New Year’s Day traditionally embodies sentiments of hope and lauds the coming year’s abundance of opportunities. While these uplifting themes prove universal throughout most languages and cultures, the medium of celebration varies from nation to nation. In 2018’s final edition of The StickerTalk, our blog surveys the assorted array of international customs and curiosities surrounding the cross cultural motif of January 1.
Farmers in Romania traditionally wish each of their animals an individual greeting of “Happy New Year!” as Romanian legend states that January 1 is the only day of the year that animals can verbally communicate with their masters. However, if an agrarian is able to understand one of their animals, bad luck is said to await them in the new year.
Professional divers in Russia annually plunge into the icy depths of various bodies of water to plant a tree underwater on New Year’s Day. Clad in festive attire, strong swimmers in the Shchitovaya Bay retire a Christmas tree to the bottom of the lake, ceremoniously performing dances and enjoying a champagne sipping charade after their charge has been deposited in its near-freezing new home. Similar celebrations occur under the waves of the Lena River and under the already frozen surface of Lake Baikal.
An Irish New Year combines the sentimental with the seemingly senseless. Families in Ireland honor loved ones lost during the previous year by setting places for them at the dinner table with corresponding vacant seats. Some families also leave the door unlocked to allow the easy passage of their late friends and relatives into the house. Another Irish tradition observed on January 1 involves the beating of bread against the walls of an abode. According to folklore, this delicious din will drive away evil spirits, ensuring good luck in the coming year.
A cross-cultural celebration, Christmas has been translated into a multitude of languages and customs. Although we here in Southeast Texas religiously observe Christmas with such treasured traditions as sweet potato pie, fried turkey, and short-sleeves, curiosity is nevertheless piqued by the international and exotic; so, in what has become an annual endeavor, The StickerTalk invites you to embark on an international expedition to explore Christmas traditions around the world!
English folk tales claim that the devil died when Jesus Christ entered our world. To commemorate this triumph of truth and virtue, Christians congregate at certain churches to hear the tolling of the “devil’s knell,” a tradition in which church bells are rung to celebrate Christ’s inspiring victory over evil. Perhaps the most famous ringing of the devil’s knell occurs at All Saints Church in Dewsbury. A single tenor bell rings once for every year that has passed since the birth of Christ, commencing at approximately 10 p.m. and ending exactly at the stroke of midnight.
Jolabokaflod is observed in Iceland on Christmas Eve night. According to tradition, each person receives a new book on December 24 and dedicates the remainder of the day to delving through its pages. This celebration traces its roots back to World War II when Icelandic citizens found their customary Christmas gift exchanges thwarted by material rations. However, paper continued to flow freely, making books the perfect Christmas gift.
Christmas in Uganda and other East African countries showcases stark differences from the American version of the holiday. The nation’s extreme poverty severely limits commercialism, allowing Ugandans more clarity in the religious aspects of the celebration. New clothes to sport at church along with gifts of home-grown food serve as heartfelt replacements for first-world luxuries while rocks, leaves, and other natural items are gathered as Christmas presents for Jesus. The customary Christmas meal typically features roasted goat as the headlining dish.
“Sprucing” up the holidays since the 1500s, Christmas trees typically prove a common sight during December. Like many customs, this annual evergreen exposition has experienced evolution over the course of past centuries and varying cultures. Join The StickerTalk as we needle into the lifeblood, er… sap, of the tradition of the Christmas tree!
Many historians credit German Christians with the innovation of the Christmas tree. Decking an evergreen with apples and other assorted fruits, these unorthodox pioneers symbolically celebrated the purity mankind abandoned in the Garden of Eden. These German “sweet trees” crossed the Atlantic where Americans eventually embraced this European endeavor with Franklin Pierce becoming the first American president to decorate a Christmas tree in the White House in 1856.
While tinsel has been a popular Christmas tree decoration since the 1930s, its mythology remains disputed. The most popular legend recalls the story of a poor widow attempting to surprise her children with a decorated tree on Christmas morning. Much to her chagrin, spiders littered the tree branches with webs overnight, laying waste to her heartfelt efforts. However, Jesus noticed her anguish and transformed the cob webs into brilliant strands of tinsel.
