Friday, December 19, 2014

On Christmas!


Merry, merry Christmas, everyone!

I hope everyone has a wonderful week. I intend to spend mine having fun with the kiddos and finalizing our plans for making Christmas Day a day of remembrance for Jesus.

With this on my mind this year, I've been quite struck by a few things I've come across. A week or so ago we went on a field trip to a local historical house, which had a World War 1 display up for the holiday. The children got to hear the story of the Christmas Truce, when the British and German troops declared a cease-fire for Christmas and ventured into No Man's Land, exchanging rations and playing soccer and remembering what peace on earth is really about. The fighting began again the next day--and the command was none too pleased when they learned that the soldiers in the foxholes took it upon themselves to do this--but looking back, it's an inspiring story.

And oh, how I love touring this historic house. When you step into the ballroom, you see the grand, 16-foot-high Christmas tree. And learn that in 1914, the tree wouldn't have been decorated until Christmas Eve, and would be closed off so the kids couldn't see it until Christmas Day. But not first thing--oh no! First came church. Then a family brunch. And only then did the family open those doors to the ballroom and reveal the tree and the presents.

I'm really coming to love the simplicity of these sorts of celebrations. The fact that the gifts were few but meaningful, the emphasis of the day on Jesus first, family second, and only afterward the things. I find myself longing to recapture some of that. And wondering at the roots of our traditions.

So being me, I do a little research. ;-) I started in Ancient Rome, where they celebrated a winter holiday called Saturnalia. They would give gifts, light candles, and celebrate for a week...but while this celebration led up to the winter solstice, it's not, as some would suggest, the roots of our Christmas. Nor, as other have suggested, is the Roman festival to the sun god, also celebrated on December 25. For centuries people have suggested this--with outrage--but in fact, the date of Christmas pre-dates the holiday of Sol Invictus. So if anyone was stealing, it was the Roman emperor. ;-)

Why December 25th then? Well. *Grins* As it turns out, it all goes back to March 25. At the time, that was the date of the spring equinox. In Jewish tradition, it was believed to be the date that God created the earth, the date of the Passover, and so the date that Jesus was crucified. According to another Jewish tradition, important men were believed to live in whole years--which is to say, their life began and ended on the same date.

So how did the early church ascertain the date of Jesus's birthday? They assumed that conception took place on March 25--that Jesus's life as a human being began that day--and then counted exactly nine months forward. Hence, December 25.

Let's not argue whether the math is exactly right or the validity of the whole-year supposition. Let's just accept that it's what people round about 300 A.D. believed. That is where the date of Christmas comes from, and the fathers of the early church were fully convinced by this. Me? I don't know, and frankly, I don't think it matters. But I accept the beauty of their reasoning, the simplicity of it, and I embrace their desire to celebrate the birth of our Christ.

In our house, we're determined to keep only the traditions that bring us joy and keep our eyes on the Lord, not the ones that bring stress. Presents will be simple. Baking will be fun. Honestly, if I'm stressing about something--be it gifts or decorating or cookies--then that's my cue to examine it and wonder if it's pulling my eyes off Jesus. And you know what? It usually is. So those will be the first things I let go of.

I pray your celebration this year is filled with the Light of the World. That each candle you light is a testimony to Him. That each gift you give is out of love--the same love you received from the Father when He gave His Son. The same love St. Nicholas embraced when he dropped gold down a chimney to save a family from the streets. The same love that raises man out of the mire and stretches him toward the Holy.

I pray that this Christmas is about the gift of Jesus to the world, and that new understanding of that amazing Gift falls on your heart and keeps you warm through the holidays.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Remember When . . . The New Series Shaped Up?

It's been a pretty cool week in terms of writing progress.

First of all, on Friday I finished The Outcast Duchess, book 2 in my Ladies of the Manor Series. Yay!! I'd been so close for weeks, and had it been a time of year that allowed for ignoring the outside world and writing...

