Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #127: Saturday Edition Two, Electric Boogaloo

I forgot to write a Fun Friday Facts post yesterday, because I got involved in a Dr. Mario session, and before I knew it, it was 2:30 in the morning. It turns out I’m better at Dr. Mario than Jim, which seems to bother him somewhat, even though he’s better than me at almost every other video game there is.

It’s New Year’s Eve weekend. The snow is gently falling outside, Maximum Cuddles is begging for his dinner, which it is not yet quite time for, but he doesn’t have a great sense of time so he’s been begging for it since about 2:00 p.m. This Monday, make sure to enter 2018 right – with a fire extinguisher and a wet handkerchief tied around your face.

According to Snopes, the first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day – called the first footer – will bring either good or bad luck for the year to come. Here’s a list of people you should NOT allow to first foot your home on New Year’s Day:

  • Women. Absolutely no women. Allowing a vagina to nonchalantly stroll across your threshold before anyone else in the New Year will cause your hair to sour, your milk to turn grey, your calves to be born breech, and your feet to stink. Actually, I just made all that stuff up. But still, no women. Snopes advises us that “they should be shooed away” like raccoons or stray cats, using firearms if necessary.
  • Blondes or redheads, for obvious reasons.
  • People with crossed eyes.
  • People with flat feet. That’s bad news, because Jim has flat feet and I’m a woman. No wonder I can’t find a full-time job or my telescoping back scratcher.
  • People with eyebrows that meet in the middle, though it doesn’t say whether plucking them is permitted.

The ideal first footer is tall, dark, handsome, and a man. He should bring the following small gifts to the household:

  • A lump of coal
  • A morsel of bread
  • A silver coin
  • Some salt
  • A sprig of evergreen

The first footer should knock and be invited in, even if he lives in the house. Under no circumstances should he be allowed to let himself in with his own key. He should say hello to everyone in the house, bestow his weird little gifts on the household, and then leave through a different door than the one through which he entered. This is why fire codes require houses to have at least two exterior doors.

Under no circumstances should anyone be allowed to exit the house on New Year’s Day before the first footer has arrived. You don’t want to know what happens then.

In fact, some say that nothing whatsoever, not even trash or recycling, should leave the house on New Year’s Day. If you’ve got to deliver food or gifts on New Year’s Day, you should put them in your car on December 31 so as to avoid taking them out of the house on the first day of the year. The year must be started by adding to the household, not subtracting from it. Some say it’s okay to take things out of the house as long as you bring something else in first, but I wouldn’t risk it. Put your women and redheads outside on December 31, and bring them back in on January 2, just to be safe.

What if you live alone, or are a lesbian, or have no dark-haired male friends or brothers to bring luck upon your household/release you from it on New Year’s Day? You can get around the first footer restrictions by placing the aforementioned coal and stuff into a basket with a string tied to it. Place the basket just outside your door before midnight, and then after midnight, open the door and reel it in. Do not just reach out and grab it. This counts as crossing the threshold, and will put you in a world of hurt. We’ve already had two bad years. Don’t make it worse.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017: My Year in Review

It’s become something of a tradition to begin these year-in-review posts with an apology for not having blogged enough over the course of the year just gone by, and I think that’s especially fitting this year, because last year I didn’t even do a year-in-review posts. 2016 was a doozy guys. You know. You were there. Well, 2017 has been rough, too. Here’s what I’ve been up to this year.

I Became Politically Active, Sort Of

I started my year by going to Washington, D.C. with some friends to participate in the Women’s March on Washington, which was a lot bigger than I think any of us expected it to be.

The Trumpy Cat shirt was a good choice.
I didn’t stop there. I started paying attention to politics, sort of, and I started using Resist Bot to fax and email my representatives in Congress RE: exactly how they’re disappointing me each week. I’ve also taken to sending angry tweets to Senator Shelley Moore Capito, which may or may not be keeping me from getting any of the really good jobs. This has kind of backfired on me, though, because it’s caused the Twitter algorithms to show me Senator Capito’s tweets first. This, of course, causes me to send more angry replies, which causes the algorithm to show me more of Senator Capito’s tweets…I’m caught in a vicious cycle, is what I’m saying.

I Got Fat

Oh, you guys, as my primary care doctor won’t stop reminding me, I was already fat. I got fatter. It’s okay, though, because I was out walking around today and it was like minus twelve degrees Fahrenheit, and I was only a little bit cold, because I had my fat jacket on. Of course I had my fat jacket on, because you can’t just take the fat jacket off. It’s inconvenient that way.

I Earned My Master’s Degree

I’m still having that recurring nightmare that I get called up and told that I didn’t take a required course or that I failed a class and didn’t earn the degree after all. In the dream, it’s always a French class that I didn’t pass, even though my Masters in Professional Writing and Editing involved ZERO French classes – I didn’t even have to take the foreign language exam because I have a BA in French. Sometimes I fail the French class outright, but sometimes I just stop attending and forget to drop it before the deadline. They don’t always take away my degree, however. Sometimes they just lower my GPA to – brace yourselves – a 3.0.

I’m also still having the recurring nightmare where I’ve forgotten to attend a class (one of my actual classes, not a fake French class) all semester and am about to fail it. That is, when I’m not having the recurring nightmare that my conference paper is due tomorrow and I haven’t even started the research yet.

My Cat, Penny, Died

Facebook memories are harsh these days, man. I can’t bring myself to change my phone wallpaper, either. I still have it set to her picture.

Miss you, sweetie :'(

I Went to the Beach

Jim's parents rented a beach house in Pauley's Island, South Carolina, so we went to the beach for a few days. Then we spent some time in the Smoky Mountains, where we both remembered how much we hate camping. I'm sure we'll go camping again next year, and hate it just as much.

I Got a Kitten

Jim wanted to name him Connor, but the rescue people were calling him Little, and that seemed to fit, because he was, indeed, very little when I brought him home to live. Plus, he responded to it. But, as I think I’ve mentioned, he has the worst gas I’ve ever smelled. Even the vet has commented on it at his kitten checkups. I’ve told him he stinks so many times that now he thinks his name is Stinky. So, Stinky he is.

Jim is appalled by this, btw. “You can’t call him Stinky! It’s an insult!” he insists, even though he has met Fatty. If only Jim had been around in the days when I was still calling Max Skin Disease. In retrospect, I should have called him, Max, Scabby – it would have been catchier.

 I Got Engaged

Jim and I were discussing this with his parents the other day, and we were both pretty sure we got engaged before Thanksgiving. My post history tells me that we actually announced the engagement at the end of October, but I didn’t get the ring until the first week of November. I probably should have made Jim propose at Christmas, but I could tell he was too excited to wait. Also, what’s the point of a Christmas proposal when it’s just the two of you? That shit requires an audience.

I Got a New Couch

This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s the first couch I’ve ever bought brand new (well, I did buy my psycho ex a futon, but futons don’t count). Previous couches I’ve owned were either purchased from the Goodwill (1), found in the house or apartment when I moved in (3), or brought by Jim (1). Jim’s couch bit it when we invited my friend Mark to join us on it at our Halloween party. All three of us are large people, and the poor couch just collapsed. So Jim and I went the next day and splurged on a new couch at Big Lots. It came already put together and everything.

I Got a Roomba

Jim got me a Roomba for Christmas. It’s not actually a Roomba, it’s an off-brand robot vacuum called an iLife – an iLife V3s, to be exact. I have outsourced vacuuming duties to a robot. It’s amazing. Sure, there’s this big spot next to the TV that it just consistently misses, but I’m okay with that. Sometimes it gets stuck under a cabinet or something and if I don’t come to rescue it right away, it quietly gives up and goes to sleep – can’t blame it, really. With the time I’m saving, I’ll be able to clean the bathroom once in a while.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Here’s What I Thought of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" [SPOILERS]

Last weekend, Jim and I went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As I’ve discussed before, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I don’t think Jim was terribly excited about it, either; he enjoyed neither The Force Awakens nor Rogue One. I hear they’re making a new one about Han Solo, which promises to be another waste of more than two hours of my only life.

Speaking of which, and not to get too far off topic here, but what’s with making every movie two-and-a-half or three hours long these days? Very few movies are improved by making them more than two hours long. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was certainly not one of them. It, like Blade Runner and Logan, was too damn long. Movies are getting too damn long. If movies get any longer, they’re going to have to bring back the intermission. In fact, I think they already need to bring back the intermission. My favorite thing about seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that I timed my bathroom break so that I missed “nothing much,” according to Jim, and my second favorite thing was that I decided to take a bathroom break at all because, unbeknownst to me at that time, there was still like two weeks of space-ninja movie left.

Like, okay, I don’t have anything against space ninjas in and of themselves. And I have to admit, I was kind of getting into the movie to begin with. The first three hours of it were great. I really enjoyed it right up to the part where Kylo Ren killed his master, and you think he’s going to join Rey and turn to the light side of the force, because that’s clearly the source of conflict for his character, but actually he just wants to seize power for himself. I mentioned this to my friend Mark, who liked the movie, and he explained that that’s just what Siths do. I guess I would have known that if I had watched the second and third prequels, but I didn’t so it pissed me off.

But, that wasn’t the biggest disappointment of the movie for me. Neither was finding out that Rey’s parents were just a couple of drunks. I mean, sh*t, lots of people’s parents were drunks. One of my parents is a drunk. That doesn’t mean I can’t become a bitchin’ space ninja. It’s called garbage can, not garbage cannot. That said, the franchise could have gotten a lot more mileage out of that plot point. I think it’s going to need it, and here’s why.

Carrie Fisher is dead, may she rest in peace, but unfortunately, this film put all of the franchise’s magic-space-animism eggs in Carrie’s basket. Jim and I were both looking forward to seeing a spectacular light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and, well, anyone, really, and we even thought we were going to get one, but no, it was just Luke force-projecting himself from his island in the interstellar Hebrides.

When I complained about this to Mark, he countered with, “It takes a tremendous amount of strength to force-project a perfect image of yourself across the galaxy.”

Yeah, maybe, but the people wanted a f&ckin’ light saber battle dammit, and by “the people,” I mean me and Jim.

What makes it even worse is that, after force-projecting himself across the galaxy, Luke just disappears. Like, he’s dead, presumably, but instead of dying the traditional way, he “becomes one with the Force” or some sh*t, and I mean, yeah, I know he’s the most famous space ninja who ever lived and the default head of the religion and all, but, wtf? It was unclear to me (and Jim) why Luke had to die in that situation. Mark thinks that the effort of force-projecting himself was so taxing that it left him unable to even keep the molecules of his body together, or something, and that makes sense I guess, but it was still a baffling and dissatisfactory conclusion. Besides, and I realize the filmmakers couldn’t have foreseen Carrie Fisher’s passing, but I feel like they’re going to need to write Luke back in, because Carrie Fisher’s dead, Han is dead, and Rey’s chucking boulders around with no clue what she’s doing. Who’s going to teach Rey to use the Force? She can’t exactly go to school online for that sh*t.

Or can she? Coming in 2018: The trailer for Star Wars:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #126: Krampus

Guys, it’s been a crazy week. I’ve been working on freelance projects, running around doing Christmas shopping, wrapping gifts, shopping for Christmas food, and most of all, working on a special Christmas tentacle scarf for Jim:

Don’t worry, I already gave it to him so I’m not spoiling the surprise. He likes it, or at least he pretended to like it convincingly, I can’t really tell. It took me a long time to make; two episodes of Orange Is the New Black, one episode of The Crown, seven episodes of The Walking Dead, plus the entire run times of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Logan, and roughly two-and-a-half hours of the audio book of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. If you want to be reminded that your existence is ultimately meaningless, pick up Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. Ooof.

So, naturally, I didn’t have much time to work on the blog or other creative writing projects this week, which is why I’m going to write this Fun Friday Facts post at midnight on Friday (er, Saturday morning) but change the time stamp to like 8:00 p.m. Nothing to see here, folks, move it along.

I’ve mentioned Krampus on the blog before; in fact, he came up during last week’s post on Zwarte Piet. In Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol and Northern Italy, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, Krampus is a half-demon, half-goat creature who is a companion of Saint Nick aka Santa Claus.

Image by MatthiasKabel from Wikimedia Commons

Krampus punishes naughty children, sometimes by swatting them with birch branches, or lashing them with a whip. Sometimes, Krampus stuffs naughty children into a sack or basket, carrying them away for “drowning, eating, or transport to Hell.” I’m not sure which one of those things is the worst.
These dead-eyed children in this vintage postcard couldn't care less that they're about to be eaten by a demon.

It’s unclear where Krampus came from. In some medieval iconography, Saint Nicholas has been portrayed in the company of a devil, in chains to show that the saint has subdued him. Krampus does wear chains, which are said to symbolize the dominion of the Church over the Devil. Krampus may represent a devil that Saint Nicholas has subdued and controls.
However, it’s thought that Krampus, like so many other elements of Christmas, may have roots in pre-Christian tradition. Boisterous masked devils, both of the scary and the funny varieties, have been a popular element of German and Austrian church plays and other mid-winter festival celebrations since before Saint Nicholas himself became a popular figure in Germany in the 11th century. The figure of Krampus gradually became associated with Saint Nicholas over the centuries, until, by the 17th century, he had become a full-fledged part of Christmas and other Christian winter holidays, as a well-known companion of Saint Nicholas. Many natives of Austria, and other regions where Krampus is popular, acknowledge that the figure has pagan origins and has been “assimilated to the Christian Devil.”

Krampus is important, though, because in the European tradition, Saint Nicholas only concerns himself with rewarding good children. Krampus serves as a foil, taking care of the (delicious) naughty children. While Nicholas passes out gifts, Krampus gives out coal and bundles of birch twigs, or snatches naughty children up into his aforementioned basket or bag. The half-goat, half-devil may take to the streets on Krampusnacht, December 5, alone or in the company of St. Nick. If you see a Krampus, it is customary to offer it schnapps. 

Or your least-favorite child.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #125: Zwarte Piet

I was planning to do a “Christmas figures of the world” themed post this week, but last week my friend Sarah, who manages The Office Pub in Brighton, brought to my attention the Dutch figure, Zwarte Piet or Black Peter:

Image by Sander van der Wel from Wikimedia Commons
When I was in grade school, we had lessons on Christmas around the world, in an effort to expand our little minds. We learned about how Santa comes on December 5 in the Netherlands, and how he gives naughty children lumps of coal or bundles of birch twigs (although, to be fair, no one told us that the twigs were for their parents to hit them with, even though we were country kids in the 80s and probably would have accepted this with nods and a chorus of "My daddy uses his belt"). But no one told us about Zwarte Piet, and I think that's because Zwarte Piet is, as you can see, blatantly racist. I mean, it's a white European guy who paints his face black and puts on a curly black wig, gold earrings, and bright red lipstick. It does not get more racist, at least not without some police brutality.

In the Netherlands, the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated on December 5. Fans of the humorist David Sedaris (who I only got into recently myself, after a colleague suggested that his audiobooks were way better than his books and, let me tell you, they are) will know that, according to Dutch tradition, six to eight black men – the Zwarte Pieten – accompany Santa Claus when he comes to give gifts and sweets to children. Zwarte Piet is a clownish figure, who mucks it up to entertain the kids, but who is also said to listen at chimneys for intel to help Santa figure out which kids are naughty and which kids are nice. If you're naughty enough, Zwarte Piet will stuff you into his sack and he and Santa will take you back to where Santa lives in Spain, where you're probably forced to become a Zwarte Piet (I don't know for sure, because they didn't talk about this in grade school, either). Less naughty kids get the coal and/or birch twigs. Nice kids get presents and sweets.

Oh yeah, the Dutch believe that Santa Claus lives not at the North Pole, but in Spain -- Madrid, specifically. I can see why he, Santa, would prefer Spain to the North Pole. The climate is much more agreeable. Santa travels to the Netherlands by steamboat, naturally, and the Zwarte Pieten are said to be Moors, an antiquated term applied to Muslim inhabitants of Spain, Sicily, and Malta during the Middle Ages. The term has been applied to Arabs, but the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica warns that “The term ‘Moors’ has no real ethnological value.”

In any case, Zwarte Piet emerged in the Dutch tradition in the early 19th century, when it was clear to all that his depiction was meant to be that of a black African. There’s some debate as to his origins, but National Geographic reports that the character could have been inspired by a black slave purchased by the Dutch royal family in Cairo in the 19th century. The Netherlands was, of course, up to its bright blue eyeballs in the transatlantic slave trade up until 1863, when it conveniently abolished the slave trade right around the same time we did, for some reason. Once upon a time, it was common for wealthy Dutch families to purchase a black child, dress him up in the same outfit Zwarte Piet is depicted as wearing today, and then give him, the child, as a gift.

Some trace Zwarte Piet's origins back to a medieval legend in which Saint Nicholas tamed and enslaved a demon, forcing it into servitude, which honestly isn’t that much better – and also, just FYI, this is the same legend that’s used to explain the existence of Krampus in other countries, soooo…yeah. Still others have claimed that Santa freed Zwarte Piet from slavery as a child, and that he was presumably so grateful that he willingly chose to follow Santa around like a literal dog for the rest of his life, because that doesn’t sound suspicious at all. More recently, it has been suggested that Zwarte Piet isn’t black at all, but merely covered in soot from squeezing down chimneys. That would make sense, if it weren’t for the red lipstick, gold earrings, and obvious fake fro.

So, as you can imagine, Zwarte Piet has attracted some controversy in recent years, although perhaps not as much controversy as you might expect. Ninety percent of Dutch respondents to a 2013 survey said they don’t think the character is racist, and a separate 2015 survey of three-to-seven-year-olds said that they perceived Zwarte Piet to be a funny-looking clown and not, you know, a racist depiction of an actual slave. Not everyone feels that way, of course. Many members of the Dutch black community, especially the Dutch-Surinamese, Antillean, and Ghanaian communities, feel that Zwarte Piet is discriminatory, as do plenty of others who make up movements like Zwarte Piet Niet and Zwarte Piet is Racisme, seeking to get rid of Zwarte Piet. While many Dutch, especially in rural areas, cling to their traditions, schools, businesses, and municipal celebrations have been quietly altering the more problematic aspects of Piet’s appearance, or phasing him out altogether. Last year, organizers of the Amsterdam Sinterklaas celebration chose to replace Zwarte Piet with Schoorsteen, or Chimney Piet, who, instead of blackface, wears a light coating of soot

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gift Cards: Are They Tacky, or the Best Idea Ever?

Image by Donald Trung from Wikimedia Commons
Christmas time is here again, and you know what that means – time to spend money you don’t have on things no one needs to please people who don’t like you. At least, that’s what it’s always meant in my family.

Jim and I went Christmas shopping at the mall last weekend, which was a whole ordeal in itself, and Jim bought his nephews gift cards. What else was he to do – we’re old, we don’t know what kids like, and even if we did, there’s not even a toy store at this sh*tty mall. Even if there was, do kids even play with toys anymore? Don’t they just binge-watch YouTube videos and scream profanities at strangers in online games?

The thing is, there’s a lot of debate as to whether or not gift cards are an appropriate gift. People seem to fall into two camps: Those who hate gift cards, and those who love them. The anti-gift-card folks argue that gift cards are just as tacky as cash, but less useful, because you can only spend them in one place.

To that, I say, just give the person one of those Visa or Mastercard gift cards that’s just a pre-loaded debit card. Or, you know, just give them cash. It’s 2017. Gays can get married, dogs and cats are living together, men are wearing long hair and women are wearing trousers, and an evil toupee is ruling the free world. I don’t think we need to be overly concerned about the tackiness, or lack thereof, of giving another person, whom we presumably like, cash or a cash equivalent as a gift. I mean, who doesn’t like getting cash? When have you ever, upon receiving some free cash, recoiled and exclaimed, “My word, I can’t possibly accept this tacky gift!” Never, because it’s awesome.

Another argument against gift cards is that giving one is like admitting that you’ve given up trying to find that person a thoughtful gift. But, you know what, some people suck at gift giving, okay? There’s no knowing how many marriages, families, and friendships have been saved by gift cards. Even if you’re generally good at giving gifts, you might find yourself in the position of having to buy for someone you don’t know very well, or someone much younger than you who’s probably into cool and trendy things of which you’re not even aware, or someone who already has all the things they want. You know, one of those assholes who, when they want something, just goes out and buys it like some kind of savage.

I love gift cards, for the record. When I was growing up, my extended family always bought me pretty sucky Christmas gifts, because I was young and they were old and they never knew what I might like and, looking back on it, my mother probably wasn’t much help because somebody had to be feeding them these terrible ideas and she’s got a few screws loose, bless her heart. I would have loved some gift cards. I always asked for gift cards or cash, which request was always met with either a) raucous laughter, or b) a pouting expression and the words “Well, that’s no fun!” No, you know what’s really no fun? Sh*tty Christmas gifts, that’s what.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #124: Christmas Traditions Around the World

More than 160 countries around the world celebrate Christmas – that’s a lot of elves on a lot of shelves. Kidding, I’m pretty sure only we do that. Elves on Shelves make me glad my mother raised me without Santa. I have enough problems without worrying that I’m going to be murdered in my sleep by evil toys.

If, like me, you share the opinion that the appearance of Christmas trappings in stores before Halloween is a national tragedy, then don’t go to the Philippines. There, they begin celebrating Christmas on September 1 and continue all the way to Epiphany, January 6. In fact, nowhere in the world is the Christmas season as long as it is in the Philippines. The Christmas season officially begins with a series of nine Masses delivered at dawn, starting on December 16, but carols can be heard and decorations can be seen for months beforehand. That’s what happens when you don’t have Thanksgiving.

Christmas lanterns called parols are popular.
~ Image by Keith Baconga from Wikimedia Commons

In Armenia, Christmas is celebrated on January 6, the “old Christmas” celebrated by the Amish and some Appalachians. Christmas used to be celebrated throughout the Christian world on January 6, until the Roman Catholic Church recalibrated their calendar in the late 1500s. But in Armenia, and among Armenian communities in other countries, like Ukraine, Christmas is still celebrated on the January 6, because they rejected the Gregorian calendar.

Armenians combat holiday binge-eating by fasting for the week before Christmas, eschewing meat, dairy, and eggs. Some may refrain from eating anything at all for the three days before Christmas, to purify themselves before they receive the Eucharist (Holy Communion, for you Protestants). Families break this fast with a lighter meal on Christmas Eve, before sitting down to a feast on Christmas Day.

Russia, and other Eastern Orthodox countries, also celebrate Christmas a little later than we’re used to, for similar reasons. Russians celebrate Christmas Day on January 7. Ded Moroz, or Old Man Frost, and his granddaughter, Snow Maiden, bring gifts to children on New Year’s Eve. They wear long blue robes, just like Santa before Coke rebranded him.

As we’ve previously discussed, Yule, or jól, was and presumably still is an important holiday for pagan Scandinavians. Generations of Americans have grown up with A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Norwegians ring in Christmas with Disney’s From All of Us to All of You, or the Soviet-era film Three Nuts for Cinderella, whose popularity in Europe has been likened to that of It’s a Wonderful Life in the United States, which I assume means that everyone knows how it ends but no one has actually sat down and watched it. The main day of festivities takes place on Christmas Eve, December 24, which church services and a large family meal on the day of. In the week between December 26 and New Year’s Eve, children may dress up as Yule goats, or Julebukk, and go from house to house, singing songs in exchange for treats, like Halloween but colder and honestly probably scarier.

I think this may be a depiction thereof.

In Sweden, the first major celebration of the Christmas season is St. Lucy’s Day, in honor of a saint martyred in the third century after refusing to give up her virginity to a husband. St. Lucy was Italian, so it doesn’t really make sense that her feast day, December 13, is so widely celebrated in northern Europe, unless it was due to the Christianization of an earlier pagan practice. Her holiday on December 13 does coincide with the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year.

A St. Lucy's Day church service.
~ Image by Claudia Grunder from Wikimedia Commons

On this day, oldest daughters dress up in white, and don a crown of lighted candles such as that worn by Lucy to light her way as she carried food to persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs. Once they’ve transformed themselves into walking fire hazards, the girls usher in the Christmas season by waking their families with the song “Santa Lucia” and a breakfast of coffee and St. Lucy’s buns. 

The buns in question.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Why I’m Going to See "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Even Though I Hate Star Wars

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out two years ago, I initially wasn’t going to see it. I hate Star Wars, which might surprise some of you, considering that Star Wars is exactly the type of thing I generally like.

I don’t hate the Star Wars franchise because of its (considerable) flaws. When The Phantom Menace came out, I was sixteen. My aunt Martha, who is only ten years older than me, found out that I hadn’t seen any of the original Star Wars movies, so she insisted that I sit down and watch all three of them back-to-back before immediately taking me to the theater so I could watch The Phantom Menace. While I was watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, my aunt sat next me, delivering rhetorical analysis and commentary. “See, this is where he redeems his father,” she said as I watched the climactic battle between Luke and Vader.

