Friday, November 10, 2017


Happy Armistice Day. 
Happy Veterans Day. 
Happy Happy.

You may have noticed that on your calendar November 11th is listed as:
Veterans Day - U.S. /Armistice Day - France.

It was originally called thus here in America.


The day is commemorated on November 11th, because it was on Nov. 11th 1918 that WW1 ended. The Armistice was symbolically signed at 11a.m. -- the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Voila….. "Armistice Day".
It didn't become a federal holiday until 1938, just in time for World War 2 (Known in Advertising Agencies as "WWI Revised")

16 1/2 million Americans served in the military before WW2 ended. But, before folks could sit back,relax and enjoy their new little home in Levittown, the Korean Conflict broke out.

In 1954 President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veterans' Day, a day to honor all Americans who have served their country in all its wars, "conflicts", Police Actions etc. 
(Veterans' Day has since lost its apostrophe.) Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day, when we remember all the members of the military who gave their lives for their country. Veterans Day is a day to honor those who served and survived.

Sounds like it should end there. Nah.

In 1968, a law was passed that changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. Maybe it was because folks got spooked that it fell near Halloween, but a scant ten years later it was officially switched back to the old Armistice Day date…November 11th.

Which is where we stand today, saluting our veterans.


Dano

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The curiously twisted history of Halloween & The Day of The Dead


The word "Halloween," is a corruption of the name "All Hallow’s Eve."

Say "Hallows Eve" three times fast, and quicker than a black cat can cross your path you've said "Halloween".

"Hallow’s" means: holy, as in "Hallowed be thy name."

On the Catholic calendar November 1st is "All Hallow’s Day" (or "All Saints Day") a day to honor the souls of departed saints. Therefore the evening before, Oct. 31st was called All Hallow’s Eve. It’s a short linguistic hop from “Hallow’s Eve” to “Halloween.” As I’ve pointed out in previous blog entries many Christian Holy days were instituted to override existing Pagan Holy days, and that is the case here





In Ireland in the 5th century, summer officially ended on October 31st. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en), the Celtic New Year. In Irish folklore it was believed that the portal between this world and the next was left open for that one night. The disembodied spirits of all those who had died the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess. So on the night of October 31st, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes and dress up in ghoulish costumes and go wilding around the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away spirits.






An interesting aside…the reason people wore black at funerals was for very much the same reason. It was believed that when night fell the departed soul would roam around looking for a body to possess. If you wore black they couldn't see you in the dark. A variation of this is the concept of a wake. It was believed that evil souls would possess the body of a dead relative; so one family member or friend would sit by the coffin to ward off evil spirits. The trusted family member had to stay awake throughout the night and thus today we have "Wakes."

Some eagerly awaited the night of the dead in the hopes they could party on down with former family members. In parts of Ireland, giant burial mounds called “sidhe” were opened and lined with torches to help the dead find their way home. Favorite foods and drink were placed on the family table for the visiting deadhead. (Remember that when we talk about the Mexican Day of the Day below.)

Over time, Celtic Halloween folklore was assimilated into the story of man. It is believed that Irish monks roaming through Europe brought the festival of Samhain along with them. The Christian Church would eventually institute All Hallows Day to replace this decidedly Pagan celebration. The Irish custom of costumes and rowdy behavior (tricks and pranks) clung to the Christian Holy Day like foam on a pint of Guinness.

Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine brought the custom of Halloween to America in the 1840's. At that time, favorite Halloween pranks included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates. This eventually became soaping windows, throwing eggs at houses, progressing on to shaving cream, silly string and the occasional arson if you lived in Detroit-Metro area.

The custom of trick-or-treating wasn't Irish.
It originated with a ninth-century European Christian custom called “Souling”. On November 2nd, All Souls Day, folks would walk around town begging for "soul cakes," (square pieces of bread with currants.) The more soul cakes the beggars collected in their goody bags, the more prayers they would promise to say on behalf of the dead relatives in purgatory. (For non-Christians, Purgatory was kind of like a Department of Motor Vehicles in the hereafter. You had to sit around waiting while folks on earth said prayers for you. After a sufficient number of prayers were accumulated, you got to pass "Go" and collect $200.)

The Jack-o'-lantern, however, does come from the Irish. The Irish love their stories and in this one a notorious drunkard and trickster named Jack, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. He then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk, trapping the devil out on a limb. Jack cut a deal with Beelzebub, if he would never tempt him again, he'd let him down. When Jack died, God wouldn't let him into Heaven because of his evil ways and the Devil told him Hell had no vacancies (It was full of Advertising People). Instead, the Dark Prince gave Jack a single ember to light his way through the night. Jack put it inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it lit and roamed the land for eternity. The Irish carried illuminated turnips with designs of frightful faces carved on them to scare off the ghoulies. The Irish used turnips as their "Jack's lanterns". But when the immigrants came to America, they found that pumpkins were far more plentiful and a hell of a lot easier to carve. And thus the Jack O' lantern pumpkin was born.

We Americans have not only added pumpkins to the collective myth but also candy corn as well as flashlights with Jack O' Lantern heads, and the horror movie "Halloween I, 2 and 3"

So to summarize, once again we've taken an old pagan myth and turned it into what in America has become a $5 billion a year industry.

This All Hallow's Eve as you scurry home in fear clutching your precious soul close to your shivering body, remember the old Scottish prayer:


From Ghosties and Ghoulies

And long leggety beasties,

And things that go bump in the night

Dear Lord preserve us


Happy Samhain everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Notice in your calendar that Nov. 1 st is listed as  “The Day of the Dead”


No, this is not Jerry Garcia’s Birthday.

Rather, La Dia de Los Meurtos is the Mexican Day of the Dead an ancient festival that predates the Spanish invasion. The original Aztec celebration, dedicated to children and the dead, can be traced to the festivities held during the Aztec month of Miccailhuitontli, The head deadhead at these festivities was the goddess Mictecacihuatl ("Lady of the Dead") In the Aztec calendar, this ritual fell near the end of July. The Spanish forced the Indians to covert to Christianity and moved the date of their celebration to coincide with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve (in Spanish: "Día de Todos Santos,") The result is that Mexicans now celebrate the day of the dead during the first two days of November, rather than at the beginning of summer. But the holiday remains a happy, joyous, festive celebration of the cycles of life and remembrance of ancestors---- as opposed to the Freddie Kruger blood, gore and ooze celebrations north of the border.

Basically families visit the graves of family members, clean up the place. decorate it with flowers, then spread out a blanket and party on down with the deceased member’s favorite food and drink. Families remember the departed by telling stories about them. They build family altars in the home and decorate them with bright flowers.

Gifts of sugar skeletons are passed around. A Mexican child’s favorite this time of year is the "Bread of the Dead" (pan de muerto). A plastic skeleton is hidden in a loaf of bread, whoever bites into it is blessed with good luck.

The original Aztec holiday was all about celebrating life, not fearing death. So to me this Pagan holiday was much more civilized than its Christian replacement.

Of course, the irony is that Halloween was invented to smother a Celtic pagan holy day ---Samhain and then in an attempt to smother an Aztec pagan Holy day it was moved to coincide with Halloween.

The result being Mexicans celebrating on an Irish Holy Day.

So crack out the Guinness and the Coronas and
Vaya con dios –even if that dios is Mictecacihuatl

Dano

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The curiously twisted history of Memorial Day



“Memorial” from the Latin “memorilis”  belonging to memory.


Over the years the true meaning of Memorial Day has faded more and more from public consciousness. It began as a solemn day of mourning in honor of our Civil War dead. It has degenerated into a celebration of barbeques, baseball, and "top 100 songs of all time" on the radio.

Ironic isn't it, that the nation has forgotten the meaning of a national day of remembrance?

So as you sit on a beach this weekend slathering sunscreen, or dancing between raindrops, consider the following:

In 1865, Henry C. Welles, a druggist in the village of Waterloo, NY, mentioned at a social gathering that honor should be shown to the dead of the Civil War by decorating their graves.

A dead Confederate soldier.

Townspeople adopted the idea wholeheartedly. Wreaths and bouquets were made for each grave. The village was decorated with flags at half-mast, evergreen boughs and black streamers.

The commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued the first national recognition of Memorial Day in 1868. This was General Order No. 11 establishing "Decoration Day" (because the idea was to decorate the graves of soldiers.)

Decoration Day was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. 
When the Civil War was raging the location of Arlington cemetery was a carefully chosen act of retribution. It was the confiscated estate of Robert E. Lee. Graves were place all the way up to his doorstep. 

The South initially refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days. Several southern states continue to have an additional, separate day for honoring the Confederate war dead: January 19 in Texas, April 26 in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi; May 10 in South Carolina; and June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday) in Louisiana and Tennessee. 

After World War I, the holiday was changed from honoring the Civil War dead, to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war. It was now called Memorial Day.

During World War 1, some particularly bloody fighting occurred in Flanders along the French-Belgian border. A Canadian Doctor, John McCrae, visited the battlefield and noticed the only sign of life on the scarred landscape was the resilient little poppy. He penned a famous poem on a page torn from an autopsy book. It was entitled "In Flanders Fields." 

In Flanders Fields 
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army (1872-1918) 

In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses row on row, 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below. 
We are the Dead. Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders fields. 
Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch; be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.

The poem inspired Moina Michael an American War Secretary with the YMCA, she was moved by McCrae's work and replied with her own poem:

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.


She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She sold poppies to her friends with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France learned of this new custom, when she returned to France she made artificial red poppies to raise money for the war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries.

And it's why you will see men and women from American Legion Posts selling little plastic red poppies at street corners this weekend. On TV you may also see images of the soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry as they place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington. . The commemorations at Arlington on Memorial Day are a lasting connection back to its Civil War origins.

In 1966 President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation that changed the observance date from May 30th and made it into a 3 day weekend.

Many Veterans groups contend that the weekend has weakened the meaning of the day. Turning it from a day of taking stock to one of taking off for the beach. From an end of life to a beginning of summer occasion. In 1999 Senator Inouye, a World War II veteran, introduced a bill to the Senate to restore the observance back to May 30th.

Instead, the "National Moment of Remembrance" resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that on May 30th at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans "To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to 'Taps." 

“Taps” is another Civil War connection. The 24-note piece is a variation on a French military bugle call to tell soldiers to cork their bottles, close their taps and go to bed. During the Civil War the Union Army adapted it for their lights out command at bedtime and it quickly found its way into funeral services. It acquired lyrics along the way.

Day is done, 
gone the sun, 
from the Lakes from the hills from the sky, all is well,
safely rest, God is nigh.
Fading light, 
dims the sight, 
And a star gems the sky gleaming bright, From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.
Thanks and praise, 
For our days, 

Neath the sun, Neath the stars, Neath the sky, 

As we go, This we know, God is nigh."

If you do decide to honor our fallen, New York is awash with war memorials. There's the Vietnam Veterans memorial on Water Street in the Financial District. A monument to Korean War soldiers in Battery Park (financed by a Korean Electronics company.) There's a World War I monument on Fifth Ave just outside Central Park across from the Frick Museum, a memorial to The Spanish-American war at the 59th Street entrance to Central Park (paid for by William Randolph Hearst who played a major role in their deaths.). At 59th and Fifth you'll find Grand Army Plaza named for the Civil War's Grand Army of the Republic, as well as Grand Army Plaza at the entrance to Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

It doesn’t really matter where you do your remembering, just that you do.

So this weekend don't forget the sunscreen and the Kingsford charcoal, and try to remember the fallen as well.

Dano 

Friday, May 5, 2017

The curiously twisted history of Cinco De Mayo

Contrary to popular opinion “Cinco de Mayo” isn’t Spanish for “ 5 ounces of Mayonnaise.” 
The fifth of May was a glorious day in the military annals of Mexico. 

Poor Mexico, it had only gained independence from Spain in 1810. On its 36th birthday it was invaded by the US (Which is how we got California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.)  After a Civil War in 1858 Mexico was flat broke.

So in 1862 those pesky French took advantage of the fact that we Americans we’re preoccupied with our Civil War. Using the excuse of some unpaid debts, the French invaded Mexico’s Gulf Coast and began a march towards the Capital. Their big idea was to install Napoleon III’s cousin, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, as ruler of Mexico.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to Mexico City.    
On the 5th of May, Cinco de Mayo, the French army encountered strong resistance at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.  There, a poorly armed militia of 4,500 Mexicans kicked some French derriere.  They defeated an army of 6,500 Frenchmen fabulously outfitted in uniforms by Coco Channel, saddlebags by Prada.

Unfortunately, the victory was short lived.
Napoleon ( Napster 3.0 ---Napoleon III , who was Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew ) sent 30,000 more troops and captured Mexico City one year later. Which is how for three years (1864-1867) the Archduke of Austria happened to be the ruler of our neighbor to the south. You know, you just can’t make this stuff up.

What happened to the Emperor Of Mexico?
The US eventually pressured the French into withdrawing (We cut off their supply of Jerry Lewis movies and they dropped the chalupa.)

In 1867 Max was captured by Mexican troops under Benito Juarez. He was tried and executed by firing squad. His body was shipped back to Austria where it lies entombed in Vienna in the Imperial Crypt. The inscription on his tomb reads: Yo Tien Taco Bell.
 
Cinco de Mayo isn't widely celebrated in Mexico.  It isn't their equivalent of our 4th of July, as most Yankees think. The major celebrations for Cinco de Mayo are in the state of Puebla where the battle took place.  However, here in the US, Cinco de Mayo has become kind of a St. Patrick’s Day or Columbus Day.  A day for Mexican-Americans to celebrate and take pride in Mexican history.  A Kiss me I’m Mexican day for everyone else. Most important, it's a chance for Anglos to get drunk eat chips and do a Mexican hat dance.


And that’s about all there is to say about the fifth day of May.

Adios, Vaya con dios.

I fart in the general direction of the French. 


Generalissimo Dano

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Twisted History of May Day


Sticker on Newsbox NYC 6/1/13
May Day! May Day!
(not to be confused with the international call of distress “M’aider! M’aider!” French for: Help me! Help me!)

There are two distinct May Days.
One is political and American. 
The other pagan and Greek.
If you walk into Union Square today you might come across both.
You’ll see posters on light poles announcing the annual May Fair at the Grace Church Sunday School and you’d see a demonstration for Equality in Worker’s Rights.

Let’s talk politics first.

May Day Parade NYC 1910


Happy May Day Comrades.
May Day was invented in the United States and yet we are one a handful of industrialized nations that neglects to celebrate it.

On May 1, workers around the world will celebrate their Labor Day with rallies and speeches, picnics, demonstrations and maybe a riot or two.

Not many Americans realize that the celebrations being held in foreign lands, like the May Day Parade in Moscow, actually commemorate historical events here in the United States.

On May 1st, 1886, the American Federation of Labor declared a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. At the time, six-day weeks and 14 hour workdays were the norm. (Kind of sounds like the Advertising Business doesn’t it?)

In Chicago there were riots and slayings of strikers. The police tried to break up a rally in Haymarket Square, a bomb was thrown. A policeman was killed. The Police fired wildly into the crowd wounding 200 and killing four strikers and apparently a few of their fellow policemen. 8 labor leaders were put on trial with absolutely no evidence they had any connection to the bombing. Most of them were executed.

The trial enraged labor groups and protests were held around the world.
In 1889, the Socialist International declared May 1st a day of demonstrations, and since 1890 these have been held annually worldwide.

Labor leaders in America lobbied for a national holiday to recognize workers. By the 1890’s May first was officially being celebrated in several states and was called “Labor Day”

In 1893 Federal Troops, ordered by President Cleveland, violently suppressed the Pullman Strike. Grover, in a bid to restore his tarnished image, declared a national holiday in honor of workers and intentionally chose a September date to keep it months away on the calendar from the Socialist “May Day – Labor Day”




This didn’t stop May Day celebrations in the United States. The biggest one every year was held in Union Square Park, which in the 1920’s got the nickname Red Square.

