YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO CELEBRATE!

“The beatings will continue until morale improves!”
August panel from the Queen Mary Psalter (14th century)

Yes, it’s August 10th, and some events are in the rearview mirror.

Nomony Hall, home of Robert Carter III
from Encyclopedia Virginia

Like the anniversary of the Emancipation of 500. On August 1, 1791, Virginia planter Robert Carter III shocked his family and friends by filing a deed of emancipation for his 500 slaves. Not all at once, but the document established a schedule such that 15 slaves would be freed each January 1 over a 21-year period. Children would be freed when they reached adulthood: age 18 for women and 21 for men.

Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift
from Encyclopedia Virginia

In addition, Carter made legal provisions to care for freed slaves who were elderly or infirm. Before being emancipated, people were taught trades and set up with bank accounts and legal identity papers. The lands that had made up his multiple plantations were rented or sold cheaply to freedmen.

He wrote, “I have for some time past been convinced that to retain them in Slavery is contrary to the true principles of Religion and Justice and therefore it is my duty to manumit them.”

Robert Carter’s “Deed of Gift” is believed to be the largest act of emancipation in US history, and it predates Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by 70 years.

But some things are celebrated all month long, so there is plenty of time to observe the various “holidays” at your own convenience. 

August Holidays

American Adventures Month

I mentioned American Adventures Month in a Facebook post: the point is to celebrate vacationing in the Americas. People are encouraged to explore South, Central, and North America.

Outdoor adventures are a great way to maintain social distance while we wait for Covid to die out completely. I might add, doing so would raise awareness that the United States is not equivalent to America.

Black Business Month

Six months after Black History Month, the point of Black Business Month is to boost awareness of black owned and operated businesses. The month is dedicated to starting, maintaining, and buying from black owned businesses. Maggie Walker (founder of the Penny Bank, among other things) and Oprah Winfrey didn’t start at the top!

Score.org, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, Mashable, NBC, and Oprah have suggestions for how you can support Black and minority-owned businesses.

Image from the 18th Annual National Black Business Month website

  • Boomers Making a Difference Month 
    • This is a relatively new one, dating only to 2010. Many organizations, including the AARP and Senior Living Magazine, arrange events to encourage those in the Boomer generation to volunteer in their communities. Some also celebrate baby boomers who have made special efforts to help others in need improve their lives.
Closing your eyes and covering your ears doesn’t make the screaming stop. The zombies will continue to attack.
  • Bystander Awareness Month
    • The Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon: the more people who witness a person in need, the less likely that person is to get help. Everyone assumes someone else will step in. The purpose of this month’s awareness is to encourage people to be active bystanders and step up when witnessing injustice, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Even traffic accidents and house fires cause this effect. It’s far better to have too many people call 911 than to have no one call.

Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month

The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages parents, doctors, teachers, and anyone working with children to look for signs of poor eyesight or eye health in August. In addition to near-sightedness or far-sightedness, children’s vision development is commonly affected by lazy eye, crossed eyes, color blindness, drooping eyelids, and astigmatism.

This is closely related to Children’s Vision and Learning Month, established in 1995. Because 80% of learning is dependent on vision, parents and educators need to be alert. Just before starting a new school year is the perfect time to schedule an eye exam. Estimates are that 25% of children have an undiagnosed vision problem.

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

Support the happy transition to Kindergarten. Nearly 2 million children in the US enter kindergarten each year, changing not only their lives but the lives of their parents siblings, and teachers.

This year will be especially challenging for families and teachers making the change back from online school while trying to avoid new Covid outbreaks.

August is a good time to get kids adjusted to a new sleeping and eating schedule, ensure new students are up to date on all their doctor visits and vaccines, and buy a giant pair of sunglasses to hide your tears when your little one skips off to the classroom.

Happiness Happens Month

The Secret Society of Happy People breaks their solemn vow of secrecy every year to sponsor this event. The goal is to encourage people to express their happiness and discourage raining on anyone’s parade.

International Pirate Month

Technically, International Pirate Month is not celebrated in August. It’s celebrated in Ahrrr-gust!

It’s the perfect opportunity to practice your patois for Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19.

National Read-a-Romance Month

First observed in 2013, the title says it all!

I recommend this romantic story about the true love a dog feels for his bone.

National Traffic Awareness Month

Boiled down, it means be aware and take steps to not get distracted by all your car’s technology, cell phone calls, passenger talk, or any other distractions.

Reading in the car can lead so easily to sleeping in the car, which inevitably ends in drooling in the car.

National Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness Month

The goal is to bring attention to this congenital disease. By damaging the motor function nerves in the spinal column, SMA breaks downs patients’ ability to walk, move, eat, even to breathe.

Neurosurgery Awareness Month

The American Association of Neurosurgeons has designated August every year to raising awareness of neurological conditions. Each year, the focus is on a different type of disorder or injury, such as stroke or brain tumors. This year, the focus is on Traumatic Brain Injuries.

*Not an accurate representation of a neurosurgeon at work.

What Will Be Your Legacy Month

Many people do not realize how their actions affect others. They live their lives selfishly, not realizing the impact of their life choices on present and possibly future generations. So, the point of this month-long celebration is to have people reflect on ways to make make positive changes that will affect generations. Start by planting positive seeds in the children in our lives.

***NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION AWARENESS MONTH***

NIAM is part of an outreach program by the CDC, the WHO, local hospitals and health organizations. It’s a chance for researchers and health providers to focus on the critical role immunizations play in preventing life-threatening diseases among people of all ages and cultures. Each year in the US, tens of thousands of people die because of vaccine-preventable diseases or their complications—and that doesn’t include those who suffer pain or disability. 

Think COVID-19!

Get your vaccines to protect those who can’t.

Bottom Line: Find ways to celebrate this month!

‘Zat You Santa Claus?

The subtle, quiet displays of merchants in the area may have hinted at it, but just in case you didn’t notice: Christmas is coming! Yes, I know, it’s easy to overlook the slight adjustments in advertising décor and to miss the odd carol or two playing on radio stations. Santa Claus will be coming to town in approximately twenty days (depending on when you read this).

But did you know that St. Nicholas is also coming? And that Father Christmas is coming? Grandfather Frost will be here with his granddaughter the Snow Maiden. If you’re very lucky, you might even get a glimpse of Befana, Joulupukki the Yule Goat, Amu Nowruz, or Olentzero. The evolution of modern Christmas customs, including Santa Claus, has been discussed on this blog before.

If you’re very lucky and have highly refined literary tastes, you may catch a glimpse of the Hogfather.

Krampus, Belsnickel, Pere Fouettard, Knecht Ruprecht, the Yule Lads, and other Companions will probably be coming to town as well, but you should probably hope you don’t run into them.

But why should you care about all these visitors wandering about your town? (Besides the tendency to trespass and child beating, of course?) If society is reflected in its myths, then the writer can illustrate society by mentioning the myths.

Real World Gift-Givers

As discussed before, humans tend to follow the sun. When it goes away, we tend to get a little anxious and want it to come back. The tendency to mark the solstices appears in almost every part of the world that sees the effects of axial rotation. Giving gifts is a common theme at this time of year, often contrasted with giving coal or beatings to the deserving.

Writing teachers are always telling us to “show, not tell.” Referring to a culturally specific Santa-esque figure is a great way to show where and when a story is set. Consider some of these holiday figures with a habit of giving sweets, money, and gifts to deserving believers. Many of them are accompanied by a darker foil who comes to punish those who have been “naughty” during the preceding year.

Father Christmas

Today, Father Christmas is often depicted as simply the English version of Santa Claus. Look back a few hundred years, however, and you’ll see a very different figure. Oliver Cromwell’s puritan government cancelled Christmas during the English Civil War; the public brought it back during the Restoration of 1660. At that time, Father Christmas was the personification of Medieval customs of feasting and making merry to celebrate Yule. The evolution of Father Christmas since that time follows the changes in common Christmas celebrations in England.

Sinterklaas/ Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas Day is almost upon us! Dutch children will leave their shoes on the doorstep or by the fire so that Sinterklaas can fill them with candy and toys. If children have been naughty, Sinterklaas’s assistant Zwarte Piet beats them with a stick or throws them into his sack and sends them to Spain. The historical Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) and patron saint of children and travelers. He arrives by steamboat and parades through town on a white horse, wearing his traditional bishop’s attire, accompanied by his assistants. Sinterklaas carries a huge, red book with a list of all the naughty and nice children in the area. The modern American Santa Claus owes much of his current fashionable ensemble to Sinterklaas.

Zwarte Piet, Black Peter, is a very controversial figure in modern Sinterklaas festivities and worthy of a separate discussion all his own.

Three Kings or Three Wise Men

In many traditionally Catholic countries, gifts are brought by three figures: the Wise Men from the East mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew. On their way to bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Baby Jesus, the Wise Men take a break to deliver gifts to good children in Venezuela, Spain, the Philippines, and many other countries. Very few specifics are actually given in the Bible, but traditions have filled in plenty of details. Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar may have come from Persia, Arabia, Pakistan, India, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Armenia, or Babylon, depending on local custom. Gifts are often given to children on January 4th, the Feast of the Epiphany, instead of December 25th.

Amu Nowruz

Uncle Nowruz gives gifts to children at the Iranian New Year, which occurs at the Spring Equinox rather than the Winter Solstice. He spends the year travelling the world with Haji Nowruz, a soot-covered minstrel. While Haji Nowruz dances and sings, Amu Nowruz gives coins and candy to children.

Seven Lucky Gods (Shichifukujin)

Ebisu, Daikokuten, Bishamonten, Benzaiten, Juroujin, Hotei, Fukurokuju bring their treasure ship Takarabune to Japan on January 2, the beginning of the New Year. Like the early Father Christmas, the Seven Lucky Gods bring good cheer and prosperity to everyone. Those who sleep with a picture of the Shichifukujin under their pillow will have good fortune in the coming year.

Fictional Gift-Givers

Pretty much any setting for a story on Earth has a celebration of midwinter or year’s beginning, complete with a figure who rewards or punishes believers according to their behavior the previous year. But what if the story doesn’t take place on Earth?

Drifty the Snowman brings music to children every year at the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse.

