Everyone knows where the world-famous Saint Patrick is from. Scotland.
That’s right. Patrick was a wee lad by the name of Succat living in Scotland when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates at the age of 16 [“Kidnapped by pirates is good!” – Fred Savage, The Princess Bride] and sold as a slave.
In Ireland he herded a Celtic chieftain’s sheep for six years, until one day he ran away and traveled 200 miles across Ireland to escaped to France on a ship.
In France, he studied under the Bishop Germanus at the Auxerre monastery in Gaul. Patrick returned to Britain a priest, but heard the land of his captivity calling, and returned to Ireland in 430 A.D.
Patrick’s experience living in Eire gave him an advantage over previous missionaries.
During the Druidic festival of Beltraine, which celebrated the coming of spring, the King Laoghaire lit the annual bonfires. The law of the land said no other fires could be lit that night under penalty of death. Patrick defied the law by lighting a flame in clear view of the capital, to remember the resurrection we know as Easter.
Patrick was ordered before the King to explain himself. Legend says this was the first of many times Patrick picked up three-leaf clover and used it to illustrate the Holy Trinity. The number 3 was particularly revered by the Gaelic people, so Patrick often emphasized the Trinity in his teachings. King Laoghaire was surprisingly receptive to Patrick, the former slave, and later asked him to codify Irish law.
Saint Patrick feat is remarkable in that he converted an entire people to Christianity without bloodshed. He didn’t have to die a martyr’s death for his beliefs, nor did he execute or threaten to execute anyone who did not share them.
But his most famous conquest was as the “Samuel L. Jackson” of the Emerald Isle. According to legend, Saint Patrick cured the Irish plains of their snake infestation. And to this day there are no snakes in Ireland, iron-clad proof of the great Saint’s miracle!
“I have had it with these @#$%&! snakes on these @#$%&! Irish plains!“
St. Patrick is world-famous for driving the snakes out of Ireland, but the day before St. Patrick’s Day we celebrate an oft-overlooked saint named Urho, who is said to have performed the equally admirable feat of ridding his Finnish homeland of hungry grasshoppers, thus saving Finland’s all-important grape crop, and the Finns themselves, from devastation.
Plaques proclaim St. Urho’s glory, including one in Minnesota that describes the annual ceremony in his honor:
At sunrise on March 16, Finnish women and children dressed in royal purple and nile green gather around the shores of the many lakes in Finland and chant what St. Urho chanted many years ago: “Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” (Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away!”
Urho’s deeds are recalled in poems like The Legend of Saint Urho, by Linda Johnson. Statues have been erected in his honor. His feast day is celebrated with relish by Finnish communities throughout Minnesota.
But before you go impressing your Finnish friends with all your knowledge about their culture, you should know that, while St. Urho is a symbol of pride for many Finnish-Americans, sadly the Finns themselves are all but ignorant of their great national hero. (Or of the notion that grapes grew there.)
This is because St. Urho is a completely made-up saint. He was conjured up and popularized by Finnish-Americans (most-likely intoxicated) in Minnesota in the mid-1950’s.
Envious of the attention paid to Ireland’s patron saint on May 17, Finnish Minnesotans, created their own hero, possibly inspired by the name of then Finnish Prime Minister Urho Kekkonen. There is some debate over who is to blame—I mean, who is responsible for inventing the now world-famous saint.
Richard Mattson, a department store manager in Virginia, Minnesota, explained,
“[Gene] McCavic, a co-worker at Ketola’s Department Store, chided me in 1953 that the Finns did not have saints like St. Patrick. I told her the Irish aren’t the only ones with great saints. She asked me to name one for the Finns. So I fabricated a story and thought of St. Eero (Eric), St. Jussi (John), and St. Urho. Urho, a common Finnish name, had a more commanding sound.”
Mattson’s original St. Urho rid Finland of its frogs, not grasshoppers, a tradition that changed over time.
Soon, the employees of Ketola’s came to respect the Finnish saint, or at least their manager’s Finnish dry humor, and began throwing “St. Urho’s Day” parties as an inside joke for their beloved manager.
The story of St. Urho was reported in the Mesabi Daily News in 1956. That may be where Sulo Havumaki, a school district psychologist in Benmidji, Minnesota got wind of it.
“Sulo was a devout Catholic and, feeling left out because there weren’t any Finnish saints, made one up with tongue in cheek: St. Urho (Maybe he adopted Mattson’s…)” — William Reid
Sulo’s devotion to the obscure saint was well-known in the town. One story goes that when a neighbor’s family took a trip to Finland, they played a rather unusual practical joke on Sulo. They took some very old bones and wood with them and arriving in Finland, found a recent obituary in a Finnish newspaper. From Finland they shipped the wood and bones to Sulo along with a fictitious letter, in the name of the recently deceased…
“Sulo received the letter, which said something like “Dear Prof. Havumaki: I am the keeper of the last relics of St. Urho. News of your faith and dedication to St. Urho have reached me across the ocean. I am dying, and commend to you those last relics because I know you will protect and revere them, and pass them to the next custodian when the time is right…”
March 15 is synonymous with betrayal, treachery, back-stabbing and front-stabbing. It’s the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus and the Roman Senate in 44 B.C.
But in Hungary, March 15 is synonymous with freedom and independence, so whip out your cockades and join the Hungarians as they sing their National Song today.
Turns out the Hungarians celebrate March 15, 1848, not 44 BC.
In 1848, as the fervor of revolution swept through Europe…
Nowhere else did the crowd assume such an emblematic character as in Hungary. The Chartists crowds of London might have been larger, the fighting on the barricades of Paris, Prague, Vienna and Dresden more intense, but Budapest instigated the only total revolution in 1848-1849, and Hungary’s crowds were the last holdouts.
March 15 marked the day that news reached rebellious students and intellectuals in Budapest that revolution had broken out in Vienna, the center of the Hapsburg’s empire. The rebel movement’s leaders had planned a protest march to take place on March 19, but when news hit Budapest, they spontaneously decided to demonstrate in celebration.
And it’s a good thing. The government had gotten wind of the demonstration, and had planned to arrest the movement’s leaders on March 18.
Students marched from Pest to Buda—the two cities that make up the aptly named Budapest—to protest the Hapsburg-dominated monarchy in Austria. Along the way, massive crowds joined the demonstration, spurred on by news from Vienna and the songs of a 25 year-old poet named Sandor Petofi.
Petofi had been chosen to put the movement’s demands to paper. Deemed the “Twelve Points,” they were:
1. Freedom of the press, the abolition of censorship.
2. A responsible Ministry in Buda and Pest.
3. An annual parliamentary session in Pest.
4. Civil and religious equality before the law.
5. A National Guard.
6. A joint sharing of tax burdens.
7. The cessation of socage.
8. Juries and representation on an equal basis.
9. A national bank
10. The army to swear to support the constitution, our soldiers not be dispatched abroad, and foreign soldiers removed from our soil.
11.The freeing of political prisoners.
12. Reunion with Transylvania.
On the steps of the National Library Petofi led the crowds in the singing of his famous poem “Nemzeti Dal”, which to this day symbolizes Hungarian self-determination and freedom:
Rise up, Magyar, the country calls!
It’s ‘now or never’ what fate befalls…
Shall we live as slaves or free men?
That’s the question – choose your `Amen’!
God of Hungarians,
we swear unto Thee,
We swear unto Thee – that slaves we shall
no longer be!
from “Nemzeti Dal” (National Song)
Unprepared for the rebellions of March 13 in Vienna and March 15 in Budapest, the court was forced to acquiesce to the demands of the Hungarian National Assembly. Hungary became the first (and only) country during the revolutions of 1848 to undergo a peaceful transition.
+ + +
Peace was temporary phenomenon. Later that year the Austrian empire recovered from the shock and set about to reconquer Hungary. With the Russian Czar’s help, the Hungarian army was decimated. The Austrian army executed 14 Hungarian leaders, including the new Prime Minister.
Petofi is believed to have been killed at the Battle of Segesvar in Transylvania on July 31, 1849. He was 26 years old. By that time, the soldier-writer-revolutionary had written 10 volumes of Hungarian poems.
Throughout the past century and a half, March 15 has remained a symbol of the Hungarian struggle for liberty and self-determination.
“I am ashamed to tell you to how many places of figures I carried these computations, having no other business at the time”.
— Isaac Newton, original ‘computer’ nerd, getting high on ∏
I have to admit I’m a Pi holiday snob. I don’t celebrate Pi Day on March 14; I prefer its more accurate European equivalent, Pi Approximation Day, celebrated on July 22 (22/7).
It’s been said the only real Pi Day was March 14, 1592. (3.14 1592) and of course even that was only accurate to 7 digits. At that time, Pi wasn’t known as Pi but as “that funny circumference-over-the-diameter number that goes on forever and ever and ever, and I’ll stop calculating it as soon as I find the pattern.” Fortunately, Welsh mathematician William Jones shortened it to just ∏ in 1705. Pi was the first letter of the Greek words for periphery and perimeter.
March 14 is not only easy to remember, it has the added bonus of being the birthday of Albert Einstein, born in 1879 in Ulm, Germany.
At age 26, the clerk at a Swiss patent office unleashed three scientific papers on the world, the least of which would have assured his place in history. The greatest of which changed history. That was the Theory of Special Relativity, or the “Strangers on a Train Traveling Close to the Speed of Light” Theory. Either way, Einstein didn’t like the word “relativity” at all. He preferred “invariance theory,” referring to the consistent nature of light regardless of the motion and positions of its observers.
Einstein next turned his attention to gravity. He spent much of the following decade aligning his theory of relativity with Newtonian physics. In 1915, he knocked it out of the park again, with his special relativity follow-up: the Theory of General Relativity.
If ever a sequel was better than the original, this was it.
Had Einstein not developed the Theory of Special Relativity in 1905, someone else would have. In a few years, maybe even a few months.
But it’s been said that had there been no Einstein, had he not conceived of the Theory of General Relativity in 1915, the world would have waited generations to unlock it.
General Relativity explained the inexplicable by affirming the impossible. That among other things, both light and time could (and must) bend in relation to mass.
Einstein had comparatively little astronomical data to go on back in 1915. But this was a guy who managed to deduce Nobel-prize winning theories by observing pollen grains in water.
One of Einstein’s clues was that the orbit of Mercury didn’t behave as Newton’s theory had predicted it would. Other physicists chalked this up to the possible existence of yet unobserved planetary bodies in our solar system. What Einstein proposed was the astrophysical equivalent of tearing down a house and rebuilding it because the door didn’t fit. He said that the way scientists since Newton had assumed the universe worked was fundamentally unsound.
Even with his past successes, the theory was so out of conformity with the day’s scientific knowledge that Einstein could have been laughed off the world stage.
But on May 29, 1919 the scientific community had an unprecedented opportunity to put an abstract theory as big as the universe to a visible, practical test.
The Newton vs. Einstein Showdown – May 29, 1919
Astronomers predicted that on May 29, 1919, parts of South America and sub-Saharan Africa would experience an incredibly long 6-minute total solar eclipse, during which time the sun would be right in way of Earth’s view of the constellation Hyades.
Scientist-adventurers led expeditions to remote areas of the southern continents to make precise astronomical records during the darkness of the eclipse. If Einstein was correct, the stars of the cluster Hyades would appear to shift from their normal positions because of gravity’s effect on the starlight as it passed by the Sun.
The expeditions confirmed Einstein’s theory, and in the darkness of a 6-minute eclipse, the Newtonian world gave way to an Einsteinian one.
For his contributions to science, Einstein deserves his own holiday for sure, even though he would be the first to forget it (He wasn’t good with birthdays) and the last to acknowledge any beneficial value in it.
Because Pi Day coincides with Einstein’s birthday, many treat March 14 as a celebration of science and mathematics in general. I’ve noticed a dearth of these festivals. Religious and political holidays fill each day of the calendar several times over while mathematicians and scientists find themselves forced to rally around a handful of dates like “Square Root Day” (3/3/09…) and “Mole Day” (June 2 at 10:23). Not to mention our beloved Pi Day. [http://threesixty360.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/things-that-equal-pi/]
Darwin’s birthday, February 12, is shared with and often dominated by that of his contemporary Abraham Lincoln. Both men were born on February 12, 1809.
And Isaac Newton’s birthday…well, it’s overshadowed just a teensy bit by a religious luminary named Jesus. Yep, Newton was born on Christmas Day, 1642 (OS).
On the tenth day of Newton,
My true love gave to me,
Ten drops of genius,
Nine silver co-oins,
Eight circling planets,
Seven shades of li-ight,
Three Laws of Motion,
Two awful feuds,
And the discovery of gravity!
It’s fitting that we celebrate the two great pinnacles of physics on March 14 and December 25.
In ancient Roman times, March 14 was the eve of the Ides of the March. The Roman political and agrarian calendar began on or around March 15 — when farmers planted crops and elected officials took office. And ended with the December festival known as Saturnalia, from December 17 to December 25.
Newton’s birthday falls in the season of Christmas, Yalda, and Yule, which bid farewell to the old year and hello to longer days. And though they didn’t know it, our ancestors were really paying homage to gravity — the Sun’s pull on the Earth. Einstein’s birthday meanwhile comes amid spring festivals like Holi, Nowruz, Purim, and Easter, which celebrate rebirth and the circle of life, as well as the life-giving power of sunlight.
We live in a world where the more we learn, the less we know. And where the darkest eclipse sheds the most brilliant light. As one quote popularized by Einstein* explains…
“The wider the diameter of light,
the larger the circumference of darkness.”
What can we say? The guy knew his ∏.
Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. — Albert Einstein
“It has been well said, that the more we enlarge the diameter or sphere of light, the more, too, do we enlarge the circumambient darkness — so that with a wider field of light on which to expatiate, we shall have a more extended border of unexplored territory than ever.”
— Institutes of Theology from the Post-humous Works of Rev. Thomas Chalmers (1849) by Chalmers and his son-in-law biographer William Hanna.
A half-century later, Alexander Whyte retells how Chalmers explained the concept to students in Skirling, Scotland.
When Dr. Chalmers was out at Skirling on one occasion he went to the village school and gave the children an elementary lesson in optical science. Taking the blackboard and a piece of chalk he drew a long diameter on the board, and then he ran a large circumference around the diameter. And then turning to the wondering children he said to them in his own imaginative and eloquent way, ‘You must all see that the longer the diameter of light the larger is the surrounding circumference of darkness.”
White Day is the complementary holiday of Valentine’s Day in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Valentine’s Day is celebrated as well, but a little differently than in the U.S.
On Valentine’s Day women generally give gifts of chocolate and the sort to the men in their lives: giri choco (obligatory chocolate) and honmei-choco (chocolate with a romantic connotation).
“Giri choco is given by women to their superiors at work as well as to other male co-workers. It is not unusual for a woman to buy 20 to 30 boxes of this type of chocolate for distribution around the office as well as to men that she has regular contact with.”
The counter-holiday, White Day, was promoted in the 1980s by the confections industry. One month after Valentine’s Day men relieve their guilt at receiving such gifts by buying the women in their lives chocolate in return. The March 14 chocolates generally cost 2 to 3 times as much as Valentine’s Day chocolates, and are boxed in white boxes, hence the name White Day.
I tend to avoid reporting on holidays promoted by the chocolate industry. Not out of any dislike of chocolate. On the contrary it’s my favorite food group. But there’s generally no rationale or history for the holiday other than to promote a particular confection. And depending on which calendar you look at, virtually every week in the year has a chocolate or candy holiday associated with it.
This week, for example, is American Chocolate Week.
March 19 is National Chocolate Caramel Day
March 24 is National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day
April hosts National Licorice Day, Chocolate-Covered Cashews Day and Jelly Bean Day.
And so on…
And National Chocolate Day? It’s on July 7.
And October 28.
And December 28.
And December 29.
You get the picture. There’s not any scrumptious chocolate candy combination you can name that doesn’t have its own holiday.
So why December 28 and 29? My guess, two more chances to indulge before those dreaded New Year’s resolutions kick in!
If you’re in Japan, enjoy a delicious, calorie-laden White Day! And if you’re in North America, I recommend celebrating two days at once with a delicious home-made Chocolate Pie.
Last week, Warner Brothers released the long-awaited blockbuster Watchmen. Watchmen is based on a comic book about a group of not-your-run-of-the-mill superheroes in a dark, film noir alternate reality.
It’s a superhero story without heroes, but its antihero may be Rorschach, a masked vigilante who before donning a mask was Walter Kovacs, a New York City tailor. In the original Watchmen, a chance encounter with a woman named Kitty Genovese fundamentally changes Kovacs’ view of the world:
One day a young Italian-American woman comes into the shop and asks Kovacs to make her a dress from a special fabric. She doesn’t like the way it turns out and leaves it, so Kovacs keeps the material.
I’ll pause here to say that Watchmen blends fiction and reality so well it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t. Walter Kovacs/Rorschach is a fictional character. But Kitty Genovese is very real; and she’s why we observe Good Samaritan Involvement Day today, on March 13.
The oldest of five children, the real Kitty Genovese was raised in Brooklyn, New York. In 1964, the 29 year-old was living with her girlfriend Mary Ann Zielonko in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York, and working at a sports bar on Jamaica Avenue.
Mary Ann was sound asleep by the time Kitty drove up around 3 am. Kitty parked about 100 feet from her apartment. On her way to the apartment, Kitty was attacked and stabbed twice in the back by a strange man.
Kitty screamed for help. According to reports, several witnesses heard the screams, and her attacker fled.
But no one came out to help.
The killer came back to the scene ten minutes later to find Kitty barely conscious, lying near the back of the building, where she had staggered with her remaining strength. He stabbed her several more times, sexually assaulted her as she lay dying, and stole $49 from her wallet.
Police responded to a call that came after the second attack. Kitty died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
The killer, later identified as Winston Moseley, confessed to the murder without emotion, as well as to two other murders, telling police he simply wanted to kill a woman.
As cold-blooded as the killer was (44 years later, the inmate still shows no remorse), he’s not the reason why psychologists study Kitty Genovese’s gruesome murder.
Two weeks after the murder, a newspaper article reported that the number of witnesses who either heard or saw parts of the murder was 38.
Later reports reduced this to a dozen or so witness. Still, her murderer, armed with only a knife, walked away from the crime without so much as a reprimand. An initial call to the police was not given high priority. And in the half hour between the first screams and the killer’s final exit, only one neighbor made a move to stop him, by yelling out, “Leave the girl alone,” the comment that caused the killer to flee the first time.
The murder made national news. People were outraged and dumbstruck at the actions — or inaction — of the seemingly ordinary, law-abiding citizens of Kew Gardens. While psychologists studied the case to understand the “Bystander Effect” (also known as the “Genovese Effect”), communities sought to change the urban phenomenon by establishing Neighborhood Watch groups. New York police dispatchers were reorganized to better respond to emergency calls. And Good Samaritan Involvement Day was created as the antidote to the Genovese bystanders.
In the graphic novel Watchmen, Walter Kovacs reads about Kitty Genovese’s murder in the newspaper. Deeply troubled by those who watched it and did nothing, Kovacs fashions a mask from the dress Kitty had left behind and becomes “Rorschach”, a vigilante so-named for the ink-blot patterns on the mask’s strange fabric. His purpose: to punish the evil inherent in humanity while others stand by and watch.
Like the ink-blot test from which the character Rorschach gets his name, people interpret Kitty Genovese’s murder in different ways.
The fictional Rorschach tells a psychiatrist:
“Almost forty neighbors heard screams. Nobody did anything. Nobody called cops. Some of them even watched. Do you understand? I knew what people were, then, behind all the evasions, all the self-deception…”
He writes in his journal:
“This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us.”
The very real Mary Ann Zielonko, Kitty Genovese’s girlfriend, took away something different from the tragedy. Forty years later she recalled:
“Kitty was the most wonderful person I’ve ever met. I still remember her face. I can see it in my mind… we were together for a year… One year exactly, to the day.
“…I remember I went bowling with a friend of ours and I came home… It was probably 11:30. I went to bed. And the next thing I remember is the police knocking on the door at 4 o’clock in the morning. So they took me to the emergency room, said, “You have to identify her.”
“…I just went home and I started drinking, because I couldn’t deal with this. And I drank for about six months, and I realized this is — what am I doing with my life? So I stopped drinking. I got an apartment, and I went back to school…
“I still have a lot of anger toward people because they could have saved her life… I mean, you look out the window and you see this happening and you don’t help… How do you live with yourself, knowing you didn’t do anything?
“That’s the biggest lesson to be learned from this: really love each other.
In an alternate reality we would celebrate Good Samaritan Involvement Day because it marked the day someone did something extraordinary for a total stranger. But as Rorschach could tell you, that’s not the world we get to live in.
Instead, March 13th reminds us that the human tendency to play it safe, to stay inside, to pull the blinds shut, is as strong as the instinct to help one another.
Even the original Good Samaritan himself was a fictional character. He was the comic book hero of his day, the mold of modern-day fictional heroes from Shane to Batman.
Jesus told the parable of the theoretical “Good Samaritan” to say, not that Samaritans were good (The Hebrews of his time dislikedthe Samaritans.) but that even a Samaritan had the potential to save you. And thus even a Samaritan deserved to be loved as a neighbor.
Blanche DuBois was wrong. We can’t depend on the kindness of strangers. But we can be that good neighbor.
3. What comprises 53 countries, covers over a fifth of the world’s land area, and accounts for 2 billion of the earth’s population?
If you answered
Queen Elizabeth II
The British Commonwealth
you got 1 and 2 right. The word ‘British’ was axed from The Commonwealth to reflect the fact that 98% of its subjects are not British at all, and 93% of the Commonwealth’s population live in Asia and Africa.
Today because of British influence in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, English is an official language of over 50 countries, including India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Madagascar, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Liberia, Jamaica, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, The Gambia, Mauritius, Swaziland, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Guyana, the Solomon Islands, Malta, the Bahamas, Barbados, Vanuatu, Micronesia, Kiribati, Grenada, Seychelles, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Marshall Islands, Palau and Nauru. (Note: not all the above are in the Commonwealth.)
Views around the web on Commonwealth Day…
Our integration with our continental neighbours has had the effect of weakening our ties with our Commonwealth friends.
…a staggering 1,921,974,000 people around the world will be celebrating Commonwealth Day, unless that is you’re British. We Brits it seems still suffer from an imperialist hangover, too embarrassed (dare I say ashamed?)…
The origins of Commonwealth Day date back to 1898 when Clementina Trenholme, author and social organiser, introduced Empire Day in Canadian schools on the last school day before May 24, Queen Victoria’s birthday…In 1958 Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day, in accordance with the new post-colonial relationship between the nations of the former empire…
The great thing about being a tiny nation sandwiched between Russia and Germany is that you get to celebrate so many Independence Days! Lucky Lithuanians. Here it’s only March and the country celebrates its third independence-related holiday of the year!
Lithuania’s main Independence Day is February 16, which celebrates the day in 1918 that the Council of Lithuania declared itself finally independent of both Russia and Germany during the chaos of World War I and the Russian Revolution. (See Lithuanian Independence Day.)
But the briefly independent nation was consumed by the Soviet giant at the outbreak of World War II.
Over fifty years later on March 11, 1990, the Lithuanian government declared that the Lithuanian State that was “abolished by foreign forces in 1940, is re-established, and henceforth Lithuania is again an independent state.”
The aptly named “Act of March 11” is what the country celebrates today.
The act of rebellion didn’t sit so well with Soviet leaders. As nationalism in Lithuania rose, Soviet tanks entered the capital of Vilnius in January 1991, killing 14 people and injuring hundreds. Lithuanians remember January 13 as Freedom Defenders Day.