10 Things You Might Not Know About Yom Kippur

Alexander Donin/iStock via Getty
Alexander Donin/iStock via Getty

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It is the second of the two "High Holy Days," following Rosh Hashanah at the beginning of that month.

It is the only major Jewish observance where those over the age of 13 are required to fast for an entire day. As with all Jewish holidays and observances, it begins in the evening and ends 25 hours later. The day is traditionally spent mostly in prayer, with sessions of Bible study and discussions. Pledges are made to each other, and to God, about being one’s best self.

1. Jews abstain from more than food.

The fast is not only from food and drink, but also from sexual relations, wearing leather, or using perfumes. In Biblical times, these last two items were marks of wealthier people, and so today humble dress, as well as humble attitudes, are part of the observance.

2. The full name is Yom Hakippurim, the Day of Atonements.

Technically, the name is plural. All the confessions are done as a community, and chanted in the first person plural: "We have sinned." This public ritual is said to create a supportive and bonding experience.

3. Forgiveness is a big theme.

In the days leading up to Yom Kippur, people have asked for forgiveness from all their loved ones. One cannot ask for God’s forgiveness, the main point of the day’s activities, until one has been forgiven by the humans involved.

4. There are some creative lists of sins.

There are several lists of sins, all in Hebrew alphabetical order, forming acrostics. In modernity, some very clever writers have translated them into English and largely kept the alphabetical order; for example, a recitation would go along the lines of "We have abused, betrayed, been cruel, destroyed, embittered others," etc. Almost all of these sins are about the ways people treat each other, not how they treat God: violence, rushing to judgment, lack of compassion, indifference to evil, etc.

5. In ancient times, it wasn't a great day for goats.

In the Biblical era, two goats were chosen by lotteries. One was ritually sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, and the other, as an act of purification, was driven off into the wilderness, and some say over a cliff. This was, of course, the "scape-goat."

6. There are some less-expected reasons for fasting.

In addition to fasting as a display of true repentance and to create a less worldly focus, the experience of truly being hungry is supposed to arouse maximum compassion for the poor. It is traditional to make a charitable donation of at least the amount one would have spent for one’s family that day.

7. It is the only holiday where the evening service starts before sundown.

This evening service has a special name: Kol Nidrei, which is also the name of the most important Yom Kippur evening prayer. In it, God is asked to annul and forgive all oaths made under pressure. This is a reference to the religious oaths made in eras when Jews were forced to convert, usually to Christianity, or die.

8. There's also a memorial candle-lighting.

Since the Holocaust, Jews light a memorial candle for the six million who perished, as well as for departed relatives.

9. Even the Torah gets a special outfit.

It is customary to wear all white as a symbol of purity and of a new start. Even the Torah scrolls have special white mantles (coverings) for the High Holy Days. Traditionally, men (and in modern times, women) wear a plain white robe over their clothing, called a kittel. This is worn again for the Passover seder, and is the garment in which they are later buried.

10. Dancing used to be involved.

It is said that in the Biblical era, during the late afternoon of Yom Kippur, the unmarried maidens would dance in the forest clearings, and the unmarried young men would watch, hoping to know which was meant to be his bride.

Aaugh! 10 Facts About It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Lee Mendelson hadn’t planned on a career in animation. But when television sponsors saw the filmmaker’s documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz, they asked if the two could team up to produce a Christmas special based on Schulz’s Peanuts strip. The result, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was seen by roughly half of all households watching television during its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965.

Mendelson went on to produce other Peanuts primetime specials, but 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains one of the most endearing. As you prepare annual sympathy for poor ol' Chuck (“I got a rock”), check out some facts about naked composers, vomiting voice actors, and CBS’s bizarre ultimatum.

1. The future of animated Peanuts specials depended on It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.


Warner Home Video

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez had very high aspirations for A Charlie Brown Christmas. When they screened it prior to its premiere, however, they felt it didn’t live up to its potential—and CBS agreed. The network said it was the last Peanuts special they would buy. But after it delivered huge ratings, CBS executives changed their minds and asked for more. When the two delivered another hit—the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars—they thought they had earned the network’s confidence.

Instead, CBS told them they needed a special that could run every year, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. If Mendelson couldn’t provide it, they told him they might not pick up an option for a fourth show. Despite Schulz and his collaborators being annoyed by the network's abrasive attitude, they hammered out a story with a seasonal clothesline that could be rerun in perpetuity.

2. The voice of Violet puked after every recording session.

It’s standard practice these days to use adult actors to mimic juvenile cartoon characters: adults are (presumably) better able to take direction and deliver a performance in line with the director’s wishes. But for many Peanuts specials, children were used to voice Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest. Anne Altieri, who portrayed both Violet and Frieda, was so nervous to be part of the show that she threw up every time she was done with a recording session.

