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 season 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 the 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. TheSaga 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.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Resistance Fatigue

If there's one thing I can say for this administration, it's that I, like many other Americans, am politically engaged on a deeper level than I've ever been, indeed on a deeper level than I ever thought possible. Is this President Trump thing a long con run by a shadowy cabal if frustrated high school civics teachers? Because it sure as hell feels like it. 

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't entirely *uninvolved* before. I knew who my representatives were, I dutifully voted, I complained about faithfully about Dubya for eight whole years. When Obama got elected to his first term, I watched the inauguration online from France and cried. Twice, I even watched a political debate. (in my defense, I didn't see the need to watch debates because I always knew I was going to vote for a Democrat anyway. I'm a queer woman who cares about other people -- who else am I gonna vote for?)

But now I don't just know who my representatives are -- I tweet at them. And I use Resistbot to fax and email them. I even called once -- although I nearly panicked when an honest-to-God human being picked up the phone on the other end, so I never called again. I don't follow Trump on Twitter, because I don't want to give him the satisfaction, but I pay attention to the news and I complain to my representatives in Congress, threatening not to vote for them in 2018, but failing to mention that I wasn't going to vote for them in 2018 in the first place.

The thing is, as I'm sure that many of you have noticed, this administration is wall-to-wall batshit. It's crazy tweets and racist immigration policies and attacks on free speech all the way down. No sooner have I got done faxing my Senators about one thing then I'm faxing them about another. It's exhausting. I am experiencing resistance fatigue, and as a result, my faxes to Congress have lately become a little unhinged. Here are some actual excerpts from a recent fax:

  • I'm frankly sick and tired of writing you people to ask you to STOP. TRYING. TO REPEAL. THE ACA. (But don't worry, I'm not going to stop).
  • Do you want our brightest minds to go abroad for affordable educations and stay there to begin their careers? Because that's what's going to happen if you pass this [tax] bill.
  • If you expect me to vote for you in November 2018, WHICH CAN'T COME SOON ENOUGH IN MY OPINION, you'll vote against this devastating tax bill.

I've learned that there's one thing that really sucks about civic engagement: When I write my representatives, THEY WRITE BACK. Yes, I know it's just a form letter. Yes, I know I shouldn't read it. But I always do, just in case it might say something sensible for a change, but it never does, and I always want to just hurl my laptop into the sun, or at least hit REPLY and type KISS MY ROSY RED ASS, SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, YOU ARE SO FULL OF SHIT. But I can't, because it's a no-reply email address, which is just as well because I probably shouldn't be telling U.S. Senators to kiss my ass. Probably.

Besides, Shelley Moore Capito doesn't even read my emails herself. It's some unpaid Congressional intern who has 517,978 more emails to answer to earn her father's freedom. I can't tell that overworked kid to kiss my ass. 

I no longer have the energy to fax my representatives every day -- about once or twice a week is all I can manage -- but Resistbot, my most reliable friend, still texts me every day, reminding me that "It's time to tell Congress what's on your mind!" and "You should never doubt that your voice can make a difference!"

Shouldn't I, Resistbot? Shouldn't I?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

6 Facebook Reactions We Need Now More Than Ever

Guys, it’s Day 29 of NaBloPoMo and I almost forgot to write a blog post. In fact, it’s technically Day 30 of NaBloPoMo, but we all know the day doesn’t really end until you go to bed, or the sun comes up, whichever happens first. I’ll be glad when this hellish blogging challenge is over.

If, like me, you’ve long campaigned for the Facebook dislike button, you may have welcomed the rollout of Facebook Reactions with a certain amount of…well, not excitement, really…let’s say…attentiveness. But while the reactions do allow us a minimally broadened range of emotion in our interactions with distant relations and old high school classmates, they still leave a lot to be desired. Especially lately. Here are the Facebook reactions we need in Trump’s America.

1) Barf

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Is Congress trying to take your healthcare, again? Are Nazis rallying in your hometown? Is Garrison Keillor a f*ckbag? Is it snowing? You need the barf reaction, and you need it now.

2) Middle Finger

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Dislike button? It’s too late for a dislike button. Angry face? Doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s time to bring out the big guns. We need the middle finger.

3) Eye Roll

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Has your elderly aunt or first cousin twice removed praised the Lord one too many times this week? Is your high school homecoming queen posting those syrupy memes about how military wives are the best kind of wife there is? Now you can show them exactly how you feel about their deeply-held beliefs.

4) Popcorn

This one looks like a basket of assholes, a.k.a. Congress.
Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

I need this one for when my white trash cousins are going all Jerry Springer up in my News Feed, all-capsing each other in a desperate bid to be king or queen of the trailer park. It’s not a contest, guys, you can all be awful.

5) Disappointed-But-Not-Surprised Face

I know what you’re thinking: Disappointed-but-not-surprised is an emotion to subtle for an emoji. Perhaps, but it’s the perfect reaction for today’s political climate. Has another beloved actor, news anchor, writer, or politician been outed as a sexual predator? Is Trump tweeting again? Disappointed-but-not-surprised face is the emoji innovation we’ve been waiting for. If we can put a man on the moon, and an evil hair piece in the White House, we can figure this one out.

6) Exhausted Face

Image by Ebrahim from Wikimedia Commons

Every day, all day. Is it 2020 yet?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5 Things That Would Annoy Me If I Were Dating Me

One of the things I really love about my fiancé, Jim, is that he’s patient. Not “grow-a-beard” patient, because I won’t let him grow a beard, but “put-up-with-my-crap” patient. Here’s some of the stuff that I’d probably hate about me if I had to date me.

1) I bitch a lot.

OMG, do I ever bitch a lot. I’m a bitch. Past boyfriends and girlfriends have lodged a lot of complaints about me, my personality, my appearance, and my general approach to life. In their estimation, I’ve been:
  • Too skinny
  • Too fat
  • Too old (I was twenty-eight when I was told this. I replied, “How the f&ck old do you think twenty-eight is, motherf*cker?”)
  • Too “high maintenance,” whatever that means
  • Too dowdy
  • Too slutty
  • Not slutty enough
  • Too fussy about my appearance
  • Too lazy
  • Too ambitious
  • Too hairy
  • Not hairy enough

That’s just a small sampling of complaints that have been lodged against me by former lovers, many of whom have also bitched vociferously about my being a bitch without a trace of irony. It used to hurt my feelings when someone I was dating called me a bitch, but now I have come to accept that I am a bitch. Don’t get me wrong – I’m still not okay with being called a bitch. Name-calling isn’t cool.

But I am a bitch. Call me a bitch? I’ll bitch about that. Leave some trash lying around? I’ll bitch about that. Leave dishes piled in the sink? I’ll bitch about that. Let my cats out by accident? You better believe I’ll bitch about that. Let me get hungry? OH SHIT YOU BETTER RUN.

2) I hate everyone.

I was going to put “I’m on my phone ALL. THE. TIME.” in this spot, because I am, but then I thought about it and realized that wouldn’t bother me at all. I like it when people are on their phones all the time, because then I don’t have to talk to them. I like people just fine, as long as they leave me alone.

But they never do.

3) I leave cupboard doors open.

I go into the kitchen, open up a bunch of cupboard doors, and then leave them open. The next time I walk through the kitchen, I close them again. If I was dating me and I did that I’d definitely bitch about it.

4) I always say I’m going to fix things, but then I don’t do it for like six months.

My future-father-in-law likes me because he thinks I like to fix things. I wouldn’t say I like it, but whenever something breaks it always falls to me to fix it because I’m the one with the confidence to f*ck it up. But I don’t enjoy it, which is why I always put it off. I have a stack of a flooring material in my garage that I’ve been saying I’ve been going to install for over three years. Once Jim thought he broke the vacuum cleaner, and I didn’t even look at it for two months, which is a shame because it just needed emptied. I'm impatient. If I were dating me, I’d definitely bitch about this pattern of behavior.

5) I’m cheap, apparently.

Jim recently called me “very thrifty,” which was news to me. I mean, I never considered myself cheap, but I’m probably biased because I obviously know about all the money I waste on frivolous things like meat and another jacket, even though I already have one. So yeah, I guess I’m cheap, which is funny because cheapness is one of my top deal breakers in a relationship. I would definitely dump me for being cheap.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What Do You Get the Cats Who Have Everything?

Christmas is coming up, and that means I have to decide what gift to buy for my cats this year. But it’s getting difficult, because my cats already have a lot of stuff.

I’m obviously going to stuff their stocking with catnip, treats, and cat toys, even though they already have lots of cat toys. Little has been digging them up from all over the house lately – catnip mice, catnip other things, a little tennis ball, a doorknob cover, a stuffed bunny, a big crinkly monkey head, and numerous milk rings, just to name a few. Last year, for their big gift I got them a Jackson Galaxy Crawl Tunnel, and Jim was so taken with the persona of Jackson Galaxy that he hung the label up on the wall, where it has become part of the décor.

I thought about getting my cats a new cat tree, but they don’t really need a new cat tree. Their five-foot-tall cat tree is still in pretty good shape, and they also have a two-foot-tall cat tree out on their catio, and they also have a catio. They don’t need a feeder puzzle; they have one of those, too.

They have two wand toys; one still makes chirping noises, but the other just makes a sad burbling sound occasionally that they seem to find no less fascinating. They also have what I like to call the cat donut:

It has a plastic ball in it.

I was going to get them a big new pet bed, but then I remembered that they have a big body pillow upstairs that I gave to them after I received it secondhand. I don’t know where I’d put a big new pet bed anyway. Besides, my cats don’t even need a bed – they have my boobs.

When I went away on my retreat a couple of weekends ago, I filled up the cat fountain and the sink with water as I usually do when I go out of town for a couple of days. But, I must not have seated the plug right, because all the water leaked out of the sink. The cats drank the fountain dry, and pump overheated and melted a little bit. Being as cheap as I am, I tried to buy a new pump on Amazon, but it didn’t fit. Rather than go risk going through pump after pump in a never-ending cycle of stubborn DIY fixitiveness, I decided, after much debate, to just buy a whole new fountain.

“You can call it their Christmas present this year,” Jim said.

Thinking like that is exactly why I’m marrying him.