As John Lennon would say, “Another year over, And what have you done.” Actually, “So This Is Christmas” by John Lennon, has to rank as one of my favorite Modern Age Christmas songs. The lyrics, though quite simple, are very poignant and always deserve a good listen right about this time of year.
For this blog, reflections on the year that is about to end, will come shortly, but I would like to pause for a moment on what I like best about the Christmas season….and that is, its pagan nature.
I am quite aware that come December, there are lots of signs and placards put up to remind us how important it is to “keep Christ In Christmas”. Nonetheless, what I like most about late December are all the festivities that seem to revolve around the time of year, when the days are at their shortest and the nights are so very long.
These are the times that are ripe for storytelling. For it seems that the long, cold nights are the perfect catalyst for spurring the human mind into creating fantastic apparitions and riveting insights into why we are here on the planet and what monumental efforts might be required for our survival. And in our present-day situation, our survival may be more in peril than ever before.
“What do you call people who are afraid of Santa Claus? Claustrophobic.” – Anonymous
“Always winter but never Christmas.” by C.S. Lewis, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!” by Charles Dickens
“The worst gift I was given is when I got out of rehab that Christmas; a bottle of wine. It was delicious.” by Craig Ferguson
“Glen had a disability more disfiguring than a burn and more terrifying than cancer. Glen had been born on the day after Christmas………”My parents just combine my birthday with Christmas, that’s all,” he explained.
“But we knew this was a lie. Glen’s parents just wrapped a couple of his Christmas presents in birthday-themed wrapping paper, stuck some candles in a supermarket cake, and had a dinner of Christmas leftovers.” by Augusten Burroughs, You Better Not Cry: Stories for Christmas
“It was the beginning of the greatest Christmas ever. Little food. No presents. But there was a snowman in their basement.” by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
“If my Valentine you won’t be, I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.” by Ernest Hemingway
Santa Claus: “Don’t you know who I am?”
Joe: “Sure, you’re a nut.”
Santa Claus: “I’m Santa Claus.”
Joe: “Right and I’m the tooth fairy.”
from the movie, Santa Claus
“Don’t be scared if a big fat man comes in to your room and stuffs you in a bag… I told Santa I want you for Christmas!!!” Anonymous
Jolly is one of those strange words that only seems appropriate during week long holiday period that occurs at the end of each year. In particular in seems tied to one particular fellow….and that is ole Saint Nick, himself. Burl Ives tied his own rotund self with the word, when he released “Holly, Jolly Christmas”, way back in 1965.
Too Much Horror
I enjoyed writing my little Christmas horror story, ( here is the link ) but now that Christmas is almost here, it is time to share a little joy and humour. After all that is what the holiday is all about. (my apologies to anybody that believes that Jesus was actually born on December 25). Besides, there is way too much horror going around in the world today and we may need a break from all those gruesome headlines. This may be fertile and lucrative ground for horror and suspense writers, but the everyday “Joe” ( or Jill ) needs some fun in his life. Following is my small contribution to the holiday mayhem.
1. “One thing I learned from drinking is that if you ever go Christmas caroling, you should go with a group of people. And also go in mid-December.” — Louis C.K.
2. “Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people once a year.” – Victor Borge
3. “Tis Christmas I’ve decided to put mistletoe in my back pocket, so all the people I don’t like can kiss my ass.” from Pinterest, author unknown
4. “What I don’t like about Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”- Phyllis Diller
5. “Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know the birth of Santa.” Matt Groening via Bart Simpson
6. “The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.” – Joan Rivers
7. “Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer…? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ upon his lips should be boiled with his won pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
8. “There has been only one Christmas — the rest are anniversaries.” – W.J. Cameron
9. “I don’t mind fruitcakes. They’re the one thing during the holidays I’m not tempted to eat.” – Melanie White
10. “The two most joyous times of the year are Christmas morning and the end of school.” – Alice Cooper
11. “I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying: ‘Toys not included.’ ” – Bernard Manning
12. “I felt overstuffed and dull and disappointed, the way I always do the day after Christmas.” – Sylvia Plath
13. “It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.” – Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales
14. “The Four Stages of Life.
a. You believe in Santa Claus.
b. You don’t believe in Santa Claus.
c. You are Santa Claus.
d. You look like Santa Claus.” from Pinterest, author unknown
No not really, but Christmas time is a great occasion for storytelling and all those stories need not be about nutcrackers and sugar plum fairies. In fact, if you step back and take a close look at some of the tall tales that circulate on these longest of winter nights, you will find that quite a few delve into the darkness of men’s souls. From Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, innovative storytellers have been more than willing to celebrate the Yule time with a grisly tale. And guess what……they have been very successful at capturing our attention.
Recently, Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds posted a Christmas Flash Fiction challenge. In this quest, he suggested that interested participants write a 2,000 word horror story about Christmas. To put things in his own words: “The holidays are in fact ripe with horror — meat and candy, mythological creatures who spy on you, winter hellscapes, animated toys. So many options for terror!”
My response ran a little over the suggested 2,000 word limit, but here it is anyway, a dark Christmas tale from the Canadian North Woods.
Le Loup Garou (the French-Canadian Werewolf)
a Short Story by Henri Bauhaus
The old timers said that the winters in the spruce forests of Northern Ontario were not as cold as they used to be. According to these elderly gents, there once was a time, when the Wendigo River would freeze solid as a rock from Thanksgiving till Easter. The frigid winter would even solidify Jim McKenzie Falls, a twelve foot high rock ledge that ran the breadth of the northward flowing river. They also often lamented that on some nights it would get so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground.
But there was no need to tell Sam Wiggins that…for he learned all about the awesome North Woods winter, the hard way. The unfortunate event took place on an icy December night, when the trees of the forest were going snap, crackle and pop, as the temperature plunged well below zero. So cold were these solstice nights that not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Sam’s boss man, Patrick Munster, had given Sam and his crew both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. But in the year of our Lord, 1925, Christmas fell on a Sunday, so for the Monday following the most revered holiday, Mr. Cargill expected all twelve loggers to be present and accounted for at 8 a.m. at the Wendigo branch of the Tamarack Paper company. It mattered nil that Monday was Boxing Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen was nigh. To the delight of the paper bosses, Christmas had conveniently fallen on a weekend and come hell or high water Patrick Munster was going to get a week of work from his hardy gang. before the new year rolled in.
The loggers had put in a good day on the Friday before Christmas, so Patrick gave the whole crew the latter part of the day off. The earnest penny-pincher even had a modest cash bonus for all the men, including the ones, who had only been on the crew for just a few months. It had been a good year for the Tamarack Paper Company and the seasoned foreman had been given a small wad of cash and told to disperse it evenly among the crew. Patrick did so without fanfare or keeping even a token amount for himself, an unselfish decision that was rare amongst the company foremen.
Not only did Patrick know the woods well, but he also understood the ways of his men very well. For he knew that sooner or later many of them would end up in the same tavern and that one of the first subjects of conversation would be about their Christmas bonuses. When the subject did come up, Ole Patrick wanted it to be known that his crew got the best bonus possible. For his Christmas kindness, the old Irishman knew that he would reap the benefits in the springtime, when the work gangs were just getting together for the upcoming year.
With only an hour or so of daylight left in the gray, December sky, Sam and several of his fellow loggers headed straight for the Laughing Loon Saloon, which was located just a few doors down from the office of the paper company. From the twelve man crew, only Sam and two of his buddies, Gil McHall and Emit Harding, made it through the front door of the busy drinking establishment.
Once inside, they were promptly seated by an overworked barmaid, who quickly set the trio up with a round of O’Keefe’s Ale and a couple shots each of Seagram’s Canadian Whiskey. Sam lead the first toast.
