Blog Posts

History of Fall: What is the Autumnal Equinox?

September 22, 2021 /
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FallHISTORY 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.

 

Date of Autumn

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.

 

Astronomical

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 22 at 13:31 UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne (or Coordinated Universal Time) if you 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.

During the Equinox:

  • The Sun rises due east and sets due west
  • The Sun rises at about 6 AM and sets about 6 PM local time in most places on the planet except the poles
  • In other words, daytime and nighttime are about the same length, worldwide
  • The center of the visible Sun is exactly above the Equator
  • The edge between night and day (solar terminator) is perpendicular to the Equator, equally illuminating both the northern and southern hemispheres.

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History of Sukkot: Festival of Booths

September 20, 2021 /
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SukkotHISTORY OF SUKKOT: FESTIVAL OF BOOTHS

Tonight at sunset, September 20, begins the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Booths or Festival of Tabernacles.

We’ve talked about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but this holiday is significant because it is considered one of the three “pilgrimage” festivals in the Jewish calendar.

The Old Testament Book of Leviticus discusses the Exodus from slavery in Egypt of the Children of Israel. They were to commemorate it by living in temporary booths for a week

“… that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  Leviticus 23:43

The week started with a Sabbath (rest from work) and ended on the eighth day with a sabbath.
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History of Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19, 2021 /
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Talk Like a PirateHISTORY 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. It was celebrated each year on September 19; though it started in the United States, it is now celebrated internationally across the Seven Seas.

Pirate GuysThe Tale of Talk Like a Pirate Day

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

Dave BarryIn 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 broader 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 shows that this parody holiday has gone viral.

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History of the Constitution of the United States: 234 Years Ago

September 17, 2021 /
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Constitution-Preamble

History of the Constitution of the United States

On September 17, 1787, the US Constitution was created. Though it would take until

  • June 21, 1788, to be ratified, and until
  • March 4, 1789, to be effective,

In a very real sense, it was the founding document of the governmental system of the United States of America. Even to a greater extent than the Declaration of Independence, which was more of a “bill of divorcement” from England, the Constitution described how the United States would operate as a nation.

 

Purpose of the Constitution

The Philadelphia Convention, later referred to as the Constitutional Convention, was called ostensibly to amend the Articles of Confederation that had been in effect between 1781–89. But that effort was not realistic. Alexander Hamilton had called these Articles “imbecilic.” The Articles gave little power to the central government and were too weak to regulate conflicts between the states.

The Confederation Congress could make decisions but lacked enforcement powers; it could print money but it was worthless, there was inconsistent taxation from the states to support the federal government. States could make their own trade agreements with other countries. It was America’s experiment with a limited democracy, but it was deemed unsatisfactory. Instead, the Constitution empowered a representative republic.

Rather than “fix” the Articles, delegates decided to create a new government at Convention held at the Pennsylvania State House. War of Independence General George Washington of Virginia was elected as president of the Convention. Foreshadowing?

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History of Yom Kippur: Day of Atonement

September 15, 2021 /
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Yom KippurHISTORY OF YOM KIPPUR

The Jewish High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah and continue until Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” or more correctly Yom ha-Kippurim (Leviticus 16), goes back to Jewish antiquity almost 4,000 years to the time of Moses. This most solemn occasion of the Jewish Festival cycle was the season for annual cleansing from sin, but in time its significance was deepened so that it acquired personal meaning and filled a personal need. It is observed on the 10th day of Tishri, the seventh month, and is the climax of the whole penitential season.

 

Yom Kippur in Biblical Times

Originally, on one day of the year, the high priest would enter into the innermost part of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple in Jerusalem). He would enter the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice for the sin of the people as a congregation and sprinkle it upon the ‘mercy seat’ of the Ark of the Covenant (made famous by the movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” :-). This would “cover” the sin of the people, as this is what the Aramaic (and Hebrew) root “kaphar” (atonement) means. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., later Rabbinic legislation adapted the old ritual to the synagogue. The blast of the ‘shofar,’ the ritual ram’s horn trumpet, signifies, among other things, the inarticulate cry of the soul to God.
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History of Ethiopian New Year: What is Enkutatash?

September 12, 2021 /
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Ethiopian FlagHISTORY 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.

 

Meaning of Enkutatash

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.

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History of 9/11, Twenty Years Ago: Patriot Day

September 11, 2021 /
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9-11HISTORY OF PATRIOT DAY: 9/11 Twenty Years Ago

On 9/11, twenty years ago, more Americans were killed on American soil in one day than any attack since Pearl Harbor in 1941. A series of terrorist airplane highjacking attacks occurred in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon… and the world changed. As the events of December 7, 1941, led to war, so too did the events of September 11, 2001.

4 Attacks on 9/11The memories of this one day in history were captured in the hearts of millions of Americans and people across the planet.

Some of these memories are preserved in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, opened a decade ago on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

American’s were united against a common external enemy two decades ago. Everyone identified with the citizens of New York, FDNY caps and t-shirts became popular, people said, “We’re all New Yorkers.” For one brief shining moment, we were unified as a community.
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History of Star Trek: 55 Years Ago and Today

September 8, 2021 /
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Star TrekHISTORY OF STAR TREK

Star Trek premiered on NBC TV on September 8, 1966… 55 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.

The show 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. And the franchise is still creating new shows presently, as I’ll describe below.

Paramount today is kicking off a month-long celebration of the legacy of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. Details at StarTrek.com/Day. The campaign will launch at Paramount+’s red carpet event on September 8, featuring Star Trek actors LeVar Burton, George Takei, Patrick Stewart, and others.

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.

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History of Rosh Hashanah: Jewish New Year

September 6, 2021 /
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Rosh HashanahHISTORY OF ROSH HASHANAH

Rosh Hashanah designates the beginning of the Jewish new year, starting tomorrow — which according to the Jewish calendar begins at sundown tonight. “Rosh” is Hebrew for “head” and Rosh Hashanah refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish ecclesiastical calendar. It marks the beginning of the civil year. Judaism has a solar/lunar calendar system, in which the lunar reckoning predominates. The first in the cycle of months is Nissan (which has nothing to do with the automobile manufacturer), the month in which Passover occurs. However, solar years are reckoned to begin at Rosh Hashanah.

The new year is heralded with the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn by the “baal t’kiah” (meaning master of the shofar-blast), during prayers and 100 blasts throughout the day. You’ve heard the story of Joshua leading the Jewish people to march around Jericho blowing their trumpets so that the “walls came a-tumbling down” (Joshua 6:4-5)? That’s the shofar.

Honeyed ApplesFestival meals during Rosh Hashanah include traditional foods mentioned in the Talmud (notes on the Jewish oral tradition, known as the Mishnah), including dates, leeks, spinach, gourd, and black-eyed peas. Also featured as a later medieval addition are apples dipped in honey, with the intention of bringing forth a sweet new year: Shanah Tovah Umetukah which translated from the Hebrew, שנה טובה ומתוקה‎ means

“[have a] Good and Sweet Year”

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History of Labor Day

September 6, 2021 /
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Labor DayHISTORY OF LABOR DAY

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 general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York — observances of the holiday go back over a century in the U.S.

 

First Celebration of Labor Day

Labor Day PosterThe first Labor Day celebration was on 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. The U.S. does not observe it on May 1st for at least two reasons. The more recent one is that May 1 became associated with the Russian Revolution and Communism. But the more critical part of the backstory starts with the Chicago Haymarket Affair of 1886.

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History of the Fall of the Roman Empire

September 4, 2021 /
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Fall of RomeHISTORY OF THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

On this date, September 4, 476 AD,  Odoacer captured the city of Ravenna and deposed Emperor Romulus Augustus, marking the Fall of the Roman Empire. What do we mean by the Fall of the Roman Empire?

 

What do we mean by Roman Empire?

This part of the statement needs clarification first. When we say Roman Empire, we’re really only talking about the “Western Roman Empire.”

 

There was another Roman Empire?

Correct. Kind of.

 

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History of September

September 1, 2021 /
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SeptemberHISTORY OF SEPTEMBER

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 year’s remaining months, as I’ve highlighted below: eight/oct, nine/nov, ten/dec.

 

A Little Calendar History

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:

  1. Martius – 31 Days
  2. Aprilis – 30 Days
  3. Maius – 31 Days
  4. Iunius – 30 Days
  5. Quintilis – 31 Days
  6. Sextilis – 30 Days
  7. September – 30 Days
  8. October – 31 Days
  9. November – 30 Days
  10. December – 30 Days

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