Reading, Writing & Other Addictions

Facing Reality Through Fiction

Epiphany

epiphanyausWhen they saw the star they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him, Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and of myrrh.  –Matthew 2:10-11

Since yesterday I wrote about Twelfth Night, it’s only fair that today I write about Epiphany (the day after Twelfth Night).  January 6 is Epiphany and is celebrated around the world as the day the three wise men visited the baby Jesus, though personally I don’t know where they get that.  The Bible just says they came after the birth of Christ, which could be two minutes or two years. The Bible is very vague on that matter.  However, Herod’s decree was to kill all boys two years of age and younger, so Jesus could have fallen anywhere within that age range.  However, since the Scripture says they came to “the house,” we can assume He had gotten out of the manger by that time. However, we also know they were still in Bethlehem.  Regardless, of whether or not this day was actually the day the three wise men visited Jesus, the celebration of Epiphany is more about the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles, and is one of the oldest Christian celebrations.

Epiphany also celebrates the time when John the Baptist baptized Jesus, which represents Jesus’s manifestation of the Son of God to the world. Epiphany is also the start of Carnival, which culminates with Mardi Gras, which of course leads into lent which ends with Easter.  So really from the day after Thanksgiving until Easter there is some religious celebration going on.

Epiphany is a public holiday in many countries.  In many Latin America countries, it’s the three wise men and not Santa Claus that bring gifts to children. In France, there are parties for both children and adults, and in Spain, children leave their shoes, filled with straw for the wise men’s camels, outside on Epiphany eve, and in the morning the straw has been replaced with cookies, candy or gifts.  Makes me wonder how they celebrate Christmas.

Anyway, happy Epiphany!

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Twelfth Night

images-2“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” –Malvolio, Twelfth Night

What a great quote to begin this blog, on the 5th of January, 2015.  Greatness is not something to be feared.  As I start a new year, the one I’m dubbing “the year I finally force an publishing editor to accept by novel,” this quote is a strong start to the year.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that January 5 is actually Twelfth Night, which is the day that the 12 drummers drumming were sent to me by my true love.  Of course with all these maids, lords, and pipers I have no idea where these drummers are going to sleep tonight. Not to mention that my neighbors are starting to complain about the noise the birds are making.

Actually, Twelfth Night is the day before Epiphany and the end of the medieval winter festival, which began on All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.  That’s one long party. On Twelfth Night it was a common practice to follow “The Lord of Misrule” and switch places.  The peasants became the lords and the lords, the peasants. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my boss to go along with this idea today.)

“The Lord of Misrule,” of course was the king. To decide who was to be “The Lord of Misrule” everyone would get a cake that contained a bean, and the person who found the bean was the ruler, like the king cake around Mardi Gras. In fact, in many places around the world, a king cake is baked on Twelfth night, and eaten on Epiphany. At midnight, the world was put right, and his rule ended

William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night was written to be preformed on Twelfth Night, just in case you were wondering. However, the earliest recorded performance was in Middle Temple Hall on Candlemas, which is February 2.  It seems that even Shakespeare missed a deadline or two.  The play is true to Twelfth Night as many of the roles of the characters are reversed.  Viola dresses as a man and a servant, and the servant Malvolio aspiring to be a nobel.  I wonder if they timed the play so that the reveal (or the end) was at midnight, when things were put right.

Does anyone else feel the need to watch Shakespeare in Love, whose main character was named Viola, and where Queen Elizabeth commissions Twelfth Night from Will Shakespeare, and then watch She’s the Man, which is a modern day telling of Twelfth Night, starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum.

“If music be the food of love, play on.” –Orsino, Twelfth Night

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Trivia Day!

images-1Today is Trivia Day!  One of my favorite pastimes, trivia!  Here are some wonderful little bits I have read through the years (most from Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts).

  1. Tissue paper gets its name from its original use: it was designed for placing between the folds of extremely fine gold-woven fabric, or “gold tissue.”
  2. Martha Washington’s silver service was the source of the silver that went into the first U.S. coins.
  3. The Egyptians trained baboons to wait on tables.
  4. The Europeans once called the giraffe a camelopard, because they thought it was the product of a camel breeding with a leopard.
  5. Henri Matisse’s Le Bateau hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art for 47 days in 1961 before someone noticed it was upside down. About 116,000 people has passed in front of it before it was noticed.
  6. All of Reykjavik the capital of Iceland, is heated by underground hot springs.
  7. New York City’s administrative code still requires that hitching posts be located in front of city hall so that reporters can tie their horses.
  8. Chocolate was once considered a temptation of the devil. In Central American mountain villages, no one under the age of 60 was allowed to drink it, and if churchgoers broke this rule, they could be ex-communicated.
  9. The only thing that Isaac Newton said when he was a member of Parliament was to ask someone to open the window.
  10. The average married woman in seventeenth-century America gave birth to 13 children. (PTL I am neither married, nor live in seventeenth century America.)

Happy Trivia Day!

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All You Need to Know About Straws

234_straw-940x626-300x199Did you know that the paper drinking straw was patented on January 3, 1888?  Oh, there were straws before then.  In fact, archaeologists discovered a gold and lapis lazui drinking straw in a Sumerian tomb.  (By the way, in case you were wondering lapis lazui is a bright blue semi-precious stone and the Sumerians were an ancient people who lived in what would today be Iraq.) Apparently the Sumerian men used straws made from hollow rye grass to drink beer. (Archaeologists found a seal dating bace to 3100 B.C. to prove it.) Paper straws were not invented until 1888.  (You knew, I was going to say that, didn’t you?)  Legend has it that Marvin Stone, a paper cigarette holder manufacturer was sitting around with some friends sipping his mint julep through a hollow rye straw, not particularly enjoying the gritty residue the straw left in his drink, not to mention the way the straw would break down after a while.  So he went back to his factory and wound strips around pencils, and then began playing with a wax-coating, so the straw wouldn’t break down.  Two years later, Stone’s factory was producing more straws than cigarette holders. Now, most straws are made from plastic, though you can still find paper straws. it’s estimated that McDonald’s alone used at least 60 million plastic straws daily world wide.  That’s a lot of straws.

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January 2, Isaac Asimov’s Birthday

isaac-asimovIsaac Asimov, one of the most prolific writers on the twentieth century, was born this day in 1920.  Though Asimov is best known for his science-fiction writing, this trivia hound is more familiar with his book Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, which by the way, has an interesting fact about Isaac Asimov.  Did you know that Isaac Asimov wrote six popular books of science fiction for high school students under the pseudonym Paul French?  Neither did I until I read his book.

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia on January 2, 1920.  His family immigrated to New York when he was three years old.  He taught himself to read when he was five, and fell in love with science fiction.  He was first published at 18, and just a few years later wrote and had published “Nightfall,” a short story that the Science-Fiction Writers of America voted to be the best science-fiction short story ever written.

Asimov wrote more than 500 volumes and an estimated 90,000 letters on postcards and has works in all the major Dewey Decimal categories, except for Philosophy.  (I think James Patterson must be trying to see if he can write more.  I think he has a book coming out every other month in 2015.) However, The Gods Themselves is the only book by Asimov where readers will find aliens and sex in the story.  Why no more aliens?  Well, he once wrote a story with aliens that was rejected because he portrayed the aliens as superior to humans.  So, Asimov decided he’s forego the whole mess and never wrote about aliens again, until his readers asked, “Why don’t you ever write about aliens or sex?”  The Gods Themselves has not only aliens and sex, but also alien sex, so everyone is covered.

Isaac Asimov died in 1983, a mere 63 years old, from AIDS related complications.  He contracted the disease after receiving infected blood in a transfusion during his heart bypass surgery.  His widow, Janet, kept the true cause of Asimov’s death a secret for more than a decade after death.

To close, here are a few more interesting facts about Isaac Asimov I found while reading and surfing the net:

  1. Isaac Asimov was afraid of flying.
  2. He got his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Columbia, and became a professor of biochemistry at Boston University. (Could you imagine walking into class and realizing your teacher was one of the most famous science fiction writers ever?)
  3. He was a claustrophile, which is the opposite of a claustrophobe. He enjoyed being in small, enclosed spaces.
  4. Isaac Asimov showed up on the Ghostbusters movie set one day.  It seems that his daily commute was disrupted by filming, and he was upset.  He ended up yelling at Dan Akroyd, who was crushed because he admired Asimov’s writing.
  5. Asimov coined the word “robotic.”
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Happy New Year!

These are not the black eyed peas I made. These look a lot prettier.

These are not the black eyed peas I made. These look a lot prettier.

Since I was a child black eyed peas have always been part of our New Year’s tradition.  I was told that eating black eyed peas on New Year’s Day would bring me luck in the new year.  I was also told that if you could eat 365 black eyed peas on New Year’s Day, you wouldn’t have to eat black eyed peas any other time during the year.  After doing a little digging, I have discovered that the good luck story was true, but the story about eating 365 peas so that we wouldn’t have to eat them for the rest of the year, seems to be something my family made up to get us to eat their vegetables.

Black eyed peas being good luck is a Southern tradition that dates back to the Civil War, when Union soldiers would either eat or destroy the crops of Southern farmers and plantation owners as they marched through.  However, they never ate or destroyed the crops of black eyed peas because they thought black eyed peas where feed for cows and not fit for human consumption.  So the Southerners would eat them and think they were lucky to have them. Black eyed peas are usually cooked with either pork or bacon (I cooked mine with bacon), because  hogs root, which represents pushing forward.

Since I was looking into New Year’s traditions, I also decided to look into why New Year’s is celebrated on January 1st, as it never made since to me to begin the year in the middle of winter.  However, after doing a little research it starts to make a little more sense.  Did you know that the earliest record of a New Year’s celebration is in 2,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, but it was celebrated at the vernal equinox (mid-March), which of course made more sense to me, as Spring is the time when everything becomes new again.  Actually, many different places celebrated the new year at different times.  The Egyptians and Persians started the new year on the Fall equinox (September) and the Greeks at the Winter solstice (December).

So, why do we celebrate in January? Well, the month of January had to be created before we could start to celebrate during it.  The calendar used to only have 10 months, which is reflected in the names for the months (septem=7, octo=8, novern=9, decem=10 in latin).  So the early Roman calendar had the new year starting in March, until 700 B.C. when Numa Pontilius, the second king of Rome added January and February to the calendar.  January comes from the Roman God Janus, the two-faced god, who was the god of doorways and beginnings.  Janus had one face that looked back into the past and one face that peered into the future.

Another reason I found for the timing of the new year was that January is after the Winter solstice and therefore the days begin to get longer again.  The longer hours of daylight effect the cycles of crops and even the emotional state of people.  Therefore, the Romans began celebrating in January.  Not that the Romans celebration had any effect on when the Greeks or Egyptians celebrated. Until the Julian calendar came into effect.  This calendar was a solar based calendar and decreed that the new year began on January 1.  Unfortunately, the Julian calendar suffered from a math problem and so days kept getting added to the calendar.

Then, during the Middle Ages, celebrating the new year on January 1st was actually abolished for having it’s origins in a pagan ritual, so people started celebrating New Year’s on December 25 (because of the celebration of Christ’s birth) or March 1 or March 25 or Easter (I guess we shouldn’t mention Christmas and Easter are also based on pagan rituals that Christians adopted as their own).

Fortunately, in 1582, during the time of Pope Gregory XIII, the Jesuit astronomer Christopher Calvius worked out the math and gave us leap year day.  Thus, the Gregorian calendar was born and most of the world reverted to celebrating New Year’s on January 1,  There were still the hold outs, mostly Protestants in England and the American colonies, who didn’t fall in line until 1752.

So question answered. Now we know why we celebrate New Year’s on January 1.  We can blame it on the Romans.

Happy New Year!

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