Writing Tip — Holiday Folklore as Writing Inspiration

christmas-w3797415_1280If you want to combine Christmas or New Year’s Day with speculative fiction, or to give any story a touch of magic or wonder, researching the folklore surrounding the holidays may provide the spark you need to ignite a story.

Many, many superstitions are attached to these holidays at the end of the year. This is probably because Europeans held on to some pagan beliefs as they converted on Christianity. In Celtic lands, the winter solstice was a time to be on guard against evil spirits, who were said to roam the long nights. Ancient Celts lit bonfires and made noise to scare them away. (Side note: Celts also believed evil spirits were out and about during the fall celebration of Samhain, the holiday from which Halloween derives its origin. I get the impression that it was no picnic to be ancient Celt.)

This fear of evil spirits may have led to the English tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. I believe that may have influence Charles Dicken’s decision to use ghosts to haunt Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump (the link is to a newer edition than I have) lists many superstitions from various countries. Here are a few.

“A child born a Christmas Eve or Christmas Day will have good fortune.”

“A child born during the twelve nights of Christmas may become a werewolf. (Germany and Poland)”

“From cockcrow until dawn on Christmas Day, trolls roam the land. (Sweden)”

“A windy Christmas Day brings good luck.” Our Christmas Eve was foggy from dawn until Christmas morning. I have not idea what that means.

In my YA mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I refer to the Christmas legend. Early Christmas morning, under an almost full moon in the clear, frozen dark, Rae Riley confronts the three men who are the only candidates to be her father and her mother’s attacker. The moon gilds everything, giving the land and everyone under it a magical appearance. Rae says she believes animals could speak on a night like this.

I couldn’t find a country of origin for the legend, but it states that because the animals in the stable were kind of Jesus at his birth, he granted them the ability to speak at midnight on every Christmas Day since them. I use the legend to underline the wonder Rae feels when she solves the mystery of her mother’s attack and her father’s identity.

A lot of superstitions deal with performing rituals to predict the future.

“On Christmas Eve, if an unmarried woman peels an apple, making sure it remains as a single ribbon, and if she throws it on the floor from above her head, the pattern of the peeling on the floor will disclose her future husband’s initials.”

What if a young woman performs this ritual and doesn’t like the initials she sees because she knows to whom they belong? Or what if such rituals are accurate but can only be performed by trained fortune tellers? In this world, the best fortune tellers run businesses and customers scramble to make appointments with them for New Year’s Eve and Day.

Another way to insure good luck for the coming year was to get the right person to enter the home after midnight on New Year’s Eve. This custom, called first-footing, was popular in Scotland and northern England. A powerful man with dark hair brought the best luck. Agatha Christie uses this superstition to help solve a ten-year-old death in the short story, “The Coming of Mr. Quin” in the book The Mysterious Mr. Quin.

Do you know of any holiday folklore in your community?

Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: What’s the Christmas Story?

romancew-596094_1280Although Christmas is over, I have one more prompt for the holiday. Romance is the one genre I find the most difficult to get interested in. So if you are inspired by this photo to write a scene for a Christmas romance, especially if you are a seasoned Hallmark Christmas movie fan, please share below.

I can stand romance better if it’s part of another genre, like mystery or scifi. Or how about all three?

The woman in the photo is an alien disguised as a human to conduct Earth research for her doctoral thesis. She’s fallen in love with the man, who has recently discovered during the holiday season that his girlfriend is literally out of this world.

The woman’s professor comes to Earth to oversee her research and is found dead. The aliens send detectives to solve the case, and the woman is the prime suspect.

Merry Christmas!

city-w3891508_1280Here’s the annual posting of my Christmas Eve poem. I won’t be posting again until Monday, Dec. 30. I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season!

Writing Tip — Christmas Traditions as Writing Inspiration

people-w2595724_1280There are probably a million published Christmas stories, both fiction and nonfiction, from short stories and novels to devotions and theological works. One way to make any piece of writing unique is to look at your own Christmas traditions. Mining your own experiences can lead to a one-of-a-kind Christmas story.

I could write an epic over my relationship with Christmas trees. As a child, we always cut a live tree. Some Christmases we hiked through a farm to find the perfect one. Other times we bought already cut trees at the Lutheran Church. One year, my sisters and I went late to the Lutheran Church and found the seller gone and a few lonely trees discarded at the edge of the parking lot. We had a free tree that year.

My husband grew up with fake trees. To him, real trees are dirty, difficult , and fire hazards. Our first Christmas in our new house saw us battling over which tradition our new family would observe. I came home from work one evening and found a tree stand in the living room. It’s one of my sweetest memories.

Now my kids and I tag a tree at a local tree farm on Thanksgiving weekend but don’t cut it until a week before Christmas, so the tree is fresh and less likely to spontaneously combust. This year, I wanted a big tree for our two-story living room. The only big one without a brown needles and large gaps was a towering Scotch pine. But it had a lot of bare trunk that I thought we’d cut off. I measured it with the homemade ruler the owner provided. It seemed as tall as the one we got last year.

But I couldn’t weigh the tree. It turned out to be the heaviest tree we’d ever got. Things started to go wrong when my husband told me to grab the tree as our youngest sawed the truck, and while I put on my gloves, it fell on him. My husband, kids, and I could barely drag it to the front of the farm. The tree was too big for the chute the owner used to tie the limbs down, so he had to tie it without mechanical help. It took my whole family and the owner to lift it into the bed of our truck.

We wrestled the tree through the front door. Then I decided we should call my dad to help stand the tree up. I have a weak shoulder and didn’t want the tree to fall on husband a second time.

This story can be used in many different way. As a humorous piece. As an illustration of the state of a marriage, such as couple who are quarreling draw closer as they engage in the tradition of selecting and decorating a tree.  As a family drama, such as a visit to a tree farm reveals problems in a family. Since this is a Christmas story, I would have those problems solved, or at least addressed, by the end of the story.

How can you use your Christmas traditions as writing inspiration?

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