American Holidays and Traditions
It’s Another New Year… (January 1)
…but for what reason?
“Happy New Year!” That greeting will be said and heard for at least the
first couple of weeks as a new year gets under way. But the day
celebrated as New Year’s Day in modern America was not always January 1.
ANCIENT NEW YEARS
The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was
first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years
around 2000 BC, the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon
(actually the first visible cresent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day
The beginning of spring is a logical time to start a new year. After
all, it is the season of rebirth, of planting new crops, and of
blossoming. January 1, on the other hand, has no astronomical nor
agricultural significance. It is purely arbitrary.
The Babylonian new year celebration lasted for eleven days. Each day had
its own particular mode of celebration, but it is safe to say that
modern New Year’s Eve festivities pale in comparison.
The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their
calendar was continually tampered with by various emperors so that the
calendar soon became out of synchronization with the sun.
In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153 BC,
declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year. But tampering
continued until Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be
known as the Julian Calendar. It again established January 1 as the new
year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had
to let the previous year drag on for 445 days.
THE CHURCH’S VIEW OF NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS
Although in the first centuries AD the Romans continued celebrating the
new year, the early Catholic Church condemned the festivities as
paganism. But as Christianity became more widespread, the early church
began having its own religious observances concurrently with many of the
pagan celebrations, and New Year’s Day was no different. New Years is
still observed as the Feast of Christ’s Circumcision by some
During the Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New
Years. January 1 has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for
only about the past 400 years.
NEW YEAR TRADITIONS
Other traditions of the season include the making of New Year’s
resolutions. That tradition also dates back to the early Babylonians.
Popular modern resolutions might include the promise to lose weight or
quit smoking. The early Babylonian’s most popular resolution was to
return borrowed farm equipment.
The Tournament of Roses Parade dates back to 1886. In that year, members
of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with flowers. It
celebrated the ripening of the orange crop in California.
Although the Rose Bowl football game was first played as a part of the
Tournament of Roses in 1902, it was replaced by Roman chariot races the
following year. In 1916, the football game returned as the sports
centerpiece of the festival.
The tradition of using a baby to signify the new year was begun in
Greece around 600 BC. It was their tradition at that time to celebrate
their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby in a basket,
representing the annual rebirth of that god as the spirit of fertility.
Early Egyptians also used a baby as a symbol of rebirth.
Although the early Christians denounced the practice as pagan, the
popularity of the baby as a symbol of rebirth forced the Church to
reevaluate its position. The Church finally allowed its members to
celebrate the new year with a baby, which was to symbolize the birth of
the baby Jesus.
The use of an image of a baby with a New Years banner as a symbolic
representation of the new year was brought to early America by the
Germans. They had used the effigy since the fourteenth century.
FOR LUCK IN THE NEW YEAR
Traditionally, it was thought that one could affect the luck they would
have throughout the coming year by what they did or ate on the first day
of the year. For that reason, it has become common for folks to
celebrate the first few minutes of a brand new year in the company of
family and friends. Parties often last into the middle of the night
after the ringing in of a new year. It was once believed that the first
visitor on New Year’s Day would bring either good luck or bad luck the
rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to
be a tall dark-haired man.
Traditional New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures
believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it
symbolizes “coming full circle,” completing a year’s cycle. For that
reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year’s Day will
bring good fortune.
Many parts of the U.S. celebrate the new year by consuming black-eyed
peas. These legumes are typically accompanied by either hog jowls or
ham. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in
many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because
it symbolizes prosperity. Cabbage is another “good luck” vegetable that
is consumed on New Year’s Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also
considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency.
In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on New Year’s Day.
AULD LANG SYNE
The song, “Auld Lang Syne,” playing in the background, is sung at the
stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world
to bring in the new year. At least partially written by Robert Burns in
the 1700’s, it was first published in 1796 after Burns’ death. Early
variations of the song were sung prior to 1700 and inspired Burns to
produce the modern rendition. An old Scotch tune, “Auld Lang Syne”
literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.” The
lyrics can be found here.
Valentine’s Day! (February 14)
Not Like it Used To Be
February 14 is Valentine’s Day. Although it is celebrated as a lovers’
holiday today, with the giving of candy, flowers, or other gifts between
couples in love, it originated in 5th Century Rome as a tribute to St.
Valentine, a Catholic bishop.
For eight hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine’s Day,
the Romans had practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February
commemorating young men’s rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The
celebration featured a lottery in which young men would draw the names
of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each young man in that
manner would be his sexual companion during the remaining year.
In an effort to do away with the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a
slight change in the lottery. Instead of the names of young women, the
box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women were allowed
to draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint
they drew during the rest of the year. Needless to say, many of the
young Roman men were not too pleased with the rule changes.
Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable
patron saint of love to take his place. They found an appropriate choice
in Valentine, who, in AD 270 had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius.
Claudius had determined that married men made poor soldiers. So he
banned marriage from his empire. But Valentine would secretly marry
young men that came to him. When Claudius found out about Valentine, he
first tried to convert him to paganism. But Valentine reversed the
strategy, trying instead to convert Claudius. When he failed, he was
stoned and beheaded.
During the days that Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the
blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her, and his great faith,
managed to miraculously heal her from her blindness before his death.
Before he was taken to his death, he signed a farewell message to her,
“From your Valentine.” The phrase has been used on his day ever since.
Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church, the
mid-February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine was still used by
Roman men to seek the affection of women. It became a tradition for the
men to give the ones they admired handwritten messages of affection,
containing Valentine’s name.
The first Valentine card grew out of this practice. The first true
Valentine card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his
wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time.
Cupid, another symbol of the holiday, became associated with it because
he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often
appears on Valentine cards.
Easter! (between the dates of March 22 and April 25)
The Traditions of Easter
As with almost all “Christian” holidays, Easter has been secularized and
commercialized. The dichotomous nature of Easter and its symbols,
however, is not necessarily a modern fabrication.
Since its conception as a holy celebration in the second century, Easter
has had its non-religious side. In fact, Easter was originally a pagan
The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious
festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime,
Eastre. When the second-century Christian missionaries encountered the
tribes of the north with their pagan celebrations, they attempted to
convert them to Christianity. They did so, however, in a clandestine
It would have been suicide for the very early Christian converts to
celebrate their holy days with observances that did not coincide with
celebrations that already existed. To save lives, the missionaries
cleverly decided to spread their religious message slowly throughout the
populations by allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan feasts, but
to do so in a Christian manner.
As it happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time
of year as the Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It
made sense, therefore, to alter the festival itself, to make it a
Christian celebration as converts were slowly won over. The early name,
Eastre, was eventually changed to its modern spelling, Easter.
The Date of Easter
Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was variously celebrated on different days of
the week, including Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In that year, the
Council of Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the
Easter Rule which states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first
Sunday that occurs after the first full moon on or after the vernal
equinox. However, a caveat must be introduced here. The “full moon” in
the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the
fourteenth day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the
ecclesiastical New Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as
the astronomical full moon. The ecclesiastical “vernal equinox” is
always on March 21. Therefore, Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday
between the dates of March 22 and April 25.
The Lenten Season
Lent is the forty-six day period just prior to Easter Sunday. It begins
on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is a
celebration, sometimes called “Carnival,” practiced around the world, on
the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. It was designed as a way to “get it
all out” before the sacrifices of Lent began. New Orleans is the focal
point of Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S. Read about the religious
meanings of the Lenten Season.
The Cross is the symbol of the Crucifixion, as opposed to the
Resurrection. However, at the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325,
Constantine decreed that the Cross was the official symbol of
Christianity. The Cross is not only a symbol of Easter, but it is more
widely used, especially by the Catholic Church, as a year-round symbol
of their faith.
The Easter Bunny
The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with
the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the
Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.
The Germans brought the symbol of the Easter rabbit to America. It was
widely ignored by other Christians until shortly after the Civil War. In
fact, Easter itself was not widely celebrated in America until after
The Easter Egg
As with the Easter Bunny and the holiday itself, the Easter Egg predates
the Christian holiday of Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime
is a custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by
From the earliest times, the egg was a symbol of rebirth in most
cultures. Eggs were often wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a
peasant, colored brightly by boiling them with the leaves or petals of
Today, children hunt colored eggs and place them in Easter baskets along
with the modern version of real Easter eggs — those made of plastic or
St. Patrick’s Day! (March 17)
Customs and Traditions
The person who was to become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland,
was born in Wales about AD 385. His given name was Maewyn, and he almost
didn’t get the job of bishop of Ireland because he lacked the required
Far from being a saint, until he was 16, he considered himself a pagan.
