Unexpected Origins of Christmas

I had a bit of an unusual upbringing, religion-wise. My parents were both lapsed Catholics by way of 70’s-era hippie-inspired Buddhism, with a generous helping of mid-90’s Wicca to further complicate the mix. I was raised in a household that celebrated God, the Goddess, saints, fairies, reincarnation, Greek mythology, the full moon, Hanukkah, transcendental meditation, Sufi dancing, and Christmas. We learned a lot about all religions, without ever really ascribing to any particular one ourselves.

It may sound confusing, but in all honesty it was freeing. Throughout my childhood, I was able to experience elements of all global religions without the pressure to worship anything at all. Religious belief was more of a scholarly pursuit to me, and I was able to hand-pick the elements of religion I felt personally drawn to, and reject the ones I didn’t.

What resulted is a lifelong fascination with religion. The winter holiday season is an especially compelling topic for me, partially because I love Christmas but also because holiday-wise, Christmas is one of the most complex in terms of its religious roots. Whenever a conservative pundit cries “War on Christmas” I have to laugh, because so much of what we consider to be “Christmas” is, in fact, not very Christian at all.

Midwinter Madness

The most ancient and perhaps most important precursor to Christmas is, of course, the winter Solstice–the longest night of the year, before the earth slowly tilts back toward the sun. Most human cultures have celebrated midwinter in some form or another–Shab-e Yalda, Toji, and Dong-Zhi are just a few of the non-Western traditions surrounding the Solstice.

For the ancient Romans, this midwinter festival was called Saturnalia, named for the god Saturn. Saturnalia was celebrated by feasts, the giving of gifts, and symbolic role-reversals. 700 years after Saturnalia was first celebrated, on December 25th, the Emperor Aurelian consecrated the temple of Sol Invictus, creating a holiday called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – the Birthday of the Sun – officially elevating the Sun to the highest position among the gods.

It wasn’t til around 350 AD that Pope Julius I officially declared December 25th to mark the birth of Christ. There was no evidence that was the actual day of birth; to the contrary, the gospel of Luke, says: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Shepherds usually watch their flock by night during lambing season, which is the spring. Hmmmm….

O Tannenbaum

As early Christians moved into Northern Europe and introduced the story of Christ to the native Germanic and Celtic peoples, the practices of Christmas were influenced by the practices of those peoples for their winter solstice holidays. Traditions like the Yule log, mistletoe, tree decorating, and evergreen wreaths were soon absorbed or combined with existing Christian beliefs.

One anecdote tells of Germanic tribes who worshipped coniferous trees in winter, believing that their ever-green leaves spoke of a supernatural holiness. Saint Boniface supposedly came upon one such ritual, and wanting to evangelize to the locals, directed their attention to a spruce tree, whose triangular shape more closely resembled the Holy Trinity. Some say this is the origin of our modern-day Christmas tree!

Very Merry Gentleman (and Ladies)

Modern-day Christmas is very subdued compared to Medieval celebrations of the holiday (even if you enjoy your eggnog!). After a month-long period of fasting and penitence, the 12 Days of Christmas were a truly festive time of feasting and revelry, lasting from Christmas Eve until Epiphany. One tradition involved drunks (often dressed as the opposite gender) running down the streets and banging on doors, demanding to be fed lest they loot the house. This two-week bender was so despicable to some that the Puritans attempted to have Christmas banned altogether in 17th century England!

Thanks, Pop Culture

The Puritans thankfully couldn’t keep Christmas at bay forever. But Christmas was primed for a reinvention, and the Victorians happily obliged. So many of the things we associate with Christmas today were popularized by the Victorians: colorful toys, wrapping paper, Christmas cards, and caroling were all part of the new old holiday.

But two seminal works of literature really brought Christmas into the modern era. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, helped transform Santa Claus from a minor 4th century saint (sometimes associated with Odin himself) into the chimney-spelunking, jolly old elf we all know today. Then, Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel A Christmas Carol (reportedly conceived for the author to make a quick buck) redefined the holiday as a sentimental time of family, food, and good-feeling.

And as a more secular version of Christmas gained in popularity the world over, the more prosaic forces of capitalism and pop culture took the reins. From Coca-Cola’s famous reinvention of Santa Claus as a red-suited jocular old man, to Bing Crosby’s war-nostalgia musical White Christmas, to the Hallmark Channel’s derivative holiday movie spam, Christmas in any era can start to feel too commercialized. But in reality, Christmas is a celebration that has its origins in humanity’s earliest cultures, gathering new meanings and rituals through time. And when you strip away all the cultural trappings, this winter festival celebrates what winter festivals have always celebrated: the triumph of light over darkness and the strength of the human spirit.

And that, my friends, is the meaning of Christmas.

In the Mood for a Holiday Read? Try a Christmas Anthology!

So, a Christmas anthology that I’m  part of, Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, was just published this past Sunday. I’m really excited because I’ve wanted to be part of an anthology since I was a teenager and read Return to Avalon, an Arthurian anthology. It always felt like it would be such an honor to be asked to write alongside others in your field, and it is! I don’t normally write short, but I challenged myself and managed it – hopefully well. You can be the judge.

There are several cool aspects to this anthology:

  1. All of the stories tie into previously published books by the authors. So, for example, mine is about Victoria Woodhull and crew, who are featured in Madame Presidentess.
  2. It is multi-genre, so there should be something in there for everyone. We have women’s fiction, crime thriller, fantasy (epic, urban and contemporary), historical, romance (contemporary and dark), mystery (cozy and general), humor and LGBT stories.
  3. All proceeds benefit Life After, a charity dedicated to educating about and helping those who suffer from suicide, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

My Story: A Vanderbilt Christmas
In 1872, Victoria Woodhull made history by becoming the first woman to run for president of the United States. But four years earlier she was still struggling to overcome her shameful past and establish herself in New York’s high society. She has finally secured an entre into that glittering world by way of an invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. But when her uncouth family crashes the party and threatens to send her social status spiraling, it will take a Christmas miracle to recover her reputation and keep her dreams on track.

My story is a tie-in to my biographical historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess. Victoria Woodhull may seem like an odd choice for a Christmas story, and I agree. Actually, she wasn’t my first choice. I had two drafts of stories involving Guinevere from my Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy Arthurian legend novels. But given our strict word limit, I was having problems explaining the Celtic winter solstice rituals and telling my story in the allotted space. Anything winter solstice or even early Christian Christmas is so different from what we know today that I didn’t want to risk not doing the stories justice. (For example, in fifth century Christianity, there was no Advent season yet and the Christmas celebration actually included three different Masses, each with their own symbolism and meaning.)

Then I remembered that one of the scenes I deleted from Madame Presidentess took place at Christmas. (It involved Cornelius Vanderbilt asking Victoria’s sister, Tennie, to marry him, which really did happen. She had to say no because she was already married to a gambler who abandoned her. Seriously, history is stranger than fiction.) This was a much better choice because the Victorian period is when some of our most beloved Christmas traditions became popular: Queen Victoria made Christmas trees a widespread thing, Christmas cards began being sent in the mail, and Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol.

As it turned out, the story I submitted was totally different from the scene I started with, but it got me on the right track. And I had a lot of fun researching what was served at Victorian Christmas dinners, what people wore and what the decor would have looked like. If you want a sneak peek into my brain, check out my Pinterest board on the story. (That hideous plaid dress is what Victoria’s mom wore to the party.)

I ended up placing the story right when Victoria and Tennie were starting to become comfortable in their life working with Cornelius Vanderbilt. Victoria is ambitious as always and she sees her coveted invitation to Christmas Eve dinner at Mr. Vanderbilt’s mansion as a way for her to get a foot in the door with the New York elite, whom she longs to be a part of. But as happened so many times during her life, Victoria’s low-class family comes along and nearly ruins it by inviting themselves to the dinner. You’ll have to read the story to find out how, but it involves a brawl, a fire and some stolen Christmas gifts…

As usual, when Victoria’s family is around, trouble is sure to follow.

Order your copy today! But hurry, the paperback price goes up next week! Remember, all proceeds go to charity.

Yuletide

So I’m not gonna lie; I had no idea what to write for today’s post. It’s probably the stress of waiting for next week to see what’s going to happen in the world. But. We’ve agreed not to get political on here, so that leave me wondering what the holly to write.

We’re ten days away from Christmas Eve, so I guess I should be talking about something holiday related, right?

This week I was very excited to join The Young Podawans on their episode talking about the various creepy Santa Claus’–giving a little extra time to my favorite: Krampus. If you’ve got time, I really hope you’ll check out the episode.

Speaking of Krampus, I have my own story featuring the grinning devil as the Big Bad. The third book in my Matilda Kavanagh Series: Yuletide. The story is episodic enough that, if you haven’t read the first two, I don’t think you’d be lost if you wanted to pick up a creepy and fun Christmastime read. It explores the crazy scene of the Krampus Los Angeles Fest while giving a moment to wonder what has become of the demigod. I also try to shed some light on some of our appropriated holiday traditions, so hopefully it’s entertaining and informative and funny and creepy all at once!

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yuletide

If you think you might want to pick it up, here’s a little taste featuring our favorite witch explaining the real tradition behind “kissing” under the mistletoe…

Copyright Shauna Granger 2014

“Something was happening behind the bank of registers, but I couldn’t tell what. I leaned forward to hear what they were tittering about, but then a man stepped in front of me, so close that he popped my bubble of personal space. He looked human enough in his tennis shoes, jeans, and grey Black Witch White Magic T-shirt. But looks were deceiving. His aura pulsed against mine so that my senses were filled with the feeling of open spaces, the scent of bark and grass, and the warmth of sunshine. But under all that was the push of primal, animalistic allure. Tree nymph.

I jerked back and hissed, “Toads!”

“Well,” he said, dragging the word out with a waggle of eyebrows. “What do you say to a little Yuletide cheer?” He leered at me, leaning in and giving his head a shake so that bells jingled overhead.

I looked up, feeling my face pull in a grimace as I eyed the mistletoe and bells attached to his Santa hat by a thin wire. “Oh good gods.” I leaned back, almost touching the guy in line behind me as I tried to put some space between me and the randy nymph.

“Whaddya say? Bet a pretty little witch like you could really renew my Christmas spirit.”

He winked at me, and I felt as though I was trapped in some sort of cheesy vaudeville act. Even the bouncy version of “Mr. Heatmiser” overhead added to the surreal moment. The nymph wiggled his hips to make the bells jingle again, and I knew he wasn’t asking for a kiss.

“Seriously? You think it’s okay to talk to women like that? Beat it, creep,” I said with a flick of my fingers, zapping him with a controlled flash of power.

It snapped at his face, making him yelp and jump back. A hand flew to his face as if I’d slapped him. I kinda wished I had.

“There are kids around here, for the love of frogs!” I pointed at the crying child and her mother, who was now sitting on the floor with her, defeated.

“Take it easy,” he said, all good humor gone from his face and voice. “Just a little joke.”

“Yeah, real funny.” I threatened him with another jolt of power, but he turned and ran before I could zap him. I heard a snicker behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see a guy with just one small box in his hand.

“Sorry,” he said, putting up his empty hand in surrender. “But why did you say there were kids around? I know he was being gross, but it’s just a kiss.”

I eyed him for a moment, letting my aura touch his. He was just a human on the supernatural side of town. “It’s not, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Humans think it’s just a quick, innocent kiss, but really the tradition is a lot more…” I paused to think of the right word. “Uh, graphic, if you get my meaning.”

He furrowed his brow, so I lifted mine, giving him a pointed look. His eyes went wide and I knew he got what I meant.

“Wait, you mean…?”

“Down and dirty,” I said with a nod. “In front of people usually.”

“Whoa.”

“Right.” I bent over to pick up my items, seeing a register clearing.

I watched the guy’s eyes dart over to a display of joke mistletoe items. Some were innocent enough, like the cheesy Santa hat the nymph wore, but others were less discreet, like the ones that hooked onto a belt buckle so the mistletoe hung right in front of…

“Happy holidays!” I said, overly cheery, as I walked away from the dumbstruck human.”

Favorite Holiday Reads

The air is chilly and smells of pine needles and frost and woodsmoke. Christmas lights are strung in the boughs of trees and holiday carols jingle from storefronts. Shoppers bustle to and fro, clutching brightly colored bags and packages. Where ever you live, or which ever holiday you celebrate, it’s wintertime once more. And you need a good wintry book to curl up in front of a fireplace with.

Well, get that mug of hot cocoa ready, because I’ve got you covered. The holiday season is definitely my favorite time of year, and there’s nothing I love more than getting lost in a great book that reflects the season. But who wants to read A Christmas Carol again? Not me, and not you. So here’s a selection of my favorite books with  Christmas/holiday/solstice/winter themes! Enjoy!

The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper

In this fantastic coming-of-age adventure, Will longs for snow on the eve of his 11th birthday, which falls on the night of the winter solstice. But little does he know that with the snow comes a life-changing destiny–he has been chosen to fight in the ancient battle against the menacing forces of darkness.

Quote: “The snow lay thin and apologetic over the world. That wide grey sweep was the lawn, with the straggling trees of the orchard still dark beyond; the white squares were the roofs of the garage, the old barn, the rabbit hutches, the chicken coops. Further back there were only the flat fields of Dawson’s farm, dimly white-striped. All the broad sky was grey, full of more snow that refused to fall. There was no colour anywhere.”

Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater

In this atmospheric, gorgeous teen romance, Grace can’t wait for the snow to fall so that her strange-eyed wolf will return to the woods behind her home. But even as temperatures drop, long-cold secrets begin to thaw….

Quote: “As the hours crept by, the afternoon sunlight bleached all the books on the shelves to pale, gilded versions of themselves and warmed the paper and ink inside the covers so that the smell of unread words hung in the air.”

whitewitch3The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

Narnia is plunged in what may possibly be the longest Advent season ever by the dread White Witch. Revisit this childhood favorite for Turkish Delight, snow-covered forests, talking animals, and the long awaited return of Father Christmas.

Quote: The Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon, which, when opened, turned out to contain several pounds of the best Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.

The Dead, by James Joyce

This long-ish short story is rich, sad and wonderful, touching on mortality, love, family. The clink of glasses, melancholy Irish songs, and drunken relations–isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Quote: “His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

A darker, more serious option for your reading pleasure. Although the story isn’t consigned to the holiday season, Tartt includes many poignant, stunning descriptions of Christmas and the winter season.

Quote: “Hordes of people in the street, lighted Christmas trees sparkling high on penthouse balconies and complacent Christmas music floating out of shops, and weaving in and out of crowds I had a strange feeling of being already dead, of moving in a vaster sidewalk grayness than the street or even the city could encompass, my soul disconnected from my body and drifting among other souls in a mist somewhere between past and present.”

Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield may be a confused, emotionally inept jerk, but everyone needs to follow him around New York City at Christmastime while he complains about phonies at least once.

Quote: “I said old Jesus probably would’ve puked if He could see it – all those fancy costumes and all. Sally said I was a sacrilegious atheist. I probably am. The thing Jesus really would’ve liked would be the guy who plays the kettle drums in the orchestra.”

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

In this seminal science fiction novel, a human envoy to an alien planet must trek through a hostile winter-scape to complete his mission. A meditation on gender, love, and ultimately, humanity itself.

Quote: “It is a terrible thing, this kindess that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because when we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. We who are so rich, so full of strength, we end up with that small change. We have nothing else to give. ”

Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell

In this semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in Cold War era England, Mitchell includes many gorgeous and haunting descriptions of winter and the holiday season.

Quote: “The ice shrucked me off my feet. For a helterskeltery moment I was in midair at an unlikely height. Bruce Lee doing a karate kick, that high. I knew it wasn’t going to be a soft landing but I hadn’t guessed how painful a slam it’d be. The crack shattered from my ankle to my jaw to my knuckles, like an ice cube plopped into warm squash. No, bigger than an ice cube. A mirror, dropped from Skylab height. Where it hit the earth, where it smashed into daggers and thorns and invisible splinters, that’s my ankle. I spun and slid to a shuddery stop by the edge of the lake.”

hogwarts-christmasHarry Potter Series, J. K. Rowling

I’ll never forget getting Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone for Christmas when I was twelve. I read it in one sitting, curled in front of a roaring fire. Although each book encompasses a whole school year, some of my favorite Potter moments are at Christmas time: Ron and Harry swapping chocolate frogs and wearing Mrs Weasley’s ugly jumpers, the Yule Ball, Christmas feasts and Wizard Crackers.

