The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 2:16 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

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By Stephanie Williams Dean

If you’re stressing because your Christmas decorations are still up – don’t fret. The Christmas season isn’t over yet.

According to ancient customs, the Christmas season continued from the feast of Christmas on Christmas Eve until the epiphany on Jan. 6. This period of 12 days in between is called “Twelvetide” and is also known as “Christmastide.”

Twelvetide is translated as “holy days” or “holy nights.” These twelve days are part of the Christian season that celebrates the nativity. The birth of Jesus on Christmas Day is the first day, and the arrival of the three wise men is the last day on Jan. 5.

While traveling, I attended the early morning service on New Year’s Eve at the historic Grace Episcopal Church in Yorktown. I learned something else. The Christmas season was actually 40 days long. Who knew? The season continued right up to a Christian festival called Candlemas. Candlemas Day, also known as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, was on Feb. 2. Candlemas commemorated the occasion when the Virgin Mary went to the Temple in Jerusalem to be purified and to present Jesus to God as her firstborn – exactly 40 days after His birth.

I also attended a New Year’s Eve “watchnight” service with the Black American congregation at Saint John’s Baptist Church in Williamsburg. A traditional watchnight service as we know it today takes place on New Year’s Eve and is a late-night Christian service held on the 7th day of Christmastide. The prayerful “watchnight” is grounded in Biblical scripture.

But for Black Americans, the night holds yet additional significance and reason for celebration. In September 1862, President Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. All enslaved people living in states of rebellion against the Union would be freed on Jan. 1 of 1863. Blacks gathered as their clocks struck midnight – after which people were considered free in all the slave states. The tradition, called Freedom’s Eve, has continued for 160 years. As the minister put it – “The night initially was a standard service – but we took on an afro-centric flavor.”

If we look to the past, Moravian church congregations observed watchnight services on New Year’s Eve, which was preceded by the celebration of the lovefest. The three-hour watch night service of Moravian Christians traces back to at least 1733. Following the lead of the Moravians, John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, adopted watchnight services in 1740 – also called Covenant Renewal Services. The services provided Christians with Godly alternatives.

Different cultures have unique ways of celebrating the holiday – what a good time to explore the traditions of others.

Christmas doesn’t end on Dec. 25. And the Spirit of Christmas should never end. Giving gifts, showing acts of kindness, service to others, and generosity should be year-round.

And about those decorations. Don’t worry, just continue making a joyful noise unto the Lord.

New Year Traditions

By Linda H. Barnette

The earliest recorded festivities of the arrival of a new year go back to ancient Babylon. For them the new year began at the vernal equinox and was celebrated by a religious festival called Akitu.  That was the time each year when farmers cut their barley.  Akitu was also the time when a new king was crowned or the present one mandated to continue.

Through antiquity, many civilizations developed calendars tying the first day of their years with either an agricultural or astronomical event. In Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile River, which happened at the same time as the rising of the star Sirius.

The earliest Roman calendar was made up of 10 months and 304 days with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox.  Eventually, Julius Caesar introduced the Gregorian calendar, which was similar to the Gregorian calendar that we still use. Caesar also started the tradition of starting the new year off with partying!

In many countries there are also traditional New Year’s Eve dishes. Pork often appears on the menus in countries such as Cuba, Austria, and Portugal because pigs represent prosperity in those cultures. In the southern United States people typically eat pork, black-eyed peas, and collard greens hoping to start the new year off right with lucky foods. Black-eyed peas were supposedly about the only thing the Union soldiers would not eat during the Civil War, thus good luck by eating them.

Other common customs include fireworks, singing “Auld Lang Syne” and making resolutions for the year ahead. In this country the most popular tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in Times Square on the stroke of midnight each year.

So to all of you, happy 2024.  I hope it’s a great year for us all!

Gingerbread Houses

By:  E. Bishop

Traveling I-40 is always a little scary, but the completion of the new interchange in Statesville definitely made our trip toward the mountains more pleasant. Asheville was our destination for a short midweek getaway to see a famous comedian. Can’t say that it was fantastic after worrying about parking, having to fight the crowds, waiting for the show to start, etc. but what were we thinking? It was the week of Christmas. Must be getting too old for such events.  However, the next day was a good adventure for me, if not for my husband.

The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville is a one-of-a-kind type of place. Completed in just under a year, it opened on July 12, 1913 with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains; built of rough granite stones from the property and was advertised as having “walls five feet thick of granite boulders.”  “Built for the ages.”  I believe it.  The Great Hall has 24-foot ceilings and two gigantic 36-foot stone fireplaces that are 10 feet wide, 7 feet tall and 7 feet deep.  It is a popular tourist attraction with shops, art galleries, spa, antique auto exhibit and the National Gingerbread House competition that was held for the 31st time this year.

The Inn was decked out for the Christmas season with more than 80 illuminated trees around the property and standing in the Great Hall was a life-sized gingerbread house modeled after the historic hotel. But I was there to see the nearly 200 entries of gingerbread houses competing for the $7,500 cash prize. The winner also gets a prize package of goodies that includes a stay at the hotel. Entries came from 22 states and even one from Guatemala.  People return year after year, evidently improving upon their last year’s artistic endeavor, in hopes of winning.

Of course, the criteria are strict for such a competitive adventure.  The house has to be made of 100% edible candy, embellishments or other material except for any lights.  No styrofoam, wood or other artificial fillers, except for the baseboard which cannot exceed 24” by 24”.  Seventy-five percent of it has to be built from scratch. No type of nut is allowed. When submitted, all materials used in the creation must be listed with a brief description of the house.

The winners this year were an aunt and niece baking duo, Faith An and Deborah Kinton, from Fuquay-Varina, calling themselves “Difficult Dessert Devotees.” “Christmas at the Tongkonan” was their beautiful, most difficult looking, creation. The structure was inspired by the traditional ancestral house, Tongkonan from Indonesia. Faith An worked on the gingerbread house every day for two months. To make the tassels on figurines, they used a “most unique ingredient” of catgut dental sutures along with stevia leaves; these items helped them win the grand prize.  They hope to use their house in some way to benefit Indonesian tourism with plans of visiting there someday.