weird and wacky holidays happening in August

August 4 is U.S. Coast Guard Day

u.s. coast guard dayToday is U.S. Coast Guard Day.

After the Continental Navy disbanded in 1785, no proviso existed in the U.S. Constitution for the establishment of a permanent maritime force.

In 1790, Alexander Hamilton, the country’s first Department of Treasury Secretary, founded the service that would become the Coast Guard.

Established to enforce tariff laws and manned by crews of civilians, the fleet became known as the system of cutters, named for the type of vessel used: armed ships, usually single-masted, that measured at least 65 feet in length.

From 1798 through 1800, the U.S. and France fought an undeclared naval war known as the “Quasi-War,” precipitated by the U.S. reneging on the repayment of loans received from France during the American Revolutionary War.

Congress passed legislation authorizing President John Adams to reestablish the U.S. Navy and conscript revenue cutters from the Treasury Department during the conflict.

In September of 1800, Adams and Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, signed a treaty ending hostilities between the two countries.

The Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Life-Saving Service, created in 1848 to save shipwrecked sailors, merged in 1915 to become the U.S. Coast Guard.

Happy U.S. Coast Guard Day!

Copyright © 2018 Worldwide Weird Holidays

La Tomatina

la tomatinaToday is La Tomatina, a legendary festival held on the last Wednesday of August in the Spanish town of Buñol.

Thousands come from around the world to participate in what is billed as the World’s Biggest Food Fight.

The tradition is only 72 years old, relatively new in European terms, but no one can seem to agree about how it got its start.

Some say two boys picked a fight during a parade and began hurling tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stand at each other, inspiring others to join in.

Others maintain it was a practical joke played on a bad musician or a spontaneous act after a cart spilled tomatoes onto the street.

Many townsfolk claim it originated when residents expressed their displeasure with local government by pelting councilmen with tomatoes.

At some point, the practice came to the attention of dictator Francisco Franco, who banned it because of its lack of religious significance. By all accounts, it didn’t put a stop to the fun. After his death in 1975, the celebration came out of the shadows and began to attract revelers from near and far.

In 2002, La Tomatina was declared an official festival in 2002 by the Spanish Department of Tourism. By 2012, an estimated 50,000 people descended upon the town of 9,000. Since then, the town has instituted an official ticketing system, charging $12 each and limiting the total admission to 20,000. Tickets sell quickly and lodgings in Buñol and nearby Valencia fill up well in advance.

At around 11 am, several dump trucks haul approximately 150,000 tomatoes into Plaza del Pueblo, the center of town. According to tradition, someone must climb the Palojabón (“hamstick”), a two-story high greased wooden pole, and retrieve the ham perched on top before the festival can begin. It’s a time-consuming contest and, more often than not, no one reaches the ham. So it is also traditional that, after fueling impatience and heightening anticipation, the food fight starts anyway.

Water cannon fire signals the beginning. The only rules of battle are that tomatoes must be squished before throwing to avoid injury and tomatoes are the only weapons allowed. Before long, thousands are drenched in juice and covered in pulp, gleefully lobbing tomatoes at everyone in sight.

Exactly one hour later the fighting is stopped and no more tomatoes can be thrown. Fire trucks spray the streets with water from a Roman aqueduct. The acid from the tomatoes scours surfaces, leaving them cleaner than they had been an hour before. Shop owners take down the plastic covers they used to shield their businesses. Some people walk to the Buñol River to clean themselves up. Everyone starts planning for next year.

Feliz La Tomatina!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

August 30 is Hellespont Swim Day

hellespont swim dayToday is Hellespont Swim Day, when participants will follow the path swum in 1810 by Lord Byron, an English poet and a leader in the Romantic movement.

Byron chose the course in honor of the Greek myth of lovers Leander and Hero. Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, lived in a tower in Sestos (the present-day town of Yolikabot in Turkey), on the European shore of the strait of Hellespont (now known as Dardanelles).

