Tag Archives: Christmas

Fun for the Holidays

The Holidays are a time when friends and family are in close quarters. Much of that time is joyous, full of fun and spent in front of the TV watching any number of Christmas specials. We are never far removed from Jimmy Stewart, Chevy Chase, George C. Scott, Billy Bob Thorton or Little Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun.

However, film and TV are relatively new additions to the Holiday season. A century ago, no one owned a TV and movies were silent. How did people pass the time? The answer, of course, is games. Board games, card games, word games and many others were played for fun.

The Victorian era (1837-1901) which gave us Christmas cards, A Christmas Carol and Christmas Crackers also had games like Up Jenkins, Similes and Throwing the Smile. Up Jenkins was played with 8 or more players divided into two teams. Teams would sit across from each other and one team was given a coin. The team with the coin would pass or pretend to pass it among themselves until the opposing team shouted Up Jenkins! At which point the team with the coin would raise their hands above the table with fists closed. The opposing team would then say Down Jenkins! The team with the coin would then place their hands on the table palms down. The other team would then get one chance to guess which player on the opposing team had the coin.

Similes could be played with as few as two people but more is better. Each player would take a turn telling the other player or players a simile. Here are some examples of similes:

tight as a drum
green as the grass
brave as a lion
strong as an ox.

Players would keep telling similes until someone couldn’t think of one and then that person would be out. Eventually you would be left with a winner.
Those are games from Christmas past. If you’re looking to play games in Christmas present here are some books that can help:

The Complete Book of Card Games


This how-to book offers a large variety of card games along with rules and instructions about how to play.  You’ll see Poker and Cribbage as well a few games not often played.  In addition to learning how to play, you’ll also get a short history on the evolution of the game.

Hoyle’s Rules of Games: Descriptions of Indoor Games of Skill and Chance, with Advice on Skillful Play: Based on the Foundations Laid Down by Edmund Hoyle, 1672-1769


If you’ve ever wondered “how do I play Egyptian Ratscrew?” this book is for you. Providing rules and strategies for card and board games, you’ll find fun from Scrabble to Eleusis. The book also helpfully separates games geared for adults versus those more suited for children.

Family Fun Night


Check out this book to create an “unplugged” family fun night that appeals to children too! With twists on timeless classics to brand new games, this book provides ideas for indoor and outdoor fun. Plus, it suggests snacks and meals that complement each family night theme.

The Oxford History of Board Games


My list of books would not be complete without a history of board games. David Parlett dives into the rich and interesting history of board games from around the world and from different time periods. His book offers some tips on strategies but focuses primarily on the development and cultural aspects of the games.

These books offer some great ways to stay entertained over the holidays. And there is one more twist you can throw into your gaming that can be a lot of fun. Today most games end with a player or players being “out” or being “it”. However, in ages past many games didn’t end this way. Players would perform a forfeit. Here are some examples:

  • A player has to stand on a chair and assume the form or shape of an object or animal the group chooses.
  • Make at least three other people smile.
  • Tell a joke.
  • Mime something and make the other players guess what it is you are doing.

Try these or create your own forfeits to add a different twist to your games!

While the holiday season is a great time to break out the games, it isn’t the only time you can enjoy them. Come to the library and enjoy “Tabletop Games Day”.  Different branches host this games day event at different times of the year.  Come and enjoy an oversized game of Chess, Checkers, or Snakes and Ladders.  You can also have fun with some regular-sized games like Clue, Scrabble or Cribbage.  Check the most current “At the Library” for times and locations.

Happy Holidays!


‘Tis the season to be reading!

Thanks to Mother Nature, it’s finally feeling pretty Christmassy outside. Inside the library, we’ve got you covered for seasonal romance and mystery. I’ve spent the past few months ordering all sorts of Christmas goodies for our readers, including stories with ho-ho-hot rogues, magical mistletoe, paranormal presents, and cozy Christmas sleuths. The current offerings provide something for every taste, so get comfy under a blanket (or mistletoe!), pour yourself a cup of something hot (alcoholic or not!), and check out the books below.

Making Spirits Bright by Fern Michaelsmaking-spirits-bright

This swoon-worthy collection of novellas hits the holiday sweet spot. In the title story, singleton Melanie McLaughlin dreams of adopting far more than she frets about her empty love life, but everything comes together when she’s offered two children orphaned by a terrible car crash and twinkle-eyed Bryce Landry steals her heart along with his offer to give the kids “the best Christmas ever.” Elizabeth Bass cooks up a tear-jerker in “Runaway Christmas” as spunky Texas teen Erica, trying to get back on track after her mother’s death, decides to spend Christmas with a family friend in Brooklyn. Rosalind Noonan’s “Home for Christmas,” a tale of a single mother falling for a wounded soldier returning from Afghanistan, is sure to tug the heartstrings. Nan Rossiter’s “Christmas on Cape Cod” delivers a dog-lover’s dream.

