Romancing History

Category: Holiday

Seven Little Known Christmas Movies to turn Your Heart toward Christmas

Some Christmas movies earn a coveted spot on everyone’s list. You know the one’s I’m talking about. The one’s you eagerly anticipate rescuing from the boxes of Christmas decorations. Titles like A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story.

Below is my list often overlooked movies that are worth your viewing time this Christmas season. I’ve made it easy for you to purchase the movie for yourself or as a gift. Just click on the cover to go to Amazon. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with any of these Christmas selections.

Do yourself a favor. Make a plan right now to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and put your feet up, and enjoy at least one of these heart-warming holiday movies.

One Special Night–Julie Andrews, James Garner. This is by far one of my favorite holiday movies! Julie Andrews and James Gardner are at their very best in this charming holiday tale of two lonely people finding their way to each other after the loss of their respective spouses to Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Julie plays a fiesty surgeon who values her independence. James plays a construction foreman with a few old-fashioned notions about what women can/can’t do, and the clash is inevitable! It’s funny, sweet, and touching all at the same time.

Silent Night–Linda Hamilton, Cassian Bopp, Michael Elkin. This is a fantastic movie, a well told story and wonderfully acted. Based on real events on a snowy Christmas Eve in Germany’s Huertgen Forest during that brutal winter of 1944-’45,  Silent Night tells the story of American GI’s who take refuge in a cabin inhabited by a German woman and her son trying to escape the carnage of the Battle of the Bulge. She allows them in but requires them to keep their weapons outside. Before long they are joined by several Nazi soldiers but Frau Vincken also denies them entry unless they, too, leave their weapons outside. For one night, the war weary soldiers agree to a truce and discover the true meaning of courage, as well as the true spirit of Christmas.

Joyeux Noel–Guillaume Canet, Benno Furmann, Daniel Bruhl, Diane Kruger and Gary Lewis headline this amazing international cast. Similar to Silent Night, Joyeux Noel is based on true events that occurred on Christmas Eve, 1914 when a spontaneous, unauthorized truce among German, French and British soldiers took hold in various sectors along the front lines. Soldiers exchanged cigarettes and alcohol, played football (soccer), and allowed the removal and burial of dead soldiers from the frozen tundra of no mans land. The movie is a moving tribute to men of three nations who saw past hate and political intrigue long enough to share in their humanity and embrace the spirit of Christmas.

The Christmas Shoes–Rob Lowe, Kimberley Williams. You’d better have the Kleenex handy for this one. Adapted from the book by Donna VanLiere, Robert is a successful attorney who has everything in life-and nothing at all. Focused on professional achievement and material rewards, Robert is on the brink of losing his marriage. He has lost sight of his wife, Kate, their two daughters, and ultimately himself. Eight year old Nathan has a beloved mother, Maggie, whom he is losing to cancer. But Nathan and his family are building a simple yet full life, and struggling to hold onto every moment they have together. A chance meeting on Christmas Eve brings Robert and Nathan together-he is shopping for a family he hardly knows and Nathan is shopping for a mother he is soon to lose. In this one encounter, their lives are forever altered as Robert learns an important lesson: sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference. The Christmas Shoes is a universal story of the deeper meaning of serendipity, a tale of our shared humanity, and of how a power greater than ourselves can shape, and even save, our lives.

I’ll Be Seeing You–Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotten and Shirley Temple. I’ll Be Seeing You is a  tender wartime love story about two troubled strangers who meet by chance and try to crowd a lifetime of love and laughter into eight days. After serving half of a prison sentence for accidental manslaughter, Mary Marshall (Rogers) is allowed a holiday furlough to visit her family. Keeping her history a secret, she falls in love with a kindhearted GI (Cotten) who’s struggling to overcome shell shock. Both long for a normal life. But can they have it if he learns the truth about her?

A Merry Ingalls Christmas–Michael Landon, Karen Grassle, Melissa Gilbert. Okay, don’t judge me. If you read my About page, you’d have seen this coming. This DVD contains two Christmas episodes from the beloved series, “Christmas at Plum Creek” (Season 1) and “A Christmas They Never Forgot” (Season 8).  “Christmas at Plum Creek” tells the story of the Ingalls family’s first Christmas in Walnut Grove. With a lack of funds, each member of the family finds a unique way to make/give Christmas gifts to each other. In “A Christmas They Never Forgot,” the Ingalls are snowed in at Christmas and share stories of Christmas’s past with each other.

Come to the Stable–Loretta Young, Celeste Holm I haven’t seen this film but it’s on my list of movies to watch so I thought I’d share this one with you. A heartwarming family film concerning the exploits of two French nuns who come to America, setting up operations in a local stable, in order to raise money for a children’s hospital.

Want more ideas? Explore the entire list of classic holiday films and period dramas at Willow & Thatch.

Do you have a little known Christmas movie you treasure in your home?

Historical Fiction to Turn Your Heart Toward Christmas


As the song goes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas around the Goshorn household. Holly, lights, and the scent of pine and cinnamon signal that Christmas is near. The lighted manger scene adorns my yard, snowmen and angels abound in my family room, our tree is up with lights and red bead garland, and Christmas music fills the background whether at home or in the car. We have our Christmas movies out and have already viewed a few of our favorites. What’s missing besides the ornaments we still need to hang on the branches of our tree?

Snuggling up with a good book and a cup of Earl Grey tea (my personal favorite) in front of a crackling fire.

Here’s a list of excellent historical fiction, by classic and contemporary authors, to give you that warm and cozy Christmas-is-around-the-corner feeling. Not sure how you’ll squeeze in a book right now? No worries. There is a nice selection of short stories and novellas as well as novels for you to choose from.

I’ve made it easy for you to purchase the book for yourself or as a gift. Just click on the cover to go to amazon. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with any of these Christmas selections.


The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry— This classic short story of sacrificial giving is a Christmas must read as Henry’s characters, Della and Jim, sell their most treasured possessions to give a gift they know the other will love.

The Greatest Gift: A Christmas Tale, Philip Van Doren Stern— I have not read this story yet. In fact, I only discovered it doing research for this blog post, but I’ve already purchased it on my Kindle! This heart-warming short story, which came to Stern in a dream, became the basis for the classic Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life. Unable at first to find a publisher for his evocative tale about a man named George Pratt who ponders suicide until he receives an opportunity to see what the world would be like without him, Stern ultimately published the story in a small pamphlet and sent it out as his 1943 Christmas card. One of those 200 cards found its way into the hands of Frank Capra, who shared it with Jimmy Stewart, and the film that resulted became the holiday tradition we cherish today.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens–Before you roll your eyes because you’ve seen the movie every year, pause and consider reading this classic first published in October 1843. While I love a good film, there is nothing like reading a classic. Charles Dickens, heavily in debt and obligated to his publisher, began work on a book to help supplement his family’s meager income. That volume, A Christmas Carol is the imaginative and entertaining tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s eerie encounters with a series of spectral visitors. Journeying with them through Christmases past, present, and future, he is ultimately transformed from an arrogant, obstinate, and insensitive miser to a generous, warmhearted, and caring human being. Written by one of England’s greatest and most popular novelists, A Christmas Carol has come to epitomize the true meaning of Christmas.

A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote–First published in 1956, this much sought-after autobiographical recollection of Truman Capote’s rural Alabama boyhood in the 1930’s has become a modern-day classic. Seven-year-old Buddy inaugurates the Christmas season by crying out to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk: “It’s fruitcake weather!” Thus begins an unforgettable portrait of an odd but enduring friendship between two innocent souls–one young and one old–and the memories they share of beloved holiday rituals.

The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Andersen— First published in 1845, this classic story tells the tale of a poor child who tries to sell matches in the street. She is already shivering from cold and is barefoot having lost her shoes. The girl lights the matches to warm herself. Seeing a shooting star, she remembers her dead grandmother saying that such a falling star means someone is dying and is going to Heaven. As she lights the next match, she sees a vision of her grandmother, the only person to have treated her with love and kindness. After running out of matches the child dies, and her grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the child dead in the nook, frozen with a smile on her face, and guess the reason for the burnt-out matches beside her. They feel pity for her, although they had not shown kindness to her before her death. They have no way of knowing about the wonderful visions she saw before her death or how gloriously she and her grandmother are now celebrating the New Year in Heaven.

