15 Holiday Traditions We Need to Bring Back

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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).

Why Mother's Day Founder Anna Jarvis Later Fought to Have the Holiday Abolished

A portrait of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis.
A portrait of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Years after she founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis was dining at the Tea Room at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. She saw they were offering a "Mother’s Day Salad." She ordered the salad and when it was served, she stood up, dumped it on the floor, left the money to pay for it, and walked out in a huff. Jarvis had lost control of the holiday she helped create, and she was crushed by her belief that commercialism was destroying Mother’s Day.

During the Civil War, Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother's Friendship Day. When the elder Jarvis passed away in 1905, her daughter was devastated. She would read the sympathy cards and letters over and over, taking the time to underline all the words that praised and complimented her mother. Jarvis found an outlet to memorialize her mother by working to promote a day that would honor all mothers.

On May 10, 1908, Mother's Day events were held at the church where Ann Jarvis taught Sunday School in Grafton, West Virginia, and at the Wanamaker’s department store auditorium in Philadelphia. Anna did not attend the event in Grafton, but she sent 500 white carnations—her mother’s favorite flower. The carnations were to be worn by sons and daughters in honor of their own mothers, and to represent the purity of a mother’s love.

Spreading the Word

Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Anna Jarvis’s zealous letter-writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She was assisted by well-heeled backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day.

In 1909 several senators mocked the very idea of a Mother’s Day holiday. Senator Henry Moore Teller (D-CO) scorned the resolution as "puerile," "absolutely absurd," and "trifling." He announced, "Every day with me is a mother's day." Senator Jacob Gallinger (R-NH) judged the very idea of Mother's Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."

A pile of white carnations
iStock.com/ma-no

The backlash didn't deter Jarvis. She enlisted the help of organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and the holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.

The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day; newspapers reported stories of carnation hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.

"Sentiment, Not Profit"

Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest, and truest movements and celebrations.”

In response to the floral industry, she had thousands of celluloid buttons made featuring the white carnation, which she sent free of charge to women’s, school, and church groups. She attempted to stop the floral industry by threatening to file lawsuits and by applying to trademark the carnation together with the words “Mother’s Day” (though she was denied the trademark). In response to her legal threats, the Florist Telegraph Delivery (FTD) association offered her a commission on the sales of Mother’s Day carnations, but this only further enraged her.

Jarvis’s attempts to stop the florists’ promotion of Mother’s Day with carnations continued. In 1934, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Mother’s Day. They used a painting colloquially known as Whistler’s Mother for the image, by artist James Whistler. Jarvis was livid after she saw the resulting stamp because she believed the addition of the vase of carnations was an advertisement for the floral industry.

A young girl gives her mom a handmade Mother's Day card
iStock.com/fstop123

Jarvis’s ideal observance of Mother’s Day would be a visit home or writing a long letter to your mother. She couldn’t stand those who sold and used greeting cards: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”

She added: “Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.”

Going Rogue

Jarvis fought against charities that used Mother’s Day for fundraising. She was dragged screaming out of a meeting of the American War Mothers by police and arrested for disturbing the peace in her attempts to stop the sale of carnations. She even wrote screeds against Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise money (for charities that worked to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates, the very type of work Jarvis’s mother did during her lifetime).

In one of her last appearances in public, Jarvis was seen going door-to-door in Philadelphia, asking for signatures on a petition to rescind Mother’s Day. In her twilight years, she became a recluse and a hoarder.

Jarvis spent her last days deeply in debt and living in the Marshall Square Sanitarium, a now-closed mental asylum in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She died on November 24, 1948. Jarvis was never told that her bill for her time at the asylum was partly paid for by a group of grateful florists.

This story originally appeared in 2012.

7 Mother's Day Sales to Take Advantage of Before the Holiday

iStock.com/CatLane
iStock.com/CatLane

Still trying to figure out what to buy your mom for Mother's Day this year? Before May 12 rolls around, check out these sales that will help you get mom the perfect gift for less. And if you've already bought your mom a gift, well, there's no harm in getting yourself one, too.

1. Sur La Table

If your mom loves to cook and host, head to Sur La Table. The kitchen store is offering 20 percent off Staub cast iron cookware until May 13. It's also got longer-running sales as well—until May 20, you can get up to 70 percent off Sur La Table private label cookware and up to 40 percent off Nordic Ware bakeware. Nothing says Mother's Day like a new set of cake pans or a cast iron cocotte. (Don't be afraid to pick up a new set of dishes for yourself, too—we're sure your mom wouldn't mind.)

Find it: Sur La Table

2. Overstock.com

In advance of Mother's Day, Overstock.com is offering discounts on watches, jewelry, footwear, and more with mom in mind. Personally, we'd like to gift our mothers one of these amazingly whimsical cat watches, but for moms with more highbrow taste, there are plenty of other elegant options on deep discount. 

Find it: Overstock.com

3. Today Is Art Day

For moms who love art, science, and history, Today Is Art Day's collectible figurines offer a way to show off her favorite icons. She can prop the likenesses of Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt, Marie Curie, and more on her desk, or grab the brand's art-museum-themed board game for some family fun. You can get 15 percent off your purchase using the code MOTHER until May 12.

Find it: Today Is Art Day

4. Macy's

Macy's wellness-focused Goodfull brand has a lot of mom-worthy items on sale right now, including cookware, knives, kitchen appliances (we can't resist a KitchenAid stand mixer), plate sets, bed and bath products, and more. We are especially tempted by the Aerogarden countertop herb garden kit, which features automatic LED lighting and watering reminders. It's $110 off through May 12. You can also get an extra 10 to 20 percent off select sale items with the code MOM.

Find it: Macy's

5. Coach

If your mom is a fashion maven, Coach is offering significant discounts on bags, shoes, and other fashionable goods for the holiday. (While we don't exactly recommend spending more than $100 buying your mom a luxury leather keychain in the shape of a weiner dog, we also wouldn't hate it.) Use the code MOM19 to get up to 30 percent off.

Find it: Coach

6. Amazon

Whether your mom is an Alexa acolyte or a smart home skeptic, Amazon's probably got a device on sale for her. The rarely-on-sale, wildly popular Kindle Paperwhite is $40 off right now (just $90 for the most basic version). The regular Kindle (which has a lower-resolution screen and no backlight) is also on sale starting at $70. Amazon is also offering deals on Kindle Fire tablets, Ring Alarm systems, Echo smart speakers, and more.

Find it: Amazon

7. CompetitiveCyclist.com

Whether your mom is a weekend warrior or just likes to take the occasional group ride, you can get great deals on cycling gear and equipment from CompetitiveCyclist.com. With bikes, apparel, and accessories targeted at road cyclists, mountain bikers, and triathlon athletes, there's plenty to choose from. Get mom some waterproof apparel for her spring rides, invest in some nice sunglasses for her summer workouts, or go ahead and help her upgrade to her dream bike. Use the code 21VERONA for 21 percent off full-price items from now until June 2.

Find it: CompetitiveCyclist.com

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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