History Articles

History of Martin Luther King, Jr.: His life, dream, and legacy

January 13, 2023 /
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Martin Luther King, Jr.


Born on January 15, 1929, we celebrate a holiday in honor of a man who was not a president, an explorer, or a saint. Instead, he was a Baptist minister and an American leader of the 1960s civil rights movement named after the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther after his father was inspired to change their name following 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.

The only other American federal holidays that honored individuals were for Jesus, President Washington, and Christopher Columbus.



History of Friday the 13th

January 13, 2023 /
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Friday The 13th

If you’re reading this article to learn the history of Friday the 13th, you’re in luck.

Or perhaps bad luck.

No one knows, with any certainty, when it began or why it’s to be feared. However, there are lots of entertaining speculative theories about the topic.



What is the Fear of Friday the 13th?

  • Paraskevidekatriaphobia — is the name of the superstition. The word is constructed from the Greek words Paraskeví (Παρασκευή) meaning “Friday”, and dekatreís (δεκατρείς) meaning “thirteen.”
  • Friggatriskaidekaphobia — is the fear of Friday the 13th. The word is made of both Norse and Greek roots: Frigg or Frigga, the name of the wife of the Norse god Odin. Friday gets its name from Frigg. Triskadeka is “thirteen” in Greek (literally: “three” “and” “ten”), and phobia means “fear.”


History of Epiphany and Twelfth Night: Ending the 12 Days of Christmas?

January 5, 2023 /
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Adoration of the Magi


Twelfth Night is on January 5, the eve of Epiphany.

Epiphany occurs in the Christian calendar on January 6, signifying the event of the Magi, or Wise Men, visiting the baby Jesus. It is known in some Latin cultures as the Feast of the Three Kings or Three Kings Day.


Or, as my friend Tim LeCroy likes to say,

Epiphany is the…

Manger Zone


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.


History of New Year’s Resolutions: Where Did They Begin?

January 2, 2023 /
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Janus Ponte Fabricio


As I mentioned previously, 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?


Roman New Year’s Resolutions

The month of January is dedicated to the Roman god who gave it its name, Janus, the two-faced deity who looks backward into the old year and forward into the new. His feast day, the Agonalia is on January 9. 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. This statue (pictured above) is set on the bridge Ponte Fabricio, which crosses the Tiber River from Rome to Tiber Island. It survives today from its original construction in 62 BC during the time of Julius Caesar.

Even today, it is believed that touching the Janus head as you cross the bridge will bring good fortune, which is why it is so well-worn now. (According to ancient Roman farmers’ almanacs, the followers of the goddess Juno have a competing claim to the month of January.)


History of Telemachus: the Monk Who Ended the Roman Gladiatorial Games – January 1, A.D. 404

January 1, 2023 /
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January 1, A.D. 404, marked the last known gladiatorial games in Rome. What part did an obscure Christian monk from the East play in this epic change in Roman entertainment?

This is the story of St. Telemachus, whose festival is celebrated on January 1 and has been remembered throughout the last 1600 years.

You may have never heard of the name. Or you know it as the name of the son of Homer’s Odysseus (Ulysses,) who was tutored and protected by Mentor, his father’s trusted counselor, while his father was away fighting the Trojan War.

Here’s the background of the little-known monk, how he brought an end to the Imperial gladiatorial games, and how the story has been adapted over the centuries until it was used less than 40 years ago by a President at an international event.



The church historian Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria, first told the story in the 5th century in his succinctly titled Ecclesiastical History, a History of the Church in 5 Books from A.D. 322 to the Death of Theodore of Mopsuestia A.D. 427. Theodoret relates how a monk from the eastern part of the Empire named Telemachus came to Rome and saw the gladiatorial games when:

“After gazing upon the combat from the amphitheatre, he descended into the arena, and tried to separate the gladiators. The sanguinary spectators, possessed by the demon who delights in the effusion of blood, were irritated at the interruption of their cruel sports, and stoned him who had occasioned the cessation.”


History of New Year’s Day: Why on January 1?

January 1, 2023 /
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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 comes from the first day of a month in the Roman (Latin) calendar: kalendae.


My Top 5 Articles of 2022

December 31, 2022 /
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My Top 5 Articles of 2022


Top 5 of 2022


These are the Top 5 articles from my blog this year based on the number of reader views at billpetro.com:


1. History of Telemachus


The story of the monk who caused the Roman gladiatorial games to be ended upon his martyrdom on January 1, A.D. 404. It is often told since the 8th and 9th centuries. It’s included in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Alfred Lord Tennyson recounted it during Victorian times, and Ronald Reagan used it at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1984. The Feast of St. Telemachus is celebrated on New Year’s Day.


History of Auld Lang Syne: What Does It Mean?

December 30, 2022 /
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Auld Lang Syne

Why do we sing “Auld Lang Syne” each New Year’s Eve, but do we know what it means?

The song contains words from a language that few are familiar with, in a syntax that is confusing to most, and is from a poem about friends recalling adventures they had long ago but had nothing to do with New Year’s Eve.


What does Auld Lang Syne mean?

Literally, it means Old Long Since, but the syntax is more naturally translated as since long ago or more familiarly for old times’ sake.

The phrase is in the Scots language, which goes back to the 7th century. A great deal of Scots literature was written in the 15th and 16th centuries. When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1603, the Scottish upper classes had adapted and Anglicized their speech and writing, developing Scottish Standard English. But the Scots language experienced a revival among Scottish poets such as Alan Ramsay in the early 18th century and Robert Burns in the later 18th century.


History of New Year’s Eve

December 29, 2022 /
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New Year’s Eve is the last day of the year, according to the Gregorian Calendar, and is known as Old Year’s Day or St. Sylvester’s Day. You may remember reading that Emperor Constantine was considered the first “Christian” Roman Emperor. St. Sylvester is responsible for Constantine’s conversion in the 4th century. 

As I describe here, New Year’s celebrations go back before the Romans to Mesopotamia about 2,000 years B.C. However, those celebrations occurred during the Vernal Equinox in March and moved two millennia later to January. This was done at the recommendation of Sosigenes of Alexandria, an ancient astronomer who convinced Julius Caesar to reform the calendar to be a solar one like that of the Ptolemaic Egyptians, not the previous lunar calendar that Rome had been using since the 7th-century B.C. Caesar did this by introducing the Julian Calendar in 46 B.C.


History of Childermas: Feast of the Holy Innocents

December 28, 2022 /
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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 is also known as Bairn’s Day (Scots term for child) and in Spanish as Día de Los Santos Inocentes.

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 then, a few dozen is more likely.

Did this actually happen? Do we have any evidence from outside the Gospel story?

History of Holiday Fruitcake

December 27, 2022 /
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December 27 is National Fruitcake Day. You may be wondering:

“Why is my friendly neighborhood historian is writing an article on fruitcake? Is he as nutty as a fruitcake?”

And therein begins our tale…



The Phrase “Nutty as a Fruitcake”

Nutty as a fruitcake was first recorded in 1935, but the adjective nutty, meaning “crazy or eccentric,” goes back to 1821. I admit that I have been called eccentric. But more importantly…


What is Fruitcake?

Fruitcake construction

It’s a pastry, bread, or cake made of nuts, dried or candied fruits, spices, grain, and optionally soaked in alcohol. There are many recipes. It was a special food for weddings or Christmas since the 18th and 19th centuries. (more…)

History of the Feast of St. John: Which St John?

December 27, 2022 /
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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. 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; instead, it’s the young disciple of Christ, known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” This John writes about “the Baptizer” in the first chapter of his Gospel. Tradition holds that he is the author of the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John (I, II, and III John), and 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.