BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER’S HOLIDAY BEHAVIOR

When it comes to holidays, some people go all out while others are minimalists—and some don’t participate at all.  Even Christmas, the #1 holiday in the United States, isn’t celebrated by 4-8% of the population.  For each of these most popular U.S. holidays, what would your character(s) do?  And why?

Christmas

December 25 (Fixed)

Christmas (from liturgical Christ’s Mass) is the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Religious celebrations are marked by church services (often at midnight on Christmas Eve), singing hymns, recreating the scene of Jesus’ birth either in art or by reenacting, and observing four weeks of prayer and fasting in leading up to the holiday. Many elements of Saturnalia or pagan winter solstice festivals have been incorporated into modern Christmas celebrations, including decorating an evergreen tree, burning a Yule Log, making and eating special foods, and an evolution of the Holly King – Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Tovlis Babua, etc. Secular Christmas celebrations in the United States generally revolve around exchanging gifts, decorating inside and outside, singing carols, visiting family, and sharing a holiday meal. In addition to having the highest percentage of the population celebrating it, Christmas is the top holiday in the United States based on retail sales and number of greeting cards mailed. Among religious celebrations, Christmas is known for having the second highest church attendance (behind Easter).

Thanksgiving

November 22–28 (Floating Thursday)

Originally a harvest festival, the first official Thanksgiving holiday in the United States was proclaimed by George Washington in 1789. Traditional dishes often claim to have some connection to foods eaten by early American colonists, such as turkey, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin. Typically, Thanksgiving is a celebration of thanks for the previous year, with families and friends gathering for a large meal or dinner. Consequently, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. One-sixth of the turkeys consumed annually in the U.S. are eaten around Thanksgiving.

Mother’s Day

May 8–14 (Floating Sunday)

Mother’s Day recognizes mothers, motherhood, and maternal bonds in general, as well as the positive contributions that they make to society. Florists and restaurants have their busiest sale days on Mother’s Day and the days before and after, even higher than Valentine’s Day. Many churches experience spikes in attendance, following only Easter and Christmas.

Easter

March 22 – April 25 (Floating Sunday)

Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The highest church attendance happens on Easter. Most Christian traditions observe 40 days of Lent, fasting and repenting before Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday. Many traditions associated with Easter originated with pagan celebrations of Spring Equinox, including the name (Eastra was a Saxon goddess of spring). Like Christmas, it has become a widely celebrated secular holiday, and customs observed by both Christians and some non-Christians include egg hunting, the Easter Bunny, and Easter parades.

Independence Day

July 4 (Fixed)

Independence Day, also commonly known as the Fourth of July, marks the date that the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. The Continental Congress actually voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd. The holiday is best known today for fireworks and barbecues. In addition to watching civic displays of fireworks, 45% of American celebrate the 4th of July by setting off their own fireworks, accounting for about $675 million in fireworks sales.

Father’s Day

June 15–21 (Floating Sunday)

Father’s Day is a celebration honoring fathers and celebrating fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society. The first official Father’s Day observation in the US was in 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd was raised by her single father and wanted to recognize him and others in his position for their contributions. Inspired by the official celebration of Mother’s Day the year before, Dodd petitioned the government to set aside a day celebrating fathers. It accounts for the highest sales of ties and neckwear annually, around $12.7 billion.

Halloween

October 31 (Fixed)

Halloween (Hallow’s Eve) celebrations are marked today by costumed children knocking door to door asking for treats, and costumed adults attending parties (or costumed adults borrowing the neighbor’s children to have an excuse to beg for candy). Historically, Halloween was a Christian adoption of pagan Samhain traditions, burning lanterns (in turnips or pumpkins) and wearing frightening costumes to scare off restless spirits. It is the most popular holiday for candy sales, amounting to $2.6 billion in 2015.  The same year, $6.9 billion was spent on candy, costumes, and pumpkins, all of which are directly attributed to this holiday.

St. Valentine’s Day

February 14 (Fixed)

St. Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love. As I’ve discussed before, there are also many tragic events associated with the 14th of February. It accounts for 224 million roses grown annually; 24% of American adults purchased flowers for Valentine’s Day in 2015.  The holiday comes in second in terms of annual restaurant sales, behind only Mother’s Day. In recent years, florists, chocolatiers, greeting card sellers, and other associated romance retailers have been encouraging non-romantic displays of affection to increase sales.

St. Patrick’s Day

March 17 (Fixed)

St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) commemorates life of Saint Patrick, a Welsh shepherd brought to Ireland as a slave, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. It is also an opportunity to celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is generally a quiet affair; most people attend church services and perhaps wear a shamrock on their lapel. American traditions of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day stem from Tammany Hall efforts to recruit voters from among the newly arrived Irish immigrants in New York at the end of the 19th century. The political organization threw parades, hired bands to play Irish music, and distributed food and beer to hungry tenement dwellers. Modern celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, parties, the wearing of green attire or shamrocks, and alcohol consumption.

New Year’s Eve / New Year’s Day

December 31 (Fixed)

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are usually lumped together, particularly since the actual festivities center around midnight between the two. Observed on December 31st and January 1, the last day of the old year and the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar. Many religious traditions require attendance at services on New Year’s Day. Parties celebrating the countdown to midnight are common. It is known for being the holiday with the highest alcohol consumption, evidenced by the spike in sales around between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Alcoholics’ support groups acknowledge this as one of the most dangerous holidays for people fighting alcoholism. Many parents set their household clocks ahead by several hours and allow their children to stay up until “midnight” and watch the televised countdown and fireworks in a country several time zones ahead; the kids are then sent to bed at 9pm, convinced it is midnight, and parents can go to bed early.

Talk Like a Pirate Day is one of my favorites! (September 19)

We have literally hundreds of national, state, and local holidays. A couple of examples of the less common ones are Patriot’s Day celebrated and observed in Massachusetts and Maine; and Yorktown Victory Day in Virginia.

National Dog Day, this guy’s favorite holiday, is August 26th.

Are some holidays—not among the most popular in the U.S.—nevertheless important to you character(s)? What are they? Better yet, make a list of holidays most important to your character(s) similar to the above. This is especially useful if you are writing a series character.

Bottom line for writers: how your character behaves around and on holidays can tell the reader a great deal about ethnicity, religion, family relationships, and spending habits, as well as revealing basic tendencies toward extravagance or minimalism, introversion /extroversion, degree of anxiety, etc. 

PUMPKIN SEASON

Connecticut field pumpkin

When my three children were young, we always  carved three Jack-O-Lanterns on Halloween.  (FYI: The traditional pumpkin for American Jack-O-Lanterns is the Connecticut field variety.)  If my family of origin had a crest, our motto would be “Waste Not, Want Not.”  Of course, I couldn’t just throw away perfectly edible food!  This combination of personality and plenty resulted in lots of pumpkin for our table.

Culinary Uses

The day after Halloween, we “dealt with” those pumpkins. At the time, this meant chunking them up, baking the pieces, pureeing, and freezing the pulp in two-cup freezer bags.  (Full disclosure: Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins are far from the best eating ones. Sugar pie pumpkins or Long Island Cheese pumpkins are preferred by pumpkin connoisseurs.)  The bounty led me to cut recipes from can labels, ask for favorite recipes from family members, and buy cookbooks like this. 

Between then and now, I’ve learned just how narrow my culinary use of pumpkins had been.

Sooooo sick of pumpkins!

In word associations tests, “pumpkin” is almost certain to be followed by “pie.” And sure enough, I have at least a dozen excellent pumpkin pie recipes. And then there is pumpkin bread, pumpkin stew, pumpkin curry, pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin beer, pumpkin butter, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes… Pumpkin smoothies are a current favorite.

FYI: Pumpkin can be substituted for other winter squash in virtually any recipe. In fact, the FDA does not distinguish between pumpkins and other varieties of squash. When you buy a can of “pumpkin” from the grocery store, it’s just as likely to be acorn or butternut squash inside.

Pumpkins grow worldwide. Antarctica is the only continent that can’t grow pumpkins.  (Those poor penguins…)

  • Blossoms cooked with duck were and are a Chinese delicacy 
  • Small, green pumpkins can be treated like summer squash
  • Leaves can be eaten by themselves or dressed in a salad
  • Whole pumpkins stuffed and baked (sweet or savory)
  • As a complement to meat in stews (especially in Native American, African, and South American recipes)
  • Slices fried with apples, sweet herbs and spices, and currants
  • With corn and beans as succotash (Native American)
  • Dried/dehydrated; sometimes pounded into powder for baking
  • Seeds:
    • Popular with pre-Columbian people of Mexico and Peru; now available in most grocery stores
  • Oil from seeds
  • Butter (like apple butter)
  • Beer/fermented drinks
  • As a hard times substitute for other ingredients
    • E.g., pumpkin syrup for molasses, pumpkin sugar)

Pumpkin shells can even be used a type of slow-cooker. After the stringy guts have been scooped out, they can be filled and buried in ashes or baked in an oven. Armenian rice pudding baked in a pumpkin shell is a particular holiday delicacy.

