weird and wacky holidays happening in December

Wright Brothers Day

Today is Wright Brothers Day. On December 17, 1903, Orville Wright made the first successful flight of a heavier-than-air, mechanically propelled airplane.

Orville’s brother Wilbur, who’d won a coin toss to determine who flew first, had made the first attempt on December 14, 1903. He was unable to get off the ground and caused minor damage to the plane which took a couple of days to repair.

Wright Brothers Day

First flight, December 17, 1903

Orville’s flight over the dunes near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, lasted 12 seconds and traveled 120 feet before landing on the sand. Wilbur followed, and the two switched off several times. Wilbur’s last flight lasted almost a full minute and covered 852 feet.

The brothers’ plans to keep flying were dashed when winds flipped the aircraft, damaging it to the point that it was never used again. The plane known as the Wright Flyer hangs in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum but nearly didn’t make it there.

Samuel Langley, former Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and founder of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, had created the Langley Aerodrome, a plane with no landing gear that had to be launched by catapult. His first flight test had ended in failure nine days before the Wright brothers’ flight.

Langley and the Smithsonian attempted to invalidate the brothers’ patents. After the Aerodrome had been modified and successfully flown a few hundred feet in 1914, the Smithsonian put it on display as “the first man-carrying aeroplane in the history of the world capable of sustained free flight.” The attempt to rewrite history was unsuccessful and the courts upheld the patents.

Because of this, Orville Wright—Wilbur died in 1912—refused to donate the Wright Flyer to the museum. Finally, in the 1940s, the Smithsonian Institution admitted it had misrepresented Langley’s Aerodrome and Orville relented. The Flyer arrived at the museum in 1948, shortly after Orville’s death.

In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation designating December 17 Wright Brothers Day.

When astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon on July 21, 1969, he carried, in a pocket of his spacesuit, a piece of muslin fabric from the left wing of the Wright Flyer and a bit of wood from its left propeller.

Happy Wright Brothers Day!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

December 16, 1773: Boston Tea Party

boston tea partyToday is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Mohawks, stole aboard three British ships and emptied 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This act of defiance, part of a wave of resistance throughout the colonies, was a protest against British rule. Earlier that year, Parliament had passed the Tea Act to shore up the failing East India Company.

Overall, the price of tea was lowered to undercut the prices of Dutch tea smugglers. (The colonies were legally permitted to buy tea only from the British.) However, it reaffirmed an existing three-pence-per-pound duty, one of many pieces of legislation enacted by Parliament without the input and consent of the colonies; this is often referred to as taxation without representation. The principle of self-governance, not the burden of higher taxes, motivated political opposition to the Tea Act.

The East India Company selected consignees in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston and shipped 500,000 pounds of tea across the Atlantic in September. Meanwhile, colonists held several mass meetings where it was decided to refuse the tea and send it back to England with the duty unpaid.

Under pressure from these groups, the brokers in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia turned away the shipments. Merchants in Boston, including three relatives of the governor, refused to cooperate and allowed the ships to dock. The Dartmouth arrived on November 28th, the Eleanor on December 2nd, and the Beaver on December 15th.

Around midnight on December 16th, a large crowd gathered to watch Samuel Adams and members of Sons of Liberty board the ships. It took nearly three hours to smash open all 342 chests and dump more than 92,000 pounds of tea into the water. (The tea, by the way, was from China: Bohea, Congou and Souchong black teas, plus Singlo and Hyson green teas.) For weeks, the harbor reeked of it.

The name “Boston Tea Party” was not coined until the 1820s. It was known simply as “the Destruction of the Tea in Boston.” Many colonists, including George Washington, condemned it at the time as an act of vandalism.

Parliament saw Massachusetts as the hub of resistance to British rule and enacted laws to punish the colony in general and Boston in particular. The Coercive Acts of 1774 shut down the port of Boston until damages were paid, nullified colonial self-government in Massachusetts, declared British officials immune from criminal prosecution and required colonists to house British troops on demand.

The Acts were intended to isolate Boston and New England. The other colonies were expected to abandon them and quash any of their own ideas of insurrection due to fear of reprisal. Instead, the Acts outraged and unified the colonists, who rushed to the city’s aid, sent supplies and began to organize groups to discuss the injustice of British rule and mobilize resistance.

In September and October of 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia and petitioned Parliament to repeal the Coercive Acts, vowing to boycott British goods until then. Massachusetts began forming militias to defy martial law. On February 9, 1775, Parliament declared it to be in a state of rebellion.

