The History of St. Patrick’s Day

Saint Patrick’s Day is a cultural and religious celebration held on 17 March, the traditional death date of Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. What is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church. According to the Declaration Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland when he was sixteen years old. It says that he spent a total of six years working as a shepherd and that during this time he found God. The Declaration says that God spoke to Patrick, and told him to flee to the coast, where a ship would take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.

Irish Government Ministers travel abroad on official visits to various countries around the globe to celebrate St Patrick’s Day and promote Ireland. The most prominent of these is the visit of the Irish Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) with the U.S. President which happens on or around St. Patrick’s Day.

Saint Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day in the early 17th century and is observed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Lutheran Church. The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, and celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilís, and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. Christians who belong to liturgical denominations also attend church services and historically the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol were lifted for the day, which has encouraged and propagated the holiday’s tradition of alcohol consumption.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. It is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world, especially in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. Saint Patrick’s Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival.

According to the tale, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years in the northern half of Ireland and redesigned the religious beliefs of thousands. Patrick’s efforts against the religious leaders were eventually turned into a legend in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland.

Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s most memorable saint.

Conventionally, the Taoiseach presents the U.S. President a Waterford Crystal bowl filled with shamrocks. This ritual began when Irish Ambassador to the U.S. John Hearne sent a box of shamrocks to President Harry S. Truman in 1952. From that moment, it became an annual tradition for the Irish ambassador to present the St Patrick’s Day shamrock to an official in the U.S. President’s administration. However, it was only after the meeting between Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and President Bill Clinton in 1994 that the presenting of the shamrock ceremony became an annual event for the leaders of both countries for St Patrick’s Day.

Needless to say, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in many countries and one of the longest-running and largest St. Patrick’s Day parades occurs each year in Montreal, Canada, whose city flag includes a shamrock in lower right corner. The yearly celebration has been organised by the United Irish Societies of Montreal since 1929. The parade has been held yearly without interruption since 1824. St Patrick’s Day itself, however, has been celebrated in Montreal since as far back as 1759 by Irish soldiers in the Montreal Garrison following the British conquest of New France.


In present day, celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, Irish traditional music sessions, and wearing green clothing, accessories and/or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century, but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century. The events have participants from all walks of life, they generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organizations, charitable organizations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been criticised, particularly for their association with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Some argue that the festivities have become too commercialized and have become somewhat cut-rate and have strayed from their original purpose of honouring St Patrick and Irish heritage. Journalist Niall O’Dowd has criticised attempts to recast St Patrick’s Day as a celebration of multiculturalism rather than a celebration of Irishness.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have also been criticized for fostering offensive stereotypes of Ireland and the Irish people themselves. An very well known example is the people who partake in dressing in ‘leprechaun outfits’, which are based on derogatory 19th century caricatures of the Irish. On St. Patrick’s Day in 2014, the Ancient Order of Hibernians successfully campaigned to stop major American retailers from selling novelty merchandise that promoted negative Irish stereotypes. This year consider your celebrations and the way you can honor Ireland and Ireland’s beloved Saint Patrick.

New Year’s Good Luck Cake

Vasilopita is a New Year’s Day bread or cake in Greece and many other areas in eastern Europe, which contains a hidden coin that is believed to bring luck to the one who obtains the coin. It is associated with Sainr Basil’s day. (Saint Basil’s Feast Day is observed on January 1, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season known as the Vasilopita Observance) January 1, in most of Greece, but in some regions, the traditions surrounding a cake with a hidden coin are associated with Epiphany or Christmas The dough in which the coin is placed varies immensely depending on personal preference and location/region. In some families, instead of dough, it is made from a custard base. The pie is known as Chronópita, meaning New Year’s Pie.

On New Year’s Day families cut the vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. This is usually done at the midnight of New Year’s Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. At midnight the sign of the cross is etched with a knife across the cake. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. 

In older times, the coin often was a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign. As time went on, the tradition of a costly coin (in most cases) changed. In more modern times, a gift, money or prize is given to the coin recipient. Many private or public institutions, such as societies, clubs, workplaces, companies, etc., cut their vasilopita on New Year’s Day and the beginning of the Great Lent, in celebrations that range from impromptu potluck gatherings to formal receptions or balls.

How did this tradition start you may ask? In popular belief, vasilopita is associated with a legend of Basil of Caesarea. According to one story, Basil called on the Roman citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the enemy forces from surrounding the city, cutting off essential supplies with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside. Each individual of the city gave what they had in gold and jewelry. When the ransom was raised, the  adversary was so embarrassed by the people’s cooperation that he called off the siege without taking a thing. Basil was then tasked with returning the unpaid ransom, but had no way of knowing which items belonged to which family, so he baked all of the jewelry into loaves of bread and distributed the loaves around the city, and by a miracle each citizen received their exact share.

Santa Dollars

Have you ever see a U.S. dollar bill with the image of a smiling Santa Claus, instead of the usual George Washington portrait? These banknotes are called ‘Santa Dollars’ or ‘Santa Claus Dollars’, and are regular dollar bills on which a seal (or sticker) with Santa’s image is attached.

The Santa Dollar is legal tender and both bankable and spendable, approved by the Department of the Treasury of the United States Secret Service on February 19, 1986 and January 13, 1994 under Statue 333 USCA and is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office No. 1674185. Over the years, the dollars and greeting cards have become popular Christmas Collectibles.

The Santa Dollar program is an interesting way for companies to work with charities of their choice.The business selling the Santa Dollars receives a package from Marketing Productions which includes santa stickers, Santa Dollar cards, and envelope. It is then on the business to retrieve uncirculated dollar bills from the bank and attach the santa sticker on the dollar bill atop Washington. For customers at the business, it cost $2.50 to purchase the Santa Dollar.  The $2.50 breakdowns as follows: $1 is given back to the business who initially supplied the dollar bill made into the Santa Dollar, $1 is given to the charity, and .50 cents goes to Marketing Productions who distributes the package materiels.

Since 1985, Santa Dollars have raised tens of millions of dollars for various charities across the United States. Corporate leaders, as well as small businesses, have worked to raise funds for the needs of their communities. They have joined hands to form a network of hope. The efforts of all these dedicated people have created the “magic” that has fueled the Santa Dollar program. Some of these charities include American Cancer Society, Boys & Girls Club of America, Humane Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, March of Dimes, St. Jude Hospital, and hundreds more.

The company has since expanded to other holidays with Angelic Notes, Bunny Bucks, Cupids Cash, and Birthday Buck a Roos.

A History of Black Friday

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is regarded by many as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. And while you might be planning on staying in and avoiding the crowds or simply stopping by your local coin shop, since 2005, Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year. With retailers extending their hours and deals every year, the crowds and chaos show no signs of decreasing.

While not a federal holiday, several states observe the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday, which means many state and school employees have the day off. Therefore, the number of potential shoppers greatly increases. Here’s a look at the history and evolution of Black Friday.

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Panic in Gold room on Black Friday

The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.

Likely the most commonly repeated story behind Black Friday tradition is it’s links to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“went into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of Black Friday’s origin is the officially sanctioned—but inaccurate—story behind the tradition.

In recent years, another myth has surfaced that gives a particularly ugly twist to the tradition, claiming that back in the 1800s Southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discount on the day after Thanksgiving. Though this version of Black Friday’s roots has understandably led some to call for a boycott of the retail holiday, it has no basis in fact.

The true story behind Black Friday, however, is not as sunny as retailers might have you believe with the red and black accounting. Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the craziness in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.

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1908 Army–Navy game at Franklin Field

By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. The term didn’t spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it wasn’t in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept of the holiday and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit.

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Crowd of People on Black Friday Waiting for JcPenney’s to Open

That Black Friday story stuck, and pretty soon the term’s roots in Philadelphia were largely forgotten. Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event, and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal. According to a pre-holiday survey by the National Retail Federation, an estimated 135.8 million Americans definitely plan to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend (58.7 percent of those surveyed), though even more (183.8 million, or 79.6 percent) said they would or might take advantage of the online deals offered on Cyber Monday.


Happy Black Friday and happy shopping!

Maybe consider avoiding the madness outside and pop by our ebay store for thousands of listings of coins, postcards, stamps, and more collectibles! 

The Pilgrim Half Dollar

The Pilgrim Tercentenary half dollar or Pilgrim half dollar was a commemorative fifty-cent coin struck by the United States Bureau of the Mint in 1920 and 1921 to mark the 300th anniversary (tercentenary) of the arrival of the Pilgrims in North America. It was designed by Cyrus E. Dallin.

Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Walsh was involved in joint federal and state efforts to mark the anniversary. He saw a reference to a proposed Maine Centennial half dollar and realized that a coin could be issued for the Pilgrim anniversary in support of the observances at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The bill moved quickly through the legislative process and became the Act of May 12, 1920 with the signature of President Woodrow Wilson.

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Portrait of Dallin

The Pilgrim Tercentenary Commission made sketches for a design, which were converted to three-dimensional plaster models by Cyrus E. Dallin, a Boston sculptor known for his portrayals of Native Americans, who had also created works related to the Pilgrims. As the legislation was not approved until May 12, 1920, and the commission hoped to have the coins available for sale as early as possible, Dallin was urged to hurry with his work.

Dallin finished his models in August 1920 and the commission referred the designs to sculptor member James Earle Fraser. On examining Dallin’s work, Fraser deemed the lettering crude, but in an undated letter to Moore (probably late August) regretted that due to the tight timeline for production, there was no opportunity to make changes. He suggested that the Mint be urged to allow three months in future for CFA consideration. After the commission met on September 3, a letter to that effect was sent to the Director of the United States Mint, Raymond T. Baker. The letter was ignored, and the Treasury approved the designs.

Pilgrim_tercentenary_half_dollar_commemorative_obverseThe obverse of the coin features William Bradford. He wears a hat and carries a Bible under his arm. Bradford, noted for piety, was intended to be seen in a moment of meditation. Dallin’s plaster models had the words “HOLY BIBLE” on the volume; these, together with Dallin’s initials “CED”, were removed.Instead, the initial D was placed under Bradford’s elbow, likely impressed upon the hub as an afterthought by a punch normally used to create the mint mark D for the Denver Mint. Numismatists Anthony Swiatek and Walter Breen deemed Bradford’s broad collar near enough to Puritan wear of the day to pass, though they questioned the authenticity of the ruffled cravat. Bradford’s portrait is in any case an invention; no genuine likeness of him is known. The Pilgrim_tercentenary_half_dollar_commemorative_reversecrudeness of the lettering complained of by Fraser is not apparent due to the relatively small size of the coins.

The reverse depicts the Mayflower under full sail. Numismatic writers have focused much attention on the fact that the ship bears a triangular flying jib, a type of sail not used at the time of the Mayflower voyage.


Art historian Cornelius Vermeule, in his volume on U. S. coins and medals, deemed the Pilgrim half dollar “a masterpiece in the conservative tradition”. He suggested that Dallin’s portrait of Bradford was influenced by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his sculpture, The Puritan. Vermeule deemed the ship on the reverse a great advance on George T. Morgan’s 1892 depiction of the Santa María on the Columbian half dollar, and felt that Dallin’s vessel presaged the ships (at least five) on commemorative coins of the 1930s. “Seen from the stern on the waves, the Pilgrims’ ship is impressive.”
The Philadelphia Mint coined 200,112 half dollars in October 1920, with the excess above the round number reserved for inspection and testing at the 1921 meeting of the annual Assay Commission. They were shipped to the National Shawmut Bank of Boston which sold the coins for $1 each to the public, with the profits to go to the tercentenary commission. The coins could be ordered through any bank in Boston or Plymouth. Swiatek believed the sale of 1920-dated coins to have been very successful, and there was no thought at that time of returning any to the Mint for redemption and melting. The recession of 1921 began soon after; sales dropped, and tens of thousands of coins remained unsold. The tercentenary commission returned 48,000 of the 1920 issue and 80,000 of the 1921 to the Mint.

The Pilgrim half dollars have appreciated in price over the years, with the rarer 1921 leading the way, of which only 20,000 are extant. At the peak of the first commemorative coin boom in 1936, the 1920 sold for $1.75 and the 1921 for $8; at the peak of the second boom in 1980 the 1920 sold for $275 and the 1921 for $800. The deluxe edition of R. S. Yeoman’s A Guide Book of United States Coins (2015) lists the 1920 at between $85 and $650 and the 1921 at between $170 and $850, each depending on condition. An exceptional specimen of the 1920 sold at auction in 2014 for $7,344.

A Brief History of Halloween

Halloween is an all-American holiday celebrated yearly on October 31st. Kids look forward to dressing up and receiving free candy and many adults use it as an excuse to party and bake festive treats. Halloween traditions date back from a number of practices but there are a few key traditional celebrations that formed the Halloween we celebrate today.

