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Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas from the PaperBackSwap Team

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

by Cynthia M. (clariail)


I was sitting at my desk the other day and thinking where has this year gone!

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas around the corner. These two holidays to me seem to have more tradition associated with them than any other and it made me wonder how some of them got started. Like, why do we decorate Christmas trees, why do you kiss someone that happens to be under the mistletoe, etc. Things like that. I figured if I didn’t know, chances are some others didn’t either.

If you already know, just pretend that it is a very interesting story that your Uncle Charlie is telling for the umpteenth time around the holiday table and you are doing the polite listening thing while you sit and try not to doze off after the huge meal you just had.

How did decorating Christmas trees get started?
The Christmas tree is thought to have originated in a play often performed in the Middle Ages during the Advent season. Based on the story of Adam and Eve, the play featured a Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden that was decorated with apples to symbolize Eve’s temptation. The tree used in the play was an evergreen tree, which symbolized fertility and a renewal of life.

Later, in 16th century Germany, people would hang apples, gilded candies, colored paper, and roses from tree branches. Martin Luther, inspired by the beauty of stars shining through the branches of a fir tree, is credited with being the first person to add lighted candles to a tree.

Some believe that King George, a native of Germany, brought the tradition of decorating a Christmas tree to England. Others credit Queen Victoria with bringing the tradition to England from Germany where her husband, Prince Albert, was raised.

An etching of the British royal family gathered around a Christmas tree in Windsor Castle in 1848 prompted the spread of this favorite decoration throughout Victorian England. The custom was brought to the United States when German immigrants in Pennsylvania continued to decorate Christmas trees just as they had done in their homeland.

Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?
There are many different theories as to how the date was chosen and I have listed two;
1) Early Christian tradition says that it was March 25th when Mary was told that she would have a child and nine months later would be Dec. 25th
2) December 25th might have also been chosen because the Winter Solstice and the ancient pagan Roman midwinter festivals called ‘Saturnalia’ and ‘Dies Natalis Solis Invicti’ took place in December around this date – so it was a time when people already celebrated things.

Why are you kissed if you stand under Mistletoe?
Mistletoe was said to be the sacred plant of Frigga, the goddess of love. When her son, Balder, dreamed of his death, Frigga rushed about seeking promises that her son would not die. Unfortunately, Balder’s enemy, Loki, tipped an arrow with Mistletoe and gave it to Hoder, the blind god of winter who killed Balder with it. He was brought back to life by his mother when she shed tears that turned into Mistletoe berries, so Frigga kissed everyone who passed under the tree on which it grew. From that time on, anyone who stood under the mistletoe would receive only a kiss; no harm could come to him.

Gift Giving
The first gifts given at Christmas were from the Magi (Wise Men) to Baby Jesus. Later, in Roman times, gift giving was popular during Saturnalia, a winter solstice celebration. The tradition as we know it today is derived from St. Nicholas, a bishop who was known for giving children presents..

What is the History of the Wreath?
Wreaths have a long history, dating back to ancient Druids who believed that holly, a perennial evergreen with lush, red berries, was a magical plant. Wreaths were first created when holly and other evergreens were arranged in a circular shape, a shape with no beginning or end, and therefore, synonymous with eternity.

What is the Origin of the Poinsettia?
In Mexico, a heart-warming story explains the origin of the poinsettia: On a Christmas Eve, long ago, a poor little boy went to church in great sadness because he had no gift to bring the Holy Child. He dared not enter the church, and, kneeling humbly on the ground outside the house of God, he prayed fervently and assured our Lord, with tears, how much he desired to offer him some lovely present –“But I am very poor and dread to approach you with empty hands.” When he finally rose from his knees, he saw springing up at his feet a green plant with gorgeous blooms of dazzling red.

What is the history of the Christmas Card?
The time-honored tradition of sending Christmas cards began more than 150 years ago in England. Sir Henry Cole, a renaissance man who wrote and published books on art and architecture, was too busy to write holiday greetings to friends and family, so he asked John Callcott Horsley, a well-known painter, to design a card with a single message that could be sent to everyone on his list.

Horsley created a lithographed, hand-colored sketch printed on cardboard. The illustration depicted a classic Victorian Christmas scene of a family merrily eating and drinking. The caption read, “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”

Why are Candy Canes Bent?
In 1670, a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, bent the ends to resemble a shepherd’s staff and handed them out to children during church services to keep them quiet. In the early 1900s, candy canes acquired their famous stripes. The first candy canes were straight, white sticks of sugar candy used as Christmas tree decorations.

I hope that you enjoyed reading about some of the history behind the traditions as I had fun looking them up. Now you are set to play a game of trivia if the occasion should arise.

To you and yours, I hope that you have a most Blessed and Merry Christmas!



