Category Archives: History

When Ronny Met Jacksie: Narnia and Middle Earth

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

I’m definitely a fantasy genre lover. I always have been, going all the way back to when my dad first read The Hobbit to me when I was little. While I have broadened my reading horizons considerably, I still love to pick up a fantasy novel and slide into a world of warriors and dragons. As such, I have a special soft spot for the patron saints of fantasy literature; Tolkien, Lewis, Pratchett, Jordan, Le Guin, White, and Rowling. These men and women carry on a tradition of storytelling that goes back to a time of oral history and fireside stories of fantastic heroes and the even more outlandish creatures that either aid them or seek to destroy them. It was very surprising to me, many years ago, to learn that two of these men, Lewis and Tolkien, not only knew one another, but were friends.

C.S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis, known to his family as Jack, was born in northern Ireland. His nickname actually belonged to the family dog, Jacksie, which was killed when Lewis was four. He lost his mother to cancer at age nine, and was sent to boarding school after boarding school by his father. He abandoned the Christianity of his youth and escaped into stories of fantasy. He started with anthropomorphic animals like Peter Rabbit, and then developed a fascination with Scandinavian mythology and stories followed by the same for Greece and Ireland. When he first went to Oxford, he joined the officer cadet corps and quickly found himself a second lieutenant in the Somme. In early 1918 he was wounded by a British shell that fell well short of its target, and he spent the rest of the war in England.

J.R.R. Tolkein

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien had a similar childhood. His parents had moved to South Africa not long before his birth, but this quintessentially British author returned to England at age three on what was supposed to have been an extended family visit. It proved permanent when his father died in South Africa before he could join the family. Ronald, as his family referred to him, grew up in a series of homes in and around Birmingham. After his mother’s conversion to Catholicism and then death, he was raised by Father Francis Xavier Morton. After getting married and finishing his education, Tolkien found himself a second lieutenant and posted to France. By 1916 he had contracted Trench Fever, and split most of his time between infirmaries and light duty.

The Eagle and Child pub (commonly known as the Bird and Baby or simply just the Bird) in Oxford where the Inklings met informally on Tuesday mornings during term.

So we end up with two men, in the same department of a university, who experienced some of the worst the Great War had to offer, both of whom lost a parent while very young. So when these two men found themselves in Tolkien’s Coalbiters Club for people who enjoyed reading the Old Icelandic sagas, it was natural for them to gravitate towards each other, which led Tolkien to spend time with Lewis’s group, The Inklings. Opinions on how the dynamic between the two men worked varies between scholars. You find Lewis dominating The Inklings in some and Tolkien listening quietly and issuing sharp criticism in others. However, the one common theme is the interplay. These men helped each other grow as writers and world crafters. Their works went on to profoundly influence one another, to the point where Tolkien’s Numenor and a Saruman cognate ended up in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.

This is not to say the two men never disagreed. Tolkien’s first proposal to Oxford was rejected and one of the votes that turned it away was Lewis’s.  According to Humphrey Carter in his book, The Inklings, Lewis’s thoughts on Tolkien were, “No Harm in him: only needs a smack or so.” Lewis also felt that Tolkien was too mired in the ancient and neglected the renaissance authors and later writers. Tolkien had his own problems with Lewis, as well. Tolkien was an inveterate opponent of allegory and felt Lewis’ Narnia books were vastly too allegorical and that they were contrived and inconsistent. It was at this time that their friendship began to cool.

Without this meeting of two eventual literary giants, we would not have those same literary giants. It was Lewis who suggested that Tolkien turn his children’s story about diminutive people fighting a dragon into what we now know as The Hobbit. Conversely, Tolkien was among the people who convinced Lewis to return to the fold of Christianity. How lucky the world is that the happy accident of their meeting came to pass and we have some of the greatest works of modern English Literature.


Sources and Suggested Reading:

  • R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: A Legendary Friendship
  • Tolkien’s ‘No’ to Narnia
  • The Inklings by Humphrey Carter (823.9CAR)
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Beyond the Wardrobe by E. J. Kirk (823.912 KIR)
  • R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and the Birth of Modern Fantasy by Deke Parsons (823.912 PAR)
  • Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth (828.91209 GAR)
  • Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown
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Cinco de Mayo!

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.

Cinco de Mayo dancers in Washington DC

So sit down with a margarita, put on some mariachi music and read about this almost more American than Mexican holiday. (May 5 is often confused with the Mexican day of independence. The nation celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. On this date in 1810, Mexico won her independence from Spain.)

Cinco de Mayo does commemorate an historic event in the city of Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico. President Benito Juarez sent a rag tag army of volunteers to meet the French army there. General Zaragoza led this army against the much-better supplied French army. The 4,000 man Mexican army defeated the 8,000 man French army on May 5, 1862. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time and defeating the French was a huge morale booster, and gave the beleaguered country a sense of unity and patriotism. The Mexicans lost 100 men in the battle, the French 500.

Anonymous, Batalla del 5 de mayo de 1862 (Battle of the 5th of May of 1862)

France returned next year with a much bigger army (30,000 soldiers) and a chip on its shoulder. This time France defeated Mexico, and ruled the country for three years. How did this all come about? When Juarez became president in 1861, Mexico was broke. They were still recovering from the Mexican-American war in the 1840s, when a defeated Mexico allowed the United States to annex Texas. The country had borrowed money from Spain, Britain and France to keep the country going, and was recovering from the defeat. It couldn’t afford to pay back the loans.

Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and settled the matter. France was in no mood to settle; they wanted more territory and decided to invade Mexico at the port city of Veracruz. France only ruled Mexico for three years, installing Maximillian I as king. The United States was able to help Mexico after the Civil War ended. With additional funds and arms, plus with the pressure on France from Prussia, France withdrew to protect closer borders. In June, 1867, President Benito Juarez became president again, and started pulling Mexico back together.

Interesting Facts about Cinco de Mayo:

  • Napoleon III, the emperor of France, had the idea to take over Mexico, and then send arms and men to help the Confederate Army. Not that he was pro-Southern, he just wanted the nation to continue to be divided and weak. Since this invasion, no foreign country has ever invaded any nation in the Americas.
  • Some historians believe that if it were not for the Mexican victory during the Battle of Puebla, the Confederates would have won the Civil War and changed the fate of the United States forever.
  • Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and is not really celebrated outside of Puebla and a few other cities. In the United States, however, it is a huge holiday.
  • Photo taken by “The Republic”

    In and around Puebla, “Cinco de Mayo” is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of Puebla Battle). And they celebrate with re-enactments and parades more than with tequila, margaritas and such.

  • May 5th was made more popular under Franklin Roosevelt, who established the “Good Neighbors policy” in the 1930s.
  • Americans eat nearly 81 million pounds of avocadoes on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission.
  • Many cities in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with weekend-long festivals, including Denver, Chicago, Portland and San Diego.
  • Los Angeles wins with the largest party (in the world!). It is called Fiesta Broadway. Many other countries enjoy this celebration as well. Even Vancouver, Canada has a big celebration, with a skydiving mariachi band!
  • Chandler, Arizona has a Chihuahua race on May 5!
  • Because we like to celebrate and drink tequila, the United States drinks more of this potent liquor than Mexico, where most tequila is made!
  • Enchiladas and tamales make up more the traditional dishes and as they take a bit of time to create and cook, it becomes a time for family togetherness.

Read the rest of this entry

Groundhog Day = Candlemas??

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Librarianground-36436_1280

We all know about Groundhog Day on February 2, when a fuzzy animal is brought forth to predict the weather. How could we miss that huge celebration at Punxsutawney, when Phil, the groundhog (the official term is woodchuck –remember the tongue twister?), is brought out of his den and the crowd goes wild. If he sees his shadow, then winter will end sooner than later, but if he doesn’t see his shadow, that means 6 more weeks of winter. Of course, this weather forecast has never been that accurate…

And of course, many people fondly remember watching the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. It has become a “contemporary classic.”   In case you don’t remember, Phil (Bill Murray) gets stuck in a time loop on Groundhog Day, and only after he learns from his mistakes is he able to get back on track. In 2006, it was even added to the United States National Film Registry for being a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.

So where does Candlemas fit in, you may ask?? This holy day is celebrated by Christians on February 2 to commemorate both the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and Jesus’ first entry into the Temple. Since Jesus is considered a “light-bringer,” the custom was to bless candles on this day as well, which is where we get the term Candlemas from. In pagan times, this day was also known as Imbolc (pronounced i-Molk), a festival marking the first day of Spring, which usually fell on February 2. Evidently spring came early in the Gaelic lands, and coincidentally (meaning it was probably a direct influence), this holy day was also used to predict the coming weather.

These poems, found in English and German, show how on Candlemas the weather could be forecast.

If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.

If Candle mas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.

If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

The German immigrants also brought with them the tradition of a hedgehog telling the spring forecast, but with no hedgehogs to be found, groundhogs were the closest animal they could find in the new world. And Pennsylvania has had many Germans settlers.

And now you know how Groundhog Day and Candlemas both have a place in American culture.

_____

7086949891_14db5ab9f5_bAn aside: The name Punxsutawney comes from the Lenape name for the location “ponksad-uteney” which means “the town of the sandflies.” The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of “Wojak, the groundhog” considered by them to be their underground ancestor.

 


Sources:

Edgar Allan Poe’s Strange Death

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Edgar Allan Poe, famous American author and the first American writer of mysteries, was a mystery himself.  His death is still a mystery.  Not that he died, of course, but exactly how and why.

Poe had never been wealthy from his writings.  From time to time he did well, but the money was gone sooner or later.  One of the problems was the lack of copyright laws.  Anyone could publish his works, poems and short stories, and that person would reap the benefits, not Poe.  And this happened quite often.  His “detective” stories were very popular—everyone wanted to make money from them.  He was, after all, the father of the mystery genre.  There would be no Sherlock Holmes without Poe.

He had to drop out of the University of Virginia for lack of funds (his step-father didn’t give him enough money to complete the year).  He was so poor that he had to burn his dorm furniture to stay warm!! He was engaged to marry Elmira Royster, but when he went to visit her after his first and last year of college, she had become engaged to someone else.  He went back to Baltimore to throw himself upon the mercy of his relatives.  His aunt, Maria Clemm, took him in; she also had a daughter, Virginia, whom Poe developed a passion for.  A job took him to Richmond, VA; there he became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger.  He became known for his criticisms of authors and their works. He was usually correct, but in this time where for a bribe critics wrote good criticism, he stood out as honest, but also made enemies.  He made one in the Reverend Rufus Griswold.

Virginia Clemm

We have to set the scene a little:  Poe had been living in Richmond, VA, with his Aunt Maria, and his wife, Virginia, who died from Tuberculosis at age 24.  (He had married her when she was 15.)  He was devastated when she died, and didn’t write anything for months.  He was in demand as a speaker and was trying to set up a new literary magazine which he would be editor of.  He returned to Richmond to visit Elmira Royster, the fiancée who had jilted him.  He learned that she was a widow and asked for her hand in marriage (again.)

Poe was on his way to Philadelphia from Richmond to edit some poems for a Mrs. St. Leon Loud.  Then he was to go to New York and bring his aunt down to be with him for his wedding.  His fiancée told him he looked ill, and he did go see a doctor.  Dr. Carter suggested he delay his trip a few days, but he went anyway.  He never made it to either city.  Somehow he ended up in Baltimore, delirious and ill, in dirty ragged clothing, obviously not his own, without any luggage.

He was found outside of a polling place and bar – it was an election day, and this bar was a pop-up station.  You went to vote (correction – the men got to vote) and then have a drink or two.  The man who found Poe recognized him, and sent a letter to a friend of Poe’s, Joseph Snodgrass, who, luckily, had had some medical training. A letter was sent asking him to come at once.  His own person doctor, Dr. Moran, also cared for him as he lay dying.  He spent four days in and out of fever, never able to explain what happened to him.  He did say one word, “Reynolds!!” but no one ever found out who he meant to call for.  He was said to have said out loud, “Lord, help my poor soul,” and died.  As to what cause his death? There are many theories, but no true cause of death was ever found.

As to what might have killed him?  Here is a list of possibilities

  • He could have been mugged, and died from his injuries (there is such a thing called cooping, a form of ballot-box stuffing which involved kidnapping and taking the person to vote at many polling places—many have dismissed this because Poe would have been too well recognized)
  • He could have ingested some kind of poison, either by his own hand of by someone else’s (In 2006, doctors test a sample of his hair and found no evidence of lead or metal poisoning)
  • He could have died from alcoholism – even though he was known to drink moderately.  Like many authors, coffee was his drug for writing late into the night
  • He could have been murdered – this seems to be a bit farfetched since he was in the hospital for four days, but it could have happened
  • He could have died from suicide complications (but why, he was getting married in ten days?)
  • He could have died of rabies or epilepsy
  • He could have died of carbon monoxide poisoning – no one was aware of this issue, and he was known to have burned anything to keep warm
  • He could have had a heart attack, diabetes or even cholera
  • He could even have died from rabies

No autopsy was performed—he was buried two days after he died, and evidently there was a great frenzy to have a lock of his hair as he was taken to the cemetery.  No one has ever found a death certificate—it could have been lost or stolen by Dr. Moran or anyone seeking to have a piece of the great man Poe.  He was buried in an unmarked grave; a headstone was later added, but was destroyed in a wreck.  He was reburied in 1875, with the remains of his wife, Virginia and Aunt Maria.

One final insult to Poe’s memory was the obituary published anonymously, later known to have been written by Reverend Griswold.  Griswold was still very mad at Poe, and in his obituary described Poe as a drunk, a womanizer and a man with no morals.  Unfortunately, this was considered Poe’s real character for over a century, until people began to learn more about what kind of person he really had been.  Unfortunately for Griswold, he never became as famous as Poe, which was all he wanted. Read the rest of this entry

Christmas’ Motivating Monsters: a.k.a., Santa’s Rogue Gallery

By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department

WARNING! Dangerous, do not approach. If seen, call Santa immediately.

**The Rogues Gallery is the cast of colorful and numerous Recurring Characters that show up to torment the heroes week after week.**

Zwarte Piet, (aka. Black Pete)

Active Areas: Belgium, Netherlands

Bio: He was formerly a Moorish servant from Spain, or a Turkish orphan, or Ethiopian Slave rescued by Saint Nick and now attending Saint Nick as a helper

M.O.: A Prankster who might whip naughty children with birch wood rods or put coal in their shoes. However, those especially naughty he could stuff in his sack and carry them off to Spain.

 

Père Fouettard, (aka. “Father Whipper”)

Active Areas: France

Bio: This rouge’s chilling past involves his killing and cooking three wealthy children who stayed at his inn. Saint Nicolas ended up resurrecting the three children and bringing Fouettard to repentance. Fouettard then became St. Nick’s helper.

M.O.: For those untouched by the good will of St. Nicolas, Fouettard doles out whippings to children who misbehave.

 

Frau Perchta

Active Areas: Austria, Germany

Bio: Thought to be from a nature goddess who affects humans only during Christmas. She rewards good behavior and punishes bad behavior.

M.O.: Good children might receive a silver piece in their shoes, while naughty children would receive something much, much worse. She would take out their insides by slitting open their bellies, and replace their entrails with garbage, straw and rocks which are sewn up to cause grievous pain. Oh for a mere lump of coal!

 

Hans Trapp

Active Areas: Alsace; Lorraine France

Bio: Trapp was supposedly a real man who was exiled into the forest where he would disguise himself as a straw-stuffed scarecrow and cannibalize children.   He was struck down with lightening by the Lord.

M.O.: Trapp accompanies Santa to punish naughty children with beatings.

 

Gryla

Active Areas: Iceland

Bio: She is a giant ogress who has powers that let her detect children who misbehave. Her favorite food is a stew of rebellious children.

M.O.: She is full of mischief and trouble, and likes to eat children who disobey their parents.

 

The Yule Cat

Active Areas: Iceland

Bio: The Yule Cat is ogress Gryla’s pet. And she is likewise dangerous and threatening.

M.O.: The Yule Cat encourages hard work. Children who do not work hard and are lazy will be eaten by the Yule Cat.

 

Belsnickel

Active Areas: Germany

Bio: Belsnickel is from the word belzen meaning “to wallop,” along with nickel referring to St. Nicholas.

M.O.: He is a wandering man dressed in tattered furs wearing a mask and carrying a switch to frighten children into good behavior. He rewards good behavior with candy.

 

Krampus

Active Areas: Found especially throughout the Alpine region and including Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia

Bio: The half goat, half demon appearance of Krampus seems most likely to have grown out of early Alpine traditions related to the Horned God of the Witches of the region. Krampus eventually becomes a “side kick” of St. Nicholas in a rogue sort of way.

M.O.: He especially punishes unruly children with birch switches. But for really bad children Krampus might put them in a basket, drown them in a stream, and then devour them.


Sources:

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Candles, Culture, Faith and Family: A Light Look at Kwanzaa and Hanukkah

By Cindy Schuchardt, Reference Department

A popular holiday song assures us that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” and the “hap-happiest season of all.”1 Many people feel that way because they celebrate Christmas, marking the historical and (Christians believe) blessed virgin birth of the Christ child.  Two other seasonal celebrations, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, also make this time of the year special for those who practice them. For this reason alone, they merit our recognition and understanding.  While Hanukkah dates back to the second century BCE and Kwanzaa was first practiced in 1966, these celebrations have much in common beyond the double letter combinations in their names – and much to teach us all.

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival of lights that began on December 12 this year (2017). The festival commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Greek Seleucids.  The Seleucids wanted the people of Israel accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of their own beliefs and religion. The overall theme of the celebration is one of triumph against overwhelming odds. Hanukkah participants now recount the story of how a single day’s worth of olive oil, used to light the Temple’s seven-branched candleholder, miraculously lasted for eight days.

Each night during Hanukkah, a candle is lit on a special candleholder called a menorah. There are nine flames on the menorah – one for each day of the festival and a center flame called the attendant (shamash) that is used to light the other candles.  One candle is lit the first night, two the second night, and so on throughout the festival. The menorah is placed in a window or a doorway; each family has at least one menorah, but some households have a menorah for each person in the home.

Hanukkah is a distinctly religious holiday. Participants sing songs of worship and recite special prayers during the nightly menorah lighting festivities. Menorahs are also lit in Jewish synagogues and in many outdoor public spaces. Hanukkah participants are encouraged to gaze at the lights and think of the lessons they impart.

Food holds a special place in Hanukkah, as well. Fried foods are eaten to remind those present of the miracle of the oil.  Two popular examples are potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly-filled fried donuts (sufganya).

Playing with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is a popular pastime during Hanukkah.  Each side of the dreidel is marked with a Hebrew letter.  The letters used are nungimmelhei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there.”

The giving of gelt (special coins) to children is also part of the tradition.  The idea was to reward children for good behavior and inspire them to learn charity and give to others.  Today, gifts are often exchanged during Hanukkah, as well.

