Dead Thing Cards (birds, cats, whatever)

The dead bird cards seem to be making the rounds more than usual this year. I haven’t seen any new write ups about them (yet), but they’re coming from a bunch of different directions on Twitter and Tumblr.

So I thought we should revisit and add to what I said here. (Check it!)

So, just to keep the tally, I know of four Victorian Christmas cards that feature dead birds:

c329DeadBird1

Focus on that word: “Joyful.”

c149deadbird

“Pleasures”

DeadBird4

“Joyful,” again. This time hanging by a string.

c46deadbird

“Loving.”

 

Then there’s one general well-wishing card:

RSx2062215-46.2L

“Kind.”

 

After that, there’s also this thing, although I assume they’re more drunk than dead. (Don’t miss the guy in the bowl):

victorianxmas08

It mentions New Year’s, after all, and that’s all about gettin’ smashed.

 

But dead things of all sorts were fairly common on Victorian cards. For example, who could forget the ever-popular “Frog Murder Christmas” card, which is always the most popular thing I ever share?

FrogMurderChristmas

How joyous.

 

I still stand behind my close reading of this card from another post, but I found another possible explanation that I actually think has some weight. Christopher Davis thinks this might actually be a Christ/Judas allegory of sorts, with the bag of cash being like the 30 pieces of silver. (though why then “2000”? Who knows…) But, if you’re gonna be serious, that makes more sense than anything else I’ve heard. (He also mentions Wren Day as the explanation for the dead bird cards, but I POSTED THAT TWO YEARS BEFORE HIM SO I WIN THE INTERNETS!)

But it’s not just frogs. There also this, which gives my cat-hating heart such joy that I don’t really need an explanation:

rats dead cat

Compliments indeed, friend rats. Compliments on high!

 

Before I get hatemail from cat lovers, don’t worry. The rats got their comeuppance when the feral sprite people went hunting:

Roasted Rat for Christmas

Giant rat or tiny people?

 

And don’t forget the frogs! You can’t have Victorian Christmas without frogs.

victorianxmas02

This is a “sweet Christmas moral.”

Gotta admit that I’m not sure if they’re actually dead. But the poem does mention coming to “grief” and…is that blood underneath them? Why make the reflection red rather than green?

Then when I found this thing, I thought I’d finally hit pay dirt:

ae32a71f4618aa7f94cb583fe9ffe4a3

“Bright and happy” it says. Not cold and lifeless.

But, unfortunately (well, unfortunately for me), it’s not a dead person, but either a toy or a scarecrow or something. It’s a wooden “man.” But the point seems to be something about sympathy for cold/lost things. (Although if this is part of some other story or legend that I’m just not catching, please let me know!)

Unless I’m forgetting something, that’s all the dead animal cards I know of. You can find plenty of things being cruel to each other like this:

920x1240

“Hearty” Christmas. Get it?

But cruelty and death seem significantly different themes, so we’ll leave it there.

Advertisements

The War on Zwarte Piet

Intocht Sinterklaas Maastricht

Hopefully you find this…questionable.

My wife just got back from the Netherlands. She had some agenda like seeing the family she lived with back in the day, going to museums, eating licorice, stroopwaffels, and vla, and other things that seemed trivial in comparison with my agenda for her: FIND ME ZWARTE PIET STUFF!

Turns out that was harder than she thought.

3420897065_2bd539aedc

Zwarte Piet giving out the goods.

Now, if you don’t know who Zwarte Piet is, if you’re American, and/or you have a shred of social awareness, prepare to get uncomfortable. We’ll go with the neutral version first:

Zwarte Piet is Dutch for “Black Pete.” He’s a traditional character from the Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) story in the Netherlands and has been around since at least the 1850’s. The story goes that he’s a young “moorish” (sometimes) boy who helps Sinterklaas deliver presents on December 5th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. Stories differ, but a lot of parents say that it’s Piet who actually climbs down the chimney to leave gifts. And some say that he’s black not because he’s a “moor” but because of chimney soot. At parades during the holidays in the Netherlands, you’ll also see lots of people made up like him. Like this:

Dancers dressed as Zwarte Piet

Yep. That’s all white people.

In Europe, it’s pretty common for Nick to have a companion. There’s Krampus, of course, but also Knecht Ruprecht, Belsnickel, Perchta, and other various “wild men” or “pagan” hangover figures. But Piet’s background is less innocent than theirs. In 1850, a Dutch teacher named Jan Schenkman wrote a book called Sint Nikolaas en zijn Knecht (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”) that pretty much solidified his image and story. There had been other “pagan” characters following Nick in the Netherlands before then, but Schenkman’s version stuck. And it’s clear that he was drawing on images and accounts of continental aristocrats who had black slave boys or servants as a vogue in the early 1800’s. The costume that people now wear is specifically this kind of 19th century “servant” gear, and although there are a ton of people who point out that his history is actually much more complicated, Schenkman’s version won the day.

d4fb15a2b7f5b30f9052b33051f5ecd5

This isn’t Schenkman’s actual book, but it’s similar to it.

So it’s already a problem that Nick’s “servant” is a black child who is probably modelled on slaves. But hopefully anyone with even a shred of historical awareness in the U.S. knows about blackface. Granted, the Dutch don’t have the same sensitivity to that aspect in particular because it just wasn’t as big a part of their cultural history. But for us, to see a ton of white people dance around painted up like black “servants,” especially at Christmastime…well…yeah.

9cb19725b86fafb7e978ff555cd6a37b_original

When white people mess up.

My wife found quite a few images of him while wandering around the smaller city where she spent most of her time.

tumblr_p01v2pkaRQ1u5yqcfo1_1280

Store window Pete in RAY BANS! The racism is so blinding!

tumblr_p01ki6YF091u5yqcfo2_1280

Zwarte Piet made of zwarte bread.

tumblr_p01ki6YF091u5yqcfo3_1280

I’m a happy cake of evil!

He’s just a normal thing, part of advertisements, part of random holiday imagery, even showing up as a random piece of a Christmas shopping bag.

20171129_102605-e1511974331507.jpg

Granted, he seems pretty white here.

And her friends said that in the last few years, you can find “Piets” of all different colors. Not races — colors. Like Green Pete or Purple Pete. And that’s obviously trying to downplay the racial aspect but keep the tradition.

2014

This doesn’t make me feel better at all.

When she got to Amsterdam, though — nothing. Not a Piet in sight. Apparently The Hague is the same way. The bigger cities, where you have a more international population and, of course, more tourism, have played him down. And when he does show up, he’s changing: this year, Amsterdam’s “official” Piet will be a white guy with some soot on his nose.

At one dinner, one of her friends blamed “some American” for all the recent uproar over him. But even the United Nations got involved a couple of years ago, so it’s not like the obvious backlash against him is from a fringe group. And, besides, since Trump was elected, it turns out that a lot of far right groups in both Europe and U.S. have become his staunch defenders. Some cities are even worried about violence around him during parades and celebrations this year.

Pietenprotest bij intocht Leiden

“Our heritage. Save Black Pete.”

In truth, though, the Dutch are split on the issue, on both political ends. And that’s understandable. On the one hand, the character is the Saint of Children’s right-hand man, and he’s been around for at least 150 years. Of course people are going to defend him. At the same time…dude’s a slave. And they celebrate him in a way that, intentionally or not, is precisely the same way that white people used to mock black people while also trying to exploit their cultural contributions. (And if you don’t know much about blackface history, at least take a look at this site: http://black-face.com/. It also explains why a lot of the old cards I share are even more racist than you might initially think.)

20171129_102550

Racism goes down better with sugar.

My wife didn’t buy me a Zwarte Piet tree ornament. I’m not surprised. I don’t know that I would have put it on the tree, even ironically. I admit I love that there’s some seriously messed up holiday history out there. But I’m not going to celebrate it. Doesn’t mean I won’t keep showing you Zwarte Piet in all his problematic, offensive inglory, though… And, before you ask, Yes. These are real:

047444b018a565faa98208c7bf023d0f--sint-maarten-playmobilmaxresdefault

Save

Save

Save

Save

Thanksgiving Podcast! WC Podcast season begins!

The new podcast season has begun! Well, actually it started the day before Thanksgiving, but I was too lazy to finish the crappy video part I threw up on youtube. But it’s there now! Or here:

You can also get just the audio at itunes and soundcloud. Here’s the Soundcloud link:

For the full songs, check out:

Grey’s “Vegan Thanksgiving”

“A Turkey Sat on a Backyard Fence”

James McMurtry, “Holiday”

Anal Traffic, “Shit for Dickheads”

LISTEN! SUBSCRIBE!

 

The Turkey Mount’s Degradation

Th30 - Copy

A leash and a riding crop. Nice.

When you first see a Thanksgiving card with a kid riding a turkey, your initial reaction is probably a lot like mine: “Well, that’s cute, I guess.” But it doesn’t stay cute for long.

Th178

Is that a cowboy hat? I can’t tell.

There were always a genre of these things that went for “cuteness” in general, and in most cases it just meant slapping a kid on a card doing anything normal that an adult would do. (There’s a whole thing about kids cooking Thanksgiving dinner which drives me bananas, but that’s for another post…)

4f227882dc175f13e9600532035e17e9--thanksgiving-banner-vintage-thanksgiving

Not a designation you would want.

But no one rides a turkey. Except for this woman, I guess:

Th49 - Copy

I’ve never experienced the joy this woman feels.

No one literally rides a turkey, so, what the hell, card makers? What’s the purpose of these images? Is there some darker reason they showed us this image time and time again?

Th72

Jolly for WHOM!?!?

The answer is dark. Oh, so dark. It’s a not-so-subtle reminder of domination, a kind of defense of our permission to do with these birds what we want.

Th69

Oh, the false nationalism!

What it’s saying is the following: First, turkey, remember that we will soon eat you. You will be our feast. Your flesh will fill our bellies. But BEFORE THAT COMES, we will ride you. We will make you labor. And we won’t even do it with dignity! We will set the least of us, our young, on your backs, and make you serve their immature and depraved whims. You are not worthy of carrying our leaders, our esquires, our very best. No, you get our snot-nosed brats. Then we kill you, discard your organs, and feast on whatever’s left. And we may not even finish you — your “leftovers” may be smothered with ketchup and stuck between white bread…or they may not. We don’t care.

6a00e5509ea6a18834017d3c8f8390970c

The chef costume is a bleak reminder of where this horrifying journey will end.

This is a straightforward, unapologetic image of the turkey’s oppression. It is a celebration of how we ride them to exhaustion BEFORE eating the very flesh off their bones.

Th13 - Copy

That image on the front kid’s face: he just got woke.

When I see these cards, I’m reminded, quite frankly, of Malcolm X’s words:

“I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin…”

ce840dab3048d4198dd9505dde0f8575--vintage-thanksgiving-thanksgiving-recipes

The sun shines for him, not for you, bird.

No. It will be based on the presence of gizzards and dirty feathers. Mark my words! One day this holiday will mark the beginning of the Fowl Revolution, and these images of oppression will be plastered on every grocery store, on every Sam’s Club billboard, on every marketplace where the trading of bird flesh for dirty money is handled in the open, without shame, without remorse, without even a moment of thought for the generations of fine feathered friends that have been put down for others to enjoy as a symbol of forced merriment around a table occupied by “family” that doesn’t even want to be there, that will complain about how dry the haggard chef has made the bird, ruining its involuntarily sacrificed flesh, and serving as mere “leftovers” for childrens’ lunches when neglectful parents are too tired to spread peanut butter on bread the next Monday.

Vintage-Turkey-Ride-Image-GraphicsFairy

LOOK AT THE UNFORGIVING JOY OF DOMINATION ON THAT KID’S FACE!

REMEMBER THESE POOR SOULS! GRIEVE FOR THE INDIGNITY THEY SUFFERED WHILE BEING RIDDEN BY SLAVERING, MINDLESS CHILDREN! RAGE AGAINST THE HORROR OF THEIR HUMILIATION!

4660f6533ec817585a965a5836b43aec--thanksgiving-greetings-vintage-thanksgiving

Ridin’ and killin’!

Happy Thankskilling!

 

 

 

Holy crap! A real kid on a real turkey!

Th77

 

You Can’t Handle the Corn!

THANKSGIVING MEANS CORN. ONLY ALL-CAPS CAN EXPRESS HOW MUCH THANKSGIVING IS CORN. THANKSGIVING CORN MUST BE HUGE CORN. CORN CORN CORN!

42c0bb22052a4d2022f042151db14257

THIS CORN IS HUGE!

b8fa22eb448e83b21136818304ac758e

THIS CORN IS ALSO HUGE!

f0abbbfc372c381bdb5fc9a552982477

THIS CORN IS BIGGER THAN YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN!

54369b7e0f24fe364335ea945331bdab

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE CORN.

980b10db76077b80b7a6c4b389eb9557

GOD’S VERY OWN ANGELS CAN’T HANDLE THE CORN!

51feaf7481b40cf4385be31f53531bc6

THERE’S SO MUCH CORN IT COMES IN THREE-PACKS!

16696a0f5ecde07394d6684313c1dac9

THIS CORN IS SO PUMPED IT’S ACHINGLY ERECT!

99986d1b007e3f7b3fb5c188f8c85991

THIS CORN IS BIGGER THAN A GODDAM PUMPKIN!

52050408b011afd707ae03c8b6cc0ffd

FRICKING TURKEYS CAN RIDE IN THIS CORN!

dd6bb3d1dec38731ec20445495b46277

It’s a MAIZE-ERATTI! (Stolen from a friend.)

GODDAMIT I GOTTA WRAP A BOW AROUND MY CORN!

6d2e96671e4044d4dd01cb9a95c9aeb0

CORN!

Save

Halloween 2017 Round-up

The most popular Halloween cards this year weren’t particularly surprising. A lot of old favorites got shared, but a few new finds also made the rounds. Here are the ones that were most popular on Tumblr and Twitter:

tumblr_oxdoznd7fS1u5yqcfo1_540

This went nuts in early October. Folk love confused owls.

tumblr_oxhkzxQnij1u5yqcfo1_540

Cats. Insane cats.

tumblr_oxl3ffYoIB1tmjfioo1_500

Scary, poorly drawn peepkin.

tumblr_oxm0tbNEjo1u5yqcfo1_400

Lots of folk thought this was genuinely creepy.

tumblr_oxmmo7HVYR1u5yqcfo1_400

I still don’t get the shroud thing.

tumblr_oxmn7fepIl1u5yqcfo1_540

Yeah…..no.

tumblr_oxmn59v8Sg1u5yqcfo1_540

Always a favorite. For obvious reasons.

tumblr_oxpqomJ42G1u5yqcfo1_540

This one surprised me a bit. Odd look on the cat and moon’s face, but otherwise not particulalry weird.

tumblr_oxpskehLHg1u5yqcfo1_540

Folk love them some vegetable people.

tumblr_oxpx6pLqRV1u5yqcfo1_400

I was happy to see this one get shared over 100 times because I just think it’s so cool.

tumblr_oxpyhvpIxf1u5yqcfo1_540

Not an actual Halloween card, but I thought it was really cool. So did lots of other people.

tumblr_oxue6884db1u5yqcfo1_540

tumblr_oy6oapF77D1u5yqcfo1_540

A new find this year (I think).

tumblr_oy8z8lNenW1u5yqcfo1_540

This was the single most popular thing on Tumblr this year. Close to 1000 shares altogether. SHARES! (Not just likes.) Not surprising, I guess.

tumblr_oy37sgLKm01u5yqcfo1_540

Definitely the most popular weird vintage costume picture.

tumblr_oy95ehwAQx1u5yqcfo1_400

Wrong in so many wonderful ways. (This was the most popular on Twitter.)

tumblr_oyeakaXwNZ1u5yqcfo1_540

Who wouldn’t love this inexplicable little gem?

tumblr_oyhw3cJ3741u5yqcfo1_540

I love this one so much. I was glad other people did, too.

tumblr_oypce0W4Mm1u5yqcfo1_1280

Then…this thing.

 

That’s it for Halloween, folks! Things chill out a bit for Thanksgiving. There’s still some oddness, but it’s mostly a lot of kids and turkeys. I’ll sprinkle some Christmas in, too, just for grins.

Forgotten Halloween Fortunes

I’ve written about the Halloween fortune telling games in the old cards: kale-picking, apple-peeling, and mirror games. And I’ve talked about how some of the cards played with this trend by making up their own ridiculously complicated “spells.”

But there were plenty of other traditions that show up from time to time. You won’t see these repeated too often, but they’re fascinating (and even creepy out of context).

Luggie Bowls

Luggie1

Luckily, this game didn’t always require a creepy pumpkin(?) headed man leering at you.

Luggie bowls are a tradition that seems to go back to old Celtic areas, particularly Scotland. (Note the hint at tartans in the woman’s dress above.) The game was incredibly popular, and you can find so many versions that it’s hard to pin down anything authoritative. But it generally went like this:

‘Luggies’ are small bowls with handles (‘lugs’). In this tradition, three of them would be filled with different substances and arrayed before a blindfolded fortune-seeker, whose future was fortold by whether he touched the dish of clean water (marriage to a virgin), dirty water (marriage to a widow) or nothing (no marriage would occur). (43)

That’s from Lisa Morton’s excellent Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, which you should just go buy. Morton’s a wonderful horror writer and anthologist to begin with, but she’s also written a lot about Halloween history, and I’ve quoted from this book I don’t know how many times. It’s an incredibly intersting and thoughtful history.

Luggie2

More Scottish-ness in the language and thistle and tartan.

James Joyce uses the game in his story “Clay” from Dubliners where a woman plays only to have her fate (a continually sad life) turn out just as awful. Robert Burns also makes fun of the game in his poem “Hallowe’en” when a character gets so frustrated at bad fortunes that he throws all the bowls into a fire.

Hall233mirrorluggiebowl

I know she’s blindfolded because of the luggie bowl game. But this one always make me think of Disney’s most terrifying move ever: Watcher in the Woods.

 

Yarn in the Kiln

tumblr_oyc0wq0MAY1u5yqcfo1_400

You’re not hallucinating. It will all make sense.

These cards show lime-kilns, a kind of stove used on farms to make quicklime which was would kill the stench of dead animals or people in burials. But they were pretty common. Somehow, it became a Halloween tradition to take a ball of blue yarn, and – I’ll just let Morton explain again:

“In the classic version of this fortune-telling stunt, the girl threw her clew (or ball [of yarn]) into the kiln and would soon find something tugging on the yarn, at which point she cried out, ‘Who holds?’ She would then hear the name of her future husband which – needless to say – was likely uttered by the hidden boy himself.” (38).

I’m still not sure exactly why the kilns became the place for this, but I recall reading somewhere that there were beliefs that fairies of some sort lived in them like burrows.

tumblr_oyc0wq0MAY1u5yqcfo2_1280

I don’t think that ugly dude’s gettin’ lucky if the pumpkin has anything to say about it.

In practice, this became a chance to play all kinds of tricks on people, too, and Morton quotes a story I adore:

There is a story of a tailor having hid himself in anticipation of this mode of divination being resorted to, and when the ball was thrown he caught it and gave the thread a tug. In answer to the question ‘who is this at the end of my little rope?’ he said, ‘I am the devil’ … and the woman to whom this frightful answer was given never tried divination again. (39, from John Gregorson Campbell’s Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland)

The yarn game itself moved around and left the farm, even showing up in cities as well:

511f24ea22f20b3ab11cebe9531f72d4--french-postcards-vintage-postcards

Talk about getting caught in a net! Get it? Because marriage is a trap! It’s lifelong, unsexy S&M! (Sorry…)

 

Eggy Love

I’ve only seen this once, but it’s just so weird-looking:

Hall70eggfortune

Why does the candle smoke guy have a hat?

Egg divination! Apparently called oomancy (I picked that link because the site is so amazingly cheesy), which was new to me, and I thought I was a specialist in weird crap. But from what I can tell, the trick was to read the egg whites for the initials of your future lover. The card shows it making a face that I guess you’re supposed to recognize. But I imagine the actual process was made up on the fly.

Your Lover’s Nuts

There were lots of traditions about roasting nuts over the fire. Sounds like a certain ex-girlfriend, but never mind that. A few of the cards allude to some of them, but no overall trend. Some say the cracks in the shells would be the initials of your lover. Others were more like “he loves me/he loves me not” games, where a nut falling into the fire was bad news. There was even a period where Halloween was called “Nutcrack Night” in northern England because the game was so popular. (Morton, 53)

74c3e28a1b78f30fbd741fe40b73bfb0--halloween-spells-halloween-art

I bet you do, you minx…

 

Fortune Cake

A lot like the King Cake from Mardis Gras, baking a cake with a small token in it was a common practice in Ireland and Scotland. Whoever got the ring or prize would either get married in the next year, or marry the cook, or need dental work. Accounts vary. But it does explain why there are a lot of Halloween cards that feature some serious cake lust:

 

“The Dipping of the Sark Sleeve”

Hall524

It’s as weird as it looks.

I’m not 100% certain, but I think this card is showing something like the tradition of the “sark sleeve.” Again, Lisa Morton explains it better than me:

Many of the now obsolete fortune-telling rituals involved water, but perhaps none was as popular as the ‘dipping of the sark sleeve.’ [Robert] Burns says this must be performed ‘whare three lairds’ lands meet at a burn’, and at that point a young woman would dip her sleeve in to the water, then return home to set the shirt to dry by the hearth-fire. The lass would then retire to bed, and during the night would see her intended enter the room and turn the shirt, so that the other side would dry as well. (42)

Now, if that’s what’s going on here, that poor person’s love life just got weird…

See any other cards that need ‘splainin’? Let me know in the comments or at weirdxmas@gmail.com.