Holiday

The origins of Groundhog Day

Groundhog 100dpi.jpg

Every year on February 2nd, people anxiously await the appearance of a medium-sized furry mammal who they believe can predict if winter weather will rage on or if spring will arrive sooner than later. Although it’s a rather strange means of prognostication, millions of people celebrate Groundhog Day, a tradition that is older than many people may know.

The first official Groundhog Day took place on February 2, 1887 at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. In the ensuing 130 years, individuals have gathered in Pennsylvania and other areas around the United States to find out if the groundhog will see his shadow. If the groundhog sees his shadow, winter will continue for six more weeks. If the groundhog does not see his shadow, then spring will arrive early.

Although the Groundhog Day of today is relatively new, the concept is actually quite old and dates back to the ancient Christian tradition of Candlemas. Candlemas is a Christian holiday commemorating the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Candlemas falls on the 40th day of the Christmas/Epiphany period and is one of the oldest feasts of the Christian Church, celebrated since the 4th century in Jerusalem. Around the 14th century in Europe, Candlemas began to overshine Pagan holidays like Lupercalia (Romans) and Imbolc (Celts). Rather than torches and blessings from goddesses, on Candlemas custom called for members of the clergy to bless candles and distribute them to the people to symbolize that Christ was the light of the world. Weather played a role in the celebration of Candlemas. Rainy, wet weather was preferable because it suggested spring’s arrival was on the horizon.

Candlemas was celebrated in many parts of Europe and eventually spread to Germany, where animals were involved in the ceremony. Hedgehogs were plentiful in the area, and celebrants believed if they cast a shadow during fair weather on Candlemas, more bad weather was in store. Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were German, and these immigrants brought their Candlemas traditions with them. But hedgehogs were not common in Pennsylvania, so settlers used groundhogs instead. Thus, the groundhog was seen as a wise and suitable substitute for prognostication.

Today’s celebrations include tens of thousands of visitors from all around the world who travel to Pennsylvania to see Punxsutawney Phil in person. Phil has become a celebrity of sorts and has appeared on various television shows, on a jumbo screen in Times Square and as the star of the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day.” (Although the real Phil was not allowed to be in the movie because it was filmed in Illinois instead of Pennsylvania, and the Groundhog Day organizers were notably upset.) Boasting a deeper history than many people may know, Groundhog Day will continue to delight revelers for years to come. 

Easy 'green' Thanksgiving ideas

TF16B581.jpg

Thanksgiving is a holiday to give thanks and share special moments with family and friends. While the original Thanksgiving might have taken place during a time when food was sparse, nowadays Thanksgiving often involves excessive amounts of food, with more food ending up in the garbage than in celebrants’ bellies.

The United States Department of Agriculture projects that Americans will throw away more than 200 million pounds of edible turkey meat this Thanksgiving holiday. And Thanksgiving typically ushers in a period of wastefulness, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says American households produce roughly 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day than during the rest of the year.

Reducing waste is a worthy goal year-round, but especially so during the holiday season. And accomplishing that goal can be done without sacrificing holiday traditions.

• Use fine china when serving meals. Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to serve meals on fine china and use the silverware that has gone unused instead of disposable plates and utensils. In addition to adding a touch of elegance to meals, reusable china and silverware is less wasteful than paper plates and plastic utensils. Cloth napkins and other table linens are also more eco-friendly than paper napkins.

• Decorate using natural items. Scour the great outdoors for all-natural centerpiece materials or other items that can be turned into wreaths and garlands. Vases filled with pine cones and acorns make for beautiful, inexpensive and festive decorations.

• Shop locally and organically. When shopping for Thanksgiving dinner, choose local produce, poultry and grains whenever possible. Resist the urge to buy more than you need as well. Skip some of the less-popular dishes that are used only to make the table seem full. Buy a small turkey or think about only serving turkey breasts, which tend to be the most popular cuts of the bird. Use reusable shopping bags to carry items home and reduce waste even further.

• Light candles and reduce energy consumption. During the meal, eat by candlelight and turn off lights in other areas of the home that are not in use. Rather than turning on the television, take the party outdoors and play a game of football on the front lawn. • Have a local Thanksgiving. Start a new tradition and invite nearby friends and family over for the holiday instead of traveling long distances. According to Use Less Stuff, a resource for eco-conscious men and women, if each family reduced gasoline consumption by one gallon (roughly 20 miles), they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one million tons.

• Send home the leftovers. Send each guest home with some leftovers if you have any. This way the refrigerator isn’t left full of items that will end up uneaten. Otherwise, donate uncooked food to a local food bank. Use any scraps of vegetables in a compost pile.

• Don’t let recycling fall by the wayside. Remember to recycle all applicable items. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean recycling habits should be forgotten. Encourage guests to pitch in by clearly marking recycling bins.

Thanksgiving can be less wasteful  without detracting from the enjoyment and true meaning of the holiday.

The benefits to shopping on Black Friday

Black Friday is a holiday season phenomenon that entices shoppers out of their homes, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning. Many stores begin their Black Friday promotions on Thanksgiving night, while others may wait until midnight to open their doors to deal-hungry holiday shoppers.

black friday.jpg

Thanks to the crowds, some shoppers may be intimidated by Black Friday and opt to avoid stores entirely on the day after Thanksgiving. But there are a host of benefits to shopping on Black Friday that can compel hesitant shoppers to join the festive fray.

• Deals: Black Friday is a consumer-friendly day on which savvy shoppers can find great deals on big-ticket items. Big-ticket items like electronics, including televisions, smartphones and tablets, are often heavily discounted on Black Friday. Such deals may only be for a certain period of time or until a predetermined amount of inventory has been sold, so shoppers should do their research and prioritize which items are most important to them in advance of Black Friday. While Black Friday occurs during the holiday season when many people are busy looking for gifts for their loved ones, shoppers who need new big-ticket items can save money by shopping for themselves as well as their friends and family members in the initial hours after Thanksgiving.

• Shopping done early: Shoppers who tend to procrastinate during the holiday shopping season may find that shopping on Black Friday increases the chance they’ll get their shopping done early. Getting shopping done early leaves more time to celebrate with family and friends throughout December.

• Giveaways: Many stores offer giveaways to Black Friday shoppers. Such giveaways may include gift cards, free entries into raffles or totes bags full of goodies. Such giveaways make great stocking stuffers, enabling Black Friday shoppers to get some shopping done without spending a dime.

• Budget-friendly: Budget-conscious holiday shoppers may find that Black Friday allows them to give great gifts without compromising their personal finances. In its second annual holiday debt survey, MagnifyMoney found that consumers who took on debt during the 2016 holiday season were poised to begin the new year with an average of $1,003 worth of new debt. Shopping on Black Friday might help many shoppers reduce the amount of debt they take on during the holiday season.

Shoppers hesitant to join the Black Friday fray might want to consider the many benefits to shopping on one of the busiest shopping days of the year before making their final decision.

How to help veterans in need

Millions of men and women serve in the military and make the sacrifices that such service requires. Risking their lives to serve their countries, veterans sometimes endure mental and physical trauma, returning home to face uphill battles as they deal with their injuries.

Veteran

Many veterans in need are not just in need of medical attention. Learning that their efforts and sacrifices are recognized and appreciated by the ordinary citizens they protect can make a world of difference to veterans as they recover from their injuries. Men, women and children who want to help veterans in need can do so in various ways.

• Visit a veterans hospital. Contact a local veterans’ hospital to inquire about their volunteer programs. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs notes that each year more than 75,000 volunteers spend more than 11 million hours in service to America’s veterans. Visiting veterans at the hospital to hear their stories can lift their spirits and aid in their recoveries. In addition, veterans’ hospitals may have volunteer opportunities that make it easier for hospitals to operate at optimal capacity.

• Help a neighbor. Unfortunately, many veterans return home with injuries that affect their ability to make it through a typical day without assistance. Disabled veterans may be unable to do their own grocery shopping or maintain their homes. If a neighbor or nearby veteran is facing such hurdles, offer to do his or her shopping or mow his or her lawn. Such tasks won’t take much time but can make a world of difference to veterans.

• Offer professional services free of charge. Professionals who want to help veterans can offer their services free of charge. Accountants can offer to prepare veterans’ tax returns for free, while attorneys can provide legal advice to veterans who need it. Contractors can help disabled veterans by offering to make alterations to their homes for free or at cost.

• Employ social media to help local veterans. Many people who want to help local veterans might not be able to do so more than one day per week. But some veterans may require daily assistance. Men and women can start a locally-based Facebook group for fellow members of their community who want to pitch in to help local veterans. Such a group can make it easier to share information and arrange help for veterans in need. Many veterans return home from serving overseas in need of help. Offering such help can improve veterans’ lives while letting them know their efforts and sacrifices are appreciated. 

Sugar skull tradition and Día de los muertos

day of the dead

Halloween costumes may go away right after October 31, but the celebration of the macabre and spirits do not get buried so quickly. El Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is celebrated in central and southern Mexico during the early days of November. The day coincides with the Catholic All Soul’s Day and All Saint’s Day and incorporates many different traditions.

One of the more recognizable traditions is the creation of “calaveritas de azúcar,” or “sugar skulls.” These are decorative or edible skulls made from either clay or sugar, which are used in celebrations. The origin of these molded skulls can be traced back to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Although the dead were already honored in Mexico, the Spanish brought their own customs, including molded decorations. Because sugar was readily accessible in Mexico and quite affordable, using it to make molds was a natural choice. Sugar skulls are placed on an “ofrenda,” or  “decorated altar,” that features candles, buckets of flowers, feathers, fruits, and much more. The name of someone who has passed away and is to be honored is written across the forehead of the sugar skull. Adherents of this tradition believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of deceased children can reunite and celebrate with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, adult spirits join the festivities.

In many indigenous or rural areas, the Day of the Dead can be quite expensive, with many families spending several month’s income to honor dead relatives. After food and gifts are shared, the celebration is taken to the cemetery, where tombs are cleaned and loved ones are remembered and spoken of. Music and games also may ensue. The size and colors of sugar skulls vary. Small skulls represent those who passed at a young age, while larger ones are for adults. Sugar skulls are vibrantly colored to reflect life, which the Day of the Dead celebrates. Skulls may have glitter and be decorated with hats and bows.

Some sugar skulls are made entirely of edible ingredients, and very few are solely used as decoration rather than something to eat.

Caribbean culture gave rise to the zombie

Fans of the popular television show “The Walking Dead” know that the show follows a group of people trying to survive a postapocalyptic world dominated by reanimated dead humans who feed on the flesh of other living creatures. While they’re referred to as “walkers” by everyone on the show, viewers are led to believe these creatures are “zombies.”

Zombies have long been a subject of horror movies, video games and scary tales. Zombies are believed to be corpses without souls who have been reanimated through supernatural means. Unbeknownst to many, the lumbering undead on the search for fresh brains that makes up the contemporary zombie characterization actually trace their roots to the Caribbean. Some speculate the word “zombie” was derived from West African languages. The Oxford English Dictionary says “zombie” is a word that was first recorded in English in 1819. It is related to words zumbi, meaning “fetish,” and nzambi meaning, “a god.”

In spirit religions, such as the voudou (voodoo) practiced by some Haitians, zombies are not flesh-eating corpses but the unfortunate dead whose souls were stolen. According to content published by the University of Michigan, believers of voodoo believed people could die naturally through sickness or a god’s will. Those who died unnaturally due to murder, suicide or before their time would linger at their graves until the gods offered them respite. During this period, souls would be vulnerable to powerful sorcerers known as “boko.” A boko could capture the soul and keep it in a bottle, controlling the undead body or just the soul. Under the best circumstances, zombies helped the boko, but unsavory boko could use the zombies as slaves. Many Haitians did not fear the zombies, but rather were afraid of becoming zombies against their will.

Another interpretation published in The Atlantic says zombies were of their own making. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Haiti was ruled by France and known as Saint-Domingue. During this period, African slaves were used to work on sugar plantations where the working and living conditions were brutal. Death was seen as a release back to their home countries. However, suicide was frowned upon and would not allow souls to return to Africa. The souls of slaves who committed suicide would be condemned to roam plantations for eternity.

When the United States briefly occupied Haiti in the early twentieth century, zombie stories and rumors began to grow popular. Stories of zombies permeated American culture. Writers and filmmakers have long offered their own interpretations of zombies. However, many of these interpretations have little, if any, similarities to the zombie stories rooted in Caribbean culture.

Zombies

Celebrate all military this May

Memorial Day is celebrated each May to commemorate the people who died in service of the United States of America. 


Even though barbecues and visions of the upcoming summer weather may command much of the attention come Memorial Day weekend, the holiday really serves as a remembrance for those military members who  paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country, as well as the personnel who continue to protect and serve today.

Memorial Day origins

Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day and was borne out of the Civil War. on May 30, 1868, General John Logan, a national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, decreed General Order No. 11, which designated the day for the “purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” May 30th was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. 

It took several years for the first state to recognize the holiday, which New York adopted in 1873. By 1890, all northern states recognized Decoration Day. When the holiday changed from commemorating those who died fighting the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war after World War I, the South began to recognize it as well.

Honoring the military

Although Memorial Day pays homage to the brave people who perished fighting for their country, it also is an opportunity to recognize the military men and women and their families who continue to work to ensure the freedom of Americans. 

The United States Armed Forces is renowned for its size and strength. Various sources suggest the size of the United States military is somewhere between 1.4 and 1.6 million active service people. The military is comprised of the Army, Army National Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Each of these military branches also has its own reserves. There are many ways to honor active, reserve and former veterans, as well as those who died in service of their country.

  • Help Veterans of Foreign Wars distribute red poppies as a visual reminder of the military’s efforts.

  • Volunteer at a veterans’ hospital or visit a wounded veteran at home.

  • Offer financial, legal or career expertise through the Corporation for National & Community Service (serve.gov). 

  • Help to maintain the veteran area of a nearby cemetery. Place flags on all of the graves.

  • Befriend military families who frequently relocate, making a concerted effort to welcome them into your community.

  • Educate children about past wars and the services the military provides.

  • Visit a military museum or historic site.

  • Observe the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm local time for one minute.

  • Post a message to the troops at the USO website (uso.org). 

First Contact Day

First Contact Day is a minor holiday in the TV series, Star Trek  ©iStockphoto.com/Brendan Hunter

First Contact Day is a minor holiday in the TV series, Star Trek

©iStockphoto.com/Brendan Hunter

Fans of the sci-fi series Star Trek celebrate First Contact Day on April 5 to mark the day in 2063 when humans make their first contact with the Vulcans.

The day is celebrated as a minor holiday in the Star Trek world and made its first appearance on the episode named Homestead in the Star Trek: Voyager series.

TV Show

Star Trek is an American television and film enterprise first created in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry. The first television series in the franchise debuted in 1966 and is now known as The Original Series. It followed the adventures of the crew of the starship USS Enterprise under the leadership of Captain James T Kirk.

Humanoid Race

The Enterprise is a 23rd-century spaceship of the United Federation of Planets, a federation of more than 150 governments from different planets. The Federation as it is popularly known was created in 2161.

The Vulcans are a humanoid race from the planet Vulcan, which is about 16 light years from Earth. Vulcans are considered to be masters of logic who have found ways to suppress their violent emotions. Commander Spock is one of the most well-known Vulcans in the Star Trek universe.

How to Celebrate?

  • Have a Star Trek themed party for all your family and friends. Have your guests come dressed as their favorite characters.
  • Make cheese pierogis, one of the dishes made by characters celebrating the day on the show.
  • Attend a Star Trek fan meet and meet other like-minded people.
  • Hold a Start Trek viewing marathon.
  • Greet everyone you meet on this day with the Vulcan salute. To do this, raise your hands with your palm facing outwards, and your thumb away from your hand. Part your middle and ring finger such that the index and middle finger are together and your ring and little finger are close to each other.

Did You Know…

…that the first First Contact Day was celebrated 315 years after the first contact on 2378?

April Fools’ Day has a lengthy history

What do you get when have a select group of people who didn’t get the memo that the calendar had been modified and the start of the New Year was now pushed back by three months? April Fools’ Day, that’s what. Although the tomfoolery that occurs each April 1 may not feel very old, April Fools’ Day traces its origins back several centuries.

One legend states that April Fools’ Day originated in the 1500s and has remained a day for hijinks ever since. Prior to the 1500s, the western world relied on the Julian calendar to keep track of time. According to the Julian calendar, years began on March 25. However, since March 25 fell during Holy Week, the new year festivities were pushed back to the first day of April. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII decreed the adoption of the “Gregorian calendar,” which switched New Year’s Day from the end of March to January 1.

Many people were informed of this change, yet those who lived in rural areas or had not heard about the calendar change continued to celebrate the arrival of the new year on April 1. These people were mocked, and some  people in the know would try to confuse people into thinking that April 1 was still New Year’s Day and they were receiving a New Year’s visit. From this tradition grew the one that is observed today, with people trying to fool unsuspecting individuals with all methods of pranks and trickery.

In France, jokes may have involved placing paper fish on the backs of the gullible. These “poisson d’avril (April fish)” symbolized a young, easily caught fish, or someone who was easily pranked.

Others suggest April Fools’ Day is connected to pagan festivals celebrated during the change of seasons. On Hilaria, Romans would dress up in disguises. Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day is connected to the vernal equinox, when people were fooled with unpredictable weather.

April Fools’ antics eventually spread outside of France to Britain, and then around the world. While pranks were once simplistic in nature, many are now more intricate. According to Snopes, a popular April Fools’ hoax dates back to 1957 when the BBC convinced its audience that spring would arrive early, and with it, an early spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. Video showed peasant women harvesting spaghetti from trees, now that the ravenous spaghetti weevil, which had caused havoc to past harvests, was finally defeated. The station received scores of calls asking to view the harvest or inquiring how they could get a spaghetti plant.

In 1996 in the United States, the popular fast food chain Taco Bell convinced the public that it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and wanted to rename it the “Taco Liberty Bell.”

In 2016, the Texas state comptroller’s office announced that “redback” paper money would be reissued in the state for the first time since 1840 — and it would feature Willie Nelson’s face on the $10 bill. April Fools’ jokes have evolved throughout the centuries. Although the exact origins cannot be accurately pinpointed, the fun ensues nevertheless.

Enjoy an environmentally friendly St. Patrick’s Day

Green is the color most associated with St. Patrick’s Day, and green also can be the primary mindset of hosts and hostesses when planning Paddy’s Day revelry. As celebrants prepare to pay homage to Irish culture and the accomplishments of St. Patrick, they can include eco-conscious practices in the festivities.

For many people, St. Patrick’s Day is a day to let loose and have a good time. Parades are abundant, and food and drink often are enjoyed in copious amounts. While this excess can make for a fun and raucous day, those who are conscious of their carbon footprints can scale back in some clever ways.

Enjoy a local brew

While many may prefer a pint of Ireland-brewed Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day, imported beers have larger carbon footprints than local beers thanks to trans-Atlantic shipping and delivery to nearby retailers. Instead of Guinness, consider a locally-brewed beer. Homespun breweries are a growing niche business in communities big and small. If you’re more adventurous, invest in a home-brewing kit and try your luck with your own flavor profile.

Skip the confetti or ticker tape

Attending a parade can be the pinnacle of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. When so many people gather in one place, there’s a greater propensity for waste and litter. Although garbage cannot be avoided, towns and cities can help curtail the mess by avoiding confetti, balloon drops and ticker tape. Birds routinely get snagged by balloon strings, or they may inadvertently swallow popped latex balloons thinking they’re food. Confetti can wash away into storm drains or clog sewers. Bubbles, laser lights and other plastic- or paper-free items can be used instead and are better for the environment.

Invest in reusable products

If your’s is the go-to house for St. Patrick’s Day revelry, purchase tablecloths, dishes and cups that can be used again and again. This cuts down on the number of disposable items that get put in the trash and eventually find their way into landfills.

Transform your leftovers

Irish soda bread, corned beef, potatoes and much more are par for the culinary course come St. Patrick’s Day. Rather than discarding leftovers, consider recipes that will put those leftovers to good use. Dice up the corned beef to add to egg dishes or quiches. Post-Paddy’s Day sandwiches also make a delicious treat. Potatoes can be mashed and transformed into croquettes. Or they can be diced to make hash browns to go with those corned beef-enhanced eggs. Spread soda bread with a sweet jam and instantly turn it into a dessert. Or crumble the bread to use in a delicious bread pudding.

Splurge on an experience

Rather than material goods, if you want to set your party apart, invest in an experience that produces no waste. Contract with Uilleann pipers who can add a Celtic flair to the festivities. Although bagpipes are more widely associated with the Scottish, they have become synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day as well.

