HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN
Halloween (Allhallows Even) is the evening of October 31. In its strictly religious aspect, this occasion is known as the vigil of Hallowmas or All Saints’ Day, November 1, observed by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. In the fourth decade of the 8th century, Pope Gregory III moved this holiday to the present date (from May 13) for celebrating the feast when he consecrated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to all the saints. Later, Gregory IV extended the feast to the entire church in 834. In Latin countries in Europe the evening of October 31 is observed mainly as a religious occasion, but in Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States, ancient Halloween folk customs persist alongside the ecclesiastical observance.
Halloween is the second most popular holiday in the U.S. after Christmas — at least according to retailers — but it is the first in terms of candy sales. Not only are candy and costumes popular purchases, but increasingly, houses are being decorated with “Halloween lights.” Parties are popular and are increasingly being celebrated the weekend before. In Boston, for example, Salem is a popular location for these with its month-long Haunted Happenings celebrations — due to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 — and the Massachusetts Turnpike traffic signs point out that Salem can be reached from Boston via Route 1A North. In Tokyo, I’ve seen young people dress up in western-style costumes during Halloween, especially in the Harajuku district along the shopping area on Takeshita-dori Street.
HISTORY OF THE KIRKING OF THE TARTANS
This Sunday all over the world many churches will observe the Kirkin’ o’ th’ Tartans, a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture.
What is The Kirking of the Tartans?
- Kirking, from the Scots word kirk which means church, in this usage it means “blessing.”
- Tartans are the traditional plaid emblems of Scottish clans represented in unevenly spaced colored lines and rectangles on woven wool cloth.
Historically, the story is a bit more varied. The popular legend goes as follows:
On July 25, 1745, the young Prince Charles Edward Stewart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” returned from exile in France and landed at Lochnanaugh in Scotland where he began to enlist the Highland Clans for an unsuccessful attempt to dethrone George II of England and to restore the Scottish throne to the Royal House of Stewart.
Following Prince Charlie’s defeat, the Act of Proscription — to subdue the vanquished Highlanders — banned the wearing of any sign of the Tartan, forbade any speaking in Gaelic, outlawed Scottish music, dancing, or the playing of the pipes.
During the 36 years following the Disarming Act of 1746 when the Hanoverian English government strictly enforced this ban, during the Sunday service Scottish Highlanders would touch the hidden piece of tartan cloth under their clothes when the minister gave the benediction or kirkin’, thus rededicating themselves to God and their Scottish heritage.
THE HISTORY OF MACH 1
On June 10, 1948, The U.S. Air Force confirmed that Capt. Chuck Yeager had repeatedly attained supersonic speeds in the Bell X-1
But it was on October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager, now 95 and a Brigadier General (retired), actually broke the sound barrier for the first time. I met him on his fiftieth anniversary of that earlier date in Washington DC, on October 14, 1997 — when he retired as a military consultant and once again broke the sound barrier, this time in an F-15. It was on this occasion in 1997 that he was speaking at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He told us about how he did it, in the room right next to the gallery where the Bell X-1 rocket plane is hung. This is a man with “The Right Stuff.” Indeed you saw his exploits in the movie by that name. This is his story.
[ I transcribed this in an IMAX theater at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum back in 1997 at the 50th Anniversary in the dark on my Psion palmtop. It’s a little rough, and I didn’t understand all the technical parts. He’s incredibly sharp for only having a high school education ]
“This morning before this talk, they put me in a cherry picker and hoisted me up to the X-1. Was it scary? Heck, usually I got into it several miles up in the air. 48 years ago was the last flight of the X-1. When I got in today, I found a penny on the floor from 1950.
“In 1942-3, Major Cocher at Wright Field conceived the idea of supersonic flight as they were at 60-80% of Mach. NACA, the predecessor to NASA, controlled all research flying. In 1944 the Army Air Corp contracted two X-1s from Bell Aircraft Company. These were flown by Bell pilots. Slick Goodwin had negotiated a $150K bonus for 1.1 Mach. Before this, he had gotten just $10K for .8 Mach for Phase 1. But the Army was spending only $3M for the whole program. Wright Field offered military testers, like me, for `free.’
HISTORY OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
The man who sailed from Spain to discover America was neither Spanish nor did he actually discover America. But it was true that:
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He was actually Italian, born in 1451 to a wool merchant in Genoa and first went to sea in his youth. He sailed to Iceland and Guinea for business and later spent some time as a privateer. It was in 1484, the year after Martin Luther was born in Germany, that Christopher Columbus presented to King John of Portugal the idea of an “Enterprise of the Indies” (no relation to Star Trek‘s starship) where he would sail west to the East Indies, thinking it shorter than the eastern spice trade route. After unsuccessful appeals to the kings of Portugal, England, and France he eventually moved to Spain whereupon his fourth request, he secured the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. You know them as the parents of Queen Katherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII of England, and grandparents of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor who presided over the trial of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms.
Columbus sailed from Palos, Spain with three ships on August 3 and arrived not in the East Indies, but in the Bahamas on October 12 of 1492, where he named the locals “Indians.” He sailed on to the islands of Cuba and Haiti thinking he’d reached the islands of the East Indies. Contrary to popular belief, Columbus was not alone among 15th century Europeans in thinking that the world was round, but he did vastly underestimate the circumference of the Earth.
HISTORY OF OCTOBER: THE PUMPKIN SPICE SAGA
October, the tenth month of the year in both the older Julian and the more recent Gregorian calendar was the 8th month (Latin octo) in the old Roman calendar, but with the addition of January and February got bumped to #10. This month is significant in that, according to the modern Gregorian calendar, it is the first full month that enjoys Pumpkin Spice Latte, initially promoted by St. Starbucks. But it has not always been so, and therein lies the saga.
This concoction of caffeinated seasoned squash with super-heated supersaturated calcium lactose was originally socialized during the ancient part of this millennium, around 2003 when it was introduced as a seasonal beverage. Its formulation has not always been the same, however. Starting in 2015 real pumpkin ingredients were added, a novel concept and some artificial flavors and colors were eliminated.
HISTORY OF THE ASPENS
Every year about this time, Fall is ushered in by a flush of Aspen trees as their leaves turn to gold. Where I live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the particular aspen is called the trembling or quaking aspen. The broadleaf and the flattened stem cause them to flutter in the breeze. It is a type of poplar tree called populus tremuloides. As tourists visit New England in Autumn for Leaves and Lobsters, visitors come to Colorado to Leaf Peep as the aspens change to dramatic yellows, golds, and reds. I did so yesterday along the Continental Divide.
The change in color occurs first at the highest altitudes. For example, at 9800 feet, the aspens “peaked” their color change and the leaves begin to fall this year early in September. Where I live at 6500 feet, the edges of the aspen leaves are just beginning to turn from green to gold. At this time of the year, the production of chlorophyll which gives the leaf its green pigment slows to a standstill, and the yellow, orange and red pigments of carotenoids and anthocyanins show in the leaf.
HISTORY OF THE FALL: What is the Autumnal Equinox?
This time of year represented New Year’s Day, according to the French Republican Calendar. However, since that calendar was only in use from 1793 to 1805, following the fall of the French monarchy in 1792, very few still celebrate this day.
Instead, September 22 or 23 marks the beginning of Fall or Autumn associated with the Equinox. This word is made up of two Latin root words aequus and nox meaning “equal night” referring to the fact that daylight and night time are equal in duration.
When the plane of the earth’s equator passes through the center of the Sun, metaphorically speaking, you have evennight, twice a year. This year, the astronomical autumnal equinox (Fall) occurs on September 23 at 01:54 UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne, or Coordinated Universal Time if you don’t speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, Zulu Time if you’re a pilot. The Vernal Equinox occurs six months later. Since each equinox occurs at the same time whether in the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox, thereby avoiding that annoying Northern Hemisphere bias.
HISTORY OF OKTOBERFEST
Why is the famous German beer festival held in September if it’s called Oktoberfest? Officially, the beer festival starts the third Saturday in September through early October for 16 to 18 days.
The first Oktoberfest was held in 1810 to celebrate the royal wedding in Munich — the capital of the old kingdom of Bavaria — between Ludwig, the Bavarian Crown Price and Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen, princess of Saxe-Altenburg. The celebration began October 12 and lasted until October 17. In subsequent years the festivities were repeated, lengthened, and moved to September when the weather was better.
The festivities were originally held for the citizens on the fields in front to the gates of the city. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese for the princess but are often abbreviated to simply die Wiesn. Over the years the celebration grew to become a celebration of Bavarian agriculture, culture, and food.
HISTORY OF TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY
The International Talk Like A Pirate Day began not back in the Golden Age of Pirates in days of yore but in 2002. Celebrated each year on September 19, though it started in the United States, it is now celebrated internationally across the Seven Seas.
The legend goes that its origin was June 6, 1995, during a racquetball game between John Baur and Mark Summers, when Pirate expletives were uttered following an injury. But because this is the observance of D-Day, the date was set instead for September 19, the birthday of the ex-wife of one of the two founders. It was celebrated in relative obscurity by John, Mark and their friends until one fateful day.
The Captain’s Log
In 2002, the American humor writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry wrote a newspaper article about it and promoted the idea. The rest, as they say, is history. Unlike some of the newer Geek Holidays — like Pi Day, Foursquare Day, or Towel Day — this holiday has gained traction among a larger audience with growing media coverage, books, T-shirts, merch, and other booty. The trademark has been non-restricted, and is more what you’d call a “guideline” than an actual rule. The fact that Hermione Granger’s birthday in the Harry Potter books is on September 19 contributes to the fact that this parody holiday has gone viral.