History Articles

History of Rosh Hashana

October 9, 2005 /
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ROSH HASHANA

Rosh HaShana designates the beginning of the Jewish new year. “Rosh” is Hebrew for “head” and Rosh HaShana refers to the head of the year on the 1st day of Tishri, the seventh month. 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 HaShana. 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). Some scholars have suggested (perhaps “speculated” would be a better word) that the Jews marked the beginning of the year at this time subsequent to the period of their Babylonian Captivity, in following with the Babylonian custom. It also marks the day on which God is said to begin examining the record of each person’s actions during the preceding year; Jews are called upon to take an “accounting of the soul” with the aim of correcting defects in one’s behavior — the ultimate goal is to help “repair the universe.” The audit is considered to end on Yom Kippur, on the 10th day of Tishri, which we will examine next time.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Patriot Day: 9-11-2001

September 9, 2005 /
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HISTORY OF PATRIOT DAY

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
A Proclamation

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 US 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.”

As the forth anniversary of this event occurs, what most people call September 11th or just 9-11, I am reminded of the article I wrote in the wake of it, and the one I wrote a year following. Should we remember these kind of events, recalling history? The words of the Oxford don C.S. Lewis are particularly relevant.

Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

– from “Learning in War-Time” (The Weight of Glory)

Lest we forget

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Labor Day

August 23, 2005 /
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HISTORY OF LABOR DAY

Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through in order to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday.

Labor Day 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 leader of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist — observances of the holiday go back over a century.

The first Labor Day celebration was September 15, 1882 in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establishment 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.”

But it was on June 28, 1894 that Congress made the first Monday in September an official Labor Day holiday. In 1909 the Sunday preceding was designated as Labor Sunday, dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of the Holidays

August 23, 2005 /
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History of the HolidaysHISTORY OF THE HOLIDAYS

Welcome to this year’s edition of the History of the Holidays. I’m Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian. From now through the Spring or vernal equinox, we celebrate most of the major secular and sacred holidays. This is a series that recounts the history behind the major American holidays, some of the minor ones, and a few international ones as well.

Sacred and Secular

Many of the sacred holidays in our American “Judeo-Christian” heritage have secular associations, while many of the seemingly secular holidays actually have religious roots.

One example of the mixture of sacred and secular was that in ancient Rome the death and resurrection of Attis, the god of vegetation, was celebrated on March 24 and 25, corresponding to the vernal equinox.
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Future of the Moon

August 2, 2005 /
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FUTURE OF THE MOON

As a follow-up to my article commemorating landing on the moon in 1969, there is an interesting site here that shows what it will look like in the future:

In honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969, we’ve added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor. Happy lunar surfing.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood futurist
www.billpetro.com

History of the 4th: Thomas Jefferson

June 30, 2005 /
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HISTORY OF THE 4th OF JULY: THOMAS JEFFERSON

Perhaps no one person is more associated with the 4th of July in American History than Thomas Jefferson, probably because he penned the immortal Declaration of Independence.

As my friend Clay Jenkinson says in his book Thomas Jefferson: Man of Light, “The Third President is the Muse of American life, the chief articulator of our national value system and our national self-identity. Jefferson was a man of almost unbelievable achievement: statesman, man of letters, architect, scientist, book collector, political strategist, and utopian visionary. But he is also a man of paradox: liberty-loving slaveholder, Indian-loving relocationist, publicly frugal and privately bankrupt, a constitutional conservative who bought the Louisiana Territory in 1803.” Even by 1782, as an admiring French visitor observed, Jefferson, “without having quitted his own country,” had become “an American who … is a musician, draftsman, astronomer, natural philosopher, jurist and a statesman.” He knew about crop rotation, Renaissance architecture, could dance a jig, play the fiddle, or tie an artery.

Though friends in their youth, disagreements separated Thomas Jefferson and our second President John Adams in later years. They were eventually reconciled toward their twilight years and though they never saw each other again after Adams left the White House to be replaced by Jefferson, in the last 14 years of their lives they exchanged 156 letters, some of them quite warm. This correspondence is generally regarded as the intellectual capstone to the achievements of the revolutionary generation and the most impressive correspondence between prominent statesmen.

They both died on the same day, July 4th, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, two of the last three signers. At the age of 91 John Adams collapsed in his favorite reading chair and died that afternoon, his last words were, “Thomas Jefferson still lives.” But Jefferson would have said “wrong, as usual.” In his last days his health had failed and he passed in and out of consciousness. On the 4th of July, 1826 just a few hours before Adams died — in his home in Monticello, Virginia — surrounded by his daughter and some special slaves, shortly after noon, at the age of 83, Thomas Jefferson died. His last words were, “Is it the 4th?”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

Read more at: http://www.th-jefferson.org/home.html

History of Independence Day

June 29, 2005 /
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HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE DAY

The 4th of July, named after Pope Julius IV… sorry, wrong file.

Independence Day, or the Fourth of July is the adoption by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, of the Declaration of Independence, proclaiming the severance of the allegiance of the American colonies to Great Britain. It is the greatest secular holiday of the United States, observed in all the states, territories and dependencies.

Although it is assumed that the Continental Congress unanimously signed the document on the 4th of July, in fact not all delegates were present and there were no signers at all. Here is what really happened.

The congressional delegate from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, introduced in the Continental Congress, on June 7, 1776, a resolution “that…body declare the United Colonies free and independent States, absolved from allegiance to or dependence on the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain…” On June 10 a committee of five, headed by Thomas Jefferson (the actual writer), was appointed to prepare a declaration suitable to the occasion in the event that the Virginia resolution was adopted. Jefferson’s version was revised by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams before it went to the Congress where they did some editing of their own.

Congress approved the resolution July 2; the declaration composed by Jefferson and amended by his committee was adopted July 4. That evening John Hancock ordered Philadelphia printer John Dunlap to print 200 broadside copies of the agreed upon Declaration that was signed by him as President and Charles Thomson as Secretary. These were distributed to members of the Congress and distributed to the 13 colonies and elsewhere. The Declaration was read in the yard of the state house July 8. New York did not even vote on it until July 9. The signing was even more gradual, and it is somewhat misleading to speak of the “fifty-six original signers of the Declaration of Independence”.

By August 6, most of those whose names are on the document had signed, but at least six signatures were attached later. One signer, Thomas McKean did not attach his name until 1781! Some of those who signed were not even in Congress when the Declaration was adopted, and some who voted for it in Congress never did get around to signing it. Robert R. Livingston was one of the committee of five; he helped to frame it; he voted for it; and he never signed it.

The first anniversary of the declaration was observed only in Philadelphia, Pa., by the adjournment of Congress, a ceremonial dinner, bonfires, the ringing of bells and fireworks. In 1788, after the requisite number of states had adopted the constitution, Philadelphia celebrated July 4 by elaborate festivities, including a grand procession.

Boston, Mass., first observed the day in 1783, and thereafter this celebration replaced that of the Boston Massacre, March 5. The custom spread to other cities and states, where the day was marked by parades, patriotic oratory, military displays and fireworks. In present time, games and athletic contests, picnics, patriotic programs and pageants, and community fireworks of pyrotechnic expertise are characteristic of the 4th of July.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
https://www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

History of Father’s Day

June 16, 2005 /
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HISTORY OF FATHER’S DAY

The celebration of Father’s Day goes back all the way to the beginning, actually to the Garden of Eden when Abel gave his father Adam a razor while his brother Cain gave his father a snake-skin tie. This was the beginning of Cain’s downward slide.

Scholars have debated for ages why Mother’s Day seems to be more honored than Father’s Day. A parallel has been drawn between this phenomenon and that of the difference in popularity between the Irish patron saint and the Italian patron saint. The noted scholar, Father Guido Sarducci, papal legate and gossip columnist for the Vatican has pointed out that for St. Patrick’s Day, we have lots of festivities, lots of green, celebrations and major parades. But for St. Joseph, a very good saint, there is nothing. The only thing he is known for is children’s aspirin. Dr. Les Capable of Stanford University confirmed this research by saying “Ditto”. Professor Illinois Smith, of the Department of Redundancy Department at the University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, California said much the same thing by repeating the same thing over and over again many times in a redundant and repetitive fashion.

The holiday was first canonized by Pope Hallmark in 1582 in the Papal Bull “Quando Ipso Facto Volare FTD Que Sera Sera” which translated means “When you care enough to send the very best”. This was confirmed years later in the United States when one of the founding matriarchs, Ma Bell ordained and established both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in an attempt to help bolster the fledgling nation’s telecommunication coffers. It is well known that Mother’s Day generally posts the highest volume of long-distance telephone calls of any single day of the year. It is not as well known that Father’s Day posts the highest volume of long-distance collect calls.

Everyone has had a father, but not everyone can be a father, especially if you are a woman. But there are few challenges in the world that are more rewarding than being a father. It is a special joy and a great honor.

It is noteworthy, as we celebrate Father’s Day, that the Bible refers to the Almighty as Father.

Happy Father’s Day!

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/holidayhistory

Children’s children are the crown of old men;
and the glory of children are their fathers. –
Proverbs 17:6

Memorial Day: Why We Fight

May 26, 2005 /
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WHY WE FIGHT

The world is different than it was even a few years ago as we celebrate Memorial Day. We now are fighting a war, and we now remember why we fight. The History Channel recently re-ran the HBO series “Band of Brothers,” the adaptation of the Stephen Ambrose book about a company of men from the landing at Normandy through the end of the World War II.

During WWII my father crossed paths a couple of times with the Company E mentioned in “Band of Brothers”. Once at the Battle of the Bulge and later while liberating the death camp Dachau.

My father’s story is told in part on HBO’s website regarding the episode on the liberation of Dachau at: http://www.hbo.com/band/landing/why_we_fight.html.

His full story is told in pictures at https://www.billpetro.com/johnpetro

He rarely volunteered to me information about the War, but when I did asked, he would answer. He left me pictures taken during the liberation of Dachau. Ironically, during a recent visit to Dachau, when I told the workers a this modern memorial, they all asked me the same question: “Do you have pictures?” I still have these pictures of those who survived, who looked like skeletons. I also have pictures of the skeletons of those who did not survive, of the open boxcars with bodies piled high.

Dachau gate: “Work Makes Free”

My father had seen a lot of action during the war and later was in charge of three P.O.W. camps for German prisoners, but nothing prepared him for what he saw at Dachau. He said that he watched his commanders vomit when they saw the camps. Those who were liberated were like the dead, they could not believe that they were finally being freed.

These gruesome images must never be forgotten. It must never be forgotten what barbarism that man is capable of committing toward fellow men. But some may say, “I don’t want to think about it, surely no one believes that these atrocities were justified, that they’d ever be repeated.” But only two decades ago, an organization asked to use University of California conference grounds property for a meeting. This request was later denied when it was learned that the organization requesting the facilities believed that the Holocaust was a hoax, that it did not really occur. There was also a corresponding outcry that this organizations’ free speech rights were being violated.

A person who remembers the past can be grateful for the freedoms that were purchased at great cost by those who went before them. They can memorialize those who fought and died, they can honor those against whom horrors were committed. A person without this sense of history is a severed person, self-referential, cut off from the past.

On this Memorial Day, the words of George Santayana, Harvard philosopher and poet are most apt:

“Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
www.billpetro.com/johnpetro