Tag Archives: anthropology

“The Trouble with the Electoral College” Video is Unconvincing

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The Electoral College is making its rounds as the whipping-boy of the Left again since Donald Trump won the presidency by the only legal and constitutional means we’ve had at our disposal since 1789. Now that their candidate, Hillary Clinton lost the legal path to the presidency but irrelevantly had more of the total number of votes cast nationally in her favor, the Left has decided to champion the popular vote because they think it will assure them more future victories. I think that belief is incorrect, but that is a different article altogether.

I’ve found myself engaged in this Electoral College vs Popular Vote debate multiple times over the past two weeks and even more often years before, and my stance has been consistent. I agree that the Electoral College could use some tuning, but that any changes will be Constitutional Amendments and therefore must be carefully crafted to ensure that we are truly and fully getting a superior arrangement to what we had before. That means that advocates for change need to start making some convincing arguments. So far, I remain unconvinced.

In these debates this video called “The Trouble with the Electoral College” keeps popping up and I have had to address it a couple times. In my life, once is a social media comment, twice may be a frustrated social media comment, and third is a blog entry with a link I can refer to people.

It’s a deceptively crafted little video that has been around for a while, even before the Trump victory designed to sell the idea of the popular vote without having to justify itself. It naturally uses all the same fallacies, distortions, wordplay, and sentence-crafting you would expect from a political propagandist or a door to door vacuum salesman. While it has some basic facts correct, it is full of biases, unsupported assertions, weasel phrases, and it conflates federal roles and powers with states’ roles and powers as if those are not significant factors. In the end the video is just a list a grievances without any supporting evidence that the proposed solution is better.

Here are a few of the most notable problems.

THE UNITED STATES IS NOT A DEMOCRACY

The first four words of the video are “in a fair democracy …” and the entire video argues from the bias that we are or are supposed to be a democracy and that the viewer has already just accepted this. I do not just accept this. We are not a democracy. We’re a representative republic where our president is elected by the states, and I’m just fine with that. I can stop watching the video here because I’m interested in talking about how things work or should work in our Republic, not some fictional democracy, or constitutional monarchy or whatever. Being based on a false premise makes the video irrelevant to the discussion.

LOADED TERMS

Moving forward, the narrator uses the loaded word “fair” multiple times to describe his position, assuming that true democracy is fair and that there are no other significant factors worth considering other than a simple tally of popular votes that might make things equitable for members of disparate populations. He fails to explain how his concept of “fairness” will result in a better standard of living for Americans than what we have now. He does not provide any supporting evidence that true democracy is a better alternative to what we have now. Many people think it is a worse alternative. The framers of the United States Constitution thought it was a worse alternative and our political system is set up with that in mind. So the whole video fails to convince on that point alone.

OUT OF TOUCH WITH DEMOGRAPHIC REALITY

The video proposes that a candidate could win the office of the president with only 22% of the popular vote. This example is theoretical at best, and that is being generous because it is one of those theories that only works in theory but just isn’t a practical reality. It ignores the significant cultural, economic, and legislative differences between communities that account for their different voting populations. Mississippians aren’t going to vote in line with Hawaiians, and people from Wyoming aren’t going to vote in line with Washington DC. These are very different communities with different cultures, perspectives and needs. One of the biggest reasons I’m opposed to popular vote is because I am opposed to giving so much power to dense population centers because I’m convinced they won’t be able to comprehend and will therefore neglect the needs of such communities and see them simply as resources for their own use. The economic and social ramifications of this could be dire and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it result in secession by multiple communities over time.

Frankly this example alone validated my concerns that proponents of the popular vote don’t understand and therefore can’t care about the unique needs of regional communities, which our founding political arrangement is intended to address, although it is admittedly not perfect.

NO SUPPORTING ARGUMENT

This video really provides nothing at all to support the popular vote as a better solution other than a personal value judgment. Don’t just tell me that something is wrong with what we are doing and expect me to go along with the way someone else wants things to be done. I expect the proponent of the new way to put some effort into convincing me that their solution is better if they want my support. Convince me with facts, data, charts, graphs and historical and sociological examples. It has to be a solid plan, not just a list of grievances against the status quo. Understand that any argument based on an idea in the realm of “because it’s the current year” will be soundly rejected.

 

I think the popular vote is not a better alternative. I think it is wracked with problems, and it does not fit with my understanding of the roles and powers of states under the Constitution which I happen to like, so I remain wholly unconvinced by this argument.


Easter Rising, Easter Lily

As Easter week draws to a close I thought I’d write a little bit about my most recent painting “Easter Rising.”

www.Lojah.com

The Easter Lily is a calla lily, adopted by Irish republicans symbolically to commemorate the revolutionary combatants who died as a part of the 1916 Easter Rising.  It is traditionally worn at Easter time.  It is also used by various factions of Irish republicanism to commemorate the deaths of their soldiers and activists.

 

Easter Rising

On Easter Monday, April1 24, 1916 Irish revolutionaries took up arms against British rule in Ireland, seeking to establish an independent Irish republic.  The majority of the conflict took place in Dublin, planned and led by seven members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council.

Patrick Pearse, a schoolmaster and Irish language activist led the Irish Volunteers.  He was supported by the Irish Citizen Army led by James Connolly, and 200 women from Cumann na mBan – the Irish Women’s Council.  They seized key points in Dublin, making the General Post Office the headquarters of the uprising where they delivered the Proclamation of the Irish Republic claiming independence from Britain and the establishment of an Irish Republic.

The following day the British authorities declared martial law, and deployed thousands of reinforcements to suppress the uprising.  The streets of Dublin were in open warfare that lasted for six days.  The Irish revolutionaries put up a tough resistance and the fighting was fierce.  Frustrated British troops began engaging in war crimes against Irish civilians.

The Portobello Killings

On Tuesday, April 25 British soldiers took the pacifist activist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington hostage and used him as a human shield.  They blew up a tobacco store and captured Labour Party councilor Richard O’Carroll, two journalists Thomas Dickison and Patrick MacIntyre , and the young boy James Coade.  They executed all the captives and secretly buried them in Portobello Barracks.

The North King Street Massacre

North King Street was the scene of some of the heaviest combat between Irish and British soldiers.  On Saturday, April 29th after British soldiers succeeded in overrunning a well barricaded rebel post, they broke into the homes of noncombatant civilians and shot and bayoneted them, killing 15 men.  The soldiers then pilfered the bodies and secretly buried them in backyards and cellars.

           

There were numerous other civilian casualties suffered as a result of the British assault amounting to more than half the loss of life during the uprising.  British forces eventually surrounded the Irish factions and bombarded them into submission, laying waste to vast areas of the city.  Between the superior military strength of the British Army and the fear that more innocent civilians would be killed, Patrick Pearse ordered an unconditional surrender on Saturday, April 29.

In the aftermath the British arrested 3,500 Irish, sending almost 2,000 of them to prison camps.  The leadership of the rebellion was executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol between May 3 and 12.

Even though it was technically a failure the Easter Rising succeeded in inspiring hope in an independent Ireland.  The British response to it caused a strong negative reaction in the Irish population and a wave of support for Irish independence swept across the island.  By 1919 the Irish War of Independence broke out and lead to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment of the Irish Free State.  The technical defeat resulted in the Independent Ireland it had sought to achieve.

In 1926 during the tenth year anniversary of the Easter Rising the Irish Women’s Council introduced the calla lily as a badge sold outside of Catholic churches to be worn on Easter Sunday in commemoration of the uprising and to raise relief money for the families of Irish political prisoners.  To this day it is still a symbol of Irish identity and remembrance.

Many songs have been written in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising.  One of the most well known and perhaps the unarguable official song of remembrance of the rising is “Foggy Dew,” written by Father Canon O’Neill.


The Wise Words of Tecumseh

Tecumseh02“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

~ Chief Tecumseh

          


Your Life is Your Business

We all talk about starting a business as a means to wealth. This seems reasonable, but for the average impoverished person this really means very little. “How do I go into business without any means and possibly no idea what market to go into?”

First you have to realize that you already are in business. YOU are your business. Your life and your body is your corporation. As Dave Ramsey says; “You are the CEO of Me Incorporated.” As soon as you realize that whether you have a business license of not, whether you are technically an employee in a business owned by someone else or not, you are in fact self-employed. If you get your paycheck from a single source you are in fact a corporation with a single client.

Business Card

Even fortune five-hundred company owners have employers. We call them customers, clients, or investors but they are in fact the employers who provide the revenue for the business and pay the salaries of the owners, management, and employees of the company. As an employee, your employer is the investor in or financier of your business, even if your business is operating a broom at the local McDonald’s.

    

 

There is a sort of magic to your thoughts. If you see yourself as just an employee, a worker rather than a businessperson, you are likely to fall into the complacency of wage slavery. Here you wind up working just for the money, often a lesser amount than you are capable of earning. When you realize that your life is a business you become empowered by seeing yourself as a business owner: the CEO of You Inc. Jobs become streams or revenue, money becomes cashflow and capital. You will be compelled to learn more about business, and as your knowledge of the subject increases you will become more prepared to consider operating your own corporation.

A major factor important to anyone’s success is mindset and perspective. So adopt the mindset that you are already self-employed. You are already a business owner, whether that business is doing well or doing poorly. The same principles used by a successful corporation can be applied to your own life. This works whether you are married or single, have children or are childless. The only difference is the number of ‘shareholders’ to whom you may have a fiduciary responsibility.


The Basics of Jewish Mysticism

In Jewish mystical traditions there is a Four Worlds philosophy. This philosophy teaches us that human beings cohesively inhabit four separate states of being, each governed by a particular aspect of human experience. These Four Worlds are the physical, emotional, intellectual and the spiritual. God is perceived to be in all four worlds at the same time. By meditating on each world it helps the meditator come to know God more intimately.

The Hassidic Jews have developed many chants designed specifically to assist in this meditation, to help bring the adherent more consciously into these Four Worlds. The chant Shalom for instance is very relaxing. The word Shalom means peace or completeness and with the slow pulse of the chant causes a sensation of relaxed and centered attention. As Rabbi Ostrich pointed out, it is a sense of oneness, “Like a drop of water becoming one with the ocean.” This plays strongly on the physical body and the loosening of muscles in order to help us to be more receptive to sub-dermal experiences.

Modeh Ani L’fenecha translates as “I acknowledge you.” This is a very cerebral statement to make. Acknowledgement requires the ability to scrutinize our experiences, to separate this from that. This very empirically based discernment to life experiences is no doubt rooted in the world of intellect.

            

When we approach the chant B’rich Rachamana with its full translation it comes to us as, “Blessed is the Compassionate One, Ruler of the World, Master of this food. You are the source of Life for all that is and, and your blessing flows through me.” This is designed to engage the adherent in the emotional experience of God. Giving Him titles such as Compassionate Master induce an emotional response to prayer and meditation. We learn to regard God as benevolent, awesome, steadfast and loving. He becomes somewhat maternal in this world, a nurturer.

Elohai Han’shamah calls to God and proclaims, “The Soul which You have put in me is pure.” This particular chant seems to be focused more upon the world of the spirit. The soul as focal point is pure. Many times in life we don’t feel physically, or emotionally clean much less pure. A person who practices regular prayer or meditation with a bit of diligence can come to experience the true purity of the human soul which was created by and is a part of the Greatest of all Spirits, G-d. That is the ultimate goal of “Four Worlds” Jewish Mysticism.

Shadowyze Bio

Shadowyze (pronounced shadow-wise) is a Native American hip hop artist who comes from a background of Muskogee Creek and Scots-Irish heritage.  He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of West Florida and his lyrics are woven within a fabric of insight and social awareness.



Shadowyze was born in San Antonio, Texas as Alvin Shawn Enfinger and relocated with his family to Pensacola, Fla. at the age of eight.  In 1989, Shadowyze launched his hip-hop career when his group, Posse In Effect, released the official theme song “Knock ‘em out the Ring Roy” recorded for then Olympic boxing Silver Medalist Roy Jones Jr. which received strong support on regional radio as well as NBC Sportsworld.

The big turning point in his career came after Shadowyze spent ten weeks in Central and South America and Mexico in 1998 where he witnessed the cruelty of the “low intensity war,” military oppression and poverty imposed upon the Mayan Indian population in Chiapas, Mexico which inspired his 1999 multi-single Murder in Our Backyard which was endorsed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Ireland.