Native Americans (Iroquois in particular) had Four Sisters of agriculture: pumpkins, corn, beans, and squash, interplanted so each vegetable provided sustainability and nutrients for the others to grow. The four sisters of agriculture allowed the survival the earliest colonists. The ubiquity—and importance of pumpkins is clear in this old New England doggerel:

From pottage, and puddings, and puddings, and pies,
Our pumpkins and parsnips are common supplies.
We have pumpkins at morning, and pumpkins at noon;
If it were not for pumpkins, we should be undone.

Non-Culinary Uses

  • Stacked on thatched roofs to provide stability
  • South Africa soap
  • As a medium of currency (1 pumpkin for 4 cocoa beans, etc.)
  • Food for livestock, from chickens to pigs
  • As an offering to deities in China during the season of the Fifth Moon
  • As a dietary supplement for cats and dogs that have certain digestive ailments such as hairballs, constipation, and diarrhea
  • In Native American medicine to treat intestinal worms and ailments
  • In Germany and southeastern Europe to treat irritable bladder and benign prostatic hyperplasia
  • In China for the treatment of parasitic disease and the expulsion of tape worms
  • Hollowed out and lighted with candles, as lanterns to light the way after dark

And Then There is Halloween

The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, an important day for Druids, when the veil between this world and the afterlife was particularly thin. People would light bonfires and wear frightening costumes to ward off ghosts. All Hallows Eve (the night before All Saints Day) transmuted to Halloween—holy or hallowed evening.

Historically, in Britain and Ireland lanterns were carved from turnips or other vegetables. In the New World, pumpkins were a substitute, and even better because they are bigger and easier to deal with. Although other vegetables are still popular in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Britain purchases millions of pumpkins for Halloween.

In 1837, the term Jack-O-Lantern appeared in several Irish newspapers as a term for a vegetable lantern. The association with Halloween was documented by 1866. Additionally, in popular culture there’s a connection between pumpkins and the supernatural. Jack-O-Lanterns derive from folklore about a lost soul wandering the earth, searching for his missing head.

Festivities

Annually, Circleville, OH holds a Pumpkin Festival, complete with marching bands, a queen, all sorts of fair foods made with pumpkin, and a prize for the biggest pumpkin. FYI, the largest pumpkin in North American history was grown by a New Hampshire man and tipped the scale at 2,528 pounds. You can find other festivals and pumpkin contests online.

Then there are contests, often including baked goods. More actively, there are games like pumpkin throwing and pumpkin chunking. Chunking involves machines like catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, and air cannons. Some pumpkin chunkers breed and grow pumpkins specifically to improve the pumpkin’s chances of surviving a throw.

Folklore and Fiction 

We all know a couple of examples

  • Peter, Peter pumpkin eater   
    Had a wife and couldn’t keep her.   
    Put her in a pumpkin shell   
    And there he kept her very well.
  • Cinderella’s coach for the ball was carved from a pumpkin in many versions
  • In some versions of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman has a pumpkin in place of a head
  • Pumpkin in the Jar

Overall, in the U.S., pumpkin folklore tends to be light and humorous (though keeping a woman in a gourd root doesn’t sound very nice), often involving the biggest, the fastest, the most fantastic. Pumpkins can talk, or someone hit by a pumpkin thinks he’s dead. Southern American folklore often stems from tall tales told by the descendants of West African slaves in which pumpkins—and pigs—meet magical realism.

In other cultures, pumpkins are often elements of different genres of myths.

  • Creation myths
    • Laotians believed that all the people of Indo-China came from a pumpkin.
  • Magical transformation
    • Turning into or giving birth to strange creatures, evil doers, beautiful princesses
    • Because it ripens later than most fruits and vegetables, between summer and winter, the pumpkin is often seen as a symbol of change.
  • Rebirth
    • In many West and Central African cultures, pumpkins stand for rebirth, when a pumpkin grows from a dead mother’s grave.
  • In Ukraine, a pumpkin was traditionally given to a suitor to symbolize that there was absolutely no chance of marriage.

Pumpkin History

Some sources, like Wikipedia, claim pumpkins are native to North America (northeastern Mexico and southern U.S). This assertion is based on evidence paleobotanists offer of cultivation as early as 7,500-5,000 BCE. Clearly, the use of pumpkins preceded the cultivation.

The Chinese grew pumpkins in the 6th and 7th centuries. Africa claims to have a pumpkin variety that preceded European or American contact. Pliny the Elder, in first century Rome, described something that seems to have been a pumpkin. Pre-Columbian Peruvians made pottery in the shape of pumpkins—suggesting that pumpkins were both prominent in their gardens and important in their culture. Conclusion: pumpkins were everywhere, very long ago!

Bottom line for writers: surely your plot and/or characters can use some tidbits about pumpkins!

All done. No more pumpkins. Can we go home now?

HOW THIS BLOG ENDED UP IN THE BAHAMAS

Sometimes a writer (and I’m not alone here) starts out to write one thing and something entirely different emerges.  My metaphor for this is heading for Maine and ending up in the Bahamas.  That’s what happened to this blog.  I started out to write TELLING TIME, about using food to set or reveal the time in which the story takes place.  What I had in mind was a timeline for foods and cooking equipment.

For Example, by 1900

As many of you know, I collect cookbooks, and have done so for decades. As I pulled relevant references off my shelves, I discovered over a dozen books specifically on the history of food and cooking. 

No more than an hour or so into this effort, I realized three things:

  1. Readers might not be as enamored of lists as I am.
  2. The list would go on forever!
  3. Such a blog wouldn’t be helpful in the general scheme of things.

And that’s when I headed for the Bahamas, and turned this blog into a Better Know Your Character effort.

Assuming you don’t want to draw entirely from your own life and experience, there’s a book for that. 

You can get food and cooking information for any time period you need, in as much detail as you need, and for virtually any place you need.  If you write across time periods and/or locations, one of the books covering a broader range would be a good choice. 

Cookbooks for Specific Geographic Needs
  • By region, for example New England, Northern India, the Balkans
  • Any state in the US
  • Virtually any country or territory
  • Virtually any city
    • I say virtually here because I don’t have every one. But given that I have books for Paris; Tbilisi; Detroit; Pittsburgh; Los Angeles; Denver; Rochester, NY; and Westminster, MD (to name a few), I’m confident you could find what you need.
  • Plantation cooking
  • Australian Outback cooking
  • Wilderness cooking
  • Pacific Island cooking
  • Appalachian cooking
Cookbooks by Time Period
  • The American colonial kitchen
  • By decade since at least 1900
  • Food and cooking during war.
    • For example, The Doughboy’s Cookbook (common foods and cooking in the trenches of World War I) or M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf (cooking during WWII rationing).
    • Cooking during wars or other conflicts often focus on deprivation.
      • The recently published CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine has recipes Russian cooks developed or adapted to deal with food shortages throughout the Cold War.
      • During the Civil War, there was a time when there were no pigeons left in the city of Richmond because all had been killed for the table.
Cookbooks by Ethnic Heritage
  • African American
  • Native American
  • Results of mixed heritages
    • West African and French influences in Cajun cooking
    • Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Indian influences all along the Silk Road
  • Any cuisine by country of origin

Everyone has to eat sometime (except alien cyborgs).

What is your character’s attitude toward food? 

Cover all three aspects of attitudes: think, feel, do.

What does home cooking mean to your character? 

The answer to this question can tell all sorts of things about your character besides ethnicity:

  • Approximate age
  • Social class
  • Family of origin
What is involved in meal preparation?

If your modern character is making a meal, does s/he start with raw ingredients or put a prepared meal in the microwave? Does the answer change if company is coming? Is it a family meal? Do other family members share your character’s attitudes toward food and cooking?

What does your character eat? 

Strictly a meat and potatoes person? Omnivore? PescatarianVegetarian? Vegan And why?

  • Religious prohibitions
  • Animal rights
  • Health considerations
  • Cultural habits
  • Availability
What health concerns does a character address with food?

Many medical conditions are caused by unhealthy eating habits or require dietary adjustments to treat fully. Depending on the diet, this character may have cookbooks addressing the concern, request substitutions when eating out, or be unwilling to eat or cook around others.

  • Lack of a nutrient, such as calcium, Vitamin D, sodium
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Lactose intolerance

Consider also the possibility of mental health concerns when eating or preparing food. A character with alcoholism, compulsive overeating, bulimia nervosa, etc. would likely display signs of those disorders that might be noticed by others. On the other hand, a character with severe depression, body dysmorphia, or OCD related to food might avoid social situations involving food altogether.

Food is for everyone

Whether your character lives to eat or eats to live—or is somewhere between the extremes—it’s difficult to write realistically without food coming into play somewhere, sometimes, at least occasionally. Making those mentions specific to your story/character is a big plus.

Bottom line advice to writers: Bring food and/or cooking into your story to add realism, specificity, and richness.

FAT OR PHAT

In modern slang, phat is roughly equivalent to excellent. Fat is a loose label that can refer to normal, overweight, obese, or extremely obese—or body parts that the speaker considers overly large. Fat or phat depends on where and when—and whether TV is available. 

According to The Body Project at Bradley University, “Although thin bodies are the ideal in America today, this is not always the case in other parts of the world. In some countries larger bodies are actually preferred because they are symbols of wealth, power, and fertility.” Here are their highlights.

Tahiti

  • In Tahiti, researchers in the 19th century observed chosen men and women engaging in a ritual process called ha’apori, or “fattening.”
    • Those selected to participate were usually young men and women from the upper echelons of society. 
    • During the fattening process, they would reside in a special home where relatives fed and cared for them so they would grow large, healthy, and attractive.
  • This ritual is no longer practiced today, but Tahitians still find large bodies attractive. This may be due in part to a diet rich in carbohydrates and coconut milk.

Nauru

  • In Nauru, large bodies were traditionally associated with beauty and fertility.
    • Young women were fattened up in preparation for child bearing.
    • Young men were fattened in preparation for contests of strength.
  • Fattening rituals had both social and biological benefits.
    • Feasting brought the community together and helped unite them.
    • The additional calories given to women of childbearing age increased the likelihood of conception and healthy birth and lactation.
  • Such fattening rituals ended in the 1920s.

Fiji

  • In Fiji, larger bodies are symbols of health and connectedness to the community. People who lose a lot of weight or are very thin are regarded with suspicion or pity.
    • In a 1998 study in Fiji, 54% of obese female respondents said they wanted to maintain their present weight, while 17% of obese women said they hoped to gain weight.
    • Among overweight (although not obese) women, 72% said they did not wish to change their weight, while 8% of these women hoped to gain weight.
  • Both overweight and obese women expressed a high level of body satisfaction.

Jamaica

  • A 1993 study in Jamaica found that plump bodies are considered healthiest and most attractive among rural Jamaicans.
    • Fat is associated with fertility, kindness, happiness, vitality, and social harmony.
    • Some Jamaican girls even buy pills designed to increase their appetite and help them gain weight.
  • Particular emphasis is placed on generous hips and hindquarters.
  • Weight loss and thinness are considered signs of social neglect.

The body project reports: “In recent times, even many societies that once favored larger bodies seem to be moving toward thinner bodies as the ideal. Why? One factor is that with globalization and the spread of Western media, people around the world are receiving the same message that we do in America: that thin bodies are the most attractive.”

  • In a landmark 2002 study, researchers reported the effects of the Western mass media on body ideals in Fiji.
    • When researchers visited one region of Fiji in 1995, they found that broadcast television was not available. In that region, there was only one reported case of anorexia nervosa.
    • Just three years after the introduction of television, 69% of girls reported dieting to lose weight.
    • Those whose families owned televisions were three times more likely to have attitudes associated with eating disorders.

Other Countries Where Big is Beautiful

Kuwait
52% of Kuwaiti women over 15 are obese.  Extra weight was historically seen as a sign of health and wealth.  Additionally, the idea of women exercising is a taboo.

American Samoa
Anthropologists believe Samoans may have developed a genetic predisposition to store extra calories in fat tissue as a result of millennia of food shortages.  Heavy women (and men) are simply the norm and therefore embraced.

South Africa
The end of Apartheid did not mean South Africans adopted European size ideals to replace the correlation of weight and wealth. More recently, AIDS has become so prevalent that the societal association between weight loss and illness has contributed to South Africa’s negative view of thinness. 

Afghanistan
Female fertility is highly associated with excess pounds, particularly among the most traditional nomadic tribes in Afghanistan. Today, burquas conceal most of the body’s shape, but round faces and soft hands are immediate signs of attractiveness.

Mauritania
Female obesity is so synonymous with beauty and wealth that young girls are sometimes force-fed if they do not exhibit sufficient appetites.  Women often take antihistamines and animal steroids to induce appetite.  Exercise is frowned upon, and women are frequently divorced for their inability to sustain excessive girth after childbirth.

Changing Body Ideals

As The Body Project so clearly documented, body ideals are fluid. The changes over time are apparent, most obviously since 1900. 

From the Stone Age to the Renaissance, fat was beautiful, thought to reflect both health and wealth. Consider the early Fertility Goddesses (such as Venus, Ishtar, Brigid, Parvati, Hathor, Ashanti Akuba,) as an ideal:

  • Prior to 1900, in China, the stigma of thinness was so strong that thin people had trouble finding marriage partners. Special bulking diets were consumed to make sure those of marriageable age would be attractive.
  • Elite pubescent Efik girls (in Nigeria) spent two years in fattening huts, which were exactly what the name implies.
  • The Tarahumara of Northern Mexico idealized fat legs. Both women and men were considered more attractive or prosperous if obese.

Plus-sized beauty ideals are everywhere in old art. For example, “The Bathers” by Renoir (1887) is typical. Rubens, Titian, Memling, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and their fellow artists were all appreciative of the breadth of their subjects’ forms.

At the turn of the 20th century, Lillian Russell, weighing approximately 200 pounds, was a sex symbol. Women carrying extra weight were considered beautiful and fertile. Overweight men were perceived as powerful. There was even a club just for men who weighed over 200 pounds.

Connecticut Fat Men’s Club in 1866

Although during the Roaring Twenties in the U.S. the ideal body for women was “boyish” (flat chest and narrow hips), by the 1950s the ideal female body was significantly heavier than today. (Think Marilyn Monroe.)

Miss America pageant winners
The most beautiful woman, according to different populations.

Degrees of “acceptable” weight vary among cultures, regions, even ethnic groups. A number of studies report that African-American women were less likely than white women to obsess over their weight or to view their body as an enemy. Black women, as well as Hispanic women, didn’t start to express dissatisfaction until they were borderline obese. White women expressed dissatisfaction when they were at the high end of normal/borderline overweight.

From the 1960s to 2020, the ideal body has been some degree of thinness, even as there is a wave of obesity around the world.

Obesity and Physical  Health

I won’t dwell on physical health because it’s common knowledge. Obesity is bad for one’s health, increasing the likelihood of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoarthritis, infertility, fibroids, gastro-intestinal problems, and sleep disturbances. Recent studies have indicated that overweight patients who become infected with COVID-19 are more likely to develop life-threatening complications. 

Stereotypes of Fat People

Numerous surveys have demonstrated that the American public is biased against people who are overweight and obese. 

Negative attitudes toward fat people are dominant, pervasive, and difficult to change in both children and adults.

According to the AMA Journal of Ethics, physicians hold numerous biases. “A survey involving a nationally representative sample of primary care physicians revealed that, not only did more than half of respondents think that patients who are obese were awkward and unattractive, but more than 50 percent believed that they would be noncompliant with treatment. One-third thought of them as “weak-willed” and “lazy.”

Another study found that as patients’ weight increased, physicians reported having less patience, less faith in patients’ ability to comply with treatment, and less desire to help them. Other studies have added to the evidence that bias against patients who are obese is common in health care settings.”

These findings are particularly scary in light of the relationship between obesity and health problems summarized above—and in light of the fact that the majority of Americans are overweight or obese.

Fat people are thought to have no willpower, no self-control. Although expected to be good humored and laid back, they are also thought to be gluttons.

Tess Holliday (left) was mocked for wearing this dress on the red carpet. Several other (thin) celebrities were admired for wearing the same dress.

Anyone can identify prejudices held by people in general, and the media—particularly TV—exacerbate the problem.  Greenberg et al. reported on their findings of television actors’ BMI after analyzing 5 episodes of the top 10 prime time shows.

  • In comparing television actors’ BMI to that of the American public, they found that only 25 percent of men on television were overweight or obese, compared to almost 60 percent of American men.
  • Almost 90 percent of women on TV were at or below normal weight, compared to less than 50 percent of American women.
Korean pop stars (such as Xiumin from EXO) are held to absurd body weight standards, often being forced by managers and publicists to remain in a perpetual state of malnourishment.

Popular television shows that include people who are obese portray them as comedic, lonely, or freaks (think Mike and Molly).  Rarely if ever are they romantic leads, successful lawyers or doctors, or action stars.

In addition, The Biggest Loser promotes the perception that obesity is caused by individual failure rather than a mixture of individual, environment, and genetic sources.

  • Miscellaneous negative attributions
    • Rejected
    • Lazy
    • Slow
    • Sick
    • Low self-confidence
  • Indeterminate attributions
    • Hungry
    • Quiet
    • Shy
  • Although the negative attitudes are predominant, some positive traits are attributed to fat people
    • Happy
    • Sweet
    • Playful
    • Intelligent
    • Honest
    • Likely to fulfill promises
    • Kind
    • Generous

Fat and Employment

Male Body Ideals Through History
  • Negative attributions (see above) make employment particularly difficult for people who have some extra pounds.
    • Fat people have a harder time finding employment
    • Even when employed, fat people earn less than their thinner counterparts for the same job
    • They are less likely to be promoted
    • They get smaller raises
    • They’re more likely to be thought to be slacking off 

Fat and Mental Health

Even Plus-Size Models are photo-shopped to be nearly unrecognizable.
Karizza Photographer
  • In a nutshell, the more overweight a person is, the more likely that person is to have mental health problems.
    • Partly it’s because people incorporate the negative stereotypes held by society.
    • This, in turn, can cause-isolation-poor body image 
      • Low self-esteem
      • Depression
      • Anxiety
      • Bulimia or anorexia
Some people are totally comfortable in their bodies, not caring what anyone thinks.

Women in general react more strongly than men to negative comments and the lack of positive comments. Overweight women are much more likely to be hurt by criticism of their bodies than overweight men are.

Bottom line for writers: Whatever the body type of characters, make a conscious decision on whether to draw on stereotypes or go against them.

GHOST MARRIAGES

Spinster? Life-long bachelor? Being dead is no excuse for not getting married. If you are dead and looking for love, there is a dating website for you! Check out: http://www.ghostsingles.com/ (I am not affiliated in any way with this website; please do not perceive this as an endorsement for necrogamy.)

Ghost marriage (a.k.a. spirit marriage or necrogamy) has been practiced in some form in various cultures around the world for millennia. The first records appeared in Chinese legends more than 2000 years ago and has been part of the culture ever since. Although the practice was less common in China in the late 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, it’s made a comeback.

Reasons for marrying the dead vary among cultures and in different time periods, but there are a few recurring themes. The examples listed in this blog are not comprehensive, but the motives could easily be applied in many fictional scenarios.

  • Appeasing the spirits of those already dead
  • Fulfilling an agreement made before one or both parties died
  • Maintaining social decorum
  • Ensuring the legitimacy of children and inheritance rights

CHINA

Ghost weddings are most common in China. Minghun is, essentially ghost marriage in which the bride and/or groom is dead and has not left behind a widow(er). A Chinese ghost marriage is usually set up by family members.  The preferred ghost spouse is recently deceased. 

Ancestor Tablets

Writers note: Because, in China, men outnumber women in death as in life, ghost brides can be big business.  At least two cases have been reported (2007 and 2013) in which men killed more than a dozen prostitutes, housekeepers, and mentally ill women and sold the bodies to undertakers for about $2000. The undertakers then sold them to prospective “in-laws” for $5000. 

An engaged couple from Taipei were posthumously married despite having died together in a landslide

But why would dead people marry?  In China, and among the Chinese in Taiwan and Singapore, ghost marriage ceremonies are performed primarily to appease unhappy ghosts and to maintain social order or stability. The importance of marriage in Chinese society means that the ghosts of those who die unmarried are assumed to be unhappy and can wreck havoc on the birth family, the family of its betrothed (if engaged), and the married sisters of the ghost. This can take the form of any misfortune—financial setback, illness, etc.

Benefits for Women
  • Spinsters can gain social acceptance and cease being an “embarrassment” to their families (by being old spinsters at age 20!)
  • An unmarried daughter must gain a patrilineage so she can have a spirit tablet. With a tablet, the husband’s family will honor and care for her spirit after death.
  • Living unmarried women are not allowed to remain in the family home, nor are they allowed to die there.
  • A living woman marrying a ghost husband lives with his family, participates in the funeral ritual, abides by the mourning customs regarding dress and behavior, and takes a vow of celibacy. She also cares for her husband’s aging relatives. 
  • For some women, particularly during the nineteenth century, marrying a ghost was their ideal social arrangements. A rising class of silk merchants, primarily comprised of women, were not eager to give up their independence and relative freedom by being tied to a husband. Being married to a respectable ghost would provide such a woman with the social protection of marriage without the hassle of raising a family. For more details, check out Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, a fascinating look at the history of marriage.
Benefits for Men
  • Dead sons were honored by giving them living brides.
  • The practice ensured the family line and name would continue. The groom’s family could adopt a grandson, usually a son of a male relative, who behaved as a son and inherited his deceased “father’s” share of the family wealth.
  • The groom’s mother would have a daughter-in-law to wait on her and care for the house.
  • It was considered unlucky and sometimes shameful for a younger brother to be married before an older one (even if the older brother was dead.)

Finding a suitable spouse is a varied business. Sometimes it involves a marriage broker who finds a family with a recently dead member who has a favorable horoscope. Some families use a priest as a matchmaker. Some families approach an undertaker/funeral director.

Paper offerings of money and luxuries are burned at ghost wedding to provide the married couple comfort in the afterlife.

Sometimes the family assumes that the ghost will identify his or her preferred spouse. The potential bride or groom will reveal him or herself. A restless ghost may also express a desire to be married by appearing in a family member’s dream or while being channeled through a spirit medium during a séance.

Financial arrangements also vary.  Often there is an exchange of bride wealth and/or dowries between the two families, but more often paper representations of wealth are exchanged.  Houses, cars, servants, food, and furniture are all burned in offering to the deceased. (Often, money made to be burned will have “Bank of Heaven” printed on one side and “Bank of Hell” printed on the other. Wherever the happy couple wind up, they’ll have plenty of spending power!)

Ghost Wedding from 1922

A ghost marriage ceremony is as similar as possible to a regular marriage ceremony, but with the dead person(s) represented by manikins made of cloth, bamboo, wood, and/or paper. The bride and groom wear real clothes but costume jewelry. A living groom would wear black gloves instead of white. The effigies are typically treated as though alive—being ‘fed,” talked to, and moved from place to place—until after all the festivities, when they are burned, and the bride’s ancestral tablet is added to the groom’s family’s tablets. If the bride and groom were engaged before he died, the groom is often represented on the wedding day by a white rooster.

Lantern Offerings for the Festival of Hungry Ghosts

JAPAN

Some regions of Japan, particularly the northern islands and Okinawa Prefecture, have a very long tradition of posthumous marriage, probably because of centuries of Chinese influence. Here, again, the reason relates to the placing of spirit tablets and continued honoring of ancestors.

The main factor distinguishing Japanese ghost marriage from its Chinese counterpart is the type of spouses married to ghosts. A deceased person is not married to another dead person, nor to a living one, but to a doll. The most common ghost marriage is between a ghost man and a bride doll, but posthumous weddings can go the other way, with a ghost bride marrying a groom doll. During a Japanese doll wedding ceremony, a photo of the dead man or woman is placed in a glass case alongside the doll to represent their union. The tableau stays in place for up to 30 years, at which point the deceased’s spirit is considered to have passed into the next realm. The symbolic companionship is designed to keep the ghost husband or wife calm and prevent supernatural harm from coming to the living family.

Ellen Schattschneider wrote about ghost weddings in Japan in her 2001 paper “Buy Me a Bride”: Death and Exchange in Northern Japanese Bride‐Doll Marriage

Persons who die early harbor resentment toward the living. Denied the sexual and emotional fulfillment of marriage and procreation, they often seek to torment their more fortunate living relatives through illness, financial misfortune, or spirit possession. Spirit marriage, allowing a ritual completion of the life cycle, placates the dead spirit and turns its malevolent attention away from the living.

KOREA 

Throughout the Korean Peninsula, it used to be customary for a person to marry the soul of a betrothed who died before the wedding. The living spouse would then remain celibate for the rest of his/her life. Currently that tradition is not binding.

SOUTH KOREA

Modern law in South Korea allows posthumous marriage in cases where one member of an engaged couple dies because, according Unification Church beliefs, only married couple can enter the highest levels of heaven. Another reason for postmortem marriages is—again—if the prospective bride is pregnant.

INDIA

In Kasargod, India, children are often engaged to be married at a very young age. If the children pass away before they are old enough to marry, their families may hold in a Pretha Kalyanam. After consulting an astrologer, the two families will hold a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony with dolls in place of the bride and groom. The dolls are dressed in traditional wedding clothes, horoscopes are matched, and a wedding feast is served to guests.

After the ceremony, the dolls are buried under a sacred tree, submerged in a lake or river, or burned in a ceremonial pyre.

FRANCE

Etienne Cardiles posthumously married his civil partner Xavier Jugelé after Jugelé was killed in a terrorist attack by ISIL

Posthumous or Postmortem Marriage is a legal form of marriage which originated in the 1950s. The story behind the addition begins with a disaster: on December 2, 1959, the Malpasset Dam just north of the French Riviera collapsed, unleashing a furious wall of water that killed 423 people. When then president Charles de Gaulle visited the devastated site, a bereaved woman, Irène Jodard, pleaded to be allowed to marry her dead fiancé. On December 31, French parliament passed the law permitting posthumous marriage.

The President of the Republic may, for grave reasons, authorize the celebration of the marriage where one of the future spouses died after completion of official formalities indicating unequivocally his or her consent. In this case, the effect of marriage dated back to the day preceding the death of the husband. However, this marriage does not entail any right of intestate succession for the benefit of the surviving spouse and no matrimonial property is deemed to have existed between spouses.

