Today Whiskey With My Book welcomes author AJ Krafton. Ms. Krafton is the author of the historical fantasy The Heartbeat Thief and she is here to share some thoughts on Yuletide traditions. So please enjoy this post and then keep reading for an excerpt from The Heartbeat Thief and a giveaway.
No matter which holiday you observe at year’s end, they all share something in common: traditions.
I grew up in the four seasons of northeast Pennsylvania, where Decembers were snowy and cheer-filled. We wore skiddoos and went sleigh-riding and came in the door pink-nose and snow-crusted.
On Thanksgiving night, the borough would light the holiday street decorations for the first time. We’d sit at the front windows, cheeks against the glass, straining to see down the block to the main street, waiting for the moment the bells and candy canes would light up.
Those lights meant one thing: Christmas was almost here!
Some of my fondest memories are from our family Christmases, which were brimming full of special traditions.
Many of them came from my Polish grandparents, involving the crèche and the special Christmas Eve dinner. I think that I will forever see Christmas through the lens of my dad’s old 8mm camera, sounds of laughter and singing replaced by the whir of the projection reels and the occasional comment about our early-seventies fashion sense.
Holidays have always held sentimental value, a sense of community and family and simple togetherness—not just for my Pennsylvania family in the plaid-stricken seventies, but for so many people and places, across the span of centuries.
In my voracious research of the Victorian era (while writing my historical fantasy THE HEARTBEAT THIEF), I encountered an entirely new world of Yuletide traditions.
Some are still widely celebrated (thanks to Doctor Who Christmas specials, my kids adopted a love for crackers) while some have largely fallen out of practice (such as a parlour game called Snapdragon, which seems like a good way to get a burned finger! Talk about dangerous drinking games…)
One Victorian tradition that has always appealed to me is Wassail. A verb, to wassail means to go singing door to door, after which one is invited to drink punch from the family’s Wassail bowl.
A noun, wassail is the punch itself—and every family had their own recipe (kind of like Boilo recipes here in northeast PA). The punch was served in a wassailing bowl. A greeting, “wassail” was a wish for good health to those we cherish.
Everyone would drink the hot spiced cider together, fostering a lovely sense of community and togetherness, which is the truest spirit of the holidays.
Since immersing myself in the culture and traditions of THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, I wanted to find a recipe for my own family and promptly found about six million different versions (thanks, Google).
They all seem to have a few elements in common, though: apples, spices, and warmth. Some contain ale or wine while others are more kid-friendly; some involve baking whole apples and placing them in the punch bowl; some even contain a whipped egg mixture (like this one from Alton Brown. Considering he is the Einstein of food, I would NEVER refute his wisdom.)
I like this one the best, though—the tanginess of orange juice and the lemony zing of fresh ginger make my mouth water just thinking of it.
Plus, the convenience of a slow cooker is a must with my crazy schedule…not to mention that it’s like potpourri you can drink while warming your hands! All wonderful things, especially when the weather turns chilly and grown-ups are stuck in the house, too old to go sleigh-riding or playing outside in the snow.
Recipe from A Spicy Perspective
• 1 gallon Musselman’s Apple Cider
• 4 cups orange juice
• 4 hibiscus tea bags
• 10 cinnamon sticks
• 1 tsp. whole cloves
• 1 Tb. juniper berries
• 1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, cut into slices
• 1 apple, sliced into rounds
• 1 orange, sliced into rounds
1. Place all the ingredients in a slow cooker and cover.
2. Turn the slow cooker on high heat and cook for 3-4 hours, until the color has darkened and the fruit is soft. Remove the tea bags and serve hot.
Maybe when my kids are older, I’ll adjust the recipe to a more adult version. For now, I’d like to make something the whole family can enjoy. It’s tradition, after all, and where’s the fun in a tradition that excludes some of us?
Happy holidays, everyone. Be sure to raise a glass to your loved ones!
Learn more about wassailing!
My Victorian fantasy THE HEARTBEAT THIEF follows the journey of the Forever Girl, Senza Fyne. Terrified of death, of growing old, of being forced into an arranged marriage, she makes a deal with the mysterious Mr. Knell and learns the secret of eternal youth and beauty…
I can picture Senza at a Christmas ball, in high London society, her hair upswept in a pile of curls the color of winter fire, her forever 18-year old figure trimmed out in a luscious gown of emerald silk and taffeta.
She’d be the girl with whom every gentleman must dance, the one with whom everyone sought introduction. If you were lucky enough to speak with her, she might treat you a glimpse of her wit and wisdom, far beyond her years…to the sound of her charming laugh…and perhaps she’d touch your hand in a personal gesture.
One touch, and your heart might skip a beat. An entire dance and you just may be left reeling, your senses spinning. Senza Fyne tends to have that effect on a person…
Soon it would be time to gather around the wassail bowl, the spicy sweet scents of apple warming the air, reminding us all of the bounty of harvest and fortune, the cheer of friends gathered for Yuletide.
