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The Crazy Origins of Modern Holidays

The Crazy Origins of Modern Holidays

Nothing stays the same over time, and when it comes to some holiday traditions, that’s certainly true. Look back far enough, and some of our favorite holidays are barely recognizable. And in a few cases, it looks like some really cool stuff got abandoned along the way that maybe deserves a second look.


How We Do It Today: Halloween’s the night for celebrating the macabre, for ghosts and monsters and the undead. We all get to dress up as various pop culture personalities or bad jokes or sexy whatevers and party, while children go trick-or-treating and there’s also pumpkins because it’s fall and pumpkin-flavored things are delicious.

The Lost, Secret Origin: Much of Halloween is derived from the ancient Gaelic celebration of Samhain, which is pronounced “sawin” because that’s how Gaelic works. Samhain marked the beginning of the darker half of the year, a.k.a. winter. It was a night when a doorway to the afterlife was open, allowing the spirits of the dead to return and walk among us. But it was also the end of the harvest season, and involved the lighting of great bonfires and slaughtering livestock for winter.

So?: Bonfires? Slaughtered livestock? Guys… we should be grilling! Barbecues are awesome, and there’s no reason for them to be strictly relegated to summer holidays like Independence Day and Memorial Day.


How We Do It Today: Valentine’s is the day for love! Treat your sweetie to something nice, like a romantic candle-lit dinner. Get them some flowers, or chocolates, or chalky candy hearts that say “I WUV U.” And if you don’t have a sweetie, well, you can always get the chocolates and chalky hearts for yourself and eat them while weeping in the dark. That’s how we usually do it!

The Lost, Secret Origin: The holiday we celebrate on February 14th honors St. Valentine, who was martyred for conducting illegal Christian weddings during the time of the Roman Empire, when the whole religion was banned by the authorities. But way back before Christianity, the 14th of February was the celebration of Lupercalia, the holiday honoring the mythical she-wolf Lupa, who had nursed Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. During Lupercalia, goats and dogs would be ritually sacrificed, after which men dressed only in goatskins would run around the old city, smiling, laughing, and whipping anyone in their path with straps made from the hides of the sacrificed goats and dogs.

So?: So this could be fun, right? This Valentine’s Day, tell your sweetie to meet you in the old part of town. You’ll be the guy running around in goatskins with a whip. I’m sure once you explain the history of Lupercalia, she (and the police) will be much more understanding.


How We Do It Today: Three words: Cadbury’s Creme Eggs. Also painting eggs fun colors and hunting for eggs and there’s a bunny. And I guess some people go to church, too, to observe the resurrection of Jesus.

The Lost, Secret Origin: Just like Christmas with its trees and jolly elves, much of the Easter symbolism comes from pre-Christian pagan traditions that were then incorporated into the holiday as Christianity spread. So all those eggs and rabbits? They all come from an ancient Anglo-Saxon spring festival for the goddess Eostre, who represented youth and fertility. The eggs represent new life, and the rabbits represent the one thing rabbits are known for that isn’t eating carrots or hopping.

So?: So if we’re going to celebrate Valentine’s Day like Lupercalia, we can now move all the old Valentine’s celebrations to Easter. This is also a perfectly good excuse to buy yourself an extra two months if you forget about Valentine’s.


How We Do It Today: Cinco de Mayo is just like St. Patrick’s Day, only Mexican instead of Irish! It’s the day we all get to celebrate Mexican culture, eat Mexican food, and responsibly sip tequila.

The Lost, Secret Origin: Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day. That’s in September. Cinco de Mayo is actually a military holiday celebrating the Battle of Puebla. In 1861, France, then ruled by Napoleon III, thought to take advantage of a weak and broke Mexican government and invaded, planning to conquer Mexico and give the French Empire a stronghold in North America. But even though the French army was both larger and better-equipped, the Mexican army fought them off, winning decisively at Puebla on May 5, 1862. Now, had the French succeeded in conquering Mexico, Napoleon III also had plans to use Mexico as a base to supply and assist the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, which could have seriously changed how that particular kerfuffle worked itself out.

So?: So this Cinco de Mayo, let’s take a moment to contemplate the myriad twists and turns history can take, and how in another timeline, “Mexican food” could be croissants and the U.S. may have split into two separate countries. You can contemplate all these things while enjoying a burrito.

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Tags: holidays, valentine's day, halloween, easter, life, cinco de mayo

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