History Articles

History of a Sacred Oratorio: Considered Scandalous?

November 27, 2023 /
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Sacred Oratorio

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, pre-1808


The genteel reception accorded the original debut performance stood in marked contrast to the savage hostility that greeted the work less than a year later in the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, London.

The English aristocracy and churchmen began an unrelenting campaign against the work and its creator. They labeled it “a profanation,” scandalized at

“the sacrilege of converting the Life and Passion of Christ into a theatrical entertainment.”

Some clergymen objected so strongly to printing the actual title on the program that the author was obliged to announce his great work as “A Sacred Oratorio.”


History of Christmas Music: More than just Carols

November 26, 2023 /
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You’re listening to Christmas music already, right? We’re past Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Even though the Advent season doesn’t officially start until next Sunday – it’s shorter this year –  let’s kick off the Christmas holiday series with some fun articles starting this week:

Today: Christmas Music
Tomorrow: Sacred Oratorio
Tuesday: Carol of the Bells
Wednesday: First American Christmas
Thursday: Is Die Hard a Christmas Movie?
Friday: Holiday Fruitcake
Saturday: 5 Christmas Myths


Music early became a marked feature of the Christmas season. But the first chants, litanies, and hymns were in Latin and deemed too theological for widespread use. Under Francis of Assisi‘s influence in the 13th century, we saw the rise of the carol written in the vernacular. The word carol comes from the Greek word choraulein. A choraulein was an ancient circle dance performed to flute music.

In the Middle Ages, the English combined circle dances with singing and called them carols. Later, the word carol came to mean a song in which a religious topic is treated in a familiar or festive style. From Italy, it passed to France and Germany and later to England, keeping its simplicity, enthusiasm, and joyfulness. Music has become one of the greatest tributes to Christmas and includes some of the noblest compositions of great musicians. (more…)

History of Black Friday: One Day Only?

November 24, 2023 /
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While it is difficult to connect this term to the start of the Christmas shopping sales season before its use in the mid-1960s in Philadelphia, the concept appears to go back to the 19th century when Christmas sales followed Thanksgiving Day parades. In 1939, President Franklin D Roosevelt set the date of Thanksgiving to the next-to-last Thursday in November rather than the last Thursday of the month, allowing an extra week of shopping before Christmas.


Black Friday History

On December 26, 1941, Congress officially made Thanksgiving the 4th Thursday in November. Though procrastinators usually make the shopping days immediately before Christmas the most profitable, Black Friday is undoubtedly one of the busiest shopping days of the year, if not the busiest.

Below are some helpful definitions for specific holiday terms used during this time of year:


History of Thanksgiving Indian: Why Squanto already knew English

November 23, 2023 /
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massasoit statue

Massasiut Statue, Plymouth, MA


We’ve all heard how the Pilgrims, landing in Massachusetts four hundred years ago on the Mayflower in 1620, were ill-equipped to survive the harsh winters of the New World. We’ve also heard how they met a Native American Indian of the Patuxet tribe, Squanto, who befriended them. He taught them how to survive in their new wilderness home, how to plant and fertilize their crops and fish, and acted as an interpreter with the Wampanoag tribe and its chief, Massasoit (pictured above from Plymouth, MA).

The fact that he already knew English before the Pilgrims landed is what is remarkable.


Squanto at Thanksgiving

The man Tisquantum, better known as Squanto, probably was present at the first Thanksgiving celebration held by the Pilgrims. He was certainly there by 1621 — after the winter when the Pilgrims lost half of their population to starvation and diseases — when another Indian, Samoset, introduced Squanto to the Pilgrim settlers and became a member of their colony. Because Squanto could speak English well, Governor William Bradford asked him to serve as his ambassador to the Indian tribes.

Over a decade before the Pilgrims landed, Squanto was captured from Massachusetts and taken, along with other Indians, by an English ship captain and sold into slavery in Málaga, Spain. (more…)

History of Thanksgiving: the Secular and the Sacred

November 22, 2023 /
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Mayflower II, Plimoth Plantation, MA


The origin of Thanksgiving Day in America has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America the year after their arrival on the merchant ship Mayflower.

