Who Was St. Patrick and Why Was His Holiday Invented in America?

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St. Patrick's Day Parade
St. Patrick’s Day Parade

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, 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 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 reembarkation 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.
  • 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.

Today in New York City the parade is the world ‘s oldest civilian parade and the largest in all of the United States, numbering 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.

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 Resolution Ideas and the Path to Success

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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 2020.

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 shoes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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. 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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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.

Strange and Weird Christmas Traditions from Around the World

A Christmas Tree Shootout!
A Christmas Tree Shootout!

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! 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.

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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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.


Santa Claus vs. Sinterklaas

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The Traditional American Version of Santa Claus
The Traditional American Version of Santa Claus
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.

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.

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 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 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) is based on 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.


New Year’s Eve Trivia and Fun Facts

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

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 inhibition are fairly low at this point. In any event a kiss is the best ritual to start the new year with.

The Party Statistics are Staggering

Statistics suggest that about 22% of us will be passing out before the clock strikes 12.  That really narrows the field of 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. 

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 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.

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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History of Labor Day

A Labor Day American flag
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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.

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.

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.

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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