Around The Web

This is the first installment of something I’m trying out.  I’d like to share some nerdy links with you guys, and I’ve been collecting them this week.  Here goes.


This is in no way a nerdy link, I just really like this picture of my dog.


Perfect for this time of year, The Evolving Face of Santa from Smithsonian Magazine.  Not only does this have a cool slideshow of past Santa images, but it gives you a basic intro to Santa in the US.

Why do we wear white wedding dresses?  Because Queen Victoria did.  Try explaining this one to your very old-fashioned grandmother, I dare you.

Did Civil War soldiers suffer from PTSD?  I’d wager that most historians, or anyone who’s ever studied the Civil War in an academic setting would say yes, this is not surprising.  But I’m quite glad it’s being talked about, because it may help to remove some of the stigma from modern cases of PTSD.


The Pantheon has withstood an awful lot of earthquakes, invasions, and weather over the last two thousand years.  How?  Apparently, it’s all about volcanic ash.

The oldest organized town in Scandinavia might be even older than anyone thought, from Archaeology Magazine.

Also, archaeologists have identified the oldest dated bronze item in Britain: a dagger found in 1989.  It was found with Racton Man, who stood more than six feet tall, and was older than 45 when he died.


Just For Fun
Things We Believe In Our Twenties That Aren’t Actually True – from Business Insider

How To Roast Tomatoes (do you know how long this task has been put off in my Any.Do?  DO YOU?  No, you probably don’t.  At least 45 days).

The Orphan Black Season 3 trailer is here!  Let’s freak out together!

Scorch Marks: A Poem



Halloween: A History

Happy Halloween!


Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and a big part of that was knowing the history of Halloween.  Thanks to an incredible movie called The Halloween Tree (it’s also a book!) I learned a lot about the history of Halloween and associated traditions.  In honor of my favorite holiday, let’s dive into the history of Halloween.

Halloween: A History

Before Halloween was a holiday for children to dress up like monsters and gather candy, or a holiday for adults to wear skimpy and/or ironic costumes to party, Halloween was All Hallow’s Eve.  All Hallow’s Eve, also known as All Saints’ Eve, comes the night before All Saints’ Day, a day to remember your dead.


But even before it was a Catholic holiday, Halloween was Samhain, a Celtic holiday celebrating the harvest and remembering the dead.  Because of the transitional nature of the season, going from summer into winter, celebrants believed that faeries, and the souls of the dead, could cross into the human world with ease.  These faeries weren’t the Disney kind though.  These faeries were malicious and mischievous, and in order to protect yourself and your family, you had to make offerings to them to keep them from, say, burning down your cottage.


People would light bonfires to keep away the evil spirits, and wear masks to disguise themselves within their ranks.  Although let’s be real, the “ranks” were probably just other celebrants.  (But isn’t it fun to imagine it was a bunch of faeries and demons and ghosts wandering around Ireland?)  Trick or treating began as a threat, that if you didn’t offer these faeries and other evil spirits a treat, they would play a trick.

Happy Halloween

When Christianity swept into the region Christian priests and missionaries appropriated Halloween, among other holidays, to facilitate easier conversion of the locals.  Ironically enough, later Christians rejected the holiday as pagan, from Puritans in the sixteenth century to modern fundamentalists who use “Hell Houses” to try to prevent sinning.


Because of the puritans and other sects who rejected Halloween, it faded to the background until waves of immigration from Ireland and Scotland brought the holiday back.  By the early twentieth century Halloween had once again become a mainstream holiday.  Complete with creepy children’s costumes ca. 1950s.


Of course, the United States isn’t the only place that celebrates October 31.  Many places celebrate the Catholic holiday, and many others celebrate local traditions.  The most famous is, of course, Día de Muertos – the Day of the Dead.  Because I have never celebrated Día de Muertos and I don’t want to accidentally insult celebrants, let me direct you to some great resources to learn more.

This Halloween, I’ll be watching spooky movies, listening to Dracula on audiobook, playing in the leaves with my dog, and probably not handing out candy as there are like 2 children in my neighborhood.  For more Halloween check out my All Hallows Reads recommendations, and the Legend of the Jack O’Lanterns.

Jack O Lanterns: The Legend

Jack O Lanterns, one of the most visible parts of American Halloween, have an interesting folklore.

The Jack O'Lantern Legend

According to Irish legend, a man named Jack had a drink with the Devil, tricked him into becoming a coin so that Jack could pay for the drink, but slipped the coin-Devil into his pocket beside a silver cross, which prevented the coin-Devil from turning back into his own form.  When Jack let him go, he made a deal with the Devil to prevent the Devil from collecting his soul.  Jack then made several of these deals, year by year, until he died.

Legend has it that, being the type of man who makes repeated deals with the Devil, Jack was not welcome in Heaven, but neither was he able to enter Hell because of his deals with the Devil.  So he was forced to walk the Earth for all eternity, and he had only a burning coal to light his way.  Being a resourceful man, Jack put the coal into a hollowed-out turnip to create a lantern.  He became known in folklore as Jack of the Lantern – or Jack O’Lantern.  People began carving lanterns into turnips or potatoes and putting them in windows to keep away the trickster Jack of the Lantern.

When Irish colonists came to North America they found pumpkins, which were native to North America, and began carving them.  Since pumpkins are fall fruits, and creepy stories became associated with Halloween, Jack O Lanterns became a halloween tradition.  Just don’t go looking for them on old country roads, or you might end up selling your own soul and taking Jack’s place!

For more Halloween spirit check out yesterday’s All Hallows Read recommendations, and tomorrow’s Halloween History lesson.  (For more about Jack O’Lanterns, see here).


Saint Patrick’s Day

Sláinte!  Being partly Irish, St. Paddy’s has always been a big deal for me, so for this year I did some historical research about St. Patrick himself.

Saint Patrick was born in Roman Britain, the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest.  This was not unusual given that the celibacy aspect of priesthood is a fairly recent addition to the priestly oaths.  There are multiple accounts of where he was from, so no one knows exactly where.  Some accounts suggest Cumbria, while others say either Wales or Scotland.  He was captured at 16 by Irish pirates, and pressed into slavery.  Before he was captured he was not, himself, religious or spiritual, despite coming from a line of religious men.  However, according to Saint Patrick’s own writings in The Confession he became a religious believer during the six years he spent herding sheep during captivity.  After those six years, he heard a voice telling him to flee, and he did.  When he reached the coastline he found a sailor who was willing to return him to Britain.  

Saint Patrick

Years later, he had a vision of a saint handing him a letter addressing Patrick as ‘The Voice of the Irish’ and pleading with him to return to Ireland to preach to the Irish.  

I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

While in Ireland, Patrick converted thousands, according to his own writings.  Everyone knows the story of St. Patrick using the clover to explain the holy trinity, and that he drove the snakes from Ireland.  But I’ve read some historians’ interpretations that this was a metaphor for driving the pagans from Ireland or converting them.  This would pick up on the serpent imagery used in the Old Testament when referring to the devil.  

Children’s stories of the holiday make it seem that this was a simple task, but he raised a lot of controversy among the Irish people by converting the sons of kings, converting women who then became nuns against family opposition, and by not accepting gifts.  Gift-giving was, before the modern period, a way of tying people together, and keeping their loyalties.  Patrick also had trouble in Ireland because he was not himself Irish.  

Saint Patrick wrote a lot about his time in Ireland, and about all of the controversies and struggles involved.  However, since he was writing about himself, he was biased.  Other writings cast him in a stricter, harsher light, and claimed that he accepted gifts only from female converts, although Patrick claimed that he accepted no gifts, and that he paid special attention to his female converts.  The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  

One twelfth century story claims that Saint Patrick met two ancient warriors of the Fianna.  According to legend Patrick tried to convert them to Christianity and in doing so the story compares the two lifestyles: pagan warrior, and peaceful Christian.  

Saint Patrick's Grave

St. Patrick’s Grave in Downpatrick

When Saint Patrick died, on March 17, there was a battle for his body.  When the two groups who wanted the body for themselves arrived to fight, the river flooded, and when it subsided, they worked out their differences and each went away believing that they had won.  According to legend, the flood and subsequent peaceful resolution was the direct work of God.  

Along with Saint Brigid, Saint Patrick is considered one of the patron saints of Ireland and the Irish people both in Ireland and abroad.  

For further reading about St. Patrick, click here.