Shadowyze has appeared on over 20 compilations and released three full length albums; Spirit Warrior (2001), World of Illusions (2003), and his current 2005 release; the self-titled Shadowyze featuring platinum recording Latino artist Baby Bash, and the production wizardry of Nashville’s DJ Dev of Devastating Music; production engineer of the triple platinum selling album 400 degrees by Juvenile and Happy Perez (producer of Baby Bash’s platinum hit Suga Suga, as well as Frankie J., Mystikal).  In 2006 Shadowyze, DJ Dev and Lojah teamed up to produce the multi-single “Powda & Flow” on Backbone Records.


Shadowyze has supported the Mayan Indian Relief Fund and in 2005 attracted national attention by helping to organize and coordinate a Hurricane Katrina relief effort delivering several thousands of dollars worth of supplies to the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

In 2005 Shadowyze won both the Native American Music Awards and the Pensacola, Florida Music Awards for best hip-hop and has been the focus of several stories appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe, XXL, Billboard, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Shadowyze was featured on the covers of Downlow Magazine, Native Network and Get’em Magazine.

Through Backbone, Records; Shadowyze released Guerillas in the Mixx, a compilation in cooperation with Big Lo featuring Public Enemy, The Coup, Michael Franti, Spearhead, Afrika and Litefoot.

Shadowyze has spoken on Native American issues and performed his music on many Indian reservations, the Montrose Jazz Fest in Switzerland and the National Autry Center in Los Angeles.  His most recent release in 2009 on Backbone Records is titled after the Mayan prophecy “2012.”

Lojah featuring Sadowyze: Flow





The Ten Grandmothers; Epic of the Kiowas by Alice Marriot – Book Review

The Ten Grandmothers covers the history of the transition of Kiowa culture during roughly a 100 year period between 1847 and 1944 in an epic linear narrative.  As a work of history and anthropology, this book reads as compellingly as good fiction, with the profound depth of meaning as mythology.

The chapter Going Away was the most compelling to me.  This chapter takes place in 1883 with Grass Stem, the son of Hunting Horse and Spear Woman.  Once Grass Stem emerged from the school house in his blue trousers and white shirt, with his hair cut, his earrings removed and with the new name Stanley Hunt, it was clear that Kiowa life had changed permanently.  Nothing else up to this point in the book had quite the same impact regarding the changes to Kiowa life, not the coming of the first white traders, not the near extinction of the buffalo, not even the ending of the Sundance.  At the point Grass Stem is renamed, we get a glimpse not only of what has been lost in Kiowa culture, but the future of it.

            

The Ten Grandmothers is written in a literary style that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm.  It similarly follows the interactions of the Cheyenne, Crow and Sioux in a mythologized fashion over a period of several generations from before the arrival of the white man.  It progresses into the modern era using the old stories and the symbolism of the Sundance in order to convey the teachings of the Medicine Wheel.

Being written from a multi-generational perspective within the same families is what makes The Ten Grandmothers so effective in capturing the sense of change and adaptation from the freedom of life on the prairie to the 20th century.

The story ends with a strong sense of melancholy nostalgia as Spear Woman recounts all the events of the past to her granddaughter while they make their way to the buffalo park.  The buffalo have returned, only this time they are raised behind the fence, like the Kiowa.  And their appearance at the end of the book serves as a beacon that there is an as of yet unwritten future for both the buffalo and the Kiowa.

Mardi Gras – A Primer

Mardi Gras is a big event in my native home of the Southern Gulf States. It is celebrated heavily between Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. I’ve even seen evidence of attempts at celebrating it as far west as Monterey, California, but nobody does it like home. Although New Orleans is thought of as the home city of American Mardi Gras, the first American celebration of the holiday took place in Mobile, Alabama in 1703.

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Coming from the French tradition, Mardi Gras is similar to the Carnival traditions found throughout Europe and Latin America. It tends to occupy several weeks before and on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.

Lent being a 40 day period of fasting and abstention in the Catholic tradition, Fat Tuesday and the days leading up to it is a time to let it all out, to party, to drink, and for many to sin.  As such it is a festival season celebrated with wild abandon, parades, carnivals and debauchery. Costumes and masks are an important part of the festivities, epitomized by the classic theatre masks.

A Mardi Gras parade can be a rowdy affair.  As the parade floats pass by (each one manned by a krewe, or in Mobile a “Mystic Society”) the attendants compete for cheap plastic beads and trinkets, and aluminum doubloons.

