Digitalization of holidays

Successive waves of Covid-19 create risks of local and global Lockdowns again. Coronavirus strain Omikron detected at the start of the festive winter season has already threatened the implementation of offline celebrations in several countries at once: Hanukkah in Israel takes place in conditions of closed borders and restrictions on mass events, a few traditional Christmas fairs in Germany opened for vaccinated or recovered visitors, and they can close ahead of schedule. However, in almost two years of life in a pandemic, the world seems to have learned a lot, having managed to endure almost all significant labor, household and social activity on the Internet. Moreover, to a certain extent, the phenomenon of digitalization of holidays is far from new, but its current manifestations only complement the digitalization of rituals that was launched by social networks.

Ritual in the Virtual World

The first digital card appeared in December 1994 and was invented by a specialist in social media Judith Donat at MIT Media Lab at Massachusetts Technological institute. The process of sending it was perhaps not too easy compared to the usual one, excluding only the need to go to the post office. In order to send such an electronic greeting, the user had to go to the website of The Electric Postcard, choose the appropriate one from a collection of images that varied from paintings of known artists to photographs of nature or animals, at own wish he could make a signature and had to indicate the recipient’s email. The latter received a notification from the service and a link, where, after clicking, the addressee got acquainted with the content.

At the start of the project, its creators did not particularly believe in success, because they realized the relative complexity of the procedure. Moreover, the authors of the idea were scientists, not innovative entrepreneurs, and therefore they defined as the main task not inclusion of their technology in the festive entertainment industry, followed by commercialization, but popularization of the Internet. It is no coincidence, in addition to congratulations, the recipient received information with the advertising of the service: with its help the project owners wanted to show that computers and the World Wide Web are not only able to perform operational tasks.

However, it was the winter season 1995–1996 that brought The Electric Postcard its first success in the form of almost 20 thousand digital cards in the peak days of the pre-holiday greeting euphoria.

Curiously, the electronic card has become so popular largely because it turned out to be a kind of transition element from the emoticon in the form of points and brackets to the usual today’s emoji. In other words, people have been able to interact through Internet, not saying a word, but only sending an image.

MIT Media Lab did not dominate the market for a relatively long time, and by the fall of 1996, there appeared postcards from Awesome Cards that were forwarded to the addressee’s email directly, without need to navigate to suspicious links. This was followed by a partial transition to online companies specializing in paper cards and their collaborations with major software developers such as Microsoft. The next milestone in the path of digitalization of the holiday attributes were MMS —messages that expedited further and facilitated the exchange of congratulatory correspondence.

Gradually, the digital card market grew until 2004. A new surge in its popularity became noticeable in 2020-2021 against the background of the pandemic. Moreover, this boom began without reference to any holiday in March 2020 and was, according to psychologists, associated with a desire to diversify the stay on the Internet, which due to the transition to home office mode was associated by most of people exclusively with the execution of work tasks. Thus, electronic postcards began somewhat to perform the functions of smiles again. Gradually the industry returned to increased demand precisely during the holiday season, since not everybody has got the chance to congratulate the loved ones personally.

Postcards are just one example of digitalization of festive rituals that can also include the installation of electronic reminders of birthdays and other memorable dates in mobile and social media calendars or online donations before religious holidays, be it the Annunciation, Yom Kipur or Uraza Bayram. Even viewing “Irony of Fate,” familiar to us on New Year’s Eve, not on TV, but on the Internet is another facet of spreading practice.

The surge in its popularity amid the pandemic is because online ceremonial may not differ from the usual anything except the fact of the personal presence of its participants. In particular, electronic rituals do not lose the symbolic meaning of their offline counterparts, allowing complying with the requirement of periodicity and creating a sense of ownership among those who execute them. Moreover, the issue of personal presence becomes somewhat more conditional as the arrangement to come together is maintained while the environment unity is not maintained by coming, for example, to the same cafe for the New Year meetings with friends, and on a certain social network or messenger, where the favorite interior is replaced by the background or stickerpack selected by the group.

Digitalization of Jewish holidays

Once in the United States, Jewish communities, fearing assimilation, gave a new impetus to Jewish holidays, trying to adapt them to the realities of the country in which they lived. Something similar happened against the background of Covid-19. An example of this is the American non-profit

JewBelong organization specializing in popularizing Jewish life in the United States through offering simple and understandable explanations of the essence of traditions, culture and religion for their users, as well as public campaigns aimed at attracting attention to issues such as anti-Semitism. The JewBelong team traditionally devotes great importance to holidays, developing thematic pages on its website, talking about the features of a particular event, as well as how to comply correctly all the rules necessary from the point of view of Judaism.

For obvious reasons, the organization could not stay away when most of the community activities, including joint offline celebrations, were banned due to coronavirus restrictions. The response to the new reality from the project team was introducing several digital services that allow you to conduct familiar rituals remotely.

The greatest attention in JewBelong was paid to the Jewish New Year, which is celebrated in the fall and consists, in fact, of two holidays. The first of them is Rosh-a-Shana, translated as “poppy of the year”, giving rise to the next cycle. The second is Yom Kipur, or “Doomsday.” This period in Jewish tradition involves a request for forgiveness from every person whom a person could offend in order to get included into the Book of Life next year. Here JewBelong prepared lot of interesting features for its users. For example, the section on apologies offers to conduct the whole ritual in the literal sense without departing from the computer. First, you need to read from screen the prayer for the recognition of sins, then you choose one of the four optons offered for choice to start an apology letter, you write this letter in your own words and forward it via Facebook, Twitter, or email. It is curious that the message is issued in in the form of a heart sending more to Valentine’s Day.

Another rite digitized thanks to JewBelong is Tashlich. Its name comes from the verb “throw” in Hebrew, and the ritual involves reading a prayer for the redemption of sins, while the penitent throws pieces of bread into the pond, symbolizing his sins. As going outside, and even more so the opportunity to get to the reservoir during the lockdown became luxury for many people, the site offered to do everything remotely: read the text necessary prayers, write, by analogy with apologies, your misconduct within a year, and then see how the virtual hand throws the same virtual crumbs into the digital river.

It is curious that Hanukkah, which is celebrated this year from November 28 to December 6, turned out to be less digitalized. In preparation for it, the authors of the JewBelong proposed their users to get acquainted with the history of the holiday, instructions for lighting candles, as well as several scenarios for playing with houseboats, for which, however, some real things will be quite necessary like salty cheese. The most digital item was, perhaps, an explanation of the essence of Hanukkah miracle. If the classic version was about oil for a ritual candlestick — hanukiya, which was supposed to be enough for one day, but in reality turned out to be enough for eight, then today we are talking about a low level of gadget charge, despite which the device operates for the same period.

However, if it is not proposed to light virtual candles, then this does not mean that one holiday has less potential for ritual digitalization than the other. So, besides postcards to Hanukkah, this year virtual scrapbooking kits are offered. In Miami at Paramount Miami Worldcenter, equipped with one of the most advanced and high-altitude LED lighting systems in the world, the largest electronic hanukkiya was lit, whose basis is the flickering name of the holiday.

In general, a certain decrease in interest in the complete digitization of celebrations is associated first of all with accumulated fatigue from the pandemic and the resulting departure to the virtual reality. On the other hand, many people hoped and continue to believe that in this year the winter season will not pass in complete isolation. However, the digitalization of Jewish holidays in itself will clearly continue and will be concentrated in the United States. This is because the predominant Jewish population there adheres to the reformist movement in Judaism. Its main difference from others is the tendency to adapt religion and traditions to the realities of today.

Digital Advent

November 28, Catholics began the pre-Christmas period — Advent, which will end on December 24. One of the attributes of waiting for the holiday is traditionally considered a calendar with the same name that can be filled with various contents, including sweets, cosmetics, toys, souvenirs related to favorite books or films, alcohol and even jewelry from world brands. However, restrictions in connection with Covid-19, which were already announced in Europe and led to work restrictions or complete closure of fairs traditional for this time of year, pushed to fill advent calendars with not objects, but sensations, since, in fact, it is they that create the spirit of Christmas.

A series of such ideas appeared in Germany. Continuing last year’s tradition, 24 music videos were produced by the orchestra of federal police and several Länder in collaboration with well-known musicians, each of which becomes available as approaching the holiday. A similar project is realized n the current season at the Cologne Cathedral. There ministers tell how they spend Advent themselves, and also introduce visitors to the site with spaces, which usually remain closed. Local calendar is prepared by Institute of Local Lore of the Rhine region. It begins with a Christmas address of Chancellor Conrad Adenauer on Christmas Eve 1951, and also includes information about local sights, recipes, and traditions.

In addition, for the interactive, visitors to the institute’s website are invited to participate in the quiz. It is curious that, despite a clear regional link, the project is more likely to cross cultural. So, the creators of the Rhine Advent calendar promise users hanukal recipe. Bethanien Kinderdorf child and youth support institutions offered their option with 24 ideas for a Christmas den that can be made with your own hands from any materials and toys available.

Municipal authorities in Stuttgart took the decision to transfer to the online format the collection of gifts for children who find themselves in difficult life situations. They launched a virtual wish tree, on which cards with gifts are placed, which small residents of the city would like to get for Christmas, but will not be able to without the participation of philanthropists. Everyone who wants to help, can select one or more cards, send a list to yourself by email, make purchases on it, and then send already packed gifts to the specified address, where they will be delivered to the recipients.

Unexpectedly, restoration turned out to be an assistant to the digitalization of holidays. An example is the story of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Linz, Austria. In 2020, large-scale work began there, revealing the need to restore the figures in den. At the same time, the company Ars Electronica Futurelab, engaged in projects in various areas of digitalization, conducted contactless scanning of these objects and created 3D models on their base. Afterwards, comments by experts and audio sequence were added. So, there was a virtual Christmas project in Mariendom, which will be completely demonstrated on December 24th.

At the same time, on the one hand, through participation in it, the company was able to adapt to pandemic realities and realize its key objective of promoting digital transformation while taking into account the needs of people. On the other hand, it helped create a special holiday spirit, allowing to visit the cathedral to those people who for various reasons do not have such an opportunity in the current pre-Christmas season.

Author: Elizaveta Yakimova

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