Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas from the Heart

by Rain Trueax


To date, I have written four novellas set in the American West where at their heart is the Christmas season, its traditions and expectations. Two are contemporary, A Montana Christmas and Diana's Journey, and two are historical, Rose's Gift and Frederica's Heart. There are also two historical, short stories, Blue Mountain Christmas and Connie's Gift, which were written for anthologies, one of which no longer exists. 

The idea came to put the six into a collection just for the season and price it at 99¢. Sometime in January, it will be withdrawn (maybe to return next Christmas). This book is intended to be a Christmas special, available only at Amazon and Google Play and for one month. Each of these stories has a different aspect of the season. The stories catch people at different points in their lives from relatively young to getting old and from the late 1800s to today. [available at Amazon: Christmas from the Heart Anthology or Google Play: Christmas from the Heart Anthology] 

As a writer, putting Christmas into a book has pluses and minuses. It is a holiday filled with more than the usual number of expectations. In a book, those can distract from other plot elements when if it's not part of the plot and character development. Important religiously and culturally. There are many ways to celebrate it. 


Most have read how we got Christmas trees, how far back the tradition comes and decorating it from Germany, but not so many maybe on when they became part of American family traditions.
"Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans." from http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees
By the 1880s, some would have been influenced by books, which taught examples of Christmas, such as Little Women, one of the first books to have a family Christmas described-- published in 1868.

In 1885-86, when I wanted my second Arizona historical, Tucson Moon, to have Christmas as part of the book, some of the traditions weren't all that old. Dickens had written A Christmas Carol in 1843. You might be surprised that the song, Up on the Housetop, was written in 1864 (Gene Autry, however, sang the ultimate version of it in 1953). There were though other, less traditional ways of celebrating the birth of Christ.

Tucson Moon is not only a love story but a father's need to connect with his 9-year old daughter, Grace, whom he hasn't seen since she was born. I was looking for something that would expand the season's emotional meaning. It turned out it wasn't hard to find, since one of the secondary characters (later to have his own romance with Arizona Dawn) was Yaqui.

The Yaquis have a part of their reservation in the heart of Tucson, Pascua. With part of their tribe in Arizona and part still in Mexico, they are a people of mysticism, rich mythologies, Catholicism, and have blended these into their rituals for today. 

The Arizona State Museum has a section devoted to the major tribes of Arizona, and the Yaqui one is quite interesting. Because of my interest, I have non-fiction books on various aspects of their culture. Probably the best known books regarding Yaqui mysticism are the Carlos Castaneda books, which may or may not have a factual aspect. To add a Yaqui Christmas celebration to my historical romance enriched the story but also was fun for me in the research. 

As background, to understand the short snippet, Cord and Priscilla are the hero and heroine of the book. With Grace, Rafe, his deputy, and several friends, they have come to observe the celebration held the night before Christmas in Pascua. The description I include here is trying to stay true to what I have read and understood of this meaningful ritual.


***********

As the drums and rattles grew louder, a slender boy entered the room, shuffling his feet with a little dance step, the head of a deer on his head, his chest bare. On his ankles were rattles. He moved cautiously around the room, now and then jumping in the air but always watching the edges as though for a threat. At times he stopped as though eating. As he passed near them, Priscilla glanced at Grace to see her eyes widened with wonder.
From one side came two more dancers, wearing what appeared to be wolf or coyote masks. They had bells attached to their bodies. The deer sensed the danger, reacted, and the trio stealthily circled.
When the speaker began talking in Yaqui, Rafe moved back to whisper, loud enough for Grace to also hear, “This is the struggle of the forest, the wilderness, good and evil, light and dark, that of nature. For Easter, it would go on longer, but this is Christmas, where the season is about rebirth and joy; so the deer will not be a sacrifice and therefore escapes.”
And he did, as the coyotes continued to circle, mystified where the deer had gone before they too vanished. 
“In some ceremonies,” Rafe said, “The deer will be killed by hunters as a symbol of the sacrifice that is required for life to go on for the people.”
“It was beautiful,” Ellen said smiling up at him.
The people in the room moved toward the heavily laden table of food. Merriment was all around them as families reconnected and shared best wishes. “Did you like it?” Cord asked as he came to stand by Priscilla and Grace.
Grace was still wide-eyed. “I’d like to dance like that,” she said with a wistful expression.
 *********
For more on my books: https://raintrueax.blogspot.com/

Images above from Stencil other than the one of the Deer Dancer. It is a metal work of art in our Tucson backyard-- and turned painterly with a Dreamscope app.

9 comments:

  1. How interesting and even more so because the tribe has Catholic beliefs.

    Would you, please, list your non-fiction books and their links?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will try to round them up later but it may not be possible here. I have many of my Native American reference books in tucson. Most of my research books are paper and some no longer available. Here are two nearby-- Yaqui Deer Songs by Maso Bwikam and Yaqui Myths and Legends by Giddings. I used a lot more of that in Arizona Dawn where the hero was Yaqui (Rafe in the snippet). There is also a lot online especially of those who have been to their ceremonies and described them.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Rain. You've really piqued my interest.

      Delete
  2. I'm not familiar with the Yaqui traditions. This was very interesting. I look forward to reading TUSCON MOON. Merry Christmas, Rain.

    ReplyDelete
  3. thank you, Caroline and Merry Christmas to you also. I had hoped to be in Tucson by Christmas and that might yet happen-- or maybe not :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very well done, Rain..thanks so much for this information...and at the right time. Merry Christmas!!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you, Celia and Merry Christmas to you also and to all who come to the blog. Hoping your holidays will be good. It can be a tough time of the year for some.

    ReplyDelete
  6. TUSCON MOON sounds fascinating. I love stories steeped in Indian folklore and mysticism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoyed all of the Arizona historicals. Arizona Dawn has even more of the Yaqui thinking and a family with more of the Yaqui history also. I also like reading books like that which is why I like writing them when it fits into a story :)

      Delete

Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!