I’m very excited to welcome my friend, B. J. Scott, on the day she released her second book, Highland Quest, a sequel to her hugely successful Highland Legacy. She’s going to tell us some very interesting things about the origins behind holiday traditions:
Primarily an author of Historical Romance, when I do a blog, I normally answer the standard interview questions about what started my interest in writing, discuss something related to the craft of writing or directly related to my books—some historical fact or tradition that people might not be aware of. With the holiday season quickly approaching, I asked Callie if I could stray from the norm a bit. Instead of the typical post, we decided to share some interesting tidbits about the origins behind some of our holiday traditions. In keeping with a historical theme, I will touch on some customs that started in or before medieval times and carry through today.
At this festive time of year, we decorate with colourful lights, wreaths, garlands of pine, ivy, holly, mistletoe, and of course a tree. These symbols of the season have been around since as long as any of us can remember, but have you ever wonder why we use these things to adorn our homes?
Holly, Ivy, laurel, rosemary and other plans such as pine and Mistletoe were originally used in pre-Christian times to help celebrate the Winter Solstice Festival, to ward off evil and to celebrate the rebirth of spring. Keep in mind, at that time mid March was considered the beginning of the new year. During the dark, cold winters, the wind howling was believed to be the voices of lamenting spirits. The greenery was brought into the home as a means of protection, in addition to ability to freshen the stale air.
The Druids believed good spirits lived in the bushes of holly and wore sprigs in their hair when they took part in the rituals of cutting and gathering mistletoe. Believed to be male or female, the plant brought into the home first was said to determine who would rule the house in the upcoming year, the wife or the husband. However it was bad luck to bring either into the home before Christmas eve.
Early Christians believed holly sprang from the feet of Christ as he roamed the earth, that the spiked leaves represented the thorny crown he wore during crucifixion, and the red berries symbolized the blood he shed for mankind. To avoid being persecuted during Roman pagan festivals, Christians decorated their homes with mistletoe and holly. Knowing the Romans would not fight in the presence of either plant.
Mistletoe is another sacred plant according to the Norse, Celtic Druid and other pagan cultures. It is also believed sacred by North American Indians. Druid priests and their followers wore sprigs of holly in their hair when they entered the wood in search of mistletoe. Cut with a golden sickle, the mistletoe branches were caught before they could hit the ground, then distributed among the people, hung over doors as protection, was placed in a baby cradle to guard the infant from fairies and fed to the first cow that gave birth in the new year to protect the herd.
In Scandinavia it was linked to the Norse goddess Frigga. When he son was killed by an arrow of mistletoe she wept tears of white berries that brought him back to life. Frigga blessed the plant and kissed all who passed under it, thus spawning the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
As the tradition continued, sprigs of mistletoe were hung from the rafters and it was said a maiden standing beneath it could not refuse a kiss. To do so would mean she’d never marry. The man she kissed would either become her husband or a dear friend for life.
Other significant holiday plants are Laurel, if worn as a wreath on the head it symbolized victory of God over the Devil. Ivy, a plant the clings to walls and trees reminds us that we need to cling to God and religion for support. Rosemary, connected to the Virgin Mary because it was said to be her favorite plant, was said to protect people from evil, and to promote friendship and good will.
Hanging a circle of evergreen in the form of a wreath during the winter months goes back to Roman times when they were hung on the doors after a victory. Roman women wore wreaths in their hair, as part of wedding ceremonies. The word wreath, ‘writhen or writhe’ in Old English meant to twist. Evergreen, a symbol of eternal life was thought to have special powers and used to decorate. Twisted into a wreath and adorned with holly and other sacred plants they offered protection and hope for the spring.
Evergreen trees were used to celebrate winter festivals both pagan and Christian for thousands of years. No one is sure when they were first used as a Christmas tree, but it likely began in Northern Europe at least 1000 years ago. Scandinavian and German cultures were the first to use them and the tradition spread throughout Europe and later the new world. Queen Victoria, made the indoor tree popular during her reign, given her husband’s German ancestry.
So the next time you hang a garland or decorate your tree, remember where the traditions first started.
