Monday, March 29, 2010

April Fools Day...WHAT IS IT?

We associate April Fool's day with partaking in practical jokes and generally having a bit of fun.  However, WHY do we do such silly things on this particular day?

Several reasons are probably contributing factors to such silliness and fun. It is seen by some folk as a celebration of the turn of the seasons...getting out of our system all of the winter's woes and enjoying the coming of Spring with all the fresh new plants, colors and sunshine. On the other hand, it may also have something to do some history of the adoption of a new calendar system.

Let me explain...

Originally, New Year's Day in most early cultures was near April 1st, closely related to the vernal equinox. The Romans and the Hindus celebrated New Year's Day at this time. Medieval Europe celebrated March 25th, the Feast of Anunciation, as the beginning of the new year.

Here is where the bugaboo comes in though. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar, now known as the Gregorian Calendar, to replace the old Julian Calendar because it was generally more accurate. The Gregorian Calendar had New Year's Day as January 1st. That very year, France adopted the Gregorian Calendar as the official calendar that shifted New Years to January 1st.

The problem arised when many folk chose to refuse the new date for New Years or apparently didn't know of the new date and, therefore, continued to celebrate New Years on April 1st instead of January 1st.

Those enlightened folk "in the know" made fun of the the either traditionalists or those who weren't aware of the change. After all, news back in those days traveled a tad more slowly than it does in our modern day. These folks were subject to a bit of ridicule as a result. Apparently, the practice spread throughout Europe until everyone knew of the change. Since that probably took many years, the practice became a habit and was celebrated as a time of practical jokes, fun and otherwise trying to trick someone into believing something that wasn't true.

Now this fun little story may not be completely true since this calendar was initially introduced in only France at first. It didn't actually reach England until 1752! Funny thing was that the April Fool's Day was already a well-established occurence in England BEFORE the change in the calendar.

Another possibility of the April Fool's origin is that near April, the Romans had a festival called Hilaria on March 25th that was a joyful time of the resurrection of Attis, originally the Phrygian god of vegetation; I guess that sort've makes sense since it is Spring time and new plants are shooting forth out of the ground.

April Fools in this day and age has no real practical purpose other than to have a bit of fun with it.

So, enjoy the day!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Time for Some Serious Irish-ness!!! On Being Irish

Are you Irish? During this time of year, a lot of folk consider themselves Irish, or want to be Irish, or wish they were Irish or want to live with the Irish (whatever THAT means...........)

Ahem...anyway, I've recently discovered that I'm just a tad more Irish than I ever thought I was.  My brother has done several years of research on our family ancestry and has come up with some interesting facts. I've gone a few steps further and researched a few facts that he chose not to and discovered some general fun little facts about my ancestry.

Prior to my brother's research, my family past was a bunch of scattered little tidbits that had little meaning, facts or background to support any of of the rumors and hearsays. My father had almost no information on his family since his own mother died when he was nine years old. His father was left needing to deal with a recently passed on wife, a dead infant and now five living children on his own. Apparently, he did the best that he could do in a crisis situation and fostered out his children to what he considered a safe environment for them.

My father was taken to a dairy farm near El Centro, California where his mother and sister passed away, and fostered in by his aunt and her current husband there. As for the girls, (my father's sisters), he took them back to Oklahoma and Texas to family there and had aunts and cousins care for them.

I'm not so sure that my father ever really knew that the woman that took him in and cared for him was his aunt. He seldom spoke of her and never referred to her as his aunt. It was only after my brother did research did I find that this was actually a family member.

This bit if information only serves to support the idea that we knew so little about our family. As a result, I believe my father made up stories to give himself a "place" of importance in his life. He had always told us kids that we were Irish...for the most part, and our relatives lived in County Cork, Ireland. His mother was Pennsylvania Dutch and Cherokee Indian. His father was Irish and Cherokee.

That couldn't have been further from the truth.

On my mother's side, she also knew very little about her heritage other than that her parents came from Manchester, England, emigrated to Canada a few years after the turn of the century. My aunt was born in Canada. Then, they continued from Canada to southern California here in the U.S. where my mother was born. My grandfather died before I was born, but my grandmother lived in Los Angeles, on  Flower St. for years in an old turn of the century mansion that had been converted to apts along with a bunch of other mansions in the area before they were torn down. We used to travel by bus to Los Angeles then take a short tram called "Angels Flight" to the downtown neighborhood. The rest of the way, we would walk up a steep hill until we got to "grandma's house".

My grandma used to give me all kinds of costume jewelry that she no longer wore. Much of it was cheaply made from the turn of the century. Old-fashioned and beautiful! It was quite Victorian appearing and I still have many of those pieces even though many of them are in sad shape with pieces missing, clasps broken or otherwise un-wearable. My grandma never really spoke much about her life prior to coming to the U.S. to anyone, which gives me the idea that her life was not pleasant prior to that. She married a man who was many years her senior and apparently sickly. He died at a fairly young age, apparently of tuberculosis. Yet, it strikes me odd that my mother had many tests for TB exposure and never tested positive for being exposed to it. Questions, questions...

Now that both sides of my family are in place with little information about their past, we only hear stories and hearsays about our ancestry. My grandmother stated a few times that she thought she had some German blood, but seldom spoke about it. Our researched family history does not support that claim.

So, all these years, I always thought I was some weird conglomeration of Irish, English, Dutch, Cherokee Indian and a "spot" of German.

The only thing true about the above sentence was that I was Irish and English. I have no idea where the rest came from!

We discovered that on my dad's side of the family that we are Scottish, Irish and Welsh; and given some of the names that pop up in the family history, some Viking explorers and plunderers made their way into the mix.

On my mom's side, we were primarily English for hundreds of years, with some Scottish entering into the picture now and again. I haven't had the chance to explore all the family names that have entered into the picture from as far back as Queen Elizabeth anyway.

For what I DO know is that my family on my dad's side comes from a peninsula in Scotland (the Kintyre peninsula) and that my family name means "son of the carpenter". This area is part of the kingdom of Dalriada from as far back as the 5th century A.D. Dalriada apparently was on both the Irish and Scottish side and is, more or less, modern day Argyleshire. My family heritage has some interesting stories about sailing to the Kintyre peninsula and coming across the Scottish Campbell clan. They wanted to settle on Campbell territory, so the Campbells decided that was OK but that my clan had to pay rent, so to speak, by presenting their clan with a snowball every Spring from the Scottish Highlands. That they did for years and apparently were very close in loyalty to one another over the centuries. In my clan's tartan, there is a small white thread that goes through that supposedly represents that "snowball".

Fun story! Is it true? I'm really not sure. But, it is probably a bit more true than us being Cherokee Indian!

Now, the Kintyre peninsula is in modern day Scotland, a long piece of land that lies just north of Ireland and about as close to Ireland as you can get; but the kingdom of Dalriada (or Dalridia and a whole of other ways to spell it) was also in northern Ireland. It appears that my family seems more bent on the Irish end of this area rather than the Scottish end. No matter though. They seemed to have crossed back and forth pretty freely. So, am I Scottish, or am Irish? I think it is a nice comglomeration of the two, since the Irish (AKA Scotti in ancient times) and Scots seem to wander back and forth. Our family seems to have a lot of "Pict" heritage based on the location of where they came from on my dad's side of the family.

Except for an occasional Scottish name showing up, my mother's side of the family was mainly from the north central part of Britian; Lancashire, Derbyshire, York and a few other areas. This area was controlled in early times by a tribe called the Brigantes, who also had holdings in Ireland. It is interesting to note that there are several ancient settlements named Brigantium around Europe: there was also a tribe called the Brigantes from what is modern day Betanzos, Spain falling within an area referred to as Celtic Gallaecia. Also, there is the Brigantii from the Alps from settlements bearing the name Brigantium now known as Bregenz and Brian├žonople and a few other names.    

I think if I go back far enough, I can probably trace my heritage to Noah to landed his ark probably somewhere in Turkey a very long time ago.

Nevertheless, tracing family history is very interesting and I learn a lot about my own mannerisms and traits that really do seem to go back for generations. Amazing how strong those ties are whether we wish to admit or not.

Based on my family history, I think I can claim a bit more Irish heritage than I originally thought. No, I don't speak Gaelic and am very poor at imitating an "Irish" accent. I was born in the U.S. which makes me a "United Statesian" as are my children. Because of my kid's dad, they also claim Spanish and quite possibly a bit of Italian blood (based on HIS heritage).

We are just crazy mixed up family!

How about yours?