Posts filed under ‘Holidays and Traditions’

The Meaning of Auld Lang Syne

By Chad Upton | Editor

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Even if you’ve never heard of Auld Lang Syne, you’d likely recognize the melody — it’s commonly played and sung at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, not to mention its presence in many Films and TV shows when reminiscing about old times or celebrating new ones.

Play this youtube clip to refresh your memory:

Although the melody is instantly recognizable, it was actually a poem (with no melody) before it was ever a song. The poem was written by Robert Burns in 1788. It was originally written in Scots, a variety of German localized in Lowland Scotland and Ulster, Ireland. (more…)

December 31, 2013 at 2:00 am 4 comments

Halloween Secrets

By Chad Upton | Editor

Trick or treating can be traced back to European “guising” traditions where children would travel from home to home, reciting songs, jokes or poems. They didn’t say “trick or treat” back then, it was “please help the guisers” — a reference to the groups who performed plays to ward off evil spirits during Samhain, the Celtic celebration we now know as Halloween.

The children were often given fruit, nuts, sweets or even money. Trick or treating started to take hold in North America during the middle of the 19th century, although it was put on hold for sugar rationing during World War II.

The Celts believed spirits of the dead would walk the earth on Halloween. Costumes were worn to help blend in with and hide from the real spirits who were thought to be walking among them.

The traditional colors of halloween, Black and orange, have meaning too. Black is the typical color of death in many cultures and orange symbolizes strength in Celtic legend, which was important for weathering a harsh winter. They burned large bonfires, believing this would bring the heat of the sun back after winter. Animal bones were often thrown into the fires and some believe these “bone fires” spawned the term bonfire.

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Photo: José Luis Murillo (cc)

Sources: History.comIrishCentral.com, Answers.com,

October 29, 2012 at 2:00 am 2 comments

How Hollywood Became the Center of the Film Industry

By Chad Upton | Editor

The thirty mile zone (aka “TMZ” or “studio zone”) is the approximately thirty mile area in Southern California where America’s movie industry is based. However, New Jersey was the center of film in America before Hollywood.

Thomas Edison owned a majority of the patents on motion picture cameras and through these patents, he tightly controlled who could make films. In 1908, he formed the Motion Picture Patents Company, a licensing trust that included other important motion picture patent holders, including Eastman Kodak, who sold the only film stock that film makers could legally purchase.

The patents allowed the group to use law enforcement to prevent unauthorized use of their cameras, film, projectors or any variation of this equipment that included features that infringed on their patents. In some cases they hired thugs to do the enforcement.

Understandably, these tight restrictions stifled inovation and crippled the film industry.

Independent filmmakers fled to Hollywood. The physical distance from the Edison Trust made it easy to work on their films without the tight control and patent enforcement.

The reliable sunshine and temperature also made Hollywood a more suitable place to make films year-round.

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Sources: filmbug, wikipedia (motion picture patents company)

Photo: Heather Culligan (cc)

November 24, 2011 at 2:00 am 2 comments

More Spent on Flowers at Christmas Than Valentine’s

By Chad Upton | Editor

According to aboutflowers.com, Valentine’s Day is tied for second place with Mother’s Day in most dollars spent on flowers. Surprisingly, Christmas and Hanukkah are tied for first.

It actually makes sense when you look at the breakdown of who is buying them and why.

For Christmas and Hanukkah, the majority of flowers are purchased for people’s own use (ie. decorating). For Valentine’s Day, only 9% are purchased for themselves and it’s not surprising that people spend more on themselves than other people.

If we just consider the people who buy Valentine’s Day flowers, these are some interesting stats:

  • 23% of women purchase them for themselves
  • 57% of men, purchase them for their spouse
  • 25% of men, purchase them for their significant other

While I sometimes question the accuracy of these surveys, I was pretty confident in this data when I read this statistic: 0% of men purchase flowers for themselves for Valentine’s Day.

If you’re interested in the (brief) origin of Valentine’s Day, click here.

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Photo: Joel Bennett

Sources: About Flowers

February 14, 2011 at 2:00 am 10 comments

Why We Clink Glasses When We Toast

By Chad Upton | Editor

Many of you will be clinking glasses with family and friends this time of year and there are a number of theories about where this custom started.

One belief is that ancient societies believed that noise would scare away the demons (that they believed) were lurking around every corner. Firecrackers and noise makers are popular instruments to ring in the New Year, also believed to stem from the idea that noise would scare away evil spirits, clearing the way for good things to happen. Wedding bells and clinking glasses are other examples of this belief in practice.

Another legend says that nobles used to try to poison each other, so drinks were clinked to slosh liquid from one drink to the other, demonstrating that the guest’s drink was safe if the host was willing to drink from his now “contaminated” drink. Among trusted associates, table members adopted the “drink clink” to signify their trust that drinks were not poisoned without making a mess of the table — it was a sort of handshake.

A fairly reputable website, Snopes.com, disputes this theory, claiming that poisoning was not common enough for it to change the behavior of society. They also believe that too much liquid would be wasted for it to be practical. I generally trust snopes and usually agree with their proof and supporting statements, but their explanation on this matter has much more proof against than for it.

First of all, the argument that it was messy isn’t very strong. If you believed your life was at stake, you wouldn’t consider it a waste to spill some wine in exchange for your health.

Secondly, there is plenty of proof that poisoning was very common throughout history. The BBC says, “During the age of the Roman Empire, poisoning became a common activity at the dinnertable, especially in the high circles of society. It was certainly a convenient way of getting rid of unwanted family members, as [Emperor] Nero demonstrated.” They have a well researched article that demonstrates poisoning as a common occurrence and a popular anxiety among royals and high society for much of recorded history.

In fact, poisoning wasn’t just common in medieval times, it’s still popular now. There are multiple homicide and suicide cases every year that involve poisoning. In 1998, food was poisoned at a village festival in Japan, killing 4 and injuring 40 others. Recent intelligence has suggested that Al Qaeda groups have discussed poisoning buffets.

Poisons have changed a lot over the years, although arsenic was popular for more than ten centuries, until a method became available to detect it in the deceased. Many modern poisons are actually prescription drugs, including fentanyl — one of the drugs found in Michael Jackson body during the autopsy.

Regardless of poison threats, we continue to clink our glasses as a way to connect with each other. This has been nearly ubiquitous for more than 100 years. In fact, glass makers actually consider the sound that glasses make an important design element. So, Pay attention during your next toast, the sound may be as sweet as the sauce.

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Photo: AL404 (cc)

Sources: Snopes, Wine Intro, BBC, CNN

December 31, 2010 at 5:00 am 2 comments

Why They’re Called White Elephant Gift Exchanges

By Chad Upton | Editor

Among friends and co-workers, gift exchanges are popular, especially during the holidays. In the United States, a popular style of gift exchange is called a “White Elephant Gift Exchange.” I’ve done similar gift exchanges outside of the US where they don’t necessarily go by that name, but follow similar rules.

In fact, there are many variations of the rules, but basically, it involves bringing a fun or humorous gift for an anonymous person. In some cases, the rules allow other people to “steal” the gift or switch it for the gift they received. Regardless of the specific rules, I wanted to understand where “white elephants” fit in to these gift exchanges.

Historically, white elephants were sacred among Southeastern monarchs in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Burma (and still are in some areas).

This belief comes from a tale that Buddha’s mother had a dream the night before giving birth to him. The dream depicted a white elephant giving her a lotus flower, a divine symbol of purity. For this reason, it was thought that white elephants were sacred, and laws were made to protect them from labor.

Because white elephants couldn’t be put to work, their maintenance costs were out of proportion to their usefulness. Modern day white elephants include kitchen gadgets that seem useful, but take up useful space in your cupboards and rarely get used. (more…)

December 3, 2010 at 2:00 am 2 comments

Why It’s Called Black Friday

By Chad Upton | Editor

The term “Black Friday”, originally referred to Friday, September 24 1869, when the value of gold plummeted. It happened because a couple of speculators allegedly drove the price up, telling investors it would increase in value because the government was going to buy it, but the federal government actually sold a significant amount of their gold, which flooded the market and caused the value to plummet. For many investors, it was their financial doomsday.

The contemporary meaning of “Black Friday” refers to the day after US Thanksgiving. This meaning comes from Philadelphia Police, cab and bus drivers. They called it black Friday because they are overwhelmed as huge numbers of people go shopping and cause havoc to their normal routines.

It’s often referred to as the busiest day of the year for retailers, but that’s not entirely true. It is the day when they have the highest number of people in their store, but it’s not normally the highest day of sales for the year, although it’s usually in the top ten.

Update: A couple of comments mentioned the idea that the “Black Friday” name refers to the time when retailers finally turn a profit for the year, moving from “red” ink into “black” on their income statement. Before researching this post, I thought that was the reason too. Wikipedia does mention this idea as an “alternative” explanation that emerged sometime after the term was coined by police, cabs and bus drivers in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Wikipedia does not provide any sources to indicate that this is a fact for retailers. Although there are many sources that mention this idea, I cannot find any hard data that indicates any retailer operates without profit until the last 6 weeks of the year. If anyone finds any data that shows this, I’d love to include it in this post — it would definitely have significance in the meaning of “Black Friday.”

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Photo: Richard Roberson (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia (Black Friday 1869, Black Friday Shopping)

November 26, 2010 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Birthdays Were Not Always Celebrations

By Chad Upton | Editor

Although traditions can vary widely, annual birthday celebrations are pretty common around the world.

In the beginning, only Kings and other royalty were thought to be important enough to have birthday celebrations. At the time, birthdays were not celebrations for common people. They believed that evil spirits searched for people on their birthday, so friends and family would gather to protect the birthday person from the evil spirits. Singing songs and using noise makers was thought to scare the spirits away and gifts were given for good luck.

Of course, modern birthdays are much different. One of the highlights is the cake and the tradition of serving birthday cake comes from Ancient Rome. Originally, cakes were much like bread, the only difference being that cakes were sweeter.

With culinary advancements in the 17th century, cakes began to look more like their contemporary counterparts. At the time, they were a privilege of the wealthy and not until the industrial revolution were the materials and tools affordable and widely available enough for commoners to have birthday cakes too.

Although candles originated in China around 200 BC, it was the Europeans who popularized decorative candles. Candles made their way onto birthday cakes around the 18th century in Germany. Many cultures put enough candles on the cake to equal the age of the person, some cultures adding one more for good luck.

Some cultures also celebrate the birthday of a historical leader or religious figure. One of the most popular is Christmas, which commemorates the birth of Jesus. In the United States we also celebrate Presidents Day on the third Monday of February, which honors George Washington’s birthday (February 22, 1732). Although most people celebrate the day they were born, there are some cultures in Europe and Latin America that also celebrate one’s name day. In that case, if you were named after a Saint, you would celebrate on that Saint’s name day (sometimes in addition to your birthday, other times in place of it — depending on the country).

There are many other birthday traditions from around the globe, some are current and others have long passed. In some South American cultures, it was tradition to pull on the earlobes of birthday children, once for each year they have lived. In India, icing from the cake is sometimes rubbed on the face of the birthday person.

In Mexico, a Piñata is a colorful container, often shaped like a star or an animal, that is filled with treats. The birthday person, usually a child, is given a stick to break the piñata or in some countries there are strings to pull open a trap door. Although this is well known, there are many other countries, such as Denmark, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Japan and others who have similar traditions involving clay pots or other containers that are broken to release treasures.

PS – Today, we are celebrating a very special birthday. Exactly one year and 235 secrets ago, I posted the first secret on BrokenSecrets.com — You Can Use Foil in the Microwave.

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Photos: Omer Wzir (cc), Joe Gray (cc)

Sources: BirthdayCelebrations.net, Wikipedia (Birthday, Birthday Cake, Candles, Pinata)

November 19, 2010 at 1:00 am 9 comments

How to be a Halloween Scrooge

By Chad Upton | Editor

If you think about it, Halloween is kind of an odd tradition. Generally, we tell kids not to accept candy from strangers. Then, we encourage them to dress up in weird costumes and go door to door, seeking candy from every stranger within walking distance.

As a kid, Halloween was third on the “getting free stuff scale” right after Christmas and birthdays. As an adult, Halloween is probably first on the “giving away your stuff scale.” I mean, you don’t even know these kids, and even if you did, you can’t tell that you do because they’re in disguise.

So, I don’t blame you if you get upset when somebody’s kids are knocking on your door, expecting you to hand over your food. In fact, there are probably some of you who don’t even want your grown children eating your food.

So, if you want to be a mean old grumpy grump, here are a some ways to be a Halloween scrooge.

Help Yourself Candy Bowl

Put a large empty bowl on your door step. Attach a sign that says, “Please Take Your Own Candy.” This will probably make some kids cry.

Disabled Doorbell

We used to unhook our doorbell on Halloween because our dog would go crazy every time the doorbell was pressed. We still answered the door and gave out candy, but you can use this trick if you don’t want the candy seeking youngsters interrupting your Ugly Betty marathon.

Boo Yourself

In some places, neighbors will “Boo” each other in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Basically, they wait for nightfall and leave a bucket of treats on your doorstep. Then they ring the doorbell and run away. You put a sign in your window to indicate that you’ve been “Boo’d” and you “Boo” two other people. It’s all in good fun, and it’s a lot better than what people used to leave on doorsteps before running away. But, if you see this as doorstep spam or an unprofitable pyramid scheme, then you can just boo your own house and count yourself out early.

Lights Out

In some neighborhoods, unlit house lights tell the goblins that you’re on to their game and you’re not going to give up any free candy.

Do a Trick

If you do a trick, you’ll confuse some kids for sure. Be careful with the older ones or the trick will be on you later.

Fake Candy

My parents were always worried about us getting tampered candy, so they’d have to “inspect” the candy before we could have any. In other words, they would “skim” the loot before it got counted. That actually worked out pretty well, they liked all the stuff I didn’t like anyway.

If you’re really trying to stick it to those candy grabbing ghouls, then you’d save empty candy wrappers throughout the year and just hand out the wrappers. You may also consider this doing a trick.

Jinx

A twist! Here’s when you answer the door and you say “trick or treat.” Of course, that means they will have to give you candy. If their parents are at the curb, they probably won’t stop at your house next year — mission accomplished, scrooge.

If you’re wondering how this dark and twisted holiday started, check out Kaye Nemec’s History of Halloween.

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Photos: PumpkinWayne (cc), Rael B (cc)

October 29, 2010 at 1:00 am 4 comments


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