Christmas Traditions: Bûche de Noël

The Yule Log, or Bûche de Noël, is a French Christmas cake, the history of which stretches back before the medieval era. As families gathered to welcome the winter solstice, logs decorated with holly or ivy were burned to cleanse the air of the previous year’s events. The Yule log lived on, but because burning them in the hearth was not always practical or possible (especially during the reign of Napoleon when fireplaces were banned for health reasons), the sponge cake was born.


The Game of Whist

Whist was enormously popular in the Victorian era. A predecessor to Bridge, Whist once provided hours of after-dinner entertainment. Gathered around the table, friends and family would while away the evening with this simple card game.

Rules of Whist:

The game is played with a 52-card deck (ace high). Four players split into two partnerships.

28523_largeTo begin, the dealer gives each player one card at a time, face down, beginning with the player on his left, until all cards are dealt with the exception of one. Each player should have thirteen cards. The last card, or trump card, is turned face up in front of the dealer to establish the trump suit. On her turn, the dealer will add that card to her deck.

The player to the dealer’s left leads by playing any card face up. The next three players take turns, and must play a card of the leading suit if they have one. Only if a player has no cards of that suit may she play any card from her hand. 

The four cards on the table constitute a trick. The trick is won by the team member who played the highest card of the leading suit, unless a card of the trump suit was played, in which case the highest trump card wins. The winner of the trick places it to the side and leads the next trick.

The object of the game is to score points on any tricks in excess of six, for one point each. The first team to score seven tricks (after their initial six) wins.

Hearts are Trumps 1872 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Recipe: Mulled Wine

Mulled wine originated in the 2nd century as a way to keep the Romans warm during cold winters. As the Roman empire spread across Europe, so did the popularity of mulled wine. Europeans would mix their wine with spices to promote health and avoid sickness and add herbs and flowers to make unpalatable wine taste better. Nowadays, the beverage is often associated with the holidays and is enjoyed across the world under a variety of names, including Glühwein in Germany and Glögg in Sweden. 


Here’s our take on mulled wine:

  • One bottle red wine
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 8 cloves
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 3 strips orange zest
  • 3 strips lemon zest
  • Optional: 1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
  • Optional: 1/2 tsp. fresh or powdered ginger
  • Optional: 1/4 c. brandy

In a saucepan, bring all ingredients to a low simmer for at least 15 minutes (be sure not to boil or the alcohol will evaporate). Pour into mugs and enjoy!

Fern Hunts

You may wonder how the Victorians entertained themselves before the invention of radio and television. Why, fern hunting, of course!

Victorians were obsessed with ferns. Up until the nineteenth century, ferns were rare in England. To the Victorians, these plants, which date back over 360 million years, captured the mystery and majesty of another era. Naturalist Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward was the first to discover a method of reproducing the plants indoors, in glass terrariums called Wardian cases.

Possessing one’s own fern collection quickly became a sought-after status symbol. Fern-hunting parties became popular among society hostesses, providing an opportunity for women to get outside…and to mingle with men!


1889’s Fall Fashions

The Fall Trends of October 1889, according to Godey’s Lady Book, the leading women’s fashion magazine of the Victorian era.



Fig. 1. Ulster of dark blue cloth, belted into the waist. Felt-trimmed shoulder cape with silk, velvet and feather aigrette.

Fig. 2. Walking costume for lady, made of cloth. The front part of the skirt, full vest front, and lower part of sleeves are plaid, which comes with the costume. Straight skirt, with revers turned back. Hat of velvet, trimmed with feather, and small birds inside the brim.

Mourning in Victorian England

With high mortality rates a fact of life in the Victorian era, so too did mourning become a part of everyday life. Death was so close to home that in order to deal with loss and grief, the Victorians developed a complex set of rituals dedicated to the art of mourning.

As they embraced mortal death with faith in eternity, the fallen sparrow became an enlightened icon for our ancestors, symbolizing heaven’s gain and love lost, if only for a short time.


A Haunting in Niagara, New York

Someone would walk up the stairs every night, walk down the long hallway, look into each room, and then go into the room at the end. My mom always kept the door to that room closed and she stored things like Christmas presents there. She never explained to my brother and me why we shared a room and couldn’t have that one.

One night my mom woke up and the woman came into her room and sat on the bed. My mom said she could see her perfectly. Her lips were moving like she was saying something, and my mom started to cry. The woman left and continued to walk down the hall looking into each room. Finally, she went into the room at the end.

We would tell my mother about what we saw and would say, “No, no, no.” She didn’t want to scare us, and we were Catholic, so we weren’t supposed to believe in stuff like that.

Years later, my mother told us that the woman who lived there before us


had died in the house during childbirth, along with her baby. When we were two or three years old, my mom would hear a baby crying down the hall. She would go to check on us, but we would be dead asleep.

