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History of Christmas: Advent

November 29, 2020 /
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Here begins our series of articles on the History of Christmas. The traditional season of Advent, leading up to Christmas, begins today. It is celebrated in the church calendar as one of the most festive seasons of the year.


“Advent” from the Latin adventus means the “coming” or “arrival” of the Christ Child and is marked by the four Sundays preceding Christmas, commemorated in churches and homes by lighting four Advent candles. This year it starts Sunday, November 29, and ends December 24.  The Greek word in the New Testament for Jesus’ arrival is parousia, (παρουσία) a word commonly used during that time in anticipation of the arrival of a king, emperor, or official.

As we shall see, many of the traditions, customs, and stories of the Advent Season have Christian roots while others have non-Christian sources. Some are legendary, and others are firmly rooted in history. (more…)

History of Black Friday: One Day Only?

November 26, 2020 /
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While it is difficult to connect this term to the start of the Christmas shopping sales season before its use in the mid-1960s in Philadelphia, the concept appears to go back to the 19th century when Christmas sales followed Thanksgiving Day parades. In 1939 President Franklin D Roosevelt set the date of Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November rather than the last Thursday of the month, allowing an extra week of shopping before Christmas.

Black Friday History

On December 26, 1941, Congress officially made Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November. Though procrastinators usually make the shopping days immediate before Christmas the most profitable, Black Friday is undoubtedly one of the busiest shopping days of the year, if not the busiest. Below are some helpful definitions for specific holiday terms used during this time of year:

  • Black Friday: a shopping holiday that begins earlier each year, once beginning at 7 am, then at 4 am (or even midnight), on the Friday following Thanksgiving. Starting in 2013, it slipped into Thanksgiving Day. Recently, Target stores opened Thanksgiving Day from 5 pm to 1 am Friday, then re-open at 7 am Friday morning. At one time, Black Friday was the official opening of the Christmas shopping season, given its name due to the belief that retailers would now be “in the black” (profitable) as opposed to “in the red” (losses), both historical accounting terms. However, this particular connotation of Black Friday did not arrive until the 1980s. The opening day phenomenon of Christmas decorations is now being eroded by Christmas Creep.
  • Christmas Creep: as written previously is the tendency of retailers to introduce the beginning of the Christmas shopping season along with attendant decorations and music earlier in the year to drive consumer behavior. Once occurring around Thanksgiving, it is now happening before Halloween.


History of the First Thanksgiving Proclamation

November 26, 2020 /
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Thanksgiving Proclamation

“The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris


On June 20, 1676, the governing council of Charlestown, Massachusetts, held a meeting to determine how best to express thanks for the good fortune that had seen their community securely established.

Edward Rawson

Edward Rawson

By unanimous vote, they instructed Edward Rawson, the clerk and first secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to proclaim June 29 as a day of Thanksgiving. That proclamation is reproduced here in the same language and spelling as the original.

“The Holy God having by a long and Continual Series of his Afflictive dispensations in and by the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this land, written and brought to pass bitter things against his own Covenant people in this wilderness, yet so that we evidently discern that in the midst of his judgments he hath remembered mercy, having remembered his Footstool in the day of his sore displeasure against us for our sins, with many singular Intimations of his Fatherly Compassion, and regard; reserving many of our Towns from Desolation Threatened, and attempted by the Enemy, and giving us especially of late with many of our Confederates many signal Advantages against them, without such Disadvantage to ourselves as formerly we have been sensible of, if it be the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed, It certainly bespeaks our positive Thankfulness, when our Enemies are in any measure disappointed or destroyed; and fearing the Lord should take notice under so many Intimations of his returning mercy, we should be found an Insensible people, as not standing before Him with Thanksgiving, as well as lading him with our Complaints in the time of pressing Afflictions:

The Council has thought meet to appoint and set apart the 29th day of this instant June, as a day of Solemn Thanksgiving and praise to God for such his Goodness and Favour, many Particulars of which mercy might be Instanced, but we doubt not those who are sensible of God’s Afflictions, have been as diligent to espy him returning to us; and that the Lord may behold us as a People offering Praise and thereby glorifying Him; the Council doth  commend it to the Respective Ministers, Elders and people of this Jurisdiction; Solemnly and seriously to keep the same Beseeching that being perswaded by the mercies of God we may all, even this whole people offer up our bodies and souls as a living and  acceptable Service unto God by Jesus Christ.”


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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History of Thanksgiving Indian: Why Squanto already knew English

November 25, 2020 /
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Massasoit, Plymouth, MA


We’ve all heard the story of how the Pilgrims, landing in Massachusetts four hundred years ago on the Mayflower in 1620, were ill-equipped to survive the harsh winters of the New World. We’ve also heard how they met a Native American Indian of the Pawtuxet tribe named Squanto, who befriended them. He taught them how to survive in their new wilderness home, showed them how to plant and fertilize their crops, fish, and acted as an interpreter with the Wampanoag tribe and its chief, Massasoit (pictured above from Plymouth, MA).

The fact that he already knew English before the Pilgrims landed is what is remarkable.

Squanto at Thanksgiving

The man Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, probably was present at the first Thanksgiving celebration held by the Pilgrims. He was certainly there by 1621 — after the winter when the Pilgrims lost half of their population to starvation and diseases — when another Indian, Samoset, introduced Squanto to the Pilgrim settlers, and he became a member of their colony. Because Squanto could speak English well, Governor William Bradford asked him to serve as his ambassador to the Indian tribes.

It was over a decade before the Pilgrims landed that Squanto was captured from Massachusetts and taken, along with other Indians, by an English ship captain and sold into slavery in Málaga, Spain.


History of Thanksgiving: the Secular and the Sacred

November 24, 2020 /
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Mayflower II, Plimoth Plantation, MA


The origin of Thanksgiving Day in America has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America the year after their arrival on the merchant ship Mayflower.

The picture you usually see featuring a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is a bit inaccurate, however. From original settler Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in 1621, we know that the Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit, was accompanied by some 90 of his men to visit Plymouth for three days of fish, fowl, and venison. But of the 102 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, forty-five or about half the passengers had died by this time. This would have left about half the remaining fifty-seven English survivors as men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!


Pilgrim Thanksgiving celebrant survivors of the first winter.

Pilgrim Motivation

The idea of the Pilgrims fleeing England to come directly to America due to persecution is not quite historically accurate, at least as the starting point. Rather, over a decade earlier, they had already left England for Holland as Dissenters of the Church of England. They were unwilling to comply with obligatory Church of England worship practices and were therefore subject to fines if they stayed in England. These Pilgrims were Puritan Calvinists in their theology and found the Dutch Calvinism more tolerant of their religious practice. However, they recognized that while in Holland, their children were forgetting how to speak English and were adopting Dutch customs too liberal for their sensibilities.

History of Vaccines: What This Means For Coronavirus

November 20, 2020 /
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Today, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they are submitting their Coronavirus vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration for Emergency Use Approval.

What are vaccines, when were they first developed, and what is the road to an approved vaccine in today’s world?

“Vaca” in the word vaccine sounds like “cow.” The word comes from the Latin phrase Variolae vaccine, meaning the “smallpox of the cow,” and referred to cowpox. What does vaccination have to do with cowpox?

Edward Jenner, in 1789 was working on a way to treat the deadly smallpox pandemic, a particularly deadly killer that had killed almost half a million Europeans during the 1700s and 1800s, and perhaps as many as 300-500 million people worldwide over its almost 500-year history. The story goes that when Jenner was a 13-year-old orphan boy and apprentice to a country surgeon, he’d overheard a beautiful milkmaid’s boast. She had a “peaches and cream” complexion that was flawless and bragged:

“I shall never have smallpox for I have had cowpox. I shall never have an ugly pockmarked face.”

Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner

Jenner, who became a British physician and scientist, tested his theory that exposure to cowpox would protect people from the deadlier smallpox by taking the pus from a cowpox pustule and vaccinating a young boy. After the boy proved immune, he further vaccinated several other children, including his 11-month-old-son. He successfully developed an effective vaccine against smallpox in this way, the first of its kind, and was aptly called “the father of immunology.”

History of Friday the 13th

November 13, 2020 /
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If you’re reading this article to learn the history of Friday the 13th, you’re in luck.

Or perhaps bad luck.

No one knows, with any certainty, when it began or why it’s to be feared. However, there are lots of entertaining speculative theories about the topic.



What is the Fear of Friday the 13th?

  • Paraskevidekatriaphobia — is the name of the superstition. The word is constructed from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή, meaning “Friday”), and dekatreís (δεκατρείς, meaning “thirteen”)
  • Friggatriskaidekaphobia — is the fear of Friday the 13th. The word is made of both Norse and Greek roots: Frigg or Frigga, the name of the wife of the Norse god Odin. Friday gets its name from Frigg. Triskadeka is “thirteen” in Greek (literally: “three” “and” “ten”), and phobia means “fear”


History of Veterans Day: Lest We Forget

November 11, 2020 /
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History of Veterans Day:PoppiesHISTORY OF VETERANS DAY

A professor once commented, “We write things down so we can forget them.”

Now, of course, this is true in the sense of writing down appointments so we don’t have to worry about missing meetings. But that’s just it; we do forget things. As individuals, we forget things that are important to us. Companies seem to have little in the way of corporate memory so that they might do things better the next time. Countries forget the things that have occurred in their past, things that make them unique. In many parts of the world — Europe in particular and several of the former British Commonwealth countries specifically — there are memorials in the town square commemorating their war heroes, usually with the words “Lest we forget.”

Armistice DayHistorically, Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, commemorating the ending hostilities of the western front of World War I on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) At 5:45 am on that day, Germany signed the Armistice (truce) in the Forest of Compiegne, and the order was given for a cease-fire for later that morning, after four years of war.


History of Guy Fawkes Night: How gunpowder mixed with Parliament

November 5, 2020 /
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For our friends across the Pond

November 5th is known as “Bonfire Night” or “Guy Fawkes Night,” and all over Britain people fire off fireworks, light bonfires, and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes. Guido Fawkes was an Englishman who, in popular legend, tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder. He was caught, imprisoned, tortured on the rack, and finally executed.


Over 400 years ago, Guy Fawkes was a co-conspirator in the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 in England. He and his cohorts decided to blow up both of the Houses of Parliament in London and kill King James I (of the King James Bible fame) upon the inaugural opening of the Parliament during what we now call “The King’s Speech” and succeeded in smuggling several barrels of gunpowder into the basement of the Parliament.


PlotThis “Gunpowder Plot” occurred two years after King James I ascended to the throne. A group of English Catholics, of which Guido Fawkes was a member, decided to kill the King because it was felt he had reneged on his promises to stop the persecution of Catholics. To this day, it is the law in Britain that a Roman Catholic cannot hold the office of monarch. And the Queen is still Supreme Head of the Church of England.