King cake is a tradition going back to the old world. The New Orleans variety consists of a twisted cinnamon roll iced with the colors of the holiday: purple, gold, and green. Traditionally, inside the king cake would be hidden a little plastic baby signifying the baby Jesus, but is often just referred to as the Mardi Gras baby. Whichever person gets the piece with the baby inside is promised a prosperous year.

As much as Mardi Gras is about the festival and indulgence, it should not be forgotten that this is leading up to a 40 day period of fasting. This is a significant time of year. To the ancestors this season heralded in a time of scarcity as the winter stocks began to dwindle before the season’s crops could provide any sustenance. Though the celebrations may seem excessive, it is intended to be followed by a month on penance and discipline.


Here We Come A-Wassailing; The Roots of a Christmas Tradition

It’s not Christmas without Christmas carols.  Many of our most traditional carols are filled with lyrics and lines that leave the modern caroler bewildered.  One of my favorite holiday tunes is “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” also commonly known as “Here We Come A-Caroling.”  Just what is wassailing?  Is it just an archaic word for Christmas caroling?  Actually no, it isn’t.  While the two terms have become generally accepted as interchangeable, caroling is just one aspect of a much deeper and more profound tradition of wassailing.

wassail

Wassail is also a common name for a variety of mulled or spiced beverages such as apple cider, served hot and traditional during the winter months, especially at Christmastime.  In medieval England wassail was a common fermented drink, a type of ale, or mead, served with bread or toast and consumed ceremonially and socially like beer or wine in modern society.  Typical ingredients of wassail included sweetened apple cider, spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.  Modern popular varieties may use a fruit juice, ale, or wine as a base, sometimes spiked with liquor.  Originating in England, wassail was traditionally used as a beverage for making important ceremonial toasts, a ritual closely related to the sumble.  The word itself is derived from the Middle English term waes hael, which means “good health to you.”  Similarly it corresponds to the Old English “wes hal,” and the Old Norse “ves heill.”

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In ancient Europe, wassailing was an important element in the highly tree oriented Anglo-Saxon religious complex.  The Yuletide rite consisted of a parade of revelers singing hymns and playing their drums and other musical instruments, roving between the orchards, leaving offerings and pouring libations.  The ceremony was intended to awaken the apple trees and chase away malevolent spirits in order that the trees should be healthy and produce an abundant crop the following year.  Hot mulled cider, prepared from the recent harvest was the traditional and symbolic drink consumed and offered at these ceremonies.

       

During the medieval period, under feudalism the wassail developed into a midwinter ritual in which the wealthy Lord would distribute goods from his storehouses to the peasants who worked his lands.  In exchange for gifts of his best foods, beers, ales, and wines, the Lord could be assured his people’s allegiance and fealty for the next year.  During the late sixteenth century, bands of young men would travel from orchard to orchard on Twelfth Night, performing the wassailing rite.  They would take their wassail bowl with them and leave offerings of bread or toast on the roots or branches of trees.  Libations of cider were poured on the roots in order that the trees would produce an abundant harvest the following year.  Wassailing cups and bowls were important communal ceremonial items used within all levels or society.  Wassail vessels came in many varieties from the large and intricately decorated silver goblet used by the Worshipful Company of Grocers guild, to the simple white maple bowls used by commoners.

santa-Wassail

During the later historical era wassailing became associated with roving bands of the poor who would descend upon their wealthy neighbors’ homes at Christmastime.  Singing and dancing, they wassailers would demand entrance into the house, and shares of the residents’ best liquors and deserts.  This rite is forever enshrined in the words to the popular carol We Wish You a Merry Christmas; “Now give us some figgy pudding,” and “we won’t go until we get some!”  The estate’s owner was fully expected to play along and contribute to the “good cheer.”  If he didn’t, he could expect his reputation to plummet and possibly his property vandalized.  The old Yuletide holiday was celebrated in a fashion more similar to Halloween and trick-or-treat than to our modern Christmas. This drunken disorderliness is one of the reasons used to outlaw Christmas celebrations by the newly empowered puritans in the Commonwealth of England during the mid seventeenth century.  Over the past few centuries, the roving gangs of wassailers have become tamed into the serene image of the Christmas caroler singing from door to door in the white winter weather, sipping on hot apple-cider.  The hooligan shaking down the neighborhood for treats has been reserved for Halloween.

Wassailing in the old way however, is still practiced especially in the cider-producing western counties of England. In Carhamptona and Whimple, Wassails are held on Twelfth Night, January 17th*, as a means of asking God to bless the community with a healthy orchard and a plentiful apple harvest.  A Wassail king and, queen are selected to lead a procession from orchard to orchard as the participants sing and play music.  During this rite, the wassailers drink large droughts of cider until they are quite full of good cheer. Upon entering an orchard the participants form a circle around the largest apple tree.  The Wassail queen is lifted into the branches where she leaves a piece of toast dipped in wassail as an offering to the “tree faeries,” or the “good spirits,” commonly represented by the local robins.  A blessing to the tree is recited and near the conclusion of the ceremony a man fires a shotgun in the air to frighten away the evil spirits.  Then the revelers begin beating drums, some using pots and pans while singing a traditional invocation for a rich harvest before proceeding to the next orchard.  A popular wassailing song from nineteenth century Somerset County, England went as follows;

 

“Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,

Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,

Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,

Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.”[5]

 

Another old lyric from England says;

 

“Wassaile the trees, that they may beare

You many a Plum and many a Peare,

For more or lesse fruits they will bring,

As you do give them Wassailing.”

 

Our modern tradition of wassailing has taken an intriguing path on its way to us.   Now we can make a little more sense out of the opening lines of that old favorite at Christmastime.  “Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green,” is reminiscent of the old ritual of visiting the orchards, singing to the health of the apple trees to ensure the following year’s harvest.

“Love and Joy come to you,

and to you your wassail too,

And God bless you and send you a happy new year.”

* The date of Twelfth Night is in dispute in certain parts of Britain.  The date on the Gregorian calendar corresponds to January 6th, or the eve of January 5th.  The pre-Gregorian, Julian date which is followed by the old traditionalists falls on January 17th.


Eight Christmas Characters Most Americans Don’t Know

To most Americans Santa Claus is the face of the Christmas season popularized most heavily by the poem T’was the Night before Christmas which essentially codified the Santa tradition in the United States.  Based heavily off of the earlier European models like Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Old Man Winter, and of course St. Nicolas, the poem took these old world variations and developed the jolly old elf we know and love today, complete with his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.  Rudolf would have to wait until much later to be introduced into the mythology.  But throughout Europe there is a broad range of Christmas characters less familiar to Americans, who reveal the richness of this holiday tradition.  Here are eight Christmas characters most Americans don’t know.

1) Yule Lads

In Iceland, 13 mischievous Yule Lads start coming to town one a day beginning thirteen days before Christmas, each one staying for two weeks.  They appear to be quite troublesome spirits, partaking in all sorts of impish behavior, robbing, pulling pranks on, and generally harassing the townspeople.  Each of the thirteen Yule Lads or Yulemen have rather unique names that express the character of their misdeeds such as Meat-Hook, Window-Peeper, and Sausage-Swiper.

the-icelandic-yule-lads

 

2) Christkind

Christkind is the Christ child, or the baby Jesus.  While Christmas is commonly celebrated as the birth of Christ, He is typically not thought of as the Christmas gift-giver in the United States.  In several Eastern European and Latin American countries this little Jesus comes secretly and leaves presents for the children set up around the Christmas tree. Christkind was popularized by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation as a reaction against the overly Catholic symbol of St. Nicolas.  He is usually depicted as an angelic child complete with wings.  The name Christkind has been suggested as the origin of Kris Cringle, one of Santa Claus’ many names.

3) Knecht Ruprecht

In German folklore the Servant Rupert, is a companion of Sinterklaas.  He is depicted as a man with a long beard, dressed in fur, covered in soot, carrying a walking staff and a sack of ashes with jingle-bells hanging from his clothes.  He is sometimes in the company of fairies and men with blackened skin dressed as old women.  When he arrives, he asks the children if they know how to pray.  Those children who can are rewarded with fruits, nuts and cookies.  Those children who cannot pray, he beats with his sack of ashes.  In the shoes of naughty children he places lumps of coal, rocks, or switches for their parents to use in spanking them.

