Will You be Visited by Krampus this Christmas?

by Kelly R. Smith

Impending doom at the hands of Krampus
Impending doom at the hands of Krampus
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When the holiday season begins to unfold, we begin to indulge in our favorite Christmas traditions. These vary greatly depending on locale and culture, but they’re all fun and grounded in tradition. Everybody is familiar with Santa Claus and his cohort, Rudolf, he of the illuminating red nose. But if you’ve been naughty this year, don’t be surprised if you get a visit from Krampus. Pity you.

Who is Krampus?

The malevolent and mythological Krampus is represented in the form of a hairy half-goat, half-demon. His job? To discipline wee children in the weeks prior to Christmas. His primary stomping grounds are in Germany, Austria, and neighboring Slovakian countries.

While the various Santa Claus representations are jolly old blokes who instill good behavior with the promise of gifts and candy, Krampus punishes naughty kids with whips and birch branches. He threatens to pull them down to his underworld in the event that they misbehave. St. Nicholas, a traditional Santa Claus figure, and Krampus, often work together, with St. Nicholas tending to the good children and Krampus menacing the naughty ones. It’s kind of a “good cop, bad cop” thing. To further increase anxiety, the Krampus goat-demon is traditionally depicted as a devil having a long, prehensile tongue and his feet are a curious mixture of human and hoof.

The History of Krampus

The term Krampus originates from the German word krampen which means “claw,” and the legend is old, pre-Christian in fact. During the 12th century, the Catholic Church not surprisingly tried to ban Krampus celebrations around the Christmas holiday because of the horned character’s resemblance to the devil. Krampus was also booted out of Austria during the 1930s at a time when the country suffered under fascist rule, as the Christian Social Party contended that the character, as represented, was unholy.

Modern Day Krampus

But in the end, it is hard to fight the will of the people and Krampus persisted in popular seasonal lore, with contemporary traditions featuring parades folks dressed in demonic-looking Krampus outfits in some European countries during December. In some countries Krampusnacht or “Krampus Night” is celebrated on December 5.

Today, the proliferation of the internet has exposed the traditional, and unusual-seeming Krampus lore to a multitude of people all over the world, giving Krampus a greater and more international presence during the Christmas season. Because of the figure’s pre-Christian roots, many neopaganists have come to embrace Krampus as one of their own.

So will you be visited by Krampus this Christmas? There might still be time to correct your naughty behavior. He’s watching; you can run but you can’t hide.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Is Scientology a Cult or a Religion?

by Kelly R. Smith

One of many Scientology churches
One of many Scientology churches
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Scientology was the brainchild of the charismatic leader and science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard started in 1952. It has been classified as a religion by the United States and the United Kingdom governments for tax purposes. However, Germany calls it an “anti-constitutional sect” and France has labeled it a “dangerous cult” as have many parts of the United States. A looser definition that is sometimes used is a New Religious Movement (NRM), defined as a religious, ethical, or spiritual group or community with relatively modern origins. But is Scientology a cult or a true religion? Where is the dividing line? Does it fall somewhere in the middle, a secret society like the Illuminati?

What Is a Cult?

A sociologist will tell you that a cult is a small group of individuals without a distinctive authority structure, usually led by a charismatic leader or a small group of leaders, and who derive their cause and ideology from outside of, and counter to, the more broadly-accepted religious and social culture. However, in layman’s terms, a cult is a manipulating and authoritarian organization that likely uses mind control to recruit members, keep them in line, and poses a threat to mental health to the flock.

The term “cult” has been used broadly to refer to groups such as Scientologists, Obama’s shadow government, Satanists, Mormons, Druids, The Peoples Church, the KKK, the Manson Family, Antifa, Pagans, Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, Trekkies, and Pokemon Go players. The term is broad enough to include both dangerous types and mere enthusiasts.

Cults and New Religious Movements

One problem with the term “cult” is that it has such a negative, and to some people, dangerous and frightening connotations. This is why sociologists have dropped the term and now refer to non-traditional religious sects such as Scientology New Religious Movements (NRMs).

Scientology does not exhibit some of the most common characteristics of a truly dangerous cult. In particular, the presence of a beloved, still-living founder; a relatively small and easily controlled number of followers; and a disturbing history of murders or suicides at the command of the leader. However, there is disturbing concern over the amount of control the church possesses, and its constant legal trouble can be seen as a red flag.

Leah Remini, ex-Scientologist discusses growing up in the church

Scientology and Characteristics of Dangerous Cults

  • Ruled by One Charismatic leader. Scientology was created by one charismatic man, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. His originally intended it to be a branch of science, but that didn’t catch on so he switched his focus to a religious movement. He died in 1986, and the current head of the Church of Scientology, David Miscavige took over. He maintains all the power and control over the money. He has a reputation as being abusive and tyrannical often losing his temper and physically attacking members of his staff.
  • Complete Control Over Church Members. One of the ways it does this is the policy of disconnection. But what is it? Mike Rinder says in his blog1, “There IS policy of the church of scientology that REQUIRES someone to disconnect from anyone declared by HCO as a Suppressive Person. HCOB 10 September 83 PTSNess and Disconnection states the following: ‘To fail or refuse to disconnect from a suppressive person not only denies the PTS (person connected to a Suppressive Person) case gain, it is also supportive of the suppressive – in itself a Suppressive Act. And it must be so labeled.‘” In a nutshell, if the Church finds disapproval with a person, the Church member must disconnect association, be it a family member, coworker, or other.
  • The Commission of Felonies. Many legal accusations have been directed at the Church over the years, and many have resulted in felony convictions, for example, in connection with Operation Snow White, which included theft of government documents. Through The Looking Glass says2, “Operation Snow White was a criminal conspiracy by the Church of Scientology during the 1970s to purge unfavorable records about Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. This project included a series of infiltrations into and thefts from 136 government agencies, foreign embassies and consulates, as well as private organizations critical of Scientology, carried out by Church members in more than 30 countries.” The most common accusations are fraud, extortion, and harassment, although other accusations such as kidnapping and negligent homicide have also been leveled.
  • Communal Living. Many Church members live in special Church-owned facilities (presumably for more control). There are groups in Scientology (notably Sea Org) that often have semi-communal arrangements in which families may be kept separated. Former employees have reported that they worked long hours, were paid very little, and were actively discouraged from having families.


  • Punishment for Defection or Criticism. According to Learn Religions3, “Defection and criticism can lead to one being labeled a suppressive person from whom other members should disconnect. SPs can become targets of harassment through the church’s ‘fair game’ doctrine. Established by L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, the ‘fair game’ doctrine states that anyone identified as an opponent may be deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist without any discipline of the Scientologist. Scientology has sued several of its former members; defectors are shunned or ‘disconnected.’ According to the church and former members, leaving is a lengthy process that can take months. The church requires that the leaving members pay ‘freeloader’ bills—former members report bills of tens of thousands of dollars—and sign affidavits which are drawn up by the officials.”
  • Large Donations are a Way of Life. As soon as they join, members are required to pay large donations for their coursework. This money must be paid up front, not-pay-as-you-go. Next, members are highly-encouraged to use these services since they are a fundamental way of achieving the goals of Scientology. Then there are ongoing requests for still more donations for projects and new buildings.

So, is Scientology a cult or a religion? Given how broad the definitions are, there is a lot of gray area. We do know that they don’t believe in Jesus or any other earthly prophet. Instead, they believe in the Overlord Xenu who headed the Galactic Federation, which was an organization of 76 planets. They do believe in reincarnation (hence, the billion-year contract they sign).


