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.

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

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.

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, 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


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.”

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

Father’s Day

3rd Sunday in June
June 19, 2011
June 17, 2012
June 16, 2013

Spectators and victims of the Monongah Mine Disaster, 1907

100 years ago the congregation of Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church in Fairmont, West Virginia gathered to pay tribute to the 362 men, many of them fathers, killed at the Monongah Mine disaster of 1907. The victims were largely from poor immigrant families, Italian, Greek, Slav, Polish, and Russian. The accident left 250 women widows and over 1000 children without support.

The July 5 gathering was the suggestion of Fairmont resident Grace Golden Clayton. Clayton had been partly inspired by the first “Mother’s Day” celebration in nearby Grafton, West Virginia. But Clayton is not considered the mother of Father’s Day.

That title went to Sonora Smart Dodd, 3000 miles away in Spokane, Washington. As a teenager Sonora lost her mother who died in childbirth, leaving Sonora’s father to raise Sonora and her 5 brothers.

Sonora Smart Dodd
Sonora Smart Dodd

Sonora reflected on the role of fathers in the family during a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909. Thanks to Sonora’s efforts the governor of Washington declared July 19, 1910 the first Father’s Day.

However, unlike Mother’s Day, which went from a single West Virginia observance in 1907 to a national holiday in 1914, Father’s Day had a much harder uphill battle. The idea of Father’s Day was even mocked. In 1914 one New York Times reader wrote:

“Your correspondent of yesterday is quite right in his contention that the establishment of Mother’s Day argues for the appointment of Father’s day as well. It seems to me, however that he does not go far enough. I would suggest the following calendar:

  • Jan. 19,Brother’s Day
  • Feb. 3,Sister’s Day
  • Mar. 10Grandpa’s Day
  • Apr. 12Grandma’s Day
  • May 24Mother’s Day
  • June 13Uncle’s Day
  • July 21Maiden Aunty’s Day
  • Aug. 6Cousin’s Day
  • Sep. 20Father’s Day
  • Oct. 30Baby’s Day
  • Nov. 4Household Pet Day
  • Dec. 31 Slush Day

The Father’s Day movement met with support during the Depression, when businesses hoped to foster a minor Christmas during the summer with a gift-giving holiday devoted to Dad. The support and observance of Father’s Day was augmented during WWII in honor of the fathers in the Armed Forces.

Two early proponents for the establishment of an annual Father’s Day were the National Father’s Day Committee in New York City, founded in 1926, and Harry Meek, of the Chicago Lions Club. Meek spoke around the country in support of the holiday, and suggested the date of June 20, his birthday, to observe it.

There was also a movement to call Mother’s Day “Parents’ Day”. This lost steam in the 1940s when

“The business community essentially had killed it. Mother’s Day followed by Father’s Day was too perfect a setup financially to allow something as gender-nonspecific as Parents’ Day to muck things up.” —“The Modernization of Fatherhood: A Social and Political History”

In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the first national Father’s Day, to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.

In 1956 a joint resolution of Congress recognized Father’s Day. President Lyndon Johnson signed a President proclamation to the effect a decade later. But it wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon established a permanent Father’s Day holiday on the third Sunday in June.

Papa Nestor with newest member of the Nestor clan. Yosemite, 1990

+  +  +

Incidentally, most of the N.Y. Times’ reader’s holiday suggestions did come to pass, and more, though not all dates are agreed upon:

  • Grandparents’ Day: 1st Sunday after Labor Day (US); February 8 (International); 1st Sunday in October (UK); January 21 & 22 (Poland)
  • Sister’s Day: 1st Sunday in August
  • Brothers and Sisters’ Day: May 2
  • Siblings Day: April 10
  • Aunt’s Day: March 8; 1st Sunday in June
  • Aunts and Uncles’ Day: July 26;
  • Cousins’ Day: July 24
  • National Pet Day: April 10
  • Love Your Pet Day: February 20
  • Kids and Pets Day: April 26 (Why do kids and pets have to share a day?)

No “Slush Day” yet, but July 11 is “Free Slushie Day” at 7-11!

American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia

Iceland National Day

June 17

“So weareth summer: Uspak rideth to the Leet and halloweth it; and when harvest comes, he fares to the fells when men go after their wethers, and they were brought in well, for the searching was careful, and no sheep were missing, either of Odd’s or any other man’s.” — The Story of the Banded Men, ancient Islandic saga

Summer is here, and few appreciate that fact more than the Icelanders. On June 17, one of the longest days of the year, Iceland celebrates its independence from Denmark in 1944.

That’s right, the Icelanders left Denmark during its darkest hour, when the mother country was on its knees, occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II.* That just shows how sneaky Icelanders are.

In fact Iceland was founded on sneakiness. It was named “Iceland” despite its volcanos and steaming geysers to convince tourists to try someplace “sunnier.” Like Greenland.

And the ploy worked. Today Iceland has a population of only 320,000. Meaning if Iceland were a U.S. city, it would be vying with Riverside, California for the coveted “60th biggest city in the nation” spot.

Despite its diminutive size, Iceland is was an economic powerhouse. It ranked #1 in the UN Human Development Index in 2007/2008, and is consistently one of the wealthiest countries in the world, per capita. Or at least it was until 2008 when the global financial crisis decimated the Icelandic economy. When the smoke cleared, it turned out the three largest banks in the country had nursed a combined debt equal to six times Iceland’s annual GDP.

The crisis hasn’t put a damper on this year’s celebrations though, which are set to include parades, dancing, singing and merry-making as usual.

June 17 was chosen as the day to officially break away from Denmark back in 1944 because it was the birthday of Jón Sigurðsson, the leading proponent for Icelandic independence back in the 19th century.

“He who lives without discipline dies without honor.” — Icelandic proverb

“Two men need one money, but one money needs no man. One is on one’s knees, loses one’s head, except maybe a delicious demon. Hee how!” — Bjork

*At the time of its independence, Iceland was occupied by the Allies. British troops landed in 1941; U.S. troops took over soon after. And left in 2006.