Beneath a green auroral sky

… the Christmas penguins embrace:

(#1) In the sky, the green shimmer of an aurora; on the ground, a parent penguin nurtures their young one (in a green knitted cap)

The image comes to me from Joel Levin (one of the most faithful readers of this blog) for my collection of penguiniana. It came to him in a corporate holiday card from Fidelity Investments, where its visual message of parental care was sandwiched between conventional holiday greetings:

Wishing you a magical holiday

[Fidelity Penguin gif]

Here’s to all the good things the season brings.

The corporate holiday card is something of an odd object, designed to maintain and reinforce warm feelings between the recipient and the company. Whenever possible, the mailing comes from the company’s representative who serves the recipient (Joel’s broker in this case), but vast numbers of companies just send out greetings to all their customers.

Consequently, the greetings are as generic and contentless as possible (well, some of them also slip in advertising for their goods or services, or even sale offers). The images are assembled from a huge inventory of conventional seasonal elements, for instance:

Santa caps, stars, candles, snowflakes, eggnog, pointsettias, candy canes, reindeer, holly

which can make reference to any of the themes of the season available for seasonal greeting cards (though some themes are rarely used for corporate cards); a sampling of these themes:

winter: cold, frost, ice, snow, snowmen, snowball fights, winter festivities, winter plants, evergreen trees, animals of cold and snowy regions


the Nativity story, Advent, and Epiphany

Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus and various accretions to his legends (elves, reindeer and chimneys, bags of gifts, etc.)


passage of one year to another

gift-giving, especially to children; Christmas charity

Christmas trees

Christmas carols, Christmas hymns, Christmas songs

Hanukkah (with menorahs, dreidels, etc.)

the colors red and green

seasonal foods and drinks (in a variety of traditions)

the 12 days of Christmas

the Nutcracker ballet

So we get a card with a polar bear in a Santa cap, holding a Christmas tree with strings of lights on it and a star at the top. Or one with a reindeer in a red and green knitted scarf, with Christmas balls on its antlers. From childhood on, we build up the inventory of elements for such compositions; for the most part, we don’t know, and don’t care about, where these elements came from and what they might originally have meant in context, though some of these elements — like mother and child — are still transparent in their import.

Of course, everything can be mocked. So we get this this snarky Victorian-illustration Everything Card from Etsy supplier AdventureAwaitsUs:

(#2) For Christmas / yule / solstice / Hanukkah / new year / winter / Saturnalia, and consequently thoroughly un-corporate; I’m especially fond of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child in the arms of a menorah, with Krampus’s butt and devil-tail more or less in the Holy Mother’s face, but you might have your own favorite bits

Back to #1. Up above, I did my best to characterize this scene as essentially a wildlife drawing:

In the sky, the green shimmer of an aurora; on the ground, a parent penguin nurtures their young one

But even there, the green knitted cap cannot come from nature. And in fact, most of the rest of it doesn’t either; it’s actually a seasonal cartoon, using elements from the themes above.

Start with the green shimmer, carefully described above as an aurora. Well, readers think, yes, the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights. Wait, that can’t be real-world right, because penguins are antarctic, and the aurora borealis is arctic; this is like polar bears hunting penguins — fine in cartoonland, but not in the real world.

Yes, there is an aurora australis (also mostly shimmery green) in the antarctic, so you could get penguins under an aurora — but that’s not how people view the image, and surely they weren’t intended to bring this arcane knowledge to bear in interpreting #1.

Then I carefully said parent penguin, while pretty much every viewer of #1 sees it as mother and child (because it shows nurturant behavior, and that’s stereotypically maternal). In the real world, parent penguins share out the burden of nurturing in a complex fashion, with one parent minding the kid while the other is out feeding in the water. So in the real world the adult penguin in #1 would be just as likely to be male as female. But in cartoonland, #1 is, touchingly, mother and child.

Well, not just mother and child, because this pair are on a holiday greeting card, so they’re going to evoke, yes, Mary and the Christ Child. (This is a way for a holiday card to convey religious content — specifically, Christian content — without being overtly religious.)

So they evoke Mary and the baby Jesus, but in the cartoon they are (Christmas) penguins, basking in the (Christmas-green) winter light of the aurora borealis. Wait …

There’s a song for this! And the mama penguin in the song is called Nora:

Northern Lights

Oh, roar a roar for Nora,
Nora Alice in the night.
For she has seen Aurora
Borealis burning bright.
A furor for our Nora!
And applaud Aurora seen!
Where, throughout the Summer, has
Our Borealis been?

From the 1956 illustrated songbook Songs of the Pogo, with lyrics by Walt Kelly and music by Kelly and Norman Monath. The book was quickly followed by an LP:

(#3) Cover of the LP

You can listen to the performance of “Northern Lights” on this album in a YouTube recording here. Merry aurora Christmas!

One Response to “Beneath a green auroral sky”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    We had both he book and the record when I was a kid. I can still remember the tune. (Our family were all major Pogophiles.)

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