References

  1. Mike Rinder, Scientology Disconnection, https://www.mikerindersblog.org/scientology-disconnection/
  2. The Infomaniac, Through The Looking Glass, OPERATION SNOW WHITE: How Scientology Was Behind the Largest Infiltration of the US Government, https://throughthelookingglassnews.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/operation-snow-white-how-scientology-was-behind-the-largest-infiltration-of-the-us-government-in-history-besides-israel-with-5000-under-cover-agents/
  3. Catherine Beyer, Learn Religions, Is Scientology a Cult?, https://www.learnreligions.com/is-scientology-cult-95820

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Halloween is Based on the Irish Myths of Samhain

by Kelly R. Smith

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Irish Samhain became Halloween
Irish Samhain became Halloween

We tend to think of Halloween as a holiday of its own accord. But that is simply not true. Just as Christmas traditions and celebrations have connections to the winter solstice and Easter has merged with pagan spring celebrations and has connections to the Jewish Passover, Halloween is based on the Irish myths of Samhain. It is called Oíche Shamhna in Irish Gaelic.

What is Samhain?

As the the Celts understood it, the year was divided into two parts. The “lighter” part was in the summer and the darker part was in the winter. Samhain, or Halloween as it is now called, was the separation between these parts. They believed that the veil betwixt our world and the otherworld was at its thinnest just then. Oíche Shamhna (October 31) is Halloween and Lá na Marbh (November 1) is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day when those who have passed away are remembered.

Irish Myths of Samhain

  • Fionn MacCool. According to one of the several tales told in the “Tales of the Elders,” each year at Samhain for twenty-three years the fire-breathing creature Aillen would lull the men of Tara to slumber and then burn the court to the ground during the night. The young hero Fionn MacCumhail avoided sleep. He stuck the sharp end of his spear into his forehead (ouch!) and killed Aillen with that spear. Because of this act, he was made the head of the Fianna.
  • Queen Maeve. As written in In the ancient Irish epic poem “Tain Bo Cualigne,” the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht waits until Samhain to begin the Cattle Raid of Cooley. In the course of her raid, which drives the plot of the epic, she tries to catch a prize bull of Ulster in order to equal the possessions of her husband Aillel. The hero Cu Chulainn single-handedly protects Ulster until the Ulster men’s birth pangs finish and they can do battle.
  • Lugh. Arguably best known as Cu Chulainn’s father, the god of light arrives the court at Tara to join the Tuatha de Dannan at Samhain. According to Whitney Stokes’ 1891 volume “The Second Battle of Moytura,” as soon as Lugh enters the court, the Tuatha de Danann are oppressed by the Fomorians. After the high king gives him command over the Tuatha de Danna, Lugh begins preparations to overthrow them. After days of battle, Lugh and the Tuatha de Danna are victorious.
  • Nera. The hero that calls Cruachan home undergoes a bravery test ordered by King Ailill. For the king’s own gold-hilted sword, a man must leave Ailill’s hall and go to the gallows where a man had been hung and then tie a twig around the dead man’s ankle. Others had attempted this and given up when spirits harried them. But on Samhain night, Nera finishes the task and the man comes alive and asks for a cup of water. When Nera fetches him the water, he sees the royal buildings burned to the ground and a woman from the fairy mounds informs him it is a vision that will happen if the people of the court are not warned. In one version of the myth cited in Patricia Monaghan’s “Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore,” he is captured by the fairies and held in a fairy mound until next Samhain.
  • Emer. John T. Koch notes in “The Celts: History, Life, and Culture,” in the myth “The Wooing of Emer” Samhain is discussed a couple of times. The tale describes the courtship of the beautiful Emer, who is transformed into a variety of creatures before reuniting with her husband. Samhain is the first of the four “quarter days” mentioned by the titled heroine. Also in this story, Oengus claims the kingship of Bru na Boinne, what is today Newgrange, on Samhain.

