weird and wacky holidays happening in November

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting has become a worldwide symbol of the holiday season. The tree is lit on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving, celebrated with live musical performances at Rockefeller Plaza and broadcast around the globe on television and the internet.

What’s the truth behind the legend? Worldwide Weird Holidays investigates.

Tree Story

Oneonta, New York, lost a longtime resident on December 10, 2016: a 14-ton, 94-foot-tall Norway Spruce we’ll call Bruce. (They’re all named Bruce.) He’d called the town home for nearly a century when the Eichler family contacted Rockefeller Center’s head gardener and chief Christmas tree hunter, Erik Pauzé. He visited, liked what he saw and Bruce’s fate was decided.

“We’ll miss the shade but for the most part we’re happy to gain the space back because it did monopolize the entire yard,” Craig Eichler said.

On Thursday, Bruce was cut down and loaded with the help of two hydraulic cranes onto a custom-made telescoping trailer that can stretch to 100 feet and accommodate a tree up to 125 feet tall, although the width of New York City streets limits the height to 110 feet.

Bruce was then bound like Gulliver and driven 140 miles to New York City on a route carefully plotted by a committee of local and city planners, under the watchful eye of a police escort.

At his final destination, the same cranes were used to fix Bruce into place by skewering his trunk onto a steel spike. A team of thirty giant-tree specialists attached guy wires to his midsection to hold him upright, then erected scaffolding to assist the workers who would later festoon him with 50,000 lights strung on more than five miles of electrical wire. Since 2007, the tree has been “green” (evergreen?), using LED lights and drawing part of its power from a 365-panel solar array installed on the roof.

The StarRockefeller center christmas tree lighting star

Bruce will have a fabulous, if hefty, headpiece. In 2004, the old fiberglass star decorated with gold leaf was replaced by the Swarovski Star, designed by German artist Michael Hammers. It weighs 550 pounds, is 9.5 feet in diameter and sports 25,000 crystals with a million facets. In 2009, Hammers decided to upgrade the star’s lighting system by adding 720 tiny white LEDs and 3,000 feet of wire to the star’s interior, which were then connected to 44 circuit boards.

That’s a lot of look.

History

Although the official Christmas tree tradition began in 1933, the year 30 Rockefeller Plaza opened, the practice began during its Depression-era construction, when workers decorated a twenty-foot-high balsam fir tree with “strings of cranberries, garlands of paper, and even a few tin cans” on Christmas Eve of 1931, according to Daniel Okrent’s Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center

rockefeller center christmas tree lighting history

In the above photo, construction workers receive their paychecks next to the Christmas tree they’d set up on the Rockefeller Center site. Pauzé estimates from the number of tree rings that Bruce is approximately 95 years old, so he was likely a sapling in 1931.

Visiting Hours

If you’d like to see Bruce get lit up like a, well, you know, make your way to Rockefeller Plaza between West 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues before 9 pm. Expect a lot of company, many security restrictions and possible rain.

But you won’t be allowed to bring umbrellas, backpacks or large bags, according to the New York City Police Department. The streets surrounding Rockefeller Center will be closed from 3 pm until after the ceremony.  Highly armed officers will patrol the area—only as a precaution, of course.

visual approximation of Bruce

Bruce will be lit until midnight tonight, then from 5:30 am until midnight daily; he is expected to receive up to 750,000 visitors per day. On January 7, 2017, his lights will be doused forever at 8 pm and the process of removing him from his final perch will begin.

His remains will be donated to Habitats for Humanity. Those who benefit will never know how famous their house’s sturdy timber once was. I’d like to think that’s how Bruce would have wanted it.

Happy holidays!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 29 is Square Dance Day

Today is Square Dance Day. Some of us remember awkward co-ed square dance lessons in the high school gym. Or maybe we watched a group do-si-do on a parade float down Main Street. How can we keep the memory alive of an American folk dance and its European roots? We’re glad you asked.

Square Dance Day
In 17th-century England, teams of six–all men, for propriety’s sake–began performing what was called the morris dance. The fad inspired a country dance in which couples lined up on village greens to practice weaving, circling and swinging moves reminiscent of modern-day square dancing.

French couples in the 18th century squared off for dances such as the cotillion and quadrille. Folk dances in Scotland, Scandinavia and Spain are also thought to have influenced square dancing.

Europeans brought these dances with them when they settled the North American colonies. French styles became popular after the American Revolutionary War when many newly-minted citizens disdained British traditions. Several square dancing terms have their origins in the French language, including “promenade,” “allemande” and “do-si-do”—a corruption of “dos-à-dos,” meaning “back-to-back.”

square dance day
A similar style called the “running set” caught on in 19th-century Appalachia. At first, participants memorized all the steps but soon the dances became so complicated that it became necessary to have someone call out cues.  This caller’s original function was to call out the steps in time to fiddle music, so dancers wouldn’t have to memorize them all.

