Grape Day – Vendémiaire 1st – French New Year

September 22


Happy New Year!

Today is the first day of the first month (Vendémiaire, or “grape harvest”) of the French Republican Calendar, which was used between 1792 and 1806.

The French Republican Calendar divided the year into twelve months of 30 days each. Each month was further divided into 3 “decades”—weeks of 10 days each.

But that wasn’t enough to signify the end of the old era. The French went one step further, naming every single day of the year for a crop or plant. (Except for every fifth day, which was named for an animal or tool.)

For example, today, the 1st day of Vendémiaire, is Raisin, which in French means—you guessed it—“grape”.

Vendémiaire 9th is Panais (parsnip), the 18th is Sarrazin (buckwheat), and the 21st is Chanvre (hemp).

Horse, Donkey, and Cattle are also honored in Vendémiaire on the 5th, 15th, and 25th respectively.

Three agricultural tools are honored on the 10th, 20th, and 30th: the Tub, the Wine-Press, and the Barrel. We’re assuming this tub is for wine, not bathing. (Or both?)

There was debate as to whether the new epoch delineated by the calendar would begin in 1789, the year of the revolution, or 1792, the year of the formation of the Republic. The government settled upon the latter, marking the autumnal equinox (September 22) as Year I of the new era.

Vendémiaire 1st occasionally began on September 23, and once on September 24 (in 1804).

Around the time of the creation of the calendar, those wacky French were also establishing new-fangled standards of measurement like the metre (distance), gram (weight) and the litre (volume). Over the next 200 years the Metric System would be adopted by all present nations except Burma, Liberia, and the United States. The Republican Calendar however did not fare so well. It was abolished by Napoleon in 1806.

Nevertheless, today we urge you to imbibe the fruits of the raisin, as we toast to the New Year and to days of Auld Lang Syne. Or as the French would say, “Aux jours du bon vieux temps.

Les vieux amis du temps passé,
Se sont-ils oubliés ?
Alors que nos coeurs ont gardé
L’amour du temps passé ?

Old friends from long ago
Are they forgotten?
While our hearts have kept
Love from long ago?

Choral des Adieux


Vernal Equinox – on or around September 21 (Northern Hemisphere)
“Blessed be, by the Lady and the Lord, on this Mea’n Fo’mhair. It is the time of the second harvest, one of fruit and wine abundance. Tonight holds equilibrium of all things. Everything is in balance with one another. God and Goddess, Life and Death, Light and Dark.”
Immortal Boundaries, Aubrey Jones

References to the Welsh god Mabon ap Mydron (Mabon, Son of Modron, or ‘Great Son of the Great Mother’) date back well over a thousand years. Today the name Mabon conjures up images of ancient Celtic rituals, of the fruits of the harvest, of flickering flames beneath an autumn moon.  So you may be surprised to learn that ‘Mabon’—in reference to the autumnal equinox—dates not to the Dark Ages, but to the Disco Age (a dark age in its own right), the 1970s.

The holiday Mabon was coined by a grad student, Aidan Kelly, as part of a religious studies project. Kelly was following the Celtic and pagan tradition of naming holy days after gods and goddesses. Lughnasadh honors the Irish sun god Lugh. Beltane is believed to originate from Ba’al. The spring equinox is named for the German goddess Ostara, from which our word Easter also derives.

There was a holiday known as “Mabon’s Day” in Wales in the 19th century. But that holiday was named for William “Mabon” Abraham, a labor leader responsible for improving miners’ working conditions in Wales, (Mabon is a colloquialism for “young leader” in Welsh) and took place on the first Monday of each month.

Since the 1970s, the autumnal holiday Mabon has gained wide acceptance as a Wiccan and neo-pagan celebration in North America. The Celts, however, didn’t observe the autumnal equinox as much as the cross-quarter days of Lughnasadh (early August) and Samhain (Halloween), the latter of which was Celtic New Year.

The “Second Harvest” is known by many names: Cornucopia, Wine Harvest, Harvest Home, and the Feast of Avalon.

Avalon, one of the many Celtic names for the Land of the Dead, literally means the “land of applesCelebrating new-made wine, harvesting apples and vine products, and visiting burial cairns to place an apple upon them were all ways in which the Celts honored this Sabbat.

Edain McCoy, Celtic Myth & Magick

It’s a joyous celebration, but whereas the spring festivals celebrate birth and fertility, at the time of the harvest, Mabon participants remember their ancestors.

A similar tradition exists in Japanese culture. On the equinox, the Japanese visit the graves of their ancestors. It is known as O-higan, or “the Other Shore.” Buddha is said to walk the earth when night and day are equally divided.

Mabon is also known by variants of Fomhair. In Gaelic, the months of September and October are the only two to share a name: Mi Mean Fomhair and Mi Deireadh Fomhair: mid-harvest month and end-harvest month.