With glasses raised he said: “Here’s to the overworked lumberjack and the cheap-ass timber company that can’t afford more than a couple days off for its dedicated employees.”
“Aye, aye,” said Gil and Emit in unison, as they clanked glasses together.
“And here’s to the two month furlough we got coming after the New Year,” said Emit, as he raised his second shot glass. “May God rest our weary bones.”
This time Sam and Gil chipped in with a hearty, “Hail, hail.”
After setting their empty shot glass on the round wooden table, each man instinctively started sipping their brew.
“So I hear you plan to spend the winter break up here on the river,” said Gil.
Sam responded. “You got that right. The company offered me some part-time employment and a bed in the bunkhouse until we get going again in the spring.”
“No shit,” said Gil. “Whatcha goin’ to be doin’?”
“Repairing snowshoes, sharpening axes and shit like that,” said Sam.
“That won’t last very long,” said Emit.
“I hope not,” said Sam. “Cause I was planning to set out some traplines, so I can catch me a bunch of snowshoe hares and maybe a lynx or two.”
“There’s always money to be made, ain’t there,” said Gil.
“One way or another,” said Sam, as he took a moment to down the beer from his heavy, glass mug. Then Sam summoned the barmaid, a sweet young lady named Heidi, who was aged somewhere around 30.
“You guys want another round,” asked the shapely lady, as she whirled by the table.
“Just the ale,” said Sam.
“No more whiskey,” inquired the barmaid.
“I’ll do another shot,” piped in Gil.
“Me too,” added Emit.
“One more shot all around,” asked Heidi, as she lay her hand on Sam’s shoulder and swung her long blond braids near enough the tired lumberjack, so he could catch a whiff of her spruce shampoo.
“Hell….make it two,” said Sam. “We got a lot to talk about tonight.”
“Be right back,” said Heidi, while swooping up the empty shot glasses and placing them on her circular tray.
Then she left the table and disappeared behind the bar.
“That’s one foxy lady,” said Sam, as he watched the barmaid fix up a new round of drinks for the hard-working timber cutters.
“You can look all you want to,” said Gil. “But that lady’s spoken for.”
“I can dream, can’t I,” replied Sam.
“No harm in that,” said Emit. “Just don’t get any nutty ideas as the night rolls on.”
“Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m headed up to Moose Crossing for the holiday,” said Sam.
“You ain’t goin’ up that ways tonight, are you?” asked Gil.
“I was kind of thinkin’ of it,” said Sam. “You have a problem with that?”
“No way,” said Gil. “It’s just that it’s a good five to seven miles on a three-foot snowpack.”
“I can handle that,” said Sam.
“Just checking,” said Gil.
“You’re not going to pass on some nonsense about the Loup de Garou,” said Sam.
“You mean the French-Canadian werewolf,” asked Gil.
Just then Heidi returns with the next round of drinks and sets them on the table.
“Here you go guys.”
“Thanks Heidi,” said Sam. “You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Just doing my job,” said Heidi. “By the way I didn’t overhear you talking about le Loup de Garou, did I?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said Emit. “That ghastly creature, which only comes out on the longest nights of the year.”
“There’s no such thing,” said Gil.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” replied Heidi.
“You’re pulling my leg aren’t you,” said Gil.
“I used to think like that,” said Heidi.
“What changed your mind?” asked Sam.
“A few midnight stragglers with the fear of death in their eyes.”
“Here at the Laughing Loon,” inquired Emit.
“Every winter, one or two show up with some weird tale about being followed by a strange creature. I used to pass it off as some drunken nonsense….but I just can’t do that no more.”
“Why’s that?” asked Sam.
“Some of them were stone cold sober!”
Heidi walks away leaving the three men to their drinks.
One hour later, Sam, Emit and Gil were outside the Laughing Loon strapping on their snowshoes, which had been left out in the snow, while the three men were inside drinking.
