Virginia O'Hanlon is famous as the young girl who wrote a letter to the New York Sun in 1897 asking if Santa Claus was real, prompting a reply from Francis P. Church, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." But you have to feel a bit sorry for O'Hanlon, because almost every year after that, until she died in 1971, reporters sought her out to do follow-ups to find out if she still believed in Santa Claus. It must have been frustrating to be asked the same question, year after year.
O'Hanlon as a young girl
O'Hanlon was always very gracious about the repetitive questioning, (seems like she was a very nice lady), and would say that of course she believed in Santa Claus — except for 1935 when she must have been in a dark mood, because in that year she came close to saying that she no longer believed. She told a reporter:
I still keep my faith in the ultimate kindness of human nature, but how can I, or anyone, believe in the Santa I knew as a child when today there is so much misery and suffering in the world?
If Santa lives today, he lives only in the childish joy of those he has made happy. How can he live in the crying hearts of those he has forsaken? Little children, such as I was, trust in Santa Claus as a miraculous munificence through which all things are made possible. There will be a tree, there will be loved ones about, gaiety and cherished toys that have been dreamt about for months.
Those whom Santa visits think of Christmas as a beautiful, sacred occasion which it should be — but today seldom is. But for every child tucked into bed Christmas night with his new toy, there are hundreds, no thousands, who huddle in ragged bed clothing sobbing in the night at a fate at best cruel.
As the 1935 Boy Scout handbook says, "By agreement of the Scout Leaders throughout the world, Boy Scouts greet Brother Scouts with a warm left hand clasp." (wikipedia). But what's the origin of this form of greeting?
Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, claimed he learned the custom from a defeated African chieftain whom he attempted to greet in 1896 by holding out his right hand. The chieftain supposedly replied: "The men in my tribe greet the bravest with the left hand." There are different versions of this story, but I think all of them can safely be dismissed as bogus.
There's also a theory that the scouts shake with their left hand because it's the hand closer to the heart. I also doubt this theory.
I think the real origin traces back to Baden-Powell's passion for promoting ambidexterity — and not just the ability to use either hand with equal dexterity, but to use both hands for different tasks, simultaneously.
To train the human body completely and symmetrically, that is, to cultivate all its organs and members to their utmost capacity, in order that its functions may also attain their maximum development, is an obligation that cannot safely be ignored. This completeness and symmetry can only be secured by an equal attention to, and exercise of, both sides of the body--the right and the left; and this two-sided growth can alone be promoted and matured by educating our two hands equally, each in precisely the same way, and exactly to the same extent.
It is hardly possible to lay too much stress upon this bimanual training, or to attach too much important to the principke, because our hands -- and our arms, from which, for purposes both of argument and education, they cannot be separated -- not only constitute our chief medium of communication with the outer world, but they are likewise the pre-eminent agency by which we stamp our impress upon it...
The heavy pressure of my office work makes me wish that I had cultivated, in my youth, the useful art of writing on two different subjects at once. I get through a great deal extra -- it is true -- by using the right and left hand alternately, but I thoroughly appreciate how much more can be done by using them both together.
Awhile back I posted a link on here to an article about strange places to visit. More recently I wrote about unusual contests. Now I can combine the two! Men's magazine askmen.com has created a list of what they think are the top ten weird festivals held around the globe each year. For example, there's the Cow Painting Festival held in Luxembourg each summer. And you probably shouldn't miss the Moose Dropping Festival in Talkeetna, Alaska in July. Plus there's the So Joo Festival in Porto, Portugal in June - bring a hammer! You can see the entire list here.