On April 19, 1775, the first shots between British and American soldiers were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. It is undeniable that the Boston Tea Party and Great Britain’s draconian response to it helped spark the American Revolution.

There were many other precipitating factors but the Boston Tea Party galvanized the populace and helped build a nation. It has been invoked in recent years by groups that appear to lack a working knowledge of the event. Let’s honor its place in history by treating it with the dignity and respect it deserves. (If you’d like to enjoy a cup of tea while you do, that’s fine with us.)

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day

Today is National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, celebrated on the third Friday in December. Today we pay tribute to all the sweater-blind relatives who ever wielded knitting needles or visited a store, picked something up and said, “Oh my goodness, this is so cute! [Insert name here] will love this [flammable fabric] sweater with the [most hideous feature] on it!”

national ugly christmas sweater dayThe odds are good–especially if you’re a child of the 70s and 80s–that you’ve  warehoused those ugly sweaters in the back of your closet for years out of misguided family loyalty and, of course, guilt. Now you could dig out those atrocities and donate them, knowing they would find a home, most likely on the back of a hipster whose facial hair is the subject of national discussion about its “relevance.” (Google the words hipster beard finished if you don’t believe us.)

If the idea of bearded men in skinny jeans doesn’t inspire you to part with your disasters of Christmas past, what we’re about to tell you may or may not help. Those sweaters that look like a wearable form of schizophrenia could end up being worn by teenage girls. The most irritating thing about this, if you’ve ever seen it, is that they look so good in them.

national ugly christmas sweater dayWhen we were forced to wear them, the razzing we endured guaranteed at least one trip to cry hot, quiet tears in the girl’s bathroom. It was there that we hatched a plan to smuggle a second top in our backpacks and change before homeroom. We felt like criminal masterminds, right?

Now those knitted prisons of cheer are in demand. “Tacky holiday sweaters have been a staple of our holiday selection at Savers for as long as grandmothers have knit them,” says Sara Gaugl, director of communications for Savers, a nationwide secondhand store chain, “but they shifted from being tacky to trendy in the last decade.”

We have it on good authority—our own—that the way to heal the emotional scarring caused by these experiences is deceptively simple: embrace the ugliness. You will be able to wear the tackiest sweater in the history of history if you follow these simple steps:

  • If you have an ugly Christmas sweater in your closet, something even the moths won’t touch, drag it out of there and put it on. Let the shudder pass through you and take a deep cleansing breath. Now, look in the mirror for a few seconds. Work up to one minute. Breathe into a paper bag if needed. Observe the panic. Make it your friend.
  • If you’ve already jettisoned your ugly sweaters, we applaud your triumph. But now, you must buy a new one, preferably at a thrift store. Be sure to bring a hankie to cover your nose if the smell of decades-old, infrequently washed acrylic, polyester and wool becomes overwhelming. You can do this.
  • If you need to put an own artisanal spin on it to make it your own, have become intoxicated with the heady wafts of camphor floating up from your purchase,  or are simply seized by the holiday spirit, check out this video on the Savers website with instructions for a DIY ugly Christmas sweater. Remember, do not make it look good or you will be branded both lame and vain.

If you still need a little more exposure therapy to quell your anxiety, watch one or all of the following movies: Step Brothers, The Santa Clause (all 3), Deck the Halls, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or Dumb and Dumber, in which Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) has an entire ugly Christmas sweater-filled dream sequence.

You’re ready. Here’s the acid test. Leave your house wearing the sweater. Go for a walk in a populated area. (Thought you could sneak that by us, eh?) Go to the grocery store. Wear it to your office Christmas party.  Go all out and host an ugly Christmas sweater party.

If you’re out and about and the realization that you’re too old/smart/unironic to be wearing deliberately ugly clothing, fear not. You know that rictus grin you made when you opened a gift and a crime against humanity with two sleeves and a neck hole looked back? Slap that on your face and no one will be the wiser.

Happy National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

December 15 is Cat Herders’ Day

Today is Cat Herders’ Day. Solving problems at work or home can feel as impossible as herding cats. (Anyone foolish enough to do that for a living has our permission to hide under the covers. The rest of us must soldier on.)

Let’s step back for a moment and find the humor in the challenges we face. They may not seem as hilarious as watching cowboys try to herd cats, but every place on earth has a secret vein of absurdity, just waiting to be mined.

Now, we’d better get back to work before the boss catches us watching cat videos.

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays