Making Halloween Difficult

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Yarn. Throw it. Then do some stuff, and…yeah.

Halloween used to be a time for regular people to cast spells and get their fortune told. “Good Christians” could be reassured that this was all just a game and play along with darker, mysterious forces in safe way. Or so it’s fun to think. Mostly, this meant games trying to figure out who you’d fall in love with, which were probably just a socially acceptable way to flirt at parties. You would carve an apple, or look in a hazy mirror, or even pick a cabbage. (Yes, cabbage. Even kale, before kale was koole.)

But sometimes, things went overboard, as things often do.

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So, find an owl at just the right time, catch it, pluck a feather, eat it (wash it first?), and someone will ask you to marry them between midnight and 6:30 am.

A lot of the cards have these elaborate, overly detailed rituals you’d have to follow which seem far more complicated than they should be.

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Wait, first get a hand held mirror. Then you gotta walk backwards after figuring out how long a damn “rod” is. Oh, and hold a lit candle! Then you’ll meet your fate which, by that time, is probably falling down and setting your house on fire. Especially if there’s a horde of black cats running behind you.

Some of this may be due to the fact that in the early 1900’s, Halloween parties became a big “thing.” According to Lisa Morton, this was a very intentional way to get1898book kids, especially boys, off the streets and away from pranks. (Morton, 69) There were even books and pamphlets, like the popular Hallowe’en: How to Celebrate It by Martha Russell Orne, detailing games, decorations, and party activities to keep your guests occupied. I’m guessing some of these cards are drawing on the kinds of “advice” given by pamphlets like these rather than talking about long-held traditions that have an actual history.

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Run to your room without being seen…yeah, pretty sure this is just an excuse to steal up there and neck with your “friend” without getting caught.

But maybe not. Maybe these cards hold secrets to effective methods of divination. Maybe if I follow this, I’ll find out that I shouldn’t have married my wife but should have totally gone for that sweet, sweet chick back in high school who, last I heard, had 5 kids, a couple sources of alimony, and a police record.

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I’ve shown this before, but, still…that’s a lot of damn work. I mean, what if your garden doesn’t have beets?

But I doubt it.

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What if the feather isn’t a peacock’s but a dove’s? Or a mockinbird’s? Or a standardwinged nightjar’s?

My bet is that some poor copywriter was told he had four hours to fill the blank space on these cards with “spells,” and he spewed out some crap.

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Again…the set up for this is far too effort-heavy for my tastes.

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, though. If you’re up for it, give any of these a shot and let me know what happens. Just be sure to set aside a couple of weeks for all the prep work.

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References

Morton, Lisa. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. (London: Reaktion Books, 2012).

Screw it. I’m starting.

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Santa gives the gift of decomposition.

September 5th is early. It’s early for Halloween. It’s way too goddam early for Christmas. But I don’t care. I’m in the mood to get things rolling.

So get ready for some Halloween stuff to start rolling out. I’m also taking the podcast much more seriously this time, and I’ve already gotten a lot of cool episodes partly done: Santa and hallucinogenic mushrooms, the weird(er) side of Halloween, strange Christmas TV specials you’ve never heard of, and plenty of odd music episodes. I’m going to put them on youtube at my son’s request, too, because “these kids today” don’t do podcasts, he says. So why not? I’ll get links up soon.

But the queue is loaded, and Halloween cards will start trickling out. I’ll speed them up in October, but why wait, right? We’ll all probably die in Trump’s Korean nuclear war , anyway, so be sure to get your Christmas shopping done soon!

– Kringle

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Summer Update of Nada

I’m trying to get ready for the next season. Any requests? Any podcast ideas? Any anything?

It’s pretty hot outside right now, so I’m not feeling inspired. Help me out! Leave a comment or send me something at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

Hot, see?

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I feel as listless as this guy in the summer heat.

Racism in Vintage Cards

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and I got called out for posting vintage cards that were blatantly racist. I included a caption explaining that I did it as a reminder of how racism used to be part of the holidays for many people, and it seemed appropriate for the way my blog deals with vintage images and for the day.

[For the record, I’m not posting them on this post because it might just seem like provocation, but the links are above.]

I also assumed that someone would misinterpret what I was doing, and I was right. I’ll call the person Fred because he (although I guess Fred can be a girl’s name, too) submitted comments anonymously rather than giving his actual tag, and I just like the name Fred because, come on…it’s Fred! But Fred sent in a few notes, and I think the real heart of what he wanted to say was this:

I don’t pull out pictures of swatstikas and go lol fucked up how that use to happen but we can laugh about it now huh guys. No. no one wants to see racist art I can guarantee that. There is no good reason for you to be posting that.

I gave some quick responses because I was on the road, but I wanted to explain in a bit more detail. (He also kept IM’ing me, but I kept the rest of the conversation private.)

I obviously disagree with Fred. I actually do think there a number of good reasons to post (share, disseminate, whatever) racist images from the past. I think the same thing about misogynist images, images making fun of the misfortunate, underprivileged, poor, you name it. I do it all the time, and I’d say that things any marginally ethical person today would find offensive make up about 20% of the stuff I post.

