Happy New Lunar Year

Happy New Lunar Year. Welcome to the Year of the Dragon.
A few days ago, millions of people around the world celebrated the beginning of the Lunar New Year. To some it’s known as Chinese New Year,  in Vietnam Tet, and in Korea, Seollal. There are other names in other cultures and my apologies if I’ve missed yours out. I also apologize for generalizing about the traditions followed. In China, it’s also known as the Spring Festival, the name introduced in 1914 by the republican government. 

For those who celebrate it, the Lunar New Year is a fresh start. In the days leading up to it, houses are cleaned from top to bottom to make way for good luck to come. Windows and doors might be decorated with red paper cutouts and lucky tokens, red being regarded as a lucky color. New clothes are purchased to be worn in the new year and small red envelopes containing money will be given. (Photo by Maud Beauregard on Unsplash)

Celebrations traditionally start on the eve of the first new moon between the 21st January and 20th February, often with a big dinner with special foods, auspicious dishes and dumplings. It’s very much a family affair, where ancestors and the elderly members of the family are honored. In the days following, people will visit relatives and friends, often exchanging gifts.

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Celebration Time!

Circular_Temple_-_panoramio Mark A Coleman  CC BY 3.0 httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Mark A Coleman

Christina here and I'm delighted to tell you that this week it's THE WORD WENCHES’ 16th ANNIVERSARY! In order to celebrate properly, we decided to hold a picnic and you’re all invited!

We're each bringing our favourite historical food to a lovely park somewhere in the UK – the precise location is a secret as it’s by invitation only, but you can reach it via this lovely temple folly which acts as a time portal.

The setting – hills, woodland and parkland – is beautiful, with wildflowers, ancient trees and herds of deer that can be glimpsed roaming in the distance.

Andrea Vauxhall (2)Birds fill the air with song and a couple of peacocks are strutting nearby showing off their shimmering plumage. There’s a boating lake too, where we can paddle in the water if we like, or just drift peacefully while someone else does the rowing. For our comfort, we have brought rugs and silk cushions to recline upon, and we would advise you to bring a parasol or a hat as the sun can be very hot! It's going to be a wonderful day and here’s what else the Wenches will be bringing:-

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A first taste of Christmas

LAST-CHANCE-CHRISTMAS-BALL
The Wench anthology will be here soon! As a first step, the prologue is available now.

On Wednesday we'll be sharing some of the process of creating this anthology, but the prologue was the last bit. Our editor thought we needed an introduction and as I was the one with a bit of time I created it from the point of view of my enigmatic heroine, Miss Clio Finch.

You can read it here.

Let us know what you think.

Is it intriguing?

Do you like the idea of stories woven around one event?

How do you feel about Christmas anthologies in general? Are there too many, not enough, or like Goldilock's chair, is it just right? And does anyone else have pantomime as an essential Christmas memory?

Happy Sunday,

Jo

The Lights of the Solstice

DSCN1430Joanna here, writing about the Winter Solstice.
And lights.

If you want to be picky about it, we're two days past the solstice, which was on December 21 this year, but I will just go ahead and talk about the Winter Solstice anyhow.

So. What is this Solstice I speak of?

Your ordinary woman in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Centuries and in all the days right back to when women woke up and stretched and strolled out of the cave in Laxcaux, France, might watch the sunrise every morning.

Authorial intrusion here to say that I wake up every morning at sunrise because that is when the dog and cat wake up and they want my company. They are worried if I don't get up.
They are determined.

But, anyhow, let's say our historical woman is shuffling through the farm yard to empty the chamberpots or feed the chickens. She Before sunrise 2notices the sun does not just get out of bed any old where along the horizon. When she stands on the doorstep in July, the sun is rising from that pointy pine over there.

Every morning the sun gets out of bed a little to the left of where it got up the morning before.
Not enough so's you'd notice it from one day to the next.
But enough so's you notice it over weeks and months.

In December when she drags herself out of bed and stands shivering at the door, there's the sun waking up all the way over next to the church spire.

That extreme, leftmost sunrise she sees, on December 21 or 22, is the Winter Solstice. From then on, day by day, the sunrise heads back in the other direction. Our New Year is tied to that astronomical event, being a little inexact about it.

But did our pre-tech ancestors know about the Solstice?
And why would they care?