“You’re not serious about trekking up to Moose Crossing night,” asked Emit.
“Sure am,” said Sam. “And I hope you’re not serious about that French werewolf bullshit.”
“Of course not,” said Emit. “It’s just the night is turning into a real cold one and a lot can happen in five miles of night walking.”
Sam finishes lashing on his webbed walking contraptions and then stands upright.
“Don’t worry, Emit. I know where I’m going. Besides I got a rising full moon to guide me.”
“I’m sure Sam can take care of himself,” said Gil.
“Alright then,” said Emit. “See you bright and early on Monday.”
With those words, Sam left his two companions and began following a packed snowy trail down to the banks of the Wendigo River. The rising moon cast its rays across the frozen tributary, creating a spectacularly beautiful scene that rivaled the best paintings ever done. Sam reveled in the beauty of the wintry, nocturnal scene, for the white bark of the river birches sparkled in the moonglow with an eerie iridescence, unlike anything that Sam had ever witnessed.
About half way to Moose Crossing, Sam heard some heavy breathing that seemed to be coming up the trail from behind. At first, the solitary walker thought that there was another person out on the trail……after all it was a popular path that connected the two wilderness outposts.
But every time Sam turned around, there was nothing visible.
Another mile along the river trail and the breathing seemed to be closing in, so Sam increased his pace….not a good idea on a sub-zero December night. Soon, Sam came to a top of a knoll, where the snow was particularly deep and the shoeing was overly strenuous. Naturally, Sam stopped to catch his breath. It was at this juncture that Sam noticed a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark forest and he thought he could dimly make out the condensation of someone exhaling amidst the thick cover of spruce trees.
In no time Sam resumed his march through the December night, but now a new urgency pumped his body full of adrenalin and pushed him onwards to his final destination at an alarming speed. The heavy breathing did not stop, as Sam kept his eyes fixed forward…..too terrified to turn around.
As the trail descended from the small knoll, Sam used the downward slope to propel himself forward underneath the frozen canopy. Another incline and Sam was sweating profusely, as he made his tired legs lift his long, wooden walking aids along the snowy path. Each step seemed harder and harder and instinctively Sam knew he would not last long in this arctic environment at his present pace. If the phantom behind did not get him, his overexertion would. There was no way out.
Then at the top of the next hill a glimmer of hope appeared. It was the glow of an occupied cabin that seemed to be situated about a mile in front of him. Sam did not trust his own eyes, but he had no choice….And that was to propel himself forward, as best he could, and hope that his vision was real and that he would reach the place of human habitation before being consumed by the spirit behind him.
The last mile was the most physically excruciating and mentally terrifying minutes that he ever experienced in his 45 years on the planet. The breathing from behind got heavier and heavier. At times it seemed like the breath of the monster was all around him.
Finally, Sam was a hundred yards away from the lighted cabin. He couldn’t believe it. It seemed so real that he could smell the woodsmoke pouring out the chimney and he could barely distinguish the muffled sound of human voices. They were joyous sounds like those that might come from a merry party.
At last, Sam reached out for the metal latch that kept the cabin door closed tight and separated the warm heated interior from the frigid night. Sam wholly-expected the whole building to be a figment of his imagination, but it wasn’t, as he released the latch and stumbled across a finished maple floor with his snowshoes still attached to his feet.
Immediately, the joyful banter turned to dead silence. The first thing Sam noticed was a huge fire burning in a fireplace that was located to his right. Directly, in front of Sam was a long bar with a banner hanging from the ceiling that said: “Welcome To Hell”. The bartender had a bright red, painted face and two horns emerging from the sides of his head. Worse of all he had an uncanny resemblance to Jim McKenzie, the brave logger who had died ten years before in a logjam right above the waterfalls that now bore his name in honorarium.
When the bartender spoke, Sam passed out.
Immediately, a small crowd gathered around the exhausted logger. A woman splashed her drink in Sam’s face and he came to.
Sam looked at the bartender and blurted out: “You’re Jim McKenzie and you’re dead.”
Immediately, the sounds of laughter filled the one-room cabin.
“No sir,” then the bartender paused for a few long seconds. “I’m Doug McKenzie, Jim’s older brother. Even though Jim passed away ten years ago, people still get us mixed up. It happens all the time.”
“What the fuck is going on here?” said Sam.
Another loud burst of laughter passes through the twenty or so people gathered in the lonely cabin.
“Welcome to Hell Night!” said Doug. “We do this once a year right before Christmas.”
Slowly, Sam surveys the room and notices that all the people are in costume, most of them quite dreadful.
“You’re kidding me,” said Sam.
“I kid you not,” said Doug. “But I do have one question for you.”
“What’s that?” said Sam.
“What caused you to come bursting through the front door with your snowshoes still attached to your feet?”
“I was being followed by the Loup de Garou,”
Another deathly silence swept through the room.
Then the fire flickered and one of the windows fogged up from the outside. A few seconds later another window fogged up, as two wolf-like eyes could be seen glowing outside in the night. And they seemed to be looking into the cabin.
Then the eyes disappeared and faint footsteps could be heard leading away from the cabin.
When things returned to normal, Doug leaned over and spoke to Sam.
“That ain’t no werewolf!”
“Then what the hell is it?” asked Sam.
“It’s a ghost wolf,” said Doug.
“An appearance by a ghost wolf is rare,” said Jim. “But when they do appear, they always take somebody back with them.”
Orthodox Christmas Not everybody in the world celebrates Christmas on the 25th of December. The most notable exceptions are the Orthodox churches of Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Moldovia, Montenegro and Serbia, along with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Merry Christmas to all those who are celebrating today.
My New Year’s Resolutions For Writers
Since Christmas is finally coming to an end and the chilling cold weather of January is about to descend on us, perhaps it is time for all dedicated writers to snuggle up next to the fire and start putting pen to paper. We may be glad we did, when winter turns to spring and our literary endeavors are rewarded with publication credits and movie rights……… Just dreaming, but here are my ten resolutions anyway.
1. Post more often at Yeyeright(This resolution probably won’t last through the month of January, but it’s worth a try anyway)
2. Say Good-bye to the content market (presently, I have content available at Demand Studios, Hub Pages, Associated Content and Helium. Although I now receive only monthly royalties, Demand Studios has been the only one that was worthwhile, and even that was close to marginal)
3. Attend at least one writers conference (Several years ago I attended the Grub Street conference in Boston and I enjoyed it very much. I think it’s about time I try another conference)
4. Finish my uncompleted novel (It’s been uncompleted for several years)
5. Finish my uncompleted screenplay (Screenplays are much easier to finish than a novel, but very difficult to sell. Actually, this is the one resolution I might skip.)
6. Party more(This might be the most important resolution for any writer, no matter what his or her genre may be)
7. Join a writer’s group maybe ????????(I have never been much on writer’s groups and don’t think 2013 will change that.)
8. Travel to Europe (I have been there twice already. Another visit may be in order.)
9. Submit ideas, articles and short fiction to more markets.
10. Sleep-in more often (This resolution goes hand-in-hand with resolution #6)
So there you go with my New Year’s Resolutions. Let me know what resolutions you intend to make and actually keep.
As a child growing up in the Anglican church in the East Coast of America, I distinctly remember my father, the pastor, explaining how Christmas came to be a Christian holiday, for over the ages this important festival was more closely related to the Winter Solstice than it was to the birth of Christ. First of all, evidence from the bible, places the birth of Christ around September not December. The selection of December 25 for Christ’s birthday was done to usurp the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, which does occur for a week that ends on December 25.
