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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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Autumn Equinox 2017: Today Is the First Day of Fall
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On September 22, at 4:02 p.m. ET, the Sun will shine directly over the equator—the midpoint of the Earth. The whole world will thus experience a day and night of equal length. In the Northern Hemisphere, we call this the autumn equinox. It marks the first day of fall. Around the world, people are marking the day with ceremonies, some of them ancient (and some less so).

You might be wondering two things: 1. Why on almost every other day of the year (the vernal equinox being the other exception) do different parts of the world have days and nights of differing length? 2. What do they call the day in the Southern Hemisphere?

A DAY AT THE BEACH

The answer to each of these questions resides in the Earth's axial tilt. The easiest way to imagine that tilt is to think about tanning on the beach. (Stay with me here.) If you lay on your stomach, your back gets blasted by the Sun. You don't wait 30 minutes then flop over and call it a day. Rather, as you tan, every once in a while, you shift positions a little. Maybe you lay a bit more on one side. Maybe you lift a shoulder, move a leg a little. Why? Because you want the Sun to shine directly on a different part of you. You want an even tan.

It might seem a little silly when you think about it. The Sun is a giant fusion reactor 93 million miles away. Solar radiation is hitting your entire back and arms and legs and so on whether or not you adjust your shoulder just so. But you adjust, and it really does improve your tan, and you know this instinctively.

An autumn equinox celebration at the Neris River waterfront in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Petras Malukas/AFP/Getty Images

The Earth works a lot like that, except it's operating by physics, not instinct. If there were no tilt, only one line of latitude would ever receive the most direct blast of sunlight: the equator. As the Earth revolved around the Sun, the planet would be bathed in sunlight, but it would only be the equator that would always get the most direct hit (and the darkest tan). But the Earth does have a tilt. Shove a pole through the planet with one end sticking out the North Pole and one end sticking out the South, and angle the whole thing by 23.5 degrees. That's the grade of Earth's tilt.

Now spin our little skewered Earth and place it in orbit around the Sun. At various points in the orbit, the Sun will shine directly on different latitudes. It will shine directly on the equator twice in a complete orbit—the fall and spring equinoxes—and at various points in the year, the most direct blast of sunlight will slide up or down. The highest latitude receiving direct sunlight is called the Tropic of Cancer. The lowest point is the Tropic of Capricorn. The poles, you will note, are snow white. They have, if you will, a terrible tan—and that's because they never receive solar radiation from a directly overhead Sun (even during the long polar summer, when the Sun never sinks below the horizon).

WHEN DO THE SEASONS CHANGE?

A Maya priestess conducts an autumn equinox ceremony at El Salvador's Cihuatan Archeological Park.
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The seasons have nothing to do with the Earth's distance from the Sun. Axial tilt is the reason for the seasons. The Sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer (66.5 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere) on June 21 or 22. When that occurs, the Northern Hemisphere is in the summer solstice. The days grow long and hot. As the year elapses, the days slowly get shorter and cooler as summer gives way to autumn. On September 21 or 22, the Sun's direct light has reached the equator. Days and night reach parity, and because the Sun is hitting the whole world head-on, every latitude experiences this simultaneously.

On December 21 or 22, the Sun is directly over the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere, meaning the Northern Hemisphere is receiving the least sunlight it will get all year. The Northern Hemisphere is therefore in winter solstice. Our days are short and nights are long. Parity will again be reached on March 21 or 22, the vernal equinox for the Northern Hemisphere, and the whole process will repeat itself.

Druids on London's Primrose Hill marking the autumn equinox.
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Now reverse all of this for the Southern Hemisphere. When we're at autumnal equinox, they're at vernal equinox. Happy first day of spring, Southern Hemisphere!

And welcome to fall, Northern Hemisphere! Enjoy this long day of sunlight, because dark days are ahead. You'll get less and less light until the winter solstice, and the days will grow colder. Take solace, though, in knowing that the whole world is experiencing the very same thing. Now it's the Southern Hemisphere's turn to get ready to spend some time at the beach.

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11 Sweet Facts About Rosh Hashanah
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The first Rosh Hashanah supposedly occurred in the Garden of Eden. But what does this important Jewish holiday involve today?

1. IT LITERALLY TRANSLATES AS "HEAD OF THE YEAR."

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, can fall any time between the fifth of September and the fifth of October on the Gregorian Calendar. On the Jewish calendar, it is the first day of the month of Tishrei and marks the start of the High Holy Days. These days are also known as the days of awe, ushering in the final phase of atonement. The holiday celebrates the anniversary of the creation of the world.

2. FOR THE MONTH BEFORE, JEWS ASK FOR FORGIVENESS FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY.

In order to have a clean slate going into the New Year, Jews ask for forgiveness from those close to them. The idea here is that God cannot forgive transgressions against people until those wronged have forgiven.

3. TRADITIONALLY, ROSH HASHANAH HAPPENS OVER TWO DAYS.

These days are combined into the yoma arichta, or "long day." At sunset on the first evening, candles are lit by the lady of the house. Then blessings are recited: a traditional holiday blessing over the candles, followed by the shehecheyanu, a thanksgiving prayer for special occasions. Both evenings also feature a festive meal.

4. UNLIKE DECEMBER 31, THE JEWISH NEW YEAR IS A TIME OF SERIOUS REFLECTION AND REPENTANCE.

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Even Jews who go to synagogue at no other time of year will often go on the high holidays, which include Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Religious poems called piyyutim are recited and a special high holy day prayer book called the machzor is used. The service is often longer than Sabbath services, and centers around the theme of God’s sovereignty, remembrance, and blasts of the shofar (see below).

5. DESPITE NOT BEING A HUGE PARTY, JEWS ARE EXPECTED TO ENJOY THE YOM TOV, OR HOLIDAY.

People often get fresh haircuts and new clothes in order to celebrate. The tradition is to wear white clothing as a sign of purity and renewal. Some avoid wearing red, since it's the color of blood.

6. ACCORDING TO THE TALMUD, ON ROSH HASHANAH, GOD INSCRIBES EVERYONE'S NAMES INTO ONE OF THREE BOOKS.

The metaphorical understanding is that good people go into the Book of Life, and evil ones into the Book of Death; those who are in the middle are put in an intermediate one and have judgment put off until Yom Kippur. Since virtually no one is all good or all evil, you're supposed to assume you fall somewhere in the middle, and in order to be inscribed in the Book of Life for the coming year, it is important to do everything possible to atone before Yom Kippur.

7. THE SOUNDING OF THE SHOFAR IS THE MOST ICONIC IMAGE OF THIS HOLIDAY.

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The shofar is a ram’s horn that is curved and bent. It is hollowed out and blown during religious ceremonies to make three different sounds. Hearing it is meant to call you to repent.

8. WHILE SOME JEWISH HOLIDAYS INVOLVE FASTING, ROSH HASHANAH INVOLVES A FEAST.

It is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey to represent having a sweet year ahead. A round challah bread symbolizes the cycle of the year (another interpretation is that it represents a crown and thus God’s sovereignty). Sometimes a fish, or just its head, is included, possibly to represent that as fish cannot survive without water, Jews cannot survive without the Torah. Pomegranates contain many seeds, which have long been associated with the commandments that Jews follow, so by eating them they remind themselves to be good in the coming year. Other common foods include dates, leeks, gourds, and black-eyed peas, all of which are mentioned in the Talmud as foods to eat on New Year’s.

9. SOME BRANCHES OF JUDAISM PARTICIPATE IN THE RITUAL OF TASHLIKH, OR "CASTING OFF."

The ritual involves standing near water, like a river, and reciting prayers. Then participants symbolically cast away their sins by throwing bread crumbs or stones into the water. This is supposedly derived from the Biblical passage “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19), although most Jewish sources trace it back to 15th century Germany. In New York City, large groups gather on the Brooklyn Bridge, while in Israel—where there is much less open water—people might use something as small as a fish pond.

10. THERE ARE VARIOUS TRADITIONAL GREETINGS FOR ROSH HASHANAH.

L'Shana Tova Tea-ka-tayvu is Hebrew for “May you be inscribed for a good year,” referring to that person’s name being put in the Book of Life. This is often shortened to Shana Tova, which just means “Good Year.” This isn’t to be confused with wishing each other a “Happy New Year.” Happy implies a level of superficiality, while the Jewish wish for a good year hopes the person will achieve their purpose.

11. THE HAVDALAH PRAYER IS PERFORMED AS NIGHT FALLS ON THE SECOND AND LAST DAY.

It involves saying blessings over a full cup of kosher wine or grape juice, although other drinks can be used in a pinch. After this, Rosh Hashanah is over.

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