Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Strange Facts about New Year's Day

Happy New Year! Or, is it? The fact is it depends on who you ask and when…In much of the world, it took quite a while before Jan. 1 was actually considered the start of the year.

Throughout history, different countries have celebrated the beginning of the year on different days ranging from March 25 to Sept. 1 to Dec. 25.

The French observed Easter as the start of the year for centuries. They introduced Jan. 1 as New Year's Day in 1564, ahead of many European countries.

Within Italy, different cities started the year on conflicting days. Venice celebrated on March 1 until 1797, when it was conquered by the French Emperor Napoleon.

Florence began the year on March 25 … as did England and the American Colonies until the end of 1751.

Until 1911, the Catholic Church started its ecclesiastical year on Dec. 25 at Christmas.

And the traditional Asian calendar begins the Chinese New Year sometime between mid-January and late-February, depending on the year.

So, as you can see, the issue of when to start the year has been anything but clear throughout much of history.

A Bit About Janus: The month of January is named after the double-faced Roman God Janus, who looks back to the old year and forward to the new one.

That makes it an appropriate symbol for those who like to spend time reflecting during the holidays on the past year and what they would like to attract for the next one.

Lunar Treat: A special bonus this year (2009) is the full moon, partial lunar eclipse occurring right before New Year's Day 2010. It's exact Dec. 31, 2009 at 2:13 p.m. EST. As the second full moon of the month, it's also a blue moon.

Images Credit: Although the moon isn't full in the delightful vintage card above, the festive mood is certainly appropriate as we enter a new decade. All of the cards in this post are from riptheskull at She has an amazing collection of old cards. Go check it out!

Happy New Year everyone! Here's to a peaceful and prosperous 2010 for us all.

For more about the calendar: Marking Time: The Epic Quest to Invent the Perfect Calendar.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Four Facts About Christmas You Probably Didn't Know

Photo: Some favorite old Christmas decorations
Christmas may be one of America's favorite holidays, but it's rather surprising how little folks know about this day. Here are four strange facts about Christmas you probably didn't know:

Christmas was Against the Law: It's true. Christmas was declared illegal in England by Protestant extremists during the English Reformation (1640s to 1660). In other words, citizens were forbidden to sing carols, decorate their homes or prepare the traditional Christmas goose.
"… no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December,
commonly called Christmas Day;
nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches
upon that day in respect thereof."
An Order of the English Parliament, December 23, 1652
Even in the American Colonies, it was a penal offense to observe Christmas in New England. The law was declared in 1659 and continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants lessened the puritanical strictness.

In Scotland, Christmas was banned for nearly 400 years ... from the 1580s until the 1950s. It wasn't until 1958 that it became an official public holiday.

Photo: A neighbor's tree during a recent snow storm
Christmas Trees Weren't Popular: The Christmas tree got off to a rocky start in the United States. German settlers had brought their rich tradition to this country, and trees were found in the Pennsylvania settlements as early as 1747; but they weren't accepted by mainstream society. Many considered Christmas trees to be dangerous pagan symbols.

The custom caught on when the English Queen Victoria was photographed with her German husband Prince Albert with a Christmas tree in the Illustrated London News in 1846.  The rest is history.

The tradition spread throughout England, Europe, Russia and the United States. By the 20th century, the Christmas tree was firmly entrenched in our nation's culture.

Meanwhile, don't let that Christmas tree end up in the landfill. Here are earth-friendly ways to recycle your Christmas Tree -- from pine-needle bath oil to creative ideas for the garden. They are from a guest post I wrote recently for  aHa! Modern Living's highly entertaining blog.

Photo: Christnas decorations found while walking my pup
Santa's Big Start: Believe it or not, but Santa Claus and Rip Van Winkle have something very important in common. Washington Irving -- the author of "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" -- introduced Santa Claus to the United States.

Irving adapted legends about a Dutch Saint Nicholas to create his best-selling 1809 Knickerbockers' History of New York. In this story, he gave the first literary description of Saint Nicholas in this country.

The legend traveled fast. Before long, the character evolved into the loveable Santa Claus we know today.

Xmas Not So Bad: Those eager to keep "Christ" in Christmas needn't worry about using "Xmas." The letter X is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ -- Xristos.

So, saying or writing Xmas is actually quite appropriate, when you think about it.

Ho ho ho... happy holidays everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Nest in Style this Winter Solstice

Photo by stevendepolo on Flickr

Welcome winter solstice - the year's longest night - in the Northern Hemisphere (exact Dec. 21, 2009 at 12:47 p.m. EST). From this point forward, the days will grow longer and the nights will shorten until the summer solstice in mid-June. 

Considering how cold and dark it can be at this time of year, it's little wonder the winter solstice was considered "midwinter" for centuries... not the start of winter as we know it today.

The return of the light is certainly a time to celebrate! But there's another reason for solstice cheer too.

Introducing Nest In Style Podcasts ... providing you with the latest in home and garden trends mixed with a twist of the past. Your hosts: Jayme Jenkins of aHa! Modern Living and Yours Truly (Teresa O'Connor) of Seasonal Wisdom.

Don't miss our first podcast episode where we reveal strange facts about the solstice as well as Christmas and Hanukah. For example, did you know Christmas was once illegal?

You'll find cool gift ideas and holidays traditions from folks around the world. And there are loads of resources for more information. In other words, there's plenty of news you can use at Nest In Style.  To hear this podcast...

Feeling hungry? While you're listening to the Nest In Style podcast, why not try the winter solstice celebration menu featured at Helen Yoest's Gardening With Confidence blog? There are several delicious, vegetable-based recipes sure to put a smile on your face this solstice. Here's what you'll find:

Seasonal Wisdom's Kale with Bacon and Feta (pictured above)

Vitamin-packed Solstice Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe from
Blue Moon Cafe and Indigo Gardens of New Hampshire

Super-easy and fast Sweet Potato Casserole from
Helen Yoest of Gardening with Confidence in North Carolina
    Step-by-step directions for a yummy Apple Crumb Pie
    by Kelly Senser, senior associate editor at National Wildlife Magazine
However, you decide to celebrate the annual return of the light this winter solstice, be sure to have yourselves a special and magical time. Ho ho ho.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Snow-Storm

With snow falling all over the nation this week, I couldn't help think of a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson. It goes like this...

"Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow; and driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight; the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end..."

"The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, inclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm."

Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Snow Storm

Wherever you may be ... enjoy the beginning of winter and stay warm and safe.