DECEMBER
2001

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

Download the audio files or subscribe to our podcast.

 

Check out these books by Tom Turpin:

Flies in the face of fashion

What's Buggin You Now?

 

 

 

12-13-01

Download the audio of On Six Legs: MP3, WMV.

Insects are Scarce on the Holiday Scene


"Tis the season to be jolly!" And that just might be the reason that the holiday season doesn't feature insects. To most people, insects are creatures to be avoided. So why ruin a good time by throwing in a batch of bugs?

Besides, the holiday season is during the time of year when insect activity is at a minimum in the Northern Hemisphere. So out of sight is out of mind when it comes to holiday traditions.

To be sure, a few insects are used in Christmas decorations. The three most common are the ladybug, butterfly and honey bee. All three are symbols associated with Christian theology.

Ladybugs, more correctly called ladybird beetles, have been considered a good luck symbol since the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages in Europe, farmers' prayers for help with plant-feeding aphids were frequently answered with the appearance of ladybugs.

Ladybugs are predators on aphids, and their presence was a "god send" for the peasant farmers. The ladybugs consumed the damaging aphids, much to the relief of the farmers. Consequently, this insect became known as the bug sent by "Our Lady" the Virgin Mary or "Our Lady's Bug." Today, we simply call the insect a ladybug.

The butterfly has long served as a Christian symbol. The metamorphosis of the ugly caterpillar into the beautiful butterfly has amazed people for time immemorial. The miraculous transformation into the butterfly has come to symbolize the human soul.

Honey bees have been associated with humans for thousands of years. Not only do these insects pollinate flowers, they also provide honey and wax, products that humans relish. We also admire their industry.

So, ornaments in the shape of ladybugs, butterflies or honey bees are used to decorate the yule tree. In addition, dragonfly ornaments have recently shown up among the many types of decorations available to adorn holiday greenery.

But, in general, insects are almost as scarce in holiday decorations as they are on a one-horse open-sleigh ride in the heart of winter. Scarce, but still present.

For instance, the old familiar Christmas songs seldom include references to insects. There are santas, reindeer, snowflakes, silver bells and feasts. But insects are mentioned only in one song.

In that 1955 classic "Nuttin' For Christmas," insects make not one, but two appearances. The young lad portrayed in the song is going to get nothing for Christmas because he was a rotten kid. And someone snitched on him! He did all kinds of things to earn a lump of coal in his stocking, including hiding a frog in his sister's bed. He also made Tommy eat a bug and filled the sugar bowl with ants!

There are some interesting possibilities using insects in Christmas songs. For instance, I have seen a cartoonist or two get a kick out of replacing Santa’s reindeer with cockroaches. So, if those reindeer became insects, it makes perfect sense to have old red-nosed Rudolph become a firefly.

Such a change would require a bit of revision. One stanza might read:

"Rudolph, the light-tailed firefly

Had a very flashy tail

And if you ever saw it

You would even say it glows."

All right, it doesn’t rhyme. But then, it is closer to biological reality than wingless, flying, red-nosed reindeer!

 

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox