Monthly Archives: December 2018

Winter Solstice

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Winter Solstice Art

We all know that Christmas is on December 25, but do you know why?  It wasn’t necessarily because it was the date of the birth of Jesus (most biblical scholars think he was born in March, BTW).  The pagan winter solstice observances were bigger and more wide-spread, more popular and considered more important to most non-Christian cultures.  The Catholic church wanted to promote Christianity (and get rid of pagan religions) so the celebration of Christ’s Mass was chosen to be on December 25 and promoted as the birth of Christ.

The “sol” in Solstice is Latin for sun and the “stice” part comes from the Latin verb for standing still. We, in the modern age know about the solstices that happen twice a year and the equinoxes that occur twice a year as well (the equinoxes are when day and night are equal in length, which is what equinox means in Latin).  Cultures from the past weren’t aware of the reason for this phenomenon and so it took on a religious meaning.  The nights got longer and the days got shorter.  The longer nights got colder, generally, and plants died in the cold and dark.  Is it any wonder that older cultures created ceremonies to bring back the sun and the warmth and the growing season?  The northern pagans burned huge logs that last the midwinter celebrations, sometimes even saving a small last bit of the Yule log to burn in the next winter’s fire.  The ashes of the fire on the longest night became so special many claimed it had healing properties.  The livestock, cattle, pigs, chickens and other animals were often slaughtered around this time—they often would not make it through the harsh winter and much of the meat was preserved in salt. They had huge meals; sometimes it was the last of the vegetables as well as the meats, to celebrate the return of the sun.  Often the winter months brought famine to some parts of Europe.

A little history…

Saturnalia (1783) by Antoine Callet, showing his interpretation of what the Saturnalia might have looked like

Saturnalia was a Roman holiday, a festival that started off somber but became more and more raucous. In Scandinavia this festival was called Jul or Yule. The huge log burned to keep the long night lit became the Yule log.  (And in a roundabout way we now have a fabulous holiday desert called the Buc de Noel, which is shaped like a log.  It is made from chocolate cake, often decorated with marzipan mushrooms and covered in chocolate sauce.  Very decadent and it has been around for hundreds of years.)  Saturnalia was replaced with Christmas by the Catholic Church, to make it less pagan and to make it more solemn.  It took centuries, but Christmas eventually became so raucous that it was outlawed in the new world of America.

Another rival to Christmas was the celebration of the birth of Mithra, a sun god whose birth was celebrated by Romans all over the empire on December 25. Emperor Aurelian established December 25 as the birthday of the “Invincible Sun” or Mithra in the third century as part of the Roman Winter Solstice celebrations. In 273, the Christian church selected this day to represent the birthday of Jesus, and by 336, this Roman feast day was Christianized.

In Scandinavia, Yule is celebrated when the dark half of the year starts to get shorter  and the days start lasting a little longer.  The sun’s rebirth was celebrated with much joy. From this day forward, the days would become longer. Bonfires were lit in the fields, and crops and trees were wished good health with toasts of spiced cider.   The ceremonial Yule log was the highlight of the Solstice festival. In accordance to tradition, the log must either have been harvested from the householder’s land, or given as a gift… it must never have been bought. Once dragged into the house and placed in the fireplace it was decorated in seasonal greenery, doused with cider or ale, and dusted with flour before set ablaze by a piece of last year’s log.

Mistletoe

Caroling, wassailing the trees, burning the Yule log, decorating the Yule tree, exchanging of presents, kissing under the mistletoe were all activities that are still part of our Christmas traditions that came from celebrating the solstice.  Even the foods that we associate with solstice celebrations are similar.  Cider, spiced cider, ginger tea, eggnog, fall fruits and other spiced breads and cookies.

Interested in celebrating the solstice?  Try some of these ideas to start your own traditions of celebrating the rebirth of the sun.

