Mythical Monday: The Traditions of Saint Lucia’s Day

It’s December 1st, and the month of Christmas is upon us! I get seriously jazzed at this time of year. Between the feeling of goodwill that seems to pervade everything, the festivities of the coming holidays, sharing with family, remembering old traditions, and soaking up the holiness of this beautiful month, it’s hard to remain low-key.

Today, for Mythical Monday, I’m focusing on an old holiday, Saint Lucia’s Day, the Festival of Lights which is celebrated in Sweden, Norway, and Swedish-speaking parts of Finland. Commemorated on December 13th, it is the date which marked the winter solstice in early calendars.  When the solstice moved to the 21st, the date remained as the beginning of Christmas in Sweden and Norway.

Photo courtesy N_Creatures (L1140287) [CC-BY-2.0 creative commons license], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy N_Creatures (L1140287) [CC-BY-2.0 creative commons license], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s rumored that on the eve of the day, the lucky might glimpse Lucia herself, skimming across winter-white snowfields and frozen lakes, a crown of light on her flowing hair. In many towns, torchlight processions were held to summon and rekindle the luminance that had faded with the encroaching winter.

Rising early, young maidens adorned in white robes with wreaths of holly and candles upon their heads would take food to their sleeping elders.

Of Sicilian origin, it is believed St. Lucia met a fiery death in A.D. 310 when she refused to recant her Christianity. According to legend, she encountered an angel when visiting the shrine of Saint Agnes while seeking a cure for her mother’s long-term illness. Moved by the experience, she became a devout Christian, refusing to denounce her beliefs even in the face of Roman prosecution. Burned at the stake, she continued to speak her beliefs as the fire consumed her. One soldier stuck a spear through her throat to silence her, but the grisly injury had no effect. She died only when given the Christian sacrament.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, a girl is elected to portray St. Lucia on her feast day of December 13th. Dressed in white with a red sash (the sign of martyrdom), she leads a procession of other women, a crown of candles on her head. These symbolize the fire that refused to consume St. Lucia at the stake.

It is believed that celebrating St. Lucia’s Day will help one live with plenty of light through the long winter ahead.

Mythical Monday: Chasing Leprechauns by Mae Clair

Top ‘o the morning to ye and Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Although I ran this post last year, I thought it worth re-sharing on this splendid day marking the wearin’ of the green.  Last year St. Patrick’s Day didn’t fall on a Mythical Monday. This year, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity when the date coincided so perfectly (maybe the wee folk had something to do with it)! So enjoy a virtual green beer on me while I trot out a much beloved figure from myth.

Leprechaun Sitting on ToadstoolRemember when you were a kid, and you wanted to catch a leprechaun? If you were like me, it had nothing to do with that legendary pot of gold. What was gold to a kid? The allure was the idea of a magical wee creature who could move between worlds. Spying a leprechaun meant maybe, just maybe, the veil between everyday reality and a hidden otherworld grew thin enough to cross over. What child wouldn’t want to explore a fairytale realm where enchantment was king?

Shoemakers by trade, Leprechauns were mostly solitary, but they enjoyed a good reel with the fiddle and tin whistles at night. Kindred to the Fair Folk, they were descended from the great Tuatha Dé Danann, and squirreled their gold away in buried pots. If you were crafty enough to catch a leprechaun and kept your eye fixed on him, he’d have to reveal the location of his gold when asked. One blink, however, and he quickly vanished from sight.

When I was a kid, there was a huge open field across the street from my house. It backed up to the rear yards of the homes on that side, and stretched the full length of the neighborhood. It was a magical place fully of whimsy. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was an enchanted realm all its own. There were walnut trees and wild flowers, clusters of honeysuckle and patches of sun-sweetened strawberries. When dusk settled, my friends and I gathered to watch bats launch from the tops of snarled dark trees. In the winter, we donned skates and glided on frozen ground water beneath a full moon. Autumn was perfect for gathering acorns and trekking to the “big hill” that sprouted from the earth like a mythical fairy mound.

Pot of GoldI never did find a leprechaun in that magical kingdom, not that I ever put any great energy into the search. I preferred to imagine one of the wee folk watching from beneath a shaded leaf or a plump toadstool. The problem with magic is that when you leash it, the enchantment fades. Perhaps that is why leprechauns and pots of gold only exist at the end of rainbows for rainbows have no end.

I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in my veins – – I’m Italian and German with a smidgen of Brit mixed in – – but I think all of us feel a connection to the Emerald Isle, especially during the month of March. So whether you’re Irish or just honorary for the day like me, here’s hoping your day is filled with rainbows and the blessings of the wee folk.

Was there a magical place you remember from childhood? Do you have any special St. Patrick’s Day traditions?

Mythical Monday: Traditions of Twelfth Night by Mae Clair

For those of you familiar with my blog, you’ve probably heard me mention that twelve is my favorite number. It plays into the name of my latest release, TWELFTH SUN, and also happens to be the name of my favorite Shakespeare play, TWELFTH NIGHT.

Given the winter season, I thought I’d use today’s Mythical Monday as a chance to look back on some of the traditions and folklore related to Twelfth Night. Depending on how you’re counting, it occurs on January 5th or 6th (yep, today!) but the traditions are centuries old. For many Christians, it marks the coming of the epiphany and concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Turn back the clock to Medieval England and it marked the end of a winter festival begun on All Hallows Eve. On Twelfth Night, the King and his court traded places with the peasants. All those in attendance shared in a cake baked at the start of the festival. This confection contained a bean, hidden inside. Whoever found the bean was appointed the Lord of Misrule, who presided over the feast, signaling a world turned upside down. At midnight, his rule would end and the normal order was restored.

Elsewhere, farmers would take to their orchards at night with wassail, a hot mulled cider, used in a ritual to invoke a good harvest.  Often a king and queen would be chosen to lead a procession into the orchard. The group would sing loudly, hoping to awaken the spirit of the apple trees. The men would lift the queen into the branches where she’d place pieces of toast that had been soaked in wassail as a gift to the trees. Sometimes one of the men would mask himself as a bull, a symbol of fertility in hopes that the coming year would bring a good harvest.

bigstock-Hot-Mulled-Wine-Spices-And-Nu-51524908In Colonial America, Christmas wreaths were left on the doors until Twelfth Night. When taken down, any edible bits were removed and consumed as part of a feast. Fruit and nuts were common decorations woven through wreaths, and even used on Christmas trees.

Although I’ve never celebrated Twelfth Night with any type of festivities, I can’t help marking its passing in my mind. Perhaps it’s no more than harkening back to something touched by whimsy and magic. After the joy of Christmas and the glitter of New Years, it’s the last winter celebration of note before the long cold stretch of the remaining season. Perhaps I should brew some wassail for the occasion. :)

Here’s hoping your 2014 is off to a great start! Cheers!

Mythical Monday: The Mistletoe Bride by Mae Clair

Hello and welcome to another Mythical Monday! Today I’d like to revisit an urban legend that seemed perfect for the month of December – – that of the Mistletoe Bride.

bigstock-Young-Tender-Bride-44377663According to legend, a young bride suggested a game of hide-and-seek during the merriment of her wedding reception. The groom would be “it” and she and the guests would hide.

Most tales place the time near Christmas, the reception held in an elaborate country home or mansion decorated for the holidays. Several famous houses in England claim origination of the tale, such as Marwell House in Hampshire. Marwell was once owned by the family of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour (not that Jane – – although I’m a huge fan!!).

In each retelling, the bride is dressed in her wedding gown, flush with the excitement of the game and the glow of being a new wife. She scampers off to find the perfect hiding place while the other guests join in the fun. After a suitable time, her husband locates each participant but is unable to find his bride. At first he thinks she is only playing, but as the hours wear on and she fails to appear, he grows worried. The guests help him search but are unable to find the missing bride. Eventually, they leave and go home, their hearts heavy with misgiving. Days pass, then weeks, and the heartbroken groom muddles through, forced to go on with his life.

Many years later a cleaning woman stumbles upon a locked trunk in the attic while tidying up. Curious about the contents, she breaks the lock and peers inside. To her horror she discovers the skeleton of a woman clothed in a moldy wedding dress, a piece of mistletoe by her side. Apparently, when the clever bride climbed in the trunk, the lid fell and struck her unconscious, locking her inside. When she awoke, she was trapped, her screams never heard by those who searched for her.

Freed from the trunk by the cleaning lady, her ghost now roams the halls of the mansion, fumbling at locked doors.

This is an extremely old tale that has had several variations in setting and time, but in all, the unfortunate bride is trapped inside the chest. It makes you think twice about hiding in anything with a lock, doesn’t it?

Halloween Happenings by Mae Clair

Did you feel that goose bump? Spooky happenings are afoot as I go traveling today!

design background for Halloween partyFirst up, I’m sharing a piece of flash fiction called A la Carte Kiss about a sexy vampire (yes, the werewolf girl wrote something about a vamp!) as part of Karen Michelle Nutt’s Halloween Flash Fiction Bash.

And because I wanted to offer a Halloween treat I’ll be awarding a $5.00 gift card to Amazon to one commenter. My blog followers have been so wonderfully supportive, so do hop over and enter your name for a shot at it. Aren’t treats fun?

Lest werewolves get short shrift, I’m also on Lyrical Press’s blog participating in Celebrate Paranormal Month with a post about my hunky Civil War colonel, Caleb DeCardian from WEATHERING ROCK.

So grab some apple cider or pumpkin juice and come traveling with me. What do you think of my “owlish” messenger? :D Isn’t he perfect as a Halloween usher?

Celebrate Memorial Day, by Mae Clair

I’m taking a break from Mythical Monday today to celebrate the holiday. Although Memorial Day naturally inspires thoughts of plump hotdogs and juicy hamburgers on the grill and the fun of gathering with family, it’s primarily a time to reflect on those who have given their lives in the service of our country.

Stars and stripesOriginally called Decoration Day, the holiday was first observed on May 30, 1868 when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Our nation was struggling to heal after the Civil War, and by “decorating” the graves of the fallen with flowers, it was a way to honor those who had perished and keep their memories alive. It wasn’t until 1971 that Memorial Day became an official federal holiday.

In memory of the many brave men and women who have protected our nation through the course of history, may your holiday be blessed with family, friends and fun. If the forecast holds in my area, the day should be mostly sunny and mild, perfect for a cookout and outdoor leisure. I’m eternally grateful and indebted to those who lost their lives in the service of our country so I can safely enjoy such freedoms

Happy Memorial Day!  I hope to see you next Monday when Mythical Monday returns along with all  its inherent weirdness. :)

Mythical Monday: Easter Customs and Traditions by Mae Clair

I’m a day late with my well wishes, but I hope everyone had a happy Easter.

I’m especially fond of this holiday. After Christmas, it’s my favorite. Naturally, it makes me think of the Resurrection, eternal life and forgiveness, but it also resonates with shiny newness and fresh beginnings.

After a long winter, Easter is the gateway to spring.  In many countries, bells are rung on Easter Sunday to herald the arrival of the new season, and drive away evil spirits. Given these same bothersome ghosts were also banished at Christmas and New Year’s, it’s a wonder any managed to hang around. Stragglers or loiterers who didn’t get the message the first two times, they were either extremely stubborn or exsitng on fumes.

If the bell ringing didn’t send them fleeing, painting Easter eggs often did the trick. Why? Because good ghosts like pretty things. So the ‘spirit cavalry’ would arrive, attracted by the colorful eggs and send the troublesome wraiths packing.

And how about our favorite bunny, known to go hippity-hopping about, delivering candy and eggs?

bigstock-Fluffy-foxy-rabbit-in-basket-w-42872128

Is this guy adorable or what? I simply couldn’t resist him when I went searching for stock photography. What a cutie!

He got his start in Germany and was introduced to America in the 1700s by German settlers who colonized Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The ‘bunny’ was actually a hare known as Osterhase. Especially popular with children, Osterhase laid eggs then delivered them to good boys and girls who’d fashioned nests for him from their caps and bonnets.

Perhaps that generated the tradition of Easter bonnets. I have many fond memories of Easter Sundays going to church in my new hat (normally beribboned with silken streamers), frilly dress and white gloves. When church was over, there would be Easter baskets waiting at home. I’m not sure how my parents managed the timing—getting the kids out the door to church, then having the baskets waiting when we returned. Since both parents were with us, we were convinced the Easter Bunny had delivered them.

There must have been some frenzied last minute coordination between my mom and dad, LOL!

I remember the goodies—milk chocolate bunnies, malted eggs, sugary marshmallow peeps, foil-covered chocolate eggs in bright gem colors, and a rainbow of jelly beans. We’d have an egg hunt, then later at dinner, an Easter ham.

Several years ago, I talked my husband into coloring eggs with me. The night before Easter he hid them around the house without telling me. He knew how much I’d loved hunting for eggs as a kid and arranged for me to have my very own hunt on Easter morning. I still remember finding the one he hid in the grandfather’s clock!

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I’d love to hear any fond memories you have of Easter, how you celebrate, or even your favorite Easter candy (mine is marshmallow peeps).

I hope your Easter was filled with fun, whimsy and grace!