(h/t: Katrin Maldre)

Posted by Ellen

When the Cold War thawed, old Russian cultural traditions became new again, and Ded Moroz–Father Frost–emerged from hiding up near the Siberian part of the North Pole to resume his holiday responsibilities.

To acknowledge the new cultural politics, Ded Moroz's many colleagues in northern and eastern Europe–notably Joulupukki, Finland's Christmas Goatnow seek him out at border crossings and Christmas markets across the continent. The two Nicks typically engage in a little winter diplomacy, sometimes competing in endeavors such as chimney climbing.

This picture features Ded Moroz presenting a gift to Joulupukki during a diplomatic mission in Minsk, capital of Belarus. 

Incidentally, Ded Moroz can sleep in Christmas morning, because in Russia, the gift thing doesn't happen till New Year's. Happy New Year's one and all......

Posted by Ellen

For all the marbles: In this picture, we are looking at (virtually the entire) capital city of which European nation?

29 April update: Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We had three winners.

GNH

Posted by Ellen

 

In the late 1940s, a photographer visited a school in the village of Paro, a day's walk up into the mountains from Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. One of the students in this picture recorded the occasion in his journal: "All we heard was a click, and then the next day we were amazed to see our images had materialised on paper."

Bhutan remained one of the world's most isolated countries until the 1990s, when its king announced a new economic policy, which he called GNH: Gross National Happiness. Some Western developments, including television, would be allowed in, even encouraged, but others, such as smokestack industries, would be kept out. Bhutanese life would be integrated with the rest of the world only insofar as the changes increased people's happiness in Bhutan. A new government ministry was created to measure GNH.

And so it came to pass that in 2008, upon recommendation of the ministry of happiness, the kingdom of Bhutan became a democracy, with its leaders chosen by popular election. The American experience evidently was not cautionary enough. Or something.

So far, Bhutan still ranks at the top worldwide in indices of national happiness, according to people who try to measure this sort of thing. The Bhutanese people are said to be as happy as anyone anywhere--and far happier than people in other parts of the world where per capita income is as low as it is in Bhutan. The average Bhutanese person gets by on about $l,000 a year.

The village of Paro now hosts an annual international cricket tournament. If cricket is required for high GNH, we Americans are surely doomed.