Fields Where They Lay by Timonthy Hallinan fields-where-they-lay
It’s three days until Christmas and Junior Bender, Hollywood’s fast-talking fixer for the felonious, is up to his ears in shopping mall Santas, Russian mobsters, desperate holiday shoppers, and (’tis the season) murder, in this sixth entry in the Junior Bender Holiday Mystery series (after King Maybe). The halls are decked, the deck is stacked, and here comes that jolly old elf. Junior Bender, divorced father of one and burglar extraordinaire, finds himself stuck inside the Edgerton Mall, and not just as a last-minute shopper (though he is that too). Edgerton isn’t exactly the epicenter of holiday cheer, despite its two Santas, canned Christmas music, chintzy bows, and festive lights. The mall is a fossil of an industry in decline; many of its stores are closed, and to make matters worse, there is a rampant shoplifting problem. The murderous Russian mobster who owns the place has decided it takes a thief to catch a thief and hires Junior–under threat–to solve the shoplifting problem for him. But Junior’s surveillance operation doesn’t go well: as Christmas Eve approaches, two people are dead and it’s obvious that shoplifting is the least of the mall’s problems. To prevent further deaths, possibly including his own, Junior must confront his dread of Christmas–both present and past.


christmas-brideA Christmas Bride by Hope Ramsay

‘Tis the season in Shenandoah Falls and the first time Willow Peterson has been home in years. But she’s determined to fulfill the wishes of her recently deceased best friend and restore Eagle Hill Manor to its former glory–all in time to host the perfect holiday wedding. She just has to get the owner of the historic inn to hire her. Unfortunately, that means dealing with Scrooge himself.
After the death of his wife, David Lyndon has a bah-humbug approach to Christmas. But as December counts down and the wedding planning is in full swing, it’s harder and harder to stay immune to the charms of Willow, especially when he sees how much joy she brings his eight-year-old daughter. After a simple kiss under the mistletoe turns into something more, David is hoping he can turn the magic of the holiday season into the love of a lifetime.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelttwelve-dogs-of-christmas

Martha “Pups” Boyer, who’s at the center of Edgar-finalist Rosenfelt’s entertaining 15th legal thriller featuring Patterson, N.J., attorney Andy Carpenter (after Outfoxed), earned her nickname for her efforts to take in stray puppies that the local animal shelter can’t handle and find them permanent homes. Near the holidays, Pups’s new neighbor, Randy Hennessey, reports her for keeping more than the legal limit of animals. Andy, a long-time friend of Pups, figures that puppies and Christmas are key words that will ensure that the case is dismissed. He’s right. But when Randy turns up dead, Pups is arrested for his murder. The evidence is stacked against her, but Andy refuses to believe Pups guilty. On the other hand, Andy and his team discover some alarming discrepancies when they dig through the assets of the wealthy Pups and her late husband.


holiday-temptationHoliday Temptation by Donna Hill, Farrah Rochon, and K.M. Jackson

Three unlikely couples heat up the pages in this sensual trio of holiday. An aspiring playwright and a barista who is more than he seems learn to trust their hearts in Hill’s passionate “A Gift of Love”; a chance meeting in Istanbul’s spice market turns into something more for a Christmas-phobic photographer and techie craft brewer when the fates and the weather get into the act in Farrah Rochon’s affecting “Holiday Spice”; and a hard-driving real estate mogul hires a health-conscious chef to improve his diet and lifestyle during a business trip aboard his yacht and gets more than he bargained for in K.M. Jackson’s pert “From Here to Serenity.”


We Wish You a Murderous Christmas by Vicki Delanywe-wish-you-a-murderous-christmas

In Delany’s second book in the Year-Round Christmas Mystery series (after Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen), Merry Wilkinson is content with life in Rudolph, NY, where she runs a Christmas shop. The town has reinvented itself as a holiday-themed tourist destination full of indie businesses. So when the owner of the Yuletide Inn lands in the hospital following a heart attack, and his son, Gord, swoops in to convert the inn into a franchise of a budget hotel chain and sell land to a big-box store, the community is in an uproar. They’re almost relieved when Gord is murdered, until their resident Santa, Merry’s father, is questioned. Now Merry will have to find the real killer before her dad ends up in jail and the holiday is ruined.

it-must-be-christmasIt Must Be Christmas by Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward, and Mandy Baxter

Three novellas with a delightful assortment of settings sweep readers off their feet with stories that highlight a variety of holiday experiences. A university librarian and a professor of Chinese lit (with a secret agenda) trade barbs and kisses as they spend Christmas Eve searching for an elusive action figure for a five-year-old in Crusie’s nonstop chuckler “Hot Toy”; a small-town doctor and an ex-Navy SEAL dad are thrown together when they find a newborn in the Christmas crèche in Donna Alward’s insightful “Christmas at Seashell Cottage”; and a wealthy rancher who wants nothing to do with his late father’s money finds romance with the founder of a sports-related charity for at-risk kids in Mandy Baxter’s steamy “Christmas with the Billionaire Rancher.” Library Journal states: “spirited, refreshing, and brimming with holiday joy, this diverse trilogy delivers both sexy and sweet, providing a little something for everyone.”

The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney and otherslast-chance-christmas-ball

Eight romance authors (collectively known as the Word Wenches) walk into a Regency-era ballroom and wreak fabulous, shimmering holiday mischief all over the place. The Dowager Countess of Holbourne is hosting an extravagant Christmas ball, and the guest list includes some of the loveliest, loneliest people in high society. Publisher’s Weekly states: “The best of the stories woven around this premise are Joanna Bourne’s ‘My True Love Hath My Heart,’ in which a little larceny spices a long-smoldering romance; Susan King’s ‘A Scottish Carol,’ wherein snowbound lovers never quite make it to the ball; and a maiden’s romantic rescue from a young ladies’ seminary in Anne Gracie’s ‘Mistletoe Kisses.’ The characters are smart and attractive-so much so that it can be hard to believe the ball is their only chance to find love-and their stories are delicious and appealing.”

our-first-christmasOur First Christmas by Lisa Jackson, Mary Burton, Mary Carter, and Cathy Lamb

Join four of the most favorite romance authors for tales of Christmas romance to remember forever.   In Lisa Jackson’s “Under the Mistletoe,” Megan Johnson’s marriage is over—or so she thinks. When her husband Chris lands in the hospital, she remembers the unexpected joy of their first Christmas together. The holidays bring painful memories for history professor Marisa Thompson in Mary Burton’s “A Ranger for Christmas.” But agreeing to help Texas Ranger Lucas Cooper solve a case presents her with more than a distraction. In Mary Carter’s “A Southern Christmas,” reporter Danielle Bright is heading home to write about Christmas down south—and possibly win back her ex. But Sawyer, the sexy photographer, is determined to jingle her bells. Family is where you go after quitting your job, but Laurel Kelly isn’t prepared for the changes at home in Montana—or the fact that her high school boyfriend now owns the family land in “A Ranger for Christmas” by Mary Burton.

Deck the Hallways by Kate Carlisledeck-the-hallways

Contractor Shannon Hammer is back in Carlisle’s fourth “Fixer-Upper” mystery, an entertaining Christmas cozy. Shannon’s latest project is overseeing the remodeling of an old Victorian mansion into apartments for families in need. Since the bank donated the foreclosed house to the Holiday Homebuilders, company representative Mr. Potter is sent to keep an eye on the progress. However, he manages to harass and fight with several of the workers, including Shannon’s dad, then ends up murdered, leaving a long list of suspects. Hoping to keep her father off the list of potential killers and get the renovation back on track, Shannon does some amateur sleuthing.

trouble-with-mistletoeThe Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis

Fans of Shalvis’s Sweet Little Lies will surely want to pick up her second Heartbreaker Bay contemporary, which is also very accessible to new readers. The series’s cuddliness factor is amped up to 11 with redheaded Willa Davis and her San Francisco pet store, South Bark Mutt Shop. Willa’s single and happy that way; she gets her daily dose of love from half a dozen eight-week-old golden retriever pups and the other lost animal souls she tends. Then handsome Keane Winters, a man from her past, shows up with Petunia, a Siamese cat he’s nicknamed Pita because she’s a pain in the ass. Pita is his great-aunt’s pet, and he needs all the cat counseling he can get, but Willa, Christmas spirit notwithstanding, would just as soon he seek it elsewhere. Willa’s a gem, Keane’s a hunk-tool belt and all-and the two spar as only Shalvis’s characters can, fighting a losing battle against the powers of mutual attraction and the holiday season.

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morganmiracle-on-5th-avenue

As a surprise, Eva Jordan agrees to decorate for Christmas the apartment of the grandson of one of her events and concierge company’s oldest clients (even preparing frozen meals) and finds crime writer Lucas Blade lurking in the dark instead of in Vermont where he is supposed to be working. Recently widowed Lucas has hit a massive writer’s block and is hiding out at home. He certainly doesn’t want an effervescent, captivating, Christmas-loving woman disturbing his peace-although it’s exactly what he needs. A cynical novelist who doesn’t believe in love and an optimistic chef who thinks it’s more important than all else set the pages alight in a compelling romance that tempers the serious issues of loneliness, grief, and fear of commitment with the salutary joy of the season.


The Ghosts of Traditions Past

Imagine a group of friends gathered around the fireplace. It’s dark outside, and cold. The wind rattles the windows. Everyone is listening intently to a scary story, occasionally glancing around the room to make sure no one is sneaking up behind them.

Not your typical Christmas scene, is it?

December is an interesting month. It is at once a bright and happy time, full of sparkling, twinkling lights, gatherings with family and friends, and a winter wonderland of beautiful fluffy snow. It is also a time of long, dark nights and freezing temperatures. The longest night and shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, falls on December 21st, marking the first official day of winter. Traditionally, Christmas has been every bit as much a time of ghost stories as a time of carols.

You can thank the Victorians for this. While they certainly enjoyed a quiet cup of tea, the Victorians were actually quite an adventurous bunch, and were fascinated by the supernatural. Many stereotypical December activities, such as decorating and displaying an evergreen tree in your home, gift giving, and caroling, were popularized in Victorian homes, and probably give you a nice, warm glow. However, most of these traditions have older, rather darker origins, having been borrowed from times when the long winter nights held no certainty of a new dawn, and the cold and dark were as much a threat as any monster, no matter how big your bonfire. One borrowed practice of which the Victorians were particular fond is the telling of tall, terrific tales.

DickensCharles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is far from the only seasonal ghost story, although it is probably the best known. The unsettling events of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are framed by a narrative in which a family sits around a warm fire and listens to the story of a young governess charged with the care and keeping of two secretive young children in a big, lonely house with only the housekeeper for company.

Mr. James is considered to have written some of the best ghost stories for his time, forgoing some of the more stereotypical elements found in ghost stories. Although his stories tend not to be about Christmas, friends invited over during the Christmas season would often listen to his latest ghost story while drinking eggnog.

Smee by A.M. Burrage takes place on Christmas Eve, when a group of friends at a holiday party decides they would like to play a game of hide-and-seek. However, one of the guests is determined not to play. He begins to tell the story of a game of smee he played some years earlier, when an extra player suddenly joins the game.

PhantomOther authors worth checking out for some old-timey scares are Wilkie Collins and Sheridan Le Fanu. The Phantom Coach : A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Ghost Stories by Michael Sims features a nice selection of Victorian ghost stories by popular authors as well.

So there’s your new family tradition for December! Get everyone together, grab some cozy blankets, turn the lights down, and share some spooky stories (and maybe some baking).


Isn’t it Snowmantic?

Christmas carols have been jingling through the loud speakers at the malls and stores for some weeks now, but most of us are just starting to get into the Christmas spirit. Whatever you find yourself doing this month, from decorating the tree, shopping for the perfect gifts, planning Christmas meal menus, baking, or just relaxing on the couch watching cheesy Christmas movies on cable TV, why not add reading a romance to your to-do list? So many holiday romance stories can add to your cheer, and make some cold winter night just that much hotter.

Not sure where to start? Try an anthology, where you get snippets from many different writers.

A Christmas kissA Christmas Kiss
Just in time to make the season steamy, an exciting new small-town romance anthology featuring three novellas set during the holiday, including Sealed With A Kiss by Celeste O. Norfleet, Mistletoe Lane by Regina Hart, and His Christmas Present by Deborah Fletcher Mello.

What happens under the mistletoeWhat Happens Under the Mistletoe
In this all-new story collection sparkling with sexy charm and heartwarming wit, four beloved bestselling authors reveal the mix-ups and make-ups, the missed chances and golden opportunities that come but once a year. Includes The Heiress and the Hothead by Sabrina Jeffries, Twelve Kisses by Karen Hawkins, By Any Other Name by Candace Camp, and Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran.

On the naughty listOn the Naughty List
The most wonderful time of the year is back! Featuring perennial favorite holiday stories from Lori Foster and Carly Phillips, along with two Christmas stories that delighted readers a year ago, this sexy anthology will make you want to give your heart to Christmas again and again. Includes Christmas Bonus by Lori Foster, Naughty Under the Mistletoe by Carly Phillips, Have Yourself a Curvy Little Christmas by Sugar Jamison, and Some Kind Of Wonderful by Beth Ciotta.

Cowboys have been very popular in romance novels this past year. Looking to wrangle one up in your stocking? Look no further…

Cowboy firefighter for ChristmasCowboy Firefighter for Christmas by Kim Redford
Trey Duvall, a rancher and local firefighter, is out of luck. His ranch has suffered from several “accidental” fires and there is no explanation in sight. All he wants for the upcoming holiday is to get to the bottom of this mystery, but what he gets instead is hotter than any ranch fire. When city-girl Misty Reynolds drops into Wildcat Bluff, Texas right around the holidays, the last thing she wants is a Christmas surprise. But when a smokin’-hot cowboy flags her down one December day, she may be in for the sweetest Christmas treat she’s ever had. This is the first book in Redford’s Smokin’ Hot Cowboys series.

Long tall christmasLong, Tall Christmas by Janet Dailey
Facing foreclosure on her California home, widowed Kylie Wayne is grateful to accept her aging aunt Muriel’s offer to come back to small-town Branding Iron, Texas, and help out on the ranch. But when an early storm rolls in, Kylie’s dream of a perfect Christmas for her kids is blown away with the unexpected snow. Comfort and joy seem unlikely, unless a certain long tall Texan with a bad boy’s charm can rope some holiday cheer.

Mistletoe RomanceMistletoe Rodeo by Amanda Renee
His entire town was counting on Chase Langtry to win the championship title. Instead, the injured bull rider is slinking back to the family ranch. But how can he stay out of the spotlight with relentless reporter Nola West following him home from Vegas? His humiliating loss just can’t be her next story! Nola’s attraction to the youngest son of Ramblewood’s First Family is shaking her hard-won confidence. And it looks like the only scoop she’ll get is covering the Mistletoe Rodeo charity event. She’s never been a big fan of the holiday. Until Chase vows to show her a Christmas she’ll never forget.

If you’re hoping for a ho-ho-hot holiday season, you might be interested in these picks:

A Bad Boy for Christmas by Jessica Lemmon
‘Tis the season to be naughty! Connor McClain knows what he wants. And after four harrowing years in Afghanistan, that’s a quiet life in the lakeside town of Evergreen Cove. But coming home has land mines of its own-the most dangerous of them being long-legged bombshell Faith Garrett. Now getting her into his arms this holiday is going to require more than mistletoe . . . With a cheating ex behind her, all Faith wants is a relaxing holiday free from man drama. And even though every moment with gorgeous Connor is a sweet temptation, Faith is determined not to give in. But Jack Frost has other plans, and soon Faith and Connor are snowbound in a winter wonderland with only the sparks flying between them to keep them warm. As one hot kiss leads to another, they’ll have to decide if they’re ready to give each other the best gift of all–love.

UnwrappedUnwrapped by Katie Lane
Jacqueline Maguire has a problem tying the knot. After fleeing the altar (again), the runaway bride drives off with no particular destination in mind. Which is how Jac finds herself stranded in a snowstorm with a hot, hard-bodied stranger who treats her to the naughtiest night of her life… but come morning, he’s long gone. Patrick McPherson is deeply committed to his bachelor lifestyle. No strings, no rings. As the Christmas season approaches, however, Patrick still can’t quite forget his curvalicious one-night stand. This is the third book in Lane’s A Hunk for the Holidays series.

Silver Wolf ChristmasSilver Wolf Christmas by Terry Spear
CJ Silver and his brothers have returned to Silver Town eager to reconnect with the pack. And with the she-wolf newcomers renovating the old Victorian Silver Town Hotel, it looks like the holidays are going to be very merry indeed. Laurel MacTire and her sisters are excited to be living in a wolf-run town, but they have another motive-to solve the fifty-year-old mystery of their aunt’s disappearance. When CJ gets a whiff of trouble brewing, his protective instincts kick in. Now Laurel has a hotel opening to prepare for, a mystery to solve, and a brawny wolf shifter underfoot. Perhaps she should have resisted the temptation to kiss him so wickedly in the snow. This is the fifth book in Spear’s Silver Town Wolf series.

Finally, for those of you looking for a gentler romance, give these titles a look:

All is calm all is brightAll Is Calm, All Is Bright by Colleen Coble
Return to two of Colleen Coble’s most beloved settings Bluebird Ranch and Hope Beachfor holiday romance and mystery!

Christmas bride in pinecraftChristmas Bride in Pinecraft by Shelley Shepard Gray
When Beverly Overholt’s Orange Blossom Inn is broken into, she’s shaken to her core. After all, the inn has been her whole life since her fiance left her for her best friend. In the face of repairing what’s been lost, Beverly calls Eric Wagler, the inn’s handsome owner. To her surprise, he promises to be on the next flight out to Sarasota. Beverly’s been closed off to love for years, but with Eric, she can’t help seeing a glimmer of hope, even if they’re from different worlds. Will Christmas bring a second chance at love for Beverly? And if it does, will she be brave enough to take it? This is the fourth book in Gray’s Pinecraft Brides series.

Falling like snowflakesFalling Like Snowflakes by Denise Hunter
Beau Callahan is a habitual problem-solver. He’s recently left his job with the sheriff’s department to take over the family Christmas tree farm to save it from insolvency. But he’s flummoxed. During the busiest season of the year, he’s shorthanded. Then Eden shows up looking for work, and Beau believes he’s been rescued. Competent, smart, and beautiful, Eden’s also guarded and quiet. He soon figures out she comes with a boatload of secrets. But Beau can’t seem to help himself from falling for her. This is the first book in Hunter’s Summer Harbor series.

Dashing through the snowDashing through the Snow by Debbie Macomber
Ashley Davison is desperate to spend the holidays with her mother in Seattle. Kevin Tyler just got assigned a job in Seattle and must arrive by December 23. Both frantic to book a last-minute flight out of California, Ashley and Kevin collide at the airline to learn there are no flights and only one rental car available. Squaring off before meeting halfway, the two reluctantly agree to drive to Washington together. But their journey isn’t without obstacles, and a misunderstanding with the law threatens to upend their holiday plans altogether.

– Barbara

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?


Holiday notes

In just a few short weeks, it’ll be Christmas again and the library has a great collection of new Christmas CDs that are worth borrowing.  If the recent snow hasn’t got you in the Christmas mood, I’m sure the following CDs will.