The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne

The Whole Christmas Catalogue by Nancy Kalish, Naomi Black

The Solstice Evergreen: History Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree
by Sheryl Karas

The Everything Family Christmas Book by Yvonne Jeffrey




Holiday Historical Romance Review – His Mistress by Christmas

Friday, December 23rd, 2011



His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander


Review by reacherfan1909


His Mistress by Christmas is an historical romance set in the late 1885 London around the holidays.  Like most Christmas-centric romances, this one is light, frothy, fun with a tried a true plot livened by witty dialogue, but not much else.


Lady Veronica Smithson was married briefly, though happily, to an older man who left her a wealthy, independent woman.  While her family might want her married again, Veronica has a different idea.  She wants none of the drawbacks of marriage – essentially becoming some man’s chattel, but she does miss the pleasures of the marriage bed.  She has what she considers the perfect solution – become the mistress of an interesting man who will be amenable to such a discrete arrangement.   And she’s found the perfect candidate – Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater, explorer, author, world traveler, and currently speaker at the Explorers Club – and handily enough, the cousin of her best friend Portia, Lady Redwell, another young widow.


Sir Sebastian loves traveling and writing, and is happy to oblige the Explorers Club in speaking to members and guests, including a lovely looking woman sitting with his cousin.  When taking questions from the audience, he’s challenged about the club’s policy of no female members, but deftly deflects what might be a huge political argument and happily allows Sir Hugo deal with the redoubtable Miss Charlotte Bramwell while he snags an introduction to the woman he’s decided must be his.


Portia is horrified by her friend’s plan.  It’s just scandalous, and Sebastian is her cousin!  Once they’ve been introduced, it’s obvious the two are destined for each other.  The witty remarks fly along with veiled innuendo.  Sebastian is delighted to spar with the woman and immediately undertakes to get to know her better by asking her to the theater – even going so far as to invite her Aunt Lotte, who is still locked in argument with Sir Hugo, to accompany them.


So begins their romance, or as Veronica would have it, their relationship.  She is smart, clever, loves to spar with words, and has only limited use for society, though she has no desire to make herself a social outcast.  A discrete affair is allowed widows and as she has no intention of ever marrying again, it’s a path she’s determined trod.  Sir Henry is ready to prove to his family he’s established, mature, and solid member of society, so he might finally get his inheritance from his oldest brother, something denied him while living the life of a vagabond traveler and writer.  He’s even acquired a country estate to prove he’s setting down roots.  But he also wants a wife.  Nothing proves a man is established and mature like property and a wife.  It’s obvious that Lady Veronica, as bold and as forward as she is, is not experienced in the matter of affairs, and that’s fine with him.  He plans to marry her, but he’s averse to seducing her first.


The plot progress with the standard formula, lot’s of witty, albeit rather shallow, repartee, and the slimmest of plots.  Victoria Alexander specializes in intelligent, outspoken, strong minded heroines and always includes plenty of wit and humor, but here the book is froth, not substance, lively but without depth, and lacks any shred of real tension in the story arc.  The emotional ‘big misunderstanding’ that is a classic plot device, but here is contrived to the point of silliness.  In fact, the whole ‘inheritance’ thing was pretty shaky to start with.  Both Sir Sebastian and Veronica were lively, if rather stock characters.  Despite all it’s pluses, the book held zero surprises and no original story elements.  Though 300 pages, it read like a much shorter work.


There are many ways to describe books like His Mistress by Christmas – ‘a mere bagatelle’ is an expression that springs to mind, possibly due to the historical nature of the book.  ‘Slight fluff’ is another expression that suits, as do both ‘predictable’ and ‘charming’.   Still, for a holiday read, is does have the kind of wit and sparkle that makes holidays fun, and none of the real emotional angst that can be so depressing.  I liked Veronica and Sebastian and Portia, and Sebastian’s family are sure fodder for Ms Alexander’s future books.  As a holiday read for romance lovers, it a good choice, full of charm and wit you can almost forget its predictability.  My grade is C+ (3.5*)






Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

By Cyn C. (Cyn-Sama)

I’m a happy little pagan, Unitarian Universalist.  For me, some of the most important days of the years are the solstices.  The Winter solstice symbolizes that light and warmth will come again, to illuminate the world, and bring days of warmth and bounty.

In the pagan tradition, Winter solstice is the night that the God is born, to grow up during the spring, marry, and then die in the autumn, (at Samhain), to be born again at the Winter solstice.

I celebrate the solstice by attempting to stay awake all through the long night, and sitting and reflecting by the light of one candle.  As the sun starts to rise, I will use that one, lonely little candle, to light other candles throughout my house, to symbolize the warmth and light that will be returning.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay up all night to celebrate, as work kind of frowns on me being a zombie the next day from lack of sleep, but in my heart, I’ll be waiting through the snow of winter for green things to start growing again, and find comfort in the changing of the seasons.