But alas. It wasn't. So amidst field trips and The Nutcracker rehearsals, I found what time I could and ended up writing 9,600 words on Friday to get me to The End. (No, I don't actually type The End, LOL. I just sit back and breathe a sigh of relief and then shout out a loud "DONE!" for anyone within earshot.) For reference, that's writing-retreat sort of numbers for me. The realm that I can usually only accomplish when all outside distractions are removed. But I managed it on Friday with a half day of school and then a couple blessed hours of solitude while my mother-in-law took the kids Christmas tree shopping. Well, and then my awesome hubby picking up pizza for dinner. And me ignoring that the kids ought to have been getting ready for bed while I finished the epilogue, LOL.

So now I'm reading through it before sending it to my critique partners. And on Monday I got the word that my editor at Bethany House had just finished her pass of book 1 in the series, The Lost Heiress. Always a relief to get the nod on the revisions I'd turned in and be assured that she loves it. =)

My thoughts then naturally turn to the third book in the series. I've written this whole series before in a different time period, so I already have a decent idea what will happen to my lovely Ella. And I gotta say, I'm pretty excited to focus on her. Why? Because she's hilariously bubbly and optimistic. In this version of The Outcast Duchess, she has a note of whimsy she hadn't had in my original version one I love. It's going to be fun to see how she carries through on that when tossed headfirst into the action of book 3.

But it also makes me wonder what people really love to see in a heroine. Oh, I know we don't ever just read one type, and we love many of them. But what's your favorite type? My series, at the moment looks like this:
A young Diane Kruger is how I picture Brook, though with curly hair

1. Brook - the trend-setter. Bold, daring, given to mischief, quite likely to fly off the handle and do something impulsive that could get her into serious trouble...but wary about romance after seeing disastrous results in her family.
Emma Watson (styled sweetly, not for sexy) is how I imagine Rowena

2. Rowena - the outcast. Quiet, reserved, and seriously injured by relationships in her past. Rowena expects the worst from people and can't quite believe herself worthy of love...until God and Brice prove to her otherwise.
Amy Adams in her role in Enchanted is pretty much a perfect Ella

3. Ella - the optimist. Always on the lookout for romance, Ella expects a fairy tale out of life...and won't believe in anything less, even when reality insists otherwise. Ella is traditional, feminine, confident...and prepared to wait a lifetime to find true love, if that's what it takes.

Which character type (or personality type, in reality) are you most drawn to? Which one (or a different one) are you?

Me, I'm an optimist. Guess that's why I'm looking forward to Ella. ;-)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Word of the Week - Limelight - and The Winner!

First of all, the winner of my giveaway is

Susan Poll!

Congrats! Now on with the word of the week. =)

This weekend past was the annual performance of The Nutcracker by the ballet studio my daughter attends, so we were occupied with all things stage and dancing. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the word limelight. =)

I'd never paused to wonder where in the world that word came from, but it's pretty simple. The popular name for the Drummond Light, this type used an incandecent of lime to create a brilliant light first put to use in lighthouses. It was then adopted for the stage in Victorian days, used to spotlight a principle actor.

Created in 1825 (for the lighthouse light), by 1877 it had adopted the slightly metaphorical sense of being the center of attention from its theatrical uses.

Do you like to be in the limelight? My daughter loves it...my son hates it...not so different from their parents, LOL. I always loved being the center of attention (odd for someone who considers herself otherwise an introvert), but my hubby will find some amazingly creative ways to avoid it. ;-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Remember When . . . A Christmas Story & Gift!


So I have a story idea. Shocking, right? ;-) I need to finish The Outcast Duchess before I really dig into it, but my goal is to make that transition in the next week.

Why? Because I'd like to write a Christmas story, and I figured it would be fun to do, you know...over Christmas.

It's been a while since I've read a Christmas-themed book, though. I used to read several every year, but, well...then I had kids and started homeschooling, and I'm lucky to read one book a month for pleasure.

If you have read any Christmas books in recent years, would you mind sharing your quick "must" and "must not" list? The parameters of my story will make it by nature very different from most that are out there, but I still want it to capture that feeling...

So I figured I'd offer a hand-dandy giveaway of my latest, and all you have to do to enter is answer some/all of my questions. =)

Here they are:

  • What on a cover draws your eye and screams "Christmas!" in a positive way? Color? Certain items? People or no people?
  • Are there specific words in the title that attract/repulse you?
  • What themes most attract you? Just the seasonal setting? Christmas miracle stories? "Finding the true meaning" stories?
  • Is there a particular "feel" you associate with Christmas stories?
  • Traditionally, these books are shorter than a standard novel (perhaps because of seasonal busyness?)--do you like that or not?

And now more specifically...

  • What would you expect/want from me if I were to write a Christmas story?


Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. =) Now, to enter to win a copy of A Soft Breath of Wind (hello, Christmas gift! To you or someone else, LOL) just fill out the form here.

(The giveaway will only run through the end of the weekend, so I have time to get the book to the lucky winner before Christmas!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 8, 2014

Word of the Week - Jolly


Well here's one that made me smile. I have to say that most times when I hear the word jolly, I think of Christmas. Jolly old St. Nick, jolly elves, etc.

And apparently, that's a good thing to think of! Though the word comes most immediately from Old French jolif, meaning "festive, amorous, pretty," there are also suggestions that it's a loan-word from Germanic tongues, akin to Old Norse jol...which is the word for their winter feast, i.e. Yule...which is Christmas! How fun is that? So it's totally appropriate to think of Christmas when you hear the word jolly, because it's related!

I hope December is indeed jolly for you, and that you're not too stressed out over gifts and wrapping and shopping and budgets. I'm enjoying the music and decorations and doing my darndest to keep that focus on the Lord this year with my kiddos. =)

Have a holly, jolly Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thoughtful About . . . Santa Claus and Giving


I admit it. Readily. I have occasionally had issue with the Santa question. I have friends who never introduced the concept, and part of me always wished I had put my foot down on it too. Because I never really introduced it. I just let it creep in. Whenever my kids would ask, I would say, "Well, what do you think?"

And I was about to pull the plug. Then . . . then I looked it up. I looked up the true history of St. Nicholas, and how he became Santa Claus. And you know what I discovered? That of all the many Christmas gift-giving traditions, this is actually the only one I feel has its roots in the right place.

Nicholas was from a city in the Byzantine empire, born in the late 200s and living through the mid 300s. From his youth, he was always given to matters of God. His parents died when he was young, leaving him a very wealthy boy. But rather than live in style, he was raised by his uncle, a priest, and soon followed in his footsteps. (Sorry--no Mrs. Claus.)

Even as a boy, he was known as the wonder-worker. He healed people of things like withered hands and illnesses with simple prayers. He calmed storms. He worked miracles. And he's still hugely remembered for those things in Europe, where you'll be hard pressed to find a town without a church dedicated to St. Nicholas. But do you know what else he's remembered for?

His anonymous generosity. 

See, he had all this money . . . but a heart for the Lord. So what did he do? Well, whenever he saw the needs of someone in his community, he quietly met them. He threw gold through windows. Down chimneys . . . and on occasion, it's reported that some of this gold landed in a stocking left to dry over the banked fire.

Sound familiar? For hundreds of years, Christmas stockings always had gold--or a golden fruit, like an orange--in the bottom, to recall this story.

But the beauty of the thing is that Nicholas never claimed to be the gift-giver. More, when someone caught him at it, he would beg them not to disclose the secret, not so long as he lived. Because Christ charged us to give in secret.

After his death on December 6th, however, the stories came out. Story upon story about the generosity and gift-giving of Nicholas, who was soon named a saint and whose feast day was established as December 6th. So a new tradition was born. Whenever an anonymous gift was given, and especially on his feast day, it was said to be given in the name of St. Nick. 

Anonymously--because that's what Christ charged us to do.

Isn't that actually what gift-giving should be about?? Not the glory of saying, "Look, I bought you something you'll love!" but the knowledge that we're bringing joy to someone--better still, meeting the need of someone--without expecting anything in return. Even the joy of seeing their faces when they open it.

That is true giving. And that's what St. Nicholas represents.

So how did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus? Well, because of the proximity of St. Nicholas's feast day to Christmas, the two holidays eventually merged. But not right away. For hundreds of years, the gifts were given on December 6, and December 25 was reserved as a day of worshiping the Christ Child.

