Recently there was a very black day; a Black Friday, to be precise. The shocking images coming from America of people who (for the sake of giving them the benefit of the doubt, I’ll assume are fairly sane otherwise) put aside every shred of human dignity to fight over an object they don’t really need just because it’s on sale (and which was most likely marked up in price beforehand…). This, the very day after they spent time remembering everything they have to be thankful for. Such behaviour is inconceivable to me. What possesses people to stampede, trampling others for baubles and trinkets? The introvert in me rather asks why anyone would want to go shopping on the busiest day in the year… heck, I even avoid shopping on normal Saturdays because of the weekend crowds! That scourge of marketing tactics is making its way over to Europe as well, but what’s odd about the European version is that there is no “Thanksgiving Day” as it’s strictly an American holiday, so the Black Friday on the following day is completely artificial timing.
Personally, I much rather prefer staying home and enjoying a day of rest; it saves me money, time, stress and injury. If I do any special shopping on the day, it is done online. Besides, it’s around this time of the year that Christmas markets burst forth; nearly every town in Switzerland has its own market, some larger and more elaborate than others. This past weekend, we went to one of our favourite local Christmas markets in a town called Bülach. Vendors might be individuals, or groups such as youth groups, or mom-and-pop co-op businesses. We tend to buy specialty items, such as gourmet cheeses, smoked meats, spices, honeys direct from the beekeepers, and homemade spiced oils. Other items I like to look for are nice olive-wood spoons for the kitchen, or handcrafts that I don’t make myself (e.g. metal or glass crafts). There’s also an Iranian vendor; I always pick up a kilogram of Persian rice (it’s got a basmati/smoky flavour) and an assortment of dried fruits from him.
Besides food items, we look for Christmas gifts for each other; that goes something like this:
(Me to my husband): “That’s a nice ring…” (Try it on; it fits).
(My husband) “Go away.”
“I’ll just walk on to the next booth.”
“Don’t look.” (He buys said ring, or something else besides, then joins me at the next booth.)
Along the way, we head toward the whisky shop and the conversation gets reversed – once he’s picked out a possible whisky he’d like to add to his collection, he leaves the shop, and I buy it plus stocking stuffer samplers (Schätzli, if you’re reading this, forget you saw that last sentence…).
In two weeks our own town will be having its market; it’s a time to get out, meet up with friends and neighbours, chat until it’s time to warm up with a glass of Glühwein (hot spiced wine) or hot chocolate, and find our favourite items, stocking up until the next year’s market days. The walk home is crispy cold, topped off with a hot tea and a cat on the lap; life doesn’t get much better than that.
When you go to Christmas markets, or street markets at any time of the year, what do you look for? What do you end up buying? Does your town have a Christmas market? What makes it special for you? I’d love to hear about your own experiences in the comments below!
I saw this image a few weeks ago on Pinterest, and found it fascinatingly creepy. It’s a great example of perspective, thwarting assumptions, and the fact that the image automatically raises certain expectations – until you see the caption. What our minds initially perceive may or may not be accurate; only when we see the bigger picture, or have more pieces to the puzzle, does that perception or perspective change, or get adjusted to a more accurate overall understanding. Doing this with words is an art form: It’s about building expectations and thwarting them without making the reader feel like you’ve drawn them in under false pretences. If they can look back through what they’ve already read and realize that only their assumptions were wrong – that the writer never misled them, but they misled themselves – then you’ve managed to find that fine line!
For those of you in highly commercialized countries (I won’t name names, but the initials are USA, for one…), before Thanksgiving is past, Christmas decorations have hit the shop shelves. Before Christmas is really digested, Valentine’s ads appear. I hope that you’ll bear with me, as I contemplate a holiday between your Thanksgiving, and Christmas: Advent.
In today’s global village, people around the world are aware of holidays such as Christmas and Easter, though it might not be a part of their indigenous culture or religion; they may even celebrate them, though that be more of a marketing incentive rather than a religious one. I grew up in Kansas, and though we were aware of Advent as an event leading up to Christmas, we never celebrated it – we rarely, if ever, had an advent calendar, or advent wreath of candles. Here in Switzerland, Advent is like an extended Christmas; our personal advent calendar contains small gifts, and of course chocolate; this year, with a teenager in the house, I also included gag gifts. Our particular form is the Tischibo bags, hung from a rustic red metal heart frame with hooks.
What is the history behind Advent? What is its true meaning? Advent, which comes from the Latin Adventus (which is actually a translation from the Greek word parousia), had two meanings: In relation to Christmas, it is the inner preparation for remembering the first coming of Jesus as a babe into the world as a human, so that he could fulfil God’s plan for salvation for all. For Christians, the second meaning is a time to reflect on, and prepare for, the Second Coming of Christ, which will be the end of time for Earth (no one knows the day or hour, and so the Bible tells us to be prepared – like someone on call needs to be ready to go when the call comes). As an event, it begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas; this year that would be the 27th of November, as Christmas itself falls on a Sunday.
There are several expressions of celebrating Advent: The calendar, the wreath, and devotions.
The calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th century, and usually begins on the 1st of December. They can take on any form imaginable, from a simple paper calendar, to gift boxes, or gift bags labelled 1 – 24. Consecutive numbers are opened one per day from the 1st to Christmas Eve. Sometimes the calendar includes a Bible verse and a prayer or Christian devotion for that day of the Advent. There are even some towns that become living Advent calendars; this tradition began in Stockholm, Sweden.
The wreath, usually a horizontal decoration placed on a table, is made of evergreen boughs (real or synthetic) with four or five candles, representing the four Sundays prior, and Christmas day. The four are usually red, with the white Christmas candle centred. One candle is lit on the first Advent Sunday, with an additional candle lit each week. The concept originated with German Lutherans in the 16th century, though the modern form didn’t catch on until the 19th century, likely in conjunction with the calendar. For a detailed history of the wreath, click here.
The devotions are readings from the Bible accompanied by a prayer, to prepare the heart and mind for the Reason for the Season – the coming of Jesus as a man to Earth.
If you’ve never made an Advent calendar or wreath before (there is still time to prepare one!), or you want to try something new, below are a few examples I’ve collected from Pinterest. Please share in the comments below what kind you use, or what your traditions around this time of the year are!
Almost everyone in the world has at one time or other played “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, or a variation of the game. My husband and I use it to decide who goes first whenever we play a dice or card game together, which is nearly every evening. If you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that there are a lot of variations; some make sense intuitively, some need to be explained to make sense, and others, you just need to accept as the way the game works. In looking into this topic online, I came across several forums that discussed in length whether the rock sharpened the scissors, thus making them allies against paper, or why the paper wouldn’t be defeated by the rock because it holds it down; but the fact is that in this widespread variation, the rock is wrapped (defeated) by the paper, the scissors cut the paper, and the rock smashes (or dulls) the scissors. Sometimes the game is accompanied by a preparatory chant, such as, “eeny, meeny, miny, moe”, “one, two, three” (in whichever language it’s being played in), or something like “ickety, ackerty, ock”.
Rock, Scissors, Paper, Dynamite: Dynamite (palm out, fingers spread wide like an explosion) blows up the rock and paper, but the scissors can cut the fuse.
Rock, Scissors, Paper, Fire,Water: Fire (waving fingers, pointing upward) destroys paper and scissors but is put out by the rock and water; the water (hand held horizontally, palm down) drowns the scissors and puts out the fire but is moved by the rock and floated on by the paper.
Earwig, Elephant, Man: The elephant is tamed by man; the man is bitten by the earwig; the earwig is stepped on by the elephant.
Hoof, Bandage, Knife: The bandage wraps the hoof, the knife cuts the bandage, and the hoof breaks the knife (presumably by stepping on it).
In the Idaho panhandle: Hunter, Bear, Woman: Players stand with their backs to each other to prepare, jump and turn, landing in the stance of their choice. The hunter mimes a rifle, the bear displays claws, and the woman symbolizes breasts with cupped hands. The hunter defeats the bear, the bear defeats the woman (unarmed), the woman defeats the hunter (putty in her hands).
Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock: Scissors (first and second fingers extended) cut paper (open palm) and decapitate lizard (hand held with thumb against fingers, as for finger puppet); paper covers rock (fist) and disproves Spock (Spock’s gesture of peace – palm out, fingers divided into V between middle and ring fingers); rock crushes lizard and scissors; lizard poisons Spock and eats paper; Spock smashes scissors and vaporizes rock.
Whether you call it “rock, paper, scissors”, Janken (the Japanese word for the original game), Kai bai bo (Korean), or Janjii (Thailand), the goals are the same – to win over an opponent, or to make an arbitrary decision, such as who goes first in a game. Here are a few variations from around the world:
Korea: Kai bai bo: Kai is scissors, Bai is rock, and Bo is cloth or paper. China has a similar version, except that it is sometimes hammer (guu) and bomb (paa).
Malaysia and parts of Thailand: Wan Shi Zan –Pistol, Water, Bird, Stone, Plank: The pistol defeats everything except water, and the bird loses to everything except water. The stone defeats the bird and the plank, but loses to the pistol and the water. The plank defeats the bird and the water, but loses to the stone and the pistol. The water defeats the stone and the pistol. The bird loses to the plank.
India and Indonesia, and on Bali: Elephant, Human Ant: The elephant beats the human, the human beats the ant, and the ant beats (scares) the elephant.
Myanmar: General, Soldier, Tiger: The general defeats the soldier, the soldier (with a gun) defeats the tiger, and the tiger kills the general (unarmed).
Vietnam: Hammer, Paper, Scissors: The same hierarchy as Stone, Paper, Scissors.
Laos: Hammer, Nail, Cloth: The hammer defeats the nail; the nail pierces the cloth; the cloth wraps the hammer.
Russia: Rock, Scissors, Paper, Well: The rock smashes the scissors; the scissors cut the paper; the paper floats on the well and wraps the rock; the well swallows the rock and scissors.
France: Rock, Scissors, Leaf, Well: Same principle as the Russian variation.
China: Gosukumi [i.e., 5 choices instead of 3]: Idol, Chicken, Gun, Fox, Termite: The idol is the thumb, chicken the index finger, gun the middle finger, fox the ring finger, and termite the little finger. The chicken is sacrificed to the idol; the gun introduces people to the idol (the idol wins); the termite eats the idol; both the gun and the fox defeat the chicken; the chicken defeats the termite; the gun defeats the fox. The idol and the fox are good friends, as are the gun and termite, and the fox and termite ignore each other, so these symbols tie with each other. According to these rules, the god and gun are strongest, and the chicken weakest.
Japan: There are many variations of the game throughout Japan, where it is very popular; one is called “Mushiken” with a snake, slug and frog: The snake (thumb) fears the slug (ring finger); the slug is eaten by the frog (index finger); the frog is eaten by the snake.
“Shouyaken” is played by gestures made with the whole body. The symbols were the village-headman, musket, and fox. The village-headman sits in a dignified manner, as if in the seat of honour. The musket was mimed as if carrying a gun in both hands. The fox was indicated by holding up both fists at an angle. The rules were that the headman beat the gun, the gun beat the fox, and the fox beat the headman.
Do you know of any other variations? Please put it in the comments below, explaining how your version is played!