Podcast #63- 275 Days to Go!

Christmas SPiderPodcast #63- 275 Days to Go! Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Teens & Spiders!

This week Natalie & Jeremy cover a strange range of Christmas topics.  We start with the legend of the Christmas spider (some get rich slow ideas here). We then move to some discussion on our trees, teapots, old ladies, and a plan.  We wrap up with our actual topic for the show- Teen Gift Giving.  How do you shop for those 13-19 year olds in your life?  What are the best gifts?  Is it a mini-fridge?  A book?  A gift card?  Heck- maybe it’s a spider!!


Ghosts walk at Yuletide

Anne_Boleyn_London_TowerI am reading the historical novel, Wolf Hall, about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his intrigues with Henry the VIII.  In the novel, the author references the well-known fact that ghosts are astir during the holiday season, and that got me to wondering about ghosts and Christmas.  Of course, the first thought most of us have is Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with its ghosts of past, present and future.  In much more recent lore, here’s a line in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (1963) that references the “scary ghost stories/and tales of the glories/of Christmases long long ago.”

Reading up on the topic and thinking about Henry VIII, I came across multiple connections to Anne Boleyn, unfortunate second wife of Henry VIII, who is reputed to walk the grounds of her beloved Hever Castle on Christmas Eve.  I discovered that she is just one of many ghosts connected to Christmas.  Next to Halloween, Christmas is the most haunted time of the year. (I could write some song lyrics for that, I think.)

While most connections between ghosts and Christmas center on the Winter solstice,  I found one source that highlights the proliferation of Victorian ghost stories to economic changes and the development of gas lamps?

Lighting was often provided by gas lamps, which have also been implicated in the rise of the ghost story; the carbon monoxide they emitted could provoke hallucinations. And there was a preponderance of people encountering ghosts in their daily life come the middle of the century. In 1848, the young Fox sisters of New York heard a series of tappings, a spirit apparently communicating with them through code, and their story spread quickly. The vogue for spiritualism was under way. Spiritualists believed spirits residing in the afterlife were potentially able to commune with the living, and they set up seances to enable this.The most ancient origins of ghosts at Christmas come from the Celts and their celebration of the Yule, the winter solstice, when the old year gives way to the new. In this ancient celebration, ghosts of the dead are roaming during this time of rebirth and return of the sun. I found an excellent discussion about the connection of the winter solstice and the longest night of the year being the perfect time for ghosts to roam about.  People light candles and burn fires to chase away these spirits and to welcome the sun’s return.  Many a night, when I’ve gone into the yard to lock up the chickens, the darkness of winter has seemed darker than usual.  I would not be surprised if I saw a ghost or two.  

(“Ghosts of Christmas Past:  Why were the Victorians to ghastly good at ghost stories?”)

I’m not convinced by this explanation above, but it leads me toward more exploration!  I’m on the hunt for good Christmas ghost stories.  



How did American slaves celebrate Christmas?

220px-Harriet_Ann_Jacobs1894This weekend, Roger and I had the opportunity to see the Oscar-winning film, 12 Years a Slave.  The film is based on Solomon Northup’s autobiographical work, and, for many, the film opened our eyes not only to the cruelties (“cruelty” is not a strong enough word) of slavery, but also,  to the stories that a few African American slaves recorded.  In elementary school, we learned about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas, but there are many other African American authors who have recorded their narratives.

One such author is Harriet A. Jacobs, author of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.  She was a contemporary of Solomon Northup, living with her family in North Carolina.  Her largely autobiographical narrative includes a chapter titled, “Christmas Festivities.”  Leading up to this chapter, Jacobs’s character, Linda, has hidden in the attic of a small shed to avoid the sexual advances of her master.  She is able to see her children, cared for by their grandmother, but for her safety and theirs, the children do not know where she is hidden.  She lived in hiding for seven years.

Christmas Day for these slaves is both a celebration and a sadness because January 1 is “hiring day,” when slaves can be traded, sold or hired to a new master.  Often families were separated from each other.

In this story, Grandmother bring materials to Linda so that Linda can make small gifts for her children.  On Christmas morning, children rise to see the Johnkannaus,  characters in brightly colored strips of cloth and headdresses of horns.

“They consist of companies of slaves from the plantations, generally of the lower class. Two athletic men, in calico wrappers, have a net thrown over them, covered with all manner of bright-colored stripes. Cows’ tails are fastened to their backs, and their heads are decorated with horns. A box, covered with sheepskin, is called the gumbo box. A dozen beat on this, while others strike triangles and jawbones, to which bands of dancers keep time. For a month previous they are composing songs, which are sung on this occasion. These companies, of a hundred each, turn out early in the morning, and are allowed to go round till twelve o’clock, begging for contributions. “

On the North Carolina digital history page, this tradition is described as rare in America, unique to North Carolina, originating in the islands of the Caribbean.  The description of the Johnkannaus remind me of the tradition of mummers in early American history.  There are some connections, including the wild costumes, the music and the begging.  I’m sure Jeremy will discover many more ways the traditions are alike.  I’ve only scratched the surface.Johnkannaus

From Harriet Jacobs’ description, the time between Christmas Day and the New Year was one of the only times of the year when a slave, if he/she had a kind master, was given “time off.”  There was feasting and  small gifts exchanged.