Also inherent in his monologue was the difference in the solar and lunar calendar; which according to my father created (for the pagans of northern Europe a twelve day period when the world was plunged into darkness). To compensate for this uncertainty, people built huge bonfires to light up the night and purify the soul. These practices eventually evolved into the 12 days of Christmas and various celebrations of light, such as burning a yule log. So now many years later, this Christmas holiday has me wondering how much of this is really true.
The Roman part holds together fairly well, for the Roman God of agriculture, called Saturn, was celebrated in late December with feasts, partying and mischief. This is well documented via many sources and seems instrumental in the selection of December 25th as the Christmas holiday.
However, sorting out the pagan traditions of Northern Europe and how they relate to our modern-day Christmas is much more complex, mainly because so many different traditions co-exist. From the cutting of greens, the use of symbolic evergreens, the burning of yuletide logs to the making gingerbread men and special Christmas cookies, the traditions are wide and varied. However, nowhere in my research could I find any mention of the difference in the solar and lunar calendar resulting in the twelve days of Christmas.
So how does all this research affect our current holiday. Very little I hope. The shortest days of the year are a wonderful time to celebrate the accomplishments of the past year and express hopes for the future, no matter what our particular religious beliefs actually are. It is also a fine opportunity for Christians to rejoice in the birth and life of Christ, even if the historical facts are not a perfect fit. After all, Life is full of imperfections.
The solstice has now passed and the days are getting longer, but the thermometer is dropping, as the New Year quickly approaches.
What better time to walk around in the freezing cold and photograph some of the seasonal creations that are on display in this northern city, where hours of actual daylight dips below ten hours.
Perhaps this explains why some of the older cultures resorted to building large bonfires to light up the winter night sky.
Nowadays, in the modern era we have the electricity to do the chore for us.
Here in Portland the popular thing to do is to decorate the tress or buildings with balls of lights. It really does look quite splendid in the long winter sky, but I have noticed that the lighting displays have become increasing thinner as the nation struggles throught he darkness of lean economic times.
Here is another picture taken from the city park with a hint of afterglow in the night sky. This concept of hanging lights on trees is quite unique to my eyes and quite wonderful as well.
And finally one more picture of some lights on a tree along with the moon in the night sky which is close to full.
Such is the wonder of the new digital technology, which allows me to go out and take the night picture with a hand held Kodak digital camera, come home and slide the SD card into the slot on my computer and post this picture just hours after it was taken. Best wishes and a Happy New Year, Everett Autumn
Today is Christmas Eve and the Christmas season is almost upon us, for tomorrow begins the twelve days of Christmas. Here in the west we celebrate the holiday on day one (or sometimes Christmas Eve), but go to Eastern Europe and Russia and you will find that Christmas comes at the end of the first week of January, which would right around the twelfth day of Christmas. The more than merrier.
Well anyone, our town, Portland Maine likes to put lights everywhere. Here are some that are descending from the top of the sixth story of the Maine College of Art. They are strung from long lines the traverse the distance.
Speaking of unusual ways of celebrating Christmas, this is the year that I discovered heavy metal Christmas albums. By chance I was in the record store the other day, making my selection, when the clerk drew my attention to the Judas Priest album that was playing. Actually, it was a series of Christmas and seasonal songs recorded by Robert Halford, called “Winter Songs”. The album sounded nice on the store sound system, but I went ahead and purchased Bob Dylan’s Christmas effort anyway.
Since that day I have done a little researching and come across some surprising results; and that my friends, is there are all sorts of folks from Alice Cooper to Twisted Sister have put out at least a few X-mas songs and some have actually completed and released a whole album. Check out Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister. For those of you who might be interested here is a link to the Houston Press and their choice for five best Heavy Metal Christmas Songs.
And on a final note for those of you who just received a box of candies in the mail from Aunt Ida and Uncle Rico, who you haven’t seen or talked to in ten years, here’s a quick and easy way to respond. Just send them a Jib Jab Christmas card by e-mail.