Contemporary Historical Fiction

A Light in the Window, Julie Lessman— This novel should come with a warning! Danger, you will get sucked into the entire O’Connor Family Saga! This beautifully told story follows Marceline Murphy in 1890s Boston. While overseeing the Christmas play fundraiser for the St. Mary’s parish soup kitchen, A Light in the Window, Marcy not only wrestles with her attraction to the two men who are pursuing her, but with her concern for their spiritual welfare. The play is based on the Irish custom of placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve to welcome the Holy Family, and for Marcy, its message becomes deeply personal. Her grandmother Mima cautions her to guard her heart for the type of man who will respond to the “light in the window,” meaning the message of Christ in his heart.

The Fruitcake Challenge, Carrie Fancett Pagels— This fun sweet romance novella is the first installment of Carrie’s Christy Family Lumberjack Series and was a Selah awarad finalist. The title grabbed me right away and Carrie’s storytelling won’t disappoint. When new lumberjack, Tom Jeffries, tells the camp cook, Jo Christy, that he’ll marry her if she can make a fruitcake, “as good as the one my mother makes,” she rises to the occasion. After all, he’s the handsomest, smartest, and strongest axman her camp-boss father has ever had in his camp—and the cockiest. And she intends to bring this lumberjack down a notch or three by refusing his proposal. The fruitcake wars are on!

I Heard the Bells, Angela K. Couch— This heart warming short story was inspired by the Christmas carol of the same name and was the 2015 American Christian Fiction Writers Virginia chapter’s Short Story Contest winner. Angela is beautiful storyteller. Don’t miss this one! Three years ago, Gabriel Morgan left his home in Virginia to fight for the Union Army, despite his family and fiancee’s loyalties to the South. Now, with battle fresh in his mind, and the Civil War still raging, he chances a quick trip home with one prayer… to make peace this Christmas.

Although I haven’t read them yet, these books sound so good I had to include them because they are on my TBR pile!

Cowboy Christmas Homecoming, Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Hearne, Julie Lessman, & Anna Schmidt–Four historical romances featuring cowboys, small towns and the wide open range. These authors ALWAYS leave you wanting more!

The Widow’s Captive, Lucette Nel–You won’t want to miss this author’s debut novella. On the run with two small children and a third due within weeks, Adeline Spencer fears the approaching blizzard will seal their fate. An abandoned cabin is an answer to her prayers. She hopes it will shield them from both the storm and the enraged brother-in-law hot on her tail. But when a stranger knocks at the door, she is convinced they have been found by one of Ward’s lackeys.Blamed for the death of his friend, Sheriff Jonah Hale is determined to prove himself worthy of his badge, even if it means riding into a blizzard to check on a crazy miner. When Jonah reaches the cabin, he’s caught off guard by a pretty and very pregnant young woman wielding a skillet. Bound to a chair while the storm rages, and as Christmas settles in around them, he must find a way to earn Adeline’s trust…and perhaps her heart.

Hang Your Heart on Christmas, Heather Blanton–I’ve enjoyed all of Heather’s other novels and look forward to hours of entertainment form this book as well. As punishment for a botched arrest, U.S. Marshal “Dent” Hernandez is temporarily remanded to the quiet little town of Evergreen, Wyoming. Not only does his hometown hold some bad memories, but he is champing at the bit to go after vicious killers, not waste his time scolding candy thieves. And he most certainly should not be escorting the very pretty, but jittery, schoolteacher around. What is she so afraid of? Turns out, a lot of folks are keeping secrets in Evergreen. When the bank is robbed and Dent has to do what he does best, choices will be made, lies will be exposed, and hearts will break. Can Christmas bring love and healing to Evergreen? To Dent?

Where Treetops Glisten–Three Stores of Heartwarming Courage and Christmas Romance During World War II, Tricia Goyer, Cara Putnam and Sarah Sundin–Although I haven’t read this novella collection, these authors don’t disappoint! I’m looking forward to this World War II era collection of stories. Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.

The Substitute Bride, Carrie Fancett Pagels–Carrie’s books always make my TBR pile and this Christmas novella sounds enchanting. The Substitute Bride is part of the O’ Little Town of Christmas novella collection and won Carrie a much coveted spot as a Maggie award finalist. A Christmas Carol meets It’s A Wonderful Life A letter for Sonja’s deceased friend arrives at the post office in Michigan, and with it a proposal. With her father threatening to kick her out of his home, Sonja impulsively responds, offering to travel west to be a substitute bride. At the same time, Louis’s railroad promotion sends him back to Michigan, the one place on earth he’d hoped to never return—where Christmas past was full of pain. A mysterious stranger leaves him marked copies of “A Christmas Carol” as he considers romancing Sonja in Christmas present. Will Louis discern the best choices for Christmas future? Does it include the Poor House, again? Even so—will God bring healing and love to him this year?

Tidings of Peace, Tracie PetersonBestselling author Tracie Peterson presents four Christmas love stories from World War II. Moving from the homefront, to the front line, to the South Pacific, each story in Tidings of Peace features brave men and women trying to find meaning–and love–during the uncertainties of war. All the danger, difficulties, sadness, and hope experienced on both sides of the ocean is captured in these timeless novellas. the unique Christmas settings will put you in the spirit of the season, showing the miracles and mercy so often found during this time of celebrating Jesus’ birth.

Just in case I haven’t given you enough choices, here are some wonderful historical romance Christmas novella collections. Although I haven’t read these either yet, they come highly recommended and I plan to read as many as possible!

What is your favorite book that turns your heart toward Christmas?

Puritans verses Pilgrims, What’s the Difference?

Dear Reader,

My apologies for the previous sloppy, unfinished version of this post. I accidentally hit publish and thought I’d taken the appropriate steps to prevent that unpolished version of Pilgrims verses Puritans from reaching you. Below is the final copy. I hope everyone had a blessed Thanksgiving!

As Thanksgiving draws near, I’ve been thinking about the Pilgrims and Puritans who traversed the Atlantic Ocean with the hope of practicing their religion without the fear of persecution. For the longest time I didn’t realize that these two groups while similar, were different. The Pilgrims were Puritans, or at least a distinct group of Puritans.

Let me see if I can make any sense of it for you.

The Puritans, also known as Dissenters, were Protestants who followed the teachings of John Calvin, a reformed preacher who was greatly influenced by the ministry of Martin Luther. They believed the Church of England should be purified of the ceremony, liturgy and practices that weren’t mentioned in Scripture and they rejected the ecclesiastical offices of Cardinal, Bishop, Archbishop, and Priest, but they did embrace church offices mentioned in the Bible–pastors, deacons, elders and teachers. The Bible was their sole authority in all areas of life and worship.

Depiction of an English Puritan family, 16th century. The Granger Collection, New York

Depiction of an English Puritan family, 16th century.
The Granger Collection, New York

Some common beliefs of the Puritans:

  • Predestination: The Puritans believed that before the foundation of the world, God had determined who would be saved and who would be damned. There was nothing an individual could do during their life that could change that outcome.
  • Prayer: They rejected the Catholic and Anglican Book of Common Prayer, believing that prayer should be spontaneous and not scripted. They also believed that you could beseech God directly on your behalf and rejected the idea of a priest as their intercessor.
  • The Church Building: The building itself had no significance to the Puritans and was kept intentionally plain with no religious art, crosses, windows, fancy architecture or icons to avoid the sin of idolatry.
  • Sacraments: They rejected all but two of the holy sacraments–baptism and communion. All the rest (confession, ordination, marriage, annointing the sick and confirmation) they believed were inventions of man and therefore heretical or idolatrous.

As time passed and few reforms were enacted withing the Church of England, some Puritans felt the church was so corrupt the only course of action for true Christians was to break free from its authority altogether. Those Puritans who left the Anglican Church and established their own houses of worship were labeled Separatists. Rejecting the Church of England was considered a slap in the face to the monarch who was its head. This was a crime punishable by jail or death.

In 1607-08, about one hundred Separatists sought religious freedom in Holland. They settled in the Dutch industrial city of Leiden. While there they established churches which held to strict observance of the Sabbath by not performing any labor on Sunday. They studied the writings of earlier Protestants and Separatists, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and they even established a printing press to illegally distribute new Separatist and Puritan books in England.

Henry A. Bacon - "The Landing of the Pilgrims"

Henry A. Bacon – “The Landing of the Pilgrims”

The Pilgrims’ church flourished in the Netherlands as additional Separatists fled from England. Over time, many became concerned that they might lose their English cultural identity if they remained in Holland permanently so they arranged with English investors to establish a new colony in North America. Members of this group later migrated to America in 1620 aboard the Mayflower. Their journey to find a safe place to practice their faith without fear of retribution made them known to us today as the Pilgrims.

The Puritans who remained behind in England sought to reform the Anglican Church from within. This group, who reluctantly remained within the Church of England, is who history refers to as the Puritans. Many Puritans gained seats in Parliament and tried to influence the king to make reforms within the church. Their attempts failed and further angered the king. In 1630, John Winthrop lead 1,000 Puritans to settle in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. alongside the Pilgrims who by now had a flourishing community.

A 19th century bronze statue of Puritan John Winthrop, by sculptor Richard Saltonstall (Steven Senne, AP)

A 19th century bronze statue of Puritan John Winthrop, by sculptor Richard Saltonstall (Steven Senne, AP)

Although the Pilgrims and the Puritans now lived side-by-side in the Massachusetts colony, the outward expression of their faith in daily life was very different. The Pilgrims had left England to practice their faith in peace and solitude. Mercy, compassion and forgiveness became distinctives of their faith. The Pilgrims established peaceful relations with the natives who had taught them how to plant corn and to add fish heads to the soil to boost plant production.

The Puritans came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony believing they were to establish “a new Jerusalem” and sought both individual and corporate conformity to the teaching of the Bible, with moral purity pursued down to the smallest detail. They believed that man existed for the glory of God, that his first concern in life was to do God’s will. Although they sought religious freedom in the new world, the Puritans exhibited intolerance to the religious views of other immigrants and often hanged dissenters like Quakers, Anglicans and Baptists.

scarletletterThe Celebration of Christmas was banned in Puritan communities within the colony and punishment was dolled out for public drunkenness and adultery. The Puritan life was one of moderation. While they did dress according to their social classes and drank alcoholic beverages, they condemned those who would take these things to excess. Puritan Richard Baxter is quoted as saying, “Overdoing is the most ordinary way to undoing.” Undoing meaning your condemnation to hell. They also encouraged education of both males and females so the Bible could be read and understood by the masses.

The beliefs of both the Pilgrims and the Puritans were passed on to their descendants, many of whom pushed west and pioneered the American frontier, cementing their values in American culture. Both have left a legacy of courage and conviction on the American psyche.

Veterans Day, Did You Know?


My dad, Harold Joseph Criste, is pictured third from left in the back row. Photo circa 1944.

Veterans Day is a federal holiday in the United States to recognize the millions of Americans who have served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard. Like many of you, I come from a long line of veterans. My relatives have fought in every major combat from the French and Indian War (pre-Revolution) to Vietnam and in every branch of the United States military. Most notably my father who enlisted in the Navy during World War II immediately following his high school graduation in 1943. However, like me, you may not be aware of the history behind this national day of honor and remembrance.


Did you know…


Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day?  In recognition of the armistice signed in the forest of Compiegne in northern France, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 halting formal hostilities between the Allies and Germany effectively ending World War I. Celebrated for the first time on November 11, 1919, all business ceased in the United States for two minutes when the clock struck eleven o’clock in solemn remebrance of the war dead. From the beginning, parades and public gatherings were part of the traditional festivities marking the holiday.


Soldier guarding tthe Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery

Soldier guarding tthe Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery

The Tomb of the Unknowns was originally dedicated to an unknown soldier from World War I?  The Tomb of the Unknowns is a monument located in Arlington National Cemetery which contains the unidentified remains of a World War I soldier selected at random by U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger. Younger was highly decorated for valor and had received the Distinguished Service Medal for his service in “The Great War.” Four unknown U.S. soldiers were exhumed from four American World War I cemeteries in France. At the city hall in Chalons-sur-Marne, France, on October 24, 1921, Sergeant Younger selected the unknown by placing white roses on one of the four identical caskets. After arriving in the United States, the Unknown Soldier lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Armistice Day of that year when President Warren Harding officiated over his interment at Arlington National Cemetery. The inscription on the back of the monument reads “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Although it has never been officially dedicated as such, the Tomb of the Unknowns is commonly referred to as The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The white marble sarcophagus sits above the grave of the Unknown Soldier from World War I but nearby are the crypts of unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.


Red poppies are a symbol associated with our Veterans? Two days before the Armistice was signed in 1918, Miss Moina Belle Michael read a poem in the November edition of the Ladies Home Journal entitled “We Shall Not Sleep” which spoke of the red poppies growing in spring that covered the graves of fallen soldiers as well as the devastated battlefields they left behind. The poem, more famously known as “In Flanders Fields” was written by Canadian John McCrae following the death in action of a close friend.

