Super Bowl

February 3, 2013
February 5, 2012

It may not be an official holiday, but today is one of the most spiritual days in American culture. For today, over 100 million Americans gather together and pray…that their team will win the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl is of paramount importance to Americans, and one can tell, not only because of the vast media attention and commercialism that surround it, but because they apply Roman numerals to it., e.g., Super Bowl XLIII.

The location of the Super Bowl changes each year and is determined three to five years in advance. Unlike championships for basketball and baseball, the location has nothing to do with the teams involved. Though 2009’s contenders hail from Pittsburgh and Arizona, Super Bowl XLIII takes place in Tampa Bay, which is expected to see a $300 million boost to its economy because of the festivities. No team has ever played in the Super Bowl on its own turf.

Those spectators who aren’t among the 100,000 or so to attend the live festivities gather in small communal groups, usually in the home of whichever friend has the largest TV. [In previous years Super Bowl week has seen the purchase of 1.5 million TV sets, although that number may have gone down this year.]

Almost as important as the game itself are the commercials during the Super Bowl, which have become a phenomenon in themselves. A 30-second spot during the Super Bowl will cost about $3 million, enough to feed a family of four for four centuries.

There’s a reason they’re so expensive.  According to approximately 140 million Americans watched Super Bowl XLI, more than the number that went out to celebrate New Year’s Eve. The exact number is unknown, since many viewers watch in groups, but Neilson estimates that of the top ten primetime network telecasts since 2000, the Super Bowl has accounted for nine of them.

Super Bowl is also the U.S.’s second-highest food-consumption day of the year, right behind Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, Reverend Matthew Lawrence, Rector of the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa, has written a Super Bowl Confessional Prayer, in which he points out the similarities between the Super Bowl of today and the bloody “games” of the Roman Coliseum, where unruly pagan crowds once rooted for the slaughter of early Christians:

Most merciful God,
Forgive us for what we are about to do;

For our blood-curdling cries,
Lord, have mercy;
For our lust for violence,
Lord, have mercy;
For our emulation of military conquest,
Lord, have mercy;
For our favor to the strong,
Lord, have mercy;
For our scorn upon the weak,
Lord, have mercy;
For the vengeance which we seek
upon enemies whom we oppose for the most arbitrary of reasons,
Lord, have mercy.

We acknowledge and bewail our mortal sins and weaknesses;
We are troubled by these dark comparisons:
the football stadium and the coliseum;
the fans and the pagan mobs;
the star athletes and the demigods;
the linebackers and the gladiators;
the cheerleaders and the furies;
the commentators and the chorus;
the corporations and the slave owners.

We can only hope that you see, as we do,
that this is only a game;
and that you haven’t lost your sense of humor.
Despite appearances to the contrary, our heart remains faithful to you.
Even as we glory in the spectacle of our football enemies
being pounded into the dust, we will strive to remember you.

God, be with those who will taste dirt this day.
Heal those who will be injured;
Console the losers with gratitude for the privilege of having played;
Ennoble the victors with gentle reminders of their mortality;
And show your favor toward all contestants
Who this day will shed their blood and break their bones
for our trivial sakes…


Women’s Heart Disease Awareness Day

February 5

Today’s Wear Red Day, but it’s not a fashion statement. It’s a life statement: to build awareness of women’s heart disease.

Today women are at greater risk of fatal heart attack than men.

Each year more women die of cardiovascular disease than cancer, tuberculosis, AIDS, and malaria combined. While mortality rates for men have gone down, the danger for women has risen. Around the world 16 women die of cardiovascular illness every minute.

Recognizing the early symptoms of a heart attack is essential in saving lives. Women rush their husband or male family members to the hospital, but tend to be more dismissive of the same warning signs in themselves.

Sweats, heart palpitations, shortness of breath–Could be more than menopause.

The “Hollywood Heart Attack” in which someone clutches their chest in pain is not the standard for everyone. Chest pain is the most common symptom, but almost half of all women who experience a heart attack do not have chest pain. Atypical symptoms include:

  • back, neck or jaw pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • indigestion
  • weakness, fatigue
  • dizziness, lightheadedness

Symptoms that can occur months prior to a heart attack include:

  • fatigue
  • sleep disturbance
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • indigestion
  • anxiety
  • shoulder blade or upper back pain

Recognize the symptoms: Women tend to end up at the emergency room 15 to 20 minutes later than men, and those minutes can mean a life.

Both women and men can fight heart disease through cardiovascular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular screenings.
Heart Disease Signs
Heart Healthy Women

Teacher by Choice, Politician by Accident

February 5

Today is Chama Cha Mapinduzi Day in Tanzania.

tanzanian flag

Chama Cha Mapinduzi is the name of the ruling party of Tanzania. It means Party of the Revolution in Swahili. The party came to be on February 5, 1977 after the merging of Tanzania’s two major parties under the leadership of Julius Nyerere.

Nyerere was born in 1922 just east of Lake Victoria in what was then Tanganyika. He herded sheep and “led a typical tribal life” in the village where his father was chief of a small tribe.

He began school at age 12 and studied to be a teacher at Makerere University in Uganda. After teaching for three years he received a  scholarship to the University of Edinburgh.

Upon returning to Africa he taught English, Swahili, and history in Dar es Salaam. He was elected president of the Tanganyika African Association, which he had helped to form as an undergraduate at Makerere.

Under his leadership TAA transformed into the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) a political force dedicated to Tanganyikan independence. As his reputation grew colonial leaders pressured him to choose between teaching and politics. Though he chose the latter, his supporters would call him Mwalimu, or “teacher,” for the rest of his life.

He traveled to New York to speak to the United Nations on Tanganyikan independence on behalf of the TANU, which became the most powerful political coalition in the country. In the late 1950s, Tanganyika won independence and Nyerere was elected its first president.

tanganyika's 1st president

As President Nyerere helped unite Zanzibar and Tanganyika, forming Tanzania. He was instrumental in combining the two parties of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form the CCM, or Party of the Revolution

He was controversial for increasingly distancing himself and the country from Western and European governments and leaning more toward Communist China.

He introduced the concept of Ujamaa, or “familyhood,” as an economic movement, melding socialism with traditional tribal government. (Ujamaa is one of the seven values defining the holiday Kwanzaa in the U.S.

He stepped down from power in 1985, before it was cool for heads of state to voluntarily do so.

A few years before his death he gave an interview to Charlayne Hunter-Gault:

CHG: You mentioned the one-party rule in your country where you were president for four terms during which time you promoted the principle of “Ujamaa,” socialism, and you have acknowledged that it was a miserable failure…
NYERERE: Where did you get the idea that I thought “Ujamaa” was a miserable failure?
CHG: Well, I read that you said socialism was a failure…
NYERERE: A bunch of countries were in economic shambles at the end of the 70s. They are not socialists..You have to take in the values of socialism which we were trying to build in Tanzania in any society.
CHG: And those values are what?
NYERERE: And those values are values of justice, a respect for human beings, a development which is people-centered, development where you care about people. You can say ‘leave the development of a country to something called the market,’ which has no heart at all since capitalism is completely ruthless. Who is going to help the poor? And the majority of the people in our countries are poor. Who is going to stand for them? Not the market. So I’m not regretting that I tried to build a country based on those principles…Whether you call them socialism or not…what gave capitalism a human face was the kind of values I was trying to sell in my country.

He died of leukemia in 1999.

February 4

February 4

“It is estimated that over 40% of all cancer can be prevented.”

Today is World Cancer Day:

In a world where our ability to combat and prevent disease has never been better, cancer rates are still on the rise. According to the World Health Organization cancer is “a leading cause of death globally.” 7.6 million people died of cancer in 2005. 84 million people are projected to die from cancer in the next decade.

Birthdays: February 4

Rosa Parks in 1913. Her decision to be arrested rather than give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus led to a year-long boycott and sparked the Civil Rights movement in 1955.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 1906. As a German pastor he opposed the Nazi government. He was executed in 1945 for his involvement in a plot to kill Hitler.

(Bonhoeffer documentary)

Sri Lanka Independence

February 4

Sri Lanka has always been an island shrouded in mystery.

According to journalist William McGowan:

Even those living in Sri Lanka for many years felt its fundamental impenetrability; the longer you lived there, the more you realized you’d never really know it…

It was a country, after all, that Arab traders had once named Serendip, for its aura of accidental good fortune…If serendipity were to strike the island now, I’m afraid the dose would have to be massive.” (Only Man is Vile, 1992)

Actually, the word serendipity comes from the old name for Sri Lanka (Serendip), not the other way around. “Serendip” derived from the words Sinhala, “dwelling place of lions”, and dwipa, or “island”.

An ancient Persian fairy tale known as The Three Princes of Serendip told the story of three wise princes of the region whose collective intelligence led to good fortune, but only when they weren’t looking for it.

Bianca Capello
Bianca Capello

The English word was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, in a letter to a friend. His friend had sent him an unframed portrait of Bianca Capello that Walpole had admired. Walpole happened across the Capello coat-of-arms in a book of Venetian arms, which he used to help frame the portrait:

…This discovery indeed is almost of that kind which I call serendipity, a very expressive word…I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of…

McGowen is right though. Sri Lanka is long overdue for some good karma. In addition to the devastation of the December 26, 2004 tsunami, the small island nation has been plagued with civil war ever since its independence, which it won from the British on this day in 1948.

Sri Lankans believe the Lord Buddha visited the islands three times:

“In Lanka, O Lord of Gods, shall my religion be established and flourish.”

Lord Buddha, The Mahavamsa, 6th century AD

Every summer, Sri Lankans display the Sacred Tooth — believed to be the Buddha’s left canine — in an elephant procession known as Perahera.

Sacred Tooth Temple, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Sacred Tooth Temple, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Four Chaplains: This Side of Heaven

“the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven”

February 3

A priest, a rabbi, and two ministers set out to sea to fight the Nazis.

This is not a joke, but the beginning of a sad but inspiring story of four chaplains who are remembered today as, aptly, the Four Chaplains.

George Fox
George Fox

George Fox was the eldest, a 42 year-old WWI veteran who had become a Methodist Minister at age 34. He joined the Army Chaplain Service the same day his teenage son joined the Marines.

Alex Goode
Alex Goode

Alex Goode, a Brooklyn-born Rabbi in Pennsylvania, studied at Cincinnati and Hebrew Union College before earning a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins. He joined the Army Chaplains in 1942, leaving behind his wife and 3 year-old daughter

Clark Poling
Clark Poling

Clark Poling, was born in Ohio and grew up in Massachusetts and Poughkeepsie. He studied in Michigan and at Rutgers before getting his B.D. at Yale’s Divinity School. The young Dutch Reformed Pastor told his father, a WWI Chaplain, that he didn’t want to sit the war out in the shelter of the church. His father told him that in WWI chaplains had the highest mortality rate of all. “You just can’t carry a gun to kill anyone yourself.”

John Washington
John Washington

The fourth chaplain was Father John Washington. As an Irish Catholic Priest, he was the only unmarried, childless chaplain of the four. He grew up in a poor immigrant family and was even in a gang as a youth, but received a calling from God, and was ordained in 1935. The bespectacled Washington joined Fox, Goode, and Poling at the Harvard Chaplain School, and the four developed a strong friendship.

USAT Dorchester

In January, 1943 they boarded the U.S.A.T. Dorchester bound for Europe. With over 900 passengers, mostly soldiers and few civilians, the ship was 150 miles from Greenland when it entered the waters known as “torpedo junction”. During the voyage, the four worked together to ease the fears of the men. Priest, Minister, and Rabbi offered prayers to soldiers of all faiths, not just their own.

The evening of February 2, the Captain instructed the soldiers to wear their life vests. Most however didn’t take the warning to heart. On February 3, the Dorchester was struck by a German torpedo, killing about 100 men instantly.

The ship began sinking in minutes. In the chaos, most lifeboats floated away or capsized. The four chaplains directed the men, urged hope, established a sense of order, and helped men into the lifeboats. When the lifeboats were gone, the four chaplains handed out life vests to the men.

When the life vests were gone, the four chaplains, without hesitation, each removed their own, and gave them out to the men, thus ensuring their own demise.

The Four Chaplains sunk with the Dorchester, along with over 600 men. Survivors recalled the last thing they saw on the ship was the four chaplains aboard the sinking ship, still encouraging the men with prayer and song…

“Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

“Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad.” [Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.]

The 8,000 chaplains of the U.S. military during World War II earned 2,453 high medals. Though none could receive the Medal of Honor because of its special qualifications, a medal was created as its equal specifically for the Four Chaplains.

John Ladd, a survivor of the Dorchester, recalled the actions of the four chaplains atop the sinking ship as “the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

For this reason, February 3 is celebrated as Four Chaplains Day among military members and interfaith groups across the United States. The Sunday nearest is remembered as Four Chaplains Sunday.



February 3

Once a year in Japan, the land of order and politeness, it is considered perfectly acceptable behavior for children to hurl beans and peanuts at their classmates without reprimand.

That day is today, Setsubun, or Lunar New Year, and understandably, kids more than anyone carry on the tradition. Though Setsubun lacks the weight it commanded back in the 8th century, many Japanese do not let this day pass without tossing at least a few legumes inside and outside for good luck.

Mame Maki, the aforementioned bean-throwing activity, is meant to ward off evil spirits for the coming year. People scatter beans on the ground or toss them at imaginary Oni (roughly, demons or ogres) while yelling:

“Oni wa Soto, Fuku wa Uchi!”

(It looks and sounds worse than it is.) It’s pronounced Foo-koo, so watch your tongue, and it translates to:

“Get out, Demon/Ogre! Come in, Good Luck/Happiness!”

Mame Maki bears resemblance to the tradition at Western weddings of throwing rice grains to represent fertility.

don't try this at home
(re-enactment: don't try this at home)

Like American children on Halloween, Japanese schoolchildren wear Oni masks to represent the demons while their peers gleefully pelt them with beans and nuts, as an American schoolteacher in Japan describes here.

Traditionally soybeans have been the projectile of choice, but recently peanuts have been picking up steam. Both are sold in stores in small packets.

Another tradition is to eat the number of beans of your age today, plus one for the coming year.

This evening families eat a special thick sushi called futomaki, or hutomaki.

What you need to make: Ingredients

What you do to make: Directions

And they eat while facing a “lucky” direction–which differs each year.

Other ways to ward off the demon include piercing the head of a sardine with a holly branch and hanging it in a doorway.


Also, celebrities born under the current year’s zodiac sign (ie. 12 year-olds, 24, 36, 48…) can be seen on TV performing Mame Maki pubicly.

Setsubun means “division of the season.” There are four setsubun, throughout the year but the one celebrating the changing of winter into spring has always been the most auspicious. Similar to the Indian Makar Sankranti festivals and Celtic Imbolc, which both mark the coming of Spring.

Prior to 1873 Japan used a luni-solar calendar of 355 days. Every few years an inter-calaria month of 30 days was added to keep the lunar calendar in line with the solar.

After Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873, the spring festival began to wane, as Japan began celebrating New Year’s with the rest of the Gregorian world on January 1.

Setsubun used to be celebrated on the second full moon after the solstice. It now occurs every February 3.

Setsubun Protest 2010: Luck in! Peace in! Military bases out!

Candlemas & Presentation of Christ

February 2

February 2 marks the sacred day in ancient Jerusalem when Jesus’s woodchuck poked its head out of the ground and declared six more weeks of Imbolc.

Wait, no, so is Groundhog Day the modern equivalent of the Purification of Mary? Is Candlemas a pagan holiday? And how often is Puxasawquantalahacwney Phil the Prognosticating Groundhog right?

According to Christian tradition, Candlemas (February 2nd) falls 40 days after Christmas, and marks the day Mary and Joseph took their 40 day-old baby Jesus to the temple for presentation and purification, as the Jewish laws of the time commanded:

A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremoniously unclean for 7 days…

Then the woman must wait 33 days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over.” – Leviticus 12

Count ’em. 33 +7 = 40. Of course, this assumes Jesus was born on December 25, but that’s another story.

Luke 2:22 describes Mary’s purification ceremony:

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord…”

where the devout Simeon beheld the 5 week-old baby and proclaimed:

“Mine eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”

The first recorded commemoration of the event comes from the famous globe-trotting 4th century nun Etheria (also Egeria) on her trek to Jerusalem. She writes:

The 40th day after the Epiphany is undoubtedly celebrated here with the very highest honor, for on the day there is a procession, in which all take part…and all things are done in their order with the greatest joy, just as at Easter. All the priests preach, and after them the bishop, always taking for their subject the part of the Gospel where Joseph and Mary brought the Lord into the Temple on the 40th day, and Symeon and Anna the prophetess…saw Him..and of that offering which His parents made.”

Note that according to Etheria the ceremony was known only as “40th day after the Epiphany,” not “40th day after the birth.” And it was celebrated on February 14 rather than February 2nd.

The changing of the date and the emphasis on “Purification of the Virgin” came when the holiday was celebrated in Rome.

The Romans considered February the “month of purification,” named after Februus, the god of death and purification. The Lupercalia in the middle of the month, dedicated to the founder of Rome, was a holiday of purification. (The middle of the months were the most auspicious days for the Romans. Originally the full moon marked the middle, or “Ides” of the month while the new moon marked the beginning and end of each month.)

Egeria’s 4th century description of Jerusalem’s annual celebration gives creed to the theory that the Presentation/Purification was not “invented” to stem other pagan holidays; however, its popularization and transformation in the West into Candlemas may have been a response to the pagan festivals of Europe.


Candlemas represents the day the priest would bless the candles to be used throughout the year. Originally…

“Roman Christians borrowed the practice of using candles in the religious services from the Romans, and in AD 494 Pope Gelasius I set the day of the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary at the time of the popular Lupercalia.”

All Around the Year, Jack Santino

Scott Richert writes:

“Originally, the feast was celebrated on February 14, the 40th day after Epiphany (January 6), because Christmas wasn’t yet celebrated as its own feast, and so the Nativity, Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, and the feast celebrating Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana were all celebrated on the same day. By the last quarter of the fourth century, however, the Church at Rome had begun to celebrate the Nativity on December 25, so the Feast of the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days later.”

On February 2 though the festival now competed with the Celtic Imbolc (or Oimelc) on February 1 and 2. A candle would be lit in every window to honor the Mother Goddess Brigit who was associated with fire.

In the 1970s the Catholic Church changed the name to the “Presentation of Christ in the Temple,” reducing the emphasis on Mary’s purification.

But in Latin American and some European countries the holiday still refers to the Virgin Mary:

Peru, Bolivia: Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria
Brazil: Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes Porto Allegre
Germany: Maria Lichtmess

Wilson’s Almanac February 1

Wilson’s Almanac February 2