It was enough to put me off the entire franchise. So, I wasn’t planning on going to see The Force Awakens. But then, shortly before it came out, or maybe right after it came out, I was talking to my friend Kathryn on the phone and she revealed that she was going to see The Force Awakens.

“I didn’t know you liked Star Wars,” I said, surprised.

“Well, I don’t,” she replied, “but you have to see it. It’s a cultural moment.”


For the record, I didn’t like The Force Awakens, and I didn’t really care for Rogue One either, but I went to see them. I did so partly because I wanted to see if I still hated the Star Wars franchise (I did), but also partly because if you want to participate in society, you have to see the latest Star Wars movie. Everyone else is going to see it, so you have to see it too. I suspect that, like voting or going to work, many of us will do it out of a sense of obligation, but we’ll be miserable the whole time. All I can say is, this one had better not have a damn Death Star in it.

But you know it will.  

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fun Friday Facts #123: Pagan Yule Traditions

Hauling a Yule log, from Robert Chambers' The Book of Days, 1864

Jim suggested this topic because we recently finished the Netflix show, The Last Kingdom, and he’s been reading the books by Bernard Cornwell. He tells me the books go into a lot of detail about Uhtred’s pagan customs. I’ve mentioned the pagan origins of Christmas before, although I once made the mistake of referring to them while in a K-Mart and turned around to find a stranger glaring at me. Today, the term Yule is used in most of the English-speaking world as a synonym for Christmas, but today I want to talk about the pagan Yule traditions that predated our Christian ones.

As you may know, Yule was originally a midwinter festival celebrated by the Germanic people who populated Northern Europe and Scandinavia and came to settle in England as well. Those original celebrants of Yule considered the Yuletide period to last about two months, beginning in about mid-November and extending to early January. There’s just something about this time of the year that makes people want to set fires and get drunk. Gee, I wonder why that is.

Pagan Yule traditions included a feast, which customarily took place in a temple, to which farmers would bring livestock for sacrifice. The drinking of ale was mandatory, just like it is today. The sacrificial animals were eaten at the feast, and their blood was sprinkled on the walls and idols of the temple, as well as the men within.

While the midwinter sacrifice in the West European Stone and Bronze Ages may well have had an element of ancestor worship and veneration of the cult of the dead, it’s unclear whether this aspect survived into more recent Germanic pagan times.

Other Yule traditions, such as the Yule log, a massive log that, in the Middle Ages, was burned throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas, may also have their origins in Anglo-Saxon paganism. In medieval times, the Yule log was believed to have magical properties, including the ability to ward off lightning, mildew, toothaches, and assorted bad luck. In some parts of Spain and France, the log was believed to “defecate gifts,” according to historian Gerry Bowler.

The origins of the Yule goat do go hark back to pagan traditions. The god Thor is said to ride through the sky in a chariot pulled by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr. The significance of the goat has its roots in the Indo-European god of harvest and fertility, a white goat named Devac or Dazbog. The last sheaf of grain bundled during the harvest was believed to have magical properties and was kept for the Yule celebration; the spirit of the Yule goat was said to visit in the days before Yule to ensure that preparations were being made correctly. Neighbors would prank one another by hiding a wooden or straw Yule goat in one another’s houses; if you found such a goat in your house, you had to get rid of it by hiding it in someone else’s house. No word on what would happen if you didn’t.

A modern Yule goat Christmas ornament.
Image by Pilecka from Wikimedia Commons

Part of the pagan celebration of Yule involved sonargöltr, or the ritual sacrifice of a boar. The Saga of Hervor Heidrek mentions the swearing of an oath on the bristles of a Yule boar, after which the boar is sacrificed. The blood of this boar could then be used for divination. The sacrificial boar may be the oldest continuing Yuletide celebration. In modern times, it’s echoed in the Boar’s Head Feast, which takes place at Queen’s College, Oxford, Hurstpierpoint College, and at various churches and universities in the U.S. and Canada. The sonargöltr may also be why many consider ham to be the traditional Christmas meat.

King Haakon I of Norway, aka Haakon Haraldsson or Haakon the Good, is credited with the Christianization of the Yule season, and of Norway itself. King Haakon himself was a Christian, but many of his people were pagan, so he decreed that Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as Christian Christmas celebration.

Håkon den Gode og bøndene ved blotet på Mære by Peter Nicolai Arbo 
The guy in red is King Haakon, I think. I don't know Norwegian.