As square dance calling became an art form in its own right, the best ones invented lines to say between cues such as “Don’t be bashful and don’t be afraid. Swing on the corner in a waltz promenade.” A caller might also come up with new dance steps and routines.

Waltzes and polkas, which allowed couples to get closer to each other without raising too many eyebrows, supplanted group-based dances by the late 19th century. As the jazz and swing eras dawned, square dancing came to seem even more outdated.

In the 1920s, automaker Henry Ford decided to revive the tradition as a form of exercise and, more important, as instruction in proper manners with the opposite sex. He paid for the development of a national program, opened ballrooms, made attendance mandatory for his factory workers, and produced instructive radio broadcasts for schools throughout the country.

Lloyd Shaw, a folk dance teacher in the 1930s, wrote books about the rescued art of square dancing and held seminars for a new generation of callers. In the 1950s, standards were developed for square dancing across the United States, allowing dancers to learn interchangeable routines and patterns.

Square Dance Day

Recordings made the square dance more accessible since a trained caller no longer had to be physically present. Anyone in the country could dance to Ernest Legg of West Virginia’s calling on 78:

Ladies do and the gents you know,
It’s right by right by wrong you go,
And you can’t go to heaven while you carry on so,
And it’s home little gal and do-si-do,
And it may be the last time, I don’t know,
And oh by gosh and oh by Joe.

Square dancing continues to thrive in some areas although its overall popularity has waned in recent decades, according to the United Square Dancers of America. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennesse and Virginia have all seen fit to make the square dance their ‘folk dance’ State Symbol.

Want to know more? Let Bugs Bunny call the tune:

Happy Square Dance Day!

Sources:
History.com – Square Dancing: A Swinging History
Appalachian History –  And it’s home little gal and do-si-do

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

Make Your Own Head Day

Today is Make Your Own Head Day. Grab anything: clay, a bar of soap, a roll of tinfoil, dryer lint, mashed potatoes, peanut butter—even ice cream, if you plan to work fast. If you’d rather put pens, paints, pencils or crayons to paper or canvas, that’s fine. too. The medium is up to you.

The object of this holiday is to have fun while exercising your creativity. How does Make Your Own Head Day fire your imagination?

While we’ve been unable to determine the origin of this holiday, we’re fairly sure it was dreamed up by a teacher. Make Your Own Head Day is popular in elementary school art classes, but it’s a great day for adults, too. We look at our faces every day in the mirror. What do we see? How will we translate it: is it realistic, trippy, round, flat, square? There’s no wrong answer. What could be better than that?

Fun fact: The weight of the average adult human head is about eight pounds. This butter sculpture carved of Minnesotan Dairy Princess Betty Holdvogt weighs fifty pounds and had been sitting in a freezer for four years before she hauled it across the country to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2007.
Make Your Own Head Day
Here are a few guidelines from Instructables to help you get the proportions right when sculpting your head:

1. The eyes are in the middle of the head. For real, the forehead and hair are the full top half. Fold a face in half and the eyes are right there on the crease.
2. If you fold that same face in quarters, the fold above the eyes is the hair line and the fold below is the bottom of the nose.
3. So now that you’re all into folding faces, fold it into thirds lengthwise. The eyes are in the middle of the two lines. The mouth stretches the middle third.
4. If you have two eyes (which most of us do), an imaginary third eye of the same size should fit between them.
5. Ears line up with the middle of the eye and the bottom of the nose.
6. In profile, the brow and chin line up, and the ears are in the middle of the head.

Or create your face in fondant using these handy directions:

What are you waiting for? Make your own head and share the results! We’d love to see what you’ve created! Have a happy and fun Make Your Own Head Day!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

November 27 is Pins and Needles Day

Pins and Needles DayToday is Pins and Needles Day but it has nothing to do with anxiety, diabetic neuropathy or the creepy sensation you get after sleeping all night on your arm. On November 27, 1937, musical revue Pins and Needles opened on Broadway in New York City.

Comprised of skits lampooning fascist dictators and their sympathizers, bigoted Daughters of the American Revolution, anti-labor groups and advertising agencies among many others, the play was performed by members of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which was on strike at the time.

It became such a hit that the schedule was expanded and the players quit their day jobs to act in it full-time. New skits and songs were added periodically to keep the show topical. It closed on June 22, 1940, after 1,108 performances.

A revival ran for 225 shows in 1978. London’s Cock Tavern Theater mounted a production in November and December of 2010. In 2016, New York University staged an updated Pins and Needles, casting students who would’ve been roughly the same age as the original performers had been.

This play, which first entertained audiences in 1937, has reappeared many times, perhaps to remind us of the enduring spirit of satire and its important role in society. Have a fun-filled and happy Pins and Needles Day!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays