Winter Blogfest: Jo A. Hiestand

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This post is part of Long and Short’s Review Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the mystery “On the Twelfth Night of Christmas,” a copy of the companion cookbook “Cider, Swords and Straw,” a silver charm (drummer drumming), London graphics fashion scarf, and a Union Jack-design tea towel..

A Toast to Twelfth Night
by Jo A. Hiestand

I love customs. I love knowing how, when and why they started. I like the link going back all these centuries, making me part of the long line of revelers.

One tradition I like is Twelfth Night. January 5. Not to be confused with Epiphany, which is January 6. Twelfth Night marks the last of the twelve days of feasting and merry-making during the Christmas season.

Most of us know the song the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” This is what the song is marking down—the twelve days of the Christmas season, from Christmas Day, Day #1, to Twelfth Night.

Twelfth Night, lying between the end of the old year and the new one, was a perfect time for fortune telling, to see what the new year would bring. If an apple peeling was thrown over an unmarried girl’s shoulder, the peeling would supposedly fall into the shape of the initial of the first name of her future husband.

Twelfth Night in England was also a time for wassail, the potent apple-based drink. Wassail comes from the old Saxon word Was Haile! To Your Health! Wassail is made with ale, roasted apples, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. It’s drunk hot. Wassail is also known by the name “Lambs Wool” because the apples, after sitting in the hot liquid for so long, tend to soften, lose shape, and appear as little balls of whitish lambs wool. Another version of the name suggests it comes from the Irish ‘la mas nbhal,’ meaning ‘the feast of the apple-gathering.’ La mas nbhal is pronounced ‘Lammas ool’ and evolved into ‘lamb’s wool.’ Each person would scoop an apple out of the wassail bowl and, on eating it, express his wish for future luck to all present.

Apples were important to a farmer’s economy. To ensure a good apple crop the following autumn, the custom of wassailing the apple trees developed. It occurs either on Twelfth Night or New Year’s Eve. A bowl of cider is carried to the apple orchard. Large portions of mulled cider are poured onto the roots of the largest tree there. Slices of toast that have been soaked in the wassail are placed on the tree branches, perhaps to tempt the birds into eating the bread and sparing the apple buds. People blow horns, bang on kettles and fire guns to frighten off malicious spirits.

Toast is very important in the wassailing of the trees and also in the wassail drink itself. Pieces of toast are floated in the wassail bowl as the drink is served; this is where our phrase “to present a toast” or “to toast someone” comes from.
During the Twelfth Night celebration, a traditional cake is eaten. In addition to the usual cake ingredients, the cake uses white rum, raisins, citron, candied orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemons and almonds. It is iced with a frosting of rum, sugar, butter, egg yolks, and almond extract. Prior to baking, a dried bean and a dried pea are inserted into the batter in the cake pan. When baked and presented at the table, the cake is cut and a slice handed to every guest.

The man getting the bean in his slice becomes Bean King; the woman receiving the dried pea in her slice becomes Queen. They are king and queen for the duration of the night’s festivities and preside over the revels that follow. The King and Queen direct people to go on ludicrous errands or perform funny things, usually outside each person’s character.

The Lord of Misrule presided over this festival, which symbolized the world turned upside down. On Twelfth Night the King and all nobility would take the part of peasants, while they, in turn, played at being the aristocracy. At midnight the merriment of the Bean King and Queen and the evening’s comical commands ended, and the topsy-turvy misrule would reverse to normality. The world was set right again, each person in his or her proper station in life.

It all seems like it was glorious fun. I, for one, offer a toast to it all.

DS Brenna Taylor and DCI Geoffrey Graham are summoned to investigate a drowning in a wintry pond during a family 12th Night party. The case quickly turns personal for the CID team, for one of their own detectives becomes prime suspect, and Brenna finds herself caught between the police investigation and her belief in DS Mark Salt’s innocence. Yet even her faith is strained when Mark’s parody of “The 12 Days of Christmas” hints that he was having an affair with his murdered sister-in-law, Mercedes. It’s easy to believe Mark’s guilt: he attracts women like Christmas presents entice kids. As the investigation progresses, other ‘attractions’ in his past are revealed, and Mark’s guilt intensifies with each one. Had he accidentally killed Mercedes to stop her from leaving the family business–or was the motive personal, perhaps involving the woman with whom he had a brief, passionate affair, the fiancée of Mercedes’ brother? Now that Brenna finally views Mark as a human being, will she lose him if he’s charged with murder?

About the Author: A month-long trip to England during her college years introduced Jo to the joys of Things British. Since then, she has been lured back nearly a dozen times, and lived there during her professional folk singing stint. This intimate knowledge of Britain forms the backbone of both the Taylor & Graham mysteries and the McLaren cold case mystery series.