Article 117 of the French Civil Code

Ways to legally show intent include having posted an official wedding announcement at the local courthouse and written permission from a soldier’s commanding officer. Grave reasons include the birth of a child, and to legitimize children is a primary reason for such marriages. If the couple had planned to marry and the family of the deceased approves, the local official sends the application back to the President. 

Writers note: One quarter of the applications for posthumous marriage are rejected.

During the ceremony, the living spouse stands next to a picture of the deceased fiancé. Instead of the deceased’s marriage vows, the mayor conducting the ceremony reads the presidential decree.

Magaly Jaskiewicz’s posthumous marriage to Jonathan George in 2009

Money: The law does not allow the living spouse to claim any of the deceased spouse’s property or money. No matrimonial property is considered to have existed. However, the living spouse is considered a widow for purpose of receiving pension and insurance benefits.

Pro or con: A posthumous marriage bring the surviving spouse into the family of the deceased spouse, which can create an alliance and/or emotional satisfaction—or the opposite! The surviving spouse is also subject to the impediments of marriage that result. 

GERMANY 

Charlotte Kaletta and Fritz Pfeffer

The German government did not allow Jews and non-Jews to marry under the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg Laws. Charlotte Kaletta and Fritz Pfeffer lived together without marriage. In 1950, Charlotte married Fritz posthumously, with a retrospective wedding date of May 31, 1937.

SUDAN 

Within the Nuer ethnic group of southern Sudan, ghost marriage happens in a very particular way. “If a man dies without male heirs, a kinsman frequently marries a wife to the dead man’s name,” writes Alice Singer in Marriage Payments and the Exchange of People. “The genitor [biological father] then behaves socially like the husband, but the ghost is considered the pater [legal father].”

Manyok bride

This arrangement, Levirate marriage, is conducted in order to secure both the property and ongoing lineage of the dead man. The woman receives a payment at the time of the ghost marriage—a fee known as the brideprice—which may include “bloodwealth” money from those responsible for the death of the man as well as payment in the form of cattle that once belonged to the deceased man. The Dinka (Jieng) and Nuer tribes of Southern Sudan most commonly practice this form of ghost marriage. Women will also marry a deceased man so they can retain their wealth and property instead of losing it to a living husband.

Dinka wedding celebrations

The term Levirate is a derivative of the Latin word levir meaning “husband’s brother.” Instances of Levirate marriage have also been documented in Judaism, Islam, Scythia, Central Asia and Xiongnu, Kirghiz, Indonesia, Somalia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and England.

THE UNITED STATES does not legally recognize ghost marriages.

Bottom line for writers: Marrying dead people is rife with possibilities for tension, romance, murder, and conflict. Real-life examples are often tragic. Wikipedia has a list of posthumous marriage in fiction—TV, film, and novels. Feel free to go for it, even if you will not be the first!

THERE’S KISSING, AND THEN THERE’S KISSING

When writers write about kissing, it’s almost always in the spirit of Klimt: love, passion, romance, sexual attraction, sexual activity, and/or sexual arousal. These kisses are often described in great detail: lips, tongue, involuntary reactions like breath and pulse, all taste, and smell. The reader is told whether it’s tender or demanding, hard or seeking, along with related sensations of hair, hands, body positions, and eye contact.

FYI, Kissing is the second most common form of physical intimacy among U.S. adolescents (after hand-holding). About 85% of 15-16-year-old have experience kissing. (At least, they say they do; one of the only things worse for a 15-16 year old to be caught doing than lieing on an anonymous survey is being shown to have less experience than their peers in any kind of sexual activity or exploration.)

Affection

Affectionate kisses are presented very differently. While not denying that affection can be a part of romantic/sexual kissing, it often has no erotic component at all.  Although seldom mouth-to-mouth, affectionate kisses are much broader, and can express loyal affection, gratitude, compassion, sympathy, joy, or sorrow. 

Affectionate kisses are common among family members, especially parents and children, and others who are “like family.” These are often cheek kisses accompanied by hugs. But affectionate kisses typically are not described with the sensory detail of erotic kisses. It is as if, given the context (of wedding, funeral, leave taking, illness, etc.) the act itself says it all.

Consider the possibilities of sensory description of affectionate kisses. A great-aunt’s overly strong perfume and clouds of fine, white hair obscuring vision as she leans in for a slightly whiskery kiss at a funeral. An exuberant friend hugging hard enough to squeeze breath out or lift someone off their feet entirely while smacking loud kisses on the cheek. A young child inadvertently pulling hair or scratching while pressing slobbery, banana-scented open-mouthed smears of affection to the face.

Greeting

Pro-forma kisses of friendship are common in Northern Africa, the U.S., Europe, and South America as a ritualistic form of salutation. Though occasionally given on the hand, most pro-forma kisses are on the cheek (or in the air next to the cheek). Think French cheek-kissing or Russian back-pounding hug accompanied by multiple kisses on both cheeks. Such kissing is very culture bound. The “rules” are different for every occasion in every society.

Joseph Stalin kissing pilot Vasily Molokov in congratulations, 1937

The Socialist Fraternal Kiss is a complicated bit of political theater, usually involving multiple kisses on the cheeks and lips combined with back-slapping and hand-shaking. Originally, it was a sign that all members of society should greet each other as equals rather than subjects kissing the hands or feet of a ruler. After World War II, the custom spread from Russia to Communist areas of Eastern Europe, Asia, and Cuba. The duration and intensity of the greeting kiss largely depended on the global standing of the country involved and the number of cameras in the area.

The Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto di Bondone

The Holy Kiss was an important part of early Christian ceremonies. Apostles were instructed to ‘salute one another with a holy kiss’ in several books of the New Testament, including St. Paul’s letters. This was later replaced with a handshake in Catholic services; in these days of COVID-19, congregants are encouraged to wave over the internet.

The Oceanic Kiss is not technically a kiss but is common in many cultures where actual kissing is not commonly practiced. Both parties approach and pass each other with their mouths slightly open but do not touch. Sniffing may be involved, so avoid the onions in these cultures.

Ritual

Ritual kissing has a long and varied history. Here again, the sensory detail is usually nil. Perhaps dwelling on the specific smell of feet or trying hard not to think of how many lips have rubbed that ring before yours.

Religion: kissing a temple floor, a religious book or icon. It conveys devotion, but also indicate subordination, or respect. Examples include kissing the Pope’s ring, or the foot of someone to show total subservience.

Joan of Arc Kissing the Sword of Deliverance by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The kiss of peace: while part of religious ritual, it was also long a tradition to signify reconciliation between enemies.

Pope Francis greeting Holocaust survivors

The kiss of death: a signal from the leader of a group that the receiver of a kiss on the cheek is marked for execution.

The Godfather, Part II

Learning to Kiss 

Contrary to common belief, kissing does not “come naturally.” Although some anthropologists hold that kissing is instinctual and intuitive, evolving from suckling or pre-mastication—and others maintain that kissing evolved from tasting the saliva of a potential mate to determine health—these are contradicted by societies where kissing was unknown prior to exposure to Europeans. These include indigenous people of Australia, the Tahitians, and many tribes in Africa. 

Some people learn a little later than others.
from The 40 Year Old Virgin

Perhaps the most convincing—and entertaining—evidence is when infants and young children are taught how to kiss.  Starting with the wide-mouthed cheek lick. They are taught who to kiss, where, and when it is an appropriate occasion for kissing, with plenty of hilarious trial and error. These vary widely across cultures and time periods.

The Lovotics Kissenger, a cell phone attachment that allows people to kiss while on opposite sides of the planet!

Kissing doesn’t happen in approximately 10% of the world’s population.  Some believe it is dirty. Others have superstitious reasons, as in the mouth is the portal to the soul, so kissing can allow one’s soul to be taken and invites death.  Some cultures see kissing purely as a form of greeting or a sign of platonic affection rather than being associated with sex at all. Researchers at the University of Nevada have found that societies near the equator are less likely to equate kissing with romance than with affection or greeting.

Health Benefits of Kissing

There’s a moratorium on a lot of kissing just now because it can transmit some infectious diseases (COVID-19 as the newest, mononucleosis and herpes simplex, to name a couple of oldies). But overall, kissing is good for one’s health.

Maybe it’s just safer to blow kisses.

Kissing stimulates the production of feel-good hormones such as endorphins and dopamine. Regular kissing protects against depression and stress. Married or cohabiting couples who increased their frequency of kissing reported less stress, and increase in relationship satisfaction, and—wait for it!—lower cholesterol levels.

Another possible meaning of the Kiss of Death is an infection of the herpes simplex virus in infants. An infected person kissing a newborn can easily pass the virus on, sometimes proving fatal to the baby.

History of Kissing

Graves found in Teppe Hasanlu, Iran and Valdara, Mantua, Italy indicate that humans have been kissing for at least 6,000 years.
Sanskrit Vedas

However kissing got started, it’s been around for a long time.  Kissing is believed to have originated and spread from India. The earliest documentation of kissing comes from Sanskrit scriptures important to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, around 3,500 years ago. It is present in Sumerian and ancient Egyptian love poetry, in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. 

Romans had separate words for kissing the hand or cheek (osculum), kissing relatives on the lips with closed mouth (basium), and passionate kissing (suavium). The French have at least 5 nouns for a kiss and at least 10 verbs for to kiss, depending on the sort of kiss being referenced. There are at least 12 German words for kiss.  Using the wrong word for the occasion in any of these languages can lead to very embarrassing linguistic

This blog has just skimmed the surface, raising things a writer might want to consider whenever kissing is part of a scene—or could be. If you are truly intrigued, check out The Kiss and its History, by Kristoffer Nyrop.

Bottom Line for Writers: the types and meanings of kisses are nearly infinite. Enrich your writing by giving each kiss the level of sensory details usually reserved for erotic kisses.

So much sensory detail!

FINDING THE LOST GENERATION

The Lost Generation is a term sometimes used for the post-World War I generation overall, but more frequently it refers to a group of American writers who became adults during or shortly after World War I.  They established their literary reputations in the 1920s and 1930s.  In France, these writers were sometimes referred to as Génération du feu, the “(gun)fire generation.”

Gertrude Stein is credited for coining the term Lost Generation, but Ernest Hemingway made it widely known. According to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964), Stein had heard it used by a garage owner in France, who dismissively referred to the younger generation as a “génération perdue.” In conversation with Hemingway, she turned that label on him and declared, “You are all a lost generation.” He used her remark as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living set of disillusioned young expatriates in postwar Paris.

Andre Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism 1924

The generation was “lost” in the sense that it dismissed the values of the older generation no longer relevant in the postwar world. Though the change in artistic expression took place in many creative outlets and focused in several regions, the “Lost Generation” is generally used to refer in particular to American writers living in Paris between the World Wars. Many of these authors felt an alienation from a United States that, under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s “back to normalcy” policy, seemed to these writers to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren.  

Max Beckmann The Night (Die Nacht) 1918-1919

The First World War was the first time in history that chemicals and machines capable of inflicting mass carnage were widely used. Instead of charges and sorties like “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” infantry soldiers in trench warfare spent weeks at a time in close quarters with the bodies of their former allies, following futile battle strategies designed for previous wars and weapons. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.

This change in values and social expectations is reflected in the language used by authors between the World Wars. Paul Fussel, author of The Great War and Modern Memory (Fussell, Paul, 1924-2012. © Oxford University Press.) illustrates the difference between “raised, essentially feudal language” used before the War and the more prosaic vocabulary used after. Foe became enemy; perish became die; warrior became soldier; vanquish became conquer; assail became attack; ashes or dust became dead bodies.

George Grosz “Grey Day” 1921

Everything that was traditionally structured or confining was stripped, allowing artists of all sorts to build new styles. Composers wrote without the usual chord progressions and cadences; they experimented with new types of ensembles or juxtaposed odd instruments. Dancers took off their pointe shoes and combined ballet with folk styles from India and South America. Women cut their hair short and loosened their corsets.

In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a big year: he published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, his first collection of short fiction, Flappers and Philosophers and his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” was published in The Saturday Evening Post that May.

George Barbier “AuRevoir” 1920

The term embraces Gertrude Stein, Ernest HemingwayF. Scott FitzgeraldJohn Dos PassosE.E. CummingsArchibald MacLeishHart Crane, T.S. Eliot, and other writers who made Paris the center of their literary activities in the 1920s. They were acquainted and crossed each other in Europe, but often had rocky relationships.

Kate O’Connor (Lost Generation by Kate O’Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK) identified three themes of Lost Generation work. I quote her here.

Decadence – Consider the lavish parties of James Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or those thrown by the characters in his Tales of the Jazz Age. Recall the aimless traveling, drinking, and parties of the circles of expatriates in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. With ideals shattered so thoroughly by the war, for many, hedonism was the result. Lost Generation writers revealed the sordid nature of the shallow, frivolous lives of the young and independently wealthy in the aftermath of the war. 

Costumes designed by Salvador Dali for the ballet Mysteria

Gender roles and Impotence – Faced with the destruction of the chivalric notions of warfare as a glamorous calling for a young man, a serious blow was dealt to traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. In The Sun Also Rises, the narrator, Jake, literally is impotent as a result of a war wound, and instead it is his female love Brett who acts the man, manipulating sexual partners and taking charge of their lives. Think also of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Prufrock’s inability to declare his love to the unnamed recipient. 

Women Tango postcards by Suzanne Meunier

Idealised past – Rather than face the horrors of warfare, many worked to create an idealised but unattainable image of the past, a glossy image with no bearing in reality. The best example is in Gatsby’s idealisation of Daisy, his inability to see her as she truly is, and the closing lines to the novel after all its death and disappointment: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther… And one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

From the television adaptation of Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford

Kirk Curnutt, author of several books about the Lost Generation writers suggested that they were expressing mythologized versions of their own lives.

In an interview for The Hemingway Project, Curnutt said: “They were convinced they were the products of a generational breach, and they wanted to capture the experience of newness in the world around them. As such, they tended to write about alienation, unstable mores like drinking, divorce, sex, and different varieties of unconventional self-identities like gender-bending.”

Bottom line for writers: it’s been 100 years, but their work shouldn’t be lost. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Find yourself a Lost Generation writer to enjoy. 

Gassed by John Singer Sargent

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER(S)

Knowing things about one’s character(s)—even things that never make it onto the page—will keep those imaginary people in character, consistent, well-rounded, and flexible so that new plot twists and turns don’t leave the reader feeling like an entirely new person has been introduced.

They also help in making sure every character is not just a copy of the author, with the same political views, personal preferences, and general outlook on life. Indeed, there are profile pages that have questions about everything from birthdate/astrological sign, to medical conditions, to education, to family of origin, etc. . . 

Which Brings Us to COVID-19

A worldwide pandemic is definitely an unexpected turn (unless your character is a historical tracking epidemiologist)! And rich with complexities. For the sake of better knowing your character(s), consider what the current pandemic would reveal. Remember that traits revealed by current events can be applied by authors to characters dealing with any historical, fantastical, futuristic, or imaginary setting.

Masks

This isn’t as singular as it first seems.  What is your character’s attitude/ behavior regarding masks? And why? Here are several possible choices. The Why is up to you!

  • Refuses categorically
  • Complies reluctantly
  • Will wear only when visiting nursing homes or vulnerable family
  • Embraces masks a good thing
  • Sees masks as just another opportunity to accessorize

What do your character’s masks look like? What quality or grade? Would your character confront someone about wearing/not wearing a mask?

Social Distancing 

Easy or difficult for your character?

  • Ignores physical distance
  • Meticulously maintains a 6’ distance
  • Social distances in public places only
  • Feels safe being closer when outdoors
  • Hugs and kisses family
Hand Cleaning
  • Pays no particular attention, i.e., washes when hands feel/look dirty
  • Cleans hands when entering or leaving a building 
  • Sets up a hand washing/sanitizing schedule, e.g., every hour
  • Preference for soap and water or sanitizer?
Safer at Home
  • Does not leave residence at all; everything is distance communication and delivery
  • Goes out only for medical reasons and food
  • Travels locally in own vehicle 
  • Travels locally in someone else’s vehicle, just driver and character in back seat passenger side
  • Comfortable traveling by taxi, bus, train, or plane with appropriate precautions
  • Travel whenever and wherever, damn the consequences
Alone or Together
  • Does your character live alone? Is that a good thing or bad?
  • Does your character alone get lonely?
  • Does your character living with others experience increased tension and conflict? With partner and/or children.
  • What if your character’s friend/loved one dies?
  • How would your character handle home schooling?
    • (If s/he has no children, consider a distance learning tutor or a character educating him/herself via online resources.) 
Crowds
  • Avoids them like the plague (pun intended)
  • Braves them only for a “good cause” such as civil rights demonstration
  • Would go to a family reunion
  • Would address a crowded room for work reasons
  • Happy to party down
Work 
  • Would your character be able to work from home?
  • Is your character an essential worker?
  • Could/would your character be furloughed?
  • Is your character a business owner, responsible for others?
  • Would your character’s workplace be shut down?
  • Would money/loss of income be a problem for your character?

With But Not of COVID-19

Name Changing 

Would your character have a singular or varied response, depending on what’s being renamed? Consider the timing and speed of public opinion shift in the setting: immediately renaming provinces, shops, schools, and cities per government mandate during China’s Cultural Revolution versus the gradual shift of the capital of Kazakhstan from Astana to Nur-Sultan.

  • Rename schools, named for Confederate “heroes”
    • e.g., Stonewall Jackson Middle School, Washington and Lee University
  • Rename roadways, bridges, etc.
    • e.g., Lee-Davis Highway
  • Rename Washington Redskins team
  • Rename towns/cities
Public Memorials, Symbols 

Confederate flag, paintings, statues displayed on public property.

  • Leave them alone. It’s history.
  • Leave them, but provide context.
  • Remove them to Civil War battlefields or museums.
  • Remove and destroy.

