Gosh Darn You, Martha Stewart!

I fell in LOVE with the cover of Martha’s Easter Issue. I was positively obsessed!!

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I mean, what’s not to love, right??

So, with my characteristic over-enthusiasm, I decided to recreate Her basket for my daughter’s in-law’s Easter Table. That won’t be too hard, I told myself.

Around two hundred dollars’ worth of Martha Products later, I have a reasonable facsimile of Her Easter basket, if I do say so myself. Minus the adorable lop-eared bunny, of course!

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Martha may not have a warm and fuzzy personality, but She’s still one of my Pantheon of Women Goddesses. Hey, Athena wasn’t Miss Congeniality either! And who else could have had a bunch of federal prison inmates crafting?? To gild the lily, She’s an avid beekeeper too!!

She’s the tops in my book.

Have a wonderful Easter, Martha.  I was just kidding You in the title of my post.  🙂

 

Welcome The Winter Solstice

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Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the shortest daylight period and longest night of the year.

At 12:11 p.m. EST on December 21, the sun appears directly overhead along the Tropic of Capricorn, at 23.5 degrees south latitude. With the Earth’s north pole at its maximum tilt from the sun, locations north of the equator see the sun follow its lowest and shortest arc across the southern sky. For the next six months, the days again grow longer as the sun spends more time above the horizon.

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The December solstice has influenced the lives of many people over the centuries, particularly through art, literature, mythology and religion. 

In the northern hemisphere, the December solstice occurs during the coldest season of the year. Although winter was regarded as the season of dormancy, darkness and cold, the coming of lighter days after the winter solstice brought on a more festive mood. To many people, this return of the light was a reason to celebrate that nature’s cycle was continuing.

In modern times Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas, which falls on December 25. However, it is believed that this date was chosen to offset pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Natalis Invicti. Some believe that celebrating the birth of the “true light of the world” was set in synchronization with the December solstice because from that point onwards, the days began to have more daylight in the northern hemisphere.

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Christmas is also referred to as Yule, which may have derived from the Norse word jól, referring to the pre-Christian winter solstice festival. Yule is also known as Alban Arthan and was one of the “Lesser Sabbats” of the Wiccan year in a time when ancient believers celebrated the rebirth of the Sun God and days with more light. This took place annually around the time of the December solstice and lasted for 12 days. The Lesser Sabbats fall on the solstices and equinoxes.

The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia at the time of the December solstice. Fires were lit to symbolize the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning sun. A Yule or Juul log was brought in and burned on the hearth in honor of the Scandinavian god Thor.

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A piece of the log was kept as both a token of good luck and as kindling for the following year’s log. In England, Germany, France and other European countries, the Yule log was burned until nothing but ash remained. The ashes were then collected and either strewn on the fields as fertilizer every night until Twelfth Night or kept as a charm and or as medicine.

French peasants believed that if the ashes were kept under the bed, they would protect the house against thunder and lightning. The present-day custom of lighting a Yule log at Christmas is believed to have originated in the bonfires associated with the feast of Juul.

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In Ancient Rome the winter (December) solstice festival Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It was held to honor Saturn, the father of the gods and was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten while businesses, courts and schools were closed. Wars were interrupted or postponed and slaves were served by their masters. Masquerades often occurred during this time.

It was traditional to offer gifts of imitation fruit (a symbol of fertility), dolls (symbolic of the custom of human sacrifice), and candles (reminiscent of the bonfires traditionally associated with pagan solstice celebrations). A mock king was chosen, usually from a group of slaves or criminals, and although he was permitted to behave in an unrestrained manner for seven days of the festival, he was usually killed at the end. The Saturnalia eventually degenerated into a week-long spree of debauchery and crime – giving rise to the modern use of the tern saturnalia, meaning a period of unrestrained license and revelry.

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In Poland the ancient December solstice observance prior to Christianity involved people showing forgiveness and sharing food. It was a tradition that can still be seen in what is known as Gody. In the northwestern corner of Pakistan, a festival called Chaomos, takes place among the Kalasha or Kalash Kafir people. It lasts for at least seven days, including the day of the December solstice. It involves ritual baths as part of a purification process, as well as singing and chanting, a torchlight procession, dancing, bonfires and festive eating.

Many Christians celebrate St Thomas’ Day in honor of St Thomas the Apostle on December 21. In Guatemala on this day, Mayan Indians honor the sun god they worshipped long before they became Christians with a dangerous ritual known as the polo voladore, or “flying pole dance”. Three men climb on top of a 50-foot pole. As one of them beats a drum and plays a flute, the other two men wind a rope attached to the pole around one foot and jump. If they land on their feet, it is believed that the sun god will be pleased and that the days will start getting longer. Some churches celebrate St Thomas’ Day on other days in the year.

The ancient Incas celebrated a special festival to honor the sun god at the time of the December solstice. In the 16th century ceremonies were banned by the Roman Catholics in their bid to convert the Inca people to Christianity. A local group of Quecia Indians in Cusco, Peru, revived the festival in the 1950s. It is now a major festival that begins in Cusco and proceeds to an ancient amphitheater a few miles away.

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The Man Who Invented Christmas

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens rediscovered the great Christian festival that  had been on the wane in Great Britain since the latter part of the eighteenth century.  The fact is that  Dickens more than anybody else revived the English Christmas traditions which had nearly died out.

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Professor Les Standiford, author of  The Man Who Invented Christmas, says: “Dickens is responsible for Christmas as we know it. He obviously didn’t invent it as an idea, but what he did with A Christmas Carol began the process that led to what we have today.”

Christmas was barely celebrated at the start of the 1800s and December 25 was just a normal working day.“The holiday was still suffering the effects of the Puritan era and seen as a Pagan enterprise,” says Professor Standiford.

“The publication of A Christmas Carol added an emotional component to Christmas and changed it. We will never know what Christmas would be like without Charles Dickens, but it would never have been quite the same as we enjoy today without him.”

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Although Dickens celebrated the festival of Christ’s birth in numerous works, it is A Christmas Carol, published on 19 December 1843, that has preserved the Christmas customs of olde England and fixed our image of the holiday season as one of wind, ice, and snow without, and piping hot turkey, and family cheer within. Coming from a family large but not-too-well-off, Charles Dickens presents again and again his idealized memory of a Christmas associated with the gathering of the family which “bound together all our home enjoyments, affections and hopes” in games such as Snap Dragon and Blind Man’s Buff, both of which his model lower-middle-class father, Bob Cratchit, runs home to play on Christmas Eve.

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Idealized images of snow-carpeted streets evoked by Dickens are to blame for our preoccupation with white Christmases, according to experts. The author persistently wrote of a Britain smothered in snow, which is actually rare in the UK.

A decade of unusually cold weather during his childhood influenced his description of Britons “scraping the snow from the pavements in front of their dwellings, and from the tops of their houses” on Christmas morning.

Six of Dickens’s first nine Christmases were white, including one in the winter of 1813-14 during which the ice on the River Thames was thick enough to bear the weight of an elephant.

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The Christmas tree, a German tradition, was introduced into England by Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert in December, 1840, the couple having been married just the previous February. The tree, lit by candles still in European countries, complemented the holly and mistletoe that the Anglo-Saxons ever since their arrival in Britain in the fifth century had used to decorate their homes at the mid-winter festival. Before Prince Albert’s innovation, better-off English homes had used the “kissing bough” as the main decoration for the season. Two hoops were joined to make a globe, decorated with greenery, oranges, and apples, and, of course, mistletoe.

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The Christmas cards we send each other bear mute testimony to the pervasive influence of the Dickensian Christmas, as if our cultural notion of the holiday is permanently arrested in the early 1830s in rural England, when Dickens, then just a cub reporter for the True London Sun was racing around the countryside covering political events. Christmas was never far away for Dickens at any stage of his life; it is there in his first book, The Pickwick Papers (which contains the prototype of A Christmas Carol, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton,” the curmudgeon being the delightfully named Gabriel Grubb) and somewhat more gloomily in his last, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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One of his sons wrote that, for Dickens, Christmas was “a great time, a really jovial time, and my father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything that was going on…. And then the dance! There was no stopping him!”

Isn’t that the true spirit of Christmas even today?

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“Franksgiving” – The First “Thanksgiving Versus Shopping” Controversy

The controversial decision by some stores to stay open on Thanksgiving is not the first time holiday shopping has caused a Thanksgiving brouhaha. In fact the one in 1939 was MUCH worse!

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In late October of 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up one week, believing that doing so would help bolster retail sales during one of the final years of the Great Depression. This led to much upheaval and protest, causing some to facetiously rename the holiday Franksgiving.

In August 1939, Lew Hahn, general manager of the Retail Dry Goods Association, warned Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins that the late calendar date of Thanksgiving that year (November 30) could possibly have an adverse effect on retail sales. At the time, it was considered bad form for retailers to display Christmas decorations or have “Christmas” sales before the celebration of Thanksgiving.

In keeping with a custom begun by Lincoln in 1863, U.S. Presidents had declared a general day of thanksgiving to be observed on the last Thursday in November. In late October of 1939, President Roosevelt decided to deviate from this custom and declare November 23, the second-to-last Thursday, as Thanksgiving that year.

The short-notice change in dates affected the holiday plans of millions of Americans. For example, many college football teams routinely ended their seasons with rivalry games on Thanksgiving, and had scheduled them that year for the last day in November; some athletic conferences had rules permitting games only through the Saturday following Thanksgiving. If the date were changed, many of these teams would play their games for empty stadiums or not at all. The change also caused problems for college registrars, schedulers, and calendar makers.

A late 1939 Gallup poll indicated that Democrats favored the switch 52% to 48% while Republicans opposed it 79% to 21%, and that Americans overall opposed the change 62% to 38%.

FDR’s declaration was not binding on the states, and each state government could independently determine when to cancel work for state (and in some cases, municipal) employees. Twenty-three states’ governments and the District of Columbia recognized the non-traditional date, twenty-two states preserved the traditional date on November 30, and the remaining three – Colorado, Mississippi, and Texas – gave holidays in both weeks.

In 1940, 32 states’ governments and the District of Columbia observed the earlier date on November 21, while 16 states chose what some were calling the “Republican” Thanksgiving on the 28th.

Unfortunately for Roosevelt, a 1941 Commerce Department survey concluded that the earlier date did nothing to increase sales. November of that year once again saw 32 states and the District of Columbia observing the holiday on the 20th, while the remaining 16 states did so on the 27th.

After three years of Thanksgiving chaos, Congress passed a law on November 26, 1941, designating the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day.

Related articles

Much Ado About The Origins Of Thankgiving

Recently it occurred to me that my knowledge of the origins of Thanksgiving in America was sketchy at best.

I had the simplistic schoolgirl belief that Thanksgiving originated in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 when the English Pilgrims sat down with Squanto and a bunch of other Wampanoag Indians and had one great big happy feast.

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I thought we Americans had merrily celebrated in the same way for the next 392 years or so, except with more football and fewer Indians.

Like most things in life, the real story is considerably more complicated.

To begin with, the idea of holding a feast of thanks for a good harvest was not something new. Many cultures throughout history have held feasts and banquets honoring their individual deities or simply being thankful for the bounty.

Then there are numerous other claims on the holiday. Texans claim that the explorer Coronado hosted the first thanksgiving in May of 1541.

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Others believe that the “real” first Thanksgiving took place in St. Augustine, Florida in 1565.

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. —Forget the turkey, the silly Pilgrim hats and the buckles.
Forget Plymouth Rock and 1621.
If you want to know about the real first Thanksgiving on American soil, travel 1,200 miles south and more than 50 years earlier to a grassy spot on the Matanzas River in North Florida.
This is where Spanish Adm. Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore on Sept. 8, 1565. This is where he, 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, 100 civilian families and artisans, and the Timucuan Indians who occupied the village of Seloy gathered at a makeshift altar and said the first Christian Mass. And afterward, this is where they held the first Thanksgiving feast.
The Timucuans brought oysters and giant clams. The Spaniards carried from their ships garbanzo beans, olive oil, bread, pork and wine.

First Thanksgiving - St. Augustine

Virginians would tell you that the first ever “official” Thanksgiving on American soil took place in 1619 at Berkeley Plantation (a location which also lays claim to the perhaps-just-as-important distinction of being the site where Bourbon Whiskey was first distilled) along the James River in Tidewater Virginia.

First Thanksgiving - Berkeley

The first actual mention of the word “Thanksgiving” in early colonial history was not associated with any of the events described above. The first time this term was associated with a a feast or celebration was in 1623. That year the pilgrims were living through a terrible drought that continued from May through July. The pilgrims decided to spend an entire day in July fasting and praying for rain. The next day, a light rain occurred. Further, additional settlers and supplies arrived from the Netherlands. At that point, Governor Bradford proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to offer prayers and thanks to God. However, this was by no means a yearly occurrence.

The next recorded day of Thanksgiving occurred in 1631 when a ship full of supplies that was feared to be lost at sea actually pulled into Boston Harbor. Governor Bradford again ordered a day of Thanksgiving and prayer.

The truth is that many times when a group was delivered from drought or hardship, a day of prayer and thanksgiving would be proclaimed.

During the mid-1600s, Thanksgiving as we know it today began to take shape. In Connecticut valley towns, incomplete records show proclamations of Thanksgiving for September 18, 1639, as well as 1644, and after 1649. Instead of just celebrating special harvests or events, these were set aside as an annual holiday. One of the first recorded celebrations commemorating the 1621 feast in Plymouth colony occurred in Connecticut in 1665.

In 1782, near the end of the American Revolution, the Continental Congress issued a Proclamation of Thanksgiving to God for His deliverance of the newly independent Nation from her enemies.

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The first Thanksgiving Day proclamation in the newly established constitutional Republic, was delivered by His Excellency, President George Washington in 1789, following the precedent set by the Continental Congress in setting the date on the last Thursday in November.

Finally, Thanksgiving Day became a permanent holiday in 1863, when President Lincoln issued the proclamation that set the precedent for its annual celebration:

First Thanksgiving - Lincoln

There are a multitude of  claims, then, as to what is the “real ” first Thanksgiving. But less important than which was first is the fact that throughout her history our Nation has sought to give thanks for the blessings and graces that have been bestowed upon her.

Bee Business On A Roof

I thought rooftop beekeeping was something new. Not so! Here’s an article about a rooftop apiary circa 1912. Fascinating!!

Check out more historical honeybee articles at https://www.facebook.com/Historical.Honeybee.Articles

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The Full Hunter’s Moon – Friday, October 18, 2013

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There’s something about the full moon in October that is especially mystical.

Many people, including myself, believe that the full moon is responsible for erratic behaviors, psychiatric hospital admissions, suicides, homicides, emergency room calls, traffic accidents, fights at professional hockey games, dog bites, insomnia and all manner of strange events. While men of science may scoff at this belief, most of us have a full moon story or two.

Native Americans called this moon the Hunter’s Moon, which isn’t spooky at all.  It was also called the Blood Moon, which is much more satisfying.

The leaves are falling from trees, the deer are fattened, and it’s time to begin storing up meat for the long winter ahead. Because the fields were traditionally reaped in late September or early October, hunters could easily see fox and other animals that come out to glean from the fallen grains. The Hunter’s Moon historically served as an important feast day in both Western Europe and among many Native American tribes.

Hunter's Moon

October’s full moon has a bonus in store for  this year.

A penumbral lunar eclipse — so called because only the incomplete outer portion of the Earth’s shadow, or penumbra, falls across the moon — is expected to reach its deepest point at 7:50 p.m. ET on Friday, Oct. 18.

Unlike total eclipses, in which Earth’s umbra — the central region of its shadow — darkens the moon entirely, a penumbral lunar eclipse involves only a slight dimming. Skywatchers should expect to see a much more subtle sight — with a shadow on the lower half of the full moon — like the eclipse pictured below.

PHILIPPINES LUNAR ECLIPSE