Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas

Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas
Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

A Santa by Any Other Name
18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. British legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.

The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, when Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and PEACE ON EARTH.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Holiday Season—Mistletoe, Hunky Santas, and Santa School

Thanksgiving is over and now we're looking at Christmas and New Year's. I was going to say, "What's happened to this year? Where has it gone?" But I think I'll save that, might use it in my New Year's blog.  :)

It's hard to believe that Christmas is only three weeks away.  While Christmas seems to get most of the publicity—shopping ads, Mall decorations, movies, episodes of television series, and Christmas television specials—it is certainly not the only holiday at this time of year.

In addition to Christmas, we have the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Muslim Eid holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the week long African American heritage celebration of Kwanzaa, winter solstice and Yule.
Mistletoe Trivia:
Why do people kiss under the mistletoe?  After all, mistletoe is a parasitic plant you find in the forest attached to and gaining its sustenance from its host tree.  The entire plant is poisonous, especially the berries which are extremely toxic.  Ingesting the berries causes acute stomach and intestinal pains, diarrhea, weak pulse, mental disturbances, and the collapse of blood vessels.  Death has occurred within ten hours after eating the berries.  Not exactly what first comes to mind when you think of kissing.  :)

The tradition of linking mistletoe and kissing together started in Europe.  According to Norse mythology, Baldur, the god of peace, was shot and killed by an arrow made of mistletoe.  After the other gods brought him back to life, Frigga, the goddess of love, transformed mistletoe into a symbol of love and peace.  And to this day, everyone who passes under the mistletoe must receive a kiss.

Hunky Santa Show:
And for several years there was the Hunky Santa Show held each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through the Christmas season at the Beverly Center (an upscale shopping center) in Los Angeles.  Instead of a round tummy and big beard, these guys have buffed bodies with 6-pack abs and are probably more receptive to champagne than cookies and milk.  In 2015, after several years of featuring this annual event, the Beverly Center chose to not include the Hunky Santa Show as part of their Christmas season.
Santa School:
What about the place where Santas go to learn how to properly Ho Ho Ho?  The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School is located in Midland, Michigan.  The non-profit school has been in operation since its creation in 1937.  It is the longest continuously running Santa Claus school in the world.  Students attending the school learn the history of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, proper dress and use of make-up, experience for radio and television interviews, Santa sign language, live reindeer habits, practice Santa flight lessons, newest toys and gadgets on wish lists, and much more.

So, the next time you see a Mall Santa, remember that he's most likely not merely some guy who stuck on a false beard and climbed into a red suit on a whim.

Be sure to check back here next Sunday, December 10, for a look at The Legend of St. Nicholas and on December 17 The Ancient Roots of Christmas.

And for this holiday season, wishing one and all PEACE ON EARTH

Sunday, November 26, 2017

OPEN IN PRIVATE—A Conversation With Carli and Parker

It's four weeks until Christmas and by an incredible coincidence I just happen to have a Christmas romance eBook available.

OPEN IN PRIVATE by Samantha Gentry is an erotic Christmas romance novella published by The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance from The Wild Rose Press.

I was fortunate to be able to snag a few minutes with Charlene Vance and Parker Simmons who agreed to sit down with me and share a little bit about their Christmas story.

Thank you Parker and Charlene for taking time from your busy schedules.  Especially you, Charlene.  As a professional personal shopper, this is definitely your most hectic time of year.

Carli:  Thank you for inviting us, Samantha.  And please…call me Carli.

Parker:  (grins at Carli)  She's so well organized that even with this being her busy season she's able to make time in her schedule.  As for me, I'm happy to tackle any questions you want to throw my way.

Carli:  You're right about this being my busy time.  In addition to individuals, I have several corporate clients whose shopping lists include employees and business associates in addition to family and friends.

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Parker one of those corporate clients?

Parker:  I still am.  In fact, that's how we met.  Carli had been doing all my shopping, both personal and business, for five years.  It had become a very comfortable and efficient working relationship.  We had also become friends during that time.  Then one day, everything changed.

That sounds ominous.  What happened?

Carli:  We had our Christmas shopping meeting just like every year—prior to Thanksgiving.  I gave him a list of everyone I purchased a gift for on his behalf the previous Christmas, what I bought and how much it cost.  The process was always the same.  He would go over the list, add and delete names, and approve a price range for each individual.  Only this time it was different…very different.  This year he hit me with a real shock that changed everything.

That's a very dramatic statement.

Parker:  (laughs)  It wasn't really all that dramatic.  I told Carli I had gotten divorced several months earlier, the previous April to be exact, and my ex-wife, all her family, and all her friends were off the list.

Carli:  I have to admit…once I got over the shock, I was elated.  (shoots a sly sideways glance at Parker)  I had secretly lusted after this man the entire five years we had worked together, but he was married which made him off limits.  Besides, he had never done or said anything improper. He had never given any indication that his marriage was in trouble or that he had any interest in me beyond our professional relationship.  Then suddenly he was available, but second thoughts reminded me he was a client.  I had always believed that it wasn't wise to mix business with personal, to possibly jeopardize an excellent working relationship for what could end up being nothing more than a short-lived fling—a momentary mistake.

Parker:  My marriage had actually fallen apart a year earlier, before the previous Christmas. Then last Spring I finally took that big step of getting a divorce.  I had trouble coming to terms with what I had originally perceived as my failure.  And during that year my thoughts had often gravitated to Carli, thoughts far removed from anything connected to business.  So, I turned our Christmas shopping meeting into lunch…

Carli:  Which resumed that evening as dinner…

Parker:  Which unexpectedly exploded into one hell of a night!  But the cool clear light of dawn also brought its share of doubts and concerns.  The thought of jumping into a relationship, of once again becoming emotionally involved, frightened me big time.  Commitment to another relationship was definitely not on my agenda.  Been there…done that…was very leery about trying it again.

Carli:  Everything happened so quickly.  I didn't know which way to turn or what to do.  I was so confused about what was happening between us.  Could I be content with the no-strings-attached situation Parker seemed to prefer?  I had been divorced for seven years and 'never again' for a serious commitment had been the constant in my life.  But with the passage of time and the prospect of developing something real with Parker, the concept of 'never again' began to rapidly slip from a priority position to no longer occupying an important place in my life.

It sounds as if the two of you definitely had some problems to work out.

Carli:  Smooth sailing it was NOT.  For a while, I thought it was over as soon as it began.  My pragmatic side also feared that I might have lost my best client.

Parker:  And I have to admit that I didn't help matters.  Everything seemed to be moving too quickly and I didn't know how to handle it.

I'm sure there are many couples who have had to deal with these same issues.  Could you share with us how you handled it?

Carli:  We certainly could, but…

Parker:  We won't.

What?  You're going to leave us hanging?  Or worse yet, let us think that everything suddenly and miraculously turned out okay?

Parker:  Nothing is that easy.  You don't wake up and discover that there are no longer any problems.

Exactly.  So…what happened?

Carli:  (smiles)  I'd love to tell you, but…

Parker:  (nods his head in agreement)  You'll need to read the book.

That's all you're going to tell me?

Parker:  (makes an exaggerated show of looking at his watch)  Oh no!  I think we're out of time. (laughs)

Well, I guess there's nothing left to say except thank you, Parker and Carli, for being with us.
BLURB:
As a personal shopper, Charlene Vance values her professional association with long time client Parker Simmons. But at the meeting to discuss the list for this year's Christmas purchases, she learns that Parker is divorced and the ex-wife is off his list. When lunch leads to dessert between the sheets, Charlene is eager to move their relationship beyond good business and incredible sex.

Parker Simmons doesn't want anything more permanent than what's on the menu for today. But Charlene's enthusiasm to experiment in bed satisfies his darker appetites and suddenly he's craving more. Parker might need her help with holiday gift ideas but he's got his own shopping agenda. On his list? Gifts only for Charlene—to open in private.

PG-EXCERPT #1: (publisher's excerpt)
"Everything looks so good. I think I'll have the shrimp salad." Carli closed her menu and set it on the table.

Everything looks good to me, too, and I don't mean the food. "I'm going to have the chicken carbonara…and a glass of wine with my lunch. Would you join me?"

"Well, I usually don't drink during business meetings, but yes," she extended a sparkling smile, "I'd like that. A chardonnay."

He placed their lunch order with the waiter, then returned his attention to her. "We've had a very nice business relationship for five years. You obviously know a lot about me from doing my shopping, but I don't really know that much about you personally, other than you have great taste, are very intelligent, and have a good sense of humor."

The waiter arrived with the bottle of wine Parker had ordered. After opening the bottle, he poured each of them a glass, put the bottle in the ice bucket, and left.

Parker raised his glass toward Carli in a toast. "Here's to another successful Christmas holiday season." He tilted his head and raised a questioning eyebrow. "And perhaps to an even closer working relationship?" Maybe something hot and naked in a big bed?

"I'd like that, too."

OPEN IN PRIVATE an erotic Christmas romance by Samantha Gentry from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press) http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/wildcatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=182&products_id=955
Also available at Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook as well as other online vendors of eBooks.

Be sure to check out my website for more excerpts from OPEN IN PRIVATE and information about my other books.  www.samanthagentry.com

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and Peace On Earth.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Infamous Black Friday Shopping Day

What in the world has happened to our sacred Black Friday shopping day?  To the tradition that signaled the beginning of the Christmas shopping season?

Thanksgiving is this week and so is the traditional Black Friday shopping day—the day THEY say marks the moment retailers have covered their expenses for the balance of the year and are operating totally in the black with everything being profit.  Or at least that's what it originally meant…in days gone by.

Since U.S. Thanksgiving is always the fourth Thursday in November, for the majority of people that equates to a Thursday through Sunday four day holiday weekend.  In the past, the long holiday weekend has marked the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, commencing Friday morning.  It also signaled the time to drag out the holiday decorations, gift wrapping paper, and turn our thinking to the jolly ho-ho-ho mode.

But it seems that everything is different now.  Somewhere along the line Black Friday has become an almost bizarre ritual with all the trappings of an event type of display.

Rather than stores opening a couple of hours earlier than normal as it used to be, each year for the last few years they are opening earlier and earlier.  People waiting in line outside for hours in the cold so they could be the first ones to rush inside the moment the doors were unlocked at 3:00AM.  Television news crews would do live reports from some of the larger stores showing hundreds of people with their lawn chairs, sleeping bags, and some even had tents.  Earlier in the evening it's a party type of atmosphere.  By the time the store unlocks the doors, it's a lot of very cold and tired people all trying to crowd through the door at the same time.  I suspect they want inside from the cold as much as to make that race to their desired bargain.

Where I live, the temperatures are much warmer this week than this time last year (in the 70s just a couple of days ago).  However, the warmer temperatures are predicted to be accompanied by strong winds.  If those lawn chairs aren't anchored down, they will blow away.  Several stores opened their doors at midnight last year.  Then there were some that opened Thanksgiving morning and never closed.

Black Friday sales have now evolved to include shopping on the Thursday Thanksgiving holiday.  And you know how that goes…once it happens, it becomes tradition.

I think the biggest boost to the concept of Black Friday bargains has been the internet whose version of Thanksgiving holiday shopping is referred to as Cyber Monday.  Shopping via the internet rather than actually getting in the car and driving to the mall has been growing by leaps and bounds to the point where many long time established retail chains have been forced to close the doors on many of their stores.  And many internet shopping sites offer the same Black Friday sale prices as their brick and mortar stores and as their competitors including additional incentives such as free shipping or being able to pick up your online order at the local store.  No standing in line for hours in the cold in the middle of the night.  Now those bargains are only a mouse click away.  You get a good night's sleep and the Friday after Thanksgiving is available for pursuits other than elbowing your way through throngs of holiday shoppers.  I have a confession.  I don't like shopping.  Personally, I find internet shopping a preferable alternative any time of the year.  :)

So, who plans to brave the weather, lose sleep, and jostle your way through crowds to snag those bargain prices this year?  How many of you have already completed your holiday shopping?

And speaking of holiday shopping…how many of you noticed how early all things Christmas were out and on display this year?  I encountered Christmas items prominently displayed and Christmas promotions before Halloween.  Some as early as in September.  And I'm already hearing Christmas music on the radio.  And Hallmark's two cable television channels have been running nothing but Christmas movies since the beginning of November.

How many of you prefer to stay home on Black Friday, click the mouse, and enjoy all those Thanksgiving dinner leftovers while watching football?

And now I have a confession.  Last year I did venture out to a store on Black Friday about 7:30 that morning, but not for holiday shopping.  I had to go to the office supply store because I was out of printer ink.  There were a few people there, but not many.  However, 4 doors north of the office supply store Kohl's had a very full parking lot.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Those Naughty Pilgrims

With Thanksgiving comes stories of the Pilgrims taking up residence in the new world, landing at Plymouth Rock in what is now the state of Massachusetts.  The pious Pilgrims certainly have a reputation for being a rigid, hard-working, and humorless group.  But there are a few surprises to be found.  Even though drunkenness was discouraged, beer was accepted as a drink for men, women, and also children.  The daily ration on the Mayflower was a gallon a day for each individual.  It took 66 days for them to sail from England to their landing place in the new world.  Hmmm…66 days times 1 gallon per person times the number of people on the ship.  It seems that a lot of room on board the ship was devoted to storing the beer ration.

Even sex was not taboo under the right circumstances.  They had a matter-of-fact attitude about sex as long as it was between a married couple.  It's when sex strayed from being the exclusive right between a married couple that the stories get interesting.