Holiday Traditions – Joyous Pancha Ganpati

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

By Sonal S. (ComeGo)


Pancha Ganapati, a five day festival celebrated from December 21 through 25, is a Hindu festival in celebration of Lord Ganesha, Patron of Arts and Guardian of Culture.

Pancha Ganpati is a modern festival. It was conceived in 1985 by the founder of the publication “Hinduism Today” to offer Hindu families a way in the West to celebrate a time for celebration, gift giving, food and family in the month of December which sees many other celebrations such as Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanzaa.



Pancha Ganpati includes outings, picnics, feasts and exchange of cards and gifts with relatives, friends and business associates. A shrine is created in the main living room of the home and decorated in the spirit of this festive occasion. At the center is placed a large wooden or bronze statue of Lord Panchamukha (“five-faced”) Ganpati, a form of Ganesha – the elephant headed Hindu God of wisdom. It lasts five days- paanch (five in Hindi) from December 21-25. Each day is associated with a color and a ritual/meaning.


Yellow on 12/21 – Prayers, shrine setup, asking for blessings


Red on 12/22 – Gifts and apologies to family and friends


Blue on 12/23 – Gifts and thanks to employees and business associates


Green on 12/24 – Arts and cultural programs


Orange on 12/25 – Thanks and prayers to God, blessings for the new year are sought!


Hindu Festivals by Swasti Mitter



Ganesha – Remover of Obstacles by Manuela Dunn Mascetti


Eternal Ganesha by Gita Mehta




Hanukkah Guest Blog by Author Jeri Westerson

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

We are thrilled to have one of our favorite authors Guest Blog for us today! Thank you, Jeri Westerson! Happy Hanukkah to you and yours!

My Personal Hanukkah…With a Bit of Medieval Thrown in

By Jeri Westerson


Back in the days when I was a kid in school, I was more or less the token Jew. So every year I was asked by grade school teachers to give a presentation of the meaning of Hanukkah. And I was only too glad to do it, because I was a little tired of the well-meaning wishes that exhorted me to celebrate my “Jewish Christmas.”

I brought with me a tiny menorah, that eight-branched candelabra, one small enough to use birthday candles in it. I explained to my fellow classmates that each candle represented a day, and each day a miracle. That God allowed that the oil that was only enough to burn for one day miraculously burned for eight days in order to consecrate the Temple. I went on about the Maccabee brothers, showed how to play Dreidel, even led them in song with “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah.” You know the one. It goes like this:

Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah, come light the Menorah
Let’s have a party; we’ll all dance the hora
Gather round the table, we’ll all have a treat
Sivivon to play with, and levivot to eat.

And while we are playing
The candles are burning low
One for each night, they shed their sweet light
To remind us of days long ago-o-o-o.
One for each night, they shed their sweet light
To remind us of days long ago.

Sivivon are dreidels and levivot are potato pancakes.

My audience of grade schoolers were vaguely interested in these proceedings…until I mentioned that we got presents for EIGHT DAYS! Heads perked up. But don’t get excited. These were usually small gifts, chocolate money or real money called Hanukkah Gelt (that’s Yiddish for Hanukkah money) and little toys. Gift giving was very recent in terms of the timeline. It was more in response to the Gentile neighbors giving gifts for Christmas as Hanukkah always falls near Christmas, though the date changes. It can be as early as November and as late as the very end of December. That’s because Jews follow the lunar calendar which tracks the phases of the moon and the all the feasts and holidays are moveable (ever wonder why Easter moves around? It has to follow Passover, right? Be kind of silly if it didn’t.)

So what’s behind Hanukkah, anyway? Hanukkah, or the Dedicating of the Temple, or the Festival of Lights, comes from something called the Megillit Antiochus or the Scroll of Antioch, dating from somewhere between the 2nd and 5th centuries CE. The Books of Maccabees talks about a re-dedication of the Temple by Judah Maccabee, his brothers, and his army, but never specifically mentions a miracle, only that the celebration should last for eight days, which, indeed, most Jewish holidays do. (In Jewish numerology, Seven is the perfect number: seven days of creation, seven days of the week. But the number eight–God–is beyond perfect. Eight days old a boy is circumcised and brought into the covenant. Eight days for most Jewish celebrations.) It is this scroll that gives us the story of the miracle of the oil.

The Story: Around 175 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes King of Greek Syria and other places, ruled over the Jews and outlawed Judaism, ordering a statue of Zeus to be erected in the temple. Not nice. The Maccabees revolted, won, and worked to reconsecrate the Temple, getting all that nasty gentile stuff out of there, building a new altar, etc. In order for the re-dedication to be complete, the menorah or candelabrum or multi-burning oil lamp was to burn for seven nights, but there was only enough consecrated oil to burn for one day and there was no time to get more. But it miraculously burned for eight days. Thus the eight day celebration.

