Santa Con

Christmas is comprised of many things. Families setting aside their busy schedules and sitting down. A sweating ham resting on a platter sitting on the table top. Wrapped gifts. And, of course, the bringer of those gifts, Santa Claus. However, for some people, Santa Claus doesn’t only make an appearance when the days become short and the temperature drops. He also has his very own convention to call home.

SantaCon was founded in the mid-90s by a group of San Francisco street performers as a way to celebrate the season in a uniquely off-beat manner. The first SantaCon consisted of guerilla street theatre performances, pranks, and capped off with a surreal parade of Santas in various states of dress and physical fitness.

That first meeting spread rapidly. The novelty of seeing a multitude of Santas cavorting around town was reinforced by the fun of a carnival-esque atmosphere and the extensive coverage given to early SantaCons, the novelist Chuck Palahniuk writing about the experience in several instance, spread awareness about the convention.

Today the standard SantaCon involves a large number of people dressed as Santa Claus, although a certain naughtiness in alteration of aid costume is encouraged. A good deal of alcohol is also involved in the day’s event with the convention attendees generally basing their operations at several bars. Calling the event a convention is misleading since that can imply a dreary tradeshow floor with bad fluorescent lighting. Most of SantaCon takes place in the bars and in the streets.

Performances of Christmas carols, often sauced up with colorful language, is added to the giving of gifts to strangers by attendees. A good approximation is that SantaCon is simply a St. Patrick’s Day parade for the holidays.

Yet, SantaCon isn’t just about drinking and pulling pranks. Organizers claim that the event is a rejection of the droll and commercialized Christmas season and an embrace of the merrier and absurd side of the holiday, giving people a chance to unwind rather than stress over gifts and dinners.

Vampires

The idea of vampires is one of the most popular genres to date when it comes to the media. While the term ‘vampire’ started in the early 18th century, the description of these creatures existed long before the word itself. Those resembling what we would call vampires could be found in history dating as far back as prehistoric. Cultures such as Ancient Greek, Roman, African, Asian and Mesopotamian had tales of their about entities and spirits that drained the blood of living beings.

In those times these beings were among many stories often told to scare people and were revered as legends of old. Nowadays, a person can find books, movies, television series and comics that usually glamorize the myth that is vampires.

There are varying interpretations about these vampires even to this day. In some stories they cannot go out in the sun for fear that they will burn alive while in others they can. Holy relics can be used to ward them off in some; Others can be fought off with the use of garlic. Each and every interpretation will vary which often leads to heavy debates and discussion as to what really is a vampire.

For most however the definitive definition of the vampire is based on the novel by Bram Stoker entitled “Dracula” that he had written in 1897. This book alone introduced the world to the most infamous, most iconic vampire known to history, Count Dracula. The Count has been featured in over 200 films alone, along with countless novels and short stories.

Even now a person cannot go into a book or video store without seeing an entire section dedicated to these mythical beings. “The Vampire Chronicles” written by Anne Rice remains as large staple in vampire lore like that of “Dracula”. And today the idea of the vampire has been over-romanticized in teen and young adult fiction, with the most well-known example being “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer. But there are still horror stories that continue with the fear-inducing ideas that frighten people.

Whether or not vampires actually exist is still a debate that goes on even now. But whether they are fiction or not, one fact remains: the idea of vampires will be forever immortalized by humans without the requirement of feeding on the blood of another living being. As long as we continue to read those books, watch those movies, dress in their fashion and bare our fake fangs, the legend will continue to live on for always.

Goths

While often bullied and ridiculed in high school, Goths actually represent a very vibrant subculture that has its root in the late 70s, early 80s punk rock scene. In fact, Goths have outlived many other subcultures that sprang from the same source and continue to endure today. Furthermore, Goth influences have filtered down into mainstream culture and influenced a wide array of artists, musicians and directors.

However, what started the Goths and where do their roots begin? The early 80s, in both the UK and the US, was a time of experimentation in music. The initial wave of punk rock had altered the music scene and a second wave of musicians, all with differing aesthetics and styles, broke onto the scene, adding further diversity. This brought about bands like The Cure and Bauhaus, early contributors to the Goth scene.

The music tended to be partly heavy and industrial but with an emphasis on darkness and emotions. Nevertheless, while music influenced the Goths, their scene is much broader. Appearances and style are perhaps the hallmarks of the Goth subculture. Neoclassical and neo medieval Germanic iconography are important as well.

Dark clothing that stands in contrast to pale, light colored skin is often the first tenant of Goth style. However, as the movement has diversified, this has altered to embrace more and more differing appearances. Leather is big for Goths as is influences from BDSM culture. Metal buckles and studs along with straps, heavy boots and form fitting leather clothing are another major part of Goth design. Finally, outlandish hairstyles, typically long hair that is styled into thin strands or turned upwards, are prominent as are numerous piercings and eye makeup.

Nevertheless, Goths are more than just a subculture. If you look at the work of Tim Burton you can see a definite melding of Goth influences. Furthermore, Goth design has been instrumental to many sci-fi films with the development of dark, industrial looking spaceships and locations. Ridley Scott’s Alien has echoes of Goth design in the claustrophobic, dank, steam work setting.

Goths continue to endure until this day because the culture has such a robust following. Goths are particularly popular in Germany where large international festivals are held yearly for Goths to get together and celebrate their lifestyle.

Zombies

The dead have been frequently walking the Earth lately. No, it isn’t a sign of the end times but it is a sign that a whole culture is being constructed around these shambling corpses. Nevertheless, why do people opt to dress up in pancake makeup and fake blood and simulate the movements of the walking dead?

There isn’t a clear answer to why other than it is a trend that is becoming more and more pronounced in popular culture. For those who don’t know, zombies are walking dead people. The typical zombie costume, or appearance if you are unlucky enough to encounter a real life one, can vary greatly. The most common grab for a zombie is any article of clothing a person may wear. This means, t-shirts and jeans, business suits, dresses, all of it is apropos.

However, the real zombie costume isn’t just clothing. A lot of makeup is required to simulate the complexion and appearance of a walking dead body. Makeup that gives the skin a lifeless tone, fake blood for injury and bite marks and, if you’re feeling really ambitious, prosthetics that mimic the appearance of broken or torn off limbs.

Most zombies will crop up around Halloween. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the intense makeup can easily run in hot conditions so cool autumn weather is ideal. Secondly, Halloween is a time for zombies due to the focus on horror movies. Zombies, after all, have shambled off the silver screen and right into the hearts, or brains, of audiences. Typically zombies appear the same time mummies, vampires and ghosts appear because they all fall under the same genre umbrella.

Now, the question needs to be addressed about zombies being real. The term zombie comes from voodoo magic and it focused more on turning a living person into a mindless, still breathing, servant rather than animating a dead corpse to walk around and terrorize people. Hollywood adapted the term for its own use, giving us the modern day cinematic zombie.

However, as zombies have increased in popularity, classes, courses and literature about zombies and how to combat zombies have cropped up. Often seen as harmless fun, some people can get a little overzealous about this hobby, even going to the point of carrying zombie hunting weapons around with them. It’s all fun until someone loses an eye.

Horror Movies: Then and Now

Why do we seek out things that scare us? Since the beginning of the film era we have gravitated toward movies with monsters and villains that make our blood run cold and keep us up at night. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush; or maybe it’s to prove to ourselves we are brave enough to handle the terrifying creatures our collective imaginations have cooked up. Whatever the reason, the genre seems to have evolved with us through the decades.

Film makers began producing horror movies when the movie business was still in its infancy. Early horror saw the rise of the golden age of monster movies, such as classic characters like Dracula (1931), a vampire Count who drank the blood of his victims, and the monster that Dr. Frankenstein created (1931), who was the reanimated remains of many men stitched together. The Mummy (1932) is another tale of the dead coming back to torment the living, after archeologists dig up the cursed tomb of an ancient pharaoh. Other popular films from that era included King Kong (1933), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), and The Wolf Man (1941).

The horror films made during the 1950’s reflected the fears of invasion felt by many during that time. The rise of the nuclear age also provided inspiration for many mutant-monsters. A giant lizard type creature storms through downtown Tokyo in the classic Godzilla (1954). Even creatures that wouldn’t normally be scary become terrifying once a mad scientist enters the picture, like in The Fly (1958)

Social revolution during the 1960’s led to the production of more edgy films, often featuring increasingly controversial levels of violence. Legendary horror movies from the mind of Alfred Hitchcock, who gave us Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963), were popular with not only then but even now. Zombie movies also came into their own during this time, with the cult classic Night of the Living Dead (1968).

The 1970’s pushed the envelope even further, upping the shock factor, and breaching previously taboo subject matter with films like The Exorcist (1973) about demonic possession. Increasingly sophisticated special effects also made their way into horror films of this period, making movies like Jaws (1975) possible, and with it a whole generation of swimmers who would never look at the ocean quite the same way again.

Slasher movies became very popular in the early 1980’s, with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) sending its serial killer villain Freddy Krueger into the dreams of many terrified viewers. Even toys got into the slasher action; Chucky from Child’s Play (1988) made even dolls something to be afraid of. Despite some hits later in the decade, like Hellraiser (1987) which spawned numerous sequels, 80’s horror movies did less well at the box office than in prior years.

Suspenseful thrillers like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) were a big hit during the 1990’s, although not many truly innovative horror flicks were released during this decade. Many of the horror movies released were remakes of past hits. One original however was the very successful Scream (1996), which was a runaway success that spawned not only sequels but a spate of copycats and parodies.

Most recently violence even more graphic than in previous decades has been popular. Better special effects made possible by advances in CGI make torture flicks like Saw (2004), Final Destination (2000), and Hostel (2005) incredibly gory. Another recent trend is movies featuring multiple villains, as in Freddy vs. Jason (2003). Villains from different movies sharing the screen together have become common as filmmakers look to capitalize on well-known characters from past hits.

The question of where the horror genre is heading is almost impossible to answer. Movies have evolved with our culture throughout the years, reflecting whatever scares us most at the time. That trend shows no signs of stopping now. The only limit to how terrifying these stories will be is our imagination. Now that’s a scary thought.

Celebrating Columbus Day

For citizens of America, Columbus Day could be considered one of the first official holidays meant for people of the New World. Celebrating the historic voyage of Italian navigator and explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, whereby contact was established between Europe and the Americas, Columbus Day has grown over the past few centuries from a sparsely celebrated, unofficial holiday to a recognized commendation of this historic travel across the Atlantic.

For the United States, Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937, celebrated each year in October on the second Monday of the month. However, not all U.S. states celebrate this holiday. Hawaii and South Dakota both abstain from commemorating Columbus’s voyage, instead commemorating the indigenous people’s that his voyage invariably displaced.

Columbus Day has attracted a great deal of heat in the past several decades because it celebrates a controversial event, the colonization of the Americas by European settlers. While a great many people living in the Americas wouldn’t be doing so if their ancestors hadn’t relocated, it is true that horrific abuses were conducted against the indigenous peoples of America by European settlers.

However, the colonization of the Americas, despite the blatant cruelty heaped upon those who had already called these twin continents home, is still a cause to celebrate. It isn’t so much a reason to celebrate conquest or the subjugation of unsettled expanses. Columbus Day is a commemoration of the human spirit in the face of the adversity of crossing the Atlantic.

These sailors set off into the unknown, expecting to circumnavigate the globe and reach Asia. Instead, these unwitting explorers uncovered a whole new landmass, unknown to the people of Europe. Their determination to set off towards an unknown horizon is what makes Columbus Day a holiday worth celebrating. The challenge is for people today to reconcile this great human accomplishment in the face of a very regrettable aftermath. Observers of Columbus Day must mourn for those lost voices while still taking pride in the ingenuity of a few sailors aboard the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Cinco de Mayo

Do You Know What it Really Means?

We all know about Cinco de Mayo, right? That’s the holiday where we all sip margaritas and eat Mexican food in honor of Mexico winning their independence! What? It’s not Mexican Independence Day? That’s right, Cinco de Mayo or the 5th of May, while being a fine day to recognize the heritage of our southern neighbors, is not the day that Mexico celebrates its freedom. Mexico actually won its independence from Spain in 1821, and celebrates Independence Day on the 16th of September. Cinco de Mayo is actually the day in 1862 that the Mexican army won a great victory over the French and ultimately defeated them. Still, a fine reason for celebration.

So, what can one expect to see and do on Cinco de Mayo? If you live in a city near the border, or one with a large Mexican-American population, chances are there are plenty of celebrations and heritage festivals going on. Expect to see Mexican folk dances performed by ladies in colorful and flowing dresses, and men in traditional suits with silver buttons and embroidery. You’ll also likely see and hear Mariachi groups – men who walk and sing traditional songs of Mexico while playing string instruments and maybe a trumpet or two.

Even if you aren’t in a town or city with a large Mexican population, you can celebrate by dressing up and making some of the food that you would find at a Cinco de Mayo fiesta. Hold off on the standard tacos though, and instead go for seasoned and grilled chicken (pollo), thin cut steak (carne asada), or other more traditional foods. Of course rice and beans go with it all.

As for what to wear to the festivities – a sombrero, the traditional wide-brimmed hat, is a great place to start. Add to that, any bright cotton shirt or costume piece that incorporates the vibrant colors of the native culture. Silver accents and long, flowing and colorful dresses are always appropriate. Check out these great costumes and accessories and use your imagination.

Want to be able to talk about the actual meaning of Cinco de Mayo with other festival goers? Remember we said that it was a victory over the French in 1862 that is actually commemorated. But the whole story is that it was a far larger invading force that the Mexican army faced. Outnumbered by more than 2 to 1, the Mexicans had one thing on their side – an extremely well-trained cavalry. The Mexican cavalry outmaneuvered and outfought the French infantry and inflicted heavy damage. The Mexican defenders, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza, struck down six French invaders for every one of theirs lost. Although the battle lasted only a day, the French retreated and were never able to regain the strength to engage the Mexican army again.

So, in honor of the bravery of Mexican soldiers defending their homeland from invading forces, let’s all celebrate Cinco de Mayo in whatever way we have. If you’re feeling festive and want to show your spirit, put on a costume and join in the dancing. If you just want to watch the fiesta and enjoy the amazing food, then do that. Or grab a margarita and kick your celebration up a notch. However you choose to celebrate on Cinco de Mayo – just don’t wish anyone a happy Independence Day!

Symbols of Easter

Easter is laced with baskets of candy, peeping chicks, and new beginnings. Millions of children wake in anticipation – much like they do on Christmas – anxious to find what goodies they’ll find. Some credit the Easter Bunny, others thank mom and dad.

But the holiday itself is about much more than hunting for eggs and buying new dresses. It’s full of rich symbols that date back to ancient traditions and beliefs. Not only is it an important Christian holiday, but its history bears whispers of pagan connotations, too.

The name of the holiday comes from Eastre (sometimes spelled Eostre), the pagan goddess of spring. The story goes that Eastre’s festival was held about the same time as the anniversary of the resurrection, so missionaries simply substituted one holiday for another.  This can be seen in the origins of several of the holiday’s symbols.

Easter eggs and little chicks both symbolize new life.  The meaning of the egg goes back to ancient times, where it was associated with the spring. Aside from being a mini incubator, its oval shape makes it look like a life-giving raindrop or a seed.

Rabbits and hares have been symbols of fertility for eons. Fertility and birth go hand in hand, so it’s easy to see the parallel to the resurrection. The idea of the Easter Bunny originated in Germany, where people told tales of an Easter Hare who laid eggs that stayed hidden until children found them.

When Germans started immigrating to America, the tradition came with them. Hot cross buns are an old Easter tradition dating back to a monk in England that made them each year for the poor. The buns have a symbolic frosting cross on the top.

All of these symbols reinforce the magic and beauty of spring. It’s a holiday that reminds us of the miracle of new beginnings, and the possibility of change. And that’s something everyone can believe in and hope for.

Sit on a Classic

When it comes to practical jokes there is but one device known to make a man fall to his knees with laughter. The Whoopee cushion has been using flatulence humor to make people laugh since 1930. What we know as the Whoopee cushion today was invented by employees of the JEM Rubber company, located in Canada.

The legend of the Whoopee cushion is that JEM Rubber employees were experimenting with leftover sheets of rubber. By gluing 2 sheets of rubber together and leaving an opening, the employees were able to create the perfect fart-making cushion. With the Whoopee cushion made, JEM sales reps made pitches to various novelty toy companies. One such company, Johnson Smith & Co, found the toy comical not vulgar, and as a result, their sales skyrocketed when they began manufacturing the Whoopee cushion.

As these things usually go, many companies who initially didn’t jump on the Whoopee bandwagon were shocked by the success of the Whoopee cushion. In fact, a Mr Samuel Adams of S.S. Adams Co. bought the rights to his own cushion, named the Razzberry Cushion. Despite the name change, nothing has been able to compare to the success of the original Whoopee cushion.

The Joke of the Whoopee

The Whoopee cushion works by using the element of surprise. The cushion is placed on a seat, preferably hidden by a blanket or other soft object, and the laughter begins when the butt of the joke (no pun intended) sits down to make the entire room think he or she ‘let one rip’.

One Sound, Many Versions

The world has experienced many technological advances since the Whoopee cushion was invented in 1930, and some of that technology has come to the Whoopee cushion.

For the prankster who likes to watch jokes unfold in hiding, there is now the self-inflating whoopee cushion. This self-inflating cushion allows jokesters to prank multiple people without resetting the cushion. Pranksters who love gadgets prefer the remote-controlled Whoopee cushions that allow the cushion to be ‘activated’ from a distance of 100 feet!

Whoopee cushions now produce louder flatulent sounds, with some giving operators the choice of 15 different fart noises. With the addition of batteries, Whoopee cushions have become even more embarrassing for unsuspecting friends.

Whoopee cushion traditionalists shun the electronic versions, but recently found something to celebrate with the invention of The Big Ripper. The Big Ripper is twelve inches in diameter, and has the distinction of being the largest Whoopee cushion in the world!

The humor of farts is difficult to understand for most of us, yet we all laugh hysterically whenever we hear the pffffffft of a Whoopee cushion being sat upon. Such a simple toy with an all too familiar sound has been labeled a classic, and will continue to sprout laughter from any unsuspecting victim and prankster for many more years to come.

Prank in the Name of Love

April Fool’s Day is centered on playfulness and practical jokes, and is celebrated around the world. In anticipation of April 1st, pranksters the world over prepare outrageous costumes and elaborate jokes to mark the occasion. Although most of the world celebrates the holiday, very few know much about the birth of All Fool’s Day.

Much confusion exists surrounding the birth of this holiday. Some credit Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in 1392 with the birth of April Fool’s Day, but that explanation is least likely for a variety of historical reasons; many of the tales of the birth of April Fool’s Day, are themselves April Fool’s pranks!

Others believe the day was born by the refusal of traditionalists to accept the new Gregorian Calendar. This calendar begins the new year on January 1st instead of April 1st, the start of the new year under the Julian Calendar. Those who refused sometimes were referred to as, “fools” and often were the butt of many jokes.

The confusion about how this day came to be doesn’t stop people all over the world from playing pranks and fooling friends and family. Because April Fool’s is all about jokes, pranks and general tomfoolery, you shouldn’t be surprised to see the most eager revelers dressed as court jesters.

Although costumes aren’t always part of this playful holiday, the most enthusiastic pranksters will dress foolishly. Whether it’s dressing as their favorite “fool” in history or donning a costume as the prank itself, fools of April go to great lengths for laughs on this day. Because they add an extra dose of fun, all pranksters know that a great prank requires commitment, and what says “I’m totally committed to this joke” than the perfect April Fool’s costume?

Out of ideas for pranks? A common joke is to send an unsuspecting subject on a wild goose chase for an obscure item. Other pranks include sending mislabeled invitations to friends, making grand announcements that are untrue (I’m marrying the King of England!), or old school favorites like whoopee cushions.

The point is to have fun and play jokes on those closest to you. Whether this funny day got its start because of a new calendar or Chaucer, it’s a great excuse to prank just about anyone!