Bottom line for writers: Remember that you are describing your character(s), not yourself. The “why” is important. Did you learn anything about your character(s)?

PSA: CLOTHING CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Whole books have been written on the subject!

But in case you don’t want to read three books—or even one—here are some highlights.

Undergarments

Bras

Underwire bras can kill you by acting as conductor if you are struck by lightning. Not likely, but possible. On the other hand, underwires digging into your body is common, and can be painful, cause skin irritation, even bruising.

Regularly wearing a push-up or padded bras, on the other hand, constantly pull the breast against gravity and put pressure on the delicate tissues of the lower breast. If these tissues separate from the main body tissues, it causes sagging.

Ill-fitting bras, especially for the well-endowed, can lead to pain in the neck, shoulders, back, and chest. Research by Rouillon on women 18-35 showed that women who did not wear bras developed more muscle tissue to provide natural support. Hmm… One study in 1991 suggested that premenopausal women who went bra-less had half the risk of breast cancer.

Thongs/ G-Strings

To avoid another embarrassment, remember that UNDERwear is meant to be worn UNDER.

Thong panties increases the likelihood of getting urinary tract infections. Thongs that have a tendency to slide forward transfer bacteria to the genitals. And these panties have been linked to the development of hemorrhoids. (To avoid embarrassing confusion, remember that “thongs” in Australia are flip-flop shoes. Scanty panties are called “G-strings.”)

Boxers or Briefs?

In 2018, NPR reported on research that showed that men who wear tight-fitting briefs had sperm counts 17% lower than boxer wearers. This is probably an effect of heat: men’s testicles hanging below the torso stay cooler by 4-6 degrees. By extension, should men who want to father children wear no pants at all? Kilts or kimonos?

Corsets

Available in Maternity and Children’s Sizes!

“Corset” probably brings to mind the lace-up garment of the 1890s, in ads that claimed they could reduce a 27-inch waist to 18 inches. The resulting displacement of internal organs caused constipation and weakened a woman’s back muscles, sometimes to the point of being unable to remain upright without the support of the corset.

This style of corsets today are mostly relegated to dress-up, sex play, or limited to occasional use.

A modern version would be shape wear. When worn daily, it puts unwanted and unnecessary pressure on internal organs, resulting in acid reflux because of pressure on the stomach, and possible nerve damage by constricting your sides and thighs.

As an interesting historical side note, both lace-up and compression corsets have been marketed to men as well as women.

Petticoats and Slips

Even back then, people thought they were silly.

In addition to trying to shrink their waists, American and European women wore big cage-like devices under their skirts to make their waists look even smaller. The hoop skirt (aka, a cage crinoline) was made of a fabric petticoat with channels to hold thin strips of wood, whalebone, or other stiffenings, and a tie to secure it at the waist.

The bigger the hoop, the more it inhibited women’s mobility. In addition, they were very flammable, making them particularly dangerous around candles, lanterns, fireplaces, and all those other commonly burning things found in the average 19th Century household. In England in the 1860s, as many as 300 women a year died this way.

Bathing Suits

By exposing large amounts of skin to sunlight, a bathing suit can contribute to some types of skin cancers.

For women, the lack of support in bathing suit tops can contribute to the same problems as ill-fitting bras.

Sitting around in a wet bathing suit for hours on end may lead to a yeast infection or UTI, plus anything associated with bacteria in the water.

Advice: change out of wet suits ASAP and use plenty of sunscreen. Swimsuits with long sleeves or pants provide better sun protection but increase the risk of fabric filled with bacteria.

Yoga Pants

For all that they are comfortable and versatile, yoga pants are susceptible to all the problems listed for compression clothing. You might get chaffing from running, inflamed hair follicles (from bacteria) or ingrown hairs (from compression), as well as fungal infections.

Shoes

High Shoes

High heels misalign one’s posture, often leading to long-term damage to knees, spine, hips, and leg muscles. They also increase the risk of tripping, falling, and rolling one’s ankles, sometimes with fatal results. Wearing designer shoes (e.g., Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, or Christian Lououtin) that cost a fortune still inhibit a woman’s mobility.

Chopines

In 16th century Italy, aristocratic women wore tall platforms called chopines, made of wood, covered in leather, and decorated. The women were essentially walking on short, fat, stilts and unable to move freely. But then, there were few occasions for them to go out, unless it was to display the wealth of the family.

Tengu Geta
British wooden pattens

Similar footwear has been worn for practical or ornamental purposes in many areas. Variations of Japanese geta kept fancy aristocrats and peasant farmers out of mud and snow. Sudanese Nuba wooden sandals, Dutch klompen, Korean namakshin, Cantabrian Spanish albarcas, and British pattens were all variations of risers worn over or clipped to the shoe.

Platform shoes are still with us.

Low Shoes

Flip-flops have been linked to foot, ankle, and knee pain. In addition, the exposed foot is vulnerable to falling objects, getting stepped on or rolled over, an well as tripping  or hitting one’s toes into whatever is around.

Crocs, rubber slip-on shoes, are very popular at the moment but with their own dangers. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 200 wearers (mostly kids) have been injured when their Crocs were snagged between the moving treads of an escalator.

Flat shoes that don’t offer proper support can cause abnormalities in how one walks and runs. 

Small Shoes

Marathon Feet

Shoes that are too small in any way are likely to cause discomfort, even if only worn briefly. Wearing shoes that are too small for extended periods of time can cause serious damage to feet. Marathon runners are advised to buy shoes one to one-and-a-half sizes larger than normal to account for swelling caused by hours of pounding the pavement. Not doing so is likely to cause ingrown toenails, lost toenails, cysts on top of the foot, and nerve damage in the toes and arches.

Pointy-toe shoes harm feet by squeezing and molding the foot into an unnatural shape. They distort individual toes, and swelling between toes three and four can pinch a nerve most painfully. 

Pointe shoes
Kabuki dancer wearing tabi

Dancers frequently suffer foot problems caused by shoes. Some dancers deliberately wear shoes slightly too small to allow for better grip with the floor or so the material conforms better to the shape of the foot. Tabi (somewhere between shoes and socks) worn by traditional Japanese dancers and ghillies (soft shoes) worn by Irish dancers are often worn a half size too small. Ballet pointe shoes, no matter how well fitted, force the foot into a cramped position while dancers balance their entire weight on their toes.

Bleeding through your socks is always a good sign

The Chinese practice of foot-binding is the most extreme example of shoes mangling women’s feet. Lotus feet were highly valued. For one thing it denoted wealth: the woman didn’t have to work in the fields and/or being carried everywhere implied she would always be rich enough for such service. Walking at all involved a sway of the hips that was thought to be sexy.

No toddlers were harmed in the making of this image. This is a display from the Foot-Binding Museum in Wuzhen.

Foot binding began in infancy or toddlerhood. It was painful at best, and if the feet became infected, could cause septic shock. The last factory producing lotus shoes didn’t close until 1999.

Accessories

Jewelry

Big, heavy earrings may lead to inadvertently stretching or tearing one’s earlobes. They can get hooked onto objects or clothing, and even tear the earlobe.

Nickel allergy rash

Chunky, heavy necklaces and chains put pressure on your neck, back, and chest.

Oversized bracelets can cause wrist, arm, hand, and finger pain.
Avoid nickel, found in many pieces of clothing and accessories: it is the cause of one of the most common allergic reactions. Stick with stainless steel, silver, gold, or platinum, depending on your taste and budget.

Hats

Not the proper way to wear a helmet

Wearing a hat per se probably doesn’t cause hair loss, but any tight headgear could break hair follicles, creating bald patches known as friction alopecia. Wearing a hat while sweating can irritate your scalp.

Nothing says high fashion like a boat on your head.

In 1600s France, aristocratic women wore a “pouf,” something between a hat and a hairstyle. Elaborate piles of flowers, feather, ribbons, gauze, or whatever. At least one woman died when her enormously tall pouf hit a candle in a chandelier and caught fire.

Not exactly a hat, but a headpiece nonetheless, in the 1800s men shaved their heads and wore perukes. The lice lived in the wig rather than on the body, and the wig could be sent to the wigmaker to be boiled and deloused.

Neckware

Isadora Duncan, shown here before her scarf got caught in the wheel of her car. The after-photos aren’t quite so graceful.

Wearing scares may lead to strangulation, either intentional or accidental. (Think Isadora Duncan.) Thirty-five people a year are choked to death by their own scarves.

Edwardian dandies

Around the turn of the 20th century, men wore stiffly starched collars that were nicknamed “father killers.” They were so high and stiffly starched that if a man passed out wearing one, it would cut of his air supply.

Neckties are to men what scarves are to women, only less so: ten deaths per year are attributable to neckties.

Bags

On the other hand, a heavy purse can be very useful for beating up neo-Nazis, as photographer Hans Runesson showed in 1985. Beware the wrath of little old Polish grandmothers with very heavy handbags!

Heavy shoulder bags, handbags, and purses are typically carried on the same shoulder or arm, causing neck, shoulder, and back pain as well as throwing the body out of balance, forcing the other side to compensate, leading to all-over discomfort. 

Heavy backpacks without a waist strap and book bags can also cause neck, shoulder, and back strain, as well as long-term damage to one’s posture. Advice: lighten the load!

General Hazards in Clothing

Skin-tight clothing —everything from skinny jeans to shape wear and compression clothing—has been linked to all sorts of health problems: heartburn/acid reflux, testicular damage, and compartment syndrome (in which pressure builds up in constricted muscles, potentially life-threatening), and nerve damage. Such clothes can cause tingling in and numbness in feet and legs.

Any clothing that is excessively large presents a danger. A train on a skirt can be caught under bystanders’ feet, wrapped around wheels, or snagged by anything on the ground. Trailing sleeves have a tendency to knock things over or catch any open flames. Extra padding anywhere can put uneven weight on the body or cause the wearer to bump into things. Trouser legs or skirts that are too long are a tripping hazard. Tails always seem to have a tendency to be caught in doors.

Fabrics (including shoes) that don’t breathe often cause general discomfort, as well as dermatitis and fungal overgrowth (e.g., athlete’s foot). Stiff fabrics or scratchy ornamentation can cause chafing and abrasions.

Chemicals in Clothing

Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it’s capable of absorbing substances—not only from skincare products and makeup, but also from clothing. Chemicals absorbed through the skin go into the blood stream, which has access to all the internal organs. 

This isn’t the woman in the story. This is Jenny Buckleff, a bride who made quite an entrance at her wedding. (Don’t worry: everyone survived for the reception.)

Warning: the following story is disgusting on many levels. A woman bought a black dress at an upscale shop in Fredericksburg, but returned it a few days later. Another woman bought the dress, and developed such serious health problems that she nearly died. It turns out that the first woman’s mother had died and the black dress was put on her for her viewing. It was thoroughly contaminated with formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde and p-Phenylenediamide (in black clothing and leather dies) are in the products of 14 big-brand clothing manufacturers.

Daldykan River in Siberia after an apparent chemical leak from a textile factory

Formaldehyde—used to prevent mildew growth and inhibit wrinkling—is particularly harmful, and the U.S. does not restrict its use. (Sri Lanka and China two of the worst offenders, and major sources of inexpensive clothing.) Formaldehyde has been linked to an increase in lung cancer, difficulty breathing, and itchy eyes/nose/throat.

Ouxia Clothing Co recalled school uniforms made with carcinogens.

Side effects run from mild dermatitis to disruption of the endocrine system to cancer.  However, different chemicals can affect different organs.

Green dye, made with lead and mixed with arsenic

The U.S. doesn’t require disclosure of any of the chemicals used during production even though, according to Emma Loewe of MindBodyGreen, (How Worried Should You Be About Chemicals in Your Clothes), “…by some estimates there are upward of 250 ‘restricted substances’ used in textile manufacturing that pose potential health concerns.’”

Avoid Being Poisoned by Your Clothes

Be especially careful of irritating or poisonous chemicals in children’s clothing.
  • Because synthetics carry a heavier load of harmful chemicals, necessary to produce them, choose organic, natural fibers such as cotton, linen, jute, silk, and hemp.
  • Also avoid clothing labeled flame retardant or as wrinkle, stain, odor, or water resistant because these effects are achieved through chemical additives.
  • If you need synthetics, choose brands that use “rPet” or recycled polyester (e.g., Adidas and Athleta do this).
  • Choose clothes colored with natural dyes. If you don’t know, go for lighter colors, which contain less dye.
  • Wash before wearing to remove any surface chemicals picked up during packaging and shipping.
  • If you notice any kind of reaction to your clothing, discontinue wearing and consult a medical professional as warranted.
  • And last but not least: don’t wear anything that makes you feel self-conscious or nervous just because it is “in.”

Writers Note: Surely at least some of your characters make hazardous clothing choices!

  • A cunning murderer who makes it look like an accidental suffocation or poisoning
  • An advocate on behalf of someone who has suffered long-term effects of harmful dyes or chemicals
  • A character knowingly wearing harmful clothing in an effort to look fashionable
  • A character who refuses to wear harmful clothing and is shunned
  • A lower-class or impoverished character without the money to wear organically made or custom fitted clothing

A LONG TIME COMING

Don’t get in Abigail Adams’s way!

During the framing of the Constitution, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband to “remember the ladies.” But it wasn’t until the 20th century that women were granted the right to vote.  As you may be aware, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. 

Lydia Taft

In 1756, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter in colonial America. 

Voting rights did not come easily, nor did they come all at once.  With the exception of internal tribal voting on a few Native American reservations, voting was limited to white women until the 1950s, Unmarried white women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 until 1807.  Women were casting ballots as early as 1838 in Kentucky, where widows with school age children were allowed to vote on school issues. In 1869, Wyoming granted women full voting rights in territorial and local elections. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to pass women’s suffrage into law. Idaho and Utah gave women the right to vote at the end of the 19th century. By 1914, eleven states and one territory allowed women to vote.

Now that’s just bragging!

Partial Suffrage

During the years of partial suffrage, voting was a complicated business. One solution to the problem of separate ballots came in 1899, when Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio—my home state—applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” There were many versions of voting machines already patented, going back to 1875. But Winslow’s creation was unique. It was a single booth with two doors, one marked “Gents” and the other, “Ladies.” When one entered, the door essentially flipped a switch that brought up either the full ballot or the restricted one. Thus this voting machine was an analogue computer.

Iroquois women inspired early feminists

Voting around the world has been restricted in various ways for both women and men, but I’ll focus on women in North America.  Several Native American nations gave women decision making power equal to men, more in some areas. For example, starting sometime before 1654, Iroquois women had a deciding vote in the councils. Women elders voted on the male chiefs and could depose them. 

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Through the end of the 19th Century, there was a gradual shift away from what many historians called the “Cult of True Womanhood”—the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother whose only area of concern were home and family. Many religions encouraged this idealized gender separation.

Seeking Suffrage

The U.S. is typical of modern democracies in that men had the vote before women. One exception was Hawaii. In 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii had universal suffrage—but it was rescinded for women in 1852.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were active in the suffrage movement and invited abolitionists to meet in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to discuss women’s rights. The delegates produced a Declaration of Sentiments that began in the words of the Constitution but declared “that all men and women are created equal…”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, early advocate for freedom and equality, campaigned tirelessly to bring racial justice to suffragist organizations

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the campaign for women’s suffrage was very active. Perhaps this was because in the 1820s and 1830s most states had extended the vote to all white men, regardless of wealth or property ownership.

The women’s movement lost momentum during the war, but as the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the old questions of citizenship and suffrage emerged again. At that point, all males were citizens, and black men were guaranteed the right to vote. 

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in the U.S. in 1873 campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as ameliorating the condition of prostitutes. It was one of several organizations who were actively supporting various social causes in addition to women’s suffrage—e.g., anti-alcohol, religious movements, moral-reform societies, and anti-slavery movements.

Freedom Summer for voter registration, 1964

Black suffragists started aggressively asserting their right to vote in the 1890s.  Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, all women didn’t have equal access: many women of color were disenfranchised through various loopholes and thus had to continue to fight for their voting rights. When poll taxes, literacy or comprehension tests, and onerous residency requirements did not keep people away from the polls, racist enforcers resorted to misinformation or outright intimidation campaigns to prevent Black citizens from voting.

Starting in 1910, some states in the West began extending the vote to women. The Southern and Eastern states were most reluctant. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt initiated a campaign to mobilize state and local suffrage groups all across the country to lobby for voting rights state by state.

Several leaders of more aggressive suffragist groups began more confrontational actions than marches and petition drives. Alice Paul used radical, militant tactics—such as hunger strikes and White House pickets—to generate publicity and support for the cause. While picketing outside the White House, 33 members of the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to months in the Occoquan Workhouse. On the night of November 14, 1917, prison guards at the Workhouse restrained, beat, knocked unconscious, and threatened to rape many of the suffragists, including Dora Lewis, Dorothy Day, Minnie Prior, and Lucy Burns. Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack because of the abuse.

Imprisoned suffragists on hunger strikes were often force-fed by jailers. This forced feeding was sometimes fatal.
Ladies born before the 19th Amendment was ratified

The momentum lagged again during World War I, but women’s work on behalf of the war effort turned the tide after the war, leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—at least 100 years after the start of the movement.

Time Marches On 

In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.  This Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified.

Lines of people waiting to vote in Philadelphia, 2020
Suffrajitsu was a form a self-defense taught to suffragettes to be used when they were almost inevitability attacked at marches and demonstrations.

Bottom line for writers: Besides the rich background for historical writing, consider a future in which the Equal Rights Act is revoked. Consider what would happen if individual states decided to go back to partial suffrage for some groups.

P.S. Women’s voting rights varied around the world, but with the granting of suffrage in Saudi Arabia in 2013, women can vote in almost every country that holds elections. In the Vatican City, only Cardinals are allowed to vote, and only men can be Cardinals.