Jo’s insistence for accuracy, from police methods and location layout to the general feel of the area, has driven her innumerable times to Derbyshire for research. These explorations and conferences with police friends provide the detail filling the books.

In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English. She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors.
Her cat Tennyson shares her St. Louis home.

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Winter Blogfest: Have You Been Naughty Or Nice? by Jo A. Hiestand

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a Taylor & Graham/McLaren mysteries ceramic mug.

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice?
by Jo A. Hiestand

Christmas Eve and Santa Claus are indelibly linked for many of us. We love the jolly old man. But do you know Santa–or St Nicholas, as he’s known in European countries–had a helper?

Many of these companions are rooted in the Middle Ages when the tension between Good and Evil was powerful and held a strong fascination.

These sometimes devil-like figures were created to be very frightening, perhaps to keep children in line, but most probably to remind us of the eternal fate in store for the poorly behaved.

krampus pulling hairOne companion is Krampus. A frightening devil-like figure of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and southern Germany, he’s dressed in fur, has horns that look very goat-like, and has a long, red tongue. He usually holds chains or switches, which, presumably, he will use on naughty children. As he roams the streets he hurls the chains at children who find themselves in his path. A basket usually sits in the crook of his arm. Naughty children are dropped into the basket and taken away to some terrifying doom.

Knecht Ruprecht is St Nicholas’ most common attendant in Germany. His name means Farmhand Rupert, or Servant Rupert, implying he was a farmhand who became St. Nicholas’ servant, or was an infant reared by Nicholas. He’s clothed in a long, brown hooded robe of fur or straw. His face is sooty from going down chimneys. Variously, he carries a pack of presents or a sack of ashes. He gives the gifts to the good children and beats the bad children with the sack of ashes. He also carries switches, which he either uses on the disobedient children or leaves for their parents to use. Occasionally he has his own companions: fairies or dark-faced-men made up as old women. In many versions of this character he carries a bell, which warns of his menacing arrival.

Pelznickel, meaning “Nicholas in Furs,” is a variant of Ruprecht, residing in the Northwest area of Germany. His attire is dark or shaggy clothing (furs or animal skins) or a long, pale robe and a tall, peaked “witch” hat. He carries away bad children–either to his home in the Black Forest or to be tossed into the river!

Schmultzli, a Swiss companion, is all brown–clothing, hair and beard–and his face is darkened with lard and soot. He carries a switch and a sack. Naughty children are beaten with the switch and then toted off in the sack, where he eats them in the woods!

Zwarte Piet, or Black Peter, helps Nicholas in the Netherlands, Belgium and Flanders. He’s dark skinned and wears a Renaissance outfit of colorful pantaloons, feathered flat cap and ruffles. This traditional look’s based on a lone illustration from an 1850 book. Zwarte Piet originated as an enslaved devil who was forced into his captor’s service. The 19th century saw his mutation into St. Nicholas’ companion who resembled a Moor. A mischievous rather than mean-spirited character, Zwarte Piet brings gifts and candy to good children, but punishes bad children by cramming them into his sack and taking them to Spain (of all places!).

In France, Pere Fouettard accompanies St. Nicholas on his rounds and spanks naughty children. He’s dressed in a long, brown, fur trimmed hooded robe. Sometimes a long rope tethers him to a donkey.

Housécker is St. Nicholas’ companion in Luxembourg. He’s the wicked butcher of the legend (He lured three boys into his shop, murdered them, cut them up, and stuffed them into a barrel. Seven years later St. Nicholas arrives and brings them back to life). Now he’s forever doomed to attend St. Nicolas. Housécker translates roughly as “Mr. Bogeyman,” “spanking,” or “switches.”

These are a few of St Nicholas’ helpers. He has many more, in other countries. I’ve mentioned some in my mystery novel Sainted Murder, but this gives you an idea of the wealth of customs and legends surrounding this man.

Customs and holidays are the backbone of many societies. It’s through the yearly repetition of songs, actions or eating certain foods that we form a relationship with past generations. It gives us a sense of place, so I applaud St. Nick and his companions. Ho, ho, ho…

sainted%20murder%20cover%20copy“A murder mystery in the classic vein set in England’s snowy Peak District. Laced with folklore and legend, and with a cast of suspicious villagers, this is a story to enjoy on a long winter’s night. Very atmospheric; the first scene was stunning!” – Ann Cleeves, author of the Inspector Jimmy Perez/Shetland Island Mysteries series

About the Author: Jo Hiestand discovered the joys of Things British on a month-long trip to England during her college years. Since then, she has been back nearly a dozen times, and lived there during her professional folksinging stint. This intimate knowledge of England forms the backbone of her two series. Set in Derbyshire, England, the Taylor & Graham series employs British customs as the backbone of each book’s plot. The McLaren Cases features ex-police detective Michael McLaren, who now works on his own to investigate cold cases. Jo is a member of Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America.

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