No More Blarney: The Truth About St. Patrick

  • March 01, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell
No More Blarney

If you are like most folks, when you think of St. Patrick’s Day, you may think of shamrocks, green things and maybe even some corned beef and beer.  We’re here to set the record straight, however, and give you the legit scoop on the beloved Saint Patrick, as well as the holiday that is duly named in his honor.

St. Patrick was not Irish.  Say what????  Of all things you’d think St. Patrick definitely was, Irish would be the numero uno, right?  Although St. Patrick spent most of his adult life preaching Christianity to the pagan people of Ireland, his parents were actually citizens of Rome, and he likely grew up in Scotland or Wales.

March 17 is not St. Patrick’s Birthday.   Most of the time, holidays that honor a specific individual are celebrated on the birthday of the honoree.  In the instance of St. Patrick’s Day, however, March 17 is the date that marks St. Patrick’s death, not the date of his birth.

St. Patrick spent much of his youth as a slave.  When St. Patrick was but a lad, he was taken prisoner by some Irish ruffians and then subsequently sold into slavery.  For several years, St. Patrick was forced to herd sheep and work hard labor in the frigid fields of the Irish countryside.  Interestingly enough, the experiences he had while being held in captivity may have been what turned his heart toward religion.

The Shamrock is not the symbol of Ireland.  Irish legend teaches that St. Patrick used the shamrock to illustrate the concept of the Trinity.  The plant was used to show people how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could be separate, yet still be considered one and the same.  Since medieval times, Ireland has most often been represented by the symbol of an Irish harp, not the shamrock.

St. Patrick did not eliminate all snakes from Ireland.  The truth is; there is no evidence that there ever were any snakes living in Ireland.  The climate on the Emerald Isle is far too cold for snakes to survive.  Many scholars believe that the legend of the snakes being driven from Ireland by St. Patrick is purely symbolic.  Historically, evil and wickedness are often depicted in the form of snakes, thus any reference to snakes is most likely a figurative one.

St. Patrick and Leprehauns. Despite what some may say, there is no real or direct connection between St. Patrick and the elusive, playful leprechaun. As the celebration of St. Patrick's Day has become more and more popular among the masses, many symbols of the Irish have all sort been lumped together and used as part of the celebrating this favorite Irish holiday.

St. Patrick’s traditional color is blue.  In ancient artwork, St. Patrick is almost always depicted wearing blue robes.  Historically, as far back as Henry the VIII, the color blue, used in conjunction with a golden Irish harp, has represented Ireland on various flags, Irish symbols and other coats of arms.  Over time, because Ireland’s countryside is known for being extremely lush and green, Ireland became nicknamed the Emerald Isle.  The color green eventually became the hue most commonly associated with Ireland and St. Patrick as well. 

There are more Irish in the U.S. than in Ireland.  Well…almost.  There are approximately 34 million folks in the United States that can boast having Irish ancestry.  There are only 4.2 million people living in Ireland today.  Many Irish immigrants flooded into the United States during the infamous Irish potato famine that lasted from 1845-1852.  These industrious Irish immigrants came to the states and sought positions as railroad workers, factory workers or some even went into the military.

St. Patrick’s Day used to be a religious and political observance.  St. Patrick’s Day has always been a religious observance, honoring the life of a Saint that was very important to the Irish people.  Additionally, St. Patrick’s Day has also had its roots deep in politics.  Historically, Irish folks were treated very harshly and were heavily discriminated against when they first came to the United States.  The Irish were a unique group of people with many peculiar parts to their culture.  Irish folks found ways to fight against this discrimination by organizing themselves in an effort to combat the many injustices that they faced in those early days.  St. Patrick’s day became a holiday that was often used to voice their many social and political viewpoints.

No Drinking was allowed on St. Patrick’s Day.  Until 1970, St. Patrick’s Day was considered a religious observance, thus drinking was not a part of the celebration.  In fact, most pubs and bars were closed in observance of the popular holiday.  This “dry” feature to St. Patrick’s Day was observed from 1903 until 1970, at which time the law surrounding St. Patrick’s Day was changed and the holiday was then reclassified.  Today, drinking and St. Patrick’s Day have become hopelessly intertwined. A cold glass of Guinness or a celebratory mug of honorary green brew is all part of St. Patrick’s Day tradition.  Cheers! 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from your friends at Halloween Express!


Time to Party with Dr. Seuss!

  • February 22, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell
Celebrate with Dr. Seuss

We love a good birthday party, don’t you?  Monday, March 2nd marks the birthday of the legendary Dr. Seuss.  Many schools around the country use this beloved author’s birthday to mark one of the most exciting and dynamic events that occurs during the school year. Many teachers even dress up in Dr. Seuss costumes and Dr. Seuss hats. This celebration is much more than just a big birthday bash.  Schools use this opportunity to celebrate reading and books.  This lively event occurs annually with fabulous and entertaining activities happening in schools, libraries and community centers all across the nation.  It’s time to mark your calendars and start making plans to participate in this truly remarkable and inspiring event.

This year’s theme is “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, which ties the Dr. Seuss, classic children’s book by the same name into the celebration.  More likely than not, you will not have to look very hard to find local activities that you and your children can participate in this celebration of reading.   All across the country, events will be held, specially designed to inspire kids and get them excited about books and reading!  What could be better?

Getting into the spirit of this exciting celebration is easy and made even more fun when the entire family participates.  Many teachers will be holding special activities and dress up days to help build enthusiasm and excitement in their classrooms.  Need some ideas?  Here are a few sen-SEUSS-tional ideas to help fuel your imagination!

  • Cook Green Eggs and Ham for your kids.
  • Have a crazy hat/hair day.  May we suggest wearing a Dr. Seuss themed hat? Some of our favorite looks include: The Cat in the Hat, The Thing and The Grinch!
  • Hold a “Wear Your Grinchy Green” Day.
  • Hold a “Wear Red and White” Day.
  • Have a Pajama Day.  Spend most of the day snuggling up in your jammies while reading books!
  • Hold an “Inside-Out Day.”  Wear all clothing inside out!
  • Dress up as your favorite Dr. Seuss character.
  • Make healthy snacks out of red and white foods.
  • Have a reading parade.  Participants can dress up as their favorite book character.

Although many schools and localities will be holding reading themed activities, you can get into the spirit of this event every day of the year.  Teachers and educators know that reading to your kids, even when they are just babies, helps them to be more successful in school as they grow older.  Even when your little ones are too young to read, reading aloud to your kids is an important (and fun) way to teach your children to love books!  Here are some great tips on how to improve your read-aloud time with your youngsters:

  • Be consistent.  Try to read to your kids every day if possible.
  • Remove all distractions.  Turn off the television, computer and cell phone.
  • Even if your child can’t read the words, let him participate by holding the book and turning the pages.
  • Make reading fun.  Read aloud with enthusiasm and energy.  Create unique voices for the characters in the story.
  • After you’ve finished a book, discuss it with your child.  Ask them what they liked about the story.
  • Repeat performance.  Kids often like to hear the same story over and over again. After you’ve become very familiar with a particular book, give your child the chance to retell the story back to you.
  • Don’t assume that older kids don’t want to read aloud.  Give them the chance to read a book to you!
  • Even the youngest babies will glean benefits from having a book read to them. Infants love to hear your voice and look at the brightly colored pictures.

Dr. Seuss's birthday event is a great way to bring adults and children all together to read books and celebrate the love of reading.  Take advantage of this unique event and get your kids excited about getting their head into a book! 


Presidential Facial Hair

  • February 16, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell

Happy Presidents’ Day!  In honor of this unique holiday that has been set aside to honor all past and present Presidents of the United States, here at Halloween Express, we are using this day to celebrate facial hair-Presidential style.  Think about this--it has been a very long time since any President of the United States has grown nary a whisker on his chin while serving in the White House.  These days, it seems that the Commander in Chief most prefers a more clean-shaven look.  That said, when it comes to beards, mustaches, and other pretty groovy facial hair looks, some U.S. President’s have truly left their mark on history.

John Quincy Adams John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams: (1825-1829)

Can you say muttonchops?  Even the “Wolverine” would have a hard time matching John Quincy’s set of ferocious choppers.  Perhaps it was that pair of “take me seriously” sideburns that edged him out in front during a hotly contentious run for the Presidency in 1824.  John Quincy served just one term as President and then went on to serve in the House of Representatives until his death in 1848.

 

 

 

Martin Van Buren Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren:  (1837-1841)

President Van Buren was a very small man--only about 5’ 6” tall when standing straight.   A fierce pair of muttonchops was not only considered highly fashionable during this time, but they probably gave Martin more of a beastly appearance--important to the ego of a short in stature male who is trying to run the country.  Although not one of the better-known Presidents, Martin Van Buren did make some initial strides to put the kibosh on the growing issue of slavery.

 

 

Abraham Lincoln Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln:  (1861-1865)

Honest Abe was beardless for most of his political career. During Lincoln’s presidential campaign of 1860, a young girl named Grace Bedell wrote to the then nominee, besieging him to grow a beard in hopes that some facial hair might improve his chances of winning the upcoming election.  Lincoln did grow some whiskers, and whether it made a difference or not, he won the election and the rest of the story, is history.  Abraham Lincoln is remembered as one of the greatest Presidents in all of U.S. history.  Most modern depictions of Abe almost always show him sporting his now famous, Abe Lincoln-style chin curtain.  Thank you, Miss Grace!

 

 

Ulysses S. Grant Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant:  (1869-1877)

Most known for being an epic Union general, Ulysses S. Grant led the Union to a historic victory over the Confederacy during the Civil War.  Ulysses S. Grant went on to serve two terms as U.S. President, but most historians give him more kudos for his fighting skills than his Presidential abilities.  No matter how you feel about President Grant, give him credit for a very full and manly beard that obviously made him look the part of a fierce leader.

 

 

Teddy Roosevelt Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt:  (1901-1909)

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”  We think that perhaps he meant walk softly and wear a big stache!  Teddy’s full mustache (and let’s not forget that epic monocle) gave him a dignified look that screamed power and elegance, all rolled into one.  The youngest man to ever hold the office of President, Teddy Roosevelt became the Pres at the young age of 42.  President Roosevelt became best known for breaking up monopolies.   Don’t let Teddy’s snazzy look fool you--he was a man’s man who loved the great outdoors and even spent some time as a cowboy in the wild west. 

 

 

Happy Presidents’ Day from your friends at Halloween Express! 


The Legend of Saint Valentine

  • February 09, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell
The Legend of Saint Valentine

When you think of Valentine’s Day, you likely think of hearts, flowers, candy, romance and perhaps even some sexy Valentine's Day costumes!  As it turns out, however, the origins of this holiday of love aren’t quite so pleasant and enchanting.  As a matter of fact, Valentine’s Day didn’t start out very romantic at all.

Saint Valentine lived around the time of 270 A.D.  This was a very tumultuous period in the Roman Empire, and outside of the Christian church, society was quite permissive and open-minded.  The Romans frowned upon Christian beliefs, and the Roman hierarchy went so far as to ban the population from even associating with Christian people.  Christian ideals such as marriage between one man and one woman were not encouraged by the somewhat hedonist Romans.

The Emperor, Claudius II, took his fear and loathing of Christianity even one step further.  It was the Emperor’s strongest desire to have a large and powerful army to further his agenda and increase his power.  Claudius the II firmly believed that married men would not be interested in joining his army, that married men would rather stay at home at home with their wives and family.  He also believed that married men would have fears and worries that would not be applicable to an unmarried man.  Claudius II felt that the logical solution then was for him to outlaw marriage altogether, thus eliminating any potential hindrance to his source of army recruits and soldiers. 

The problem with this unfair edict that was there were many folks who believed in and still wanted Christianity, and this included being married. This new law created a big problem for Christians and the Christian faith, in general. St. Valentine felt so strongly about marriage that he was willing to perform marriages in the utmost secrecy, in spite of the edict that had been laid down by the Emperor.  So that is what St. Valentine did--he went ahead and married couples, in spite of the law.