Leander, who lived in Abydos (now the Turkish village of Nara) on the opposite shore, met Hero at a festival and quickly convinced her that the virginity her parents so closely guarded would not please Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Hero knew her parents would never allow her to marry an outsider. When Leander vowed he would swim across the Hellespont every night if she would have him, she agreed to hang a lantern in the tower to guide him.

They were happy until one stormy night when Leander’s ardor overcame his judgment and he tried to swim to her through tempestuous waters. When high winds blew out Hero’s lantern, he lost his way and drowned. When she saw his body wash ashore the next morning, she threw herself from the tower to her death.

In reality, as in myth, the swim is a perilous one. The strait is anywhere from 3/4 to 4 miles wide; water flows from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea via a surface current and in the opposite direction via an undercurrent. This creates dangerous conditions for ships, let alone swimmers.

When Lord Byron went into the water, the swim was considered too dangerous to attempt. He was the first person known to accomplish it. He later wrote, in The Bride of Abydos:

The winds are high on Helle’s wave,
As on that night of stormy water
When Love, who sent, forgot to save
The young—the beautiful—the brave—
The lonely hope of Sestos’ daughter.
Oh! when alone along the sky
Her turret-torch was blazing high,
Though rising gale, and breaking foam,
And shrieking sea-birds warned him home;
And clouds aloft and tides below,
With signs and sounds, forbade to go,
He could not see, he would not hear,
Or sound or sign foreboding fear;
His eye but saw that light of Love,
The only star it hailed above;
His ear but rang with Hero’s song,
“Ye waves, divide not lovers long!”—
That tale is old, but Love anew
May nerve young hearts to prove as true.

Although others have since achieved the feat, it remains a test of strength and endurance. In 2000, Simon Murie decided to celebrate his birthday by tracing Byron’s route. The days of effort it took to acquire permission gave him the idea to create a service for intrepid swimmers like himself. Since 2003, Murie’s SwimTrek has organized swims at 40 locations around the globe. 

Today, the world’s most concentrated shipping lane closes during the swim inspired by ancient myth and English poetry. Participants can race or just enjoy the course, which follows an ellipse to compensate for the current. Today’s date coincides with Turkey’s Victory Day which commemorates its victory in the War of Independence on August 30, 1922.

Happy Hellespont Swim Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays

August 29 is National Chop Suey Day

national chop suey dayToday is National Chop Suey Day. It honors the popular Chinese-American dish of uncertain provenance.

Legends abound regarding the origin of chop suey. Some say it was invented in the 1860s by a Chinese cook in San Franciso who, fearing he would be beaten by a rowdy bunch of miners demanding food after hours, served them a stir-fry made of leftovers.

Others claim the dish was created in 1896 for Qing Dynasty statesman Li Hongzhang (romanized name: Li Hung Chang) when he visited the U.S. and, disliking a banquet’s offerings, had one of his chefs go into the kitchen and prepare something from the ingredients he found there. This myth was perpetuated by the publication in 1913 of Memoirs of Li Hung Chang, which was exposed as a forgery ten years later.

Chinese history shows that chop suey has roots there under various names: za sui in Mandarin and shap sui or tsap tsui in Cantonese, which translate to “mixed bits.” The recipe seems to have originated with residents of the Taishan, (also known as Taisan or Toisan) area of Canton, many of whom immigrated to the U.S.

It was originally composed of entrails such as chicken livers, gizzards and tripe mixed with bamboo shoots, fungi and bean sprouts in a brown sauce. Chinese cooks later adapted these ingredients for American tastes
by replacing organ meats with the chicken, pork, beef or shrimp.

Today is a great day to set aside the debate about who deserves credit and order chop suey or break out the wok and stir-fry a batch. After all, General Tso had nothing to do with the chicken dish that bears his name, but that doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying it.

Happy National Chop Suey Day!

Copyright © 2017 Worldwide Weird Holidays