Once again, those who have gone before can show us how it’s done. Articles on io9, tv.tropes, and Goodreads show just how commonly a winter festival centered around gifts and the return of light occur in other universes. Tallying the previous year’s sins and distributing charity are common themes.

For a writer, midwinter festivals offer a chance to showcase family bonds, strengthen relationships, demonstrate local superstitions, or just have characters party.

Moș Gerilă

Honestly, I wasn’t sure whether to include Moș Gerilă as a real gift-giving figure or a fantasy. This “Old Man Frost” was created by the Romanian Communist Party in 1947 as part of an attempt to shift Christmas celebrations from the Orthodox Church and the private family to the state. Moș Gerilă was portrayed as a handsome, bare-chested, young man who brought gifts to factory workers. All celebrations were held on December 30th, the national Day of the Republic. Festivities with decorated trees and patriotic music were held in public spaces, and Moș Gerilă would come bearing gifts of nuts and sweets from the Communist Party to well-behaved children. The fate of badly-behaved children is not clear, but I would imagine a gulag was involved. After the fall of the Romanian Communist Party in 1990, Moș Gerilă disappeared and Moș Crăciun (Father Christmas, similar to the Russian Grandfather Snow) took his place.

Xmas

Futurama, set in the year 3000, has an Xmas episode each season. Celebrants decorate a palm tree with lights and barricade themselves indoors. Santa Claus has been replaced by a robot with a programming error. He judges everyone to be naughty and attempts to exterminate everyone on Earth every year. Kevlar vests and body armor are common gifts.

Life Day

According to fan gossip, George Lucas attempted to find and destroy every copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special after it aired for the only time in 1978. Life Day is a Wookie holiday centered around the Tree of Life, celebrating children and death. The holiday is traditionally observed by family gatherings, preparing special foods, singing in red robes on Kashyyyk, and exchanging gifts. Also, Bea Arthur runs a cantina on Mos Eisley for some unexplained reason.

And she sings!
Hogswatchnight

Terry Pratchett’s 20th Discworld novel, Hogfather, is essentially a satire of modern Christmas customs. Hogswatchnight is described by the narrator as “bearing a remarkable resemblance to your Christmas.” The Hogfather rides his sleigh pulled by magically flying boars around the Disc delivering toys by climbing down chimneys. Children leave pork pies and brandy for the Hogfather, essentially a wild boar dressed in Father Christmas robes, which raises some disturbing questions about why he eats pork pies.

In the beginning, “Most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. Later on they took the blood out to make the stories more acceptable to children, or at least to the people who had to read them to children rather than the children themselves, and then wondered where the stories went.” Over the course of the book, there are zany hijinks and wacky shenanigans involving Tooth Fairies, elegant parties, the Auditors of the Universe, a governess, the Death of Rats, and various other Terry Pratchett wonders. Ultimately, Death (a seven foot tall skeleton with glowing blue eyes and a scythe) has to save the day. In doing so, he explains to his granddaughter (genetics are complicated) why celebrations of the sun’s return and surviving through winter are so important.

ALWAYS A REASON TO CELEBRATE

According to the team of editors at nationaltoday.com, they “love celebrating 196 October holidays.”  I’d guess that there are even more than that.  For example, my calendar showed Monday, October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it didn’t show up on this website.  But, basically, the point is that the things people want to celebrate—or at least observe—approaches the infinite.  The purpose of this blog is to give my readers a two-day sample, for October 16-17, 2020.

Three durations: party down for a day, a week or all month.  I’ve put some of my personal favorites in all CAPS. I recently posted a blog on the value of knowing your characters’ holiday behavior. Would any of your characters be celebrating these October holidays?

One Day

October 16
Many clinics and shelters offer spaying and neutering services on Feral Cat Day.
  • Department Store Day
  • DICTIONARY DAY
  • Get to Know Your Customers Day
    • (January 16, April 16, July 16 and October 15 = the 3rd Thursday of Each Quarter)
  • Global Champagne Day (Third Friday)  Link
  • Global Cat Day Link
  • Mammography Day (Third Friday) Link
    • This is part of the activities for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
  • National Boss’s Day (or Boss’s Day) Link 
    • (Annually celebrated on October 16 unless it falls on a weekend; then it’s the closest workday.)
  • National Feral Cat Day Link
  • World Food Day Link
  • World Spine Day Link
Gentle yoga exercises can improve and maintain spine health.
October 17
Pasta is quite dangerous when eaten with chopsticks.
  • American Frog Day Link (3rd Saturday) 
  • BLACK POETRY DAY
    • Creative writing is always good.
  • Bridge Day Link (3rd Saturday)
  • Sloth International Day Link (3rd Saturday)
  • Sweetest Day (3rd Saturday)
  • International Day for the Eradication of Poverty
  • Mulligan Day
  • National Edge Day Link
  • National Pasta Day Link
  • National Playing Card Collectors Day
  • National Vehophobia (fear of driving) Awareness Day Link
  • O’HENRY PUN-OFF DAY Link  
  • US Oyster Day: 17 and 18
  • WEAR SOMETHING GAUDY DAY 
    • Might as well decorate it!

You can check out any of these holidays on-line to learn more about the rationale and goals for the observance, along with suggestions for activities and the means to get involved locally or nationally.

Week-Long Observances That Include October 16-17, 2020

  • Take Your Medicine Americans Week Link
  • DRINK LOCAL WINE WEEK Link (2nd Full Week)  
    • Self-explanatory – we should celebrate every week!
  • Earth Science Week Link (Always 2nd Full Week) 
  • Emergency Nurses Week Link
  • National Chestnut Week (2nd Full Week)
  • National Food Bank Week Link
  • Teen Read Week Link
    • (Always the week with Columbus Day)
  • Veterinary Technicians Week  (2nd Week) Link
  • World Rainforest Week Link  
  • Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week Link
  • Choose To Be G.R.E.A.T. Week  Link
    • Gang Resistance Education And Training
  • National School Lunch Week Link (Starts on 2nd Monday)
  • Apple Butter Stirrin’ Week Link (3rd Weekend)
  • Great American Beer Festival Link
  • Food & Drug Interactions and Awareness Week

October 2020 Monthly Holidays

Former shelter dogs, now undisputed rulers of the house.
  • Adopt A Dog or Shelter Dog Month Link
  • AIDS Awareness Month  Link
  • American Pharmacists Month Link
  • Antidepressant Death Awareness Month Link
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Month Link
  • Apple Month Link
  • National Aesthetician Month  Link
  • National Animal Safety and Protection Month Link Link
  • National Arts & Humanities Month Link
  • National Audiology/Protect Your Hearing Month Link
Baby bats recovering from loss of their habitat in wildfire
  • Bat Appreciation Month Link
  • BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH Link 
  • BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH 
  • Bullying Prevention Month Link
  • (World) Blindness Awareness Month Link
  • National Bake and Decorate Month Link
Bilingual/ biliterate
  • Caffeine Addiction Recovery Month Link
  • Celebrating The Bilingual Child Month Link
  • CHILDREN’S MAGAZINE MONTH 
  • Christmas Seal Campaign (10/1-12/31)
  • CHURCH LIBRARY MONTH 
    • Get those books into people’s hands!
  • Church Safety and Security Month
  • Class Reunion Month Link
  • Contact Lens Safety Month
  • Co-op Awareness Month
  • Corn Month Link
  • Country Music Month Link
Rather than dissecting a cadaver, this young surgeon in training is using a plastic cadaver to practice her craft.
  • Cut Out Dissection Month Link
  • National Caramel Month  Link
  • National Chili Month
  • National Chiropractic Health Month
  • NATIONAL COOKBOOK MONTH 
  • National Crime Prevention Month
  • National Critical Illness Awareness Month
  • National Cyber Security Awareness Month Link
Depressed (L) and Not Depressed (R) brain scans
  • DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS MONTH 
    • I volunteered at a safe place for years.
  • Down Syndrome Awareness Month Link
  • Dyslexia Awareness Month National Dental Hygiene Month
  • National Depression Education & Awareness Month
  • National Disability Employment Awareness Month Link
  • National Dwarfism Awareness Month  Link
Many schools are beginning to incorporate emotional intelligence curricula for young children.
  • Eat Better, Eat Together Month
  • Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month
  • Emotional Wellness Month
  • Employee Ownership Month Link
  • Energy Management is a Family Affair-Improve Your Home Month (10/1-3/31/13)
  • Eye Injury Prevention Month  Link  
    • (Note: There is also one in July.)
  • National Ergonomics Month Link
Do you think it’s feral?
  • Fair Trade Month Link
  • Financial Planning Month Link
  • FERAL HOG MONTH or HOG OUT MONTH  Link 
    • Because of my farm connections.
  • Month of Free Thought
  • National Family Sexuality Education Month – Let’s Talk! Link
  • National Field Trip Month
  • German-American Heritage Month
  • Global Diversity Awareness Month
  • Go Hog Wild – Eat Country Ham 
  • GO SOBER FOR OCTOBER MONTH Link.
    • Alcoholism is sprinkled through my extended family.
  • National “Gain The Inside Advantage” Month
German Heritage Festival in Denver, Colorado
  • Halloween Safety Month
  • Head Start Awareness Month Link
  • Health Literacy Month
  • Home Eye Safety Month
  • I’m Just Me Because Month  Link
  • Italian-American Heritage Month Link
  • International Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) Awareness Month
  • International Starman Month
  • International Strategic Planning Month
  • International Walk To School Month  Link
  • Intergeneration Month
  • National Kitchen & Bath Month Link
Plaque outside the Stonewall Inn, the site of a major step forward in LGBT rights
  • Learn To Bowl Month  Link
  • LGBT History Month Link
  • Long Term Care Planning Month
  • National Liver Awareness Month Link
  • NATIONAL MEDICAL LIBRARIANS MONTH 
    • One of my daughters is one.
  • National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month  Link
  • National Orthodontic Health Month
  • Organize Your Medical Information Month
  • National Physical Therapy Month
  • National Popcorn Poppin’ Month
  • National Pork Month Link
  • National Protect Your Hearing Month Link
  • National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month Link
  • Photographer Appreciation Month
  • Pizza Month Link Link
  • Polish American Heritage Month
  • Positive Attitude Month
The Majestic Bald Eagle…
  • NATIONAL READING GROUP MONTH 
  • National Retirement Security Month Link
  • National Roller Skating Month Link
  • National RSV Awareness Month Link
  • RAPTOR MONTH Link
    • Because I’m a big avian fan.
  • Raynauds Awareness Month  Link
  • Rett Syndrome Awareness Month Link
  • Right Brainers Rule! Month
Spinach?! No!
  • National Sarcastic Awareness Month
  • National Seafood Month Link
  • National Spina Bifida Awareness Month
  • National Stamp Collecting Month
  • National Substance Abuse Prevention Month Link
  • Sausage Month Link
  • Self-Promotion Month
  • Spinach Lovers Month
  • SQUIRREL AWARENESS MONTH Link
    • (Different Than Squirrel Appreciation Day in January)
    • I have named three squirrels that come regularly to my bird feeder
  • National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Awareness Month
  • NATIONAL TOILET TANK REPAIR MONTH Link 
    • Because the name makes me smile.
  • Talk About Medicines Month
  • Teen Services Month
  • Vegetarian Month
Tawawn Lowe is the founder of the Women Walking in Their Own Shoes movement.
  • National Window Covering Safety Month Link
  • National Work and Family Month
  • Wishbones for Pets Month (10/15 – 11/30)
  • Women Walking In Their Own Shoes Month Link
  • Workplace Politics Awareness Month
  • World Menopause Month

Keep in mind that this is only one month, focusing on only two days.  So, clearly, there are a ton of holidays and observances out there. But if your passion isn’t represented, what can you do about it?

Fortunately, the brownielocks.com holiday website can answer that question—and I quote:

INFORMATION ABOUT HOW  HOLIDAYS & OBSERVANCES GET STARTED
and
HOW TO START ONE YOURSELF

By Brownielocks

Through the years, I’ve been asked how these holidays and observances all get started. And, I also get asked how someone can create one and also be listed on my site.  Below is what I know about this topic and also what I require in order to be listed on my “Official” holidays and observances listing.

  1. Holidays or Observances are started by  the President of the United States as a proclamation.
  2. Holidays or Observances are started by an act of the U.S. Congress as resolution # ___.
  3. Holidays and Observances can be started by individual US State legislatures and/or Governors.
  4. Holidays and Observances can be started as cultural traditions or due to some historical event.
    • An example is St. Patrick’s Day (Irish culture) or  Patriot’s Day (September 11).
    • They are also started based on a religious belief. Examples are Christmas, Ramadan and Hannukah.
  5. Observances can also be started based on someone’s date of birth or date of death. 
    • This can either be based on their life or something that they invented or accomplished.  An example is Tolkien Day or  Morse Code Day.
    • NOTE: Not every famous person’s birthday or death date is an observance! 
  6. Observances can also be started by organizations (profit or non-profit).
  7. Observances are also started by commercial companies, and are usually publicized on their websites or on television. 
    • An example was “Potty Dance Day” that we just had in 2011 by Huggies diapers.
  8. Observances are also started by individuals!  This is the one that most of you are interested in learning about.

Let me first of all explain the difference between, “create” and “think of.”  Lots of us can think of lots of fun things to observe daily.  But, that doesn’t make them “official” and valid to be listed on my website.

Any event lists in Chase’s Calendar of Events is considered validated.

If you do not want to submit to Chase’s Calendar of Events, then ….   add it to the website you already have.  This way, I know the origin.  It’s the organization that the page is Linked with at their website.  For example, many organizations have their own website.  Then they also have a page on that site for the observance that they sponsor.  They don’t get a new website domain for their observance when they already have one.  So, if you are a dress boutique and you have a website.  But, you want to start an observance such as “Wear A Mini Skirt Day.”   Just add that page to your current website and send me the Link along with the date etc. and I’ll add it.

BOTTOM LINE: Having your character treasure one of the less popular observances, outside the top 10, can add richness, scenes, settings, and twists entertaining for the reader. And what if your character is motivated to create a special observance—why?

Desserts!

GREETINGS!

The first known pre-printed Christmas card was published in London in 1843, for Sir Henry Cole to send to family and friends.

We in the U.S. are highly aware of greeting cards at this time of year—both the receiving and the sending. Dunbar and Hill (2003) conducted a study on social networks by studying Christmas card lists. They found that each household receives about 150 Christmas Cards, and sends an average of about 68 cards. Clearly, people are receiving more than they give! (Don’t ask me to explain how those numbers work.) The study did not include cards for Hanukkah, Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, and New Years, but all of these together make for a very busy Postal Service throughout December.

Since holiday-specific greeting cards are so widespread in the US at the moment, it’s worth taking a moment to think of how they might feature in your writing. If you’re already sick of holiday cheer, just wait for St. Valentine’s Day to be shoved down your throat!

Motivation Behind Christmas Cards  

According to my reading, Sir Henry Cole (see above) resorted to creating Christmas Cards because he had too many friends to write individual notes. I venture to assert that the time crunch is still a major factor in sending a greeting card rather than a letter. But that leaves open the question of who gets on someone’s card list in the first place. I seem to recall that once upon a time, cards were for people seldom seen—and thus unavailable to greet personally. Today?

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Work colleagues
  • Clients
  • Church family
  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Doctors/ nurses
  • Residents of nursing homes or hospitals
  • Active military
  • Members of social groups
  • Those who sent cards last year
  • That one person you don’t really like but gets a card just so you can use up the last of the 12-pack of cards you bought

This increasingly vague list leaves plenty of room for confusion and accidentally hurt feelings. Consider someone who sends a card but doesn’t receive one in return. Consider a child arguing with a parent over whether online cards are a suitable replacement for paper cards. If you really want to jerk some tears, consider an elderly character sending out cards to peers and seeing the list shrink a little more every year.

What Type of Card?

There is a huge variety of cards available, and the type of card sent could reveal as much about a character as the people they send those cards to. Religious ones, humorous ones, nature scenes, musical ones, pop-up ones. The first personalized Christmas card was sent in 1891 by Annie Oakley. She was doing sharp-shooter exhibitions in Scotland and sent cards back to friends and family in the U.S. featuring her picture—wearing tartan!

Should a character send a generic card with vaguely wintry scenes and vague wishes for general well-being? What about a character sending explicitly religious cards to recipients of a different faith or no faith at all? Why would a character choose to make dozens of cards by hand rather than grabbing a box off the drugstore shelf? Some families include newsletters with the card, letting friends and families know what they’ve been doing since last year’s holiday card. Why would a character send newsletters or photo collage cards?

Meaning of Holiday Cards for the Recipient 

When I was growing up, my mother, aunts, etc., knew exactly how many cards they received and how many they sent—sort of like being able to cite how many trick-or-treaters came by on Halloween. Christmas cards were typically displayed on stair banisters, windowsills, archways, mantels, etc. 

Could receiving holiday cards be a bad or unpleasant experience? What about a character receiving a card from someone they dislike? How about siblings or friends who see messages of boasting and rivalry in personalized cards? What might a character think after sending out dozens of cards and receiving none in return? How would someone who hates the entire holiday season react to all those reminders in the mail?

According to anthropologists, the number of holiday cards you receive reflects how many people care about you. That’s the premise of a 2003 study of social network size carried out by evolutionary anthropologists Robin Hill of the University of Durham and Robin Dunbar of Oxford and published in the journal Human Nature.  “In Western societies…the exchange of Christmas cards represents the one time of year when individuals make an effort to contact all those individuals within their social network whose relationships they value.”

Maybe I’m just being defensive, but I refuse to measure my circle of caring family and friends by the handful of seasonal greetings I receive. Just saying.

Holiday Cards are Big Business

Getting a definite count is tricky, depending on the year and what cards are included in the count. For example, one study asserted that 6.5 billion greeting cards are bought each year, at a total cost of more than U.S. $7 billion.  On the other hand, sales of holiday cards in the U.S. dropped from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 1.5 billion in 2011. Christmas Cards account for 61% of seasonal greeting card sales, followed by St. Valentine’s Day at a distant second of 25%.

And that doesn’t even include the USPS revenue! Imagine what a postal worker, especially a letter carrier, thinks about all that extra volume moving around the country. Both of the holidays most frequently celebrated with extra paper and postage happen during some of the most unpleasant weather. Do the holiday bonuses outweigh the extra weight in the satchel?

2019 UNICEF cards

And FYI: only 15% of cards are bought by men. Millions of dollars are raised for charities by Christmas Cards each year. For example, UNICEF launched their charity Christmas card program in 1949. Schools, research institutions, hospitals, food banks, and lots of other community organizations raise funds by selling holiday cards.

Some organizations also send cards to donors to encourage continued support the following year. Does it really count as a holiday greeting if it’s a reminder to send a check?

Well, I seem to have been caught up in a seasonal issue.  But bottom line for writers: what are your character’s attitudes and behaviors regarding holiday greeting cards?  Any phenomenon as ubiquitous as this can contribute to your characters and/or plots.

It’s the 5th night of Hanukkah!

HOLIDAYS FOR DAYS AND DAYS

Here in the US, we tend to associate the entire month of December with celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Bodhi, and other holidays celebrating family, giving, and the days finally getting longer again. But there are a lot of other holidays in December! Some are international, like World AIDS Day (December 1st), and some are relatively local, National Illinois Day (December 7th).

Are we all supposed to visit Illinois? Does Illinois become the center of government? I’m not sure how this holiday works.

Many of the major religious holidays celebrated in December feature lights, reminding us to hope for spring in the northern hemisphere. Yule logs are burned, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah candles are lit, Christmas trees are wrapped in strands of LED bulbs, just like in days of yore. In the southern hemisphere, similar holidays take place in June. Some anthropoligists estimate that Australian Aborigines may have the been the first people to recognize and celebrate the turning of the seasons in June.

Because it’s Australia, they celebrate by swimming naked in the coldest lake they can find.
Australia again! There are 14 indigenous languages featured on their new coin.

December is the last chance we have to celebrate 2019 as the United Nations‘ designated Year of Indigenous Languages, Year of Moderation, and Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. You can practice moderation by learning only 1,000 of the 2,680 languages currently in danger of disappearing! Memorize only half of the periodic table!

Celebrate the glory of this fruit all month! And watermelons.

You can also celebrate your favorite causes or interests all through December. Not only is December International Human Rights Month, it is also Stress-Free Family Holiday Month (seriously?!) as well as Quince and Watermelon Month.

There are plenty of serious holidays and observances in December. There are too many to list here, but this is a sampling from around the world.

  • International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (December 2nd)
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance (December 7th)
  • Kazakhstan Independence Day (December 16th)
  • South African Day of Reconciliation (December 16th)
  • Remembrance Day for Roma and Sinti killed by Genocide (December 19th)

Best of all (in my opinion) there are plenty of bizarre, odd, strange, perhaps even weird holidays in December. Every day of the month has at least two or three chances to sit back for a moment and reflect on how lucky you are not to be celebrating something that day. A few of my favorites are below, but there are many, many more online!

Mutt!
  • Bifocals at the Monitor Liberation Day (December 1st)
  • National Mutt Day (December 2nd)
  • International Ninja Day (December 5th)
  • Faux Fur Friday (first Friday in December)
  • Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day (December 8th)
  • Pick a Pathologist Pal Day (December 13th)
  • Cat Herders Day (December 15th)
  • Barbie and Barney Backlash Day (December 16th)
For all your EXTERMINATE needs
  • Answer The Telephone Like Buddy The Elf Day (December 18th)
  • National French Fried Shrimp Day (December 21st)
  • International Dalek Remembrance Day (December 21st)
  • Phileas Fogg Win A Wager Day (December 21st)
  • National Pfeffernusse Day (December 23rd)
  • A’Phabet Day (December 25th) (No “L”!)
  • National Whiner’s Day (December 26th)
  • Fruitcake Day (December 27th, but I think my father is the only person who actually celebrates this)
  • Tick Tock Day (December 29th)

If you still haven’t picked a bizarre holiday, you still have a chance to celebrate Make Up Your Mind Day on December 31st!

Happy Kwanza (December 26th through January 1st)

THE JOYFUL SIDE OF THE SEASON: TRADING HALLOWEEN FOR THE DAY OF THE DEAD

For more than a month, people have been bombarded with ads, displays, and commercials about things to buy for Halloween: costumes, candy, house decorations, yard displays, etc., etc., etc. Indeed, more money is spent on Halloween than any other holiday except Christmas—which I find pretty horrifying in and of itself. 

This insanity is what inspired Tim Burton to write Nightmare Before Christmas.

But that’s just the tip of the horror: evil witches, vampire bats, the walking dead, haunted houses, werewolves, and not-nearly-as-friendly-as-Casper ghosts. The scary side of the season is why the previous four blogs on this website have been about evil twins, being buried alive, satanism, and vampires.

Hard on the heels of Halloween comes Dia de Muertos, The Day of the Dead (though it seems to me it ought to be Days, plural). It begins at midnight on October 31 and continues through November 1 and 2.

  • Writers please note:although November 1 and 2 coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day, respectively, the Day of the Dead is not now tied to any particular religion. It is more of a cultural holiday than a religious one. 

Scholars have traced the modern holiday back hundreds of years, particularly to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. People can, and have, personalized it, integrating elements into their own cultural and/or religious practices. It is nearly opposite of all that Halloween stands for.

A representation of Mictlantecuhtli, also known as the Divine Mother or Santa Muerte Narco

In Aztec mythology, Mictlan was the underworld and after-death destination for the majority of people. The ruler of Mictlan was
Mictlantecuhtli, who held the bones used to create all of humanity.
Mictlancíhuatl was his wife, who watches over the souls of the dead.

A popular costume is La Catrina, a character that was created by Mexican lithographer and illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913). La Catrina is a female skeleton who is dressed in the style of upper-class women of the period.

Dio de Muertos is celebrated throughout Mexico, especially the central and southern regions. It is also celebrated by people of Mexican heritage worldwide. Although the details of the celebration vary by location, the central elements are the same: celebrating the lives of those who have died with feasting, parties, costumes, and activities the dead enjoyed in life.

October 31 is usually devoted to preparing to welcome the souls of loved ones. A home altar is created, decorated with candles and lots of food and drink: fruits, peanuts, turkey mole, tortillas, and Day of the Dead breads (pan de muerto) ; sodas, cocoa, and water. These offerings are called ofrenda, though that can also refer to the altar itself. The breads often have icing that resembles and bones across the top. Buckets of flowers, especially wild marigolds (cempasúchitl), are used as well.


Copal incense was burned in Mesoamerica in ancient times.
The word copal is derived from the Nahuatl word copalli, which means “incense.”

Traditional altars include very specific elements, each with a distinct purpose.

  • A candle for each relative remembers, so that the light will guide them.
  • Flowers to represent the fleetingness of life.
  • Salt and water to purify and refresh the souls tired from the journey.
  • Copal incense to raise prayers to God.
  • A photo or drawing of each relative, often with a favorite piece of clothing or toy.
An ofrenda for a young child

The holiday begins when the souls of dead children and miscarried babies are allowed to return to their families for twenty-four hours, on Día de los Inocentes. Toys, candies, and miniature skulls are added to the home altars for these angelitos.  On November 2, the spirits of adults arrive. The miniature skulls are replaced by full-sized ones. For adults, the altar includes cigarettes, shots of mezcal, and/or the favorite drink of the dead person(s).

A small
calavera de azucar (sugar skull) for a small child’s ofrenda

Sugar art was learned from Italian missionaries in the 17th century, who made sugar lambs and angels to adorn altars in Catholic Churches at Easter. Clay molded sugar skulls, angels, and sheep date back to the 18th century. As described on mexicansugarskull.com, “Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home Ofrenda [altar] or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit.”  According to the same source, “Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments.”

Now they are represented by jewelry and masks.

Typically, the holiday activities includes a trip to the cemetery/graveyard where loved ones are buried. Besides clean-up and maintenance of the gravesite, these visits include a party, often with local music, games, card playing, feasting, and decorating the graves.

Families at a cemetery in Oaxaca

Although a Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead is celebrated worldwide. In the United States, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona feature pretty traditional celebrations.

These Catrinas dressed like Adelitas, women who fought in the Mexican Revolution.

California, too, has strong historical ties to Mexico and Dia de Muertos is celebrated widely across the state—though the celebrations sometimes add a political element, such as an altar to honor the victims of the Iraq War.

The parade in Mexico City this year honored migrants who have died.

Virtually every big city has a festival and events. For example, the historic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood hosts an annual festival celebrating the cycle of life and death. People bring food, flowers, pictures, and mementos to add to a huge decorated altar. It includes traditional music and dance.

Jamaica Plain, Boston

Bottom line for writers: consider a scene involving Day of the Dead celebrations. Perhaps it is a tradition for one or more characters, or perhaps the protagonist just happens to be in a city where the celebration is taking place. Think broadly!


Gift Giving Then and Now, Here and There

Gift Giving

This post is part of a series that might be characterized as Darwin’s Christmas. I will be taking a number of our current traditions and tracing their evolution.

The earliest gift-bringer I read about was Odin, a Pagan Germanic god who is thought to have influenced concepts of Father Christmas in numerous ways, including long white beard and riding through the night sky.

blue Santa Claus figurines related to Odin
Odin’s influence is seen in blue Santas

Odin wore a blue-hooded cloak and rode through the midwinter sky on an eight-footed horse named Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. According to pre-Christian Norse tradition, he entered through chimneys or fire holes on the solstice.

In 16th century England (during the reign of Henry VIII), Father Christmas was pictured as a large man in green or scarlet robes lined with fur. He was associated more with good cheer, peace, joy, good food and wine, and revelry.

Father Christmas merged with St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas), which morphed into Santa Claus. Suffice it to say that most people around the world have a tradition of a Christmas gift-bringer: Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Christkind, the Wise Men, an old gift-giving witch called Befana (in Italy). In Scandinavia a jolly elf named Jultomten delivered gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. And in Russia, an elderly woman named Babouschka (grandmother) leaves gifts by children’s bedsides on January 5th.

figurines of Santas around the world
Representations of Santas around the world, L-R: Hungary, 1884; Austria, 1904; Russia, 1903; Canada, 1930; U.S.A., 1935; Mexico, 1923; U.S.A., 1925; Holland, 1920.

Presents are left in different places. In much of Europe, presents are left in shoes or boots put out by the children. In Italy, the UK, and the USA presents are left in stockings—and, of course, under the Christmas tree.

Presents are opened on different days as well. Children in Holland often receive the earliest presents, on December 5th for St. Nicholas’ Eve. On St. Nicholas’ Day (6th of December), children in Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, and some other European countries open some of their presents. Christmas Day (25th of December) is the most popular gift day for the UK, USA, Japan, and many other countries. The last presents are opened on Epiphany, January 6th, especially in Catholic countries such as Spain and Mexico.

gift-giving-santa-figurine-with-stack-of-gifts

Who gets presents has shifted dramatically over the centuries. Odin gave presents to “his people.” St. Nicholas gave to the poor. According to the Christian Science Monitor, in early modern Europe, gift giving also had roots in Christmas begging, when bands of young men, often rowdy, would wassail from house to house, demanding handouts from the gentry. It wasn’t till the mid-1800s that gift-giving shifted from the poorer classes to children.

On the other hand, giving gifts to heads of state, kings and queens, emperors, etc, pre-dates the birth of Jesus.

Today, it seems everybody gives gifts to everybody—an impression strongly supported by advertising and merchant specials! Christmas begging from charities is rampant. Salvation Army kettles (which first appeared in 1891) are on sidewalks all over the world.  Employers often give actual gift baskets or holiday bonuses. Co-workers, neighbors, and friends exchange gifts. Parents give gifts to children, but people also give gifts to parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and step siblings, and second cousins twice removed.

wrapped gifts

By now, all the glittery wrappings are probably torn asunder, the gifts put away, exchanged, maybe saved for re-gifting, and the leavings look more like this.

gifts unwrapped

And I’m left wondering, how many Christmas presents are gifts and how many are perceived obligations.