Mother’s Day Post

How vastly important is it, then, for mothers to have a higher regard for their duties—to feel deeply the immense responsibilities that rest upon them! It is through their ministrations that the world grows worse or better.

–Timothy Shay Arthur

No words can do justice to the immense affection and gratitude I have towards my mother. The best and only thing I can do is live up to the values she lovingly cultivated and instilled in me.

Oscar Wilde once said that a man’s greatest tragedy is that he does not become like his mother. I indeed hope to encompass at least a shred of my mom’s integrity, compassion, ethics, and fortitude (not to mention her culinary mastery and financial acumen!).

I concur with Abraham Lincoln that “all that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

From The Atlantic comes an interesting video about how geography and culture affect the experience of motherhood. Ten moms living in various countries were asked what it is like to be them and what makes motherhood in their country unique. Their answers reveal how families and communities, on both a local and national level can influence the way we raise our children. Click the following link to view it fullscreen.

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/389315/

Finally, HuffPo explores the origin of Mother’s Day, and how its unlikely creator would feel about it today:

[Anna] Jarvis — a West Virginia woman who didn’t even have children of her own — came up with the idea for a Mother’s Day holiday, organizing the first celebration at a Methodist church in 1908. Annoyed that most American holidays were dedicated to honoring male achievements, Jarvis started a letter-writing campaign to make it a national holiday, involving wearing a white carnation, visiting your mother and maybe going to church.

Her campaign worked, but not in the way she hoped: She never wanted Mother’s Day to be the commercial holiday it quickly came to be. (Although maybe she should have thought twice about getting financing for the first celebration from the owner of Wanamaker’s, a major department store at the time.)

“Commercialization of Mother’s Day is growing every year,” she said “Since the movement has spread to all parts of the world, many things have tried to attach themselves because of its success.”

Well, whatever you think about the holiday, take the time to appreciate the positive role played by your mother — or any analogous figure — this day and everyday.

The Origins of Cinco de Mayo

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Cinco de Mayo. 

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day — that’s September 16, and it’s the country’s most important national holiday. Rather, it’s a commemoration of Mexico’s unlikely and surprising defeat of invading French forces in the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín.

France had invaded and occupied Mexico partly in response to the latter’s refusal to pay interest on its foreign debt, but largely to fulfill the imperial ambitions of French Emperor Napoleon III (the nephew and heir of Napoleon Bonaparte). France was one of the preeminent powers of the time – and at one point had the backing of the United Kingdom, Austria, and Spain – so the fact that Mexico was able to mount such a resounding victory became a cause for celebration. Mexican forces had been under-equipped and numbered only half of their French opponents (about 4,000 versus 8,000).

In any case, the French ultimately won the war and occupied Mexico until around 1867, when Maximilian I – who had been installed by the French as Emperor of the Second Mexican Empire – was overthrown and executed by Mexican revolutionaries. So despite losing the larger battle, Mexicans remained proud that they were able to hold their own and eventually win their freedom.

Interestingly, Cinco de Mayo is not a big holiday in Mexico except in the Puebla region where the battle was fought. In fact, it is far more popular in the United States, where it originated among Mexican-American communities in the 1860s, particularly in California. It eventually expanded across the country as a celebration of Mexican heritage and culture — and an opportunity to drink and party — not unlike the way St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated.

Cinco de Mayo has also caught on globally, with celebrations occurring in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and other countries. As a reflection of the holiday’s largely American roots, most foreign celebrations often invoke American culture and/or other Latin American heritages.

The Origin of April Fools’ Day

The origins of April Fools’ Day (also spelled April Fool’s Day and sometimes called All Fools’ Day) are somewhat obscure. The oldest known prank tradition in the world is Sizdah Bedar, an Iranian holiday that has been celebrated since the sixth century BC on the 13th day of the Persian New Year (Nowruz), which lies on April 1st or 2nd; however, there’s no clear link between this holiday and contemporary April Fools’ Day.

Other precursors or possible influences include the Roman festival of Hilaria, held March 25, and the Medieval Feast of Fools, held December 28 and in turn inspired by the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. There is reference to a French prank holiday being celebrated April 1st in the early 16th century called Poisson d’Avril (literally “April fish”), in which a paper fish is unknowingly attached to the victim’s back (it is still celebrated to some extent in French-speaking countries).

From the Early Middle Ages, up until the late 18th century, many European communities celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation), with some making it a week-long holiday that ended on April 1st. It’s been suggested that April Fools’ Day originated from those who celebrated the new year on January 1st making fun of those who celebrated the alternative festival.

Lesser-Known Fun Facts About Each U.S. Presidents

Unfortunately, I’m working this Presidents Day — which is the birthday of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — so I’ve decided to just share this interesting article from HuffPost that offers at least one quirky fact about each president (Taft gets two, since he is the only president to have served two non-consecutive terms — there’s a fun fact!). Here are some of my favorites:

  • Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot that he taught how to swear.
  • Supposedly, President Van Buren popularized one of the most commonly used phrases to date: “OK”, or “Okay”. Van Buren was from Kinderhook, NY which was also called “Old Kinderhook”. His support groups came to be known as “O.K. Clubs” and the term OK came to mean “all right”.
  • When Abe Lincoln moved to New Salem, Illinois in 1831, he ran into a local bully named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong challenged Lincoln to a wrestling match outside of Denton Offutt’s store, where Lincoln was a clerk, and townspeople gathered to watch and wager on it. Lincoln won.
  • Andrew Johnson was drunk during his inauguration (go figure, he’s considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history).
  • After leaving office, William Taft became the only ex-president to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, effectively becoming the only person to serve as the head of two branches of government. In doing so, he swore in both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to the presidency. (On an unrelated note, he also lost 150 pounds after leaving office.)
  • To date, Woodrow Wilson was the only president to hold a doctorate degree, making him the highest educated president in the history of the United States. He was awarded the degree in Political Science and History from Johns Hopkins University. He also passed the Georgia Bar Exam despite not finishing law school.

Enjoy and have a safe and happy Presidents Day!

Valentine’s Day Stuff

Valentine’s Day was once better known as St. Valentine’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Valentine, a Christian holiday that commemorated one or more early saints named Valentinus. The are several martyrdom stories for the figure associated with the holiday, the most famous being that of Saint Valentine of Rome. There are many variations of this story that more or less have the same theme.

According to legend, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry. While in prison, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, whom he fell in love with. Before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell, which presumably inspired the tradition of sending cards to loved ones. While it has no historical basis — for example, soldiers were never forbidden to marry — it was nonetheless an engaging story. (Valentine’s Day is still celebrated among some Christian sects and circles.)

February 14th was was first associated with romantic love during the High Middle Ages, as first recorded in the Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer. During this time, the practice of courtly love became popular; this was a presumably chivalrous expression of love and admiration that was usually practiced in secret between members of the nobility (note that it was generally not practiced between husband and wife).

Like most holidays, it was during the Industrial Era — namely 18th-century England — that modern Valentine Day as we know it emerge. By then, it had evolved into an occasion in which people expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Many of the symbols used today — such as heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid — became popular around know. While handwritten notes were once the norm, they soon gave way to mass-produced valentines cards, which were first produced and sold in the United States in 1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts (they were made of embossed paper lace).

According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Greeting Card Association (yes, that’s a real thing) approximately 190 million valentines are sent annually in the U.S., half of which are given to family members other than a husband or wife, usually to children. If you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities, the number goes up to 1 billion, with teachers receiving the most valentines.

As for the iconic heart shape associated with Valentine’s Day (and love in general), that too seems to have its earliest origins in the High Middle Ages, beginning in the 15th century and becoming popular in the 16th century onward. Here’s the first known depiction of the heart shape, from the mid-13th century French manuscript, Roman de la poire:

There are various theories as to the origin of the shape, none of which are definitive: hypotheses include that it’s the shape of the seed of the silphium plant, used in ancient times as an herbal contraceptive; or stylized depictions of features of the human female body, such as the female’s buttocks, pubic mound, or spread vulva.

Anyway, you all have a happy Valentine’s Day. I’ve got no significant other to spend it with, but I do have a great singles-party to enjoy, complete with a party bus and nightclub destination! 😀 Whatever your plans, have a great one my loyal readers.

The Origin of Halloween

As I’ve said here before, I’m stickler for history, especially the kind that isn’t widely known. Most holidays have customs and traditions that are taken as a given and rarely explored and questioned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but with origins as interesting as Halloween’s, it’s a shame more people don’t know the background.

Halloween has a complex and fascinating history. As many people now know, it has Celtic origins, specifically the holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-wen), named after the month on the Celtic calendar. The Celts of Northern Europe divided the year into a ‘light half,’ whereby the days were longer and nights shorter, and a “dark half,” in which the nights were longer and days shorter.

Samhain was celebrated as the end of the Gaelic-Celtic harvest season, around the transition between the light and dark half.  Thus it was seen as a “Celtic New Year,” and like most harvest observances, was the time to stock up on crops and livestock for the winter. When the Romans conquered the area and imposed their Julian Calendar, the British Celts fixed the holiday on November 1st, which was roughly around the same time as their own measurements.

On the evening before this day, it was believed that the barrier between the dead and living dissolved and evil spirits could wreak havoc, causing illness or damaging crops. The pagan Celts would thus light bonfires from livestock bones to ward them off, dress as monsters and ghosts to placate or scare them, or – most famously – utilize lighted jack-o-lanterns as a ward as well. Back then, these were carved from turnips and rutabaga; since pumpkins were a New World crop and not yet known, it was only upon reaching America that immigrants from this area would opt for pumpkins and other large squashes, which were far easier to work with.

The Celts believed that the head, as the place of knowledge and the spirit, was powerful and could ward off spirits and other negative forces – hence the carving of faces into these vegetables.

Bobbing for apples, which is not as commonly practiced but still iconic, may have come from celebrations to the Roman goddess Pomona, a harvest deity whose symbol was an apple. As such, she could’ve been fused to the Celt’s harvest holiday by Roman settlers that intermingled with them.

In the year 609 Pope Gregory III moved the holiday known as All Saint’s Day, a celebration of Christian saints and martyrs, from May 13th (also a pagan holiday, the Festival of Lemures) to November 1st, the day that he dedicated a chapel in Peter’s Basilica to All Saints. Since All Saints Day was also known as “All Hallows Day” (Hallow meaning sacred and holy), the night before was thus “All Hallow’s Evening,” eventually shortened to Halloween.

Thus, despite the claims of many fundamentalist Christians, Halloween was historically not commonly viewed as a ‘satanic’ or evil holiday. In fact, it is well regarded as an important, though now very secularized, day in Christianity. Christians tended to merge pagan holidays with their own as the faith spread and began to take in converts from pagan traditions. Irish and Scottish immigrants, the modern-day descendants of Gaelic Celts (the former pagans), brought it over to Canada, the US, Australia, and other nations during the 18th century and onward. Samhain, the inspiration to this holiday, was also very holy and is still well-regarded by neo-Pagans and Wiccans to this day.

As for the iconic act of trick or treating, this began again with the Celts, namely those of the British Isles. They had a tradition called souling, where poorer people went door to door asking for food in return for their prayers to the souls and saints of All Saints and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd respectively). This practice apparently became fused with another ritual consisting of dressing up as evil spirits in order to placate, please, or scare the “real deal” (in other words, for safety). The trick developed into an idle threat to ‘trick’ -i.e. through posing as an evil spirit – the household if they didn’t provide the “treats”. Sure enough, Halloween remains known as a time for pranks and mischief to this day.

Keep in mind that various sources may provide their own slightly nuanced accounts. Like much of history, there are disputed claims and many uncertainties. Don’t take any of this as authoritative, and do feel free to share your own data on the subject. I’d be curious to know.

Nowadays, Halloween is the time to get scared, binge on candy, engage in partying, embrace the occult or supernatural, and dress like fools without (as much) social judgment! So with that said: have a good Halloween everyone!

Happy International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day, once known as International Working Women’s Day. The focus of the event ranges from displaying respect, appreciation, and love towards women, to celebrating their economic, political and social achievements.

As you could probably infer from the original name, IWD began as a Socialist political event that emphasized the liberation and equality of women, and their rights to suffrage and better labor treatment. Unsurprisingly, it became particularly popular in Soviet Russia and the Eastern Bloc, with which it was most strongly associated. But it’s long since lost its political and ideological underpinnings, having become more akin to an admixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

The holiday isn’t really celebrated with much fanfare here in the States, although last year the Obama administration highlighted it, and March as a whole, as a time to celebrate the contributions of women everywhere. I suspect its lack of popularity partly because we have a distinct Mother’s Day, but perhaps also because of its socialist origins – the very first women’s day of any kind was declared by the Socialist Party of America in 1909.

As with most commemorative events, I don’t need any particular period of time to show my appreciation to all the women in my life, as well as women in general. You’re not only wonderful mothers, partners, and sisters, but you’re hardworking and independent human beings in your own right.

Despite the vast global disparities between men and women across a range of areas such as literacy, income, and human rights, women continue to persevere and advance their prospects. We mustn’t be complacent, since there’s still a long way to go. But we should still acknowledge how far women have come, and how much they continue to endure for nothing less than equal treatment and rights.

I sometimes have mixed feelings towards these kinds of events, such as Black History Month or Father’s Day. On the one hand, it’s good and proper to raise awareness about particular groups of people who deserve appreciation for their role in society. Honestly, it can sometimes be fun – we could use an idealistic cause to rally around and celebrate once in a while.

At the same time, I wonder if a dedicated day, week, or month ultimately undermines the very cause or people they’re meant to bolster. Are we just trivializing women, blacks, love, and other things when we relegate their commemoration to a limited time period? Do we end up leaving these things open to commercial and political exploitation, thus diluting their grander message? Shouldn’t people always appreciate women, or remember their mothers and fathers – or are critics just looking too into these things and being sticks-in-the-mud?

You know the drill folks. Share your thoughts and perspectives.

Post Script:
A friend alerted me to this amusing homage to women’s suffrage, based on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Check it out if you have the chance.

Happy Chinese New Year

Today marks the start of the Year of the Dragon and the beginning of the Chinese New Year, known in China as the Spring Festival Because they use a lunar-based calendar, as opposed to our solar one, their celebration comes “late” relative to our own (speaking from a Western perspective that is). During over two weeks of celebration, families gather to feast on symbolic foods and usher in a prosperous new season. This is one of the largest and most colorful festivities in the world.

Find out more about the traditions of the Chinese New Year on the History Channel’s website, which include information on the Chinese calendar, the history of the holiday, a breakdown of the symbols and traditions associated with it, and other China-related facts in general.

The Origin of Halloween

As I’ve said here before, I’m stickler for history, especially the kind that isn’t widely known. Most holidays have customs and traditions that are taken as a given and rarely explored and questioned. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but with origins as interesting as Halloween’s, it’s a shame more people don’t know the background.

Halloween has a complex and fascinating history. As many people now know, it has Celtic origins, specifically the holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-wen), named after the month on the Celtic calendar. The Celts of Northern Europe divided the year into a ‘light half,’ whereby the days were longer and nights shorter, and a “dark half,” in which the nights were longer and days shorter.

Samhain was celebrated as the end of the Gaelic-Celtic harvest season, around the transition between the light and dark half.  Thus it was seen as a “Celtic New Year,” and like most harvest observances, was the time to stock up on crops and livestock for the winter. When the Romans conquered the area and imposed their Julian Calendar, the British Celts fixed the holiday on November 1st, which was roughly around the same time as their own measurements.

On the evening before this day, it was believed that the barrier between the dead and living dissolved and evil spirits could wreak havoc, causing illness or damaging crops. The pagan Celts would thus light bonfires from livestock bones to ward them off, dress as monsters and ghosts to placate or scare them, or – most famously – utilize lighted jack-o-lanterns as a ward as well. Back then, these were carved from turnips and rutabaga; since pumpkins were a New World crop and not yet known, it was only upon reaching America that immigrants from this area would opt for pumpkins and other large squashes, which were far easier to work with.

The Celts believed that the head, as the place of knowledge and the spirit, was powerful and could ward off spirits and other negative forces – hence the carving of faces into these vegetables.

Bobbing for apples, which is not as commonly practiced but still iconic, may have come from celebrations to the Roman goddess Pomona, a harvest deity whose symbol was an apple. As such, she could’ve been fused to the Celt’s harvest holiday by Roman settlers that intermingled with them.

In the year 609 Pope Gregory III moved the holiday known as All Saint’s Day, a celebration of Christian saints and martyrs, from May 13th (also a pagan holiday, the Festival of Lemures) to November 1st, the day that he dedicated a chapel in Peter’s Basilica to All Saints. Since All Saints Day was also known as “All Hallows Day” (Hallow meaning sacred and holy), the night before was thus “All Hallow’s Evening,” eventually shortened to Halloween.

Thus, despite the claims of many fundamentalist Christians, Halloween was historically not commonly viewed as a ‘satanic’ or evil holiday. In fact, it is well regarded as an important, though now very secularized, day in Christianity. Christians tended to merge pagan holidays with their own as the faith spread and began to take in converts from pagan traditions. Irish and Scottish immigrants, the modern-day descendants of Gaelic Celts (the former pagans), brought it over to Canada, the US, Australia, and other nations during the 18th century and onward. Samhain, the inspiration to this holiday, was also very holy and is still well-regarded by neo-Pagans and Wiccans to this day.

As for the iconic act of trick or treating, this began again with the Celts, namely those of the British Isles. They had a tradition called souling, where poorer people went door to door asking for food in return for their prayers to the souls and saints of All Saints and All Souls Day (November 1st and 2nd respectively). This practice apparently became fused with another ritual consisting of dressing up as evil spirits in order to placate, please, or scare the “real deal” (in other words, for safety). The trick developed into an idle threat to ‘trick’ -i.e. through posing as an evil spirit – the household if they didn’t provide the “treats”. Sure enough, Halloween remains known as a time for pranks and mischief to this day.

Keep in mind that various sources may provide their own slightly nuanced accounts. Like much of history, there are disputed claims and many uncertainties. Don’t take any of this as authoritative, and do feel free to share your own data on the subject. I’d be curious to know.

Now Hallow is the time to get scared, binge on candy, engage in partying, embrace the occult or supernatural, and dress like fools and/or sluts without (as much) social judgment! So with that said: have a good Halloween everyone!