Wednesday, January 23, 2013


   There is a thawed turkey reposing in my refrigerator, and in most department stores the Christmas tree has already become a blinking presence. That’s right: Thanksgiving is tomorrow!
   2011 has been all about doing “whatever” on a budget, unless, of course, you are part of the infamous 1 percent, in which case you might have spent 2011 throwing a lavish reality TV wedding. For most of us though, money matters, especially around the holidays. The jam-packed infographic below gives some tips for preparing for and celebrating Thanksgiving on a budget.
   I don’t think I’ve ever seen an infographic this long, or this thorough. A rundown of the least expensive stores, shopping tips for cutting on cost, and random bits of Thanksgiving trivia are all covered in detail.

Feasting on a Budget Infographic


The History of Up Helly Aa

   Up Helly Aa is a relatively modern festival.  There is some evidence that people in rural Shetland celebrated the 24th day after Christmas as "Antonsmas" or "Up Helly Night", but there is no evidence that their cousins in Lerwick did the same.  The emergence of Yuletide and New Year's festivities in the town seems to post date the Napoleonic Wars, when soldiers and sailors came home with rowdy habits and a taste for firearms.

Early years
   On an old Christmas eve in 1824, a visiting Methodist missionary wrote in his diary that "the whole town was in an uproar, from 12 o'clock last night until late this night blowing of horns, beating of drums, tinkling of old tin kettles, firing of guns, shouting, bawling, fiddling, fifeing, drinking, and fighting.  This was the state of the town all the night...the street was as thronged with people as any fair I ever saw in England".
   As Lerwick grew in size the celebrations became more elaborate.  Sometime about 1840, the participants introduced burning tar barrels into the proceedings.

  "Sometimes", as one observer wrote, "there were two tubs fastened to a great raft-like frame knocked together at the Docks, whence the combustibles were generally obtained.  Two chains were fastened to the bogie supporting the capacious tub or tar-barrel...eked to these were two strong ropes on which a motley mob, wearing masks for the most part, fastened.  A party of about a dozen were told off to stir up the molten contents". 

   The main street of Lerwick in the mid 9th century was extremely narrow, and rival groups of tarbarrelers frequently clashed in the middle.  The proceedings were thus dangerous and dirty, and Lerwick's middle classes often complained about them.  The Town Council began to appoint special constables (police) every Christmas to control the revellers, with only limited success.  When the end came for tar-barrelling, in the early 1870's, it seems to have been because the young Lerwegians themselves had decided it was time for a change.

   Around 1870, a group of young men in the town with intellectual interests injected a series of new ideas into the proceedings.  First, they improvised the name Up Helly Aa, and gradually postponed the celebrations until the end of January.  Secondly, they introduced a far more elaborated element of disguise- "guizing"-into the new festival.
Thirdly, they inaugurated a torchlight procession.  At the same time they were toying with the idea of introducing Viking themes to their new festival.  The first signs of this new development appeared in 1877, but it was not until the late 1880's that a Viking long ship-the "galley"- appeared, and as late as 1906 that a "Guizer Jarl", the chief guizer, arrived on the scene.  It was not until after the World War I that there was a squad of Vikings, the "Guizer Jarl's Squad", in the procession every year.

   Up to World War II, Up Helly Aa was overwhelmingly a festival of young working class men...women have never taken part in the procession.  During the depression years the operations was run on a shoestring.  In the winter of 1931-32, there was an unsuccessful move to cancel the festival because of the dire economic situation in the town.  At the same time, the Up Helly Aa committee became a self-confident organization which poked fun at the pompous in the by then long established Up Helly Aa "bill"-sometimes driving their victims to fury.

   In the early days orders had to be conveyed by means of placards or proclamations at the Market Cross.  This meant that the Guizers had to go there to find out where and when the festival would take place it was not always held on the last Tuesday of January as is the case today.
   The first "Bill as we known it was produced in 1899, its primary purpose still being the conveyance of constructions.  However, it was soon to be elaborated on by the addition of local jokes, satire, etc. and the bill head, painted each year by a local artist chosen by the Jarl.  The painting usually depicts a scene from the Jarl's saga.

    The contents of the "Bill" are produced in secret by a committee, the lettering being hand painted on the board the day before and finally the Jarl gives his seal of approval by signing the "Bill" that same evening.
    At 6 in the morning of Up Helly Aa Day, the "Bill" is erected at the Market Cross for the public to read and is removed before the procession at night.

   There is a lot of anticipation as to who is going to be featured each year and in general everything is taken in good humor.
   Since 1949, when the festival resumed after the war, much has changed and much has remained the same.  That year the BBC recorded a major radio program on Up Helly Aa, and from that moment Up Helly Aa ....not noted for its split second timing before the war... became a model of efficient organization.  The numbers participating in the festival have become much greater, and the resources required correspondingly larger.

   Whereas in the 19th century, individuals kept an open house to welcome the guizers on Up Helly Aa night, men and women now cooperated to open large halls throughout the town to entertain them.  However, despite the changes, there are numerous threads connecting the Up Helly Aa of today with its predecessors 150 years ago.  The festival takes place the last Tuesday in January every year in Lerwik, Shetland.  Today the festival consists of a series of marches and visitations, culminating in a torch lit procession and Galley (a Viking ship) burning. Then there follows hours of performing acts in dancing halls, throughout the evening and early morning.  The following Wednesday is a public holiday so everyone can recover from the festivities.
    Up Helly Aa is a community event, with countless volunteers contributing many ours each winter towards organizing and planning the following year's festival.
  The Guizer Jarl (Leader of the squad) and his squad begin their preparations in February, and many long hours of hard work go into the design and productions of their outfits.

   The Up Helly Aa Committee begin their year preparing the Up Helly Aa Exhibition that runs from May until September in the Galley Shed.  This boasts a full size Galley, Jarl Squad suits, other Squads memorabilia and an extensive collection of photographs recording the suits worn and the guizers involved.
   In early September the Guizers of the remaining 45 squads begin their squad meetings and preparations.  This involves determining the character or characters that they wish to rotary with their suits, making the suits while also creating and practicing their act to perform in the halls they visit throughout the evening.
   At the end of September the Galley shed is transformed back into a working shed where the Galley and the torches are constructed during the winter.  During this same period the Committee checks the progress of the preparations including the Collecting Sheet and Bill.


   Christmas has already raced past, which means that you’ve probably already begun the obligatory handful of days with your extended family. You’ve ‘been there and done that’ so many times you could literally write the script of what’s going to happen each year – including the usual cast of characters who never fail to make a repeat performance of what they did last year.
   But in case Aunt Stephanie is running late and you’ve forgotten how she behaves with her gin – or in case your house is still a shambles from Uncle Jimmy’s rampage of yesterday, and you need reassurance that your weird family isn’t alone – here are the 10 people who are bound to make an appearance every year at every family’s Christmas party.

The Pouter


The pouter is usually a child under the age of 10, but occasionally it’s an emotionally stunted, spoiled adult. This person spends the entire evening impatiently waiting for present-opening time and complains about every event that precedes it. “Can’t we open presents before dinner?” he’ll beg. And when his request is denied he’ll slump in whatever chair is farthest away from the action and glare at his plate of food as if it were something not even a prisoner would eat.

   When it’s finally time to open presents, don’t make the mistake of thinking a gift is all that is needed to boost his mood, as invariably, whatever the ingrate gets will be a disappointment or not as expensive as what someone else received.

The Inebriator
Drunk Santa

   The Inebriator may sound like a really cool superhero, but he’s usually just an uncle who can’t survive any family function without the assistance of booze, and his antics should look very familiar since you undoubtedly just saw them at Thanksgiving dinner. If he doesn’t arrive tipsy, as soon as he steps through the door he’ll make a beeline to the garage, kitchen, or wherever your family happens to store the hard stuff. Before long he’ll be slurring his words, talking too close, and doling out uncomfortably tight hugs to anyone and everyone – including your prudish Great Aunt Marge.

Some have tried to eliminate the drunkenness by having a “dry” holiday, but a little family prohibition is no match for the determined inebriator – he always brings his own. Whether it’s in a flask or hiding in an innocuous gas station fountain soda cup, he’ll never tackle the holidays without some liquid comfort.

The Over-doer
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The over-doer is generally the housewife-type who takes every domestic chore to unnatural levels. She revels in Christmas, because it is the one time of year when all her obsessions – crafting, baking, and homemade gifts – are utilized simultaneously and with extreme fervor. Her gift wrapping always looks like something you’d see in a Macy’s window display, her presents are handcrafted, and she’d rather be caught dead than seen carrying around an ordinary tin of sugar cookies (her sweets always look like miniature versions of something else or are 3D).

   Guests will oooo and ahhhh over her offerings, and she’ll just smile dismissively and act as if they’re no big deal and took no time at all. However, if you happen to live with the over-doer, you know she pulled an all-nighter trying to get everything together and sent her husband to the store multiple times, at least once after midnight, to fetch something he thought she didn’t really need (e.g. striped ribbon for the reindeer’s neck because the plain ribbon she already had didn’t look quite right).

The Cheapskate

If your extended family has grown to the point where it’s no longer practical for everyone to buy everyone else a gift, you may have collectively made the decision to “draw names,” so people only have to buy one present (for the person whose name they picked). This approach can actually work out pretty well since you usually end up with one gift you actually like instead of 15 pieces of inexpensive junk. That is, of course, unless the cheapskate picks your name. 

   The cheapskate doesn’t see drawing names as an opportunity to give someone a thoughtful, personalized gift. Instead, he thinks, “Yeah, I only have to buy ONE gift!” Then he proceeds to the dollar store where he’ll end up buying you a paperweight, a hacky sack, or an extra-large root beer mug. You hate to be an ingrate like the pouter, but c’mon, why even bother?

The High-Strung
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The most high-strung person at the gathering is always the mother or hostess – and if she is covering both roles, expect her to be doubly high-strung. Essentially, she wants the evening to flow perfectly, which usually means recreating a scene she saw in a Hallmark Christmas movie. She’ll dictate where everyone sits at the table, who opens what present, and how to pose for photos. No one can eat, even if the food is already on the table and getting cold, until your undependable brother Rob shows up, and if Rob never appears (there’s an 87% chance he won’t) she’ll get weepy yet still come up with some type of excuse for him.

   If Rob does stop by, there’s still a 50% chance she’ll have a mental breakdown at some point, which leaves everyone white-knuckling their arm chairs and choosing their words very carefully when she’s in the room.

The Indifferent

   Teenagers and men usually take on the role of the indifferent. They could be at the party or not – they don’t care. What do they want for Christmas? Nothing. “Whatever” is their answer for every question, and you could tell them anything – the turkey’s burnt, Christmas is cancelled, their long-lost cousin Jeremy just arrived – and they’re still not getting their butts off the couch.

The Self-righteous
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   The self-righteous, which could be a whole family, want to tell everyone how they kept “Jesus in the season” this year. They proudly announce how they disapprove of the commercialization of Christmas, which is the reason why they’re giving gifts of service this year instead of store-bought presents (you’d better hope they didn’t pick your name).

   You feel bad for their kids because you know Santa isn’t going to visit their house, and despite how much indoctrination happens in a family, every kid wants a real present for Christmas.

The New Girlfriend/Boyfriend

No matter how many years pass, someone in the family is at the age where they want to bring the new boyfriend/girlfriend to the festivities. This is thoroughly exciting for the young couple as they’re obviously taking their relationship to the next level, but for everyone else it’s a pain in the butt, as it means someone has to monitor the inebriator the entire night to ensure he doesn’t fondle the new person, while everyone else has to be on their best behavior in an effort not to send the high-strung person (AKA mom) into a tirade that scares off the newbie.

   Not to mention, there’s always the question of whether or not to get this person a gift. Naturally, it’d be awkward if everyone else is opening presents and the girlfriend/boyfriend has nothing under the tree, but what do you give a person whom you know nothing about?

The Bitter

   Like the self-righteous, the bitter are fed-up with the commercialization of Christmas, but instead of fueling their energies toward good (whether sincere or not), they just hate the whole damn holiday. The bitter begin their complaining right after Halloween when they start seeing Christmas decorations for sale in the store. “I can’t believe it!” They grumble. “Christmas decorations already! Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?”

   If it weren’t for those living in their household, they swear they wouldn’t even have a tree, and they make sure all decorations come down promptly on Dec. 26th.

The I-Can’t-Wait-to-Get-Out-of-Here

   Deep down, the I-can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-here individual is much like the indifferent person (and wishes he could be the inebriator), only he’s polite enough to at least fake interest in the festivities. You’ll notice him casually pushing activities along trying to expedite the evening. For instance, while everyone else is still enjoying dinner conversation, he’ll say, “Sooo, let’s get this present thing started.” Or, once the presents are unwrapped and paper and bows are littering the floor, he’ll be the first to grab the trash bag and start picking up the gift-giving carnage. It may look like he’s being helpful, but he’s really trying to clean up the mess, so the party can come to an end. 

   He’s always the first to leave and gathers up his kids and newly acquired presents with haste, not really caring if he leaves either behind.