Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Thanksgiving is the time where we all go off our diets, where we have to spend time with family that we may not like, and the time where someone is most likely to clog your toilet. It’s a magical time filled with food, football, and parades. Beyond those things, it’s a holiday dedicated to giving thanks for everything we have. The tradition of Thanksgiving goes back a few centuries.

While we all associate the story of the pilgrims as the first Thanksgiving, there are many who claim that the first Thanksgiving happened in Saint Augustine, Florida. The Spanish, after ousting the French Huguenots from the area, created the first permanent settlement in America. From scraps of documents from the period, historians have surmised that a sort of Thanksgiving feast occurred with Native Americans from the area in 1565.

That’s not what we all celebrate though. We all like to focus on the Pilgrims. But, is the story of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans that had a feast together accurate? Well, in a way yes…but in a lot of ways, no. The Pilgrim Thanksgiving wasn’t a friendly get together between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims with turkey and cranberry sauce. After fleeing persecution in Europe, the Pilgrims, a sect of the Puritans, landed in modern day Massachusetts; in a place they named Plymouth. Luckily for them, they had an OK relationship with the Wampanoag. They Pilgrims did make the assumption that they owned all the land in the area though, which probably didn’t go over well with the Wampanoag. Things smoothed over as the natives saw that the Pilgrims didn’t mean them any harm, and some decided to help the Pilgrims survive the rough winter. With the native’s help, the Pilgrims were able to yield a plentiful crop. This much is about true about the story we all heard in elementary school. Then it gets weird. The Pilgrims decided to have a big feast with games and everything to celebrate the great harvest they had. Some Pilgrims decided to show the Wampanoag how tough they were by going out into woods and starting some target practice. This caught the attention of the tribe and about 90 men came into the Pilgrim settlement with weapons ready. What the Pilgrims meant as a show of might backfired into almost starting a conflict. When the Wampanoags saw what was going on, they decided not to murder everyone and promptly joined the party…uninvited. Well, now the Pilgrims had way more mouths to feed and not enough food. The Wampanoags decided to chip in since they were creating a little bit of a bother for the Pilgrims and brought a few deer to help feed everyone. History only gives us one journal account from a Pilgrim describing the feast. This is all we really have to go on for any information about the first Thanksgiving. At the feast, they enjoyed fowl (which may or may not have included turkey), berries, various vegetables, venison, beans, squash, and maize.

It wasn’t called Thanksgiving from the get go either. For many after that, it was simply a harvest time feast. There was no set day to celebrate the day. The name Thanksgiving started being used in the 19th century for the day when puritans had a day of fasting and gave thanks. It wasn’t really that you couldn’t eat; it was that you were at church praying the whole time, so you couldn’t eat. The journal entry from the Pilgrims was lost until this time and with the knowledge, people started mixing the two together. Thanksgiving would be a day of great feasting, and giving thanks to God for all He has given us. Eventually, pumpkin pies and other Thanksgiving mainstays found their way into the meal. Turkeys were a popular main course for the feast as they were large birds that would yield lots of meat. Plus, they tasted delicious.

Like I said before, there wasn’t really a set day to celebrate Thanksgiving. People just had a harvest feast whenever they wanted, but usually in November. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that the discussion of Thanksgiving being given a specific date was heard. Sarah Josepha Hale, a popular magazine editorial writer, started the campaign to make Thanksgiving an official holiday with a specific day. She felt that the holiday would bring the bitterly divided North and South together in solidarity to give thanks. She wrote senators, governors, and presidents, but no one really listened. The south began to see the holiday as a Yankee holiday, being pushed on them. They refused to celebrate the holiday, thus crushing any hope of a holiday bringing the north and south together. In the middle of the Civil War however, President Lincoln decided that the best thing to do for the people was to make Thanksgiving an American holiday, held on the last Thursday of November. Thanksgiving however, was not a national holiday until FDR’s presidency. He pushed to have Thanksgiving moved a week earlier so people had more time to spend on Christmas presents. He felt the best thing to do in the feeble economy was to give more time for the people to put money back into the businesses. This didn’t work however, as most didn’t like someone messing with what day they gave thanks. So, in 1939, some people celebrated Thanksgiving on the 19th, and some on the 26th. It was a mess. Congress finally decided to step in and make Thanksgiving a national holiday kept on the last Thursday of November. So, FDR’s blunder caused Thanksgiving to be made a national holiday, and the holiday that year was named Franksgiving. No joke.

In essence, the Thanksgiving tradition hasn’t changed much over the years. Some big changes however were the loosening of ties with religion. Thanksgiving has become a secular holiday; something for anybody to celebrate not matter what they believe in. Thanksgiving has gained a few things though. Starting in 1924, Macy’s department store has had a parade celebrating the holiday season. Supposedly started when patriotic immigrants wanted to show how thankful they were for their jobs, and they suggested to their employers to throw a parade. From the get-go, Macy’s had those character balloons. Always filled with helium, for a time they used to just let the balloons go at the end of the parade route. They figured that the balloons would flout around for a few days and eventually flout back down harmlessly to earth. This all ended in 1932 when a balloon was released and ended up hitting a passing airplane. The pilot was able to stay in the air, but the fear of death caused the act to stop from that moment on. Now, all the balloons are stored in an old tootsie roll factory in New Jersey. Many cities have their own Thanksgiving Day/Christmas Parade. We in Michigan have “America’s Thanksgiving Parade”, which I find to be the most notable. Balloons have been used every year in the parades besides during the Second World War, so they could be used to make tires and other stuff for the war effort.

Another tradition for Thanksgiving is Football. Whether you play it or watch it at the stadium or with your relatives at home, football is everywhere on Thanksgiving. Turkey Bowl games started almost as soon as football was invented in the 1870’s. People would go to their favorite college and watch their teams throw around actual pigskin. It wasn’t until 1934 when the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving that a tradition started in the NFL. Except for the years of 1939-1944, the Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day. Lion’s fans have waited since 2003 to see the Lions actually win a Thanksgiving Day game. Other teams have been added to Thanksgiving Day games such as the Dallas Cowboys since the 70’s and various others since the mid-200’s.

Myth debunking time!

True or False?

1. There is tryptophan in turkey which makes you sleepy, so that’s why you are so tired after Thanksgiving Dinner.

Answer: False! It does have tryptophan, but a very small amount. You are tired from all the carbs that you ingested and all the stress of making and eating the meal.

2. The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day to fly on a plane due to everyone trying to get to their relatives.

Answer: False! The day before thanksgiving is not even in the top 25. The highest varies every year, but is usually a Friday during June, July, or August.

3. The day after Thanksgiving is the busiest day for plumbers.

Answer: True! When you have a lot of people in your house, you tend to have a lot of people using the bathroom. Toilets get clogged and have to be fixed the next day by plumbers. Also, many people put things in the garbage disposal that aren’t supposed to go in there, such as rice, potato peels, and bones. This again, causes a plumber to show up to clean up after your stupidity.

Though a few things have changed about Thanksgiving, the meaning of it has never. It is a time to give thanks for everything we have been given over the past year and a time to spend with our families. Thanksgiving is a time to sit and watch a parade and some football and skim through all the black Friday ads in the paper. Hope you all have a very peaceful Thanksgiving.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Birthdays: A day filled with cake and questionable gifts.

As my own birthday is tomorrow, I decided that it would be a good idea to write about the history of birthdays! Where did the song come from? Why blow out candles? Why presents? Why celebrate getting older anyway? It was fun as a kid, but now it’s just a reminder of the inevitability of being old.

Birthdays were not always around, since for a long period of time we didn’t have calendars. People kind of took a stab at their birthday and what time of the year it was based on the stars and of course weather. Once calendars were in use, people started to take more notice of their own day of birth. There were no parties though for the regular ol’ folk like you and me. History only gives us names of nobility and such celebrating birthdays with parties and fanfare. The consensus was that if you weren’t royalty, there was really no reason for anyone to remember your birthday.

Eventually, birthdays and celebrations became a mainstay for children, starting in Germany. The parties were called kinderfestes, kinder meaning children and feste meaning party. Though this name hasn’t stayed with us, a similar word has that came from the Germans, Kindergarten. The celebrations, like most at the time practiced by pagans, were done to ward off evil spirits. People believed that evil spirits targeted people on their birthdays and the only thing that could protect them was friends and family. Bringing gifts was another way of spreading cheer, which helped ward off evil spirits. I smell a scam here.

The birthday custom of lighting candles originated with people believing that the gods lived in the sky and by lighting candles and torches they were sending a signal or prayer to the gods so they could be answered. When you blow out the candles and make a wish this is another way of sending a signal and a message.

Birthdays have since lost the stigma of being about warding off evil spirits and more about celebrating a person’s transition into another year of their life. Birthdays are now celebrated around the world, each in a different way.

In America, we typically do the traditional birthday with cake and presents, but sing a specific song to go along with it. The Happy Birthday song was written by Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893, though no one really paid much attention to it until the verse “Good morning to you!” was changed to “Happy Birthday to you!” Now the song is heard in every household. One place you will not here the song is at restaurants. You may have noticed while the people from Red Robin surround you and give you a free dessert that is much smaller than it should be, that they have their own dumb birthday song. Legally, no restaurant or business can legally sing the Happy Birthday song because that would be copyright infringement. The song surprisingly is not public domain and therefore has a copyright on it. So thanks to that, you get the “restaurant version.”

Some birthdays are special in the U.S., specifically a 16th birthday for a girl. This is of course known as a sweet 16 party. It’s sort of the equivalent to the official step into adulthood for girls. Or it’s just a huge party for spoiled girls whose parents will apparently buy them anything.

Other big birthdays are a person’s 18th birthday, which marks when a person can legally buy tobacco products, pornography items, and lotto tickets. This also the age at which people can vote and also have to sign up for conscription. 21 is another big one, marking when people are allowed to legally drink alcohol. In most cases, this is also the age at which people are allowed to gamble in casinos. This is different from casino to casino, as in some, you have to be at least 19.
25 is where you can rent a car and when your insurance goes down. I am very excited about this actually. Those payments are killing me!

From there, there aren’t any big birthdays besides the ones that are round numbers. You know it’s a big one when you get the obnoxious birthday cards that say things like “old”, “geezer”, and “over the hill.” When you see that, you are officially in trouble. That means your mid-life crisis is just around the corner.

Special birthdays or coming of age birthdays are different in other countries. Such as:

· Jewish boys become bar mitzvah on their 13th birthday. Jewish girls become bat mitzvah on their 12th birthday, or sometimes on their 13th birthday in Reform and Conservative Judaism.

· In Hispanic-American countries the quinceanera celebration traditionally marks a girl’s 15th birthday.

· In Indian Hindus, the 12th or 13th birthday is replaced with a grand “thread ceremony.” The child takes a blessed thread and wears it, symbolizing his coming of age.

· In the Philippines, they celebrate a debut on a girl’s 18th birthday, and a boy’s 21st birthday.

· In Asian countries that follow the Zodiac calendar, there is a tradition of celebrating the 60th birthday.

As for famous birthdays, many people celebrate what is perceived to be Jesus Christ’s birthday on December 25th, but it probably isn’t. The Queen of England’s birthday is known as Victoria Day. In the case of American birthdays for famous people, we basically just have Presidents Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Columbus Day does not mark Columbus’ birth, but the date he viewed Hispaniola from his ship.

If you happen to be one of the most unlucky people ever, you happen to have been born on February 29th. This, of course, is only a day in a leap year. That means that technically you are never going to get past your mid 20’s. This plot device is used in the musical “The Pirates of Penzance”, as the main character is made to stay a servant because he was born on the 29th and therefore is not really 21 and freed from his servitude. Yes, I do remember my days working in theater, give me a break.

Birthdays are extremely special to some people, and not at all to some. Some like to have people over and get gifts, while others don’t like getting older. Birthdays are a time of celebration, but also a reminder of our years on this earth. This year, make sure you tell a lot of people to come over and bring lots of presents to make sure that the evil spirits will stay away from you. It actually might work.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guy Fawkes Day

Guy Fawkes Day, or Guy Fawkes Night, is a celebration of the protestant victory over the gunpowder plot of November 5th, 1605. To this day, the holiday is celebrated with fireworks and bonfires...and the burning of effigies. To explain this, let's look into the past.

In the early 1600's, England was ruled by the Protestant King, James I. Hopes that religious tolerance towards Catholics would soften under James I wasn't happening, so English Catholics planned to assassinate James I, and put his nine-year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as Catholic Head of State. The group that planned to assassinate James I was led by Sir Robert Catesby who got together a group of men that was to blow up the House of Lords as Parliament met there. Guy Fawkes, being part of the group, had 10 years military experience and was given the job of handling the explosives. Unfortunately for the English Catholics, an anonymous letter found its way to William Parker, who gathered authorities and stopped Guy Fawkes from leveling the House of Lords. Fawkes had 36 barrels of gunpowder, which was more than enough to take down the House of Lords and kill anyone inside. Catesby was killed while trying to resist being captured and the other plotters were eventually captured, sentenced to death, and hung. The author of the anonymous letter has yet to be concretely proven.

Thus, the "Thanksgiving Act" was passed, ensuring that for more than 250 years November 5th was kept free as a day of thanksgiving. The day basically became one big Anti-Catholic celebration. The night, from the beginning, involved fireworks and the burning of a Guy Fawkes effigy. In England, specific foods were also eaten on Guy Fawkes Night, including bangers and mash, baked potatoes, and toffee apples. Guy Fawkes Night became a popular celebration in the U.K., and in it's colonies. This of course included the 13 British colonies in America, which celebrated Guy Fawkes Night (or Pope's Day as it was sometimes called) in the early days as a alternative to the Catholic celebration of Halloween that fell a few days earlier. Northern Ireland does not however celebrate the holiday, for they prefer celebrating the 12th of November, which commemorates the victory by King William the Orange over Catholic King James II.

The holiday has come upon a resurgence in America thanks to Alan Moore's graphic novel, V for Vendetta. The novel uses Guy Fawkes' story as a loose backdrop to the dystopian English future. The novel was also made into a movie which has furthered people's knowledge of the holiday and furthered Alan Moore's frustration with people making movies out of his graphic novels.

So was Guy Fawkes a man out to destroy the establishment and be an anarchist? Not so much, due to the fact that they were setting up a Catholic monarchy. The main character in the novel may sport Guy Fawkes face, but he is much more anarchist than the actual Guy Fawkes ever was.

So if you feel like celebrating the victory of Protestants over Catholics over 400 years ago, then grab your torch and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes tonight!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd (or by God's mercy*)
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!