Happy Birthday Dalai Lama!

July 6

He was born this day in 1935, the fifth of 16 children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. He has spent five of his seven decades as Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader outside his homeland.

China invaded Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet in 1959 during the March 10 uprising, in which followers gathered outside his palace to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from kidnapping him. The Dalai Lama fled the country to avoid potential violence.

Currently, the Dalai Lama’s envoys are in China seeking a diplomatic resolution to the Tibetan conflict.

Turkey – Youth and Sports Day

May 19

Four of Turkey’s national holidays stem from the Turkish War for Independence (1919-1923). Youth and Sports Day commemorates the beginning of the Turkish War for Independence on May 19, 1919.

*  *  *

After World War I, the Ottoman Empire found itself under the influence of Western powers. Sultan Mehmed VI appointed Mustafa Kemal, a general and hero of WWI, to oversee demobilization of army divisions. However, concerned about foreign dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal took a ferry from Istanbul to Samsun on the main Turkish peninsula on May 19, 1919 to rally support for a unified, independent Turkey. His landing is considered the beginning of the Turkish War of Independence.

In Ankara the following year, Mustafa Kemal convened the first Turkish Grand National Assembly. In 1921 and 1922 he defeated the Greek army at the battles of Sakarya and Dumlupinar, and he refused to sign any treaty that undermined Turkish sovereignty. The Treaty of Lausanne recognized Turkey’s independence in 1923 and Mustafa Kemal became the country’s first president in October of that year. He remained in power until his death in 1938.

Mustafa Kemal established Youth and Sports Day during his presidency; however, since his death, Turks have observed it more as “Commemoration of Ataturk.”

Ataturk is Mustafa Kemal’s honorary title. It means “Father of the Turks.”

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Basra, 1924

Vesak – Buddha’s Birthday

May 10/17, 2011

It’s often called Buddha Day, or Buddha’s Birthday, but it’s far more than that. Vesak is a celebration of Buddha’s birth, his life, his path to Enlightenment, and his final reaching of Nirvana.

Around 563 BC, in the foothills the Himalaya, the pregnant wife of a wealthy prince left her home to deliver her baby in her father’s kingdom, as was the tradition. But along the way she stopped in a garden and beneath the shade of a sal tree, she gave birth to the boy Siddhartha. This park, on what is now the border of India and Nepal, is called Lumbini, Sanskrit for “the lovely”.


His mother died immediately after his birth. Despite the loss of his mother, his father the prince went to great trouble to shield him from all human misery and ugliness. He was given everything he could want, and was kept a safe distance from the suffering of the outside world.

“I was delicate, most delicate, supremely delicate. Lotus pools were made for me at my father’s house solely for my use; in one blue lotuses flowered, in another white, and in another red…My turban, tunic, lower garments and cloak were all of Benares cloth. A white sunshade was held over me day and night so that I would not be troubled by cold or heat, dust or grit or dew.”

At age 29 Siddhartha chose to venture outside the castle property to meet his subjects beyond. Before the excursion his father secretly ordered every sick, homeless, and old person in the village to be removed from his son’s view. But on his journey, Siddhartha chanced upon an elderly man–the first of Siddhartha’s Four Encounters.

Intrigued and disturbed by the sight of the old man, he planned subsequent trips to explore life outside the carefully-orchestrated castle. For the first time, Siddhartha witnessed disease in the form of a severely ill man. On his third trip he saw death in the form of a corpse. His charioteer gave him a crash-course in life’s harsh reality: all grow older, grow sicker, and die.

Trying to make sense of the desperation, Siddhartha made his fourth encounter–with a man who at once seemed to have the answers of the world and yet owns nothing. He’s an ascetic.

Siddhartha chose to flee from his father’s kingdom. He renounced his father’s materialism and his worldly connections–leaving his wife and their newborn son–to learn the ways of asceticism.

Siddhartha became a common street beggar for his sustenance, but he was easily recognized as the wealthy prince. He traveled further, studying under two ascetic masters, one after the other, but was ultimately unfulfilled with each of their teachings.

With five companions he took asceticism to a new level, reducing his food intake to little more a nut or leaf per day. For six years he lived the life of an ascetic.

“My body reached a state of extreme emaciation. Because of eating so little my limbs became like the jointed stems of creepers or bamboo; my backside became like a buffalo’s hoof…”

In the end, he was so weak, he nearly drowned in a river while trying to wash.

Lying there he heard a boat pass, with two musicians on board. One told another, inspecting his instrument, “If you tighten the string too tight it will snap, but if it is too loose, it will not play.”

Siddhartha realized that neither extreme asceticism nor materialism is the path to enlightenment. He recalled falling into a meditative state as a child, as close as he’d ever been to Enlightenment. In order for his mind to reach such a state again, he must nourish the body. His five companions desert him, convinced that Siddhartha has lost his willpower. But at that moment a young girl named Sujata arrived and offers him milk-rice.

Sitting beneath a pipal tree, Siddhartha made a solemn vow:

Let only skin, sinew and bone remain, let the flesh and blood dry in my body, but I will not give up this seat without attaining complete awakening.

After 49 days of meditation Siddhartha reached Englightenment. From that moment on he became Buddha, or the ‘Awakened One’.

Buddha spent the rest of his forty-five years passing on wisdom to his disciples, including the Noble Truths and the 5 Precepts, before reaching the final state of Nirvana, when his soul left his body.

Buddha’s 5 Just Say No’s

Just Say No to:

Sexual misconduct
Drugs (intoxicants)

Buddha also rejected the ways of the caste system, as well as religious ritual for ritual’s sake.

Vesak comes from the word Vaishakha, the second month of the Hindu calendar. Buddha’s ‘Birthday’ is celebrated on the full moon of Vesak, usually in May.

It is not a holiday of wild abandon, but of joy, introspection, and spiritual exploration.

“The Buddha showed us that advancement in this world and the next could be achieved by appreciating what is good. The policy of the government is to steer the country to the correct path by adhering to the Dhamma. In doing so our responsibility is to tolerate other opinions and act with loving kindness.

As the Buddha has taught: “Be alert; do not idle. Follow the law of virtue. He who is virtuous lives happily both in this world and the next

— President of Sri Lanka, Vesak Day message, 2008

In the Buddha’s footsteps…





Mahavira Jayanti

April 16, 2011
March 28, 2010
April 11, 2009

I say with conviction that the doctrine for which the name of Lord Mahavir is glorified nowadays is the doctrine of Ahimsa. If anyone has practiced to the fullest extent and has propagated most the doctrine of Ahimsa, it was Lord Mahavira.

Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Mahavira Jayanti, in honor of the birthday of Lord Mahavira, who spread the Jainism religion and philosophy in India in the 6th century B.C. The holy day falls on the 13th day of Chaitra. The date varies in the Gregorian Calendar.

Mahavira was the last of the 24 Tirthankars, or “ford makers,” whose teachings form the basis of Jain Dharma, and he is one of only two for which we have concrete records of their lives.

Jainism is one of the oldest religions in the world, influencing both Hindusim and Buddhism. Jainism stresses self-control, non-violence, ascetic living, and the the divine potential in every soul. Jainists are noted for their high level of literacy throughout history. They are also known for their vast libraries going back to antiquity.

Jainism does not revolve around any one prophet or God but around the central tenant that God is an amalgamation of the qualities within each and every soul that are pure and divine.

Mahavira was a title meaning “Great Hero.” Maharvira was born to King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala in the kingdom of ancient Vaishali, in what is now Northeast India. His name, Prince Varhaman (Varhaman meant “increasing”) is believed to refer to how all good things in nature flourished prior to his birth. Of course, if he was born in April, that’s no real shocker.

What was surprising was that at age 30 the wealthy, priveleged Prince suddenly renounced his family, his inheritance, and all his worldly possessions to live an ascetic life and to devote his life to the spiritual and achieving enlightenment, or Keval Gyan.

Throughout the remainder of his life he traveled across India, with no possessions, often without even footwear or clothing, and preached the principles of Jainism to the people of India.

At one point he was said to have amassed nearly half a million followers. His teaching solidified the shape of Jainism that would persist for over 2500 years. He died at the old age of 72, the last of the Jain prophets.

Though far more people practice Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism is still one of the most populous religions of the world, with over 4 million followers.

Queen Margrethe II’s Birthday – Denmark

April 16

On April 9, 1940 Nazi Germany overran the virtually defenseless nation of Denmark on its way to invading Norway that same day. Germany’s reason was strategic. Germany was dependent on Norway’s natural resources for arms and materials. Its official justification was more altruistic: to “protect” Denmark from potential Franco-British invasion.

Danish King Christian X was told that, if Denmark didn’t capitulate, the German Luftwaffe would decimate the capital. The King reluctantly agreed.

Christian X, Sept. 26, 1940, his 70th birthday
Christian X, Sept. 26, 1940, his 70th birthday

Denmark’s cooperation with Germany had its advantages. Only a hundred Danish Jews perished at Nazi hands during World War II. When Hitler ordered Denmark’s Jews rounded up and sent to concentration camps, Danes smuggled 8000 to safety in Sweden. The King was once quoted as saying that if Denmark’s Jews were forced to wear yellow stars (for identification), then he and the Danes would all wear yellow stars. (The Nazis never enforced the policy.)

A week after the invasion, the King’s son, Crown-Prince Frederik and his wife gave birth to baby girl. Though the birth brought a ray of hope to one of Denmark’s darkest hours, no one imagined she might be queen, and that one day the country would celebrate her birthday as a holiday. For the Danish throne always passed to a male. Even if the king had no sons, the crown would go to a male relative.

But eight years after the war, when Princess Margrethe was 13, the Constitutional Act of 1953 amended the rule of royal primogeniture, allowing the first-born daughter to inherit the throne if the king had no son. Even then no one could be sure Margrethe would be queen, or that King Frederik IX wouldn’t have a son.

On January 15, 1972, the day after the death of her father, the 31 year-old princess became the Queen of Denmark, the first Queen Regent since 1412.

Queen Margaret I had ruled first on behalf of her underage son Oluf back in the 1370’s. When Oluf died unexpectedly in 1387 at age 17, Margaret became Queen Regent. During her 25 year reign, Margaret unified Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Apparently this made the men-folk look bad, so they didn’t allow another woman to take the helm for 550 years.

Queen Margrethe II
Queen Margrethe II

Though not quite as powerful as her namesake—the power of the Danish monarch waned significantly in the 19th and 20th centuries—Queen Margrethe II is the undisputed head of the oldest consecutive royal line of monarchs in Europe. Consisting of 50 kings and 2 queens, the Danish royal line dates back to Gorm the Old and the Viking days over 1000 years ago.

Other memorable Danish Kings include:

  • Harald Bluetooth
  • Sweyn Forkbeard
  • Canute the Great
  • Magnus the Good
  • and Valdemar the Victorious

Pulitzer’s Birthday

April 10

Joseph Pulitzer

Most folks recognize the name Pulitzer from the journalism awards announced every April. But the tradition didn’t begin until years after the death of newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer in 1911.

Pultizer was born in Budapest, Hungary, on this day (April 10) in 1847. As a young man he tried to join the army, but was rejected due to “a defect in one of his eyes”. (NY Times Obit) After failing to be admitted into the armies in France and England, Pulitzer crossed the Atlantic, and found better luck in the one country that wasn’t so fickle about physical requirements. The U.S. was in the midst of the Civil War and the Union Army needed fresh recruits, regardless of their ability to speak English or see their target.

Pulitzer served in the Lincoln Cavalry during the tail end of the war. After the war, he and a fellow Austrian pooled their money and caught a train as far West as their meager resources would take them. Landing in East St. Louis, Pultizer earned a living as a stevedore, a boat fireman, and even a grave digger during a great cholera epidemic.

The job that changed his life was traveling around the state of Missouri filing papers with each county clerk for the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad. The job “gave him a knowledge which no other man then possessed of the land conditions of every county in the State, and real estate men found his services invaluable.” (NY Times Obit., Oct. 30, 1911) In his free time, Pulitzer studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1868.

Quickly bored with law, Pulitzer found work as a reporter for the German newspaper the Westliche Post. Another reporter recalled Pulitzer as “exasperatingly inquisitive.”

“In one hand he held a pad of paper and in the other a pencil. He did not wait for inquiries, but announced that he was a reporter for The Westliche Post, and then he began to ask questions of everybody in sight.” (ibid)

Pulitzer was promoted to city editor of the paper, became active in local politics, and was elected to the state legislature.

In 1878, after returning from a reporting stint in New York, Pulitzer purchased the St. Louis Evening Dispatch at an auction for $2500. “When he entered the office the next morning as proprietor of his own newspaper he was unable to find as much as a bushel of coal or a roll or white paper. More complete ruin and decay were never seen in a newspaper office.” But “By impressing into service everybody within reach he managed to get out an issue of 1,000 copies.” (ibid)

Five years later Pulitzer had turned the paper around to such an extent that he was able to get a footing in New York journalism by purchasing the paper The World.

“He was unable to expend large sums of money in the gathering of the news, for the very excellent reason that he did not have it to spend. He did instill life and energy into every department of the paper on the very first day of his proprietorship…”

—The New York World

The World became particularly famous for its editorial pages, some of which had a sensationalist tinge.

“The World, under Mr. Pulitzer’s management, attained not only a huge circulation but the reputation of being the yellowest journal in the United States of America, a supremacy which even to-day is only challenged by Mr. Hearst’s American.”

– Little London Comment – Special Cable to the New York Times

In 1890, Pulitzer built the New York World Building, the tallest building in the country at the time, and a symbol of the paper’s success. And the time of Pulitzer’s death in 1911, the newspaper had been transformed into one of the most widely-read newspapers in the United States.

New York World Building

The awards for which Pulitzer is remembered today were established as part of his will in the years following his death. Pulitzer left money to Columbia University with the stipulation that a journalism school be founded. Columbia University began administering the Pulitzer Prizes in 1917, and continues to do so to this day. Though April 10 is not a holiday in any country, the Pulitzer Prizes, awarded for journalistic and literary excellence, are presented each year around the newspaper magnate’s birthday.

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

Khordad Sal – Zarathustra’s Birthday

March 28, 2011, Fasli calendar


Happy Birthday Zarathustra!

March 26 is celebrated as the birthday of Zarathustra, or as the Greeks called him, Zoroaster, founder of Zoroastrianism.

We don’t really know which millennium Zarathustra was born in, let alone the exact date.

The precise years of the prophet’s life weren’t a big issue in Persia until Alexander the Great’s invasion, after which years began to be numbered since Alexander’s reign. Lacking the necessary record to determine Zarathustra’s life, Zoroastrians turned to the Babylonians.

In “The Traditional date of Zoroaster explained”, Shapur Shabazi theorizes that when Zoroastrian priests tried to nail down the years of Zarathustra, they mistook the great Persian King Cyrus (d. 529 BC) for the first royal convert to Zoroastrianism, Kavi Vistaspa, also a great king, who is mentioned in the Gathas (Zoroastrian sacred texts). Learning from the Babylonians that Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 BC, the ancient historians figured Zoroaster lived 258 years before Alexander the Great, a date propagated by Western historians into recent times.

Today, many scholars believe that estimate may have been off by as much as 900 years, that Zarathustra lived between 1500 and 1200 BC.

This would make Zarathustra older than the Hebrew Moses, possibly even a contemporary of Abraham, who is considered the first monotheist by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.

Zarathustra is said to have undergone a religious experience when he was 31 years old. He proclaimed that there was one god, Ahura Mazda, who didn’t share the same features and nature as humans, as other religions purported. At that time many worshiped Mithra, the Sun God. Zarathustra said that people had confused the sun for god because the real god that had created the sun could not be seen.

Zarathustra taught that Ahura Mazda gave man three gifts: Good Thoughts, Good Deeds, and Good Words. And that the world was engaged in a battle between Good and Evil.

Today there are only a couple hundred-thousand Zoroastrians. They don’t seek to convert, one must be born into the religion. But the Bahai, who number in the millions, consider Zarathustra one their sacred prophets. And Zarathustra’s influence remains powerful in Islamic Iran, not to mention his influence on Judaism and Christianity.

ahofr99“Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed world-religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith.”

– Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices

Zarathustra – Crystalinks

Early Zoroastrianism

Avesta – Zoroastrian Archives