We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

Stencil.default (1)Nicola here, wishing you a very Happy Christmas to those who celebrate the festival and happy holidays to everyone celebrating their traditions. Today is the first day of Word Wenches’ annual tradition of short daily blogs over the Twelve Days of Christmas.

This year for the first time in as long as I can remember, and possibly the first time ever, I’m spending Christmas in a hotel. Every year for the past forever we’ve either been at home, hosting family and friends, or visiting them as their guests. This year, though, my mother-in-law went into a care home near my sister-in-law’s home in the North of England so we are staying nearby in order to see everyone over the festive season. I’m writing this before we go and I’m wondering what it will be like. The hotel promises all manner of wonderful treats: delicious food including the full Christmas dinner, festive afternoon tea, carols and other live music and the chance to work off all the food in the gym and pool. It sounds great. But even at Christmas I find I still think about writing – will it be the sort of hotel that would be a good setting for a murder mystery? Stencil.default (2) What will our fellow guests be like? Will there be rows – or romances? (I’ll be taking note!) Will it snow??? All will no doubt be revealed as our Christmas trip progresses! Wherever you are in the world and however you celebrate, the Wenches wish everyone peace and joy in the year ahead.

How are you spending the holiday season? Will you be at home, or away? Are there any special holiday traditions you enjoy with family and friends? 

Jubilee Jubilation

Jubilee postbox1Nicola here, in the UK, where we are marking Queen Elizabeth II’’s 70th anniversary on the throne with Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The series of events being held to celebrate this milestone reminded me of 1977 when I was twelve years old and was living in Leeds in Yorkshire. We had a street party and in the park down the road from us there was a big concert which you could hear from our garden – which was great as my parents wouldn’t allow me to go as I was too young!

Jubilees don’t come around that often. They mark a major milestone in the reign of a monarch and only start after 25 years on the throne with the Silver Jubilee. They are named in the same way that anniversaries are: silver, golden, diamond and platinum but there’s no pearl or sapphire jubilee and none of the smaller anniversaries in between. However, they may be infrequent but they have a long history. The origins of jubilee celebrations go back to Ancient Egypt when a pharoah would take part in various ceremonies to demonstrate his or her fitness to rule. The word “jubilee” derives from the Hebrew word ‘Jobel’ which refers to the ram’s horn with which these ceremonies were proclaimed. Jubilees are, as the name suggests, times of jubilation.

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Time for Cake!

CakeChristina here. A friend of mine has her birthday today – happy birthday! – so naturally my thoughts turned to cake! Well, the two usually go together, don’t they? Birthdays are a great excuse for baking (and eating) cake and it wouldn’t be a special day without such a culinary treat, at least not to me. Cake can also cheer us up in these uncertain times, so why not indulge ourselves a litte? It made me wonder though – who first hit on the idea of making cake? Time to dive down a research rabbit hole …

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Attribution https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=128566

I don’t think anyone really knows where cake baking originated, but the first ones were probably more like bread sweetened with honey. Rather than putting the honey on top of the bread, someone decided to put it inside before baking and liked the result. I’m all for that as I confess I don’t like the taste of honey on its own. Nuts and fruit could have been added to make it sweeter (sugar came much later) as that was all they had. We know the Egyptians made special cakes for various feasts, religious ceremonies or for people to take with them to the afterlife. And then the Romans started adding eggs and butter to their bread dough, as well as honey, which gave them a cake like result. They must have brought these recipes to England when they were in control here, but then they left and the Dark Ages came … well, without cake they must have been dark indeed!

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A Happy New Year!

Word wench 20Nicola here. Farewell to 2019 and to the "twenty tens!" As we enter a new decade, the Word Wenches would like to thank you for your continued support for the blog and wish you a very Happy New Year. Together, the Wenches and our blog readers form a community that loves chatting about history, books, writing and life in general. We look forward to many more discussions in the years ahead!

A hundred years ago in 1920, the new era was greeted with excitement in The New Woman western society. In the wake of the First World War, the "Roaring Twenties" were known for a period of economic prosperity and cultural development. In London the decade was ushered in with a number of very smart black tie events as well as some less formal partying! A hundred years on we are in a very different place but who knows what this new era will bring? As long as there are new books, old favourites and friends to talk to here, we'll be good! Wishing you and your loved ones all good things for the new year and the new decade!

A Bang of a Birthday!

Fireworks 2 Andrea/Cara here, festooned in red, white and blue for America’s grand birthday party celebration today. And for all of you in other countries around the globe, come party with us! You’re invited to come to share in the hot dogs, hamburgers, blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream that are among the traditional picnic favorites served across our country.

11012526_411371915725626_5290902940259848619_nAnother grand tradition of the day is fireworks—no Fourth of July would be complete without the spectacular bursts of bright colors and loud bands lighting up the night sky. (Quite fitting, I suppose, since creating our country demanded that we set off a few sparks!) It’s interesting to note that John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, wrote a letter on July 4th, 1776—our Declaration of Independence day—in which he predicted that future celebrations would include pyrotechnics. (I don’t think we’ve disappointed him!)
 
“The day will be most memorable in the history of America,” he predicted. “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations …from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

Furttenbach_FeuerwerkAnd since you all know how much we love history here at the Word Wenches, I couldn't resist doing a little research on the history of fireworks—and here are a few highlights. Celebrating grand events with fireworks goes back centuries, to around 600 AD in China, when the fortuitous combination of saltpeter, charcoal and sulfur (likely the result of a kitchen accident) first created the basic formula for gunpowder. Known as “firedrug” some of its early uses included being  packed in bamboo cylinders and thrown into the fire to ward off evil spirits.

Fireworks 3Gunpowder went on to have far more bellicose uses, of course, but the use of fireworks in ceremonial celebrations—battle victories, coronations, milestone anniversaries—has become a tradition in all parts of the globe. Here are a few more fun facts from its glorious history!

In medieval England, explosive specialists were called Fire Masters, and their assistants were called “green men” because they worn hats made of leaves to protect their heads.

In Renaissance Italy, pyrotechnics was viewed as an art (but of course!) and there were schools to train masters to create elaborate displays.

Fireworks became very popular among European rulers as a way to entertain their subjects—and emphasis their own grandeur. The first recorded display in England was on Henry VII’s wedding day in 1486. In France, Versailles was the site of many spectacular illuminations, while in Russia, Tsar Peter the Great staged a display that last over five hours to celebrate the birth of his son.

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Fireworks 4 Legend has it that Captain John Smith set off he first display of pyrotechnics in America at Jamestown in 1608. And in 1731, the colonists of Rhode Island apparently became so rowdy with setting off bangs (hmm, do you think a wee dram of alcohol may have been involved?) that the authorities passed a law banning the “mischievous use of pyrotechnics.”

Fireworks 1I love fireworks! (History definitely shows that the colors and the noise clearly appeals to some sort of primitive love of fire in our brains.) How about you? Do you enjoy watching fireworks? Have you a favorite event to attend? The best display I’ve ever seen have been the marvelous NYC 4th of July extravaganza over the east River. It’s absolutely spectacular, especially when seen from the Queens side with the NYC skyline in the background. I’ll be watching it tonight, though unfortunately this year it will just be on TV. Happy Birthday, America!