Friday, December 30, 2016

A NEW YEAR...A NEW BEGINNING

By Ashley Kath-Bilsky

I don't know about you, but I am so ready for the New Year.

I had thought to share a memory of Christmas past, but since we are now hours away from New Year's Eve, my thoughts are rather preoccupied looking forward not back.

For most of the world, the evening of December 31st is spent with a focus on merriment. For some, it is a day to dress up in elegant clothing and attend a formal Gala at a first class hotel. For others, their tradition might mean bundling up in warm clothing and gathering in places like New York's Times Square eagerly awaiting -- with a crowd of other people -- the countdown that signals a giant crystal lighted ball to drop at midnight. You might be at Walt Disney World on a family vacation watching a grand fireworks display. But whether you are in a crowd, a small gathering of friends, or spending a quiet evening at home with family, we all have one thing in common. At the stroke of midnight, the world bids farewell to the passing year and celebrates the dawning of a New Year with optimism, good wishes, and hope.

So, it is with a hopeful heart that I would like to share with you the New Year's Eve tradition that I look forward to each year, one that embraces my Scots heritage. It even has a special name.

Hogmanay!

Meaning the “last day of the year”, Hogmanay is an old, much loved custom in the Highlands of Scotland. It dates back to the celebration of the Winter Solstice among the Norse, but also encompasses Gaelic customs used at Samhein.

It is important to remember that numerous Scots traditions and customs (particularly in the Highlands) are intertwined with those of the Norse.

Why is that, you might ask? Many people of Scots heritage are descendants of Vikings who crossed the North Sea to invade Scotland. As a result, Norse influences are still prevalent in the culture and traditions of Scotland today.

The customs practiced at Hogmanay actually begin at dawn on December 31st. After a small breakfast, Scottish homes are cleaned from top to bottom until they are spotless. Or, spick-and-span as my mother used to say.

Items are then placed about to symbolize what you would like to happen in the New Year. For example, a plate might be set out with coins for prosperity and other symbols for health, love, and protection.

When the clock strikes midnight, windows and doors are opened to welcome the New Year. A feast (or buffet in our house) is set for all to enjoy. And I mean "all". No one is turned away. And since it is a tradition in the Highlands for adults to go door-to-door singing or shouting Hogmanay, quite a crowd could be expected...which brings me to the Scots tradition of "first footing".

Basically, first-footing means the first person who crosses your threshold after midnight on New Year's Day. Traditionally, he (or she) should come bearing gifts such as: salt, shortbread (yum!), whisky, and a black bun (the dense, rich Scottish fruitcake). Another one of my favorites is the Clootie Dumpling, a dessert pudding made with flour, sugar, sultanas, currants, spices, and treacle

The gifts are intended to bring luck to the house and the family in the New Year. Naturally, in return, food and drink are offered to your guests.

It can become quite the Céilidh (party) as everyone who wants to be the first-footer shows up. Before you know it, you have a house full of guests – as well as lots of delicious goodies. Oh, and if a tall, dark (preferably handsome) man is your first-footer, needless to say that brings the best luck of all! On the other hand, should a fair-haired man show up on your doorstep, the luck may not be so good; they are a reminder of the Viking invaders.

Of course, no gathering would be complete without everyone singing Auld Lang Syne, the traditional New Year's anthem written by the famous Scots poet, Robert Burns. And lest you think I jest about the level of merriment and partying for Hogmanay, in Scotland, the day after New Year's, January 2nd, is also a holiday...no doubt a much appreciated day to recover from overindulgence.

Among the most popular traditions upheld today are the torchlight processions throughout the Highlands. Granted, this is not something I do in my Texas neighborhood.

However, in Edinburgh, you very likely would see "A bunch of noisy, hairy Vikings and Scottish highlanders dragging a Viking warship, as they lead a 15,000 strong crowd bearing flaming torches". Traditionally, they walk (along with pipers) from historic Parliament Square on the Old Town's Royal Mile, down the Mound, along Princes Street and Waterloo Place, and up to the ancient Edinburgh meeting ground Calton Hill. Phew! Talk about a hike! If you won't be in Edinburgh, fear not, most cities, towns and villages in the Highlands will have a torchlight procession. The procession ends with everyone helping to ignite a roaring bonfire.

The bonfire itself has a long history and great importance at Hogmanay. It represents everything from the Sun and driving away evil spirits, to how light will always conquer darkness, and the belief that the bonfire will secure happiness and luck in the New Year. The bigger the bonfire, the better the luck. In fact, great care is taken to ensure the bonfire does not go out. Since everyone in the towns and villages carries a torch to light the bonfire, determined that the tradition be upheld by the entire community, it would be a terrible omen of bad luck should the bonfire go out before sunrise.

Although we all might have a special way we celebrate the New Year, one thing is certain. At midnight with the tolling of church bells or clock chimes, whether you celebrate with dinner for two and a Happy New Year kiss, or music, merriment, and fireworks at a festive large gathering, we will all be embracing the promise of a new beginning in a New Year.

