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Beauty, truth, et cetera

Remember those "campaign for real beauty" ads that Dove was pushing a few months ago? They didn't impress me much. The women were (a) uniformly clean-faced and preppy-looking, (b) uniformly laughing and smiling at some joke that probably started with "knock knock," and (c) uniformly dressed in bland white undies. They couldn't say anything about their personalities through their clothes or makeup. We were left to infer personality from their hairstyles: Ooh, she's got ringlets, she must be the kooky one! It was brave of the women to expose their imperfect bodies in their undies, but the ads weren't about "real beauty" at all. Yes, there are evo-psych principles that suggest beauty is often symmetrical, even-toned, inoffensive "“ and that's undoubtedly true for things like mathematical equations "“ but in judging an individual person's beauty, there's also something to be said for novelty, strangeness, edge. Bereft of the opportunity to express themselves, most of these women didn't have those.

What's ironic about the Dove campaign is that it wasn't that groundbreaking "“ there were already unofficial campaigns for real beauty out there that proved the power of the eye of the beholder. American Apparel ads, for instance. As recently detailed in the NYT, the models are "young ethnic and mixed-race men and women with asymmetrical features, imperfect bodies, blemished skin and visible sweat stains on the clothes they are modeling" "“ basically, they're your friends from college who were really hot but never quite realized it and so remained blessedly down to earth. The ads may be incredibly suggestive, but they're also progressive in a weird way. I also like Face Hunter (where I found the fanciful mustachioed man above) and The Sartorialist, blogs that feature photos of random people on the street and at parties. Some of them are self-conscious types who make funny faces; some of them are equally self-conscious types who dress up in costume, a la Misshapes. But most are slightly disheveled, off-kilter, flawed but happy-looking people "“ in a word, beautiful.

 

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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