All of these encounters are burned into my memory. There were the bells on the hutch that jingled by themselves. We would turn off the TV, and it would turn back on and start flipping through the channels. The dogs would stare at certain things and growl. I would see people walk by out of the corner of my eye.

I was never comfortable in that house, and I was relieved when we moved. My friend still lives across the street, and when I go to visit him I don’t even look at the house, though I still have dreams where I’m standing in the front of the house and a ghostly woman in a house dress is sitting at the window looking out, almost like she’s happy to see me.



Adapted from the book Haunted Houses by Corinne May Botz.

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Merry Music Makers

The Gramophone

The first successful system of sound recording – the gramophone – was invented by Emile Berliner, a German immigrant working in Washington D.C., in 1887. Emile was the first inventor to begin recording on flat discs, or records.

23635_largeWhat was revolutionary about Berliner records is that they were the first type of sound recording that could be mass produced. Although each record could only comfortably fit about two minutes of music, Emile succeeded in making music accessible to the middle classes, playing a large role in the dissemination of music in the early 20th century.

As a new form of entertainment was born, another new invention appeared almost overnight – the music industry. With the public hungry for recordings of popular and traditional music, demand arose for new music, creating worldwide musical stars. Bands, ensembles and singers who were previously unknown became nationwide sensations.


With the invention of his gramophone, Emile Berliner also launched the Gramophone Company to manufacture his records and the gramophones that played them. To help promote the brand, Berliner persuaded popular artists such as Enrico Caruso and Dame Nellie Melba to record their music using his system.

The Radio

It is Guglielmo Marconi who is credited as the father and inventor of the household radio. In the 1920s, radio became the leading source of information for the public, as well as a source of entertainment. Families gathered together in front of the radio, tuned in to their favorite program, became a common occurrence in many households. Live musical performances dominated the airwaves in the early years, followed later by news, dramas, comedy acts, talk and educational programs.

20342_largeFor the first time, many in the world could experience historical and performance events together in live time, drawing people together for moments of national importance. Radio allowed its users to stay home while feeling connected to the larger world.

The radio transcended political, cultural, and economic boundaries. In 1930, more than 40 percent of American households owned a radio. In the 1940s, that number more than doubled to 83 percent.

Still Cooking

Two decades have passed since Diana first saw in a dream the perfect white house with pillars. The very next day as she took a drive through town, she turned onto a street she was unfamiliar with and was astonished to see the house from her dream.

Before long, she had moved into the two-story house, but discovered that she was afraid to go upstairs. Something about the top floor gave her the creeps. “It was as if it were haunted,” she said.


One morning, Diana got out of bed, and as she padded barefoot into the kitchen, she smelled bacon cooking. There in the middle of the room was an older woman smiling kindly at her. “Good morning, dear,” the woman chirped. “Would you like breakfast?”

The sound crackling bacon filled the air as she stared at the woman. She was grandmotherly with short, softly curled white hair. She was wearing an apron. It was white with two big pockets, trimmed in cobalt blue, and there were little flowers all over it.

As the smiling woman waited for a response, Diana found herself politely replying, “No, thank you.”

The image was so vivid that all these year later, Diana can still picture it. “It was as if she belonged there.” It seemed like the most natural scene in the world – until Diana remembered that she didn’t know the woman.

The next time Diana saw her landlord, she told him about the odd occurrence.“Oh,” he said nonchalantly. “That was just my mom. She lived there until she died.”


Adapted from the book Ghosts Among Us by Leslie Rule.

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Cedar Point Ghost

Opened in 1870 on Lake Erie, Cedar Point is the second-oldest amusement park in America and was home to the 1921 Dentzel Carousel, which traveled from park to park until landing there in 1971.v_carousel_hampstead_heath

Artist Shelly was unaware of the stories whispered by employees about the ghostly lady who rode the carousel at night. She was simply fascinated by historic carousels – so fascinated that she made them the main subject of her work. Her life-sized renderings in pastels and oils depict carved animals from famous carousels. As drawn as she was to some of those marvelous menageries, she cannot explain why one plain old brownish horse captivated her two decades ago.

“I spent several days in a row, one summer, going back and photographing it,” she confided. She had no idea that the one horse by which she was so inexplicably mesmerized was haunted.

During its time at Cedar Point, the carousel charmed children during the day and frightened employees at night. For it was then, when the park whaunted horseas closed, lights off and the workers sweeping up, that the carousel would come to life. It would start up – light, music and all – and a ghostly woman in a long white dress would mount the carousel horse. She always chose the same brown horse that Shelley had, carved in 1924 by Daniel C. Muller. As the specter rode around, witnesses swore that the carousel glowed.

Legend has it that Mrs. Muller fell in love with the horse that her husband had carved. So much so, that after she left this world, her spirit would return to Cedar Point for a ride on the carousel.



Adapted from the book Ghosts Among Us by Leslie Rule.

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