It is my heartfelt hope that 2017 will be a year of peace, unity, prosperity, health, and happiness for you, your loved ones, your community, your country, and our world.

And if you are interested in reading a little romance involving a Texas librarian who receives an unexpected inheritance in Scotland, and opens her door on Hogmanay to a very mysterious first footer, you might want to check out INTO THE MIST, scheduled for release in 2017.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Or, as they say in Scotland...Bliadhna Mhath Úr . ~ AKB

PS: If you would like the chance to win a signed copy of one of my books, please visit my website and sign up for my newsletter at: www.ashleykathbilsky.com/newsletter-mailing-list .

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Weddings--One, Two, Three!

You are cordially invited to the wedding ceremony
which will join
Celia Ann Davis
and James D. Yeary
in Holy Matrimony
December 21, 1958
Harmony Baptist Church
Levelland, Texas
2:00 pm

    One....My Davis grandparents were married on Christmas day…way back in the 1800s. I never knew why, but I suspect it was one time of the year the entire family could visit the North Texas farm which was owned by my grandmother’s parents. We don’t have a photo, but I would love to have one.
    Two.....Then my older sister—named after our grandmother—was married on Christmas Day around 1952. Her fiancé was a military man, and he asked for a leave to come to Texas to marry her. They had a simple wedding in our family living room, and Mother made the cake. A small group gathered there and wished them well.
   
    Three....In 1958, I married on December 21 in the same town as my sister married. But I wanted a church wedding, and Mother and Daddy granted me that wish. I know it was not easy for them, because we were not rolling in wealth. My older sister made her Matron of Honor dress and the two bridesmaid dresses.

    Mother and I drove to Lubbock one Saturday to Dunlap’s Department Store, where I tried on wedding dresses until I found the perfect one. To this day, I wonder how much my parents saved and scrimped together enough money to pay for all this.
    My older sister helped make the dresses--in fact, I think she did most of the sewing. 
   
     Our wedding had a Christmas theme. The bridesmaids’ dresses were red velveteen. The flowers on the altar were poinsettias. I adored my wedding…and my new very handsome husband. The small church was full because he had many brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews, and my family knew many in town.

    You might ask why Jim and I married on the twenty-first of December. Because it was Christmas break at Texas Technological College—now called Texas Tech University.
    Over the years, I’ve learned I was not alone in getting married between semesters.
I offer a story about a Christmas Wedding—but the wedding is not between the hero and heroine. It is 99cents on the Kindle and 95 pages long.
You’ll have to read it and learn what happens.
A CHRISTMAS WEDDING
BLURB:
Kailey Lovelace, maid of honor in her brother's Christmas wedding in Austin, Texas, hopes the best man Alex Dunn won't bolt when he sees she is six feet tall and has frizzy hair. At the airport, she almost loses her breath when she learns he's even taller and looks like a dream. If only he likes her enough for the week of the wedding to go smoothly.
Alex Dunn, recently discharged from the Army, can't believe his good luck when he meets his partner for the wedding. Kailey is just the right height and gorgeous, as well. He looks forward to a pleasant week in Texas.
What could possibly go wrong?


EXCERPT:
     Shelley had poured out her heart in-between bowls of popcorn, wine, and chocolate. Both she and Kailey had overdosed on such rich indulgences. 
     The doorbell rang…and rang and rang. Kailey stumbled to the door and peeked through the security peephole. Alex. And Sam.
     With a little adrenalin perking her up, she opened the door, standing there in her lacy black bra and a pair of too short sweat pants that came to mid-calf. She pointed a finger at both men and said, “If you laugh, you can just turn around and go home.”
     Sam groaned and covered his eyes. “Sheesh, sis, put on some clothes.”
     She glanced at Alex. He stood with his hands in his coat pockets, grinning, looking from her eyes to her breasts, and back to her eyes. Funny, she wasn’t embarrassed. I’d have on less if I were in my swim suit. And she liked the little thrill that ran through her.
     Leaving the door open, she turned away, waving her hand at them. She looked around the room, under the table, behind the sofa, when finally she found the sweatshirt—one of Sam’s, too—behind a door. Pulling it over her head, she walked as straight as she could to the sofa, shoved Shelley’s feet to the side, and sat down.
     “Sit up, Shelley. The guys want to talk.” She glared at both of them. “Well, sit, both of you. I’ll get a crick in my neck looking up. Hey, Shell, wake up. Look who’s here.”
     Shelley slowly moved to a sitting position and barely glanced at Sam and Alex. They’d taken the chairs facing the sofa. Alex still had that stupid little grin—it used to be intriguing, now it was stu… no it wasn’t. Who was she trying to fool? He still displayed that dimple, the one she couldn’t take her eyes off when he did that little mysterious smile thing.
     Sam leaned forward, propped his arms on his thighs, and linked his fingers. “Shelley, what the hell are you doing? You’ve got to tell me. I’m going crazy, here.”
~~*~~
Amazon Link:

99cents
Celia Yeary...
Romance, and a little bit of Texas
Sweethearts of the West-Blog

Monday, December 26, 2016

A CHILD'S WINTER WONDERLAND

 

This month on Sweethearts of the West, our members are sharing memories of Christmas past. Since this is after the big event, I’d like to share an experience that I remember clearly even though it was (mumble, mumble) years ago.

Do you remember the first time you saw snow? For you folks in the Midwest and Northern part of the country, I’m sure you don’t.

My parents lived in a tiny North Texas town near Childress when I was born. I was only a few months old when we moved to the Bakersfield area of Southern California. How I dreamed of snow for Christmas but none fell on our locale.

My grandparents lived in a small Oklahoma town, Hollis, which is only a few miles from the Texas state line. My grandfather was severely injured in a tractor accident and was told he could no longer farm.  While he was in the hospital, my resilient grandmother sold the farm, bought a house in town, and hired a neighbor to move furniture and belongings to the new home. Not new, but new to them.

My precious grandmother
Each summer my dad would drive us to visit my grandparents. This summer he was particularly busy and couldn’t get away. Mother was anxious about her mother and step-father and their welfare. For Christmas, Mother and I rode the train to visit my grandparents. An adventure for a six-year-old girl!

First of all, my grandmother had an eight-foot Christmas tree in the living room. My parents always had a tiny table-top tree, so I was thrilled to see what—to me—was a huge tree. Of course, there were already presents underneath. But, the best was yet to come.

One day during our visit, four inches of snow fell. Real snow! Mother and I built a lopsided snowman, but he looked grand to me. I wore my grandmother’s too-large rubber boots and clomped in the snow until Mother insisted I come inside.

This is NOT how our snowman looked.
Let me tell you, my friends, that was a magical time for me. So much so that I remember it clearly still. The smells, the sunlight on the snow, the joy.

My hope for you this special season is that you see the world’s magic with the eyes of a child. May you find health, prosperity, and peace in the coming year.  



Caroline Clemmons is an award-winning and Amazon bestselling author. Her latest releases are MURDOCH'S BRIDE  (set in snowy Montana in 1887), WILD WESTERN WOMENMISTLETOE, MONTANA (set at a snowy Christmas time in 1890), and ANGEL FOR CHRISTMAS (contemporary). Each title above is clickable in the event you wish to purchase one (hint, hint). Snuggle down with a book to relax and recover from the season's hectic demands. 


Caroline and her husband live in cowboy country of North Central Texas with a menagerie of rescued animals whose numbers seem to grow. Resistance is futile.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Baubles, Orbs, and Glitter by Paty Jager




Christmas Ornaments first came into use in Germany in the 16th century when a man wanted to make the tree more entertaining for children and added candles. The trees were also decorated with foods such as wafers, candies, fruits, and hard cookies baked in various shapes. Non-edible decorations were paper flowers and tinsels made from tin and silver.

In the 1800’s Lauscha, Germany was the main glass blown Christmas decoration manufacturers.  Other items used to make decorations at this time were: silk, wool thread, chenille and stiff spun glass.

The pickle ornament originated in Germany. It was put on the tree by parents to discover which of their children were the smartest. That child received an extra present from St. Nicholas.

Christmas trees and ornaments were introduced to England in 1840 when Queen Victoria married German Prince Albert. England added their own twist on decorations; paper baskets with sugared almonds, glass ornaments, decorative beads, and hot air balloons.

It was 1880 when Christmas decorations entered the United States. J.W. Woolworth imported the glass decorations for his store. Other American decorations were cut outs of old magazines, cotton wools, and tinsel.

Do you use traditional decorations or are you a rebel and decorate your tree with unique baubles? Do you decorate with a theme or just make the tree colorful and full of memories? 

I have to admit, I went with a theme one year and decided I like the chaos of years of decorations. 

If you're looking for a book to keep you company during the holidays, may I suggest, my latest re-release, Bridled Heart. The last part of the book takes place during the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and ends on New Years Eve.

Bridled Heart
Contemporary Western Romance
 

ER nurse, Gina Montgomery, uses a self-imposed vow of celibacy to keep from getting too close to anyone. Music saved her from an abusive past. But that same solace compromises her solitary life when her piano playing draws the attention of a handsome bareback rider. 

Holt Reynolds let his sister down when she needed him most. Seeing similarities between his sister and Gina, he can’t get visions of the woman or her poignant music out of his mind. He vows to find a way to free her of her past and prays it doesn’t resurface and destroy their chance at happiness.

Universal Buy Link: Click here to find the ebook vendor of your choice.
 




Photos
© Can Stock Photo / 2mmedia 
© Can Stock Photo / borisss