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Ape Culture's Holiday Guide

Our Year of the Holiday

We will be bringing you, courtesy of the year 2000, a series of mini-essays on Holidays. We will discuss how these holidays have become days of obligation and suffering.  We will also talk about the origins of holidays.  The word holiday, for instance, comes from a  Middle English word halidai which meant holy day back when all days off used to be on God's tab.  Sober up, folks.  God has downsized the holiday department.  These days, anyone can start-up a holiday for any reason at all.  But the Hallmark Corporation has tied-up most of the days on the calendar so don't be surprised if someday we're all getting off work for Hallmarkidays.

Join us as we celebrate the days of celebration that we've mostly forgotten what we're supposed to be celebrating.

For more information on holidays, check out The Holiday Zone.

The Holidays:

January: New Year's Day, Martin Luther King's Birthday
February: Ground Hog Day, Valentine's Day, Presidents' Day
March: Ash Wednesday, St. Patrick's Day


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The story of this mono-hued holiday starts back in 493 AD...back in (who guessed it?) Ireland.  A little covetous, licentious, materialistic heathen named Maewyn would one day become THE Patron Saint of Ireland.  Who knew? Surely not Maewyn.  At age 16 he was teen-napped along with hundreds of other boys by some Irish thugs.  For six years, Maewyn was a slave-sheepherder.  As an Indentured Logistical Sheep Manager, Maewyn found God.   Escaping his servitude, he spent 12 years in a monastery where he learned how to convert those pesky little pagans to Christianity.  As a Priest, Maewyn petitioned his elders to become Bishop of Ireland.  But his elders didn't feel Maewyn had the finesse to be a Bishop.  So for two years Maewyn embarked on a campaign of relentless nagging until they gave in. Maewyn became the second Bishop of Ireland.  He adopted the Christian name of Patrick and won over scads of converts because he was generally a swell guy, founding monasteries, schools and churches all over Ireland.  This pissed off the Celtic Druid priests most royally.  But what could they do? It's all a matter of effective PR.  Before the druids could put up their Irish stonehenges, Patrick had converted much of the island into the Isle of Saints.  His followers marked his death, March 17, as a feast and holy day.  Since that time, rumors sprouted like a shamrock about how St. Patrick raised people from the dead, kindled fire from snow and drove all the snakes from Ireland.  St Patrick did use a shamrock in one of his sermons to try to explain to his flock how the trinity could possible be one entity and yet thee distinct parts...just like a three-leaf clover.  Hence, the shamrock became a religious symbol for all the Irish faithful.

So, here we are today, pinching each other and drinking green beer.

I feel like I'm turning into this columns Holiday Curmudgeon, but I don't like this holiday either.  St. Patrick's Day is just another holiday to dread, mostly for it's suffocating traditions of corned beef and cabbage dinners and mandatory costuming. I don't look good in shamrock green and I resent the implication that Irishness, or sympathetic Irishness, must be green.   I'm not Irish but I still rather distrust the unfortunate monotoned stereotype.   It's overwhelming in it's greenness.  It reminds me of my scarring days as a Girl Scout.  The Irish aren't synonymous with green. They are actually quite colorful.   And by that I don't mean drunk.
--- m. ladd

Postscript by Julie Wiskirchen:
Your mention of the drunken Irish leads me to reflect on my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. The school mascot, the leprechaun, is based on as derisive a stereotype as "drunken Irish."  The Fighting Irish? This is an image of the Irish as aggressive drunks, biting peoples ears off in barroom fights, imitating Jack Dempsey. Do any colleges have teams named The Lazy Mexicans or The Italian Mafia? Not that I'm aware of.  The Irish should really protest this the way Native Americans have attacked the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.   Anyway, St. Pats Day was usually a non-event at ND, because the administration was so afraid of the chaos that would ensue, they'd make sure to schedule spring break over March 17.

Maybe it's my Fighting Irish background, but I think Mary is being overly crumudgeonly about this holiday.  I agree the corned beef and cabbage is gross, but what's wrong with a holiday that revolves around drinking? What's not to like?  I think Mary should go to Chicago to see St. Pat's day done properly.  The parade is great fun and they dye the river green! (see picture above)

Post-postscript by m. ladd
A green river...for cryin' out loud.  Somebody pinch me!

St. Patrick's Day


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Today all good Catholics go to church, approach the altar, and receive ashes on their forehead while a priest tells them: "Remember man thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." A cheery thought, isn't it? Well, that's the Catholic Church for ya. It's not a Holy Day of Obligation, but church attendence is strongly encouraged. The first recorded reference to Ash Wednesday can be found in a text by Aelfric called Synod of Beneventum from 1091. Aelfric explains the holiday and recommends church attendance, mentioning, as if in a chain letter, that one man who refused to turn up and get ashed died a few days later in a boar hunting accident. So, if you decide to skip Mass, look out for wild boars! It's a required fasting day and that really sucks, although fasting isn't too difficult according to the church law: have a proper dinner, two small meals, and no in-between meal snacks. It's not unlike Jenny Craig.

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the 40 day period of repentence leading up to Easter. It's time to sober up after Mardi Gras and atone for your sins. In biblical times, people wore sackcloth and sat in the dirt in addition to putting ashes on their forehead. Now it's really been toned down and we're just supposed to walk around with the sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads for a day. Still, I can remember coming back from Ash Wednesday services when I was in junior high at Our Lady of Good Counsel and rushing to the bathroom to wipe the ashes off my forehead and reapply foundation. The ash look just wasn't cool.

Where do the ashes come from? The palms that are blessed and passed out to parishoners on Palm Sunday the previous year are burned to create the ashes. Not only does that practice provide a reminder that Easter is on the horizon, but it also promotes recycling! --julie wiskirchen

Read an Ash Wednesday FAQ

Read more about it and all things Catholic and bizarre (like the boar hunt accident) at The Catholic Enyclopedia



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I found it really hard to get inspired about this holiday.  I didn't get the day off  work so I never had the opportunity to properly reflect on it.  Which is shame because I know these are pretty decent guys, as presidents go...George having all that sway on there actually being a USA, not to mention a presidency.  You have to give him that.  They did have a special day for George way back when he was just an average Joe General, so esteemed among those insurgent revolutionary American punks.  Turns out he was not only super at harassing the British, but also a good idea man, as well.  He actually thought up Washington, D.C. then called Federal City. He set the presidential standard and his institutions and practices... the Bank of the United States, the postal system, West Point, the presidential cabinet are still a part of the American Today.

Abraham Lincoln came from the other side of the tracks and became distinguished by self-teaching himself law.  He worked his way through the political labyrinth with his beady little eyes on the White House.  He was real good at giving speeches...oh, and keeping the U in US of A.  We just couldn't keep it together and he sort of defended all the hard work of George and his pals.  Abe also issued the Emancipation Proclamation, nixing slavery.  As great presidents go, he's the tops, baby. 

Originally, George had his day, his parties and receptions, and Lincoln had his day. We started celebrating Lincoln's birthday the year after he was gunned down in a theater, making him the first poster-boy for the Brady Bill.  In 1968, Washington's birthday was made into a federal holiday to give federal employees a three-day weekend.  We sandwiched Lincoln in there because we just felt like it.

These days President's Day has become a generic, boring excuse to study all the presidents in grade school.  Poor George and Abe....they're were two kick-ass leaders of our pissant country.  I think they deserve their own damn day.  And all the other loser presidents can just go haunt their libraries for all we care!  Except Frankie Roosevelt.  He was pretty swell too.  Next year, maybe he can join this elusive boy's club too. -- m.ladd

More than you want to know, trust me.


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Valentine's Day:  I'd like to blame Hallmark for this holiday, but this time it's not their fault.  Doe-eyed lovers were passing around Valentine's Day cards way back in the 17th Century!  In fact, the first known valentine is actually encased as a relic at the British Museum.   So I'd like to blame the British for Valentine's Day but it's not their fault either.  Although it was Claudius II who had the bright idea to club, stone and decapitate a Bishop named Valentine for illegally marrying lovers.  But the real blame goes to the Romans (again!) who celebrated a certain sexist fertility rite back in the 4th Century B.C.  Young dudes pulled women's names out of a box and got to mate with them for one year. 

I hate Valentine's Day because whether you've a valentine or not, the day is a major hurdle.  If you DON'T have a valentine, everybody else does and their valentines are proactively sending them stuff.   If you DO HAVE a Valentine, chances are the two of you are going to have a fight on Valentine's Day.  Allegedly, many proposals and weddings occur on Valentine's Day.   This is probably a direct result of the Valentine's Day fighting.  It's wise, however, to get married on Valentine's Day, thereby consolidating two potentially volatile relationship days.  Let's face it, relationships are tricky, delicate imbalances.   We should not dwell on them.  Let sleeping lovers lay.  --m.ladd

The Perverted Geek's Box of Valentines Candies



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A dumb groundhog comes out of his muck-hut to see or to not to see his shadow.  That is the question. As usual, no one seems to care but the press.  It's a stupid holiday.  I can't condone it.   We have 16th-century German farmers to blame for it.  And it's supposed to be a badger, anyway.  Geesh!  They can't even get the rodent right!  But since Punxsutawney, PA was short on badgers when the German immigrants moved in, they made do.   In any case, the groundhog is a pathetic weatherman, getting his one simple forecast wrong a whopping 72% of the time.  I say, let my groundhogs go!   --m.ladd

If you must know more information, visit:  http://www.stormfax.com/ghogday.htm

Groundhogs are dueling: apparently Punxsutawney Phil is not the only Groundhog of note, entrepreneurs of Groundhog-exploitation are sprouting up all over.   Dunkirk Dave and Wiarton Willie are two others to name a few.

For the love of weather, spare the fuzzy-rat and rent the classic movie.


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This little holiday that could comes on the third Monday of January.  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has not yet become a cause that has made every employer take pause.  The bulk of white America has still not embraced this holiday or began to recognize the significance of Martin Luther King, Jr. to their lives.

Many still wonder why King's work is worth signaling out?  Are we just filling another minority quota?   Giving black America their token holiday? 

Let's, for a moment, forget that King was a black man and that his cause was inseparable from racism and national turmoil.   Social action of any kind creates public tension, blemishes on our national ego that last long after the battles are over.  Even in a democratic country, drastic social change has never been encouraged.  Don't shake-up the status quo, anybody.   Things could "go too far" and "get out of hand."  So social activists never usually make the cut for holidays, which are reserved instead for religious or war heroes.  Besides Mahatma Gandhi, King is one of the few social activists to have been honored with a holiday the world over. 

And not only are social activist folk kept out of the holiday business, but folk in general find it hard to snare a national day for themselves.  Not many people have their own holiday period, let alone people of a minority race.  King is the only American besides the presidents of President's Day to have a holiday they can call their own and even those two presidents have to share the darn day.  So this all said, it is remarkable, touching and fitting that King would be the first American social activist to have his own holiday, given that so much was against him...his race and his line of work.  Holidays for the fully enfranchised are hard enough to come by.

On top of that, new US legal holidays are almost impossible to get past congress.  MLK Day was the first new holiday since 1948 when Memorial Day (a prayer for peace) came into being and only the third new holiday this century beginning with Veteran's Day or Armistice Day in 1926 which was created to honor the veterans who died in World War I.

US Representative John Conyers (D-MI) submitted the first legislation to make King's birthday a holiday four days after King was assassinated in 1968.  In 1970, a petition carrying six million names was submitted to congress.  The same legislation was then re-submitted every single congressional session.  Among the staunchest opponents was, of course, the now cartoonish villain of Washington Forest, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) who claimed that King was a communist. 

Another obstacle was competition: if the holiday biz was open to another franchise, the feminists wanted theirs, the Latinos wanted theirs and the environmentalists wanted theirs.  But any new holiday would be expensive, costing an estimated 8 billion dollars to the government and private sector.

It was time to put their money where their lip service was and congress finally passed the MLK Day bill and it was signed by a very ambivalent President Reagan in November of 1983.

So what does a guy have to do to get himself a holiday?  At 15 years-of-age, King was enrolled in college.  After earning his degree, he decided to become a minister like his father.  It was after earning his PHD from Boston graduate school when King became involved in social activism.   His first protests in 1955 focused on the segregated Montgomery busing system and the famous Montgomery bus boycotts.   That same year, his house was bombed by white racists.  In 1957,  King founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference which promoted non-violent reform and the desegregation of public institutions like transportation, schools, restaurants and hotels.  Protests during the early 60s resulted in brutal police action with tear-gas, fire hoses, clubs and dogs, much of which was captured by TV media coverage.  These scenes of oppression galvanized public opinion and President Kennedy became involved, submitting his own bill to congress.   In August 1963, King organized the March on Washington to encourage the passing of this bill.  Over 200,000 people of every color showed up, gathering at the foot of Lincoln Memorial where King presented his moral argument in the form of his famous I Have a Dream speech.  Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.  In 1965 (a mere 35 years ago) congress also passed the Voting Rights Act, literally forcing all states to eliminate discrimination at the public polls, giving minorities the rights to vote. 

