The Jewish High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashana 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, signify, among other things, the inarticulate cry of the soul to God.
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.
The change in color occurs first at the highest altitudes. For example, at 9,800 feet, the aspens “peaked” their color change and the leaves begin to fall this year earlier 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 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.
But not this year, Oktoberfest 2020 has been canceled due to to the Coronavirus pandemic. So let’s look back at Oktoberfest’s origin.
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 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 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.
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 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 contributes to the fact that this parody holiday has gone viral.
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.
Festival 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”
[The Boston Athletic Association has announced that the 124th Boston Marathon will be held as a virtual event, following Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s cancellation of the marathon as a mass participation road running event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual Boston Marathon will be complemented by a series of virtual events throughout the second week of September.]
Today in Boston, Massachusetts is the closing ceremony of the Boston Marathon signified by two MEDEVAC HH-60 Black Hawks flying over the Boston Marathon course, crossing the start line in Hopkinton at 10:00 AM and following the race route into Boston. The flyover will recognize the originally postponed Boston Marathon date and honor frontline workers who have continued to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is the oldest and longest-running (no pun intended) annual marathon event, at least in the Western World. It began in 1897, the year following the reintroduction of the marathon competition into the first modern Olympics in 1896. When not constrained by a world-wide Coronavirus pandemic, this large event typically features over 30,000 participants, from all 50 states and over a hundred countries — and half a million spectators — and is one of more than 800 marathons held each year worldwide. It differs from other marathons in that it requires a qualifying time from another marathon, run within a limited date range on a particular type of course. The Boston Marathon is held annually on Patriots’ Day — which used to be fixed on April 19 signifying the beginning of the Revolutionary War — but is now the third Monday in April. But it was postponed this year until September, and then made virtual.
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.
HISTORY OF PATRIOT DAY: 9-11
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 U.S. 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.”