Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa ... these holidays are celebrated every year. It seems like we all know just about everything there is to know about them. What more can be said? Here are a few facts about the fall and winter holidays that you just might not know.
HALLOWEEN The first jack-o'-lanterns weren't pumpkins. They were turnips. The Irish had an old folktale about Jack, a trickster who had escaped death and had to wander the Earth forever. They brought this tale to life by carving faces into turnips, potatoes and rutabagas and setting a candle inside to make them glow. When the Europeans first came to New England, they found that pumpkins were far better to carve and thus was born our modern jack-o'-lantern. If you stare in a mirror at midnight on Halloween, you will see your future spouse. Many legends have mirrors showing things our eyes cannot see (or not showing supernatural things that only our eyes can see). This is not an actual fact, though it is one of the more frightening myths about Halloween, depending on your future spouse!
THANKSGIVING The first Thanksgiving menu did not include turkey, cranberries or pumpkin pie. There is not record of any of the three items being consumed at the feast of 1623. Turkeys were plentiful but were overlooked for other game. Cranberries and pumpkins also were available but were often consumed raw and are not listed in any records of the day. The day after Thanksgiving is "Black Friday." Though it sounds ominous, the day simply commemorates the beginning of the holiday shopping period. It's referred to as "black" because, hopefully, merchants will be able to go from red to black in their accounting ledgers (if they haven't already).
HANUKKAH Cheese dishes are customary during Hanukkah due to Judith's beheading of the Greek general Holofernes. Holofernes had attacked Judith's village. To save it, she pretended to surrender to Holofernes, gave him dairy products and wine to make him sleep and then cut off his head. Several medieval artists painted the gruesome results. The first Hanukkah stamp issued by the post office was released in 1996. It was issued jointly by the United States and Israel. The U.S. stamp had the word "Hanukkah" in English; the Israeli stamp had the word in Hebrew. In the U.S. it was the first stamp in the Post Office's Holiday Celebration collection.
CHRISTMAS "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was narrated by Frankenstein's monster. OK, it wasn't really Frankenstein. It was Boris Karloff, but he had played Frankenstein. Karloff's voice added just the right "evil" quality to the Grinch and his story. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" included numerous sound and vocal errors. Those errors remain in the program to this day -- really, they're there. Several years after the special first ran, Bill Melendez, lead animator for the special approached "Peanuts" creator Charles M. Shulz about correcting the errors. Shulz refused. The only editing done to the special has been the removal of several Coca-Cola references. Coca-Cola had been the special's original sponsor.
KWANZAA Did you know that the red candles in a Kwanzaa Kinara represent struggle? The Kinara, the candle holder used during Kwanzaa, represents the collective roots of the people. On each day another candle is lit, representing the Kwanzaa principle of the day.
If you would like more trivia and facts on the holidays, check out the following books: "A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book of Celebration" edited by Noam Zion and Barbara Spectre; "How to Plan a Kwanzaa Celebration" by Ida Gamble-Gumbs and Bob Gumbs; "A Halloween How-to" by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne; "The Folklore of American Holidays" edited by Hennig Cohen and Tristram Potter Coffin; "Celebrations: The Complete Book of American Holidays" by Robert J. Myers.
Scott Strawn is the Youth Services manager at the Hilton Head Island Branch of the Beaufort County Public Library, at 11 Beach City Road, Hilton Head.