Sadly, eventually St. Valentine was caught performing these covert marriages.  When the Emperor found out what St. Valentine had done, he was furious and sentenced St. Valentine to a very harsh punishment--death.  While in prison, however, St. Valentine continued to preach his beliefs to those who would listen.  He had many supporters who would come to visit him.  There is a story that tells of a prison guard who had a daughter who was blind.  This little girl was sent to visit the imprisoned saint, and he blessed her and prayed for her.   Saint Valentine healed the girl’s blindness, and the story goes that the guard was so stunned by this amazing miracle that he immediately himself converted to Christianity. 

Eventually, St. Valentine had to endure his torturous sentence, which included being beaten, stoned and eventually decapitated.  Before his death, however, legend states that St, Valentine sent a note to the daughter of the prison guard, signing it, “from your Valentine.” To this day, St. Valentine is still regarded as the patron saint of love and romance.  There are many who still believe to this day that our modern celebration of Valentine’s Day has a lot to do with legacy of St. Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day from your friends at Halloween Express! 


Groundhog Day: A Love Story

  • February 02, 2015
  • Jenna Maxwell
Ground Hog Day 2015

Okay, Okay.  It’s Groundhog Day.  Realizing that this illustrious rodent celebration may not be getting all the attention it fully deserves, we would like to do our best to change all that.  Without further ado, at least for today, let’s get into the true spirit of what Groundhog Day is all about.  You may not realize this, but Groundhog Day is really about LOVE.

Love you say?  Well, yeah, in a way Groundhog day is about L-O-V-E.  But before we get to all that mushy stuff, let’s start at the beginning. 

A long time ago, before the advent of video games, computers and DVR’s, the cold winter season did seem to last forever.  It was common for many local villagers in winter-afflicted communities to go almost a little crazy during those long chilly months that they spent all hunkered down in the dark and cold.  Not only was it freezing, but also, quite frankly, there wasn’t a lot to do while waiting around for the spring.   To say that the long winter months dragged on and on is likely an understatement.  In those days, springtime just couldn’t come soon enough.

One day, (probably during an extraordinarily long winter) it was noticed by someone in the fine state of Pennsylvania that there was some very strange behavior being exhibited by some of the local groundhogs.  (We told you that the local villagers were bored…so watching groundhogs probably had become a sort of a “thing.”) It was noted that sometimes during the dead of winter, a groundhog would wake from his winter hibernation just long enough to crawl up out of his cozy burrow and pop his head out to look around.  Strangely enough, sometimes the groundhog would see his shadow, get totally freaked out, and then hi-tail it back into his cozy little pad.  It appeared to a few folks that by some crazy power of nature, the groundhog knew something about winter that the rest of us hadn’t yet figured out.

In 1887, a local newspaper in Punxsutawney did a story about their local groundhogs that started all sorts of crazy rumors about these chubby woodchucks.  Punxsutawney claimed to have the only true and official weather-predicting groundhog in the world, and his name was Pete.  Punxsutawney Pete supposedly could predict the duration of winter based on whether or not he could see his own shadow on February the 2nd.  This tradition in Punxsutawney has been ongoing ever since and a long line of weather forecasting “Pete’s” has subsequently been foretelling the advent of spring. 

So, now what does any of this have to do with love?  Well, if the truth is told, back in the day, Pete wasn’t poking his head out of his man cave to check on the weather at all.  The reality is that during the winter, groundhogs hibernate deeply in their burrows.  As you might imagine, after awhile, it gets pretty lonely in there.  Sometime in February male groundhogs will typically wake up and go out looking for a mate to bring back to their love nest.  Now, that my dear friends sounds an awful lot like love. 

Punxsutawney Pete is set to make his annual weather prediction today, February 2.  If he sees his shadow, tradition states there will be six more weeks of winter.  If he doesn’t see his shadow, an early spring is thought to be on the horizon.  After all is said and done, all Pete really cares about is finding his soul mate and then heading back to his comfy and cozy burrow.   After his weather prediction is complete, hopefully someone will let ol’ Pete go and do just that. 

Happy Groundhog’s Day from your friends at Halloween Express!