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11 Offbeat December Holidays You Still Have Time to Celebrate

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You don't need us to remind you about the major December holidays. But you do need us to tell you that it's Monkey Day.

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1. December 14th: Monkey Day
According to the official Monkey Day website, Monkey Day is an “annual celebration of all things simian, a festival of primates, a chance to scream like a monkey and throw feces at whomever you choose.” The origins of the holiday are unknown, though it has been observed since at least 2003.

2. December 15th: National Cat Herder’s Day
Cat herding is as difficult as it sounds. Founded by a California couple, National Cat Herder’s Day isn’t just for people who actually wrangle felines, but also those whose lives or jobs feel as if they are constantly herding around cats. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, perhaps it will help to add the celebration of this obscure holiday to your Thursday schedule.

3. December 15th: Bill of Rights Day
On December 15th, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified by three-quarters of the States, giving us the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution. This is a day to honor those certain inalienable rights like freedom of press and a speedy trial by jury. The Bill of Rights Day site has suggestions on how to celebrate, such as ranking your rights, BOR print-outs for your coworkers, and trivia!

4. December 16th: National Cover Anything With Chocolate Day

Not to be confused with National Chocolate Day on October 28th, this holiday is your free pass to dip anything in chocolate you otherwise wouldn’t the other 364 days of the year.

5. December 17th: Underdog Day
Today is the day to honor the unsung heroes, the folks in second place and the men/women behind the men/women. This holiday was reportedly created in 1976 and inspired by Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ faithful sidekick. Some reports claim the holiday is on 19th or the 21st. Maybe you just make next week Underdog Week.

6. December 18th: National Wear a Plunger on Your Head Day
Allegedly there once was a Hallmark card for National Wear a Plunger on Your Head Day, therefore it must be a real holiday. If you choose to celebrate, let's everyone agree to use new plungers.

7. December 20th: Louisiana Purchase Day
On this day in 1803, France officially relinquished its control of New Orleans to the United States, thus giving America over 800,000 square miles of new territory. The Louisiana Purchase did not actually include what we know today as the entire state of Louisiana; only the territory west of the Mississippi, as Spain still had ownership of the rest of it.

8. December 22nd: The Shortest Day of the Year
For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, December 22nd is the shortest day of the year — the day when the Earth’s axial tilt is farthest away from the sun. While there’s no official ceremonial observance, it is believed that mystical structures such as Stonehenge and Newgrange were built with the sunrise and set of winter solstice in mind. And for all the Jim Henson fans out there, you can awaken the Great Bell at the center of Fraggle Rock by giving gifts and ringing tiny bells.

9. December 22nd: Head to Plymouth for Forefathers' Day
Observed primarily in Plymouth, Massachusetts, since the late 1700s, Forefathers' Day commemorates the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. The traditional celebratory dish served for Forefathers' Day is Plymouth Succotash, with corned beef, fowl, salt pork, beans, potatoes and green-top turnips.

10. December 23rd: A Day to Air All Grievances
Then of course, there’s always Festivus for the rest of us. Invented by fictional Seinfeld character Frank Costanza, this secular holiday that involves gathering around an aluminum pole and airing out your grievances has continued to gain a following since its introduction in 1997. If you haven’t seen the episode, there’s an entire website that spells out how to celebrate Festivus from start to finish. (Note: It wasn't technically invented by Frank Costanza. As reader Mike points out, it was the creation of Seinfeld writer Dan O'Keefe's father. Test your Festivus knowledge with this quiz.)

11. December 26th: Alms for the Poor and Goals for the Soccer Players
Boxing Day may have been inspired by King Wenceslas, who one December 26th decided to gather up all of his leftover food, wine and gifts and bequeath them to a peasant. While he inspired the holiday, it is believed the Church of England technically founded it. There’s also speculation that it happened to be the day aristocrats give presents to their servants, and Boxing Day evolved from there. Today, Boxing Day has no real religious connotation and is more of an extra day off to drink and watch sports. Nonetheless it is still a national holiday in the UK and many countries once part of the British Empire.
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Does reading this list make you think just about anyone can start his or her own offbeat holiday? You're probably right. Feel free to lobby for your own new day of celebration in the comments.

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12 Things Called ‘French’ In English and Whether They're Actually French
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Happy Bastille Day! To celebrate this French holiday, let’s take a look at some of the things we call "French" in English that may not be French at all.

1. FRENCH TOAST

They don’t eat French toast in France. There, it’s called pain perdu ("lost bread," because it’s what you do with stale bread) or pain doré (golden bread). In the 17th century French toast was a term used for any kind of bread soaked and then griddled: In a 1660 citation, it refers to bread soaked in wine with sugar and orange and then cooked.

2. FRENCH VANILLA

Vanilla is a bean from a tropical plant not grown in France, so what’s so French about French vanilla? French vanilla was originally not a term for a type of vanilla, but a type of vanilla ice cream, one made using a French technique with an eggy, custard base. It’s since detached from ice cream and become a flavor with a certain rich profile.

3. FRENCH DRESSING

Originally the phrase French dressing referred to the type of dressing people might actually eat in France: oil, vinegar, herbs, maybe a little mustard. But somehow during the early 20th century it came to be the name for a pinkish-red, ketchup-added version that’s totally American.

4. FRENCH PRESS

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In France, the French press coffeemaker, a pot for steeping coffee grounds with a plunger for filtering them out, is called a cafetière à piston or just a bodum after the most common brand. It may have been invented in France, but the first patent for one was taken out by an Italian in 1929. The style of coffee became popular in France in the 1950s, and was later referred to by American journalists as "French-press style coffee."

5. FRENCH KISS

The term French kiss, for kissing with tongue, came into English during World War I when soldiers brought the phrase—and perhaps the kissing style—back from the war with them. French had long been used as a common adjective for various naughty, sexually explicit things like French letters (condoms), French postcards (naked pictures), and French pox (VD). In French, to kiss with the tongue is rouler un patin, “roll a skate” (having to do with gliding?), but in Québec they do say frencher.

6. FRENCH HORN

In French, a French horn is a cor d’harmonie or just cor, a name given to the looping, tubed hunting horns that were made in France in the 17th century. French became to the way to distinguish it from other horn types, like the German or Viennese horn, which had different types of tubes and valves.

7. FRENCH FRIES

The phrase French fries evolved in North America at the end of the 19th century out of the longer “French fried potatoes.” The dish is said to be more properly Belgian than French, but it was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson after he brought a recipe back from France. In French they are simply pommes frites, fried potatoes.

8. FRENCH MANICURE

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The French manicure, a pinkish, nude nail with a bright, whitened tip, was apparently invented in Hollywood in the 1970s. It began to be called a French manicure after the look made it to fashion runways. The style isn’t as popular in France, but women there do tend toward a groomed look with a natural color. In France, the term has been borrowed in from English: It's called la French manucure.

9. FRENCH BRAID

The term French braid (or French plait in British English) has been around since the 1870s, but the braid style itself, where hair is gathered gradually from the sides of the head over the course of braiding, has been around for thousands of years, according to archeological artifacts. It may have become associated with France simply for being seen as high fashion and French being equated with stylishness. In French, they also call this specific style of braid a French braid, or tresse française.

10. FRENCH TWIST

The vertically rolled and tucked French twist hairdo also came to be in the 19th century, and was also associated with French high fashion. In French it is called a chignon banane for its long, vertical shape.

11. FRENCH MAID

Housemaids in 19th-century France did wear black and white uniforms—though they were not quite as skimpy as the French maid costumes you see today. The French maid became a trope comic character in theater and opera, and the costume, along with other titillating characteristics, came to define what we now think of as the classic French maid.

12. FRENCH BREAD

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These days French bread has come to stand for any white bread with a vaguely baguette-like shape, whether or not it has a traditional, crusty exterior. It has been used as a term in English as far back as the 15th century to distinguish it from other, coarser types of bread.

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The Chemistry of Fireworks and Sparklers
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Independence Day is upon us, and that means grilling, s’mores, and plenty of good old-fashioned explosions. In other words: lots and lots of chemistry. For a breakdown of exactly how our favorite pyrotechnics work, check out the videos below from the American Chemical Society.

As a professor emeritus at Washington College, John Conkling may have one of the coolest jobs ever: experimenting with explosive chemicals and teaching his students to do the same. As Conkling explains in the video above, every explosion in a fireworks display is the result of two separate chemical reactions: one to launch the device into the air, and another that produces all those ooh- and ahh-inspiring sparkles.

The sparkles themselves are tiny flecks of metal, burning up in midair. Getting them to explode is easy, Conkling says. But getting them to explode blue? That’s a science

While sparklers may look like miniature, handheld fireworks, the mechanics are quite different. They do rely on fuel and oxidation like fireworks, but rather than just going off in midair, those reactions have to occur safely on a metal stick. Sparklers’ reactive chemicals are mixed with a binder that keeps the fire in place and slows it down, so you can enjoy your tiny explosions for just a little longer.

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