Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas in Switzerland

Erica Vetsch here:

My husband's family is from Switzerland, from the town of Buchs, to be specific. Buchs is a small town near the Lichtenstein border and is German-speaking.

In doing some family genealogy as well as research for a story, I uncovered some interesting Christmas traditions in Switzerland. 

There are traditional Christmas foods such as:

BrunsliChristmas brownie (cut in holly leaf shapes)  (Click on the description to be taken to a recipe for these yummy foods)

ChrabeliAnise Christmas cookies, 

Mailanderli(Cut out cookies) 

Zimtsterne Cinnamon Christmas cookies

Pastetlimeat pie

Sauerkraut, aged cabbage

Rostipotato cakes fried

Other Swiss Christmas Traditions include:

Star Singing - Children carol through town beginning the last week of Advent and continuing through Epiphany. They carry a large star with them, representative of the star that led the Wise Men to Bethlehem.

'Urnäsch Silvesterkläuse' - a procession where the participants wear costumes and masks and carol through town making lots of noise and welcoming in the new year.

The Trychle - Beginning on Christmas Day and continuing through New Year's Day, a procession where one person wears the Trychler (Cow Bell), people wear masks and carry drums, and parade through town supposedly scaring away evil spirits.

And Advent. Advent is huge in Switzerland. Advent calendars are prevalent, because the Swiss seek to teach their children patience and anticipation. In some towns, houses are chosen to become 'live' advent calendars. One window of the house is decorated for Advent, and when that house's day arrives, the occupants open the window and host a party. 

I love these traditions. Some of them are hundreds of years old. 

Do you know your family's ancestry? Are there any Christmas traditions you have that come from your heritage?

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Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas on Chincoteague Island

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, we sloshed through the flood waters along the Delmarva Peninsula, and I shared a bit about Pony Penning Day still taking place even with the fairgrounds seeing water levels several nearly a foot deep! If you missed that post, you can read it here: This month, it's December, and I'm in a Christmas mood, so it's time for some island traditions.


Voted the #1 beach town in America, Chincoteague Island might not seem like the place to go when the cold weather hits and temperatures start turning to freezing. But getting in the water isn't the only appeal about the beach. My family recently visited the island when gathering with family for Thanksgiving, and I decided it would be a great time to take my children there to showcase some of their family heritage. Here is a photo of the two of them posing in front of the movie theater with Misty of Chincoteague's footprints in cement.

Second only to the annual Pony Penning Day festivities at the end of July each summer, the holiday season has been next best time of year to visit Chincoteague Island for generations. The average air temperature in December is about 50 degrees with sunny skies. Just imagine yourself, in a cozy warm sweater, listening to the laughing gulls while walking along the beach to the rhythm of the ocean waves, gathering shells and driftwood for holiday ornaments.

That's what residents of the island have been doing for over a century, and even today, they invite visitors to join them in the casual and traditional fun. You can experience a beautiful sunset at the dock just like thousands of others before you, and when it disappears on the horizon, you can savor a bowl of clam chowder with warm bread, or feast on roast turkey and oyster stuffing.

The day after Thanksgiving became the start of this holiday season back in 1925 with what is now the annual lighting of the town Christmas tree. Not long after, the island theater began showing It's a Wonderful Life, and that tradition continues today. Residents and visitors alike gather in the historic theater every year to enjoy this classic film on the big screen. Have you ever watched this film?

What Christmas festivities are complete without a good old-fashioned parade? Chincoteague Island does it up in style! Complete with marching bands, floats, color guard, fire department companies from around the area, Saltwater Cowboys, and of course Santa Claus with his "reindeer" ponies leading his sleigh. :) For many years, this parade also paid homage to the sea by featuring King Neptune and his Mermaid Queen. More recently, this tribute was left out of the parade, but it is seeing a return this year...back by popular demand.

Another big event is the annual Holiday Treats Sale, where everyone is invited to sample treats and goodies baked by island residents and sold, with the profits benefiting a charity of choice each year.

The second is the Children's Tea Party with Mrs. Claus, where Mrs. Claus and a select group of her favorite elves show the children a scrapbook of her life with Santa. She offers a sing-a-long of Christmas songs, games, and gifts. After the children have had their hot cocoa, kid-sized sandwiches, and Christmas cookies, they have an opportunity to have their photo taken with the Queen of the North Pole. From black-and-white treasures to the more modern digital captures, this tradition has long been enjoyed by children for decades.

Christmas Eve is celebrated with a breakfast offered to anyone on the island and a traditional candlelight service in the evening. Christmas morning is shared with families and friends in the many homes on the island, but you might also find some taking a peaceful stroll along the beach and enjoying a silent night.

The island rounds out the holidays with the annual Pony Island Horseshoe Drop. It's not made of Swarovski Crystals, but it's lighted and it sure does sparkle! And what's more invigorating than starting your new year with a plunge in the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean? That's right. It's called the Polar Pony Plunge, and in recent years, it's been commemorated with t-shirts and other souvenirs to brag about your feat!

So, if you want to be part of the festivities and traditions, bring your camera to capture everything, dress warm, wear a hat and gloves for sure, and comfortable shoes so you can shimmy and dance to the musical beats, but most importantly; bring family and friends with you to enjoy the grand fun that is all Chincoteague!


* What are some traditions in your own home that have survived generations in your family? What is a new tradition developed by you with the current generation?

* Have you ever experienced a small-town Christmas? If so, where? What were some of the unique things that took place?

* What is your favorite part of the Christmas season?

Leave answers to these questions or any comments on the post below. Next month, it's a new year, and I haven't yet determined my new theme for the year. Come back on the 9th of January to find out more.


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who has partnered with Nerium International in the anti-aging, wellness, and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and a Retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and LinkedIn.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Giveaway & Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, Part 3

Note: Watch for the giveaway drawing later in this post.

At first I didn’t recognize the creatures that sped away from my car’s approach while retracing the Oregon Trail. My traveling companions were a female relative we'll call Julie, her two sons, and my young daughter.

Catch up on this epic road trip adventure:

  • October covered the Whitman Mission and Union, Oregon. Read it.
  • November took us to Baker City, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Three Island Crossing in Idaho, and Saratoga’s Hotel Wolfe. Read it.
This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards

Wyoming Prairie and Devil's Gate 

Another deer that was not a deer leaped a fence and sped away from my car’s approach. What on earth were these strange creatures? I’d seen them for miles on end while crossing the prairie. Their tan bodies with cream underbellies would remind me of deer if their horns branched. They also ran faster than any deer I’d ever seen, reminding me of gazelles.

I frowned in puzzlement until a childhood song ran through my mind. Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

Image by Thomas Quine [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
"I bet they're antelope!"

Julie had been staring after a heard of the fleeing creatures, jumped at my sudden outburst. "Oh, of course!" She shook her head. "I guess you can tell we're not from around here."

"You think?" I smiled, ridiculously happy to know that the creatures I'd sung about as a child still run wild in America. I'd seen wild bison, known as "buffalo" to pioneers, in Yellowstone National Park and on other road trips, but had somehow missed seeing antelope.

Now that I have you humming "Home on the Range," here's a video that shows amazing glimpses of pioneer families and the homes they lived in.

Devil's Gate

The "Devil's Gate" by Alfred Jacob Miller ca. 1858-60, a watercolor on paper,
commissioned by William T. Walters, 1858-1860; Image courtesy of the Walters Art Museum

Cut by the Sweetwater River on its way through the Rattlesnake Mountains, Devil's gate was visible from the highway for miles. Wanting to spend as long as possible at Independence Rock, we decided to skip hiking for a closer view of Devil's Gate. If you want to know the whole truth, the heat was more than we could tolerate, and the possibility of surprising a rattlesnake clenched the deal. Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

The romanticized painting of Devil's Gate by Alfred Jacob Miller in the image above makes me want to go back and navigate the trail. If I do, it will be in milder weather.

While driving through waving grasslands with the sun beating down, I wondered how travelers on the Oregon Trail survived the heat, sometimes with unreliable sources of water. They had to be hardy souls.

Captain John Charles Fremont (1813-1890), with Kit Carson as his guide, led a company of half-starved men past Devil's Gate in 1844. They were headed westward, searching for the fabled Buenaventura River, believed to flow from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Fremont described Devil's Gate with these words: "The length of the passage is about 300 yards, and the width 35 yards. The walls of rock are verticle [sic], and about 400 feet in height; and the stream in the gate is almost entirely choked up by masses which have fallen from above."

View of Devil's Gate on the Sweetwater by Samuel J. Mills, ca. 1858; Library of Congress

Rockfall made the narrow gorge impassable for wagon trains but Devil's Gate intrigued emigrants and most took the opportunity to investigate it. They camped at its base, watched bighorn sheep scale the Sweetwater Rocks, climbed themselves, and carved their initials in the granite. Emigrant inscriptions are still visible in the stone today. 

Some died here. More than 20 pioneer graves are thought to exist in the area, but only the gave of Frederick Fulkerson has been positively identified. Frederick died after swimming across the Platte River in order to guide frightened livestock across. Chilled and exhausted, he never recovered from the ordeal. Frederick was just eighteen at the time of his death. His is one of the oldest known emigrant graves in the nation.

View of Devil's Gate from Independence Rock; image courtesy of

Are you wondering, as I did, how Devil's Gate came by its ominous name? Different stories exist. The Shoshone and Arapaho told the story for centuries of a giant tusked monster that roamed here until Indian warriors killed it by shooting arrows from the passes and ravines. Enraged, the beast carved a hold in the mountain with its tusks and escaped. Could this legend have sprung from the tribal memory of a mastodon that once ranged here, carried forward through time?

Scientists once thought Native Americans weren't around at the time of the mastodons. However, the Manis Mastodon in Washington state changed their thinking when acheologists discovered a spear tip embedded in the rib bones

Continuing the Journey

Seven miles to the east rose Independence Rock, a cherished landmark on the Oregon Trail. Exploring it stands as one of the most memorable events on the trip. I'll continue with that story next month on the 8th. See you then.

Giveaway Drawing

In the spirit of Christmas, I'll giving away PDF's of All I Want for Christmas to five people who comment to this post with a travel memory. This warm-hearted romance novella will remind you of what is most important in life. 

Comment with a travel memory to enter. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you. Please type the @ in your email address as 'at.'

She wants a successful man, not a street musician.He won't tell her that his 'fiddle' is a Stradivarius.

Hailey may just give up on men entirely. 

When Corey broke her heart, her best friend Matt helped pick up the pieces. With Corey looking her way again, Matt has started acting funny, however. If Matt wasn't a cubicle worker moonlighting as a Seattle street musician, this would be easy.

Never mind that she finds Matt charming and attractive...

Hailey can't afford a drag on her ambitions. She needs to climb the career ladder in order to keep her childhood home, all she has left of her parents. No, Corey is the right man to help her get ahead, not Matt, but... 

Why doesn't that idea sit right with her? 

Matt isn't about to tell Hailey that the 'fiddle' he carries is a Stradivarius or that he owns a tuxedo, not after his fiancé ditched him for a man with more money.

Let her love him for himself or not at all.

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. 

The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy.

Epic Fantasy: DawnSinger and Wayfarer are the first two novels in the epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven. The final books in the series, Sojourner and DawnKing, are under contract with my publisher.

Historical Fiction: Hills of Nevermore, first installment in Montana Gold, set during Montana's gold rush in the days of vigilante justice, will release in 2017.

Romantic Suspense/Mystery: Deceptive Tide (Islands of Intrigue-San Juans) will release in 2017. This title is romantic suspense, but I am also moving into writing mystery novels written in the classic style of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.

Sign up at to be notified when these titles release and for book extras and reader bonuses.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bathing in Medieval Times PLUS giveaway!

With the recent discovery of the medieval sin-washing well, I wanted to learn out more about it. I found the post so interesting that I searched sin-washing in medieval times and couldn't find anything on it besides the new discovery of this well. But what I did find was a lot of articles on bathing from Roman times to medieval times. I thought I'd share with you some of what I learned. 


Ancient Rome was famous for all of their public bath houses. Some of those building are still standing today allowing us a glimpse into that part of history. These bath houses had hot rooms, cold rooms and even just plain old warm rooms to lounge around in. Some of the wealthier people had their own private bath houses. 

Around the 12th century there was Jewish ritual bathing. The water had to come from a live well (water that came from a river, rain water or a spring but the water could not be drawn. This made the water fit for one to dip one's body into. 


Jerome and Clement, early Christian fathers, (during the 4th and 5th centuries) did not take a liking to bathing in public bath houses and discouraged it.

During the medieval and renaissance periods the Roman type bath houses were reintroduced and encouraged by Islamic countries. It's possible that the bath houses returned to western Europe from the middle east due to the crusades.


