Category Archives: History
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
You’ve all heard of Limericks, I’m sure
Whether racy or actually pure
They’re funny old rhymes
From good old times
And the good ones are rarely demure
They all start in jolly old Britain
Whose poems were occasionally written
In lyrical styles
To bring forth some smiles
And the poets were instantly smitten
The name, it comes from good green Erin
The Maigue Poets used to declare in
the city, Limerick.
Those bards got a kick
from the poetry style used there in.
The transition to bawdier verse
(Or something ocassionally worse).
The decade was roaring
and not a bit boring,
still, reactions were quite terse.
There once was a man, name of Lear
Who wrote them, though not very clear
His meanings were nonsense
With ridiculous contents
And his fame stretches from then to here
Some people delight to change form
From the meter and scheme as a norm
They sometimes depart
On whole, a la cart
But can do so in in whatever manner they choose and still leave it mildly humorous
So let us praise the limerick this way
On this, the Limerick’s Day
They bring joy and delight
And the length is just right
Except like now when I’m carried away!
As one last PS I must add
A very hard time I have had
To not use Nantucket
Or mention a bucket
But I know that would really be bad.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.
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.
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.
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.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Faith and Begorra! It’s March again, which brings us to think about spring, St. Patrick’s Day, and little people. Eh, what?? Little people, you say?
We all know about leprechauns and their pots of gold (if nothing else from the Lucky Charms cereal commercials): little men dressed mostly in green who’ve buried their treasure at the end of the rainbow and don’t want anyone to find it (an ironic choice). In past centuries many have tried to find these pots of gold at the end of rainbows, but most never did.
In Irish folklore, stories and tales of “the little people” abound. We’ve heard these names: leprechauns, banshees, pookas, and selkies. Most of the fantastic creatures from Irish folklore did not like humans. According to the legends, the first inhabitants of Ireland were the Fomorians, who were said to have been giant-like. They were supernatural beings who kept being pushed off the good land of Ireland by humans and the other supernatural race—the Tuatha de Dannann (or the Fae).
According to legend, both of these races were pushed out of Ireland by human invaders. The Fomorians and the Tuath de Dannann fought each other regularly, but the Formorians were ultimately defeated. The Fae were also defeated by humans, the early Irish, and were consigned to live underground, occasionally kidnapping children and replacing them with changelings. They were also known to take unwary humans underground to keep as entertainment for a while, which was always longer than the human expected. The Tuatha de Dannann became known as “The Little People” partly to reduce the terror of the stories told about them, and also because they became lost in the myths of Irish legends.
One of the most well-known of the Little People is the leprechaun. Anyone who has seen Darby O’Gill and the Little People knows what a leprechaun looks like; most people recognize them from Lucky Charms cereal and remember “They’re magically delicious!” (the Lucky Charms, not the leprechauns). But long ago, leprechauns weren’t nice or friendly. They knew all humans wanted their pot of gold, which as everyone knows is at the end of the rainbow. Here are a few things you probably never knew about them.
- Leprechauns are fairies. Fairies are the little people of Ireland and leprechauns are little people; therefore they are fairies
- If you are kind to them, they might give you a golden reward—you may find a golden coin for your trouble
- There are no female leprechauns
- Sean Connery may have won the role of James Bond after Albert (Cubby) and Jane Broccoli saw the movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, starring Connery. They thought he had the sex appeal needed to play Bond
- There is a supposed colony of them in Portland, Oregon in a tiny park dedicated to the magical creatures
- Sometimes they are dressed all in red—these may be their cousins, the clurichauns, though. These red garbed fairies are mean and drunk. Some say that the red clurichauns are what leprechauns become at night after a wee bit of whisky
- At Carlingford Mountain, there are supposed actual remains of a leprechaun under glass. A business man found a tiny suit, gold coins and some bones after hearing a scream. The earth was also scorched near the site
- They are protected under European law. The Carlingford site is considered a Heritage site, protecting the colony of leprechauns and the plants and animals that live in its vicinity
- Although the legend of the leprechaun is known mainly of Ireland, other countries have legends of small men. Although the gnome doesn’t wear all green, he fits the bill as a small magical creature
- Leprechaun means small body in Middle Irish—that fits, since they are small men
- The leprechaun is the mascot for the University of Notre Dame (The Fighting Irish!) now, but it wasn’t always.
- You can make a leprechaun trap—all you need to get started is something shiny to lure the little men. The traps can be simple as a shoebox, or elaborate as your family can imagine. Although no one has caught anything yet—that anyone knows of—it doesn’t hurt to try!
- An Irish Blessing for St. Patrick’s Day
Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Protests have been in the news for several years, coming out of the blue in Tunisia and spreading to the Arab nations becoming the Arab Spring. We all should remember Ferguson and the horrible continuous deaths that sparked anger, indignation and the Black Live Matter movement.
Well, 2017 is gearing up to be another year of protests. The world witnessed the Women’s March of Washington last month, and the marches around the world in solidarity of this cause. There were protests at airports after President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration went into effect. Scientists are planning to march on Earth Day in April. The protest against building two new pipelines is heating up again. Tunisian lawyers were protesting against a new tax that required them to pay a tax on each case they worked on. Students in South Africa are protesting higher fees for college education, which is similar to what happened here in recent years too. There’s even a website https://popularresistance.org that assists in organizing protests and getting the word out about them. And the protests don’t seem to be going away any time soon. The website www.change.org is also helping people find ways to protest by creating and circulating petitions.
In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at one of America’s most famous protestors and his belief in nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929 to a Black middle class family. His father had grown up on a plantation to share cropper parents, but he left as soon as he was able. He worked his way through school and was able to attend Morehouse College, which is an all-black men’s college. He became a preacher, and then married the daughter of Reverend Williams. Reverend Williams was the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church; MLK, Sr., “Daddy King” took over the duties when Williams died.
Both Reverend Williams and Daddy King stood against ill treatment, segregation and violence against African-Americans and MLK, Jr. followed in their footsteps. After several instances of facing white prejudice, Martin began to read about the history of his people, about slavery and the Civil War. Martin had always been taught that all people were equal, but reality was quite different, and it was his fervent desire to set it right.
He graduated from high school when he was fifteen, and attended his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College. He and other students were able to discuss prejudice and liberation of the Negroes long into the night and in many of the classes. On one of his summer vacations during college, he and some friends went to Connecticut to work on a tobacco farm, and it amazed them that they could freely go into stores, movies and restaurants.
After seriously considering a law career, he ended up majoring in sociology. But, he then began to realize that being a minister would allow him to have a closer relationship with his fellow man, and it was a good way to impart information. His friends would ask him to lead them in prayer, plus both his father and grandfather had been pastors. He hadn’t planned to become a minister, but he felt the call.
After he graduated from Morehouse, he went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. It was here that he first heard in depth about what Mahatma Gandhi was doing in India, using non-violent resistance to get the British out of India. He had heard of Gandhi’s protest in India, but this time it was first-hand information from the president of Howard University. His interest in this type of non-violent protest had been piqued when he first read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. He was very interested in this idea of just refusing to cooperate with the entrenched system in place. As King looked deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi and civil resistance, he came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that he discovered the method for social reform that he had been seeking.
As we remember MLK, with his birthday and also Black History Month, and as many times as we can remember his clear call for equality, we remember a leader who showed us how to protest peacefully about things we disagreed with, that we thought were immoral or needed to be fixed. Thank you Dr. King for your example.
“…The nonviolent resisters can summarize their message in the following simple terms: we will take direct action against injustice despite the failure of governmental and other official agencies to act first. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witnesses to truth as we see it.” (quoted from MLK’s Nobel lecture in 1964.)
Fun Fact: there was an error on his birth certificate—his name was listed as Michael Luther King. He was always supposed to be Martin, but was called Mike by his family for a long time. He was able to change and correct his name officially when he applied for his passport.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Soon we will have another quadrennial celebration of the changing hands of the highest office in the land. The inauguration is about hope. Yes, hope. Regardless of your political beliefs, we watch the events of a new presidency with hope of one kind or another. We hope the new person won’t make the mistakes of the old. We hope that our opinions will now be considered and valued. We hope this guy doesn’t screw up. We hope four years go by quickly and uneventfully. They’re all hope, some positive, some negative, but hope all the same.
This new beginning means that we all have a moment to take some time, look at our present situation as a country and decide if we are where we want to be and what we need to do to get wherever that is. This has been the burden of 43 men on 57 separate occasions. They all stood on a platform in Washington D.C., put their hand on a bible and swore to…wait, none of those things are right. True, this is the image we see when we imagine the inauguration in our mind, but none of those things are actually required for the inaugural process.
