Fun Folklore for the New Year


There are many more traditions surrounding the New Year than just singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight. And countless methods for allegedly influencing the events and fortunes of the incoming year.

Superstitions often involve getting rid of the old year before welcoming the new. All the doors in the house are opened just before midnight to allow the old year – and any residual bad luck – to escape. In China, the house is cleaned from top to bottom to sweep away the dust of the old year.

There are modern takes on this too. In New York, giant paper shredders are available for the public to be able to get rid of the old year’s poor fortunes. I spotted some footage on TV of New Yorkers shredding everything from worthless stocks to photos of ex-lovers. As humans, we instinctively realize that we have to make room in our hearts and lives for good things to happen to us.

First visitors

After midnight, it’s bad luck for anyone to leave the house before someone enters it. That’s because the “first footer” – whomever enters your home in the New Year – is said to influence your luck for the next twelve months. Ideally, the “first footer” will make their way through the house and leave by a different door.

In the British Isles, it’s bad luck for your first visitor to be a woman, and a blonde or red-haired woman is even worse luck. For optimum good luck, a dark-haired man should be first through the door. If he’s handsome and single, so much the better. And it’s really lucky if he brings symbolic gifts – some coins, a loaf of bread, a branch of evergreen and salt.

In the southern United States, the sex of the first visitor through the door influences the balance of power in a marriage. If a man enters, then the husband will have more power that year. If a woman, the wife will be the more powerful partner.

WYSIWYG?

The principle of “What you see is what you get” is practiced all over the world in connection with the advent of New Year. Here are just a few examples:

1. If the house is clean by midnight on Dec. 31st, it’ll be clean for the entire next year. (Do I have to sort the closets too?)

2. If all your pockets and purses and wallets have coins and dollars in them by midnight, you’ll have plenty of money in the new year. Some people place coins on windowsills and the tops of doors too.

3. If you wear new clothes on New Year’s Day, More new clothes will come your way. (My daughters like this one!)

4. No crying, fighting, arguing, name-calling or general negativity on New Year’s Day or you’ll have strife and tears all year long.

5. Don’t let valuable things leave your house on New Year’s Day or luck and fortune will go with them. The general belief refers to things like money and jewelry, but some people believe that nothing – not even garbage! – should leave the house on New Year’s Day. Take the empties to the recycling bin some other time!

6. Make sure the cupboards and pantries are full on New Year’s Day, in order to ensure abundance the rest of the year.

7. In many cultures, what you do for the first hour of the New Year signifies what you’ll do the most of for the next twelve months. (Yikes – does this mean sleeping is a bad idea?)

8. In China, and in many other countries, all debts should be settled before the New Year. Don’t pay back loans or lend money on New Year’s Day however, or you’ll be paying out all year long!

9. Be careful with the dishes. If anything breaks on New Year’s Day, ruin will follow.

10. Working hard on New Year’s Day will ensure a year of grueling labor. But if you do a small token task – something related to your employment – successfully, it’ll set the tone for achievement.

11. Kissing at least one person at midnight ensures that love, friendship and affection will continue. To not give out a kiss indicates a long, cold and lonely year... (That’s dire – I’d kiss a photo or even the goldfish to avoid a fate like that!)

12. Kids in the Philippines jump up and down at midnight so they’ll grow tall.

Food, glorious food

So many of our traditions revolve around food. In Italy, eating sweets at midnight ensures a sweet year. In many Latin countries, it’s lucky to eat twelve grapes, one for each month of the year. In the Southern United States, black-eyed peas and greens are important foods on New Year’s Day, and so is cornbread. Eating these will bring both luck and money. The Pennsylvania Dutch eat sauerkraut for the same reason.

Pork is a lucky New Year’s food in many cultures. Foods that form a circle, such as pretzels or doughnuts, are also lucky. Watch out for chicken though. Serving chicken on New Year’s Day is said to guarantee financial problems for the year. The presence of fresh bread in the house is supposed to entice good spirits to take up residence.

And speaking of spirits...

The real reason we have all those noisemakers and fireworks to ring in the New Year? To scare away evil spirits. Yup, really. Apparently evil really hates loud parties and noisy celebrations. In many countries, church bells are rung at midnight for this reason. In Iran they bang pots and pans together. In China, they set off firecrackers. In parts of Wales, singing door to door does the job. In some parts of Ireland, you bang loudly on the door and walls with Christmas bread to chase out bad spirits. (I’ll bet fruitcake would work even better!)

A happy, noisy and successful New Year to everyone!

Dani Harper

http://www.daniharper.com/

CHRISTMAS SUPERSTITIONS II ----------------------- THE SEQUEL!

Last week I brought you Christmas Superstitions I ---- The Good, the Bad and the Scary. This week’s installment brings you The Innocent, the Odd and the Downright Creepy! (As before, here's the official disclaimer -- Remember, these are folktales and traditions, and not intended to be taken as truth!)
The Innocent...

Taking three sips of salty water before Christmas dinner brings good luck. (Three sips of Alka-Seltzer afterwards helps even more, LOL). Many cultures throughout Europe and the British Isles believe that all water turns into wine at midnight on Christmas Eve.

It’s lucky to eat an apple on Christmas Eve. If you’re single, eating a roasted apple that night will allow you to hear the voice of your future spouse in your dreams. It’s bad luck to refuse a slice of mince pie, and good luck to eat a slice of pie in every house you visit – the more houses, the more luck!

People used to mix in silver charms when making the Christmas pudding, and objects also went into the mince pie. The items predicted the future of whoever found them in their piece of pie or pudding. A coin meant good luck, a thimble meant prosperity, a ring meant a wedding.

An old Irish belief says that the gates of Heaven are wide open on Christmas Eve and that anyone who dies then will go straight to Heaven.

The Odd...

The first person downstairs on Christmas morning was to take a broom, open the front door and sweep all “trouble” from the doorstep. A variation on this is to sweep all the bad luck out of the house.

English folklore tells girls to knock on the henhouse door on Christmas Eve. If a rooster crows, she’ll marry within the year. If there is silence, she’ll never marry!

It’s unlucky to receive a gift of new shoes or tanned leather on Christmas. However, some people in Greece ward off bad luck in the upcoming year by burning their old shoes during the Christmas season (Hmmmm... I know a pair of my husband’s shoes I’d like to burn!) Another footwear superstition says that all the family’s shoes should be placed neatly side by side on Christmas Eve to prevent quarreling in the new year.

In Wales, the plough should be brought into the house and kept under the dining table during the entire Christmas season. This assured a good harvest in the coming year.

If you eat a raw egg before eating anything else on Christmas morning, you’ll become exceptionally strong.

And the Downright Creepy!

Dogs that howl on Christmas Eve will go mad before the end of the year. A candle or a lamp should be kept burning all night on Christmas Eve to avoid a death in the house in the following year.

Instead of water turning into wine at midnight on Christmas Eve, some hold the belief that the water in streams and wells turns into blood! Not only that, if you witness this change, you’ll die within the year!

A Scandinavian belief states that it’s dangerous to go out on Christmas Eve because of the many supernatural beings that come out of their hiding places that night. Trolls, witches, goblins and ghosts roam freely, some of which are the spirits of the dead revisiting their previous homes. Gifts must be left outside – bowls of pudding and cream, clothes, tobacco and even ale – in order to appease some of these creatures. The most perilous time occurred between cock’s crow and dawn, when supernatural beings were at the peak of their power. To go outside meant risking death or being carried off by them, never to be seen again.

Swedish folklore puts a chilling twist on this story. On Christmas Eve, they prepare their dining room with food and ale and blazing fire – and leave it overnight to enable the spirits of the dead to celebrate. The family checks the chairs in the morning for traces of earth, proof that the dead have come calling!

A once popular parlor game gave everyone an apple after dinner, which was then cut in half across the middle to reveal the pattern of the core. If the core is star-shaped (most apples have this), the owner of the apple will see another Christmas. If the core is a different shape, the owner’s death will occur in the next twelve months! The appearance of a four-pointed cross was worst of all – although what was worse than death is never mentioned.

Parlor games including keeping tabs on everyone’s shadow throughout the evening. If anyone’s shadow were to appear headless, that person would die within the coming year.

An old Breton tale tells the story of a blacksmith who refused to stop working after the church bell had rung for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Suddenly a tall man entered his shop with a scythe that needed mending. The blacksmith did the work, and instead of paying him, the mysterious man told him to send for a priest because this work would be his last. By the time the roosters crowed on Christmas morning, the blacksmith was dead. He had mended the Scythe of The Reaper himself.

To avoid bad luck, all Christmas decorations should be taken down by Candlemas (Feb. 2). However, make sure you clean up after them --- every needle left behind in the house from the Christmas tree will cause the sighting of a spirit or a demon in the coming year. (A good case for having an artificial tree!)

Dani Harper
http://www.daniharper.com/

The Good, the Bad and the Scary ------------------- CHRISTMAS SUPERSTITIONS I

As you know, I just can’t resist anything related to the paranormal. But Christmas? Who would have suspected that there was anything supernatural about such a warm fuzzy holiday? I mean, a big jolly fellow travels all over the world with his flying reindeer in a single night, squeezes down tiny chimneys with a neverending bag of presents, knows if you’re naughty or nice but is never seen himself… Come to think of it, that IS pretty paranormal!

I had a lot of fun researching Christmas superstitions and I was amazed by how MANY there were! In fact, there’s so much material I’ve decided to blog twice about this topic. Here then is the first installment. (By the way, here's the official disclaimer -- Remember, these are folktales and traditions, and not intended to be taken as truth!)

The Good….

Unmarried girls can cut a twig from a cherry tree on St. Barbora’s Day (Dec. 4th) and put it in water. If it blooms by Christmas Eve, marriage will follow within the year. Counting the stars on Christmas Eve will foretell the number of sheaves in your harvest. And if you see the sun shining through the limbs of the apple trees on Christmas Day, there’ll be an abundance of fruit the following year.

If you dream on any of the 12 nights between Christmas and Epiphany (Jan. 6), your dreams will come true in the next year. The first person in the household to hear a rooster crow or anyone who hears a cricket chirp on Christmas Day is going to have a very lucky year. Good luck follows those who give money to the poor on Christmas Day, to those who eat their breakfast by candlelight, and to those who stir the Christmas pudding.

The Bad….

Bad, bad fortune follows those who leave the dishes unwashed on Christmas Eve (and that’s on top of what Mom will do to you!). On Christmas Day, it’s unlucky to leave the dinner table before everyone has finished. A full moon on Christmas predicts a scanty harvest in the year to come. If Christmas Day falls on a Thursday, a year of windy weather is forecast.

On Christmas Eve it’s said that you can hear the bells of lost churches that have been covered by floods or buried by landslides and earthquakes. Picking up nuts or fruit from the ground will bring bad luck. So will sending carolers away without treats or money. And you really don’t want to be the first one home from church!

And the Scary….

A piece of winter greenery (holly, mistletoe, evergreen, etc.) must be brought into your home during the Christmas season, to keep away evil spirits. However, every winter leaf left in the house after Candlemas (Feb. 2) will result in the sighting of a ghost, or perhaps even a death in the house during the coming year! Mistletoe must be burned, or those who kissed beneath it will become enemies.

Those born on Christmas Day are rumored to be able to see ghosts and spirits. And those who are born on Christmas Eve are said to turn into ghosts themselves on that day every year! (Wow, this sounds more like Halloween, doesn’t it?) The only way to avoid this odd fate is to remain awake the entire night until Christmas Day dawns.

I’ll be back next week with another installment of Christmas superstitions!
Dani Harper
http://www.daniharper.com/
Your turn! What Christmas superstitions or folklore have you heard of over the years?

Calling the Wild

It wasn't so long ago that Red Riding Hood was terrified of wolves. Today, Red's got wolf posters on her wall and a stuffed wolf on her bed and donates to a Save the Wolves foundation. Pictures of wolves decorate everything from her checkbook covers to her computer screensaver.

And it's not just Red. Red's Mom has a dozen collector plates featuring wolves. Red's Dad has a wolf on his belt buckle and pocketknife handle, plus a wolf decal on his truck. And Red's younger brother has a wolf on his skateboard and plays for a high school basketball team called the Wolves.

How did the accomplice of evil and eater of grannies get such a radical image makeover?

Simple. Wolf envy.

Let's face it, we admire wolves for their beauty, their intelligence, their loyalty to their mates and their ability to work as a team. They're strong, powerful, tireless. They seem to embody freedom itself and when they sing, something in us responds with yearning. And besides all that, there's the cool factor. No other animal can traverse the jungles of pop culture so effortlessly. Put all those attributes together and it's an irresistible package.

And speaking of packages: Enter the Werewolf.

Usually portrayed as angst-ridden human turned uncontrollable killer in horror movies, the paranormal romance novel has shown us a new and different Wolf-man. He has all the qualities we admire about wild wolves. Tough. Smart. Handsome. Plus there's that whole mating for life thing, which seems to be leaking out of the human gene pool. Today's Werewolf is more powerful than ever, yet protective. Caring enough to carry Granny and all her groceries across the street. And in addition to the attributes he shares with wild wolves, there's one that's all his own.

He's drop-dead sexy.

Why? For much of the same reason we're drawn to the same wolves our ancestors feared. In our modern lives we are often out of touch with nature --- yet nature is not out of touch with us. Genetic memory is in our very cells and we have a psychic memory of forest and trail, a collective awareness of hunter and hunted (and we've been both), an instinctive response, primal and visceral, to the very wildness embodied in wolves --- and the danger. And we respond to the same in the Werewolf. We'd like to be a little less tame ourselves...

Nope, it's no surprise at all that Vampires have had to shove over and make room at the top of the romantic protagonist heap for the Werewolf. Excuse me while I get my red cape and goody basket...

Dani Harper

http://www.daniharper.com/
Your turn -- what do YOU think of the current popularity of the wolf -- and the werewolf?

Fears, frights, phobias - and the Willies!

We all have something that pushes our most primitive panic button. I’m not talking things like Tyrannosaurus Rex or the shark from Jaws or even 10-foot-tall, brain-sucking aliens with ray guns. Think smaller. Waaaaaay smaller. The very same human who will rescue a family of nine from a burning building or face down a burglar armed with nothing but a folding chair will turn to Jello on stilts in the presence of his or her personal demon. Said demon of course is not in its brimstone-chewing and pitchfork-wielding form, but in the guise of a deceptively harmless-looking creature such as a mouse.

And then it hits – that peculiar fear reaction known only to homo sapiens. An attack of nerves so complete that in ten thousand years of civilization we still can’t think of a single intelligible name for the condition. We’re assailed by the heebie-jeebies, the creepy-crawlies, the jitters, the all-overs, the jim-jams and the screaming meemies.

Me, I get The Willies.

While I have no reaction whatsoever to slugs, bugs, snakes, rats, mice, lizards, bats and even the inner workings of cows (don’t ask), I come down with a severe case of The Willies when confronted with a spider. I don't know why that is – some mis-mutated survival mechanism? After all, while I'm dancing around, rubbing my arms and legs, flapping at my clothes and yelling EEYEWW at the top of my lungs, the spider has plenty of time to run off. When I've finally finished with The Willies, my enemy is long gone, leaving me safe and sound – at least for the moment. Instinct triumphs again.

I'm ready for a different evolutionary leap though. Recently I stepped into the shower only to discover that I wasn't alone in there. Eight beady eyes met my gaze. If they’d belonged to four mice or four beetles or even four plumbers, I’d have reacted better. But nooooooo, not only did all eight beady eyes belonged to a single spider, but this spider was big enough to wear a t-shirt and I'm certain he had a tattoo. I immediately suffered an attack of The Willies that was so extreme, I leapt backwards out of the shower and straight into the nearest wall, braining myself with the towel bar. It might have been just the ringing in my ears but I could swear I heard high-pitched spider laughter as I crawled hastily from the bathroom, naked, whimpering and cursing. So much for that inner defense mechanism. Thanks a lot, Darwin.

It’s important to note that the adage out of sight, out of mind does not apply to situations like this. Once The Willies have been activated, they have to run their course. It took me half an hour of pacing, shaking and jumping around to get up enough nerve to assess the situation rationally. My rational assessment said that I was on my own. Have you noticed that scary-evil things only show up when you're all by your lonesome? Sure, husbands and boyfriends will save you from a charging grizzly bear, but it’s a perverse Law of Nature that they’ll never be on hand in true emergencies such as power failures, cars that fail to start or spiders in the bathtub.

I confess, I considered siccing my pug onto the beast (Kill, Scooby, KILL!) but finally decided against it. My benign pug has all the ferocity of an eggplant. The spider would be in no danger whatsoever unless Scooby accidently farted on it. Besides, if my pug did actually TOUCH the spider (Ick, ick, ICK!), then The Willies would render me completely unable to touch my dog for heaven knows how long. I'd have to hand him biscuits with a pair of barbecue tongs...

I next considered waiting the six or seven hours until my husband got home from work. I could go without peeing or brushing my teeth that long, couldn’t I? Then I remembered I had an appointment I’d waited three weeks for. With mounting horror, I realized just how many things associated with getting ready for the day were trapped in the bathroom with the eight-legged invader. Makeup. Toothbrush. Earrings. OMG, my bra was hanging on the back of the bathroom door! For a wild moment I thought I could make it without all those luxuries and then I caught sight of myself in the bedroom mirror. My hair was sticking up in a lopsided morning mohawk and nothing, but nothing, would render it fit to be seen but a shower.

I would have to confront the enemy.

The flyswatter looked too flimsy to be of much use and the broom couldn't be wielded within the confines of the shower. A hammer would be a little rough on the bathtub enamel and would also require too much precision. I finally decided on the bathroom plunger as my weapon of choice – it had a nice heft to it. Not as good as a baseball bat but I didn't have one of those. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing I didn't think of our deer rifles....

I opened the shower door carefully, praying the spider wouldn't be startled. Not because I cared about its spider feelings, but because one sudden move from the creature would have cost me another hour of The Willies. Fortunately, the eight-legged invader was paralyzed by incredulity. A plunger? Are you kidding, lady?
I launched my attack.

It was grim, it was messy and it was accompanied by strangled shouts of EEYEW, EEYEW, EEYEW, EEYEW, EEYEW and many GODDAMMITS. I think most of them came from me. After the battle, I turned the hot water on full blast and left the shower to disinfect itself while I ran to my room (still naked). I was dancing around but not with victory.

And that's the pity of it. More evolved gals would no doubt feel empowered enough to raise that plunger over their head and triumphantly shout "I AM BETTY, DESTROYER OF EVIL!". But me? I’m in the throes of an even bigger case of the creepy crawlies, a heebie-jeebie meltdown of epic proportions.

The Willies have struck again.


Dani Harper
http://www.daniharper.com/


Halloween provided me with a perfect opportunity to dust off this all-too-true story and add the gory details (kind of like "the director's cut" version of a movie -- now expanded and uncensored!). So now I've told you what sends me screaming down the street --- it's YOUR TURN --- What scares YOU? Can anyone add to the list of synonyms for "heebie jeebies"? (My personal favorite is the screaming meemies -- one of my relatives used to say us kids gave her those...)

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Legends of the Black Dog

"Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread."

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798

I love a good ghost story and a ghost DOG story is even better! One of my favorite Welsh folktales provided inspiration for my latest release, A Leap of Knowing. The gwyllgi or barghest is a legendary canine with many names: The Black Dog, the Dog of Darkness, Dog of the Twilight and Black Hound of Destiny. It’s said to resemble a giant mastiff, larger than any living dog, and its eyes are often red and glowing.

The story is an old one, dating back to Celtic times in Wales. The Black Dog is the herald of Death itself, and those who see the animal are usually destined to die very soon. The dog appears without warning, follows and sometimes even chases people – yet vanishes without a trace. Electrical storms are often associated with the dog’s appearance (and yup, there’s a thunderstorm in the first chapter of A Leap of Knowing.)

This otherworldly beast has counterparts in many parts of the British Isles. For centuries, black dogs have haunted particular towns, roads and forests in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. Sometimes a ghostly canine has haunted specific families! Such a situation helped inspire the 1901 classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Big black dogs continue to pop up in popular fiction. Remember "the Grim" in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling? TV series such as Supernatural, Reaper and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have all featured monstrous and malevolent hounds. The legend of the black dog is also alive and well in many video games. The Lord of the Rings online computer game features just such an animal.

Did you know there are sightings of ghostly canines right here in the United States? Black dogs are said to haunt Macon County, Tennessee and foretell death and calamity. US Highway 491 is also said to be haunted by dogs of darkness – which perhaps is not surprising when you find out that the highway was originally named Route 666! Motorists report braking for giant black dogs – only to have them vanish at the moment of impact! Even Long Island, New York has a black dog legend. Just like its Welsh counterpart, seeing the creature is said to be followed by death within a month. The supernatural canine that roams the hills of Connecticut is a little more forgiving – you have to see that particular black dog three times before writing out your will.

Think you’re safe if you stay home at night? Maybe not. There are also many stories out there of seeing the gwyllgi in a nightmare. As if the bad dream wasn’t enough, it’s said to be followed by dire events and even death. People have also reported the giant black dog appearing inside their home, complete with glowing eyes, only to have it vanish when the light was turned on. The apparition was often followed by a death in the family or other catastrophe.

Negative associations with dark dogs seem to be part of our collective human consciousness. It’s a frightening archetype throughout myth and legend, from Cerberus, the hideous canine that guards the entrance to the Underworld, to the black Hounds of the Norse god, Odin, to the Hellhounds that follow the Faery Hunt. Plus, a common pseudonym for depression is The Black Dog. (Although anyone who’s ever played with a Labrador Retriever might object to that.)

In its defense, however, the Dog of Darkness hasn’t always been threatening, at least, not to the innocent. In some tales, the animal is an instrument of justice, hunting down escaped murderers. A few stories recount incidents where the great beast protected children or guarded lone travelers. This made me wonder – what if the ghostly creature had a conscience, a sense of right and wrong? What if the gwyllgi or barghest didn’t mindlessly follow its mission? In that moment, THE GRIM SERIES was conceived.

Dani Harper
http://www.daniharper.com/

Tall, Dark and Furry -- our love affair with WEREWOLVES

Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers each night
May become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
From the movie, “The Wolf Man”, 1941


Halloween is the PERFECT time to discuss one of my favorite things – werewolves!

From Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Lucian in Underworld to Remus Lupin in Harry Potter, werewolves have a powerful presence in modern pop culture. And not necessarily as the bad guy. There are plenty of paranormal romance novels (mine included!) where the werewolf is the hunky hero.

The concept of werewolves (or lycanthropes) didn’t originate in modern times. In fact, you’ll find them in almost every culture in the world. Werewolves have a place in European history, Russian folklore and Norse mythology. Humans who become wolves are also chronicled in early Canadian stories and appear in Native American tales. Accounts of werewolves even appear in Greek and Roman writings – Virgil, Herodotus, Pliny the Elder and many others made mention of them.

Werewolf was a word first documented in 1008, although it originated long before that. The word wer (or were, wair, verr) means “man” in several older European languages. And wulf – well, that’s pretty self-explanatory. England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, etc. all use a variation of the word werewolf.

There are plenty of other names for werewolf, however. In France, you’d beware of the loup-garou. In Spain and Mexico, it’s the hombre lobo and in Argentina, the lobizón. It’s the kurtadam in Turkey, the vlkodlak in the Czech Republic. In Greece, you’d watch out for the lycanthropos, and in Italy, the lupo mannaro. In Haiti, be very afraid of the Jé-rouge.

Wolves are not the only animals featured in shapeshifting legends however. There are stories of were-bears in northern Europe. Chinese, Korean and Japanese stories prominently feature were-foxes, as well as many other creatures such as snakes and dragons who become human. Africa’s folklore has were-hyenas, India tells of the were-tiger, and in Central and South America are legends of the were-jaguar. Irish and Welsh legends feature individuals changing into everything from horses to hares. Many Native American tribes have stories of transformations from man to animal.

Our present fascination with werewolves might be as simple as a subconscious wish to get back in touch with nature. Or, as a few have theorized, it’s a remnant of genetic memory – a leftover from a long ago time when you didn’t dare go outside your door at night for fear of running into a changeling.

Are they real? Some think it’s possible. I guest-blogged about our own American Werewolf on Cathy Stang's site* on October 9th. Known as the Bray Road Beast of Wisconsin, this animal has been sighted by residents since 1936 and described as a wolf-man creature. Don't forget, these are people who are well-acquainted with local wildlife like bears! Even some skeptics have become believers after interviewing witnesses.

Whether werewolves exist or not, our fascination with them is here to stay.

Dani Harper


Big congrats to Sarabelle! Your name was drawn from the big red mixing bowl this week. Please drop me an email at daniharperblog@romancingthewolf.com with your snail mail address so I can send out your prize.

Thanks and Hugs to everyone who reads my blog. To show my appreciation for your input, all commenters to the most recent blog are automatically entered in a draw for a grab bag of Alaskan goodies. Winners are announced every Friday.

*http://cathystang.blogspot.com/ Don't miss Cathy's Monster Movie Trivia on October 10th!

THE SCARIEST CANDY

The trick or treaters will be out in force at the end of this month, and the only defense against the invasion is to lay in a generous supply of Halloween treats.

To defend against the danger of eating the candy myself, however, I start off the month of October with a two-fold plan:
1. Wait until the day before Halloween so I have less time to be tempted by the treats.
2. Don’t buy candy that contains chocolate so I won’t hear it calling my name in the middle of the afternoon.

By the time the 31st approaches, I have an attack of remorse because I remember what it was like to be a kid and I want to be one of those houses that give out "The Good Stuff". Regardless of my earlier plans to the contrary, I end up buying chocolate and lots of it. The kids get some too…

Despite my personal addiction, chocolate isn’t the only Halloween treat. A friend of mine was talking about the candy she remembers collecting as a kid. We compared notes, and I canvassed a few more people, including family members, for their input. There are lots of favorites but turns out there’s ONE candy that almost should have been named in my blog on villains a couple weeks back!

UNIVERSALLY HATED? --- That chewy molasses candy that looked so cute in its bright Halloween paper wrapper was good for exactly that – looking. (In fact, you can look at it now in the photo, LOL) When I was a kid, my treat bag felt like a sack of gravel by the end of the night. That’s because a third of it was made up by these petrified molasses kisses. No filling, no coating – what you saw on the outside was what it looked like all the way through. The exact color of wet cardboard, the candy tasted like pureed tongue depressors with a little scorched sugar mixed in. In fact, I’m fairly sure a secret deal had been struck between candy manufacturers and the pulp and paper industry.

Why these were called “kisses” I can’t imagine. A kiss is something gentle, soft and pleasant. A molasses kiss usually had the consistency of hardened Gorilla Glue to begin with and only toughened with age. And speaking of age, I’m sure that some of the kisses I collected were old enough to be carbon-dated. If the trick or treaters didn’t take it all, I personally knew neighbors and relatives who used to keep the candy for the next year. And the next... This candy would have made an excellent emergency storage item – it lived forever and it would take an emergency to make you desperate enough to try to eat the stuff. It might be more useful as kindling in a crisis.

However hard a molasses kiss became, however, you never had to worry about breaking your teeth on it. That’s because it eventually reacted to saliva by suddenly cementing itself around your teeth like some sort of sedimentary mouthguard. You could box or play football in perfect safety, but it might be days before you could pry your jaws apart.

People talk about how things were built to last in the good old days – cars, appliances, furniture, etc. Believe me, some of those Halloween kisses outlived Buicks. In fact, there are likely thousands of the fossilized things still lurking in china cabinets, upper kitchen cupboards, dusty candy jars on mantels and boxes in the attic all over the country. Lying in wait like the Undead...

I ran across an ancient handful in my mother-in-law’s house not long ago. The sight of the happy little Halloween wrappers gave me a wonderful burst of nostalgia – then I recovered myself and shook off the spell. Acting quickly, I took the kisses outside and threw them into the burn pile.

“Hey, is that candy?” called a cousin.

“That’s what it wants you to think,” I said, watching to make sure the flames consumed every last one of the Halloween kisses. “I’m saving us.”

He shrugged. “You gals take your dieting way too seriously.”

Exactly. I’m going to go and buy some nice, safe mini chocolate bars now.


Dani Harper
http://www.daniharper.com/


Now it’s your turn. What were your favorite Halloween treats as a kid? What do you like now? What do you give out on Halloween night? Did the infamous molasses kiss play a role in your childhood trick or treating? (And is there anyone out there who actually likes them?)

Naturally supernatural...

“What got you interested in the paranormal?” Someone asked me that question this week. Since this person definitely wasn’t a fan of the supernatural herself, it’s possible she was subtly asking if I’d eaten paint chips as a child.

Still, it got me thinking about possible influences that may have contributed to my lifelong love affair with the Netherworld. Halloween, television, movies, even campfire tales and urban myths – there was no shortage of things that fed my childhood appetite for ghostly events and darksome creatures.

I’d probably have to choose BOOKS as my all-time favorite source of paranormalness (that’s my word of the week, thanks to a teenage fan who told me to “keep up the paranormalness” after reading my first novel, Heart of the Winter Wolf). I adore the stories of JR Ward, Katie MacAlister, Patricia Briggs, Karen Chance and a host of other paranormal romance writers. I’m also a devoted fan of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and as a child I devoured the works of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker.

Yet I’ve finally come to the conclusion that all of these things didn’t influence as much as affirm my love of the supernatural. In other words, it’s innate. Why do I think that? I only have to look at my kids. True, they spent their teen years watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, so perhaps it's not surprising that they're all otherworld fans.

There’s one daughter in particular, however, who could have been born in Halloween Town. Long before she even started kindergarten, she had a natural gothic style. As an adult, it continues to be a joyful expression of who she is. Her apartment is papered in horror movie posters, garlands of skeletons grace the doorways, and the shelves in her living room groan under the weight of paranormal movies and books. Tim Burton would feel right at home. I know that I do. My gramma would too. She was a lifelong fan of gothic books and scary movies just like me.

All this leads me to a perfectly natural explanation for my supernatural fascination – it’s in my genes! (I have a mental picture of a scientist discovering a strange black and orange genome and dubbing it The Halloween Gene...)

Of course, the fact that most of the women in my family are psychic is purely coincidental....

Dani Harper

Do YOU have The Halloween Gene? Leave me a comment and let me know what nurtured YOUR love of the paranormal.