Category Archives: Holidays
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Easter is a holiday that everyone knows is Christian, right? Or is it another pagan festival corrupted to fit the recruitment needs of the early church? Just like a paraphrase of the old Reese’s commercial, you got your pagan in my Christianity or vice versa.
Easter as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of man is undeniably Christian. It’s not misplaced in the year like Christmas, to help offset the yule festivities, or made up to cover an existing harvest festival like Halloween, All-Saints Day, and All Souls Day. It does have the distinction of being part of the collection of last great moveable feasts along with its associated days of Lent (and for that matter, Mardi Gras). However, it is most certainly a Christian celebration of a Christian concept. There’s no pagan influence in how we celebrate Easter, right? The answer is not so cut and dry as we would like to think. There are three elements of the traditional American Easter celebrations that strike many people as odd. The profusion of rabbits, ducks and chickens is the big one. The inclusion of decorated eggs is another. Finally we have the name. The amazing inundation of pastel colors might be a fourth reason for some of us, but I’m afraid that is an unsolvable mystery.
There are a number of theories you will see on the internet or hear from people about the claim that the word Easter is a corruption of the name of the goddess Ishtar, a Mesopotamian goddess of love fertility and war. You’ll hear how there were eggs full of blood smashed on her alter, rabbits regarded as her sacred animals, and how the whole thing was a sacred ceremony celebrating her aspect of the goddess of spring fertility. Almost all of this is bunk. The animal that was most often associated with her is the lion and the only real time we find that big cat in Easter mythology is as a bit of a joke in a certain English candy companies commercials. While she did have a ceremony in the spring, it had little to nothing to do with eggs and mostly involved the equinox and a concept of sacred marriage which may have been anything from a ritual conjoining of the king and the high priestess to a city-state wide activity that resulted in a lot of births nine months later.
There may actually be a goddess who gave her name to Easter. Eostre is an Anglo Saxon goddess of fertility who has cognates with remarkably similar names throughout the Germanic pagan world. Most languages use their version of the word Pesach (פֶּסַח) which means Passover. Not surprisingly, the languages that use something similar to Easter are all in the Germanic family. In fact she may have been a version of the Norse goddess Freya.
The Easter Bunny may come by way of Eostre as well. What little we know of her and her various incarnations from around Europe tells us that the fecund little rabbit was one of her symbols. The version we have today probably stems from the Osterhase, an egg laying rabbit native to German vernal traditions dating back to the 1500s. According to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung,
“A legend holds that a poor woman living in Germany decorated colorful eggs for her children to find in the garden. As soon as the hidden eggs were found by the children, a large hare was seen hopping away. The children thought the hare (Hase) left the eggs.”
There is no doubt that the legendary reproductive powers of the rabbits and hares have been linked to the fertility of spring, but I’m fairly certain the eggs came from somewhere else.
The egg association may have something stemming back to a pagan root. They can’t help but give one ideas about birth and renewal. However the practice of the Easter egg as we know it relates to the fact that for many years, eggs were on the list of foods forbidden to Lenten penitents. People would celebrate the return of eggs to their diet by giving them to each other as gifts. Decorating them began to become popular as well growing in to the modern dyed egg as well as the ornate Ukrainian eggs and even the priceless Faberge eggs.
It really doesn’t matter where the symbols come from. Many people will argue back and forth for centuries to come over the origins of every little word in every liturgy in every faith the world over if you let them. The important thing is to enjoy these festivities in the manner that pleases you best!
- The Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival & Lent by Tanya Gulevich R 349.2667 Gul
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
You’ve all seen the ads that spring up [ha, ha] this time of year marketing cuddly bunnies and brightly-dyed baby chicks as wonderful Easter gifts for your children. If you’re thinking about buying one, DON’T DO IT!! Amy Mott, president of the Clover Patch Sanctuary, a rabbit and small animal rescue organization right here in Franklin, says “You wouldn’t give your child a reindeer for Christmas. Why would you give him a bunny or duck or chick for Easter??” Amen. If you succumb to their fluffy cuteness, you’ll basically ruin the life of a living, breathing creature to provide a brief diversion for your child. A huge percentage of bunnies, chicks and ducklings given as Easter gifts are abandoned as soon as the novelty wears off. What happens to these unfortunate animals next is not a pretty picture.
How did bunnies, hot pink chicks and ducklings become associated with Easter anyway? One theory emphasizes the Easter Bunny’s pagan roots, especially the rabbit’s connection to Eostra, goddess of the spring and fertility. Her symbol was the rabbit because of the animal’s high reproduction rate. But according to Catholic Online, the tradition of the Easter Bunny has distinctly Christian origins. The ancient Greeks thought rabbits could reproduce as virgins, a belief that persisted until early medieval times, when the rabbit became associated with the Virgin Mary. In medieval manuscripts, rabbit images served as allegorical illustrations of her virginity. It is likely that German Protestants invented the myth of the Easter Bunny for their children. Even in earliest folklore, the Easter Bunny came as a judge, hiding decorated eggs for well-behaved children.
No matter how the connection with Easter originated, rabbits, chicks and ducklings have not benefited from the association. The Easter holiday seems to bring out the bunny, chick and duckling lovers in people. They think such animals are perfect “starter pets” to teach children responsibility. So they make an impulse buy and their child goes wild with joy for a day. Reality soon sets in as it dawns on parents that these animals are not the “low maintenance” pets they’d imagined.
According to National Geographic, vets and insurance companies consider rabbits exotic pets, so medical care can be more expensive than for a cat or dog. Rabbits need a lot of exercise and shouldn’t be stuck away in a cage. This means they need to learn to use a litterbox. They’re also prey animals and generally don’t like to be picked up by humans, whom they view as predators. The result is that children who want to cuddle with their baby bunny can be frustrated when it doesn’t respond the way they expect and they quickly lose interest. Many parents don’t realize that rabbits can live more than 10 years, a commitment comparable to adopting a dog or cat. When that once-adorable baby bunny matures at between three and six months old, it can become aggressive and even destructive. Male rabbits will also spray urine if not neutered. Proper exercise, litterbox training, and spaying or neutering curb the problem for most rabbits. But many impulse buyers don’t expect and can’t commit to that level of responsibility, and they scramble to surrender the animals.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in America after cats and dogs, but according to the Humane Society of the United States, they’re also the third most abandoned – and euthanized. It’s unclear exactly how many rabbits originally sold as Easter pets are abandoned each year. But rescuers in shelters all over the country report a spike in calls after Easter from people trying to unload their unwanted bunnies. Clover Patch Sanctuary’s Amy Mott estimates that “80-90% of our adoptable rabbits were once Easter gifts to children. We can judge that fairly well by the timing that they came into rescue.” Many more rabbits – possibly thousands – are abandoned outdoors, a cruel death sentence for these domesticated animals possessing no survival skills or instincts.
Chicks and ducklings don’t fare any better. At Easter, fuzzy brightly colored chicks and ducklings can be too cute to resist. To achieve the brilliant hues displayed by some chicks, a dye is actually injected into the incubating egg. Other chicks are sprayed with a fine mist of dye immediately after hatching. Farmers, hatcheries and others who dye chicks claim the process is harmless, but animal rights workers say the experience is stressful for the birds. In addition to the trauma of being dyed, the bright colored feathers help make them seem more like disposable toys than living animals. Many states ban the practice of dyeing and selling chicks. In Tennessee, it is a Class C misdemeanor to “sell, offer for sale, barter or give away baby chickens, ducklings or goslings of any age, or rabbits under two (2) months of age, as pets, toys, premiums or novelties, if those fowl or rabbits have been colored, dyed, stained or otherwise had their natural color changed.”
But non-dyed chicks and ducklings are still sold as Easter gifts, and like bunnies, they are not ideal beginning pets for children. They can be quite messy. They are extremely fragile and can die from overhandling or being dropped, especially in the first few days before the child’s excitement wanes. Chicks and ducks may also present hazards for children. They can scratch and peck with sharp talons and beaks, but worse, they may spread the bacterial disease Salmonella, which can be especially dangerous to children and the elderly. When the birds preen, they spread the bacteria all over their feathers. So it’s best to avoid contact with them, or at least wash hands thoroughly immediately after touching.
Many people who buy adorable Easter chicks and ducklings have no capacity or intention of caring for adult fowl. Like bunnies, the unwanted birds are often handed over to shelters where they may face euthanasia if they’re not adopted. When abandoned outdoors, they have no experience foraging or avoiding predators. Easter ducklings, many of which are byproducts of the food trade, can swim, but unlike wild ducks, they can’t fly and are vulnerable to temperature changes and make easy targets for predators. One Florida farmer who offers to take unwanted Easter pets does not hide the fact that he will use them for food. He offers to keep them happy while they’re alive, but in the end, he says, “we’re all part of the food chain.”
There are plenty of great alternatives to giving live animals as Easter gifts. Consider:
- Plush rabbits or chicks
- Chocolate bunnies and candy birds and eggs
- Books and games about bunnies, chicks and ducklings
- A visit to a reputable, educational petting zoo
- A birdhouse or feeder to attract wild birds
- Bunny, chick or duckling figurines
- Make a gift in your child’s name to a rabbit or small animal rescue organization
I’ll let Amy Mott from Clover Patch Sanctuary have the final word on bunnies, chicks and ducklings as Easter gifts: “There is never a reason to give a child a live animal as a present for Easter or any other holiday and/or birthday. Animals are not ‘things’ or objects. The only way to put the breeders out of business is to stop buying from them. The chain has to stop. In this day and age of information and compassion it’s really time to get on the ball with ending the antiquated practice of gifting animals to children. They have to learn from adults that all creatures great and small are worthy and special in God’s eyes.” That really says it all.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am NOT saying that rabbits and poultry cannot be great pets for the right people in appropriate situations. Rabbits make wonderful pets for owners who understand their needs and are committed to caring for them their entire lives. A list of helpful books you can borrow at WCPL on raising rabbits is attached to this article. Visit the House Rabbit Society’s website, rabbit.org, to learn more about rabbit care. We’ve got an excellent resource – Clover Patch Sanctuary – right here in Franklin for anyone seriously interested in adding a rabbit to their family. Check out their website!
Raising backyard chickens is increasingly popular, and the library has some great books on the proper care and housing of chickens and other poultry. Within Franklin’s city limits, it is suggested that homeowners keep no more than four to six hens (no roosters). Check Franklin city codes for rules on housing, noise levels, and cleanliness. Be sure to consult your neighborhood’s homeowners association regulations for other restrictions regarding keeping backyard chickens.
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by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Happy St Patrick’s Day!
This Irish feast has taken on a life of its own in countries around the world. On March 17, we are inundated with cartoons, clothing, even cards, embellished with images of the day: shamrocks, harps, elaborate crosses. Familiar as they may be now, what do they really have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?
Symbols provide a glimpse into the psyche of an artist – or an entire culture. Sometimes, patterns and figures evolve to express an idea. Other times, the meaning follows the motif. (For example, when previously pagan symbols take on Christian significance.) Just like language, a culture’s symbolism serves both as a time capsule and an evolving conveyance of modern ideals. Today, we’ll take a look at some common symbols associated with Ireland, and discover the meanings they carry.
Shamrocks and Four-Leaf Clovers
When you think “St. Patrick’s Day,” do you visualize a lucky four-leaf clover, or is it a shamrock? With its three leaves, the seamróg, or shamrock, is the true symbol of Ireland’s patron saint. Legend has it that Patrick used the plant to illustrate the concept of the Holy Trinity to pre-Christian Ireland. So, while you might want to wear a rare four-leaf clover to represent the “luck of the Irish,” only the tri-lobed seamróg represents St Patrick himself.
Of course, pre-Christian Irish art indicates that the island’s inhabitants already had a concept of “three-in-oneness.” But it’s still a nice legend, and a great example of how we can find new significance in existing symbolism.
Spirals and Knotwork
One ancient motif resembling the Trinity is the triskelion. Three arms spiral out from the center, with rotational symmetry. Spirals feature heavily in ancient Irish art, but there’s no way of knowing what the earliest artists wished to convey. Perhaps the spiral represented the course of heavenly bodies through the night sky.
The triquetra, also known as a Trinity knot, is another indigenous emblem that found a Christian meaning. Its three distinct wings form an unbroken, never-ending whole. In one variation, a circle winds through the wings, further unifying the design. The triquetra is the simplest element of Celtic knotwork. Elaborate examples can be found in the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Book of Kells, and on decorative crosses in churchyards up and down Ireland.
The Celtic Cross
A beautiful design that looks as striking on a tattooed arm as on a headstone in a cemetery, the Celtic cross is composed of a traditional Christian cross with a circle around the intersecting lines. The stem and arms of the cross are often decorated with elaborate knotwork.
Legend attributes this cross to St. Patrick himself. According to the story, Patrick stamped the cross over a circle representing the pagan sun god, emphasizing the spiritual importance of the cross by associating it with the life-giving powers of the sun.
A heart for love, a crown for loyalty, and two hands for friendship: these are the elements present in every Claddagh ring. They originated in the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, possibly earlier than 1700, and are now popular as wedding rings the world over. The hand on which the ring is worn, and whether it’s worn facing inward or out, can communicate the romantic status of the wearer to one in the know.
The Irish Tricolor
Ireland’s flag has three vertical bars, of green, white, and orange. The green represents the sovereign Republic of Ireland, traditionally a Catholic nation. The orange represents Northern Ireland, which is thought of as a Protestant land, and has been part of the United Kingdom since 1921. And the white field in between? Referring to the strife between his divided countrymen, Irish nationalist Thomas Francis Meagher explained, “The white in the centre signifies a lasting truce between Orange and Green and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics may be clasped in generous and heroic brotherhood.”
It’s a concept that’s still relevant, as governments discuss what the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will look like in a post-Brexit UK.
As a nation of poets, storytellers, musicians, and bards, Ireland has long been represented by a harp. Before the tricolor flag, a banner commonly used was a golden harp (sometimes with a winged woman, the Maid of Erin, carved into it) in the center of a green field.
The Irish government wanted to trademark the harp symbol – but Guinness, hallowed creator of Ireland’s most famous stout, had gotten to it first, back in 1876. That means you’ll always see Guinness’s harp facing one way, and the government’s harp facing the other.
Speaking of Guinness, why does alcohol feature so heavily in modern St Patrick’s Day celebrations? It has to do with the calendar. No matter when Easter falls, the Lenten fast is already underway by the time March 17 rolls around. Until the 1970s, pubs in Ireland were closed – by law – on the day. The festivities were quiet indeed.
But somewhere along the line, Irish-American Catholics wanted to celebrate their honorary patron saint while still remaining pious, and so the restrictions on food and alcohol came to be lifted for the day. Try to fit 40 days’ worth of revelry into 24 hours, and excess is the natural result! This Americanized aspect of the holiday made its way back to Ireland in the 1990s, largely as an effort to promote tourism.
If you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in this way, you’ll need a ready toast. Raise your glass and say “Sláinte!” (pronounced something like “SLAWN-chə” to drink the health of your party.
Thanks for joining me on this cultural expedition! I hope you’ll enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all the more, having these few fragments of knowledge. Slán go fóill! (Bye for now!)
- And, of course, Wikipedia!
By Stacy Parish, Children’s Department
Well, here we are, that most obnoxious made-up “holiday” that some of us despise, Valentine’s Day. Yes, Darling Reader, I understand . . . and I’m here to help. Rather than dwell on the superficial and hypermarketed unpleasantness that I find Valentine’s Day to be (and you don’t EVEN know how tempted I am to abbreviate that to Vile Day, or even nastier, VD, throughout the rest of this blog), let’s try to find some positives. Why don’t we celebrate the day with books instead of garish, sappy greeting cards and booty-widening/tooth-rotting candy, and flowers that die three days after they arrive? Hence, in no particular order, is my personal antidote to February 14:
Here Comes Valentine Cat (J E Underwood) by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda. Cat haaaaaaaaates Valentine’s Day. (Sound familiar?) Especially when the day arrives at the same time as a new dog next door. Through a series of misunderstandings, Cat comes to realize that maybe he has judged his loud new neighbor too hastily.
Henry in Love (J E MACC) by Peter McCarty. Henry the cat is the strong, silent type, and he has a little bit of a crush on Chloe the bunny, who is pretty and popular and can execute a perfect cartwheel. This sweet, subtle story is beautifully illustrated and demonstrates that sometimes just the right gift can capture the attention of the one your heart yearns for.
Zombie In Love 2 + 1 (J E DIPUCCHIO) by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell. This sequel to DiPucchio and Campbell’s previous collaboration, Zombie In Love, may not be everyone’s idea of precious, but it makes me smile every time I read it. Mildred and Mortimer reprise their roles in this subtly hilarious book, and a new baby named Sonny is an adorable addition to the family dynamic. But Mildred and Mortimer are worried to death (oooh, I’m so sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Sonny hardly ever cries, his teeth are coming in instead of falling out, and most terrifying of all—he’s awake all day and sleeps through the night! This charming twist on the terrors of parenthood is sure to have you shrieking with delight.
Pete The Cat: Valentine’s Day is Cool (J E Dean) by Kimberly and James Dean. You might think that a cool cat like Pete wouldn’t think much of Valentine’s Day . . . and you’d be wrong. Pete reflects on how many special people he knows, and wants to acknowledge them all (especially his very best friend Callie, who just happens to mention as he skateboards past her that this is her favorite holiday of all) with perfect Valentine’s Day cards. So Pete sets about commemorating his love and gratitude to his friends with just the right card to each of them. As the title page says, I Meow You.
Llama Llama I Love You (J E DEWDNEY) by Anna Dewdney. Anna passed away in 2016, but her gentle spirit lives on through her books. Llama Llama I Love You is no exception, as Little Llama demonstrates to his family and friends how much he loves them with valentines and big llama hugs.
Love, Splat (J E SCOTTON) by Rob Scotton. Love is complicated. Splat, the adorably neurotic cat who made his debut in 2008’s Splat The Cat has a tremendous crush on Kitten, a fluffy white cat with mesmerizing green eyes. Splat likes Kitten more than fish sticks, more than ice cream. Unfortunately, he has a rival for Kitten’s affections in Spike, a boorish tomcat who gives Kitten a fancy valentine. Spike’s actions prompt Splat to throw his valentine to Kitten in the nearest trash can, but she notices it and reciprocates with an awesome valentine of her own to Splat. Let love rule.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! (J E NUMEROFF) by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. This spinoff from Numeroff’s wildly popular “If You Give A . . .” series follows Mouse as he strives to make a perfect valentine for everyone. Each valentine is lovingly customized to represent what Mouse likes the most about each of his friends, such as Bunny because “she’s the best at hide-and-seek” and Pig because “she is the best dancer.” Of course, all of Mouse’s friends reciprocate with valentines and cookies, which as everyone knows, are one of Mouse’s very favorite things.
*** Darling Reader—please know that no harm came to any living creatures or books during the writing of this blog, even though the author hates Valentine’s Day with the fiery intensity of Dante’s ninth level of Hell.
We all know about Groundhog Day on February 2, when a fuzzy animal is brought forth to predict the weather. How could we miss that huge celebration at Punxsutawney, when Phil, the groundhog (the official term is woodchuck –remember the tongue twister?), is brought out of his den and the crowd goes wild. If he sees his shadow, then winter will end sooner than later, but if he doesn’t see his shadow, that means 6 more weeks of winter. Of course, this weather forecast has never been that accurate…
And of course, many people fondly remember watching the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. It has become a “contemporary classic.” In case you don’t remember, Phil (Bill Murray) gets stuck in a time loop on Groundhog Day, and only after he learns from his mistakes is he able to get back on track. In 2006, it was even added to the United States National Film Registry for being a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.
So where does Candlemas fit in, you may ask?? This holy day is celebrated by Christians on February 2 to commemorate both the presentation of Jesus at the Temple and Jesus’ first entry into the Temple. Since Jesus is considered a “light-bringer,” the custom was to bless candles on this day as well, which is where we get the term Candlemas from. In pagan times, this day was also known as Imbolc (pronounced i-Molk), a festival marking the first day of Spring, which usually fell on February 2. Evidently spring came early in the Gaelic lands, and coincidentally (meaning it was probably a direct influence), this holy day was also used to predict the coming weather.
These poems, found in English and German, show how on Candlemas the weather could be forecast.
If Candle-mas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be two winters in the year.
If Candle mas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
The German immigrants also brought with them the tradition of a hedgehog telling the spring forecast, but with no hedgehogs to be found, groundhogs were the closest animal they could find in the new world. And Pennsylvania has had many Germans settlers.
And now you know how Groundhog Day and Candlemas both have a place in American culture.
An aside: The name Punxsutawney comes from the Lenape name for the location “ponksad-uteney” which means “the town of the sandflies.” The name woodchuck comes from the Indian legend of “Wojak, the groundhog” considered by them to be their underground ancestor.