Quote: “One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”

That’s all, folks! And don’t forget to check out fellow Scribe’s new Matilda Kavanagh book, Yuletide! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice, and Happy New Year!

The Celtic Roots of Christmas

A ruined battlement of Roslin Castle
A ruined battlement of Roslin Castle

Last year I spent the Christmas season in Roslin Castle, a partially ruined castle near the village of Roslin, in the Midlothian area of Scotland. Owned by the noble Sinclair family since the 1330s, Roslin Castle has been destroyed and rebuilt time and again, a stalwart structure standing tall against the tides of history and politics. And half a mile from the castle stands Rosslyn Chapel.

If you’ve ever read The DaVinci Code, you’ve heard of Rosslyn Chapel–the chapel features prominently in Brown’s version of the Holy Grail myth. Founded in 1446 and admired throughout Britain for the complexity of its architecture, the chapel has purported ties to both the Knights Templar and the Freemasons.

The intricate carvings throughout the chapel present a number of mysteries. For instance, amidst the traditional Christian iconography are several carvings of maize and aloe vera, although Columbus had not yet discovered the Americas at the time of the chapel’s construction. One particularly detailed column is said to have been carved by an apprentice mason after a vivid dream, but when his master saw the column he flew into a jealous rage and killed his apprentice on the spot. But perhaps most puzzling is the series of carvings of the pagan icon known as the Green Man, a bearded figure peering from foliage with vegetation coming out of his mouth.

Lady Chapel, inside Rosslyn
Lady Chapel, inside Rosslyn

Though I am not religious, I do love Christmas, so I was excited to attend the midnight Christmas service at Rosslyn Chapel. And while I listened to the familiar story of the birth of Christ, and sang the lovely traditional carols of the holiday season, I found my eyes returning again and again to the haunting faces of the Green Man, staring down at me from the ceiling. Why was this Celtic god of fertility featured so prominently in a Christian building? I wondered.

The truth is, many of the things I love about Christmas and the holiday season are rooted deeply in the Celtic tradition. When Christianity began to spread into Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the 5th century, many pagan traditions native to to the peoples of the land found their way into the discourse and traditions of the new religion. Scholars have even theorized that the date of Christ’s birth, December 25th, was moved to align with the winter solstice, a day of celebration for most pre-Christians.

Numerous Christmas rituals trace their origins back to the Celtic tradition. European Holly, used in many holiday wreaths and featured in several Christmas carols, was sacred to druids for its associations with the winter solstice. Mistletoe represented the divine male essence to pre-Christians–romance, fertility, and vitality. Hence, kissing underneath the mistletoe! Celtic pre-Christians were also known for decorating evergreen boughs with ornaments symbolizing the sun, moon, stars, and the souls of the recently departed.

The Green Man
The Green Man

But perhaps most interesting is the pagan myth of the Oak King and the Holly King. Born at Midwinter, the Oak King (frequently depicted as the Green Man!) grows in power, ushering in the seasons of light and growth until Midsummer. But the Oak King’s strength wanes as the light dims, and the Holly King matures, remaining green and bright even in the darkest days of winter. The Oak King, born at the Winter Solstice and bringer of the light, closely parallels the story of Jesus’s birth. And the Holly King, in his full power at Midwinter, is said by some to be an early precursor of Santa Claus, who was originally depicted in England and Ireland as wearing a dark green cloak.

In winter, pre-Christians celebrated the return of the light and the eternal cycle of nature. Christmas, symbolically, celebrates much the same thing. I think those talented masons at Rosslyn Chapel sought to celebrate the old traditions embedded in Christianity in the carvings of the Green Man. So hang your mistletoe, pin a star on your evergreen, and honor the birth of both the Christ child and the Oak King!

Drum Up The Sun

night sky looking towards Orion
night sky looking towards Orion (Photo credit: kronerda)

This time of year is a dark, quiet one. The sun rises late and sets early — and in some places, it hides its face from night and day alike.

We try to fill the void of the sun with colored lights and candles, festive trees and bright decorations. It’s a time of year when the night rules the calendar. The symbolism in the many holidays that cluster around midwinter is rife with images of renewal, rebirth, of beginnings. The New Year, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hannukah — all these holidays are rooted in light, hope, and the start of something new even when they look toward the past.

Frankly, this winter has gotten off to an awful start for me. As of writing this, I have been sick for over three weeks. It started with a sore throat and stuffy nose and morphed into a racking cough, followed by earaches and a resurgence of symptoms. Pneumonia. Bronchitis. Sinusitis. Ear infections. I’ve had all of that since Thanksgiving.

It’s been a time where my husband and I had thought we were at financial rock bottom — only to find out that we had pickaxes in hand and were hacking away at the ground beneath our feet. I had to humble myself and ask for help. Publishing grinds to a halt, and my inbox has been a world of silence on my many queries.

And Sunday was the year anniversary of my cousin’s tragic death, the memory of which has fogged my emotions with the smoke of grief that still hasn’t faded. One of my closest childhood friends lost someone he loved on Sunday in an eerie parallel to what happened to my family one year ago.

Friday was a day none of us will easily forget. A day when we were reminded that no matter how much joy exists, there are people who cannot or will not drink from that cup and instead sow anguish and reap nothing but death.

The holidays will forever bear deep sorrow for Newtown, Connecticut and for the families who will spend these days crumpled by the agony of 26 small children and adults snuffed out from our world forever.

 

Bear with me. There’s a point buried under all these Job-like afflictions.

This is a dark time, both literally and figuratively.

But you know what they say about the darkest hour.

Three days from now will be the darkest day of the year. The sun will rise at 7:23 AM EST and set at 4:50 PM EST. It will be the longest night.

Five years ago, I had just returned from Poland. It was one of the darkest times in my memory. I had left a place I loved and come back to a city I didn’t want to call home. And on 22 December, I bundled up early in my warmest clothes and drove my sputtering, 15-year-old Nissan Sentra up to Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Winter at Red Rocks
Winter at Red Rocks (Photo credit: mattsantomarco)

I gathered there with about fifty other people. Most of them had drums. And as the sky began to pale with the shy blush of the returning sun, the drums began to thrum. They started slow and sleepy, dimmed to a muted hush.

As the sky grew brighter over the Denver skyline and the flatlands of eastern Colorado beyond, the beat turned to a pulse. The cloud-dotted expanse above turned from jewel blue to pastel to the crystal white of milky quartz. The first golden rays of the newborn sun reached shining fingers over the frozen foothills, and the pulse quickened in both drums and veins until hands beat drum-skin and knees alike, lit with the fire of the world of day given first breath.

English: Christmas Dawn The sun rises late in ...
English: Christmas Dawn The sun rises late in midwinter this far north. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A month ago when we discussed the topic for this round of posts, I knew I would write a solstice post. I didn’t know just how much life would emulate the darkening celestial events. For many people, this time of year means deep pain. Loneliness and sadness, loss and grief.

But beyond the bustle of holidays and buying gifts, beyond seasonal depression or tragedy, the sun will return.

Whether you believe in the birth of the Christ child to a virgin or the festival of lights or if you track the sun’s path as it falls through a cross-shaped constellation before rising anew — whoever you worship or not at all, the sun will return.

It will warm the planet and birth new life. It will brighten the skies and nourish our bodies. The sun will return.

The darkest hour…

Well. You know the rest.

The Woes of Being a Christmas Baby

707Christmastime, Yuletide, Solstice, Birthday.

Oh yes, I have the unfortunate luck of being a Christmas Baby. I wasn’t born near Christmas, or the day before or the day after. No, no… I was born ON Christmas day. What really sucks is that I was actually two weeks late so I could’ve been born with a nice little cushion between me and that fateful day, but no. I guess, even then, I loved Christmas so much that I hung on until that day.

Yes, I love Christmas. I love the Solstice and Yuletide and everything it’s supposed to be about. No, I’m not going to get into the religious aspects versus the commercialism, don’t worry. I just love giving presents, the anticipation, the thought and even the kindness most of us remember to keep in mind as we go about our day to day lives during this time. I pull out our decorations the day after Thanksgiving and put up our tree and start making homemade presents and try to make the holiday last as long as possible.

But I kind of hate having my birthday on this awesome holiday. Let me explain why so, if you happen to have any friends or family who have this craptastic birthday too, you can have some sympathy for them.

Now, it has nothing to do with being the kid who never gets to have their mother bring in cupcakes for the whole class to pause and celebrate with you in grade school. No, because every kid born during the summer months has that issue too. But you are the kid that doesn’t really get to have a birthday party because so many of your friends are out of town or parents are too busy to bring them by. But that’s okay; you get over that as you get older.

One of the big issues is those jerks that whisper to you, “This present? This is for both your birthday AND Christmas,” as they hand you your present with a little wink. I get it, okay? It’s rough having to buy someone two presents during the gift giving season, but I’ll tell you, I’d rather you tell me, “This is your birthday present, sorry, couldn’t afford to get you a Christmas present as well.” Or vice versa. There’s no shame in that. But this dual gift crap? No. Because all I want to do is whisper back to you, “Remember that birthday present I gave you in June? Yeah, that was for both.” And then keep the Christmas present I got you for myself.

But I’ll tell you, I’ll take the dual present crap over the forgetfulness. Oh yeah. This is a big reason why I hate having my birthday on Christmas: PEOPLE ALWAYS FORGET. Of course I think a lot of the time, that “this present is for both” deal is actually people forgetting it’s your birthday and they’re just trying to cover their ass. I don’t need presents or cards, I’m an adult, but in this day of Facebook reminders, unlimited text messaging and minutes how hard is it to simply say, “Happy Birthday!”? Apparently, it’s pretty damn hard. A lot of people forget their Christmas-baby-friend’s birthdays. EVEN WHEN YOU SEE THEM ON CHRISTMAS DAY, LOOK THEM IN THE FACE AND SAY, “MERRY CHRISTMAS!” That always kills me. It’s awkward and really, it hurts. Just remember to say, “Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas!” It’s not hard.

But the biggest part that sucks? I love Christmas. Yeah, that’s it. I love Christmas and I don’t want to take away from that day with having a birthday. I know, it’s weird, all that ranting and I don’t want to share the day. But it’s because your birthday is your own, just for you, but Christmas is supposed to be for everyone. So you either go from not having a special time for yourself, or interrupting everyone else’s special day with your birthday. Again, awkward.

So I guess, all I’m really saying is, it’s not our fault that we’re born on Christmas but we don’t want to be forgotten either.

photo (10)

Do you have a craptastic birthday? Wanna share? Comment below for your chance to win a $50 Amazon Gift Card and three awesome ebooks by three amazing writers!

The Claymation Spirit

I love Christmas so much, I should have been born Claymation.

You can't see me, because I'm standing behind Blitzen.
You can’t see me, because I’m standing behind Blitzen.

Seriously, you guys. December is my absolute favorite month of the year. I put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving, I listen to all sorts of holiday music, and I tend to go a little nuts buying gifts for my husband, who has long since learned to stop trying to control my inner elf.

When I was a kid, my mom really did Christmas right. She made our house into a wonderland, she played music all through the house, she enlisted us to decorate cookies and leave them for Santa. We even had a homemade cloth advent calendar with a little teddy bear that moved from room to room in his house, looking for Christmas. It added a little wonder to every day in December.

But one of my very favorite parts of the season has always been watching Christmas movies, from the stopmotion classics to National Lampoon to Love Actually. Nothing else can get me in the holiday spirit faster than watching, say, A Christmas Story. There’s something about watching those kids tear into their loot that makes me feel like a kid again, and that’s what the holiday spirit is all about.

It’s that childlike glee and wonder, the possibility of magic and of dreams coming true if you just wait and hold your breath. Every day in December is full of anticipation: Will it snow? When can I move the teddy bear on the advent calendar? What’s in those mysterious, bright packages under the tree? What gorgeous lights and other small signs of real-life magic will I see today?

It’s the generosity and the kindness you see in the season, too, but it’s mostly the magic that makes me smile a little easier for a whole month.

What’s your favorite part of the holiday season? What really gets you into that holiday magic spirit? Any favorite holiday movies I haven’t listed here?