It has felt like summer at times for weeks, but now it's official. Kind of.
June 1 marks the first day of meteorological summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
Meteorologists mark the seasons using three-month chunks of time, and summer for them officially begins today.
But most people probably mark the beginning of the season with the summer solstice -- also known as the longest day of the year.
This year the summer solstice will fall on June 20 at 11:24 p.m. CDT.
That means that this year, summer will begin on June 20 for the most of the U.S. -- except for those in the Eastern Time Zone, when it will come on June 21 at 12:24 a.m. EDT.
The summer solstice marks the day with the most hours of sunlight for the entire year.
From now until June 21 the day length will increase by about a minute each day. Both June 20 and 21 will have the most daylight: 14 hours, 22 minutes and 39 seconds, according to Timeanddate.com.
The days will begin to get shorter following the solstice, culminating in the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice on Dec. 21 at 10:27 a.m. CST.
The seasons are marked by two solstices and two equinoxes.
According to NASA, they are determined based on the Earth's tilt on its axis and the sun's alignment over the equator.
Meteorologists use a different method to mark the seasons, basing them on the annual temperature cycle and our calendar.
Meteorological summer is made up of the months of June, July and August. Fall is September, October and November. Winter is December, January and February, and spring is March, April and May.
According to NOAA the meteorological seasons were created for observing and forecasting purposes and are more closely tied to the civil calendar than the astronomical seasons.
Consistency is also a factor. Breaking the seasons into neat, thee-month chunks makes it easier to tabulate data and track trends.
The origins of the day are uncertain. Most people think it stems from Pope Gregory XIII. In 1582, he wanted his new Gregorian calendar to replace the old Julian Calendar. This called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on January 1 instead of the end of March. But some people apparently didn't get the memo and continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1. These poor folk were made fun of and were sent on ‘fools errands’ for a laugh.
However, others think April Fools' Day stems from the age when people used to hold spring festivals marking the end of winter with 'mayhem and misrule', according to the Museum of Hoaxes.
Ancient Romans held a festival known as Hilaria. The occasion was used to celebrate the resurrection of the god Attis. Hilaria, of course, resembles the word hilarity in English. The modern equivalent of Hilaria is called Roman Laughing Day.
Other non-Western cultures have their own traditions similar to April Fools’ Day as well. In India, Holi, a colorful Hindi festival that frequently entices non-Hindi participants to join in, often is celebrated by people playing jokes and throwing colorful dyes on each other.
Persian culture also has a holiday with a similar theme, known as Sizdahbedar. On this day, which typically coincides with April Fools’ Day itself, Iranians play pranks on one another.
Many other cultures have held renewal festivals in Europe around April 1 and there are references to these dating back to the 1500s. What is clear though is that by the 1700s, the day of hilarity was well entrenched in Britain, and now April 1 is officially the most amusing day of the year.
In modern times, people have gone to great lengths to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes. Newspapers, radio and TV stations and Web sites have participated in the April 1 tradition of reporting outrageous fictional claims that have fooled their audiences. In 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees; numerous viewers were fooled. In 1985, Sports Illustrated tricked many of its readers when it ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour. In 1996, Taco Bell, the fast-food restaurant chain, duped people when it announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and intended to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, after Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” scores of clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.
The modest observance of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland dates back to the 17th century, as a religious feast day that commemorates the death of St. Patrick in the fifth century. Patrick is credited with having brought Christianity to Ireland, and as such became a figure of national devotion and, in due course, the nation’s patron saint. The day’s importance was confirmed in 1631 when it was recognized by the Vatican. For most Irish people at home, the day remained primarily religious into the 20th century. The elite of Irish society did mark the day with a grand ball in Dublin Castle each year in the second half of the 19th century. But for the public at large, it was a quiet day with no parades or public events. The day wasn’t even a public holiday in Ireland until 1904.In the 20th century, the day became a public spectacle, with a military parade running through Dublin’s streets from the 1920s to the 1950s. Right through this period, the day was rather somber: mass in the morning, the military parade at noon and—this will shock American readers—the bars across the country closed for the day. (Irish bars didn’t begin opening on March 17 until the mid-1960s.) The military parade was replaced by a more general parade of floats and entertainment beginning in the 1960s, which in turn was transformed, in 1996, into the St. Patrick’s Festival, which still runs to this day. It’s a four-day event of music, treasure hunts, performances, and of course, on the day itself, a two-hour parade that draws up to half a million people onto the streets of Dublin. But to understand the day and its significance is to tell an American rather than an Irish story.
The shift in the 1960s, after all, to a parade in Dublin (and many other Irish towns and cities) that was celebratory and fun was directly inspired by what was happening in the real home of St. Patrick’s Day, the U.S. The first recorded celebrations of March 17 took place in Boston in 1737, when a group of elite Irish men came together to celebrate over dinner what they referred to as “the Irish saint.” The tradition of parading began amongst Irish Catholic members of the British Army in New York in 1766 when the day “of St. Patrick, Saint of Ireland, was ushered in with Fifes and Drums,” as described in J.T. Ridge’s 1988 history of the New York parade.
The day grew in significance following the end of the Civil War and the arrival, across the 19th century, of ever increasing numbers of Irish immigrants. Facing nativist detractors who characterized them as drunken, violent, criminalized, and diseased, Irish-Americans were looking for ways to display their civic pride and the strength of their identity. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were originally focused on districts where the Irish lived and were highly localized. Through the use of symbols and speeches, Irish-Americans celebrated their Catholicism and patron saint and praised the spirit of Irish nationalism in the old country, but they also stressed their patriotic belief in their new home. In essence, St. Patrick’s Day was a public declaration of a hybrid identity—a belief in the future of Ireland as a nation free from British rule, and a strict adherence to the values and liberties that the U.S. offered them.
By the end of the 19th century, St. Patrick’s Day was being observed on the streets of major Irish cities such as Boston, Chicago, and New York, as well as in other cities such as New Orleans, San Francisco, and Savannah. The evolution of highly localized Irish celebrations to broader public events and parades tracked the rise of Irish-Americans in local governments. In the face of growing nativist opposition, to parade down major avenues in city after city announced that Irish-Americans were numerous and powerful, and not going anywhere.
The tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day grew across the U.S. and became a day that was also celebrated by people with no Irish heritage. By the 20th century, it was so ubiquitous that St. Patrick’s Day became a marketing bonanza: greetings cards filled drugstores, imported Irish shamrocks (indeed anything green) showed up on T-shirts, and the food and drink that became associated with the day became bar promotions. Corned beef and cabbage—rarely eaten in Ireland but commonplace in American cities as a springtime dish—became the meal for March 17. Dietary innovations for the day have grown over the years with all types of green food, including milk shakes, beers, and candy. Once a food giant like McDonald’s latched onto the marketing potential of St. Patrick’s Day, it was clear that celebrating had jumped from a solely Irish day into the American mainstream.
The power of St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. was its ability to survive and then spread. It survived over the decades because generations of Irish immigrants were eager to celebrate their origins. The sheer number of those claiming Irish descent in the U.S., coupled with their mobility and assisted by a network of Irish societies and the forces of Irish commerce (namely Guinness and the ubiquitous Irish bar in very town) has meant that St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have spread across the country.
The holiday also spread by becoming a means for all Americans to become Irish for the day. The shared sense of being Irish, of wearing green and in some way marking March 17, has resulted in St. Patrick’s Day being observed in a similar fashion to July Fourth or Halloween. It’s the closest thing in America to National Immigrant Day, a tribute not only to the Irish, but to the idea that Americans are all part “other.” That may be why the holiday was slower to take off among the Irish diaspora in other nations around the world, where people are less comfortable with hyphenated identities.
Only more recently, once it was established as a bona fide American cultural phenomenon, and again aided by such Irish cultural ambassadors as U2, Guinness, and those ubiquitous pubs, did St. Patrick’s Day become a full-fledged celebration—whose spirit was re-imported in its Americanized form back to Ireland itself.
So, wherever you may be on this day, raise a glass to toast not only good old Ireland, but America’s interpretation of it as well.
Article taken from Internet source.
It's time for the time to change.
Daylight saving time begins overnight -- at 2 a.m. Sunday clocks will move forward one hour as mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Some will gripe about losing an hour of sleep, while others are excited about the extra hour of daylight in the afternoons that DST affords.
Daylight saving time has been a contentious issue worldwide since it was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in 1784.
Here are a few surprising things about the time change and the ripple effects caused by it:
*Railroads helped start more uniform time zones in the U.S., voting in 1883 to adopt a standard time.
*Before railroad time, cities used to set the time themselves, leading to confusion, especially when traveling. At one time there were 100 railroad time zones in the U.S. alone.
Although the railroads adopted standard time in 1883, it was not made the law of the land in the U.S. until the Act of March 19, 1918, also known as the Standard Time Act.
*Daylight-saving time came and went in the 20th century but was used year-round from 1942 until 1945.
*As of 2007, daylight time begins in the United States on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.
*According to David Prerau's book "Seize the Daylight," trains always adhere to their published schedules, so when it's time to "fall back" all Amtrak trains that are running on time stop in their tracks and wait an hour before resuming. When it's time to spring forward the trains automatically fall behind schedule at 2 a.m. but just have to do their best to make up the lost time.
*According to National Geographic Nielsen TV ratings during the hours impacted by the change to daylight saving time show large declines during the first week of DST--as much as 10 to 15 percent, even for popular shows.
*A study by Hardee's fast-food chain estimated that extending DST would increase sales by $880 a week per store.
*A 2015 report by the Brookings Institution found that, on the first day of daylight saving time, robbery rates fall by an average of 7 percent.
*Canada experimented with "double daylight saving time" in 1988 and set clocks ahead by two hours at one time in order to capitalize on the long hours of sunlight in the northern latitudes. DDST didn't stick, however.
*Even Antarctica, where there is no daylight in the Southern Hemisphere winter and a stretch of 24-hour daylight in the summer, observes DST at some of its research stations in order to keep the same time as suppliers in Chile or New Zealand.
*As late as 1965 the observation of DST was still not uniform across the U.S. According to National Geographic in Minnesota, St. Paul was on one time, Minneapolis was on a different time, and Duluth was on Wisconsin time. There was even a Minneapolis office building in which the different floors of the building were observing different time zones because they were the offices of different counties.
*In the Northern Hemisphere, daylight has been increasing since the December solstice. Daylight will continue to increase until the summer solstice, which falls on June 20 at 11:24 p.m. CDT.
*Standard time resumes on Sunday Nov. 5, 2017.
Article from al.com:
Valentine's history may not be clear, but plenty of people enjoy celebrating the holiday.
Welcome to Valentine's Day - the day of love! There are plenty of things to discover about Feb. 14 - its history, trivia and some things you may not know about the heart-filled holiday.
Valentine's Day traces its roots back to the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility festival that was commemorated annually on Feb. 15. In 496, Pope Gelasius I transformed the holiday into St. Valentine's Day, moving it back one day. There are at least three early Christian saints who go by the name "Valentine."
According to legend, one of those Valentines was a priest who married couples in spite of an order from Emperor Claudius II that forbade young men from tying the knot. Another legend is that Valentine was imprisoned for refusing to worship Roman gods. While in jail, legend says his friends tossed him notes through his cell window. Another legend was that the imprisoned priest sent a letter to his love, signing it "Your Valentine."
Many legends contend Valentine was executed on Feb. 14 in around 269 A.D. Early Europeans also believed Feb. 14 marked the start of the mating season for birds, closely associating that day with romance.
Cupid, another symbol of Valentine's Day, is the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often appears on Valentine cards holding a bow and arrows that can magically make its target fall in love.
Valentine's continued to be celebrated through the years, and often included gift-giving and the exchange of hand-made cards. In the 1850s, Esther A. Howland, a Mount Holyoke graduate and Massachusetts native, began mass-producing Valentine's cards.
The National Retail Federation estimates that U.S. consumers will spend $19.7 billion for the holiday. On average, 54.8 percent of consumers in the U.S. will celebrate Valentine's Day, spending about $147.
About $1.7 billion will be spent on candy alone this Valentine's Day. Candy is the gift of choice for 50 percent of consumers, followed by a trip to a restaurant (38 percent) and jewelry (20 percent.) About $1.1 billion will be spent on greeting cards; $2 billion on apparel; and $1.9 billion on flowers.
Groundhog Day History
(Adapted from "Groundhog Day: 1886 to 1992" by Bill Anderson)
Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a popular tradition in the United States. It is also a legend that traverses centuries, its origins clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening on specific dates. Myths such as this tie our present to the distant past when nature did, indeed, influence our lives. It is the day that the Groundhog comes out of his hole after a long winter sleep to look for his shadow. If he sees it, he regards it as an omen of six more weeks of bad weather and returns to his hole. If the day is cloudy and, hence, shadowless, he takes it as a sign of spring and stays above ground.
The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.
The Roman legions, during the conquest of the northern country, supposedly brought this tradition to the Teutons, or Germans, who picked it up and concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather, which they interpolated as the length of the "Second Winter."
Pennsylvania's earliest settlers were Germans and they found groundhogs to in profusion in many parts of the state. They determined that the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal and therefore decided that if the sun did appear on February 2nd, so wise an animal as the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.
The average groundhog is 20 inches long and normally weighs from 12 to 15 pounds. Punxsutawney Phil weighs about 20 pounds and is 22 inches long. Groundhogs are covered with coarse grayish hairs (fur) tipped with brown or sometimes dull red. They have short ears, a short tail, short legs, and are surprisingly quick. Their jaws are exceptionally strong.
A groundhog's diet consists of lots of greens, fruits, and vegetables and very little water. Most of their liquids come from dewy leaves.
A groundhog can whistle when it is alarmed. Groundhogs also whistle in the spring when they begin courting.
Insects do not bother groundhogs and germs pretty much leave them alone. They are resistant to the plagues that periodically wipe out large numbers of wild animals. One reason for this is their cleanliness.
Groundhogs are one of the few animals that really hibernate. Hibernation is not just a deep sleep. It is actually a deep coma, where the body temperature drops to a few degrees above freezing, the heart barely beats, the blood scarcely flows, and breathing nearly stops.
Young Groundhogs are usually born in mid-April or May, and by July they are able to go out on their own. The size of the litter is 4 to 9. A baby groundhog is called a kit or a cub.
A groundhog's life span is normally 6 to 8 years. Phil receives a drink of a magical punch every summer during the Annual Groundhog Picnic, which gives him 7 more years of life.
Friday the 13th brings along a slew of myths and superstitions, having us sidestep ladders and dodge black cats.
Where did the hysteria come from?
Some believe the superstitious attitude surrounding the date came about during the Middle Ages. Other theories claim its foundations stretch from Biblical times, originating from the story of Jesus’ last supper where there were 13 individuals present, Judas being the 13th guest.
Textually, one of the earliest references to date comes from Henry Sutherland Edwards’ 1869 biography of Gioachino Rossini who died on Friday the 13th, writing, “… he regarded Fridays as an unlucky day and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday 13th of November he passed away.”
In Thomas W. Lawson’s sensational 1907 novel, “Friday, the 13th,” the fear of the date is amplified when a broker takes advantage of the superstition to create Wall Street panic.
Then, there’s Dan Brown’s iconic novel “The Da Vinci Code” wherein events that occurred on Friday, Oct. 13th 1307 is credited as the birth date of the superstition. Thousands of Knights Templar were arrested at the direction of King Philip IV of France due to suspicions that their secret initiation rituals made them “enemies of the faith.”
Then, there’s the slasher films. Horror fans everywhere love to be spooked by hockey-mask-wearing, machete-wielding Jason Vorhees. The "Friday the 13th" franchise currently boasts 12 successful films, but number 13 is long coming. The film has been in production for years, but continues to hit hurdles. It’s currently slated for a release of October 13th, 2017, but some believe the 13th film is cursed.
There's a word for that
Fear of Friday the 13th has so many spooked, there’s now a word for it – friggatriskaidekaphobia. Etymologically speaking, Frigg is the Norse goddess whom Friday was named after. Another name for it is paraskevidekatriaphobia, loosely based on the Greek word for Friday. But some even fear the number itself, known as triskaidekaphobia. And no, we’re not just slamming on our keyboards.
13 has been considered unlucky for many, many years, completely nosediving from the previous number -- 12 is often seen as ‘completeness’ and a state of being “whole” (12 months of the year, 12 hours on the clock, etc.)
There’s so many myths and legends surrounding Friday the 13th. For example, some of the most common myths include bad luck if you walk under a ladder, pass a black cat, or, more extensively, have 7 years of bad luck if you shatter a mirror. More morbidly, if you pass a funeral procession, you’ll be the next to die (or so they say.)
However, Friday the 13th isn’t necessarily the unluckiest day of the year for everyone. In Italy, Friday the 17th is the day to fear, with 13 being considered a lucky number. In Spain, not Friday but Tuesday the 13th the unluckiest day.
But, be warned. We're (un)lucky enough to see a second Friday the 13th in 2017, as it makes a triumph return in October, just in time for Halloween.
Article taken from Lifehack.org
With 2017 quickly approaching, it’s time to consider the things we want to change in our lives next year. For many of us, these aspirations come in the form of New Year’s resolutions. But keeping these resolutions often seems impossible.
Here are a few ways you can stick with yours.
1. Clearly Define Goals
The problem most people have is that they don’t set the right goals. In order to increase your chances of actually accomplishing your resolution, set SMART goals:
2. Set Check Points
It’s one thing to have a goal that says something like, “I want to lose 25 pounds by December 31, 2017.” It’s another thing to say, “I want to lose 2 pounds per month, every month this year.” The latter gives you something to work with. You need to lose 2 pounds every month, which keeps you on pace. If your only goal is to lose 25 pounds by the end of the year, it’s easy to put things off until October or November (when it’s almost too late).
3. Keep a Calendar With Reminders
If you’re a visual person, you need to keep a calendar with reminders on it. Find a calendar that you like, hang it on your wall, and place little notes and progress reports on it. This allows you to look ahead and see what needs to be done during any given week or month in order to help you realize your resolution for the year.
4. Allow for Flexibility
One common problem people have is that they feel as if their resolutions are “all or nothing.” In other words, if the can’t fully check something off the list, they won’t do it at all. This is a dangerous way of thinking and you need to avoid it.
“The difference between doing something rather than nothing is huge,” leadership coach Kevin Kruse says. “If you don’t have a full hour to workout at the gym, just decide to make it the best 20-minutes you can. If you have a slight cold or minor injury, decide to just walk the track for a couple miles. If you have a financial emergency and can’t save your full 10% this month, just save what you can. The bottom line is, any effort towards your goal is better than no effort.”
5. Have an Accountability Partner
The final tip is to have an accountability partner. When someone else is aware of your goals and resolutions, you’re much more likely to stick with them. Connect with someone you trust and ask them to hold you accountable.
You Can Do It!
Keeping your New Year’s resolutions – especially one that’s mentally or physically challenging – can seem impossible. However, once you accomplish your first resolution, you’ll realize that it’s not only possible – it’s also rewarding and fun.
Follow these tips and you can be sure to make progress with your resolutions in 2017.
Taken from: allthingschristmas.com
The variations of the Christmas traditions of USA equal the number active cultures that have settled in the land. These cultural contributions were given a new lease of life by creative artists, authors, poets and songwriters, and it was melded together by the power of secular and commercialized media in record companies, radio stations, television, cinemas and now the internet. The unwritten law of media is the presentation of a seemingly uniform celebration of the Christmas traditions of USA. This is responsible for the world wide acceptance of a universal Christmas image which they get from the media. Nevertheless, the celebrations are peculiar to each region.
According to legend, a kindly nobleman grew despondent over the death of his beloved wife and foolishly squandered his fortune. This left his three young daughters without dowries and thus facing a life of spinsterhood.
The generous St. Nicholas, hearing of the girls’ plight, set forth to help. Wishing to remain anonymous, he rode his white horse by the nobleman’s house and threw three small pouches of gold coins down the chimney where they were fortuitously captured by the stockings the young women had hung by the fireplace to dry.
Mistletoe was used by Druid priests 200 years before the birth of Christ in their winter celebrations. They revered the plant since it had no roots yet remained green during the cold months of winter.
The ancient Celtics believed mistletoe to have magical healing powers and used it as an antidote for poison, infertility, and to ward of evil spirits. The plant was also seen as a symbol of peace, and it is said that among Romans, enemies who met under mistletoe would lay down their weapons and embrace.
Scandinavians associated the plant with Frigga, their goddess of love, and it may be from this that we derive the custom of kissing under the mistletoe. Those who kissed under the mistletoe had the promise of happiness and good luck in the following year.
Holly, Ivy and Greenery
In Northern Europe Christmas occurred during the middle of winter, when ghosts and demons could be heard howling in the winter winds. Boughs of holly, believed to have magical powers since they remained green through the harsh winter, were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter.
Legend also has it that holly sprang from the footsteps of Christ as he walked the earth. The pointed leaves were said to represent the crown of thorns Christ wore while on the cross and the red berries symbolized the blood he shed.
A native Mexican plant, poinsettias were named after Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. One legend has it that a young Mexican boy, on his way to visit the village Nativity scene, realized he had no gift for the Christ child. He gathered pretty green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. Though the other children mocked him, when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped flower appeared on each branch. The bright red petals, often mistaken for flowers, are actually the upper leaves of the plant.
The Candy cane
It was not long after Europeans began using Christmas trees that special decorations were used to adorn them. Food items, such as candies and cookies, were used predominately and straight white candy sticks were one of the confections used as ornamentation. Legend has it that during the 17th century, craftsmen created the white sticks of candy in the shape of shepherds’ crooks at the suggestion of the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.
The candy treats were given to children to keep them quiet during ceremonies at the living creche, or Nativity scene, and the custom of passing out the candy crooks at such ceremonies soon spread throughout Europe.
According to the National Confectioner’s Association, in 1847 German immigrant August Imgard used the candy cane to decorate a Christmas tree in Wooster, Ohio. More than 50 years later, Bob McCormack of Albany, Georgia supposedly made candy canes as treats for family, friends and local shopkeepers. McCormack’s brother-in-law, Catholic priest Gregory Keller, invented a machine in the 1950s that automated the production of candy canes, thus eliminating the usual laborious process of creating the treats and the popularity of the candy cane grew.
More recent explanations of the candy cane’s symbolism hold that the color white represents Christ’s purity, the red the blood he shed, and the presence of three red stripes the Holy Trinity. While factual evidence for these notions does not exist, they have become increasingly common and at times are even represented as fact. Regardless, the candy cane remains a favorite holiday treat and decoration.
A form of Christmas card began in England first when young boys practiced their writing skills by creating Christmas greetings for their parents, but it is Sir Henry Cole who is credited with creating the first real Christmas card. The first director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Sir Henry found himself too busy in the Christmas season of 1843 to compose individual Christmas greetings for his friends.
He commissioned artist John Calcott Horsley for the illustration. The card featured three panels, with the center panel depicting a family enjoying Christmas festivities and the card was inscribed with the message “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
Ever stop to consider where your Thanksgiving feast came from?
If you’re thinking, “Mom roasted the turkey; Aunt Sara made the green bean casserole, and I didn’t see who brought that pie, but it looks like it came from a bakery,” that may be correct, but it’s not the answer we were looking for.
We’re talking about the history behind iconic Thanksgiving dishes, and the cultural implications of how we celebrate the day. Here’s a bit of Thanksgiving background, fact and trivia to chew on while you wait to devour — or digest — the feast.
WHO WAS FIRST? the Pilgrims, Or not?
Today, we acknowledge the 1621 feast at Plymouth Plantation as the great-great-granddaddy of Thanksgiving.
But Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Fla., celebrated a thanksgiving with imported pork and chickpeas in 1519, and sources say Spanish missionaries and American Indians shared a harvest dinner in Santa Fe around 1590.
Harvest feasts were common throughout Europe, and giving thanks to the creator played a central role in Indian cultures.
The acceptance of Plymouth Rock as the location is largely due to the appeal of its story — perseverant Pilgrims in pursuit of freedom joined by friendly Indian neighbors — and the dominance of Yankee culture in post-Civil War America.
Was turkey present at that Thanksgiving feast? Maybe. But probably not.
Wild turkeys were plentiful in New England when the forefathers arrived. But Edward Winslow’s eyewitness account merely states that four men went hunting and brought back a large number of fowl. Given the heft and inaccuracy of guns at that time, many experts think it was waterfowl — it’s easier to shoot large numbers of sitting ducks or geese than nimble, fast-moving turkeys.
Whatever the bird, it may not have been the most prized morsel on the proverbial plate. (The Pilgrims didn’t have actual plates.)
The Wampanoag offered up five deer. In Europe, venison was the prized preserve of noble estates. Commoners caught poaching faced stiff fines or even death.
There was no doubt that shellfish was at the table. And likely eel — a delicacy so beloved by the English that settlers around Cape Cod used lobster to bait their eel traps.
All the trimmings
Both Pilgrims and Wampanoag sometimes stuffed their fowl. But they used onions and herbs, not the bread stuffings we know today. (Wheat, a European import, didn’t arrive till later.)
If cranberries appeared, it was likely in Wampanoag dishes. Sugar was scarce and costly in England. If the Pilgrims had any at all, it certainly wasn’t in the quantity required to make anything resembling our cranberry sauce.
Potatoes are native to South America, and while they had made their way to Europe, they were not yet part of the English diet. If tubers were on the table, they were those known to the Wampanoag: Jerusalem artichokes, perhaps, or Indian turnips.
Pass the pumpkin pie
Pumpkin is likely to have made an appearance. New World pumpkins were well accepted in England by the time the Mayflower sailed, and while the Pilgrims were unfamiliar with the variety grown by the Wampanoag, it wouldn’t have seemed exotic.
A Plymouth historian suggests they may have dined on sobaheg, a Wampanoag stew of pumpkin (or other winter squash) along with corn, roots and beans. And perhaps they ate sweetened pumpkin, stewed in maple syrup.
But pumpkin pie was impossible, due to the aforementioned lack of sugar and flour. The first recipe for pumpkin pie was published later and calls for pumpkin slices set onto a crust — a far cry from the puréed pumpkin custards we bake today.
In any case, a pumpkin pie is arguably more “American” than apple pie. Pumpkins are indigenous to the Americas. Apples are not.
Save the date
For the Pilgrims and Puritans, a day of thanksgiving was a pious religious affair, declared occasionally in gratitude for various auspicious events, perhaps success in battle, or the end of a nasty drought.
As the colonial period progressed, the idea of an annual harvest festival became embedded, particularly in the Northeast. But the date remained random, declared by various leaders, held at different times in different places.
It would take a combination of feminine persuasion and political will to make the holiday a national affair and affix a specific date.
For years, Sarah Hale, editor of the influential magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book, campaigned passionately for Thanksgiving to be declared a national holiday.
When she wrote to Abraham Lincoln pleading for him to declare a national Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November 1863, her cause hit political pay dirt.
Anxious to capitalize on recent victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving — in a proclamation that alluded to the union’s military prowess and robust economy, as well as that year’s bountiful harvest. (Ironically, Jefferson Davis declared a Thanksgiving in the Confederacy a year earlier, but then, as they say, history is written by the winners.)
Tradition marches on
The idea of drenching vegetables in cream sauce dates to at least the Middle Ages. By the early 20th century, American cookbooks were teeming with recipes for green beans (often combined with mushrooms or onions) bathed in a creamy sauce (sour cream, cheese, etc.) sometimes topped with something crispy and baked in a casserole.
But the ubiquitous green bean casserole of today is the invention of Campbell’s Soup Co., which published a recipe using its cream of mushroom soup in 1955. (The manufacturers of canned French fried onions must have been grateful to Campbell’s.)
If you enjoy scalloped corn, you could say it’s a descendant of colonial spoon bread, a soufflé-like dish of cornmeal mush and eggs.
And as beloved as turkey is — it’s estimated we consume more than 46 million holiday birds — it’s not for everyone.
One of the first commercially available brands of faux turkey was UnTurkey, produced by the since defunct Zen and Now. Numerous commercial options pick up the slack, including Tofurkey and VegeUSA, which produces a vegan “turkey,” molded to look creepily like the real deal.
Southerners often have a ham. And the curious or über-ambitious might serve Turducken, a boned turkey stuffed with a boned duck, stuffed with a boned chicken.
Notably not present
Women weren’t at the table at the Plymouth Rock feast. Nineteen women immigrated on the Mayflower, but only four survived until fall. Those who remained were too busy cooking the three-day meal to join in. Besides, it was seen as a bonding ritual between settlers and natives, and governance was off limits to women.
There was no football, of course, although that tradition came along sooner than you might suspect. In 1876, the student-run Intercollegiate Football Association had launched the concept of an annual Thanksgiving game.
Macy’s launched its Thanksgiving Parade in New York in 1924, the same year J.L. Hudson hosted its first parade in Detroit.
And while family food customs are rich with ethnic twists — tamales in the Southwest, steaming rice and crispy duck for Asians, soul food for African-Americans — Thanksgiving has long been seen as a quintessentially American feast.
It’s a time for the kind of sharing and hope that goes down as easily as a mouthful of gravy-slickened mashed potatoes, and warms you long after the last dish is washed and leftovers are tucked away.
Primary sources include “The American Plate,” by Libby H. O’Connell; “Thanksgiving, The Biography of an American Holiday,” by James W Baker; and the Plimoth Plantation website, www.plimoth.org.
Jo Marshall is a Minneapolis ad writer with a love of food, history and culture.