At that age, he was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that
raided his village. During his captivity, he became closer to God.
He escaped from slavery after six years and went to Gaul where he
studied in the monastery under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for a
period of twelve years. During his training he became aware that his
calling was to convert the pagans to Christianity.
His wishes were to return to Ireland, to convert the native pagans to
Christianity. But his superiors instead appointed St. Palladius. But two
years later, Palladius transferred to Scotland. Patrick, having adopted
that Christian name earlier, was then appointed as second bishop to
Patrick was quite successful at winning converts. And this fact upset
the Celtic Druids. Patrick was arrested several times, but escaped each
time. He traveled throughout Ireland, establishing monasteries across
the country. He also set up schools and churches which would aid him in
his conversion of the Irish country to Christianity.
His mission in Ireland lasted for thirty years. After that time, Patrick
retired to County Down. He died on March 17 in AD 461. That day has been
commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day ever since.
Much Irish folklore surrounds St. Patrick’s Day. Not much of it is
Some of this lore includes the belief that Patrick raised people from
the dead. He also is said to have given a sermon from a hilltop that
drove all the snakes from Ireland. Of course, no snakes were ever native
to Ireland, and some people think this is a metaphor for the conversion
of the pagans. Though originally a Catholic holy day, St. Patrick’s Day
has evolved into more of a secular holiday.
One traditional icon of the day is the shamrock. And this stems from a
more bona fide Irish tale that tells how Patrick used the three-leafed
shamrock to explain the Trinity. He used it in his sermons to represent
how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could all exist as separate
elements of the same entity. His followers adopted the custom of wearing
a shamrock on his feast day.
The St. Patrick’s Day custom came to America in 1737. That was the first
year St. Patrick’s Day was publicly celebrated in this country, in
Groundhog Day! (March 20)
How Did the Groundhog Get a Day of His Own?
The lowly groundhog, often called a woodchuck, is the only mammal to
have a day named in his honor. The groundhog’s day is February 2.
Granted, it’s not a federal holiday; nobody gets off work. But still, to
have a day named after you is quite a feat.
How did the groundhog come by this honor?
It stems from the ancient belief that hibernating creatures were able to
predict the arrival of springtime by their emergence.
The German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch brought the tradition
to America in the 18th century. They had once regarded the badger as the
winter-spring barometer. But the job was reassigned to the groundhog
after importing their Candlemas traditions to the U.S. Candlemas
commemorates the ritual purification of Mary, 40 days after the birth of
Candlemas is one of the four “cross-quarters” of the year, occurring
half way between the first day of winter and the first day of spring.
Traditionally, it was believed that if Candlemas was sunny, the
remaining six weeks of winter would be stormy and cold. But if it rained
or snowed on Candlemas, the rest of the winter would be mild. If an
animal “sees its shadow,” it must be sunny, so more wintry weather is
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
The groundhog and badger were not the only animals that have been used
to predict spring. Other Europeans used the bear or hedgehog–but in any
case the honor belonged to a creature that hibernated. Its emergence
symbolized the imminent arrival of spring.
Traditionally, the groundhog is supposed to awaken on February 2,
Groundhog Day, and come up out of his burrow. If he sees his shadow, he
will return to the burrow for six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t
see his shadow, he remains outside and starts his year, because he knows
that spring has arrived early.
In the U.S., the “official” groundhog is kept in Punxsutawney,
Pennsylvania. Every February 2, amid a raucous celebration early in the
morning, “Punxsutawney Phil” as the groundhog is called, is pulled from
his den by his keepers, who are dressed in tuxedos. Phil then whispers
his weather prediction into the ear of his keeper, who then announces it
to the anxiously-awaiting crowd.
Of course, this is for show. It’s a fun celebration and a great
tradition. But Phil’s keepers secretly decide upon the “forecast” in
advance of the groundhog’s arousal.
Besides, spring always arrives on or near March 21, so whether the
groundhog decides to return to his den or remain above ground, the sad
fact is spring will always have to wait at least six more weeks.
April fool’s day! (April 1)
Unlike most of the other nonfoolish holidays, the history of April
Fool’s Day, sometimes called All Fool’s Day, is not totally clear. There
really wasn’t a “first April Fool’s Day” that can be pinpointed on the
calendar. Some believe it sort of evolved simultaneously in several
cultures at the same time, from celebrations involving the first day of
The closest point in time that can be identified as the beginning of
this tradition was in 1582, in France. Prior to that year, the new year
was celebrated for eight days, beginning on March 25. The celebration
culminated on April 1. With the reform of the calendar under Charles IX,
the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, and New Year’s Day was moved to
However, communications being what they were in the days when news
traveled by foot, many people did not receive the news for several
years. Others, the more obstinate crowd, refused to accept the new
calendar and continued to celebrate the new year on April 1. These
backward folk were labeled as “fools” by the general populace. They were
subject to some ridicule, and were often sent on “fools errands” or were
made the butt of other practical jokes.
This harassment evolved, over time, into a tradition of prank-playing on
the first day of April. The tradition eventually spread to England and
Scotland in the eighteenth century. It was later introduced to the
American colonies of both the English and French. April Fool’s Day thus
developed into an international fun fest, so to speak, with different
nationalities specializing in their own brand of humor at the expense of
their friends and families.
In Scotland, for example, April Fool’s Day is actually celebrated for
two days. The second day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior
region of the body. It is called Taily Day. The origin of the “kick me”
sign can be traced to this observance.
Mexico’s counterpart of April Fool’s Day is actually observed on
December 28. Originally, the day was a sad remembrance of the slaughter
of the innocent children by King Herod. It eventually evolved into a
lighter commemoration involving pranks and trickery.
Pranks performed on April Fool’s Day range from the simple, (such as
saying, “Your shoe’s untied!), to the elaborate. Setting a roommate’s
alarm clock back an hour is a common gag. Whatever the prank, the
trickster usually ends it by yelling to his victim, “April Fool!”
Practical jokes are a common practice on April Fool’s Day. Sometimes,
elaborate practical jokes are played on friends or relatives that last
the entire day. The news media even gets involved. For instance, a
British short film once shown on April Fool’s Day was a fairly detailed
documentary about “spaghetti farmers” and how they harvest their crop
from the spaghetti trees.
April Fool’s Day is a “for-fun-only” observance. Nobody is expected to
buy gifts or to take their “significant other” out to eat in a fancy
restaurant. Nobody gets off work or school. It’s simply a fun little
holiday, but a holiday on which one must remain forever vigilant, for he
may be the next April Fool!
Mother’s Day! (May 10)
History of Mothers’ Day
Some Motherly Advice
What the Bible says about Mothers
M… is for the million things she gave me,
O… means only that she’s growing old,
T… is for the tears she shed to save me,
H… is for her heart of purest gold;
E… is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
R… means right, and right she’ll always be.
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me.
–Howard Johnson (c. 1915)
History and Customs…
In the U.S. Mothers’ Day is a holiday celebrated on second Sunday in
May. It is a day when children honor their mothers with cards, gifts,
and flowers. First observance in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1907, it is based
on suggestions by Julia Ward Howe in 1872 and Anna Jarvis in 1907.
Although it wasn’t celebrated in the U.S. until 1908, there were days
honoring mothers even in the days of ancient Greece. In those days,
however, it was Rhea, the Mother of the gods that was given honor.
Later, in the 1600’s, in England there was an annual observance called
“Mothering Sunday.” It was celebrated during Lent, on the fourth Sunday.
On Mothering Sunday, the servants, who generally lived with their
employers, were encouraged to return home and honor their mothers. It
was traditional for them to bring a special cake along to celebrate the
In the U.S., in 1908 Ana Jarvis, from Grafton, West Virginia, began a
campaign to establish a national Mother’s Day. Jarvis persuaded her
mother’s church in Grafton, West Virginia to celebrate Mother’s Day on
the anniversary of her mother’s death. A memorial service was held there
on May 10, 1908 and in Philadelphia the following year where Jarvis
Jarvis and others began a letter-writing campaign to ministers,
businessmen, and politicians in their quest to establish a national
Mother’s Day. They were successful. President Woodrow Wilson, in 1914,
made the official announcement proclaiming Mother’s Day a national
observance that was to be held each year on the 2nd Sunday of May.
Many other countries of the world celebrate their own Mother’s Day at
different times throughout the year. Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey,
Australia, and Belgium celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday in
May, as in the U.S.
Memorial Day. (May 31)
Rest Haven Cemetery in Edinburgh, Indiana
is the final resting place of many war veterans.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day to remember
those who have died in our nation’s service. After the Civil war many
people in the North and South decorated graves of fallen soldiers with
In the Spring of 1866, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of
Waterloo, NY, suggested that the patriots who had died in the Civil War
should be honored by decorating their graves. General John B. Murray,
Seneca County Clerk, embraced the idea and a committee was formed to
plan a day devoted to honoring the dead. Townspeople made wreaths,
crosses and bouquets for each veteran’s grave. The village was decorated
with flags at half mast. On May 5 of that year, a processional was held
to the town’s cemeteries, led by veterans. The town observed this day of
remembrance on May 5 of the following year as well.
Decoration Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John
Logan in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed officially on
May 30, 1868. The South did not observe Decoration Day, preferring to
honor their dead on separate days until after World War I. In 1882, the
name was changed to Memorial Day, and soldiers who had died in other
wars were also honored.
In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday to be held on the
last Monday in May.
Today, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season
in the United States. It is still a time to remember those who have
passed on, whether in war or otherwise. It also is a time for families
to get together for picnics, ball games, and other early summer
Father’s Day.( June 20)
The History of Fathers’ Day
Quotes About Dad
Play Fathers’ Day Word Search Online
Send a Father’s Day Card
Fathers’ Day Links from Yahoo!
Father’s Day Gift Ideas
FATHERS’ DAY HISTORY
Sonora Dodd, of Washington, was one of the first people who had the idea
of a “father’s day.” She thought of the idea for Father’s Day while
listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909.
Sonora wanted a special day to honor her father, William Smart. Smart,
who was a Civil War veteran, was widowed when his wife died while giving
birth to their sixth child. Mr. Smart was left to raise the newborn and
his other five children by himself on a rural farm in eastern Washington
After Sonora became an adult she realized the selflessness her father
had shown in raising his children as a single parent. It was her father
that made all the parental sacrifices and was, in the eyes of his
daughter, a courageous, selfless, and loving man. Sonora’s father was
born in June, so she chose to hold the first Father’s Day celebration in
Spokane, Washington on the 19th of June, 1910.
Even before Dodd, however, the idea of observing a day in honor of
fathers was promoted. Dr. Robert Webb conducted what is believed as the
first Father’s Day service at the Central Church of Fairmont, West
Virginia in 1908. It was Dodd’s efforts, however, that eventually led to
a national observance.
President Calvin Coolidge, in 1924, supported the idea of a national
Father’s Day. Then in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a
presidential proclamation declaring the 3rd Sunday of June as Father’s
Fourth of July.
The history of the United States of America began long before the
Colonists declared their independence. The Magna Carta, written in 1215
in order to try to convince King John of England to give the people
certain rights, is generally considered to be the touchstone of liberty,
upon which later documents are based.
The links below will take you to America’s Historic Documents. These are
the pieces of history upon which our nation was founded, and within
which our current liberty is rooted. All the documents are complete and
unabridged, including George Washington’s Farewell Address.
Labor Day. ( September 6)
Labor Day is a national legal holiday that is over 100 years old. Over
the years, it has evolved from a purely labor union celebration into a
general “last fling of summer” festival.
It grew out of a celebration and parade in honor of the working class by
the Knights of Labor in 1882 in New York. In 1884, the Knights held a
large parade in New York City celebrating the working class. The parade
was held on the first Monday in September. The Knights passed a
resolution to hold all future parades on the same day, designated by
them as Labor Day.
The Socialist Party held a similar celebration of the working class on
May 1. This date eventually became known as May Day, and was celebrated
by Socialists and Communists in commemoration of the working man. In the
U.S., the first Monday in September was selected to reject any
identification with Communism.
In the late 1880’s, labor organizations began to lobby various state
legislatures for recognition of Labor Day as an official state holiday.
The first states to declare it a state holiday in, 1887, were Oregon,
Colorado, New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Then in 1894,
Congress passed a law recognizing Labor Day as an official national
Today, Labor Day is observed not only in the U.S. but also in Canada,
and in other industrialized nations. While it is a general holiday in
the United States, its roots in the working class remain clearer in
It has come to be recognized in the U.S. not only as a celebration of
the working class, but even more so as the unofficial end of the summer
season. In the northern half of the U.S. at least, the summer vacation
season begins with Memorial Day and ends with Labor Day.
Many colleges and some secondary and elementary schools begin classes
immediately after Labor Day.
State parks, swimming pools, and campgrounds are all quite busy on Labor
Day, as vacationers take one last advantage of the waning hot season.
September is the month that marks the beginning of autumn. And, because
of that, the average daytime maximum temperatures take a plunge during
the month in most of the U.S.
Columbus Day! (October 12)
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS discovered America in 1492. At least that is what
all elementary school children were always taught: “In 1492, Columbus
sailed the ocean blue.” Of course, Columbus never did “discover” North
America, and the regions he did explore were already inhabited. He only
discovered them from the viewpoint of the Europeans. Yet his first
voyage did prove one thing for sure, that the earth was not only round,
but that it was bigger than he had thought, Eratosthenes
One of the first known celebrations marking the discovery of the “New
World” by Christopher Columbus was in 1792, when a ceremony organized by
the Colombian Order was held in New York City honoring Christopher
Columbus and the 300th anniversary of his landing in the Bahamas. Then,
on October 12, 1866 the Italian population of New York organized the
first celebration of the discovery of America. Three years later, in
1869 Italians in San Francisco celebrated October 12 calling it C-Day.
To mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, in 1892, President
Benjamin Harrison made a commemorative proclamation. But it was
Colorado, in 1905, that became the first state to observe a Columbus
Day. Since 1920 the day has been celebrated annually, and in 1937
President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed every October 12 as Columbus
Day. That’s where it remained until 1971 when Congress declared it a
federal public holiday on the second Monday in October.
Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1505)
Columbus, the son of a wool merchant and weaver, was born in Genoa,
Italy and went to sea at the age of 14. Following a shipwreck off the
coast of Portugal in 1470, he swam ashore and settled in that country.
Between 1477 and 1482 Columbus made merchant voyages as far away as
Iceland and Guinea. But in 1484, his “Enterprise of the Indies” idea
fell on deaf ears when he presented it to King John of Portugal. Shortly
thereafter, he moved to Spain, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
became more interested in his adventuresome ideas.
To the New World
On August 2, 1492, Columbus set sail in search of the East Indies. The
voyage was financed by Ferdinand and Isabella by making the city of
Palos pay back a debt to the crown by providing two of the ships, and by
getting Italian financial backing for part of the expenses. The crown
had to put up very little money from the treasury.
Columbus and 90 crewmen boarded the three ships that were to make the
first voyage to the New World, the Nina, Pinta, and the flagship, Santa
Maria. On October 12, 1492, Columbus first saw the islands of the new
world, landing in the Bahamas. Later in the month, he would sail to
Cuba, and to Hispaniola (now Haiti). He thought he had reached the East
Indies, the islands off Southeast Asia.
Contrary to popular belief, most educated individuals in the 15th
century, and especially sailors, already knew that the earth was round.
What was not realized by Columbus, however, was just how big a globe it
was. Columbus seriously underestimated the size of the planet.
The menu for Spanish seamen consisted of water, vinegar, wine, olive
oil, molasses, cheese, honey, raisins, rice, garlic, almonds, sea
biscuits, dry legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans, salted and
barreled sardines, anchovies, dry salt cod and pickled or salted meats
(beef and pork), salted flour.
Food, mostly boiled, was served in a large communal wooden bowl. It
consisted of poorly cooked meat with bones in it, the sailors attacking
it with fervor, picking it with their fingers as they had no forks or
spoons. The larger pieces of meat were cut with the knife each sailor
carried. Fish was eaten most often. On calm days, the crew would fish
and then cook their catch.
Return to Spain and Additional Voyages
On Christmas Day, 1492, the Santa Maria sank off Hispaniola. Columbus
departed for Spain on January 16, 1493 on the Nina, arriving there on
Columbus made three additional voyages to the New World. The second
voyage set sail in September, 1493, with 17 ships. During his
expeditions, he helped to colonize Hispaniola, and discovered the South
American mainland. He did not, however, see mainland North America
during any of his voyages.
He returned to Spain for the last time on November 7, 1504. He died at
Valladolid, Spain on May 20, 1506, at the age of 55.
Much controversy exists over Columbus’ expeditions and whether or not
one can “discover” an already-inhabited land. The natives of the Bahamas
and other islands on his journey were peaceful and friendly. Yet many of
them were later enslaved by the Spanish. Also, it is known that the
Vikings explored the North American coast 500 years before Columbus.
Nevertheless, Columbus’ expedition was unique and important in that it
resulted in the first intertwining of Europe with the Americas,
resulting in the first permanent European colonies in the New World.
Halloween! (October 31)
Halloween is an annual celebration, but just what is it actually a
celebration of? And how did this peculiar custom originate? Is it, as
some claim, a kind of demon worship? Or is it just a harmless vestige of
some ancient pagan ritual?
The word itself, “Halloween,” actually has its origins in the Catholic
Church. It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve.
November 1, “All Hollows Day” (or “All Saints Day”), is a Catholic day
of observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic
Ireland, summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called
Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New year.
One story says that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those
who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of
living bodies to possess for the next year. It was believed to be their
only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and
time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to
intermingle with the living.
Naturally, the still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the
night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their
homes, to make them cold and undesirable. They would then dress up in
all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily paraded around the
neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away
spirits looking for bodies to possess.
Probably a better explanation of why the Celts extinguished their fires
was not to discourage spirit possession, but so that all the Celtic
tribes could relight their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire
that was kept burning in the Middle of Ireland, at Usinach.
Some accounts tell of how the Celts would burn someone at the stake who
was thought to have already been possessed, as sort of a lesson to the
spirits. Other accounts of Celtic history debunk these stories as myth.
The Romans adopted the Celtic practices as their own. But in the first
century AD, Samhain was assimilated into celebrations of some of the
other Roman traditions that took place in October, such as their day to
honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona
is the apple, which might explain the origin of our modern tradition of
bobbing for apples on Halloween.
The thrust of the practices also changed over time to become more
ritualized. As belief in spirit possession waned, the practice of
dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts, and witches took on a more
The custom of Halloween was brought to America in the 1840’s by Irish
immigrants fleeing their country’s potato famine. At that time, the
favorite pranks in New England included tipping over outhouses and
unhinging fence gates.
The custom of trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with
the Irish Celts, but with a ninth-century European custom called
souling. On November 2, All Souls Day, early Christians would walk from
village to village begging for “soul cakes,” made out of square pieces
of bread with currants. The more soul cakes the beggars would receive,
the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead
relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that the dead
remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by
strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.
The Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the
tale is told, a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and
trickster, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image
of a cross in the tree’s trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack
made a deal with the devil that, if he would never tempt him again, he
would promise to let him down the tree.
According to the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to
Heaven because of his evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell
because he had tricked the devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single
ember to light his way through the frigid darkness. The ember was placed
inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it glowing longer.
The Irish used turnips as their “Jack’s lanterns” originally. But when
the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more
plentiful than turnips. So the Jack-O-Lantern in America was a
hollowed-out pumpkin, lit with an ember.
So, although some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite
“holiday,” the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew
out of the rituals of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of Medieval
prayer rituals of Europeans. And today, even many churches have
Halloween parties or pumpkin carving events for the kids. After all, the
day itself is only as evil as one cares to make it.
Veteran’s Day. (Nov. 11)
This is my tribute to my father, and to all veterans. I thank God every
day for him and veterans like him, without whom we wouldn’t have the
freedoms we’ve grown accustomed to. Freedoms that too many Americans
take for granted. War is a horrible thing, and I in no way am attempting
to glorify it. However, in some cases it is necessary.
My father is a World War II veteran. Joining the Navy when he was just
17, he was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Pensacola (CA-24), where he
served bravely until the war’s end in 1945. The Pensacola was a heavy
cruiser, part of the screen of ships protecting the carrier U.S.S.
Hornet, and later the Enterprise. The Pensacola saw much action, and
earned 13 Battle Stars for her part in 13 major battles fought in the
Pacific, including Midway, Iwo Jima, and Guadalcanal.
The Pensacola’s armament consisted of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns,
and 5 inch and 8 inch guns. My father was a gunner on a 5 inch mount.
The 5 inch guns were multi-purpose, used for ship-to-ship,
ship-to-shore, and anti-aircraft. My father has related to me that his
scariest moments were during Kamikaze attacks, when the enemy planes had
to be literally “blown from the sky”, or centrifigul force would carry
them into the ship. Fortunately, no Kamikaze planes hit the Pensacola,
but she was strafed, bombed, shelled, and torpedoed.
She survived the war, only to be sunk off the coast of Washington State
during nuclear bombardment testing in the late ’40s. An unmagnanimouse
end to a grand career. She was a proud ship, and her officers and crew
fought with unwavering courage.
As an aside, I just want to say that I abhor the treatment our Vietnam
Veterans have received by this country. Vietnam was a “dirty” war in my
opinion, created I believe, by miss-guided politicians. The men and
women who fought there were simply doing their duty, answering the call
from our armed forces. In my eyes they are all heroes. I salute you!
Thanksgiving! (4th Thursday in November)
Find Out What You Know About Thanksgiving!
This page is dedicated to the holiday that encourages us to step back
and give thanks for all the blessings we have. On this holiday site, you
will discover some unusual things about the history of Thanksgiving, and
you can take a fun little quiz to find out how much you know.
Take the quiz first, then read about the history of Thanksgiving to find
out about the answers you missed! When you’re finished, I would
appreciate it if you would sign the guestbook to let me know what you
Pearl Harbor Day (December 7)
At dawn on Sunday, December 7, 1941, naval aviation forces of the Empire
of Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet center at Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii and other military targets. The goal of this attack was
to sufficiently cripple the US Fleet so that Japan could then attack and
capture the Phillipines and Indo-China and so secure access to the raw
materials needed to maintain its position as a global military and
economic power. This would enable Japan to further extend the empire to
include Australia, New Zealand, and India (the ultimate boundaries
planned for the so-called “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”). The
prevailing belief within the Japanese military and political
establishment was that eventually, with the then expected German defeat
of Great Britain and Soviet Russia, the United States’ non-involvement
in the European war, and Japan’s control of the Pacific, that the world
power structure would stabilize into three major spheres of influence:
Christmas (December 25)
At Christmas, people remember when Jesus Christ was born and the
Christian religion started. Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem,
about two thousands years ago. The people who followed Jesus’ teaching
were the first Christians.
Today, Christmas is a very important time in the Christian year, but it
is also very important to those who do not go to church. It is a time
for buying and giving presents, having parties, and being with family.
People start to get ready for Christmas in late October or early
November. Shop – keepers decorate their shops with lights, trees and
other decorations, and shoppers start to look for presents. Shops get
very busy and stay open later. People with family and friends in other
countries often send them cards and presents, and everyone begins to
make plans for the coming holiday.
Many children have parties at school, and many adults have parties at
work in December. Most people have 25 and 26 December off work, and many
have a week off, from 25 December to 1 January. They usually spend this
time at home with their family or visiting family who live far away.
The Christmas holiday begins on 24 December: Christmas Eve. People often
stop work early and have a drink together, or finish their Christmas a
shopping. They cover the presents in special papers, and put them under
Many people go to church at midnight on Christmas Eve. They hear the
Christmas story and sing carols.
Christmas Day ( 25 December ) is a holiday. Children usually wake up
very early. They look in their stockings to see what Santa put there for
them. After breakfast they open their other presents around the tree.
Christmas dinner is in the afternoon and is the biggest meal of the day.
Before they start to eat, people pull crackers. The crackers make a loud
noise, and have a small game and paper party hat inside.
Dinner is usually turkey with lots of winter vegetables and then hot
mince pies or a Christmas pudding.
At three o’clock many people in Britain turn their televisions on
because the Queen say
“Happy Christmas ” to everyone.
A lot of people go for a walk in the afternoon or play with their new
In the evening, people eat cold meat, and Christmas cake ( a kind of
fruit cake ), fruit and nuts, but they are usually not very hungry
because of t5heir big dinner.
Another British Christmas tradition is the pantomime. A pantomime is a
kind of play with a children’s story ( like Cinderella or Aladdin ) and
lots of music and songs. Children like pantomimes because they can join
in and make a lot of noise. They often go with their school or family.
The Christmas season ends on the twelfth day after 25 December, which is
6 January. Most people take down their Christmas trees and decorations
by this date, and some people think it is bad luck not to do that.