Hungary – St. Stephen’s Day

August 20

Today Hungarians honor the founder of their nation. Over a thousand years ago King Stephen (that’s Saint Stephen to you) was crowned King of Hungary. Though a saint, King Stephen was not someone you’d want on your bad side. He once killed an opponent by having his eyes gouged out and pouring molten led into his ears. And that was his cousin.

King Stephen. No, its not a fro.
King Stephen. No, it's not a fro.

The whole molten-ear thing aside, he was considered a pious king, who imbued his dominion with Christian principles and established a Hungarian state very similar to the one still in existence. Even then Hungary was a multicultural nation, which the king encouraged:

“Foreigners coming from different countries and places to settle here bring with them a variety of languages, customs, instructive matters, and arms, which all contribute to adorn and glorify the royal court…A country speaking but one language, and where uniform customs prevail, is weak and fragile.”

King Stephen’s words have survived to this day. He once wrote to his son Emeric:

“Thou hast been brought up amidst delights and treasures, and knowest nothing of the arduous labors of war and the perils of hostile invasions by foreign nation, in the midst of which nearly my whole life has been passed.

The time has arrived to leave behind thee those pillows of luxuriousness which are apt to render thee weak and frivolous, to make thee waste thy virtues, and to nourish in thee thy sins…

…Rule over [thy subjects] peaceably, humbly, and gently, without anger, pride, and envy, bearing in mind that all men are equal, that nothing exalts more than humility, nor is there any thing more degrading than pride and envy.”

He forgot, however, to pass on the most valuable wisdom a parent can offer a child: “Ease off the boar hunting.”

Emeric was killed in a boar hunt accident in 1031–according to legend, on the same day he was set to inherit the kingdom. King Stephen never fully recovered from the loss.

Holy Crown of Istvan (Stephen)
Holy Crown of Istvan (Stephen)

For a man so blessed in other arenas, Stephen had poor fortune when it came to progeny. The father of the nation had no children of his own to take over the crown.

He died on August 15, 1038. His saint day is the following day in the Roman Catholic church: August 16. However, the Hungarians honor him on August 20–the anniversary of the date his remains were brought to Buda. It turns out that not only were Stephen’s words, his Christian piety and his principles preserved, so was his hand.

His right hand. And each year on St. Stephen’s Day Hungarians line the streets as the king’s surprisingly well-preserved 1000 year-old right hand is paraded through the capital.

Stephens right hand
King Stephen's handy relic

Russian Apple Spas

August 19

Before you grab your towel and get undressed, no, this has nothing to do saunas or back rubs, so put your pants back on. This is a family blog.

No. Spas in Russian means “savior”. The ‘Spases‘ are three folk holidays celebrated in August, that bring the Russian summer season to a close with style. And food.

August 14 (Gregorian) is mokryi Spas, or “Wet Savior”, but is more commonly referred to as Honey Spas (medovyi Spas), so named because it coincides with the late-summer gathering of honey.

The second, and most important of the three takes place today. Spas na gore/iablochnyi Spas, aka, “Savior on the Hill”/”Apple Spas”.


Apple Spas falls during the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Eastern Orthodox Calendar (August 19, Gregorian; August 6, Julian). Fruits and veggies from orchards and gardens are blessed today, and it’s considered bad luck to eat apples until now. More specifically, children in heaven are said to receive apples to eat this day, only if their living parents have not done so before Apple Spas.

The third Spas is orekhovyi Spas–Nut Savior–which once coincided with–you guessed it–the gathering of nuts at month’s end (August 29, Gregorian; August 16, Julian).

The Spas developed out of agrarian festivals during which the first spoils of the harvest were consecrated in honor of nature deities, in the hopes of a bountiful harvest and mild winter. Over the centuries the folk festivals became inextricably intertwined with Christian traditions.

The Apples Spas coincidentally falls on the anniversary of the start of the 1991 coup in which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was kidnapped by hard-liners who disagreed with his reformist policies. The coup failed, and within days, five Soviet republics had declared their independence. By the year’s end, the 75 year-old Soviet Union had ceased to exist.

This is not Russian Spas but it looks like theyre having fun.
This is not Russian Spas but it looks like fun.

Birthday of Virginia Dare

August 18

There sang a mother to her babe–
A mother young and fair–
“No flower like thee adorns the vale,
O sweet Virginia Dare…

Whatever Became of Virginia Dare?

On this day in 1587 the first child of English parents was born in America. Virginia Dare was the daughter of Ellinor and Ananias Dare, and granddaughter of John White, governor of the colony known as Roanoke in what is now North Carolina.

Baptism of Virginia Dare

History texts record Ananias as both a former bricklayer from London and as an “aristocratic young man.” He was one of the Governor’s Assistants, in addition to being his son-in-law.

We only know about Viriginia Dare’s existence because shortly after her birth and baptism, her grandfather John White left the colony for England to seek materials and support. The journey took six months, during which time he encountered pirates, bad weather, and a near shipwreck, before finally landing–not in England, but Ireland.

When he finally returned to the colony in 1591, all trace of the colony, including his daughter and granddaughter, had disappeared.

To this day, whatever became of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke remains a mystery. Virginia Dare has been the subject of historians and novelists, and the inspiration of poets and other artists in America for 400 years. From the poetry of Lydia Howard Sigourney to TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Today, inhabitants of Roanoke Island celebrate the 423nd birthday of Virginia Dare and ponder the fate of America’s first colony.

He calls–he shouts–the cherished names,
But Echo makes reply.
“Where art thou, Ellinor! my child!
And sweet Virginia Dare…”

–Lydia Howard Sigourney

Lost Colony Still Lost

Roanoke DNA Project

A Virginia Dare Day Proposal

Independence Day – Indonesia

August 17

We, the Indonesian people, hereby declare the independence of Indonesia. Matters concerning the transfer of power, etc., will be carried out in a conscientious manner and as speedily as possible.

Jakarta, 17th day of the 8th month, 1945

Just two days after Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender of Japan, Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, proclaimed Indonesia’s independence, in what has to be one of the shortest Declarations of such in the world. (Full text above.)

The Second World War brought tragedy to Indonesia, but it also brought an end to hundreds of years of European colonialism. The Japanese invaded Dutch-controlled Indonesia in 1942, eager to utilize the island colony’s abundant natural resources, such as oil. There was little Holland could do in the matter, being an occupied nation itself. The Germany army had invaded Holland in 1940.

Better to the Hell than to be Colonized again
"Better to the Hell than to be Colonized again"

The Japanese fueled the flames of Indonesian independence, and replaced Dutch colonial administrative and economic infrastructure, making self-governance feasible in a way it had not been prior to the occupation. Sukarno’s cooperation with the Japanese during the war earned him the ire of many enemies, but his position was vindicated when Japan announced its intention for Indonesia’s independence in 1944.

The date of independence had not been determined when the Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945. After the surrender, Sukarno and other pro-Independence leaders wasted no time. They met at the house of Rear-Admiral Maeda Tadashi and scratched out the declaration on the night of August 16.

The Declaration however, did not mean an end to the struggle, but the beginning of a new one. British troops arrived in Indonesia to stave off the revolution until the Dutch–recently liberated themselves–could reassemble their military. By 1947 the Dutch had over 100,000 troops stationed in the area, and the battle was on its way to becoming one of the bloodiest revolutions of the 20th century.

The Dutch emphasized Sukarno’s connection with the Japanese, declaring him an enemy collaborator against the Indonesian people, but it became clear that the fight for independence was not comprised solely of isolated guerrilla groups and political extremists, but was a widespread movement with national support. Also, diplomatic efforts by Indonesian independence leaders increased international support for the nationalist cause

The Netherlands recognized Indonesian independence in November 1949.

Today, Indonesia is the fourth largest nation by population, after China, India, and the United States, and it is the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

Independence for Indonesia

Death of San Martín

August 17

…never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.

-José de San Martín, July 22, 1820

San Martín did both.

One of the greatest heroes of Pan-American history, San Martín was an exceptionally rare kind in that, after achieving what he had set out to accomplish–namely the liberation of most of South America–he held true to his word. He relinquished all power and returned home following a fateful and mysterious meeting with fellow libertador Simón Bolívar.

Both men had hopes for a united South America, and both were disillusioned by the continual conflicts that thwarted their idealistic vision.

Upon vanquishing the Spanish army from Argentina, San Martín had hardly set foot outside his newly independent homeland when internal divisions led that nation to civil war. San Martín’s powerful army and his own fame could have swayed the civil war, but he chose to fight the Spanish in Chile and Peru rather than return to Argentina with his army to take sides and shed the blood of his countrymen.

He was proclaimed Protector of Peru, a title he relinquished after his meeting with Bolívar, along with command of his army. He then returned briefly to his farm in Mendoza, Argentina. After the death of his wife, San Martín placed himself in voluntary exile in Europe, moving to France with his daughter Mercedes. He would spend the rest of his life in France, a nation he had once fought against as a youth in service to Spain.

Today San Martín is revered as the national hero of Argentina.

The Life of José de San Martín

Xicolatada – France

August 16


Today (August 16) the town of Palau de Cedagne in Southwestern France celebrates Xicolatada. At 11 am on this date, residents indulge in a delicious cup of piping hot chocolate.

This 300+ year-old tradition grew out of another festival. According to legend (i.e., Wikipedia):

15 August was once a festival day, and the locals would drink quite a bit, to the point that they felt a bit ill the following morning. To feel better, the village chocolatier would offer them a hot chocolate, which he claimed was an excellent remedy. Over the years, this habit grew into a custom, and eventually a municipal association was formed to remember the tradition and to organise the distribution of hot chocolate every year on 16 August, at precisely 11 in the morning.

At the time, chocolate was imported through Spain from the Latin American colonies. Located on the border of Spain and France in the Pyrenees, Palau de Cedagne was perfectly situated along popular trade routes.

Today the hot chocolate brewing follows an age-old secret recipe, cooked up in cauldrons, by a brotherhood of well-trained “Mestres xicolaters” (maîtres chocolatiers).

A Master Chocolatier, Xicolatada
A Master Chocolatier serves Xicolata

Xicolatada –

Xicolatada –

Children’s Day – Paraguay

August 16


Children’s Day in Paraguay has its roots in the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), the most devastating war ever fought in South America. It was fought between Paraguay (on one side) and Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (on the other).

Needless to say, Paraguay didn’t win. In fact, it lost half its population during the war—including nearly all its fighting-age men—as well as 60,000 square miles of territory to Brazil and Argentina. (Latin America’s Wars: the Age of the Caudillo (1791-1899) Robert Scheina)

Children’s Day recalls the anniversary of the one of the last battles of the war in 1869, the Battle of Acosta Nu. Having already lost most of his army, Paraguayan dictator Francisco Lopez used younger and younger recruits. The 6,000 strong force in August of that year was largely made out of children. On August 16, the small retreating army was overtaken by a force of 20,000 men from Brazil and Argentina. Within eight hours, over 2000 Paraguayans lay dead.

Paraguayans say the additional tragedy was that the war was already over at that point, but that the Brazilian government refused to stop until Lopez was captured.

The War of the Triple Alliance remains one of the darkest chapters in South American history.

Paraguay in green
Paraguay in green

The Assumption

August 15

Celebrated on August 15, the Assumption refers to the death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her entry into heaven. But ‘Assumption’ might also refer to what we base our knowledge of the event on, which is–well, nothing.

That’s right, there’s actually no mention of Mary’s Assumption in any of the Gospels. But that’s hardly surprising. In the centuries after Jesus’ death, the sites of his last years in Jerusalem were purged of any reference to the religion that he preached, as the city was completely rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in homage to pagan gods.

After the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 336, the sacred sites began to be restored and the memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem,” writes Father Clifford Stevens.

One such site was the “Place of Dormition”, said to be the place where Mary “fell asleep” for the last time. The locals celebrated not the Assumption, but the “Memory of Mary”

For a time, the “Memory of Mary” was marked only in Palestine, but then it was extended by the emperor to all the churches of the East. In the seventh century, it began to be celebrated in Rome under the title of the “Falling Asleep” (“Dormitio”) of the Mother of God. Soon the name was changed to the “Assumption of Mary,” since there was more to the feast than her dying. It also proclaimed that she had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven.

According to tradition, Mary was taken up to heaven body and soul, rather than her soul alone–placing her in a select group of people, including the prophets Enoch and Elijah. By the 13th century the story of the Assumption was accepted as fact my much of Christendom. But the Assumption wasn’t deemed official church dogma until Pope Pius XII proclaimed it so in 1950.