Pumpkins

One of my friends teases me about “pumpkin time” when we go out in the evening.  I tend to set an end time that I need to be home, usually because I need to be up for work, sometimes in order to get a blog post in by midnight.  His reference is to the carriage from Cinderella; at midnight it turned back into a pumpkin.

Because this is the season for pumpkins, his comment tonight made me start pondering this odd fruit that has so many cultural meanings.  (It has seeds on the inside; botanically it is a fruit.  The seeds are quite tasty, in fact.)  Cultural phenomena are always interesting to consider as a writer, because they give us both a point of reference and a bias in our writing.

Like so many other squashes, the pumpkin ripens in fall and early winter.  This is why the pumpkin spice craze hits every year around this time; if you like pumpkin, there are many foods and beverages for you to enjoy right now.  Pumpkin pie, pumpkin breads, and other pumpkin treats are associated with both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States due to the seasonal nature of the plant.

In addition, we have the other holiday associated with pumpkins: Halloween.  Jack-o-lanterns are probably being carved as we speak to decorate front porches, homes, and businesses across the country.  Some are spooky, some are intricate, and some are just fun, but all are a childhood tradition writ large.  I have fond memories of the newspaper-lined kitchen table, slimy pumpkin guts making a mess everywhere, and orange shapes cut from pumpkin flesh to make a grinning face.  I suspect that adults who carve artistic or disturbing pumpkins have similar memories from their early years.

To wrap up this wander through the pumpkin patch, I also need to mention the nickname “Pumpkin” that is often used for kids.  It is often spoken in a sweet tone, especially for small or cute children (or those that are both).  For some it sticks, and their parents use it into their teen or adult years.  I don’t know why this large, round, orange squash has become a term of endearment, but it has.

With that, it is my true “pumpkin time” and I am heading for my pillows.  Enjoy your favorite pumpkin of the season, be it carved, pie, or latte!

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Holidays

Today is Easter!  I’m guessing that you noticed, and perhaps you are celebrating in one or more of the myriad ways possible.  I think a holiday like this is a great time to think about how to use holidays in writing.

Holidays are generally linked to a few specific concepts.  Many are religious, which you can tell by the etymology of the word holiday.  (Just look at it – it clearly started life as Holy Day.)  Some commemorate past events, like birthdays and battles.  There are also the holidays that mark specific current events, like the end of harvest or the first day of spring, although these are less common in our modern lives.

If you write fantasy, like I do, you have a couple of options.  It’s your world, after all.  You can be fairly true to medieval European traditions and use major Christian holidays.  Keep in mind that if you have the holidays, you need to have the religion and attendant trappings as part of your society, and vice versa.   The same thing goes with a world based on any other real culture, and their affiliated religious practices and holidays.  If you choose to deviate from the European model (or any other actual culture) for your world, you can develop your own holidays.  Just remember that some things, like harvest, are significant to any agriculture society, so using those is a good place to start.

Holidays aren’t necessary to a story, so don’t feel like you have to use them.  Most of our days are not holidays, and the same goes for the characters in a book or movie.  A holiday does give people a change, something out of their routine, which may be useful in helping to set up events in a tale.  Just remember that it’s your world, so you don’t have to use the same holidays you celebrate in your life.

Winter Songs

I love holiday music, and listening to some in my car today brought me an interesting thought.

When it comes to Christmas music, there are three broad categories.  There are religious songs (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing), there are secular songs (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Silver Bells), and there are the “Christmas” songs that are really winter songs.

This last category of songs intrigues me.  These are songs like Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, and Let It Snow that don’t mention a holiday at all.  Quick, think of the lyrics to Frosty the Snowman or Sleigh Ride.  Any Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holiday themes or words?  Nope, didn’t think so.  This leads me to the question: why do we stop listening to them after December?

For most of the country, snow and winter last at least until February.  Let It Snow and Baby It’s Cold Outside are very romantic and legitimately more appropriate for Valentine’s Day than for Christmas.  Sleigh Ride and Jingle Bells could honestly be played as long as there is snow on the ground.  And yet they get filed away with the Christmas songs every year.

Christmas is a big holiday and it has clearly commandeered snow and winter as part of its meme.  At this point I’m not sure that winter, as a season, could take back these songs or any of the other symbols of the season from the colossus that is Christmas.  Perhaps as a gloomy, cold season, its only fair for winter to take advantage of the light and joy of the holidays it encompasses.

Holiday Traditions!

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I’m going to share with you three of my favorite Christmas traditions from my childhood.  Although everyone celebrates different holidays in different ways, my family is a Christmas family.  Here are three of my favorites, in no particular order:

  • Wrapping paper!

In order to keep my sister and me from peeking at presents, the gifts under the tree were never labeled.  Instead, gifts for the same person were wrapped in the same paper.  An even number of similarly sized gifts would show up under the tree, half in one paper and half in the other.  Trying to reason out or simply guess which paper was whose was always one of my favorite games before Christmas.  I didn’t want to peek; I just liked the puzzle of the paper.  We found out Christmas morning, when our stockings were outside our doors with everything inside wrapped to match.

  • Christmas countdowns

We had several ways to count down to Christmas: a nativity scene we made in preschool (“On the 7th, add a sheep”), the neat Beary Merry Christmas wall hanging (“19: He looked in the attic”), the fabric tree (add an ornament every day) and, every once in a while, chocolate.  Counting down helped to build the anticipation while (I suspect) kept down the whines of “is it Christmas yet?”

  • Listing gifts

My parents were always generous at Christmas.  After we had moved our treasure to our bedrooms and had breakfast, Mom would always break out the paper and pens.  She’d tell us how many gifts we had gotten from them (not counting from each other or other relatives) and we would have to list them without looking at the piles.  Again, something fun that made my brain work and also helped me to be more thankful for what I received.  Every year I forgot at least one gift, usually something small or unexpected, and we’d have to rattle off the lists to Mom to see what we’d missed.

What are your favorite holiday traditions from your childhood?

Making candy and other holiday tasks…

This time of year isn’t just a busy season for a certain red-suited fictional character.  It’s also a busy season for nearly everyone else.  As my holiday to-do list has been keeping me from working on my stories, I thought I’d take a brief post to tell you about it.  🙂

I’ve been told that my family has an abnormally high number of traditions associated with Christmas.  Many of them were designed for my sister and me when we were children, so we don’t continue them now.  Some are also difficult considering the distance that I currently live from my immediate family.  (Skyping on Christmas is not a tradition, but we’ll be trying it this year!)  One of the holiday traditions that I have carried on from my mom is making candy.  Every year I make a variety of candy to share with my friends and coworkers.  It’s a bit time-consuming but not too difficult and it makes for an easy way to do something nice for the people in my life.  This year I made my two usuals, fudge and sticky lickies (which I’ve been told need a better name), and two that I do only occasionally, peanut clusters and chocolate-covered Ritz sandwiches.  The candy turned out great and, thanks to several holiday parties, is basically gone now.  Unfortunately my kitchen has not yet recovered. 

There are other holiday tasks that have been taking up my time.  I had to shop, wrap gifts, go to the post office; you know, all the usual fun things that everyone does.  I also had to go take some photos to use for some of my gifts.  Fortunately there was a beautiful day last week with great weather and perfect lighting, meaning that I could get the images I wanted. 

On top of all the things I had to do, I’ve also found myself invited to a lot of parties.  As my mom pointed out, you’re not going to feel bad for me because I was partying.  I understand.  However, it does explain why I’m a bit behind in my writing. 

Maybe I can find some focus again once the holidays have passed.  🙂  Hope your holiday to-do list is rapidly shrinking, too!