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!

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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.

2016’s Greatest Hits

For Christmas day, I thought I’d put together all the most popular cards from this year’s posting on Tumblr. These aren’t necessarily my favorite, but they’re definitely the ones that went furthest this year. Some I expected, but others surprised me quite a bit. So here they are in no particular order:

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A perennial favorite. “Frog Murder Christmas” got up to 10k shares this year.

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By far the most popular Krampus card this year, which I thought was odd because usually the darker ones get the most traffic.

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Another non-surprise. This guy never fails to please.

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This was second behind Frog Murder this year. And I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. (Truthfully, anything with a cat was a hit, but I’m only including one because it’s my blog and I can do what I want so leave me alone you crazy cat people!)

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Who knew so many people liked frogs in boots carrying umbrellas?

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This. Why?

A Merry Xmas to You

I almost didn’t keep this one because it’s just an owl, but the more I looked at it, the creepier it seemed. A lot of people agreed.

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The bird parade really messed up a lot of peoples’ holidays, I think.

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I put this one up right after Thanksgiving, and it stayed popular the whole month.

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This Krampus card has always been popular, especially among the racier blogs that repost things from me. I’ll let you guess why.

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Christmas?

And finally…

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Everyone loves a Santa who’s willing to kill.

It’s different every year, and this year was about cats and killing. I guess that’s good enough for Christmas. And now… on to the New Years’ cards!

The Rabbit of Questionable Contentment

Sometimes I think far too much about these cards. This is one of those times. Fair warning that I really, really enjoy taking over analysis way too far in order to come to ridiculous conclusions about innocuous things. I promise to post more random pictures of funny things next time. But for now…this:

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I’ve never understood it. I mean, I get what it’s supposed to say, but the second I let my mind focus on any part, the logic starts going in crazy circles. And I end up thinking that somehow this card is incredibly anti-Christmas. Here’s my reasoning:

The top part says “Much Happiness at Christmas!” MUCH seems to be the kicker here. Not just a conservative, prudent bit of happiness, but MUCH. (See how “MUCH HAPPINESS” is all in caps? DO YOU!?) Fine.

The bottom says, “Content is Happiness.” That’s inelegant phrasing, I must say, but I get it: be content with what you have, and you’ll be happy.

But to be simply content would seem to contradict “MUCH” happiness. So we already have a problem.

BUT THEN, the rabbit has nothing. He’s looking at one tiny little piece of fruit or veg. So he’s not being greedy. I mean, look at the wasteland he’s sitting in. There’s absolutely nothing to eat, no vegetation, not even leaves on the stems all around him in that snowy, claustrophibic hell of a background.

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Nothing lives here. Nothing can survive here. This is a Beckett landscape.

So…what’s the conclusion?

Thesis 1: To be content with what you have is good enough. The rabbit shouldn’t seek anything new or anything at all really because it all comes to disaster. If he even tries to survive by eating the only edible thing in his world, he’ll be killed by a trap. Accept what you have, even if it’s nothing.

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Look at him: innocent, scared, indecisive…

But that’s awful. So…

Thesis 2: Realize that even the smallest thing you desire is more than you need. The rabbit already has life, but why should he want MORE life? To want more, even when “more” seems like the barest minimum, will lead to tragedy. So maybe desire itself is the problem? Now we’re getting very Buddhist. Desire causes suffering. So only contentment can bring happiness. So this is a Buddhist Christmas card? Maybe.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of the difference between MUCH happiness and contentment. The card wants to surf that limit. So let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. This card isn’t Stoic or Buddhist but is somehow a response to a Buddha-like angle that still finds happiness beyond giving up on desire.

And here’s where I get weird. This card is about the trap, not the rabbit. This card is about the person who set out to kill the rabbit. It seems like it’s using the rabbit as a lesson about not wanting too much and how it might be dangerous to desire things. But, no. It’s about the poor soul living in this wasteland who can’t survive without killing something through a kind of deception (offering food that really means the creature’s death). It’s about how the rabbit’s death will lead to the hunter’s survival. The rabbit’s dilemma is a distraction.

This card is about the sacrifice inherent in every moment of nourishment. To have too much contentment would be to side with the rabbit, to empathize with the reality that things have to die in order for others to survive. Is that empathy useful? Of course not. It means that we would die, that we couldn’t eat anything. After all, the rabbit has to kill the vegetable in order to survive. So are we any worse for killing the rabbit? We’re ultimately the same.

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This carrot/tomato/fruit/vegetable thing is just as tragic as the rabbit. Or us. Or any living creature caught in the cycle of eating things just to be eaten by other things later.

But if we’re supposed to empathize with the dude who laid out the trap, are we still really talking about contentment? A trap has a purpose: to kill in order to satisfy the trap-maker’s desire. That’s the opposite of contentment because it’s going out of your way to destroy something else for your own gain.

Contentment is more like realizing that the tragedy is necessary — it’s not about avoiding tragedy. I mean, are we supposed to give up on our desire to survive? Are we supposed to be like the rabbit who’s apparently afraid to keep living because it’s afraid to eat? Or are we supposed to recognize that any moment of survival is also a moment of something else’s demise on which that survival depends? After all, the rabbit is both prey and hunter (or veg) in the image. The image is ruthlessly realistic and unsentimental. Things die so that other things can survive. There’s no other reality.

Now…if the card, on top of that image, wishes us MUCH happiness at Christmas, it’s violating the cycle of sacrifice and survival it pictures. It’s breaking the cycle by saying that we can be happy without sadness, that we can have MUCH happiness even beyond contentment.

Christmas would be excess. Christmas would be outside of the circle of survival. Christmas, in other words, is unrealistic.

The very idea of Christmas as being about MUCH HAPPINESS goes against everything else pictured in the card. In other words, the card intentionally contradicts itself. But why would it do that? Because it’s malicious.

This card attacks Christmas as an unrealistic sham that creates hope which will only be dashed on the rocky shores of an uncaring cycle of survival. This, friends, is a cynical and evil card. It mocks us, it mocks our pain, and it mocks our celebrations. It points out problems it can’t solve. It wants me to be confused even while it pretends to celebrate my favorite season. It wants me to want impossible things and then to point out how impossible they are. It wants me to value contentment and then remind me that contentment is never enough. It wants me to admit that I can never be happy or fulfilled or content, especially at Christmas time.

I hate this card.

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Look at his terror! That is my terror!

I also think I’ve probably thought about it way too much.

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Krampus was a dame!

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The tongue gives it away.

Well, not really.

But there are quite a few German cards from early and mid-century that show a female version of Krampus. The above is one of my favorites because it looks like they took a stock image of a sweet young girl and just added the trappings — craftsmanship at its finest.   But some go a bit further:

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Krampus also has sex appeal, but men should let that cool/slide… [rough translation because my German’s out of practice]

It’s not a stretch, though. The central European tradition of Perchta (sometimes Percht or Berchta), a female witch figure who gives presents and doles out punishment, is still around. And she sometimes carries switches like Krampus or St. Nick or Knecht Ruprecht in older traditions. Sometimes she was even shown with horns, or at least hanging out with a Krampus:

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This picture scares me.

But even when male, it’s clear that Krampus is supposed to get some of his naughtiness from sex or from some kind of association with female iconography. I like how in this one a simple broom becomes the switches, as if suggesting that even your sweet little domestic goddess could turn into a demon at any moment, and her expression is anything but innocent, especially with those guys chained to the wall back there:

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I’ll sweep you into hell, sweetie.

Then there are the cards that show Krampus to be powerless against women, turning into a simpering puppy-dog figure when he sees a pretty girl. I’m never sure if these are supposed to “weaken” Krampus or just show that women are more powerful. But it’s a big theme:

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If you want to dance in the club, invite Krampus to your party today!

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What fine suitors she has.

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Looks like she said yes.

But then there are the ones that show women straight up taming and emasculating Krampus. Chicks got power, yo!

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This time the switches are a witch’s broom.

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That’s a beautiful story: A Krampus falls in love.

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She skinned him!

Some just go for the hard-ass bitch vibe. I’m down with that.

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The biker thing’s just an excuse to show panties. Not that I’m complaining…

But this last one is definitely my favorite. She’s a full on intentional Krampus collecting dudes in her basket. Men suck.

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Is the guy in the basket happy?

 

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Lovecraft, Jellyfish, and A Night Before…

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H.P. Lovecraft helped me discover who made the jellyfish cards. Or rather, it was because a link with a Lovecraft mention along with jellyfish caught my eye, and that led me to John Holbo’s site and to answers and truth and demystification and the boring humdrum reality that the cards weren’t real.

But! I also found that John originally made them as part of a Christmas parody he wrote/designed called Mama In Her Kerchief and I in My Madness: A Visit of Sog-Nug-Hotep: A Truly Awful Christmas Volume. For a time, it had been available online, but John let it slide over time. And that’s a shame, because, dude:

During the Victorian era Christmas was indeed regarded as a “happy” day, but one of uncanny terror. Accordingly, cards and ornamentation featured strange creatures with too many tentacles. Then ‘Santa Claus’ became popular, and many older designs fell out of fashion. The present volume presents research on Ernst Haeckel’s work on holiday ‘Kunstformen der Un-Natur’; such Ur-figures as ‘Soggy Ned’; and the 1852 disappearance of noted greeting card designer and ‘cthuligrapher’, Albert Whedge-Wheskit.

Lovecraft’s Old Ones and Santa? Now that’s something I’d get behind and spend tons of cash on.

But we can now rejoice in fully holiday glee! Since I bugged him about the cards and he found out that a lot of folk online thought they were real, he generously decided to make it available again. (And to battle fake news. The struggle is real.)

I just bought it. And if you like weird, beautiful things, you should, too. There’s a paperback version ($9.99) and a Kindle version ($2.99).

Also, go visit his blog which is full of other wonderful things, especially if you like a cross of philosophy, DA FUNNY, the weird, and design.

Tree People

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That’s a chilly smooch.

Look at it. I have no clue what’s happening.

I mean, sure, it’s a guy dressed in (or maybe who just is) a tree kissing a snowman. But…why?

There are quite a few riffs on this theme, and it was also a trend. Here’s another from the same series (both around 1909 and found sent in Iowa, according to John Grossman in Christmas Curiosities), and there’s another down further.

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There must be easier ways to light up.

These guys are almost the same as the English Jack-in-the-Green, but he’s usually associated with May Day celebrations. I can’t find anything about him being a Christmas figure. Nonetheless, the “tree man” shows up in a few different contexts, sometimes as a giant, huge, Ent-like creature:

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Maybe it’s just a really big evergreen cloak?

But there are also a lot of examples of people dressing in holly, which seems uncomfortable to say the least. And since it’s mostly kids, I’m guessing these images are mainly for the festive whimsy.

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Is that a cookie? Is his belt made of cookies?

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Kissing UNDER the mistletoe, kids — not while wearing it.

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That’s a questionable doll, kid.

But the ones I really like are the ones that show these “tree men” as kinds of winter spirits, and they really remind me of the “Green Man,” a figure often found in England, questionably Celtic, but who’s usually assumed to represent cyclical rebirth.* That’s obviously a good winter solstice image.

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She’s a bit young for you, bud.

I particularly like that the Green Man is often connected to the “Wild Man” or “Wood Wose,” a European legend about the mythic native man who’s like the remaining caveman or connection to nature. And, as I talked about in the first podcast, that ancient wild man is also possibly connected to the origin of Krampus, Santa Claus, and lots of other Christmas figures. (Most of that connection can be found in Phillis Siefker’s Santa Claus: ast of the Wild Men.)

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For Christmas, I want to destroy the geopolitical-corporate complex that threatens our planet…and a dolly.

But who knows. It might just be that the artists were pressured to get stuff drawn asap and thought, “let’s throw a face in a Christmas tree and go wassailing!”

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So…you married?

The simplest answer is usually right, but not the most entertaining.

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*There’s so much argument in research and online about who and what the Green Man actually is, so anything I link to, even wikipedia, is gonna piss off someone who’s involved with these debates. I apologize in advance for not choosing your favorite.