The Original “Black Friday”

The first two weeks of November were jammed with “un-often” events this year.  For starters the bright light of Halloween’s blue moon spilled into the wee hours of November 1st.  During those same wee hours most of us lost Daylight Savings Time.  The very next day (Monday) marked the official arrival of Hurricane Eta to our shores. The day after that we voted in a presidential election. A week later we staged the Masters golf tournament (it’s supposed to be in April, people).  Then we had another hurricane (Iota), the first time we’ve had two in November.  Finally, we spiked positive COVID-19 tests in record numbers after months of declines.

That’s a pile of rarities in a short amount of time.  So why not add one more to the heap?  Friday the 13th.  I missed it completely.  Maybe you missed it too (and you’d be forgiven with all those other distractions).  Last Friday – the 13th – came and went without an ounce of bad luck to blog about.  Ironically, the only story I can share brought good luck.  I placed a carry-out dinner order last Thursday night and the restaurant gave me someone else’s food.  When I went back for the right order they told me to keep both.  As a result my Friday the 13th dinner was unexpectedly “on the house”.

Are you superstitious?  I’m not – not in the least.  I have no problems with sidewalk cracks, leaning ladders, or black cats. I don’t lose sleep anticipating the third occurrence of a bad thing.  I gladly pick up a penny (it’s free money after all) but with no expectations of luck.  I’ve broken mirrors (deliberately, in remodel projects) and wishbones (on a whim, in turkeys).  I’ve even knocked on lots of wood (mostly doors) but hey, my life goes on as usual.

Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece

As for Friday the 13th’s “un-luck”, its long-ago origins are suspiciously weak.  The most common comes from the story of Jesus in the Bible: thirteen individuals at the Last Supper (Thursday) followed by Jesus’ foretold crucifixion the following day.  Other theories point to fighting gods in mythology and fighting knights in the Middle Ages.  None of these carry water in my book.  Seriously, how did misfortune come to be associated with the collision of a particular day and date?

I read up on calendar averages, thinking the 13th falling on a Friday was as uncommon as a blue moon.  Maybe the 13th favors the other days of the week instead?  Nope, try the reverse.  Over a significant number of years the 13th falls on Friday more than Saturday, Sunday, or any other day of the week.

To add a helping of confusion, look no further than Spain or Greece.  These countries have an irrational fear of Tuesday the 13th.  Italy?  Friday the 17th.  Imagine watching America’s famous horror movie franchise in any of these places and wondering, “so… why do they call it ‘Friday the 13th'”?

No matter my efforts to undermine this superstition, the effects are real.  Over 17 million Americans admit to a dread of Friday the 13th.  Some avoid airplane travel and others won’t even get out of bed.  Buildings remove the thirteenth floor from the stack (which is a lot of demolition for a superstition, isn’t it?)  Elevators conspicuously delete the “13” button.  Numbered seats in stadiums go 10, 11, 12… 14, 15, 16.

For some of you, Black Friday means bargains.  For others, Black Friday means “13”. If nothing else, I’ll give you a couple of words to describe the circumstance of the latter’s irrational fear.  If you’re afraid of the number 13 you have triskaidekaphobia.  If you’re afraid of just Friday the 13th you have paraskevidekatriaphobia.  (Me, I only have acrophobia.  At least your phobias sound more sophisticated.)

Fact check.  This post was published close to the midpoint between Black Friday (the 13th) and Black Friday (the retail binge).  Okay-y-y-y.  This post also contains exactly 666 words.  WHOO boy.

Let me repeat… I am NOT superstitious.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

The Twenty-four Days of Christmas

The Christmas season seems to begin a little earlier each year. Stores decorate and start their sales around Halloween. Lights go up on houses well before Thanksgiving, while Christmas cards show up in mailboxes by Black Friday.  The longer the season though, the more abrupt the conclusion. Be honest; who among us sings Christmas carols (or watches Hallmark movies) on December 26th?  Not many.  We worry and scurry for weeks about a single day – then suddenly it’s over.  Here’s a better approach.  Let’s focus instead on the one, true Christmas season preceding the day. Let’s focus on Advent.

For most Christians, Advent refers to the twenty-four days before Christmas (not to be confused with the song-famous Twelve Days, which come after Christmas).  Advent begins four Sundays before December 25th.  The word literally means “coming”, as in the (first coming) birth of Jesus at Christmas, and the (second coming) reappearance of Jesus at the end of time.  If you’re looking for the season’s theme song, go with “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.  It’s the one, true Advent carol.

Once upon a time Advent included fasting, penance, and daily prayer, but today the season seems to be nothing more than a countdown.  Even in Sunday church services, the four candles of the Advent wreath are lit as the four Sundays pass by – a weekly countdown to the Christmas candle in the center. Here’s a more efficient idea.  Let’s add another ball in Times Square; one that takes twenty-four days to drop instead of sixty seconds.  Might save a lot of wreaths and calendars.

Speaking of calendars, maybe a countdown is enough to signify a season.  Advent calendars are all the rage these days.  I had one when I was a kid; the flat, cardboard kind with twenty-four numbered doors of varying shapes and sizes.  Oddly, the doors were never arranged numerically, as if the calendar was made more appealing by having to search for a given day.  Not so oddly, each door fronted a bit of chocolate.  As if waiting twenty-four days for Christmas wasn’t hard enough, Advent calendars forced a kid to wait twenty-four hours to “open” each piece of chocolate.  A test of patience.

       

If cardboard and chocolate don’t catch your attention, perhaps you’d prefer a more elaborate version of an Advent calendar.  Consider Fran’s Chocolates of Seattle (above left), which produces its annual calendar fronted by an original watercolor.  Add in twenty-four delectable chocolates in twenty-four drawers, and this calendar sets you back $175.  Or how about Liberty London’s “Beauty Advent Calendar” (above right), which includes twenty-four wellness products – many of them full-size – like probiotic deodorant, essential oil candles, and skin bronzer?  This one sets you back $275, with the price justification you can re-gift whatever items are not to your taste.

Lest you think a fancy (or not) calendar is the only way to acknowledge Advent, I can’t close without mentioning the Christingle.  I don’t remember creating one of these as a kid.  A Christingle is made up of an orange, a candle, a bit of red ribbon, and four sets of dried fruits or sweets, skewered on cocktail sticks.  It’s a strange-looking assembly, but the Christingle gets an “A” for symbolism.  The orange represents the world.  The candle represents Jesus as the light of the world.  The red ribbon represents God’s love (or Jesus’ blood).  The fruits/sweets represent the gifts God gives us, and the cocktails sticks represent the four corners of the globe.  Lots going on in one sort-of-neat package.

Austria may lay claim to the biggest Advent calendar in the world!

If you’re reading this post before December 1st, you have the entire twenty-four days of Advent ahead of you.  Twenty-four days to slow down and appreciate the meaning of day twenty-five.  Sounds more like a season than a single day, doesn’t it?  Mark your calendar then.  Advent is here.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Your True Love’s a Nut Job

Each Christmas season (which translates to every waking moment from Thanksgiving to the New Year), I’m fascinated we still sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. I feel like a character in the Dickens world of Scrooge and Tiny Tim as I labor through the verses (ditto “Here We Come A-wassailing”).  I should sing with an English accent.  More to the point, I question the TDoC lyrics.  What other context do we have for turtle doves and calling birds?  What’s with the gold rings?  Don’t we owe it to ourselves to understand more about a carol we’ve been singing for over two hundred years?

Depending on the source, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was either a) written as a children’s book – which eventually morphed into a song, or b) “code” for memorizing elements of Christian religion at a time when faith could not be openly practiced.  I prefer the latter.  For example, the two turtle doves represent the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, while the four calling birds represent the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  The six geese represent the days of creation (“and on the seventh day He rested”), while the eleven pipers represent the faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.  “My True Love” is Jesus himself.  Clever, no? (see here for the full “code”).

Wikipedia claims “the exact origin and meaning of the Twelve Days song are unknown…” so perhaps we should just leave it buried in the past.  But I can’t do that.  TDoC is so much more fun if you take the literal approach to the words.

The title is innocent enough.  “The Twelve Days of Christmas” equals Christmastide, a season of the liturgical calendar in most churches.  Christmastide begins on December 25th and lasts until January 5th (the day before the season of Epiphany).  Twelve days.  That’s even more celebrating than Hanukkah.  Fine with me – our family likes to drag out Christmas as long as possible.

Beyond the title however, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” descends into total chaos.  Consider the structure of the carol.  TDoC is a “cumulative” song, which means you add the previous verse to the one you’re singing – just like all those animals in “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”.  By the twelfth verse you’re singing about everything, and you’re totally exhausted.  Some people solve the length by having a different voice for each gift.  That’s great for the partridge in a pear tree singer, but kind of sucks for the drummers drumming singer (who only gets one chance to shine).  Make sure you have a solid voice for the partridge in a pear tree.

Speaking of the gifts, let’s do some analysis.  Other than the rings, your true love has an obsession with birds.  He or she is gifting you an aviary on six of the first seven days.  Doves, hens, swans, and more.  Not only that, you’re getting pear trees and God knows how many eggs from those a-laying geese. (Note: pears and eggs make great Christmas gifts).

The final five days, your true love gifts you a bunch of workers and merrymakers for the estate you apparently have.  You’ll gain a herd of cows (what else are those maids a-milking?) and you’ll have a some dancers and a band making quite the ruckus on your front lawn.  The neighbors may complain.  C’mon, you say: how much noise can eleven pipers make?  Eleven?  So you forgot about the aggregate of a “cumulative” song, did you?  Your true love actually gave you twenty-two pipers by the time January 5th arrives… and twelve drummers, thirty-six dancers and thirty guys who like to jump.  And don’t look now, but your twelve pear trees are swarming with 184 birds.  Maybe you don’t have any pears after all.

Sorry, but if this is your true love’s idea of Christmas giving, he or she is a nut job (or at least an animal hoarder).  Here’s my advice: run.  Take your forty gold rings and date one of those lords or ladies instead.