History Articles

History of Epiphany: Ends the 12 Days of Christmas?

January 5, 2021 /
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Epiphany HISTORY OF EPIPHANY

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.

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

January 2, 2021 /
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Janus Ponte Fabricio

Janus

HISTORY OF NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

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 Years Resolutions

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.)

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

January 1, 2021 /
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TelemachusHistory of Telemachus: the Monk Who Ended the Roman Gladiatorial Games – January 1, A.D. 404

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 today 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 while his father was away fighting the Trojan War.

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

 

Origin

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.”

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History of 2020: It Wasn’t the Beginning of the New Decade?

December 31, 2020 /
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20202020: IT WASN’T THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW DECADE?

With the beginning of the 2020 New Year, you saw articles everywhere that discussed the end of the decade or declared that 2020 was the beginning of the new decade. But 2021 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?

2001Because 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.

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

December 31, 2020 /
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CalendarHISTORY 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

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History of Auld Lang Syne: What Does It Mean?

December 30, 2020 /
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Auld Lang SyneHISTORY OF AULD LANG SYNE: WHAT DOES IT MEAN

Why is it that each New Year’s Eve, we sing “Auld Lang Syne,” 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.

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History of Childermas: Feast of the Holy Innocents

December 28, 2020 /
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Childermas

Childermas

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?

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

December 27, 2020 /
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St. John

St. John

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?
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History of Christmas Fruitcake

December 27, 2020 /
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FruitcakeHistory of Christmas Fruitcake

You may be wondering:

“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…

Today, December 27, is National Fruitcake Day.

 

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 booze. There are many recipes. It was a special food for weddings or Christmas since at least the 18th and 19th centuries. (more…)