Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day: a long history of celebration and contestation

Kate Darian-Smith, University of Melbourne

This is part of a series examining Australian national identity, especially around the ongoing debate about Australia Day.

Alongside the celebration, Australia Day also has a long history of commemoration and contestation, and this year is no different. In Western Australia, Fremantle council’s proposal to hold an alternative and culturally inclusive citizenship ceremony on January 28 was condemned by the federal government. The council was eventually forced to reinstate it to January 26.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s promotion of eating lamb on Australia Day continues to be controversial. Indigenous groups have been scathing about a TV advertisement that shows European invaders providing chops for a BBQ on the beach.

And following the recent removal of an Australia Day sign showing two smiling young girls in hijabs, a successful crowdfunding campaign will support the erection of this image on billboards across the nation.

Every year, the Australia Day holiday raises questions about our national identity and history. Colonisation, multiculturalism, social and cultural diversity and inclusion are at the heart of such debates. They ask us questions about what it means to be Australian – and “unAustralian”.

Like all national days, the significance attached to Australia Day has changed over time and the day has its own history. In May 1787, the British Admiralty sent the First Fleet carrying convicts and marines, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, to found a penal colony at Botany Bay.

Amid a gale, on January 26, 1788, Phillip was rowed ashore at Sydney Cove, raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British sovereignty over the eastern half of the continent. The formal establishment of the Colony of New South Wales, and Phillip’s role as governor, followed on February 7.

In early colonial Sydney, almanacs began referring to “First Landing Day” or “Foundation Day”. Successful immigrants – particularly ex-convicts – held anniversary dinners on January 26. In 1818, Governor Lachlan Macquarie formally marked 30 years as a colony with a 30-gun salute (a practice followed by his successors) at Dawes Point. Foundation Day continued to be commemorated, and an annual regatta in Sydney Harbour soon became its main attraction.

Other colonies commemorated their own imperial foundations. In Van Dieman’s Land – later renamed Tasmania – Regatta Day in early December jointly acknowledged the landing of Abel Tasman in 1642 and its separation from New South Wales in 1825. In Western Australia, Foundation Day on June 1 celebrated the arrival of white settlers in 1829. South Australia’s Proclamation Day was held on December 28.

In 1888, a week-long program in Sydney marked the centenary of British occupation. Anniversary Day — as it was then known — was a holiday in all capital cities except Adelaide. In Sydney, thousands attended the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria and the opening of Centennial Park. Representatives from all Australian colonies, and New Zealand, visited their “sister colony” to join the celebrations.

With 60% of the non-Indigenous population in Australia now “native-born”, the idea of a national day was gaining greater momentum. But views on what was being remembered on January 26 remained mixed.

Many felt that NSW’s convict origins were best forgotten. And there was little for Indigenous Australians to celebrate. The NSW governor, Henry Parkes, recognised that the day was a reminder to the Aborigines of how the British had “robbed” them.

The inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 strengthened the idea of a foundational holiday, and the Australian Natives Association took up the cause. In 1905, Empire Day was introduced on May 24, the late Queen Victoria’s birthday, to signal the continuing strength of imperial ties in the newly federated nation.

On July 30, 1915, an Australia Day was held to raise funds for the first world war effort. But Australia’s landing at Gallipoli earlier that year was to launch the commemoration of another national day: Anzac Day on April 25.

This date was first commemorated in London in 1916. By 1927 the day was a national holiday in all Australian states. During the 1920s, the Australian Natives Association continued to lobby for a national Foundation or Anniversary Day.

In 1935, all states adopted a common date and name for Australia Day, January 26. By the 1940s a national public holiday was in place.

The sesquicentenary of British colonisation was widely celebrated throughout Australia in 1938, particularly in Sydney. The re-enactment of Phillip’s landing and hoisting of the British flag at Sydney Cove was followed by an extensive pageant with motorised floats that demonstrated a march to nationhood. There was no representation of convicts, although the initial float depicted precolonial Aboriginal society. The white organisers had brought Aboriginal people from outside Sydney to perform.

In Sydney, over 100 Aborigines gathered at the Australia Hall for an Aborigines Conference to mark the “Day of Mourning and Protest”.

Jack Patten, of the Aborigines Progressive Association in NSW, chaired the meeting; other leaders present included William Cooper of the Australian Aborigines League in Victoria. Speeches protested against “the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years”, and asked for new laws to grant citizenship and equality to Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Day of Mourning, 1938.
National Museum of Australia

In the second half of the 20th century, the federal government began to take an increasingly prominent role in organising Australia Day. It established the National Australia Day Committee — which became a federally funded council in 1984.

The council aimed to promote national unity and was boosted by the preparations for the Bicentenary in 1988. Australia Day celebrations in Sydney included the arrival of tall ships from around the world, and a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney. A huge protest march of over 40,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Sydney disputed the “celebration of the nation” as a day of white invasion. This drew national and international attention to Indigenous rights in Australia.

Public participation in Australia Day events — including concerts, fireworks and other community gatherings — has increased since the 1990s. Most Australians welcome the public holiday, which has come to mark the end of summer and the return to school.

But the day has continued to be one of Indigenous protest, with Invasion Day and Survival Day rallies held across the nation.

Elsewhere in the world, foundation days commemorating European colonisation are similarly contested. In the US, for instance, the national institution of Thanksgiving marks the autumn feast of the Pilgrims, but Native Americans have long considered it a “national day of mourning” and a celebration of cultural genocide.

Any decision to change Australia Day to an alternative date or disband it altogether would need to be made by the combined federal and state governments.

That seems unlikely to happen. Suggestions from time to time that Australia Day be moved to another date have met with little enthusiasm.

It should be noted, though, that in the frenzy surrounding the centenary of the first world war, Anzac Day has increasingly come to be seen as Australia’s more significant national day.

The ConversationCatch up on other pieces in the series here.

Kate Darian-Smith, Professor of Australian Studies and History, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why does the UK have so many accents?

Natalie Braber, Nottingham Trent University

Where we come from matters. Our origins form an important part of a distinctive personality, which can become a group identity when we share these origins. More often than not, our use of language, especially our dialect, is an expression of that distinctiveness. In addition to distinctive words and grammatical patterns, which may not follow the rules of Standard English, people have accents – many English language ones available to listen to here – related to their pronunciation when they speak which can articulate their identity.

Dialects and accents developed historically when groups of language users lived in relative isolation, without regular contact with other people using the same language. This was more pronounced in the past due to the lack of fast transport and mass media. People tended to hear only the language used in their own location, and when their language use changed (as language by its nature always evolves) their dialect and accent adopted a particular character, leading to national, regional and local variation.

Invasion and migration also helped to influence dialect development at a regional level. Just take the Midlands, for example. The East Midlands were ruled by the Danes in the ninth century. This resulted, for instance, in the creation of place names ending in “by” (a suffix thought to originate from the Danish word for “town”), such as Thoresby and Derby, and “thorpe” (meaning “settlement”), such as Ullesthorpe. The Danes, however, did not rule the West Midlands, where the Saxons continued to hold sway, and words of Danish origin are largely absent from that region.

From a town ending in ‘by’.

Who am I?

Dialects and accents are not restricted to UK English, of course. In the US, Australia and New Zealand, where English has been spoken for a much shorter period of time than in the UK, you would expect less variation as English has been spoken there for a shorter period of time. But even there, dialects and accents occur and the linguistic influence of settlers who came from certain parts of the UK such as Scotland or Lancashire helped to determine local varieties.

A similar phenomenon appears in the UK. During the 1930s, Corby in Northamptonshire received a big influx of Scottish steelworkers. Here, there are features in the local language – for example, pronunciation of vowels in words such as “goat” or “thought” – which we think of as typically Scottish that are still used even by townsfolk who have never been to Scotland.

Other factors influence language use, too. One of them is social class. Very many local accents are now associated with working-class speakers, while middle and upper-class speakers tend to use a more standardised English. But this is a relatively recent development. Indeed, until the standardisation of English from the 16th century – when one variety of English came to be used in official situations and by printing presses for the wider publication of books – it was acceptable for speakers of different social classes to speak and write in their own dialects. Then, Latin and French were regarded as prestigious languages, applied by the elite in education, law and literature.

Dialects and accents are changing and will continue to change. After all, language never stands still. Some traditional dialects are disappearing, but new urban and multicultural varieties continue to arise. Some accents are deemed “better” than others and certain features may become fashionable.

This can be influenced by music. At the moment, linguistic features of “black English”, associated with hip hop, grime, R&B and rap music – such as “bae”, “blood” or “brother”, which can all be used as forms of address – are regarded as “cool” and are adopted by other speakers.

In addition, people change the language they use depending on who they are talking to, and why they are talking, for example formally in a job interview or casually to friends and family at home. People also change the way they speak to make themselves understood more easily, a phenomenon called linguistic accommodation.

Ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality and age can all affect language usage. And there are also personal reasons for using dialects and accents to identify yourself. I have lived in England for 16 years, but you can still hear my Scottish accent and that is unlikely to change.

All the same?

Speakers’ language varieties can converge (become more similar) or diverge (become more different). And as the modern world becomes increasingly connected, linguists have wondered whether dialects and accents in general are bound to disappear.

There is certainly such a thing as “dialect levelling” – differences between dialects appear to be vanishing, which could be a consequence of the rise of mass and social media. But while there is much discussion about the disappearance of dialects and accents, public interest in the subject is growing.

Plymouth: sounds nothing like Liverpool.

A consensus has not yet been reached. In UK English, some features may be spreading like wildfire through the country, such as people saying “free” instead of “three” – a linguistic change known as th-fronting. But differences persist, and speakers in Liverpool still sound very different to speakers in Plymouth.

The ConversationIn my opinion, dialects and accents are here to stay. Humans enjoy being part of groups, and we can consider language as a key means of expressing the perceived differences between “us” and “them”.

Natalie Braber, Associate Professor, Linguistics, School of Arts & Humanities, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Where do the names of our months come from?

Our lives run on Roman time. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and public holidays are regulated by Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian Calendar, which is itself a modification of Julius Caesar’s calendar introduced in 45 B.C. The names of our months are therefore derived from the Roman gods, leaders, festivals, and numbers. If you’ve ever wondered why our 12-month year ends with September, October, November, and December – names which mean the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months – you can blame the Romans.

The Philadelphia Experiment

by Majik

This little story was brought to mind only recently by a workmate by the name of Philly. As I was new to a position I was being introduced to a number of people and normally I am terrible at remembering names. To give me a bit of an edge with this I try to associate the name with something that gives it some substance in my mind. This called a memory mnemonic like the rhyme, 30 days hath September. This is all good and easy to understand unlike the near urban myth of the Philadelphia experiment which is purported to have occurred in Philadelphia sometime around October 28 1943 at the U.S. Navy’s Philadelphia Naval Ship Yard. The U.S Navy Destroyer Escort USS Eldridge was claimed to have been rendered invisible or cloaked to enemy devices and human observers for a short time. It has also been referred to as Project Rainbow.

It seems then that in 1955 an astronomer and UFO believer Morris K. Jessup received two letters from a Carlos Miguel Allende. He claimed that he had witnessed a secret test at the Naval Shipyard in Philadelphia. In this experiment, Allende claimed as outlined the above scenario but added that the Eldridge teleported to another dimension where it encountered aliens and teleported through time resulting in the death of several sailors, some of whom were fused with the ship’s hull. Jessup dismissed this claim as the work of a nutter.

This dismissal is more than likely a normal reaction and would end the matter. This was so until 1957 when Jessup received a communication from the Office of Naval Research in Washington stating that they had received a paperback copy of the book The Case for the UFO that was annotated in three different shades of pink appearing to be the work of three individuals as a correspondence. After an examination. the work was attributed to one author, Allende, and contained many references to Jessup’s previous work on UFO propulsion, different types of aliens living in outer space as well as references to the Philadelphia Experiment.

It has been said the test had managed to render the entire ship ‘out of phase’ with the surrounding universe, which is why it was able to travel from Philadelphia to Norfolk more or less instantly. This phasing effect had drastic effects on the crew members. During the experiment, crew members found they could walk through solid objects, and when the field was shut off, men were found embedded in the bulkheads, decks and railings of the ship. The results were gruesome enough that some men went mad. Afterwards, several crew members simply vanished. A few disappeared into thin air; one, eating dinner with his family, rose, walked through a wall and was never seen again. Some men entered into what was called the ‘Freeze’. This is where a man faded from view; unable to move, speak or otherwise affect his surroundings. Initially, the Freeze effect lasted only a few minutes to a few hours. Interestingly enough, invisible crewmen were still visible to other sailors who had survived the original experiment.  The Deep Freeze could drive a man insane in very short order and was only able to be counteracted if other crewmen performed a ‘Laying on of Hands’ technique to give the victim strength and allow him to recover from his affliction. Unfortunately, two men burst into flames while Laying on of Hands, burning for 18 days despite all attempts to quench the fire.

The story is largely regarded to as a hoax. The United States Navy maintains that the story is a hoax and that the details contradict well-established facts of the ship and its whereabouts. The USS Eldridge was commissioned on the 27th of August 1943 and it remained in Port in New York City until September 1943. A reunion of veterans aboard the Eldridge were quoted as saying in a newspaper in 1999 they never made port in Philadelphia. The experiment took place while the ship was on its shakedown cruise in the Bahamas, the home of the Bermuda Triangle, which in itself opens another possibility of mystery as there are many cases of missing time, disappearance, and other strange phenomena from that area.

In 1984 the movie The Philadelphia Experiment was released, presenting a fictionalized version of the incident. A sequel was filmed in 1993, titled Philadelphia Experiment II, and, in 2012, a made-for-television remake was released. As with most investigations of mysteries we are left with more answers but many more unanswered questions. Suffice to say keep the mind open to the realm of possibilities.

To end where I started with Philly. I was reminded when reading this story again, especially in this season of the celebration of friendship and good will, that although we have good friends and acquaintances most of their character, feelings, wants and needs remain a mystery to us and occasionally we are graced with an insight that helps us understand more fully the interplay of these complexities.

I hope you all have a good festive season.


Does drinking hot tea in summer really cool you down?