Edward WinslowHowever, the picture you usually see featuring a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is slightly inaccurate. From original settler Edward Winslow in a first-person letter to a friend back in England in 1621, we learn that the Wampanoag chief Ousamequin, better known as Massasoit, was accompanied by some 90 of his men to visit Plymouth for three days of fish, fowl, and venison. His lengthy letter is now known as “Mourt’s Relation.”


History of John F Kennedy: 60 Years Ago

November 22, 2023 /
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john f. kennedy, white house color photo portrait


For one brief shining moment…

On November 22, 1963, a shot rang out in Dallas, Texas, ending the life of John F. Kennedy, the most popular post-WWII President.

He was the youngest American President voted to the office, having succeeded Dwight D Eisenhower, the oldest President at the time. Kennedy was attractive, winsome, and exuded youth and vitality despite his health problems. Kennedy was supremely confident. The celebrities he courted in the public eye were American royalty.


When We Start Celebrating Holidays: Can we listen to Christmas music now?

November 21, 2023 /
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Here’s an article I wrote nine years ago. Is the trend accelerating?


On November 1st, a friend asked, partly in jest:

“Halloween is over, can we listen to Christmas music now?”


And therein lies a conundrum. When do we begin the celebration of the Christmas holiday?

There are two schools of thought:

  1. Celebrate each holiday in its own season: first Halloween, then Thanksgiving, only then Christmas
  2. Stretch out the Christmas celebration earlier


Six Blades – When Five Just Aren’t Enough

November 20, 2023 /
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img 2498


Today, while I was at the pharmacy waiting for a script to be filled, I thought I’d wander down the Shave Needs aisle and see the latest.


Five Blades

Years ago, scientists realized that a single blade was not enough for a clean shave and added a second, and then a third, fourth, and fifth. And for years, we’ve been stuck there with little scientific innovation since.


History of the Gettysburg Address

November 18, 2023 /
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Abraham Lincoln, on November 19, 1863, during the American Civil War, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetary, began his address in Gettysburg:


Four score and seven years ago
our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation,
conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that
all men are created equal.

With only nine more sentences, he dedicated a new national cemetery, summed up the battle that had taken place there some four months earlier, cast a vision for the future of the Union, and harkened back to the Declaration of Independence four score and seven years previously when Thomas Jefferson wrote that

“all men are created equal.”


Veterans Day: How it Differs from Memorial Day

November 11, 2023 /
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John Petro

SSgt John Petro


As we celebrate Veterans Day, we express gratitude for those who have served in the Armed Services. Its roots go back to World War I and Remembrance Day or Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice following the War on 11:11:11, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. I write about its origin in WWI in more detail here.


Contrast between Veterans Day and Memorial Day

It differs from Memorial Day, whose history goes back to the American Civil War, and the original observance of Decoration Day, wherein people honored those who died in service to their country. You can read about it here.


History of Veterans Day

November 10, 2023 /
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A professor once commented,

“We write things down so we can forget them.”

Now, of course, this is true in the sense of writing down appointments so we don’t have to worry about missing meetings. But that’s just it; we do forget things. As individuals, we forget things that are important to us. Companies seem to possess little in the way of corporate memory to do things better the next time. Countries forget the things that have occurred in their past, things that make them unique.

In many parts of the world — Europe in particular and several of the former British Commonwealth countries specifically — there are memorials in the town square commemorating their war heroes, usually with the words “Lest we forget.”


History of St Martin’s Day: That Significant Saint

November 10, 2023 /
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saint martin

St. Martin, oil on wood (1512) from the Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France. Image: Wikimedia


While St. Martin’s Day is not widely celebrated in the U.S., except in the more liturgical churches, St. Martin is more famous and influential than you’d think.


What is St. Martin’s Day?

November 11 celebrates Saint Martin’s Day, also known as Martinmas.

Irish tradition tells us it was called Old Halloween, or celebrated on November 10, Old Hallowmas Eve.

It was a significant festival in many parts of Europe, especially in German and Dutch-speaking areas. It marked the end of the harvest season and the start of winter and its “reveling season.”

It is named in honor of Martin of Tours, the third bishop of Tours, France. He was born in the early 4th century and died around the 8th of November, 397, hence the feast day near his death.