You might be tempted to raise a glass to her in particular…but your wish for good health would be better spent on someone else. Senza Fyne had no need for wishes, not when her immortal youth, beauty, and perfection were secured by the strongest of magicks.
But you wouldn’t know that because it’s a secret she’d never tell. If she did, the heartbeat thief would be caught
About THE HEARTBEAT THIEF
Haunted by a crushing fear of death, a young Victorian woman discovers the secret of eternal youth—she must surrender her life to attain it, and steal heartbeats to keep it.
In 1860 Surrey, a young woman has only one occupation: to marry. Senza Fyne is beautiful, intelligent, and lacks neither wealth nor connections. Finding a husband shouldn’t be difficult, not when she has her entire life before her. But it’s not life that preoccupies her thoughts. It’s death—and that shadowy spectre haunts her every step.
So does Mr. Knell. Heart-thumpingly attractive, obviously eligible—he’d be her perfect match if only he wasn’t so macabre. All his talk about death, all that teasing about knowing how to avoid it…
When her mother arranges a courtship with another man, Senza is desperate for escape from a dull prescripted destiny. Impulsively, she takes Knell up on his offer. He casts a spell that frees her from the cruelty of time and the threat of death—but at a steep price. In order to maintain eternal youth, she must feed on the heartbeats of others.
It’s a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Edgar Allan Poe, and a whole lot of stealing heartbeats in order to stay young and beautiful forever. From the posh London season to the back alleys of Whitechapel, across the Channel, across the Pond, across the seas of Time
How far will Senza Fyne go to avoid Death
An excerpt from THE HEARTBEAT THIEF
“Miss Fyne.” A gentleman’s voice claimed their attention and the girls curtseyed. Senza was acquainted with Mr. Thomas, the son of the London barrister who did frequent business with her father. “I had wondered if you would be attending. Shall I have the honor of dancing with you?”
Senza gave him a perfunctory smile as she remembered their interactions from previous dances. Thomas tended to smile extra hard when he looked at her, and he emanated heat like a fireplace. But he was polite, and considerate of her comfort, and didn’t press conversation. Overall, dancing with Mr. Thomas was not a terrible thing, as he had a certain deftness of foot that survived most exercises. Thankfully, the quadrille involved more stepping than skipping. “Mr. Thomas. You may.”
He flashed a smile that looked borne in relief. “I’ll await you in the ballroom. Miss Fyne. Miss Keating.”
With a belated nod to Felicity, he hurried away, face beaming with conquest, presumably to await the arrival of his prize.
“That poor man.” Felicity clucked her tongue. “He just doesn’t understand, does he? He scampered off as if you’d promised to marry him.”
“As if I’d—wait. Who…?” The words died in her throat and Senza gaped, distracted by someone on the other side of the room.
Felicity craned her head to see who had stolen her friend’s attention.
The room faded around Senza, the noise of the guests thinning, the press of the crowd easing. A lone figure stepped into the doorway. The world just fell away, tatters and pieces that faded around her. The only real, tangible thing in the room was that stranger.
For a moment, Senza forgot how to breathe. Who was he?
Tall, but not towering. Nice shoulders, a handsome coat. The cut of the jacket hinted at a pleasant physique, the material gleaming darkly with the sheen of silk. His hair was longer than the others wore, dark and smooth and drawn back in a ribbon, although a fringe had fallen loose. The strands hung down in a boyish tumble to frame his eyes, large and black and shimmering like obsidian.
Those eyes were fixed upon hers.
When he noticed her looking at him, he flashed a sharp, secret smile. Nothing boyish about it. That look made something inside her flutter, high up between her ribs. She struggled to draw a breath, her corset suddenly too tight—
And then, he was gone. Disappeared into the crowd. Vanished like a ghost.
She started after him without hesitation. She had to speak to him. The need was overwhelming and desperate.
There. That doorway. He must have gone through there.
Beyond, the wide corridor turned sharply around the perimeter of the cross-shaped ballroom. She scanned each direction, catching a glimpse of long black coattails flashing around the corner to the left. A throaty chuckle tickled the edge of her hearing. She bunched her gown and pattered after the voice, always a step behind.
Rounding the corner, out of breath, her disappointment blossomed. Still nowhere to be seen. Another snatch of soft laughter. She ran after it, turning corner after evergreen-trimmed corner. No open doors. No sign of him. Midway through the corridor stood wide the doorway to the ballroom within and she lunged to the mistletoe-clad archway, searching the crowd.
A hand reached out and pulled her back into the hallway.
“Senza.” Felicity held her arm fast and hissed her name. “What are you doing?”
Senza faltered, disoriented. She felt as if she emerged from a fog. What had she been doing?
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