Steve Faulkner, Loughborough University and Katy Griggs, Loughborough University

I remember as a child, on the rare warm days that we used to get in Britain, my grandmother telling me to “have a cup of black tea … it will help cool you down”. As a seven-year-old, this seemed like a crazy idea, especially when all I wanted was a cold lemonade and another ice cream. But it appears that this old wives’ tale may actually be more Stephen Hawking than Stephen King.

The idea of drinking hot drinks in warm weather goes back hundreds of years. Tea, or “chai” is one of the most popular drinks in India, and many of the leading consumers of tea per capita are in tropical or desert regions. Recently, evidence has begun to emerge that drinking hot drinks may really help to cool you down, too.

In 2012, Ollie Jay published the first of a series of papers to see if drinking a warm drink can actually lower the amount of heat stored by the body compared to a cold drink. In this first study, volunteers were asked to cycle at a relatively low intensity for 75 minutes in around 24°C heat, 23% relative humidity, while consuming water at either 1.5˚C, 10˚C, 37˚C or 50˚C.

The change in core temperature was slightly greater when 50˚C water was ingested compared to 1.5˚C and 10˚C water. However, when the authors considered the effect of drink temperature on body heat storage, which is a better indicator of total body temperature, the results were very different. Following the ingestion of the warm drink, overall body heat storage was actually lower following exercise than with cooler drinks.

The sweat factor

An explanation for these findings appears to be related to how sweating may be influenced by drink temperature. Sweating, and more importantly the evaporation of this sweat, is one of the key avenues for modulating body temperature and maintaining heat balance.

Due to the increased heat load from drinking a warm drink, there is a compensatory increase in overall sweat output, which outweighs the internal heat gain from the warm drink. Consistently, a 50˚C drink results in a higher whole body sweat loss (around 570ml vs about 465ml for 1.5˚C). In practical terms, this means that more sweat is produced which is evaporated from the skin surface, increasing heat loss from evaporation and reducing body heat storage.

Cold water: should he drink it?

Importantly, however, this study was conducted under conditions that allowed complete evaporation of sweat – in other words dripping sweat was limited by maintaining a good airflow and keeping humidity low. The results would likely be different in conditions where sweat evaporation is limited, such as in hot and humid conditions. In fact, drinking cold drinks may be more favourable in these circumstances, minimising inefficient sweat losses – dripping sweat – and consequently aiding an individual’s hydration status.

Mouth or stomach?

In a second study, Jay aimed to establish the effect of drink temperature on local sweat rate, and to determine the location of thermoreceptors that may influence sweating. They demonstrated that with differing drink temperatures, colder drinks (1.5˚C) resulted in reductions in local sweat rate compared to when warm drinks were ingested (50˚C), despite identical changes in core and skin temperature.

Interestingly, however, differences in the sweat response were found when fluid was either swilled around the mouth or delivered directly to the stomach via a nasogastric tube. The data showed that only when cold drinks were delivered directly to the stomach did they result in reduced local sweat rate. This data indicates that the sensors responsible for influencing the sweat response, and therefore regulation of body temperature, reside somewhere in the abdominal cavity.

In a third study conducted in their lab, the team asked people to consume either 37˚C fluid or ice during exercise. In agreement with their previous work, they showed that there was a reduction in heat loss following ice ingestion compared to fluid at 37˚C, as a result of reduced sweat evaporation from the skin surface.

This has implications for endurance performance in the heat. In essence, where changes in body temperature are known to influence performance, ice ingestion could result in an increase in body heat, negatively influencing endurance capability. The ingestion of an iced drink prior to exercise and in hot and humid environments, however, should be beneficial.

The ConversationSo, depending on your environmental conditions, maybe reaching for that cup of tea isn’t such a crazy idea after all. Plus the moral of the story: listen to your grandmother’s advice – it’s based on years of experience.

Steve Faulkner, Research associate, Loughborough University and Katy Griggs, Research Assistant and PhD student, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to quote Monty Python without being annoying

Fans love sharing the joy of Monty Python by incessantly quoting classic lines, but telling someone you “fart in their general direction” isn’t always appreciated.

Among fellow enthusiasts, quoting beloved movie and TV lines is a great way to bond and make new friends by acknowledging shared interests. Unfortunately, it is also a great way to infuriate people who do not enjoy the source material or have no idea what you are talking about. For example, repeatedly saying “Ni!” makes total sense to a Python fan, but to those unfamiliar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it definitely seems like an odd thing to say and is likely to create apprehension during a conversation, date or job interview.

Obscurity is of particular concern when quoting Monty Python, whose films are unquestionably popular, but remain somewhat niche in comparison to movies and TV shows that have become embedded in wider pop culture

[lsvr_button text=”Read More” link=”” target=”blank” icon=”fa fa-smile-o” style=”default”]

Symbolic gestures, magical thinking: New Year’s resolutions

Amy Reynolds, CQUniversity Australia; Doug McEvoy, Flinders University; Robert Adams, University of Adelaide, and Sally Ferguson, CQUniversity Australia

If you need an alarm to get up in the morning, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

More than 40% of Australians get too little sleep to feel rested and able to function at their best. The average amount for an adult is around seven hours, while only 8% are lucky enough to get more than nine hours. Some 12% of Australians get less than 5.5 hours, and three-quarters of those struggle to get through their day.

These holidays, ditch the alarm clock and make getting enough sleep one of your New Year’s resolutions. Your memory, waistline and even your employer may thank you for it.

Why getting enough sleep should be a priority

Our brains use sleep time to sort through our experiences. We “clean up” and get rid of information connections we don’t need from the day just gone. Without adequate sleep, we may not be making enough space for new learning and memories.

Read more: Why our brain needs sleep and what happens if we don’t get it

Getting enough sleep also ensures we are safe to drive on the roads and less likely to make costly mistakes at work and home. Being awake for longer than 17 hours impairs your ability to think clearly as much as having a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05. After 24 hours awake, your ability to perform cognitive tasks is as poor as if you had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10.

Last year’s Australian sleep survey found 29% of Australian workers reported making errors at work in the previous three months specifically because they hadn’t got enough sleep. One in five respondents reported having nodded off while driving.

Getting enough sleep may also be helpful for managing our food intake. When people are only allowed to sleep for short periods of time, they are more likely to choose to snack food, particularly sweet snacks.

It’s natural to reach for sweet snacks when we don’t get enough sleep.
Sarah Swinton

The body’s response to eating food changes when sleep is restricted; as little as one week of restricted sleep is associated with glucose (sugar) levels approaching pre-diabetic levels.

The benefit is not limited to individual well-being. Australian workers who feel they get inadequate sleep are more likely to take a sick day than those who feel they get enough.

So, how much sleep do we need?

The American Sleep Foundation recommends adults aged between 18 and 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, while older adults should aim for seven to eight hours.

Read more – Explainer: how much sleep do we need?

Your ideal sleep duration will be unique to you and fall somewhere within the recommended range. To find out how much sleep you need, try a week-long experiment and modified sleep regime. Think of it as your holiday homework:

  • Cut back on how much you are doing during the week, particularly in the evening, to give yourself time to wind down
  • Put away the technology. A tech ban in the bedroom might be the best start
  • Create a dark sleeping space
  • Get rid of the alarm clock so your body has the chance to tell you how much sleep you need
  • Keep a week-long diary of your sleep times and daytime energy levels to get a feel for how much sleep feels good the next day.
Over a week, see how much sleep you actually need to feel fresh.
Warren Wong

You might find you need to sleep longer than usual for the first couple of nights. But remember, this is an exercise to work out how sleep can help you feel good rather than a test to see how much sleep you “must” or “can” get as this pressure may not help with sleeping well.

You might feel a little groggy the next morning which is normal, but you should wake up – and get up – when you feel well-rested.

Further reading – Health Check: how can I make it easier to wake up in the morning

By seeing where you sit on the sleep spectrum, you can work out the bed and wake times that best suit your needs.

How to get more sleep

Here are some starting points to make sleep more of a priority.

1) Reduce your exposure to bright lights in the evening

Allowing your body to naturally respond to the light and dark cycle each day can lead to earlier bed times.

Ditching distractors that delay our bedtimes can help shift the increase in the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy, to earlier in the evening.

As little as one weekend of camping away from electrical lighting, including blue light in our devices, can help us become early risers.

Camping is a good way to reset the body clock.
Patrick Hendry

If there’s no time for camping this Christmas, try a “camp at home” approach by reducing your light exposure throughout the house at night; dim and fewer lights in the evening is ideal.

2) Establish a routine

While some find falling asleep a breeze, this can be a slow process for many. Consistent activities – such as brushing your teeth, reading a book – at a regular time each evening can help your body recognise and prepare for heading to bed.

Read more – Health Check: how to soothe yourself to sleep

Make sure this time is in addition to the time you set aside for sleep, so you have enough time to wind down before bed.

This routine extends to consistent wake times. A regular bed and wake time schedule should be complimentary.

3) Talk to your doctor about your sleep

If you’re told you snore, or you never feel refreshed even after what seems to be a long sleep, talk to your GP about whether you might have an underlying disorder that makes getting enough sleep harder.

According to last year’s national sleep survey, 8% of Australians have diagnosed sleep apnoea, 18% have restless leg syndrome and 20% have insomnia. Getting help for these conditions will impact your physical and mental health.

The ConversationWhile time spent sleeping may feel akin to “doing nothing” for your health, the benefits of regular, refreshing sleep for your brain and body mean that it should be on your New Year’s resolution list right next to healthy eating and exercise.

Amy Reynolds, Lecturer in Psychology, CQUniversity Australia; Doug McEvoy, Chief investigator, National Centre for Sleep Health Services Research, Flinders University; Robert Adams, Professor of Medicine, University of Adelaide, and Sally Ferguson, Research professor, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How did we come to celebrate Christmas?

