Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Folklore/Supersitions about the New Year

Celebrating New Year’s Day is a time-honored tradition. In ancient Babylon, New Year's Day was celebrated in March which was the beginning of spring. The Romans also noted March as the new year until 46 BC when Julius Caesar designated New Year's Day as January 1st. The idea, it was reported, was to make sure the days were back in touch with the changes that the sun went through. After many changes of the Roman calendar, the days were so out of sync with the sun that order had to be restored. January 1st was also observed by Egyptian and Celtic cultures.

The Babylonians were also credited with the custom of making resolutions on New Year's Eve in order to begin the New Year with a clean slate.

Since then there have been many superstitions and folklore beliefs about how to bring in a prosperous and healthy new year. Here are a few of them:

• Pay off bills and loans so as to not bring debt into the New Year.
• Opening all doors and windows at midnight lets the old year escape.
• Babies born on New Year’s Day are said to have the best luck.
• Kissing at midnight assured affections would continue throughout the year.
• Church bells rung at midnight scare away evil spirits.
• Empty cupboards on New Year’s Eve bring a year of poverty.

If you've got folklore to share, let us know!


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Who is Jack Frost?

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…

Who is Jack Frost and how did he come to be the mischievous folk lore character we have all grown to love during the holiday season?

Jack Frost also better known as Jokul Frosti ("icicle frost") is a sprite- like character with roots in Viking lore. In the United States and Britain, Frost is best known as Old Man Winter who is responsible to frosty weather and nipping the nose and toes of young children. The depiction of Jack Frost was made popular by Thomas Nast, an artist who published his work in Harper’s Weekly in 1864. The picture is winter in Central Park depicting Jack Frost as a creature covered in icicles. Thomas Nast is also responsible for the number of popular images of Christmas and Santa Claus. In 1902, L. Frank Baum’s The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus book explains that Frost is the son of the Frost King. Jack Frost with a jolly personality takes pleasure in nipping noses, ears and toes of children. Santa asks him to stop, but Frost mistrusts him and cannot resist the temptation.

Jack Frost has always been known as a figure from folklore, looking as an elfish creature who personifies crisp and cold weather. He is always known to leave beautiful patterns on autumn leaves and windows on frosty mornings. In Russia, frost is represented as Father Frost, a smith who binds water and earth together with heavy chains. In Germany, Frost is an old woman who causes it to snow by shaking out her bed of white feathers.

Although Jack Frost has no connection with Christianity, he is sometimes hijacked to appear in modern Christmas entertainments. He also often appears in literature, film, television, song, and video games as a sinister mischief maker.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Tree Lore

The Christmas tree, also known as a “Yule” tree, is a decorated evergreen tree tradition that began in Estonia/Latvia in the 15th century. First documented uses of a Christmas tree were by The Brotherhood of Blackheads, an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners active in present-day Estonia and Latvia.

It was reported that members of this military organization danced around the tree and by 1584 the pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of an established tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame.”

The first American Christmas tree can be credited to a Hessian soldier by the name of Henrick Roddmore, who was captured at the Battle of Bennington in 1776. He then went to work on the farm of Samuel Denslow in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, where for the next 14 years he put up and decorated Christmas trees in the Denslow family home.

The first American President to set up a Christmas tree in the White House was Franklin Pierce, and the first to establish the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House was Calvin Coolidge.

In 1979 during President Jimmy Carter’s term only the tree’s crowning star was lit in honor of the Americans being held hostage in Iran.

Contemporary Christmas trees now include artificial trees that have grown in popularity; especially among those who do not want to cut down live trees or cannot plant a live potted tree when the season ends. People who live in city apartments where space may be a concern use oversized tree branches placed on table tops or mantles, decorated with simply themed ornaments or standing up in vases.

In these modern times there are also mini-Christmas trees for those who live in mobile homes or travel during the holiday season and want to take the season’s spirit with them on the road. From traditional to contemporary, Christmas trees – in whatever form – are still an essential holiday ingredient.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gingerbread: A Winter Treat

In America, gingerbread is a staple item in celebrating the holiday season. It is defined as a sweet food that contains the flavors of ginger, molasses, and honey, and can be found in a soft, moist cake consistency, or hard, like that of a cookie. Originating from Armenia in 992, it has made its way throughout many regions of Europe and into the homes of millions of people.

Gingerbread, as it was known in Armenia in 992 A.D. was brought to Europe via an Armenian Monk, Grégoire de Nicopolis. It was not until the 13th Century that the recipe was brought over to Sweden and Norway. It was here that the recipe began to grow and form a tradition. The first gingerbread biscuit dates back to the 16th century, where it was a custom to paint them and display them in store windows. The United Kingdom then became recognized for their gingerbreads in the town of Shropshire and now proudly displays it on their entrance sign into town. By the 18th century, gingerbread had become widely popular among Europe.

The practice of preparing gingerbread differs widely across the world. In England, gingerbread is actually more of a bread than a cookie and is often soft and moist. Flavors such as pepper, raisins, nuts, apple, and mustard are often added for a delightful twist. It is commonly enjoyed on what is called “Bonfire Night” in England. In Croatia, gingerbread is usually formed into the shape of a heart and is used as an ornament. In the United States, however, gingerbread is predominantly a holiday treat. It is brittle and most often if the form of a cookie, which is then molded into either a small man or into a house for decorating.

The tradition of decorating gingerbread men and gingerbread houses originated in the court of Elizabeth I of England, where she had gingerbread made into the shapes of people and had them decorated to look like her guests. The practice of making gingerbread men is also a vital role in the Norwegian holiday celebration, where they make an annual gingerbread town. Norway actually pays for every child under the age of twelve to make a gingerbread house with their parents.

Today, gingerbread plays a significant role in the winter season. Many children all over the world look forward to preparing gingerbread men as well as gingerbread houses. They provide families with a means to grow closer together while working on an edible project that the whole family can enjoy. Not to mention, they make for a great holiday decoration!

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Vibrant Winter of Folk Art in Hollywood

Folk art is often considered to be art of the folk (the common man or woman) and, as such, it is often kept separate from fine art. That's primarily because people make distinctions between art that is primarily utilitarian and decorative and art that is purely aesthetic. (Hard to pour water from a canvas, right?)

Folk art is often described as the art of indigenous cultures, peasants, or tradespeople. But what about the art work of literate, classically or formally educated and/or explosive artists who produce pieces that draw from the deep wells of their own cultural experiences in a way that everyone can relate to?

At the Winter Folk Art Show at La Luz De Jesus Gallery in Hollywood, such work is both folk art and fine art alive and well. A handful of artists have brought together images we all can recognize and relate to.

For example:

Gin Stevens (upper left) traced the history of Blues in this 2010 collection that culminated in a large scale work tracing of the three distinct genres of Blues music: Chicago, Delta, and Texas.

Jessica Goldfinch(upper right) studied and focused on world ideologies and creatively incorporated them into her art. Here she depicts religious imagery in an organic and humanist sense.

The show runs from Dec. 3 through Jan. 2.