Artificial Christmas trees first came onto the market in the 1800s. German inventors dyed goose feathers green and attached the dyed down to wire branches. It wasn’t until 1958 that mostly aluminum trees were manufactured. Many environmentalists oppose artificial evergreens due to their unrecyclable nature. Real trees, they assure, can serve many roles after the holiday is over. They can be used in fish ponds and erosion barriers to help ensure environmental stability.
A custom of quintessential quality, the annual display of Christmas lights has a deep-rooted history in civilized society. The tradition of lighting a Christmas tree is believed to have been established by Martin Luther, the priest responsible for the Protestant Reformation. A lover of nature, Luther attempted to replicate the serenity of starlight shining through tree branches by placing candles among the branches of an evergreen tree he had placed in his house. Electric lights became vogue after President Cleveland decked the White House in an ornate display of Christmas lights in 1895. Families who were fortunate enough to afford then-costly lights payed an electrician an average of three hundred dollars to wire lights on their Christmas trees, a fee equaling nine thousand dollars in modern money. America’s lavish love for Christmas light displays continues to require an amazing amount of monetary resources. Americans spend approximately six billion dollars on holiday decoration each year as well. In addition to the initial purchase price of light strands, energy usage and subsequent bills seem to spike around Christmas. Americans use more electricity during the holiday season than the entire nation of Ethiopia utilizes during an entire year!
From careful connoisseurs of conduct to skillful surveyors of sweets, Santa’s task force of elves fills a multitude of roles during the Christmas season. While some aspects of an elf’s life and labor seem universal, its appearance differs from culture to culture. Join The StickerTalk as we embark on an elven adventure to explore the innumerable international interpretations of the Christmas elf!
In Icelandic legend, Santa’s elves are replaced with thirteen trolls collectively called the Yule Lads. Children leave a shoe in the window in anticipation of the Yule Lads’ nightly visits from December 12 through Christmas Eve. If the child has been well-behaved, the trolls deposit sweet treats in the shoe. However, the Yule Lads leave behind rotting potatoes.
Denmark celebrates Christmas with the help of Nisse, a gnome who enjoys pranks and mischief. Said to be clad in gray, woolen garments with a signature red hat and bright white clogs, Nisse traditionally passes by Danish houses on Christmas Eve. If he is left an offering of porridge or ride pudding outside a house, he will continue his journey without attempting to trick the people living there.
In some cultures, Santa is accompanied by a variety of villainous vagrants instead of a troop of jolly elves. French children fear Santa’s character foil in Père Fouettard whose name means “the whipping father.” Père Fouettard, as his moniker implies, whips children guilty of disobedience during the previous year. The Christmas Cat, the Père Fouettard’s Icelandic counterpart, preys on people who have not received the gift at least one new article of clothing, and the German Knecht Ruprecht serves as Santa’s negative reinforcement.
The snowman represents a frosty facet of holiday nostalgia, a frozen friend of millions of children. An international icon, the snowman’s fame reaches far and wide as the majority of northern cultures celebrate the snowman in a variety of forms and fashions. In this edition of The StickerTalk, we invite you to indulge in a flurry of facts about this sleeted celebrity!
The first snowman is thought to have made an appearance in the 1380 in The Book of Hours. About a century later in 1494, a young Michelangelo received a commission to sculpt a snowman for a powerful Italian ruler. Snowmen made history yet again in 1690 when haggard Dutch watchmen at Fort Schenectady formed snowmen to serve as decoy guards to potential attackers. However, their plan failed, and the fort fell to a combined force of French and Native American soldiers.
Snowmen serve an integral part in a multitude of world record titles. The world’s tallest snowman towered over adoring crowds at an astounding 122 feet tall! This frozen feat hailing from Maine was named Olympia in honor of a beloved state senator, Olympia Snowe. While Maine boasts the largest snowman, London, England, lays claim on the world’s smallest snowman. British scientists at the National Physical Laboratory created a microscopic snowman using tools typically used to handle nanoparticles, an artistic achievement measuring only 0.01 millimeters.
Although the arrival of wintry weather is often anticipated by many, the Unicorn Hunters club at Lake Superior State University were so ready for spring in 1971 that they celebrated the onset of higher temperatures by burning a paper effigy of a snowman! In an unorthodox act turned annual celebration, the students at the university celebrate the snowman burning by eating hotdogs and hamburgers while appreciating the fire’s desired heat.
Santa’s preferred beast of burden and a zoological favorite among the young and young at heart, the humble reindeer headlines each December as the North Pole’s crowning critter. Traditional folklore states that a team of reindeers powers Santa’s annual international escapade, but how much additional information about this unique animal is considered common knowledge? Join The StickerTalk on an icy expedition to the Arctic tundra to rub shoulders with the reindeer.
The magical clicking of a reindeer’s footsteps is actually due to a rather unexpected abnormality. When a certain tendon passes over one of the deer’s foot bones, it produces the reindeer’s characteristic click! Reindeer are extremely social creatures, typically living in herds numbering from 50,000 to 500,000 members, and many experts believe that the sound of clicking hooves help the animals stay together.
Reindeers boast an armory of assorted oddities that help them survive in their native northern stretches of tundra. Because nights in the Arctic are especially extensive in the winter, reindeers possess the capability to see ultraviolet light, a talent that grants them vision even in complete darkness. Also, their hooves change shape and texture from season to season to allow greater traction during icy winters and better mobility on soft ground in the late spring and summer.
Although most the vast majority of Christmas commentators claim that Santa’s reindeers are all male, some zoologists contest this belief. Since male reindeer usually shed their antlers in November and early December, the fully antlered reindeers that are hitched to Santa’s sleigh each Christmas Eve are likely entirely female!
A traditional icon of Christmas, the poinsettia’s striking colors have added an abundance of cheer to holiday celebrations for centuries. It is said that the poinsettia was first introduced to American greenhouses by Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico and the plant’s namesake, was enamored by this Mexican flower, bringing some back to the United States to cultivate and share with his fellow flower enthusiasts. In fact, December 12, the anniversary of Poinsett’s death in 1851, is annually celebrated as Poinsettia Day. The poinsettia has carried a variety of nicknames, however. Names like “lobster flower” and “flame-leaf flower” pay homage to the poinsettia’s signature shade of fiery red. In some Hispanic countries the flower is called “Flores de Noche Buena,” meaning “Flower of the Holy Night” in English; some believe the poinsettia’s association with the Nativity is due to its star-like shape that often reminds worshippers of the Star of Bethlehem. Others claim that an old Mexican legend propelled the poinsettia’s rise to prominence. The legend tells of a poor Mexican girl named Pepita who could not afford a gift for the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. Weeping in regret, she encountered an angel on her way to the chapel who told her to bring an offering of weeds. When she presented her bundle of weeds to the Baby Jesus, they miraculously sprouted into rich red poinsettias. The poinsettia’s rich tradition in folklore as well as its natural allure insure that this dazzling flower will herald the arrival of the Christmas season for generations to come!
As the year winds to its conclusion, the month of December finally begins, bringing numerous holidays, frosty weather, and a plethora of time-honored traditions. In this edition of The StickerTalk, join us as we discover some of December’s most delightful details.
The name “December” traces its roots back to Ancient Rome, “decem” being the Latin word for “tenth.” While December is the twelfth month in modern Gregorian calendars, it formerly occupied the tenth spot in the annual lineup of months. When the Romans introduced the months of January and February to the calendar, they chose not to change December’s moniker.
Believe it or not, December is the perfect month to plant certain species of flora. Holiday favorites like poinsettias and Christmas cacti make a great December addition to your garden!
Many causes are advocated during the month of December. December is Human Rights Month and Read a New Book Month. On a lighter note, December also plays host to National Fruit Cake Month and National Handwashing Awareness Week.