Independence Day – Democratic Republic of the Congo

June 30

I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

Patrice Lumumba, first Prime Minister of the Congo, Independence Speech

The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) respect Lumumba’s wishes on June 30, the anniversary of the country’s independence from Belgium, but it’s a day tinged with sadness, as they also remember the death of the man who guided them to independence.

Lumumba also holds the distinction of being the only world leader we know of to have nearly been killed by toothpaste.

President Eisenhower was not a huge fan of Lumumba back in 1960. Despite being democratically elected, Lumumba had Soviet leanings, and the Congo held resources vital to the West, uranium being chief among them.

The Belgian government had issues with Lumumba as well. His independence speech, at which the Belgian king was present, made it clear that Lumumba would be no puppet ruler, and the Congo would be no colony.

The CIA installed an operative (Larry Devlin) to be prepared to assassinate Lumumba at a moment’s notice. The weapon of choice: a tube of poisonous toothpaste to be planted among the Prime Minister’s toiletries. For whatever reason, the CIA never gave Devlin the order.

Instead, in September 1960, the charismatic Lumumba was deposed in a CIA-supported coup d’état by his former aide, Colonel Joseph Mobutu, and was executed the following January under mysterious circumstances. Mobutu went on to control the country for over 30 years, renamed it Zaire, and embezzled over $5 billion from the nation’s purse. Mobutu lost power in 1997, and the country became the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961

Patrice Lumumba, USSR stamp, 1961

The battle for power in the DRC since 1997—also known as the African World War—has been cited as the deadliest conflict since World War II.

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A Midsommer Night’s in Denmark

June 23

The Scandinavians never pass up a chance for a good bonfire. Midsummer Night, or St. John’s Eve as it’s sometimes called in Denmark and Norway, is the perfect occasion. The holiday has little to do with St. John the Baptist, other than falling just before his saint day. In the 10th century Baltic and Scandinavian countries replaced the traditional names of Midsummer with allusions to the feast of St. John the Baptist, which fell on June 24.

In fact the tradition long pre-dates Christianity’s entry into Scandinavia. Midsummer was originally a tribute to the pagan sun god, and the bonfire represented defeat over darkness.

In Scandinavia, darkness hovers over the landscape for much of the year. On Midsummer Night however, it can stay light until midnight; in parts of Norway it can stay light for weeks at a time in late June, hence the name Land of the Midnight Sun.

For hundreds of years Midsummer Eve torch processions were common. Other rites centered around nature. Midsummer was viewed as an auspicious date for fertility. Farmers prayed for a bountiful harvest while maidens collected special herbs and plants, including St. John’s wort.

I must gather the mystic St. John’s wort tonight-
The wonderful herb, whose leaf will decide
If the coming year shall make me a bride…

— “The St John’s Wort”, old German poem

In some towns, villagers would light a straw-covered wheel afire and roll it down a hill to be extinguished in the river. Across Poland and the Baltic, maidens would toss herbs into the fire to protect them from evil spirits in the year to come while young men would jump over fires to display their bravado.

Today the holiday is a time for community to come together around the bonfire and sing patriotic songs such as “Vi elsker vort land”, also known as Midsommervisen.

We love our land
Our midsummer most
When each cloud over the field sends a blessing
When the flowers are in bloom
And the cattle drags the plough
Giving gifts to laborious hands…

…Every woman, every man can
Find an example of love for life!
Let the times grow old, let the colors fade
We will however draw a memory in our hearts
From the North so rich in legends
A glory shines across the world…

To this day Danes continue to burn a straw witch effigy atop a bonfire on Midsummer Eve, a tradition borrowed from their German neighbors in the late 19th century. The witch effigy represents evil spirits, but to some the throwback eerily recalls the Danish witch burnings of the 1600s.

Other names for Midsummer Day and Eve:

Denmark: Sankt Hans aften (Hans is the diminutive of Johannes or John.)
Norway: Jonsok
Poland: Sobotka, Swietojanska, Wianki
Eastern Poland/ Ukraine: Kupalnocka, Kupala
Russia: Ivan Kupala

http://www.epinions.com/content_1470341252

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Chinese New Year – Year of the Snake – Hong Kong fireworks

I was lucky enough to be in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year this year. In China it’s known as the Spring Festival.

In case you were wondering, the inventors of fireworks are still the undisputed champions.

The whole show was about 30 minutes, non-stop explosive action. Here’s ten minutes. I shot this video from Wan Chai, looking out at Tsim Sha Tsui. Amazing show!

Chinese New Year Fireworks – Hong Kong – February 11, 2013

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September 11 – Patriot Day

September 11

Perhaps because of the plurality of the attacks—four planes, three locations, and two landmarks of national significance—no single name summed up the tragedy of 9/11 better than the date itself. Today “September 11″ refers the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the plane crash outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It means the extinguishing of thousands of innocent lives in a single morning.

But long before 2001, in fact before the pilgrims set foot on American shores, September 11 was already a pivotal date in American history.

Halve Maen (Half Moon) replica, 1909

Over 400 years ago on September 11, a ship by the name of Half Moon anchored in what is now New York Harbor, just north of a quiet island inhabited by a tribe known as the Mannahattes. Henry Hudson was about to take the first documented European journey up the river that would be named for him.

Spanish explorers had already reported the existence of the “Grand River”, but Hudson was the first to travel inland. He was an English navigator hired by the Dutch to find a passage to India; he hoped he’d find it up the Hudson.

The Half Moon sailed up the Hudson River, trading with some tribes, shooting at others. (One crew member had been shot through the neck with an arrow a few days before, an incident which colored the crew’s impressions of early Hudson Valley residents.) They never did find the route to India, but they did find Albany. At which point the river became too shallow and the ship turned around.

On his way out of New York harbor in October, another, more serious fight occurred between Half Moon and the indigenous residents—most likely the Mannahattes–the tribe living on the island that would become–you guessed it: New Amsterdam. The small battle was serious enough that the locals had not forgotten it when the Dutch came around 15 years later to “buy” the island of Manhattan for 60 guilders worth of goods.

Before returning to Holland, Hudson stopped in his homeland of England. As a fitting symbol of Hudson’s life, he never got to where he was going. Upon arriving in England, he was greeted, not as a hero but as a traitor, for sailing a craft under a foreign flag, and was promptly arrested.

Hudson’s journey is the reason why New York grew up Dutch before it was English.

The English did let Hudson out to do more exploring, to find that well-hidden secret passage to India, this time for the British crown. He spent several months exploring what would become “Hudson Bay” in Canada, lured north by the indigenous rumor of a river that ran to an “ocean”—probably referring to the Great Lakes.

After close to a year of exploring the Hudson Bay, his crew were getting homesick (and if you’ve spent a winter in Hudson Bay, you know why).

The crew mutinied. They placed Hudson, his son, and seven loyal crew members on a small boat, set them adrift, and sailed back to England. Hudson, his son and the men were never seen again.

Henry Hudson in Canada (re-enactment)

The story of North America is in some ways the story of the Northwest Passage, the most famous passage that never was. The hope of a quick and easy waterway between Europe and India was the dream of kings and merchants alike for hundreds of years. The reward for a man who could find it would be wealth and fame beyond imagination.

But like the Fountain of Youth and the City of El Dorado, the Northwest Passage would elude every explorer from Columbus to John Franklin. Many devoted their lives to searching for a route that any child on Google Maps today can see never existed.

(There would be no direct water route between Europe and India until the Suez Canal was built in 1869, connecting the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Ironically, this miracle of modern ingenuity had been preceded by a canal built by the Ancient Egyptians thousands of years earlier, which fell into disuse around the time of Cleopatra, filled with silt, and was forgotten.)

We are taught as children that the building of North America was based on freedom of religion, but it was based on trade. The first explorers came here seeking a trade route to the Orient. Then governments sought precious metals and untapped resources. Finally, immigrants came seeking a social and economic system that would allow those without resources or aristocratic blood an opportunity to attain wealth.You can tell what a society values most by the size of its buildings. Once cathedrals soared highest about medieval cities. Today those are dwarfed by centers of commerce and business. When terrorists attacked America, they didn’t strike our churches. They struck the World Trade Center, knowing full well this was the heart of America.

John Locke wrote that each member of society is entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” In the Declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson changed that last bit to the “pursuit of happiness.” Was he exercising poetic license, or did he think property and happiness were interchangeable? Either way, the Declaration guarantees neither wealth nor happiness, only the pursuit thereof. Perhaps one day some child will be watching the whole course of human endeavors on ‘Google EverythingThatEverHappenedInHumanEventsDownToTheMolecule’ and mock our futile search for one or the other, silently bemoaning, “Had they only turned left at Albuquerque…”

Till then, appreciate what’s already at your fingertips:

Thanks to science, ingenuity, and commercial enterprise, the average citizen today has access to information and knowledge that was hopelessly out of reach of the most powerful kings in history. You can see almost any stretch of the globe at the push of a button, and many stretches in space, millions or billions of miles away. You have access to an unprecedented cornucopia of foods and flavors, savoring in one meal what a Caesar could not have enjoyed in a lifetime. You carry on a conversation with someone halfway across the world in two minutes, that would have taken an emperor decades.

Economist Thomas Friedman says “The World is Flat.” That trade has made the world a much smaller place. Average citizens interact with other cultures and countries on a daily basis, thanks to the internet and global communications. John Locke’s selfish pursuit of property may be in the end the greatest tool for global understanding the world has ever known.

When the Twin Towers fell, they took with them the citizens of 90 countries, morbid proof that the world is a small, small place.

Henry Hudson Entering New York Harbor, September 11, 1609

EDWARD MORAN’S HENRY HUDSON ENTERING NY HARBOR SEPTEMBER 11, 1609

by Alan Catlin

Lone warrior
on Manhattan
Island beach

observing long
ships, sailors
from who-knew

where navigating
toward soon-
to-be harbor

site; the first
foreign terrorists
have arrived

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Super Summer Solstice

June 21 (Northern Hemisphere)

It seems like just six months ago we were celebrating solstice…

There’s more reason to celebrate this time around, in this seasonally-affected author’s opinion: this solstice marks the longest day of the year rather than the shortest.

The changing of the seasons is due, of course, to the 23.5 degree tilt of the earth’s axis, a tilt which we in our everyday lives take for granted, but which has accounted for the framework in which plant life evolved on our planet, as well as for the traditions, rituals, and way of life of our species until the very recent past.

It’s only in modern times that the solstices completely lost their rep as two of the most badass days of the year. Summer Solstice was called Midsummer’s Day, marking the middle of summer rather than the beginning. Shakespeare’s fantastical Midsummer Night’s Dream alluded to the carefree, hedonistic days of late June and to England’s own not-to-distant pagan past.

In those days, however, the solstice fell on or around June 24 because of an inaccuracy in the Julian calendar. The calendar drifted from the solar year at a rate of about one day per century until the UK adopted the Gregorian calendar in the 1700s. Even today many countries still celebrate Midsummer Day and Night between June 23-25.

Today the sun reaches its northernmost point in the summer sky before beginning its long trip back south. To ancient eyes it appeared the sun was moving, not the earth. The word solstice comes from the Latin words sol and sistere, meaning “sun stands still”, as it appeared the sun, having reached its apogee, stood still for one day.

Superstition has it that whatever you’re doing on New Year’s Day is representative of how you’ll spend the following year, but I disagree, as most people don’t spend the entire year in bed recovering from a hangover.

No, it’s how you spend your solstices that are foretelling of how you’ll spend the next six months.

Unfortunately, I’m at work on a Saturday. But at least I’m blogging instead of doing what I’m supposed to. Maybe that’s indicative of something…

So have yourself a Super Solstice, go to the beach, light a bonfire, roast some marshmallows, kick back a few whatever you like to drink here (Sol cerbeza?), and save one for the author. Catch ya on the next trip around the sun.

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Ullortuneq – Greenland’s National Day

June 21

Greenland. Photo by Jens Buurgaard Nielsen

“Our country, who’s become so old your head all covered with white hair.
Always held us, your children, in your bosom providing the riches of your coasts.”

— from Greenland’s National Anthem

“And you: friendless, brainless, helpless, hopeless! Do you want me to send you back to where you were? Unemployed in Greenland!”

—Vizzini, The Princess Bride

Contrary to what Vizzini would have you believe, Greenland is not entirely a world devoid of life and hope. Although it does have a reputation as Iceland’s “redheaded Viking step-cousin, relatively ignored in a frozen wasteland far away from the rest of the world.” (Branding Greenland)

Greenland, long ruled by the Kingdom of Denmark, has been moving (at a glacier’s pace) toward independent nationhood since 1953. In 1979 and again in 2009 it gained greater autonomy from Denmark, which still exercises responsibility for Greenland’s foreign affairs. (CIA World Factbook)

Greenland adopted it’s own national flag on June 21, 1985. The red and white flag symbolizes the midnight sun and white the snow that covers much of the island. According to greenland.com, about 10% of fresh water on earth is frozen in Greenland’s ice sheet.

“If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted, scientists estimate that sea level would rise about 6 meters (20 feet).” — National Snow & Ice Data Center

In terms of area, Greenland is the 13th largest country in the world. In terms of popuation though, it’s only 205th, with about 60,000 people.

June 21, the longest day of the year, is Greenland’s National Day as well as its Flag Day. It’s known as “Ullortuneq”, or “Longest Day.”

Happy National Day, Greenland. Enjoy the longest day!

Ittoqqortoormiit. Photo by Hannes Grobe

Posted in Flag Days, Greenland, June holidays, National Days | 2 Comments

Juneteenth

June 19

What is Juneteenth? Juneteenth is a statement of freedom. Juneteenth is the unshackling of a body of people. Juneteenth is the freeing of slaves in the State of Texas. Juneteenth is the renewing of one’s character, integrity, spirit, and ability to achieve one’s greatest opportunities.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, June 19, 2003

Emancipation Celebration, Richmond, Virginia, April 3, 1905

Juneteenth is also an amalgamation of the words June and Nineteenth, and it’s celebrated on—you guessed it, June 19th.

Why are there multiple Emancipation Days in the U.S.?

Chronologically speaking…

Washington D.C. celebrates President Lincoln’s signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862.

For many years African-American communities in border states such as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania celebrated the anniversary of Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.

The Emancipation Proclamation itself took effect 100 days later, on January 1, 1863…which is why New Year’s Day was celebrated as Emancipation Day in some regions. (And part of the reason why “Watch Night” services on December 31 have held additional meaning and importance for African-American communities ever since.)

As you can imagine, Confederate states didn’t heed the proclamation or amendments of a country they were rebelling against, so it wasn’t until Union troops forced their way into various states and established control that the proclamation had an effect on most slaves. May 20, for example, is the day that General Edward McCook announced the end of slavery in Tallahassee, Florida.

In O’ Freedom: Afro-American Emancipation Celebrations, William Wiggins, Jr. counts at least 15 separate emancipation celebrations spread throughout the calendar, eight of which stem from official proclamations.

“The geneologies of the remaining seven celebrations are not easily traced…Their celebrants simply say that on some past May 5, 8, 20, 22, 28, 29, or on August 4 or 8, their ancestors were freed.”

As for June 19, that was the day in 1865 that Major General Gordon Granger and his troops finally worked their way to Galveston, Texas, two and a half years after Lincoln’s proclamation. Granger announced::

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Order 3, read by General Granger, June 19, 1865

Observed in over 35 states, Juneteenth is the most widely-celebrated Emancipation Day in the United States.

33rd Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

Juneteenth – Texas State Historical Association

U.S. Abolition Timeline

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
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Egypt – Evacuation Day

June 18

Egypt’s National Day is on July 23: Revolution Day. Revolution Day celebrates the day in 1952 that the Free Officers, led by the future Presidents Naguib and Nassar, forced pro-British Egyptian King Farouk to abdicate in favor of his infant son.

Despite the king’s abdication, the monarchy was not officially abolished that year. It was on June 18, 1953 that the new government declared Egypt a republic, and General Naguib became the republic’s first president.

But today’s holiday, Evacuation Day, celebrates June 18 three years later.

Evacuation Day recalls the day back in 1956 that the last major contingency of British troops left Suez, after a 20-month period of withdrawing personnel, in accordance with a treaty arranged by Nassar and the British government in October 1954.

The Suez Canal was one of the most important feats of engineering of the 19th century. It allowed ships to travel between Europe and Asia without circling the entire continent of Africa. It was built by Egypt and France in the 1860’s. However Egypt incurred significant debt and was forced to sell her shares of the canal to the United Kingdom in 1875.

After attaining part interest in the Canal, Britain became more involved in the Egyptian government’s finances and politics. Finally during World War I, when the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Powers, Britain declared Egypt a protectorate of the British Empire. Following a strong national movement, Egypt was declared an independent nation in 1922, but Egyptians choose to celebrate the overthrow of the king in 1952 and the evacuation of British troops four years later to mark the true beginning of Egypt’s autonomy.

After Western democracies withdrew funding for the Aswan Dam project, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in October 1956, leading to the Suez Crisis between Egypt and France, Britain, and Israel.

Evacuation Day, or Eid al-Galaa, is no longer a national holiday, but has been superseded by other victory days—Egypt’s Armed Forces Day marks the day in 1973 that Egyptian troops crossed back through the Suez Canal six years after the Six-Day War. April 25 celebrates the day in 1982 that Israeli troops pulled out of the Sinai peninsula.

Suez Canal from space

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