Here is a traditional Scottish desert for you to try
600ml double cream
3 tablespoons of runny honey
3 tablespoons of malt whisky
Toast the oatmeal until it is golden brown, whip the double cream until it is thick, stir in the whisky honey and oatmeal and fold in the raspberries gently. Spoon into individual glasses.
Yum. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Here’s a little bit about B. J.:
With a passion for historical romance, history in general, and anything Celtic, B.J. always has an exciting work in progress. Each story offers a blend of romance, adventure, suspense, and, where appropriate, a dab of comic relief. Carefully researched historical facts are woven into each manuscript, providing a backdrop from which steamy romance, gripping plots, and vivid characters—dashing alpha heroes and resourceful, beguiling heroines you can’t help but admire—spring to life. A PAN member of RWA, World Romance Writers, Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, and Savvy Authors, B.J. also writes contemporary, paranormal, time travel, and romantic suspense.
C.S. Lewis first captivated B. J.’s imagination in the fourth grade, and her desire to write sprang from there. Following a career in nursing and child and youth work, B.J. married her knight-in-shining-armor, and he whisked her away to his castle by the sea. In reality, they share their century-old home in a small Canadian town on the shore of Lake Erie with four dogs and a cat. When she is not working at her childcare job, on her small business, or writing, you will find her reading, doing a variety of hand crafts, camping, or antique hunting.
And now her new book:
No longer content in the shadows of his older brothers, Bryce Fraser rejoins the fight for Scottish independence, but arrives too late to inform his fellow patriots of a surprise ambush. Seriously wounded and left for dead, Bryce awakens to find Fallon MacCrery tending his wounds, a twist of fate that rekindles passion and desire he’d vowed to forget.
Gifted with second sight and having lost everyone she ever held dear, Fallon believes her ability and her love are curses that if pursued will mean Bryce’s demise. But when she learns the English army plans to destroy the Bruce and his followers, she risks all to warn them, even her heart.
Can their unspoken love stand the test in a time of uncertainty and war, or will the plans of their enemy, a traitorous laird from a rival clan keep them apart forever?
Loch Ryan Scotland, 1307
“Wa . . . water,” Bryce mumbled, but there was no one there to listen.
His throat was parched and he ran his tongue over dry, cracked lips, but his action offered no relief. An entire loch lay only a few feet away, but he couldn’t muster the strength to drag himself to the bank and quench his thirst.
“Cold . . . so cold.”
Despite the sun beating down on him, he’d swear he was encased in ice. His life’s blood seeped from his wounds, soaking the ground beneath him. He tried to raise his head, but the excruciating pain radiating across his chest stole his breath away.
Was this what it felt like to die? If so, he prayed the Almighty would be merciful and take him now.
Bryce moaned, a shift in his position bringing on another nauseating wave of agony. He sucked in a short, sharp, gulp of air and stretched his arm out as far as he could, his fingers grappling in the dirt.
If only I could reach my sword.
Beads of perspiration dampened his brow. As the strength slowly drained from his body, drawing a simple breath became more difficult. The end grew near. No time to make amends for sins of the past, and he had committed his share.
Regrets? He had those, too. “Fallon.” He whispered her name then heaved a ragged sigh. He could see her beautiful face, her soft, porcelain-like skin with just a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Raven tresses hanging loose in a riot of curls down her back. Her petite, slender body had just the right curves to drive a man wild with desire. Mysterious sapphire eyes that held him captive and a heart-shaped mouth he’d never tire of kissing. If he had one wish before he died, it would be to hold her in his arms one more time, to find himself nestled between her thighs, making love until neither of them could take anymore.
But he’d missed his chance when she left Fraser Castle after his brother’s wedding, returning with her clan to their home in the borderlands. Determined not to allow Fallon, or any woman, to breach the protective wall he’d built around his heart, he’d let her go.
A restless spirit, he longed for adventure. While he admired his two older brothers, he was tired of living in their shadows. Alasdair had turned down the position of Laird when their father and older brother were killed at Berwick on Tweed. Connor, the next in line, had accepted the responsibility and did the Clan proud. He was happily married and Bryce was certain his wee son, Andrew, would be raised to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Bryce held no land or title. Until he had made a name for himself and earned these things, he had nothing to offer a wife. But marriage and family were not part of his immediate plans. He loved women, all women. Be they large, small, short, tall, fair, or plain, it made no difference as long as they were willing to warm his bed, and expected no long-term commitment in return.
A rogue many would say, but he made no secret of his intentions. So far, this way of life had served him well, and should he die in battle, he’d leave no one behind to mourn his loss.
When he was a lad of sixteen, he’d made the mistake of falling for the daughter of the village smithy. Totally enamored with each other, they’d vowed their eternal love and he believed they’d marry some day.
He swallowed hard at the ball of emotion rising in his throat, and clenched his teeth against the sudden ache gripping his heart. He’d heard when a man is about to die, his life experiences flash before his eyes. But some memories were far too painful to revisit.
He balled his fists at his sides, his nails digging into his palms. He didn’t want to think about the past and didn’t want a woman in his life. While Fallon was the only lass who had tempted him to stray from his chosen path, she was better off without him. Or so he’d told himself when he returned from a morning ride to learn she’d left Fraser Castle without saying goodbye.
Clinging to the memory of their brief time together, Bryce closed his eyes and waited for death to take him. But distant voices and the sound of approaching footfall alerted him to the fact that he was no longer alone.
“Over here,” a man shouted. “I think this one is still breathing.”
“Aye, he’s alive, but for how long? The lad has lost a lot of blood,” another man commented and clucked his tongue.
Hovering on the edge of consciousness, Bryce heard the conversation going on between two men, maybe more. He tried to open his eyes, but the lids proved too heavy.
Judging by the familiar burr, these men were Scottish, but so were the traitorous bastards who had attacked them.
For a sennight, he’d ridden day and night. However in the end, he was too late to warn the Bruce’s brothers and their small group of Irish and Scottish islanders of the impending threat. Rushing headlong into an ambush and outnumbered four to one, their fate was sealed.
This wasn’t the first time the MacDougall Clan sided with the English. Staunch supporters of John Comyn’s bid for the Scottish crown, they’d turned their swords and their loyalty against their countrymen when Comyn was murdered at Grey Fryer’s Abbey and Robert the Bruce was accused of the deed.
After the massacre at Methven—the last major battle fought between the English and the Bruce before he went into hiding—the buggers lay in wait, attacking the Scottish survivors as they tried to make their way to the Argyle Mountains to regroup. The battle of Dail Righ would forever be a stain on the MacDougall clan’s name, and a battle Bryce would long remember.
Nor would he forget their leader. Today he’d had the long-awaited chance to make good on his oath to see the blackguard pay for his treasonous acts, but he’d failed. Instead, he’d found himself on the receiving end of Dungal’s sword.
“I canna believe Scots would kill Scots. These poor fellows dinna have a prayer of making it to shore unharmed,” the first man said.
“Aye, the ship was run aground and there must be at least fifty dead men on the bank of the loch. There appears to be a mix of Irish and Scots, but nary an English soldier or a MacDougall plaid among them.” The man speaking nudged Bryce’s shoulder with the toe of his boot. “This appears to be the only one alive.”
A dizzying wave of excruciating pain shot through Bryce’s chest as he was rolled onto to his side.
“What do you plan to do with this fellow, Donald?” the second man asked. “We canna just leave him here to bleed to death.”
“We’ll take him with us. My niece has some knowledge of healing. She cared for my wife when she had the pox . . . rest her soul.” Donald paused for a moment before he continued. “After Mairi died, the lass decided to stay on for a while. Mayhap there is something she can do for him. Best we make haste. I dinna want to be here if the bastards return.”
“I’ll be surprised if he survives the journey. But we can always bury him along the way if need be,” the second man responded.
Strong hands slid beneath Bryce’s shoulders, raising him to a sitting position, then someone grabbed his legs. A few garbled words of protest were all he could manage before darkness closed around him.
Web site www.authorbjscott.com
Book trailer for Highland Quest http://youtu.be/P-T5WWSFBGI
Highland Legacy On sale from Dec11th to Dec 25th for $2.99