Kwanzaa

Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Myers (above), 66th Air Base Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of the Military Equal Opportunity office, demonstrates a Kwanzaa ritual where she lights a candle in the Kinara.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1.  It was founded in 1966 in Los Angeles by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of African Studies and activist-scholar. From its important beginnings in the U.S. with African Americans, the holiday has blossomed into recognition by the world African community and is today celebrated on every continent.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture, during which families and community members gather to celebrate Nguzo Saba, which is Swahili for The Seven Principles. Each day marks one of the principles, developed and described by Dr. Karenga as follows:

  1. Unity (Umoja) – To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
  2. Self Determination (Kujichagulia) – To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
  3. Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) – To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
  4. Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses, and to profit from them together.
  5. Purpose (Nia) – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their original greatness.
  6. Creativity (Kuumba) – To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
  7. Faith (Imani) – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

    NPS Photo

Families who celebrate Kwanzaa choose a central place in the home to display the Kwanzaa Set.  A table is covered with a colorful African cloth, and then adorned with a mat and a special candle holder called a Kinara.  Seven candles are placed in the holder, one black candle representing the people, three red candles represent their struggles, and three green candles represent the future and the hope the results from such struggles (the African liberation colors).  These candles also correlate with the seven principles.

The black candle in the center signifies Unity and is lit on the first day. The remaining candles are lit from left to right on the following days, showing how a unified people move through struggle to hope. Ears of corn and a Unity Cup are also placed on the mat, which is typically surrounded with books on African life and culture, as well as African works of art.

Different Peoples, Different Celebrations, Shared Light

I find it interesting to consider the common elements in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: the Kinara and the menorah, the candles and the lighted oil, and the daily family observances. In a world that seems to be increasingly dark, there is something about this season inspires us to slow down and consider the lights. We ponder our shared humanity and our bonds as families and communities. I believe that learning about Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and the heritage of those who mark these events can only serve to bring us closer together. Have a blessed season, everyone!

If you enjoyed this glimpse at Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, then you may want to learn more.  The library can help!  Take a look at some of the resources available. Read the rest of this entry

Jólabókaflóð: The Icelandic Holiday tradition That You’ll Want in Your Life

Beowulf from “A book of myths” (1915)

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Jólabókaflóð, or if you prefer your text free of diacritical marks and disused letters, Jolabokaflod, is a tradition that could only come out of Iceland. Literally it translates to Yule Book Flood.  Icelanders read an average of eight books a year, while Americans end up at about four. They also publish about one title for every two hundred people and there is an average of 775 titles released every Christmas season.  This onslaught of reading material is the flood but it’s only part of the tradition.

The actual beginning of this Christmas ritual doesn’t go back very far, though the Icelandic love of books goes back over a thousand years.  Icelanders have always been lovers of stories and tales, especially on the long winter’s long nights. The Skalds, wandering or court poem singers, were held in some renown and acted as the author/rock stars of their day. It was not uncommon for a Skald to be taken with the plunder of war. They filled the great halls of Viking leaders with songs and tales as, sometimes, nightly entertainment from Russia to Greenland. The famous Eddas (two Medieval Icelandic literary works) also carried poetic myths down through the ages and were memorized and recited by scholar after scholar until recorded by a man named Snorri Sturluson[1] to both preserve and enhance their accessibility. Finally the sagas journeyed from land to land taking tales of Thor and Loki (not just Marvel characters) and Beowulf and even Leif Erikson to the people of Scandinavia.

The modern half of the tradition owes its genesis to the independence of Iceland from Denmark in 1944. Because of the Second World War, many things were rationed. This made giving presents at Christmas hard, unless of course, you took advantage of the long standing love of tales and gave books for Christmas. You see, one thing that was not rationed was paper. The Icelandic people and their publishing houses loved the idea. Beginning in the Forties and running down through today, people have been waiting impatiently for their copy of the Bókatíðindi, the magazine/catalog that comes every fall. This magazine is put together by all the publishing houses in cooperation to showcase all the new titles for that year. This is the Sears and Roebuck Christmas book of Iceland. The difference is that the publishers print, package and ship these catalogs to every household in the Nation…for free. The revenue generated more than outweighs the expense. All of the media, print broadcast and online, have book reviews and publication announcements. It is the event of the year.

So what exactly makes this a Christmas tradition? Everybody gives books at Christmas. Everyone. All of Iceland has their Christmas Eve meal, exchanges gifts and then sits around as a family and reads their new books for the remainder of the day while eating konfect, filled chocolates, and sipping hot chocolate or jólabland, a sweet nonalcoholic malt beverage that is a Christmas favorite. The parties that occur after Christmas will have a lot of book discussions. Newspapers will be covering the best and worst of the books, from writing and plots to covers and titles.

We could all benefit from this, but I certainly don’t endorse replacing all your holiday gifts with books. The great thing about borrowed traditions is that you can adapt them to fit your life. I first ran across this tradition on Christmas Eve two years ago. This was a little short notice for 2015 so I decided that I would try it with my family in 2016. Last year we all drew lots in November and picked a book for the person we drew and everybody go to open their book on Christmas Eve. We then spent the remainder of the evening quietly reading. It was a great way to quiet down kiddos, hyped up on Christmas cookies and the pending visit from Santa. It also solved the “Can’t we have just one present tonight?” problem that parents have faced for years. It’s also a great way to foster a love of reading in your whole family.

We are a nation made of other nations and their traditions. We have German Christmas trees, English carols and eggnog, Spanish luminarias and Irish mistletoe. We are not afraid to adapt great traditions from our ancestors, or even our neighbor’s ancestors. Jólabókaflóð is making its way into American holiday plans. You can find everything from recipes to try and hints at adapting the book flood to fit your holidays to Icelandic chocolates and Jólabókaflóð pyjamas.  So maybe this year while you’re out doing the dreaded holiday shopping, pick up some books for your family and friends and borrow a tradition from our Icelandic friends and have a nice reading time on Christmas Eve.


Sources:

[1] Nancy Marie Brown and many other scholars believe that much of the inspiration for modern favorites The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and their literary descendants come from the tales of the Vikings.

First and Two Millennia: A History of Football

By Howard Shirley, Teen Department

Across the world there are places with two seasons, one season, and four seasons. But in America there are five—and that fifth season is Football Season! Everything is decked in shades of crimson, gold, yellow and orange… and blue and black and brown and green and maroon and white, because I’m not talking about leaves, I’m talking about the paraphernalia of our favorite teams. Across the nation, people dress football, talk football, write football, watch football, and even sometimes play football. The game is as much a tradition of the season as trick-or-treating, turkey and stuffing, and early Christmas shopping.*

But how did all this come to be? When did we start all the cheering, the celebrating and, yes, the playing?

For that, we have to start halfway around the world and over two millennia ago, with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Back in the days of tunics and togas, a game called phaininda (or harpaston) was all the rage with the Greek culture, and the Romans picked it up as well, changing the name to harpastum (or harpustum; the Romans may have helped invent football, but dictionaries weren’t on their agenda). The game involved two teams, a field divided into two halves, a ball, and copious amounts of pushing, shoving, kicking, and throwing, some of it even involving the ball. And that’s about all we really know of it.

The Roman era writer Atheneaus said this of the sport: “There is a great deal of exertion and labor in a game of ball, and it causes great straining of the neck and shoulders.”

Yep, that sounds like football. Just ask Peyton Manning.

Atheneaus also credited Antiphanes with the following poem describing the game:

“And so he gladly took the ball,
While dodging the other player;
He pushed it out of someone’s way,
While raising another to his feet,
And all around the cries rang out:
“Out of bounds,” “too far”, “right by him”,
“Over his head,” “down below,” “up in the air,”
“Too short”, or “pass back to the scrummage.””

Which shows that football spectators have disagreed with the referees since before there were referees, offering opinions which the players probably even then were wiser to ignore.

From ancient Greece, the Romans carried that game with them, along with roads, aqueducts, armies, and generals who liked to conquer whatever they saw, eventually dropping it off on the island of Britain. And while the Romans left and the Saxons and the Danes and the Normans all came to conquer whatever they also saw in Britain, the game stuck around. Or well, something involving a ball and shoving and kicking and (occasionally) maiming stuck around. We have records of rival villages regularly challenging each other in a contest involving getting a ball to a set goal on opposite sides (sometimes a line, sometimes a post, sometimes the church tower, which was the medieval equivalent of saying “the endzone is Joey’s driveway.”)

Rugby

One chronicler describes an event like this: “After lunch all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers, and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own youth vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents.”

Which sounds like any given weekend in America from September through November. Including tailgating, only with horses.

The ball game was apparently quite violent, and various kings attempted to ban it. Which banning lasted about as long as the king (and probably less). Eventually, even the monarchs began to enjoy it (Henry VIII is known to have ordered a pair of “football shoes” for his own efforts in the game).

Soccer Player Pele, 1960

Sometime over the next centuries, this “ball game” began to split into two distinctive types. One involved being able to carry, throw and catch the ball, as well as kick it over the goal. The other involved only kicking the ball, with hands not allowed. The former was given the name “rugby football,” or simply “rugby” after the English school which developed it in 1825. The latter was called “football,” or “association football” when in the 1860s, organizations called “associations” began to actually codify the rules (and try to end all the maiming). And yes, the word “soccer” is an abbreviated nickname for “association football.”

At some point the game traveled into America, where it leaned towards rugby or soccer depending on who was playing, but was almost always called “football.”

And that’s when the college students took over.

The first official game of “college football” took place between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869, on the Rutgers commons. The game consisted of a contest between two teams to get a ball between two posts behind each team’s side of the field. The first team to score 6 goals would be the winner of the game. Apparently, the ball could be kicked through this goal, not carried or thrown, but the players could knock the ball out of the air with their hands. The teams took turns starting with the ball (the first turn was decided with a coin toss, possibly the first football opening coin toss on record), keeping it as long as they could prevent the other team from taking it away or until a goal happened. There was no clock, there were no downs, and it sounds more like soccer or rugby than what we know today, but it was, nevertheless, football, and Rutgers won it 6-4.

1895 Auburn vs. Georgia

It wasn’t long before other schools began challenging each other in similar contests, though the game rules seemed somewhat fluid as to what could be done, decided by the teams when they met. In 1874, four colleges set down rules for “Rugby Union,” formally introducing a running game, a touchdown, and a “free kick” afterwards. And that’s when Walter Camp, a Yale student, was invited to join his school’s erstwhile team. In the manner of great walk-ons, he proceeded not only to become the star, but to change the game itself. Camp was supposed to be studying for a career in medicine, but what he became was a doctor of football. Walter Camp almost immediately took over as the leader of the Intercollegiate Football Association rules committee. IFA, formed with Yale’s rival Harvard, was the forerunner of the NCAA and even the NFL, creating precise and specific rules about the game, including the use of an oblong ball. Over the next decade Camp invented the scrimmage line, the rule that one team possessed the ball at a time, the quarterback, the snap, the concept of downs and limited possessions, the idea of lining off the field in white at 5 yard intervals (a “gridiron”), and the idea of different levels of scoring for different types of goals, including the touchdown, field goal, and safety. He also invented tackling, reduced the number of players on each side from 20 (or more) to 11, developed the practice of signaling plays and created pretty much everything we think of as essential to modern American football. He even threw the first forward pass, resulting in a run for a touchdown; the referee ruled the play valid on a coin toss! Ironically, the forward pass was specifically rejected as a legal play by Camp’s rules committee when it was finally discussed in 1903 (some thirty years after Camp’s winning play). Then the committee adopted the pass three years later, in part to deal with accusations (made by President Theodore Roosevelt, among others) that the game had become too dangerous.

Walter Camp

Camp’s football was certainly a different game from rugby, soccer, and ancient haspartum, and it was, essentially, all American. And Camp didn’t just stop with created the game; he created player statistics and the “All-American” ranking of players by quality and performance, paving the way for the modern sports page and the endless arguments of who the GOAT** is. Camp was the first collegiate head coach (for Harvard), the first to train other coaches (including the celebrated Amos Alonzo Stagg), and the first to have an assistant coach with an eye for knowing which player to put in which position—who was none other than his wife, Allie. Walter Camp is honored as the Father of American Football, but Allie Camp was unquestionably the game’s mother, showing that football has been the passion of women as well as men from its very start!

Of course, today we have college football and professional football. The latter rose out of competitions among local athletic clubs (including YMCA clubs). These were amateur events at first, until in 1892 a club paid $500 to “Pudge” Hefflefinger for a single game (a rather tidy little sum). Pudge earned his pay, winning the game with a fumble return for a touchdown. Within a year other clubs began paying their players, almost all workmen who played in their own time off, for about $10 a game. Eventually, these ad hoc professional teams would formalize, giving birth in 1920 to the American Professional Football Association—which would later change its name to the National Football League. By 1925, professional football was popular enough and successful enough that the question of whether the talented Ohio State football star Harold “Red” Grange would “turn pro” was the national news story of the day. Grange’s decision even involved a sports agent negotiating a contract with the Chicago Bears. Grange would earn over $125,000 for his first year on the team, an enormous sum, well over 400 times the income of the average professional player! That’s quite a change from the early days of tossing a pig bladder at a church tower for nothing but bragging rights.

But despite all that has happened over twenty centuries and the span of half a world, the words of an ancient Greek spectator still echo true today:

“A youth I saw was playing ball,
Seventeen years of age and tall;
From Cos he came, and well I know
The Gods look kindly on that spot.
For when he took the, ball or threw it,
So pleased were all of us to view it,
We all cried out; so great his grace,
Such frank good humour in his face,
That every time he spoke or moved,
All felt as if that youth they loved.”

Maybe that’s all there really is to our love for the game: The simple joy of watching young athletes at play in the crisp cool light of an autumn afternoon. Go team!


*Some people do this, I’m told. I’m male, so “early shopping” means the day before Christmas Eve.

** Greatest Of All Time, not a reference to the Navy football team’s mascot, Bill the Goat. Though you can certainly stop the argument by insisting that Bill is the Goat, and no one can say differently.

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About the author: Howard Shirley grew up rooting for Georgia Tech in Alabama, which prepared him for the trials of being a Vandy fan in Tennessee. Go ‘Dores!

Native American Cuisine

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Fall comes around each year, and the air becomes chilled and the leaves change colors, and it’s time to remember November as Native American Heritage Month.  We remember how Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, assisted the settlers of Plymouth and how Pocahontas and her father, from the Algonquin tribe, assisted in helping the settlers in Jamestown.  Both were kindnesses of friendship and food that unfortunately later came back to bite them.

Since the history of Native Americans is so broad and diverse, during this month of holiday feasting and heritage, we’ve decided to focus on a brief survey of Native American food and cuisine.  Today, few of the Native American tribes eat the same diets that their ancestors ate, but much of the indigenous foods are now incorporated into the cuisines of almost the entire world.

Starting in the northeast, where contact first began with the English, we’ll work our way across the nation. While there were some common staples and practices, such as corn being a very important dietary staple across most of the nation, the first thing we should realize is that all tribes did not eat the same things or cook the same way.  (Keep in mind though that I am a Caucasian woman, and may get some things wrong.)

The Northeastern tribes staple foods were corn, beans and squash.  These foods were often called the “three sisters” because they were planted together: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the maize, while the squash spread out at the base of the corn and beans which provided protection and support for the roots. They also enjoyed the bounty of wildlife, including deer and turkey, along with other birds.

The Southern tribes were serious farmers, using irrigation and crop rotations.  They ate corn, cornmeal and also hominy— interestingly, you can make hominy by adding ashes to the corn, which helps the corn cook faster, and brings out more nutrients.  And of course, with hominy you can make grits. Other foods that we are still eating today were introduced to us by the tribes in the Southeast:  potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash and beans.  Their dies was also supplements by wild berries and grapes as well as peppers and sassafras; making teas and ginger like drinks. They were also manily small game hunters (rabbits and turkeys).

On the Great Plains midwestern Native American tribes were mainly hunters and gatherers. These tribes were big game hunters for bison and caribou, and many tribes would work together to capture these large animals. There was limited farming, and many tribes could only grow a couple of crops so they relied on a trade system.

In the Southwest deserts, animals were more scarce.  For meat, they often ate wild turkey, but they mainly relied on their farming.  Of course, one of the most important foods they grew was maize (corn), they even had 24 different types. They also grew beans, squash, melons, pumpkins and fruit.

On the Pacific Coast, Native Americans used salmon and other fish, seafood, mushrooms, berries, and meats such as deer, duck, and rabbit. These tribes were mostly hunter-gatherers. Since the weather as mostly good all year round, they could rely year-round on the abundant foods in the region. In some areas, acorns were ground into flour. These groups, along with almost all tribes, prepared dried or salted meat to last through the winter season.

Most of the foods we eat during the holidays came from Native Americans.  In 1621, the first Thanksgiving recorded that the feast included deer, water fowl, turkeys, shellfish, eels, squash, corn, and beans, and according to one legend, a native American named Quadequina brought a bowl of popcorn.  The traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas foods, including turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and mashed potatoes were adopted by us white people.

Grits, cornmeal mush, cornbread, succotash, and fried green tomatoes are all uniquely southern foods that we learned about from Native Americans.  Some people in the South still hunt raccoons, opossums, and squirrels, as did the Native Americans; venison is still eaten throughout North America. And what would life be like maple syrup. Southwestern and Mexican foods were also heavily influenced by Native Americans. The food sharing was so important that there is a term, the Columbian Exchange, which explains the sharing of Native American foods with the while settlers, as well as around the world.  They, on the other hand, got many of our diseases as well as some of our foods and weapons.

Over 4 million people have tried Native American food for the first time.  It’s entertaining and you can also see what a few dishes look like.  The consensus is that the food is good, and people want more.

And now for some recipes, because we can’t talk about native American foods without showing some basic recipes… Read the rest of this entry

Why It’s Important to Remember Martin Luther

By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department

Martin Luther

The library celebrated Halloween Day by creative decorations in every department topped off with offers of candy to patrons young and old throughout the day. With the festive atmosphere, it is easy to overlook the important event of 500 years ago by a young monk named Martin Luther, who started a cultural transformation known as the Protestant Reformation. But just how big a deal was Luther’s courageous act of pinning 95 theses to the Wittenburg Church door? No one, especially Luther himself, foresaw the far reaching results.

Years have since revealed the significance of what some have called Luther’s “accidental revolution.” PBS explained it this way with their documentary on Luther released just last month entitled, “Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World:

The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of one on the most important events in Western civilization: the birth of an idea that continues to shape the life of every American today.

In 1517, power was in the hands of the few, thought was controlled by the chosen, and common people lived lives without hope. On October 31 of that year, a penniless monk named Martin Luther sparked the revolution that would change everything.

He had no army. In fact, he preached nonviolence so powerfully that — 400 years later — Michael King would change his name to Martin Luther King to show solidarity with the original movement.

This movement, the Protestant Reformation, changed Western culture at its core, sparking the drive toward individualism, freedom of religion, women’s rights, separation of church and state, and even free public education. Without the Reformation, there would have been no pilgrims, no Puritans, and no America in the way we know it.

Luther’s contributions started out in the religious realm but quickly impacted many areas of everyday life. Because of this, even the nonreligious may offer their genuine appreciation. One atheist mentioned to me how glad he was that Luther introduced to the West “the priesthood of all believers,” thereby giving legitimacy and impetus to human individuality. The leveling effect of Luther’s emphasis began to transform society such that the common people, often excluded from important discussions, were able to read primary documents like the Bible, which Luther masterfully translated into the people’s own local language. Luther gave millions of people a voice. There is a sense in which Luther democratized the faith, an impetus that would later on translate into full blown governmental democracy.

Luther’s continuing work soon also abolished the rigid distinction between clergy and laity. This meant that the concept of work as vocation applied to everyone, thereby exalting all types of work as important. Luther explained, “It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the ‘spiritual estate’; princes, lords, artisans and farmers the ‘temporal estate.’ . . . . All Christians are truly of the ‘spiritual estate.’ …. A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and everyone by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other …”

We take for granted many of the innovations set in motion by Luther that presently form western society. It is appropriate that we give Luther this small moment of recognition.

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