I do it for a few different reasons:

1. It’s funny. Or rather, it’s funny when done from the right context. I make fun of the cards, ridicule them, but the joke isn’t the offensive material itself. The joke is that someone used to think this is ok. The joke is to make fun of the people who thought this was a good thing to say.

On that front, it’s basic satire. It’s the kind they teach you in middle school when you have to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, then have to sit through a class where all the idiots ask why he would want to eat babies and how Swift is obviously an evil person, and the teacher has to spend the next hour trying to get people to realize that satire is all about saying one thing and meaning the opposite. Some people never get that lesson. Those people shouldn’t read/follow my blog. But, hey, the Dunning-Kruger effect is always in full force, and the internet is an open democracy, so, whatever.

2. It’s important. Look, I’m under no illusions that posting dumb old cards and making smart-ass comments about them is doing a social service along the lines of passing anti-discrimination legislation. In fact, if I have a problem with how I replied yesterday, it’s that I was probably too earnest. But I do think it’s important to know your history, and since I’m all about a very weird, very odd angle on the “history” of the holidays, the least I can do is not whitewash this kind of stuff when I find it. Otherwise, I might give the impression that I think the Victorians and 19th century Americans who made a lot of these cards were just naïve people who thought that frogs and weird Santas were fun to slap on a Christmas card.

But the truth is that these images are a glimpse into the weirder side of a culture that had some pretty messed up ideas about kids, about religion, about gender, about their own culture, and, yes, about racism. The “weird” in these things is sometimes funny, and it’s sometimes downright disturbing.

3. It’s right. Ok, maybe I’m a little earnest. Part of why I like posting these weird cards is to burst peoples’ bubbles about the “sanctity” of the holidays. For example, I like the history that shows there is no one true history of Christmas (or any holiday, for that matter). I get a kick out of showing how Christians for most of the last 2000 years wanted to keep Christ OUT of Christmas, which makes the whole “War on Christmas” look ridiculous. I get the cynic’s jolt of glee out of that, and, sure, it’s not entirely neighborly, but it’s fun. Still, showing a Christmas card that is blatantly racist is a great way to say, “Hey, guys! You talk about the ‘good ole days’ when Christmas was all about religion, but how do you square that with blatantly hateful cards that show ethnic hatred? Where’s the Christmas spirit there?” So showing these cards is in fact a kind of reminder of how racism (or sexism, or what have you) has been part of our culture even when we were supposedly at our most “holy” moments. There’s a kind of ethical responsibility in doing that. You bring them up, show how they work, and remind yourself how bad things can get.

So that’s why. But Fred said it didn’t matter what my intentions were. I was still posting racist stuff, period. The easy response to that is that intention is all that matters. (Well, and context.) If your purpose is to make a point about historical racism, you have to talk about that racism and show evidence. You can’t say “Some of these cards were racist” but then refuse to show any examples because that would be racist. His swastika analogy fails because that’s precisely what you DO to keep those symbols from regaining some kind of power.  And mockery, laughter, and satire are good ways to keep images from regaining their power.

But there’s a more sophisticated response he could have made. He could have said that it was inappropriate to be doing that on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, especially if I was just trying to get a cheap laugh. And I would agree with him there. If I was just trying to create controversy by posting evil pictures in direct opposition to the day’s meaning, then he’d have every right to bitch at me. If I was just slapping up racist pictures and saying “Happy MLK day!” hoping to piss people off and be an asshole, then of course! That would be radically disrespectful. And, granted, maybe I was walking that line a little too closely.

Still, here’s why I don’t think it’s disrespectful: MLK wasn’t about celebrating being beyond racism. He never saw a victory over racism or even, as far as I’ve read, thought it would be possible in his lifetime. His life was about the always-continued struggle against oppression and inequality. The fight is always still going on. History’s crimes and their effects are still happening now. So celebrating the day isn’t supposed to be about celebrating only the progress he made, but also about remembering the fights that are still being fought. And given that my cards are a tiny little niche of weirdness, posting those things was the only on-topic way I could acknowledge that.

Now, it’s important for me to note that I COULD BE WRONG! That’s why I posted his responses publicly rather than ignoring or keeping them silent. I’m actually glad he spoke up because it’s good to have a discussion about this stuff. And I’m trying hard to not to say that Fred is WRONG! I’m saying I disagree, and that’s an important difference. He or someone else might convince me to change my mind, but I just don’t agree with the reasons he gave.

But I’m also not an idiot: if I got a huge response from a ton of people telling me I just didn’t get it, then mea culpa. But in the years that I’ve been doing this, it hasn’t happened. Fred was the only person to speak up yesterday. And, honestly, the reaction has mostly been the opposite: lots of people from different backgrounds have told me they like seeing the “problematic” cards, and a few people have even gone on to use them in really constructive ways. But if the pushback became big, I’d have to listen, especially in situations like this because I’m not the one facing the racism/misogyny/hate in these cards. (There’s a wonderful article on precisely that kind of deference to criticism by a philosopher named Laurence Thomas titled “Moral Deference.” It’s incredibly moving and thoughtful and talks about the times when you need to just shut up and listen to the people who have more to say about a topic than you do.)