Bronwen Neil, Australian Catholic University

Christmas is literally “the mass for Christ”, the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.

The western date for Jesus’ birth was chosen by Pope Leo I.
El papa San León I Magno by Francisco Herrera the Younger (1622-1685)/Wikimedia Commons

The western date for Jesus’ birth is quite arbitrary. It was chosen by Pope Leo I, bishop of Rome (440-461), to coincide with the Festival of the Saturnalia, when Romans worshipped Saturn, the sun god. This was the day of the solar equinox, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, which officially marked the halfway point of winter.

Leo thought it would distract his Roman congregation from sun worship by celebrating the feast of Christ’s birth on the same day. He described Jesus as the “new light”; an image of salvation, but timely in that the days began to lengthen from 25 December onwards.

The date of the feast varies within Christian denominations. Western Christians celebrate the Nativity on a fixed date, 25 December. Some Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate it on 6 January together with Epiphany, the revelation of the infant Jesus to three wise men. The Greek and Russian Orthodox celebrate Christmas on 7 January and Epiphany on 19 January.

Where did Christmas traditions originate?

It is true to say that the western Christmas began as a Christianized pagan feast. The Christmas tree is also a pagan symbol of fertility.

In northern countries, when the nights are long and cold, the feast of Christmas traditionally gave Christian people something to look forward to: rich food (reindeer if you are in Sweden, pork and lamb if you are in Greece), lots of candles, Catholic Mass at midnight or Protestant services on Christmas morning. Fir trees were brought inside and lit with candles as a symbol of the hope that spring would return with new crops and plentiful food.

Fir trees were brought inside to symbolise the return of spring, new crops, and plentiful food. It’s also a pagan symbol of fertility.
Ievgenii Meyer/

The early church also celebrated Christ’s Resurrection in spring, the season of new life, since it coincided with the Jewish Passover feast on 14 Nisan, a date that depended on when the first full moon occurred in March or April. Many of our Easter symbols, like the bunny and the egg, are ancient fertility symbols. No one knows how chocolate got dragged in!

It is also an interesting coincidence that the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, falls in November or December each year, and is celebrated with the lighting of the candelabra (menorah), traditional foods, games and gifts.

Where did Santa Claus come from?

The Santa Claus myth (spoiler alert: don’t read any further if you are under 10!) came from the legend of Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a bishop in the city of Myra (in modern Turkey), who wanted to help poor young women get husbands. He left bags of money of the doorsteps of their family homes in secret, an anonymous gift to the poor to be used as a dowry.

A 1950s Coca-Cola advertisement.
Insomnia Cured Here/Flickr, CC BY-SA

For this he became known as the patron saint of virgins and children. Over time, his generosity was remembered by people giving gifts to children in secret on the feast of St Nicholas, celebrated on December 6 (in western Christian countries) and 19 December (in the eastern churches). His name in English became Clause, after the Dutch Sinterklaas. Dutch children and others in western Europe leave food out in a shoe or a clog for Nicholas’ horse on the eve of 6 December, and receive presents on the day of the feast.

Our modern image of Santa Claus as a rotund gentleman of a certain age dressed in a red-and-white suit and matching hat comes from an incredibly successful marketing campaign by Coca-Cola in the 1930s. Since then, suburban Santas always dress in the image created by the Coke brand.

But this image comes from an earlier depiction of Father Christmas who had nothing to do with the American Santa Claus until the 1850s.

Until the Victorian era, when childhood was recognised as a separate stage of life, and the Christmas feast came to centre around children, Father Christmas, or Lord Christmas as he was also known, was the personification of a mid-winter feast of merrymaking for adults – and he brought no presents. He was useful as a symbol for Catholic-sympathising writers in the early 17th century who wanted to defend Christmas from attacks by the Puritans, radical Protestants who intended to ban the feast.

(For a Jewish perspective on the Wars of Religion, see Stephen Feldman’s book, Please Don’t Wish Me a Merry Christmas: A Critical History of the Separation of Church and State (1997).)

Tuck postcard, in the Photo Oilette series (1919).

From the 1850s onwards, the English Father Christmas was depicted as a bearded old man wearing a long red robe trimmed with white fur and a pointed red hat, who brought gifts to good children. This image can be seen on English postcards from the early 20th century.

Christmas in the modern era

A lot of the significance of the original feast is lost when we in the southern hemisphere celebrate it in the middle of summer. A family barbecue at the beach cannot really capture the atmosphere of a cold and dark mid-winter.

This seems to be the main reason for the emergence of the alternative “Christmas in July”. Today we give presents to adults as well as kids on the eve or day of 25 December, and usually not anonymously. It would be interesting to see what would change if none of our gifts had name tags attached – Secret Santa at the office is based on the same concept.

Our gifts are also reminiscent of the tributes that the three Magi – who symbolise, according to tradition, the non-Jewish peoples – gave to the infant Jesus.