StonehengeSunrise1980sWe are not talking quantum mechanics here. Our actually-very-bright ancestors were well aware that the change in where the sun rose was related to length of day. The shortest day of the year is . . . ta dah! . . . the Winter Solstice. In London, that means about eight hours of daylight. Six months later, the Summer Solstice, June 21, is the longest day, with over sixteen hours of sun.
Well, folks noticed.
They lined up Stonehenge with the solstices because they noticed.

The long and the short of it is, folks used these astronomical events in practical ways — the Winter Solstice was a good time to slaughter beasts you couldn't afford to keep for the whole winter. And they celebrated.

The Solstice meant a long, cold, hungry time was still ahead, but from that date, every day was going to be a little longer. The sun had begun its journey back toward summer.

Is it any wonder folks celebrated this 'rebirth' of the sun with fire festivals? Traditional December celebrations often have a fire theme, linking to that ancient joy in the return of the sun. Lucia_in_Vienna

In Northern Europe, on Santa Lucia's Day, young girls are crowned with lighted candles. The old Iranian festival of Yalda celebrates the birth of Mithra, the God of Light and Truth, associated with the sun. One custom calls for eating red-colored fruit, perhaps to bring to mind the red of the sunrise.

Yule, the big Midwinter celebration of Germanic peoples, involved feasting, blood sacrifice, getting as drunk as possible, and lighting bonfires. Four hundred years ago the 'Yule log' was dragged in — a huge log, by preference — by the men of the house, who were rewarded with free beer for this service. It's said households competed to see who had the largest log.
Really, some things never change.

Bûche_de_Noël,_with_chocolate_moose_and_meringue_mushrooms,_2009_(2)If you make or buy a Bûche de Noël dessert, that's a modern interpretation of the Yule Log. Much easier to drag one of those into the house or whip it up in the kitchen than to bring in a Yule log.
In the spirit of author intrusion, I will say that I used to make these every year.

So, since we're celebrating the Season and enjoying the lights that remind us of the Solstice and the upbeat message it brings …

What kind of Holiday lights and candles do you have out now or are just packing carefully away?
Something beloved and traditional?
Or do you like to experiment every year?

Christmas Dreams

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I’m going out on a limb here to say I don’t think the world is going to end today, Mayan Apocalypse notwithstanding. <G>  Instead, it’s the winter solstice, the first day of Capricorn, and the heart of holiday madness.  People are shopping, wrapping, cooking, collapsing.  So I decided to ask the Wenches just for fun what they might choose for a Dream Christmas.  As always, the replies are as varied and amusing as the Wenches. <G> 

PolarlichtJoanna:

I've always wanted to see the Northern Lights.  So maybe my dream Christmas is a fancy ski resort somewhere in the far north.  Norway perhaps.  Good food in the lodge.  Big roaring fire in the lounge.  Cheerful skiers hanging about.  (No — I don't want to ski myself, thank you.) 

And then, along about midnight, I'd go out on the deck and look up.  There'd be curtains of blue and red and green waving and shimmering across the sky.
Merry Christmas. 

Red_and_green_aurorasinnorwayNicola commented: 

Joanna, we went to see the Northern Lights in Norway a few years ago, staying in a very cosy log cabin we had rented. When the locals heard we were there to see the Northern Lights they said "They come out at 8pm." We thought this was weird – how could they be so predictable? But bless me, at 8pm for three nights in a row the Northern Lights came out right on cue and we lay in the snow and watched them shimmer overhead. (The island we were on also had a hidden military base in the centre of a mountain just like in James Bond, but that's another story.)

Pat: Hawaii--Pat

I'm California dreaming. I've had enough snow and ho-ho-ho in my life, and while I appreciate the joy of those Christmases, life has moved on. I need sun and warmth and my family, and they're all in California right now. Although I spent a delightful Christmas in Hawaii with family one year, and that worked beautifully too!

Ashdowninthesnow1--NicolaNicola:

There's a definite appeal about going somewhere hot for Christmas but I am so steeped in tradition that I'm not sure it would feel quite right. Wonderful but not Christmas. So I think my dream would be a little house in a big wood, the snow deep outside but with a warm log fire inside and lots of delicious food. When I've eaten too much I'll roll out of the front door and take the dog for a walk in the snow. Definitely the fairytale option! (And ok, the photo isn't exactly a "little" house but it would do fine!)

Christmas lights at nightJo:

Funnily enough, the Christmas setting that twangs my heart strings is dark and wet. Yes, truly. I realized this when we moved to Victoria, British Columbia, in 1996. It's the part of Canada that has mild winters. By then, we'd been in Canada for twenty years, living in places where a white Christmas was a given, and to be honest the appeal of that was long gone. I went downtown to shop, and the short day meant that darkness fell. It was raining lightly — not enough to be uncomfortable for a Lancashire lass — and the Christmas lights were gleaming on the wet roads and pavements. Instant nostalgic bliss. Christmas as it ought to be!

Nicola commented:  Jo, I love this and as a Yorkshire girl I can identify with dark, wet Christmases too!

Cara/Andrea:

My mother was Swiss, so I grew up hearing St. Nicholas stories of fairytale Alpine WinterinDavospostersettings with timeless traditions. So my Dream Christmas is to go to Davos, where her family spent the winter holidays. (We went there together in summer, but never in winter.) 

It’s a famous ski village, with world-class slopes and miles of cross-country skiing over frozen lakes and scenic trails. So I’d enjoy the snow sports all day, then savor mulled wine and “biberli” (a traditional Swiss confection made of gingerbread and almond paste) as the setting sun painted the mountains in a rosy alpenglow. At Andrea at Davosnight, I would walk through the streets to enjoy the festive Christmas lights, the smell of fresh cut pine, the glitter of real candles on the trees—and to stuff myself with more wonderful Swiss pastries! (Hey, I skied all day! There I am on the left.)

Anne:

A Bondi Beach ChristmasChristmas in Australia is a little bit weird — with a large part of our culture transplanted from Europe, and still fairly British by tradition, we're raised with the secret  belief that A Proper Christmas is a white one — a belief reinforced by American Christmas movies and songs.  So all the shop windows are decorated with fake snow, and Santas sweat under thick red costumes and fake beards. And  on Christmas day we sit in our light cotton clothes, in roasting  temperatures, eating roast turkey or pork or ham with baked vegetables and gravy, followed by steaming hot plum pudding . . and then we go to the beach!

It's slowly changing, and we're increasingly adapting traditional Christmas dishes to be more suitable for a hot climate (plum pudding ice-cream, anyone?) but when I was a kid, even families who were camping over the summer holidays would slave over a hot camp oven to produce a delicious roast dinner followed by hot plum pudding.  Because that's what Christmas is.

So having only experienced one cold Christmas in my life, and that a drizzly London one when I was eight, my fantasy is the Christmas of all those gorgeous Christmas stories that we all enjoy so much. I've built a snowman, but never around Christmas, I've cut down a pine tree for Christmas but always in roasting temperatures.

So I'd like Christmas in a gorgeous old English country house, with delicious things cooking up in the aga, a big blazing fireplace in the sitting room and a bunch of good friends, drinking and sharing stories and delicious nibbles. It must, of course, be a white Christmas, so I want to wake up on Christmas morning to see big fat flakes of snow drifting down to coat the world in a blanket of white — no blizzards in my fantasy, thank you. Then in the daytime I'd want to play in the snow doing all the things I've written about and never done — tramping through snow to gather holly and mistletoe to decorate the house, making snow angels, skating on a frozen pond, taking a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh (with bells on) through a hushed white landscape, and coming home to a blazing fire, roasting chestnuts and hot mulled wine. 

(Now excuse me while I turn on the air-conditioner.)

Ashford Castle in the snow
Mary Jo:

I love my home and burrowing in with the cats and Mayhem Consultant, with plenty of food and entertainment and NO responsibilities!  But for a dream Christmas?  I’d join several of the other Wenches in dreaming of a beautiful house in a beautiful place. In fact, why not Ashford Castle, where we had a wonderful visit in September?  There would be room for all the Wenches and significant others and our pets, because what’s a holiday without our fur friends???  The rooms are large and gracious, with beautiful views of the grounds or the lake, and the food is marvelous.  So we could have chatting or privacy or roaring fires, and maybe go out to watch the trained falcons fly. 

We’d love if you stopped by to join us for tea as well.  There’s space by the fire and plenty of delicious tea and cakes for all!

So what would your Dream Christmas be?  Have you had one already?  What would you choose for another?

Happy holiday dreaming!

Mary Jo