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Articles by " Bev Scott"
19 Apr
2018

“Outliers:” Artists and Independent Authors

Outlier Artists and Independent Authors

Cover of program from National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

“Outliers” are artists who make art that challenges the norms of mainstream institutions and who are unaware or indifferent to historical art traditions.

Outlier Artists Are Being Recognized

Many outlier artists are African Americans, women, disabled people or prisoners. They lack the agency or access to traditional paths and at one time were largely disregarded or forgotten. I learned about their engaging art, which communicates strong messages and offers fascinating perspectives in times of social, political and cultural upheaval, at an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

As my friend and I toured paintings, drawings, sculpture and other creative pieces, the docent explained that these artists are variously termed naive, primitive, visionary, folk or outsider. They are highly motivated and have taken the risk to express their art without the support of the traditional art establishment. They are now getting attention and their work is being brought into broad public view.

Outlier Authors

Afterwards, as I reflected on my experience of this exhibit, I connected the art of these “outliers” to self-published authors who go outside traditional publishing routes to get their books published. Traditionally, self-published books have been viewed as the last resort for authors who couldn’t get published by a traditional publishing house. Often seen as poorly written, weakly edited and carelessly designed, self-published books seldom recognized, acknowledged or even read.

But that has changed since Amazon, Smashwords, BookBaby, Ingram Spark, Draft2Digital and other platforms have thrown the doors open for anyone who wants to publish a book. Authors who go this independent route have more creative control and far better royalties. But, it doesn’t just happen with the push of a button. They must believe enough in their book to take the risk of making an up-front investment, before even one book is sold. That investment pays for the services of editors, designers, illustrators, copy editors, proof readers and marketing strategists who will help prepare and sell the book. For writers who don’t want to manage this professional team themselves, hybrid publishers offer some of the same services for a fee.

My Experience as an Outlier Author

Like the “outliers” in the National Gallery, I was motivated to get my book “out there” and chose not to pursue the traditional publishing route this time with my novel. I wanted the benefits of creative control. For any author, it is a risk just to write your cherished story, share it with the world and wait to see if anyone likes it in the form of reviews and sales. Deciding to self-publish and making that up-front investment are other risks.

Outlier artists and independent authors

In addition to the up-front financial investment, there was so much I needed to learn and manage before I could publish my book as an independent author. Fortunately, I found help from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA), a group of authors, designers, editors, marketers and other professionals who believe in self-publishing. They are willing to share their experience and their wisdom with those who come to their meetings to ask naive questions, engage help from the professionals or just want to learn from the presenters and programs, how to do it themselves.

Like the “outlier” artists, self-published authors are highly motivated to write their stories, share their wisdom and express their ideas. The availability of new publishing platforms enabling us to by-pass the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing establishment, has resulted in a radical shift in the book business. Similar to the “outliers” in the art world, self-published books are now getting recognition and respect.

What risks have you taken to promote an agenda outside the traditional establishment? What motivated you?

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3 Apr
2018
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Book Review: “The Boleyn King” by Laura Andersen

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen

I love historical novels, and I needed a distraction during a cross country flight. The book The Boleyn King offers creative alternative history by imagining that Anne Boleyn actually gave Henry VIII a son who became king. Within the historical context of a threatening war with the French and Catholic unrest at home, the fictional William trusts only his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend, Dominic who serves as his counselor; and Minuette, who was raised by his mother, Anne Boleyn and serves as Elizabeth’s Lady in Waiting.

The story moves at a good pace providing intrigue and romance which is only increased with the discovery that both William and Dominic are in love with Minuette. This love triangle kept me reading but, I wondered if the character of Minuette could realistically exist in the royal household. Although the book provided the needed distraction on my flight, the story lacks depth and seems to be written for a younger audience. On the other hand, it is an innovative alternative to history and will easily provide a light distracting read perhaps for your summer vacation.

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23 Mar
2018
Posted in: Diversity
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Racism in the “Little House” Books?

Plains Indian, Buffalo Hunt painting John Stanley

Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the book news again.  There are calls to remove her books from children’s libraries!

The American Library Association (ALA) is considering removing her name from their life-time achievement in children’s literature award. The librarians are re-considering the name of the medal based on the treatment of Native Americans and African Americans in the Little House books. Their concern is the conflict of the ALA vision to “respect and honor children’s families’ history” with the values of respect, inclusiveness and integrity with the racism depicted in the books.

Caroline Fraser, author of Wilder’s historical biography, Prairie Fires writes in an article in the March 14 issue of the Washington Post, that “no book, including the Bible, has ever been ‘universally embraced.'” Those who have decried the white supremacy which lies at the heart of so many children’s books, have demanded that the books be removed from school libraries. Some have been motivated by a story Fraser reports of an 8-year old Native American girl came home in tears after hearing the story read in school. Others have admonished publishers to address the racial imbalance in children’s literature by publishing more stories about Native Americans or African Americans.

Indeed, Wilder’s most famous novel, “Little House on the Prairie” (1935) has inspired both disapproval and devotion. Many of us grew up enamored by the sentimental description of family values in the Little House stories, but not all of us are white. Fraser tells about an immigrant girl born in Saigon attracted to the story and how Hmong families from Laos living in Walnut Grove were drawn by one girl’s devotion to the television show. The town features a public mural with a smiling Laura alongside a Hmong woman in traditional dress.

African American family, historic photo c. 1930's, packing car to leave

Publishing more books and stories for children with Native American, Hispanic, African American or other ethnic perspectives is incredibly important to understand today’s diverse world. But, should the name of the medal be changed or the books removed from school libraries because they are racist? Perhaps changing the name of the medal is not wrong. It certainly is not censorship. It might be argued that it is acknowledging the cultural shift that no longer recognizes or rewards books with such blatant racism.

In contrast, removing the books from libraries or refusing to read them to elementary school children is not only censorship but denies all children the opportunity to learn through story the history of homesteading as well as the promotion of white settlement which violently took over Native American lands. I agree with Fraser that the answer to the racism of Wilder’s books is not to ban them but to provide the opportunity to learn that history is interpreted from cultural definitions and perspective. How exciting it would be to have the opportunity to learn about the white cultural perspective current during Wilder’s life. Imagine adding to the conversation, with alternative cultural viewpoints from the Native Americans who were losing their traditional lands or the African Americans who were just freed from slavery.

What is your opinion?

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2 Mar
2018

“It’s So Cold!”

hut in blizzard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a howling blizzard with below freezing temperatures and white-out conditions. My grandmother, crippled from rheumatoid arthritis, and her two youngest children, one of whom was my dad, were living miles from any neighbors.  Dried corn cobs used for fuel for the stove to warm their modest one-room house were gone. The wind howled and showed no signs of letting up. She could not, as an invalid, manage herself to go the barn for more corn cobs. Grandma refused to allow my father, still a small boy, to go out in the blinding white-out blizzard for fear that he would get lost and freeze to death. So, she decided to burn her precious books to keep warm. (from a family story passed down to me.)

The last few weeks in the Bay Area we have experienced unseasonably cold weather. We are bundled in warm jackets, scarves, gloves and hats to keep out the cold wind. And we complain to friends and colleagues and even strangers at the store or in the elevator, exclaiming “It’s so cold!” Yet, our cold weather is nothing like the below zero temperatures with deep snow drifts that other parts of the country have experienced this winter.

It is a minor inconvenience compared to the family story above or the incredible winters our ancestors experienced on the prairie.

I have been reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser, which describes the incredible winters suffered by Laura Ingalls¹ and her family with the other South Dakota homesteaders in 1881.²

Construction of sod houses had been abandoned on the South Dakota prairie in favor of cheap goods shipped by rail. Americans seem to always prefer the latest and easiest approach even if it is not the most effective. Shacks with board and batten construction with a layer of tar paper for insulation offered little protection from the wind and snow blowing in through the nail holes. The only heat source was a single wood stove.

pot belly stove

Blizzard followed blizzard. The snow banks piled twenty-five feet high. The last train with supplies came to De Smet, South Dakota in early January, 1881. A hundred people were trapped in town, hoping for a lull or a thaw which never happened. The Ingalls family also expected a barrel shipment by train of winter clothing and a Christmas turkey. It never arrived.

They ran out of coal to burn in the stove and began burning hay producing a little warmth. “There was no meat, no butter, no fruit, no coffee or tea. Sugar ran out and the cow went dry.”³ The Ingalls family began grinding seed wheat saved for next year’s crop. The entire town was barely surviving and starvation loomed. Seed wheat was running out. Two men, one of whom was Laura’s future husband, Almanzo Wilder, volunteered to drive twelve miles south with a horse and sled to find the farmer rumored to have wheat left from last spring’s crop. They managed to find the farmer, negotiate for the wheat and return to De Smet before the next blizzard struck. They saved a hundred townspeople from starvation.

Finally, the first of April the weather warmed after four months of no fresh supplies of food or fuel. The first trains that arrived in May carried farm machinery and telegraph poles. A riot was eminent until a freight car with provisions was discovered, broken open and rationed out. The Ingalls’s Christmas barrel finally arrived in late spring with the long-anticipated turkey still frozen.

The sacrifices made by homesteaders and pioneers are almost unfathomable for us. It must have been a very painful sacrifice for my grandmother to burn her books. She was a school teacher who placed a high value on education. She had collected her treasured books over a life-time. But she felt she had no choice. Spending days in a dark underground dugout is unimaginable for us. Yet the experience of characters in my novel, Sarah’s Secret, Sam and the widow Peggy and her daughter during a frightful white out blizzard in Kansas was common among our pioneer ancestors.

The Ingalls family took in a young couple and baby without a home into their small crowded home. It meant stretching the dwindling supply of food to nine mouths. Laura was scathing when she wrote in her journal how thoughtless and rude the husband of this family was in grabbing more than his share of the sparse food before his own wife or anyone from the host Ingalls family. Charles Ingalls may have felt obligated and certainly felt they couldn’t put them out into the blizzard. It was a generous sacrifice by his family.

Blizzard in City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These stories are a good reminder for me. I can no longer complain about the cold, windy weather. I am grateful for food, a warm secure home and our modern conveniences. Are you?

—————————
¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House Series”
²The stories reported below are from Fraser’s book.
³Fraser, p. 110-111.

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7 Feb
2018

Laura Ingalls Wilder, American Author

Did you read one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series when you were growing up? Or perhaps you watched the “Little House on the Prairie” television show based on her life which aired between 1974 and 1982.

There was only the enormous empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it, and birds flying up from it and singing with joy because the sun was rising. And on the whole enormous prairie there was no sign that any other human being had ever been there…In all that space of land and sky stood the lonely, small, covered wagon (From Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder).

Laura Ingalls Wilder circa 1885

Laura Ingalls Wilder, circa 1885 (Wikipedia)

Today, February 7 is Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s birthday. She was born in 1867 near Pepin, Wisconsin. In my research and writing of Sarah’s Secret, I stood on the shoulders of this amazing woman who persisted in revising her writing before she achieved the success for the beloved autobiographical sages of the Great Plains. This connection was especially vivid for me in writing Part Two of Sarah’s Secret, much of which takes place on the prairies of Kansas, the setting for Little House on the Prairie. I called up images in my imagination from her writing as I imagined my character riding across Kansas.

Wilder’s family homesteaded in Dakota Territory. Their life on the prairie as homesteaders was grueling with many similarities to the life of my grandparents who inspired Sarah’s Secret. Like my grandparents, who also homesteaded on the Great Plains, the Ingalls family faced severe hardships of blizzards, near starvation and poverty, the challenges that became stories of triumph in the Little House series.

Wilder was also a teacher like my grandmother a few years later. In 1882 Laura Ingalls passed the test to obtain her teaching certificate. At 15 years old she taught in a one-room schoolhouse about 12 miles from her parent’s home. The family friend, Almanzo Wilder, who was sent to bring her home for weekend visits became her husband in 1885. She quit teaching to raise children and work the farm with Almanzo. Her daughter, Rose, was born in 1889. They, too, faced relentless challenges of illness, death and poverty before they ultimately settled and farmed in the Ozarks near Mansfield, Missouri in 1894.

But it was not until the 1920’s with encouragement from her daughter, Rose, did Wilder attempt to write her first autobiography which was rejected by publishers. Wilder was determined to succeed and like authors today, she reworked her writing over and over. In 1932, she published the first book Little House in the Big Woods. She completed the eighth one of the series in 1943 when she was seventy-three. She died in 1957 on the farm she and Almanzo had settled sixty years earlier.

Today, on her 151st birthday, I honor this American woman author writing stories of the challenges and triumphs of homesteading on the Great Plains. Laura Ingalls Wilder is an inspiration and role model whose persistence won her hard-fought success in a male-dominated profession.

I just purchased Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline  Fraser, a historical biography. The description says that the true saga of Wilder’s life has never been told and that this book fills in the gaps in Wilder’s biography. Needless to say, I am anxious to read it. Look for a review in the near future.

What are your memories of the Little House book series or the television program “Little House on the Prairie?”

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31 Jan
2018
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Book Review: “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

 

Book reviewed by Bev Scott

The Sympathizer Book Review by Bev ScottThe Sympathizer tells the first-person story of a communist spy embedded in South Vietnam during the “American War.” He serves as a loyal aide to “the General” of the South Vietnamese army at the same time he shares information with his communist handlers loyal to North Vietnam. He evacuates with the General when the U.S. pulls out of South Vietnam and ends up in California as an immigrant. Continuing his close connection to the General as well as his relationship with his handlers, he ultimately returns to Vietnam in a futile attempt to infiltrate North Vietnam and is captured and held prisoner. Held in isolation for a year, he is required by the “faceless” Commandant to write his confession before he is freed. This confession is the first-person story of the book.

I began reading this book as part of my preparation to travel to Vietnam last December. The author, Viet Thanh Nguyen has won a Pulitzer Prize and several other prizes for this book, but I found it very hard to read. The focus switches from description to dialogue, from one location to another, from one character to another without punctuation or explanation. Despite the gripping, wry and historical nature of the story, and what many consider brilliant writing, I had to force myself to continue to read it.

I did finally finish it and valued the Vietnamese perspective it provided. I gradually adjusted to the writing style. I agree that it skillfully draws the reader into the mysteries of Vietnam’s political intrigue. I also appreciated learning more about the impact of selfless commitment and passion to a political cause. The book raises evocative questions regarding the interplay of morality, power and a strong belief in a greater cause while also revealing multiple views on the subject. I am glad I read it.

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24 Jan
2018

Am I an Elder?

Halong Bay, Bev Scott Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I can say from my own experience that at a certain point people will begin to treat you as an elder and look for benefits that you may be able to give them.

That is your cue to make a shift. You are no longer part of the crowd. Now you have to step up and assume a new place in your community. For you, it is yet another rite of passage, an ascension of state and transformation of you and your life to a level where you can enjoy new pleasures and feel new obligations…

That act requires character and the ability to know yourself without falling into either too high an opinion of yourself or false humility. Normally you develop this capacity for honest leadership over many years. The apprenticeship for the elder begins very young and continues over a lifetime.”

Thomas Moore, in a Nov./Dec. 2017 article in Spirituality and Health Magazine adapted from his Ageless Soul: The Lifelong Journey Toward Meaning and Joy 

As I prepared for my first trip to Asia, I had the feeling that I was transitioning to a new segment of my life.

I traveled last month with my daughter and grandsons to a new part of the world for me. It was a special joy to be with them and I loved learning about the people and cultures that we visited. In addition, travel often provides opportunities to learn about ourselves and this trip was no exception.

Bev Scott and Family, Rickshaws, in Asia 2017 Happy Birthday, Bev Scott, 2017, in Asia

I was treated as an elder, as Moore suggests, by many we met and by my daughter and grandsons. In addition, traveling with much younger and stronger companions forced me to face the realities of an aging body. I no longer have the energy, stamina, quick recovery or balance that I have counted on most of my life. I have learned that I need to rest more, calibrate my planned itinerary and keep a watchful eye on the path for those items that might trip me. I need to more carefully monitor my food and water intake.

Yet, in contrast to my younger self who often pushed herself too hard and ended up sick in bed, I maintained my health and energy after long flights, days spent walking and exploring the sites, museums and markets and eating different and unusual food.

Transition Time

I came home ready to explore this feeling that I am at another transition time in my life.

Bev Scott at Word Project Press event, Oct. 2017When I turned 70, I realized that I needed to let go of my consulting and coaching work if I wanted to write the book about my grandparents. I wrote about this decision in an article included in the book, 70 Things to Do When You Turn 70. Now, after Sarah’s Secret has been out for a year and I have worked on promoting it by selecting those activities that served my interests and skills, I find I am casting about for what is next. I don’t plan to stop the work of book promotion, reading, or writing reviews and my blog. But, I am not strongly motivated to write another book, although all the experts recommend that is the way to proceed. There are many other activities that reward and challenge me, light up my spirit and warm my heart.

Who I Am as an Elder?

Yes, I am exploring what I want to do, but I am also reflecting on who I am as an elder at this point in my life.

I have thought of myself as twenty or thirty years younger until I look in the mirror. The image that looks back tells me that I am no longer in the same body. The hair is graying, the face has wrinkles and my body sags in places. But that appearance is no longer so important. I realize that the qualities of my character matter more to me now. I feel more confident and self-aware. I appreciate the lessons learned over my life-time from experience, the insight and, yes, the wisdom. I hope I am neither too arrogant nor falsely humble about my accomplishments. I am grateful for the abundance the Universe has shared with me and I continue to make a contribution back to the world using my skills, energy and resources. I value my spiritual practice, my exercise routine, my health and the special relationships I have with my partner, my daughter and grandsons and my friends.

I am, as Moore suggests, stepping away from the crowd and transitioning to a new stage in my life. I don’t know how much time I have left. But I find that I am thinking more about the finite amount of time life gives us. Whatever that time is for me, I want to spend it with those I love, continue to do the best I can with whatever I commit to do and find opportunities for learning both about myself and about subjects that interest me.

What are your thoughts about this transition to elderhood and your aging process?

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16 Jan
2018
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Book Review: “Clancy’s Song” by Ken Hultman and Natalie Hultman

Clancy's Song, book reviewed by Bev Scott

Reviewed by Bev Scott

This is a delightful parable which takes place on the Freedom Cattle Ranch. The soil is fertile and the all-grass diet, supplemented by hay when necessary, supports an organic or natural experimental operation. The story stars four Herefords, Clancy, Beamer, Tank and Gordo, all born on the Day of Light. They were each born into different sects on the ranch which are carefully monitored to keep the hereditary line for each sect pure. The requirements necessary to maintain purity provide the context for the message of the parable.

All the cattle are kept in their assigned territory with their sect; they are not allowed outside the electrical fence, in the frightful territory of “Despairia” where other animals live who kill each other; and they cannot get within 100 feet of the entrance to Bovina. The two-legged creatures or guardian angels select certain cows to go to Bovina, which is the beautiful life beyond the physical existence on the ranch, to live with Father Taurus forever. It is considered quite an honor to be selected to go to Bovina.

New calves must learn and follow the Ten Hereford Laws, attend services to pray to Father Taurus and learn from the bull who is their father and leader of their sect what is the expected and rewarded behavior. Clancy belongs to the “Faithites” who are expected to totally trust Father Taurus; Beamer is a “Lovite,” expected to be pleasant and loving; Tank is a “Holyite” who must participate in the rituals; and Gordo is a “Servite,” dedicated to a life of good deeds.

The story follows each calf as he learns his lessons, tries to meet the expectations of his sect and in turn becomes disillusioned and cautiously challenges the rules. When the four Herefords find each other, they become fast friends alarming the herd leadership. As they explore the ranch, pursue adventures and encounter a bull who has been ex-communicated, they gain insights about the limitations of the rules, the sect expectations and even the reality of Bovina.

The message of Clancy’s Song is in the cattle ranch metaphor which transparently describes what many of us abhor in our own human “ranch:” today’s political divisiveness and ethnic and racial slurs. We are reminded to ask questions, be open, learn all we can, avoid rigidity and judgement, hold others with love and respect and have fun! Good reminders of what I would like to do on my own “ranch.”

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28 Dec
2017
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World” by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

 

Reviewed by Bev Scott

 

The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond TutuThis book records a delightful conversation between two spiritual masters of our time, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, facilitated by Douglas Abrams. This conversation celebrated their special birthdays and is offered as a birthday gift to others with an invitation for more joy and more happiness.

Many awful things have happened to the Dalai Lama…exiled from his home and from what is precious to him…yet people experience a compassion, joy and a mischievousness when they speak with him. He offers another angle to look at his exile as giving him new opportunities. He shares a Tibetan saying ‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu are moral leaders who transcend their own traditions and speak with a concern for humanity as a whole. They want to ensure that they include the over one billion people on the planet who are non-believers. Everyone has a right to become happier human beings and to be good members of the human family. That does not depend on religious faith to educate our inner values.

Their lives model the way. Yet, the Archbishop has never claimed sainthood and the Dalai Lama considers himself a simple monk. Their hope in humanity is inspirational as they refuse to choose the cynicism and despair that threatens to overcome us all. The joy the two of them express does not come from living easy and comfortable lives but rather from facing adversity, oppression and struggle. They argue that lasting happiness is not found in the pursuit of any goal or special achievement or in fortune or fame but only in the human mind and heart. They hope that readers of this inspiring book will find it.The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Archbishop said that “Joy is bigger than happiness” since happiness is often seen as dependent on external circumstances, joy comes from a state of mind and is rooted in the purpose of life. The Dalai Lama said that one of the great questions underlying our existence is “What is the purpose of life? After much consideration I believe that the purpose of life is to find happiness…The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not power, not status…Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves.” If we create most of our suffering, it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives and the reactions we bring to situations and relationships.

Suffering, even intense suffering, is a necessary ingredient for life, certainly for developing compassion. It is how we face all of the things that seem to be negative in our lives that determines the kind of person we become. Even in pain we can find some positive experiences, some opportunities and some blessings. “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”  They both say that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Being joyful is about being more empathetic, more compassionate and more engaged with the world.

The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

With this foundation for happiness and joy, the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop discuss with insight and from experience how to heal and turn away from the obstacles to joy such as fear, stress, anger, grief, despair, envy and suffering. Then they offer a path to happiness through the Eight Pillars of Joy: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. The message of this lovely book is that it is a cycle: the more we heal our own suffering and obstacles, the more we can turn to others to help their pain and suffering and, amazingly, the more we turn away from our own selfish issues toward the concerns of others, the more we can transcend our own suffering. This is the true secret of joy.

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21 Dec
2017

Christmas Traditions in 19th Century America

Christmas Traditions in 19th Century

This is the second in a series of explorations of the holiday traditions at the time of my grandparents, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This blog was first published on 12/14/15.

As this Christmas season bustles with tree decorating and shopping, gift giving and holiday parties, and children’s letters to Santa Claus, I wonder what Christmas was like in the time of my grandparents in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. We often think that the traditions of Christmas have been handed down through the many generations of our multi-ethnic heritage. I discovered that most of the holiday celebrations and activities we observe today emerged in mid-nineteenth century America.

Christmas Holiday Barely Noticed

Americans, religious or not, northern or southern, barely noticed the Christmas holiday as late as the beginning of theChristmas Tree nineteenth century. The “creation of an American Christmas was a response to social and personal needs that arose at a particular point” in our history, concludes Penne Restad in History Today. The customs that emerged, addressed the insecurities, conflicts and confusion created by the civil war, urbanization and industrialization.

Christmas was not a holiday in the early colonies of the Puritans. In fact, the holiday was anathema and illegal for the Puritans who considered it raucous and sinful. They also banned any celebration because “Christmas” does not exist in the Bible nor did they believe that Jesus was born in December but rather in September. Christmas is often traced to the effort by Pope Julius I who chose December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ to co-opt a Roman pagan ritual characterized by food drink and revelry. Thus, the lack of any theological justification for Christmas allowed the holiday to emerge in America as an event to be celebrated by the diverse ethnic, mostly Christian, immigrants to this country.  The ‘American’ Christmas holiday captured the sometimes conflicting themes of “commercialism and artisanship, as well as nostalgia and faith in progress, that defined late nineteenth-century culture,” according to Restad.

Albert_Chevallier_Tayler_-_The_Christmas_Tree_1911Popularity Grew

The popularity of celebrating the Christmas holiday grew after the Civil War, and the message of peace and goodwill resonated with many Americans who yearned for reconciliation and unity. By the end of the nineteenth century many of the familiar components and traditions as described by Robert McNamera in “The History of Christmas Traditions” of our modern Christmas had begun to take hold throughout the country. German settlers had introduced the tradition of the Christmas tree. It became popular outside German communities after Prince Albert, the German-born husband of Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in the 1840’s. Decorating Christmas trees and the commercially boosted practice of giving gifts and sending Christmas cards blossomed in the 1870-80’s.

Santa Claus face, rosy cheeksSt. Nicholas was considered the patron saint of Early Dutch settlers who practiced the ritual of hanging stockings. Clement Clarke Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” often called “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823. Thomas Nast, a famous cartoonist is credited with creating in 1863, the modern portrayal of Santa Claus showing him on a sleigh and introducing the notion that Santa lived at the North Pole keeping a workshop with elves. In 1897 a young girl wrote to a New York newspaper and received a response from editor, Francis Pharcellus Church. It became the most famous newspaper editorial ever printed. The eloquent editorial asserted in an often quoted sentence, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Santa_Coming_Down_the_Chimney_Drawing

 

Christmas Traditions Firmly Established

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the popular traditions of Christmas celebration were firmly established broadly throughout the country. Ethnic Christian and Jewish communities added their own traditional twists. Families from humble circumstances found ways of sharing the joys of the season with handmade Christmas decorations and gifts, writing Christmas letters instead of purchasing cards and cooking more modest meals to share with family and neighbors.

What Are Your Family Traditions?

Do you have special traditions in your family? Are there special decorations that have been handed down? Do you have favorite foods that are served at Christmas dinner? Did Santa or St. Nick visit your house? How do you imagine the holidays were celebrated by your ancestors? Please share your traditions and stories below.

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