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 07:50 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 Prince 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.
HISTORY OF ETHIOPIAN NEW YEAR: WHAT IS ENKUTATASH?
Why is your friendly neighborhood historian writing about the Ethiopian New Year? A couple of years ago the Washington Post interviewed me for an article they were publishing on the subject. The Washington D.C. area has over 200,000 Ethiopian-Americans who celebrate the holiday this year on September 12. A group of local Ethiopian activists and businessmen want to make the day, known as Enkutatash in Ethiopia, a part of the American roster of holidays, in a way that is very similar to St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo. Columbus Day, for example, was popularized out of Denver, CO back in the mid 19th century as a way of promoting Italian culture.
Enkutatash is the name for the Ethiopian New Year, and means “gift of jewels” in the Amharic language. The story goes back almost 3,000 years to the Queen of Sheba of ancient Ethiopia and Yemen who was returning from a trip to visit King Solomon of Israel in Jerusalem, as mentioned in the Bible in I Kings 10 and II Chronicles 9. She had gifted Solomon with 120 talents of gold (4.5 tons) as well as a large amount of unique spices and jewels. When the Queen returned to Ethiopia her chiefs welcomed her with enku or jewels to replenish her treasury.
With the following words and many others, President George W. Bush designated September 11 to be regarded as Patriot Day or America Remembers:
By the President of the United States of America
On this first observance of Patriot Day, we remember and honor those who perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. We will not forget the events of that terrible morning nor will we forget how Americans responded in New York City, at the Pentagon, and in the skies over Pennsylvania — with heroism and selflessness; with compassion and courage; and with prayer and hope. We will always remember our collective obligation to ensure that justice is done, that freedom prevails, and that the principles upon which our Nation was founded endure.
The President inaugurated this observance on September 4, 2002, and repeated it the next year, following a joint resolution approved December 18, 2001, along with the US Congress, intending that it be firmly planted into the consciousness of the American people, and each year recalled to our memory “that more than 3,000 innocent people lost their lives when a calm September morning was shattered by terrorists driven by hatred and destruction.”
HISTORY OF STAR TREK
Star Trek premiered on NBC TV September 8, 1966… 53 years ago. It is my favorite show; I was glued to the TV for the first episode and every one after that. It had a significant influence on my life in my choice of a career in technology. It represented an optimistic vision of the future where challenges of poverty and hunger had been addressed. But many other issues — relevant to the ’60s — were depicted as still being wrestled with centuries into the future. The Original Series showed a utopian view of science fiction that is rather different from current dystopian Sci-Fi TV and movies today.
Star Trek did not just envision the future, it imagined it and helped drive it. It inspired generations of scientists, engineers, and technologists around the world. Many scientists today will say that it was Star Trek that influenced the projects they are working on, especially in the areas of space exploration, physics, optics, electronics, computing, and communication — as I’ll recount near the end of this article. Though the original show ended in 1969 the dream of exploration did not die, it lived on: six weeks later, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon: one small step for man, where no man had gone before.
Three years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary, many celebrated the influence Star Trek has had on our lives:
- Facebook celebrated with Trek “like” buttons.
- Twitter had lots of celebratory tweets
- SyFy Channel celebrated Star Trek Day by offering a tutorial on how to do the Vulcan Salute.
- Seattle’s EMP Museum has a major new exhibit with original sets, props, uniforms, communicator, phaser, and a tricorder
- The US Postal Service released commemorative stamps
- Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C. spent four months again refurbishing the original 11-foot filming model of the USS Enterprise
- History Channel had a show on “Building Star Trek”
- Gizmodo talked about the anniversary
- USA Today covered the celebration
- NASA talked about the science
- The Telegraph discussed the celebration
Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday. Labor Day in the U.S. is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement. While it is still disputed whether the holiday was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, the leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist — observances of the holiday go back over a century in the U.S.
The first Labor Day celebration was September 5, 1882, in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establish a regular holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass it on February 21, 1887. It was first proposed as “a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
In other countries, it’s often celebrated as International Workers’ Day on May Day.
You may have noticed that September sounds like the Latin word for Seven. And you’d be perceptive — septem is the Latin word for seven and this month used to be the seventh month of the ancient Roman calendar. This Latin numbering follows with the remaining months of the year, as I’ve highlighted below: eight/oct, nine/nov, ten/dec.
Legend has it that this calendar was started by Romulus, the founder and first king of Rome, at around 753 BC. The months counted up as follows:
- Martius – 31 Days
- Aprilis – 30 Days
- Maius – 31 Days
- Iunius – 30 Days
- Quintilis – 31 Days
- Sextilis – 30 Days
- September – 30 Days
- October – 31 Days
- November – 30 Days
- December – 30 Days
HISTORY OF THE HOLIDAYS
Welcome to this year’s edition of the History of the Holidays. I’m Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian. From now through the Spring or vernal equinox, we celebrate most of the major secular and sacred holidays. This is a series that recounts the history behind the major American holidays, some of the minor ones, and a few international ones as well.
Sacred and Secular
Many of the sacred holidays in our American “Judeo-Christian” heritage have secular associations, while many of the seemingly secular holidays actually have religious roots.
One example of the mixture of sacred and secular was that in ancient Rome the death and resurrection of Attis, the god of vegetation, was celebrated on March 24 and 25, corresponding to the vernal equinox.