In the Middle Ages, the Megillit Antiochus was read aloud in synagogues, a rabbinically declared holiday and a tale about Jews rising up against their oppressors. As you can imagine, such stories were pretty popular amongst Jews in the Middle Ages when they were always being oppressed. Jews reenacted the lighting of a menorah in the synagogues as well as in their homes. The proper way to light a menorah is to have it in a doorway. Not quite practical, so the next best thing is to have it in a window, fulfilling the rabbis decree to show the miracle to the world (which is why there are all those public displays of menorah lighting. It is NOT the Jewish answer to a public lighting of a Christmas tree. If anything, it’s the other way around.) Though for all that, Hanukkah was never a huge holiday. It was just one of many. Certainly not a High Holy Day like Rosh Hashonnah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). It was another reminder to Jews of God’s miracles and His dedication to the Chosen People no matter where they found themselves and under what circumstances.

It is the Eastern European tradition of eating foods cooked in oil, foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) and donuts that make it especially fun. Can’t knock that. Playing the dreidel, a top with Hebrew letters on each of the four sides, is supposed to be a reflection of a game that the Maccabees played while waiting to attack their enemies. It’s like dice. It’s a gambling game. And very, very old.

So, a bit of old traditions blended with newer. That’s what makes a holiday in any language.


Jeri Westerson writes a medieval mystery series featuring disgraced knight turned detective Crispin Guest. You can read excerpts of her books at www.JeriWesterson.com.


Below are Jeri Westerson’s Books



And her latest book the recently released Troubled Bones




Holiday Book Review – Our Simple Gifts: Civil War Christmas Tales

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011



Our Simple Gifts: Civil War Christmas Tales

by Owen Parry

Review by Vicky T. (VickyJo)


I love Christmas–and one of the ways I like to get into the spirit of the season is to read Christmas stories.  It never fails to put me in a better frame of mind.  I’m always rereading my old favorites, but I also enjoy finding new stories to add to my list.  I stumbled across a new (to me) collection recently; I’d like to recommend a wonderful little book of heartwarming stories called “Our Simple Gifts: Civil War Christmas Tales” by Owen Parry.

Parry is probably best known for his series of Civil War novels featuring Abel Jones, a Welsh Civil War veteran who goes about solving mysteries in a series of six novels.  This collection of short stories is also set during America’s Civil War, which adds a melancholy feel to the stories.  Parry creates fully developed characters and settings in these tales; you feel the cold snow, the warm fires, the despair and the hope.

Our Simple Gifts contains four stories:  “Star of Wonder” is the story of a young man returning home from the battlefield, having lost his arm in battle, and his fiancée to typhoid fever.  His journey home on Christmas Eve becomes not just a journey, but his destiny.  A blizzard, a young Irish widow and the grace of the season show him that forgiveness and faith still exist.

“Tannenbaum” introduces Gus Tannenbaum, a German immigrant serving with the Union troops nicknamed Dutch by the other members of his company.  In spite of the prejudice of some, and the smallness of others, Dutch sees these men as his only family, and as such, decides to make this a memorable Christmas for all.

“Nothing but a Kindness” finds Natty Hawks heading home to the hills of Appalachia, having been released from a Union prison in time for Christmas.  After losing an eye, he’s no longer a threat, or so the Yankees figure.  He knows his family will be surprised to see him; his father, the staunch Union supporter who couldn’t understand why his son joined the Rebels; his mother, worn down and worried, his many siblings, and his beloved grandmother, Old-Ma.  And it turns out to be Old-Ma who greets him first, and gives him the love and the wisdom he needs to carry on.

Finally, “Christmas Gift” shows us a sad Christmas on a southern plantation, and how roles can be reversed in the twinkling of an eye.  Dundee is suddenly a free man, no longer a slave.  Those who were once mighty have now fallen, and Dundee is only human.  He searches his heart and soul about the notion of justice, of judgment and what Christmas really means.  Can he find it in his heart to reclaim himself?  Will his faith bring him peace?

Each one of these tales expresses forgiveness, love, charity and faith…all the things that together represent the true meaning of Christmas.  Some may feel that the juxtaposition of the war and this holy season tugs at the heart strings too much, is perhaps too sentimental.  But if you can’t be sentimental at Christmas time, then there is just no place for sentiment in this world, is there?  This is one of the better writers of historical fiction putting his talents to a topic near and dear to his heart.  And it shows.  Our Simple Gifts by Owen Parry is now on my short list of things to read each holiday season.