While it might be fairly common for couples to get a divorce in the United States these days, it's certainly not easy. There are questions of support, custody issues if there are children involved, and bitter arguments over who gets to keep what; all of which can drag a divorce into months of stress. But what is it like in other cultures and in other times? In centuries past, in China, a divorce could be granted for any number of reasons, so long as the bride's family agreed to take her back. Aborigine women in Australia can convince their husbands to grant a divorce but if that's not working, then all they need to do is elope with someone else. The ancient Athenians and modern-day Eskimos share an extremely simple divorce process - live separately as though they were never married. In the UK, a man tired of his wife could slip a halter around her neck, lead her into town to the cattle market, and sell her to the highest bidder. Japan had a much more advanced view, however. Marriage was not sacred and divorce was not immoral - it was merely a mismatch between families. Women's dowrys were returned in the hopes of encouraging re-marriage. You can read more on Purple Slinky, and on Hope's Blog, and in this review.
First up, a UK judge has spoken out to say children should be allowed to take knives to school. Not all children mind you, just Sikh children. Justice Mota Singh, a Sikh himself, is talking about the kirpan, a ceremonial three-inch knife worn as a show of faith by devout Sikhs, the wearing of which by one boy was banned by a North London school earlier this year. Singh later supported the boy's family's decision to withdraw him rather than accept their compromise offer that he carry a 'disabled' equivalent claiming the school's refusal was discriminatory (BBC News).
Meanwhile another UK court last week ruled that particularly pious Hindu Davender Kumar Ghai can have the open-air cremation he fervently desires. It's been a long battle for Ghai, who found his proposal to site traditional funeral pyres on land outside Newcastle blocked by the city council in a decision later upheld by England's High Court. Now the UK Court of Appeal has said that the open-air ceremonies can go ahead, and that the requirement that all cremations occur 'within a building' could be met by any reasonable structure and did not dictate that structure have walls or a roof. Davenda Kumar Ghai, who is 76 and in poor health, can now go ahead and build his roofless crematorium, once he gets planning permission to do so, from Newcastle City Council (Times).
And in yet another landmark decision, the councillors in Reading, England have given the local Muslim community permission to carry out their own burials in the borough's cemeteries at weekends, which council gravediggers do not work. Many Islamic traditions favour burial very soon after death, and the delays caused by the weekend closures was cited as a significant cause of stress for relatives. In response, the council have agreed to dig some graves beforehand for later use in a pilot scheme expected to last one year, or until the first Saturday night drunk falls in one and sues (GetReading).
Mind you, even once you're in the ground you're not always safe. A row over the siting of a new museum on a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalen has boiled over this week with families who claim to have relatives buried there petitioning the UN. The cemetery, which dates back several hundred years, is due to be excavated to make was for a new “Center for Human Dignity – Museum of Tolerance” being built by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who dispute the families' claims. “The Museum of Tolerance project is not being built on the Mamilla Cemetery. It is being built on Jerusalem’s former municipal car park, where every day for nearly half a century, thousands of Muslims, Christians and Jews parked their cars without any protest whatsoever from the Muslim community,” said founder Rabbi Marvin Hier (Telegraph).
It all began in 1936 in the midst of "the worst winter in years." The whole country suffered in the grip of heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. A New York feature writer bemoaned the "fact" that, "Here we are in the midst of an old- fashioned winter and there are no red flannels in the USA to go with it."
The local newspaper, The Cedar Springs Clipper, owned and edited by "The Clipper Gals" Nina Babcock and Grace Hamilton answered the writer with a RED HOT editorial stating: "Just because Sak's Fifth Avenue does not carry red flannels, it doesn't follow that no one in the country does. CEDAR SPRINGS' merchants have red flannels!"
The story was picked up by The Associated Press and orders began pouring in from all over the USA.
Seeing the possibility of at least a few years of publicity because of our famous “drop seaters" and lumbering history, a "RED FLANNEL DAY" was planned for the fall of 1939. After the closure of the Red Flannel Factory in 1994, the citizens became concerned as to the fate of their beloved Red Flannels and of the Red Flannel Festival. However, due to the love of their community legacy, volunteers rallied to keep the Red Flannel Festival tradition alive. It has continued to be an annual event, held the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October. The production of Red Flannel garments was reestablished and they are available to purchase in Cedar Springs.
And here are some shots from early on, courtesy of the Life Photo Archive
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.