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18 Black-and-White Facts About Clerks

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In addition to introducing a cringe-worthy new definition for the word “snowball,” the raunchy independent comedy Clerks projected the anxieties of America’s downwardly mobile Generation X onto the screens of arthouse cinemas around the world. As they endured the tedium of life behind a cash register, Dante Hicks and Randal Graves pondered the lack of romantic and vocational direction in their lives. Well, Dante did. Randal just watched Return of the Jedi and mocked customers. The black-and-white indie film, released in 1994, launched the career of writer-director Kevin Smith, who was 23 years old when it was produced, and introduced his iconic characters, Jay and Silent Bob. Here are 18 things you might not know about Clerks.

1. KEVIN SMITH MET SOME OF HIS KEY COLLABORATORS DURING A VERY BRIEF FILM SCHOOL TENURE.

After seeing an ad in The Village Voice, Smith applied to an eight-month program at the Vancouver Film School. He always aimed to make an independent film, in the vein of Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1991), but he dropped out halfway through the program. “We didn’t do anything practical,” Smith told Film School Rejects. “Mostly it was teachers showing us films.”

He did meet his longtime producer Scott Mosier and cinematographer Dave Klein at the school. Afterwards, both came to New Jersey to help him make Clerks. And Smith took something else away from his time in Vancouver: According to the making-of feature of Clerks X, the 10th anniversary DVD package of the film, Smith and Mosier debated the ethics of blowing up the two Death Stars in the cafeteria of the film school, inspiring one of Clerks’ most memorable bits of dialogue.

2. SMITH WAS A CLERK AT THAT VERY QUICK STOP.

Upon graduating from high school, Smith worked a series of low-wage jobs near his hometown of Highlands, New Jersey. One of his longest stints was as a cashier at the Quick Stop in Leonardo. “I know that world because that’s all I’ve ever done,” Smith said in the Clerks X featurette. Upon returning from Vancouver, he was rehired by the Quick Stop and began working on the script for Clerks. He based Dante on himself and Randal on his friend, Bryan Johnson, who worked at RST Video next door.

3. SMITH MAXED OUT HIS CREDIT CARDS TO MAKE THE FILM.

Smith sold his comic book collection, received donations from family, and contributed a $3000 FEMA check from the loss of property in a nor’easter to make Clerks. But most of its $27,575 budget came from the 10 credit cards he maxed out. He learned about budgeting from Filmmaker Magazine; one article was particularly helpful because it included line item budgets of three independent movies.

4. THE FILM WAS ORIGINALLY A VEHICLE FOR SMITH’S HIGH SCHOOL COMEDY TROUPE.

Smith formed a comedy troupe in high school and wrote the part of Randal for himself and Dante for former troupe mate Ernest O’Donnell (even though Dante was the clerk Smith based on himself). But O’Donnell didn’t seem to take the project seriously, according to Clerks X.

Smith realized he’d exhaust himself working both as the director and one of the main characters, so he recruited actors from the local community theater scene. This is how he met Brian O’Halloran (Dante) and Marilyn Ghigliotti (Veronica). Jeff Anderson was a friend who helped Smith during auditions by reading parts opposite the actors auditioning. When Smith decided to vacate the part of Randal, he offered it to Anderson and took on the less demanding role of Silent Bob. O’Donnell was cast as a fitness-obsessed customer.

5. FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, AND CREW FILLED OUT THE SMALL PARTS.

Smith’s sister, Virginia, is the customer who discusses her job of manually inseminating chickens. His mom is the woman sorting through the jugs of milk for one with a later expiration date. His longtime friend Walt Flanagan played four different customers; Scott Mosier played two.

6. IT WAS SHOT AT NIGHT.

The owner of the Quick Stop and RST Video gave Smith permission to film at night. Clerks was shot over 21 consecutive days in 1993, after the stores closed. (Smith wrote a plot point to explain the lack of window lighting. When Dante opens the store, he discovers a vandal has jammed gum into the locks on the shutters.) Each night Smith and his crew had to essentially disassemble the store, moving shelving and unplugging refrigerators to make room for equipment, then reassemble everything the next morning, according to Clerks X.

The cast all worked day jobs, too: O’Halloran in manufacturing, Anderson in the mailroom of AT&T, Ghigliotti as a hair stylist, Mewes as a roofer, and Smith in the very store where they filmed. All suffered from sleep deprivation. The cast and crew did get to eat from the shelves of the Quick Stop; the store is credited with “catering” in the film’s credits.

7. SMITH PLANNED AHEAD TO GET A SHOT OF A CAT DEFECATING.

In one scene, the cat that hangs around the store leaps onto the counter and defecates into a litter box in front of a customer. According to the DVD commentary track, Smith borrowed a friend’s cat for the scene. The owner hid his litter box for a day, hoping he’d rush to it as soon as it was presented on the store counter. This worked. When presenting the film at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival, Smith joked that this is why Clerks didn’t have the Humane Society’s “no animals were harmed …” seal of approval.

8. ANDERSON WAS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH ONE BIT OF DIALOGUE.

In the only scene in which Randal does any work, the clerk phones the distributor for the video store and reads off a list of colorful pornography titles in front of a small child. Knowing that his mother would see the film, Anderson asked Smith to eliminate a few of the raunchier titles; Smith made handed the list back to Anderson—with a few titles added.

9. SMITH COULDN’T AFFORD TO SHOOT ONE SCENE HE WROTE.

Dante and Randal close the stores to attend the funeral of a classmate. In the next scene, mourners pelt them with stones as they drive off. Back at the store, Dante chides Randal for knocking over the casket. This scene where this happened was scripted: When Randal gets bored at the funeral, Dante throws him the keys to his car, which land in the cleavage of the deceased. Randal tries to retrieve them and gets assaulted by the grieving father. Smith couldn’t afford to rent a funeral home, but for Clerks X, he recreated the scene in the style of the short-lived animated Clerks TV show.

10. JASON MEWES WAS SURPRISINGLY CAMERA SHY.

Smith wrote the part of Jay, the much more vocal half of the loitering pair of drug dealers, for his friend Jason Mewes, who was known for his loud, outrageous behavior. “When we did Clerks I was 18/19,” Mewes told The Skinny. “That’s how I used to act, exactly. I didn’t have any filter.” Yet Mewes was surprisingly uncomfortable in front of the camera.

“Kevin used to make fun of me because he said when he met me that someone should put me in a movie,” Mewes told The Sheaf. “But when I got on camera, man, I just froze and needed everyone out of there. I warmed up to it eventually but that wasn’t really until Mallrats.” In order to help ease his nervousness, the crew continually bought him six-packs from the corner bar. Smith also cleared the set to film the scene when Jay dances to a boom box. In the script, Jay says the line that convinces Dante to try to salvage his relationship with Veronica. (“You know, there’s a million fine-looking women in the world, dude. But they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Most of them just cheat on you.”) Mewes didn’t think he could deliver it, so Smith stepped in. This begat a theme in Smith’s films where Silent Bob speaks up at important moments.

11. IT LED TO A MARRIAGE.

Sparks flew between Anderson and Lisa Spoonauer, who played Dante’s ill-fated ex Caitlin. Shortly after the three-week shoot, the two became engaged. Neither the marriage nor Spoonauer’s acting ambitions outlasted the 1990s though: She has only one other film credit to her name, an obscure 1997 movie called Bartender. Anderson, to whom she stayed married until 1999, says she quit acting after losing out on a part in a Nicolas Cage film. She hasn’t been interviewed since and didn’t participate in the DVD bonuses for Clerks X.

12. NO ONE SHOWED UP TO THE PREMIERE.

Smith secured a place for Clerks at the 1993 Independent Feature Film Market, an event held at New York City’s Angelika Film Center. On the Clerks X featurette, Smith said he was “crestfallen” that the Sunday night screening attracted few viewers beyond cast and crew. Fortunately, one of the moviegoers was Bob Hawk, an independent film consultant who served on the advisory selection committee of the Sundance Film Festival. Hawk touted the film to friends in the indie cinema world and helped land it a place at Sundance.

13. IN THE ORIGINAL VERSION, DANTE DIES.

In the version shown at the IFFM, a robber comes in after closing and shoots and kills Dante. “I hated that ending,” Brian O’Halloran told Rolling Stone. “I just thought it was too quick of a twist.” Smith admitted he didn’t know how to end the film. Due to the criticism of several early viewers, Smith recut the film to end at the closing of the store.

14. HARVEY WEINSTEIN DIDN’T LIKE THE MOVIE ... AT LEAST NOT AT FIRST.

A video copy of Clerks made its way to Miramax. According to Clerks X, company co-founder Harvey Weinstein watched 10 minutes and decided to pass on it. Some of his staff speculated that Weinstein, then a heavy smoker, was turned off by the gum company representative’s anti-tobacco tirade. Younger Miramax staffers, however, enjoyed it and convinced Weinstein to attend its screening at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival.

After an enthusiastic audience response, Weinstein asked Smith and Mosier to meet him at a restaurant across the street. “We sit down and he’s just like, ‘Boy, that’s a f*cking good movie. We’re going to take that movie, we’re going to put it in a f*cking multiplex, put a f*cking soundtrack on it, and f*cking kids are gonna come see it,’” Smith recounted to WIRED. “And me and Scott were just like, ‘F*ckin’ A, man.’”

15. THE SOUNDTRACK COST MORE THAN THE FILM.

Once it was picked up by Miramax, Clerks got an alt-rock soundtrack featuring Bad Religion, Stabbing Westward, and Soul Asylum. Licensing the songs cost more than producing the film.

16. ONE OF O.J. SIMPSON’S ATTORNEYS DEFENDED IT TO THE MPAA.

The Motion Picture Association of America slapped Clerks with an NC-17 rating, solely because of its crass dialogue. This would have doomed the film, as few theaters show films rated NC-17. So Miramax hired famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz to plead their case to the MPAA, which relented and gave it an R rating.

17. THE QUICK STOP IS STILL OPERATING.

You can still buy eggs, milk, and cigarettes at The Quick Stop at 58 Leonard Avenue in Leonardo, New Jersey. There is some Smith memorabilia on the walls and fans have been known to take photographs posing as Jay and Silent Bob outside. However, RST Video—like many video stores in the age of Netflix—is no more.

18. THE FILM IS CITED IN A PSYCHOLOGIST’S BOOK ON GENERATIONS.

Dr. Jean M. Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University, cites Clerks a few times in her pop culture-savvy 2006 book Generation Me, about the more individualistic mores of Americans born since the 1970s. She says Smith’s characters represent Generation X’s crassness and disregard for societal expectations. Twenge considers Clerks “a pretty accurate illustration of how young people talk, with about two swear words in every line.”

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
CARL DE SOUZA, AFP/Getty Images

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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