New Year’s Eve Trivia and Fun Facts

Auld Lang Syne, Times Square, and Champagne

by Kelly R. Smith

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Happy New Year's Eve!
Happy New Year’s Eve!

This article was updated on 12/16/20.

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New Year’s Eve only comes once a year (obviously) and is known far and wide as the preeminent night to party hearty and sneak that kiss when the ball drops on Times Square. But you might not know that it has a long history and the trivia to go with it. Don’t forget to make your New Year’s resolution something realistic this year like improving your credit score.



The Origin of the New Year’s Kiss

Most historians agree that the New Year’s Eve kiss made its debut in the Middle Ages and had is derived from either German and English folklore. Both cultures enjoyed the tradition. The basic idea is that the first person you encounter in a new year will set that year’s tone. So choose wisely; most people’s inhibitions are fairly low at this point (beer goggles). In any event a kiss is the best ritual to start the new year with. Of course, with that whole COVID-19 pandemic thing…

The Party Statistics are Staggering

Statistics suggest that about 22% of us will be passing out before the clock strikes 12 midnight.  That really narrows the field of kiss-kiss prospects (unless you’re really into some serious weirdness). This is where the designated drivers have an edge; that seems like a pretty good strategy. Now, who’s ready for a liver detox?



Those of Us Lucky Enough to Live In the South Eat Black Eyed Peas On New Year’s Day

Not only does this start us off with a hearty helping of fiber, the tradition also brings us good luck. This meal is derived from from a Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) custom so why the Northerners haven’t fully embraced the tradition is a mystery. It started when the first Shepari Jews moved to Georgia in the 1730s. 

Additionally, Tripsavvy.com tells us that, “Most Southerners will tell you that this culinary custom dates back to the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were considered animal food. The peas were not deemed worthy of serving to General Sherman’s Union troops. When Union soldiers raided the Confederates’ food supplies, legend says they took everything except the peas and salted pork. The Confederates considered themselves lucky to be left with those meager supplies, and survived the winter. Peas then became symbolic of luck.”

The Iconic Times Square Ball Drop

The countdown and subsequent ball drop dates back to December 31, 1907. Ever since then, it’s been reenacted every year except for a couple during World War II. The Times Square ball today is made of Waterford Crystal and weighs 11,875 pounds. Needless to say, you don’t want that ball to come crashing down on the assembled mob below. It can display 16 million colors! There have been seven versions over the years and it is owned by the building owners of One Times Square. Its got a diameter of 6 feet and takes one minute to drop. The hoopla accompanying its glorious descent is ear-shattering. This year, amid the China Virus pandemic, it is doubtful that Mayor de Blasio will let celebrants congregate en masse.

New Year’s Used to be Celebrated on March 20th.

No, it wasn’t always on January 1st. Why is it now? Because Julius Caesar made the rules back then according to the Gregorian Calendar. Before that, New Year’s was on March 20th according to Mesopotamian rules. That is coincidental with the Spring Equinox, which makes sense. Of course today it is illegal to celebrate it in Saudi Arabia. That’s right, the same peaceful and tolerant people that brought New York all the fireworks on 9/11.

These are just a bit of New Year’s trivia and fun facts to stump your fellow party animals with. Now go get that party hat on already!

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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.

10 Common Turkey Cooking Mistakes: Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner Tips

by Kelly R. Smith

Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner
Turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner; YUM!
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This article was updated on 11/14/20.

It’s fair to say that there is nothing quite as emblematic of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner as that prince of birds — the turkey. It didn’t make it to be the national bird though Ben Franklin lobbied for it, but it did make it to being the savory symbol of two of our favorite national holidays.

That said, the preparation can cause severe anxiety just as holiday season loneliness can. It’s far too easy to get it wrong; too dry, undercooked, or overcooked. Let’s look at 10 common turkey cooking mistakes.

Not Thawing the Turkey Long Enough

This is a very common mistake, especially for those first-timers. This mistake will lead to forehead slapping and a mad attempt to finish the thawing process in a sink full of warm or cool water. Now which was it again?

As a rule of thumb, allow one day in the refrigerator for each 4 pounds of turkey. Using this rule it is easy to determine approximately how long you need to let it defrost before getting busy cooking your turkey. Taking this into consideration, be sure you have enough room in your fridge before you go shopping.

Over-Brining the Bird

Many recipes call for brining — soaking in a solution of salt and spice which is a snap to do with an herb brine kit. However, many of the most available commercially-produced turkeys, such as frozen Butterball birds, have already been pre-treated with a solution of salt and spices. This is done in order to stretch out the shelf life, not necessarily to please your palate. That’s why the brine kit is a better idea; it’s specially prepared for flavor, not storage.

If you do this again (just because the recipe says so), you will end up with a salty bird indeed. Just check the label before you proceed. On the one hand, if the producers have already done it, you have less work to do albeit while sacrificing some flavor. On the other hand, it’s a real chore hand-pick your favorite spices.

Not Drying the Turkey Sufficiently

If your aim is a crispier skin on the outside you’ll want to thoroughly pat the bird down using paper towels before it goes in the oven. Drying the inside cavity of the turkey is also important but not doing so is also a common mistake. Generally speaking, having a well dried turkey inside and outside will yield a more evenly-cooked and flavorful bird.

Cooking the Stuffing Inside the Cavity

Whatever Grandma told you, this is not the best of ideas. The main problem here is that to cook the stuffing through fully and guarantee that all of the bacteria inside the raw bird has been eliminated, you will need to cook the turkey for a longer period of time. The result? Dry, overcooked meat. Embarrassing, Chef.

The obvious answer is to make the stuffing from scratch or use one of those basic boxed delicacies. I like to bake a loaf using my oatmeal flax seed bread recipe ahead of time and make it from that. Super healthy. Either way, cook it outside the bird. We won’t tell if you don’t.

Trussing the Legs too Tightly

It makes sense when you think about it; closing off the cavity means longer roasting time and possibly uneven cooking. Your only real limitation is the width of your roasting pan. If you are going to buy one of those disposable roasting pans at the store, buy it at the same time that you buy your turkey to be sure you have a good fit.

Not Investing in a Real Meat Thermometer

Sure, it’s tempting to rely on that little pop-up button thingamajiggy that the poultry farmers embed in the bird’s hide, but these are notoriously unreliable. These may be faulty and pop up when the meat is already overcooked. Since you’ve only got one shot at this, go ahead and invest in a real meat thermometer. You will get more accurate results and as a bonus, you dinner guests will regard you as a professional. 

Cooking at the Wrong Oven Temperature

We all know some cooks that recommend blasting the turkey at high heat (425°F) for about 30 minutes first and then lower the temperature. However, a low, steady temperature of  325°F from beginning to end is preferable.

Certainly, the initially high-heat method may take 30 to 90 minutes off your total cooking time, but remembering to reduce the temperature  is just one more thing to remember on what is already very busy day.

Not Allowing Your Bird to Rest

No, we’re not talking about letting the turkey take a break. Resting simply means taking it out of the oven when it’s done and simply letting it sit there. This should be done with all meats actually. With a turkey the recommended resting time is 15 minutes.

Why do we do this you might ask? Resting time allows the juices inside the turkey to soak back into the meat, instead of dripping out as soon as you you slice into it. This results in a moister bird. More bang for your buck. It’s still important to keep the turkey warm so tent it with foil until carving time arrives.

Not Preparing the Surface of the Turkey Properly

It’s not clear whether the Pilgrims did this step (some history revisionists even claim that there wasn’t even a turkey present) or not but things have changed since then. It’s not a difficult step; just rub the turkey all over with olive oil or melted clarified butter. The main reason for this is to ensure that the turkey browns evenly. Aesthetics is important; just ask any chef.

Not Inserting the Thermometer in the Correct Spot

You can’t just spear the bird willy-nilly and expect to get the result that you want. Your target is in the thickest part of the thigh, right smack-dab in the crease where it meets the breast. If your bird weighs in at 18 pounds or less, monitor the temperature beginning at 2.5 hours and every 15 minutes following that. For a turkey above 18 pounds, start checking at 3 hours.

Avoid these 10 common turkey cooking mistakes and you and your guests won’t have to be confronted with a foul fowl.



It’s true that stuffing is the most traditional side dish and that’s fine. But if you like to step out of the box and add a very non-traditional dish, you won’t go wrong with Spaghetti Carbonara.

If you are worried that your guests are getting too hungry due to the extra preparation time it takes to do it just right, why not put out an appetizer? I’ve found that Panamanian-Style Ceviche hits the mark rather well.

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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.

The Importance of Rituals

Charles Darwin's Daily Rituals
Charles Darwin’s Daily Rituals
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So. This is the most important bit. Insomnia. Can’t sleep, brain runs like a freight train right through the night. But the thoughts keep coming, the leftover refuse of books recently read and audio-books droning on I assume.

So here it is. I’ve been thinking about how important rituals are. Sometimes the big ones that your church orchestrates. Sometimes the little ones that we do everyday.

One of my big ones: when she-who-must-be-obeyed is home on the weekend, in the morning, I always say “Do you want some coffee?” Of course she says,”yes.” That’s part of our morning ritual. Then I make it for her.

And so it goes.

Rituals and Monotheism

Rituals have been around since the beginning of time. They can keep things the way they are or they can change things. A good example is in the years after Moses brought the Jews out of Egypt. Egyptians believed in many nature-centered Gods. All societies were along those lines. But things were about to change.

When God revealed his existence to Moses, he also started laying out many rituals — the Feast of Ingathering, resting on the Sabbath, the redemption of the firstborn son, observation of Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and many others.

What is the reason for all these detailed rituals? In his book The Rational Bible: Exodus, Dennis Prager tells us, “One way people guard against the temptation to create idols and other false gods is by observing regular rituals that keep them focused on the One True God. One of the appeals of idols is that they exist physically, whereas God does not. The practice of physical rituals helps keep people attuned to the reality of God’s presence; otherwise, God can become too abstract and difficult to connect to.”

