Wooden shoes are generally assocaiated in the popular mind with the little Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike. While wooden shoes may have been especially common in Holland, actually they were widely worn throughout Europe, especially in rural areas. They were not popular, of course, because they were so uncomfortable. Often they were the only shoes that poor peoplr could afford. Often working people bought wooden shoes. They would have been better than going barefoot in the winter.
Wooden shoes were first made in medieval Europe. HBC is not familiar with any ancient cultures in which wooen shoes were worn. Wooden shoes were still quite common in the late 19th and early 20th century among both working people an children from workingclass an rural families. They can still be seen in Holland, but now mostly as part of folk costuming. An amazing 3 million pairs of wooden shoes are still made in Holland annually. Most are for tourists or folk costumes. In many Dutch souvenirshops, the wooden shoe is often a striking element.
Wooden shoes appear to have been an exclusively European type of shoe. The Japanese appear to have worn wooden sandals, but not wooden shoes. In Europe they appear to have been most common in Holland, but in fact were widely worn throughout Western Europe. HBC is less sure about Eastern Europe. Wooden shoes were especially common in Holland. One source reports that wooden shoes were common in Holland because of the soggy soil an the availability of the right kind of wood for making wooden shoes. As a result, wooden shoes could still be found in rural areas of Holland after they have disappeared from most other areas of Europe.
There are many different terms for wooden shoes. The most common Englissh term is probably clogs. The word clog is of uncertain origin, but began to be use about about 1350-1400. The tern was applie to both shoes and sandals made of wood or cork. The term was revived in the 1980s when young people began wearing clogs, shoes with leather uppers an woodennsoles. The term clogging or clog dancing derived from this word. Clogging is a dance in which wooen (now mostly heavy) shoes are worn for hammering out a lively rythmn. This term appearas about 1889-85. Clogging was an important influence on modern Irish step dancing. Actually one of the current issues in Irish dance is the hammering or battering effect that some dancers now try to produce. The French term for wooen shoes is sabot. Presumably the word sabot is also the root of French and English word "sabotage" because sabots are in fact cheap substitutes for leather shoes that working-class people weould have preferred. When you walk with these, the entire house knows you are there and if you do this exercise during the play of some music, you are really sabotaging the music...!
Christmas customs in several European countries still involve families to put a pair of wooen shoes/sabots by the fire place so they will mysteriously be filled with toys (or coal for the children that had been naughty) for kids. Rather like hanging stockings by the fireplace in America.
A popular modern school activity is visiting recreations of old-time schools. In some cases the children dress up in old time clothes such as pinafores, smocks, short pants, and other garments. In other reinactmwnts old times clothes are often on display. HBC noted that a renactment in Brittany (The Musée de l'école rurale at Trégarvan) had smocks hanging on pegs with wooden shoes ( sabots ) lined up unerneath.
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