Halloween: the Irish Myths of Samhain

All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve has a Rich History from the Emerald Isle

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Irish Samhain became Halloween
Irish Samhain became Halloween
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We tend to think of Halloween as a holiday of its own accord. But that is simply not true. Just as Christmas traditions and celebrations have connections to the winter solstice and Easter has merged with pagan spring celebrations and has connections to the Jewish Passover, Halloween is based on the Irish myths of Samhain. It is called Oíche Shamhna in Irish Gaelic. Yes, there’s much more to it than candy and Jack-o’-Lanterns!

What is Samhain?

As the the Celts understood it, the year was divided into two parts. The “lighter” part was in the summer and the darker part was in the winter. Samhain, or Halloween as it is now called, was the separation between these parts. They believed that the veil betwixt our world and the otherworld was at its thinnest just then. Oíche Shamhna (October 31) is Halloween and Lá na Marbh (November 1) is the Day of the Dead, or All Saints Day when those who have passed away are remembered. Let us not forget St. Patrick.

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Irish Myths of Samhain

  • Fionn MacCool. According to one of the several tales told in the “Tales of the Elders,” each year at Samhain for twenty-three years the fire-breathing creature Aillen would lull the men of Tara to slumber and then burn the court to the ground during the night. The young hero Fionn MacCumhail avoided sleep. He stuck the sharp end of his spear into his forehead (ouch!) and killed Aillen with that spear. Because of this act, he was made the head of the Fianna.
  • Queen Maeve. As written in In the ancient Irish epic poem “Tain Bo Cualigne,” the legendary Queen Maeve of Connacht waits until Samhain to begin the Cattle Raid of Cooley. In the course of her raid, which drives the plot of the epic, she tries to catch a prize bull of Ulster in order to equal the possessions of her husband Aillel. The hero Cu Chulainn single-handedly protects Ulster until the Ulster men’s birth pangs finish and they can do battle.
  • Lugh. Arguably best known as Cu Chulainn’s father, the god of light arrives the court at Tara to join the Tuatha de Dannan at Samhain. According to Whitney Stokes’ 1891 volume “The Second Battle of Moytura,” as soon as Lugh enters the court, the Tuatha de Danann are oppressed by the Fomorians. After the high king gives him command over the Tuatha de Danna, Lugh begins preparations to overthrow them. After days of battle, Lugh and the Tuatha de Danna are victorious.
  • Nera. The hero that calls Cruachan home undergoes a bravery test ordered by King Ailill. For the king’s own gold-hilted sword, a man must leave Ailill’s hall and go to the gallows where a man had been hung and then tie a twig around the dead man’s ankle. Others had attempted this and given up when spirits harried them. But on Samhain night, Nera finishes the task and the man comes alive and asks for a cup of water. When Nera fetches him the water, he sees the royal buildings burned to the ground and a woman from the fairy mounds informs him it is a vision that will happen if the people of the court are not warned. In one version of the myth cited in Patricia Monaghan’s “Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore,” he is captured by the fairies and held in a fairy mound until next Samhain.
  • Emer. John T. Koch notes in “The Celts: History, Life, and Culture,” in the myth “The Wooing of Emer” Samhain is discussed a couple of times. The tale describes the courtship of the beautiful Emer, who is transformed into a variety of creatures before reuniting with her husband. Samhain is the first of the four “quarter days” mentioned by the titled heroine. Also in this story, Oengus claims the kingship of Bru na Boinne, what is today Newgrange, on Samhain.

So, these Irish myths of Samhain played a large part in the formation of what we know today as Halloween. The celebration and traditions may have changed quite a bit, but it just goes to show the malleability of history and tradition. It’s a small world after all. Please participate in the poll located on the right-hand sidebar of this page.

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Columbus Day: History and Controversy

Christopher Columbus ― Bad Actor or Brave Explorer?

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Christopher Columbus discovers land
Christopher Columbus discovers land
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Columbus Day falls on October 12. It is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492. As early as the 18th century it was celebrated in many cities and states and it was designated a federal holiday in 1937. The day honors Columbus’ achievements and celebrates Italian-American heritage. But throughout its history, Columbus Day and the man who inspired it have generated controversy, and many alternatives to the holiday have been proposed since the 1970s including Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

That suggestion is simply feel good absurdity. People that advocate it often cite alleged abuses committed by Columbus. But consider if you will ― Native Americans began selling war captives to Europeans rather than integrating them into their own societies as some had done before.

According to Intillectualtakeout.com. “Five Civilized Tribes of the southeast — Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole — also participated in the institution of slavery. In 1860…Cherokee Nation citizens owned 2,511 slaves (15 percent of their total population), Choctaw citizens owned 2,349 slaves (14 percent of their total population), and Creek citizens owned 1,532 slaves (10 percent of their total population). Chickasaw citizens owned 975 slaves, which amounted to 18 percent of their total population, a proportion equivalent to that of white slave owners in Tennessee, a former neighbour of the Chickasaw Nation and a large slaveholding state.1

Take the Mayans as another example. Laatimes.com says, “Victims had their hearts cut out or were decapitated, shot full of arrows, clawed, sliced, stoned, crushed, skinned, buried alive or tossed from the tops of temples. Children were said to be frequent victims, in part because they were considered pure and unspoiled.2″

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Who Was Christopher Columbus?

Columbus was an Italian-born explorer who set sail in August of 1492, bound for Asia with financial backing from the Spanish monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, He had 3 ships — the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. The plan was to chart a western sea route to China, India, and the fabled gold and spice islands of Asia. But alas, things went sideways. On October 12, 1492, he arrived at the Bahamas. He was the first European adventurer to explore the Americas since the Vikings occupied colonies in both Greenland and Newfoundland back in the 10th century.

Columbus was confused quite a bit but it was understandable; Europeans didn’t know the Pacific Ocean existed. He sighted Cuba and thought it was mainland China; come December the expedition encountered Hispaniola, which he thought was Japan. It is actually the second largest island of the West Indies, lying within the Greater Antilles, in the Caribbean Sea. There, he established Spain’s first colony in the Americas with 39 of his men.

The Columbus Controversy

In 1792, New York’s Columbian Order (Tammany Hall) staged an event that commemorated the historic landing’s 300th anniversary. They took pride in Columbus’ birthplace and faith. Italian and Catholic communities in many parts of the country began organizing annual religious ceremonies and parades in his honor.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday. In 1937, in 1937, largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal organization.

Things have changed. Many groups, seeing themselves as social warriors have taken to demonizing not just Civil War heroes but Columbus. BLM and Antifa come to mind. They see Columbus as a colonizer.

Anti-immigrant groups in the United States have also rejected the holiday because it is associated with Catholicism. These are the same people that took God and the Pledge of Allegiance out of school.

Alternate Holidays

South Dakota, Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon and have officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, as have cities like Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles. Ironically, the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” of the southeast the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole also participated in the institution of slavery, as mentioned above. You don’t see Black Lives Matter having an issue with that inconvenient fact.

In many Latin American countries, the anniversary of Columbus’ landing is observed as the Dìa de la Raza (“Day of the Race”). This is to celebrate the Hispanic culture’s diverse roots. Venezuela renamed the holiday Dìa de la Resistencia Indìgena (“Day of Indigenous Resistance”) in 2002, to recognize native peoples and their experience and to promote socialism.

Do you plan to celebrate Columbus Day? I know I will. Please participate in the poll on the right-hand side of this page for a study I’m doing. Thanks!

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References

  1. Peter Partoll, intellectualtakeout.org, The Native Americans Who Owned Slaves, https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/native-americans-who-owned-slaves/
  2. Mark Stevenson, Los Angeles Times, Brutality of Aztecs, Mayas Corroborated, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2005-jan-23-adfg-sacrifice23-story.html

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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Abe Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: Interesting Facts

by Kelly R. Smith

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Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation
Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation

Today (September 22) is the anniversary of the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The intent was to grant the freedom of more than 3 million slaves in the United States. Of course, we all learned this in school, along with other historical facts, such as the accomplishments of Theodore Roosevelt. But, there is more to the picture.

5 Interesting Facts about the Emancipation Proclamation

  • It Didn’t Actually Free All the Slaves. As a matter of fact, the proclamation didn’t even give freedom to a majority of slaves. The document is popularly seen now as an inclusive reform, but in actuality it said that the slaves living in states that were still rebelling as of January 1, 1863, would become free. However, not the slaves residing in states that decided to stop rebelling, or slaves residing in states that had never actively rebelled, or in those in Union territories. It only included those in approximately 10 states that still had an opportunity to cease fighting. However, the Proclamation was a key step towards beginning the emancipation process for all slaves. Baby steps as they say. As time marched on, so did the civil rights movement.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation was Issued Twice. President Lincoln issued the first Emancipation Proclamation on September 22nd of 1862. It specified that if the states in the south didn’t deist from rebelling by January 1st of 1863, then the Proclamation would go into effect. But the Confederacy did not yield. Therefore, Honest Abe issued the final version of the Proclamation on January 1st of 1863.
  • The Proclamation Wasn’t Technically a Law. You didn’t see that coming, did you? It was actually an order, not a law, and “technically” didn’t stop slavery. States that were Union-friendly got to keep slaves according to the details of the Proclamation (recall that it focused on rebel states). But Lincoln pushed for the proclamation and the end of slavery to be made law. The result was the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. This passed in 1865 and ended slavery in all the states. Steady progress; as the Irish say, “The road to Heaven is well signposted, but it’s badly lit at night,” meaning that life has many challenges in store for us but the reward is well worth it.
  • It Allowed Blacks to Join the Union Armed Forces. A detail in the Emancipation Proclamation that never get a lot of attention in history class is that it opened the door to allowing Blacks join the military. Blacks had already started fighting in a variety of ways. Many were in the Confederate forces in the role of slaves. In 1861, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act. This act gave freedom to all the slaves in the Confederate military, whether as soldiers or workers. Next, during 1862, all-Black regiments loyal to the Union were formed. By the time the war was over, more than 200,000 Blacks would serve in the Union Army and Navy.


President Abraham Lincoln considered the Emancipation Proclamation the most important and transformative part of his legacy. He said, “I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper. If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Rosh Hashanah; the Jewish New Year

by Kelly R. Smith

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Rosh Hashanah; the Shofar (ram's horn) and the Star of David
Rosh Hashanah; the Shofar (ram’s horn) and the Star of David

Rosh Hashanah is the autumnal festival celebrating the start of the Jewish New Year. The term literally means “head of the year.” It takes place on the first and second days of Tishri, the seventh month, the Gregorian equivalent of September-October. So, in 2020 it starts on September 18. The only notable similarity it has to the Western, secular holiday is the opportunity to make a New Years resolution.

The two days are a time for introspection; that aspect doesn’t end at the conclusion of Rosh HaShanah but lasts for ten days which are known commonly as the Days of Awe, until Yom Kippur.

Traditions for Rosh Hashanah

You won’t find the term “Rosh Hashanah” in the Bible or the Torah to discuss this holiday. The Bible refers to the holiday as Yom HaZikkaron (the day of remembrance) or Yom T’ruah (the day of the sounding of the shofar). The holiday is instituted in Leviticus 23:24-25. One important observance of this holiday is hearing the sounding of the shofar (ram’s horn) in the synagogue. A total of 100 notes are sounded each day.

Notably, the shofar isn’t sounded when the holiday falls on the Sabbath. There is no work allowed on Rosh Hashanah. What is allowed, thankfully, is the eating of apples that are dipped in honey Symbolically, this is a wish for a sweet new year. Bread is also dipped in honey.

Another tasty tradition is to eat round challah bread. This symbolizes the eternal circle of the life as well as the cycle of a new year. The challah is formed in the shape of a crown because God is referred to as royalty several times during these times.

Another practice is called Tashlikh (“casting off”). It’s done by going to a source of flowing water, like a river or a creek, on the first day’s afternoon and divulging the contents of our pockets into the river. This symbolizes casting off our sins. Although this tradition is not discussed in the Bible, it’s an age-old custom.

What about greeting each other? The accepted greeting at during this holiday is L’shanah tovah (“for a good year”). This is a shortened version of “L’shanah tovah tikatev v’taihatem” (or when addressing females, “L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi”). This literally means “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.”

In Judaism 101, Marcia Pravder Mirkin, when explaining The Days of Awe, says, “Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.”

Now that you are familiar with Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year, you might be interested in these topics:

References



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

How to Celebrate Labor Day During the Pandemic

by Kelly R. Smith

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A patriotic Labor Day parade
A patriotic Labor Day parade

We have a long and interesting history of Labor Day. Although it began similar in nature, and partly inspired by the Socialist May Day celebration, in America we have moved away from the political aspect. Now it’s a time to enjoy the end of summer, attend parades, and socialize with family and friends.

But this year will be a bit different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year it’s all about wearing masks (not the fun kind) and social distancing. As if “quarantine fatigue” wasn’t already enough of a problem. So let’s look at some guidelines and activities.

Considerations for Labor Day Gatherings

  • Masks: All guests should be wearing them while they’re not eating or drinking. When they do take off masks, they should move an appropriate distance away from others to social distance. Sorry to rain on your parade. That your city may have canceled anyway. It’s ironic; politicians support Antifa riots, I mean peaceful demonstrations, but celebration gatherings and church are prohibited.
  • Food and drink: Avoid shared items, like putting your hands into a shared cooler full of soda and beer or bowls of chips and dip. Have everyone use their personal disposable gloves on serving tools such as shared tongs to plate something like a hot dog.
  • Location: Will there be plenty of space for people to socially-distance? Is the area well-ventilated? Outdoor gatherings are optimal because of the open air and the ability to spread out. Also, there has been some speculation that UV rays kill the virus. In fact, if it’s true, It’s a good idea to have a cell phone UV sanitizer at home.
  • Personal hygiene: Do you have somewhere where attendees can wash their hands? Hand washing using soap and warm water is always more effective than using hand sanitizer. Be sure to clean your hands before and after eating, and before and after you touch any high-traffic surfaces.

Labor Day Activities

In addition to the kind of party described above, you can avoid the traditional and get creative.

  • A Netflix or Amazon Prime binge-watching party. These tend to be smaller gatherings so they reduce the probability of catching the COVID-19 virus.
  • Have a backyard bonfire. If you plan to do your celebrating in the evening (and maybe viewing some fireworks in the distance if you’re lucky), this is a great idea. Hot dogs and marshmallows, anyone? A firepit is also an option.
  • Spend the day on the water. In your boat, the crowd will be small. One family per boat in a multi-boat gathering really mandates social-distancing. How about a group of kayaks?
  • Attend a drive-in movie theater. The tables have really turned lately. Regular theaters are hurting but drive-ins are experiencing a revival.

These ideas of how to celebrate labor day during the pandemic should provide you with some precautions and some options. We may not like the new normal but we have to make the best of it.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Who Was Ireland’s St. Patrick?

Why Was His Irish Holiday Invented in America?

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

St. Patrick's Day Parade goers in traditional regalia
St. Patrick’s Day Parade goers in traditional regalia
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St. Patrick’s day is one of two “foreign” beer holidays (not counting New Year’s Eve) that were actually invented here in the United States, not imported. The other, of course, is Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War. Other holidays, such as Christmas, originate elsewhere but we excel at making our own.

Why, other than the green beer, is St. Patrick’s Day so popular? The last Census showed that 34.1 million Americans have Irish ancestry. That’s seven times the population of Ireland. Chances are that you’ve got a wee bit o’ the Celt in you. The coronavirus is not going to stop you from celebrating or quoting witty Irish proverbs, right?

Who was the Real St. Patrick?

Patrick was born not in Ireland, but in Britain into a Romanized family. At 16 years of age he was abducted by Irish raiders from his father’s villa. His abductor was Calpurnius who was a deacon and a minor local official. Patrick was carried off into slavery in Ireland. There he spent six bleak years there working as a herdsman, during which time he turned with fervor to his Christian faith. When he dreamt that the ship in which he was to escape was ready, he escaped from his master and found passage to England. There he approached starvation and endured another brief captivity before being reunited with his family. It is thought that after that he may have paid a short visit to the Continent.

The best known passage in the Confessio speaks of a dream, following his return to England, in which one Victoricus offered him a letter titled “The Voice of the Irish.” As he read it, he heard a company of Irish folk asking him to walk once more among them. “Deeply moved,” he says, “I could read no more.” Nevertheless, because of the brevity of his education, he was reluctant for a long time to answer the call. Even on the eve of re-embarkation to Ireland he was overwhelmed by doubts of his fitness for the task. Once there however, his hesitations vanished. Completely confident in the Lord, he wandered far and wide, baptizing and confirming with true zeal. In diplomatic fashion he brought gifts to a minor king here and a lawgiver there but accepted none from any.

Legends of St. Patrick

  • St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. In truth, Ireland never had snakes because they couldn’t get there for one reason or another. Other islands that don’t have snakes include New Zealand, Hawaii, Greenland, Iceland, and Antarctica. Scholars of Celtic history believe the snake story is an allegory for St. Patrick’s eradication of pagan ideology.
  • Patrick raised people from the dead. A 12th-century hagiography places this number at 33 men, some of whom are said to have been deceased for many years.
  • He enshrined the shamrock, which he used to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the Irish. The shamrock represents three persons in one God, to an unbeliever by showing him the three-leaved plant with one stalk. Traditionally, Irishmen have worn shamrocks, the national flower of Ireland, in their lapels on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • He created the Celtic Cross which super-imposed a circle, representing the sun, onto the traditional crucifix in order to convert the Irish. There are many other competing theories as to the origin but this is as good as any.
A Celtic Cross
A Celtic Cross

St. Patrick’s Day is American?

Yes. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade happened not in Ireland but in the good old United States, that veritable melting pot. On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers who were serving in the English military marched through New York City. Along with their music, the parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots, as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

The tradition has continued into the 21st century, and New York City’s parade is now the oldest and the largest parade in the county. The first celebratory parade held in Ireland was in 1931.

Today in New York City the parade numbers over 150,000 participants. Ever year, nearly 3 million people line up on the 1.5-mile parade route to view the procession, which takes more than five hours. Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Savannah join them in celebrating the Celtic day with parades involving between 10,000 and 20,000 participants each.


The Pubs in Ireland Used to Be Closed On St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick’s Day is famous for the wearing of the green and drinking beer or stout, depending on where celebrants live. However, St. Patrick’s Day was strictly religious in Ireland during a large part of the 20th century, and pubs there were actually closed on March 17. It became a national holiday in Ireland in 1970, and the pubs opened to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by hoisting a glass in honor of the patron saint of Ireland.

According to a US Census, there are more Irish people in America than there are in Ireland. As of 2021, there are 32 million people in the United States that claim full or partial ancestry from Ireland.  This is a huge number compared to the 4.9 million who lived are currently living in Ireland today.


So who isn’t ready to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day even if it’s an American holiday? Chances are that a bit of you hails from Dublin, Galway, or County Clare. I’ll take any excuse to eat more potatoes.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Top New Year’s Resolutions; Path to Success

by Kelly R. Smith

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This article was updated on 12/28/20.

As the old year fades into the sunset and the new one is ushered in, people all over the world will be indulging, not only in partying but in vowing to self-help. Here is a list of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2021.

Running for fitness and health
Running for fitness and health
  • Getting in better physical shape. This is one we should all be doing and there is always room for improvement. Choose something you enjoy — running, walking, cycling, swimming, yoga; the list is endless. Physical fitness can be as frugal or expensive as you want. My favorites are running and walking (with the dog). I only shell out about $200/year in running and/or walking shoes. The walking shoes I currently have on order the Rockport Men’s Activflex Sport Perf Mudguard Walking Shoe model. That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Can’t wait to try them though. When you put in as many miles as the pooch and I do, you have to baby your feet.
  • Stop procrastinating. The largest obstacle keeping most people from closing in on their goals is the natural desire to relax and indulge in some frivolity rather than working hard. As soon as you get used to procrastinating it’s hard to avoid, so be prepared to put in a lot of work to change this normal tendency.
Low-carb spaghetti carbonera
Low-carb spaghetti carbonera

Eat healthier. We could all do a bit of cleaning up our eating habits. The good news is that access to better food choices is better than ever. Try making something new like my low-carb carbonara pictured above. Eating out is fun but spending time in the kitchen will save you money (so you can pay for that workout gear) and allow you to control the ingredients. Go with whole wheat bread rather than fluffy white. James Hamblin of The Atlantic says, “As many eaters of bread came to understand that white bread is a nutritional equivalent of Pixy Stix—the nutritious, fibrous shell of the wheat having been removed, leaving us with only the inner starch, which our bodies almost instantly turn into sugar—it needed some rebranding.” Eat more fruit. Incorporate nuts into your daily eating regimen. Try a new diet. Experiment with new ways of preparing unprocessed food. For example, I’ve recently been making chicken and beef jerky as well as low, low cost dog treats in my food dehydrator.

Expand your confidence and take some chances. Most people don’t exercise their confidence enough and this limits their potential. This is true in the workplace and out of it. In fact, in most cases workers that display confidence are the ones that get ahead. This is true of taking chances as well. If you don’t try, you’ll never know. The best time to start the new you is the beginning of next year when New Year’s Eve is in the rear view mirror. Try making a list of things you’ve always wanted to do and go for it; kind of like a bucket list.

Bring in more money. It’s never enough, is it? While it is important to strike a work/play balance in life, there’s a lot to be said for having a cash cushion. It is never too soon to plan (and save) for retirement. Take up a new side hustle while keeping your day job. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And while we are on the topic of bringing home more bacon, consider improving your credit score.

Stop smoking. This one is a classic. Unfortunately, it is one of the hardest to achieve. I should know; I quit about 35 years ago. While we are on the topic, the jury is still out on vaping. Whichever habit is in question, it’s too much money for too little return. Besides, it really looks dumb. What, are you a whale coming up to the surface to vent your blow hole?

Indulge in more quality sleep. Most people don’t get enough. The recommended amount is 7-8 hours. Do you get that much? According to livescience.com, “About 65 percent of Americans get a “healthy” amount of sleep, or at least 7 hours a night, while 35 percent get less than 7 hours of sleep per night.” My Garmin 235 watch syncs with the computer and one of the things it does is generate a graph of my sleeping time and pattern. It’s very eye-opening.

A money house
A money house

Read more books. Everything competes for our attention today — the internet, TV, radio, the cell phone. Books may seem old school but they educate, entertain, and improve the function of our brains more than anything electronic. And if you use your local library, it’s a (gasp!) free activity! One of my best reads this past year was Dennis Prager’s Rational Bible: Exodus. That said, electronic still has its place, and it can be portable. I favor the Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet because it comes with the Kindle app built in. Here’s a list of my book reviews.

Get out of debt. We’ve already touched on the topic of making more money. If you are in debt (and who isn’t) it is just as important to change that. Look into consolidating your loans. Move credit card balances to a lower interest card. Ditch your bank and join a credit union; you will get favorable interest rates on savings and loans. All these small changes add up.

Learn a new language. This is good for your brain health and communication skills. For example, I am fluent in Spanish. Living in Texas, that’s a good thing. Learn a language that you can use locally. Use it or lose it, as they say.

Maggie the Border Collie
Maggie the Border Collie

Adopt a pet. We’ve got 4 adopted dogs. Science tells us that pets are good for us so we must really be doing great! Of course having a pet involves responsibility so be ready for that.

Take up a new hobby. As an example, my favorite is woodworking. Some people even parlay this into a side gig.

Hopefully this list of top New Year’s resolutions will get you off to a great start. Share it with your friends and social media! Enjoy a bit of frivolity as the old year drifts away.


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Habits that Sabotage Your New Year’s Weight Loss Resolution

If Your Diet Plan has Stalled and You’re Still Overweight, Here’s Why

by Kelly R. Smith

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Metabolism and weight loss
Metabolism and weight loss

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This article was updated on 01/01/21.

It is no secret that your metabolism and the state of your weight are closely intertwined. Your metabolism, paradoxically the opposite of your perception of the passage of time, naturally slows as you age; the Public Health Nutrition Journal confirms this. If one of your New Year’s resolutions is weight loss, you should be aware that some bad habits may be preventing you from reaching your goal. Consider the following unhealthy habits.

Avoid these Habits to Boost Metabolism and Energy

  • Skipping Your Breakfast Meal. Your metabolism slows as you sleep but eating will fire it back up and allow you to burn more calories throughout the day. If you miss breakfast your body gets the message that it should conserve rather than burn any incoming calories. Of course, if you are practicing intermittent fasting for weight loss, you might have to modify this tip.
  • Consuming the Wrong Breakfast Food. A sugary doughnut or muffin will set you up for that dreaded sugar crash later. A better strategy is to choose food with filling protein and fiber. Try eggs, ham and onion quiche, yogurt, and berries, or whole-wheat toast topped with peanut butter.
  • Too Much Sitting. Butt-time is not your weight loss friend. If you go from your office chair straight to your car and then to your couch you are developing a very comfortable albeit very sedentary routine. Why? Sitting for long time periods locks your body into the energy-conservation mode, resulting in your metabolism slowing down. It’s best to get up periodically and get the blood flowing. If you tend to get absorbed in your task, you might need a reminder. For example, my Garmin GPS sports watch reminds me when I need to move. The UK’s National Health Service says, “Sitting for long periods is thought to slow metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat.”
  • Avoiding Strength Training. Cardio such as running is great, and it can quickly burn many calories, but once you’re done running or cycling, your calorie burn begins to decelerate. When you do HIIT and resistance-based workouts, however, your calorie burn stays elevated for longer as your muscles repair themselves. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says, “Strength training is a key component of metabolism because it is directly linked to muscle mass. The more active muscle tissue you have, the higher your metabolic rate.” As a bonus, a pound of muscle burns an additional 4–6 calories each day compared to a pound of fat. Keep in mind that this is where your bathroom scale can mislead you. Putting on muscle mass can make it look like your weight isn’t changing much but you are in fact losing fat. Trust how your clothes fit more than the numbers. If you really want to know what is going on, invest in a digital scale that measures your body fat percentage.
  • Shorting Yourself on Protein. Protein literally is food for your muscles. It also promotes the feeling of being full and it is an important component of attaining and maintaining a healthy weight. If you consume too little of it you may have trouble building or maintaining muscle mass. In addition, protein needs more energy to break down than carbs or fat, so you’ll actually burn more calories during digestion. Win-win.
  • Shorting Yourself on Sleep. Just one single bad night’s sleep is enough to leave you feeling lethargic (almost as much as some high blood pressure medication) and impair your thinking process. Compounding several nights in a row or a lifetime of chronic insomnia can be a disaster; the International Journal of Endocrinology tells us that decreased metabolism and hormonal imbalances can result.
  • Being Dehydrated. In yet another study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers determined that consuming 500 milliliters of water (about 2 cups) boosts your metabolic rate by an impressive 30%, and that boost lasts for more than an hour. The takeaway is to drink water throughout the day to stay hydrated, and you’ll get the added benefit of a boosted metabolism.
  • Being Stressed Out. When your stress levels rise, your body produces a hormone called cortisol which triggers increased appetite, leaves you craving comfort foods, reduces your desire to work out, and lowers sleep quality. All four of these things negatively impact your metabolic rate. Since it is unrealistic to think that you can always control your stress levels, using methods to manage stress can go a long way toward regulating your body’s internal fire.

Hopefully this information has helped you to address the habits that can sabotage your weight-loss resolution. If so, share the knowledge and pass the link on to your friends. Getting back in shape is always easier with your support group.


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Strange and Weird Christmas Traditions from Around the World

Does Your Family Have any Strange Holiday Quirks?

by Kelly R. Smith

A Christmas Tree Shootout!
A Christmas Tree Shootout!
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This article was updated on 12/24/20.

Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the world. And it’s not just Christians that take advantage of this final festive occasion before the big blow-out that is New Years Eve which signals the end of one year and the ushering in of another; many members of other religions do indulge in Christmas.

The thing is, some of the traditions seem downright strange to Americans. But that’s OK; each to his (or her) own. That’s what makes the world go ’round. Let’s have a look at some of them, in no particular order.

Japan

Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets
Kentucky Fried Chicken Buckets

While we consider turkey, ham, or something similar to be traditional fare, not so in Japan. Many Japanese folks prefer to make their Christmas dinner Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s advisable to get it on a take-out basis; its popularity is such that reservations may have to be made to eat at a KFC restaurant on Christmas in Japan. I wonder how this got started?

Catalonia

Catalonia Poop Log
Catalonia Poop Log

The Catalonia Poop Log, or Caga Tió, strikes me as odd although festive in a naughty sort of way. It works like this: each and every night starting on December 8th, Caga Tió is “fed” and then covered with a blanket to protect him from catching a cold. On either Christmas Eve or Christmas day he is placed in the fireplace, beaten with a stick, and ordered to poop. He is encouraged, along with the beating, by singing songs. He proceeds to poop candies, nuts and and other treats. One last push yields an onion, a head of garlic, or a salt herring. I’ll pass on the candy, thank you very much.

Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia
Caganer, the pooping Christmas figurine from Catalonia

Also from Catalonia, we proudly bring you caganer, or defecating figure, set out every year in the nativity scene along with the holy family and the three wise men. In the 18th century, 18th century, the caganer was traditionally represented as a peasant with his trousers down, bare bottom hanging out, complete with a pile of feces underneath. The exact meaning behind this figure is subject to debate, but it’s thought to symbolize fertility. Nowadays caganers can lampoon authority figures and celebrities. You have to ask, what is it with Catalonians and bowel movements?

Italy

 Befana from Spain
Befana from Spain

In some areas of Spain, forget Santa Claus or Sinterklaas; Befana takes center stage. She is reputed to visit homes during the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and leaves candy and presents in stockings for the good boys and girls. However, the bad children get coal, dark candy, or sticks. Even though she has the appearance of an old hag, in reality she is a kind soul and sweeps homes using a broom before she leaves. This is meant to brush away the problems of the previous year.

Ireland

Guinness Stout from Ireland
Guinness Stout from Ireland

Here in the USA we treat Santa to a glass of milk to slake his thirst and a plate of cookies to fuel him in his travels. Not so on the Emerald Isle; there he gets an offering of Guinness Stout and a slice of mince pie. Aye. I approve of this ritual.

Austria

Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria
Krampus, Christmas demon from Austria

The poop log’s got nothing on this guy! Krampus is half-goat, half-demon, he’s the stuff of nightmares and meant to keep the kiddies in line. During the Christmas season he punishes those who have misbehaved, in contrast with old St. Nick, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. They sometimes work together, kind of a good-cop, bad-cop act. Classy, eh kiddies?

Compared to Other Countries…

Taken altogether, our whole Santa Claus, reindeer, and elves thing seems fairly tame! It never ceases to amaze how different societies handle these things. I hope you got a few chuckles learning about these strange and weird Christmas traditions. If so, share with your friends and social media.


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas

by Kelly R. Smith

The Traditional American Version of Santa Claus
The traditional American version of Santa Claus
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This article was updated on 12/09/20.

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Sinterklaas Arrives in Amsterdam
Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam

Judging by the two images above, Santa Claus and Sinterklaas look remarkably similar. They have the same copious hair and whiskers, the same predominately red and white garment color scheme, and a jovial spirit. But, that’s where the similarities begin to diverge. But whichever fellow you are talking about, the mystique has evolved into one of our favorite holidays.

The Origins and History of Santa Claus

Some say that the original Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, a small Roman town in modern Turkey in Anatolia. This was around 270 AD. He had a reputation for secretly giving gifts to those in need.

Although his suit is red today, it was originally green. His marital status has changed; Santa was a bachelor until around 1849 when a wife (Mrs Claus) was mentioned in the short story, ‘A Christmas Legend’ written by James Rees. Many tales followed this book, including ‘The Legend of the Christmas Tree.’

What about that jolly face? How accurate is our portrayal to the real St. Nick of yesteryear? The short answer is that it may be very close. Why? It is believed by some scholars that St. Nicholas’ bones were absconded by Italian sailors during the 11th century and taken to the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola located on the southeast coast of Italy. The crypt was repaired in the 1950s and the Nick’s skull and bones were documented with x-ray photos and thousands of detailed measurements. From there, scientists used modern forensic facial reconstruction to give us the image we know and love today.

But where did the tradition of giving Christmas gifts to children begin? We have two stories to illustrate this. The first one is better known and goes like this: three young girls are saved from a life of prostitution when the young Bishop Nicholas quietly delivers three bags of gold to their indebted father, which he can use for their dowries. The second tale relates that St. Nicholas entered an inn whose keeper had just crudely murdered three boys and pickled their dismembered bodies in basement barrels. The bishop not only sensed the crime, but resurrected the victims as well. Hence, he became the patron saint of children.

In the 1500s the Protestant Reformation began and good old St. Nick fell out of favor across northern Europe. But in the Netherlands, kids and families would not give up St. Nicholas as a gift bringer. (And, who can blame them?) And that’s when they brought Sinterklaas with them to New World colonies.

The Origins and History of Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas (his name is a contraction of Sint Nikolaas, in case any of you linguists were wondering) is based on jolly old St. Nick but cast in a Dutch mold. He looks similar in that he is a jolly old sod dressed in red but he sports a bishop’s hat, rides a white horse, and carries a long, curled shepherd’s staff. An important distinction is that the Dutch conceptualize him as a kindly old man instead of a Catholic saint. The end result is that Sinterklaas is celebrated by Dutch people of all ages and beliefs, without any real religious connotations.

The rituals surrounding Sinterklass and Santa differ as well. The Feast of Sinterklaas is held on December 6th, the day that St. Nick passed away. This is when gifts are exchanged and good-natured fun is made of loved ones. Christmas is focused on family and church services, not gift-giving.

The Sinterklass-Santa Connection

The general consensus is that Sinterklaas was the precursor of our Santa Claus tradition. Many historians hold that Dutch and German settlers carried the tradition with them when they went to America. There, his Catholic garb was bit by bit morphed into the jolly non-sectarian red suit with the white fur trim we are all familiar with. Also, his lithe frame gave way to a well-padded potbelly, and his trusty white horse was traded in for a troupe of reindeer. Either way, both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus stand for the generosity of spirit and kindness to children.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.