3. It was the first time Lucy snatched the football from Charlie Brown.

In animated form, anyway. When Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez were brainstorming scene ideas for the special, talk turned to the fact that Lucy’s habit of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown had never been seen in animation. They also decided it would be a good time to introduce Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace. The joke had appeared in the strip, but Mendelson thought it would work even better in motion. He was right: the sequence with Snoopy in a doghouse dogfight is one of the most memorable in the Peanuts animated canon.

4. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is secretly about Santa.

The Great Pumpkin saga was adapted from Schulz’s newspaper strip, where he had conceived it as a metaphor for some of the hope (and disappointment) associated with Saint Nick. Schulz disliked the idea kids heard of a jolly fat man who delivered presents all over the world when he knew many families could only afford one or two gifts for the holidays. “The Great Pumpkin is really kind of a satire on Santa Claus,” he told Mendelson. “When [he] doesn’t come, Linus is crushed.”

5. The music composer was found naked by cops.


Warner Home Video

The jazzy scores of the early Peanuts specials were the work of composer Vince Guaraldi. When he was busy putting together “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” for the show, he decided to break for a shower. When he came out, he thought he heard noises outside and went to investigate, naked, and locked himself out in the process. Keyless, Guaraldi tried climbing a ladder to a second-floor window when cops spotted him. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I’m the Great Pumpkin.” Police, who were many months away from getting the joke, let him back inside.

6. A loose tooth almost ruined It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Kathy Steinberg was only 4 years old when she portrayed Sally for the first time in A Charlie Brown Christmas: her big break came when Mendelson, her neighbor, started work on the specials. While Steinberg had some limitations—like being too young to know how to read a script—things were going well until producers realized she was on the verge of losing a tooth. Fearing a lisp would ruin the voiceover work, they rushed to get her lines done. The day after finishing, the tooth fell out.

7. Kids sent Charlie Brown candy for years.

One of the most poignant moments of any Peanuts cartoon comes when downtrodden Charlie Brown opens his Halloween goodie sack and discovers he’s been given rocks instead of candy. According to Schulz, this so angered viewers that for years his California office was inundated with sacks of treats addressed to the character.

8. The original airings of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown were slightly different.

Production costs for the early Charlie Brown specials were subsidized by television sponsors Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison snack cakes: the brands appear at the beginning and end of the broadcast. The Coke “bug” appeared for several years before getting phased out.

9. CBS got a little salty about losing the rights to the special.

After spending decades at CBS, the rights to three holiday Peanuts installments went up for grabs in 2000. Though CBS could make the first offer, it was ABC who made the winning bid. Privately, CBS executives were not at all pleased about the business decision to take the football away. “It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one network employee anonymously told Variety.

10. Some scholars thought the Great Pumpkin was real.


Warner Home Video

A real myth, at any rate. Talking to the Schenectady Gazette in 1968, Schulz said that since the special began airing two years earlier, he had received a number of letters from academics wondering where the Great Pumpkin story had originated. “A number of professional scholars have written me about the origination of the legend,” he said. “They insist it must be based on something.” Schulz suggested they broach the topic with Linus instead.

This article originally ran in 2015.

Why Do We Wear Costumes on Halloween?

nito100/iStock via Getty Images
nito100/iStock via Getty Images

There’s no one explanation for how Halloween costumes originated. Much like the holiday itself, the practice of dressing up is the result of a hodgepodge of traditions from around the world.

Many historians suspect that the tradition has some basis in the Celtic festival of Samhain (also called Calan Gaeaf in Wales). Celebrated between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, Samhain marks the official start of winter—known to the Celts as the “dark season.” During Samhain, “the world of the gods was believed to be made visible to humankind,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

That wasn’t a comfort to the ancient Celts, who believed their deities were prone to playing tricks on human worshippers. Many festival participants disguised themselves as animals or beasts, hoping to hide from malevolent spirits who might bring them misfortune.

Move forward a few centuries and the modern-day practice of dressing up and trick-or-treating has its roots in the European custom of “mumming and guising.” Mummers would dress up in costumes, often woven from straw, and perform plays and songs for neighbors in exchange for food. Scottish and Irish immigrants brought that tradition to North America, where it later morphed into what we now know as trick-or-treating.

Halloween costumes didn’t experience their true heyday until the mid-1900s, though. For that, you can thank New York City entrepreneurs Ben and Nat Cooper, who started a company producing pop culture-themed costumes at a low cost. Ben Cooper, Inc., found a niche in helping kids become the characters they admired from television and comic books, often purchasing merchandising rights before said characters ever became popular. Due in no small part to the Cooper family’s innovation, Halloween costumes became an accessible and even necessary part of holiday festivities.

Today, Halloween costumes are big business. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend about $3.2 billion on costumes this year (of that, about half a billion will go to costuming pets). You have to wonder what the ancient Celts would have thought about today’s Halloween costumes.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER