Weird and Wonderful: Santa on the Beach

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Even Santa needs a holiday! Actually, he probably needs a holiday more than most – his Christmas Eve duties must be exhausting. Here he is, relaxing on a Florida beach with several reindeer (below) and some surprised locals (above).

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When Santa Visited Christmas

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Last year, we visited the Florida settlement of Christmas (apparently home to the world’s largest concrete alligator too, but that’s by the by) and saw some rather lovely photos of their Christmas post office at its busiest time of the year.

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Bringing in the Mistletoe (1959)

Boys from Trawsfynydd collecting holly and mistletoe to sell (December 1959)

I’ve been seeing a lot of Christmas decorations going up this last week or so (although someone on my street has actually had their tree up since Halloween!). I’m still catching up a bit, I’ve only just dragged my tree out of the cupboard where it lives for the rest of the year – although I have bought some cute new ornaments already and have been wondering where I might get some sprigs of holly to add to the festive wreath I hang on my front door.

These cheerful young lads might have helped me in that last respect. They’re from the Welsh village of Trawsfynydd, and they have been preparing for Christmas in traditional fashion by gathering festive greenery from the local area.

Photographer Geoff Charles has caught these 1950s schoolboys on their way to the market to sell their carefully gathered bundles of holly and mistletoe; green winter treasures that are destined to decorate the houses and cottages of the village for Christmas – and earn these young entrepreneurs a bit of pocket money towards festive expenses too…

The lads in this charming 1959 photograph from the National Library of Wales collection would have had an amazing natural environment to grow up in, and Christmas traditions connected to the landscape like gathering seasonal greenery for the home or for sale would likely have been a longstanding custom repeated by successive generations of kids and adults.

Bringing in the mistletoe and taking it to market was a tradition rich in symbolism elsewhere too, which you can see in these 18th and 19th-century images of mistletoe sellers from France and Switzerland. It is pleasing to report that mistletoe markets remain part of the Christmas season in numerous places to this day.

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Post Early For Christmas… Again!

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‘Christmas Mail’ (c. 1910-15)

In recent years, we’ve met the world’s most organised dog, a clumsy wartime comic and some of the people of Christmas, Florida (watch out for more from them soon!), who were all united in explaining how to get your cards, presents and letters to Santa in the post in plenty of time for the festivities.

I’ve been a bit rubbish with my Christmas post this year, but I loved these festive mail-related images. The black and white photographs are all American, probably taken in and around the Washington DC area, and the brightly coloured adverts (below) are from wartime Britain again.

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Creepy Vintage: Gas Mask Replica*

A group of children wearing gas masks, accompanied by nursing staff (December 1917)

I found these images whilst rummaging through a huge number of official and public domain archive photos taken during both World Wars, and they immediately stood out in a flash of weirdness. There is something very creepy about old black and white photos of people wearing gas masks, and these examples are distinctly odd…

The picture above was taken in 1917 and shows a group of (probably) Dutch children during a gas mask drill. This is easily the creepiest of the photos I found, mainly because there’s something so alien about these kids in their protective gear.

Below, you’ll see a 1942 shot of a group of ATS women in the Middle East wearing their gas masks and respirators, posed and staring almost dead-eyed at the camera. I don’t know if it’s just me, but they look like they’re about to gatecrash a very tense scene in a vintage episode of Dr Who (or some other very British sci-fi show) and send me scuttling behind the sofa…

Women soldiers with gas masks - World War Two

*Apologies for the mangled Captain Beefheart reference in the title!

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Vintage Advertising: Halloween Monster Ghost (1973)

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Do you know someone who needs a seasonal scare? Want to terrify your friends and family? In that case, these may be the products for you. And at $1.75 for the two, they’re a bargain worth screaming, groaning and moaning about…

Make Halloween a night your friends, neighbors (and enemies) will never forget. Use the ghost and the record together for parties, psychedelic, & supernatural effects and horrifying Halloween stunts.

This ad is from the September 1973 issue of Co-Ed Magazine, which suggests that the target market was students – and this would further explain a lot (I was a student once…). I am, however, curious to know how they figured out what creatures from outer space sound like since even Hollywood b-movies, those truthful documentaries of multiple alien invasions, can’t agree on that!

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Vintage Magpies!

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I found some vintage magpies!

These beaky little balls of annoyed monochrome fluff could very well be the 1930s ancestors of our very own Toon Magpies – they may not look much like the sleek black and white adult birds we are used to seeing, but the resemblance is certainly there!

I have to say that I love this picture. If there was a magpie equivalent to the school photo, it would be this. Annoyed, uncomfortable, almost defiantly unfashionable, and with really bad hair (the chick on the left is certainly rockin’ a seriously punk-style hairdo, forty years too early); this is the kind of image your mum would proudly display at home and which would embarrass you in front of your mates in your teens.

Just imagine being a teenage magpie…

Vintage Cricket: The 1900 Olympic Games

Poster advertising the Olympic cricket match between France and England (1900)
Poster advertising the Olympic cricket match between France and Great Britain

This is a poster advertising the only game of Olympic cricket that has ever been played. It happened over two days between France and Great Britain (referred to in this contemporary advert as England) at the 1900 Games in Paris.

It was a slightly odd match in the context of an Olympics which was a bit of a bizarre event in its own right. Held over five months as part of the World’s Fair, the Games almost seemed like an afterthought. So little effort had been put into promoting them that many of the athletes involved genuinely didn’t know they’d competed in them!

The cricket competition was one such. It was also somewhat ramshackle in other ways. For a start, despite being an Olympic match, it was not considered to be an official first class international since both teams fielded twelve players each instead of the regulation eleven, and it only lasted two days.

Then there was the fact that the two sides were not France and Great Britain as we would know them in the modern era – Great Britain were represented by a public school-dominated touring club from the West Country, and the French team were mostly British expats living in Paris.

Whatever happened over those two days, it was always going to be a British victory on French soil it seems…

And it was – Great Britain, who are still technically Olympic champions 119 years later, won by 158 runs with a mere five minutes to spare. Mostly ignored by both the French and British national media, this was in many ways an anonymous triumph.

Four years later, the Olympic cricket competition at the Games in St Louis was cancelled at short notice due to a lack of competitors and facilities. It has never been an Olympic sport since.

Vintage Cartoon Scares: ‘Felix The Ghostbreaker’ (1923)

Today’s spooky/silly cartoon features one of the most popular (and still recognisable) animated characters of the silent film era – Felix the Cat. First introduced to the big screen in the immediate aftermath of World War One, and possibly based on an earlier animated version of Charlie Chaplin, this cheeky and slightly surreal black and white cat was an immediate success with critics and the cinema-going public alike.

In this 1923 short, Felix encounters a ghost who is up to no good. Following the spook, he sees it scare an unsuspecting householder and the man’s livestock. The householder calls out the reserves to rescue his property from the ghost, but that doesn’t work – so Felix offers to try to lure the ghost away with a bottle of rum! Once the phantom is off the property, Felix pulls a gun on it and, in a reveal worthy of Scooby Doo, we discover it is really a human rival of the householder who is trying to scare him into selling his home…

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