Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Time After Time

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: We've been talking about traditions and family rituals and time this week--the end of the year and the holidays always make us a bit nostalgic, and joyful that we can link past and present a future a bit. And maybe it's time to add some new traditions.

Today we welcome the always-fabulous Rochelle Staab--who I met by magic (we'll tell you the story when we see you)--and who continues to have a magical and wonderful rise through mystery world. Talk about a magical mystery tour!

More on that later...but now Rochelle continues this week's theme of tradition and time. (Don't you love it when the theme emerges? As so often happens, it wasn't planned.)

The Comfort of Ritual

One of the benefits of being a writer is the carte blanche we are given to explore wherever imagination takes us. My latest research stack is piled with books and articles on superstitions, magick, taboos, fetishes, and ritual.

Part routine, part habit, and part hope, but never rational—our rituals and traditions generate stabilizing threads of comfort. I’m not very superstitious, but the holidays bring up sentimental rituals I learned to cherish. Simple yearly traditions, like drinking eggnog while decorating my tree, or spending Christmas day at the movies with friends. One of my favorite rituals waits inside a plastic CVS bag tucked in the back of a brass-hinged chest in my living room. In the bag is a dry branch clipped from last year’s Christmas tree. I’ll use the branch to kindle the fire on the night I decorate this year’s tree.

I learned the custom years ago at a Winter Solstice party. Twenty multicultural neighbors gathered to celebrate the coming holidays: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Epiphany, and the day after Christmas sales. A psychic read Tarot cards in the den, a local witch stirred mulled Wassail punch in the kitchen, the host’s dog Peg trotted through the house wearing felt reindeer ears, and It’s A Wonderful Life played on TV. A typical west coast holiday party? Not really, but it was one of the more interesting.

Winter Solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year. Our host explained that, centuries ago, there was a fear the nights would continue to grow longer until the sun disappeared completely. Evergreen trees, mistletoe, and holly—the only foliage to remain green through the bleak winter months—epitomized the triumph of life over death and were said to hold special powers. In our first ritual of the evening, to symbolize hope for spring, we joined as a group to bring in the evergreen tree from the local tree lot.

Once the tree was in place in his living room, we gathered to perform rituals established long before Santa, the Macy’s Parade, holiday cards, candy canes, “White Christmas”, and the annual L.A. Lakers Christmas game. First our host burned a clipping from his last year’s tree in the hearth to honor continuity. Then we circled strings of lights on the new tree to light the night and encourage the sun to return, bringing longer days.

Each guest received a red ribbon and a piece of paper. We made a wish for the coming year and tied our ribbons on the “magical” tree. On the papers we each made a list of things from the past year we hoped to leave behind. And in our final ritual, tossing our goodbye lists onto the Yule log burning in the fireplace, we bid farewell to dark days.

The traditions we honored were a mixture of European and pagan customs, and perhaps our host’s imagination, but the symbolism of the evening charmed me enough to carry on burning the previous year’s tree branch and tying a “wish” ribbon on my new tree. Comforting. Hopeful.

The Winter Solstice is December 22 this year. Each day thereafter is a step toward spring. My warmest thanks go to Hank and the Jungle Red writers for inviting me to guest at Jungle Red today. I wish you all long happy days, warm sunlight, lasting traditions, and dreams come true!

HANK: Oh, my dear Rochelle. You are unceasingly amazing. All our wonderful wishes for you in the coming year--and may you revel in your national best-sellerness...and perhaps, have another!

So, Reds, what would you put on your goodbye list? And how about what you would wish? (Rochelle will have to let us know if it's okay to reveal that part...)

A copy of Who Do, Voodoo to one lucky commenter!


Rochelle Staab, a former award-winning radio programmer and music industry marketing executive, blends her fascination with the supernatural and her love for mystery in Who Do, Voodoo? the bestselling first novel in her Mind for Murder Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Who Do, Voodoo? features no-nonsense Liz Cooper, a Los Angeles psychologist forced to embrace the occult to clear her best friend of murder. Bruja Brouhaha, the second novel in the series, will be released in August 2012.



  1. Rochelle, what a nice post on different kinds of traditions. Think I'll adopt some of those myself!

    I'm fairly superstitious, but I would say I'd like to let go of some anger and frustration over several situations that have occurred recently in my personal life (such as being laid off from my job at a nonprofit organization) and also I'm fed up with all U.S. /global/political power-mad destructive people in general. Why we continue to put up with the asshats of the world is beyond me. I'd prefer to turn my feelings into more positive energy.

    Now, do I win a Miss America crown? ;)

  2. I would leave behind: destructive fires, surgeries, and other health problems.
    I would like good health for all the family and friends.
    Peace on Earth, too - but that is probably too much to wish for!!! Dee

  3. I would leave behind stress and self-doubt.

    I would wish for energy and more hours in the day.

  4. Oh, more hours in the day! Would be great. Or needing less sleep. That would be helpful. (Except sleep is so much fun.)

    I would leave behind fear. I'm learning that is such a destructive emotion!

  5. Hank, we get to make our own rules with ritual. The magic comes with believing (and I believe you made me blush in your intro, thank you).

    I say it's perfectly appropriate to share our wishes and goodbye list.

    My Christmas wish is always the same but he hasn't shown up just yet. He must be a doozy.

    On my goodbye-leave-behind list: worry, pressure, vacation-procrastination, Kardashian stories, and the bitch who scowls at me at the gym.

    Lynn, I'll vote for you winning the crown!
    Dee, wishes are powerful and never too much to ask.
    Iris, more hours in the day!!! Yes!!! Me too!!!

  6. That sounds like a wonderful party Rochelle--thanks for visiting us here at JRW!

    I'm going to wish for good health for family and friends, who've had some struggles this year.

    Your book sounds wonderful--got to add that one to the pile!

  7. Rochelle, love the tradition of the red wish ribbon -- I think I'll adopt it! Alas, our fireplace is gas, so no twig-saving, although there is that New Year's Eve bonfire ... .

    (My captcha is oustio! Perfect -- adds a wizarding touch to the "goodbye" wish!)

  8. OUSTIO! Couldn't be more perfect.

    And that's how the magic works.

  9. Love the idea of burning last year and tying hopes for the next one on the tree. And I'd never heard of keeping a branch of the tree to light the first fire of the Christmas season. What a lovely tradition.

    Thank you, Rochelle, for the background behind some of our traditions. We often just take them for granted; it's good to be more mindful of the why, I think.

    Like Lynn, I would burn the global political ambitions that hurt all the rest of us, and hope for enlightenment in all corners that would lead to a better world for all. Nonprofits must be struggling extra hard right now, between fewer donors and more need for services, so I would wish for a brighter future for them, as well.

  10. Love the traditions, Rochelle, thanks for sharing.

    I'd leave behind worry. Is there a more useless activity? Fear I can deal with, I'll try to turn that energy into positive response and action. But worry? It's just needless stress. (I know full well, I'll never be able to stop worrying entirely, but I'd like to at least turn it DOWN!)

    Happy, warm, and productive holidays to you all! I'm so glad to have this group of smart, funny women (and men) to interact with.

  11. Rochelle, lovely post! My husband works in literary publishing at a university. He and his assistant are summer solstice babies while two colleagues are winter solstice babies. I usually do a winter solstice party for them all and follow by giving tarot readings since they always want them, and I usually haven't got time to give them.

    I'd wish for the ability to make time my friend rather than my slavedriver. Like Hank, the main thing I want to toss is fear. It extends its tentacles into all aspects of our lives and poisons them. Out upon you, dastardly fear-monster! No more shall you trouble me!

    I'm looking for your book, Rochelle. Sounds made for me.

  12. Wonderful post, Rochelle! And how fabulous to celebrate trimming the new tree by kindling your fire with a branch from the old one. It's lovely to honor ancient traditions.

    As for what I'm leaving behind, it's my old life and any lingering sorrow at its passing. My wish is to keep my eyes on the road ahead and the joy my new life brings.

    Here's to much success for WDV. Great story!

  13. I love the post. I would toss fear and impatience to remove from my life and sage to clean up around me. Thanks for this reminder.

  14. War, could we get rid of war please? and maybe cancer as well . . .

  15. Great post! Rochelle, I just got done researching Yule parties, which I put in my upcoming book and which sound a lot like the winter solstice celebration. What my main character gives up ends up to be a key plot point.

    Happy to have heard about your series, and I look forward to checking it out. Happy holidays!

  16. I have always loved the idea of celebrating the Winter Solstice as much as celebrating the religious holidays. We may differ in which religious holiday we connect with, but we all connect with the earth. Thanks for sharing the wonderful party you experienced.

  17. I'm having fun at our party here today!

    Well put, Maryann. We may have different belief systems but we all share the earth and her cycles.

    Jess, what's the title of your book? Sounds interesting.

  18. I will leave behind procrastination and disorganization. I will make my wish list, too. Can we burn into the ethers, too?

  19. And Jess, we hope you'll come visit when the book comes out..but the next one is November, right?

    Impatience is a good one to give NEVER helps. And worry, yes, worry. That's such a energy-sucker!

  20. Oh, that was me, above. I hit the wrong button.

    Funny, I was just thinking about giving up being overly self-critical, so la dee dah, I hit the wrong button. Oustio!

  21. Welcome to Jungle Red Rochelle,

    What a beautiful post.

    I love both the tradition of using the old tree as kindling and the red ribbon wish for the tree and will print this out in the hopes that I remember!

    I've always wanted to go to a Solstice celebration and now I feel as if I have!

  22. Since we don't have a tree, I'm going to tie a red ribbon to the--refrigerator? NO, maybe an outside tree. Oh, yes, that sounds lovely. Doing it. And thinking of you all as I do.

  23. Oh, what a great idea, Hank! A ribbon outside. Yes! I'm doing it. Does that mean I get another wish?

    You all are inspiring me to have a separate celebration on the solstice. Maybe a little cider this time?

  24. Rochelle,of course you get your wish!

    And I can't wait to get home to do the tree ceremony. Maybe--I'll wait for the weekend. Midnight on Friday? Hmmm..

  25. Oh, Hank, we should all give up being self-critical, shouldn't we? Oustio! indeed!

    (Well, I can think of a few people who maybe ought to be more self-critical -- no, oustio! with that unkind thought!)

  26. What a great tradition. I would leave behind self doubt. I hate it when it sneaks up on me.

    Now, let's burn that sucker so next year will be worry free.

    And Reds, don't include me in the drawing since I have already read this wonderful book.

  27. Hi, Liz! (And yay..Rochelle's book is terrific...)

    Leslie, xo

  28. Irishoma! YOu win Rochelle's book--please contact me via my website..and send me your address!

    Hurray...and thank you everyone!