The season of Lent and Easter

Spring is eagerly anticipated, as many people look forward to enjoying the great outdoors once more. Spring is also a special time of year for practicing Christians. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays until the arrival of Easter Sunday, the Lenten season is a very important time of year for Christians. During Lent, Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, self-denial, and spiritual discipline. While the Bible does not reference Lent, the practice of observing Lent has become a standard.

The following focuses on each of the special days of this church season as they pertain to Western Christianity (Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent somewhat differently).

Ash Wednesday: The Day of Ashes commemorates the repentance of sin. On Ash Wednesday, Christians have ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross in recognition of their need to repent. Many churches host Ash Wednesday services, and those who receive the ashes are not only reminded of their mortality and sinfulness, but also of the opportunity for absolution. Christians typically fast on Ash Wednesday, though some simply abstain from eating meat.

Palm Sunday: On what is now called “Palm Sunday,” Jesus Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem while villagers welcomed him and waved palm branches. This is mentioned in each of the Biblical Gospels and occurs a week before His subsequent resurrection. Jesus possibly rode a donkey rather than a horse as a sign of peace, as a war-waging king might ride a horse. The “Passion of the Christ” is typically read during Palm Sunday masses.

Holy Thursday: is sometimes referred to as “Covenant Thursday,” “Maundy Thursday” or “Thursday of Mysteries.” Holy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the apostles. According to Catholic News Agency, Holy Thursday might be one of the most important, complex and profound days of celebration in the Catholic Church. Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the sacrament of the priesthood.

Good Friday: commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was condemned by his peers as King Herod and Pontius Pilate had found him not guilty of his crimes. But crowds were enraged, and Pilate reluctantly ordered his crucifixion rather than face a mass riot.

Holy Saturday marks the final day of the Triduum, or the three days preceding Easter Sunday. Scripture states that Holy Saturday was when Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb.

Easter Sunday: A festive and celebratory day for Christians, Easter Sunday is a time for sharing the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. His body is discovered missing from the tomb, and Jesus appears to his followers again showing proof that He is alive. Typically, Easter Sunday is one of the most well-attended Sunday services for Christians. It also is a day to spend with family, and many families share large meals to mark the end of the Lenten season. 

Exploring the history of Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is best known as a raucous event that takes place in New Orleans, LA and other areas around the world in January and February. Fat Tuesday, the final day of Mardi Gras, can occur in March depending on the calendar year and how it corresponds to the Christian liturgical calendar. While Mardi Gras may be legendary for scantily clad costumes, delicious food, overflowing spirits, and many acts of debauchery, many people -- particularly non-Christians -- may not know what the celebration is truly all about.

Roots of this holiday actually lie in the Christian calendar. Mardi Gras is supposed to serve as the last day in a period of merrymaking that historically takes place during the Carnival season. For many Christians, that Carnival period starts with the Epiphany, or when it was revealed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, which occurs a few days after Christmas. The tradition of the King's Cake, or a cake baked with a coin, bead or plastic baby doll inside, that is common during Mardi Gras, has its origins in Epiphany celebrations. The "King' symbolizes the Christ child. Fun and good cheer continue during the next month, and the merrymaking eventually reaches its pinnacle on Mardi Gras. The actual name "Fat Tuesday" comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. To the very religious, Mardi Gras is also called "Shrove Tuesday," from "to shrive" or hear religious confessions before Lent.

Many may wonder why good times must end on Mardi Gras and not continue thereafter. That's because Christian Mardi Gras is the final day before Lent begins. Lent is a period of 40 weekdays that, in the Christian Church, is devoted to fasting, abstinence and penitence. The traditional purpose of Lent is to prepare believers for the annual commemoration of how Jesus gave up his life for his followers, and the miracle that was His Resurrection, and his eventual ascension into heaven. Participating in the Lenten season is a practice that is common to the many sects of Christianity, including Catholics, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists. It has also slowly gained favor with other denominations that have historically not participated in Lent.

National Margarita Day Deals in Houston

Another year, another National Margarita Day. Every February 22, fans celebrate the beloved frozen or on-the-rocks concoction.Here are a few spots in Houston offering margarita deals Wednesday:

Soto’s Cantina: This Northwest Houston favorite is offering half-price margaritasFebruary 22 for folks who mention this deal from Houston on the Cheap! Thank you, Juan. I love Soto’s!Located at 10609 Grant Rd.

Cadillac Bar: Cadillac Bar is offering Happy Hour pricing with $3.50 house margaritas all day. Offer valid at Houston and Kemah Boardwalk location.

Cafe Adobe Marq*e Center: Save a few bucks on Skinny or Perfect margaritas at Café Adobe Marq*e Center. They’re priced at $7.50 all day February 22 ($10.95 regular price).Located on I-10 near Silber.

Chili’s: Get $5 premium margaritas February 22 at Chili’s. These include Tropical Sunrise, Presidente, and Triple Berry Infused.

Chuy’s: Take advantage of $1 off Frozen Raspberry Ritas February 22 featuring el Jimador Tequila Silver.

El Big Bad: Score $5 fresh-squeezed margaritas at El Big Bad, the world’s largest infused Tequila Bar, at its 2nd annual Margarita Day & Crawfish Festival. Fun starts at 4 pm with crawfish at 7 pm. Located at 419 Travis.

Gringo’s Tex-Mex: Folks who sign up for its El Club email list will receive a coupon for $2 margaritas February 22. You must sign up by February 21. Those who are current El Club members just need to update their profile and click the “National Margarita Day” box by February 21. Limit two ($2) house margaritas per person.

Molina’s Cantina: Enjoy $5 margaritas all day at Molina’s Cantina. Locations on Bellaire Blvd., Washington and Westheimer.

Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub and Baker St. Pub: It’s hard to pass up $2 rocks margaritas or $3 frozen margaritas! Located in Katy, Cypress, Sugar Land, The Woodlands, and Houston–Willowbrook (Baker St. Pub) and Westheimer (Sherlock’s).

Cyclone Anaya’s: Don’t miss $5 jumbo house margaritas all day February 22. This is half off happy hour pricing! Six Houston locations.

 

Information provided by: http://www.houstononthecheap.com/national-margarita-day-deals-houston

Valentines traditions from around the world

Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the globe. Come Valentine’s Day, candy, flowers and other gifts are exchanged between sweethearts in one of the many traditions associated with the holiday.

The origins of Valentine’s Day are largely unknown. Some suggest Valentine’s Day was initially a way to honor St. Valentine on the anniversary of his death. Others believe it was the Christian church’s way of Christianizing the Pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Regardless of its origins, Valentine’s Day is now celebrated by millions and is one of the retail industry’s most lucrative shopping holidays. Many different traditions can be linked to Valentine’s Day. Here is a list of the interesting ways Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the globe.

South Korea

In South Korea, men get to enjoy the spotlight on Valentine’s Day, as women bestow gifts of chocolate on them. In return, a month later  men reciprocate with gifts for women on White Day. South Koreans take Valentine’s Day a step further on Black Day, which falls on April 14. This is an opportunity for all single people who may not have received Valentine’s Day gifts to gather at restaurants and eat a dish called “black noodles” as they celebrate their singleton status.

Denmark and Norway

These Scandinavian countries didn’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day until recently, but have now put their own spin on the traditions. Men write funny poems or rhyming love notes called Gaekkebrev and send them to women anonymously. Women must try to guess their admirers by counting dots that are put on the note that correspond to the number of letters in the man’s name.

Estonia

In Estonia, Valentine’s Day is a day more devoted to friendship than romantic love. It is called “Sõbrapäev” in Estonian, which translates to “Friend’s Day.” Cards and gifts are exchanged among friends.

Wales

In Wales, Valentine’s Day is not celebrated. Rather, the Welsh commemorate St. Dwynwen’s Day, who is their patron saint of lovers on January 25. It is customary to gift love-spoons, a tradition that likely stems from the practice of sailors carving intricately decorated spoons of wood and presenting them to women they were interested in courting or marrying.

France

Considered to be one of the most romantic countries in the world, France can be an ideal place to participate in Valentine’s Day traditions. The French have an old custom called “une loterie d’amour,” which is a drawing for love. Single men and women of all ages once entered houses that faced one another and took turns calling out to one another to find romantic matches. The men could refuse the match and leave the woman looking for another man to call on. Women who were not paired up would light a bonfire and damn the men who rejected them. The French government eventually banned the practice because of rowdy crowds.

Italy

Italian lovers celebrate Valentine’s Day in much the same way as Americans. One interesting Valentine’s tradition in Italy is locking padlocks to different structures, which is called “Lucchetti dell’Amore (locks of love).” Couples attach the locks to bridges, railings and lamp posts, inscribe their names and throw away the key. The action suggests the couple will be together forever.

Time to talk turkey

Few foods receive the fanfare of turkey come the holiday season. The National Turkey Federation says Americans eat 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving and another 22 million on Christmas. An additional 19 million enjoy turkey as part of their Easter celebrations. 
Though turkey is enjoyed throughout the year, it is most popular during the holiday season. Some celebrants may want to know more about this beloved bird before sinking their teeth into their next holiday meal. The following turkey tidbits may surprise you.

  • Turkeys are large game birds that are closely related to chickens, pheasants and quail.
  • The turkey’s scientific name is “meleagris gallopavo,” which is the wild turkey from which the domesticated turkey many people eat descends. There is another species of turkey known as the ocellated turkey, which is native to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.
  • By the early 1900s, the wild turkey neared extinction. Restoration projects have increased the number of turkeys from approximately 30,000 birds back then to nearly seven million now.
  • Despite their size, turkeys can fly in the wild. They often perch in trees to sleep to protect themselves from predators. Some domesticated turkeys may not fly because they have been bred to be overly large to produce more breast meat.
  • The heaviest turkey ever raised was 86 pounds.
  • A male turkey is called a “tom” or a “gobbler,” while female turkeys are referred to as “hens.” Only the male will make the familiar gobbling sound, which is used to attract mates.
  • A hen is smaller than a gobbler and does not have the distinctive beard of modified feathers that gobblers have on their breasts. Males also have sharp spurs on their legs for fighting.
  • Male and female turkeys also can be differentiated by their droppings. Male droppings are spiral-shaped, while females’ look like the letter J.
  • Both genders of turkey have snoods (the dangling appendage on the face) as well as red wattles under their chins.
  • A hen can lay about 10 to 12 eggs over a period of two weeks. The eggs will incubate for 28 days before hatching. Baby turkeys are called “poults.”
  • Turkeys and peacocks may look similar, but they are not closely related.
  • Turkeys have excellent vision due to their eyes being located on the sides of their head. This gives the birds periscopic vision.
  • The gizzard is a part of the turkey’s stomach that contains tiny stones that the bird has swallowed. The stones facilitate the digestion process.
  • Benjamin Franklin did not support the bald eagle as the nation’s symbol, feeling the turkey would be a better choice. In a letter to his daughter, he wrote, “He [bald eagle] is a rank coward; the little king-bird, not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. For in truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America. Eagles have been found in all countries, but the turkey was peculiar to ours …”
  • Turkeys will have 3,500 feathers at maturity. Rumor has it the costume worn by the “Sesame Street” character “Big Bird” is made of turkey feathers.
  • The turkey shares its name with a country. But why? A turkey bears some resemblance to the guinea fowl. Though it is native to eastern Africa, the guinea fowl was imported to Europe through the Ottoman Empire and came to be called the “turkey-cock” or “turkey-hen.” When settlers in the New World began to send similar-looking fowl back to Europe, they were mistakenly called “turkeys.”
  • Despite an abundance of turkeys being eaten between November and January, June is National Turkey Month. 

Honor veterans on Remembrance Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, World War I fighting ceased. The war, which had raged on throughout Europe for a little more than four years, claimed the lives of more than nine million combatants and seven million civilians. The Allies squared off against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and the conflict involved nations from all over the world. 
World War II was even more devastating. Ultimately, 100,000 Canadian soldiers lost their lives in these two wars combined. It is in their honor — and in the name of all the servicemen and women who continue to risk their lives in service of their country — that Remembrance Day was established.
Remembrance Day, sometimes referred to as Armistice Day or Poppy Day, is celebrated each year on November 11. It is a federal statutory holiday in much of Canada. During the holiday, people pause for two minutes at 11 a.m. to remember the many Canadian soldiers who lost their lives. Many people also wear red poppies, a flower that has become synonymous with the holiday.
In addition to the moments of silence and the wearing of poppies, individuals can commemorate Remembrance Day in the following ways.

  • Treat a veteran. Take a soldier out for a meal or pay the restaurant bill anonymously. If a family member or friend is presently in the military or retired from the service, learn his or her interests and plan a special, stress-free day.
  • Share a service member’s story. Speak with a service person who served in World War II about his or her military service, and chronicle this person’s story into a living history. Encourage children to take part in learning about this person’s history and experiences.
  • Volunteer at a veteran’s association. Find a department of veteran’s affairs and see what you can do to assist veterans. If you have specialized skills, offer your services free of charge to former soldiers.
  • Show your patriotism. Be proud of your heritage and the rich history of the country. Fly the flag, participate in the voting process and teach children about the country’s founding principles and how much the nation has evolved. Read up on current events and take an interest in domestic and foreign affairs.
  • Establish your own traditions. Create your own way to celebrate Remembrance Day. This may include a day of contemplation, spending time with family, visiting historical sites, or watching documentaries on the life-changing wars that transformed the world.

Remembrance Day is a time to honor the patriotism of selfless soldiers who sacrificed their lives to make Canada — and the world — a safer place.

Customary Halloween foods

Halloween is a season of colors, from the orange pumpkins sitting on doorsteps to the purple and black bats hung from windows. However, Halloween also is known for its culinary delights, particularly the sweet treats that are served at parties or handed out to trick-or-treaters.
Many different foods have become synonymous with Halloween, with some not available any other time of year. Certain foods are enjoyed simply because they are fun, while others are tied to customs honoring the dead. Below are some of the more popular foods come Halloween and a little history behind them.

  • Chocolate: Chocolate is big business around Halloween. According to a recent survey from the National Confectioners Association, 72 percent of all money spent on Halloween candy is spent on chocolate. Chocolate has been popular for centuries, but chocolate’s history is even lengthier than many people may know. Cocoa beans were harvested by ancient Olmec Indians as far back as 1500 B.C. Original uses for cocoa beans were in bitter drinks, similar to coffee. It would take centuries more for cocoa beans to be combined with milk and sugar to create the chocolate we know today. J.S. Fry & Sons and Cadbury Brothers were early purveyors of that type of chocolate.
  • Candied apples: Candied apples are usually dipped in toffee or caramel. Other apples may be dipped in a melted sugar coating, similar to the recipe used for lollipops and pulled-sugar treats. It’s believed candied apples were created in 1908, when they were meant to be a display item to entice customers into candy shops. Candied apples are popular in the fall, when they’re easier to make because that’s when apples are in abundance. In addition, the layer of candy surrounding the apple sets better in autumn weather than in the humidity of the summer.
  • Candy corn: Candy corn is most often found around Halloween in North America. The candy was created to look like kernels of corn. However, each candy kernel is three times larger than a real kernel. Candy corn was created in the 1880s by George Renninger of the Philadelphia-based Wunderle Candy Company. The Goelitz Confectionery Company began production at the turn of the century, calling their product “Chicken Feed.”
  • Soul cakes: Early origins of trick-or-treating can be traced to customs for commemorating the dead. Individuals, mainly in Britain and Ireland, would go door-to-door “souling” for cakes baked with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. For each cake they received, recipients would offer prayers for families’ departed relatives. Some people have kept the tradition alive and bake these biscuit-like cakes.
  • Pumpkin pie: Pumpkin pie makes its debut in the fall when most pumpkins are ripe for the picking. Pumpkins became popular for cooking in England in the 17th century and were likely brought over to America by the pilgrims. Early pumpkin pies were savory, full of spices. Today’s pies are more sweet but still feature the familiar flavors of the past, including nutmeg and cloves. Pumpkin pie can be enjoyed around Halloween, but it usually takes center stage during Thanksgiving celebrations.

Celebrate working men and women

Labor Day is a bit of a misnomer. While it may seem like a day devoted to work, many workers in the United States and Canada don’t work at all on Labor Day. 


Labor Day is much more than the unofficial end to summer. Labor Day weekend tends to be the last big travel weekend before the holiday season, benefitting towns and businesses that cater to tourists. But while road trips and backyard barbecues are now staples of Labor Day, the origins of the holiday bear little resemblance to the celebrations of today. 


Labor Day in the United States dates back to the 19th century, though its origins are still debated by historians. According to the United States Department of Labor, recent research supports the idea that Labor Day was the brainchild of machinist Matthew Maguire, who supposedly devised the idea in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. Others attribute the holiday to Peter J. McGuire, a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor and general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. 


Historians say the first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York. This was based on plans from Maguire’s Central Labor Union. Other states and cities would eventually adopt the first Monday in September as Labor Day. As labor unions grew, other cities started celebrating Labor Day, which McGuire suggested should be a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”


Soon the popularity of Labor Day grew and recognition by the government followed. By 1885, municipal ordinances recognizing Labor Day had been passed, and they inspired state legislation. While Labor Day was first celebrated in New York, in 1887 the state of Oregon became the first state to officially pass a law recognizing the first Monday of September as Labor Day. New York, along with Colorado, Massachusetts and New Jersey, implemented Labor Day observations soon after. 


On June 28, 1894, Congress officially passed an act that declared the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday. This applied to all states as well as the District of Columbia. Labour Day also is celebrated on the first Monday of September in Canada, where the day celebrates workers and the labor union movement. 


It’s important for people living in North America to recognize both the significance and the history of Labor Day, which is about far more than backyard barbecues and the last of summer jaunts to the beach.

Did you know?

The Fourth of July has been a federal holiday since 1941. Though that may seem like a long time for the country to wait to celebrate the independence it declared in 1776, the tradition of the Fourth of July, often referred to as Independence Day, dates back to the dawn of the American Revolution and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Since then, July 4th has been recognized as the dawn of American independence, and celebrations that included fireworks and parades can be traced back to the 18th century. On July 4, 1777, the city of Philadelphia, which would become the first capital of the United States of America, held the first annual commemoration of American independence, and exactly one year later George Washington ordered that all of his soldiers be offered double rations of rum to commemorate the anniversary. In 1781, Massachusetts was the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday, and the day was actually declared a federal holiday by the U.S. Congress in 1870. However, that declaration did not grant a paid holiday to federal employees. That benefit came in 1941, which is why that year is now recognized as the first year when the Fourth of July officially became a federal holiday.  

Fireworks have a colorful history

Independence Day celebrations are marked by many spectacles. But few can garner the "oohs and aahs" of a good fireworks display. Summer is a time of year when the resonating booms and bright spills of color that dot the night sky are quite common.


Fireworks, which can be traced back thousands of years, have an interesting history. Many historians believe fireworks originated in ancient China as early as 200 B.C. It is thought that early fireworks were not the gunpowder-filled explosives of today, but something made from bamboo, a material native to China. Chunks of bamboo, a thick, fast-growing grass, may have been tossed onto a fire as fuel. The rods would blacken, but eventually explode in the fire, causing a loud, frightening noise. This noise was a result of trapped air and sap inside of the bamboo rods heating and expanding until the bamboo exploded under the pressure. The exploding bamboo was used to ward off animals, other people and evil spirits.


Chinese alchemists eventually stumbled on a recipe for basic gunpowder, mixing together saltpeter (potassium nitrate, then a common kitchen seasoning), charcoal, sulfur, and other ingredients. This powder was packed inside of hollow bamboo rods to produce an even bigger bang. Soon paper tubes replaced the bamboo, and fireworks were used for more than just scaring away spirits, as they were routinely included in special celebrations and even deployed during military engagements. 


Fireworks may have begun in China, but they were soon being used around the world. Italians had been fascinated with fireworks ever since the explorer Marco Polo brought back firecrackers from Asia in 1292. During the Renaissance in Europe, the Italians began to develop fireworks into a true art form. Since this was a period of artistic creativity and expression, many new fireworks were created. 


"Firemasters" were fireworks experts in medieval England. They worked with "green men," who wore caps of leaves to protect themselves from raining sparks from the fireworks. 
In 1758, the Jesuit missionary Pierre Nicolas le Cheron d'Incarville, living in Beijing, wrote to the Paris Academy of Sciences about the methods and composition of fireworks, including how to make many types of Chinese fireworks. 


The world remains fascinated by fireworks even now. Fireworks displays have grown more elaborate over the years, requiring the skills of pyrotechnic experts, carpenters and digital sound masters. Various powders and chemicals mixed together produce a rainbow display of colors and aerial tricks that would likely have shocked the earliest firework creators.


Not forgetting its origins, China continues to produce and export more fireworks than any other country in the world. Safety experts recommend the public leave fireworks to the professionals and sit back and relax during awe-inspiring pyrotechnic displays. As the United States and Canada prepare for their respective Independence Day celebrations, flashy fireworks displays are bound to be part of the festivities.