4) Befana

To Americans witches are associated with Halloween and are the furthest things from our minds during the season of cheer and good will.  That’s not the case in Italy where the Befana is the popular symbol of the Christmas season.  Befana is an old woman who brings presents to the good Italian children on January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany.  Instead of a jolly old elf, she is known as a raucous and shameless Witch.  Instead of a sleigh, Befana flies through the air on that most traditional instrument of witchy aeronautics, her broom.  For the good children she leaves presents and candies in their socks. For the bad children she leaves a lump of coal.

              

5) Krampus

Krampus is a popular Christmas spirit especially around Austria and Hungary.  A traveling companion of St. Nicolas, he is charged with punishing the naughty children.  He appears as a fearsome beast like a goat dressed in black rags, carrying old heavy chains.    Some traditions tell that Krampus is the devil and the chains are representative of his servitude in Hell.  At the beginning of December, especially on the night of December 5, men don regalia made from goat-hair, hideously detailed masks with red horns, long tongues and chains.  They get drunk and wander the city streets with switches to threaten and frighten the children.  Late at night, when St. Nicolas is preparing to visit a house and leave his presents, the children are warned that they must go to sleep and not try to peak out and catch a glimpse of St. Nicolas, otherwise the Krampus might snatch them up and carry them away in his sack.

Krampus27

6) Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) is an elfin figure with blackened skin stained from the soot of all the chimneys down which he descends on Christmas.  A popular character in Belgium and the Netherlands, Zwarte Piet is a companion of Sinterklaas and shows up during the weeks preceding the Feast of St. Nicolas.  The Zwarte Pieten entertain children and toss out cookies and candies.  The origin of Zwarte Piet is mysterious.  One tradition says that Sinterklaas defeated Satan and pressed him into service but, in the 19th century Zwarte Piet was remade to resemble a Moor.  Some traditions say that he was a slave named Peter, rescued and liberated by the Sinterklaas, becoming his regular companion.  In modern festivals Zwarte Piet is depicted with black skin, red lips, dressed in bright, colorful Renaissance attire.  To the good children Zwarte Piet brings presents and candy.  For the bad children he carries a bundle of birch branches for their parents to use in punishing them.  Especially naughty children face the prospect of Zwarte Piet throwing them in a giant sack and spiriting them away to Spain.

7) Tió de Nadal

The tradition of Tió de Nadal comes out certain regions of Spain such as Catalonia and Aragon.  In some ways it bears a striking resemblance to the Yule Log, common in Anglo and Germanic countries.  The iconic Tió is a hollowed out log, roughly one foot in length, often with one end painted with a smiling face, set up as a decoration in certain households.  Beginning on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and throughout the Christmas season the Log is cared for like an idol.  He is treated with offerings of food every night from the Feast until Christmas.  At night someone in the house will cover the Log with a quilt to keep him warm.  Although similar in theme to the Germanic Yule Log, the Tió differs in a quite profound and rather unique manner.  Another name for the Tió de Nadal is Caga tió, or the “pooping log.”  On either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the household sings traditional Christmas songs associated with the Tió while beating him with sticks, encouraging him to poop.  When the Tió opens up he “poops” candy, dried fruit, and nuts which everyone share together.

tio

8) Yule Goat

The Scandinavian Santa Claus and is often referred to as the Yule Goat, a tradition native to Northern Europe.  Yule is the old Germanic name for the Midwinter festival that became associated with Christmas, on which day the Yule Goat was slaughtered and eaten.  Scholars connect this tradition with Thor, the Nordic god of thunder who rode his chariot through the night sky at Yule drawn by two goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr.  In countries such as Finland the Yule Goat was a horrid beast that terrified children and could only be pacified with gifts rather than delivering them.  In other parts of Scandinavia the Yule Goat was a benevolent spirit who monitored the Yule festivities to assure that the rituals were performed properly.  One tradition has a man dressing in the furry costume of the Yule Goat, complete with long horns which was theatrically sacrificed and resurrected to the tune of a traditional Yule song.  Modern Yule Goats however, are often ornaments fashioned from straw into the shape of a goat and adorned with red ribbons used to decorate for the Christmas season.  Larger than life sized Yule Goats, also made from straw are set up around town and are often the unfortunate targets of hooligans who set them on fire on the days leading up to Christmas.

yule_goat
A Scandinavian Yule Goat