I'm sure you have all heard the saying, Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. And you've probably read those emails where they tell you how all of our  sayings came about. This one many time reads that the people only bathed once a year and they bathed oldest to youngest, so by the time the baby was washed the water was black and they couldn't even see the child in the water. Thus don't throw the baby out with the bath water. 

However, medieval people did bath depending on the time period and their place in society. The poor or the laborers bathed less due to the fact they couldn't afford to have tubs or purchase fuel to warm water so their bathing was done more in the summer months when they could take a dip in a pond or a river.
In winter months when the weather was not as conducive for bathing, personal hygiene wasn't at its best, but washing of the hands before and after meals was common practice and good hygiene no matter what your social status. 

For the middle class, having the means to warm water for a tub was a status symbol, making it even more popular for that class to take baths.

Though the wealthy who could afford the fuel to heat the water, they too, usually had the tubs brought to the rooms to bathe rather than the elaborate bath houses they had in the middle east homes. 

So did bathing decline and if it did when did it? It does seem that during the Renaissance period that people didn't bath as frequently. They worried that it was unhealthy and that perhaps it helped spread the plague. People stopped everything that might cause the spread of the disease. 

I have to say when I'm writing in medieval times and in 19th century times I do like to have my heroes and heroines clean and with good hygiene regardless of whether it really was that way in history. 

What do you think? Do you want history to always ring true or are there times that changing something is okay?   

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment to be entered to win your choice of Sword of Forgiveness or Shattered Memories. 


After the death of her cruel father, Brithwin is determined never again to live under the harsh rule of any man. Independent and resourceful, she longs to be left alone to manage her father’s estate. But she soon discovers a woman has few choices when the king decrees she is to marry Royce, the Lord of Rosen Craig. As if the unwelcome marriage isn’t enough, her new husband accuses her of murdering his family, and she is faced with a challenge of either proving her innocence or facing possible execution.

Royce returns home after setting down a rebellion to find his family brutally murdered. When all fingers point to his betrothed and attempts are made on his life, Royce must wade through murky waters to uncover the truth. Yet Brithwin’s wise and kind nature begin to break down the walls of his heart, and he soon finds himself in a race to discover who is behind the evil plot before Brithwin is the next victim.

 Debbie Lynne has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina. She has worked in many capacities in her church and is currently the Children’s director. Debbie Lynne has shown and raised Shetland sheepdogs for eighteen years and still enjoys litters now and then. In their spare time, She and her husband enjoy camping and riding their Arabian and Tennessee Walking horses. Visit Debbie Lynne at


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Hoosier Who Made Jingle Bells Rock

by Ramona K. Cecil

 One of the things I most enjoy about Christmastime is the music. From the sublime to the silly, songs of the season surround us, and I love them all. While beloved carols warm our hearts and feed our souls with both reverent and joyful proclamation of Christ’s birth, other, less exalted tunes are simply meant to make us smile.

Jingle Bell Rock is one of those fun holiday ditties. Over the last half-century, the tune has become a classic “sound of the season.” So I was more than a little surprised to learn that the artist who first released it hailed from a little Indiana town less than fifty miles from where I live.

In the fall of 1957 country music singer Bobby Helms released “Jingle Bell Rock,” a holiday dance tune composed by Joseph Carleton Beal and James Ross Boothe. A modern take on the original song “Jingle Bells” written a century earlier by James Lord Pierpont, “Jingle Bell Rock” became an immediate hit and shot Helms to overnight stardom. By Mid-December of 1957, “Jingle Bell Rock” was a favorite dance tune on Dick Clark’s teen music television show, American Bandstand.

Bobby Helms
Born into a musical family in Helmsburg, Indiana in 1933, Robert Lee “Bobby” Helms left the duo act with his brother in 1956 to strike out on his own. In Nashville, Tennessee, he signed with Decca Records. His first two releases in 1957; “Fraulein” and “Special Angel,” both went to number 1 on the country music charts. But it was Jingle Bell Rock that would make the Hoosier artist a household name. Helms performing and recording career spanned three more decades with dozens of other titles to his name. Though he never again enjoyed the success of Jingle Bell Rock, his work has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee. Bobby Helms lived his entire adult life in Martinsville, Indiana, not far from the town where he was raised. He died of emphysema in 1997 at the age of sixty-three.

Now a grandmother in my sixties, I can’t remember a Christmas season when I haven’t heard “Jingle Bell Rock” played numerous times. Over the past forty-nine years, the song has been performed and re-recorded by a plethora of singers including Brenda Lee and Bill Haley & His Comets.

This year, as always, I’m once again enjoying listening to Christmas tunes on the radio and over stores’ sound systems as I shop. And, as always, my ears perk up when my favorite tunes like “O Holy Night” and “The Holly and the Ivy” are played. But now that I know of its Hoosier connection I may have another tune to add to my favorites, and might even find myself humming along to “Jingle Bell Rock.”  

Ramona K. Cecil is a poet and award-winning author of historical fiction for the Christian market. A proud Hoosier, she often sets her stories in her home state of Indiana.

Check out her website at  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Light That Tree

While researching the availability of electric lights for a story set in 1890 America, I came across a reference to a letter from Montana pioneer Elizabeth Chester Fisk who wrote to her parents on December 29, 1891 that " . . . we lit the tree using electric lights. The effect was good and we had no candles to watch and no wax drippings to clear from the carpet or gifts." (Travers, Sam. Christmas in the Old West, Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Co., 2003. Page 155. ISBN 0-87842-460-1)

Electric lights on a Christmas tree in 1891? Clearly, this needed investigating. What I found was that Christmas lights back then were a lot more complicated that just looking for one burnt out bulb in a string. Check out this photo from GE Reports.

A box of GE Christmas tree lights from 1905. Image credit: The Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science.

My research led me to Mr. E. H. Johnston, President of the Edison Company for Electric Lighting, who was the first person to use electric lights on a Christmas tree when he lit his 1882 tree with 120 globes of different colors. He then attached them to a dynamo, or crank, in the cellar which caused the tree to revolve, delighting his children and people who passed his window. Read the detailed newspaper article written about it here. (In and About the City: How an Electrician Amused his Children". New York Times. December 27, 1884. Retrieved July 17, 2015)

Early GE Christmas tree lights advertisements. Image credit: Museum of Innovation and Science Schenectady. Courtesy GE Reports
The White House tried them out in 1894 when Frances Cleveland decorated the library tree with "Tiny parti-colored electric lamps instead of the old-time wax candles." (Courtesy wikipedia.)

I've read that the public was leery of them and stuck with candles despite the fire danger, but the site Envisioning the American Dream has the explanation that it was due to cost and practicality. It shows that when the first General Electric (GE) Christmas light set came out in 1903, it cost $12, while at the time, the average wage earner brought home a weekly paycheck of about $13.20. 

And you couldn't just plug them into a socket like we do today. Back then, all electric appliances like toasters, irons, and extras like Christmas lights had to be connected to an existing wall or ceiling light socket, like you see in the above ad. Sometimes you had to choose between the light, or the appliance in the dark. 

Edwardian Drawing Room. Courtesy of The Cambridge Historical Society, Cambridge, MA

Can you see how the table lamp is hooked up to the ceiling light in the above photo? It kind of stands out, doesn't it?

I couldn't find a photo of an interior White House Christmas tree, but here's one of President Calvin Coolidge illuminating the community Christmas tree south of the White House on the Monument Grounds on December 24, 1923. Courtesy the Library of Congress National Photo Company Collection.

President Coolidge illuminating the community Christmas tree south of the White House on the Monument Grounds on December 24, 1923. Courtesy Library of Congress

Over the years there have been many different colors and shapes of bulbs to pretty your tree. Here are some of the earlier ones, courtesy of GE Reports.

Several shapes and colors of GE lights, 1910. Image credit: The Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science.

By 1916, the price of Christmas lights had decreased by half, followed by another large cut in the 1920s which finally made them affordable to everyone. 

1916 Sears Roebuck and Company catalogue 

There have also been numerous other lighted decorations, such as these tree stands...

1926 3-Bulb Belmont Treeliter Metal Christmas Tree Stand sold by Etsy

1936 NOMA Lithographed Tin Lighted Tree Stand sold by Etsy

The tree stands look like they would highlight the tree wonderfully from the bottom up since the middle is usually the darkest part. However, the thought of water leakage onto the unprotected wires gives me the willies. Death by fire or electrocution? 

1904 General Electric advertising

I've steered clear of the technical aspects of electricity, however if you're really interested, check out the links I've scattered throughout this post. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas with a tree, I hope you've enjoyed this short walk through the brightly lit world Thomas Edison gave us. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts and memories of old Christmas lights, or any other decorations of days gone by. 


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yields fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details.  Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, and The American Heiress Brides Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience.  Discover more at: