December 20th, 2008


John Frost Nibbling at Your Nose

The personification of seasons seems to an ancient pagan tradition, but I can't really say I know that much about it. The Greek Horai symbolized the four seasons, although they later came to be associated with order and justice, and another set of Horai represented the hours of the day. I'm also quite fond of Alphonse Mucha's painting of the seasons, which I own in cheap poster print form. Father Winter or Old Man Winter is a popular figure in modern folklore, but I'm not sure where he originated. Somewhere in Europe, it seems. In Soviet Russia, Grandfather Frost (known in Russian as the rather bleak-looking "Ded Moroz") came to be known as the primary winter gift-giver, probably largely because he was a more secular figure than St. Nicholas or Father Christmas. [1] In 1998, the Mayor of Moscow tried to make the figure even more uniquely Russian by declaring Veliky Ustyug in Vologda Oblast as Grandfather Frost's official home. I believe Lapland was generally considered to be his home before that, as it was for Father Christmas before his relocation to the North Pole.

Another winter spirit who runs rampant in popular culture, but whose origins remain shrouded in mystery, is Jack Frost, the guy who paints ferns on windows and pinches children's extremities. Wikipedia has very little on Jack, and most of what there is lacks references. If it's to be believed, though, he might have originated in Norse mythology (as Jokul Frosti) or Russian folklore [2], and was largely popularized in Britain. Like Santa Claus himself, Jack also appears to owe part of his modern image to Thomas Nast. And because of my Oz obsession, I can't help but mention that Jack is a figure who was introduced into L. Frank Baum's fantasy universe. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus makes him a friend of Santa's, but Claus doesn't approve of his habit of hassling defenseless children. He reappears in the short story "The Runaway Shadows," in which he solidifies the shadows of two children. Both identify Jack's father as the Frost King, and the latter story claims that his birthday is the coldest day of the year. If that means it's the first day of winter, then maybe we should all hurry up and send him birthday cards. I'm not sure of his address, but I have to wonder if he and Santa use the same post office.

And in my general interest in unusual Christmas and winter solstice traditions, I just had to re-post this link that I got from arfies. Black Peter is there, as are a pooping log and a Christmas pickle. And we can't forget about the Krampus, Santa's dark counterpart in Austria. The picture makes him look like a refugee from the cover of a heavy metal album. There's more on the Krampus here, including a picture where he looks rather like Darth Maul (only perhaps with an actual personality).

Another enjoyable holiday-related item I came across today was this quiz on urban legends associated with Christmas. I got all of them right except the sixth and seventh. Just to give a hint, the most obvious answer is usually wrong.

Finally, it's the seventh day of the happiness meme, so I'll mention that what made me happy today was that bethje passed both parts of the CPA exam that she's taken so far! Hooray!

[1] Also, in Soviet Russia, chestnuts roast YOU!
[2] Rankin-Bass's stop-motion special Jack Frost presumably takes place in Russia, since the villain is the Cossack King.