Monday, February 18, 2013

The twisted history of Presidents' Day


Monday Feb 18th is Presidents' Day right?

On the face of it this holiday seems pretty straightforward.  It's called Presidents' Day, it's a national holiday and it celebrates the birthday of Presidents Washington and Lincoln.

Sorry. There is no such thing as a national holiday. There are federal holidays where federal offices are closed. Monday is a federal holiday.

According to the Federal Gov the third Monday in February is officially called ---Washington's Birthday---not Presidents’ Day. It officially and legally has nothing to do with Abraham Lincoln.

Oh I can hear the traffic on google...

Why is that?
Hard to believe, but Abraham Lincoln was never honored with a Federal holiday. I know you’re going to send me to websites that say Monday is a national holiday called President’s Day.  Remember, there’s no such thing as a national holiday and that isn’t how you’d spell Presidents’ Day anyway. (There’s lots of iffy info on the Internet.)

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that you may remember having off on Lincoln’s birthday. You may have, many states used to have a State holiday for Honest Abe.  No surprise that Illinois was the first in 1892.

But states are not obliged to adopt federal holidays, which only affect federal offices and agencies. While most states have adopted the federal celebration of Washington's Birthday, a dozen of them officially celebrate something they call Presidents' Day. A number of the states that celebrate Washington's Birthday also recognize Lincoln's Birthday as a separate legal holiday. Illinois the land of Lincoln is one.  New York State is another it celebrates: Feb 12th Lincoln’s birthday and Feb 19thWashington’s Birthday.

What gives??? Here goes...

The original holiday commemorated GW's B-day.  It was first held the last
full year of his presidency on Feb 11th 1796. However, by then Feb 11th was no longer his birthday.


George Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1731, however, this was according to Ye old Julian calendar. In 1752, Britain and her American Colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar, which changed the New Year from March back to January (we'll talk about this again when we get to our April Fools posting). The switch also made dates jump ahead an additional 11 days. Thus, in 1752 Washington began blowing out birthday candles on Feb 22nd.

Not everyone was happy with celebrating GW's b-day --whatever the date. Thomas Jefferson and his pals thought it all a little too similar to adulation of royalty like the damned Brits.

These disagreements lasted until Washington kicked the bucket in 1799.
Congress then passed a resolution calling on the nation to observe February 22, 1800 in his honor. But it was not a federal holiday.

Since he was a southern boy, GW's b-day was always big in the South; in fact, Richmond Virginia was officially celebrating it before he became President. But, the observance didn't really catch on nationwide until 1832 just after what would have been his 100th birthday. By then, GW had pretty much been elevated to American Sainthood.

One notable birthday party happened in 1850 in La-La-land. There, a fancy dress ball was held in honor of Washington where only L.A.'s upper crust were allowed to attend. They arrived in Hummer coaches at Graumann's Colonial. The hoi polloi (lower classes from Greek “the many”) retaliated by firing a canon into the ballroom, killing several partygoers.

Okay, so here's where things get hinky.

In 1864 Old Abe gets whacked.
He was killed on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. Here in New York signs were put up along Broadway that said,  "Our Christ has fallen" GW may have reached Sainthood but now he had some competition.

(The fact that Old Abe was at the theater on Good Friday should give you a good indication that he wasn’t a religious man, and that there once was a time when you didn’t have to cater to the Religious right to get elected.)

Congress held a memorial service the following year on Abe's b-day Feb 12th. After that, some northern states declared Abe day an official state holiday but Ole Abe was still quite unloved in the south and they didn’t come to the party.  Which is why Lincoln's Birthday never became a Federal holiday.

The oddest part of the story is that George Washington's birthday didn't become an official federal holiday until 1885, a full 21 years after Lincoln's death.  It seems to me they could have declared a Combo deal Presidents' Day then, but didn't. The slight to Abe looks political and intentional. Especially when you learn that Robert E Lee’s birthday, Jan 19th, is a state holiday in Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Virginia. It’s celebrated as Confederate Heroes day in Texas. Alabama, Mississippi Florida also celebrate the birthday of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. But no Abe Lincoln.

In 1971 in an attempt to give folks 3-day weekends, the observation of Washington's Birthday was officially shifted to the third Monday in February by order of legislation HR15951. Some reformers had wanted to change the name of the holiday as well, to Presidents' Day, to honor both Abe and George, but Congress rejected that proposal. I’m not sure if this was due to the Southern Congressional Caucus. But the result was the holiday remained and still officially remains: Washington's Birthday.

Here’s where the confusion comes in---President Nixon not only had a hard time understanding and following the Constitution, Tricky Dick didn't understand the difference between an Executive Order and an Executive Proclamation. He made a proclamation calling it Presidents' Day saying it was to celebrate all presidents, even himself, but a Presidential Proclamation carries no legal standing. Which is why Monday still officially celebrates George Washington not Abraham Lincoln.

Abe & George's Excellent New York Adventure

If you care to celebrate the day, you dear citizen of Gotham are once again in a most envious position.

You can stand outside the 42nd Street library in the middle of Fifth Ave –the spot where in 1776 General George Washington rode his horse attempting to rally his troops in a battle against British Soldiers.

You can go uptown to Fort Washington where, duh, Washington’s fort stood. 

Stand at the Fulton Ferry landing in Brooklyn next to the Barge Music boat. Look for a rock and plaque that marks the spot where GW stood as he evacuated his army after they were beaten by the British at the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776.

Go over the George Washington Bridge, which rises above the very spot where once again he and his entire army evacuated the city.

You can walk over to Union Square Park and stand in front of the old site of Virgin Records ( Now a Citibank) across from the equestrian statue of George Washington. A colonial Inn once stood here on the road just outside of New York (Wall street area). In 1783 after the Revolutionary War General Washington waited here until he got word that the British Army had finally evacuated the city. Then Washington mounted his horse and rode downtown and reoccupied New York. (I say, is that why there's an equestrian statue of Washington here?)
Washington on Broadway the day the Brits evacuated.

Or you can walk out beside Citibank at 14th and Broadway ( the old Virgin Records site) and stand in the street, in the middle of Broadway. Abraham Lincoln’s funeral cortege rode over this spot in 1864; all the buildings and lampposts were draped in black.  Look up at the building opposite you Shoe Mania! 

Teddy Roosevelt in 2nd floor window on left
Lincoln in box on street.

If you were here that day you would have seen a young boy looking out the 2nd story window watching the procession. The boy would one day grow up to be President, his name Theodore Roosevelt. (You can visit his boyhood home a mere 3 blocks from here The building that stood on the procession route was his Uncle’s house.

You can walk through the lobby of City Hall where Lincoln’s body was placed to await mourners.

Walk outside into City Hall Park and stand where George Washington stood when he first heard the Declaration of Independence read aloud to his troops.

Washington sworn in at Wall and Bwy. Trinity Church in the bkgrd.
Or go a few blocks south to Wall and Broad and stand where George Washington was sworn in as our first President- (I say, is that why there’s a big statue of Georgie here?) Yes, New York was the nation’s first Capital.  Washington lived at 39 Broadway.  And worshiped at St. Paul’s church across from City Hall Park, where you can still see his pew.

The First White House
Or  go over and stand next to the Brooklyn Bridge anchorage near Pearl Street. Where the first “White House” stood.  Washington’s home when New York City was the United States first capital.

Or walk through the Washington Square Arch put here to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Washington Inauguration.

Or go to the Metropolitan Museum and see the famous paintingWashington crossing the Delaware.

Or go into Kean’s Chophouse at 72 west 36th and see the original Ford’s Theatre Playbill from the night Lincoln was assassinated.

Or Visit The Forbes Galleries at 62 Fifth Ave. and see a handwritten letter by Mary Todd Lincoln contesting some charges for Abe’s Inauguration suit. 

Mrs. Lincoln's fave store Victoria's Secret
Or walk into a store she frequented–Arnold Constable’s Dry Good store at Fifth Ave and 19th street. (The French 2nd Empire building that now houses Victoria Secret.)

Lincoln at Cooper Union

Or you can walk over to Astor Place—and go to the auditorium of Cooper-Union where Lincoln gave his famous speech that concluded:


Or walk into McSorley’s Old Ale house across the street where old Abe threw one back after his speech.

But do celebrate.

One last thing ---as a copywriter I’m struck by the fact we think we’re pretty hot stuff when we can use 72 words to communicate something in a 30 second tv spot. Read below and see what a truly inspired writer can do with 256 words.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

 But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Worth remembering – both the man and the words.

Happy whateva.

President of Curious New Yor

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Origins of Valentine's Day

Okay, so what's with the little fat guy with the bow and arrow? 

Well, by now you know the drill. 
Many present day Western holidays can be traced back to the Greeks. 

Somewhere along the line the Romans borrowed those ideas and not long after, the Christian Church changed their meaning to put a "holy" spin on them.

They became known as holy days--- holidays. 
St. Valentine's Day is no exception.

Snap zoom back to Greece. 

EROS - son of Chaos


Eros is the god of love. 

He was not only exotic he was erotic. He was the son of Chaos “the original primeval emptiness of the universe.”  (Imagine what that title would look like on a business card.) 

Later tradition held that Eros was the son of Aphrodite; goddess of sexuality (root word for aphrodisiac)

In this version the paternity is a little fuzzy. 
His pops was either Zeus (Bill Gates), Ares - the god of war (Donald Rumsfeld) or Hermes, the Divine messenger of the Gods (and one hell of a scarf maker.)  

Ares --the God of War (not to be confused with the astrological sign of the ram Aries) always traveled with an entourage that included his sister Eris, and her sons Phobos, Metus, Demios and Pallor . 

In English his homies are: Discord, Panic, Fear, Dread, and Terror.  (Phobos gives us the word for “fear of”: phobia. Pallor’s terror makes us “pale”.)

Eros had two sidekicks: Pothos and Himeros (Longing and Desire). Isn’t it always longing and desire that gets humans into trouble with things erotic?
Eros getting younger...
Eros was an adult but through the ages he was depicted younger and younger until he appeared as  a cherub-like infant. Kind of a fat, horny little butterball.
And younger.

In many illustrations Eros is shown blindfolded because, of course, love is blind. Eros was armed with both darts and arrows. Once wounded by their magic tips the victim will either fall uncontrollably in love or have total disinterest in the first person they see.

Before we go on a Roman holiday let’s swing by India for a second.
In another one of those one-world connections, there is a Hindu love god called Kama (as in Sutra.) 

He also carries a bow and arrow. He isn’t winged but flies on the back of a parrot or a sparrow and is accompanied by a honeybee, which symbolizes love’s sweetness and its sting. For some bizarre reason in modern day India young Indians have taken a liking to Cupid over Kama and send each other Valentines, instead of Kamas. Go figure.

Okay back to Europe.

Along come the Romans.  They swipe most of the Greek gods and give them new names. Aphrodite becomes Venus (Venus is the root word for venereal).  Ares the God of war becomes Mars (Mars is the root word for "martial" i.e. warlike.)

Eros becomes Cupid, son of Venus and Mercury the Roman messenger of the gods.

Since Mercury was kind of a Divine Federal Express service he has become the patron god of the Business world. You’ll see him all over the place here in the capital of Capitalism. 

You’ll see him and his little winged hat on the front of Grand Central Terminal.


You’ll also see a stylized version of his helmet as ornaments jutting out from the Chrysler Building.

This god not only got his own day of the week--Wednesday (or in Spanish Miercoles, in french Mercredi) you'll even find this pagan god next to "In God we trust" on our money.

Okay, enough mercury madness--I'm becoming mad as a hatter. (there's a connection there if you want to look it up)

So Cupid gets married to Psyche.

Cupid leading Psyc
Psyche translates to "Soul" and is the root word that Sigmund Freud gave to his new science, which he called "Psyche-ology", it would later lose the e. He kept the mythology though, as in an “Oedipal complex” based on the Greek character: Oedipus. 

So Cupid is known for leading Psyche. Which is a beautiful allegory for the soul being lead by love.
Okay, so now we got this little fat guy shooting people in the ass with arrows. My guess is when he shot em in the butt they yelled "Damn Cupid" and later he became known as Dan Cupid. Just a guess there.

In Rome, February 15
th was traditionally the time of the Lupercian festival, a purification fest, an ode to the god of fertility and a celebration of sensual pleasure, thus a time to meet and greet a prospective mate. During this festival, half naked male runners smacked women in the butt with leather thongs called "februa" in the belief that the act would make a barren woman fertile. Februa and the festival day of Februarius on Feb.15th is where the month of February gets its name. 

In the 5th Century, when the Roman Catholics were running Rome, the church decided folks were getting just a little too randy. There was a little too much thong-slapping going on. 

So in the year 496 Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival and began promoting a Saint who had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius in 278 A.D. for marrying young lovers, his name --- St. Valentine. 

St. Valentine getting past the velvet ropes and into heaven
His feast day was set, conveniently enough, one day before the Lupercian festival.
Eventually the Lupercian orgy died down but traditions don't die as easily.  

Nowadays, no one knows who the hell St. Valentine was or whether to spell it Valentine's Day or Valentines Day. They even forget to use his hard earned title of Saint. But everyone knows the little fat bastard armed with bow and arrow.
In other words, Cupid is still around 1,516 years after he was outlawed.
An outlaw of love.
Happy Februarius Everyone.
And a happy thong-slapping to all of you.

Dano Cupid 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Origins of Mardi Gras


Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Pancake Day, Fastnacht.


What’s all this fuss about a plain old Tuesday? 
Well, it’s all because of a dirty Wednesday.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which gets its first name from the ashes of burnt palm fronds that are placed upon a supplicant’s head, made in the sign of the cross. For the Christian congregations that celebrate it, Ash Wednesday is considered the beginning of Lent -- the 40 days that lead up to Easter. 
(The word Lent is derived from the Old English word for spring “lencten”) 

Originally, the 40 days of Lent were meant to be sort of a religious boot camp to prepare converts to Christianity. Ash Wednesday was the kick-off that lead up to Super Sunday--Easter, when the converts would be baptized.  Eventually there was just about no one left in Rome to convert, so Lent itself was converted into a time of penance, of fasting, of abstinence.  Folks abstained from all sorts a good stuff including meat or “carne” (carne – flesh, the root word for  “carnival”). They also gave up eggs and dairy products. So on Tuesday, the day before the start of the Lenten fast, folks cleared out their cupboards of all the foods they couldn’t have for the next 40 days. They cooked ‘em up and ate like pigs. In essence they feasted before the fast. In France a fattened ox was paraded through the streets before the big communal BBQ, and thus the day was given the name Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday.)

The English do things their own way (like drive on the left hand side of the road) so they called this day Shrove Tuesday from an Olde English word “shrive” which means to confess, to clean out your soul. The English have a tradition of eating a dinner of  “Shrove cakes” dripping in butter. They are pancakes made with the eggs and dairy products you’re expelling from your home. And that’s why Shrove Tuesday is also known as Pancake Tuesday.(I smell a product tie-in with Denny’s.)

Lent has a symbolic undertone as a time of cleansing in preparation for Easter and spring. You first cleanse your cupboard, then your soul and eventually the entire house is purified. In the Ukraine, people traditionally whitewashed their homes inside and out.  Today we know this as Spring-cleaning.

The more astute readers of this blog may remember last year's Passover memo and have already noticed the similarity between Shrove Tuesday and the Jewish Passover tradition of all non-kosher foods containing yeast being consumed or disposed of before the holiday begins. It's also no coincidence that the celebration of Passover occurs very close to the Christian Lenten fast.  We'll get into that in a few weeks with an Easter/Passover posting. But for now we'll Passover that subject. Ugh.

Over the years the religious side of Shrove Tuesday has been replaced by the Narlins party down, shake your booty, Fat Tuesday  “Hey Mista Throw me zumthin” Cajun communal celebration.

King cake (originally 3 Kings Cake celebrating the Epiphany) with plastic baby Jesus inside.
Why New Orleans? And what’s a Cajun?

In 1763 the French and the English concluded one of their frequent World Wars with the Peace of Paris. We call it the French and Indian Warbecause here the colonists fought the French and their Indian allies. In Europe it was referred to asthe Seven Years War. It began in Western Pennsylvania and spread throughout the world. The French lost the war and in the process they lost the part of New France called Canada. The English expelled many of the French from the land of the loon. In particular the French who lived in an area along the Eastern coast called Acadia. The Brits renamed it New Scotland –Nova Scotia. The French migrated from Canada to the French territory along the Mississippi named for King Louis called Louisiana. When they got there folks asked them who they were and they replied: "Acadians." Apparently they slurred their speech because they were thereafter referred to not as Acadians, but Cajuns. It seems the Cajuns did a lot of slurring. We know their music as Zydeco. A strange word with an even stranger origin. The first big hit in this musical style had the title:“The String beans are too salty.” Of course its title was in French: “Les Haricots sont trop sel.” Somehow, haricots, pronounced: Arr-ree-co, morphed into “Zydeco.”

Okay, enough linguistic lunacy.

Point is the French Catholics in New Orleans kept alive the ancient Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras approach to Lent.

It’s obvious that Mardi Gras has a seamy undertone; its wild pagan sexual abandon is very close to the surface. Interesting isn’t it, that Tuesday/Mardi is named for a pagan god – Mars? Similarly, Tuesday is named for Tiw the Teutonic god of war.

Mardi Gras retains the concept of feasting before the fast, but folks gorge on sex and alcohol, not buttered pancakes. It’s more about booby flashing then soul searching. This non-religious celebration has more to do with the human flesh meaning of carne –carnal knowledge, than that of eating animal flesh – carnivorous.

Fun Mardi Gras Fact: In Athens, during the 6th cent. B.C., a yearly libidinous celebration in honor of the god Dionysus (Bacchus) was the first recorded instance of the use of a parade float. 

But as we’ve seen before, many religious holidays are instituted to suppress the pagan, bacchanalian side of society. No big surprise then, that it was during the Roman Empire that pagan carnivals got way out of hand. The major Roman carnivals were the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia. 

Lupercalia still lives today in St. Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras. It was held annually on Feb. 15. This Roman fertility festival consisted of male youths who ran around town dressed in costumes (animal skins) slapping passersby on the rump with strips of goatskin. (Goats were the embodiment of sexuality; goats –horny—get it?) This was supposed to induce fertility and ward off evil. The straps were called “Februa” and thus February got its name. But you already know that from my last Valentine’s Day post.

In Europe, the tradition of fertility celebrations persisted well into Christian times.  Since they were deeply rooted in European folklore it was difficult for the church to stamp them out. So they were finally accepted and modified into church sanctioned events with the sexuality dialed way down, i.e. St. Valentine’s Day celebrates love not lust.

But as we can all plainly see on the news tonight, the pagan part of the Shrove Tuesday religious celebration has reared its horny little head.

Well that’s about it, I gotta go eat my pancake supper, get all my doubloons ready for my throws; go join my krewe, the Mystick Krewe of Comus  ‘n sashay down Bourbon Street.

Laissez les   bon     temps  rouler!
Let    the  good    times   roll!

Happy Lupercalia everyone!

Fat Dano