One question frequently asked of writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”
My reactions to this question vary. A panicked expression. A blank stare. A wisecrack, like, “I keep them in a candy box.” But mainly I’m puzzled. What does the question mean, really? “How do you do it?” or “What is the process of creating something out of nothing?” Both questions are about impossible to answer.
In any case, finding myself without any blog ideas last night or this morning, I have followed the time-honored custom of authors everywhere: Steal.
Robert Benchley, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Benchley) –he of the Algonquin Round Table was born in Worcester, too, where he didn’t stay long–had this to say:
“Great literature must spring from an upheaval in the author’s soul. If that upheaval is not present, then it must come from the works of any other author which happen to be handy and easily adapted.”
Well, there was the newspaper, sitting handily by my cup of coffee, with an article in the Local section about Three Kings Day, the Twelfth Day of Christmas, known in our circles as Twelfth Night. Susan/Sarah, Susan/Miranda, and Edith have told you about various traditions in the British Isles. The newspaper enlightened me about Hispanic traditions.
The children of Hispanic nations, according to the article, get their holiday gifts on 6 January. “On the night of Jan. 5, children gather up the freshest grass they can find in their back yards, stash it all in a small shoebox with a wish list and place it underneath their beds.”
This employs the tooth fairy concept, like the cookies and milk left for Santa Claus. The hay is left for the camels. Sometimes a bowl of water is there, too. Next day, the “hay” is gone and gifts appear.
At first I thought this must be tough on the kids living among those who get their gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. They have to wait nearly two weeks more. But reading on, I found that these Three Kings gifts are in addition to the ones Santa leaves.
But wait! There’s more! After this, come the octavitas–the “eights”–eight days after the Three Kings–more parties, caroling, and more presents.
One interviewee said that people made fun of Puerto Ricans “because it’s like we never stop celebrating Christmas.” Well, what’s wrong with extending a holiday celebration, particularly one that helps brighten the dead of winter?
Which, by the way, it isn’t in Massachusetts. We are having the warmest winter on record. I don’t mind the warmth factor but we New Englanders have the idea that you need freezing weather and snow to “kill the germs” and so we are all enjoying the warmth while worried about, oh, plague or something.
While I’m stealing stuff, here’s some more about 6 January that was news to me. I was aware that in some of the Eastern Orthodox churches, Christmas was celebrated on 6 January. This, as I understand, has something to do with Julian vs. Gregorian calendars, a topic I am not equipped to discuss on account of how it gives me migraine.
But there were Julian calendar adherents in England as late as the 1820s, at least. Says the 1827 edition of William Hones’s The Everyday Book, “According to the alteration of the style, OLD Christmas-day falls on Twelfth-day, and in distant parts is even kept in our time as the festival of the nativity. In 1753, Old Christmas-day was observed in the neighbourhood of Worcester* by the Anti-Gregorians, full as sociably, if not so religiously, as formerly. In several villages, the parishioners so strongly insisted upon having an Old-style nativity sermon, as they term it, that their ministers could not well avoid preaching to them.”
*This is not my and Robert Benchley’s Worcester, BTW, but the English one–and one of these days I may do a blog on how it’s misspelled and mispronounced, even by English persons. “Worcester," I say patiently, "as in Worcestershire sauce? Yes?” Then I get the same look I give people who ask where I get my ideas.