Halloween at the Williamson County Public Library
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
With the coming of April the First we are all reminded of the jokes and pranks of years past, but very few people are reminded of the actual origin of this humorous day.
The tradition of April Fool’s Day can be traced back to the days of the early Christian church. Like St. Patrick’s Day and Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day is yet another church Holy Day that has become a secular holiday.
The tradition dates back to the late fourth century CE, and St. Hilary of Poitiers. Hilary was an extremely well educated man of a pagan family in the Poitiers region of what is now France. He converted to Christianity and was baptized in his early adulthood along with his wife and young daughter, the future St. Abra. Hilary was well liked and soon was elected Bishop of Poitiers. He was a serious man but had a well-documented jovial streak. There are documented incidents of his being reprimanded by the archbishops and cardinals of France at the time for once having replaced the water in the holy font with “the juice of the apple, the fruit that brought the fall of Eve.” And on another occasion adding a well-loved local sheep to the list of priests to be elevated to the level of monsignor, claiming “no purer lamb of god than he.”
Unfortunately, Hilary, also known as the Hammer of the Arians, was a very prominent detractor of the heretical sect of Christianity known as Arianism. This led him into conflict with some Church Leaders as well as the Emperor Constantius II, and resulted in his exile. When the Emperor’s centurion delivered the notice of exile, Hilary tweaked the man’s nose and immediately decamped for Phrygia. He spent the four years of his exile defending the Roman Catholic ideal and was eventually allowed to return to Poitiers and to the Church’s good favor. After his death in 367, Hilary was Beatified and Canonized very quickly as a defender of the faith with the church of Sant Ilario at Casale Monferrato being named in his honor as early as 380. This dedicated church father and his japery are remembered to this day on the first of April, what we know as April Fool’s Day, but what was once remembered as the Feast of St. Hilary or as he was known in Latin Sanctus Hilarius.
Here’s the (more or less) true history of April Fool’s Day:
Okay, so the real history of April Fool’s Day is quite a bit different from that. The actual origin is uncertain. The earliest written reference connecting foolishness and the First of April is from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In the Nun’s Priest’s Tale Chanticleer the egotistical rooster is tricked by the fox. The tale is set “Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two” or the First of April. This however may be a mistake in transcription and refer to 32 days from the end of March, May Second, the anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1381.
Some believe that the practice of playing pranks on fools goes back to the advent of the Gregorian calendar. Before Pope Gregory’s modification to the calendar as we know it, the New Year was celebrated with a week-long festival that started on the Twenty-fifth of March and ended on April first. The new calendar changed that to the January first date we’re all familiar with. It is believed that it was common to send people who continued to hold to the April first date on fool’s errands, making them look the fools they were thought to be. The biggest problem with this likely apocryphal story is that the Gregorian calendar was not introduced until 1582, well after the Chaucer reference as well as several other historical allusions to the holiday.
The most likely origin is that it is a descent from earlier holidays like the roman festival of Hilaria, the Hindu religious festival of Holi, the Jewish Purim holiday and the medieval Feast of Fools. All of these holidays, except for the Feast of Fools, traditionally take place between March and April and are celebrations of joy and mirth. There is a distinct connection with the end of winter and the beginning of spring, a resurgence of joy from the dormancy and doldrums of winter.
Traditions vary across the world when it comes to the type of pranks played. In the United Kingdom, and many of its former possessions, it is common to give someone a letter to take to another person who will then read something akin to “send the fool further” and direct them to another person with the same letter. This is supposed to end by noon or else it is the sender rather than the messenger that will be the April fool. In Poland, the tradition of pranks and silliness is so rampant that in 1683 Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II refused to sign a treaty involving Poland unless it was backdated to March 31st. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition where the newspapers will publish exactly one false front page news item, but it is never the main headline. Finally, in French speaking areas and Italy as well you find the April fish (poissons d’avril in French or pesce d’aprile in Italian). This is a practice of attempting to hang a paper fish on the back of someone’s shirt on the first of April.
So now while you are on the lookout for the next person trying to prank you or enjoying the schadenfreude of your own April fools jokes you can now know you are just continuing a centuries old tradition.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
We all know that many thousands of people gather in Times Square in New York City each year on December 31 and millions watch and celebrate at home. But why? Why December 31? And when did the ball drop in New York City become the American celebration it is?
We have to go way back in history to find out why January 1 is the beginning of the year, at least to most of us. The Jewish calendar and the Chinese calendar don’t begin on January 1. Neither does the Islamic calendar. In ancient times, the new year started for most civilizations after the Spring Equinox. It wasn’t until the time of Julius Caesar that our modern calendar was established. The calendar had gotten badly out of sync with the sun. That’s what happens when the year is only 10 months long. Julius Caesar added two months to the calendar (July and August, for Julius and Augusts, respectively.) He also established January 1 as the beginning of the year. Most European countries used the Julian calendar until it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in 1582, which we still use today. That caused a great deal of unrest and problems, but that is another story.
Pope Gregory XIII, who invented the Gregorian calendar, also kept January 1 as the beginning of the year. Throughout history, January 1 was celebrated riotously, sometimes to excess. So much excess that these celebrations were banned after the Protestant Revolution. It took a while for fun and joy to return. Most people probably had a quiet celebration at home. Make you wonder how Scrooge would have celebrated the New Year.
New York was a happening town in the 19th century, bustling with life and many, many people. Around the beginning of the century, people began getting together to celebrate and welcome in the New Year. It didn’t take long to organize special events. People began to gather at times Square to celebrate New Year’s in 1904. It didn’t take long for the most famous celebration in the United States to start. The first ball drop was in 1907. But it was nothing like we see now. It was made of iron and wood, covered in 25 watt light bulbs—it weighed 700 hundred pounds! Made by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr; Mr. Starr formed the company that for most of the 1900s provided the ball for each new year celebration. And lest we think the lighted glasses and blinking light hats revelers wear are new, people wore battery-powered glasses in 1908!
In 1920, the ball’s weight was reduced to only 400 pounds. That ball was in use up until 1955, when an aluminum ball was introduced, weighing much less. In 1980, red lights were added and a green lit stem, making the ball look like an apple—for the New York: The Big Apple campaign. In 1988, the white lights returned; in 1998, the last aluminum ball was lowered. But for the year 2000 celebration, everything changed. That’s when Waterford Crystal and Phillips Lighting created a new, snazzier and jazzier ball! In 2007, the 100th anniversary of the ball dropping, LED lights were added to the aluminum and crystal ball. There are now 2,688 triangles on the ball, with over 30,000 LED lights make the ball more spectacular and programmable. The lights are more like programmed Christmas lights you see now. As an added bonus, and a year-round tourist attraction, the ball stays in full public view at Times Square. It weighs over 10,000 pounds (that’s five tons!) and is twelve feet in diameter. It is lowered slowly (you wouldn’t want a 5 ton object to move fast) down a 77 foot tall poll at one minute to midnight on December 31. The whole crowd counts down the last ten seconds, then the horns and screams echo throughout the city, chaos ensues and a new year begins.
Across the United States a range of cities and towns hold their own versions of the ball drop. A variety of objects are lowered or raised during the last minute of the year. The objects are usually linked to an aspect of local history or industry. Examples of objects ‘dropped’ or raised in this way include a variety of live and modeled domestic and wild animals, fruit, vegetables and more…
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
It’s Leif Erikson Day! Hinga Dinga Durgen Everyone! Turns out this what Spongebob Squarepants wishes everyone on Leif Erikson Day. It’s his second favorite holiday, after April Fool’s… He even has a costume!
Leif Erikson (pronounced Layf, like some of us of a certain age remember the actor Leif Garrett) was a Norwegian traveler, voyager, explorer and sailor who is considered the leader of the first boat of explorers to visit North America. It’s generally considered that he landed at Newfoundland and later Labrador. Leif had a very adventurous father, Erik the Red, who established a colony on Greenland, after being kicked out of Iceland—but that’s another story.
There was no place for Leif there, since Erik the Red was a larger than life person himself, so he set his eyes on the West. There had been rumors of a far-away land full of wonders, (specifically from Bjarni Herjólfsson, another Viking explorer who some believe is the true first discover of North America.) He decided to go exploring, heading west across a great body of water. Artifacts excavated at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland have been dated to around 1000 A.D., which is considered the only confirmed Viking settlement in North America. According to sagas, the Norse called the area Vinland, because they found grapes growing there.
It wasn’t until 1924 that President Calvin Coolidge, after learning of the research done by Norwegian-American researchers, recognized Erikson as the “Discoverer of America,” even though the first book written about the Norse having discovered America was published in the late 1800s. Wisconsin was the first state to make Leif Erikson day an official holiday—not surprising since it was mostly settled by Scandinavians. Over the years, other states made the day an official holiday. In 1963, a U. S. Congressman from Duluth introduced a bill to observe Leif Erikson day across the nation. In 1964, L B J started the tradition of proclaiming October the 9th as Leif Erikson Day. Every year, it’s at least one thing Congress can agree on!
Why is it October 9? Since there were no records available from the Viking visitation in 1000, any date could have been chosen for Leif Erikson Day. How was October 9th chosen? The Norwegian ship Restauration, bearing the first official waive of Norwegian immigrants, arrived in New York on October 9, 1825.
So have a happy holiday, and remember that it’s because of Leif Erikson and the Restauration that Congress is actually agreeing once a year. Hinga Dinga Durgen Everyone!
(As always, the opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and in no way reflect upon the beliefs and principles of Williamson County Public Library, its employees, or the Norwegians.)
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Part 2 of 2
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Librarian
Christmas Carols – These are songs specifically written and sung to celebrated the events of the Nativity. Carols have been around since the 300s. St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscans put poems to music and popularized the carols. During the reformation and in Puritan America, they were frowned upon and often illegal.
Christmas trees – No one really knows when this tradition started, but it is generally considered to have begun in Germany. Having Christmas trees spread slowly through Europe, and came to England with the German Hanoverian kings. Trees were truly popularized during Queen Victoria’s reign, with the influence of her husband, Prince Albert.
Christmas Wrapping – Originally, unwrapped presents were put out during Christmas Eve, after the tree was decorated. Nowadays, trees are put up so much earlier and gifts come from other family members. It is generally understood that any unwrapped gifts came from Santa Claus.
Christmas cards – Christmas cards started out as decorative note paper that people used to write to their relative on holidays. They became even more popular after Valentine’s Day cards spread throughout England in the 1830s.
Eggnog – This popular milk or cream based drink gets its name from an old term for ale, which was called nog. The drink was a French tradition, which we Americans promptly added ale (or liquor) to.
Nativity Scene or Crèche – The earliest known Nativity Scene dates back to Rome in the 300s; it was part of the Christ’s Mass, and was said to have come from Bethlehem. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with popularizing it when he placed real animals and people in the scene.
The Nutcracker – This story was written in 1816 by German author E T A Hoffman and was rather a dark grim tale. Alexandre Dumas adapted it in 1845 and made it less scary. In 1891, Tchaikovsky wrote the music for the ballet which opened in St. Petersburg in 1892, and has remained popular ever since.
The Twelve Days of Christmas – This time period starts on December 26 and continues through Epiphany (also known as Three Kings Day.) which is January 6th. In 567, at the Council of Tours, it was decided that these twelve days would be set aside to honor and observe the birth of Christ.
Wassail – Wassail comes from the Old English words waes hael, which means “be well,” “be hale,” or “good health.” Originally it was a strong, hot drink (usually a mixture of ale, honey, and spices), but over the centuries some non-alcoholic versions of wassail evolved.
How to write Merry Christmas in other languages
|Polish||Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia|
Every family has traditional holiday foods. Instead of using the holidays as an excuse for high-fat, high calorie feasting, use these 5 easy tips to remake your holiday favorites with good health in mind.
Holiday Tip #1: Control Portions
Set the holiday table with dinner plates 9 inches or so in diameter. No one will notice a decrease in portion sizes when you use smaller plates and glasses. Cut cake into 18 servings, make 4 dozen smaller cookies instead of 3 dozen larger ones, and use 4-ounce glasses for your favorite sparkling punch.
Holiday Tip #2: Double Up on Vegetables
Serve vitamin-packed, lower carbohydrate vegetables like asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli in large bowls. Put higher calorie mashed potatoes and winter squashes in smaller bowls and use a smaller serving spoon. Your family will unknowingly serve themselves smaller portions. Instead of meatballs and cheese logs, feature vegetable appetizers like marinated mushrooms, tomato bruschetta, roasted asparagus, etc.
Holiday Tip #3: Give Healthful Gifts
Give homemade gifts that are made with healthful ingredients. Bake breads that feature whole grains, send a basket of fresh fruit instead of a box of candy, or tie a bow around a bag of nuts instead of cookies.
Holiday Tip #4: Lighten Up
Lighten up favorite recipes. Use fat-free evaporated skim milk instead of cream in custard pies and sauces, boost flavor in casseroles with spices instead of butter or salt, and bake foods instead of frying them. No one will notice the changes!
Holiday Tip #5: Make Fruit the Star
Give colorful fruit a starring role. Serve fresh berries for a holiday breakfast, include fresh fruit such as pineapple, mango, kiwi, and red grapes on bamboo skewers for a holiday buffet. Offer dates and grapes instead of cheese and crackers, etc.
Part 1 of 2
Most church historians have said that although December 25 is the official birth date for Jesus, most believe he was born in March. So why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25?
Because of Mithras. Mithraism spread across Asia Minor from Persia and became very popular with the Roman army. The Roman army was made up of conquered peoples, many of whom worshiped Mithras. He was a sun god; one of his main celebration dates was December 25, to ensure that the sun would be reborn to bring warmth to the world again in the spring and summer. When Christianity was just starting, Mithraism was one of its main rivals. So the church changed the date of the celebration of Jesus’ birth to December 25.
The other main rival for Christmas was the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. This farming festival included feasting, giving gifts to family and sharing food with the poor lasted a whole week, ending on December 25. The Romans drank to excess and ate to excess, which is what many do today. The early Church considered these celebrations unseemly, so they made giving gifts and food to the poor part of the Christmas festival.
Christmas was a solemn and reflective holy day (holiday) for several centuries for Christians – Christmas was originally Christ’s Mass, a special service. But the pagan celebrations persisted for so long that the Church adopted them, hoping that the pagans would become Christian.
The way we celebrate Christmas now generally originated in the Middle Ages, mostly from England. The decorations, carols, food, cards and gift giving were brought to the United States from England, Holland and Germany. Santa Claus was originally Saint Nicolas, which in Dutch became Sinter Claus, which became Santa Claus. In Holland, Belgium and Italy, children are left presents in their shoes on December 6, which is St. Nicholas’ Day. The Santa Claus we all know and are used to was created by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly, and first appeared in 1863!
Did you know Christmas was outlawed in the Puritan community of Plymouth. The Puritans associated all the celebrating and carousing with paganism. By the 1870s, Christmas gradually began to become more like what we know now. In the Jamestown Colony, in Virginia, Christmas was celebrated riotously, almost like it was in England.
Fun facts about our Christmas traditions coming in Part II!!
By Patsy Watkins MPS, CFCSFamily & Consumer Sciences Agent, UT/TSU Extension, Williamson County
Thanksgiving is a festival harvest holiday meant to celebrate and be thankful for whatever you feel you’ve been blessed with (good health, family, friends, raises, completing a goal, etc…). And in its current form, Thanksgiving is filled with wonderful (and delicious!) traditions, such as watching the Macy’s Day Parade, or football games, and cooking a giant feast with cranberries, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and the famous Turkey. One tradition associated with the turkey is the wishbone (which all turkeys and chickens have), where two people each take hold of the ends of the bone, they make a wish, and pull! Whoever has the larger part of the bone gets their wish. Turkey for Thanksgiving has become such a famous tradition that Thanksgiving is even sometimes called “Turkey Day.” Each year, the President of the United States pardons a live turkey at a White House ceremony, allowing the turkey to live out the rest of its life on a farm.
Having a cooked turkey is a staple tradition of Thanksgiving but there are some important things to know when cooking your Thanksgiving bird this year.
By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian
We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?
Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?
Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion. Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.
But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).
The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).
Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.
The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.
The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around). The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.