How the American Civil War Cemented Modern Christmas Traditions

Alena Kuzmina/Shutterstock.com Christmas tends to assume a strong sense of its own significance in times of protracted conflict. By Dr. David Anderson / 12.22.2016 Senior Lecturer in American History Swansea University Shortly before Christmas Day 1864, Abraham Lincoln received an extraordinary Christmas present – Savannah, Georgia. Union General William Sherman presented the captured city to the president[…]

Schnapps, Whipping, and Sacks: How Christmas Traditions Evolved around the World

In the Netherlands, the tradition goes that Sinterklaas lives in Madrid, wears a red clerical robe and a bishop’s mitre, and has servants called ‘Zwarte Pieten’ (Black Peters). from www.shutterstock.com The celebration of Christmas has distinct variations around the world, with many of these local traditions arising from particular historical circumstances. By Dr. Carole Cusack / 12.21.2015 Professor of Religious Studies University of Sydney Christmas[…]

What Hanukkah’s Portrayal in Pop Culture Means to American Jews

Hanukkah demands fewer religious rituals than most other Jewish observances. Golden Pixels LLC Despite the primacy of Christmas in American culture, the visibility of Hanukkah in pop culture reminds Jews that they have their own holiday in which they can take pride. By Dr. Ted Merwin / 12.05.2017 Part-Time Associate Professor of Religion Director, The Milton B. Asbell Center for Jewish Life (2001) Dickinson College When I was[…]

How Hannukah Came to America

In the United States, Hanukkah has gained much significance. Tercer Ojo Photography/Shutterstock.com Hanukkah is ranked one of Judaism’s minor festivals. It’s popularity in the U.S. has a lot to do with the country’s history. By Dr. Dianne Ashton / 12.02.2018 Professor of Religion Rowan University Hanukkah may be the best known Jewish holiday in the United States. But despite[…]

The Murky Origins of the Annual Presidential Turkey Pardon

So when exactly did presidents begin pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey? By Dr. Suzy Evans, J.D. / 06.29.2018 Historian and Attorney Some historians say that the origins of the National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation date back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad begged his dad to spare the life of a wild turkey that had been sent to the[…]

The Forgotten History of Memorial Day

Preparing to decorate graves, May 1899. Library of Congress Memorial Day, a holiday that began 150 years ago, was born out of generous gestures after the Civil War: Southerners decorated graves of Confederate soldiers as well as those offormer Union enemies. By Dr. Richard Gardiner / 05.25.2018 Associate Professor of History Education Columbus State University In the years following the bitter Civil War, a former[…]

Memorial Day in America

The amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery just across the Memorial Bridge from Washington, DC / Photo by Steve, Wikimedia Commons The day commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in military service to their country. Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 05.27.2018 Historian Brewminate Editor-in-Chief Introduction Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last[…]

Ten Things to Know about the Real St. Patrick

Saint Patrick. Thad Zajdowicz By Dr. Lisa Bitel / 01.16.2018 Professor of History and Religion Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences University of Southern California On March 17, people around the world will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by parading in green hats, sporting images of shamrocks and leprechauns – tiny, grinning, fairy men – pinned to their lapels. Patrick’s[…]

Measuring Time in Different Cultures

01.12.2016 Measuring Time The obelisk and Pylon at Luxor / Photo by Steve F-E-Cameron, Wikimedia Commons Scientifically, the year is a complete cycle of seasons. A year is when the earth completes one full orbit of the sun. Its length is measured from one spring equinox to the next spring equinox. Measuring the time of year[…]

An Anthropologist Explains Why We Love Holiday Rituals and Traditions

Working together on a once-a-year project feels festive and special. Flotsam/Shutterstock.com By Dr. Dimitris Xygalatas / 12.12.2017 Assistant Professor in Anthropology University of Connecticut The mere thought of holiday traditions brings smiles to most people’s faces and elicits feelings of sweet anticipation and nostalgia. We can almost smell those candles, taste those special meals, hear those[…]

What Kwanzaa Means for Black Americans

Kwanzaa celebrations. Black Hour, CC BY-NC By Dr. Frank Dobson / 12.20.2017 Associate Dean of Students Vanderbilt University On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa[…]

The Holiday-Suicide Myth and the Intractability of Popular Falsehoods

James Stewart and Donna Reed in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA By Dr. Dan Romer / 12.21.2017 Research Director Annenberg Public Policy Center University of Pennsylvania For years, the media have reported that more suicides occur during the holidays than at any other time. Many of these stories, no doubt, are meant to help people cope[…]

Seven Global Christmas Food Traditions

Japanese Christmas cakes in production in Nagoya, Japan. (Photo: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images) By Kevin Pang / 12.21.2017 Editor-in-Chief The Takeout Certain dishes are obligatory on the American Christmas dinner table—ham, mashed potatoes, pie, gingerbread. But why not baby back ribs? Battered shrimp? Why isn’t there Christmas chili mac? Tradition comforts, but tradition[…]

During the Holidays, Giving Gifts to the Dead Can Help You Cope with Grief

A toy truck left at a tombstone in a Montreal cemetery. Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock.com By Dr. Jenna Drenten / 12.20.2017 Assistant Professor of Marketing Loyola University Chicago Every December, my family decorates two Christmas trees: one for our living room and one for the cemetery, where my sister is buried. She died when she was 15 years[…]

Why Do We Wrap Presents?

Buppha Wuttifery/Getty Images Wrapping paper is a striptease that hides and reveals, transforming otherwise ordinary objects into gifts. By Chip Colwell / 12.19.2017 The holiday season is here. That means presents under Christmas trees, next to menorahs, accompanying Kwanzaa candles, traded at white elephant parties. All of these gifts, despite the sweeping breadth of beliefs[…]

A Candid History of Christmas: First There was Winter

Ave, Caesar! Io, Saturnalia! (1880) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1880, with the Praetorian Guard hailing Claudius (veiling himself in a curtain) as the new emperor after the assassination of Caligula. / Akron Art Museum, Wikimedia Commosn By Dr. Bruce David Forbes Chair, Philosophy and Religious Studies Department Morningside College To understand what Christmas has become, first we should consider winter. For the moment,[…]

How Advertising Shaped Thanksgiving as We Know It

Libby’s continues to fiercely compete with pumpkin pie peddlers Borden’s, Snowdrift and Mrs. Smith’s for a place on the Thanksgiving table. Jean Beaufort By Dr. Samantha N.N. Cross / 11.20.2017 Associate Professor of Marketing Iowa State University I have always been intrigued by Thanksgiving – the traditions, the meal, the idea of a holiday that is[…]

How the Dead Danced with the Living in Medieval Society

Detail of figures from the Dance Macabre, Meslay-le-Grenet, from late 15th-century France. Ashby Kinch, CC BY By Dr. Ashby Kinch / 10.29.2017 Professor of English The University of Montana In the Halloween season, American culture briefly participates in an ancient tradition of making the world of the dead visible to the living: Children dress as skeletons, teens go[…]

Tricking and Treating has a History

Halloween parade in New York. AP Photo/Andres Kudacki By Dr. Regina Hansen / 10.25.2017 Senior Lecturer in Rhetoric Boston University Over the past few decades, Halloween celebrations have gained in popularity, not only with children and families, but with all those fascinated with the spooky and scary. As a scholar of myth and religion in popular culture, I look at[…]