Category Archives: History

You’ve All Heard of Limericks, I’m Sure

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Limericks can even be done for Math!

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

City of Limerick, Ireland

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.

Original Edward Lear Limerick

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.

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Happy 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.

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THE BRONTË BROTHER

Branwell’s portrait of the Brontë sisters. He painted a column over his own likeness in the center, but the image has re-emerged over time. From left to right: Anne, Emily and Charlotte

By Sharon Reily, Reference Department

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë spent much of their short lives cloistered in a small English village parsonage, yet created some of the world’s most important novels, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. But another gifted Brontë sibling, who shared the same upbringing and artistic ambitions as his sisters, failed at almost everything he tried. April 21 marks the 201st anniversary of Charlotte’s birth, but instead of celebrating that landmark, let’s take a look at Patrick Branwell Brontë and the impact he had on the lives and works of the Brontë sisters.

The Brontë Family

Patrick Branwell Brontë (Branwell) was born on June 26, 1817, one of six Brontë children, and the only son. In 1820 his father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, moved his family to the parsonage in Howarth, a village on the edge of West Yorkshire moors. After Branwell’s mother died a year later, his older sisters, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily, were sent to school, leaving Branwell and his younger sister Anne at the parsonage. Maria and Elizabeth soon died from tuberculosis, but Charlotte and Emily were brought home before they became ill.

The four surviving Brontë children were extremely close, and their imaginations and creativity flourished in the insulated parsonage. The four created drawings, maps, complex stories, and poems about an imaginary world, Angria, which was inspired by Branwell’s toy soldiers. Branwell and Charlotte collaborated closely on the Angria works, while Anne and Emily created their own fictional world, Gondal. The siblings continued escaping to the elaborate Angria and Gondal sagas into their twenties.

Promising Son

Branwell, slight with flaming red hair, was his father’s favorite, and the Reverend pinned his hopes for the family’s fortune on his son’s accomplishments. He was a fine scholar, described as “brilliant” and “genius.” He aspired to be a famous novelist, poet and painter.

Haworth Parsonage

Failures and Disappointments

In 1838 Branwell set himself up as a portrait painter near Haworth, but failed to earn a living and returned to the parsonage. He was, however, successful as a witty drinking companion for other local young artists. In 1840, Branwell gained work as a tutor with the Postlethwaite family. He spent his free time writing poetry and drinking with friends. He bragged that the family thought him to be a sober, virtuous young gentleman, when the opposite was true. He was fired after six months, when the family learned he had fathered a child (which died) with a local servant girl, and he crept home to Haworth.

Branwell next became “assistant clerk in charge” at a railway station. The Brontës’ hopes for his chances at advancement were dashed when he was fired for incompetence. Again, he returned to Haworth a failure.

In 1843, his youngest sister Anne, working as governess for the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall, recommended him for a position as a tutor. Unfortunately, Branwell began an affair with his employer’s wife, Lydia. It is uncertain whether he or the much older Mrs. Robinson initiated the relationship. Mr. Robinson discovered the affair and fired the hapless young man, prompting his downward spiral.

Back in Haworth, Branwell had to face the shocked disapproval of his family. Charlotte was especially disappointed. Branwell’s use of alcohol and opiates increased, but he continued to write. He rejoiced when Mr. Robinson died, as he imagined finally achieving wealth and status by marrying the widowed Lydia. She rejected him.

Domestic Disturbance

Bleak cartoon by Branwell – Death challenges him to a fight

After this last disaster, Branwell gave in completely to alcohol, opium, and depression. He flew into rages, threatened to kill himself or his father, and begged friends for money for alcohol. One evening he set fire to his bed, and from that point forward his father made him share his bed for the family’s safety.

The effect on the Brontë family of Branwell’s dramatic decline was profound, especially considering his early potential. Anne may have been the first to suffer directly from Branwell’s actions. She was respected in her position as the Robinson’s governess, yet she resigned a month before Branwell was fired. It is speculated that she left when she learned of his affair.

If the depiction of the situation at the Haworth parsonage portrayed in Masterpiece Theater’s To Walk Invisible is accurate, life with Branwell was a complete misery. Branwell’s violent rages, public drunkenness and steady deterioration were horrifying and embarrassing. Charlotte ceased speaking to him after learning of the affair, and wrote to a friend that she could not allow her to visit if “he” was at home. Emily was more accepting of Branwell, and stayed up to help him to bed after his nights of drinking. One biographer argues that Emily was destroyed by watching her beloved brother’s descent into madness. After his death, Emily hardly ate, and she only survived him by a few months.

Anne at 13 drawn by Charlotte

While Branwell was wallowing in self-pity and addiction, his sisters were writing their famous novels, which were submitted with pen names. Jane Eyre (by Charlotte writing as Currer Bell), Wuthering Heights (by Emily writing as Ellis Bell), and Agnes Grey (by Anne writing as Acton Bell) were all published in 1847. All three were quickly successful, especially Jane Eyre. Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in 1848.

When Branwell died at age 31 in September 1848, the official cause was “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” (malnutrition). It is now thought that he actually died from acute tuberculosis aggravated by alcoholism, drug use and alcohol withdrawal (delirium tremens).

After Branwell’s death, it was clear that both Emily and Anne were also ill. Emily never left the parsonage again after his funeral and died of tuberculosis three months later at age 30. Despite Charlotte’s care, Anne died in May of 1849 at only 29. Charlotte enjoyed much fame after publishing two more novels, Shirley in 1849 and Villette in 1853. In 1854 she married Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls. Charlotte found unexpected happiness with Nicholls, but died less than a year later in the early stages of pregnancy.

Branwell’s Influence

In addition to the sorrow and disruption Branwell’s deterioration caused in the Brontës’ daily lives, he also figured prominently in their works. Here are just a few examples:

Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond in 1850

Jane Eyre

  • Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s mad wife, was directly influenced by Branwell. A topic of debate in the 1840s was how best to care for the mentally ill. Was it better for families to send their drug addicted, deranged or mentally incompetent children to asylums or keep them at home? The Brontë family faced this issue with Branwell, just as Mr. Rochester did with Bertha. Mr. R’s torn feelings about Bertha – his rage toward her mixed with his determination to care for her – reflect the Brontës’ conflicted feelings about Branwell.
  • Bertha’s intemperate conduct was Mr. R’s first hint that his new bride was deranged, and Branwell provided the model for that behavior.
  • Bertha’s attempt to torch Mr. R in his bed was inspired by Branwell setting his own bed on fire.
  • When scenes involving Bertha were criticized as “too horrid,” Charlotte replied that such behavior was “but too natural.” She knew this from her personal experience with Branwell.
  • The character of Jane’s loathsome cousin John Reed could also have been influenced by Branwell, as he and the adult John shared several traits – drunkenness, indebtedness, and violent rages.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

  • Helen Huntingdon, the heroine of Anne’s novel, escapes with her young son from her abusive, drunken, and philandering husband, Arthur. When Helen learns that Arthur’s degenerate lifestyle has made him ill, she returns to care for him until he dies. The red-headed Arthur is an unflattering portrait of Branwell, and Helen’s actions echo the Brontës’ horror at Branwell’s behavior combined with their concern for him.

    Emily by Branwell – the only remaining fragment of a family portrait

Wuthering Heights

  • Alcoholism and lunacy are both elements of Emily’s novel. Paul Marchbanks states in A Costly Morality, “Cathy I demonstrates the ability to induce delirium, sickness, and prolonged mental illness in herself at will. The anti-hero Heathcliff, like the depressed and self-destructive Branwell, oscillates between desiring and spurning such madness, craving the restlessness of lunacy when generated by his dead lover’s haunting spirit and later spurning such mental disorder when triggered by the irritating presence of young Cathy II.”
  • An early biographer of Emily, Mary Robinson, acknowledges Branwell’s influence on the creation of Heathcliff: “How can I let people think that the many basenesses of her hero’s character are the gratuitous inventions of an inexperienced girl? How can I explain the very existence of Wuthering Heights? . . . Only by explaining Branwell.”
  • Cathy’s brother Hindley Earnshaw, like Branwell, descends into alcoholism, finally drinking himself to death.

Conclusion

The Brontë sisters’ lives were short, yet their accomplishments were great. In contrast, Branwell’s short life was marked by failure and ruin. Despite his influence on his sisters’ works, Branwell was probably unaware of their successful novels. As Charlotte explained, “We could not tell him of our efforts for fear of causing him too deep a pang of remorse for his own time misspent, and talents misapplied.”

Plaque commemorating siblings’ birthplace in Thornton, Great Britain

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National Humor Month: Weird Library and Literary Facts

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

Once again the time has come for us to make you smile through the medium of the blogosphere. Last year we regaled you of the rather painstakingly concocted tale of St. Hilarius, to some fanfare. This year however, a different tack is needed. This year I am going to give you some of the most outrageous books and library facts imaginable. All will be true and factual. That’s what I deal in, you know facts. So hold on to your mouse for some of the great absurdities of literature and libraries.

Portrait of Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) by Anton Raphael Mengs

  1. Libraries have more cardholders than Visa.
  2. Libraries have more locations than McDonalds.
  3. Casanova, one of the greatest lovers in history, was a librarian.
  4. Ranganathan, an Indian Librarian and Mathematician, created five laws of library science (not to be confused with the three laws of robotics created by Isaac Asimov): 1) Books are for use. 2) Every reader his book. 3) Every book its reader. 4) Save the time of the user. 5) The library is a growing organism.
  5. King Æthelred, often known as the Unready, was also known as the librarian king, or Writðengel, because of his large collection of hand copied manuscripts.
  6. Before becoming a leader in the Chinese communist movement, Mao Tse Tung was a librarian at Beijing University.
  7. 331.892829225209712743090511 is the longest Dewey decimal number on record. It deals with labor relations in tractor manufacturing in Canada in 2001.
  8. The book How the World Began, written in 1962, is the work of the youngest published author ever, Dorothy Straight, who penned the book for her grandmother at age four.
  9. The first prose novel, The Tale of the Genji, was written by Lady Murasaki Shikibu 1000 years ago (approximately 1008 CE).
  10. William Shakespeare is credited with inventing more words than any other single person. Among his creations are: hurry, boredom, disgraceful, hostile, money’s worth, obscene, puke, perplex, on purpose, shooting star, and sneak.
  11. While in Tangiers, William S. Burroughs was known to put his cat, Ginger, into a child’s suit and insist he be served in cafes.
  12. The longest sentence in the book Les Miserables is 823 words long, and it still falls short of the current record holder. Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age(1964) by Bohumil Hrabal is a novel made up of a single sentence that goes on for 128 pages.
  13. In early drafts of Gone with the Wind, Scarlet O’Hara was named Pansy.
  14. Generations have grown up with the Arab street urchin Aladdin, but the original story from Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights begins, “Aladdin was a little Chinese boy.”
  15. The Land of Oz is named after a filing cabinet. L. Frank Baum had two; one was A-N the other O-Z.
  16. Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham using less than 50 different words on a dare from his editor. John Milton used more than 8,000 different words to write Paradise Lost.
  17. Orson Wells radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, of October 30, 1938, was so realistic that people actually believed there was an alien invasion occurring just outside the New York metropolitan area. Police attempted to break in the broadcast studio to end the show because of the number of distraught calls they were receiving.
  18. Lisbeth Slander, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is based on Stieg Larsson’s idea of what Pippi Longstocking would be like as a grown up.
  19. A note from The Strand Magazine – September 1903

    Sherlock Holmes may have had the first real fandom. When Arthur Conan Doyle killed off the famous detective he had begun to tire of in His Last Bow, over 20,000 people canceled their subscription to The Strand Magazine. In his autobiography, Doyle writes, “They say that a man is never properly appreciated until he is dead, and the general protest against my summary execution of Holmes taught me how many and numerous were his friends. ‘You Brute!’ was the beginning of a letter which one lady sent me….”

  20. The first book bought on Amazon was called Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought.
  21. Bibliosmia is the enjoyment of the smell of old books.
  22. Agatha Christie disliked her creation Hercule Poirot, calling him “a detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep.”
  23. Evelyn Waugh’s first wife’s name was Evelyn. They were known as ‘He-Evelyn’ and ‘She-Evelyn’.
  24. Edgar Allen Poe, famous for his horror stories, actually invented the mystery genre and was one of the first to propose a solution to the cosmological problem known as Olbers’ Paradox.
  25. Stephen King was once arrested for vandalism when he went into a bookstore in Virginia and began signing copies of his book.
  26. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge joined the army under the name Silas Tomkyn Cumberbatch.
  27. Noted diarist, Samuel Pepys, made the first recorded instance of an English person drinking tea on 25 September 1660.
  28. Mickey Spillane insisted that 50,000 copies of his book Kiss Me, Deadly be destroyed for a single typo. The comma was left off the title.
  29. Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five(1984) was Neil Gaiman’s first published book.
  30. Owing to failing eyesight, James Joyce wrote much of his novel, Finnegan’s Wake, in crayon on pieces of cardboard.
  31. Portrait of Roald Dahl taken 20 April 1954 by Photographer Carl Van Vechten

    Roald Dahl was a taste tester for Cadbury’s Chocolate in his youth.

  32. Ian Fleming based many of the traits of James Bond on his friend and amiable rival, Roald Dahl. The two met while working for British Intelligence.
  33. J. R. R. Tolkien was once known to have dressed up as an axe-wielding Anglo-Saxon warrior and chased his neighbor as a jest.
  34. The Count of Monte Cristo has such a vivid and realistic description of Dantes’s incarceration due to the fact that Dumas drew upon his recollection of his own time in prison for breaking the appellation d’origine controlee laws (essentially selling counterfeit cheese).
  35. The Hogwarts houses names were originally written down on an air sickness bag because J. K. Rowling came up with them while on a plane.
  36. In 1871, Mark Twain held patents for a scrapbooking technique and for an elastic hook and eye strap for garments similar to those used on modern bras.
  37. Ernest Vincent Wright wrote his 50,000 word novel, Gadsby, without using the letter “e”. Georges Perec did the same thing in French with his novel, La Disparition, but it has the added quality of being translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Russian, Turkish, Dutch, Romanian, Croatian and Japanese all without using the most common letter in their respective language.
  38. M6 Toll Junction T1 in the UK, those poor books

    In building the M6 Toll Road in the UK, some 2.5 million Mills & Boon (equivalent to the American Harlequin romances) novels were pulped and mixed into the tarmac to help the surface absorbency.

  39. While visiting a Harry Potter chat room J. K. Rowling was told to be quiet because she didn’t know enough about Harry Potter.
  40. The Alice who inspired Alice in Wonderland is not the same one who inspired Through the Looking Glass.

So that is the list of the craziest facts about books, authors and libraries I could find. (Okay, I also spend a fair amount of time writing fiction as well so I may have made up a few of these to add a little spice to the mix. Sorry, I can’t let the first of April go by without some fun). Were you able to figure out the crazy but true from the too good to be true? Here are the purposeful missteps:

  • King Æthelred was not known as the librarian king. His successor, Alfred the Great, was the first English king to author books.
  • Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl did have a friendly, gentleman’s rivalry during their time in the O.S.S. and Dahl was a war hero and lady’s man, but when asked about his inspiration, Fleming did not list his old chum Dahl.
  • Alexandre Dumas never served a day in jail for any crime, and chees was not added to the AoC laws until 1925.
  • Stephen King was once mistaken for a vandal in a bookstore in Alice Springs, Australia when he went in and began signing copies of his books, but the owner realized who he was long before the authorities were called.
  • Burroughs did have a cat named Ginger and got up to some amazing antics in Morocco, but putting Ginger in a suit was not one of them (that we know of).

Leprechauns, Shamrocks, Snakes, Oh My!: Irish Folklore

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?

The Fomorians, John Duncan’s interpretation of the sea gods of Irish mythology

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).

Painting by John Bauer of two trolls with a human child they have raised

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.

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Martin Luther King Jr.: Model Protester

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

640px-martin_luther_king_jr_i_have_a_dream_speech_lincoln_memorial

Martin Luther King Jr –. I have a Dream Speech at the Lincoln Memorial

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.

1963 March on Washington

1963 March on Washington

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.

568px-martin_luther_king_jr-_montgomery_arrest_1958

Martin Luther King Jr. Montgomery Arrest 1958

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.

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Inauguration Day

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

barack_obamas_2013_inaugural_address_at_the_u-s-_capitolSoon 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.

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas.

Lyndon B. Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Dallas, Texas.

Washington D.C.

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 Bible

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

washingtons_inauguration_at_philadelphia_cph-3g12011

The second inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States took place in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia on March 4, 1793.

The shortest inauguration address on record was Washington’s second address at one hundred and thirty-five words.

                Fellow Citizens:

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

Franklin D. Roosevelt's First Inauguration

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inauguration

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

The Oath

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.

Rudyard Kipling: Extreme Traveler

By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department

225px-rudyard_kipling_portraitRudyard Kipling, the name brings up so many different connotations, depending on how old you are. If you’re an octogenarian you may have grown up on his adventure stories. Those of you who were children of the sixties, now in your sixties yourself, may remember him as another colonialist apologist whose inclusion in your curriculum was something to fight against. If you happen to be of the eighties then the strongest connection you may have is through the cub scouts where terms like akela and law of the pack proliferate. Finally, for grade school kids, he is the guy that wrote that movie they liked so much last year. So who is the real Kipling? He is all of these things and more, including a man who couldn’t stay in place until he was in his 40’s (which was especially impressive considering that travel during that time period was quite a long undertaking).

Kipling was named after a popular lake in Staffordshire, England where his parents had met and often visited, but he was a true child of empire. He was born at the end of December, 1865 in Bombay (now called Mumbai). His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was a teacher and later principal there before moving 900 miles north to head another school in Lahore. The elder Kipling was an artist of some renown, having contributed designs to the Victoria and Albert Museum and other well-known buildings of the time as well as illustrations for his son’s books. Rudyard’s mother Alice (nee MacDonald) ran her husband’s household and did her best to help advance his career, but she also wrote and published poems, was musical and sewed.

Young Ruddy spent his first five years in Bombay with his parents before he and his younger sister Trix, then three, were sent to live and go to school in England (big move #1). Kipling refers to this time very darkly and was unhappy. After it had been determined he was not educationally suited for Oxford he returned to India (actually, what is now Pakistan) to work for a newspaper in Lahore where his father was now head of a new Art School (big move #2). It was during his time with the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore that his stories became known to others. An open minded editor allowed for more creative freedom and thus Kipling published thirty-nine stories through his newspaper. In late 1887 he transferred to a sister newspaper, The Pioneer, in Allahabad where he would publish 41 more stories (big move #3). After a dispute with The Pioneer he was sacked and decided to return to England, via Asia and North America (big move #4, via the scenic route). He traveled to San Francisco via Rangoon, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, and before traveling extensively through the United States and Canada.

Kipling's England: A map of England showing Kipling's homes.

Kipling’s England: A map of England showing Kipling’s homes.

Upon his return to Britain, he continued writing and had a nervous breakdown. After recovering, he acquired a new publishing agent, Wolcott Balestier. It was through Wolcott that he met Caroline, called Carrie, Balestier’s sister. While traveling (visiting South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and once again India), Kipling heard of Wolcott’s untimely death and proposed to Carrie by telegram. They were married in 1892.  For a while, the Kiplings lived in the United States (big move #5) and it was here that many of his most famous works were written; Captain’s Courageous, Gunga Din and the Jungle Book. It was also here that his two daughters were born and where the older, Josephine died. After several years in new England near his wife’s family, the couple decided to return to England (final big move #6, even though he moved again within England).

It was in England that John, known as Jack, was born. Kipling continued to write and publish, and two of his works form this period, including White Man’s Burden, provide a great deal of fodder for his critics. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, the first English language author to do so. He continued to travel (mostly to South Africa) and wrote Kim at this time as well.

Lt John Kipling.

Lt John Kipling.

Seven Years later a great tragedy befell the Kiplings. With the start of World War I, their eighteen year old son Jack wanted to enlist in the Navy and once refused, the army. He was kept from doing so by poor eyesight. Rudyard, ever the patriotic Briton, called in a favor and got his son posted to the Irish Guards as an officer. Sadly, like so many young men of that time he was killed in trenches, during the Battle of Loos. His body was not identified until 1992. The loss of Jack affected Kipling. His patriotism dimmed and he began to work with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the organization that maintains the overseas graves of British Commonwealth military personnel. He did continue to write for the next twenty years. He finally passed away January the Eighteenth, 1936.

In his time Kipling was considered a great writer and thinker, but his work has been up and down since then. Many literary scholars find his stance of imperialism to be, at best, an unfortunate relic of his time and place, and at worst, uncaring racial and regional superiority. Orwell admired his ability but decried his message. Many universities removed him from curriculum due to protests in the 1960s. In the field of children’s literature however he has remained, fairly consistently, well regarded. His Jungle Book and Just So Stories have been favorites for generations and have been adapted many times for film, stage and television. His work, the Jungle Book in particular provided a structure for the new junior division of Boy Scouts Kipling’s good friend Robert Baden Powell created in 1916. Laws of the pack, Akela and Baloo are terms familiar to many people who have gone through the cub programs in many countries. While he still carries a whiff of imperialist dogma around with him, many modern scholars choose to look at him as a window to a time outside of our experience.

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The Anonymous Poem that Shaped Christmas in America

By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department

‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’ handwritten Manuscript, gifted by author Clement C. Moore (credit: New-York Historical Society)

‘A Visit From St. Nicholas’ handwritten Manuscript, gifted by author Clement C. Moore
(credit: New-York Historical Society)

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.

birth-of-jesus-1150128_1280Christmas 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.”

jonathan_g_meath_portrays_santa_clausThe 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.”christmas-1091570_1280

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.

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December: What else happens besides Christmas?

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!

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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).

nicholas-1062539_1920Dec. 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!

lucia-13-12-06Dec. 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!

10914365294_eac0fbeefb_bDec. 16 – Ugly Christmas Sweater Day

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.

hanuka-menorah-by-gil-dekel-2014Dec. 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.

342794044_eaec653587_bDec. 26-Jan. 1 – Kwanzaa

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.

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