Some Christmas Traditions in the West in the 1880s

My “First Monday of the Month Blog” for Western Fictioneers was published today. Here it is.

I wrote about amnesties and pardons because my sheriff was concerned the governor would use his annual Christmas amnesty to pardon a murderer who faced the firing squad. Fugitive Sheriff lived through four years of Christmas. What was Christmas like in the West in the 1880s?

Whatever it was like, if anyone at the time wrote about it, their words have proved more elusive than my googling skills have retrieved. I found a lot of interesting stuff, including a remarkable number of places and persons named Christmas, but what follows is a triangulation, a guess at what might have and must have been the celebrations of Christmas, using the 1880s as the ending point for traditions by then begun and now taken for granted.

Right off the bat, I discovered a controversy I did not know existed. “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” was believed until 2000 (and until last week by me) to have been written in 1822 by Clement Clarke Moore for his two daughters and later published anonymously in Troy, New York on December 23, 1823. In 2000, Don Foster published a book, Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous, in which he demonstrated that Moore could not have been the author and concluded it must have been written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.

Already a well established tradition during the 1880s, many people certainly knew or read “Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas” (the poem’s subtitle) to their children in the West. (And now we Western Fictioneers know that for 177 years Clement Clarke Moore took credit for publishing something he didn’t write.)

The history of mince pies

Now on to tastier, though no less spicy, fare. Like most of our Christmas traditions, mince pies came to us from the UK, dating back to Stuart times. They were a status symbol.  Having pies meant you were rich. You could afford both meat and the best and most expensive pastry cooks. With their main purpose to show off, they were originally made in various shapes like stars, crescents, hearts, and flowers, the most intricate constructed like jigsaw puzzles to fit together. Some sources report they were filled with meat, such as lamb, rather than the dried fruit mix of today. Both notions are anathema to me.

Our Western forebears never filled a mince pie with lamb when venison was available. For damn sure, mine went out and shot their deer and brought it back for the making of the mincemeat.

And I am certain of that still today. My wife makes mincemeat and she calls up her brother and he goes out and gets a deer and ships the venison to us. Her preference is neck meat, but any will do.  Anne and her brother aren’t Westerners, they’re Mainers, of French descent, but I can personally vouch for the authenticity and richness of her mincemeat. So much so, that I share with you her recipe.

recipe

Christmas Day

Though eating mince pie was a Christmas Eve tradition, I doubt anyone in the West of our interest asked why Christmas Day was celebrated on December 25.

The first record of Christmas celebrated on December 25th was in 336AD, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). Bringing his Christian army to conquer the Goths, he discovered a pagan rite at the beginning of Winter and took it for his own. He told the Goths they were celebrating Christmas, thereby conquering the Goths with spirit and spirits. Second only to the English, emigrants to the West were German.

A second tradition starts with the day Mary was told she would have a very special baby (the Annunciation), on March 25th. Nine months after the 25th March is the 25th December! How many Western settlers celebrated the Annunciation showed up on no record I could find.

Finally, among early westerners were a smattering of wandering Jews. Hanukkah, starts on the 25th of Kislev, the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs about the same time as December. Hanukkah celebrates when the Jews were able to re-dedicate and worship in their Temple, in Jerusalem, following many years of not being allowed to practice their religion. There is ample evidence of Temples being dedicated in the West in the 1880s.

Christmas

Not being Catholic, I did not know that the ‘Christ-Mass’ service was the only one that was allowed to take place after sunset (and before sunrise the next day). People had it at midnight!

The Christmas Tree

Northern Europe gets credit for this with documented evidence of the first Christmas tree in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in 1510 and the emergence of Yule logs in Scandinavia soon after. Martin Luther was the first to take the Christmas tree into his home, in the 16th century. The Christmas tree basically came to America via Britain when the drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” (set up by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s German husband,) was republished in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Philadelphia in December 1850 (without the Queen’s crown and Prince Albert’s moustache to make it look ‘American’!).

Christmas trees were prevalent in our west – and not too difficult (well, except for the work involved) to go out and cut down an evergreen.

Christmas cards

Christmas cards began in Victorian England, as many of Christmas traditions do, in the early 1840s when Sir Henry Cole had the idea for sending his friends a greeting wishing them a Happy Christmas (printed by John Colcott Horsley.)

The idea took off in Europe but lagged in America, until the Civil War was over – and Christmas was declared a holiday in 1870. The transcontinental railroad completed in 1869 made faster mail service possible and the ground breaking printing capabilities of printer Louis Prang transformed the postcard-size European Christmas card to gifts of art sent through the mail.

Prang learned the art of chromolithography, a technology that allowed him to make duplicates of fine art to bring fine art to the masses inexpensively. In 1873 in Vienna he was presented with the idea of making an artful Christmas card. He liked the idea and by Christmas 1874 Prang’s designs started to catch on – not as Christmas cards, but as art. Costing as much as 25 dollars, the Prang holiday designs were sent by many as gifts.

Unique to Prang’s Christmas art was new verse written by well-known poets of the time, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

During the 1880s Prang’s factories put out more than 5 million Christmas cards a year and were noted for offering stable, suitable employment especially for women, a real rarity of the times. By the 1890s, cheap knock-offs were imported and Prang’s popularity began to diminish, but the Christmas card was established.

Recognition of Christmas Day

Alabama was the first state to grant legal recognition to Christmas in 1836. By 1890 all states and territories had done so, including DC in 1870. Christmas is the only annual religious holiday to receive official religious and secular sanction. The following list of Western states and the year they recognized Christmas is taken from Having a Wonderful Christmas Time Film Guide by Terry Rowan. By end of 1887: California, 1851; Colorado, Nevada, 1861; Oregon, 1862; Idaho, North Dakota, 1863; Montana, 1865; Kansas,1868; New Mexico, 1876; South Dakota, 1877; Texas,1879; Arizona, 1881; Utah, 1882; Wyoming, 1886.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago — pagan songs, sung at the winter solstice as people danced round stone circles. (The word carol originally meant to dance to something.) So, what did today’s most famous source of Christmas carols do in the 1880s?

Named after the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is credited with being founded in 1847, although the Tabernacle was not completed until 1867, the first recorded choir conductor was not appointed until in 1869, and the choir held its first concert at the Tabernacle on July 4, 1873. I could not find any documented Christmas pageants during the 1880s. We all know they existed by the time of the first-ever recording on September 1, 1910. Given the tradition of music and theater, my bet is the Tabernacle Choir was performing, I simply could not find the evidence.

What I found most certainly did not come from the 1880s, but works for me as an ending to this blog. The Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2 told by John Rhys-Davies with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: http://mymerrychristmas.com/a-masterful-telling-of-luke-2/


E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.

Give an Edward Massey Book 2015

Xmas graphic

Last year, to encourage reading, support bookstores, and buy books, I offered to send a second book for one dollar.

This year, I expected to have another book to offer you. Alas, Fugitive Sheriff has not yet surmounted all his trials and tribulations, but still Christmas and Holidays roll around. And again, I encourage you to give the gift of books. (My books, to be sure.) So this year, the price of a signed and mailed book goes down – and a second book still costs one dollar.

Order now and have the book(s) inscribed by the author. Enter the desired inscription in the field below. If you want the book(s) sent to a third party, enter that information when you get to the order summary page by clicking on “Add special instructions to the seller.”

  • Every Soul Is Free, $15.00, price includes mailing
  • Telluride Promise, $10.00, price includes mailing
  • Gift set, both books, $16.00, price includes mailing

Go to Amazon.com for twenty-three terrific reviews and, of course, if you prefer, buy the books on Kindle.

Happy Holidays.


Choose book(s)



More plowing and sowing than reaping

My regular monthly blog is up for Western Fictioneers. You may see it here or read it below:

The best marketing plan is to write.  In my January blog I mentioned Hugh Howey because he makes this point far better than I, both on his website and in his podcast with James Altucher.  It is no more profound than the observation that successful novelists we remember have all written many books, save Harper Lee and one or two others. Four to four hundred novels seems to be the range needed for success.  Some Western Fictioneers can publish thirty books in three years, some can publish one.  Not to despair, one book in three years means four in twelve and there you are, on the power curve.  So, write two, three, four hours a day but even then you may need some ploughing in other fields.

Indeed, that very Harper Lee brought no less an institution than the Economist to opine on the great Schumpeter and the need for Authorpreneurship.  In their February 14, 2015 print edition, with a column headlined “To succeed these days, authors must be more businesslike than ever” they said,

“…Standing out as a book writer today requires more than a bright idea and limpid prose. Authors need to become businesspeople as well, thinking strategically about their brand, and marketing themselves and their products…”

“…these days, writing a book is just a prologue to more work…Authors mostly used to rely on public-relations staff provided by the publishing house. Now, wise writers hire their own publicists…Authors must court an expanding variety of ‘influencers’—people whose opinions can determine a book’s success. Once…newspaper reviewers were…arbiters of literary taste. Now…a host of bloggers and social-media pundits fill the gap.”

The article devoted a lot of space to celebrities, Hollywood film deals and best seller lists, before it returned to some realistic observations.

“Authors, like other entrepreneurs, should not let failure get to them.”

“The open secret of publishing is that very few authors can live by books alone. Even some of the most successful ones make most of their money from public speaking, consulting or teaching, and use the publicity gained by their books to justify higher fees. …Things are more difficult for fiction writers: the organisers of conferences and other events pay good speaking fees to non-fiction writers with a bit of name recognition, but not to the average novelist.”

“Authors are becoming more like pop stars, who used to make most of their money selling albums but who now use their recordings as promotional tools, earning a living mainly from concerts. The trouble with many budding writers is that they are not cut out for this new world.”

Such an authoritative voice provides the perfect introduction to a breakfast roundtable I am hosting at the WWA Conference in the Overton Hotel, in Lubbock, Wednesday, June 24, at 8:00 am.   I proposed a panel on:  “The Western as a Business Education Format.”  In short, marketing your novel by making it a vehicle for corporate messages, themes, and training programs.  Candy
Moulton suggested we test the idea at the Wednesday roundtable breakfast, if I was willing. Absolutely.  I asked her for permission to mention the Roundtable breakfast in this blog.  Absolutely.  She reminded me to mention that the convention is open to non-members of WWA as well as members and that registration materials are available on the website, www.westernwriters.org.

The idea started with my first novel, Telluride Promise.  A venture capital colleague, who specializes in proprietary schools, suggested that it should be a format for teaching ethics in business schools.  A subject much needed, hard to achieve.

With Every Soul Is Free, 100 hundred years of strong values, powerful and interrupted lessons between grandfather and grandson, and the conflict of choosing calling over family have led to discussions with a major private bank, an investment bank, a foundation, and a well known product based corporation on subjects of trust, career, and generational values.

Not to get ahead of myself, these are long sales’ cycles and major success still lies in the future.  The concept is, so far, well-received and I am certain that fiction has a major role to play in the value systems of corporations.  A breakfast, lunch, dinner, or evening reception allows the company to communicate a set of principles it holds dear to its stakeholders, without ever directly “selling” the company. No one needs to have read the book.  Selected readings illustrate the principles and the discussion is on.

There are many topics supported by Western literature.  The point of the roundtable breakfast is to encourage every author to think of how their Western novel demonstrates standards and values that businesses want to instill in their personnel or communicate to their clients.

With tables for 10 people, the point of this blog is to invite 9 writers to the breakfast.  Come as a presenter and bring your book and one idea.  State the theme. Read up to 3 sentences and launch the discussion. We’ll work for three minutes to talk about the principles involved and thoughts on how to market your novel to businesses.  No prior success is necessary, this is exploratory.  If you have no presentation to make, as I said, this is exploratory, please come and explore with us.  With luck, we’ll digest breakfast and a few insights and views about what principles work and how to sell them.

If you’d like to post suggestions for topics in the comments below, or e-mail me, please do and maybe we can get a full agenda on hand before the 24th.

I am still looking to this blog to force me to work on my bio.  I have not yet made it past the starting point. Telluride Promise gained the quarterfinals in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. Every Soul Is Free won the Gold Quill, Grand Prize for best novel published in 2014, from the League of Utah Writers.  Edward’s third novel is finished.  He is at work on his fourth.  He and Anne live in Stamford, CT and look forward to a visit from any Western Fictioneers!

Marketing, Implementation, Results

[Western Fictioneers has asked me to do a blog on the first Monday of every month.  Here is the entry published today on their website.]

In my January 5 blog, I promised this first Monday of the month 2015 blog will follow (1) a year of marketing efforts: Marketing Plan, Implementation, and Results; and, (2) your (to the extent you share them via e-mail or comment) and my marketing efforts over the year.

Results:   Right off the bat, I realize that while results are the product (we hope) of plan and implementation, they need to come first, now that we are up and running.  The reason is something I did not mention last month, but that came up immediately because my January blog resulted in 4 comments, 1 e-mail exchange, and 1 request for a blog-interview.

In that blog-interview, Tom Rizzo’s Story Teller 7, I answered, “In work, there is a  ‘Production Function.’  All it means is if you do something you get a result. For example, if you write 500 words a day, you get a novel.  So, just that one blog led to four comments, one exchange of e-mails, and this opportunity.”

Another result was the very substantial contribution by Charlie Steel to the implementation paragraph below.

In short, what we are all trying to do is increase our production function!

Marketing Plan: The question that continues to plague me, and I think other writers, is simply: How do you create a marketing plan that really works?  There are too many things to do and you cannot really know how any of them work for you until you do them — a state of affairs that leads inevitably to wasted time and frustration.  The alternative is to do nothing, a marketing plan that inevitably leads to … doing nothing.  So, one of the things we do is look for help.

I am going to indulge in a one-time-only bout of complaining.  This month I am going to complain about the rather large industry out there that is designed to make money off writers in the guise of pretending to help writers make money.   We are all mature, consenting adults, so we are responsible for our own protection.  In the end, I am suggesting nothing more than caution and prudence more for the use of your time than even for the waste of your money.  I have long since been suspicious that my subscription to Writer’s Digest was nothing more than an annual payment for the privilege of receiving solicitations.

So, For One Month Only, like one of their screaming solicitations that arrive daily in my e-mail inbox, I thought I would test my perception for purposes of talking about where to turn to help for marketing plans.  I have accumulated and segregated all the e-mails I have received from Writer’s Digest or one of its affiliates or partners since 1:00 am Central Standard Time, January 5, 2015.  I complete this analysis at 6 pm Sunday night, 2/1/15, and attest to you —what was that I said about arrive daily? Twenty-eight days, counting the day of publication, and 73 e-mails have arrived.  58 of them held as their subject a solicitation. 10 held useful content in the subject line and on the first page right up to a Read More that when clicked, you guessed it, offered to sell you something. 5 held out a proposed service that, once you clicked past the subject heading, became a solicitation.

In the spirit of soliciting real interaction with this blog, I invite all of you to send me some tangible help you have received from Writer’s Digest in your career – and at what cost.  For example the analysis mentioned above cost me 28 days of surveillance and two hours of analysis.  Good value for this blog, but only once!  You do not need to mention whether or not you paid cash for it, just note the kind of help they provided you.

I will start it off.  I bought one of their best sellers, Create Your Writer Platform, $16.99 plus shipping.  Rather than focus on my negative reaction to being talked down to, I will focus on my positive reaction to Duke Pennell’s enormously instructive and useful admonition:  “A writer needs fans.”  Aha! That’s what they mean by a platform.

Implementation:   I admit it I am looking for an agent.  While I am trying to figure out how to maximize the productivity of my search, I have joined Query Tracker.  I will report on how useful that turns out to be.

The most interesting how- to-get-things-done discussion this month comes from an exchange with Charlie Steel resulting from last month’s blog.  Charlie commented: “Edward, …My best books sales have always been a free presentation about the WEST, a slide show, a reading of a story, and finally a sing-along of Western songs with me playing guitar. (At a senior resort, housing, library, clubs, etc.)”

My response: “Charlie, One of the problems I am trying to identify is how to get the event set up. Would you send me an e-mail about how you cause ‘free presentations’ to occur.”

Charlie did just that in step-by-step detail that he also asked me to keep confidential as he considers it proprietary.  In my promise to do so, I asked him, however, if I could quote what I thought was the most significant – and not proprietary – insight.  He agreed:

“My experience.  Before speaking, very few in the audience would buy a book.  After being entertained and making a connection with the audience, well over 70% buy a book.

Booking an engagement is the MOST difficult part of doing a FREE speaking engagement.   (…)

Prepare a promotion letter, offering to make a free speech at the church, senior citizen housing, veteran group, library, etc., where you wish to speak.  And, mail them out.  Include email and telephone number.  Or, solicit speaking engagements with a cold phone call to the facility but make sure to have prepared statement.”

What I read in Charlie’s formula is simple:  Do the damn work!  I must admit I get depressed and exhausted, so these words are somewhat inspiring to me. 

An actual plan that got implemented during the month:  Pen-L Publishing’s Kindle Promotion. Pen-L dropped the Kindle price to 99 cents on all books in their catalogue and asked Pen-L authors to promote them down their channels.  They are willing to share with us that “seventeen days into our promotion, of the 40 titles included in the sale, 30 have attracted buyers who purchased 358 Kindles since January 14. The range per title is 1 to 30, with one outlier who did a paid promotion and simultaneously promoted at two sites (eReaderNewsToday and Kindle Books Today) and sold 153 copies.”  My personal result was 3.  I am still working down my channels.  I think sending your love for Valentine’s Day in a tangible way with a Kindle book is an idea that can’t be beaten.  Take a look at Pen-L’s page.  You’ll see a lot of old friends as well as maybe some new ones.  Kissing 10 girls for less than ten bucks is a great deal in my mind.  If you like it, you might want to try it with your own books.

It became my personal challenge finally to get something going on Facebook.  I still have Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and others to do.  I continue to resist them as a time sump, but it looks to me like it is working for someone.

 

Publisher’s Valentine Day Promotion

Pen-L Publishing, publisher of Every Soul Is Free, is out to spread the love with a Valentine’s Day promotion on Kindle at 99 cents.  Connect with Pen-L.com or with Amazon directly  for a truly low cost way to send a meaningful Valentine’s Day gift and, of course, tell all your friends and family about this special deal.  Duke Pennell tells me the special runs through February 14, so act now.