Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas Cozy, Christmas Bleak




 

By Chloe Ellefson


From Heritage of Darkness, 4th in the Historic Sites series by Kathleen Ernst




Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa…most of us dream of a cozy holiday season.  We want the glowing candles, the scent of mulling cider, the taste of special holiday foods.  Peace on earth sounds pretty good, too.

If the coming season does evoke negative vibes, they are likely about familial disharmony, crass commercialism, and tight budgets.

The Wild Hunt - Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo
Consider, though, what our ancestors experienced centuries ago.  Uneducated people living in remote areas faced the shortest, darkest, coldest days of the year with trepidation.  Folklore from many cultures recounts efforts to stave away the evil spirits howling through the skies, sometimes known as The Wild Hunt.  Anyone careless enough to be caught outdoors after sundown would suffer dire misfortune or be kidnapped by the dead.  Farm families painted symbols on their outbuildings to keep evil at bay.  Employers and workers slept on the floor, huddled together for protection.

I’m a museum curator, so most of the time, exploring folktales and old ethnic traditions makes me happy.  I’m not happy when I get pulled into murder investigations, but sometimes my knowledge of folklore and history is key to solving crimes.

So when I discovered a body in an antique immigrant trunk at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, I wasn’t totally surprised when the local police chief asked me and my cop-friend Roelke to keep our eyes and ears open for anything suspicious.

Goat Head, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum collection
I was also asked by the museum director to interview elderly Norwegian-Americans about Christmas traditions.  Although I love talking to seniors and hearing their stories, I had some trepidation about this particular project.  The winter holiday season is upon us, and some of the tales give me the willies.  (At least the creepy goat heads carried to ward away evil are carved from wood these days, and not the real thing.)

Then I started experiencing the vestiges of ancient rituals once observed in the name of protection against evil spirits.  And I’m finding some pretty dark secrets hidden in the roots of pleasant ethnic traditions.  I’d like to leave the whole mess to the police, but I’m starting to fear that the killer’s next victim might be my mom…or me.

So take my advice:  This December, do not delve into the ancient past.  Stick with the modern cozy aspects of holiday traditions.

In fact, I’d like to hear about your favorite traditions.  What customs are important in your family? 
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Author photo by Kay Klubertanz


And if you leave a comment, your name will go into a drawing for one of the Chloe Ellefson mysteries—winner’s choice!  Be sure to leave an email address so Kathleen can contact you if you are the lucky winner.









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25 comments:

  1. Yikes, Chloe! After seeing that picture of the Wild Hunt, I'm not sure I'll ever feel safe walking home from work in the December dark again. I'd love to get together and talk historic textiles with you sometime, though. Christmas traditions? My favorite is exchanging home made treats with friends - and making enough extra to take to the Haven of Mercy for the folks staying there. Good luck at Vesterheim!

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    1. Thanks, Kath! You and I definitely need to talk textiles one day. And maybe do some baking, too!

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  2. I'm not venturing outside after dark without my fuzzy pooches, Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho! Not that they would frighten anyone or anything... I like making things, usually sewn and/or machine embroidered for friends and family.

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    1. I'd feel much comforted if pooches named Sally-Forth and Tally-Ho were along! And homemade gifts are the best, aren't they?

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  3. The only tradition we have is getting together with friends and family. We usually do this over several days to accommodate both my family and my boyfriends.

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    1. What better times than the holidays to get together with friends and family?

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  4. Yikes, Chloe! I never thought of Christmas time as being scary before, but now instead of dreaming of sugar plums i'll be having nightmares of Nordic monsters.

    Our family's ancient tradition only goes back 50 years to 1963 when we first had waffles for Christmas eve dinner. Not quite sugar plums but definitely not nightmare material, either.

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    1. Oh dear, I hope you skip the nightmares! I think waffles for Christmas eve dinner is a grand tradition.

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  5. When I was young we had a few Christmas traditions. Christmas Eve was spent with my mom's side of the family, then we'd generally stop at my paternal grandparents...the Wizard of Oz was always on TV. Christmas morning was me and my folks followed by church, my godfather's, then back to my paternal grandparents. Now I generally have to work on Christmas. I started my own tradition. Early in December I drive to a nearby town to their famous candy store to get handmade ribbon candy. I always eat red licorice and drink a pop on the way home!

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    1. Oh, and now I have to watch A Christmas Story...more than once! "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

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    2. oops. I'm cozyupwithkathy at gmail dot com

      Stay safe this holiday season!

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    3. It's always interesting to hear how traditions evolve. Your childhood Christmases sound much like mine!

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  6. wow Chloe, your book sounds a bit darker than my usual cozy's but the background sounds very intriguing! Do you know anything about Dutch traditions and folklore?

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    1. I don't know anything about Dutch traditions and folklore, but I have a Dutch branch on my family tree and I very much hope to explore them one day! Does your family enjoy Dutch traditions?

      As for the darkness factor...it may be a tad darker than most cozies, but there is no explicit sex or violence.

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    2. Aurian, I looked a little farther...I imagine you can tell me a lot about Dutch traditions...

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  7. I grew up with a lot of family traditions. One of my favorites is of the children laying out their Christmas stocking at the end of the bed at bed time. In the morning you invariably kick it, which wakes you up. I can recall sitting on my bed as the sun rose. I would take my time pulling treasures out of the stocking. My poking around would usually wake my sister in the next bed. She never made an attempt to be quiet, so soon the entire household was awake & up.

    I carried on this tradition with my own children.

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    1. Interesting blog-I am looking forward to reading some of your books and perhaps sending some f the American Girl ones to my grandaughters. My favorite Christmas tradition was going to visit family friends during the holiday. I loved the presents and the cookies and singing Christmas carols. My favorite present was always books!

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  8. Forgot my email

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  9. I wasn't familiar with your series but Heritage of Darkness sounds like a book I want to read. I enjoy Christmas themed mysteries (or Hanakkah, kwanza etc) as I enjoy reading/hearing about others traditions and folk lore.

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    1. Dianne, I also love learning about traditions and folklore, which is why I'm having so much fun weaving them through the books! Hope you enjoy.

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  10. Our presents were supposed to be opened Christmas morning (after Santa had visited and added to our family's gifts). But we little ones found it really hard to wait. So we began the tradition of getting one present Christmas Eve. I remember one in particular--my Aunt and Uncle gave me a gigantic stuffed bear, almost as big as me. He became "Chris", short for Merry Christmas.
    libbydodd@comcast.net

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    1. Libby, I bet children everywhere wish their families did the same!

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  11. Congratulations to Katreader! Her name came out of the hat, and she will receive a copy of Heritage of Darkness.

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by and shared their traditions! Special thanks to Kath from the Haunted Yarn Shop for letting me visit!

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