Then Martin Luther revolutionized the church and tried to do away with the saints' days altogether. He was the one who said we oughtn't to expect gifts from St. Nicholas. Instead, we ought to be grateful for the gift of the Christ Child. But in rather typical fashion, people weren't willing to give up all their old traditions...so they just changed the name and began saying the gifts were from the Christ-kindl (German/Dutch for Christ Child). Which Americans later heard and thought was Kris Kringle. Which is how it became, ironically, another name for Santa. (Also note that Santa Claus is directly from the Dutch words for saint and Nicholas, Claus being a nickname for the latter and "sinta" the word for the former.)

So you see what happened? In effort to change a tradition, all we succeeded in doing was losing its meaning. Santa became a symbol of greed to many, when that's the last thing he ever was in reality. He became a symbol of Christmas-when-you-take-Christ-out-of-it, when his life was dedicated to putting Christ in everything.

When I read all this history, I was inspired (hello, future novel!), and I was also saddened. Because one of the most honorable traditions surrounding gift-giving is the one so often hated by the Church. Oh, we're happy to give gifts...but we don't want to lie to our kids. (And let's face it--we don't want to share the glory when we find that perfect something for them.)

Well, I'm not going to lie to my kids. Instead, I'm going to teach them who St. Nicholas was. More, why he did the things he did. And I'm going to hammer home that the beauty of the thing is the anonymity. Who leaves those presents? Well, that's for you and your faith and your logic to decide. But the most important thing as a receiver of said gifts is knowing they're given from love--not just the love of a friend or the love of a parent or the love of any other family.

These gifts represent the love of God. The love of Christ. Embodied by the anonymous generosity of man...a man like St. Nick.

I'm not going to lie to my kids. I'm going to explain that St. Nick is a real person, who did indeed appear miraculously to many people. That's it's not about magic...it's about miracles. That believing God can do the impossible is part of faith. And that another part is being His hands and feet. Being His vehicle.

Being St. Nick. Not just on Christmas--in fact, we're going to try to get away from making the day set aside for Christ being Present Day. But we're going to give gifts. We're just going to change up how we do it.

My challenge to you this year is to start taking yourself out of gift-giving. Start signing gifts "Anonymous"--or, as the case may be, "St. Nicholas." Start leaving them for people to find and never know they're from you.

Let's start giving for the right reasons. And let's give some credit to the memory of a man who always, always did. Santa isn't a symptom of the evils of a commercialized nation--we are. Our attitudes are. Santa, if you dig back to the history, is the memory of a man who knew how to do things right. And I bet if Nicholas of Myra could see how his image has been changed over the years, and even hated by some Christians, he would weep. Because all he ever wanted to do was show Christ's love to his flock. He would want us, just like I firmly believe God does, to get back to the roots of that.

Will this be hard? Absolutely. Why? Because of expectation. Because we'll feel cheap if we show up without something in hand and don't reveal we've already given something. But that's a symptom of the problem, isn't it? Giving shouldn't be about our pride.

Let me say that again:



Giving should be about Him.

Not me.

Him.

Not you.

Him.

If we're giving in our own name...well, then who's the gift about? Makes you think, doesn't it? Or at least, it made me think. Because giving gifts has always been, to me, about (a) the recipient and (b) my joy in giving it. Not really about God at all. And you know, maybe that's fine on a birthday.

But on Jesus's? I don't think it is. I really don't. And so I'm going to accept the challenge to myself. I'm going to figure out how to glorify the Lord and honor Christ on His day--on every day. And I'm never going to sell St. Nicholas short again. Because he understood all his life what it's taken me a lot of years to figure out.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Remember When . . . Stay Tuned

Tomorrow, my post combines the history of St. Nicholas/Santa Claus with some rather revolutionary (or perhaps anti-revolutionary, since it's more about getting back to the way things were than making something totally new) thoughts on Christmas.

Today, I'm working hard to get my manuscript to the finish line. I won't get there today, but I only have 10 scenes to go, and I need to dedicate as much time as possible to it.

So...no straight historical post today. ;-) But do drop by tomorrow. If you're anything like me, you have some ideas about Santa Claus that look more at the jolly old elf than who St. Nicholas really was and where our traditions come from. When I studied it out, I was amazed to realize how we've taken one of the most noble traditions and warped it. And I think you will be too.

See you tomorrow!