Incidentally, according to two of the four Gospels, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but given the lack of corroborating evidence for a census there that year, it is now thought that Jesus was more likely born in Galilee, where he grew up. Bethlehem was significant for the Gospel writers as being the birthplace of King David 1,000 years earlier, and a royal city for the Jews.

The ConversationThe Magi gave Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, when they understood that the baby they were looking at was both human and the son of God. That mystery at least remains intact.

Bronwen Neil, Associate professor, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Christmas letters to his children bring echoes of Middle-earth to the North Pole

Dimitra Fimi, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Like parents the world over, J.R.R. Tolkien dedicated considerable time and effort to making Christmas a joyful time for his young children. Yet this was a man whose rich imagination brought to life an entire world with thousands of years of legendary history; described different orders of creatures, wars and battles; even invented languages. So inevitably, his family traditions were something rather special.

Every year, from 1920 to 1942, the Tolkien children – first John, and later Michael, Christopher and Priscilla – would receive a letter from Father Christmas. It would be written in his spidery hand (he would, after all, be a very old man) and illustrated with funny scenes from life in the North Pole. In 2018, the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford will exhibit the letters, alongside other manuscripts, artwork, maps, letters and artefacts from Tolkien collections around the world.

The American influence

Tolkien was not the first author to produce letters from Father Christmas for his children. Mark Twain famously wrote a letter from “Santa Claus” to his elder daughter, Susie Clemens. And although Tolkien retained the English name for his protagonist, there was a lot of popular American-derived folklore associated with his Father Christmas.

The aurora borealis, 1926: ‘Isn’t the North Polar Bear silly? … [he] turned on all the Northern Lights for two years in one go. You have never heard or seen anything like it. I have tried to draw a picture of it: but I am too shaky to do it properly and you can’t paint fizzing light can you?’
© The Tolkien Estate Ltd, 1976.

The idea of Santa Claus dressed in red and white, and riding a sleigh drawn by reindeer every Christmas Eve delivering presents to children, comes from perhaps the best-known poem in the English language: The Night Before Christmas. Written either by Clement Moore or Henry Livingston (the authorship is contested) in the 19th century, this classic American poem established Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, as we know him today.

The imagery of Santa Claus was enhanced by German-American illustrator Thomas Nast, who provided Santa with elf helpers and a toy workshop, and portrayed him living in the North Pole and in regular receipt of children’s letters.

Tolkien borrows freely from all of this American pop culture which, by the end of the 19th century, had migrated to Britain and was immensely popular. But he also takes his Father Christmas in different directions, gravitating towards his own mythology of Middle-earth, which was developing in parallel.

Old friends, and new

So of course we get elves in Tolkien’s North Pole. But despite the fact that these are diminutive, jolly elves with pointed hats (a far cry from those of The Lord of the Rings) they belong to different kindreds: Snow Elves, Red Elves or Gnomes, Green Elves – not unlike the High Elves, Silvan Elves and others in The Lord of the Rings.

Some of the Christmas elves were fierce warriors, giving the evil goblins a run for their money in battle. Indeed, the goblins themselves are precursors of the Goblins in The Hobbit, and later the Orcs. They live underground, they are keen on tunnelling, and they are a perennial threat to Christmas.

Christmas, 1932: ‘The caves are wonderful. I knew they were there, but not how many or how big they were. Of course the goblins went off into the deepest holes and corners, and we soon found Polar Bear. He was getting quite long and thin with hunger, as he had been in the caves about a fortnight … At the top of my ‘Christmas card’ is a picture, imaginary, but more or less as it really is, of me arriving over Oxford. Your house is just about where the three little black points stick up out of the shadow at the right.’
© The Tolkien Estate Ltd, 1976

At the same time, Tolkien expands the Christmas mythology considerably. Father Christmas’s best friend (and regular rascal) is the North Polar Bear, whose funny antics are the focus of the early letters. Later on, his nephews, Paksu and Valkotukka (Finnish for “fat” and “white hair” respectively) provide further comic relief, and showcase Tolkien’s love for the language which influenced one of his own invented languages, Quenya, spoken by the Elves of Middle-earth.

A number of “aetiological” myths are also added: motifs that “explain” away things that happen in the real world of Tolkien’s children. So broken chocolates can be explained by the Polar Bear squishing them, and a bright light in the night sky is surely a glimpse of the gigantic Christmas tree in the North Pole.

Innocence lost

More details and innovations make this frozen world wonderful and intriguing. Father Christmas apparently has a tap in his cellar that “turns on” the Aurora Borealis; there is cave art by primeval men in the goblin caves, including depictions of mammoths and reindeer; and Snow-boys (the sons of Snow-men who live in the vicinity) get invites to parties in Father Christmas’s house.

