Ghosts on the Nog

Though Christmas decorations have been out since before Halloween, perhaps you’re having trouble getting into the season. To help you out, The Paris Review has posted its Top Five list of Christmas ghost stories so that you, too, can get into the “spirit” (of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, whichever you choose). If you’re more a fan of Krampus than Santa, this is the list for you!

One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842

The great English tradition of Christmas ghost stories. One of John Leech’s illustrations for A Christmas Carol, 1842. I’ve long thought of Christmastime as a season of mostly pleasant intrusions: thirty or so days of remembering to tend, checklist style, to the latest pressing bit of Yuletide business that comes racing back to you. The… Read More »

Source: Ghosts on the Nog

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Merry Christmas from Piggies Past and Present

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you, dear readers! I hope you have a chance to relax and enjoy the holidays with loved ones.

While I did have to work today, it ended up being pretty fun, culminating in a gorgeous Christmas Eve Mass with my family at the chapel where I work.

The holiday season has been an absolute whirlwind of fun, but exhausting activity! Come to think of it, life has been a whirlwind lately, too, a mix of good and…well, difficult. More on that in my upcoming year-end reflection.

I’m looking forward to pajamas, egg nog bread pudding, present exchange, carols, and cuddles!

Speaking of cuddles–the holidays are an especially great time for that. Here are two Christmas cuties of past and present.

Our first guinea pig, Chad, is officially a Christmas angel now, whom we feel with us all-year-round. ❤

Photo: Merry Christmas! I asked Santa for a fun towel path I can run on to my heart's content. I also hope I find some Orchard Grass in my stocking! What did you ask for this year? :)

Oreo, our present guinea pig, is also a lovebug. ❤

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Christmas Snow Globe: A Reflection on Christmas Blessings

Good morning, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. I will share the details of my fabulous holiday soon (thank you loved ones for making it so), but today’s post is a reflection on my Christmas eight years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Marianjoy held its annual Patient Christmas Party two weeks ago. It was lots of fun, including skits and carols. A coworker-friend of mine wrote a parody of the “Wassailing” song that we all performed; it was hilarious and went over really well. 🙂

We got to wear costumes if we wanted to, which of course means I did:

I dressed as an angel! My mom sewed the dress for me in high school, and my dad made the halo. I’ve worn the wings so many times they’re a little droopy. 😉

But the most special part of the event, for me, was the opening reflection. I asked our Spiritual Director if I could write a piece to share at the party, and she invited me to open the event.

As soon as we arranged it, I was intimidated. My mission was pure enough: I wanted to share some inspirational insights about hope at this time of year. No one *wants* to spend Christmas in a hospital–but if you look at it in a different way, it may be the most special Christmas you’ll ever have.

When I spent Christmas as an inpatient at Marianjoy eight years ago, it was such a unique experience. (I was discharged just a few days later.) I hadn’t planned it, of course, but it wasn’t cold or clinical–it was warm, friendly, encouraging, and full of love–all the things Christmas should be.

So I, the writer, the girl who is always talking, sat frozen at my keyboard for weeks, trying to think of how to put this into words. It was so important to me to get it right. Not only would my whole audience be experts on the subject, but the gift I wanted to give them was abstract and elusive, a long-shot: hope.

I must have gotten it at least a little right, because I had a lot of applause and people coming up to me afterwards thanking me for sharing it–patients, coworkers, the CEO, former therapists, nurses, and doctors. It was a terrific experience; better than I’d hoped for. 🙂

My writer’s block finally disappeared when I thought of the central image, which you can find in the title below. I hope you enjoy my speech. 🙂

“Christmas Snow Globe”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Christmas in a hospital is kind of like a snow globe:

Frozen Snowglobe

(then I shook this snow globe, a Christmas present to Jennifer and me)

Your whole world is turned upside-down. You feel as if you’re suspended in a schedule of personal flurry, too busy with the rituals of therapy to notice that time is passing outside of your dome. And suddenly—it’s Christmas.

And—when you pause for a moment to catch your breath—you feel it. You’re not alone. You are surrounded by love and hope.

You might expect to hear something like this out of someone from the Marketing Department. But the way I really know this is I was a patient here myself eight years ago, due to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury that gave me only a 5% chance at survival.

When I came to Marianjoy, I was out of the danger zone, but I wasn’t back to myself, or back to my life. It was a transition, between nearly dying and nearly living. And I certainly hadn’t anticipated spending Christmas here.

For me, Christmas has always been about being home with family. But while I was here, I discovered a new family. I saw it in the compassionate faces of the therapists. I felt it in the healing touch of the doctors. I even tasted it, in the peppermint bark another patient had made for me, surprisingly—candy she guarded so closely that she gave my father strict instructions not to eat it before giving it to me. I guess she had a sixth sense about my father’s sweet tooth.

And I realized—I was spending Christmas here with my family, with this place that has become a home to me. It’s a family I have been blessed with, a gift I did not anticipate receiving that Christmas along with my life. Yes, Marianjoy is like a family to me—and, much like the in-laws who suggest staying after Christmas into New Year’s—they can’t get rid of me.

And so—I know this may not be how you planned to celebrate Christmas. But take it from someone who has been on this journey before: there is beauty all around you. In this snow globe—you are loved. There is hope here. We even asked for some fresh snow today. This transition is a special time in your life—and in a funny way, it is a gift. I will never forget the Christmas I spent here, and I hope yours is just as special. Merry Christmas.

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I hope you liked it, dear readers. Good luck on your New Year’s Eve preparations! If you’re not back here before then, I wish you a happy New Year full of peace, love, good health, and prosperity. ❤

Merry Christmas: Top Ten Holiday-Spirit Books

Merry Christmas, dear readers! I hope those of you who celebrate it are having a fun time. My family, friends, and coworkers have slowly been celebrating it all month long, and yet I miss it already, and it’s not even over yet! Last night, my family, a couple of coworkers, and I went to the Christmas Eve Mass at the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters’ chapel–the commute from work was fantastic (it’s in the same building…). It was a lovely event with candles, carols, and a nice sermon.

But who’s ready to be done with the Christmas spirit? Not I! The Huffington Post shared a list of their top 12 picks for books that will get you in the holiday spiritI thought that was a wonderful idea, so I also polled my friends as to their top picks. Below, I am posting a conglomeration of their picks. I will note where each is from.
(All pictures are from Amazon. Click to purchase and read summaries.)

The festivity won’t end today, not on this blog! I will continue to sprinkle holiday-related posts through the New Year, so don’t put away the holiday sweaters just yet.

Top Ten Holiday-Spirit Books

1. Winter Dreams, Christmas Love by Mary Francis Shura

Recommended by my coworker Erin

“It is a little-known, wonderful young adult love story,” says Erin. I’ve never heard of this one, but I’d like to check it out. (Used copies of this one may be more affordable than new.)

2. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Recommended by my friend Chris

This children’s book is a hit with all ages, and if you’ve only seen the movie, you owe it to yourself to read this book and experience the quiet majesty in the pages.

3. The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Recommended by many people–one our dad used to read to Jennifer and me each year on Christmas Eve ❤

This book captures the ageless excitement and anticipation of Christmas, making it more of a family book than a children’s book.

4. The Jesse Tree (by Catherine Fournier) & The Bible

Recommended by my fellow blogger friend Misty

“It is a daily activity starting on Dec 1 that you do with the kids that covers little Bible stories leading up to Jesus’s birth,” Misty explains. “So our main Christmas book would be the Bible. You make handmade ornaments that the kids hang on the tree to help them make a connection with each different story. It’s been really fun this year!” Sounds like a meaningful way to have fun this season. 🙂

5. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

Recommended by my friend Amy L.

I couldn’t describe this better than Amazon’s own description: “The Velveteen Rabbit is a timeless tale of friendship, love, acceptance and honesty. When the world seems uncertain, Margery Williams’s classic story reminds all of us what really matters. The Velveteen Rabbit’s journey through love and loneliness to become who he was really meant to be is a story that inspires us all on our own journey to Real.” I cried at this story when I was little; I’m not sure I could even make it through at my age now, since I somehow broke “growing up” and am more sensitive now than when I was younger. 😉
The Christmas theme comes in here because the titular Rabbit is a Christmas present. ❤

6. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Recommended by my friend Amy L.

Amazon’s description is lovely: “No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.” Misty says she reads this to her schoolchildren every year. 🙂
We certainly have been having a lot of snow in our region this year, and I will say I miss viewing it with childhood fondness vs. adult frustration. Although, we have been enjoying it this year a bit, with my coworkers throwing the occasional snowball at each other outside, as well as my sister and I having plans to build a real-life–snow version of this, our contest entry for her office’s Christmas party:

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Jennifer (right) and I love our Olaf (recreated from Disney’s Frozen)

7. The Mitten by Jan Brett

Recommended by my friend Amy L.

“Grandmother knits snow-white mittens that Nikki takes on an adventure. Readers will enjoy the charm and humor in the portrayal of the animals as they make room for each newcomer in the mitten and sprawl in the snow after the big sneeze.” -The Horn Book. Sounds adorable. 🙂

8. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

Recommended by me

I loved this even before it was a Disney movie. It’s one of my favorite fairy tales, and it holds cultural significance all around the world. It’s especially appropriate during the holiday season, not only for the snow, but also for its feel-good themes. As Amazon describes: “Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, the classic tale of friendship, love, and bravery, is full of magic and wonder.”

9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Recommended by the Huffington Post

From my last post, you already know how integral this book has become to Christmastime world-round. This classic tale of greed and careful isolation turned to generosity and open love–and the love we get back–is an important reminder to people of all ages about the true meaning of Christmas.

10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Recommended by the Huffington Post

This classic takes place in a land of eternal winter, frozen scenery and frozen hearts. Ironically, although “it’s always winter and never Christmas,” the themes and triumphs evoke Christmassy feelings.
This is sort of a children’s book, and sort of not. The language, scenery, and plot are accessible for children, and it’s an enjoyable adventure. The deeper symbolism, though, tells of sacrifice, courage, truth, and love–and it’s one of the truest “Christ stories” I’ve ever read.
(A “Christ story,” for lack of a better term, refers to a genre of literature that mirrors Christ’s journey of miraculous birth–or sometimes miraculous rebirth–spreading goodness and love throughout the land. I bet you’ve read many Christ stories without even knowing it–Frank Herbert’s Dune is another example.)
This story will always be special to me because it’s one of the first I read after my Traumatic Brain Injury, and it was inspirational and magical to me. 🙂

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I hope you enjoyed the list, dear readers, and maybe you will consider capping off your Christmas with one of these before bed. Check back on my blog over the next couple of weeks for some more holiday/winter-themed posts. Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at 170

Good evening, dear readers. I hope your weekend was lovely, and, if you’re lucky (like my sister, for instance), your break may continue through the holidays. Mine will not, but Marianjoy has been doing so full of festive celebrations the last couple of weeks, that work has been extra fun. 🙂

I wanted to share this wonderful history a fellow blogger (“Interesting Literature”) posted about the history of “A Christmas Carol,” which just celebrated its 170th birthday a few days ago. Not only is it timely, but it’s especially relevant to my family. This is a tale we have enjoyed ever since I was little, and it’s become as integral to our thoughts of Christmas as it has to worldwide culture. In fact, my dad has watched different versions of the movie three times in the last three days–I kid you not. I watched it with him today, while we drank holiday-blend coffee. 🙂

Please enjoy this fascinating account of the timeless tale and the history that surrounds it.

Interesting Literature

The surprising story behind Dickens’s A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’s classic Christmas tale A Christmas Carol was published over 170 years ago, in 1843. Since then, there have been countless stage, screen, and radio adaptations of the classic story. The first film adaptation was a short silent movie version in 1901, titled Scrooge; or, Marley’s Ghost. There have been opera and ballet versions, an all-black musical called Comin’ Uptown (1979), and even a 1973 mime adaptation for the BBC starring Marcel Marceau. The Muppets, Mickey Mouse, and Mr Magoo have all featured in adaptations of the book.

It wasn’t the first Christmas story Dickens wrote. It wasn’t even the first Christmas ghost story Dickens wrote. He’d already written ‘The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton’, featuring miserly Gabriel Grub, an inset tale in Dickens’s first ever published novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836-7). The tale shares many…

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Top Ten: Words for the Christmas Season

TGIF, readers! For many of you, today was the last day of school or work before a holiday break. But that doesn’t mean that the learning has to stop! 😉

While I was doing my usual perusal of Dictionary.com’s articles, which I thought was a totally normal thing to do until Jeremiah told me otherwise (I’m still not convinced), I noticed some festive entries too good not to share.

In particular, I was drawn to their slideshow, Crack the Christmas Code: Carols Demystified. It caught my eye for several reasons: First of all, earlier this week, several of my coworkers and I had the enjoyable experience of caroling for our annual Patient Christmas Party–more on that later, as it deserves a whole entry to itself. Secondly, as you already know, I am fascinated by etymology. I couldn’t keep this festively entertaining and educational list all to myself. Below, please enjoy my compilation of Dictionary.com’s list of six Christmas Carol word explanations, followed by four seasonal terms from other articles on their site (which I will denote). And please visit throughout the next two weeks for more festive blog posts, perhaps between wrapping gifts and sipping on egg nog. 🙂

Ten Festive Words, and an Etymology in a Pear Tree

1. Wassail

[wos-uhl, -eyl, was-, wo-seyl]

“Here we go a wassailing among the leaves so green!” If you’ve ever heard a caroler sing this phrase and thought, “What the heck is a wassail?” you’re not alone! A wassail is a toast made to wish good health. From the Spanish salude to slainte in Irish Gaelic, many languages wish good health when glasses clink. Wassail is an Old English toast, adopted from the Old Norse ves heill meaning “be healthy!” In the 1600s the word became synonymous with carol singing, though it can still denote a hearty swig.

2. Wenceslaus

[wen-sis-laws]

“Good King Wenceslaus looked out on the feast of Stephen…” Good King WHO? Wenceslaus the First was a duke of what is now the Czech Republic. Sainted and dubbed “king” shortly after his death in 935, he was known for his piety and generosity to the poor. The carol “Good King Wenceslaus” is traditionally sung on Saint Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26), which honors one of the earliest Catholic saints. The carol depicts a cold Saint Stephen’s night in which Wenceslaus journeys into the snow to help an old man.

3. Tidings

[tahy-dingz]

If you’ve ever been baffled by a caroler bringing you “tidings of comfort and joy,” your confusion ends here. Derived from the Old English tidan, meaning “to happen,” a tiding is a new piece of information or an announcement of an event. You can think of it as news rolling in on the tide. So whether your carolers come in on a surfboard or a sleigh, the correct response to “glad tidings” is “thank you.”

4. Figgy pudding

Have carolers ever camped out on your porch and demanded “figgy pudding” making threats like “we won’t go until we get some!” Don’t be alarmed. You’re not caught in a protest; it’s just Christmas. A distant cousin of the fruit cake, figgy pudding is a traditional fig-based cake common in England the 1600s. The carol “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” re-popularized the dessert in the 1900s, and now countless carolers ask for it every year.

5. Holly

[hol-ee]

Have you ever been instructed to “deck the halls with boughs of holly” and then looked up a decorator named Holly? Look no further. Holly is actually a tree with glossy green leaves, whitish flowers and red berries. From American Holly to English Holly, the “boughs” or branches of this tree are a traditional Christmas decoration. The word itself is a shortening of the Old English holegn for the same evergreen plant, which has represented rebirth on the European continent for centuries.

6. Yule tide

[yool-tahyd]

Confused by carolers yelling something about a “yule tide?” Fear not! As is the case with “tidings” the yule tide signifies the coming of the holiday season. Yule comes from the Old Norse word jol, relating to the pre-Christian winter feast. After the advent of Christianity, the term was adopted into Old English as geol to represent the Christmas season.

7. Xmas

The history of the word “Xmas” is actually more respectable — and fascinating — than you might suspect. First of all, the abbreviation predates by centuries its use in gaudy advertisements. It was first used in the mid 1500s. X is the Greek letter “chi,” the initial letter in the word Χριστός. And here’s the kicker: Χριστός means “Christ.” X has been an acceptable representation of the word “Christ” for hundreds of years. This device is known as a Christogram. The mas in Xmas is the Old English word for “mass.”  (The thought-provoking etymology of “mass” can be found here.) In the same vein, the dignified terms Xpian and Xtian have been used in place of the word “Christian.”

8. Magi

[mey-jahy]

(This and the next two entries are from Dictionary.com’s “Language of the Nativity” slideshow)

Though Jesus’ birth got off to a rough start, things definitely started looking up once the Magi arrived. Outside the Nativity story, Magi refers to a class of Zoroastrian priests in ancient Media and Persia, reputed to have supernatural powers. The word is thought to originate as moyu in the ancient Persian language Avestan. Within the Christmas story, the Bible depicts these Magi or “Wise Men of the East” as presenting gifts to the baby Jesus. But today magi can also mean astrologer.

9. Myrrh

[mur]

Though the exact number of Magi present at the nativity is unknown, biblical scholars assume that there were three based on the number of gifts they brought. One of these was myrrh, a bitter-tasting resin gum made from small thorny trees of the genus Commiphora. Exodus 30:23 cites myrrh as a key ingredient in the holy anointing oil used to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests. Myrrh as a gift of the Magi symbolically anointed the infant Jesus as a religious leader.

10. Frankincense

[frang-kin-sens]

From perfuming the sanctuary in Exodus 30:43-38 to aiding prayer in Revelations 8:4, frankincense makes numerous appearances in both the Old and New Testaments. What is it? Frankincense is a gum resin made from Boswellia trees native to Asia and Africa. It can be burned as incense or used directly on the skin as perfume. Etymologically, frankincense is from the Old French, franc- which means “noble or true” referring to the purity of the “incense” it describes.

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Well, dear readers, I hope this list has left you enlightened you–in a “star of wonder” type of way. 😉

Best wishes to you in managing that elusive balance between insane busyness and holiday cheer. I hope you have many moments of peace, joy, and love this holiday season. Please join me throughout the next couple of weeks for more festive posts, including more lists, as well as reflections on what Christmas means to me.