Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holidays and Observances for December 20 2014

Go Caroling Day

With Christmas just days away, today is all about the sounds of music – literally! December 20 is Go Caroling Day. Caroling is when a group of carolers sing songs of praise or joy celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, winter or the holidays. While the origins of this annual “holiday” are unknown, today is the perfect opportunity to test out those pipes, perfect pitch or, well, not so much.

Carols were first sung in Europe thousands of years ago, but these were not Christmas Carols. They were pagan songs, sung at the Winter Solstice celebrations as people danced round stone circles (The word carol originally meant to dance to something). The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, usually taking place around the 22nd December. The word Carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy! Carols used to be written and sung during all four seasons, but only the tradition of singing them at Christmas has really survived.

Early Christians took over the pagan solstice celebrations for Christmas and gave people Christian songs to sing instead of pagan ones. In AD 129, a Roman Bishop said that a song called "Angel's Hymn" should be sung at a Christmas service in Rome. Another famous early Christmas Hymn was written in 760AD, by Comas of Jerusalem, for the Greek Orthodox Church. Soon after this many composers all over Europe started to write 'Christmas carols'. However, not many people liked them as they were all written and sung in Latin, a language that the normal people couldn't understand. By the time of the Middles Ages (the 1200s), most people had lost interest in celebrating Christmas altogether.

This was changed by St. Francis of Assisi when, in 1223, he started his Nativity Plays in Italy. The people in the plays sang songs or 'canticles' that told the story during the plays. Sometimes, the choruses of these new carols were in Latin; but normally they were all in a language that the people watching the play could understand and join in! The new carols spread to France, Spain, Germany and other European countries.

The earliest carol, like this, was written in 1410. Sadly only a very small fragment of it still exists. The carol was about Mary and Jesus meeting different people in Bethlehem. Most Carols from this time and the Elizabethan period are untrue stories, very loosely based on the Christmas story, about the holy family and were seen as entertaining rather than religious songs. They were usually sung in homes rather than in churches! Traveling singers or Minstrels started singing these carols and the words were changed for the local people wherever they were traveling. One carols that changed like this is 'I Saw Three Ships'.

When Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in England in 1647, the celebration of Christmas and singing carols was stopped. However, the carols survived as people still sang them in secret. Carols remained mainly unsung until Victorian times, when two men called William Sandys and Davis Gilbert collected lots of old Christmas music from villages in England.

Before carol singing in public became popular, there were sometimes official carol singers called 'Waits'. These were bands of people led by important local leaders (such as council leaders) who had the only power in the towns and villages to take money from the public (if others did this, they were sometimes charged as beggars!). They were called 'Waits' because they only sang on Christmas Eve (This was sometimes known as 'watchnight' or 'waitnight' because of the shepherds were watching their sheep when the angels appeared to them.), when the Christmas celebrations began.

Also, at this time, many orchestras and choirs were being set up in the cities of England and people wanted Christmas songs to sing, so carols once again became popular. Many new carols, such as 'Good King Wenceslas', were also written in the Victorian period.

New carols services were created and became popular, as did the custom of singing carols in the streets. Both of these customs are still popular today! One of the most popular types of Carols services are Carols by Candlelight services. At this service, the church is only lit by candlelight and it feels very Christmassy! Carols by Candlelight services are held in countries all over the world.

The most famous type of Carol Service might be a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, where carols and Bible readings tell the Christmas Story.

In honor of Go Caroling Day, why not gather up the family and spread some holiday cheer this year? Or better yet – start a new tradition and visit a local nursing home or retirement center and sing a few songs to folks who are unable to celebrate with loved ones.

International Human Solidarity Day

The United Nations' (UN) International Human Solidarity Day is annually held on December 20 to celebrate unity in diversity. It also aims to remind people on the importance of solidarity in working towards eradicating poverty.

On International Human Solidarity Day, governments are reminded of their commitments to international agreements on the need for human solidarity as an initiative to fight against poverty. People are encouraged to debate on ways to promote solidarity and find innovative methods to help eradicate poverty.

Activities may include promoting campaigns on issues such as:
  • Banning land mines.
  • Making health and medication accessible to those in need.
  • Relief efforts to help those who suffered the effects of natural or human-made disasters.
  • Achieving universal education.
  • Fighting against poverty, corruption and terrorism.
The day is promoted through all forms of media including magazine articles, speeches at official events, and web blogs from groups, individuals or organizations committed to universal solidarity.

Solidarity refers to a union of interests, purposes or sympathies among members of a group. In the Millennium Declaration world leaders agreed that solidarity was a value that was important to international relations in the 21st century. In light of globalization and growing inequality, the UN realized that strong international solidarity and cooperation was needed to achieve its Millennium Development Goals. The UN was founded on the idea unity and harmony via the concept of collective security that relies on its members' solidarity to unite for international peace and security.

