Chakri Day – Thailand

April 6

Thai naval ensign

In Thailand, you don’t mess with the King. Not even to be funny.

In 2002 a Philadelphia restaurant/bar called St. Jack’s used a likeness of the King to promote an dance night event. They gave him a buzz cut with bleached Vanilla Ice lines, and plenty of bling bling. Word of the ad made news in Thailand, and the government threatened to cut off ties with the U.S. unless the ad was removed.

The Thai monarchy goes back to the 13th century, and the present line descends from King Rama I (1736-1809).

That’s who Thailand celebrates today, on Chakri Day.

In his youth, Tong-Duang, the future King Rama I, was a royal page under King Uthumporn. At the Royal Palace he met fellow page Taksin.

According to legend, when [Taksin] and his friend Tong-Duang were priests they met a Chinese fortune-teller who told them that they both had lucky lines in the palms of their hands and would both become kings.”  — spiritus-temporis.com

Taksin indeed went on to become a remarkably successful military leader, and later King, who turned the tide in the war against the Burmese.

The reigns of the kings preceding Rama, including Taksin, were dominated by ongoing struggles with the Burmese.

Rama was general to King Taksin, who was a popular king, but whose success went to his head. According to legend, he became a megalomaniac, declared himself an incarnation of Buddha and executed nobles for refusing to agree. He was deposed on April 6, 1782 and Rama, his leading general, became King, thus fulfilling the fortune-teller’s prediction.

King Rama I
King Rama I

Rama is remembered for many innovations, chief among them, moving the capital of Siam to Bangkok, where it has remained for over two centuries. The Rama line descends directly from him.

The present king of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is Rama IX. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1927, he was not originally in line for the throne.  In 1932 an insurrection reduced the powers of the king, and enforced parliamentary procedure. The king at the time was forced to abdicate in favor of his nephew.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej ascended to the throne in 1946. He is the longest (currently) reigning head of state in the world.

This just in: More Than 100,000 Thais Rally Against King’s Advisor – April 8, 2009

Qing Ming Festival

April 5, 2010
April 5, 2011
April 4, 2012

Two weeks after the spring equinox (usually April 5) the Chinese spend this day with their beloved departed. Qing Ming, or Tomb Sweeping Day is one of the few Chinese holidays to follow the solar calendar rather than the lunar.

On this day families travel together to the grave’s of their loved ones to honor their memory. It’s believed that the spirits of family members who have passed on continue to watch over the family.

The holiday has been celebrated for over 2,500 years, originating with a Chinese Emperor who honored the memory of a royal official who sacrificed his life to save the Emperor.

Qingming Festival

Today relatives try to ensure their ancestors’ happiness in many different ways. Some sweep away the underbrush and dirt that has accumulated, and decorate their graves with flowers. Others cook the favorite dish of the departed. It’s traditional to burn ‘fake’ money or paper models of other goods, but this year Chinese officials are concerned about dry conditions conducive to fires, and are encouraging other methods of honoring the dead, such as planting trees.

The cemeteries are swamped with visitors this day. Officials estimate 100,000 people will visit the Babaoshan cemetery in Beijing today.

Meanwhile a new tradition is developing online where relatives can light virtual candles and carry on the traditions of Qing Ming in cyberspace.

The 2008 Tomb Sweeping Day is an historic event in that it has been declared a national public holiday for the first time.

the Promised Land

April 4, 1968

Early Morning – April 4
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

— Pride (In the Name of Love), U2

40 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. looked off the balcony of his room on the second story of the Lorraine Hotel.

King had given what would be his last address the day before. The Mountaintop speech. King was used to death threats, but their increasing frequency and vindictiveness had reached a point that even King himself may have known he was on borrowed time.

In his last speech King alluded to the journey of Moses and the Hebrew slaves who escaped from bondage in Egypt, only to wander for 40 years in the desert.

After four decades, God called to Moses and told him to stand on the mountaintop, to look over the land God would bestow on the Israelites.

Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

— Deuteronomy 34:4

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., April 3, 1968

Tweed Day

April 3

Tweed is so awesome,
Woolen clothing from Scotland
That’s fashionable.

— Tweed Haiku, blahblahblahger

Today we sing the virtues of that most durable fabric, tweed.

Wait, no, wrong tweed.

Tweed Day remembers the corrupt politician who held New York City in the palm of his hand in the mid-1800s.

'Boss' Tweed
'Boss' Tweed

William Magear Tweed was “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that essentially ran New York. Tweed was born on this day (April 3) in 1823. The son of a Scottish-American chair-maker on the Lower East Side, he began his political career by organizing volunteer fire departments. He and Tammany Hall earned the support of New York’s working-class Irish immigrants, granting citizenship to potential constituents at the rate of 2,000 voters a day. (It Happened on Washington Square, Emily Kies Folpe)

He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at the tender age of 29, to the New York State Senate in 1867, and in 1868 was made “grand sachem” (Big Poobah) of Tammany Hall.

It’s estimated that Tweed stole—I mean “misappropriated” between $40 and$200 million dollars from the public during his tenure, which back in the 1860s was considered a lot of money. (We’re talking 1860’s dollars here, so billions by today’s standards.)

Boss Tweed’s downfall is often attributed to the satirical political cartoons of Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly starting in 1868. Legend has it, Tweed said of the cartoons, Stop them damn pictures. I don’t care what the papers write about me. My constituents can’t read. But, damn it, they can see the pictures.”

Boss Tweed cartoon

But in truth Tweed was still at the height of his power in late 1870 when an investigation by “six businessmen with unimpeachable reputations” found that Tweed’s books had been “faithfully kept” and could find no wrong-doing. Tweed was expected to run for and win the New York U.S. Senate seat in 1872.

Tweed’s real downfall wasn’t the papers. It was a holiday: the Glorious Twelfth. No, not Grouse-hunting day, the other Glorious Twelfth. July 12th is a Northern Irish Protestant holiday celebrating King William of Orange’s victory over the largely Irish Catholic forces of King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

In July 1871, Irish Protestants in New York City (the Loyal Order of Orange) sought permission to throw an Orange Parade.

“Irish Catholic organizations protested that the parade would be an insult to their community and pointed to the Orangemen’s behavior the previous July 12, when they had marched up Eighth Avenue…”

— Gotham, by Edwin Burrows & Mike Wallace

The marchers the previous year had the ingenious idea of hurling epithets at Irish workers who were laying pipe along the streets they passed, and sang such rousing hits as “Croppies, Lie Down.” Eight people were killed in the violence that ensued.

Tweed nixed the 1871 parade, and the Protestants, fearing that Irish Catholics had taken over their city, laid into Tweed. Public tide rapidly turned against him until Tweed and the Governor were forced to reverse the decision and allowed the parade to take place.

In the infamous “Orange Riots of July 12th” that started as a parade, between thirty and sixty people were killed, including two police officers. Over a hundred citizens were wounded, and twenty policemen.

Orange riots
Orange riots

After the riot, both sides were fed up with the Boss. And someone upset at Tweed for the whole parade debacle supplied the Times with the incriminating evidence they needed to convict him in the court of public approval.

“On July 22, ten days after the Boyne Day battle, the Times began publishing solid evidence of Ring rascality, turned over to the paper by an aggrieved insider. Day after Day, publisher George Jones reproduced whole pages from the cooked account books of James Watson, who until his recent death in a sleighing accident up in Harlem Lane had been the Ring’s trusted bookkeeper.” (Gotham)

The investigation revealed a plague of graft and corruption unprecedented in American politics.

In one example, New York City paid more for a single courthouse under Tweed than Secretary of State Seward had just paid for the territory of Alaska.

In fact the courthouse cost twice as much as Alaska, and four times as much as Britain’s Houses of Parliament. [Now that’s fiscal stimulus!]

When news of New York City’s debt spread overseas, European officials cut off the city’s line of credit and removed NYC bonds from the Berlin Stock Exchange.

The rest of the Tweed timeline goes like this:

  • October 1871: Tweed arrested
  • November 1871: Tweed wins re-election
  • December 1871: Tweed booted out as “grand sachem” of Tammany Hall
  • January 1873: First trial results in hung jury, possibly bribed
  • November 1873: Tweed convicted, sentenced to 12 years
  • 1875: Conviction overturned, Tweed is released
  • 1875-1878: Tweed is immediately sued for 6 million by creditors. Unable to repay the debts, he’s re-incarcerated. He escapes to Cuba, but is returned by Spanish authorities.
  • 1878: Boss Tweed, once the third largest property owner in New York City, dies in prison, a broken man. He is 55.

Moral of the story: You can lie, cheat, and steal, but don’t mess with people’s parades. Or their holidays.

Today is Tweed Day.

I’ve no idea who started this holiday, or why we remember a corrupt politician. The earliest references I’ve found are only a few decades old, in Chase’s Calendar of Events. But for the record, everydaysaholiday.org neither condones nor condemns this holiday, and we wholly support the right of the God-loving people of this land to celebrate the durable Scottish fabric we call Tweed.

“If everyone wears a tweed cap on April 3rd, after having endured the proper amount of ridicule from co-workers, you can all meet up in State House Square and re-enact the big dance scene from Newsies in celebration of Tweed.”

— http://www.hartford.com/event-detail.php?id=137

Sizdah Bedar – Nature Day

April 2

It’s time to celebrate the 13th!

April 2 is Sizdah Bedar, the last day of the Norooz celebrations.

Sizdah means 13, and Sizdah Bedar is celebrated on the 13th day of the Persian new year, which begins on the spring equinox, March 20 or 21.

The first twelve days of the New Year are spent visiting the homes of family and friends. Grandparents and older relatives come first. Then other family members. Then families visit with friends during the later days.

All this leads to the last day of the Norooz season, the 13th.

It’s not because 13 is particularly lucky in Iran or anything. In fact, Sizdah Bedar translates roughly to “getting rid of the 13th.” Persians spend the unlucky 13th day mitigating its potential bad influence on the year by creating good luck of their own. They do this with big communal picnics and outings to parks or the Great Outdoors, and by being surrounded by nature in general. For this reason, Sizdah Bedar is also referred to as Picnic Day or Nature Day.

Some telltale signs it’s 13 Bedar and not just a really big picnic:

  • A lot of red, white, and green
  • Persian music and dancing
  • Noodle soup and lettuce in sekanjebin — a homemade syrup with sugar and vinegar
  • And you might see plates of what looks like grass growing in a patch of soil. This is sabzeh. These sprouts of wheat or lentils, are planted in early March so as to be short blades by the equinox, symbolizing rebirth. Sizdah Bedar is the traditional date to dispose of the sabzeh, which is often done by young a woman, who ties the ends of sprouts together before dropping them in running water. The tradition stems from fertility rites said to bring good luck in finding a mate in the coming year.
Sabzeh © Michele Roohani

Sizdah Bedar is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. But by coincidence, Sizdah Bedar comes one day after Republic Day in Iran. Republic Day marks the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran on April 1, 1979. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary.

April Fool’s Day

April 1

In the west, the first day of this month starts with a funny thing called the First April Fools day. The day might be a day of befooling others with fun and jokes, however, here in the east it brings endless tales of happiness but mostly sad stories, accidents and tragedies out of this nonsensical fools day on first of this month.

— Jatta ayi Vaisakhi

The first of April some do say,
Is set apart for All Fools Day
But why the people call it so,
Nor I nor they themselves do know.

— Poor Robin’s Almanack, 1760

April Fools Day is one of those grand traditions, handed down from generation to generation, where one generation along the line forgot to tell the next precisely WHY we observe it. Which begs the question:

Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows?

— “Old Ben” Kenobi, 1977

No one really knows from where the bizarre April ritual originated. For centuries the English and Scottish on April 1 sent fools on “sleeveless errands”—fruitless or futile tasks. “That like ‘bootless’ cries?” No, the English have no grudge against uncovered limbs. Bootless comes from the same root as ‘booty’—the treasure, not the footware (or the 3am call). A bootless offense was an unforgivable one, for which no amount of monetary payment, or booty, could bring absolution or pardon. A sleeveless errand on the other hand, probably comes from sleave, meaning a thread or something tangled. The classic sleeveless errands were sending fools on the hunt for the “History of Eve’s Mother” or for “pigeon’s milk.”

“My landlady had a falling out with him about a fortnight ago for sending every one of her children upon some sleeveless errand, as she terms it. Her eldest son went to buy a halfpenny worth of incle at a shoemaker’s; the eldest daughter was despatched half a mile to see a monster; and, in short, the whole family of innocent children made April fools.”

Joseph Addison, The Spectator, April 24, 1711

In Scotland the phrase of the day was “Hunting the Gowk.” Gowk meant cuckoo. The leading Gowk trick in Scotland was to

“get some unsuspecting rustic to take a note to another man who is in the scheme. The envelope is sealed, of course, and inside is the sentence:

“This is the First of Aprile; Hunt the gowk another mile.”

The man to whom the note is addressed says he is not the right person to receive it, and sends the bearer on another mile by the directions inclosed.”

NY Times, 4/10/1904

The French have been April fooling since at least the 16th century when New Year’s was changed from late March to January. The story goes that people would make fun of those throwbacks who still celebrated in spring, the Old New Year’s. Such fools living in the past were called “April fish.”

19th century writers suggested that April Fool’s Day roughly corresponded with the Hebrew month during which Noah sent the dove on the fruitless mission to find land after the Genesis flood.

But many also noted that April 1 was about the same time as the Indian festival of “Huli” (Holi), during which time similar customs, or at least good old-fashioned merry-making took place. During Holi Hindu social roles are forgotten, and neighbors blast each other with brightly colored powders.

The Persians meanwhile celebrated (and still do) Sizdah Bedar 13 days after the spring equinox. But that’s a story for tomorrow…

Lights Out! Tonight’s Earth Hour

March 26, 2011

Earthrise

Lights out, aha,
blast blast blast
I know it’s wrong
to be dancing with no lights on…
Dancing in the dark
to the radio of love…

— Peter Wolf, Lights Out

Break out those candles. Close the lights (as my grandmother used to say).

Tonight, March 27th, at 8:30 local time is Earth Hour. A ritual that began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia spread across the globe in 2008. For one hour cities around the world turned off the lights, as even more will do tonight:

Earth Hour 2009

In terms of energy saved, Earth Hour may not solve global warming, but it does acknowledge and spread awareness of the problem of climate change.

Shine on, love.