Blog Posts

History of Ben Franklin: The Original Founding Father?

January 17, 2022 /
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Ben FranklinHISTORY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

We know this polymath as a writer, publisher, printer, merchant, scientist, moral philosopher, international diplomat, and inventor.

He invented the glass harmonica in music, but he also invented the Franklin stove and started the first lending library and fire brigade in Philadelphia.

He did experiments in electricity and developed the lightning rod. He was considered:

America’s best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist, and he was also one of its most practical, though not most profound, political thinkers. — Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

 

Ben Franklin in America

Born on January 17, 1706 *, in Boston, he was one of the earliest and oldest of the American Founding Fathers. He served as a lobbyist to England, was first Ambassador to France, and has been called “The First American.”

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History of Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 14, 2022 /
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Martin Luther King JrHISTORY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

Born on January 15, 1929, we celebrate a holiday in honor of a man who was not a president, an explorer, or a saint. Instead, he was a Baptist minister and an American leader of the 1960s civil rights movement named for the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther after his father was inspired to change their name following a trip to Luther’s Wittenberg.

Though President Carter awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1977, it was not until 1986 that a day was established on the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a federal holiday.

The only other American federal holidays that honored individuals were for Jesus, President Washington, and Christopher Columbus.

 

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History of Epiphany and Twelfth Night: Ends the 12 Days of Christmas?

January 5, 2022 /
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Epiphany HISTORY OF TWELFTH NIGHT AND EPIPHANY

Twelfth Night is on January 5, the eve of Epiphany, which occurs in the Christian calendar on January 6. Epiphany signifies the event of the Magi, or Wise Men, visiting the baby Jesus, and is known in some Latin cultures as Three Kings Day.

Or as my friend Tim LeCroy likes to say,

“Epiphany is the…

Manger Zone

 

In the Eastern (Orthodox and Oriental) churches, it is known as the Feast of Theophany (God Manifest), commemorating Jesus’ baptism with the attendant appearance of the Holy Spirit as a dove and the voice of God the Father. This story is recounted in all four Gospels of the New Testament. This date is also tied to Jesus’ miracle of changing the water to wine at the Wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John, Chapter 2.

 

Christmas vs. Advent

So, the 12 Days of Christmas don’t end at Christmas; Advent does. Instead, the 12 days start with Christmas and end with Epiphany. These 12 days are sometimes called Christmastide. The subsequent “season” of Epiphany lasts from January 6 through the day before Lent. Some Latin American and European cultures extend this season to February 2 or Candlemas.

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History of New Year’s Resolutions: Where Did They Begin?

January 3, 2022 /
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Janus Ponte Fabricio

Janus

HISTORY OF NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

As I mentioned previously, New Year’s Day celebrations began in pre-Christian times, beginning with the Babylonians in March but later changed to January by the Romans.

Where did we get the idea of New Year’s Resolutions and why at the beginning of the year?

 

Roman New Years Resolutions

The month of January is dedicated to the Roman god who gave it its name, Janus, the two-faced deity who looks backward into the old year and forwards into the new. His feast day, the Agonalia is on January 9. Janus was also the patron and protector of arches (Ianus in Latin), transitions, time, gates, doors, doorways, endings, and beginnings. He was also the patron of bridges. This statue (pictured above) is set on the bridge Ponte Fabricio, which crosses the Tiber River from Rome to Tiber Island. It survives today from its original construction in 62 BC during the time of Julius Caesar.

Even today, it is believed that touching the Janus head as you cross the bridge will bring good fortune, which is why it is so well worn now. (The followers of the goddess Juno have a competing claim to the month of January, according to ancient Roman farmers’ almanacs.)

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History of Telemachus: the Monk Who Ended the Roman Gladiatorial Games – January 1, A.D. 404

January 2, 2022 /
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TelemachusHistory of Telemachus: the Monk Who Ended the Roman Gladiatorial Games – January 1, A.D. 404

January 1, A.D. 404 marked the last known gladiatorial games in Rome. What part did an obscure Christian monk from the East play in this epic change in Roman entertainment?

This is the story of St. Telemachus, whose festival is celebrated today and has been remembered throughout the last 1600 years.

You may have never heard of the name. Or you know it as the name of the son of Homer’s Odysseus (Ulysses,) who was tutored and protected by Mentor while his father was away fighting the Trojan War.

Here’s the background of the little-known monk, how he brought an end to the Imperial gladiatorial games, and how the story has been adapted over the centuries until it was used less than 40 years ago by a President at an international event.

 

Origin

The church historian Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria, first told the story in the 5th century in his succinctly titled Ecclesiastical History, a History of the Church in 5 Books from A.D. 322 to the Death of Theodore of Mopsuestia A.D. 427. Theodoret relates how a monk from the eastern part of the Empire named Telemachus came to Rome and saw the gladiatorial games when:

“After gazing upon the combat from the amphitheatre, he descended into the arena, and tried to separate the gladiators. The sanguinary spectators, possessed by the demon who delights in the effusion of blood, were irritated at the interruption of their cruel sports, and stoned him who had occasioned the cessation.”

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History of New Year’s Day: Why on January 1?

January 1, 2022 /
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CalendarHISTORY OF NEW YEAR’S DAY

We have the ancient Romans to thank for celebrating New Year’s Day on January 1. It wasn’t always that way. Previous civilizations celebrated it in March to observe the “new year” of growth and fertility.

Before calendars existed, the time between seed sowing and harvesting was considered a cycle or a year. But the Romans moved the date of New Year to January 1, as I’ll explain below, but first a little on calendars.

The word Calendar comes from the first day of a month in the Roman (Latin) calendar: kalendae.

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My Top 5 Articles of 2021

December 31, 2021 /
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top5

 

These are the Top 5 articles from my blog this year based on the number of reader views at billpetro.com:

 

Top 5 of 2021

 

1. History of Telemachus

Telemachus

This is the oft-told story of the monk who caused the Roman gladiatorial games to be ended upon his martyrdom on January 1, A.D. 404. I say oft-told because stories have been told about him since the 8th and 9th centuries. It’s in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Alfred Lord Tennyson recounted it during Victorian times, and Ronald Reagan used it at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1984. The Feast of St. Telemachus is celebrated on New Year’s Day.

 

 

2. History of the Sanhedrin

Sanhedrin

From the Easter story, this article talks about the ancient Jewish “Supreme Court,” the council of the High Priestly family, Elders of the tribes and families, and the Scribes of the Law. It was the responsibility of this body 2,000 years ago to identify the Messiah and expose false ones. Yet the council had lost to the Roman governor Pilate the power of capital punishment, the jus gladii, except for against Gentile trespassers into the Temple.

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History of Auld Lang Syne: What Does It Mean?

December 30, 2021 /
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Auld Lang SyneHISTORY OF AULD LANG SYNE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN

Why is it that each New Year’s Eve, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” but do we know what it means?

The song contains words from a language that few are familiar with, in a syntax that is confusing to most, and is from a poem about friends recalling adventures they had long ago but had nothing to do with New Year’s Eve.

 

What does Auld Lang Syne mean?

Literally, it means Old Long Since, but the syntax is more naturally translated as since long ago or more familiarly for old times’ sake.

The phrase is in the Scots language, which goes back to the 7th century. A great deal of Scots literature was written in the 15th and 16th centuries. When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1603, the Scottish upper classes had adapted and Anglicized their speech and writing, developing Scottish Standard English. But the Scots language experienced a revival among Scottish poets such as Alan Ramsay in the early 18th century and Robert Burns in the later 18th century.

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History of New Year’s Eve

December 29, 2021 /
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TimesSquare

Times Square, New York City

HISTORY OF NEW YEAR’S EVE

New Year’s Eve is the last day of the year, according to the Gregorian Calendar, and is known as Old Year’s Day, or St. Sylvester’s Day. You may remember reading that Emperor Constantine was considered the first “Christian” Roman Emperor? St. Sylvester is responsible for Constantine’s conversion in the 4th-century. 

As I describe here, New Year’s celebrations go back before the Romans to Mesopotamia about 2,000 years B.C. However, those celebrations occurred during the Vernal Equinox in March and moved two millennia later to January. This was done at the recommendation of Sosigenes of Alexandria, an ancient astronomer who convinced Julius Caesar to reform the calendar to be a solar one like that of the Ptolemaic Egyptians, not the previous lunar calendar that Rome had been using since the 7th-century B.C. Caesar did this by introducing the Julian Calendar in 46 B.C.

Speaking of astronomy, Earth is always closest to the sun in its yearly orbit around this time. This event is called Earth’s perihelion.

perihelion

Earth’s perihelion

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History of Childermas: Feast of the Holy Innocents

December 28, 2021 /
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Childermas

Childermas

HISTORY OF CHILDERMAS: FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS

Childermas, from an Old English word meaning the Mass of the Infants, is the festival in the church calendar begun in the fifth century — celebrated in the Western Church on December 28 and in the Eastern Church on December 29. It is also known as Bairn’s Day (Scots term for child) and in Spanish as Día de Los Santos Inocentes.

It commemorated the date when King Herod ordered the massacre of the children under two years of age in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the baby Jesus, who “was born King of the Jews,” according to the Wise Men as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 2.

How many were killed?

Some traditional claims involve as many as 6,000 or 14,000 or even 144,000, though based on the population of male children in Bethlehem at that time, a few dozen is more likely.

Did this actually happen, do we have any evidence from outside the Gospel story?
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History of Holiday Fruitcake

December 27, 2021 /
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FruitcakeHISTORY OF HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE

You may be wondering:

“My friendly neighborhood historian is writing an article on fruitcake? Is he as nutty as a fruitcake?”

And therein begins our tale…

 

 

The Phrase “Nutty as a Fruitcake”

Nutty as a fruitcake was first recorded in 1935, but the adjective nutty, meaning “crazy or eccentric,” goes back to 1821. I admit that I have been called eccentric. But more importantly…

Today, December 27, is National Fruitcake Day.

 

What is Fruitcake?

Fruitcake construction

It’s a pastry, bread, or cake made of nuts, dried or candied fruits, spices, grain, and optionally soaked in alcohol. There are many recipes. It was a special food for weddings or Christmas since the 18th and 19th centuries. (more…)

History of the Feast of St. John: Which St John?

December 27, 2021 /
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St. John

St. John

HISTORY OF THE FEAST OF ST. JOHN

December 27, since the 5th century, has marked the day in the church calendar for celebrating the life of St. John the Evangelist and is known as the Feast of St. John.

We’ve already mentioned that the day before, December 26, is the Feast of St. Stephen. The following day, December 28, is the Feast of The Holy Innocents, referring to those babies killed by King Herod the Great in Bethlehem.

Which St. John is celebrated in this feast?

It is not John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus; instead, it’s the young disciple of Christ, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This John writes about “the Baptizer” in the first chapter of his Gospel. Tradition holds that he is the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John (I, II, and III John), and the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse. He’s also known as John the Apostle, John the Divine, John the Theologian, and John of Patmos.

Why?

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