Some Easter Stuff Poorly Explained

Why Easter eggs? Why bunnies? Why chocolate? If so, whom? These are some good questions. The last one looks like the result of youthful enthusiasm. It’s probably grammatically wrong anyway, unless “who” would be wrong instead. I bet it was submitted by someone who hypercorrects things. Hypercorrecting is a fun pastime. You start out with something that’s okay and then apply the grammatical rule of “people don’t sound like they know what they’re doing, so make it sound more obscure or complicated”. It’s good fun. It appeals to people’s desire to sound like they know a better set of rules than everyone else does. And it gives people who like to correct mistakes something to write about. There’s nothing so fun as correcting the hypercorrect. I thought that time I got a bag of rabbit litter at half-price was that good. I was wrong.

Anyway, Easter we can understand. If we didn’t have Easter then there’d be this huge attention-getting gap in-between Ash Wednesday and the Feast of the Assumption. “Shouldn’t something go in the middle, here?” people would ask. Eventually all sorts of folk explanations would spring up. Maybe they’d tumble across “there ought to be a particularly holy day for one of the top religions” there. “Also we should have plastic eggs and rabbits made of candy” I bet wouldn’t. Maybe people would do some more research and figure, “Hey, there’s got to be something that’s seventy days before Septuagesima, unless that’s supposed to be seventy days after Septuagesima.”

I mean if there still is a Septuagesima. I haven’t checked and I have the feeling it’s been downplayed ever since Vatican II: Vaticannier. But it’s a heck of a name for something. It isn’t seventy days from anything interesting in either direction. There’s probably a reason for that. Yes, I meant the Feast of the Ascension. The Assumption is a completely different thing. Don’t challenge me on this. I was raised Catholic so I remember there was something called the homoiousian controversy and couldn’t deliver the Nicene Creed with cue cards. We said the Nicene Creed every Sunday. Nobody ever talked about the homoiousian controversy.

Since we have Easter, we don’t have to worry about why there isn’t an Easter, although if it ever goes missing you know what to look for. Easter eggs we can wonder about. If there’s anything that we could get straightened out then we’d have one thing straightened out, and that would leave is in much better shape. For instance, let’s do away with the folk etymology that says they were originally “yeaster eggs”, egg-shape snacks made out of extremely bread-based foods. We can also do away with the tale that it started out as “Easter yeggs”, roving packs of 19th-century Bowery B’hoy toughs prowling the riverfront and painting themselves brightly. These theories were popular in the 1970s when they were thought to be hoaxes played by angry writer H L Mencken. But we now know the claim that they were a hoax was a prank on Mencken played by President Taft.

The tradition of hiding Easter eggs come to us from Renaissance Germany, with an assist by the Princely States of India and a rebound against Grand Columbia, which does not figure in this narrative. The problem originally was one of planting the seeds of useful crops like barley or bauxite or jute or other stuff from social studies textbooks without having birds flying in and eating them all. Somewhere on the upper Rhine the locals realized they could plant the birds instead and wait for the seeds to fly in and carry them off. The practice spread and grew to be very popular, eggs put in all sorts of places on the ground, and didn’t lose popularity even when it turned out to not even begin to sort-of work.

Since that failed, they tried making the process more complicated. Painting the eggs turned out not to be a way to get blue chickens with yellow zig-zag stripes, but wasn’t it worth trying, just in case? Do you know anyone who has better ideas to handle our shortage of blue chickens with yellow zig-zag stripes? It’s not so easy to achieve, is it? Anyway, during the Thirty Years War the tradition fled Germany, and who could blame it? The tradition’s got some sense after all.

There is no explanation for how the rabbits and chocolate and all that got involved. I’ll try to write that up next year before Easter.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped nine points as traders struggled to remember the name of that astronaut mentioned yesterday. Peggy … Whitman? That sounds kind of right.


Where Do We Get These Thanksgiving Traditions From?

A great many Thanksgiving traditions have origins. Don’t you? Let’s review.

To Eat Turkey. Of course everyone knows the Pilgrims, who didn’t think they were, didn’t have turkey on the Original Thanksgiving. They were short on food. All they could do is each take a lick and pass along a cobblestone they’d gotten from a street in Leiden. By the time of that first Thanksgiving the stone was getting pretty worn out. And it still tasted like a regression from the grace with God they wanted. Mostly the attendees at that First Thanksgiving had to listen to the raccoons pointing and calling them “turkeys”. And that insult wouldn’t reach full potency until the late 1970s.

But that did give the Pilgrims, unless they were Puritans, an idea. And for the Second Thanksgiving, which we don’t know when it was, they made a deal with the turkeys to take turns, humans eating turkeys and turkeys eating humans. This was lousy for the Puritans, unless they were Separatists, since the turkeys took their turn eating humans first. Oh, how the Pilgrims squawked at that. The turkeys were satisfied though. The second time, for the Third Thanksgiving, which we also don’t know when it was, humans took their turn eating turkeys and called no backsies. That’s all pretty rotten dealing and I’m glad to be having Tofurkey myself. We haven’t double-crossed tofu on anything nearly that major in decades.

To Notice We Have Like Six Half-Empty Bottles Of Store-Brand Windex. This is not in fact a Thanksgiving custom. It is associated with Thanksgiving because of the major house cleanup done then, but this happens at every major house cleanup, like that at Thanksgiving, or Thanksgiving, or the one that other time we mean to do, or at Thanksgiving. As such its origins have no place here.

To Watch The Detroit Lions. This dates back to the earliest days of football, back before the sport had decided that having an actual ball was the way to go. Many thought they’d do better using the honor system of everyone agreeing where a ball should go. Back then the Detroit Lions weren’t yet in Michigan, and were still the Fort Wayne Zollner Lions. “Hey,” one of the players said, “Detroit is in Wayne County. Is that named for the same General “Mad Anthony” Wayne that Fort Wayne’s named after?” This sounded plausible, but nobody could look it up, as this was literally over two months before the invention of Wikipedia.

While talking it over they got a bit giggly about where they could use “wayne” in place of some other word. This started out tortured. They’d, say, use it for “when” and say “Wayne are we going to get a football to play?” Or “Wayne [ we’ll ] meet you there!” The Lions went on like this for about three weeks before the locals shared with the Lions their brooms and many shouts of exasperation. This is how the Lions moved to Detroit. Fort Wayne residents promised to keep an eye on the Lions in case they got near town again and vowed never to forget. They forgot and settled the Lions-watching down to two days a year, Thanksgiving and the New Jersey Big Sea Day. Football decided to start using footballs in 1973, to make Monday Night Football games show up better.

To Have Big Arguments With Loved Ones. If I believe what I read in comic strips this is one of the major ways to spend Thanksgiving. But if I believe comic strips then I’d have to accept people are always tweeting Facebooks to their app instead of reading books. Also everyone is talking about whatever everyone was talking about eight weeks ago only less specifically. Anyway I’ve never seen this in the real actual world. Maybe it’s my family. Maybe we don’t happen to feel that emotional charge about the things we differ on. And we’re decent about talking out the things that irritate us. And we’re almost sure the time Grandmom set the table on fire it was an accident. Maybe we’re just better at family than you are? Don’t know. But I have to rate this tradition as “maybe completely made up” and so unworthy of an origin.

To Have A Parade With Giant Balloons. Let me summarize Professor Mi Gyung Kim’s The Imagined Empire: Balloon Enlightenments in Revolutionary Europe to explain this one. It dates back to the Age of Enlightenment, when the idea of giant balloons captured the European imagination. Little did the Europeans suspect they were about to be overrun with giant balloons. None could believe the speed and success of conquest. “They’re so lumbering and slow-moving,” civilians observed, “and you just have to poke them with a stick!” True, but they were also as much as ten feet higher up than anyone realized and so could not be reached by the sticks available to that semi-industrialized age.

The giant balloons had no taste for managing their conquests. They preferred their normal pastimes of drifting into streetlights and being featured in human-interest news pieces about parade setup. So in exchange for an annual victory triumph they let us go about our business the rest of the time. We got off light, which is the way the giant balloons like it too.

While we have many more Thanksgiving customs there are only the top few we’ve lost the receipt for and so can not send back.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Neither the mainstream nor the side Another Blog, Meanwhile indices had any trading activity today. They’ve wanted to have a holiday a while now, but I believe they really like those rare days when trading activity gets reported as “UNCH”. Also I don’t want to promise too much but I think something may be happening after they got stuck in that elevator yesterday. Just saying.


In Which I Try Stirring Up A New England Cheese Controversy

So I had been reading Edwin Valentine Mitchell’s 1946 book It’s An Old New England Custom, which is about just what the title suggests, though it goes on with more words about the subject. Something it claims is an old New England custom, and I’m quoting the chapter title exactly here to make sure I get it right, “To Eat Cheese”. And I had to be careful because until I went back and picked it up I would have sworn the chapter title was “To Be Fond Of Cheese”, which is a marginally different thing, especially since the chapter about customary fondness is actually “To Be Fond Of Fish”, which would put me off on almost exactly the same rhetorical thread here.

Mitchell goes on to demonstrate by way of anecdote and paragraphs containing numbers, many of them long enough to have commas, that New Englanders eat cheese. He reports how the census of 1850 shows that “Vermont produced more cheese than all other states put together except Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York, and did it from 148,128 cows”, which sounds pretty impressive until you remember in 1850 if you rule out Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, and New York, you’re left with maybe four other states. It’s impressive Vermont could out-cheese, I don’t know what’s left, Delaware and Bleeding Kansas, but if they’re not going up directly against Ohio what’s the point of the statistic? Other than having a suspiciously precise count of cheese-generating cows of Vermont in 1850. (But if they were making up their cheese-generating cow count why not add in twenty imaginary cows and make the number a nice repeating 148,148? I can’t see any sense in that either.)

He also mentions how Cheshire, Massachusetts, sent a cheese weighing 1,450 pounds to President Jefferson, which he formally received on New Year’s Day, 1802. Apparently on the first slice of it Jefferson said, “I will cause this auspicious event to be placed on the records of our nation and it will ever shine amid its glorious archives”, which doesn’t sound at all like he’s reading a prepared statement from his pro-cheese kidnappers. But it also undermines the claim about New Englanders eating cheese because, and I’ve checked this thoroughly, Thomas Jefferson wasn’t a New Englander. I’m not even sure he was speaking to any New Englanders by 1802, and if he did, it was just to accuse them of lying about rocks.

Anyway, I guess all the cheese-production statistics do prove that New Englanders made plenty of cheese. But just because there’s a certain per capita production of cheese doesn’t mean that it’s all going to the purposes of being eaten. New Englanders might just be stockpiling vast reserves of cheddar and other, less popular kinds of cheeses, perhaps in the hopes of constructing a vast dome of cheese that completely shields their state from the oncoming winter snow. This won’t work, but it should make commercial aviation over twenty percent more thrilling and kind of parmesan-y. Plus a sufficiently thick layer of cheese above all of New England should allow the region’s residents to finally overcome backyard astronomy.

The thing is, while I’m satisfied with Mitchell’s thesis that New Englanders eat cheese, I’m not convinced that’s a particularly New England custom. Another set of people who could be characterized as “eating cheese” would be “pretty near everyone possessing the gene that renders them capable of digesting milk products”. If you wanted to make a map of Western Civilization, you might do it by examining where the local culture derives from the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations as filtered through the philosophical development of Christianity and the rediscovery of Aristotle leading to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment and the rise of the liberal-democratic social contract, or you could just look for where the menus describe items as ‘cheesey’. Most of the people either place are going to eat cheese. Eating cheese seems a peculiarly New England custom in much the same way ‘liking the warm weather’ or ‘secretly hoping for an excuse to use the big stapler they keep in the supply closet’ or ‘preferring not to be pelted with excessively many rocks while changing a tire in a freezing rain’ are.

Anyway, I don’t want to put you off the book, because it contains the statement, “From Massachusetts comes a delightful tale of cheesemongering”, and if that hasn’t improved your day by at least ten percent then I think we just don’t have anything in common. I’m sorry.