So, these Irish myths of Samhain played a large part in the formation of we know today as Halloween. The celebration and traditions may have changed quite a bit, but it just goes to show the malleability of history and tradition. It’s a small world after all. Please participate in the poll located on the right-hand sidebar of this page.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Columbus Day: History and Controversy

by Kelly R. Smith

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Christopher Columbus discovers land
Christopher Columbus discovers land

Columbus Day falls on October 12. It is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492. As early as the 18th century it was celebrated in many cities and states and it was designated a federal holiday in 1937. The day honors Columbus’ achievements and celebrates Italian-American heritage. But throughout its history, Columbus Day and the man who inspired it have generated controversy, and many alternatives to the holiday have proposed since the 1970s including Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Who Was Christopher Columbus?

Columbus was an Italian-born explorer who set sail in August of 1492, bound for Asia with financial backing from the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, He had 3 ships — the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. The plan was to chart a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. But alas, things went sideways. On October 12, 1492, he arrived at the Bahamas. He was the first European adventurer to explore the Americas since the Vikings occupied colonies in both Greenland and Newfoundland back in the 10th century.

Columbus was confused quite a bit but it was understandable; Europeans didn’t know the Pacific Ocean existed. He sighted Cuba and thought it was mainland China; come December the expedition encountered Hispaniola, which he thought was Japan. There, he established Spain’s first colony in the Americas with 39 of his men.

The Columbus Controversy

In 1792, New York’s Columbian Order (Tammany Hall) staged an event that commemorated the historic landing’s 300th anniversary. They took pride in Columbus’ birthplace and faith. Italian and Catholic communities in many parts of the country began organizing annual religious ceremonies and parades in his honor.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday. In 1937, in 1937, largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal organization.

Things have changed. Many groups, seeing themselves as social warriors have taken to demonizing not just Civil War heroes but Columbus. BLM and Antifa come to mind. They see Columbus as a colonizer.

Anti-immigrant groups in the United States have also rejected the holiday because it is associated with Catholicism. These are the same people that took God and the Pledge of Allegiance out of school.

Alternate Holidays

South Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon and have officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, as have cities like Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles. Ironically, the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” of the southeast the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole also participated in the institution of slavery. You don’t see Black Lives Matter having an issue with that inconvenient fact.

In many Latin American countries, the anniversary of Columbus’ landing is observed as the Dìa de la Raza (“Day of the Race”). This is to celebrate the Hispanic culture’s diverse roots. Venezuela renamed the holiday Dìa de la Resistencia Indìgena (“Day of Indigenous Resistance”) in 2002, to recognize native peoples and their experience and to promote socialism.

Do you plan to celebrate Columbus Day? I know I will. Please participate in the poll on the right-hand side of this page for a study I’m doing. Thanks!



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Rosh Hashanah; the Jewish New Year

by Kelly R. Smith

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Rosh Hashanah; the Shofar (ram's horn) and the Star of David
Rosh Hashanah; the Shofar (ram’s horn) and the Star of David

Rosh Hashanah is the autumnal festival celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year. The term literally means “head of the year.” It takes place on the first and second days of Tishri, the seventh month, the Gregorian equivalent of September-October. So, in 2020 it starts on September 18. The only notable similarity it has to the Western, secular holiday is the opportunity to make a New Years resolution.

The two days are a time for introspection; that aspect doesn’t end at the conclusion of Rosh HaShanah but lasts for ten days which are known commonly as the Days of Awe, until Yom Kippur.

Traditions for Rosh Hashanah

You won’t find the term “Rosh Hashanah” in the Bible or the Torah to discuss this holiday. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom HaZikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom T’ruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. One important observance of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day.

Notably, the shofar isn’t sounded when the holiday falls on the Sabbath. There is no work allowed on Rosh Hashanah. What is allowed, thankfully, is the eating of apples that are dipped in honey Symbolically, this is a wish for a sweet new year. Bread is also dipped in honey.

Another tasty tradition is to eat round challah bread. This symbolizes the eternal circle of the life as well as the cycle of a new year. The challah is formed in the shape of a crown because God is referred to as royalty several times during these times.

Another practice is called Tashlikh (“casting off”). It’s done by going to a source of flowing water, like a river or a creek, on the first day’s afternoon and divulging the contents of our pockets into the river. This symbolizes casting off our sins. Although this tradition is not discussed in the Bible, it’s an age-old custom.

What about greeting each other? The accepted greeting at during this holiday is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). This is a shortened version of “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (or when addressing females, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”). This literally means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

In Judaism 101, Marcia Pravder Mirkin, when explaining The Days of Awe, says, “Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.”

Now that you are familiar with Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year, you might be interested in these topics:

References



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Who Was Ireland’s St. Patrick?

Why Was His Irish Holiday Invented in America?

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

St. Patrick's Day Parade goers in traditional regalia
St. Patrick’s Day Parade goers in traditional regalia
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St. Patrick’s day is one of two “foreign” beer holidays (not counting New Year’s Eve) that were actually invented here in the United States, not imported. The other, of course, is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Other holidays, such as Christmas, originate elsewhere but we excel at making our own.

Why, other than the green beer, is St. Patrick’s Day so popular? The last Census showed that 34.1 million Americans have Irish ancestry. That’s seven times the population of Ireland. Chances are that you’ve got a wee bit o’ the Celt in you. The coronavirus is not going to stop you from celebrating or quoting witty Irish proverbs, right?

Who was the Real St. Patrick?

Patrick was born not in Ireland, but in Britain into a Romanized family. At 16 years of age he was abducted by Irish raiders from his father’s villa. His abductor was Calpurnius who was a deacon and a minor local official. Patrick was carried off into slavery in Ireland. There he spent six bleak years there working as a herdsman, during which time he turned with fervor to his Christian faith. When he dreamt that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he escaped from his master and found passage to England. There he approached starvation and endured another brief captivity before being reunited with his family. It is thought that after that he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.

The best known passage in the Confessio speaks of a dream, following his return to England, in which one Victoricus offered him a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he heard a company of Irish folk asking him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the brevity of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to answer the call. Even on the eve of re-embarkation to Ireland he was overwhelmed by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once there however, his hesitations vanished. Completely confident in the Lord, he wandered far and wide, baptizing and confirming with true zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a minor king here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any.

Legends of St. Patrick

  • St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, Ireland never had snakes because they couldn’t get there for one reason or another. Other islands that don’t have snakes include New Zealand, Hawaii, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. Scholars of Celtic history believe the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.
  • Patrick raised people from the dead. A 12th-century hagiography places this number at 33 men, some of whom are said to have been deceased for many years.
  • He enshrined the shamrock, which he used to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish. The shamrock represents three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Traditionally, Irishmen have worn shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • He created the Celtic Cross which super-imposed a circle, representing the sun, onto the traditional crucifix in order to convert the Irish. There are many other competing theories as to the origin but this is as good as any.
A Celtic Cross
A Celtic Cross

St. Patrick’s Day is American?

Yes. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade happened not in Ireland but in the good old United States, that veritable melting pot. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

The tradition has continued into the 21st century, and New York City’s parade is now the oldest and the largest parade in the county. The first celebratory parade held in Ireland was in 1931.

Today in New York City the parade numbers over 150,000 participants. Ever year, nearly 3 million people line up on the 1.5-mile parade route to view the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah join them in celebrating the Celtic day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.


The Pubs in Ireland Used to Be Closed On St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is famous for the wearing of the green and drinking beer or stout, depending on where celebrants live. However, St. Patrick’s Day was strictly religious in Ireland during a large part of the 20th century, and pubs there were actually closed on March 17. It became a national holiday in Ireland in 1970, and the pubs opened to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by hoisting a glass in honor of the patron saint of Ireland.

According to a US Census, there are more Irish people in America than there are in Ireland. As of 2021, there are 32 million people in the United States that claim full or partial ancestry from Ireland.  This is a huge number compared to the 4.9 million who lived are currently living in Ireland today.


So who isn’t ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even if it’s an American holiday? Chances are that a bit of you hails from Dublin, Galway, or County Clare. I’ll take any excuse to eat more potatoes.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Strange and Weird Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Does Your Family Have any Strange Holiday Quirks?

by Kelly R. Smith

A Christmas Tree Shootout!
A Christmas Tree Shootout!
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This article was updated on 12/24/20.

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. And it’s not just Christians that take advantage of this final festive occasion before the big blow-out that is New Years Eve which signals the end of one year and the ushering in of another; many members of other religions do indulge in Christmas.

The thing is, some of the traditions seem downright strange to Americans. But that’s OK; each to his (or her) own. That’s what makes the world go ’round. Let’s have a look at some of them, in no particular order.

Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets
Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets

While we consider turkey, ham, or something similar to be traditional fare, not so in Japan. Many Japanese folks prefer to make their Christmas dinner Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s advisable to get it on a take-out basis; its popularity is such that reservations may have to be made to eat at a KFC restaurant on Christmas in Japan. I wonder how this got started?

Catalonia

Catalonia Poop Log
Catalonia Poop Log

The Catalonia Poop Log, or Caga Tió, strikes me as odd although festive in a naughty sort of way. It works like this: each and every night starting on December 8th, Caga Tió is “fed” and then covered with a blanket to protect him from catching a cold. On either Christmas Eve or Christmas day he is placed in the fireplace, beaten with a stick, and ordered to poop. He is encouraged, along with the beating, by singing songs. He proceeds to poop candies, nuts and and other treats. One last push yields an onion, a head of garlic, or a salt herring. I’ll pass on the candy, thank you very much.

Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia
Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia

Also from Catalonia, we proudly bring you caganer, or defecating figure, set out every year in the nativity scene along with the holy family and the three wise men. In the 18th century, 18th century, the caganer was traditionally represented as a peasant with his trousers down, bare bottom hanging out, complete with a pile of feces underneath. The exact meaning behind this figure is subject to debate, but it’s thought to symbolize fertility. Nowadays caganers can lampoon authority figures and celebrities. You have to ask, what is it with Catalonians and bowel movements?

Italy

 Befana from Spain
Befana from Spain

In some areas of Spain, forget Santa Claus or Sinterklaas; Befana takes center stage. She is reputed to visit homes during the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and leaves candy and presents in stockings for the good boys and girls. However, the bad children get coal, dark candy, or sticks. Even though she has the appearance of an old hag, in reality she is a kind soul and sweeps homes using a broom before she leaves. This is meant to brush away the problems of the previous year.

Ireland

Guinness Stout from Ireland
Guinness Stout from Ireland

Here in the USA we treat Santa to a glass of milk to slake his thirst and a plate of cookies to fuel him in his travels. Not so on the Emerald Isle; there he gets an offering of Guinness Stout and a slice of mince pie. Aye. I approve of this ritual.

Austria

Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria
Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria

The poop log’s got nothing on this guy! Krampus is half-goat, half-demon, he’s the stuff of nightmares and meant to keep the kiddies in line. During the Christmas season he punishes those who have misbehaved, in contrast with old St. Nick, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. They sometimes work together, kind of a good-cop, bad-cop act. Classy, eh kiddies?

Compared to Other Countries…

Taken altogether, our whole Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves thing seems fairly tame! It never ceases to amaze how different societies handle these things. I hope you got a few chuckles learning about these strange and weird Christmas traditions. If so, share with your friends and social media.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas

by Kelly R. Smith

The Traditional American Version of Santa Claus
The traditional American version of Santa Claus
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This article was updated on 12/09/20.

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Sinterklaas Arrives in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam

Judging by the two images above, Santa Claus and Sinterklaas look remarkably similar. They have the same copious hair and whiskers, the same predominately red and white garment color scheme, and a jovial spirit. But, that’s where the similarities begin to diverge. But whichever fellow you are talking about, the mystique has evolved into one of our favorite holidays.

The Origins and History of Santa Claus

Some say that the original Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, a small Roman town in modern Turkey in Anatolia. This was around 270 AD. He had a reputation for secretly giving gifts to those in need.

Although his suit is red today, it was originally green. His marital status has changed; Santa was a bachelor until around 1849 when a wife (Mrs Claus) was mentioned in the short story, ‘A Christmas Legend’ written by James Rees. Many tales followed this book, including ‘The Legend of the Christmas Tree.’

What about that jolly face? How accurate is our portrayal to the real St. Nick of yesteryear? The short answer is that it may be very close. Why? It is believed by some scholars that St. Nicholas’ bones were absconded by Italian sailors during the 11th century and taken to the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola located on the southeast coast of Italy. The crypt was repaired in the 1950s and the Nick’s skull and bones were documented with x-ray photos and thousands of detailed measurements. From there, scientists used modern forensic facial reconstruction to give us the image we know and love today.

But where did the tradition of giving Christmas gifts to children begin? We have two stories to illustrate this. The first one is better known and goes like this: three young girls are saved from a life of prostitution when the young Bishop Nicholas quietly delivers three bags of gold to their indebted father, which he can use for their dowries. The second tale relates that St. Nicholas entered an inn whose keeper had just crudely murdered three boys and pickled their dismembered bodies in basement barrels. The bishop not only sensed the crime, but resurrected the victims as well. Hence, he became the patron saint of children.

In the 1500s the Protestant Reformation began and good old St. Nick fell out of favor across northern Europe. But in the Netherlands, kids and families would not give up St. Nicholas as a gift bringer. (And, who can blame them?) And that’s when they brought Sinterklaas with them to New World colonies.

The Origins and History of Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (his name is a contraction of Sint Nikolaas, in case any of you linguists were wondering) is based on jolly old St. Nick but cast in a Dutch mold. He looks similar in that he is a jolly old sod dressed in red but he sports a bishop’s hat, rides a white horse, and carries a long, curled shepherd’s staff. An important distinction is that the Dutch conceptualize him as a kindly old man instead of a Catholic saint. The end result is that Sinterklaas is celebrated by Dutch people of all ages and beliefs, without any real religious connotations.

The rituals surrounding Sinterklass and Santa differ as well. The Feast of Sinterklaas is held on December 6th, the day that St. Nick passed away. This is when gifts are exchanged and good-natured fun is made of loved ones. Christmas is focused on family and church services, not gift-giving.

The Sinterklass-Santa Connection

The general consensus is that Sinterklaas was the precursor of our Santa Claus tradition. Many historians hold that Dutch and German settlers carried the tradition with them when they went to America. There, his Catholic garb was bit by bit morphed into the jolly non-sectarian red suit with the white fur trim we are all familiar with. Also, his lithe frame gave way to a well-padded potbelly, and his trusty white horse was traded in for a troupe of reindeer. Either way, both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus stand for the generosity of spirit and kindness to children.

Others are Reading:



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


The Rational Bible: Genesis; a Book Review

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This volume by Dennis Prager (the second in the Rational Bible series, ISBN-10: 1621578984, ISBN: 978-1621578987) was released after the his take on the Book of Exodus. Why write the books out of order? As I stated in my Exodus review, ” As Prager says, “The Torah: because its central message–that God is good and demands that we be good–is the only belief that will enable us to make a good world.” So I will assume that Prager wants readers to grasp the central message even if they don’t read the rest of the series.

After reading these first two books, I was inspired to order a copy of The Torah and I am currently reading it. Although it is essentially the same as the Old Testament of Christian edition bibles, it is closer to the original before various kings, monks, and “officials” tinkered with it. As they say, the devil is in the details. (“Let us guide the populace?”) So, reading this in addition to Prager’s first book of the series book gives additional insight.

Why All the Explanation?

Well, this is an interesting question. I can answer it for myself but you may have other views. In my opinion the Bible is damnably hard to read, and then interpreting the underlying meaning of the text is almost impossible. So if one has a literal understanding of the verses, the contextual understanding may be skewed.

This is where Prager’s works come into their own. He is a Talmudic scholar, speaks the lingo, has studied the text for many years, and applies his common (or not-so-common) sense to his interpretation.

My Opinion

I think if you have just started reading Dennis Prager’s series of The Rational Bible or are considering reading the bible, you can now start with Exodus or Genesis, but start now if you want a detailed ride.

I hope that you have found my review of The Rational Bible : Genesis a help. If so please forward it to your friends. We bring you the best info that we can find but this site relies on donations, not subscriptions,


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


The Importance of Rituals

Charles Darwin's Daily Rituals
Charles Darwin’s Daily Rituals
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So. This is the most important bit. Insomnia. Can’t sleep, brain runs like a freight train right through the night. But the thoughts keep coming, the leftover refuse of books recently read and audio-books droning on I assume.

So here it is. I’ve been thinking about how important rituals are. Sometimes the big ones that your church orchestrates. Sometimes the little ones that we do everyday.

One of my big ones: when she-who-must-be-obeyed is home on the weekend, in the morning, I always say “Do you want some coffee?” Of course she says,”yes.” That’s part of our morning ritual. Then I make it for her.

And so it goes.

Rituals and Monotheism

Rituals have been around since the beginning of time. They can keep things the way they are or they can change things. A good example is in the years after Moses brought the Jews out of Egypt. Egyptians believed in many nature-centered Gods. All societies were along those lines. But things were about to change.

When God revealed his existence to Moses, he also started laying out many rituals — the Feast of Ingathering, resting on the Sabbath, the redemption of the firstborn son, observation of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and many others.

What is the reason for all these detailed rituals? In his book The Rational Bible: Exodus, Dennis Prager tells us, “One way people guard against the temptation to create idols and other false gods is by observing regular rituals that keep them focused on the One True God. One of the appeals of idols is that they exist physically, whereas God does not. The practice of physical rituals helps keep people attuned to the reality of God’s presence; otherwise, God can become too abstract and difficult to connect to.”

Rituals in Sports

Some rituals in sports can seem downright quirky but they do serve a purpose. Good luck and the idea that if things are done ritualistically, the outcome will be favorable. For example, Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts in every game; Curtis Martin (New York Jets) reads Psalm 91 before every game.

Before every serve, Serena Williams bounces the ball exactly five times. 
Wade Boggs, third baseman (Boston Red Sox), woke up at the same time each day, ate chicken before each game, took exactly 117 ground balls in practice, took batting practice at 5:17, and ran sprints at 7:17. (Boggs also wrote the Hebrew word Chai (“living”) in the dirt before each at bat.

Rituals and Superstitions

Many rituals are performed to keep bad things from happening. Remember step on a crack; break your mother’s back? Is it still applicable from beyond the grave? No sense in taking any chances. The advent of the Fitbit has created a new ritual — get those 10,000 step in or wallow in guilt.

Here are a few more: knocking on wood to bring good luck or to bring rain. Avoiding walking under ladders or crossing paths with a black cat. Unlucky Friday the 13th can cause anxiety in even the bravest and most rational souls. If you happen to look at the clock when it shows same figures for hours and minutes (10:10 for example) you can make a wish.

If you are walking with someone and you are forced to separate and each of you walk around either side of a pole, you have to say “Bread and Butter” three times or else it brings bad luck.

Daily Rituals

One reason to indulge in daily rituals is to keep our lives in balance; routine breeds stability. For men, a morning shave is not just good hygiene. It also prepares us for the upcoming day.

A daily walk or run is a healthy ritual. Doing it in the morning can clear the night’s cobwebs and prepares us for the day. Doing it in the evening can relax us and help us to unwind. It’s common to tackle emails the first thing when arriving at work. With that task in the rear view mirror the real work can begin.

The bottom line is that the importance of rituals can’t be understated. They give life a comforting stability in a chaotic world. Now, I’m off for my morning run so I can get on with my day and be productive. Knock on wood.


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