Studies by a group of anthropologists at the University of Virginia found that the Pilgrims spent a great deal of time thinking about how to punish those with impure thoughts and actions.  Studies also discovered that in 11% of the marriages at Plymouth Colony the bride was already pregnant.  The same study estimates that as many as 50% of the Pilgrims engaged in premarital sex.  Definitely not an image that fits the stereotype of the staid Pilgrims.

But what about the actions and activities of those naughty Pilgrims?  As with so much in life, there's the fa├žade and then there's the underlying reality.

Although not liberal in their thinking or lifestyle, the Pilgrims were not as uptight as history would have us believe and apparently not as uptight as their cousins, the Puritans.  Both the Pilgrims and the Puritans were English Protestants who believed that the Church of England was in need of reform.  Although both groups were strict Calvinists, they differed in their approach to how the Church of England should be reformed.  The Pilgrims were more inclined to separate from the church (therefore known as separatists), while the Puritans wanted to reform the church from within.  The Pilgrims were the first group of Puritans to seek religious freedom in the New World (thus separating from the church).  As strict Calvinists, members of both groups believed in original sin, predestination and the literal interpretation of the Bible as God’s word.

The Pilgrims tried to create a strict religious society, but had an understanding and mercy unusual for their time in history.  As time passed, however, intolerance grew and was reflected in their laws and clearly demonstrated by the notorious Salem witch trials.  Innocent people were convicted and put to death on evidence that later even the Pilgrims declared to be inadmissible (I saw it in a dream, the spirit of my dead grandmother came to me and said…).

According to the Mayflower Compact, the colony was to establish laws based on Biblical teachings "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith."  The Old Testament book of Leviticus was the basis for most of their laws, a biblical source that definitely predated Christianity's teachings of love and forgiveness rather than reflecting those teachings.  Adultery?  Death.  A man has sex with his daughter-in-law?  Death.  Sodomy?  Death.  Bestiality?  Death.  Are you beginning to see a pattern?  :)

But interestingly, the Pilgrims did not typically enforce the death penalty for sex offenses.  There is only one known case in which the convicted offender was actually put to death for sex crimes.  It was the case of Thomas Graunger, a teenage boy apparently at the peak of his raging hormones who sought satisfaction from any and all sources available to him…those sources being the farm animals.

According to Plymouth Governor William Bradford, "He was this year detected of buggery, and indicted for the same, with a mare, a cow, two goats, five sheep, two calves and a turkey."

Even though Thomas was the only one executed for a sex crime, punishments were routinely severe even with far lesser sex crimes and usually meant whippings, being put into the stocks, and fines.

Men were not the only offenders in Plymouth colony.  The prim women weren't always so pious either.  Women were often caught since the evidence of their dalliances were babies.  The records of the times are filled with one out-of-wedlock child after another.  Babies showing up just a few months after marriage were also evidence of wrong doing.  Pre-marital sex was severely punished.  Fines were levied even for making passes, for appearing to have a lascivious carriage in public, or partying in mixed company at an unseemly time of night.

Sex outside marriage, even between two unmarried consenting adults, usually meant a whipping and fines.  If the woman became pregnant, the man had to either marry her or pay for the child's upbringing.  The man was usually placed in the stocks and whipped while the woman was made to watch.  Sometimes mercy was granted as in the case of a servant, Jane Powell.  Following years of hard servitude, she was destitute and had agreed to having sex in the hopes of marrying the man.  Apparently the court found her plea convincing and she went unpunished.

Even though the Pilgrims imposed strict punishment for crimes, they also understood human temptations.  In 1656, Katheren Aines and William Paule were sentenced for committing adultery.  William was whipped and forced to pay the costs of his imprisonment.  Katheren was whipped, imprisoned and forced to wear a letter on her shoulder designating her as an adulteress.  (Calling Nathaniel Hawthorne!)  However, Katheren's husband, Alexander, was also punished.  Alexander had left his family for some time and treated her badly during their marriage.  The Pilgrims viewed him as guilty of "exposing his wife to such temptations."  Alexander was required to pay for his wife's imprisonment, and sit in the stocks while William and Katheren were whipped.

This Thanksgiving as you sit down to your turkey dinner, it might be a good idea to take a moment to be thankful that you aren't a Pilgrim.  :)

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Thanksgiving Myths and Facts

We all know the often told story of how the Pilgrims left England seeking religious freedom and finally settled in the New World, stepping off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock in what is now the state of Massachusetts.  And how in 1621 they invited the local natives to share a feast with them in order to give thanks for a successful harvest and surviving their first year.

From those humble beginnings have come many facts and just as many myths about the Pilgrims and our Thanksgiving holiday.

I have some Mayflower myths to share with you, followed by some Thanksgiving facts.  And next week…Those Naughty Pilgrims.

Myth:  The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 and the Pilgrims celebrated it every year after that.
Fact:  The first feast wasn't repeated, so it wasn't the beginning of a tradition.  In fact, it wouldn't have been called Thanksgiving because to the Pilgrims a thanksgiving was a religious holiday when they would fast rather than feast.  That feast in 1621 was a secular celebration and would not have been considered a thanksgiving in their minds.

Myth:  The original Thanksgiving feast took place on the fourth Thursday of November.
Fact:  The original feast in 1621 occurred sometime between September 21 and November 11 and was a three day celebration based on the English harvest festivals.  In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the official date for Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday of November, a decision fraught with controversy.  The date was approved by Congress in 1941.

Myth:  The Pilgrims wore only black and white clothing with buckles on their hats, garments, and shoes.
Fact:  Buckles did not come into fashion until later in the 17th century.  Black and white were commonly worn only on Sunday and formal occasions.

Here's a list of trivia that could be called Thanksgiving-by-the-numbers.

3,000—the number of calories eaten during an average Thanksgiving meal.

12,000,000—the number of whole turkeys Butterball sells for Thanksgiving.

2,000 - 3,000—the number of people used to guide the balloons during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

214—the average number of miles driven for the family get together at Thanksgiving.

1939—the date the Great Thanksgiving Day calendar controversy began (when FDR declared the fourth Thursday of November to be the official date of Thanksgiving).

40,000,000—the number of green bean casseroles made for Thanksgiving dinner.

72,000,000—the number of cans of Ocean Spray cranberry sauce sold for Thanksgiving dinner.

Next week I'll contradict the belief that the Pilgrims embodied the very soul of purity and piety.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween's Ancient Roots

Halloween Is Almost Here. The stores have been filled with candy packaged in special Halloween wrapping, spooky witch and ghost decorations, pumpkins waiting to be carved into Jack O'Lanterns, and costumes for both children and adults. These have now been picked over with what remains having been put on sale with retailers having moved on to Christmas.

I've collected several bits and pieces about ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night that I'd like to share with you—starting with the ancient origins of the Halloween holiday then a bit of Jack O'Lantern trivia.

The roots of Halloween date back 2000 years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow).  The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France.  They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter.  They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead wasn't clearly defined.  On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities.  During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes and attempted to tell each other's fortunes.  When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory.  During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomona were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain.  In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints' Day.  It's believed today that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday.  The celebration was also called All-Hallows.  So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-Hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2 as All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead.  It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes.  Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic, and superstition.  It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends.  They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits.  They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world.  Today's Halloween ghosts are commonly depicted as much scarier and our emphasis on customs and superstitions more horror related.

And speaking of superstitions…have you ever wondered about where these strange beliefs came from?  British author Harry Oliver wrote a book titled Black Cats and Four-Leaf Clovers where he explored the origins of superstitions and old wives' tales from around the world.  Here are a few of his observations.
Black Cats Bring Bad Luck:  black cats have been linked to black magic and the ancient concept of witchcraft through the centuries which is why many people think they're unlucky.  If a cat crosses your path, it's considered unlucky.  However, if a cat walks toward you, it's a good omen.

Carrots Are Good For Your Eyesight:  although studies have shown that the vitamin A in carrots is good for your eyes, the vegetable isn't enough to create 20/20 vision.  Many believe that it was a smart attempt by parents to get their children to eat their vegetables.  There is another belief that it started during World War II.  It was rumored that British pilots were eating huge amounts of carrots so they could see from high altitudes and in the dark.  The rumor was created to keep the public from discovering that radar had been invented and was being used against the enemy.

Wear Your Underwear Inside Out:  when you're having a bad day, superstition says that if you turn your underwear inside out things will get better.  No one is sure where this one came from, but it sounds like the result of a wild college fraternity party.

And then there's the Jack O'Lantern.  Making a Jack O'Lantern for Halloween is a centuries old practice that originated from an Irish myth about a man nicknamed Stingy Jack.  He played tricks on the Devil and made Satan promise not to take his soul when he died.  When the time came, God refused to allow him into heaven because he was an unsavory character.  The Devil wouldn't allow him into hell because Jack had made him promise.  With nowhere to go, Jack put a burning coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as Jack Of The Lantern which morphed into Jack O'Lantern.

In Ireland and Scotland, people began to make their own versions by carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, and in England they used large beets.  Immigrants from these countries brought the tradition with them to the United States where they soon found that pumpkins made the perfect Jack O'Lantern.

Do you have a favorite costume this year?  Are you planning on going to a party?  Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.