Independence Day – North Korea

September 9

Each Fall over 100,000 participants perform and compete in the Mass Games, one of the few public events in the otherwise tight-lipped nation of North Korea. The Games coincide with North Korea’s Independence Day on 9-9.

Korea was ruled by the Joseon Dynasty from the 14th century on. In 1897, the king thought it would be a good idea to make Korea an empire, and became Korea’s first–and last–Emperor.  The Empire that succeeded the 500 year-old Dynasty lasted only 13 years.

Aiding its demise was the Taft-Katsura Agreement between the U.S. and Japan. Japan recognized the U.S.’s sphere of influence in the Philippines in return for recognition of Japan’s sphere of influence in the Korean peninsula. At the end of the Russo-Japanese War, in which Russia and Japan vied for territory, Japan came out on top, and pressed Korean Ministers to sign the Eulsa Treaty. (The Korean Emperor and Prime Minister never signed the treaty, and in fact implored other governments not to recognize its validity.) Over the next five years, Korea fell increasingly under the thumb of Japan.

Two million Koreans participated in the independence demonstrations of 1919 and 1920; 46,000 were arrested and 7000 were killed.

During World War II, Korea faced brutal conditions under Japanese occupation. Millions were conscripted into wartime labor. Tens of thousands of women, known as “comfort women”, were forced into sexual slavery for the military.

After Japan’s defeat, Korea was split along the 38th parallel, to be administered by the Soviet Union in the north and the U.S. in the south. The 38th parallel would form the front line of the Cold War in the 1950s, as well as an ideological border between capitalism and communism into the 21st century.

In May of 1948, elections held in South Korea led to the independence of the Republic of Korea on August 15.

In the North, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was proclaimed on September 9 of that year.

“Dear Leader” Kim Jong-Il normally attends the annual Mass Games on the country’s independence, but foreign observers speculate he may be ill, citing doctors’ visits and Jong-Il’s absense from the spotlight.

One Japanese professor theorizes that the North Korean big cheese has actually been dead for 5 years. That one of his ‘stand-ins’, who were used as decoys when he was alive to ensure his safety, has been playing the part since 2003.

[published 2008]

Chrysanthemum Day – Kiko no Sekku

September 9


“In no other country in any part of the world is the Chrysanthemum held with such esteem and reverence as in Japan…

“…the most popular fête in Japan is held on Chrysanthemum Day, which falls in the ninth month of the year. The people on that day throw petals of the flower into their “saki” before drinking, as they believe it portends good luck and happiness and has the power of dispelling evil.

“Not until the year 1789 was the first advent of the Chrysanthemum into Europe from the Far East authentically recorded. In that year a M. Blancard introduced three plants to his native town, Marseilles. These were regarded at the time as large-flowering Chamomiles, not Chrysanthemums.”

Book of the Chrysanthemum, by Percy S. Follwell, 1907

Today is the equivalent of China’s Double Ninth Festival, held on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month. In Japan, Chrysanthemum Day follows the Gregorian calendar, falling on September 9th. Also known as Kiko no Sekku, it is one of Japan’s sacred festivals, or matsuri.

In 2009, Japan had a rare chance to celebrate Triple Ninth—the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year of the century. 9-9-9 won’t happen again until 2109!

Nativity of the Virgin Mary

September 8

Happy Birthday Madonna!

No, not that one.

On September 8, the Catholic world celebrates the birth of the Virgin Mary.

Nativity of Mary

Little is know of Mary’s birth from the Bible. The Gospel of James (which didn’t make the final cut) list her folks as Joachim and Anne (Hannah). The couple was childless until they were visited by an angel who informed them a child was forthcoming. Anne promised the child would be brought up to serve the Lord.

Mary would have been born “Mariam” or מרים

For two-thousand years, the Virgin Mary has been the symbol of feminine spirituality in Christian culture. While Eve was unfairly vilified as the bringer of original sin throughout the Middle Ages, Mary represented the opposite, the ultimate purity and the the bringer of God.

Pope John Paul ll in his 2000 millennium message elevates the status of both Eve and Mary. He describes Eve as the original symbol of Humanity, the mother who gave birth to Cain and Abel, and Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, as a symbol of the New Humanity; one in which All Humanity is One in Spirit with God. This statement changes the context which the Christian doctrine has relegated to women; that the Spirit of God resides equally in male and female.

Contemplation of Mary – St. Mary’s at Penn

Visions of the Virgin Mary have been spotted by worshippers throughout the Christian world. One of the most famous of these was witnessed initially by three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917.

On the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, many Mediterranean and Latin-American villages carry her statue from local churches through the streets. Local Spanish processions are known as Virgin de la Pena, Virgin de la Fuesanta, and Virgin de la Cinta. Peru has the Virgin of Cocharcas, and in Bolivia it’s the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia (c) Reuters
Virgin of Guadalupe procession in Bolivia © Reuters

And it may not be Madonna (Madonna Louise “Like A Virgin” Ciccone)’s birthday, but singer-songwriter Aimee Mann turns 51 today…and rumor has it she’s still a Virginian.

Easter comes and goes
Maybe Jesus knows…

Aimee Mann, “Thirty One Today”

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Brazil – Independence Day

September 7

Had the Pope’s arm slipped just an inch that day in 1494, the people of Brazil might be speaking Spanish right now. But the vertical line in the Treaty of Tordesillas that split the world outside Europe between Spain and Portugal held steady. The Pope alloted the easternmost chip of the Americas to Portugal, while Spain got the rest.

The history of Brazil would unfurl quite differently from the rest of its neighbors, and indeed from all of the Americas.

As Portuguese explorers pushed eastward that chip of South America soon became the largest colony on the continent. A land that contained vast jungles, endless rivers, and bountiful resources unimaginable to the Europeans back home in Portugal.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon of France invaded Portugal.

The King of Portugal, João VI, fled to Brazil and declared Rio de Janeiro the new capital of Portugal and its possessions. (Imagine King George III coming to America and declaring New York the capital of Great Britain.)

Napoleon then did an about face and turned his troops on Spain. (This wasn’t hard to do, since the French army was already in Spain. Spain had given Napoleon permission to cross through to attack Portugal.)

As a result, South America was a scene of pandemonium for the next two decades. The Spanish colonies refused to answer to the French and declared their autonomy one at a time. Even when Spain kicked the French out of their homeland, the people of South America maintained their independence, leading to several lengthy wars between Spain and its colonies. From Buenos Aires to Santiago to Lima and beyond, the wars were hard fought and costly, both in terms of resources and human lives.

Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro

The situation in Brazil was different. João VI fell in love with Brazil, and when the French were booted out of Portugal in 1815, he refused to come home. João made Brazil its own kingdom, an equal partner with Portugal. But the folks back home were not so thrilled about this. They demanded that the royal family return to Portugal and that Brazil be made a colony again.

Eventually the king was forced to return home to maintain order in Portugal; his 23 year-old son Pedro stayed behind and became regent of the Kingdom of Brazil.

Pedro defied orders to return to Lisbon. The Portuguese Parliament limited his powers, and attempted to make Brazil a subservient colony once again. Upon hearing this news at the bank of the Ipiranga River, Pedro famously declared: “Independência ou Morte!” (Independence or Death!) The Grito do Ipiranga (Shout of Ipiranga) took place on September 7, 1822.

Grito de Iparanga
Grito de Iparanga

Pedro was proclaimed Emperor of Brazil on October 12, his 24th birthday.

In 1831, Pedro abdicated the throne to his 5 year-old son, Pedro II and returned to Portugal. Pedro II ruled as Emperor for nearly 50 years. In 1889 the Emperorship was abolished and Brazil became a republic.

Young Pedro II
Young Pedro II

Bulgarian Unification Day

September 6


Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia declared their unification on September 6, 1885. Unfortunately, no one outside of Bulgaria—neither the Western Powers nor the Ottoman Empire, of which Rumelia had been a part—recognized the union.

The declaration precipitated the Serbo-Bulgarian War in which Bulgaria defended its borders, and Bulgarians still celebrate September 6 as the anniversary of its unification.

This year (2009) most events celebrating Unification Day have been canceled, due to a tragic boating accident on Saturday which killed 15 Bulgarians. The boat Ilinden sank in Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. An investigation as the cause of the sinking is currently underway.

Instead, the President has declared Monday, September 7 a National Day of Mourning.

Memorial services for the victims were held at Plovdiv Cathedral, and were attended by the President and Speaker of Parliament.

During the mass, the Plovdiv Metropolitan, Nikolay, hinted that God had punished Bulgarians over their many sins including celebrating and partying too much on August 29 (the day of the concert of pop diva Madonna in Sofia) instead of mourning for St. John the Baptist.

Bulgaria Bishop: God’s Wrath over Madonna Concert Caused Ohrid Tragedy

Bulgarians will still lay a wreath at the Unification Monument in Plovdiv, though there will be no fireworks.

Labor Day

1st Monday in September 

I have to say the name’s misleading. The whole point is not to labor on Labor Day, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it be Leisure Day or Play Day? But then I guess it would defeat the purpose of honoring the workers–past and present–who make it possible to BBQ on this day.

Scores of countries and billions of people celebrate Labor Day on May Day (May 1) but the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand just had to be different.

By the 1880s May 1 had become a traditional day for workers to unite and go on strike, strikes which led to progressive social measures, but also violence between workers and police. The most notable example being the Haymarket Riot of 1886.

The Anarchist Riot in Chicago, Harpers Bizarre, May 15, 1886
The Anarchist Riot in Chicago, Harper's Bizarre, May 15, 1886

Pressure was on for the creation of a Federal Holiday honoring the workers of America. President Grover Cleveland wanted to appease workers’ organizations by creating an official Labor Day, but the political establishment was afraid a May 1 holiday would strengthen socialist solidarity and forever bring attention to violent May Day clashes like Haymarket, leading to much such demonstrations in the future.

In 1886 Cleveland instituted a national Labor Day, but moved it to the first Monday in September. (The Central Labor Union of New York had been celebrating an autumnal Labor event since 1882.)

It worked. Today few Americans recall the Haymarket riots, but we use Labor Day to bid farewell to the glorious days of summer. Labor Day means back-to-school for kids, don’t wear white for the fashion conscious (although this too is fading), and time to host that last big barbecue before bequeathing the grill back to the spiders.

At least till Memorial Day

Teachers Day – India

September 5

True seekers are those who never end their quest.

–Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

All across India hundreds of millions of schoolchildren celebrate Teachers’ Day. In many schools, children dress up like their teachers. Teachers meanwhile, sit in the back of the room, like students, as the students lead class, and roles are reversed for a day. Students have a chance to see from their mentors’ eyes, and teachers remember what is was like to be a student, to have the one other job as important as teaching: learning.

The lesson plan may include a look at the man behind Teachers Day, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Born on this day in 1888 in Tamil Nadu, India, Radhakrishnan became one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century. According to George Conger:

“…Among the philosophers of our time, no one has achieved so much in so many fields as has Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India … William James was influential in religion, and John Dewey has been a force in politics. One or two American philosophers have been legislators. Jacques Maritain has been an ambassador. Radhakrishnan, in a little more than thirty years of work, has done all these things and more… Never in the history of philosophy has there been quite such a world-figure…. like a weaver’s shuttle, he has gone to and fro between the East and West, carrying a thread of understanding, weaving it into the fabric of civilization.”

Radhakrishnan taught subjects including philosophy, ethics and comparative religion at the Universities of Calcutta, Oxford, and Ahndra.

In 1952 he was elected the first Vice-President of India. Ten years later the philosopher became India’s second President.

When his friends and former students wished to make his birthday a holiday, Radhakrishnan did not forget his first calling. He replied, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if 5 September is observed as Teachers’ Day.

Throughout the rest of his life, Radhakrishnan went on learning and teaching, holding true to his most firmly held belief:

“The true seekers are those who never end their quest. Even at the termination of one’s life one is still searching. Fulfillment is a distant goal.”

Founding of Los Angeles

September 4

Every year on September 4 (or the weekend closest to) approximately 200 Angelinos, known as the Pobladores recreate a nine-mile walk from San Gabriel to downtown Los Angeles, California, originally taken on this day in 1781. The Pobladores are descendants of the original permanent settlers of Los Angeles, eleven families and four Spanish soldiers who journeyed from Northern Mexico to what is now Los Angeles.

The final leg of the journey ran from the San Gabriel Mission to near what is now Olvera Street.

Actually the original settlement was right on the banks of the Los Angeles River, then called the Rio de Nuestra Senora, Santa Maria, Reyna de los Angeles de Porciuncula. (Our Lady Santa Maria, Queen of the Angels of Porcuicula River.) It had been so named on July 31, 1769 by a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portola.

Porciuncula means “small portion of land” but it also has a spiritual connotation. The most famous ‘porziuncula’ was the small portion of land, and the tiny chapel upon it, bequeathed to St. Francis of Asissi in the 13th century. It was from this church that the Franciscan Order spread. ‘Porciuncula’ was often used to refer to a special place of retreat.

The natives gave the settlers funny looks in 1781, for building their pueblo right on the river, and come the rainy season the settlers found out why. Their little settlement was flooded out, and they rebuilt the Pueblo further away from the river, where it still stands today.

Fortunately for posterity, the name “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Reyna de los Angeles” has been shortened to just Los Angeles. And for those for whom that’s too much a mouthful, it’s simply L.A.

Routes of the Pobladores
Routes of the Pobladores

The Pobladores were a mixed-race group, with over half claiming black and Native American blood. Each year, Angelinos watch and join the descendants of the Pobladores as they retrace the steps of the ancestors on the nine-mile walk.

The 44-person pueblo has grown into a city of 4 million, with over 12 million in the metropolitan area. L.A. is the only city outside Europe to have hosted the Olympics twice. L.A. has four major airports, one of which is the 5th busiest in the world. In the late 19th century, Los Angeles was a fairly sleepy city. Settlers began arriving from all parts of the country, attracted first by the region’s agricultural advantages, and in the 20th century by its aviation and film industries. All of these benefited from Southern California’s famous year-round sunshine.

The city in the desert survives largely because of water imported from the Owens Valley. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is the largest municipal utility in the U.S.

The Los Angeles neighborhood known as Hollywood (there is a movement to make it its own city) is largely responsible spreading Southern California culture across the world.

The Los Angeles (Porciuncula) River, not quite as scenic as it once was
The Los Angeles (Porciuncula) River, not quite as scenic as it once was