During the Red Scare days of the Cold War Congress officially declared May I, “Loyalty Day”. It was an all American anti American Communist Party kind of party.

During the 1950s, the largest Loyalty Day parade in the country was here in New York City. Its job was to distract attention from the Union Sq. rallies and Communist Party march on the same day.

By the time the Vietnam War entered the picture Loyalty Day Parades petered out, but so did May Day Parades. So I guess they had done their job.

So on this May Day I exhort the workers of New York to Unite, link arms head over to Union Square and see if you can hear the long dead ghosts of Labor leaders crying out to masses. Failing that, the Farmer’s Market is open so grab yourself some nice organic produce.

Comrade Dan






















The Other May Day

Here’s the skinny on the more ancient randy celebrations of the first of May.

The merry old month of May gets its name from the Greek goddess Maia daughter of Zeus and mother of Hermes (The Romans called him Mercury – he’s the guy standing on top of Grand Central Station.)

The first of May --May Day --was midway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Agricultural/fertility celebrations were held to mark the time.
At Greek festivals to honor Dionysus ( the god of wine and fertility) folks in togas drank wine and danced around a large phallus. The Romans would change the name from Dionysus to Bacchus and from that we get the expression “bacchanalian feast.”
Somehow this morphed into a custom in the Middle Ages where on May 1st commoners would erect a large pole (You don’t have to be Freud to get the symbolism there) attached vines or ribbons to it and the young studs and lovelies of the village would dance around the pole until they all became intertwined. (Think -- Medieval Twister©.)

There would be a character present called Robin Goodfellow 

(sometimes called the Green Man) who was the Lord of Misrule for this day. 

Here's the wiki on The Green Man http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Man

He would thumb his nose at authority and act as a mock minister and declare the lustful couples “officially” married and they’d head off into the green together.

Any resultant offspring from the merrymaking were called “Merry- begats”. These love children were said to have been fathered by god, a rather convenient excuse for the men folk don’t you think?

I also think it quite fitting that the political May Day is a day to question "the establishment." A bit of serendipitous synchronicity.

Eventually the festivities were banned, but as we’ve seen before folklore and tradition have a way of sneaking things back in disguise and so the character of Robin Goodfellow came back as the legend of Robin Hood, a man in green who understood the desires of common folk and would thumb his nose at repressive authority.

Robin Goodfellow had a companion; her name was the May Queen.

She was chosen from the local beauties –kind of a Medieval Home Coming Queen. The May Queen herself was a replacement for a pagan goddesses who was always associated with the festivities.

When Robin Hood replaced Robin Goodfellow – Maid Marian subbed for the pagan Goddess.
And that’s why today in England, Maid Marian the Queen of the May, mounted on a white horse is the central figure of festivities.

The Irish had their own May festival called "Bealtaine" On the eve of May 1st bonfires were lit on the hills to draw the sun back to earth. Villagers jumped over the bonfires in search of good luck or in help finding a mate.

Some modern celebrations of Beltaine resemble a Celtic Burning Man Festival
Beltaine. Girls and Boys Gone Wild.


According to Irish superstition the woman who washes her face with morning dew on May Day will be beautiful; the man who washes his hands will be skilled with knots and nets. And if you lived near water, you were supposed to make a garland and cast it into a lake or river to honor the water spirits. (It’s not too late to get a bouquet over at Union Square and chuck it into the Hudson.)

When the Romans arrived in the British Isles they brought their own traditions to the party. They already had a celebration from April 28th -May 2nd called Floralia. It was in honor of the goddess of flowers named --you guessed it --Flora. As part of the festivities, women and homes were decked out in flowers.

All of this stuff melded together. And eventually organized religion outlawed the randy stuff and made the whole fertility fest a cute little celebration where innocent children sometimes dressed in togas wearing flowers dance around a Maypole. 

And nowadays the closest that we come to honoring fertility in May is when we give mom a card on Mother’s Day the second Sunday in the month named for the Mother of Hermes.

Have a Merry May Day, a beautiful Bealtaine, and a festive Floralia everyone.
Medieval Twister© anyone?

Dano
Lord of Misrule