I’ve always wanted to write a Christmas story filled with caroling, sleigh rides, and snow—the fluffy kind that doesn’t disrupt traffic or cause accidents. Christmas is my favorite time because of the rich traditions, nostalgic memories, and fantastic food.
Here are a few pictures of the Newport, Rhode Island mansions at Christmas. These ‘cottages’ are part of the Gilded Age setting of my Ladies of Summerhill series. They are the Breakers, the Marble House and the Elms.
But of course Christmas isn’t the only holiday we writers can use for local color. Different countries and even different sections of the United States have customs and foods that we can incorporate into our books. Many holidays have their own specific menus. Think Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the fourth of July, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.
Instead of setting a novel around one of the more popular holidays, look for one that’s usually ignored, at least in books. New Year’s Eve (my husband’s birthday) is really fun to celebrate, but how about New Year’s Day? At first I couldn’t think of many ways we celebrate the first day of the year, but actually we have lots of traditions.
The song, “Auld Lang Syne,” is sung in English-speaking countries around the world on the stroke of midnight. It’s often followed by a toast. More about that later.
How about making resolutions? We’re usually so good at writing a list, but maybe not so faithful at following through. I speak for myself, of course. Not anyone else. Making resolutions dates back to the early Babylonians. Their most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. This might apply to Mary’s or Pam’s husbands, but not to everyone’s. Some of us might decide to lose weight. Let’s move right along and not berate ourselves over broken resolutions. We can always make them again this year and this time keep our promises to ourselves.
Anybody watch the Tournament of Roses Parade on TV or in person? It goes back to 1886. Later the Rose Bowl football games were played as part of the Tournament of Roses. There are always plenty of televised football games on New Year’s Day and a lot of TV sets all over the country are tuned in. Personally, I’d rather read a good book than go to a football party. But that’s just me.
It’s been a long held belief (superstition) that a person could affect their luck during the coming year by what they did or ate on January 1st. So people often like to celebrate the beginning of the new year in the company of family and friends. It’s an old belief that the first visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good or bad luck the rest of the year. It was considered extremely lucky—at least for a lady—if the first visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man. I can see a romance novel forming!
New Year’s foods were also thought to bring luck. Many cultures thought that anything in the shape of a ring was good luck because it symbolized ‘coming full circle.’ The Dutch, for example, believed that eating donuts would bring good fortune. Don’t I wish! It’s worth a try, whether you believe in luck or not.
Many southerners eat black-eyed peas accompanied by either hog jowls or ham on New Year’s Day. The hog, and the meat of the hog, is considered lucky because it symbolizes prosperity. Many people consume rice or cabbage which are also ‘good luck’ foods. Cabbage leaves are thought to be a sign of prosperity because they represent paper currency. To me that’s a real stretch.
A toast at midnight to ring in the new year is an old tradition which can be traced back to the ancient Romans and Greeks. They’d pour wine from a common pitcher. The host would drink first to ensure the wine was free of poison. Poisoning was a common way to kill your enemies back in the day. A square of toast would be floated in the wine bowl and then eaten by the last person to drink. The bread was added to absorb the extra acidity of the wine in order to make it more palatable. Later on, the act of drinking in unison came known as a toast, from the act of ‘toasting’ or putting toast in the wine.
So, I think I’ll research a holiday and include it in a book. Do you have a favorite holiday you’d like to write about? Anyone have a favorite custom, tradition or special food for New Year’s Day?
I’m giving away a copy of Love by the Book. If you’d like to be included in the drawing, please leave your e-mail.
I know I’m a few days earlier, but I’d like to wish each and every one of you a very blessed and happy new year!