On December 22, 2005, the UN General Assembly proclaimed that International Solidarity Day would take place on December 20 each year. The event aimed to raise people's awareness of the importance of advancing the international development agenda and promoting global understanding of the value of human solidarity. The assembly felt that the promotion of a culture of solidarity and the spirit of sharing was important in combating poverty.

The UN emblem may be found in material promoting International Human Solidarity Day. The emblem consists of a projection of the globe centered on the North Pole. It depicts all continents except Antarctica and four concentric circles representing degrees of latitude. The projection is surrounded by images of olive branches, representing peace. The emblem is often blue, although it is printed in white on a blue background on the UN flag.

Mudd Day

On Mudd Day we remember Dr. Samuel Mudd who provided medical assistance to a disguised John Wilkes Booth who had just assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Wilkes broke his leg fleeing from the theater. Mudd was sentenced to life in prison, though four years into it President Andrew Johnson pardoned him. Dr. Mudd's name has been dragged through the mud since his sentencing giving the term "your name is mud" a whole new meaning.

Samuel Alexander Mudd I (December 20, 1833 – January 10, 1883) was an American physician who was imprisoned for conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

While working as a doctor in Southern Maryland, Mudd also employed slaves on his tobacco-farm, and declared his belief in slavery as a God-given institution. The Civil War seriously damaged his business, especially when Maryland abolished slavery in 1864. At this time, he first met Booth, who was planning to kidnap Lincoln, and Mudd was seen in company with three of the conspirators. But his part in the plot, if any, remains unclear.

After assassinating Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Booth rode with co-conspirator David Herold to Mudd’s home in the early hours of the 15th for surgery on his fractured leg, before crossing into Virginia. Some time that day, Mudd must have learned of the assassination, but did not report Booth’s visit to the authorities for another 24 hours. This appeared to link him to the crime, as did his various changes of story under interrogation, and on April 26, he was arrested. A military commission found him guilty of aiding and conspiring in a murder, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment, escaping the death penalty by a single vote.

Mudd was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and released from prison in 1869. Despite repeated attempts by family members and others to have it expunged, his conviction has never been overturned.

National Sangria Day

A Summer Classic Celebrated in December... 

If you're looking to add a little Olé to your life, why not try that fruity wine punch named for the Spanish word sangre, which means blood. Yes, we're talking about that deliciously crimson drink everybody loves known as sangria.

This uncomplicated mix of red wine, spirits, simple syrup and a ton of chopped, seasonal fruit has long been considered the perfect summertime tipple, a refreshing concoction to be sipped whiling away a hot afternoon or added as a pick-me-up to your patio party’s line-up of refreshing beverages.

It’s ironic then that National Sangria Day comes on December 20. But if you think about it, quaffing an alcoholic beverage filled with fresh fruit is good any time of year.

There are practically as many recipes for sangria as there are drinkers of the fruity punch. How this drink varies centres on the type of fruit, the presence or lack of carbonation and the kind of spirits added, if any at all.

While all fruits are worthy, the key is to use fruit that’s in season in order to optimize flavour. So while citrus and berries are mainstays for sangria, also consider peach, pineapple, mango, melon and apple. Try to let the fruit marinate in the wine a day ahead or at least a few hours before serving.

Brandy is commonly used in sangria, but you can add a few shots of your favourite liquor and a splash of orange juice or try a liqueur such as Triple Sec.

If you’d like to add bubbles, consider soda water or a citrus-flavoured soda pop. Some sangria lovers add honey or sugar as well.

While connoisseurs say it’s important to use a good quality red wine such as Rioja to get the authentic Spanish flavour, many agree that you should choose something you like. Inexpensive wines are perfect for this drink. Sangria can also be made with white wine and is known as sangria blanca. In some parts of Southern Spain, sangria is called zurra and is made with peaches or nectarines.

Sangria was introduced to the United States in 1964 during the World’s Fair in New York, but it’s believed this wine punch has been around in Europe in various incarnations for hundreds of years.

The Brits favoured something called Claret Cup Punch in the 1700s and 1800s, a similar libation to sangria made with Bordeaux wine (which they called Claret), which is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot.

Centuries earlier in the Middle Ages a wine known as hippocras, a mix of wine, fruit, sugar and cinnamon, was produced. The drink was sometimes warmed. Apparently, the recipe for hippocras was brought back to Europe from the Orient. The drink became extremely popular and was regarded as an aphrodisiac and as having various medicinal properties.

It’s speculated that Europe’s heavy emphasis on wine came from a widespread fear that water was unsafe for consumption. It was thought alcohol would kill any bacteria so the thinking went that the only safe liquid to drink was one with alcohol in it.

It’s thanks to the Romans that Spain became home to many good wines. They planted vineyards as they swept through Spain in and around 200 B.C.  Red grapes grew very well in Spain and a busy wine shipping trade began in which the country supplied much of Rome’s drink.