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The year 2000 that never was

We Westerners seem to spend an awful lot of time dreaming about the future -- and we always have. In fact, this was one of philosopher Alan Watts' major explanations for modern unhappiness:

"The power of expectations is such that for most human beings ... the future is more real than the present, which cannot be lived happily until the future is bright with promise. [People] fail to live because they are always preparing to live."

At the same time, our need to fantasize about what's to come is part of what makes us such fascinating creatures (whether or not those fantasies make us happy), and what makes the study of past ideas about the future -- which is now our present -- especially fascinating. Take, for instance, predictions of the year 2000 made at the turn of the 19th century. The blog Paleo-Future has many examples, but my favorites are two intensely vivid series, one French and one German, distributed by a candy and chocolate company of the era. Some are just totally crazy -- and quite possibly meant as jokes -- like this one:

At the School
They have a machine that can grind up books and transmit their knowledge directly into your brain, but the machine is hand-cranked. (You can't make this stuff up.) What I love about old visions of the future is that they usually look a lot like the time in which they were created, save one or two details; their concept of the world was so firmly rooted in 1900 that, you know, of course things will still be cranked by hand in 2000.

Summer Holiday at the North Pole
How strangely prescient! Are those polar bears floating away on a melting ice cap?
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Heating with Radium
No, the people in this picture aren't suicidal. Marie Curie didn't know the radium she was experimenting with would kill her, either -- and neither did the watchmakers who used it to paint the glow-in-the-dark faces of their timepieces (and licked their brushes). Of course, they were indirectly onto something: radioactive materials heat plenty of modern homes, just not with plutonium rods thrown into our hearths.
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Madam and her Toilette
That's some kinda fancy bathroom ya got there, lady. And that device at her fingertips looks suspiciously like a laptop.
Madam+with+her+Toilet.jpg

Roofed Cities
Long before "greenhouse effect" entered our lexicon, some Germans thought this would be a great way to keep out of the rain. Ahh, the stagnant, filthy, breeze-less city. Someone crack a window!
roofedcity.jpg

A Chemical Dinner
No, they're not dropping acid. They're eating a chemically-enhanced dinner, just like we do every night. No, seriously: have you ever read the back of a package of hamburger helper? I'm surprised we're not all sterile mutants.
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A Phonographic Missive
Forget email -- I'd rather have my servant-girl bring me my messages on an LP! Ahh, such luxury.
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Cars of War
I think this happened on the 405 freeway last week. C'mon now, what kind of utopian vision of the future includes a drive-by?
Cars+of+War.jpg

Ship and Railway
Damn the logistics, we need this now! Where are those McFly 2015 people when you need them?
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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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