Author Archives: lbujold

What’s New for Genealogists?

Cover image for How to do everything. Genealogy  Cover image for Finding your roots : easy-to-do genealogy and family history

There are new and exciting titles for family history enthusiasts at the library as well as new trends in the field of genealogy itself.  There has never been a time where high quality tools and information were as easily accessible to so many who want to do family research.  More information is continually being made available through digital collections (like the Ancestry Plus database available on-site in all our libraries) and on the Web on a daily basis.  Also, the capacity to collaborate with other like-minded people from all over the world has greatly expanded the ability to trace back your ancestry much farther in time than ever before.  However; genealogy remains just as frustrating as it is exhilarating. It requires patience, good problem-solving skills and a strong research methodology if you hope to find what you’re looking for.  So whether you are just starting have experience in the field, here are some resources and books that could help you in your progress.

Every genealogist started off as a beginner, but luckily there are plenty of resources at the library to help you figure out how best to start.  A definite recommendation for an introductory book is the How to Do Everything series volume about genealogy.  This title comes close to covering every step a new genealogist should take in their research: starting small with finding and organizing family documents, interviewing relatives and asking the right questions.  Then it moves to government records and shows how these were compiled, what kind of information you can hope to find in them and how best to gain access.  The book is highly versatile because it includes sections dealing with Canadian sources, as well as British and American ones.  It also illustrates how to search new online databases for best results as well as more traditional institutions like archives and libraries.

Finding your Roots : easy-to-do genealogy and family history, takes a more intimate approach to genealogy.  An important aspect that author Janice Shultz touches on are the motivations that fuels the passion for genealogy: a search for pride, a belonging to something greater than oneself.  How an individual’s sense of identity is linked to his or her ancestors, the greater understanding of larger historical events that can be brought through personal family narratives and experiences.  While the greater part of the book’s information focuses on U.S. records, there are sections for Canadian and other nationalities as well.

Cover image for Mastering census & military records  Cover image for Mastering online genealogy

If you are in need of works that deal with a specific type of genealogical records, the Quillen’s Essentials of Genealogy series is a new arrival that will be very useful for anyone needing help in using specific types of records, like Mastering Census & Military Records or Mastering Online Genealogy for example.

Cover image for Advanced genealogy research techniques

Now you may have moved beyond the basics, but almost every genealogist will encounter what are commonly known as “brick walls”: missing or contradictory information that blocks your progress.  Advanced Genealogy Research Techniques is aimed at readers who are beyond the basics and need help solving problems and offers innovative strategies to keep you moving forward.  Crowdsourcing, asking for assistance from like-minded individuals and organizations through online message boards or forums, is discussed as well as the science of DNA testing, a relatively new but increasingly popular method to trace one’s lineage genetically and estimate relatedness between two or more individuals.

Cover image for The juggler's children : a journey into family, legend and the genes that bind us

Equally interesting are the stories the experiences and dilemmas genealogists encounter in their search for the truth about their ancestors.  Sometimes the information gleaned in your research can reveal unpleasant truths and shatter some family’s myths, after all it is unlikely that all our ancestors lived their lives without leaving a few skeletons.  Carolyn Abraham, the author of The Juggler’s Children: a Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us, tells of her quest to explore her mixed ancestry using DNA testing and find out about her Great-Grandfathers, both from very different backgrounds and their pasts shrouded in mystery.  Her search led to her through India, China, Europe and Jamaica and she also takes the time to explain the different ways that DNA can be used to trace back different ancestors (different methods for male and female relatives, for example) and take genealogists in directions impossible with traditional records.

Cover image for Family tree. The complete first season [DVD videorecording]

Finally, if you are not interested in doing your family history yourself, but have an interest in the topic, I would recommend the comedy series Family Tree  (with Chris O’Dowd in the main role), about an average Englishman who sets out to discover his roots and try to gain a sense of who he is after inheriting a box of artefacts from a dead relative.  If you have watched the series Curb Your Enthusiasm, this show and its type of humour will be familiar to you (but with an added genealogy story arc tying each episodes).

In addition to books and online resources, the Winnipeg Public Library hosts genealogy workshops on various topics throughout the year, so keep checking the Library newsletter for schedules.


Fiction Set in Ancient Rome

First edition cover 

The past is said to be another country, and thus historical fiction fascinates because it has the power to transport us into different worlds.  If one goes all the way back to Antiquity, the transition can be quite jarring for the reader, and yet fascinating because while people will always be people in so many ways, the culture and belief structures was very different than our own.  For five hundred years, Roman society was a cradle democratic government (alongside Greece of course).  But Rome quickly grew from a city-state to cover an area so vast and its government corrupt and inefficient that the republic ended up being replaced by an Imperial state with a series of autocratic rulers.

I have been a fan of Robert Harris since I read Fatherland, and he has written a trilogy centered on the life of the great Roman orator Cicero entitled Imperium.  The first volume of this fictional biography is told form the viewpoint of his secretary (and slave), writing of his master’s first steps as a provincial outsider and his rise as an orator and philosopher before going into politics and fulfilling his goal of becoming one of the most influential Consul in Roman history.  Though it is not light reading, it provides the reader with an insider view of the Roman government, its key players, and their struggles for absolute power.   A believer in republican ideals despite his own personal ambitions, Cicero would witness the civil war that would bring Julius Caesar to become dictator, as well as his downfall.

Masters of Rome is a series of novels by author Colleen McCullough, set during the last days of the old Roman Republic.  It is one of the best series of fiction for those interested in learning in depth about what it was like to live in ancient Roman society.  The books come complete with maps, timelines, and glossaries of Latin terms used, which allows even newcomers to stay with story.  The cast of The First Man in Rome is large, a who’s who of the figures that helped shape what was the “known world” of last century B.C., but it centers on the rise of general and statesman Gaius Marius and the power struggle that pitted him against the conservative aristocracy, most of whom regarded him as an upstart plebe.  Though Marius and his wife Sulla’s alliance was instrumental in bringing about the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the empire, the series is told by people of all classes and walks of life.  The author takes great care in respecting historical accuracy but also makes it fun and exciting to read, both for the personal dramas as well as the larger history lesson.

Cover image for Mistress of Rome Cover image for Under the eagle : a tale of military adventure and reckless heroism with the Roman legions

If you are more interested in the Roman world of its ordinary citizens (and non-citizens), there are series like Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn.  Thea is a slave girl from Judea, who survived the sacking of Jerusalem only to be sold to a Roman heiress.  Thanks to her wits and musical skills, she becomes her mistress’ rival for the love of a gladiator, and eventually confidante to Emperor Domitian himself.  If you enjoyed the HBO miniseries Rome, you will be in your element in this story, with action, drama, and romance included in the mix.

The Eagle series by Simon Scarrow focuses upon two main protagonists:  grizzled veteran Quintus Licinius Cato and the more bookish newbie Lucius Cornelius Macro, who are both Roman soldiers taking part in the invasion and occupation of Britain by Julius Ceasar.  This series is for fans of adventure/military tales with lots of action.

Even though Roman society did not have “detectives”, they did have delators – private informers who reported crimes to the courts.  I was unaware until recently of how vast a selection of detective fiction is set in Antiquity, and they offer a refreshing variation on the Victorian/contemporary stories.

Cover image for The silver pigs : [a Marcus Didius Falco novel]   Cover image for SPQR X : a point of law

Marcus Didius Falco is known as “The Informer” and is the narrator in a series of historical mystery novels by Lindsey Davis set in Imperial Rome during the reign of Vespasia.  The tales read much like our more modern detective novels and Falco’s description of his world is tinged with cynicism and, more surprisingly, a good dose of humor.  Of humble Plebeian origins, Falco has to endure grim trials and misfortunes, and he often has to rely on his fists as much as his wits to get out of situations alive.  In his first adventure, entitled The Silver Pigs, he is plunged into a political conspiracy involving stolen silver ingots (also known as “pigs”) and the murder of a senator’s niece.  If you do get hooked on the series, it is interesting to note that Falco’s daughter, Flavia Albia, eventually takes up the mantle of her father in later volumes.

In his acclaimed SPQR mystery series, John Maddox Roberts takes Readers back to the late days of the Republic.  Decius the Younger is a more cultivated “finder” than Falco, and comes from a powerful family and is involved with such figures as Pompey and Caesar.  Despite being another veteran, he relies more on his brain and wit rather than his brawn to resolve problems.  He also has the help of several interesting companions during his investigations, including slaves, a gladiator/physician, and a crooked political agitator.   His adventures are told in flashback form as he is writing his memoirs at the time of Octavian’s reign.  In A Point of Law, Decius, now raised to the rank of senator, must defend himself against accusations of corruption and even murder, while exploring some of the roots that led to the collapse of the republic’s political system.

If you are looking for something “new” and different in your leisure reading, I encourage you to have a look.



New to the Local History Room

Cover image for The rise of the new West : the history of a region in Confederation Has it been a while since you read something related to Manitoba? Are you looking for something with a fresh angle on a familiar topic? It’s time to take a look at what’s new in the Library’s Local History collection as there have been several exciting new arrivals.

The rise of the new West : the history of a region in Confederation, an updated edition of Conway’s previous work, covers the political and economic rise of the western provinces from the time of the Riel Rebellion up to the first decade of the 21st century and the rise of conservative politics. This is a great read for those wanting to learn about the rise of socialist and unionist movements (culminating in the creation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which would be succeeded by the New Democratic Party), the equally transformative impact economic sectors like agriculture and energy had in shaping politics, and the changing relationship of the “West” with the rest of Canada.

Author Christopher Dafoe has recently published a biography, entitled In Search of Canada, about his grandfather John Wesley Dafoe who worked as chief editor for the Winnipeg Free Press from 1901 to 1944 and became one of Canada’s most influential journalists. The book focuses on his formative years and early journalistic career in the 19th century, with many moves between Quebec and Manitoba, and the unforeseen events that finally led him to Winnipeg. He started teaching in Ontario while both of his parents had never been to school before beginning his career in journalism working for a Montreal newspaper at the age of 17. The book is filled with stories and recollections from those who knew him (including his wife Alice) before he became the man historians remember as well as the personal papers that “Jack” Dafoe left in the family archives.

Vikings on a Prairie Ocean: the Saga of a Lake, a People, a Family and a man is the memoir of Glenn Sigurdson, who lived with his family and ran a fishing business on Lake Winnipeg. Along with describing his personal experiences as part of a fishing family, he gives a portrait of the Icelandic community that grew from the initial 19th century settlers and developed an enduring partnership with the local Aboriginal communities. Sigurdson pays homage to the fortitude of his parents and the pioneers before them in overcoming many challenges and helping shape this part of our province.

Winnipeg’s General Strike: Reports from the Front Lines explores the emergence of two new daily newspapers that covered the strike from opposite sides while existing dailies were shut down. The media coverage from both pro-strikers and pro-establishment, and how it shaped public perception of events, is described in the context of post-World War I Winnipeg where fear of the emerging Communist threat of revolution clashed with workers’ demands for greater rights. The book’s approach to the subject is fresh, easy to read and well illustrated.

Cover image for Saving Lake Winnipeg

Concern about the environment, specifically for the health of Lake Winnipeg, is what motivated water analyst Robert Sandford to write this third in a series of manifestos: Saving Lake Winnipeg. Sandford wants to alert us to the increasing toxicity of the waters of not only Lake Winnipeg, but more and more lakes in Manitoba and the broader Great Plains region. He appeals for immediate action from government as well as business and society in general to combat this threat and prevent the spread of this phenomenon and save Lake Winnipeg from becoming an “open-air sewer.”

Up North: Manitoba’s Last Frontier is a beautiful book of photographs compiled by professional photographer Hans Arnold during an 8 month journey that took him progressively to the most remote parts of our province. The photographs collected in the book range from gorgeous shots of nature and fauna throughout the seasons mixed with signs of human presence like a dam, a road, or an isolated farm.

Summer might be over, and winter is coming, but it is also a great time for readers as fall brings a new crop of freshly-published titles to enrich our minds.


History of Cities

We are presently living on an urban planet: more people all over the world now reside in cities than in rural areas. This was not the case even 60 years ago, but cities have increasingly come to define, at least in part, the human experience. Cities also help shape a country’s “image”: when we think of France, we see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, when we think of the United States, we most likely will think of New York’s skyline or Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign.  We read the histories of cities not only because of the famous and less-famous people who were its citizens, but also because they are reflections of societal trends.

Cover image for A history of future citiesA History of Future Cities by Daniel Brook deals with the recent evolution of four cities (St-Petersburg, Mumbai, Dubai and Shangai) and compare their histories in specific time periods where revolutions in urban development (generally brought from outside forces) transformed them into global metropolises, and what those trends may bring in the near future.  St-Petersburg was the brain-child of Russian Czar Peter the Great, who wanted to build a modern “European” city on the model of Amsterdam, but had to rely on the work of serfs and autocratic rule to make it happen.  The oil trade transformed Dubai from what had been regional port into a cosmopolitan “boomtown” of massive skyscrapers in a matter of decades where the citizens native to Dubai are now a small minority compared to recent arrivals.

Cover image for Smart cities : big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopiaIn Smart cities : big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia Anthony Townsend, an urbanist and technology expert, presents the converging trends of growing urbanisation and reliance on digital technology to imagine how a “smart city” might function in a near future, and what new challenges might city-dwellers have to face as a result of this mutation.  Looking back at how new technologies like wireless Internet and apps are already helping city planners and governments to cope with the challenges of growing cities. The author takes us on a worldwide tour to find examples of how wireless communication and technology are being applied to manage city services, cope with natural disasters, and improve overall quality of life while also raising the issues of privacy in a world of increasing surveillance and the influence of corporations on city developments.  Despite its heavy subject, the book is quite accessible to the general reader.

Cover image for Tales of two cities : Paris, London and the birth of the modern cityIt would be difficult to not mention a book that deals with Paris and London as these two cities were the models which much of the rest of the world tried to emulate for two centuries.   Tales of Two Cities: Paris, London and the Birth of the Modern City discusses how they were the symbols of a competition between the two great empires of 18th and 19th century, with their respective elites striving to make their capital the centre of wealth and sophistication.  That “friendly” competition also helped shape each other’s cultures through their interactions and exchanges in business, arts, literature, gastronomy and fashion.

Cover image for The last days of old Beijing : life in the vanishing backstreets of a city transformedThe growing pains and dislocations of people and historical neighborhoods are a recurring story in any place where people and their environment have to make concessions to change and progress, but the price paid can often be quite steep.  Author Michael Meyer, in his book The Last Days of Old Beijing, tells of his experience while living in a Beijing hutong (narrow lane) for two years while he worked as a teacher and witnessed some of its oldest neighborhoods being razed in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, to be replaced by modern streets fit for cars, high-rise buildings and even Beijing’s first Wal-Mart.  Though most of Meyer’s neighborhood was spared in the end, his book is full tales of forced evictions and relocations from homes, some centuries-old, and of old ways slowly being eroded in exchange for dubious “progress”.


Cover image for 1913 : in search of the world before the Great WarIn the book 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War  author Charles Emmerson explores the world the year just before the outbreak of the First World War  through its capital cities, not just in Europe but all over the five continents, and see much that the war changed.  He writes about Imperial Beijing and Tokyo and their struggles to modernize their governments and countries’ infrastructures to better compete with the West, the capitals of the Middle East and their struggles to as the centre of multi-ethnic countries on the verge of great changes.  Winnipeg and Melbourne are also included, as cities of the British Dominions that shared many parallel histories in their explosive growth and mutations due to large influx of immigrants, struggling toward uncertain futures.


Cover image for Cities of the underworld : the complete season one [DVD videorecording].If you are interested in the hidden past beneath your feet, the documentary Cities of the Underworld, lets you discover the underbellies of cities like Paris, Shanghai and Rome and walk through their ancient catacombs, aqueduct networks and clandestine hideouts.  You also learn about their constructions and how they withstood the test of time, and the myths and legends that grew around them.

More books about the histories of cities from all over the world are constantly arriving on the library’s bookshelves, so please add your suggestions.



Going on a Trip, One Page at a Time



For most of human history, the vast majority of people never had the opportunity to see the world outside their immediate communities, unless they were forced to by circumstance.  Those who did travel faced an arduous and dangerous experience, even at the best of times.  Now, we live in a world where travelling for recreation, as tourists, is accessible to an ever larger number of people, whether those voyages take them to other countries or local vacation spots.

mark twain the innocents abroad 

Before there was such a thing as a tourist there were travellers and explorers, who left written accounts of their adventures and travels.  Marco Polo was the first European to leave a detailed written account of his voyage into 13th-century Asia, a 24-year odyssey that took him from Venice to deep into China (ruled by the Mongols at the time) and back.  Mark Twain wrote an account of his voyage through Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867 entitled The Innocents Abroad, which provides a good portrait of that part of the world in the 19th century from the point of view of a proto-tourist, and is also quite funny.  Freya Stark was another writer and explorer. She wrote many books about her experiences in the Middle East in the 1930’s, and was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts.

Today, travelling is so common place, and can be so mundane, that we forget what an awesome thing it really is. Yet there also exists a vast demand for travel literature in the form travelogues, diaries, and guidebooks. People travel, or read about people who do, not only to discover the world, but also to challenge themselves and their perspectives. A simple road trip can be a fun and enlightening experience, especially in North America, which is blessed with both plenty of space and plenty of good roads to ride on.  William Least Heat-Moon has written extensively about his travel experiences on the road in the U.S., as well as abroad, and is highly praised not only for the content of his stories but also his command of the English language. His recently-published Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road assembles selected pieces of his previously published writing, as well as new ones discussing the importance of cars and highways in the American identity, some historical treasures hidden in plain sight (like a sunken 19th century steamboat), and many memorable encounters in South Asia and Europe through decades of travel experiences.

Emilia Scotto is a man who had a dream of seeing the world, and actually got on a motorcycle and made a decade-long, 457,000 mile trip that took him from his native Argentina to virtually every country in the world, and landed him in the Guiness Book of World Records. His tale can be found in The Longest Ride: My Ten-Year, 500,000 Mile Motorcycle Journey, a book filled with photographs and anecdotes about the places he saw and experiences he went through.  Some of the stories are actually hair-raising, as he tells of many close-calls and dangerous situations he had to negotiate.


But what about you, you may ask?  If you suffer from bouts of wanderlust, or just seek a good vacation spot, World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places is an excellent book to browse through to plan your next trip.  The book lists locations all over the world, from familiar cities to the most extreme and isolated (but gorgeous) locations, and organizes them in categories like urban spaces, wild places, and world wonders, depending on what kind of experience a traveller would be looking for.  For the more adventurous types, in Once in a Lifetime Trips: The World’s 50 Most Extraordinary and Memorable Travel Experiences, author Chris Santella proposes trips that are all about experiences that are “unique, decadent and off the beaten path” and are intended to be unforgettable.  On the menu: exploring the Galapagos islands, diving to the wreck of the Titanic, riding the Orient Express to Istambul, and…yes, it’s in there, visiting the International Space Station on an organized visit.  We may not be able to cram all this in our busy lives, but reading about those who did is a thrill of its own.

Even today, though, travelling is far from being a risk-free enterprise, and bad experiences, both big and small, are also part of the experience.  Travel writer Chuck Thompson, the “guru of extreme tourism”, has written about the darker side of the travel industry in the past.  His second book, To Hellholes and Back, details his experiences travelling to the worst destinations in the world, to see if they deserved their bad reputations, and living to tell the tale.  His journeys take him to parts of the Congo, India, Mexico City, and even Orlando Florida and Disney World.  Mr. Thompson is never in grave danger throughout his voyages, but he does go places where few, if any of us, would, and manages to be pleasantly surprised on occasions (especially in Mexico City).  If you like narrators with caustic humor mixed with genuine curiosity about their subject matter, this book will be an interesting read for you.

Whether you are planning to go on a trip or just read about it, the adventure is out there.  Do you have any suggestions for good travel reading?








How about a dose of reality after all that drama?

Historical television dramas always have their fans (me included) and the selection has greatly increased in recent years, along with their scale and sophistication.  One can cringe at the anachronisms or outright mistakes in the historical details in a series like Downton Abbey or Mad Men without liking the series any less, because we know that they are used to help move the fictional plot.  But what I like even more is when the fiction creates an appetite to explore the real history behind it, and just because history is in the non-fiction category, does not mean it doesn’t have plenty of drama.

Regardless of what your chosen historical period might be, we’ve got suggestions for you!

Antiquity and the Middle Ages
You watched Rome and learned of pre-Christian mores and the never-ending political intrigues of a great empire, or you watched the series Vikings about an ambitious raider’s first foray into 8th-century Britain.


Ancient Rome : from Romulus to Justinian by Thomas R. Martin is a quick and accessible overview of the Roman civilization from its humble beginnings to the barbarian invasions and its downfall.

Author Robert Ferguson does something similar in The Vikings : a history with more emphasis on archeological discoveries to compensate the paucity of written records and how deeply they left their influence on the same cultures they raided.

The Renaissance
The Borgias or the Tudors series are your fares. You enjoy costume dramas with their mixture of political, religious and interpersonal power games… but those series have taken many liberties as far as historical accuracy goes.


If you are interested in the real deal, The Tudors: the complete story of England’s most notorious dynasty and The Borgias: the hidden history, both by widely acclaimed historian G.J. Meyer, will give you a more accurate and complete picture of what it was like to survive as power brokers of the Renaissance era.

Victorian era
You’re a fan of police procedurals like Ripper Street or Murdoch Mysteries, and may have dabbled with Deadwood, series that pits men dedicated to science and order against a chaotic and uncivilized world. 


The invention of murder : how the Victorians revelled in
death and detection and created modern crime by Judith Flander will satisfy anyone interested in the early efforts to create an organized and professional police force that would tackle “modern criminality” with the help of early scientific methods.  At the same time as mass media was giving unprecedented coverage and visibility to the criminal element of Victorian society, it saw death being used as mass entertainment (as long as it was distant enough).”Penny dreadfuls”,  saw the birth of detective fiction that has lost none of its appeal to this day.

The floor of heaven : a true tale of the last frontier and the Yukon gold rush by Howard Blum is a recent arrival that tells the story of three very different ex-cowboys who had to re-invent themselves and became prospectors searching for the promise of riches in the last wild frontier of northern Canada.  Recommended for those who wants plenty of action in their reads.

You are waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey and watched Parade’s End to tide you over.  Or you’re fascinated by Boardwalk Empire and the early Prohibition era.


Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey was written by the present Countess of Carnarvon, and owner of Highclere Castle (where most of the show takes place), and chronicles the lives of Catherine and Henry Carnarvon in Edwardian England.  Using primary sources, the book not only highlights the lives of the rich and famous, but also the staff that works for them, just like in the show.

On the other side of the pond, Last call: the rise and fall of Prohibition, 1920-1933 by Daniel Okrent chronicles the “Noble Experiment” that started with the Volstead Act which established prohibition in the United States and the rise of organized crime that resulted from it.  This is a great and detailed read about the importance of alcohol had in American culture and history, the reasons and forces that pushed for prohibition and the roots that help explain its ultimate failure.

Are Call the Midwife and Mad Men both still producing your favourite shows but you want to know more about the real deal? 


Call the Midwife has the merit of being based on the real-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth’s experiences as a midwife in London’s East End in the 1950’s, which is available at the library in addition to the TV series.

If you are more interested in what really transpired in New York’s ad agencies, try The real mad men : the renegades of Madison Avenue and the golden age of advertising by John Hegarty and learn how the period saw a revolution in the business and art of consumer advertising.

If you want more examples of good non-fiction related to your favourite historical drama, please make sure to take a look at our book display on the subject, located on the 4th floor of the Millennium Library.

-Louis-Philippe Bujold

Christmas Traditions Through the Ages

My grandmother recently told me a story which gave me the idea for this post.  In rural Quebec of the 1930s and 40s, Christmas was celebrated in large family gatherings, with relatives from all over making the trip to her parents’ home.  Since the roads were not always cleared of snow like they are now, those who couldn’t make it sent letters with well-wishes and news about themselves and family members.  After breakfast on Christmas Day, everyone would sit around the table and listen as the letters were read aloud, something that has been lost but was central to her experience of Christmas. This inspired me to explore the theme of where the traditions we associate with Christmas originated and what influences shaped the holiday into how it is celebrated today.

Throughout the centuries, traditions from many surprising origins have woven themselves into its Christian roots.  At its core, there is of course the celebration of the birth of Jesus (hence Christ’s Mass).  On the other hand, a book like Pagan Christmas: the plants, spirits, and rituals at the origins of Yuletide explores the pre-Christian origins of many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas and New Year celebrations. The Christmas tree, gift-giving, and even the tradition of singing carols outside can be traced back to Roman times, around the Saturnalia festival (which happened to coincide with the week of December 25th), while also borrowing from Scandinavian mythology and even Druidic practices. The book goes into great details about pagan rituals and beliefs, many I had never heard of before like the origins of certain foods and flowers associated with present-day cooking and decorations. It even provides recipes for smudges and incense used in shamanic rituals!  Recommended for readers looking for something different.

Much of how we celebrate Christmas today owes a great debt to Victorian England of the 1850s. Due to the Puritan era of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christmas had become quite austere, and in fact was hardly celebrated at all. Kissing beneath the mistletoe, Santa Claus, exchanging gifts, caroling, Christmas cards were all introduced or re-introduced in large part due to the royal family bringing them back into fashion. Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol offers a portrait of how the day was celebrated in this era, and the fact that it still feels and look familiar to us despite a century’s passing is proof of their endurance.

Another example of the growing “Victorian Christmas” fiction genre is a sequel to the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice written a couple of years ago, Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers, with all the familiar characters spending the Christmas season at Darcy’s estate.  The plot revolves around the Darcy and Bennet clans’ efforts to weather not only unresolved family tensions, but also a blizzard that forces several unannounced guests to seek refuge at Pemberly.

Christmas crafts for both kids and adults have been around for a long time and under many forms.  Have yourself a very vintage Christmas: crafts, decorating tips, and recipes, 1920s-1960s by Susan Waggoner offers vintage craft projects organized by decades.  From quick and simple decorations, personalised greeting cards and gifts to classic candy recipes, this title is recommended for fans of the do-it-yourself personal vintage touch for the holidays.  One particular idea that stood out for me: the Marabou Treat Cup from the 60s section.

Another tradition that has been around for over a century is Christmas light displays.  We see them on trees, in city streets, shop displays and notably on houses.  Bright, colourful and cheery, light decorations allows us to transform our home into a public expression of the holiday spirit for all to see. At least that’s the theory. Human nature has also injected an element of competitiveness to the process! Christmas houses is a small but very colourful book that provides a catalogue of some of the most memorable projects in the British Isles, with examples ranging from creative and tasteful to tacky and often humorously disastrous.

Finally I had to mention Tis the season TV: the encyclopedia of Christmas-themed episodes, specials and made-for-TV movies by Joanna Wilson, not only because watching Christmas movies/cartoons/shows has been part of my personal Christmas experience as far back as I can remember (always with relatives and friends), but because I was impressed that such an exhaustive encyclopedia  existed. From The Addams Family to Yogi Bear specials, from Treme to Doctor Who this book has all the plot details, trivia, and special casting information, and serves as a wonderful trip down memory lane.

What are your personal holiday traditions?