A May Day by Any Other Name …

May 1, 2012

Although May 1st may pass without notice by many of us in the US—probably because we don’t have the day off—the day has a long history of celebrating Spring, and in some places, Summer. The May Day holiday goes by many names with varying methods of celebration around the world. Here is a brief list of a few of them.

  • Walpurgis Night: A celebration of Spring of Germanic origin, which includes music and bonfires on May Day eve.
  • Beltane: The Celtic festival of fire and fertility, also beginning on May Day eve.
  • The Catholic Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.
  • May Day: Traditional European folk festivals celebrated with the crowning of the May Queen and dancing around the Maypole.
  • International Workers’ Day: A celebration of the labor movement through parades and organized demonstrations. (The Occupy Movement has several protests planned for today throughout the US. Europeans are protesting economic austerity measures.)

And because I love old photos, I perused the Library of Congress website to share a bit of history with you.

May Day parade/demonstration, 1900 New York—Library of Congress (I believe the banner says, Org. Aug. 7th 1900, so this is probably May 1901.)

Children at a May Day festival in Battery Park, NY, 1908—Library of Congress

May Day Parade, NY 1910—Library of Congress

A May Day "exercise" at Sweet Briar College in Virginia—Library of Congress (There was no exact date listed. Anyone want to take a guess?)

Here’s to a Happy May Day!


A Thanksgiving Offering

November 25, 2009

While we’re gathering with family and friends this week, I thought it would be fun to take a look at a short story that reveres a more simple time. An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott tells the story of a farm family in the 1820s. The Bassett family is preparing for Thanksgiving when word comes that grandma is dying. Mr. and Mrs. Bassett pack up the sleigh and the baby to make the twenty-mile trip, leaving the rest of the children behind.

The oldest boy is sixteen, so it’s not as bad of a situation as it sounds. He and the oldest girl are left in charge of their five siblings. The children do chores, play together, eat together, tell stories, and in general, get along far better than most kids today would. The fun comes when the two oldest girls decide to cook the Thanksgiving meal for their mother. They don’t know quite what they’re doing, but they make a serious effort, with the usual comic results.

An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving is a sweet story that would make a good read-aloud, especially since it’s full of colloquialisms and out-of-use terms. It was first published in St. Nicholas magazine in 1881. Since it’s set in the 1820s and its author was born in 1832, that makes it–you guessed it–historical fiction. Add historical fiction author to Louisa May Alcott’s many credits. Who knew?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Damsels!

Book Review: The Halloween Tree

October 30, 2009

The Halloween Tree
Ray Bradbury
Time Travel
Middle Grade
145 pages

An Ode to Halloween

An Ode to Halloween

Have you ever wondered why we dress up for Halloween? Or how the tradition of trick-or-treating begin? Or, how about why we associate witches, skeletons and ghosts with Halloween? This novel cleverly answers these questions and so much more.

An ode to Halloween, this book packs a brain full of facts into your head in the most entertaining way. The Halloween Tree is a children’s novel (that will also appeal to adults) about eight 13-year-old boys who go on a journey to discover the history of Halloween and in the process save the ninth member of their group, Pipkin, from the hands of death.

“Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.”

I don’t usually get caught up in “the beauty of prose”, but I have to say the book is filled with passages like the example above. The sentences just flow off the tongue. Listening to the book read made it even more apparent. There really was a lyrical rhythm to the prose that even I, a hard person to impress, fell in love with.

A time travel novel, The Halloween Tree takes the reader back to multiple points in time to visit the mummies of Ancient Egypt, England during the time of the Druids, the gargoyles of Norte Dame in the Middle Ages and the cemeteries of Mexico on el Dia de los Meurtos (The Day of the Dead). At each stop, the reader learns something new about how the traditions of Halloween were shaped by different cultures across the centuries, culminating in the holiday we know today.

This novel (the audio version especially) moves a break-neck speed. You don’t have two seconds to stop and breathe throughout the entire story. The pace is fast, from the first pages, and it pulls you into the plot and doesn’t give you time to realize that facts are being thrown at you from the get go. Even after two readings, I was still catching things I missed the first and second time.

I listened to the audio version done by the Colonial Radio Theatre on Air. After listening, I was so enthralled I read the printed version. I have to say I’m not sure I’d have been quite as entertained if I had read the novel first. The printed version was wonderful, but the audio was amazing. It employed a full cast, sound effects and music, not just background music, but turned some of the text into song. And it never allowed me to slow down in reading it so I got the full effect of the pacing. This is one book were I recommend the audio over the book.

However you think of October 31st: All Souls, All Saints, Day of the Dead, The Feast of Samhain, the time of the dead ones, el Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows Eve, or Halloween, The Halloween Tree is to Halloween what The Christmas Carol is to Christmas—a classic that I believe will still continue to delight readers in the decades to come.

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

July 5, 2009

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Celebrating the fourth of July in the 1800s was a time for the town folk, farmers, and their families to come into town for the day to enjoy some fife and drum music, to catch up with friends and town news, but most important was the reading of the Declaration of Independence. It was the highlight of the day and its celebrations.

For 150 years, the British Empire had established colonies on the eastern shores of what is now the United States. The colonies were prosperous, ran their own affairs and were left alone by England—until the French and Indian War ended. England was in dire straits and the king’s solution to his financial troubles was to tax the colonies. Discontent continued to build at the British’s refusal to allow the colonist representatives in the British Parliament, for naturally they would vote against the taxes. And so began the history that would lead us down the path to our independence.

The Declaration of Independence told the world that a new nation had been born. It is the heart and soul of the United States. July 4th, our nation’s birthday, was celebrated much differently in the 1800s. It wasn’t about fireworks or the productions put on for the people’s entertainment. It was about remembering those words penned in 1776 that gave birth to our great nation.

I was going to recount my experience of spending the day at Old Sturbridge Village in an authentic recreation of a town’s celebration of the 4th of July in 1830’s New England, but decided to let you see and hear what I experienced instead. Enjoy the following video: An 1830’s 4th of July Celebration in New England.

PS: Sorry the upload quality of youtube isn’t that great.  Pictures below the cut.

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