Cave drawings, 1932: ‘Polar Bear himself was astonished when I brought light; for the most remarkable thing is that the walls of these caves are all covered with pictures, cut into the rock or painted on in red and brown and black. Some of them are very good (mostly of animals), and some are queer and some bad; and there are many strange marks, signs and scribbles, some of which have a nasty look.’
© The Tolkien Estate Ltd, 1976

Even more Tolkienian, we also get invented languages and alphabets. An elf called Ilbereth, who becomes Father Christmas’s secretary, sends the children a Merry Christmas message in elvish script, which is ostensibly a variation of Tolkien’s tengwar writing system, the same seen on the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings. And the Polar Bear gives us a sentence in “Arctic” (a version of Quenya) and introduces us to an alphabet he has devised based on goblin symbols.

The Father Christmas letters were published after Tolkien’s death in 1973, and their lasting popularity is, I would argue, due to the extended Christmas saga they create and the funny and moving father’s voice that comes through each of them.

The ConversationThe poignant “last letter”, when Father Christmas waves goodbye to children who are now “too old” to hang their stocking anymore, while the Second World War is raging, marks the end of innocence in more than one way. But the myth of Father Christmas lives on, and continues to be a favourite festive read of children all over the world.

Dimitra Fimi, Senior Lecturer in English, Cardiff Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The common and not so common injuries sustained at Christmas

Lancaster University

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

The festive period is a time for family, friends and happiness. The worst thing most people face is a bit of digestive discomfort from overeating. But for a few unfortunate individuals, Christmas is like a scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. To avoid having a Christmas like the Griswolds’, try and learn some lessons from these unfortunate folk.

Most people illuminate their Christmas tree with electric lights, but people in some countries, like Switzerland, still prefer to use candles. Between 1971 and 2012, 28 Swiss people sustained significant burns from doing this, and four died as a result of their burns. Although less common than household fires, fires associated with candles and Christmas decorations usually lead to much more severe injuries.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation poster.
Wikimedia Commons

However, Christmas lights aren’t much safer. A study from Canada found that people who injured themselves installing Christmas lights spent an average of 15 days in hospital and, sadly, five per cent of those injured died. Christmas lights are particularly hazardous to children as they are the perfect size for them to eat or inhale.

Although festive baubles usually cause hazards in the home, they have been known to cause problems in health centres and hospitals. Shortly after the festive decorations went up at a hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, a technologist was summoned to investigate a “broken” blood gas analyser. The technologist removed tinsel that had been draped over the machine and, voila, it worked once again.

Festivities out of the house also increase the chance of being injured. A recent study in the UK showed that assaults resulting in facial injuries, likely inflicted while out cerebrating the season of goodwill, increase significantly over the Christmas period, compared with the rest of the year and with other holiday periods.

Christmas hazards don’t respect borders

Sadly, good weather doesn’t guarantee safety. An Australian study showed that over a Christmas and New Year period, a number of people were admitted to a major trauma centre as a result of injuries from jet-skis and boat propellers.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ocean, Americans are busy injuring themselves, too. According to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 407 Christmas-related admissions to health centres and emergency departments in December 2016. Surprisingly, more than half of those admitted were women.

Of the 407 admissions, 84 were caused by Christmas lights, 40 were caused by Christmas trees and/or their supports, and 159 were caused by Christmas decorations. The remainder were from a variety of causes.

The data shows that ten per cent of those admitted were younger than two years. In fact, children aged ten and under accounted for a quarter of all admissions. The next largest admitted group, divided into ten-year age groups, were those aged 51-60 with 16%, followed closely by those aged three to ten with 15%.

The most common injuries were cuts (18%), ingestion or inhalation of foreign objects (15%), sprains and strains (15%) and scratches (14%).

Some of the more notable cases in the list of admissions are as follows:

  • A 36-year-old man was putting up Christmas decorations when he looked up and sneezed, accidentally swallowing a drawing pin in the process.
  • A four-year-old girl was found with a metal bell in her ear. She told the medic that she wanted to “hear jingle bells”.
  • A 50-year-old woman who had been standing on a chair hanging Christmas lights fell and struck her rectum on the tree branches. She was diagnosed with a tear alongside her rectum.
  • A 28-year-old woman was putting up an ornament when the bar stool slipped from under her, causing vaginal trauma from the landing.
  • A 66-year-old man, working at home to put up Christmas decorations when the wind blew the patient around and around, making him dizzy.
  • A 64-year-old woman dropped a four-foot wooden Santa on her foot, spraining it.
United States Consumer Product Safety Commission., Author provided

As you prepare for the festive period, remember that the potential for accidents is all around, so take your time putting things up and don’t over do it. It’s all about elf and safety. You don’t want to end up like the Christmas turkey: burned, sliced, dislocated and with a foreign object inside you.

The ConversationMerry Christmas!

Adam Taylor, Director of the Clinical Anatomy Learning Centre & Senior Lecturer in Anatomy, Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.