Born on January 15, 1929, we celebrate a holiday in honor of a man who was not a president, nor an explorer, nor a saint; rather he was a Baptist minister and an American leader of the 1960s civil rights movement who was named for the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther after his father was inspired by 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.
We know this polymath as a writer, publisher, printer, merchant, scientist, moral philosopher, international diplomat, and inventor. Musically he invented the glass harmonica, 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
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.”
Epiphany occurs in the Christian calendar on January 6. It signifies the event of the Magi, or Wise Men, visiting the baby Jesus, and is known in some Latin cultures as Three Kings Day. 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.
HISTORY OF NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
As I mentioned earlier, 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?
The month of January gets its name from Janus, the two-faced god who looks backward into the old year and forwards into the new. 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, and we see this statue (pictured at left) set on the bridge Ponte Fabricio which crosses the Tiber River in Rome to Tiber Island, where it survives from its original construction in 62 BC during the time of Julius Caesar. Even today, it is believed that if you touch the Janus head as you cross the bridge, it will bring good fortune. (The followers of the goddess Juno have a competing claim to the month of January, according to ancient Roman farmers’ almanacs.) (more…)
HISTORY 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 gets its name from the first day of a month in the Roman (Latin) calendar: kalendae
ISN’T 2020 THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW DECADE?
With the beginning of the New Year, you’ve seen articles everywhere discussing the end of the decade or declaring that 2020 is the beginning of the new decade.
Q: Isn’t 2020 the beginning of the new decade?
- 2020 is the beginning of a new decade — as any year is
- But it is not the beginning of the new decade
Q: But the year ends in Zero. If 2010 was the beginning of the decade, and 2000 was the beginning of the new millennium, how can 2020 not be the beginning of the new decade?
Because 2010 was not the beginning of the decade, as I explained a decade ago here. And 2000 was not the beginning of the Third Millennium. That is why Arthur C. Clarke was careful to name his space odyssey 2001, not 2000. (more…)
HISTORY OF CHILDERMAS
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 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?
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. On 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; rather it’s the young disciple of Christ, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Tradition holds that he is the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John (I, II, and III John) as well as 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?
HISTORY OF BOXING DAY
Boxing Day, while unfamiliar to many Americans, is a well known holiday among the countries of the British Commonwealth. It is celebrated on December 26 as a public holiday in the UK, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of Australia.
Though some believe it has to do with the need to dispose of empty boxes on the day following Christmas, it has nothing to do with that, nor has it anything to do with pugilistic fisticuffs. It is the second day of Christmastide, and some European countries celebrate it as “Second Christmas Day,” but there’s more.
St. Stephen’s Day
In Britain, Boxing Day is also known by the name St. Stephen’s Day. Stephen, a man “possessing great wisdom and full of the Spirit,” was the first Christian martyr as recorded in Chapter 7 of the Book of the Acts of The Apostles in the Bible. He was one of the first deacons or ministers of the early church, serving table to the Hellenistic (non-Jewish) widows of the church who were being neglected.