Blarney! American Misconceptions About St. Patrick’s Day

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St Patrick's DayAmericans have a long tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day each March 17th with  plenty of green beer and pinches to go around. But where did these traditions come from? Did our Irish ancestors bring them to America when they immigrated? Or are these customs purely Americanized visions of an Irish holiday? Surprisingly, the latter is true. Most St. Patrick’s Day customs that we are familiar with today have no roots in Ireland at all.
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Easter Eggs

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Easter EggsEaster would not be complete without brightly colored Easter eggs, but have you ever wondered where this tradition began? Who thought of painting the shells of eggs such bright, even ornate colors? When did children begin dyeing eggs as part of their Easter holiday traditions?

While Easter is known as a Christian holiday, where believers celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the new life they are offered, the tradition of the Easter egg goes farther back in history, before the life of Christ. Eggs have always been a symbol of both fertility and new life. These themes are common in spring holidays around the globe and throughout history. The ancient Egyptians were known to use eggs in their spring festivals, many of which fell around the time of today’s Easter holiday. The same is true of Persians and Romans.

Easter Eggs have a measure of religious history as well. The Catholic celebration of Lent in medieval times forbade the church members from eating eggs. As food was scarce in this century, the eggs that were laid during these weeks of fasting were not wasted. Rather than tossing them out, many were preserved, often through boiling. Easter was the time to break the fast of Lent, and the preserved eggs were an important part of the meal. Even children enjoyed receiving eggs at Easter as gifts, since they had been forbidden for so many weeks. Servants were also given an egg at the Easter dinner, a rare treat for those in the medieval serving class.
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Easter Bunny Trivia

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Easter BunnyHave you ever wondered where the Easter Bunny came from? Whose idea was it to have a pink, fuzzy rabbit hide eggs around the yard for children to find anyway? Ask any elementary student and you will quickly learn that rabbits are mammals, and mammals do not lay eggs! Is there a historical reason behind this quirky Easter tradition?

The Easter Bunny made his first appearance on the stage of Easter history in the 1500s in Germany. Most holiday historians believe that folklore actually put the symbol and the spring holiday together much earlier, although records no longer exist. From this German rabbit, many other cultures picked up the tradition. The Dutch in Pennsylvania introduced the tradition to the colonies in the United States when they celebrated Easter with their children.

But why is a rabbit so integral to the Easter celebration? The tradition surrounding a spring holiday is built around the cycles of the moon. Most spring holidays were celebrated at specific dates of the moon cycle. The rabbit was known in many ancient cultures as the creature of the moon. The Chinese, for example, believed he lived in the moon, pounding rice. Buddhists also believe there is a rabbit in the moon who was put there as a reward for his selflessness.
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Saint Patrick

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Saint PatrickBorn in Scotland, at Kilpatrick, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland.  His exact birth date is unknown.  However, it is believed that he was born sometime around the year 385 AD and died around the year 460 AD. 

Born to wealthy parents, Calphurnius and Conchessa, Patrick lived among the wealthy and high ranking families.  Irish intruders at his father’s home took prisoner Saint Patrick at the age of sixteen.  He was taken to Ireland where he was sold as a slave.  He spent the next six years as a captive in Ireland. 

He spent much of this time tending the flocks of his master in solitude in the valley of the Braid.  He became lonely and afraid and turned to God and religion for comfort, praying several times throughout his day.  During this time, he learned the Celtic tongue fluently.  He also learned of the rituals of Druidism, since his master was a druidical high priest.
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A Brief History of Valentine’s Day

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ValentineOn February 14th in many countries throughout the world, men and women, friends and lovers, spouses and secret admirers will give one another cards, flowers, chocolates, and other gifts in honor of Saint Valentine – a man with a considerably murky past. Who exactly was this Saint Valentine and how did Valentine’s Day come into being?

Although the precise origin of the holiday is not known with certainty since at least three martyred individuals in history have the name Valentine, there is one story involving ancient Rome and the Christian church that stands above the rest as being the most legitimate.