Black and white copy of "In Flanders Fields" as it appeared in The Ladies Home Journal, November 1918.

Black and white copy of “In Flanders Fields” as it appeared in The Ladies Home Journal, November 1918.

“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”

Deeply moved by these lines in McCrae’s poem,  Moina vowed to never forget the fallen soldiers of World War I and started a national campaign to designate the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for America’s war dead. Although Congress never acted on Moina’s proposal, the newly founded American Legion adopted the Flanders Poppy as their symbol of remembrance. Today on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day it is common to see members of the American Legion distributing silk poppies to encourage Americans to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country.


President Eisenhower signing legislation to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in June, 1954.

President Eisenhower signing legislation to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in June, 1954.

Armistice Day was celebrated until 1954? Following a national campaign for a national holiday that would recognize the sixteen million veterans who served in World War II as well as the 5.7 million who served in Korea, the 83rd Congress replaced the word Armistice with the word Veteran to recognized all those who have served in any branch of the United States military, living or dead.

For eight years Veterans Day was celebrated in October? In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill creating four Federal holidays (Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day). The bill designated Monday observances for the holidays to encourage tourism and travel by creating four three-day weekends. In accordance with the bill, the observance of Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday of October. This created a great deal of confusion as many states disapproved of the change and continued their observances in November. Citing the historical and patriotic significance of the date, President Gerald Ford officially returned the federal observance of Veterans Day to November 11 in 1975.

scan0120Here is my Veteran, my husband, 1LT Michael A. Goshorn, when stationed at Fort Ord, California from 1989-1993. In this photo, Mike is on the far right of the front row. My husband served six years in the Army, two enlisted and four as an officer following the completion of his dual degrees in physics and electrical engineering. While enlisted he learned Chinese at the Defense Language Institute and was later assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), Ft. Meade, Maryland. As an officer, he was assigned to the Chemical Corps and then was stationed at Ford Ord. While in California, Mike first served in the Field Artillery Battalion Headquarters Company with the 7th ID (Infantry Division). Two years later, Mike was reassigned to the Headquarters Company of a Helicopter Battalion, also at Ft. Ord. Thankfully he never saw combat although he served during the Gulf War.

In honor of Veterans Day, tell me about the Veteran in your life.


Irish In Our English, Why Do We Say That?

Even if you didn’t drink a Guinness yesterday, eat corn beef and cabbage, or dye your favorite cookie or beverage green, chances are you may have honored the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day without even realizing it!

Irish immigrants have been a part of the American story since its beginning and Gaelic, the ancient language of Ireland, can be found in many of the expressions we speak or read daily.

Daniel Cassidy, in his book How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads, shows us the depth of Irish contribution to American English.  After flipping through a Gaelic dictionary, he began searching for the phonetic equivalents of words English dictionaries described as being “from unknown origins.” Phrases he grew up hearing as part of the Irish working-class vernacular in New York City.

A sketch of the residents of Five Points, a famously Irish neighborhood in New York, published in 1885.

A sketch of the residents of Five Points, a famously Irish neighborhood in New York, published in 1885.

Mr. Cassidy notes that “[Irish Gaelic] was a back-room language, whispered in kitchens and spoken in the saloons.” Keeping the language and expressions of the homeland alive became a way for often disciminated against Irish Catholics to communicate.

Did you ever tickle your children and tell them to “Cry Uncle?” If you did, you can thank an Irishman for that expression. It turns out the Gaelic word, anacal means mercy. So when a couple of Irishmen were fighting and one begged for mercy, to the uniformed American ear it sounded like “uncle.”

Even the word “dude” comes from the Irish word, dúid, or a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, dudes were guys who came down to the Five Points section of Manhattan to chase the “colleens” or ladies and appraently made a fool of themselves doing so.

Full of BaloneyHow about the American phrase, “you’re full of balooney?”  The Gaelic words béal (mouth) and ónna (foolish) combined for this famous expression meaning “you made it up” or “you have no idea what your talking about.”

Even the hippies can thank the Irish for one of their favorite expressions from the 1970s, “You dig?” comes from the Irish, “tuig,” or understand.


Here’s a short list of Irish-influenced English words from Cassidy’s book:

Scram: scaraim (to get away)
Boogaloo : bogadh luath (moving fast; moving quickly; fast rocking)
Crony : comh-roghna (fellow favorites, mutual pals)
Phoney : fáinne (a ring, later a “fawney”, a fake gold ring)snazzy_banana
Slugger : slacaire (a mauler or bruiser)
Scam : ’s cam é (it is fraud, crooked, a trick)
Puss : pus (lip, a mouth, a sulky expression, a pouty mouth)
Gimmick: camag (trick or deceit, or a hook or crooked stick)

Snazzy : snasah (polished, glossy and elegant)
Swell : sóúil (luxurious, rich and prosperous)
Spiel : speal (cutting satiric words, scythe)
Slum : ’s lom (a bleak, bare, exposed place)
Fluke : fo-luach(rare reward or occurrence)

Overheard but often misunderstood, these Irish words and expressions seeped into American English and became mainstays of American slang. Words like “malarkey,” “doozy,” “humdinger,” “jerk,” “punk,” “swanky,” “grifter,” “bailiwick,” “sap,” “mug,” “wallop,” “helter-skelter,” “shack,” “shanty,” “slob,” “slacker” and “knack” all have their origins in Irish Gaelic.  Even expressions like “gee whiz.” “holy cow” and “holy mackerel” are Anglicized versions of Irish expressions according to Cassidy.

With all these phrases to choose from, surely you must see the Irish in your own every day speech.

Which Irish influenced words are part of your everyday jargon?




Victorian Valentines

Although the celebration of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to ancient Rome, the trappings of the modern celebration–flowers, chocolates and gifts do not have such ancient lineage. As you troll the card section of your favorite super store agonizing over the perfect selection, you can thank those wonderful Victorians for popularizing the Valentine’s Day card.

Ornate Victorian Valentine circa 1850s

Ornate Victorian Valentine circa 1850s

Original Victorian Valentines were all about the bling, baby!

Victorians designed unique valentines on flat sheets of paper using such diverse embellishments as silk flowers, lace, seashells, ribbons, seeds, bows, and gold and silver foil appliqués. The sheets, when folded and sealed with wax, could be mailed. Some cards, like the one below, were so elaborate they had mechanical levers that made figures dance or bird wings flutter while others had dimensional pop-up features or unfolded like fans to impress their recipient.

However, the cost of postage made sending their undying affections very costly for the average British citizen, as much as a day’s wage for the working class. It wasn’t until the advent of the Uniform Penny Post in 1840 that Valentines flourished and a widespread tradition was born.

front of the card folds down to reveal details of the flowers and birds. Circa 1850s. Photograph by Michael Marx

Elaborate Mechanical Valentine circa 1850s Photograph by Michael Marx

Victorians overwhelmingly favored sending Valentine’s cards over Christmas cards. In fact, so many Valentine’s greetings were posted that letter carriers were given extra pay for the large sacks they hauled and delivered in the days preceding the holiday. The growing trend of sending Valentine’s is referenced in a popular poem of the time, by James Beaton.

The letters in St. Valentine so vastly will amount,
Postmen may judge them by the lot, they won’t have time to count;
They must bring round spades and measures, to poor love-sick souls
Deliver them by bushels, the same as they do coals.

Valentine cards were so fashionable that their production became a thriving business among London’s cheapjack printers. Clichéd verses like “Be Mine” and “Constant and True” were commonly printed inside. Despite their mass-production, commercially produced Valentines still typically featured dried flowers, bird feathers, ribbons and lace.



Vinegar Valentines

But the Victorians didn’t limit their Valentine’s Day felicitations to the objects of their affections. Through the mid-twentieth century, Vinegar Valentine’s were sent anonymously and ridiculed the recipient’s appearance, fashion sense, income or social status. Gender blind, the ill-wishes were as likely to mock a woman’s spinsterhood as a man’s occupation. Unlike their extravagant counterparts, these nasty tidings didn’t feature lavish ornamentation or elaborate trimmings, but rather were printed on very inexpensive paper and featured simple artwork and mean-spirited rhyming verses.

For the modern celebrant, exchanging Valentines is just one way to show your love and devotion to a spouse, sweetheart or infatuation.

What is your favorite Valentine’s tradition?

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