Rituals in Sports

Some rituals in sports can seem downright quirky but they do serve a purpose. Good luck and the idea that if things are done ritualistically, the outcome will be favorable. For example, Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts in every game; Curtis Martin (New York Jets) reads Psalm 91 before every game.

Before every serve, Serena Williams bounces the ball exactly five times. 
Wade Boggs, third baseman (Boston Red Sox), woke up at the same time each day, ate chicken before each game, took exactly 117 ground balls in practice, took batting practice at 5:17, and ran sprints at 7:17. (Boggs also wrote the Hebrew word Chai (“living”) in the dirt before each at bat.

Rituals and Superstitions

Many rituals are performed to keep bad things from happening. Remember step on a crack; break your mother’s back? Is it still applicable from beyond the grave? No sense in taking any chances. The advent of the Fitbit has created a new ritual — get those 10,000 step in or wallow in guilt.

Here are a few more: knocking on wood to bring good luck or to bring rain. Avoiding walking under ladders or crossing paths with a black cat. Unlucky Friday the 13th can cause anxiety in even the bravest and most rational souls. If you happen to look at the clock when it shows same figures for hours and minutes (10:10 for example) you can make a wish.

If you are walking with someone and you are forced to separate and each of you walk around either side of a pole, you have to say “Bread and Butter” three times or else it brings bad luck.

Daily Rituals

One reason to indulge in daily rituals is to keep our lives in balance; routine breeds stability. For men, a morning shave is not just good hygiene. It also prepares us for the upcoming day.

A daily walk or run is a healthy ritual. Doing it in the morning can clear the night’s cobwebs and prepares us for the day. Doing it in the evening can relax us and help us to unwind. It’s common to tackle emails the first thing when arriving at work. With that task in the rear view mirror the real work can begin.

The bottom line is that the importance of rituals can’t be understated. They give life a comforting stability in a chaotic world. Now, I’m off for my morning run so I can get on with my day and be productive. Knock on wood.


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History of Labor Day

by Kelly R. Smith

A Labor Day American flag under a blue sky
A Labor Day American flag under a blue sky
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This article was updated on 09/02/20.

Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday of September in both the United States and Canada. Its purpose in America is to celebrate the contributions that everyday workers have made to the prosperity, strength, and well-being of the nation. It is also recognized as the unofficial last day of summer and a day to celebrate national sovereignty.

Origins of Labor Day

Although different labor groups and trade unionists proposed days to celebrate, eventually a September holiday called Labor Day was first proposed in the early 1880s. Alternate stories of the event’s origination exist.

One popular belief is that the event originated in connection with a General Assembly of the Knights of Labor held in New York City in September of 1882. Concurrent with this clandestine Knights gathering, a public parade featuring various labor organizations was held on September 5 under the general organizers of the Central Labor Union (CLU) of New York.

Another belief holds that the idea of Labor Day was the brainchild of Peter J. McGuire who held the position of a vice president of the American Federation of Labor. He suggested the initial proposal in the spring of 1882. According to McGuire, on May 8, 1882, he offered a proposal to the fledgling Central Labor Union in New York City that a day be designated for a “general holiday for the laboring classes”. He further recommended that the occasion should commence with a street parade as a public demonstration of organized labor’s solidarity and strength followed by a picnic, to which participating local unions could sell tickets as a fundraiser.

There is no dispute that in 1887 Oregon became the first state in the country to name Labor Day as an official public holiday. In 1894 it became an official federal holiday and thirty U.S. states officially celebrated Labor Day. Since then, all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories have recognized Labor Day as a statutory holiday. Note that some holidays are not officially sanctioned, such as St. Patrick’s Day.

Is Labor Day the Same as May Day?

May 1 is an internationally-recognized holiday and is known as May Day or International Worker’s Day. Is there a correlation between May Day and Labor Day? Not really. May Day is much more politically charged and has less of a flavor of worker’s accomplishments and more a flavor of Communist, Socialist, and Anarchist politics.

In particular, President Grover Cleveland was one of the people concerned that a labor holiday held on May 1 would become an implicit commemoration of the Haymarket Affair and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that backed the May 1 commemoration around the globe.

The Haymarket affair (also called the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was the violence that ensued after a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday, May 4, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago. It started as a peaceful rally supporting workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the day before by the police. An unknown individual tossed a dynamite bomb at police as they worked to disperse the meeting. The bomb blast and following gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; dozens of others were wounded. It sounds remarkably similar to the mayhem, rioting, and looting conjured up by Black Lives Matter and Antifa today in America, 2020.

Labor Day Activities

Like any federal holiday, it is not just another day off from work but it is also a time to relax and spend time with family and friends. Because of the nice weather at this time of year it is an opportunity for outdoor activities like barbecues, fun runs, and ball games. Things will be a little different this year because of COVID-19.

There are also many Labor Day sales since many school years have just begun or are about to begin. Many sporting events are coordinated around this day.  National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams usually play their first games that weekend and the National Football League (NFL) traditionally play their kickoff game the Thursday following Labor Day. The Southern 500 NASCAR auto race has been held on Labor Day weekend at Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina from 1950 to 2003 and since 2015.

So whatever activities you choose to do on Labor Day, remember that actual labor is not one of them!



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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.