  • Many people make a winter solstice tree by hanging food to feed the animals when their food supplies have become scarce on the winter solstice.
  • Make sun and or star ornaments to hang on your Christmas Tree to symbolize the return of the sun’s light.
  • Some people celebrate by staying up all night on the night of the solstice to be awake to welcome back the light.
  • Many people choose to not use electricity on the night of the solstice and instead enjoy the darkest night of the year by candlelight. Some people carry this tradition through to Christmas Eve.  Consider inviting friends and family over for a candlelight feast!
  • Eat, drink, and be merry! You can find recipes for wassail online, either spiked or unspiked to serve with your meal.
  • You could burn a bigger log than normal in the fire place.  You can also find a Yule Log online and watch it burn on your computer.  There are even videos you could purchase to have a crackling fire on cold winter nights.
  • Yule Log by Nigella.

    If you don’t have one, consider making a cake Yule Log.  The Buche de Noel is stunning and delicious.  Try some of these recipes:

  • Consider writing down everything that you would like to release or change in the new year onto scraps of paper, then throw them in the fire or burn them carefully in a safe container.
  • You could also write down your intentions for the new year, similar to a resolution.

And just to throw this in, in the southern hemisphere, they celebrate the summer solstice.  Here are some of the things they do that you might want to incorporate in the summer or the winter.

In the past, people in the Southern hemisphere celebrated renewal, life, fertility, and the potential for a good harvest on the summer solstice.  Today, many people often celebrate the arrival of summer with outdoor feasts, singing, dancing, and bonfires.  You might want to bathe in sunlight; make a flower wreath to wear; start a garden or spend time tending your garden and celebrate rebirth and renewal; visit a local farm, have a festival and feast; throw a bonfire and dance; do yoga or meditation; get outside and connect with nature.

In other countries there are many traditions to celebrate the solstice.  Here are a few of the most interesting.  Revelers come to Hollabrunn, Austria to watch people dressed up like Krampus scare the crowd.  They dress to look like Krampus and carry soft whips that they use on the crowds.  Doesn’t sound like fun to me, though.

In Japan, they like to soak in hot baths outside with fruits tossed into the water that are believed to bring good health.  Often the zoos do the same thing for the animals (those that like water, that is.)  The macaques and hippos sure do like it!

In Korea, the meal to eat is red bean porridge.  It’s believed to keep the evil spirits away.


Further Reading:

  • Winter solstice by Rosemund Pilcher (F PIL)
  • Winter solstice by Elin Hildenbrand (F HIL)
  • Krampus: the Yule lord by Brom (F BRA)

Sources:

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It’s the Time of the Season for … Solving Mysteries

by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department

Treetops, aflame. The air, crisp. Bonfires, hot cider, plaid shirts as far as the eye can see: classic signs of winter. Here’s one more timeless association for you: whodunits. Whether you’re into the classics, the creepies, or the cozies, winter is the perfect time of year to shroud yourself in Mystery.

Publishing professional Valerie Peterson divides the Mystery genre into four main types, and many subgenres. She starts with the types: Hard-Boiled (moody detectives and femmes fatales), Soft-Boiled (similar, but less explicitly violent or sexy), Cozy (Miss Marple and her descendants), and Procedural (thorough analysis of cops and crimes). Within those types, you may find any combination of hijinks and capers, amateur sleuths, local flavor, daunting puzzles, gritty detectives, historical figures, cats, romance, and more. [1]

Unless you simply “hate being titillated,” there’s bound to be a Mystery out there for you. Below, I’ve listed some of the genre’s best-loved authors, both classic and modern. Since mystery writers love to stick with their characters, I’ll sometimes include a character or series name rather than a book title.

(Quick note: some Mysteries have more intense content than others, especially if they cross into Thriller territory. If you’re concerned about potential triggers, check out a site like www.doesthedogdie.com, which helps you steer clear of certain content. You can also check out our blog post about cozy mysteries!)

 


Jennifer Finney BoylanLong Black Veil

K. Chesterton – Catholic priest and amateur detective Father Brown stars in 53 of Chesterton’s short stories.* Netflix has the BBC’s adaptation.

