Wait....what is this? An Oddities post? Where did this come from?

Hi kids! It’s me, Mario! Otter! And I have a post for you. Why? Why not? Actually, truth be told, I have a bit of free time today, so I figured, why not. I haven’t tortured you all with an oddities post for a while, so you were about due. Don’t go expecting me to do this every day, though. I’m still enjoying the free time I gained from not doing these. I won’t commit to doing any more of them after this one, but you never know. I mean, I still have lot’s of weird crap to inflict on people inform people about. But I don’t want to commit to something and then not follow through. So, you get this post. Maybe some more. (actually, I guarantee you’ll get another version of “T’was The Night Before Christmas”. It’s like, a tradition...)

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I want you all to do something for me. I want you to clear your minds. Relax. Think about nothing. And then, say to yourself, ‘Mangelwurzel’.

Mango-what-o?

Mangelwurzel. It’s a German word that means ‘disgusting food you should never eat’. It’s a root vegetable. Like a carrot, except icky. It’s actually a member of the beet family. I know what you’re thinking. You’re all like, “If Otter doesn’t like it, that means nothing! He’s about as picky an eater as they come!”. And, normally you’d be right. (unless we’re talking about ketchup. If you like ketchup, you’re wrong. No discussions!).

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But in this case, I think you’ll all agree with me. Because, while it’s a member of the beet family, that doesn’t mean it tastes good. For example, frogs legs taste good. Frog’s heads do not. But in the case of the mangelwurzel, it is a large root that was developed to be fodder for livestock. Not even the serfs who were starving would eat them. They prefered boiled grass to the mangelwurzel. So Otter feels fairly comfortable in calling the mangelwurzel icky.

Anyway, what’s so odd about fodder for livestock? Well, you just wait. I’ll get around to it.

Eventually.

Not to change the subject, but it’s October! And that means, Halloween! Or, for you pedantic folks who feel special days should be named for what they actually are, Moochers Day!

Anyone who has read Whitenoise for a while knows how I feel about Halloween. I refuse to give out my precious candy. Most of the time, I arrange to not be home. But if I do end up home, and some drooling little snot-factory comes to my door trying to mooch candy from me, they get something else. This year it’ll be Ramen. I might be a real jerk and steal the flavor packets out of the packages first, though.

But what is it about Halloween that gets kids excited? Is it the prospect of free candy? Is it dressing up? Is it the older kids scaring them? Or, is it Will.

Oh, come now. You all know Will. Will o’the Wisp? I’m sure most of you know what Will o’the Wisp is, but let me remind you. Wisp is an older English word that means a bundle of sticks used as a torch. Will is an old English word that is short for William. So, Will o’the Wisp is actually Will of the Torch. And what we call the Will o’the Wisp is the mysterious lights we see in marshy areas.

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Nowadays people don’t see the Will o’the Wisp too often. Perhaps it has to do with the fact we don’t walk at night through marshy areas anymore. But years ago, it was a newsworthy event. You see, the light was said to be carried by a little goblin who would try to lure people into the marsh to be eaten. So, when you saw it, you told everyone you saw so they could avoid being eaten. It was the neighborly thing to do.

But Will o’the Wisp isn’t it’s only name. It also goes by ‘Hinkeypunk’, ‘Friars Lantern’, ‘Foolish Fire’ and, most famously, ‘Jack o’Lantern’.

“But wait”, you say! “A Jack o’Lantern is just a silly carved pumpkin, not some spectral goblin who want’s to eat you!” And that’s exactly what they want you to believe. And the reason for that is......well, honestly....because it’s true. Mostly.

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Gourds, like pumpkins, were first cultivated by humans about 10,000 years ago. But not for food. The were grown because they were carvable. Early civilizations carved gourds into heads to ward off spirits, or to bring luck, or because they were bored. For whatever reason, gourds were art.

As far back as 700 years, we know the Maori were carving gourds to use as lanterns. In fact, the Maori word for gourd is the same as the word for lampshade. And if the Maori were doing it 700 years ago, then other cultures were almost assuredly doing it as well. Probably farther back than 700 years, too.

This brings us to Samhain. Not the band led by Danzig.....but rather the celebration. Samhain is a harvest festival celebrated by the Gaelic peoples of England and Ireland. And, one of the things people would do was to carve gourds into Jack o’Lanterns to ward off the evil goblins so people could celebrate without being eaten.

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There’s only one problem. Gourds, like pumpkins, didn’t grow in England and Ireland.

But Mangelwurzel did. And so did beets and turnips. So, guess what the Gaelic people carved? WHile they would use any of the three, the mangelwurzel was the favorite as it was the largest of the three.

As time slowly progressed, Samhain was seen as a pagan festival. And like they always did, Christians usurped pagan holidays and changed them. In this case, they merged All Saints Day and All Souls Day with Samhain and created our modern Halloween. They kept some of the traditions of Samhain, like the carving of the Jack o’Lantern and Guisers, though.

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What are Guisers? Well, they were children who would dress in a disguise and go from door to door performing a small ‘trick’ for the people of the house. As a reward, they got money or fruits/nuts for the feast at the end of Samhain. The trick would not be a prank, rather a song, or a poem or a joke the child had memorised before going out. The treat was a reward for the trick.

Like everything else, America got it’s grubby paws on it and decided to corrupt it. We started the tradition of saying ‘Trick or Treat’ at the door, and it’s come to mean, ‘Give me candy or I’ll egg your house!’.

As for the mangelwurzel, we’re smart enough here in America to not grow them. Why would we? We had tobacco to plant! Plus, we had this native gourd called a pumpkin that was way more carvable than some silly turnip or beet. So we used them, instead.

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People the world over have felt the corruption America laid upon Halloween. Most kids, regardless of their country, now say ‘Trick or Treat’ when going door to door. And while turnips, beets and mangelwurzels are still carved, pumpkins are by far the more popular choice.

As for this oddity? I just wanted to use the word ‘mangelwurzel’ in a post.

I don’t know.......does this qualify as a oddity? I’m going to say yes, because I’m biased. Anyway, don’t expect more, but if I do write more, then, well...you’ll get them. But don’t expect them. Except for the Christmas Eve one. That one’s happening.