Casimir Pulaski Day – Illinois & Wisconsin

1st Monday in March


“In the morning in the winter shade
On the first of March on the holiday…”

Casimir Pulaski Day, Sufjan Stevens

What do kids know nowadays, of bravery and sacrifice and sausages?

They think “Casimir Pulaski Day” is a Sufjan Stevens song.

Which it is. But the song from Stevens’ “Illinois” album is named for a holiday and a figure largely unknown to the vast majority of Americans outside Illinois and its neighbors.

Count Pulaski was a Polish noble, born near Warsaw on March 4, 1746 (some sources say 1745 or 1747), who became an unlikely hero of the American Revolution.

In his early twenties, Pulaski fought alongside his father in Poland against Russian forces seeking to increase their power over Poland. Pulaski quickly became a respected and capable military commander. But the Russians eventually overpowered him and his Polish forces.

[Poland was completely devoured by Prussia, Russia, and Austria in the partitions of the 1770’s and 1790’s. And other than a brief interval between WWI and WWII, Poland would remain under foreign influence until 1989.]

Having been declared an enemy of the state, Pulaski escaped to Turkey in 1772 and then to France in 1775. He was destined to help free, not his homeland of Poland, but an entirely different continent.

In France, Pulaski became acquainted with Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de La Fayette, the French general who would lead American troops to victory during the Revolutionary War.

Pulaski decided to sail to America to join the American Colonists in their fight for independence from Britain. Serving directly under George Washington, Pulaski’s skill as a master of fighting on horseback earned him the top position in the newly-formed U.S. Cavalry, at Washington’s insistence.

On October 9, 1779, Brigadier General Pulaski took part in the French-American siege on British-occupied Savannah. Pulaski was mortally wounded in the groin during the siege and died two days later.

In the late 1920’s, Congressman Hickey of Indiana proposed holiday recognition for Pulaski, based on the sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of Pulaski’s October 11th death.

Two years later President Hoover proclaimed October 11 “Pulaski Memorial Day.”

President Franklin Roosevelt however vetoed a 1935 bill which would have made each October 11 “Pulaski Memorial Day,” stating:

“Every American should have the deepest appreciation of the brilliant and gallant services of General Pulaski in the Revolutionary War… [but] I do not think that General Pulaski would have wished to be singled out from his fellows and comrades for more honor than we can give to them all.”

quoted in “Politics and People” by James Harold Wallis

Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York beg to disagree.

The Fifth Avenue Pulaski Parade in New York City dates back to 1937 and falls on the first Sunday of October. The Parade celebrates not just Pulaski but all things Polish.

In 1977 the Illinois Legislature decided to celebrate his birth rather than memorialize his death, declaring the first Monday in March Casimir Pulaski Day. School kids and many government workers get the day off in Chicago, the city with the largest Polish population outside of Poland.

Wisconsin holds a public school observance day in his honor, on or near what is believed to be the actual date of his birth, March 4.

[Pulaski Day was Monday—it’s celebrated the 1st Monday in March in Illinois—but I’ve moved this post to March 4 because that’s  Pulaski’s actual birthdate. March 4 was also the day Chicago was incorporated as a city. And in the Catholic Church, March 4 is St. Casimir Day, patron saint of Lithuania. No, it’s not named four our man Pulaski, but for the 15th century saint who died of tuberculosis.]

Georgian Mothers Day

March 3

Today is Mother’s Day in Georgia — the country, not the state.

Perhaps the most famous of all Georgian mothers was Katerina Geladze Djugashvili.

Katerina Geladze
Katerina Geladze

The daughter of serfs, Katerina married at age 17. She had two children—Mikhail and Georgi—who died as babies, before her third, Josef (nickname Soso), was born. A devout Christian, Katerina made a vow to God. If this boy would survive, he would become a servant of the Lord.

Soso did live, but was often ill. Katerina nursed him to health through small pox, endless colds and coughs, and a case of blood poisoning that left one of his arms permanently injured.

Soso’s father was a drunk who habitually abused his wife and son. He walked out on them to work at a shoe factory in the city, where he eventually drank himself to death.<

young stalin
Young Soso

Katerina worked as a laundress and servant to raise money for her son to attend the Gori Parochial School. Though other boys picked on him for his ragged clothes, pockmarked face and hick accent, the boy graduated at the top of his class, and was accepted to the prestigious Tiflis Theological Seminary.

To the Most Reverend Archemandrite Seraphim, Rector and Father,” wrote the boy…

Having completed my studies at the Gori Church School as the best student… I was fortunate to be successful in this examination and was admitted among the students of the Theological Seminary. However, since my parents are unable to provide for me in Tiflis I am appealing with great humility to Your Reverence to admit me among those students who have half their tuition fees paid for them.

Soso sang in the school choir, read voraciously, and began writing poetry:

“To the Moon”

Move on, O tireless one–
Never bowing your head,
Scatter the misty clouds,
Great is the providence of the Almighty
Smile tenderly upon the earth
Which lies outspread beneath you…

And know that he who fell like ashes to the earth,
Who long ago became enslaved,
Will rise again higher than the holy mountain…

O beauty, you shone among the heavens
So now let your rays play in splendor
In the blue sky
I shall rip open my shirt
And bare my breast to the moon,
And with outstretched hands
Worship her who showers her light on the world.

Young Soso

It was Soso’s appetite for reading that got him expelled just before graduation. He was caught with banned literature, including works by Darwin and Victor Hugo. His mother’s dreams were dashed to pieces.

Decades later, after Josef changed his last name to Stalin (much easier to pronounce than Djugashvili) and became the leader of the Soviet Union, he tried to explain to his mother what he did for a living—leaving out all that paranoid, mass-murdering, genocidal dictator stuff.

Unencumbered by pesky checks and balances like U.S. Presidents, Stalin was the single most powerful person in the world.

Katerina simply told him, like any good mother, she was disappointed he wasn’t a priest.

Hina Matsuri – Doll Day in Japan

March 3

It’s Hina Matsuri, or Doll Day in Japan.

But no, your old “Tickle Me Elmo” and Molly McIntire won’t cut it. These dolls are often handed down from generation to generation, and are displayed in a very ritualized manner once a year.

A full set of “Hina Ningyo” dolls can cost anywhere from $400 to $10,000, and consists of roughly 15 pieces—“figurines” may be a more accurate term. The main two dolls are the O-Dairi-sama and O-Hina-sama, an Emperor and an Empress/Princess, both dressed in fine silk.

Hina Matsuri
Hina Matsuri display

The other figures include

  • 3 Ladies of the Court, or kanjo, often depicted serving sake
  • 2 Ministers or Guards
  • and 5 or more Court Musicians or Servants

Tradition dictates that prior to the third day of the third month (March 3) families of young girls set up the dolls on a tiered platform covered in a bright red cloth.<

On the top step sits the Royal Couple.

On the next step are the 3 kanjo with banquet trays.

And displayed on the lower steps stand the figures of musicians, ministers, guards, and servants, as well as miniatures of household furnishings and two toy trees. (see photo)

Hina Doll Set at Kansas City Japanese Festival

The holiday is also called Momo no Sekku, meaning Festival of the Peach. In the old calendar the day coincided with the blossoming of the peace trees in Japan.

An example of Hina Matsuri is shown in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams:

Part I: The Peach Orchard

In the beautifully surreal scene, life size figures tell a little boy:

“…Doll Day is for the Peach Blossoms. It is to celebrate their arrival. We dolls personify the peach tree. We are the spirits of the trees, the life of the blossoms…”

In American culture there is no equivalent to Hina Matsuri, but it might be compared to a chess set meets a nativity scene, although the dolls do not refer to any specific personages.

Written references to the holiday date back a thousand years. It grew out of the belief that these human representations could absolve oneself from sin. Traditionally, people would make dolls of folded paper or straw, rub them against oneself, and set them in the water, to carry away their sins with the tide. Even today many towns in Japan carry on this tradition.

Hina Matsuri became a legal holiday in 1687.

Feast of Ala – Bahai

March 2

Bahai symbol

March 2 is the first day of the last month of the Baha’i calendar. The calendar consists of 19 months of 19 days each for a total of 361 days. Between the 18th and 19th months are 4 “intercalary days” from February 26 to March 1.

Each 19-day month begins with a “Feast.” It’s not the kind of feast we think of where folks pig out on big fat chicken legs, guzzle wine, and someone plays the lute. The Baha’i “Feasts” are monthly meetings/services.

The Feast consists of three parts. The devotional part when sacred texts are read. The consultative part when the congregation conducts administrative affairs and discusses anything from upcoming events to the situation of the Baha’i Faith around the world. And the social part, when  the host serves refreshments and members share their thoughts on the previous two portions in a more casual atmosphere.

There are no clergy. A chairman conducts the meeting, but portions of the service are “led” by different members each month.

Today is the Feast of Ala (Loftiness). It’s a special “Feast” because it actually marks the beginning of the annual 19-day Fast of Ala. Born in the same tradition as the Jewish High Holy Days and the Christian Lent, the fast of Ala is more similar to the Muslim Ramadan in the sense that Bahais can eat at night, but must refrain from eating from sunrise to sunset.

At the end of Ala, Bahais usher in the New Year (Naw Ruz) which coincides with the Spring Equinox on March 21.

Baha’i at a Glance

The Bahá’í Faith has no official “home country”. The largest populations are in India (2 million), Iran (350,000), and the United States (150,000). [Other polls count 750,000 in the US, 500,000 in Iran, 350,000 in Vietnam, and 300,000 in Kenya.]

Shoghi Effendi, the head of the Baha’i Faith from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, summarized the essential elements of the religion as:

  • the independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition
  • the oneness of the entire human race…
  • the basic unity of all religions
  • the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national
  • the harmony which must exist between religion and science
  • the equality of men and women
  • the introduction of universal compulsory education
  • the adoption of a universal auxiliary language
  • the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty
  • the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations
  • the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship
  • the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society and ofreligion as a bulwark for the protection of all people and nations
  • and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind…”

Lofty, yes. But the Bahá’í Faith is currently the fastest growing major religion. It counts among its prophets Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Krishna, as well as Bahá’u’lláh.

The Baha’i 19-Day Feast

Battle of Adwa – Ethiopia

March 2


In the 1890s, Italy, once the seat of an Empire that stretched through three continents, held only two small colonies on the Horn of Africa, which it had won with aid from Ethiopia.

Apparently the amity treaty between Ethiopia and Italy, signed by Menelik II of Ethiopia in 1889, contained a discrepancy in the Amharic and Italian translations, the latter of which established Ethiopia as an Italian protectorate.

Menelik denounced the treaty, prompting Italy to invade. Menelik had built up an arsenal of weapons from Britain and France, and even Italy over the previous years. Menelik appealed to France for support, but France refused to negate Italy’s territorial claims.

Battle of Adwa

It was at the Battle of Adwa on March 1, 1896 that Menelik’s forces of approximately 100,000 met with a surprisingly outnumbered Italian army of 17,000 under Oreste Barratieri. Barratieri had completely underestimated the opposing army’s numbers as well as their armed capabilities. Due to this and tactical mistakes on part of Barratieri, Menelik’s army completely obliterated the Italian forces in one of the most stunning defeats of any European power in Africa. After news of the humiliating battle hit Rome, the Prime Minister was forced to resign, and Italy forsook further territorial ambitions for 4o years.

Ethiopia would not be successfully invaded until 1936 when Benito Mussolini, anxious to prove Italy a superpower to its European neighbors, set his sights on Africa’s yet unconquered nation. Mussolini had seen the League of Nations’ impotence at handling border clashes between Italian Somalia and Ethiopia, and European powers were vying for Italian support against Adolf Hitler and Germany. This time the Italian army was much better equipped and had no qualms in using chemical weapons.

The League of Nations Geneva Protocol (signed by Italy) banned the use of mustard gas, but “on 10 October 1935, Rodolfo Graziani first ordered his troops to employ chemical weapons against Ras Nasibu’s troops at Gorrahei.” Italy continued to do so throughout the Italian-Ethiopian war. British and Ethiopian troops forced Italy out of Ethiopia in 1941. Two years later “London created the United Nations War Crimes Commission, but excluded Ethiopia for fear it would initiate proceedings against Pietro Badoglio,” who, as Italy’s new Prime Minister, had become a valuable asset to the Allies when Italy switched sides.

— (Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia by David Hamilton Shinn and Thomas Ofcansky)

The Battle of Adwa remains to this day a symbol of African resistance against colonialism.

The Battle of Adowa:

Ethiopia Celebrates 112th anniversary of Battle of Adowa Victory

Nuclear Victims Day – Marshall Islands

March 1

Marshall Islands flag
Marshall Islands flag

In the 12-year period from 1946-1958, when the Marshall Islands was a United Nations Trust Territory administered by the United States, the United States conducted 67 atomic and hydrogen atmospheric bomb tests in islands, with a total yield of 108 megatons, which is 98 times greater than the total yield of all the U.S. tests in Nevada. Put another way, the total yield of the tests in the Marshall Islands was equivalent to 7,200 Hiroshima bombs. That works out to an average of more than 1.6 Hiroshima bombs per day for the 12-year nuclear testing program in the Marshalls…

—From the Marshall Islands’ Four Atolls Submit Statement before the Senate Energy Committee to Address Nuclear Testing Issues

Over a tenth of that 12-year yield was delivered in a single day: March 1, 1954.

The hydrogen bomb known as Castle Bravo was expected to yield a 5 megaton blast, equivalent to over 300 Hiroshima sized blasts. The starter alone on Castle Bravo (Hydrogen bombs required the detonation of a smaller atomic device known as a ‘primary’ to kick-start the fusion process) was itself twice the size of the bomb that leveled Hiroshima.

A miscalculation of the reactive properties of the lithium isotope present in the fusion fuel resulted in a runaway chain reaction that created an explosion three times larger than scientists had predicted.

The Castle Bravo explosion was visible from 250 miles, it left a mile-wide crater on the atoll, and the mushroom cloud stretched  60 miles across. It remains to this day the largest nuclear weapon the U.S. ever tested.

The high yield, combined with shifting winds, resulted in hundreds of residents of the nearby atolls receiving dangerous doses of radiation. A Japanese fishing vessel was also in the path of the radiation fallout; the crew became ill and one member died. Japanese and English scientists were able to use radiation samples from the vessel to determine that fallout caused by thermonuclear tests in the Pacific was much higher than the U.S. had claimed.

According to the Marshall Islands’ Report, “The Bikinians have been exiled from their homeland since 1946, except for a brief period after President Johnson announced in 1968 that Bikini was safe and the people could return.”

That announcement, it turns out, was premature. The residents were moved off the island permanently 10 years later.

Short clip of Bravo and aftermath

Another clip
Nuclear Survivors Say They Were Fed Lies

Beer Day! – Iceland

March 1


You may be aware of the United States’ 13-year experiment with prohibition back in the, well, Prohibition Era (1920-1933).

But it is a testament to the stout-hardiness of the Icelandic people that they kept up their beer ban for over five times that long: a full 75 years. Iceland was beer-free between 1914 and 1989 — a time period that roughly mirrors the entire existence of the Soviet Union.

The beer ban was finally repealed on March 1, 1989.

Nine months later the Berlin Wall fell, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If you doubt the causal connection between these events, it is a clear indicator that you have not sufficiently participated in the celebration of Beer Day, a ritual which entails consuming your weight in the hop-filled elixir.

Just to clarify, the Icelandic people did have some help during the dark days of prohibition, and from an unlikely ally. The Spanish and Portuguese declared they would not import Iceland’s salted cod unless Iceland imported some Iberian red wine. Thus, wine was legalized while beer remained taboo.

Twenty years after the repeal, Iceland boasts one major brewery for every 100,000 people.

Which means three.

Yes, Iceland has about 300,000 people, less people than the L.A. School District, grades 7 through 12.

Iceland’s low population growth has be attributed to the fact that — in case you haven’t been paying attention — beer was illegal there for 75 years.

How Can I Do My Part to Celebrate this Historic Holiday?

Every year thousands of Americans stand in solidarity with the Icelandic people, commiserating their tragic 20th century beer drought by imbibing a round of Icelandic beer, or whatever beer happens to be nearby.

However, Americans don’t celebrate Iceland Beer Day on March 1, but whenever they get around to it, usually in April.

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