15 Holiday Traditions We Need to Bring Back

istock
istock

December is full of amazing traditions and festivities, but many wonderful holiday customs have faded into near-obscurity. These fifteen examples deserve a comeback. 

1. Decorate With Rose Petals

Ease up on the poinsettias this year and do as the Colonial Virginians did—spruce up your home with fragrant roses and lavender during the holiday season. It gives a nice floral alternative to the amazing holiday aromas of evergreen and gingerbread.

2. Have a Child Run The Party 

Role-reversal was a key component in the ancient Roman holiday called “Saturnalia.” Families would elect somebody of relatively low status—usually a child—as their “princeps” (or “leader”), who’d preside over the festivities. This may be the year that your pre-teen is ready to be promoted to party planner.

3. Humble Pie 

Also known as ‘umble pie, this hearty dish became a Christmas staple during the 1600s. A deer’s “humbles”—i.e., its heart, liver, brains, and similarly neglected organs—were the entrée’s namesake ingredients. You may want to move this one lower on your holiday to-do list than the rose petals. 

4. White Tie New Year’s Eve Parties

As they greeted each approaching New Year, well-to-do Gilded Age households commonly threw swanky get-togethers. For the gentlemen, white ties and waistcoats were deemed standard attire, while ladies sported corseted evening gowns.

5. Hot Cockles

Flirtation was often a fun side effect of this pre-Victorian holiday game. The rules are straightforward: One blindfolded player kneels and rests his or her head in somebody’s lap. Another participant then lightly smacks the kneeler’s backside, and the blindfolded party would have to guess who did it. 

6. Ceramic Tipping Boxes 

For centuries, Brits would present their servants and apprentices with ceramic boxes that contained an annual holiday bonus on the day after Christmas. While Boxing Day remains on the calendar in many countries, the boxes themselves are due for a comeback.

7. Alphabetical Feasts

The Brumalia was a Greco-Roman festival that stretched from November 24 to December 17, and each of the 24 days was assigned a specific Greek letter. A celebrant would honor his or her friends with individual banquets hosted on the days that matched the first letters of their names. The English alphabet would require a couple of extra days, but we’re sure your friend Xavier wouldn’t mind being the center of attention for a day.

8. Redding the House

Hogmanay—Scotland’s traditional New Year’s festival—historically involved cleaning (or “redding”) houses before midnight fell on December 31. Clearing out your fireplace held particular significance because the reading of its ashes (much like reading tea leaves) could tell you what to expect from the coming year.

9. Presents with Poems

Here’s another neat Saturnalia practice: When giving gifts to friends and loved ones in observance of this holiday, some Romans customarily included slips of paper upon which seasonal poems were written. Fun poetry makes modern “To/From” tags seem boring by comparison.

10. Skipping Laundry Day 

During the 19th century, the British considered it bad luck to do laundry on New Year’s Day. Many believed doing so could cause a death (or “washing-out”) in the family, while others were probably just happy to give the clothesline a day off.

11. Shoe the Mare 

After Christmas dinner, Elizabethans enjoyed this athletic game, which featured one barefooted family member running about like an unruly steed. Everyone else tried to catch and “shoe” (albeit with human footgear) the runner. 

12. 12 Days of Mince Pies 

For good luck, Medieval Europeans would enjoy a hearty minced meat pie, spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, on each of the 12 days of Christmas (December 25-January 6). Yum! 

13. Yule Mumming 

Why should Halloween get all the scares? On Christmas Eve, Scandinavian youngsters used to grab their spookiest masks and frighten unsuspecting neighbors while acting like ghosts. This would certainly spice up lackluster office parties.

14. Cake Tossing 

Chucking a perfectly good cake against a door sounds like an awful waste of delicious sweets, but heads-of-households in the 1890s felt that doing so would bring a year without hunger.

15. Wassailing 


“Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green…” Have you ever sung this carol and found yourself wondering what the heck “wassailing” is? Come Christmastime in the 1600s, Englishmen would prepare huge bowls of a hot, cider-based drink and walk from door-to-door offering cupfuls (sometimes in exchange for cash).

