Sunday 19 December 2021


schwibbogen: a look at Germany’s Erzgebirge’s Christmas decorative arts traditions—see also

lakshmi-narayan: a looted sculpture returned to Nepal becomes a god again  

wind in your sails: a giant kite will pull a ship across the ocean in a demonstration project to cut emissions

all songs considered: NPR’s Bob Boilen’s recommended listening from the past year  

farmscrapers: advances in hydroponics and robot-assisted harvesting are making vehicle crop-growing a reality  

wysiwyg: Anna Mills on her typography and creative outlook  

carry on regardless: the comic language pf Professor Stanley Unwin  

god rest you merry, gentlemen: the comma in this carol makes us wonder about punctuation

Saturday 11 December 2021


level 5—the scent represents a fully personal experience with some unrelated property. the experience itself has no aroma or shared understanding: Yankee Candle’s Stages of Abstraction—via Waxy  

pine-eleven: conservative pundits suggest arson attack on network’s Christmas tree a ‘hate crime’ and an assault on religious freedoms  

by-line: Bloomberg’s annual jealousy list of articles they wish they’d written—via Kottke  

a new system of arithmetic and metrology: Johan Nystrรถm’s hexadecimal tonal and temporal notation (1863)  

alpine exports: Little Switzerlands abroad—see also here and here  

you buy—i die: Indian handicraft as indictment against thoughtless consumption

Friday 13 December 2019


According to tradition martyred on this day during the Diocletian persecutions of the third century, the solemnity of the Feast of Saint Lucy of the Greek colony of Syracuse in Sicily was somehow translated from her native Italy to darkened, northern climes to become a major Advent celebration in Scandinavian lands.
She is depicted wearing a crown of candles so as to free her arms up to carry as many provisions as she could to fellow Christians hiding in the city’s catacombs to hold mass in secret and evade capture and punishment to navigate the passages and locate her community. Until calendar reforms that didn’t take effect in Nordic countries until the 1800s, Saint Lucy’s Day fell on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year—to which she brings light and traditionally marked the beginning of Yuletide. Festivities include choosing a local representative for Saint Lucy and an early morning, pre-dawn procession of children—it being also customary to barge into one’s parents’ bedrooms, even the visiting Nobel laureates still in town since the honours usually fall around the same time being treated to the special intercession, and being served a breakfast of Lussekat, baked buns flavoured with saffron. The day is bookended also with Lucy’s counterpart, Lussi the Witch taking flight and bringing general mischief and possibly misfortune for those who didn’t finish holiday preparations and obligations in a timely manner (see also here and here) from Lussinatta until Christmas.

Sunday 7 July 2019

evening of the seventh

Japan, ascribed to the Gregorian calendar, will mark Tanbata (meaning above, ใŸใชใฐใŸ orไธƒๅค•) on this night. Common to several countries in the region that keep this star festival in their own ways, the celebration marks the reunion of two star-crossed deities called Orihime and Hikoboshi—represented by Vega and Altair (ฮฑ Aquilรฆ and ฮฑ Lyrรฆ, which form a bright asterism during the high summer in the Northern Hemisphere)—whom are kept asunder by the gulf of the Milky Way and only allowed together on the seventh day of the seventh month.
Originally introduced to Japan in the mid-eighth century under the more utilitarian label of “The Festival to Plead for Skills” and included customarily the opportunities for girls to wish for better sewing and crafting skills and for boys to wish for better penmanship. The ceremony was conflated with the folklore tale “The Cowherd [Hikoboshi] and the Weaver Girl [Orihime],” a hapless couple whose passion for one another caused each to shirk their duties and allow their talents to atrophy. In order to restore balance to the Cosmos, the two were only permitted visitation once a year, the magpies forming a bridge that crossed the expanse. Contemporary festivities include composing wishes—in verse—on small strips of paper and hanging them from a bamboo wish tree, which are then burnt as votive offerings or released down a watercourse to bare the postulants’ prayers aloft.

Monday 31 December 2018

kirchenburg im flammen

H and I joined some friends last night and went into the nearby market town of Ostheim vor der Rhön to once again enjoy the spectacle of the fortified church illuminated by hundreds of torches and candles.
Unlike last year, there was no great and thunderous volley of the fire of hand-cannons from the tower but a very talented fire dancer who worked herself into a frenzy and gave quite a captivating performance.

Thursday 20 September 2018

ye butcher, ye baker, ye candlestick-maker

Public Domain Review features a slim, quirky volume that at first glance seems like eighteenth century pulp fiction but is actually a 1908 light-hearted lament over the modern state of everyday occupations (to wit), satirising a host of old professions with ballads that address contemporary and resonant scourges—like over-regulation, quackery, fake news and copyfight, some perhaps landing a bit too close to home.
Click on the image to enlarge plus a word on the anachronistic use of “ye olde:” it should be and was always properly pronounced with the th sound, Early Modern English employing the now obsolete Old English letter thorn (รพ), which in handwritten form could look like a y, especially when used in the scribal abbreviation of the article, the e a sort of superscript. Be sure to visit the link up top for more discoveries from the world’s print archives.

Thursday 1 February 2018

bell, book and candle

From Valentine’s Day through mid-May, Washington DC’s Hirshhorn Gallery is reviving the political-charged projection of Polish-Canadian monumental artist Krzystof Wodiczko [UPDATED], first put on display on the museum’s faรงade in October of 1988.
The massive image of a clutched candle and a clutched pistol between a row of microphones was interpreted as a backlash to Regan-era foreign policies and gunboat diplomacy at the waning end of the Cold War—which I don’t think anyone saw on the horizon back then—is being presented as part of a wider exhibit on the 1980s when art became a commodity and the artist an influencer, a pivot that still defines and informs our notions of contemporary art.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

lamp under a bushel

Having just learned of the name of the decoration myself through its gentle lampooning on BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy, I appreciated reading more about the Christingle, featured as Atlas Obscura’s weekly object of intrigue. The comedian in the show could only justify adorning an orange with a red ribbon if one wanted to distinguish it from other oranges whilst one is attempting to retrieve it from the airport baggage claim conveyor belt.
Now we know, however, that a German Moravian (Herrnhuter Brรผdergemeine) minister in the sixteenth century invented the Christingle as an allegorical device for children to teach them about Jesus—the red ribbon symbolising Christ’s blood and the candles’ flame representing enduring joy, the oranges being introduced later. The skewers of dried fruit or candies represent the bounty of the world and the four seasons. Also known for their advent stars, I wonder if this other Moravian tradition might spread as well, but perhaps not for all times and all occasions, like in the movie theatre—which the comedian above was reprimanded for by ushers for partaking in.

Monday 4 July 2016

twinkle, twinkle

Via Dark Roasted Blend’s latest edition of Biscotti Bits, we discover that the inspiring flickering flame of a candle and the light it gives becomes something even more poetic and romantic through rigorous chemical analysis, from a battery of experiments conducted in the summer of 2011.
The wick burning through the medium of tallow or wax generates different carbon allotropes (the known arrangements of the element: soot, graphite, and the crystalline form) as the flame rises and heats up to eventually bind with the surrounding air as carbon-dioxide—reclaiming the intermediary by-products, but one short-lived but ongoing episode of the chemical history of a candle—as Michael Faraday lucidly presented to the curious public in an 1860 lecture, couched in the same glittering and poetic language that feeds the fire and our imaginations, sees the creation of millions of tiny particles of diamond ash, destined to be consumed at the peak and hottest part of the flame. It is really amazing what fundamental mysteries are just being solved, and how there’s more questions in those answers. I wonder if the soot of the flame is transmogrified into the more exotic forms of carbon as well—like graphene and bucky-balls, and if the tiny diamonds are winked out of existence if there’s no up or down for the candle, were it burning in the micro-gravity of space.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

in der silvester-nacht

Though not to be characterised as weird or foreign and not exclusive to Austria, the country’s edition of the English daily, the Local, present a nifty summary of some of the ways Austrians ring in the New Year. Special credit, I believe, is due for not shying away from terms like agora- and ochlophobia (the latter being specifically the fear of crowds and not just being exposed and out in the open, fear of the Marktplatz) and molybdomancy (BleigieรŸen)—that is, divination by molten lead quickly cooled in water, complete with a description of the fun and an exhaustive Rorschach list of interpretations.

There are also some delicious recipes and more on merry-making. New Year’s Eve is goes by the name of Silvester for the sainted pope who baptised the Roman emperor Constantine and legitimised Christianity within the Empire, whose holy day is commemorated on the last day of the year and is combined with traditional celebrations and customs in Central Europe, like the countdown and fireworks. What are some peculiar traditions and rituals of your own? There’s still time to go out and augur your fortune with some ingots, a candle and spoon.  In der Silvester-Nacht wird das Blei zum schmelzen gebracht.

Thursday 13 December 2012


While the feast of Saint Lucy (Luciadagen or Lussimesse) is not exclusive to the great white north, marking a moment of rebirth and illumination during the darkest time of the year and promising that if one has made it this far one can expect to survive the rest of the harsh winter and the daylight will soon begin to outshine the night (going by the Julian calendar—13 December would be the Winter Solstice, instead of 21 December, the longest night of the year), it is strongly connected to Norwegian and Scandinavian tradition.

Parents of daughters can also expect a special breakfast in bed, in addition to the pageantry and ceremony.  Though perhaps symbolism is divided between celebrations in far climes and in the Mediterranean south, where the lighted crown born by the saint represents the non-consuming fire at her martyrdom rather than a night-light, customs evolved at both poles—in places like Malta, Italy and Finland, Sweden but little in between.  Recognition, however, has spread and new and unique traditions and interpretations have formed. One area where Saint Lucy has taken root is Denmark, who honour the insertion of an unfamiliar holiday, which came about quite recently and an export from their Nordic neighbours as a means to subtly protest occupation during World War II, both with a flame that does not sear but also does not waiver.