Agatha Christie – Christie’s 75 novels run the gamut from fun and cozy to truly chilling. Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, her two most famous characters, each appear in dozens of works. And Then There Were None is a must-read, but Christie named Ordeal by Innocence and Crooked House as her favorites among her own books.*

Mary Higgins ClarkWhere Are the Children?; A Stranger Is Watching; Loves Music, Loves to Dance

Harlan CobenTell No One; The Woods; Fool Me Once; the overlapping Myron Bolitar and Mickey Bolitar series (a sports agent and his nephew)

Wilkie CollinsThe Law and the Lady; The Moonstone; The Woman in White

Michael ConnellyHarry Bosch series. This bestselling police procedural series forms the basis for Amazon’s TV series, Bosch.

Deborah CrombieDuncan Kincaid & Gemma James series (Scotland Yard)

Colin DexterInspector Morse series (a senior criminal investigator who loves Wagner, cryptic crossword puzzles, and cask ale)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The character of Sherlock Holmes needs no introduction. Doyle’s non-Sherlockian mysteries include The Mystery of Cloomber, and short stories such as “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement.” *

Barry Eisler – Eisler is a former covert CIA operative, a trained lawyer, and a black belt martial artist. His three series each feature a different hero: assassin John Rain, black ops soldier Ben Treven, and SVU detective Livia Lone.

James Ellroy – The L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia; The Big Nowhere; L.A. Confidential; White Jazz)

Dashiell Hammett – Because of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and a host of series and short stories, The New York Times eulogized Hammett as “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”*

Kellye GarrettHollywood Homicide

Tess GerritsenThe Bone Garden

Lamar GilesOverturned (YA)

Alexia Gordon – The Gethsemane Brown Mysteries (an African-American classical musician)

Sue Grafton – Famous for her Alphabet Mystery series (A is for Alibi, etc.), Grafton passed away after completing Y is for Yesterday. “[As] far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y,” wrote Grafton’s daughter. [2]

Carl Hiaasen – “America’s finest satirical novelist” is a “laugh-out-loud funny and thoroughly entertaining” “master of the revenge fantasy.” [3] Try Tourist Season, Strip Tease, Skin Tight, or Double Whammy for a taste of his madcap, Florida-based mysteries.

Patricia Highsmith Strangers on a Train; Deep Water; The Glass Cell; The Talented Mr. Ripley

Tony HillermanLeaphorn & Chee series (Navajo Tribal Police)

Joe IdeIQ series (an unconventional, unofficial detective)

P. D. JamesDeath Comes to Pemberly; Adam Dalgliesh series (Scotland Yard)

Iris JohansenEve Duncan series (a forensic sculptor)

Ausma Zehanat KhanThe Unquiet Dead

Laurie R. KingMary Russell series (a teenage girl who becomes Sherlock Holmes’ apprentice)

Attica LockeJay Porter series (a struggling Texas lawyer)

Sujata MasseyPerveen Mistry series (historical fiction; India’s first female lawyer)

John MortimerHorace Rumpole is “an ageing London barrister who defends any and all clients.” [4]

Abir MukherjeeSam Wyndham (Scotland Yard, historical fiction)

Jo Nesbø – Brilliant and troubled, Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh) comes from Oslo, Norway, but his work takes him around the world. The series has been translated into English out of order; Hole first appears in The Bat.*

Leonardo Padura – The Mario Conde quartet is on Netflix as the Four Seasons in Havana miniseries.*

Sara Paretsky – Fierce, independent, and sharp, private detective V. I. Warshawski (Victoria) specializes in white-collar crime.

Louise PennyChief Inspector Gamache (character-driven, set in provincial Quebec)*

Dr. Kwei QuarteyDarko Dawson (a detective in Ghana)

Marcie RendonMurder on the Red River

Tess SharpeFar from You (YA)

George Simenon – Simenon’s legendary detective Jules Maigret has been portrayed by a wide range of actors, from Shakespearean stars (Charles Laughton) to slapstick comics (Rowan Atkinson). But why not picture him for yourself? He appears in 76 novels and 28 short stories.

Dwayne Alexander SmithForty Acres; The Unkind Hours

Sherry ThomasLady Sherlock series

Stephanie TromleyTrouble Is a Friend of Mine (YA)

Nicola UpsonJosephine Tey (British theatre in the 1930s)

Randy Wayne WhiteDoc Ford series (a marine biologist / ex-CIA)

 


Sources:

* indicates quotations and stats were taken from Wikipedia pages about the authors and/or their works

 

Grandfather Frost

by Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden

The Russians got used to not celebrating Christmas during the Soviet years; they celebrated New Year’s Day just like we celebrate Christmas.  Luckily for them there was a legendary figure who fit the bill as a Santa Claus figure to help celebrate New Year, and now also Christmas.  He’s known as Grandfather Frost (definitely not to be confused with Frosty the Snowman).  In Russian, he’s called Ded Moroz, “d’ed” being Grandfather, “moroz” being frost.  He is often accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden.  In Russian Snegurochka (just FIY – sneg is the Russian word for snow.)  And truly these are not modern figures made to help celebrate (and sell) a modern Christmas holiday.  They are ancient mythological figures.

Grandfather Frost predates Christianity.  In the pagan days, before the Russian tsar sent out envoys to compare the various religions in the area and chose the Greek Orthodox Church (choosing to differentiate their own version as Russian Orthodox), the peasants worshiped nature.  Frost and snow were very important in their lives, so they made a name for the frost lord.  He is a winter wizard who brought the frost and snow and he could be helpful if treated nicely, but vindictive if treated badly. Winter was a powerful figure in Russia; just look at what happened to both Napoleon and Hitler…

Troika

Frost is considered to be around 2,500 years old.  He usually wears a long red wool or fur robe and boots, but no belt.  He has a long bushy beard and sometimes wears a wreath of holly and sometimes a hat similar to our Santa Claus.  He has also been shown wearing a crown.  And he has powers.  He often carries a staff which he might use for magic spells and to help him walk through the snow drifts.  He doesn’t travel down chimneys either, he comes in through the front door.  He travels around in a troika; that’s a carriage driven by three horses (troika means three in Russian…). Even though there are caribou in some parts of Russia, they are not widespread enough for the legend of flying reindeer.  Though his troikas have been known to fly as well.

In 2002, a tradition was started between Finland and Russia where Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) crossed the border to greet Ded Moroz.  They hand out gifts to all, the crowd of children dance and then they all go inside and have fun.  We know that this Santa Summit was still taking place in 2016. Perhaps it still is.

The Snow Maiden is not as old a character as Grandfather Frost.  She first appeared in a collection of folktales published in the 1860s by Alexander Afanasyev.  He eventually collected three volumes of Russian folktales.  No one knows if the story of the snow maiden goes back further, though, since he was the first to collect the stories.  In her tale, she longs to be able to love her foster parents but has no heart since she is made of snow.  She is granted a heart by her mother and father but melts away as she joins other children jumping over the fire.  Grandfather Frost is considered her grandfather and the two of them bring joy and beauty to the snowy Russian winter.

Ded Moroz house in Veliky Ustyug

In 1998, the Moscow Mayor proposed to officially make Veliky Ustyug the residence of Ded Moroz,   The residence, which is a resort promoted as his estate, is a major tourist attraction.  The town also has a post office there that answers children’s mail to Ded Moroz.  Between 2003 and 2010, the post office in Veliky Ustyug received nearly 2,000,000 letters from all over Russia and worldwide.  On January 7, 2008, Vladimir Putin visited the estate for the Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration.

Santa Claus made some inroads in Russia during the 1990s, but Russia’s resurgence has brought a renewed emphasis on the basic Slavic character of Ded Moroz.  The Russian Federation has even sponsored classes about Ded Moroz every December. People playing Ded Moroz and Snegurochka now typically make appearances at children’s parties during the winter holiday season, distributing presents and fighting off the wicked witch, Baba Yaga, who children are told wants to steal their gifts.

In November and December 2010, Ded Moroz was even one of the candidates in the running for consideration as a mascot for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

 


Further Reading:
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