Peace One Day

Peace Day was the brainchild of filmmaker Jeremy Gilley who began lobbying for an international day of ceasefire and non-violence back in 1999.

In 2001,

“member states of the United Nations unanimously adopted 21 September as an annual day of global ceasefire and non-violence on the UN International Day of Peace. We call that day Peace Day.” (Peace One Day website)

In addition to its symbolic value, relief agencies use the one-day ceasefire to deliver much needed medical services to populations in war-torn areas.

More information on Peace Day can be found at


Late September – Mid-October

This week starts off the world’s largest folk festival and bier-drinking extravaganza.

Oktoberfest takes place, as the name implies, in September. It lingers into October, but tourists arriving mid-month will be disappointed to find they’ve arrived just in time for the dregs. During Oktoberfest the center of Munich metamorphosizes into an amalgamation of Bier Tents, the largest of which–the Hofbrauhaus tent–holds up to 10,000 people.

Germans drink their beer by the liter, not the pint, and refer to the beverage as “liquid bread”. Back in the day, because of corrosive pipes, it was safer to drink fermented alcohol than water.  The quality of the water has improved over the centuries, but the love of bier has not diminished.

Hofbrauhaus Tent
An Oktoberfest Bier Tent

Oktoberfest dates back to the royal wedding of Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa of Saxony in 1810.

Ludwig was the son of a French army officer, Maximilian, the brother to the Duke of Zweibrucken.  Due to a string of fortunate deaths, (I love royal European genealogies) Maximilian inherited dukedoms of Zweibrucken and Berg, as well as the titles Elector of Bavaria, Count Palatine of the Rhine and Arch-Steward of the Empire. Maximilian gained the title of King of Bavaria in 1806.

The Crown Prince was married on October 12, 1810, and Munich celebrated with a great horse race five days later. The outdoor event was so popular, Ludwig and Theresa’s anniversary was celebrated annually, the first beer tents appearing in 1818. The people kept celebrating even after King Ludwig was forced to abdicate during the Revolutions of 1848.

His glory would be overshadowed by his grandson. Ludwig II, also known as ‘Mad’ King Ludwig (though historians shun this moniker). The latter was famous for creating some of Germany’s most beautiful castles before his mysterious death in 1886

Neuschwanstein Castle
Neuschwanstein Castle

The German monarchies were abolished altogether after World War I, but the tradition of Oktoberfest carries on to this day, as Germans require little incentive to consume mass quantities of beer, pretzels and sausages. At last year’s Oktoberfest, 6 million participants poured down 7,000,000 liters of the “liquid bread” and produced approximately 2 million pounds of refuse.

More on Oktoberfest as the celebration continues!

The author and friend at the world-famous Alpine Village Oktoberfest, in Torrance, California

Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19

When I tell people what I do—write about holidays every day—they inevitably ask, “So, like real holidays? Or, like Talk Like a Pirate Day?

The implication being that the latter is a “made up” holiday.

Which it is.

First of all, all holidays are “made up”. It’s just the ones we take for granted were made up before you were born.

Second, if the age be the sole determiner of legitimacy, Talk Like a Pirate Day is older than other, several nations’ independence days, including Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and East Timor.

Talk Like a Pirate Day was made up by these guys.

Capn Slappy & Ol Chumbucket
Cap'n Slappy & Ol' Chumbucket

So the legend goes…In the mid-1990s, one of the two salty sea-dogs pictured above had a bizarre sports injury that briefly caused him to talk like a pirate. Every year thereafter (except for when they forgot to) they spoke ‘pirate’ for a day–though not on the anniversary of the injury, which was on June 6 (D-Day).

They chose September 19, because it was Cap’n Slappy’s wench’s birthday at the time. Also no doubt because—as I too have discovered—September 19 holiday pickings are slimmer than Panama at high-tide. No offense to St. Kitts and Nevis, which celebrates Independence Day today. But as we’ve covered the Independence Days of 7 other American nations this week (Mexico, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua) I’ve opted to let my hair down, hoist the jib, walk the plank, and do whatever it is that pirates do these days when they’re not illegally downloading software.

But, ahoy, if ye yellow-bellied sapsuckers harbor a tight lip, for fear of soundin’ land-locked, this video surely’ll be fixin’ ta loosen yer tongue.

Me hearty.

How to Talk Pirate

What is a pirate’s favorite sock?


Chilean Independence

September 18

Live with honor or die with glory.

— Bernardo O’Higgins

Bernardo O’Higgins is known as the liberator and national hero of Chile, but he had humble beginnings.

He was the illegitimate son of an Irish engineer and a young Chilean socialite. His father Ambrosio, had been a servant boy in Ireland. Ambrosio emigrated to Spain as a young man, then to Spain’s colonies in the Americas. He settled in Peru, studied to be an engineer, and eventually worked his way up to becoming the Spanish Viceroy of Peru, the highest office in Spain’s greatest colony.

It’s believed that Bernardo never met his father; he was raised by his mother’s family. But through correspondence Ambrosio made it possible for Bernardo to be schooled in England. Bernardo lived briefly to Spain where he met the future Argentinean liberator Jose de San Martin. When he returned to Chile, Bernardo took his father’s name, O’Higgins, and was determined to fight for an independent Chile.

As with other South and Central American colonies, Chile’s initial declaration of independence can be seen as a bizarre act of loyalty to Spanish royal family. Chile refused to recognize Napoleon’s appointment of his brother to the throne of Spain, after the French emperor had deposed the royal family in Madrid. At a public meeting on September 18, 1810, Chileans demanded that the Spanish government in Chile be replaced with a junta of Chilean citizens.

By the time Spain regained control of its homeland and expelled Napoleon’s forces from Iberia, the South American colonies had already tasted independence, and it tasted good.

Resignation of Bernando OHiggins
Resignation of Bernando O'Higgins

Bernardo served as a soldier, an officer, and then as one of three leaders of the Chilean rebel forces. But he was defeated by the Spanish, and was forced to retreat east to Argentina. He crossed the Andes to combine forces with his old friend San Martin. After liberating Argentina, he and San Martin made the most spectacular military maneuver in South American history. The entire army crossed the Andes mountains, fell on Santiago from above, and drove out the Spanish.

San Martin took the army north to drive the Spanish out of their stronghold in Peru. O’Higgins remained in Chile to become that country’s first leader. Five years later, when political elements demanded his resignation, he stepped down without a fight, and went into voluntary exile in Peru, where he lived the rest of his life.

“Since my childhood I have loved Chile; and I have shed my blood on the battle-fields which secured her liberties. If it has not been my privilege to perfect her institutions, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am leaving her free and independent, respected abroad, and glorious in her victories.”

The Chileans celebrate Dieceocho with a slew of Fiestas Patrias, parades, feasts, and open-air dances that go on for days. The day after Independence Day is Armed Forces Day, the main event of which is a large military parade through the capital.

Over a hundred years ago a territorial dispute over the Argentina-Chile border in the Andes nearly led to war between the two nations. The conflict was settled diplomatically. Soon after, a statue of Christ was erected between Argentina and Chile, atop the mountains O’Higgins and San Martin once scaled together. The plaque reads:

“Sooner shall these mountains crumble into dust, than Chileans and Argentines shall break the peace to which they have pledged themselves at the feet of Christ the Redeemer.”

Citizenship Day

September 17

September 17 is one of the most important dates in U.S. history. In fact, it’s known as Citizenship Day, yet most Americans would be hard-pressed to tell you why.

On September 17, 1630, the city of Boston—North America’s cradle of liberty—was founded by some of the country’s first immigrants.

Governor John Winthrop and the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritans christened the 780-acre peninsula after the town from which many of them hailed. Boston, Lincolnshire, in England was a city about 100 kilometers north of London, named for a 7th century English abbot, St. Botolph. Botolph’s Town was shortened to Bo’s’town, and later to Boston. (Tale of Two Bostons)

Wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us.

John Winthrop, 1630

But that’s not why September 17 is Citizenship Day.

No, September 17 was the day in 1814 that a 35 year-old lawyer-poet printed a poem based on his experiences in the bombardment of Baltimore in the War of 1812.

In August 1814, Francis Scott Key had been sent on a mission to negotiate the release of a popular, elderly American physician captured by the British. The British agreed to do so, but because Key had heard of the planned attack on Baltimore, he was forced to stay a captive aboard a British vessel during the battle. The next morning, Key was inspired to see the star-spangled American flag waving defiantly above Fort McHenry. Key’s poem was set to the tune of an old English drinking song and eventually became the country’s national anthem. (Star-Spangled Banner)

Bombardment of Fort McHenry, 1814
Bombardment of Fort McHenry, 1814

But that’s not why today is a national holiday.

Nope. In fact, September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest day in American history.

Troops under Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General George McClellan faced off at the Battle of Antietam in Maryland. By day’s end over 20,000 Americans would lie dead or wounded. The horrific battle was a draw, but the devastating loss of men forced Lee to halt his invasion of the North. (Battle of Antietam)

For President Lincoln, it was a much-needed, well, tie. He’d been waiting for a Union victory to issue his proclamation to end slavery, without it looking like a last-ditch act of desperation on behalf of the North, which had been losing battle after battle. Five days after the carnage of Antietam, Lincoln announced that as of January 1, all slaves in areas of rebellion would be free.

Lincoln and McClellan, two weeks after Antietam
Lincoln and McClellan, two weeks after Antietam

But again, that has nothing to do with September 17 being Citizenship Day.

Citizenship Day honors perhaps the most important date in American history. Yet you will hear no fireworks, see no parades or marching bands, and you won’t get a day off school or work. Unless you’re in grade school, you will probably go throughout your day without any sign of its passing.

If you are in grade school, however, U.S. federal law mandates that your lessons this week include instruction on the document created on this day in 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

That’s right, September 17 is Constitution Day in the United States, aka Citizenship Day. Before the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation had kept the newly-independent states loosely “united”, but made no provisions for a central government with any practical power. The Articles’ weakness was made apparent by a rebellion of irate farmers’ (Shay’s Rebellion) that U.S. troops were unable to stem, and which was finally put down by state militia.

A convention of state delegates convened in 1787 to resolve the problem of the Articles. James Madison, a 5’4″ Princeton graduate and a delegate from Virginia, was 36 years old at the time. His studies of political theory and European governments convinced him that only a system of checks and balances could prevent a strong government from descending into tyranny. Madison, who would be the country’s fourth President, is also considered the Father of the Constitution.

In addition to checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, the Constitution’s secret to longevity was a self-contained instruction guide for amending itself. The first ten amendments, ratified in 1791, guaranteed the states that the Congress of this new powerful, strong central government would pass no law restricting essential freedoms.

The Constitution was amended just five times over the next 100 years. Over the past 100 years, it’s been amended another dozen times.

The most recent amendment to the Constitution was the 27th Amendment, which restricts pay raises of Senators and Representatives:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

The amendment holds the record for the longest stretch between the proposal and ratification. The Amendment was introduced in 1789 as the second of twelve proposed amendments, ten of which became of the Bill of Rights. The 27th amendment was passed in 1992, after only two centuries in Congressional purgatory. (And they say nothing ever gets done in Congress!)*

In 2005 Congress changed “Citizenship Day” to “Citizenship Day and Constitution Day” to explicitly remind those of us out of school what today represents, and on the continuing struggle to form “a more perfect Union.”

*(In fairness to Congress, I should point out it wasn’t entirely their fault it took 202 1/2 years to pass an amendment. The amendment had to be ratified by 3/4’s of the states. Only 6 states ratified it initially, 4 short of the 10 necessary back when there were only 13 states. In 1992, the amendment finally reached the 3/4’s mark when Alabama became the 38th state to ratify it.)

Mexican Independence – Grito de Dolores

September 16

Before dawn, on the morning of September 16, 1810, townspeople of Dolores, Mexico, heard the church bells ring violently. They approached to find the parish priest, 57 year-old Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. But the speech the criollo Father shouted was far from the sermon they had in mind.

Father Hidalgo had just learned that a plan to overthrow the Spanish rulers had been betrayed. Soon the Spanish would arrest all those involved and quash the independence movement. The exact words of the priest’s plea to the townspeople to bring an end to hundreds of years of European rule over the mestizo inhabitants, were not written down. It is said he raised the image of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe and concluded with a shout: Mexicanos, viva Mexico!

Mexico was still called “New Spain” at that point. Just addressing the crowd as Mexicanos, and willing into existence a land of “Mexico” was revolutionary. Father Hidalgo’s plea is called the Grito de Dolores, the “Cry of Dolores”, after the village in which it was made. But, as Dolores also means ‘sorrows’, it can also be interpreted as the Cry of Sorrows.

Just after dawn, the infant rebel army marched to San Miguel. By the time the rag-tag force reached Guanajuanto at the end of the month, it had swelled to 20,000 men. Though the men were poorly armed and insufficiently trained, their sheer numbers overpowered the small force of Spanish soldiers holed up at the Alhóndiga (public granary). Rebels stormed the Alhóndiga and most of the Spanish, as well as wealthy criollos, were massacred.

Alhóndiga de Guanajunato
Alhóndiga de Guanajunato

Hidalgo and three other Mexican leaders were captured the following year on March 21, near the U.S.-Mexican border. They were convicted of treason, executed, and decapitated. Their heads were placed atop the four corners of the Alhóndiga in Guanajuanto as a message to the Mexican insurgents. There the heads remained for ten years.

On February 24, 1821, Mexican leaders signed the Plan de Iguala, which put forth the principles on which the country would be based, if the independence movement succeeded. Partly inspired by the Plan, conflicting Mexican forces joined together and defeated the Spanish army. The Treaty of Corboda assured the country’s long sought independence.

Father Hidalgo’s body was reburied in the country’s capital.

Today Mexicans celebrate their independence on the day of Father Hidalgo’s fateful shout for the autonomy, freedom, and equality for the Mexican people.