Holidays and History

Years ago, I wrote a short article for a local on-line newspaper, entitled “Governor Andros, Christmas and New Year’s Day.” The piece tried to provide some historical context for our holidays, and Williamsburg, where I live, is steeped in early history.

I’m not sure who read my first piece or why, but it has always bothered me that I published it without doing proper research.  I have since done quite a lot of reading about the period and have published four historical novels that rest on the facts that I’ve discovered.  While my novels don’t mention religion in history and holidays, Gov. Andros is an important character in my first, The Wealth of Jamestown.

Cover, The Wealth of Jamestown

This being New Year’s Day, I’ve decided, finally, to correct the record. Thus, this piece is a long time New Year’s resolution for me.

I never questioned the history related in my first piece. I comfortably simply repeated what historians claimed. Now, after much work, I realize that historians of the eighteenth century and earlier served the people who paid and employed them.  They arranged the facts to project the elite’s agenda. The story  about history and holidays first related about Gov. Andros, repeating these historians, was incorrect.

The Truth about Edmund Andros

My first article described Governor Andros as follows:

“Edmund Andros (1637-1714) served, at various times, as royal governor of New York, New Jersey, New England and Virginia. He descended from the feudal aristocracy, was a strong royalist with powerful connections at the king’s court in London, and one of the most reviled and despised of colonial royal governors.”

 

Sir Edmund Andros. Rhode Island State House collection.

 

Born in 1637, Edmunds Andros came from the island of Guernsey. His father, of low-level nobility, served as Bailiff of Guernsey and Marshall of Ceremonies to King Charles I. The king’s Marshall of Ceremonies, a military figure who appeared in full dress uniform, organized the ceremonial greetings for visitors to the royal court. As a result, Edmund, the eldest son, received his education in London at court along with the other children of the royal household.

The Andros family, as royalists, supported the Church of England in the English civil wars of the seventeenth century. They suffered much, as forces loyal to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell besieged Castle Cornet where the Andros family lived on Guernsey for nine years.

The Andros Family and Oliver Cromwell

The Andros family, though not actively religious, supported the king and the king’s religion. Most importantly, they upheld the old order, with the emphasis on feudal honor and duty among respected military leaders. They opposed Cromwell not on the basis of religion, but because he radically opposed the old order.  Cromwell  replaced the king and appointed himself as Lord Protector.  He was anti-bishop, anti-Pope and anti-King. Cromwell and his rump parliament beheaded King Charles I in 1649.

Oliver Cromwell

 

In 1649-50 the Andros family escaped Cromwell’s siege. They sailed from Guernsey to Jersey and from there to Holland. In Holland, Edmund’s mother joined the court of the Queen of Bohemia, the  sister to the deposed and beheaded King Charles. Edmund’s father became part of a court in exile and his uncle served as captain of the exiled Horse Guards.

As a teenager, Edmund befriended William of Orange who lived in Holland, as well as Mary, daughter of Charles I, who William later married. William and Mary became monarchs of England after the removal of King James II by the parliament in 1689.

Edmund Andros, Colonial Magistrate

When Charles II returned to power in 1660, Edmund Andros came back to England as a member of the Royal Militia. Over the next twenty years he built a distinguished military career. Though not a university graduate, he had strong diplomatic skills and could speak several European languages, including French, German, Dutch and Danish. He conducted a number of diplomatic missions as a skilled negotiator.

In 1674, Andros’ father died, and Edmund became Bailiff of Guernsey. By then he’d married, but had no children. He became a dedicated colonial governor and administrator in Barbados, New York, and New England.  King James II knighted Andros for his work in achieving a treaty with the Indians while Andros served as governor of New York (1674 to 1681).

In 1681 colonists in New York charged Andros with financial irregularities and favoritism and he was recalled to London to stand trial.  Once home in London he didn’t stand trial and instead returned to North America with a promotion: Governor of the Dominion of New England, a territory stretching from Massachusetts to New Jersey. At the time, if he was despised by anyone, it was by Puritans loyal to the beliefs of Oliver Cromwell. In London, Edmund Andros was highly respected and honored.

History and Holidays: Governor Andros and Christmas

In 1582 Pope Gregory decreed January 1 as New Year’s Day, but the British Empire (which included the American colonies) did not accept the new calendar until 1752. So, Christmas in the British colonies remained a stand-alone holiday, though it lasted for twelve days, from December 25 through January 6.  New Year’s Day came two months later in March.

The British pursued many disputes with the Pope and Catholic monarchs of Spain and France, including not accepting the Gregorian calendar. Kings sat as heads of state and heads of religion, completely intertwining politics and religion. Royal governors took strong positions on religious issues like holiday celebrations. History and holidays form part of the backdrop to European religious warfare of the time.

The Puritans of New England disapproved of the celebration of Christmas, and banned it from Boston from 1659-1681.  Andros. as governor of New England in 1686, revoked the ban and also revoked the ban on festivities on Saturday nights.

Puritans detested Andros for these acts. In addition, he limited individual colonial legislatures to one meeting a year, and used his powers to overturn certain colonial laws and customs. After all, he was Governor of New England. not simply of the historical individual colonies. Connecticut despised him so intensely that his name is still excluded from the state’s list of colonial governors.

Overthrow of James II

In April 1689 the parliament overthrew King James II  and Andros attempted to escape New England dressed as a woman.  He was caught when someone spotted his boots beneath his dress. Once again, he was sent back to London for trial. On arrival in London, he was immediately released again, and later returned to the colonies as Governor of Virginia (1692-1698).

Andros had been a good Anglican all his life. He’d built and supported Anglican churches throughout New England, New York and the Jerseys. By the time he got to Virginia, Andros had terrible memories of dealings with the Puritans in Massachusetts.

Andros, like many others of his generation, remembered the horrors and bloodshed over differences in religion during the time of Oliver Cromwell. Andros wanted to keep religion out of politics as much as possible. For him, the defense and economic strength of the colony overrode all other issues.

After six years of peace and strong economic development Andros retired as Governor of Virginia in 1698 . He’d never used his position as governor to amass property as many other colonial governors had before him. He retired reasonably well off, but not wealthy.

Conclusions about Governor Andros

My first article stated:

“The tale of Governor Andros leaves us with a few thoughts on the New Year.  He certainly had many opportunities to succeed, but failed every time.  Was he repeatedly sent back from London to       the colonies, every time without trial, because his supporters wanted him out of London?  Did he receive the first “golden parachute” on North American soil?”

Andros died in 1714 at the age of seventy-six. Toward the end of his life, he saw the end of the war of the Spanish Succession, with the conclusion of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Over the course of that war some 400,000 people were killed in Europe.

Sir Edmund Andros, in his lifetime, had seen peace only in Virginia. He lived to see the Act of Union in 1707, which brought Scotland into the United Kingdom. He’d lived an honorable life and was recognized in death for his accomplishments.

 Andros as a Model Chief Executive

Andros was buried with honors with a marching retinue of sixty-six men each carrying a white branch light. They were followed by twenty men on horseback, and six mourning coaches, each pulled by six horses. He was buried at St. Anne’s Church in Soho, a building destroyed by the Nazi blitz of London in World War II.

Historians wonder where George Washington got the idea that he could refuse being a king and instead serve out a legally set term of office.  During Washington’s lifetime, the rest of the world consisted of monarchies and empires based on the idea of the divine right of kings.

Washington didn’t have far to go to find a model.  Edmund Andros had served as governor of Virginia. As the local chief executive, Andros codified local laws, enforced them, maintained defenses, and avoided dealing directly with issues related to religion. He allowed and didn’t interfere with holiday celebrations. He didn’t use his office to plunder, and opposed absentee land ownership.  After six years he voluntarily retired to go back to his farm in Guernsey.

 

Religion, History and Holidays: a Final Thought

“I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up…. They have no holidays”. (Henny Youngman).

 

Thanksgiving’s History: A Short Review

Consistent with Thanksgiving’s history, this year, 2020, hasn’t been one to rave about. Thanksgiving is about remembering that things could be worse and that we should be thankful that we are here. This year, we’ve survived  a contested national election, an epidemic, and harsh responses by government to the epidemic. COVID-19 took many lives and many small businesses  lost their customers and disappeared.  Children stayed home during lockdowns and spent a school year outside the classroom. But we’re still here, and looking forward. We are thankful.

According to current rules we’ll have fewer large capacity feasts and massive parades this year. People are beginning to ignore rules, but everyone still is aware of the dangers of contracting the virus.

About ten year’s ago in a year full of feasts, parades and football, I published a brief history of Thanksgiving for northernneck.com, a local on-line newspaper. The following is what I wrote then.  History doesn’t change: Thanksgiving has always been about people recognizing that things may be tough, but we’ve survived.

Thanksgiving’s History

Historians believe that the first Thanksgiving by Europeans in North America took place in Florida in 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the coast.  He claimed the land for Spain and offered a prayer of thanks for safe passage. Later, on September 8, 1565 Spanish settlers in Saint Augustine, Florida, sang hymns of thanks, celebrated Mass, and fed themselves and local Indians with food from ships—hardtack, beans and wine.

Native Americans celebrated Thanksgiving festivals for many centuries before the arrival of Europeans.  Thanksgiving’s history for English-speaking Europeans began in Virginia on September 4, 1619 at Berkeley Plantation. There thirty-eight settlers, all men, gave thanks and proclaimed that thereafter the day of the ship’s arrival would be observed as a religious day of Thanksgiving.  In Massachusetts, Plymouth’s first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a harvest feast, and involved the Wampanoag Indians. The menu is uncertain, but foods available included wild fowl and venison.

Jamestown Interpreter Baking Fish over                                  Open Fire

The 1621 Pilgrim feast wasn’t repeated, but Thanksgiving’s history progressed. Over the years New England developed an annual tradition of thanksgiving prayers after the harvest.  In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom and by the middle of the 19th century many other states did the same.  In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November.  Since then every President has issued an annual Thanksgiving proclamation.

Thanksgiving: An Official Legal Holiday

Finally, in 1941 Congress established Thanksgiving as an official national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.  World War II raged, and President Roosevelt delivered a famous speech celebrating four freedoms:  for speech and worship, and from want and fear.  Norman Rockwell created four paintings commemorating the speech.   He depicted “Freedom from Want” as a family Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey.

Four Freedoms

The Norman Rockwell paintings were published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1943.  The Treasury Department toured the paintings around the country, selling over $130 million in war bonds.

Thanksgiving today is a secular holiday, characterized by parades, football games and turkey dinners. The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday or the official start of the retail Christmas season.

Thanksgiving Parade

Thanksgiving dinner normally consists of roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. The National Turkey Federation estimated that about 46 million turkeys were consumed by Americans last year at Thanksgiving.  Cranberry sauce is a very American tradition. The cranberry is one of only three fruits—the others are blueberries and concord grapes—to be native to American soil.

Thanksgiving Feast

A Thanksgiving Story

Aside from the old question, “Why did the turkey cross the road?”  (Answer: it was the chicken’s day off), there are many turkey tales.

A pro football team once finished daily practice, when a large turkey strutted onto the field. While the players gazed in amazement, the turkey walked up to the head coach and demanded a tryout.   Everyone stared in silence as the turkey caught pass after pass and ran right through the defensive line.  When the turkey returned to the sidelines, the coach shouted, “You’re terrific!!! Sign up for the season, and I’ll see to it that you get a huge bonus.”  “Forget the bonus, the turkey said, “All I want to know is, does the season go past Thanksgiving Day?”

 

Puns and Putdowns in Comedy History

Puns and put-downs have been part of comedy history back to ancient times. Although the ancient Greeks distinguished between comedy and tragedy, to them comedy referred to a theatrical performance that ended happily, without serious death or dismemberment. Since then, over the ages, comedy has come to mean more than the absence of tragedy: it describes something humorous, causing audiences to be amused and laugh.

Comedy and Tragedy: the Masks of Ancient Greece

Historically, comedy has taken many forms, but emerged from live performances. It began with rough demonstrations and depended on physical surprises. Clowns tumbled and attacked each other merrily in circuses and comics threw pies in each other’s faces, in front of crowds of people who laughed and shouted. This kind of comedy carried over into silent film with visions of comics riding on the outside of train wheels, hanging from oversized public clocks well above street level, or riding in cars that disappeared into giant sink holes.

Visual comedy, because it lacked language, couldn’t be personally nasty or insulting.  Astonishing and surprising stunts simply made people laugh.  As a result, when stunts and rough-house weren’t funny, nobody felt insulted.

Clown at Work

Language Brought Puns and Put-Downs into Comedy

Theater and literature have a long history. Language communicates thoughts, emotions, philosophy as well as wisecracks, puns and put-downs. The ancient Romans and Egyptians used puns, and there are some in the Hebrew bible.  “Pun Intended”, an old board and card game, has been popular for years.

Puns are surprising statements that derive from multiple meanings of different words and phrases. For example:

“Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.”

“In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism, its your count that votes.”

“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

Other phrases are closer to telling a story, but in an unusual way. These paraprosdokians generally try to leave a message or a laugh. For example:

“Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.”

“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.”

“You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.”

 

Insults Have a place in Comedy

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries comedians  competed for attention with acts performed by singers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, musicians and animal trainers.  They had very little time to impress their audiences.

One way of encouraging audience attention was to engage the audience directly. Comics came on stage and told silly jokes designed to stimulate boos and groans. When hearing these, the comics were well prepared: they created the “put-down.”

Audiences during the days of night club acts and burlesque came equipped with wise cracks to throw at entertainers. Knowing this, comics developed fast and sharp comments and great comedians became famous for put-down remarks.

 

Put-downs in History

The art of the insult is as old as human history, and many put-downs have been attributed to famous people of the past.  For example, Ludwig van Beethoven  was quoted as saying to another composer, “I like your opera. I think I will set it to music.” Dorothy Parker, when hearing of the death of President Calvin Coolidge, became famous for saying “How could they tell?”

Winston Churchill, in the course of debates on the floor of the House of Commons, exchanged remarks with Nancy Astor, the first female Member of Parliament. When she called him “disgustingly drunk,” he replied, “My dear, you are ugly, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.” When she told him that if she were his wife, she’d give him poison, he replied, “If you were my wife, I would take it.”

 

Winston Churchill: Specialist in Put-Downs

 

 

Henny Youngman, who developed his material before night club audiences, perfected the put-down. Youngman never told dirty or off-color jokes, but he was famous for the speed of his wit and its delivery in staccato, machine-gun like bursts. He could quash an audience with putdowns like these:

“The more I think of you, the less I think of you.”

“It’s good to see you. It means you’re not behind my back.”

“Would you mind looking at me? I’ve got the hiccups.”

 

A Virtual Graduation

On Saturday. May 30, my grandson received his bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State University (CSU) in a virtual graduation ceremony.  For him it was a great achievement and represented long hours of preparation and work.  His degree is in computer science with a minor in mathematics.

 

Graduation!

May 30, many of us will remember, was the date on which Memorial Day used to be celebrated.  I remember some of my parents’ generation called it Decoration Day. That day families went to the cemetery to decorate the graves of the war dead.

For my parent’s generation, the war dead were near and numerous, not theoretical.  World Wars I and II in some way touched every family and Memorial Day was somber, not the beginning of summer as it is now.

Graduations used to come in June, and took place before large happy crowds of people.  This virtual graduation event was certainly the first of its kind for the university.

A Virtual Graduation

My husband and I sat in front of the zoom screen on my computer and listened to remarks by the president of the university, the mayor, the lieutenant governor of Ohio, and several previous CSU graduates. I was able to locate my grandson’s major department on the computer screen.

The names of all computer science graduates marched across the screen individually, with appropriate graduation day background music. When my grandson’s name arrived, we saw a video of him, in cap and gown, looking very happy. He smiled and thanked his parents and grandparents for help and support.

We have attended many graduations, and this was the first one where we heard every speaker and actually saw the face of the graduate. It reminded me of my daughter’s graduation from a small college outside Richmond, VA. Then we sat in folding chairs on a field on a very hot day, quite far from an outdoor stage. Nearby, a level railroad crossing bisected the town.

Amtrak kept its schedule that day.  Fairly frequently, a train came through the town at a slow speed, blowing its whistle all the way. We barely heard any of the speeches, but we did see our daughter at a distance.

My grandson is now a graduate and I’m grateful for the computer and zoom.  We were able to join the family electronically that evening to congratulate him.

Another Graduation Day: Me and Lymphoma

My grandson is not the only member of our family to face some final test results this early summer.  On Thursday, I am scheduled for a mammogram.  Two years ago a mammogram led to a diagnosis of an aggressive type of lymphoma for which I was treated over six months and for which I have undergone numerous lab tests and PET scans.

The doctor?

 

 

While I’m of the age that I may have avoided a mammogram two years ago, for some reason I didn’t.  My radiologist found something funky on the picture and that led to biopsies, CAT scans and further lab tests and scans. After three months the doctors came up with the lymphoma diagnosis.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to the mammogram, nor am I looking forward to a PET scan now scheduled for July. The PET scan is sort of a graduation day for me.  If they find nothing, I will be considered cured with no further tests or medical procedures.

For me, none of this will be virtual.  The tests will be done according to normal procedures and the results will either be good or bad.

 

Graduation, Old People and Old Jokes

As the grandmother of a college graduate, I am an old person.  Here is a story about old people:

“Six retired Floridians were playing poker in the condo clubhouse when Meyerwitz loses $500 on a single hand and drops dead at the table. Showing respect for their fallen partner, the other five continue playing standing up.  Finkelstein looks around and asks, “So, who’s gonna tell his wife?”

They draw straws.  Goldberg picks the short one.  They tell him to be discreet, be gentle, don’t make a bad situation worse.

“Discreet? I’m the most discreet person you’ll ever meet. Discretion is my middle name. Leave it to me.”

Goldberg proceeds to the Meyerwitz apartment and knocks on the door.  The wife answers and asks what he wants.

Goldberg declares, “Your husband just lost $500 and is afraid to come home.”

“Tell him to drop dead,” says the wife!

“I’ll go tell him,” says Goldberg.