First of all, the inauguration does not have to be in Washington D.C. George Washington was had his first inaugural in New York and his Second in Philadelphia. Adams was also inaugurated in Philly. Two presidents have taken the oath of office in hotels due to the death of the prior president. Two took the oath in their private residences for the same reason. The most recent extraordinary inauguration was that of Lyndon Johnson in 1963 on Air Force One in Dallas.
The Swearing and the Bible are not dictated anywhere either and neither is the phrase, “So help me God”. Due to some religions prohibiting members from swearing to anything, the option to affirm the oath was built in to the ceremony. Two presidents are believed to have done so, Hoover and Pierce. We know that Pierce did for certain even though he was an Episcopalian and was not required to avoid swearing. Hoover was a Quaker and it was believed he had used affirm, but news real footage shows he said solemnly swear. The only other Quaker president was Richard Nixon, and he also chose to swear. Theodore Roosevelt did not swear on a bible, and John Quincy Adams and that rebel Franklin Pierce swore on books of law to signify they were swearing by the Constitution. Finally, George Washington ad libbed the line “so help me god” and most presidents have followed suit. It is the proscribed thing to complete an oath for federal judiciary members, but there is nothing in the presidential oath that requires it.
The Inauguration Address
The shortest inauguration address on record was Washington’s second address at one hundred and thirty-five words.
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
Not exactly, “Here we go again” but short sweet and to the point. Washington’s brevity seems to be a skill many politicians these days lack. William Henry Harrison should have followed Washington’s lead. His inaugural address was the longest so far and went on for 8445 words. Many people believe this lengthy speech, combined with the cool temperatures and cold wind contributed to the cold, then pneumonia, then pleurisy and eventual death of President Harrison. He died one month later and though he had the longest address, he had the shortest presidency.
The Twentieth of January
Weather was the original reason why most of the early presidents were inaugurated in March. Obviously those brought up from vice president to take the place of a deceased commander in chief weren’t given the option, but Washington Himself was inaugurated in April. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed the date to the Twentieth of January. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was both the last to be inaugurated in March and the first to do so in January. Regardless of the change in date, the warmest and coldest inaugurations have occurred in the January era. President Reagan had the warmest inauguration in 1981 at 55° and the coldest, 7°, for his second in 1985
There have been a few issues with the oath over the years as well. Chief Justice Fuller accidentally replaced the word protect with maintain in regards to the constitution when administering the oath to Taft. Ironically, Taft did the same at Hoover’s inauguration when he, Taft, was chief justice. Chief Justice Stone replaced Harry Truman’s stand-alone middle initial with the name Shipp, one of Truman’s grandfathers’ last name, but Truman just rolled with it and said Harry S. Truman anyway. Finally Barak Obama waited for Justice Rogers to realize a gaff when he put faithfully in the wrong place when reciting the oath. Rogers moved the term but still had it wrong. Rogers and Obama completed the Oath properly in the Oval Office the next day.
All these little bits of trivia notwithstanding, we can observe this inauguration in which ever spirit we choose, be it happy, sad, skeptical or hopeful. However there will be people looking for mistakes or records, swearing or affirming and what the temperature was to add this fifty-eighth inaugural to the history books.
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
This poem is also a candidate for the most printed, quoted, illustrated, and parodied poem in America. Most people, age six and above, are so familiar with the poem they can easily supply the words to the first lines:
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the_____________;
Not a creature was stirring, not even a _______________.
If you identified the rhyming words “house,” and “mouse,” you are in a vast majority. The poem is best known as “The Night before Christmas.” It first appeared on the second page of the Sentinel newspaper in Troy (New York) on December 23, 1823. The fifty-six line poem was published anonymously with the title, “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” It became an instant success as it spread in papers throughout the region.
Problems of Christmas Past
While “The Night before Christmas” continues to play an active role in shaping our Christmas imagination, this was not always the case. Christmas in early America was not always welcome, for its common celebration was very different from our current practices. In New England, for instance, Christmas was seldom celebrated for the first 200 years of settlement. There was instead a strong social hostility that suppressed, and sometimes outlawed, its observance. Historian Stephen Nissenbaum (University of Massachusetts) explains:
The holiday they suppressed was not what we probably mean when we think of ‘traditional’ Christmas. As we shall see, it involved behavior that most of us would find offensive and even shocking today – rowdy public displays of excessive eating and drinking, the mockery of established authority, aggressive begging (often with the threat of doing harm), even the boisterous invasion of wealthy homes.
It may seem odd that Christmas was ever celebrated in such a fashion. But there was good reason. December was the major ‘punctuation mark’ in the rhythmic cycle of work in northern agricultural societies, a time when there was a minimum of work to be performed. The deep freeze of midwinter had not yet set in; the work of gathering the harvest and preparing for winter was done; and there was plenty of newly-fermented beer or wine as well as meat from freshly slaughtered animals – meat that had to be consumed before it spoiled. St. Nicholas, for example, is associated with the Christmas season chiefly because his ‘name-day,’ December 6, coincided in many European countries with the end of the harvest and slaughter season.
Christmas was a social challenge in early American life. To be sure, there were churches and Christians in America who celebrated December 25th for religious reasons as they commemorated the birth of Christ The very name of the holiday (holy day) recalls Christ’s Mass for a reason. The basis for the practice goes far back to the early church fathers, beginning 200 A.D. and later, meaning that the date for Christmas as being December 25th was not likely the church simply displacing the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus, as is commonly claimed. The early church rationale is clearly otherwise, for their concern was to avoid pagan ways and persecution while reasoning to a common date for Christ’s conception and death. The early church thought Jesus was conceived at the same time of year he died, reflecting a symmetry in the redemption of the world. Since Jesus died during Passover time on the 25 March, they reckoned that Jesus was conceived on March 25. If Jesus were conceived at that time of month, his birth nine months later would be December 25th.
Even though the Christian religious element was certainly a part of Christ-mas, it was largely discounted by the more influential Protestant churches which refused to choose a date for Christ’s birth because the Bible is silent on the issue. Instead of Christmas, many focused their post-harvest celebrations on Thanksgiving and New Year’s. America in the early 1800s was ready for a new Christmas emphasis. This came in part from the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”
By speaking of the night before Christmas, the poem takes the focus from common concerns with Christmas day itself. Taking one step back, it introduces players on the scene with a delight that ignites the imagination of children and adults alike. The poem simultaneously picks up emerging social developments of the day while also promoting the same. It gleefully reframes Christmas at just the right time, in just the right way, so that Christmas takes an amazing turn which continues through present day.
The Dutch Influence: Enter the Good Cheer of St. Nicholas
“The Night Before Christmas” centers on the activities of a pipe smoking “jolly old elf” identified throughout as St. Nicholas, or St. Nick. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care / in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” When St. Nick arrives with a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, the poet remarks, “With a little old driver, so lively and quick / I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.” After the toy laden sleigh is flown atop the roof, to the poet’s surprise, “Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.”
The poet then spends a full thirteen lines describing the appearance and mannerisms of St. Nick, concluding significantly: “He was chubby and plump, a right jolly elf / And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself / A wink of his eye and a twist of his head / soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;” The remark about “nothing to dread” is especially appropriate. What a different feeling from Christmas past when reveling home invaders made for tense and cheerless times. In contrast, St. Nicholas leaves gifts in all the stockings, and a parting word affirming the new Christmas tone: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
With all the talk about St. Nicholas, it would surprise no one that the poet had connections to Dutch Christmas traditions. In Europe of the 1500s the Protestant Reformation undermined the practice of honoring the saints. Yet Biography.com explains:
St. Nicholas, however, remained an important figure in Holland.
The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, December 6. It was a common practice for children to put out their shoes the night before. In the morning, they would discover the gifts that St. Nicholas had left there for them. Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas, known to them as Sint Nikolaas or by his nickname Sinterklaas, and his gift-giving ways to America in the 1700s.
In America, St. Nicholas went through many transformations and eventually Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. Instead of giving gifts on December 6, he became a part of the Christmas holiday. . . . The cartoonist Thomas Nast added to the St. Nicholas legend with an 1881 drawing of Santa as wearing a red suit with white fur trim. Once a kind, charitable bishop, St. Nicholas had become the Santa Claus we know today.
So the “Night Before Christmas,” focused especially on “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” The real Saint Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in a Greek speaking area of what is now southern Turkey. He lost his parents early on in an epidemic, but inherited their wealth. As a devout Christian, he took seriously Jesus’ words to “sell what you have and give to the poor.” Even though exiled and imprisoned for his faith during Roman Imperial persecution by Diocletian, Nicholas maintained an amazing generosity to those in need, especially extending concern and protection to children.
One story of his humble generosity tells how he responded to a poor man who had no dowry for his three daughters. This meant the daughters might be sold into slavery. Under the cover of darkness, so as not to broadcast his good deed, Nicholas threw three bags of gold through the poor man’s window, and they landed in and about stockings the three girls left by the fire to dry. This eventually led to hanging stockings “in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.”
In summation, turning again to the Christmas scholar Nissenbaum:
… The next incarnation of Christmas was taking shape. That incarnation engaged powerful new forces that were coming to dominate much of American society in the years after 1820—a heady brew that mixed a rapidly commercializing economy with a culture of domesticity centered on the well-being of children. Both elements were present in a new Christmas poem that soon came to define the rituals of the season in middle-class households throughout the United States. . . . . Although it was set on the night before Christmas, its subject was not the nativity but ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas.’ So it would be Santa Claus, not Jesus of Nazareth, whose influence finally succeeded in transforming Christmas from a season of misrule into a day of quieter family pleasures.
Ironic indeed. Yet there remains a subtle historical perspective unspoken by Nissenbaum. Not to be missed is the further irony of the subtle yet stupendous influence of the little Christ child lying in a manger on the youth from Turkey who became St. Nicholas. The saint who transformed Christmas would honestly say, he himself is a transformer only because of the impression on his heart by the Christ of Christmas Day. And St. Nicholas, both the historical and symbolic, would no doubt continue this hearty good will in wishing,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
Note: “The Night Before Christmas” did not remain anonymous for long. It was later attributed to and claimed by Clement Clarke Moore, a scholar in New York City. However, the family of Henry Livingston eventually contested Moore’s claim, saying their father had written the poem, which they and a housekeeper heard at home as early as 1807. There have been detailed studies of word usage and phraseology by two scholars who separately conclude the internal evidence points best to Livingston as the author. But the external evidence has in the past led most to attribute the poem to Moore.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
We all know about Christmas when we talk about December holidays. But there are other holidays around the world (and often celebrated in the United States) that you may not know about. You never know, you may want more days off to celebrate these holidays. Or a reason to celebrate in the first place!
Dec. 5 – The Day of the Ninja
This day was either created to commemorate Tom Cruise’s movie the Last Samurai (which had a ninja bit in it) or it was created by the Ninja Burger. Either way it really caught on, showing up in the nation’s consciousness by 2007. Now it has evolved to something similar to Talk Like a Pirate Day. So dress like a ninja on December 5 or watch your favorite ninja movie(s).
Dec. 6 – St. Nicholas’ Day
Yes, this is the same Nicholas that our Santa Claus comes from. Nicholas of Myra was a Christian bishop who legends say was a gift-giver, often putting coins in people’s shoes. Many people often left their shoes outside, so as not to track in outside dirt and keep the floors clean. It would have been easy to drop coins in shoes with no one watching. This day is most observed in the European countries (or families with European backgrounds here in the U.S.). Children often receive treats – including candy, cookies, small toys, or fruit – in stockings, socks, shoes or bags on December 6. Some churches have special services dedicated to the feast of St Nicholas on this day.
Dec. 10 – Dewey Decimal System Day
For library lovers everywhere, surprise! This day commemorates the birth of Melville Dewey (born Dec. 10), the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System of library classification, and if you’ve ever looked up books with a three digit number in a library, you were using the Dewey Decimal System. Maybe you’ve never thought about how you find a book in the library?? Dewey divided all of the world’s knowledge into ten sections, starting with 000 and ending with 900, using decimals to continue to group books into smaller and smaller subject categories, which would make longer and longer numbers (the longest so far being 331.892829225209712743090511). Anything that didn’t fit in any category was put in the 000s, which explains why computer books are there. They weren’t invented until many years after his death!
Dec. 13 – Saint Lucia’s Day
Saint Lucia (or Lucy) was a Christian martyr who according to legend brought food to Christians hiding in the caves and catacombs. She lit her way with a candle wreath, leaving her hands free to hold as much food as possible. This day is celebrated (or commemorated) mostly in the Scandinavian countries, where winter lasts longer; since she brought light, which is most appreciated on dark days. These days, girls are in white dresses with candle wreaths, and they bring cookies and pastries to everyone in the household.
Dec. 16-24 – Los Posadas
Los Posadas are held across Mexico and are becoming more and more popular in the United States. The word posada means inn or shelter, and these nine days commemorate and re-enact the arduous trip that Mary and Joseph took to get to Bethlehem. The celebration begins with a procession through the neighborhood where the participants hold candles and sing Christmas carols. Sometimes there will be individuals who play the parts of Mary and Joseph who lead the procession. Each night they go to one designated home in the neighborhood. There is even a special song for this event—it is “La Cancion Para Pedir Posada”. When they are finally let in to the house, the celebration starts. It can be either a big party or a small gathering. Often children get to break piñatas to get candy. I’m sure they like this part!
Switching gears completely, and also on December 16 (this year, it always falls on the third Friday of December) is Ugly Christmas Sweater Day. Basically it is an excuse to have a party and wear the sweaters you are often gifted that you wouldn’t normally wear. National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day (.com) has created a way you can make your party, either at home or at the office, a fundraising event. You can have fun and do good at the same time! In many countries, the holiday is associated with fundraising events for children’s charity.
Dec. 17 – Wright Brothers Day
In 1959, Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed December 17 as Wright Brothers Day. This is the anniversary of the day they actually got their first plane prototype up in the air in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. This plane, Flyer, managed to stay in the air 12 seconds and it flew close to 120 feet. It was definitely a cause for celebration.
Dec. 24-31 – Hanukkah
The most well-known holiday on this list is Hanukkah, which this year starts on December 24 and lasts eight days. Since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, the date for the start of Hanukkah is different each year. This Festival of Lights commemorates a miraculous event in Jewish history. The Jews were rebelling against their overlords, the Seleucid Greeks, during the Maccabean Revolt—some of the Jews revolted because they didn’t want to worship idol gods. After the victorious Jews regained the Temple in Jerusalem, they rededicated it to God. When they checked the oil for lighting the menorah (the seven candle slotted candelabrum), they only had enough oil for one day. That oil lasted for eight days, by which time they had created a new supply of consecrated oil. The priests called this The Festival of Lights or Hanukkah (or Chanukah.) This is why menorahs have nine candles, eight for the eight day festival and the middle candle to light them with.
Dec. 26 – Boxing Day
Boxing Day is always the day after Christmas and is mainly celebrated in the countries of the United Kingdom. There are similar celebrations in Germany, though. Why Boxing Day? The day after Christmas was traditionally the day the collection boxes in the churches were opened and the money distributed to the poor. Some churches are still carrying on this tradition. In Holland, the boxes were ceramic, and called pigs—could this be where our term piggy bank comes from?? Also, servants were given the day off on this day, probably to be able to get a share of the collected coffers from the collection boxes. So many companies continued this tradition in Britain that December 26th is now an official public holiday. Boxing Day has become Britain’s Black Friday, but many people are unhappy with this.
*Boxing Day is also St. Stephen’s Day—the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas tells the story of the king who goes out to help a poor family on the Feast of Stephen, or St. Stephen’s Day.
Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by Ron Karenga; his goal was to reconnect black Americans to their African roots and recognize their struggles as a people by building community. Derived from the Swahili term, “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first-fruits,” Kwanzaa is based on African harvest celebrations. According to the official Kwanzaa Web site,
“Kwanzaa was created out of the philosophy of Kawaida, which is a cultural nationalist philosophy that argues that the key challenge in black people’s lives is the challenge of culture, and that what Africans must do is to discover and bring forth the best of their culture, both ancient and current, and use it as a foundation to bring into being models of human excellence and possibilities to enrich and expand our lives.”
Just as many African harvest celebrations run for seven days, Kwanzaa has seven principles known as the Nguzo Saba. They are umoja (unity); kujichagulia (self-determination); ujima (collective work and responsibility); ujamaa (cooperative economics); nia (purpose); kuumba (creativity); and imani (faith). Kwanzaa is not celebrated as much as it was in the 1960s and 70s, for several reasons. First is the overkill of Christmas celebrating, with presents and food, and the second is it’s a relatively recent creation, which means it doesn’t carry a long tradition of celebration behind it.