And that brings me to one last point: In a different IM, Fred said that the only reason I posted these was because I was white. Or he assumed I’m white. (He didn’t tell me what ethnicity he or she is.) And, yeah, I’m white. I’m also probably all the other privileged categories you can think of. But he doesn’t know my family, my friends, my community, my politics, my profession, or anything else about me, what kinds of discrimination I’ve seen against pepole close to me, fought against both privately and publicly, etc. And I’m not going to defend myself on that front because by doing so, he assumed intentions about me rather than looking at the context in which I posted those pictures. Besides, in the end, it’s also true that not only white people post these. Harvey Young, Jr., for example, has done a lot to publicize these cards and discuss their racist heritage.  (I even found a bunch of Valentine’s Day cards through him that I’d never seen before.)

Blah blah blah tl;dr, I know. But I wanted to lay it out a bit more. Disagree? Am I totally wrong? Comment here or send me a note at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

 

Gnew Year Gnomes

A Happy New Year - Gnomes with a Mushroom and Bouquet

MMMMMMMushrooms!

The New Year cards are just chock full of gnomes. You might even say it’s an infestation. I mean, sure, there are a lot of pigs. But the gnomes show up even more often.

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Dance, fools!

The weird thing is that, while the pigs have a tradition and reasonable explanation for them, the gnomes are a bit harder to account for.

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Drink my gnomish concoction and despair!

They’re all across the nationality spectrum. English gnomes, Scandinavian gnomes, German gnomes, French gnomes, I’ve even found a Russian gnome (although I lost the card…I’ll post it when I find it.)

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This guy wants to eat the New Year baby with chips.

But why New Years cards in particular? They show up occasionally in Christmas cards, but apart from pictures of just straight-up drinking to depression, gnomes are one of the most popular images.

I can’t find a good explanation why either online or in anything I’ve read.

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So much is going on here that I have a headache.

The popular explanation online is that it’s all tripped-out, old school hallucinogenic holiday fun. There’s a big love online of using these cards as evidence that the old Northern and Central European winter solstice traditions used fly agaric mushrooms as part of the celebrations. And, of course, gnomes and elves seem trippy.

I don’t buy it. But I think it’s a cool theory, and one day I’ll get around to why I both love and hate the idea.

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“And this is my tribute to Jerry Garcia….”

So why gnomes? Elves and fairies were never really seen as good luck charms in most cultures. On the contrary, you had to do all kinds of things to keep them from causing trouble. So to see them associated with other images of fortune and prosperity for the new year is odd, to say the least.

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Pig arch. I guess?

But there they are, always hanging out with pigs, clovers, horseshoes, and showering money all over themselves and the rest of the world.

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Not quite Santa, but a kind of riff….?

The one above made me wonder if the gift-giving thing and Santa and his elves had something to do with it, but you don’t usually see them associated with other St. Nick or Santa or gift-giving imagery. So is it something about the elves (or leprechauns or whatever) hoarding cash? Possibly…

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Homey don’t care.

So I’m clueless. If you have more insight, post a comment or drop me a note at weirdxmas@gmail.com. This one bugs me because I can’t figure it out, and I feel like it should be more obvious.

In the meantime, have a gnice gnomey gnew gn…year:

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These dudes really love midnight.

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Just drop that crap anywhere.

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TOO MUCH COCAINE!!!!!!!!!

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Damn, girl. That’s cold!

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Jump, pig! JUMP FOR YOUR LIFE!

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Whatever. I’m frickin’ cold.

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I WILL CHOP YOU!

New Year Pigs

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Hungarian for “Happy New Year.” As if that’s the hardest thing to translate…

You’re gonna see a lot of pigs on the New Year cards. They’ll stop seeming weird after the first twenty or so, I promise. There’s a lot of clover and mushrooms, too. (Not to be confused with Christmas mushrooms, which are another thing altogether and ENTIRELY 100% PROOF OF EVERYTHING THIS SITE WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE! Don’t let rationality get in the way of a cool idea.)

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The mushrooms aren’t about tripping. Or not ONLY about tripping.

 

But I digress.

It’s not that weird when you know the history. In a lot of Teutonic (old German) and Scandinavian traditions, pigs represent good luck and prosperity. That’s why you’ll see them with four leaf clovers and a lot of bags of gold or coins. The idea is basically wishing you a prosperous new year.

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Why does only one wear clothes? We may never know.

But…that didn’t stop the card artists from just going hog-wild on the odd things that pigs can do in these cards. Sometimes, it seems downright UNlucky.

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This is obviously on a farm, and they’re getting drunk for the slaughter.

In some cases, I’m just glad that it’s the artists who were drinking instead of the pigs, because otherwise, where would we see a gnome playing on a see-saw with a piglet?

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WE’RE the lucky ones!

A lot of spilled money, too. I guess that’s a sign of excess but also seems…careless.

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Dammit, kid, have a care!

Some are downright threatening, though.

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Go all in. I dare you.

Some make me want to purge and purge and purge until I’m eternally clean…

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Now…where did those coins come from?

Pigs. Enjoy your New Year Pigs.

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I like to imagine how this card would smell.