So what did Martin Luther King, Jr. do in a nutshell?  He gained the withdrawal of the reprehensible yet indomitable segregation laws and meanwhile became the most high profile civil rights leader in our history of suppressed civil rights action.

MLK day arrives each year with no customs, no superstitions or party themes, but like other serious and contemplative holidays requires us to take stock of our history, our racial attitudes, and requires us to work-out what steps we need to take to move toward the more inclusive society King once dreamed of. 

One great lesson we had to learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s teachings would have been patience.  Unfortunately, 20 years later, America has not yet proven it can overcome racial hatred and exclusion.   I have lived in many states,  worked with many employers, met a variety of people all over.  I have known racists every where I have ever been.  As a white woman, too many people have mistakenly confided in me as a potential sympathizer their racists attitudes .  But speaking for myself, I am extremely proud that we have come at least far enough to have Martin Luther King, Jr. honored with his own national holiday.   We are lucky to have a holiday that will honor a leader on behalf of civil rights, anybody's civil rights.  I hope, with enough symbolic emphasis, MLK Day can serve as a beacon for our journey to a higher level, a level above this racist muck-puddle we have so long been ambivalent to remain in.

On King's tombstone appears the haunting words spoken by him many years ago: "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last." Someday maybe we will be too.   -- m.ladd

The Seattle Times on MLK-Day - your holiday source on MLK, Jr. Day


a.k.a. Take Your Damn Christmas Lights Down Day

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New Year's Day, my favorite holiday, a feel-good holiday.  The first day of the rest of the year.  A brand new start.   Like an instant do-over every 365. Your second wind... or 42nd wind as your year would have it. This is probably the only day of the year you won't be hearing your co-workers say, "Boy, this year has sure flown by!"

Like July 4th, this day entails no gift exchange or special outfit.  We aren't forced to give little brats candy or baskets of colored eggs.  And best of all, no fasting required!  Always a bonus.

Other swell things about New Year's Day:  A day off work.  Dusk is falling later thus the days are getting longer again, which works out to more UV-Rays, more light to our photocells, hence more energy to walk the dog.  White sales.  Resolutions (a positive if ineffective way to self-improvement).  Best of all, we are now at one of the furthest points in the universe from the Christmas 4th-Quarter of the year.  Not enough good things to be said about that, but we will talk more on that soon enough.

What stinks about New Year's Day:   Post-New-Year's-Eve hangovers.  Football overtaking the programming on every TV-channel. Christmas lights still up and running.   And overdue demise of a very disturbing trend when each year more and more garishly bright and sloppy horrors of yard light occur.  When lazy homeowners will finally get around to taking down their sickle lights is one of the universal holiday mysteries.  

The origins ofNew Year's Day can be found in Charles Panati's book Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things published by Harper & Row.  Apparently this holiday is the oldest and most universal holiday we celebrate.  Way back in the year 2000 B.C., Babylonia (picture Iraq) had no official calendar year but they did celebrate the first recorded New Year's Day to commemorate the cycle from sowing seeds to the harvest of crops.  Their New Year's festival, eleven days of crop-related parties,  occurred in March during the vernal equinox.  Leave it up to those nutty Iraqi to let the sun determine their yearly calendar!  Please!  January is much better because it makes absolutely no sense.  We don't march to no stinking equinoxes or solstices! 

Well, leave it to the Romans to shake things up.  Roman governing officials had a very bad habit of always lengthening calendar months to extend the terms of their office.  Duh!  Why didn't we think of that?   By 153 B.C., the Roman senate said "enough already!" and set the New Year to January 1.  But politicians kept screwing around with it so much that it had to be re-set like a bad watch to January 1 again in 43 B.C.  So who knows what year it really is.   By the way, it was Julius Caesar who reset the calendar for the last time which is why we call it the Julian calendar. 

Everyone celebrated New Year's day as sinful pagans until Christians came along and the Catholic Church forbade them to participate in pagan holidays so all you Catholics, by decree of your religious department head, must relinquish all your champagne and celebratory paraphernalia to the rest of us.  You, in the meantime, are free to celebrate your January 1 holiday, The Feast of Christ's Circumcision.  Woo-hoo.  Pop a cork! 

New Year's Day traditions range from region to region.  And what would a holiday be without the ubiquitous holiday superstition?  In the southwest, the tradition is to eat pasole (swanky hominy) for good luck.  In the south, they eat black-eyed peas, in Pennsylvania they eat Pork and Sauerkraut.  Whatever you eat January first, happy new year and good luck.  -- m. ladd

New Year's Day
Auld Lang Syne

April thru July


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