Emperor Claudius II (213 – 270) was an ambitious leader who constantly had his soldiers out conducting military campaigns. Because the married men were away from their wives for so long on battles, they invariably suffered from homesickness and lovesickness; and hence, the married ones made the worst fighters. Emperor Claudius was informed of this and as a result banned marriage for young people so he could continue waging wars with soldiers who weren’t preoccupied with their wives back home. But Valentine, a priest at the time, recognized the harshness of Claudius’s new law and being the defiant individual he was, went right on marrying young people until he was discovered by the authorities and thrown into prison.
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Fast Facts About ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

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Christmas1. It seems that no one really seems to know who wrote “Twas the Night Before Christmas”

2. For many years credit for the poem was given to Clement Clarke Moore. It was thought that he wrote the poem for his three daughters in 1822.

3. The poem was published anonymously about a year later¦ on December 23, 1823 by the Troy Sentinel (NY).
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Some Origins of our Christmas Symbols and Traditions

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Santa familyMany of the traditions and symbols that we cherish during the Christmas season trace their origins back to the solstice festivals of ancient peoples, which celebrated the returning of light after the long period during which the days had grown shorter and shorter. The early Christian Church initially repressed many of these practices, but they proved too popular and tenacious to be ignored for long. In time, the Church came to acknowledge that the deeper meanings within the old rites had much in common with the beliefs that were held sacred by the followers of Christ.

One important forerunner of the Christmas tradition that we know was the Roman festival called Saturnalia, which is actually older than Roman recorded history. Saturnalia was celebrated with feasting, songs and processions, and some of its trappings were symbols that are familiar to us today: gift giving, the lighting of candles, and the hanging of green wreaths. The early Church frowned upon gift giving at first, but because the practice kept cropping up it was finally sanctioned and used as a way of commemorating the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus. This became a widely followed custom by the 12th century.
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Fascinating Facts About Holiday Spices

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SpicesHave you ever wondered about holiday spices?  How are they important?  And what are they used for?  Can we live without them?  Not if you love pumpkin pie, you can’t!

Trading in spices goes back before recorded history.  Early written records and letters are full of references to illustrate the importance of spices to our early ancestors.  For thousands of years spices were a rare and costly ingredient, brought from mysterious lands on tiny ships that plowed their way through pirate infested waters, usually by Arab traders.  It was a dangerous voyage, and many ships sailed never to return.

In Europe of the 13th century demand was so high for spices, that a bag of peppercorns could pay a king’s ransom.  All spices came from the orient and had to be brought through Cairo, Egypt.  From there they were transported to Alexandria, where they were bought and shipped by European traders from Venice and Genoa Italy.  The great wealth of these traders helped spark the Age of the Renaissance.
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10 Strange Christmas Tree Legends

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Christmas TreeChristmas trees have simply become a part of our holiday celebrations, but  I was surprised to learn just how many superstitions are connected with the trees. I don’t think that I will take them as much for granted as I once did. There is a lot more to that decorated tree than meets the eye!

1. Deck the Halls
Before Christmas trees were brought into the house,  people thought that if they brought in greenery, magic would follow. And the magic was nothing to do with winning a lottery. These simple souls simply wanted to ensure that spring would come around yet one more time. Our Christmas tree is the modern day version.

2.  A Magical Part of the Tree
And this would be the Yule Log. There are several superstitions connected with the log, but my favorite is that it is to be chopped from the base of your Christmas tree and then allowed to cure until the following Christmas Eve.  Not only would it be festive for a roaring fire to be burning in the hearth on that special night, but good luck was ensured for the coming year.
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Kissing Under the Mistletoe -What Was That About?

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MistletoeThe thought of mistletoe has lodged itself in my brain and having some spare time this afternoon, I decided to see what I could find out about the tradition of kissing beneath a few sprigs.   

*1. We have all heard about kissing under the mistletoe, but what I didn’t know is that with each kiss, one white berry is supposed to be plucked from “kissing ball”. When all the berries have been plucked, the mistletoe is to be taken down and that means no more kissing.

*2. You might be wondering how this kissing stuff ever got started in the first place. Well, I found out that too, but it’s not quite what I expected. Nothing romantic I’m afraid.  It seems that way back in the days of the Druids, there was a lot of fighting going on and if two groups of enemies met under mistletoe, they had to lay down their arms and stop fighting for twenty-four hours.  Somehow, that led to hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and trading kisses.
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South Carolina: The First American Home of the Poinsettia

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poinsettiaThe poinsettia is a beautiful red flower that is given most around the holidays, especially Christmas. The poinsettia has a long history, but one of the most interesting points of history is how the poinsettia made its way to America finding its first home in Greenville, South Carolina.

The poinsettia originated in Southern Mexico and the people of Mexico had many uses for it, but the poinsettia wasn’t used as an ornamental flower until an American admired the beauty of the bright red leaves on a trip to the region.

President Madison appointed Joel Roberts Poinsett the first American Ambassador to Mexico in 1825 and during a trip to the Taxco area in 1828 he found magnificently red flowers that he had sent back to his Greenville home immediately.
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Fun Facts About Christmas in England

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Christmas1. There have only been seven white Christmases in England in all of the 20th century.

2. In 1647, Oliver Cromwell made it an offence to celebrate Christmas. It was overturned in 1660.

3. Santa Claus is referred to as Father Christmas. His costume often features a long red cape trimmed with white fur.
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Fir Trees: A Christmas Favorite

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Christmas TreeBringing home and decorating the Christmas tree is one of the most exciting events of the year for families around America.  It marks the beginning of the holiday season and a time of cheer for many people.  Families decorate the tree with lights and ornaments so they can watch it glitter and shine throughout December.  A tree commonly used as a Christmas tree is the fir tree.  It’s beautiful, full needles and limbs are easy to decorate and add the look and feel of the season to any home.  Below is a brief look at how the fir tree came to be a part of Christmas, and a  description of the different types of fir trees in America.

Fir Trees in Christmas History

Fir trees have been used as Christmas trees for centuries.  The earliest record of this was in the 7th century, when a monk allegedly used a fir tree to describe God’s Holy Trinity to the people he was teaching.  The converted people, who once reverenced the oak tree as “God’s Tree,” began using the fir tree instead.  During the 12th century, people were hanging fir trees upside down from their ceilings as a symbol of Christianity.
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A Brief History of Kwanzaa

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KwanzaaAll holidays were invented at one time or another– Kwanzaa is probably the newest. Kwanzaa was born during the turbulent Sixties, in a time when Black Americans were demanding -and finally receiving- their civil rights. 1966 was a year of mighty changes; people who marched, attended sit-ins and generally raised a ruckus actually did change the world.

Kwanzaa was dreamed up by Dr. Ron Everett Karenga and the first Kwanzaa was celebrated from December 26, 1966 through January 1, 1967. Doctor Karenga, known as ‘Maulana’ (Swahili for ‘master teacher’) saw that Black Americans were often economically unable to participate in the consumer-fest that Christmas had become. He also saw the need for Black Americans to have something entirely their own. Thus Kwanzaa was born.

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration based on seven principles for living. Each is celebrated for one day and hopefully practiced throughout the rest of the year. These seven principles, known collectively as ‘Nguzo Saba’ are, in brief: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Creativity and Faith. These principles are discussed, meditated upon and taught to the children.
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Celebrate Cat Facts This Halloween!

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Cat on HalloweenHalloween and cats go hand in hand and you may be surprised to know a few facts about cats. Beware when trick or treating; you never know where a cat may be lurking!

1. Ever wonder why a cat sees in pitch-black dark? It’s because their eyes take light in and reflect if back out … like a flashlight!

2. Did you know that a cat’s whiskers could detect even the tiniest of creatures? A cat can detect any kind of movement up to 2000 times smaller than the width of the hair on your head

3. Ever wondered why cats constantly lick themselves clean after eating? A cat has natural instincts derived from the wild and this instinct tells them to wash away food scent to keep predators at bay.
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History of the Jack O’Lantern

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Jackolantern.jpgA brightly lit pumpkin with a ghastly glowing face sits on the porch. It is one of the most well recognized Halloween traditions. However, do you know where this tradition originated?

During the 1800’s, immigrants from the Irish Potato Famine brought their use of this lantern. Back then, pumpkins were not used. A burning lump of coal was placed inside a hollowed out turnip, potato, or beet. These were left on doorsteps to ward off evil spirits and to welcome the souls of a departed loved one. The pumpkin didn’t begin to be used until the Victorian Era.

Jack, an Irishman, was known for his drinking and his mischief. He drank so much in fact that his soul began to leave his body one All Hallow’s Eve. The Devil wanted to claim Jack’s soul but Jack begged for one more drink. The Devil agreed to this only if Jack paid the tab himself and didn’t make the Devil pay it. However, Jack had only a sixpence and asked the Devil to change into a sixpence to cover the price of the bar tab. After payment, Jack assured, the Devil could change back. As soon as the Devil changed into the coin, Jack snatched it up and kept it in a cross adorned wallet. He only agreed to let the Devil out if the Devil agreed to stop wanting Jack’s soul for a year. The Devil agreed to this and was freed.
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The Bilby – Easter Symbol

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BilbyWhite, furry bunnies are a historic symbol of Easter.  People love them – except in Australia.  It is hard to think of these adorable animals as unwanted but Australians learn quite early about the threat of rabbits to wildlife and farms. Rabbits are not native to Australia and became a major pest here when they were introduced in 1859, because they destroy the pasture and habitat of native wildlife and denuding native plants.  Scientists tried to get rid of these feral creatures by introducing viruses but so far nothing has really worked.  In some states even keeping rabbits as pets is illegal.

This is why campaigns have grown in Australia to replace the rabbit with a native animal – the bilby.  This may have begun when children’s author, Rose-Mary Dusting introduced the Billy Bilby character in the late 70’s. Bilbies look cute too with their long pointed snouts and ears and blue-grey fur.  Their long black and white tail makes them look a little like a bandicoot. These unusual little marsupials are nocturnal and live in burrows.  They eat insects, fungi and plant bulbs.  Unlike the rabbits bilbies are not good breeders and usually have only two young ones.
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Easter – How the Holy Day Became a Holiday

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EasterTo our ancestors, the arrival of spring was always a reason to celebrate. After the barren winter months living on stored foods, spring brought the promise of fresh game and new life.

In the north, the people believed in a goddess called Eastre who gave birth to spring every year. The name means spring, and also remains with us in the word estrogen.
The ancient pagan ceremony survives today as the Wiccan festival of Ostara (another variation on the name of the Goddess).

The pagan Easter was celebrated during Christ’s time. It is referred to in the Bible as being a day celebrated by King Herod. But as Christianity spread around the world, it was easier to incorporate Christian festival days into those that already existed, so Eastre became Easter, the culmination of Lent. In many Catholic countries, Easter is celebrated in a lavish manner with parades and passion plays.
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Cinco de Mayo – A Day Of Jubilation

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Cinco de MayoThe Mexican people have a long history of fighting for their independence and their land.  Battles with the Americans, the Spaniards, and the French people are scattered throughout their colorful history.

One day in particular, the fifth of May, celebrates the Mexican victory over Napoleon III and his French troops.  Back in 1862, on that day, the Mexican people fought and won against the French in the town of Puebla about a hundred miles from Mexico City.

A band of traitorous Mexicans had joined the French troops, enlarging the forces to approximately eight thousand men.  The Mexican army, however, only had about four thousand men.  Although the French were well-trained and wore colorful, elegant uniforms, the Mexicans wore pride and determination and conquered them in glorious victory.
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