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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Holidays

A Snippet of History for this "Holiday Weekend"



The tradition of honoring our war dead probably pre-dates the Civil War, and we know that families cleared winter debris from family graveyards long before governments became involved in creating a special day for doing so. Still, most accounts give credit for the first “Memorial Day” to the African-American events carried out in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. There, ceremonies honored 257 Union soldiers who died while being held as prisoners of war at the Hampton Park Race Course.  Freedmen, Union troops, black ministers and northern missionaries gathered to clean up their unmarked graves, to remember those who had lost their lives during the Civil War, and to offer thanks for the end of slavery in the United States.

In the North, the first Decoration Day came at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, at the direction of General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. He announced that the day should be "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." Gradually the custom spread across both the North and the South. At the same time, the two names — Memorial Day and Decoration Day — gradually merged, until a federal law passed in 1967 officially designated the term Memorial Day. 

Almost immediately thereafter, Congress began to work on a proposal that would change the fixed dates of four holidays to  designated Mondays, so as to create four three-day holiday weekends for the convenience and pleasure of American voters. The four included George Washington’s Birthday, Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. The change became effective in 1971. 

By 1975 protests forced the date of Veteran’s Day to be restored to November 11th, but efforts to do the same for Memorial Day were less successful. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii began offering resolutions to restore the May 30 date in 1987 and continued to do so every year until his death in 2012. The VFW picked up the effort in 2002, declaring that the 3-day weekend trivialized the meaning of the day.  So far all such efforts have failed.

Today, the same protest is echoing across Facebook. If you are among those who cringe at “Memorial Day sales,” picnic recipes, ads for beach get-aways, and well-meaning but oblivious folks who wish you a “Happy Memorial Day,” you already understand. This “holiday” was never meant to be National Barbecue Day. It’s not even a day to say “Thank You” to living veterans who gave of their service. They’ll get their day on November 11th. Today, May 30, we are meant to remember and honor those who have given their very lives in the service of their country, both those who died on a far-off battlefield and those who later died of their war-related injuries.


As one whose husband died of combat-related injuries, my heart aches on this day. I’m not having a nice holiday. I’m not happy. I won’t be cooking out. But I will remember.


July 4, 2015 -- A Day So Cold and Damp, Not Even a Fish . . . .

July 4, 2015 -- A Day So Cold and Damp, Not Even a Fish Could Love It. Is This Really Tennessee in Mid-Summer?

I got up at 5:30 this morning so that I could be in Germantown to help our Lions Club set up a fishing rodeo. It was not raining, for the first time in days, but the sky was still hanging low with ugly clouds. Long pants, heavy shoes and socks and long sleeves were the uniform of the day.

Despite the appearance of the weather, kids began to arrive shortly after 8:00 AM, but we made them all wait until the starting bell at 9:00. A countdown: 10 - 9 - 8 -  - - -and the poles were in the water. First fish wins a prize!  -- A nice prize.  -- Win a new rod and reel! -- First Fish? --
Anybody?  -- Nope. -- Nothing. 

Finally a little boy showed up with a little fish -- maybe 8 ounces worth, and he won the pole. That's the way the whole morning went. Last year the fish came out of the water faster than we could get them weighed.  One weighed over eight pounds. This year? Nothing! Even the geese decided to leave.


The temperature was about 72 degrees, but there was a stiff wind, strong enough to rattle our loud-speaker system and make it sound like thunder, so lots of people were looking up apprehensively.  That wind whistled  across the lake and picked up the spray from the central fountain, carrying that spray directly across our registration table and into our faces. It  was a great way to cool off . . .  if we had been warm to start with.


One little girl brought her catch up to be weighed. She had it all wrapped up in her gloves "to keep him warm." I swear I thought i saw that fish smile.

It was not one of our better years. When i left at 10:30, about 65 fish had been caught, and the largest of those weighed only two and a half pounds. Where were all the five-pounders we ordered? My bet is that they were at the bottom of the lake burrowed into some nice cozy warm mud, waiting for the sun to come out.

I hope the weather doesn't make tonight's fireworks fizzle out, too, but I won't be around to find out. i intend to be curled in a blanket with a good book.

What Do Eggs and Bunnies Have to Do with Easter?

There's been an interesting controversy on the Internet about that question.  Among the participants have been Richard Dawkins, an atheist and evolutionary biologist: several followers of Sylvia Plath's writings; one or two offended Christians; and a few medieval historians whose academic training has exposed them to as much history of religion as most theologians ever receive. [I leave it to you to decide where I fall in that august crowd.]

The following is an excerpt from the most rational discussion I have seen. It is reproduced here by invitation from its author. Read the whole article (language alert!) at:  http://bellejar.ca/2013/03/28/easter-is-not-named-after-ishtar-and-other-truths-i-have-to-tell-you/

Most scholars believe that Easter gets its name from Eostre or Ostara, a Germanic pagan goddess. English and German are two of the very few languages that use some variation of the word Easter (or, in German, Ostern) as a name for this holiday. Most other European languages use one form or another of the Latin name for Easter, Pascha, which is derived from the Hebrew Pesach, meaning Passover. In French it’s Pâques, in Italian it’s Pasqua, in Dutch it’s Pasen, in Danish it’s Paaske, in Bulgarian it’s Paskha, and so on and so forth.

In the Christian Bible, Jesus returned to Jerusalem from his forty days in the desert just before Passover. In fact, in the Gospel according to John, Jesus was killed on the day before the first night of Passover, at the time when lambs were traditionally slaughtered for the Passover feast (because Jesus was the Lamb of God, etc. – SYMBOLISM, Y’ALL). There are a few differing accounts of when Jesus actually died, but most Christian texts, philosophers and scholars agree that it was around the time of Passover. Easter is still celebrated the week after Passover, which is why it’s a different day each year, because the Jewish calendar is lunar rather than solar.

Her symbols (like the egg and the bunny) were and still are fertility and sex symbols (or did you actually think eggs and bunnies had anything to do with the resurrection?).

Actually, according to Jacob Grimm’s Deutsche Mythologie, which he wrote after journeying across Germany and recording its oral mythological traditions, the idea of resurrection was part and parcel of celebrating the goddess Ostara:

“Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the Christian’s God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy … Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing … here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great Christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.”

Spring is a sort of resurrection after all, with the land coming back to life after lying dead and bare during the winter months. To say that ancient peoples thought otherwise is foolish, naïve and downright uninformed. Many, many pagan celebrations centre around the return of light and the rebirth of the land; these ideas are not new themes in the slightest.

And yes, rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols, and they are, in fact, associated with Eostre.

Look. Here’s the thing. Our Western Easter traditions incorporate a lot of elements from a bunch of different religious backgrounds. You can’t really say that it’s just about resurrection, or just about spring, or just about fertility and sex. You can’t pick one thread out of a tapestry and say, “Hey, now this particular strand is what this tapestry’s really about.” It doesn’t work that way; very few things in life do.

The fact is that the Ancient Romans were smart when it came to conquering. In their pagan days, they would absorb gods and goddesses from every religion they encountered into their own pantheon; when the Roman Empire became Christian, the Roman Catholic Church continued to do the same thing, in a manner of speaking.

And do you know why that worked so well? Because adaptability is a really, really good trait to have in terms of survival of the fittest (something I wish the present-day Catholic Church would remember). Scratch the surface of just about any Christian holiday, and you’ll find pagan elements, if not a downright pagan theme, underneath.

Know what else? Most Christians know this. Or, at least, most of the Christians that I’m friends with (which is, admittedly, a fairly small sampling). They know that Jesus wasn’t really born on December 25th, and they know that there were never any actual snakes in Ireland, and they know that rabbits and eggs are fertility symbols. But they don’t care, because they realize that religions evolve and change and that that’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing. The fact that many Christian saints are just re-imagined pagan gods and goddesses doesn’t alter their faith one iota; because faith isn’t about reason or sense, it’s about belief.

Why Does this Chicken Keep Crossing the Road?

Dear Chicken,

I saw you for the first time a couple of weeks ago.  My husband called you a rooster, but I was pretty sure you were just a Rhode Island Red hen. You were puttering around our yard, digging the live bugs out of our fresh flowerbed mulch. I asked you where your home coop was because I knew you didn’t belong in this fenced-in condo community.  Our residents are mostly senior citizens, and they frown on any sort of animal life, except for their own leashed dogs. Cats are not allowed outside, and I know neighbors who nearly have  a heart attack if a mouse  or a water bug crawls under their garage door. I knew you would not be a popular visitor. And I can’t imagine what they would do if they found an egg in their yard.

That day, you took my suggestion and went clucking off toward the fence. I worried about you a little bit. I knew you could get past the fence. It is, after all, only a symbolic fence, with two rails. You probably walked right under it. On the other side of the fence, though, there’s a road, and I knew you were going to cross it. Oh well, I reassured myself, chickens have been crossing roads for a very long time. She’ll know what she’s doing. That was the end of our brief acquaintance. Until this morning!

What were you doing hanging around the Club House? The swimming pool is closed for the season, and even our resident wild duck family (with all their 11 ducklings) left last week for a warmer location. You were close to the road again —(See, I still worry about you!) — but you seemed quite pleased with the chance to investigate our flower beds. You were kicking dry leaves, too, and I know how much fun that can be.

But that’s not the real problem. Has no one told you that Thanksgiving will be here in three more days? It’s the most dangerous day of the year for poultry, as any turkey would tell you. And in this little community, where most houses have only one or two residents, a nice fat chicken like yourself would make an appealing substitute for one of those bigger birds. So please go home! Scurry back across the road and into the woods on your way to your home coop. I don’t want you to end up on a platter.



3 Ways to Deal with the Holiday Calendar Crisis

I've just been looking at my calendar for the next two months. Holy Datebook! November's almost over, or will be by the time we negotiate next week's Thanksgiving trip. Then it's December with my husband's birthday and our anniversary both coming before Christmas. And smack in the middle of the various scheduled holiday parties comes the week we will be spending in the condo at Hilton Head. Do I really think I'm going to accomplish much between now and the New Year? Not a chance of that, but maybe there are some ways to turn a lot of small tidbits into a productive whole. Here's what I'm thinking this morning.

1. Give up on the idea of racing all the other NaNoWriMo writers to the finish line.  On November 15th, I was ahead of the curve. Now I'm slipping behind at an ever increasing pace. OK, so be it. It's really not about how many words you can put on paper; it's about how important your words are. Better not to write than to write drivel. If my characters want to talk to me, they can go ahead. I can add some bits and pieces of conversation without feeling I have to create a whole chapter at a time.

2. Go ahead and start planning for Christmas instead of worrying that there won't be time to get everything done. I woke up this morning thinking about my mother's recipe for Christmas sand tarts. It's been several years since I've made them, and we're trying to cut the calorie intake around here, but  . . . why not just do it? The darn things last forever, so instead of waiting for Christmas week, I may mix up a batch by Thanksgiving and kickstart my Christmas memories. Oh, and I must remember to take last year's fruitcake out of the freezer and see if it has survived.

3. Relax by having a little fun in the middle of the work day.For the next few weeks, I may turn this blog into a scrapbook of items that make me smile for one reason or another. Serious blog posts on the art and craft of indie publishing can wait until I'm actually practicing that art and craft full time again. In the meantime, here's what made me smile today. Purely by accident I ran across a picture of a marriage certificate signed by Gen. Rufus Saxton, who is a prominent character in The Road to Frogmore, and who will appear again in Yankee Reconstructed. I don't recognize the names of the bride and groom, Minerva Morris and James Bythwood, but I smiled when I actually saw a sample of Saxton's signature. I know that many of my characters are real people, but it's still fun to find traces of their lives.