In ancient times, Celts used September 1st to mark their new year; it was the end of summer and harvest, meaning it was the start of the long cold winter. These harsh winters and short days were often associated with death because it wasn’t uncommon for many to not make it through the difficult winter. So on this day of transition from summer to winter, it was believed that the boundary between the living world and dead world were most closely aligned. The night before the new year was to begin; October 31st the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain

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Depiction of ancient druids

During the days surrounding Samhain, spirits were blamed for a lot of the people’s hardships, such as damaging crops or stealing/misplacing precious goods. Celts would put their trust into Druids and Celtic priests to be close to these spirits and make predictions about the future. Druids would build sacred bonfires and people would gather in hopes of having their futures determined. These bonfires were huge celebrations that while donning costumes, Celts would burn crops and animals as sacrifices to Celtic deities.

The Roman Empire conquered Celtic territory around 43 A.D. and throughout their hundreds of years of ruling the two cultures would intermingle to create a tradition very similar to Samhain. Roman celebration of Feralia and Pomona would translate to a combined celebration of the dead, harvest, and other-worldly beings in late October.

In 1000 A.D. the Christian church proclaimed November 2nd as ‘All Souls’ Day’ as a day to honor the deceased. This was an attempt to replace the Celtic festival with a more puritanical practice.

All Souls Day generally got accepted because many of its festivities were similar enough to Samhain. This included bonfires, parades, and dressing up; although costumes such as saints and angels were more highly encouraged. Over the years the celebration would start to be referred to as All-Hallowmas or All-Hallows with the night before being All-Hallows eve. Which as we know, eventually got shortened to Halloween.

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Modern day Christians celebrating All Souls’ Day

With Christian endorsement of the holiday it slowly trickled over to different parts of England and Europe but struggled at first to make its way to colonial New England. Early settlers had radical Protestant beliefs and didn’t traditionally believe it was a celebration that represented their nation. As time went on, Halloween was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies.

Know as the melting pot, many cultures began to come together to create the early American version of Halloween. American Indians and European immigrants celebrated in various ways and it became popular to have fall community events. Including productions of plays, harvest festivals, storytelling, and playing games that told of the future. Annual fall festivities had become common by the middle of the nineteenth century but it was uncommon for these celebrations to be thought of as Halloween.

By the second half of the nineteenth century millions of Irish were coming to America to flee the Potato Famine. Their presence in America is widely attributed to causing Halloween to becoming a nationally celebrated holiday.

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Girl in a Halloween costume in 1928

In the 1920’s and 30’s Halloween was still often considered to be a community-centered holiday. Regardless of efforts to keep up the festivities, vandalism and trickery began to make the celebrations not feel welcoming to all members of the community. In an effect to change this many town leaders started to cater the events more towards children and with this shift many events began to occur mainly in schools or at ones home.

Around the 1950’s trick or treating was revived as a way of attempting to create an event that the entire community could still share. Today, Americans spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.


This is the final post of our 13 days of Halloween series. Checkout our other spooky posts:

  1. Washington Ghost Stories
  2. Out of Place Artifacts
  3. Henry Rathbone
  4. Charon and the Journey to Hades
  5. Post-Mortem Photography
  6. All Hallows Eve Divination Games
  7. Saved By The Bell and other Idioms
  8. Halloween Coins
  9. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Coins Connecting You to the Spirit World
  11. Ancient Egyptian Alien Coins
  12. Superstitions Around the World
  13. A Brief History of Halloween

Divination Games

Traditionally Halloween was a time celebrated because of harvest and was said to be the day of the year where our world and the ghostly world were most closely aligned. Because of this, many divination rituals or ways of foretelling one’s future, especially regarding death, marriage and children became popular. During the Middle Ages, these rituals were done by a rare few in rural communities as they were considered to be “deadly serious” practices. In recent centuries, these divination games have been a common feature of the household festivities in Ireland and Britain.

The games often involved apples and nuts; in Celtic mythology, apples were strongly associated with the Otherworld and immortality, while certain nuts were associated with divine wisdom. Some also suggest that the games derive from Roman practices in celebration of Pomona. The following activities were a common feature of Halloween in Ireland and Britain during the 17th–20th centuries. Some have become more widespread and continue to be popular today.

Barmbrack

BarmbrackThe bairin breac or barmbrack is a sweetened Irish bread filled with various dried fruits.  Objects were baked into the bread and were said to tell of the future. The man or woman who found a ring in their piece of bread was assured good luck in the coming year.  As the tradition evolved, other tokens were added; one might find a penny, a button, a thimble, a piece of wood, or a piece of cloth. Not only might you break a tooth if you get carried away enjoying the barmbrack, but not all of those symbols mean good luck.  While a penny means good fortune and a button hints at a carefree life, the thimble means spinsterhood, the wood foretells spousal abuse, and the cloth represents loss of fortune.

Apple Paring

Halloween-card-mirror-2Tradition states that if a young, unmarried woman wants to see what her fate holds she should stand before a mirror lit by candlelight and slowly slice and apple.  If she is destined to marry, the face of her future husband will appear in the mirror to claim the last bite; but a skull will appear if she is destined to die alone.

Another version of this tradition involves peeling the apple in one continuous piece.  Take the peel and toss it over your shoulder and the peel will form the letter of the first name of the person you’re destined to marry.

Apple Spinning

This game is played with everyone at once.  Each person ties a string to the stem of an apple, and begins to spin them over a fire.  The first peron’s apple to fall into the fire represents the person of the group who will be the first to be married.

Bobbing for Apples

800px-Christy's_HalloweenA much more popularized game, bobbing for apples is played by filling a tub or a large basin with water and putting apples in the water. Because apples are less dense than water, they will float at the surface. Players then try to catch one with their teeth without the use of their hands. The first person to bite into the apple would be the next one to be allowed to marry. Girls who won and would place the apple they bobbed under their pillows were said to dream of their future lover.

Luggie Bowls/Saucer Luck

Luggie bowls are little handled bowls made of wood, ceramic, or metal. Another version of this game can use saucers. Take the three small bowls; fill one with clean water, one with dirty water, and keep one empty. Taking turns, the blindfolded party guests dip their fingers in one bowl each. Those who choose the bowl of clean water can expect clean and pure spouses. Those who get the dirty water will may marry widows and widowers, or else find their partners anything but pure by the wedding day. Those who pick the empty bowls won’t be getting married at all, at least not anytime soon.

Nut Burning

Nut Burning is a game traditionally played among friends to determine who will remain friends and who will drift apart. Each person is given a nut, and they name their nuts after themselves. The nuts are then placed next to each other on the hot coals of a fire. If they burn together, they are destined to be good friends. If they pop and jump apart then the friendship is destined to fail.

Another popular variation of this game is to give each guest two nuts. The guest names one nut for themself and another for the object of their affections. If the nuts burn quietly alongside one another then love will grow, if the nuts part then the relationship is doomed.

The Chest

analogue-2842521_1920This is played at the stroke of midnight; all the girls are gathered together in a dark room. The host of the event lights a candle and each girl is given an unlit candle. One by one they light their candle from the host’s and they are told to follow her lead. As she says this a side door is opened revealing a small child dressed in a fancy costume and mask. The child approaches the girl, bows, and then leads the way out of the room to a distant part of the house where there is a closed door.

The child tells each girl that they must enter and take a numbered box from a chest of drawers in the room but not open it. She must continue in silence and close the door behind her on the way in and out. After she has retrieved the box and if she has luck, on the way back to the door she will see the shadow of her future husband walking beside her.

Once each girl has gone and they’re back to the party they may open their boxes, inside are small presents or party favors.

Throughout the evening prior to the girls participating in the chest game, the hosts would plant ideas as to what dark, ominous, or even dangerous things are inside the room so as to scare the young girls and test their bravery when they entered.

Sitting on a Church Porch

Rønne_KirkeIn old Ireland, a tradition found people sitting on the porch of their local churches.  It was said that if one sat on the porch and gazed into the night, apparitions of the people who were destined to die in the coming year would appear.

These are just a few examples of the many and varied forms of Halloween divination. Maybe try a few on Halloween this year and see what your future holds.


This post is apart of our 13 days of Halloween series. Checkout our other spooky posts:

  1. Washington Ghost Stories
  2. Out of Place Artifacts
  3. Henry Rathbone
  4. Charon and the Journey to Hades
  5. Post-Mortem Photography
  6. All Hallows Eve Divination Games
  7. Saved By The Bell and other Idioms
  8. Halloween Coins
  9. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  10. Coins Connecting You to the Spirit World
  11. Ancient Egyptian Alien Coins
  12. Superstitions Around the World
  13. A Brief History of Halloween

 

Las Arras

Las arras, or Las arras matrimoniales (wedding tokens or unity coins) are wedding paraphernalia used in Christian and Catholic wedding ceremonies in Spain, Latin American countries, and the Philippines. The tradition is also followed, with varying names and customs, in countries and communities bearing degrees of Hispanic influence. Traditionally, in Spain and Latin America, it is made up of thirteen gold coins presented in an ornate box or chest; in the Philippines, it is in an ornate basket or pouch. After being blessed by a priest, they are given or presented by the groom to the bride.

The word arras is a Spanish word meaning “earnest money”, “bride price”, or “bride wealth”. The custom of using coins in weddings can be traced to a number of places including Spain and Rome. The ancient Roman custom includes the act of breaking gold or silver equally into two pieces. This signifies the promise to marry by two individuals. The Spanish tradition of Mozarabic origin does not include treating the set of coins as a representation of the bridal dowry or a way of hastening prosperity.

Arras_matrimoniales2_PD_2014The 13 coins carry multiple meanings and vary by culture. Generally, the symbolic gesture communicates the couple’s trust in each other to share the responsibility of managing the household finances. The groom makes a pledge to provide for his family while the bride vows to honor the blessings God has put into their lives.

Presented to the groom by an honored padrinos or madrinas (godparent) and blessed by el padre (priest), the coins are also a good luck token to ensure the couple will never be without money. It is also said that each coin represents continued prosperity for each month of the year, with a little extra to spare.

Additionally, the odd number is not dividable, just as a strong marriage should be. Since the tradition is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, the coins also symbolize Jesus and his 12 apostles.

The presentation of the coins can occur anytime during the Catholic wedding ceremony, but traditionally the groom gives them to the bride after the blessing and exchanging of the marriage rings. Modern couples who wish to incorporate multiple unity ceremonies have included it after the introduction and vows but before the ring exchange.

The padrino/madrina is responsible for buying the arras as a symbol of their support and good wishes for the couple’s success. Most often, the padrino/madrina de arras passes the coins to the priest, which are encased in an ornate el cofre (miniature chest). Filipino ceremonies usually have an arrhae bearer, who presents the coins on a pillow, in a lavishly decorated basket or in a simple pouch. After the arras blessing, the priest passes the coins to the bride, who places them in the groom’s cupped hands. The groom then pours them back into the bride’s cupped hands and places the box on top.

The back and forth exchange symbolizes the couple’s commitment to sharing their life juan-manuel-mendez-595078-unsplashtogether, for richer or poorer. In some cultures, the coins are presented one at a time to represent love, trust, commitment, respect, joy, happiness, harmony, wisdom, nurturing, caring, cooperation and peace. The lazo ceremony, which involves wrapping a unity cord around the couple’s shoulders, typically follows.

Since the marriage coins become a family heirloom, it is most common for the parents or padrino/madrina to pass on their set to the newlyweds.

Wedding vendors and Catholic supply stores sell a variety of arras from $10 for gold-plated coins to $200 for sterling silver. The coins are usually plain but can be etched with a special symbol to represent love, faith or the couple. The container, which ranges from a simple gold box to a crystal-encrusted heart, is usually included with the purchase of the coins.

The Star-Spangled Banner

This 4th of July we have decided to take a closer look at “The Star-Spangled Banner”- an anthem of freedom, American beliefs, and reverence for those who have fought for our nation.

On September 13th, 1814, British warships sent a downpour of shells and rockets onto Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, relentlessly pummeling the American fort for 25 hours. The bombardment, known as the Battle of Baltimore, came only weeks after the British had attacked Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the Treasury and the President’s house. It was another battle in the ongoing War of 1812.

A week earlier, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old American lawyer, had boarded the flagship of the British fleet on the Chesapeake Bay in hopes of persuading the British to release a friend who had recently been arrested. Key’s tactics were successful, but because he and his companions had gained knowledge of the impending attack on Baltimore, the British did not let them go. They allowed the Americans to return to their own vessel but continued guarding them. Under their scrutiny, Key watched on September 13th as the barrage of Fort McHenry began eight miles away.


“It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone,” Key wrote later. But when darkness arrived, Key saw only red erupting in the night sky. Given the scale of the attack, he was certain the British would win. The hours passed slowly, but in the clearing smoke of “the dawn’s early light” on September 14th, he saw the American flag—not the British Union Jack—flying over the fort, announcing an American victory.

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Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript copy of his “Defence of Fort M’Henry”

Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. That night, on September 16th, Key and his friend were released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. Much of the idea of the poem, including the flag imagery and some of the wording, is derived from an earlier song by Key. The song, known as “When the Warrior Returns”, was written in honor of Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart on their return from the First Barbary War. 

 

Key gave the poem to his brother-in-law Judge Joseph H. Nicholson who saw that the words fit the popular melody “The Anacreontic Song”, by English composer John Stafford Smith. This was the official song of the Anacreontic Society, an 18th-century gentlemen’s club of amateur musicians in London. Nicholson took the poem to a printer in Baltimore, who anonymously made the first known broadside printing on September 17th; of these, two known copies survive. “The Anacreontic Song” can be listened to below: 


On September 20th, both the Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the song, with the note “Tune: Anacreon in Heaven”. The song quickly became popular, with seventeen newspapers from Georgia to New Hampshire printing it. Soon after, Thomas Carr of the Carr Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together under the title “The Star Spangled Banner”, although it was originally called “Defence of Fort M’Henry”. Thomas Carr’s arrangement introduced the raised fourth which became the standard deviation from “The Anacreontic Song”. The song’s popularity increased and its first public performance took place in October when Baltimore actor Ferdinand Durang sang it at Captain McCauley’s tavern. Washington Irving, then editor of the Analectic Magazine in Philadelphia, reprinted the song in November 1814.

By the early 20th century, there were various versions of the song in popular use. Seeking a singular, standard version, President Woodrow Wilson tasked the U.S. Bureau of Education with providing that official version. In response, the Bureau enlisted the help of five musicians to agree upon an arrangement. Those musicians were Walter Damrosch, Will Earhart, Arnold J. Gantvoort, Oscar Sonneck and John Philip Sousa. The standardized version that was voted upon by these five musicians premiered at Carnegie Hall on December 5th, 1917, in a program that included Edward Elgar’s Carillon and Gabriel Pierné’s The Children’s Crusade. The concert was put on by the Oratorio Society of New York and conducted by Walter Damrosch. An official handwritten version of the final votes of these five men has been found and shows all five men’s votes tallied, measure by measure.

In 1899, the U.S. Navy officially adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner”. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that “The Star-Spangled Banner” be played at military and other appropriate occasions. The playing of the song two years later during the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, and thereafter during each game of the series is often cited as the first instance that the anthem was played at a baseball game, though evidence shows that the “Star-Spangled Banner” was performed as early as 1897 at opening day ceremonies in Philadelphia and then more regularly at the Polo Grounds in New York City beginning in 1898.

In 1930, Veterans of Foreign Wars started a petition for the United States to officially recognize “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem. Five million people signed the petition. The petition was presented to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary on January 31st, 1930. On the same day, Elsie Jorss-Reilley and Grace Evelyn Boudlin sang the song to the Committee to refute the perception that it was too high pitched for a typical person to sing. The Committee voted in favor of sending the bill to the House floor for a vote. The House of Representatives passed the bill later that year. The Senate passed the bill on March 3, 1931. President Herbert Hoover signed the bill on March 4, 1931, officially adopting “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the national anthem of the United States of America. As currently codified, the United States Code states that “[t]he composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.”

Before 1931, other songs served as the hymns of U.S. officialdom. “Hail, Columbia” served this purpose at official functions for most of the 19th century. “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”, whose melody is identical to “God Save the Queen”, the United Kingdom’s national anthem, also served as a de facto national anthem. Following the War of 1812 and subsequent U.S. wars, other songs emerged to compete for popularity at public events, among them “America the Beautiful”.

 

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The 15-star, 15-stripe “Star-Spangled Banner” that inspired the poem

Nearly two centuries later, the flag itself that inspired Key still survives, though fragile and worn by the years. To preserve this American icon, experts at the National Museum of American History completed an eight-year conservation treatment with funds from Polo Ralph Lauren, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Congress.

 


“The Star-Spangled Banner is a symbol of American history that ranks with the Statue of Liberty and the Charters of Freedom,” said Brent D. Glass, the museum’s director. “The fact that it has been entrusted to the National Museum of American History is an honor.”

Started in 1996, the Star-Spangled Banner preservation project—which includes the flag’s conservation and the creation of its new display in the renovated museum—was planned with the help of historians, conservators, curators, engineers and organic scientists. With the construction of the conservation lab completed in 1999, conservators began their work. Over the next several years, they clipped 1.7 million stitches from the flag to remove a linen backing that had been added in 1914, lifted debris from the flag using dry cosmetic sponges and brushed it with an acetone-water mixture to remove soils embedded in fibers. Finally, they added a sheer polyester backing to help support the flag.

“Our goal was to extend [the flag’s] usable lifetime,” says Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, the conservator for the project. The intent was never to make the flag look as it did when it first flew over Fort McHenry, she says. “We didn’t want to change any of the history written on the artifact by stains and soil. Those marks tell the flag’s story.”

While the conservators worked, the public looked on. Over the years, more than 12 million people peered into the museum’s glass conservation lab, watching the progress.

“The Star-Spangled Banner resonates with people in different ways, for different reasons,” says Kathleen Kendrick, curator for the Star-Spangled Banner preservation project. “It’s exciting to realize that you’re looking at the very same flag that Francis Scott Key saw on that September morning in 1814. But the Star-Spangled Banner is more than an artifact—it’s also a national symbol. It evokes powerful emotions and ideas about what it means to be an American.”

While the first stanza is the most well know, here are the full lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner”:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave


Happy 4th of July from The Stamp & Coin Place 🙂 🇺🇸

The Father’s Day Tradition

For those of you that don’t know, The Stamp and Coin Place is located in Washington state; the beautiful Pacific Northwest is home to many traditions and has some great history. One interesting piece of history is that Father’s Day was founded and first celebrated in Washington state.

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Sonora Dodd; circa 1910.
Courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society

The story goes that Sonora Smart Dodd was attending a Mother’s Day sermon at Central Methodist Episcopal Church in 1909 and thought Father’s deserved a similar holiday to celebrate their love and contribution to a family. Her father, William Jackson Smart, was a Civil War veteran and widowed when is wife gave birth to their sixth child. As a single parent he raised his kids on a small farm between Creston, WA and Wilbur, WA (near Spokane).

Dodd initially suggested to celebrate Father’s Day on June 5, her father’s birthday. But the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June.The day did not have much success initially. In the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, and it faded into relative obscurity, even in Spokane. In the 1930s Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties and tobacco pipes.

Since 1938 she had the help of the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men’s Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion. Americans resisted the holiday during a few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother’s Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded. By the mid-1980s the Father’s Council wrote that “[Father’s Day] has become a Second Christmas for all the men’s gift-oriented industries.”

A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration and wanted to make it official, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. US President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus “[singling] out just one of our two parents”. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

In addition to Father’s Day, International Men’s Day is celebrated in many countries on November 19th for men and boys who are not fathers.

A “Father’s Day” service was held on July 5th, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central United Methodist Church. Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father when, on December 1907, the Monongah Mining Disaster in nearby Monongah killed 361 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children. Clayton suggested her pastor Robert Thomas Webb to honor all those fathers.Clayton chose the Sunday nearest to the birthday of her father, Methodist minister Fletcher Golden.

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Monongah Mining Disaster


Clayton’s event did not have repercussions outside of Fairmont for several reasons, among them: the city was overwhelmed by other events, the celebration was never promoted outside of the town itself and no proclamation was made in the City Council. Also two events overshadowed this event: the celebration of Independence Day July 4, 1908, with 12,000 attendants and several shows including a hot air balloon event, which took over the headlines in the following days, and the death of a 16-year-old girl on July 4. The local church and Council were overwhelmed and they did not even think of promoting the event, and it was not celebrated again for many years. The original sermon was not reproduced in press and it was lost. Finally, Clayton was a quiet person, who never promoted the event or even talked to other persons about it.

While Dodd is the one that did the legwork to make Father’s Day into what we know it to be today there are several other stories that tell of Father’s Day celebration that also likely had an impact on making it a national holiday:

In 1911, Jane Addams proposed a citywide Father’s Day in Chicago, but she was turned down.

In 1912, there was a Father’s Day celebration in Vancouver, Washington, suggested by Methodist pastor J. J. Berringer of the Irvington Methodist Church. They believed mistakenly that they had been the first to celebrate such a day.

Harry C. Meek, member of Lions Clubs International, claimed that he had first the idea for Father’s Day in 1915. Meek claimed that the third Sunday of June was chosen because it was his birthday. The Lions Club has named him “Originator of Father’s Day”. Meek made many efforts to promote Father’s Day and make it an official holiday.

No matter where Father’s Day came from we are happy it exists today and gives us an excuse to connect with our loved ones and celebrate all the wonderful Fathers.

Happy Father’s Day 🙂