the most desolate, flat stretch of road I’ve ever seen. Our only breaks were occasional pit stops at rest areas where poisonous snake warnings scared us so bad we carried the kids to the restrooms. We stopped alongside the road to cut down a short, scraggly pine for our Christmas tree.

On Christmas Eve we crossed the Los Indios International Bridge from Brownsville into Matamoros, Mexico. In Matamoros traffic was stationary. The roads were parking lots of merrymakers. We inched our way in that lumbering bus past tiny cars, bicycles and pedestrians until we saw an opportunity to break out of line by turning down a side road. The street was narrow, the corner tight. People jammed the sidewalks making it difficult to maneuver the right-hand turn.

Halfway through the turn the mass of folks on the corner stepped back to reveal what must have once been a sign post. All that remained was the twisted, broken four foot high steel pole that caught the rear door of our bus and ripped it off with a screech of metal that silenced several hundred revelers for the space of a heartbeat.

Our bus was impaled. Toys fell from where they had been hidden in the rear bench seat through the gaping hole onto the sidewalk where they were immediately pounced upon. Folks started fighting each other for the privilege of reaching into the exposed interior of our home-away-from-home and grabbing anything they could touch. Only the fact my husband was about a foot taller than most of them, and he carried a big stick (our cruise control) kept them at bay long enough for him to rock that bus free, grab our mangled door and skedaddle.

We headed for a barren field where we parked the bus as the sun was sinking. To the right, in the far distance, we could barely see the ambient glow of Matamoros. To the left, lights glimmered from a lone house about a quarter of a mile away. Music, interspersed with celebratory gunshots and the sounds of revelry drifted faintly across the dark field from the house.  

I was suitably impressed when my hero duct-taped the door to the bus as best he could. Twilight disappeared. Stars lit the heavens. We turned on the transistor radio and listened to Christmas music in Spanish as we hung ornaments on the tree in our brightly-lit bus. We were anxious to get our scabby little kids to sleep so we could bring out what remained of their presents to wrap.

But the shots got closer. And through the darkness we saw a group of men coming across the field towards our bus, which must have looked like a Boeing 747, all lit up, sitting in the middle of about a hundred bare acres. The men got nearer. The shots got louder. Their voices got angrier.

“Honey,” I said. “I think we should vamanos!” And so we did. We shut off the lights, started that bus and took off so fast the tree fell over and ornaments and kids tumbled around the floor as we bumped our way through that field towards the lights of Matamoros. It wasn’t enough to get out of the field. We wanted out of Mexico.

We made our way back to Brownsville where we spent the rest of Christmas Eve in a campground that was so full, they had us parked in yet another field. We righted the tree and re-hung the ornaments. Afterwards, we stuffed ourselves on corn-husk-wrapped enchiladas we bought from an old Mexican peddler. Then we tucked in the kids and settled down to wrap their presents and enjoy the remainder of one of the most memorable Christmas Eves we would ever experience.

We went back into Mexico on Christmas Day and spent the next few weeks having insanely exhilarating adventures on that bus. The only token I still have from that escapade is a tiny straw hat I keep in my jewelry box.

To this day, the aroma of diesel fuel sends me into a transcendental state.

Happy Holidays, Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

Life’s A Beach and about to get worse.

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Today I am featured on Jayne Ormerod’s Life’s A Beach Blog. The interview was fun, and the music fantastic! Just in time to accompany me as I pick up every piece of outdoor furniture, my potted plants, mowers, garden tools, split fire wood and anything else that might float away when Sandy hits town. Oh, and I can’t forget my Lava Rocks. Every time it floods here, I find them in the woods when the water receeds. This time I might just put them in my livingroom for the duration. Stay safe out there.

Check out my interview:

http://www.jayneormerod.blogspot.com

Yankee Belle

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ImageI was born and raised in upstate New York. Summers were spent at our cottage on Devil’s Lake in Ontario. As kids, my bothers, sister and I spent most of our time catching greenies (leopard frogs) for bait. We had our own row boat and we were proud as punch the bluegills we caught became the staple of our meals. My parents caught headier stuff: bass the size of my dog, 3 ft walleyes. I remember the time Mom hooked something so big even Dad couldn’t help her bring it up. It dragged our anchored boat around so long he finally cut the line. Imagine what it could have been.

As the years passed I found myself spending more time curled up with a good book than in the boat with my siblings.  I read Gone With The Wind every summer. I devoured Welty, Faulkner, Lee. By the time I became an adult I was irrevocably in love with all things Southern.

It just so happened my husband and I eventually moved our family to Virginia and I settled in for a lifetime of learning all the mysterious, romantic ways of the South. I couldn’t wait to experience slow turning ceiling fans on huge white porches, Mint Juleps, straw hats, BBQs, fish fries, shady magnolias, hot, white sand beneath my feet. (In those precious moments of relaxation between working a full time job and raising three kids, of course.) Somewhere inside this hardworking northern wife and mother beat the heart of a soft-spoken southern belle. (Those who know me, please do not snort.)

My hubby had other plans for our leisure time. Fishing! Fine with me. That fit perfectly into my fish fry plan. And, after all, we did live on the Chesapeake Bay. We could catch fish here much bigger than those my parents caught in Canada.

We bought an 18 foot, ten- year-old tri-hull boat. I found recipes for hush puppies and coleslaw. Then we went to Sears, to the sporting department, and placed our inexperienced-with-all-things-southern selves in the hands of a very knowledgeable salesman. He sold us two fiberglass rods designed for 60 – 80 lb line. Mine was candy apple red. They were as big around as small trees. The line was as thick as clothes line. We bought industrial strength two speed Penn reels that cost more than our boat.  All things our trusted salesman assured us we needed to catch the “big ones”.

To complete our purchase, we bought a dozen or so lures that looked like they belonged on the Muppet show, treble hooks you could hang hams from and assorted weights larger than those on our diving belts. Add to that several knives and pliers, plastic bait, nets, rigs and a can of powder that would stain the waters yellow in case we fell overboard reeling in a “big one”. We were ready to fish on the Chesapeake Bay.

Now our idea of fishing was to sit in a boat on water with our bait dangling just off the bottom, and wait for something huge to bite. Yuh Huh.  We did just that. The poles and assorted accoutrements were so heavy I asked my hubby to keep that can of powder handy. If the pole went down due to it’s shear weigh, I was following it. After all, I was (barely) holding almost a month’s mortgage in equipment. We caught and threw away several 1 – 2 lb silvery fish that made grunting noises, some stonefish that didn’t look edible and fish with spots. We had no idea what they were, but they were not “big ones”. In fact, most of the fish were smaller than our reels. One trip out was all it took to realize we had been hooked by a Sears salesman.

Eventually we made friends with folks who fish these waters. Friendly people who did not mind showing us the ropes, and who refrained from laughing their butts off at us. We learned we could catch yummy spot and croaker just fine with lightweight rods and blood worms or squid. And we did have those fish fries.

I now own one of those porches with several slow-turning ceiling fans, shaded by the required magnolia tree. Although I’ve never had a Mint Julep, I’ve burned my feet many times on that hot sand.  I’ve recently posted a Facebook photo of myself in a huuuuge red straw hat. What fun!  And I’ve learned to make southern pulled pork BBQ to die for. But neither of us has yet hooked the “big one”. Those poles and reels are hanging like ornamentation from the ceiling of our tool shed. The lures and tackle have rusted into a tangled lump of faded plastic and metal that might, in some circles, be considered folk art.

And I have learned over time I will never be considered a Southern Lady. I will always be simply a “Come Here.” But that’s okay, life is good.

http://srarey.bravehost.com