What’s the Origin of Jack-O’-Lanterns?

iStock/matejmo
iStock/matejmo

The term "jack-o'-lantern" was first applied to people, not pumpkins. As far back as 1663, the term meant a man with a lantern, or a night watchman. Just a decade or so later, it began to be used to refer to the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night over bogs, swamps, and marshes.

These ghost lights—variously called  jack-o’-lanterns, hinkypunks, hobby lanterns, corpse candles, fairy lights, will-o'-the-wisps, and fool's fire—are created when gases from decomposing plant matter ignite as they come into contact with electricity or heat or as they oxidize. For centuries before this scientific explanation was known, people told stories to explain the mysterious lights. In Ireland, dating as far back as the 1500s, those stories often revolved around a guy named Jack.

LEGEND HAS IT

As the story goes, Stingy Jack—often described as a blacksmith—invited the devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for the drinks from his own pocket, and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to settle the tab. The devil did so, but Jack skipped out on the bill and kept the devil-coin in his pocket with a silver cross so that the devil couldn’t shift back to his original form. Jack eventually let the devil loose, but made him promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge on Jack, and wouldn’t claim his soul when he died.

Later, Jack irked the devil again by convincing him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit, then carved a cross in the trunk so that the devil couldn’t climb back down (apparently, the devil is a sucker). Jack freed him again, on the condition that the devil once again not take revenge and not claim Jack’s soul.

When Stingy Jack eventually died, God would not allow him into heaven, and the devil, keeping his word, rejected Jack’s soul at the gates of hell. Instead, the devil gave him a single burning coal to light his way and sent him off into the night to “find his own hell.” Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has supposedly been roaming the earth with it ever since. In Ireland, the ghost lights seen in the swamps were said to be Jack’s improvised lantern moving about as his restless soul wandered the countryside. He and the lights were dubbed "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack O'Lantern."

OLD TALE, NEW TRADITIONS

The legend immigrated to the new world with the Irish, and it collided with another old world tradition and a new world crop. Making vegetable lanterns was a tradition of the British Isles, and carved-out turnips, beets, and potatoes were stuffed with coal, wood embers, or candles as impromptu lanterns to celebrate the fall harvest. As a prank, kids would sometimes wander off the road with a glowing veggie to trick their friends and travelers into thinking they were Stingy Jack or another lost soul. In America, pumpkins were easy enough to come by and good for carving, and got absorbed both into the carved lantern tradition and the associated prank. Over time, kids refined the prank and began carving crude faces into the pumpkins to kick up the fright factor and make the lanterns look like disembodied heads. By the mid-1800s, Stingy Jack’s nickname was applied to the prank pumpkin lanterns that echoed his own lamp, and the pumpkin jack-o’-lantern got its name.

Toward the end of the 19th century, jack-o’-lanterns went from just a trick to a standard seasonal decoration, including at a high-profile 1892 Halloween party hosted by the mayor of Atlanta. In one of the earliest instances of the jack-o’-lantern as Halloween decor, the mayor’s wife had several pumpkins—lit from within and carved with faces—placed around the party, ending Jack O’Lantern’s days of wandering, and beginning his yearly reign over America’s windowsills and front porches.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

 

A Finnish Tourism Company Is Hiring Professional Christmas Elves

iStock.com/kali9
iStock.com/kali9

Finland isn't quite the North Pole, but it will be home to a team of gainfully employed Christmas elves this holiday season. As Travel + Leisure reports, the Scandinavian country's Lapland Safaris is looking for elves to get guests into the holiday spirit.

Lapland Safaris is a tourism company that organizes activities like snowmobiling, Northern Lights-gazing, skiing, and ice-fishing. The elf employees will be responsible for leading guests to their buses and conveying important information, all while spreading holiday cheer. The job listing reads, "An Elf is at the same time an entertainer, a guide, and a mythical creature of Christmas."

Each Lapland Safari elf will receive training through Arctic Hospitality Academy prior to starting the job. There, they will learn "the required elfing and communication skills." Training will be conducted in English, but candidates' knowledge of French, Spanish, or German is a plus.

To apply, aspiring elves can fill out and submit this form through Lapland Safaris's website. The gig lasts from November 2018 to the beginning of next year, with employees having the option to work at any of the company's Finnish destinations (Santa's workshop is unfortunately not included on the list).

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER