History of Presidents Day: More than just Washington and Lincoln?

lincoln.gifwashington.gifHISTORY OF PRESIDENTS’ DAY

During my lifetime, two American holidays got consolidated into one. In 1971, a day between both Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 and Washington’s Birthday on February 22 became a single holiday, Presidents Day — alternately spelled President’s Day or Presidents’ Day — to be observed on the third Monday in February, to honor all the past presidents of the United States.

History

When I was a school child, both Washington’s and Lincoln’s pictures were typically displayed prominently in school rooms. School children in many states have felt cheated out of an extra day off of school ever since with the two Presidents’ birthdays being combined into one holiday. Is this a way of consolidating holidays for advertisers for “Presidents Day Sales?” Certainly, some state and local governments observe it as Presidents Day. The Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1971 established more three-day weekends. Nevertheless, Washington’s Birthday is still observed by U.S. Federal employees, though it rarely falls on Washington’s actual birthday. His birthday was officially recognized as a holiday back in 1885. Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12 is not a Federal holiday, though some states observe it, going back to 1873 or 1874 in Buffalo, NY. [click to continue…]

History of Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year - Lion DanceHISTORY OF CHINESE NEW YEAR

Today marks the beginning of Chinese New Year. This is the oldest, longest, and most important social and economic holiday in China. Chinese New Year, which begins the first day of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. It starts this year on February 16, though the celebrations continue for around two weeks. Chinese New Year is also known as Spring Festival and ends with the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese calendar. It is celebrated across China and in many other parts of Asia with people of Chinese descent. In the West, it roughly corresponds to the end of the winter season and the beginning of Carnival.

Date

Because the Chinese lunisolar calendar — which dates back to the Shang Dynasty in the 14th century B.C. — is different from the western Gregorian calendar, this festival begins with the New Moon, typically the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and can occur on dates between January 21 and February 20. The lunar cycle is approximately 29.5 days so to synchronize with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an interstitial month seven years out of a 19-year cycle.

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History of St. Valentine’s Day

HISTORY OF ST. VALENTINE’S DAY

St. Valentine

St. Valentine

Valentine or Valentinus is the name of at least three martyred saints. The most celebrated are the two martyrs whose festivals fall on February 14, the one, a Roman priest, the other, bishop of Terni.

Context

It would appear from legend that both lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II (Gothicus) around 270; that both died on the same day; and that both were buried on the Via Flaminia but at different distances from the city of Rome. A third Valentine was a martyr in the Roman province of North Africa about whom little is known. Claudius the Cruel had banned his soldiers from getting married, believing that unmarried members were more reliable on foreign military campaigns. Valentine was beaten and beheaded because he secretly married soldiers to their wives contrary to the ban.

It seems that the first celebration of the Feast of St. Valentine was declared to be on February 14 by Pope Gelasius I in 496. He is the patron saint of beekeeping, epilepsy, as well as the plague, fainting, and traveling. And of course, he’s also the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages. Many authorities believe that the lovers’ festival associated with St. Valentine’s day comes from the belief that this is the day in spring when birds begin their mating. But there is another view.
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History of Ash Wednesday: Where does the Ash come from?

Ash WednesdayHISTORY OF ASH WEDNESDAY

In the Western church, the first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday from the ceremonial use of ashes, as a symbol of penitence, in the service prescribed for the day. It follows Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday, and ends 40 days later with Easter. The custom is still retained in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran and some Orthodox Churches. The ashes, obtained by burning the remains of the palm branches blessed on the previous Palm Sunday, are placed in a vessel on the altar and consecrated before High Mass. The priest then invites those present to approach and, dipping his thumb in the ashes, marks them as they kneel with the sign of the cross on the forehead, with the words:

Remember, man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.

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History of Mardi Gras: Why is it called Fat Tuesday?

Mardi GrasHISTORY OF MARDI GRAS

In French, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday as a last “fling” before the 40 days of self-denial of Lent which precede Easter. Lent is a word that comes from the Middle English word “lente” which means “springtime” — so named for the season of the year in which it usually occurs. While the practice of Lent is not mentioned in the Bible, it has been a tradition in the Christian world since the mid 4th century. It seems to parallel the 40 days of fasting in the wilderness that Jesus experienced following his baptism.

Origin

Historically, Lenten fasting became mandatory, especially the abstinence from eating meat. While recommended by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria in his Festal Letter III to his flock in Egypt in 331 AD, by the Middle Ages Lent was enforced throughout Europe, especially the forbidding of meat during the final weeks before Easter.
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