Fun Facts: Holidays and Observances
"A perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell."
—George Bernard Shaw
The word "holiday" comes from "holy day". During the Middle Ages, there were over 50 "holy days" and festival days, exclusive of Sundays, every year. This meant that peasants would only work for 260 days out of the year.
In a study of 3,000 people who made New Year's resolutions in 2007,
only 12% stuck to them. The resolution with the greatest chance of success
was "to enjoy life more".
The New Year has been celebrated for over 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest festivals still celebrated today. Celebrating the New Year on January 1st began in the year 46 B.C.
George Washington, early military and political leader of the United
States, was born, according to the Julian calendar in use at the time, on
February 11. However, according to the Gregorian calendar, his birthday
would be on February 22. In 1752, Great Britain and its colonies adopted
the Gregorian calendar, so his birthday is given as February 22 in modern
documents. The United States has a holiday to commemorate Washington's
Birthday. It is celebrated on the third Monday in February, which always
falls between February 15 and February 21 and so can
never fall on either February 11 or February 22.
There is a state holiday in Illinois that celebrates someone who never went anywhere near Illinois. On the first Monday in March, there is a holiday in honour of Casimir Pulaski (ca. 1748–1779). Pulaski was initially a military hero in Poland in the 1760s and 1770s, but failed to prevent the Partition of Poland. Pulaski then fled Poland and was later recruited by Benjamin Franklin to help the rebels in America in their fight against the British.
The world's first St. Patrick's Day parade took place on March 17, 1762, in New York City, featuring Irish soldiers serving in the British military.
St. Patrick was not Irish. He was British, likely
from modern-day Wales, and never set foot in Ireland before he was kidnapped
by Irish raiders. After escaping, he became a priest and a bishop and
returned to Ireland as a missionary. He was made the patron saint of
Ireland due to his success in converting the Irish.
"Easter", the English name for the chief Christian feast, comes from
Eostre, the name of the pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn.
The earliest date on which Easter can occur is March 22. It last occurred on that date in 1818 and will occur again on that date in 2285. The latest date it can occur is April 25. It last occurred on that date in 1943 and will occur again in 2038.
On the eve of April Fools' Day of 1919, well-known hoaxer Horace Cole,
in Venice on his honeymoon, persuaded a gondolier to take him to the
mainland, where he purchased a load of horse manure. When it was dark, he
returned to Venice and deposited it in small lumps in the Piazza San Marco.
In the morning, Venetians were puzzled as to how horses could have crossed
the canals, paraded around the piazza, and then left.
On April Fools' Day, 1957, the BBC television documentary show
Panorama broadcast a documentary about the "spaghetti
orchards" of Switzerland. Over pictures of Swiss spaghetti trees,
the spaghetti plantations of Switzerland and Italy, the spaghetti
weevil, and the reason for spaghetti being of such uniform lengths
were discussed. Many viewers, oblivious to the date, believed
that what they were watching was genuine.
On April 1, 1979, Capital Radio in London broadcast a story saying
that Britain's time was out-of-sync with other countries due to switching
to and from British Summer Time. It was announced that, because Britain
was around 48 hours ahead of the rest of the world, the Government had
decided to cancel April 5 and April 12 of that year. Capital Radio received
hundreds of anxious calls from listeners who apparently hadn't noticed
that it was April Fools' Day.
On April 1, 1996, a full-page advertisement appeared in several
newspapers, including the New York Times, announcing that
Taco Bell had purchased the Liberty Bell, and that the bell would from now
on be known as the "Taco Liberty Bell". In the advertisement, Taco Bell
said that it hoped that this move will prompt other corporations to take
similar action to help reduce the national debt. Many people, apparently
not noticing the date, took it seriously, calling the home of the Liberty
Bell in Philadelphia to complain. The White House played along, with
spokesperson Mike McCurry saying that the government planned to sell the
Lincoln Memorial to Ford, which would rename it to the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial.
The driving force behind Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis, was never a mother herself (after her mother's death, she embarked on a campaign to have a holiday honouring mothers).
Historically, on Father's Day, more collect calls were made than on any other day of the year.
In the United States of America, Independence Day could have been celebrated on July 2. On that date in 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted independence from Great Britain. The next day, John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail, "The Second Day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more." In the 19th century, historians uncovered the letter and published it, with "Second" replaced by "Fourth."
On July 4, 1776, King George III wrote in his diary entry, "Nothing important happened today." Before the age of instant communication, he had no way of knowing what was happening in the American colonies across the ocean.
The Chinese physician Hua T'o, born sometime between 140 and 150 A.D.,
was the first doctor known to perform surgery under general anaesthetic.
A mixture of hemp and strong wine called ma fei san was used to
render his patients unconscious. Before the communist revolution, his
birth was commemorated by a national holiday.
The United Nations declared October 4-10, 1999 as World Space Week. These dates commemorate the launch of Sputnik in 1957 and the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the United States for the
first time in 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last
(not the fourth) Thursday in November as a national day of thanksgiving.
The U.S. presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey on the occasion
of American Thanksgiving was instituted by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the U.S. distilled spirits industry makes about 25% of its $58 billion in yearly profits between American Thanksgiving and New Year's.
No record exists of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th
before the year 336.
In all likelihood, December 25th is not the birthdate of Jesus.
Most scholars believe that the date of December 25th was
chosen for Christmas because it coincided with both the winter solstice on
the Julian calendar of the time and the birthdates of Mithras, the Persian
sun-god, and Sol Invictis, another sun-god, and was near the pagan feasts
of Saturnalia and the New Year.
Sir Isaac Newton was born on Christmas Day, in 1642.
Originally, the first line to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" was
"I'm sitting by a pool in Beverly Hills dreaming of a White Christmas."
A friend suggested dropping the reference to Beverly Hills,
and the song went on to become the most commercially successful song ever.
Many traditions for the holidays of Christmas,
Easter, and Halloween/All Saints' Day were created between roughly the
4th and 7th centuries to compete with pagan
traditions. For example, All Saints' Day was created by fourth-century
missionaries as a rival to the Celtic holiday Samhain, with its new traditions
designed to portray the rival pagan gods as devils, spirits,
Around 1,900,000,000 Christmas cards are given in the United States of
America yearly, making it the largest card-sending occasion in the country.
The second-largest is Valentine's Day, with approximately 192 million cards
There are several Christmas-related unusual place names in the
United States of America. They include Christmas, Florida,
North Pole, Alaska, Santa Claus, Indiana, Santa Claus, Georgia, Noel,
Missouri, and Snowflake, Arizona.
During Christmas 1914, along many areas of the Western Front,
many German and British soldiers stopped fighting each other and mingled with each other, exchanging food and small gifts. Some even sung carols or played soccer together.