Christmas is a time for sharing old memories, old traditions and sometimes old blogs too!  This is one of my all-time favorites.  Enjoy, and happy holidays!
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Our North American Santa Claus is loosely based on the European Saint Nicholas, a kind, gift-giving fellow traditionally portrayed in long bishop’s robes instead of a red suit. Saint Nick grew out of stories about an actual person, Nikolaos of Myra, a Greek bishop with a reputation for secret gift-giving such as leaving coins in shoes and working miracles.

So understanding Saint Nicholas is easy. It’s the company he keeps that raises questions and eyebrows. In Austria, Hungary, Bavaria and other Alpine countries, St. Nick’s assistant isn't a cute little elf, it's an enslaved demon. Yup, that’s right. D-E-M-O-N. This cloven-hoofed creature goes by many names, but most commonly is called Krampus, which is Old High German for claw.

Perhaps the word for “long” would have suited him better. Not only does Krampus have lengthy talons, but sports exceptional horns on his head as well. His seven-foot tall body is usually covered with long shaggy hair (often black), he has a long tail and he has a tongue longer and more prehensile than that belonging to Gene Simmons' demon character of KISS fame.

If all that weren’t intimidating enough, Krampus is not only a demon, but an incubus. That’s a demon who sexually preys on sleeping humans! (Santa hangs out with a predator?!)

St. Nick and his goons

So while St. Nicholas got all the positive press by delivering gifts and treats to “good” boys and girls, Krampus was right by his side to dish out not just warnings but punishment to the “bad” children, and sometimes to adults too. In some places, the jolly old saint was accompanied by not one but several demons – his own personal gang of enforcers!

If you weren't saying your prayers, doing your chores and being properly respectful to elders, the penalty wasn't a mere lump of coal in your stocking. Krampus was armed with chains, a bag or basket and bundles of switches. If you were lucky, Krampus only took all your presents for himself. More often, you’d be spanked or even beaten. In some towns, kids had to run a long gauntlet of people dressed as Krampus and armed with switches!

Krampus taking "bad" children to Hell
Really naughty kids were allegedly shackled with chains or stuffed in a bag or basket, and carried off to Hell to burn forever – at least, that’s what children were told. In Switzerland, where Krampus is called Schmutzli, children were routinely threatened with being carried off to the dark forest by the demon or tied in his sack to be thrown in the river and drowned!

We've all seen little kids who are intimidated or downright terrified of department store Santas (some of us WERE those little kids!). How on earth did European children cope with seven-foot demons threatening them? Were they tougher than today's kids or were they scarred for life? Psychological studies hadn't been invented when St. Nick’s sinister sidekick first popped up in Germanic folklore around 1600. And the whole Christmas demon concept probably goes all the way back to pre-Christian winter solstice celebrations when pagan deities were said to roam the night.

Greetings from Krampus!
Krampus' popularity grew until eventually he got his own day. Krampusnacht was usually December 5th which is the eve of St. Nicholas Day in many regions. In some places, there were entire Krampus festivals held, where young men dressed up like demons and terrorized the local children (and unwary young women) for days. By the way, the reward for this important public service was beer and other spirits. Many of these traditional festivals continue to this day.

In the 1800s, while the Victorians were developing the notion of sending pretty Christmas cards, a trend emerged in some European countries to send scary, lewd and suggestive postcards of the yuletide demon! Instead of Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas, these cards usually said “Greetings from Krampus!” (About as cheery to receive as “Compliments from Satan”!)

So the next time you start wishing for a real old-fashioned holiday, try singing “Krampus the Christmas Demon” to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and remember that the season of goodwill once had a very dark and disturbing side!

Dani Harper

Your turn!  Have you ever heard tales of the Krampus? Got any other scary Christmas traditions to share?  By the way, have a look at this book on Amazon - The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards

Stonehenge in America - Sam Hill's Memorial to the Fallen

Stonehenge in England
About 5,000 years ago in Britain, construction began on a circle of gigantic standing stones. Completed perhaps a thousand years later, the monolithic structure known simply as Stonehenge has been a mystery to historians and archeologists ever since.

Another mystery was built in the early 1900s, this time in America.

Samuel Hill was many things -- a businessman, a lawyer, a railroad executive, a Quaker and a pacifist. He was also a globetrotter in a time when travel was slow, making over 50 trips to Europe and 9 to Japan. For thirty years he made his home in the Pacific Northwest and constructed a memorial there, dedicated to the men from Klickitat County in Washington State who had been killed in World War I. It was the very first memorial for that war in the entire United States.

Dedication, 1918 (Sam Hill, center)
And it was not an ordinary memorial. Sam Hill had personally visited Stonehenge in Wiltshire County, England, and the prevailing theory at the time was that the immense circle and altar had been used by Druids for human sacrifice. Hill adopted both the idea and the design for his memorial, seeking to remind people that "humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war."
Stones are made of reinforced concrete
A windswept promontory overlooking the Columbia River was chosen as the site. It was the location of Maryhill, a small town that Hill had designed and built some 10 years earlier but which failed to attract residents. Accounts differ on when the fire took place that burned much of the town 
to the ground, but Hill is said to have cleared some of the surviving buildings away for this new project so that the memorial could have the most dramatic spot. There, guided by leading authorities on archaeology and engineering, Hill created his Stonehenge as an exact replica of the original – that is, if the original was shiny new, with all its lintels and capstones in place.

Sam Hill’s plans called for the memorial to be built of stone like the one in England – but local stone turned out to be unsuitable for the job. He turned instead to a material he had plenty of experience with in his business life: reinforced concrete. 

A trilithon
The ambitious project took over ten years to complete. There are two concentric circles of pillars. The outer 30 pillars are 16 feet high and the 40 inner pillars are 9 feet high. In the center of the circle are five trilithons (two large vertical stones supporting a lintel or third stone set horizontally across the top. The altar stone is 6 by 18 feet long. All of the pillars are concrete slabs. They were poured in massive wooden molds that were lined with crumpled tin in order to create a rough stone-like surface.  

The astronomical alignment of Hill’s Stonehenge differs from the original, however. In 1918, the year he was to dedicate the memorial site, a solar eclipse occurred on June 8 – and the best viewing of the phenomenon was in Washington State! 

Sam Hill's Stonehenge in Maryhill, WA
This meant that some of the world’s best astronomers were in the area, and Hill persuaded Professor Campbell of the University of California to fix the position of the altar stone. Campbell aligned to the astronomical horizon rather than to the midsummer solstice, as the ancient Stonehenge was once believed to be. Considering the additional difference in latitude between the two monuments, it becomes apparent that Hill’s creation cannot be used as an astronomical calendar.

Hill's Stonehenge site overlooks the
 Columbia River Valley
Note the small white crypt further down

 the hill, which holds Samuel Hill's ashes.
It’s a very small flaw, however. Most of us on this side of the ocean will visit the original Stonehenge only through photos and TV documentaries. Thanks to Sam Hill, we can wander and wonder through his life-sized creation, getting a firsthand feel for the scope and symmetry of both Stonehenges.

It’s been suggested that Sam Hill listens in on the conversations of the many tourists who seek out this out-of-the-way site. After all, on the hillside below the memorial is a very small and simple crypt overlooking the Columbia River Valley. Hill’s ashes were buried there in 1931.

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PS - Paranormal romance fans will be interested in knowing that THIS SITE was featured in a major scene in Patricia Brigg's latest installment in the Mercy Thompson series, "River Marked".

Dani Harper

Paranormal romance combines with suspense in an exciting new shapeshifter series by author Dani Harper, published by Kensington Brava. See more on Dani's website at


Yes, really. It's good for anyone who wants to be a writer, for newbie scribblers or seasoned novelists alike. Writing is a craft learned and improved by – you guessed it – WRITING. And NaNoWriMo is designed to make you do it a LOT. 

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. That's right – your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to write a novel in a single month! It's a literary marathon to put 50,000 words on paper in 30 days.

To achieve 50,000 words in a month, you have to write over 1666 words a day. Here's the secret: They will NOT all be great words. In fact, some of them, maybe even most of them, will be CRAP. But crap is good – yes, I say, GOOD – because it’s only by permitting yourself to write crap, that you’ll free yourself to write the good stuff. And that means that somewhere in all that crap you’ve produced is GOLD.

Why not just write the gold, you say? Every writer on the planet wishes he or she could do just that, but it’s not possible. No crap = no gold. Of course you won’t keep the crap. Smart writers axe a lot of words, many sentences, whole paragraphs, complete scenes and even entire chapters – it’s all part of the gig. And what you’re left with?


Dani Harper

BTW - Here's the official site with all kinds of helps and tips:
And here's the official press release from NaNoWriMo for 2011:

Question - What do you think of the NaNoWriMo idea? Are you thinking of participating this year?

Haunted Ships and Ghostly Vessels

When, steadily steering landward,
A ship was seen below,
And they knew it was Lamberton, Master,
Who sailed so long ago.

On she came, with a cloud of canvas,
Right against the wind that blew.
Until the eye could distinguish
The faces of the crew.

Then fell her straining topmasts,
Hanging tangled in the shrouds,
And her sails were loosened and lifted,
And blown away like clouds.

And the masts, with all their rigging,
Fell slowly, one by one,
And the hulk dilated and vanished,
As a sea-mist in the sun!

-- from THE PHANTOM SHIP by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Some of the most amazing paranormal events occur at sea. A ghost ship falls into one of three categories. One is the sighting of a phantom vessel that is known to have sunk. Two, a ship can be haunted whether it’s still in use or decommissioned, whether it’s been turned into a museum or is destined for the scrapyard. Three, a “ghost ship” can be a vessel that mysteriously turns up without a living soul on board.

The Mary Celeste

Originally named The Amazon, this 100-foot brigantine was built in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1861. Her ill luck appears to have started early, with the death of her captain on her maiden voyage. Two other captains died aboard the Amazon. A collision with a fishing boat sent her back to the shipyard for repairs, where a fire broke out on board! Later, on her first trans-Atlantic crossing, she collided with another ship in the English Channel and her captain was dismissed. In 1867 the ship ran aground in Nova Scotia and was sold as salvage.

Repaired and renamed the Mary Celeste, the ship left New York in 1872. It was loaded with 1700 barrels of raw alcohol and bound for Italy, where the alcohol would be used for fortifying wines. Captain Benjamin Briggs and the seven members of his crew had reputations as experienced and able seamen. Expecting no difficulty, the captain brought his wife and daughter along for the voyage.

A month later another merchant ship, the Dei Gratia, spotted the Mary Celeste off the coast of Portugal. The ship was under sail but its sails were tattered and it was behaving strangely. It was soon discovered that there was no one on board. Only nine barrels were missing from the cargo and a six-month supply of food and water was still on board. All personal possessions were undisturbed and there were no signs of a struggle. The lifeboat was missing and a long 3-inch-wide rope was discovered attached to the ship with the opposite end frayed and trailing in the water.

The fate of the captain, crew and passengers of the Mary Celeste remains unknown to this day. But misfortune continued to stalk the vessel. When it was returned to New York, an accident on board caused the drowning of Harry Winchester, father of one of the four owners. Reputed to be cursed, the Mary Celeste went through the hands of 17 owners over the next 13 years! The last owner deliberately wrecked the ship on a reef in the Caribbean.

Alabama’s Phantom Steamboat

The Eliza Battle was a luxurious side-wheeled paddle steamer that had hosted presidents and many other prestigious passengers as it traveled the Tombigbee River in Alabama. In addition to some wealthy clientele, the Eliza Battle was also carrying a thousand bales of cotton on her main deck on the night of March 1, 1858, when a fire broke out. Strong winds quickly whipped the flames out of control. Most of the passengers and crew leapt from the ship, but many succumbed to the frigid water before they could be rescued. The steamboat finally came to rest outside Pennington at Kemp’s Landing, and the burnt-out hull still remains on the river bottom there.

To this day, sightings of a flaming ship are reported in the area on cold and windy nights. It has been said that music can be heard playing within the ship while fire engulfs the deck! The appearance of the ghostly Eliza Battle is considered an ill omen by fishermen and ship captains alike, a warning of disaster.

The U-Haul company added the image of Nova Scotia's
mysterious burning ship to its gallery of paintings used
to decorate the sides of its moving vans!
The Flaming Ship of Nova Scotia

Numerous sightings of a three-masted sailing ship have persisted for nearly three centuries in Canada. Most recently, the burning vessel was been seen by several drivers at once on a coastal road, and the apparition remained visible for an astonishing two hours! The nameless ship is described as completely engulfed in flames, or sometimes outlined in a fiery glow. The ghostly vessel has usually been seen sailing the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. There have been a number of attempts over the years to reach the flaming ship by boat, but it vanishes each time.

The Lone Lifeboat

In 1906, the SS Valencia, an iron-hulled passenger liner, was making its way from San Francisco to Seattle. A severe storm caused it to miss its destination and run aground on a reef off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The situation was horrific, with the Valencia trapped between the pounding waves and sheer cliffs. Rescuers could not get to the stricken vessel by sea or by land, and could only watch helplessly from a distance as the sea tore the ship to pieces and 136 people perished. Thirty-seven survivors were eventually rescued from the forbidding coastline.

In 1910, Seattle area newspapers reported the sighting of a phantom ship resembling the Valencia on the rocks where she perished. Native fishermen claimed to have seen a lifeboat filled with skeletons.

A single lifeboat from the Valencia was found floating in the area -- 27 years after the sinking! It was in remarkably good condition despite being exposed to the elements for so long. Part of this lifeboat, still bearing the name Valencia, can be seen at the Maritime Museum in Victoria, British Columbia.

Ghost Ship of the Arctic

The Baychimo, locked in ice in 1931
The Baychimo was a steel cargo steamer used by the Hudson Bay Company for transporting furs along the Arctic coastline and carrying supplies to Inuit communities. In October 1931, the Baychimo was near Barrow, Alaska when it became blocked by sea ice. The crew left the ship to seek shelter on land, but returned when the ship broke free a week later. It was only a few days, however, before the ship was again trapped. The crew returned to land, knowing they would have to wait until spring before the ship would be free again. A month later the ship vanished during a blizzard!

The crew thought at first that the Baychimo had broken up and sunk, but a seal hunter told them that he’d seen it 45 miles away. When they tracked the ship down, the captain decided that it couldn’t possibly survive the winter. The crew removed the most valuable furs and abandoned the vessel to its fate.

The Baychimo did more than survive until spring, however. For the next thirty-eight years, the Baychimo was sighted again and again along the northern coast of Canada. There were many attempts to board the ship, and a few were successful. Each time, however, the salvagers were thwarted by terrible weather and the ship disappeared once again. The last confirmed sighting was in 1969 when the Baychimo was frozen in sea ice off the coast of Alaska. No one knows whether the ship sank or sailed free to roam the frigid Arctic waters once more.

The Haunted Hornet

The USS Hornet joined the war in the Pacific in 1943, and quickly became one of its most decorated ships. The Hornet, nicknamed the Grey Ghost, was at the forefront of the action, supporting troop landings, shooting down enemy planes, sinking Japanese battleships and earning no less than nine battle stars for its service. Later in its career, the Hornet recovered the astronauts from the first moon landing mission, Apollo 11, and also those from Apollo 12.

In its retirement years, the Hornet was designated as a National Historic Landmark and opened its doors to the public as a museum in Alameda, California. And that’s when it came to light that the Hornet has one more distinction – it’s arguably the most haunted ship in America.

Workmen, museum staffers and tourists have reported heavy doors opening and closing by themselves, things falling off shelves or large items sliding across the floor, the sudden smell of pipe smoke and the sensation of being grabbed or pushed. Sailors and officers in WWII uniforms have been sighted, moving with purpose as if carrying out their duties as usual. Footfalls are heard where there is no one present, plus voices talking, shouting laughing, even calling for help. Some individuals have heard entire conversations, as if aircraft crews were talking shop.

If there are ghosts aboard the Hornet, no one is surprised. Over 300 men died on the ship, some in combat but many through horrific accidents – an aircraft carrier is a dangerous place. And like all warships, the Hornet had its suicides. Despite this, most of the people who have had paranormal experiences on the old ship say that the spirits tend to be friendly, even playful. And not above playing pranks – one volunteer was alone in a restroom when the urinal beside him flushed by itself.

In recent years the USS Hornet has attracted the attention of many psychics and mediums, and even a number of TV shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Fortunately, the average person doesn't need special permission to ghost hunt since the Hornet is open to the public during museum hours. And if the stories are true, then ghost hunting really isn't necessary -- they'll find YOU!

Dani Harper

YOUR TURN -- Not only are ghostly ships the stuff of legends, but they fuel the imagination and inspire great fiction such as Duma Key by Stephen King. Have you read a story or a novel, or watched a movie about a haunted vessel?

Rabbits and Luck

Chinese New Year on February 3, 2011 will usher in the Year of the Rabbit, according to the Chinese Zodiac. The Rabbit is said to be the luckiest of all the signs, but this isn’t unusual. Rabbits have been associated with luck in many cultures over the centuries.

Rabbit Day

In parts of Britain, the first day of any month is nicknamed “Rabbit Day”. Folklore has it that saying the words “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit”, “white rabbits”, or even “bunny, bunny” upon waking up on the first day of the month will ensure good luck. Forget to do it? Say “tibbar, tibbar” (yup, that’s “rabbit” backwards!) before falling asleep that evening.

There are endless variations on this, including saying “black rabbits” just before bed as part of the charm. A two-part ritual calls for you to say “rabbits, rabbits” as you fall asleep on the last day of the month, and “hares, hares” when you rise. By the way, those have to be the first words spoken in the morning!

Rather than doing it monthly, some people believe that saying “rabbit, rabbit” on the first day of the New Year is sufficient to bring luck all year long. Saying it on the first night of the new moon is supposed to be effective too. If it’s your birth month, then the luck is supposed to be stronger for you during that time. Some people recite an old British nursery rhyme, which goes like this:

Rabbits hot and rabbits cold,
Rabbits new and rabbits old,
Rabbits tender, rabbits tough,
Never can we have enough!

Here in North America there are many variations of the “rabbit rabbit” ritual, particularly on the East coast. In recent years, the practice has been updated to include tweeting “rabbit rabbit” on the first day of every month! This was a noted trend on Twitter in 2009.

Rabbits, lucky and unlucky

So why are rabbits thought to be lucky? One explanation has to do with their ability to jump, and it’s the reason some folks carry a rabbit’s foot – it represents leaping into the future and moving forward in life. Others carry a rabbit’s foot to ward off arthritis and rheumatism. In Wales it’s been said that brushing the face of a newborn child with a rabbit’s foot will keep away evil spirits and bring the child good luck for the rest of his life. Rabbits have often been associated with fertility and abundance, and seeing a rabbit sitting still is supposed to be a good omen.

Not everything about rabbits is rosy, however. If you see a rabbit run across your path, it’s like the proverbial black cat – bad luck will follow. If a rabbit runs down the street, some superstitions say that fire will soon occur in a nearby home. A variation is if a rabbit runs through your garden, bad luck has just run through your life. In a few parts of Britain, white rabbits were once thought to be witches in animal form and associated with evil spirits! This puts a whole new spin on the classic story of Alice In Wonderland, and all the trouble that Alice gets into by following a White Rabbit. There are remnants of this superstition even today, and in some places white rabbits are shied away from as pets!

Hunters, farmers and irate gardeners would often refuse to shoot black rabbits for fear of bad luck. In the County of Kerry in Ireland, all rabbits are said to carry the souls of their ancestors. And in England, the appearance of a rabbit on or near a ship was an extremely bad omen, enough to cause a captain to delay or cancel a voyage. It’s been said that a fisherman would rather burn a net that had been touched by a rabbit than ever use it again. A story is told of young boys placing rabbit skins on boats to keep their fathers from going away to sea.

Are you a rabbit person?

According to the Chinese zodiac, it is the year of a person’s birth that not only determines personality traits, but the degree of success and happiness in life. Those born in the Year of the Rabbit (1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999 and 2011) are considered to be the luckiest of all.

As well as being articulate, talented, and ambitious, rabbit people are said to be virtuous, reserved, and have excellent taste. Rabbit people are admired, trusted, and are often financially lucky. They are fond of gossip but are tactful and generally kind. Rabbit people seldom lose their temper. They are clever at business and being conscientious, never back out of a contract. They would make good gamblers for they have the uncanny gift of choosing the right thing. However, they seldom gamble, as they are conservative and wise.

A “rabbit year” such as 2011 is said to be calm and relaxed for all of us, much needed after the ferocious “tiger year” it follows. And it’s considered to be especially lucky for “rabbit people”, enhancing all of your good qualities.

And if this isn’t your birth sign, don’t worry about your luck. It’s never too late to start saying “rabbit rabbit” !

Dani Harper

Your turn – what superstitions about rabbits have you heard? Were you born in the Year of the Rabbit?
Your Chinese Horoscope 2011: What the Year of the Rabbit Holds in Store for You
2011 Year of the Rabbit Forecast for All 12 Chinese Astrology Signs