Wrapped_in_RedKelly Clarkson has a stellar new Christmas CD entitled Wrapped in Red.  Even if you’re not a Kelly Clarkson fan, I’m sure you’ll be won over. She has particularly strong renditions of “Run, Run, Rudolph,” “My Favourite Things” and “Silent Night.” Usually original songs by artists on Christmas CDs are terrible, but occasionally you find a gem; “Underneath the Tree” by Kelly Clarkson is one. I can foresee this song gaining momentum and becoming another Christmas classic, like Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” and Wham’s “Last Christmas.”

I’m certainly not a Glee fan, and not overly fond of musicals in general, but I have to admit the Glee Christmas albums are pretty darn good. Glee: the music: the Christmas Album Vol. 3 is a great holiday album with wonderful covers of “The First Noel” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The album ends rather poignantly with “Happy Christmas (War is Over),” sung by the late Cory Monteith, whose untimely death earlier this year shocked fans.

Other recent additions to the library catalog include Christmas with Judy Collins, Home for Christmas by Susan Boyle and A Family Christmas by the Piano Guys.

AmarychristmasBut hands down, the best Christmas CD of the year is Mary J. Blige’s A Mary Christmas. I was just blown away by the power of her voice. For starters, Mary J. Blige has won Grammys in R&B, Rap, Pop and Gospel so you know she has talent and range on her side. It’s hard to pick the best track as they are all stellar, but if I had to pick one, it would be her big-band, up-tempo rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Mary also duets with Barbara Streisand with “When You Wish Upon a Star” and Marc Anthony (“Noche de Paz”), and collaborates with the Clark Sisters on “The First Noël.”

10greatsongsFinally, there’s the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald. I have the library to thank for introducing me to Ella; many years ago the library acquired Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas and once I heard it, it became an immediate favourite. I bought myself a copy and can honestly state it’s in my top 3 of Christmas albums — and considering how many I’ve listened to, that’s saying something! The library still has many copies of this amazing album, and we’ve also recently acquired Christmas (10 Great Songs). When I first saw it, I assumed it would be a repetition of Swinging Christmas, but except for one song, there’s no overlap with the first album. What could be better than more Christmas tunes sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald?


Christmassy Things to Do and Borrow

This week, the Christmas decorations went up here at Millennium. With lights lit up, and snow coming down, we’re starting to get in the holiday mood, and starting to look forward to our holiday programming:

Nutcracker Storytime

Tomorrow at 2:00 pm, Millennium’s children’s department is hosting some wonderful folks from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (including Filbert the Bear!) for their annual Nutcracker Storytime.

HandbellsSt. Andrew’s Handbell Choir performs next Thursday (December 5), over the lunch hour, as the last event of our fall Skywalk Concert and Lectures. Look for that to return in January!

Next Friday, in motion @ the library is going to be a Dance Explosion, guaranteed tohelp you dance away your holiday stress over the lunch hour.

Sounds of the Season

Finally, we’re once again hosting Sounds of the Season! Local elementary school choirs will be performing in Millennium Library’s lobby at 12:15 every day from Monday, December 16 to Friday, December 20. Elementary school kids singing holiday tunes – how can you lose?

A Christmas Story

Meanwhile, our friends over at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre are in the middle of their run of A Christmas Story. It’s on until December 14, so, we put together a little list of A Christmas Story-inspired reads.

I’d like to share them here, for those of you who like a little laughter during the holidays:

The Best Christmas Pageant EverThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. The horrible Herdman kids hijack the neighborhood Christmas pageant—and surprise everyone with their version. The original book for children has been adapted into both a play and a picture book.

Holidays on IceHolidays on Ice by David Sedaris. Hysterically funny essays on the difficulties of the holiday season, including the SantaLand Diaries, his unforgettable tale of what it’s like to be a Macy’s elf (not for kids!).

Scaredy Squirrel Prepares for ChristmasScaredy Squirrel Prepares for Christmas by Mélanie Watt. Everyone’s favourite neurotic squirrel prepares for Christmas in this fun children’s picture book.

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle DogThe Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry. It’s 1960 in a small town, and drama and holiday miracles surround Doug Barnes, his family, and the annual church Christmas pageant.

SSurviving the Holidays with Lewis Blackurviving the Holidays with Lewis Black (DVD). A comedian’s take on staying sane during the holiday craziness.

Christmas CuriositiesChristmas Curiosities: Odd, Dark, and Forgotten Christmas by John Grossman. A revealing look into the little known origins and forgotten traditions of Christmas past.

God Rest Ye Grumpy ScroogeymenGod Rest Ye Grumpy Scroogeymen: New Traditions for Comfort & Joy at Christmas by Laura Jensen Walker and Michael K. Walker. A dose of practicality and insight for those looking for alternative ways to participate in the holiday season.

Christmas MiscellanyChristmas Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Christmas by Jonathan Green. More trivia and facts about the most well-known Christmas symbols and customs, from stockings to reindeer to mistletoe.

I hope everyone is able to stay warm, relax, laugh a little, and overall have a great December. And, don’t forget the pile of other holiday cookbooks, craft books, stories, and magazines we have! In the meantime, let me know: Do you have a favourite holiday book or movie?

It’s a Wonderful Movie: My Top Picks of Christmas Flicks

charlieWhen it’s cold outside all I want to do is curl up and watch my favourite Christmas movies, cuddled up under a blanket with my kit-cat Hubert keeping me warm. Of course, the reality is that I seldom have time to do just that, and try and sneak a Christmas movie in here and there as the Christmas rush descends. With several weeks still to go until Christmas, I’m hoping that I can still find the time to watch a few of my all-time favourite Christmas movies and shows. If you’re looking to do the same, here are some titles worth considering.

My all time favourite Christmas movie is Desk Set starring Katherine Hepburndesk set and Spencer Tracy. Katherine Hepburn plays a Librarian in a research library, and Spencer Tracy is the efficiency expert hired to implement a mainframe computer into the workflow of the library. Katherine’s character Bunny and her colleagues think this means they’re being phased out and will lose their jobs. Set during the Christmas season, this movie is funny, sweet and comical. The most Christmasy part of the film is when all the librarians are chugging champagne at work as they celebrate Christmas with the other departments in the organization. If only we could all have champagne at work around Christmas! An interesting bit of trivia is that this movie script was penned by Nora Ephron’s parents.

connAnother favourite is Christmas in Connecticut, starring Barbara Stanwyck. Her character (Elizabeth Lane) writes a regular column on domesticity in a woman’s magazine. Her articles revolve around motherhood, cooking and other housewifely tasks. Her boss and those reading her column assume that Lane is the epitome of the perfect housewife, when in fact the reality could not be further from the truth. She lives in a small apartment and is without the husband and baby she pretends to have. Her house of cards is set to crumble when a nurse writes to Lane’s boss and asks if a returning soldier can spend a homey Christmas with Lane and her family. Not only does the boss agree, he decides that he too would like to experience a traditional Christmas. Watching Lane try and keep up the pretense of being the perfect housewife in a borrowed farmhouse is funny, and her character is endearing. Definitely worth watching.

The Christmas season is not complete without watching a few other classicmiracle flicks. Miracle on 34th Street is about an executive named Doris who has become rather jaded by life. When a department store Santa claims to be Kris Kringle and convinces her daughter of this as well, Doris believes the man to be insane. Is he insane, or could he be the real thing? It’s a Wonderful Life is another film not to be missed at Christmas. In fact, this movie is the perfect film to watch on a snowy Christmas Eve. George Bailey tries to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, but is shown by angel Clarence what life would have been like had he never existed. White Christmas is a musical with a great number of hits (White Christmas, Sisters) and stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Their song and dance act teams up with two sisters to perform at a failing Vermont inn, run by their former commanding general. Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, this movie is worth a watch.

oliveThere are many animated shorts suitable for kids and adults alike. Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman is an animated short with no dialogue – only music. A boy builds a snowman that comes to life, and they go on adventures (including a visit to the North Pole). Excellent animation with an imaginative story. Another animated film that’s become an annual favourite is Olive the Other Reindeer. Olive is a dog who thinks she’s a reindeer when she mistakes “All of the other reindeer” in the Rudolph song for “Olive the other reindeer”. She runs away from her owner after she mistakenly thinks he doesn’t want her any more and sets out to find Santa and help him deliver Christmas presents. Olive meets many interesting characters along the way, and Drew Barrymore is excellent as the voice of Olive. Of course, what Christmas could be complete without the classic animations: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (not the Jim Carrey version!).

I wasn’t going to mention A Christmas Story, as this is on almost everyone’s list A_Christmas_Story_1983_R1-cdcovers_of favourite Christmas flicks. Yet, I found I had to include this gem. Directed by Canadian Bob Clark, this movie makes me laugh every time! Who could forget the leg lamp prize, the handmade bunny outfit or the kid getting his tongue stuck on the frozen pole? This story is told from the point of view of Ralphie, who wants nothing more than to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Have to watch this movie each and every Christmas, and now my son is old enough to enjoy it with me as well!

If the previous titles aren’t to your liking and you’re more of an action aficionado, I do have one more suggestion for you. (And it is set on Christmas Eve!). How about a little Bruce Willis in Die Hard, anyone?

Rockin’ Around the Christmas CDs: Part 2!

rocking christmas treeeHard to believe it’s December already and Christmas is just around the corner.  The air is crisp and cold and Jack Frost long ago made his appearance in our fair city.  Christmas music is now ubiquitous wherever you go!  Luckily I love Christmas music and even after listening to the entire collection of Christmas music that Winnipeg Public Library has, I still love it!  Last December I had listened to approximately 60% of the collection and I finished the entire collection in October of this year (nearly 1000 cds!).  Since October I have only been listening to Christmas music sporadically as the library acquires new CDs.

Although I love Christmas music, I’m usually not a fan of new Christmas songs sandartists record when they release a Christmas album.  To be fair to the artist, it’s difficult to put a new spin on the season when it has been done so many times before.  Christmas in the Sand by Cobie Caillat is an exceptional album, and the title track is amazing.  I love winter and I love snow, but Cobie (born and raised in California) has written and recorded a very un-traditional Christmas song that is my new favorite.  I’m just hoping that Santa will put this album in my stocking on Christmas day!


I know many people who can’t have Christmas without Frank Sinatra.  Personally I think he’s one of the weaker crooners, but I will say that his album, Christmas Dreaming, is worth a listen.  It’s a compilation album, but it was recorded fairly early in his career and I think it is the best of his many studio and compilation Christmas albums.

Before recommending my next selection I must confess that I am not in any gleeway, shape or form a ‘Gleek’.  In fact, I have only watched 15 minutes of it once and had to turn the channel before my brain died, but I must sheepishly say that Glee : the music : the Christmas album is very good.  As bad as I think the show is (and in my opinion I think it’s pretty bad) the kids have amazing voices and the album is great.


Now if you really, really hate Christmas carols, I’ve got the album for you.  Destination Christmas by the Superions is for all the haters out there.   It combines absurd lyrics with terrible synth-pop rhythms  and deadpan vocals.  Brilliant!  It was produced by Fred Schneider from the B-52’s as a comedy album and it would be perfect for a Christmas party.

Although long past childhood, apparently I am still a kid at heart.  I loved muppetsChristmas with the Chipmunks with Alvin, Simon and Theodore and I loved the Muppet Christmas albums too.  I can’t decide which is better, A Green and Red Christmas or A Christmas Together  (John Denver and the Muppets).  Listen to them both and decide for yourself.


Other great kids’ albums are The First Noel : Christmas carol lullabies ; A Holly jolly kids Christmas and New Orleans Christmas.

If you prefer your Christmas music more traditional and sacred you won’t be disappointed with the CD Celebrate Seasons of Singing by the Winnipeg Mennonite Children’s Choir.  I am not a choir fan, but even I was moved by the clear and halcyon voices of the children.

Finally I must recommend the late and great Donna Summer and her album, donnaThe Best of Donna Summer : the Christmas collection If you are expecting disco beats you will be disappointed, instead this album of traditional carols showcases her vocal power and range.  I own this album and it is one of my very favourites.

These album picks are only a snippet of the vast collection of Christmas music WPL has.  Here’s hoping you find something you like.  Happy listening and Merry Christmas!


Handmade Holidays – An Early Start!

Every year, I try to get it together to make the gifts I’m giving for the holidays. Hostess gifts, Christmas gifts,  Secret Santa gifts… I always convince myself that I’ll have the time and energy this year to give meaningful gifts that are handmade with love and care. Honestly, the years I’m the most successful are the years when I make ornaments, or something similarly assembly line, but I couldn’t help scouring the (in this case, virtual) shelves for ideas of what to make. Nice and early, in mid-November, so I have a chance to make everything, right?

I decided Freading was the perfect place to look – this way, I could download the instructions straight to my phone, and have them with me at all times, for when the crafting urge strikes. No holds, no waiting! (And even better, I could renew them for free in the middle of December, when I panic for real and actually start making things.)

Mini Christmas Crochet

First up, we have these pretty adorable mini Christmas crochets. Despite the Christmas specific title, there are also wonderful winter holiday designs like snowmen and BABY PENGUINS to make!

Knits for Nerds

Now, I know *I* won’t have time (because it would involve learning to knit, as well), but the Hobbit feet slippers in this book are definitely a great gift idea this year!  And for the ultra-ambitious, why not make his-and-hers sweater vests from The Big Bang Theory. Plus, an eReader cover that doubles as a chessboard. Wow.

Show me a Story

For the little ones on my list, I love the idea of storytime blocks from this book. Visual blocks allow children to start to expand their own storytelling abilities, and are infinitely engaging to young ones – and all it takes is some Mod Podge, magazine or card images, and plain wooden blocks!

Sneakier Uses for Everyday Things

My dad loves gadgets, and is totally into the idea of recycling/ re-purposing  so I think a calculator turned into a metal detector would be a great stocking stuffer. I’ll even be generous and let him keep the change he finds in the couch.

The Great Christmas Cookie Swap Cookbook

I’m also definitely into the idea of doing a cookie swap this year – adding some variety to the plate is never a bad thing, and it is much easier to bake in bulk!

Trash-to-Treasure Papermaking

For kids or the cardmakers out there, this Papermaking book is beautiful – a card using these techniques is a gift in itself! I also love that it is recycling paper – the holidays can always use a little more Green, in my opinion.

Strong Waters

All of these sound great… but I think my gift this year for the adults on my list will be bottles of home-made mead. The Rhodomel (rose flavoured honey wine) recipe in this book sounds like the perfect thing for holiday cheer!

All of these books are available right now, for your computer, tablet or smartphone, from Freading. To find out more about how to use Freading, visit our Freading overview page.