My name is Kathleen Levitt and I’m here with a few recommendations for summer reading. Even if your summer isn’t entirely open, the next few months always make us want to get away with a few good reads. I’ve written for BookRags for five years and studied Creative Writing and Literature for several years prior to that. Even when I’m not studying or working, I’m usually obsessing over some new novel. Below are just a few that have either transported, captivated, or inspired me. What’s better than discovering new worlds, voices, and experiences by sharing stories with each other?
For fans of Ottessa Moshfegh, Emma Cline’s new novel The Guest is a must-read this summer. Tracing the protagonist Alex’s experiences on Long Island before Labor Day, the novel immerses you in the sticky possibilities that summer often holds. While Alex isn’t always the most admirable character, like many of Moshfegh’s protagonists, her questions, her downfalls, and her constant cravings immediately captivate you. The narrator’s deadpan tone and bald descriptions are as sensorially intoxicating as the alcohol and medications Alex consumes to transport herself out of reality. While Cline’s narrative can be experienced as pure entertainment, via Alex’s summer at the beach, the author is also asking more challenging questions about identity and the self.
If you were as obsessed with Rachel Yoder’s Nighbitch as I was, check out Claire Oshetsky’s Chouette. A work of magical realism, when the narrator Tiny discovers she’s pregnant, she is convinced her baby is in fact an owl. Whether or not you read Tiny’s story as a figment of her imagination or a representation of her reality, Chouette will undeniably unsettle you as much as it will delight you. What might be most arresting about Tiny’s narrative is the way she captures elements of the auditory on the page. A musician and the mother of an owl, Tiny is constantly attuned to the sounds of music and the natural world. So even if you can’t make it outside or to that concert this summer, Oshetsky will bring you there with her. Like Yoder’s Nightbitch, I loved the way Oshetsky both immersed me in a fairy tale while teaching me new things about motherhood, accessibility, and sacrifice.
Did you read Ling Ma’s debut novel Severance? Whether you’ve gotten to it yet or not, her short story collection Bliss Montage is not to be missed. While Severance presciently imagined a world not dissimilar to COVID, the eight short stories in Bliss Montage have little interest in reality at all. In one, the narrator lives in a house with her 100 ex-boyfriends. In another, the narrator’s former professor leads her into a world inside his office closet. In another still, the narrator learns how to make love to a yeti. Because I like to spend the summer reading stories that feel as hazy as the hot days, I loved how Ma’s collection smeared the boundaries between the real and the surreal, the imagined and the experienced.
The Best Short Stories of 2022 edited by Valeria Luiselli
If you’re looking for a book you can work through in smaller bursts, check out Anchor Books’ annual O. Henry Prize Winners, The Best Short Stories of 2022, edited by Valeria Luiselli. Although summer gives us more free time, it can be nice to have something you can pick up and put down just as easily, depending on your vacation schedule. This collection is one of my favorite things I’ve read all year. Luiselli has compiled an electric range of narratives, styles, forms, and voices, including writers like Alejandro Zambra, Samanta Schweblin, and Loorie Moore. Even if you’re not leaving town for the summer months, the stories collected between these two covers will carry you on travels of their own, transporting you into new geographic and imaginative realms. Examinations of intimacy, perception, or desire, the stories in this collection have the power to captivate, amuse, and move you.
Looking for something steamy and intellectually stimulating? Check out Brandon Taylor’s newest novel The Late Americans. Set in Iowa City in the middle of the winter, Taylor’s novel will give you just the escape from the heat you need. The Late Americans traces the entangled lives and love affairs of a diverse network of characters. No matter their artistic proclivities, economic background, sexual orientation, or cultural origins, all of Taylor’s characters’ storylines intersect with and inform one another. Taylor is a master of character, and makes you not only believe the identities he creates on the page, but fall in love with them. Not unlike Sally Rooney, Taylor marries the erotically engaging with the politically challenging throughout.
For years I’ve followed Cheryl Strayed’s column and podcast Dear Sugar with religious vehemence. So you can imagine how excited I was when Vintage Books released a collection of Sugar’s advice under the title Tiny Beautiful Things. I lost sleep reading this one. No matter who’s written to Sugar and no matter their concerns, Sugar consistently writes with unabashed rawness and tenderness. Every enclosed letter to and response from Sugar inspired me to meditate on the importance of being more open, more honest, and more true to myself and others. Reading Tiny Beautiful Things is like eating a bowl of ice cream that’s healthy for you. It’s sweet, but also nourishing. Plus, Hulu just adapted this one into a mini-series. What’s not to love?
I hope you get the chance to read these amazing books!
Looking for an interesting subject for your mid-term paper? Why not honor Irish culture by writing about an Irish author? We are featuring classic and contemporary books from writers who have left an indelible mark on the literary world. These award-winning novelists, poets, playwrights, and screenwriters—all of whom hail from the Emerald Isle—each have their unique storytelling and writing styles. Here are the outstanding writers and their most popular works.
Well known for her bestselling novels, Conversations with Friendsand Normal People, Sally Rooney is also a poet and screenwriter. She adapted Normal People for a 12-part television series. The story follows characters Marianne and Connell through their secret high school affair. The three-year saga explores the entrapping conventions of intimacy, gender normative roles, and the individual’s capability to grow over time. Rooney has won awards for her books that focus on young-adult relationships often complicated by romance and friendship. When asked which literary medium she prefers most, the Irish writer said, “As a reader I try to love all the literary forms equally, but I probably read novels most often.” Rooney’s third novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, a coming-of-age story about two young lovers, will be published in 2021.
Emma Donoghue is a prolific Irish-Canadian writer best known for her books on female sexuality and Irish nationality. One of her bestselling novels, The Pull of the Stars, is about three women—a nurse midwife, volunteer, and doctor—in a quarantined maternity ward during the Great Flu pandemic of 1918. Donoghue reveals how gender roles and expectations placed on women in war-ravaged Dublin cause and exacerbate their suffering. Her other bestselling novel, Room, focuses instead on the complex relationship between a mother and her son and their unshakable bond while in captivity. The novel was a finalist for the “Man Booker Prize” and Donoghue wrote the screenplay for the adapted film. The versatile author commented on the challenge of adapting a book to the screen saying that “…the paradox is, in film, that sometimes a line can be most powerful if it’s the only one spoken in a scene.” Her other international bestselling works include The Wonder, Akin, and The Lotterys Plus One.
Colm Tóibín is an award-winning novelist best known for books focused on his Irish roots. In his novel Brooklyn, the author tells the coming-of-age tale about a young immigrant woman living in the 1950’s, torn between her new life in America and her small, ancestral hometown of Enniscorthy, Ireland. The book was adapted to film and nominated for an Academy Award. Another of Toibin’s books, Nora Webster, takes place in Ireland and tells of a widow struggling to support her four children financially while still reeling from the death of her husband. Toibin’s others include The Master, The Testament of Mary, and House of Names. When asked about his inspiration, he explained that an unexpected idea or image forms into a sentence in his mind that “…moves into rhythm when you least expect it. …In other words, it’s like a melody.” The author is also a playwright, journalist, essayist, poet, and professor.
Maeve Binchy was an accomplished Irish author of numerous best-selling books. One of her most popular, Circle of Friends, focuses on two close friends, Benny Hogan and Eve Malone, who face many challenges growing up in a small Irish village. The best-selling novel was also adapted to film. Tara Road is another popular read and movie adaptation. The story follows two women—one American and one Irish— who both embark on journeys of self-discovery after swapping houses. When asked how she felt about her books being adapted to screen, Binchy replied, “One little sentence in a film script says and shows it all. And I am literally in awe of the detail they go to in order to get the places looking just right, and the detail accurate.” The author was also an accomplished playwright and columnist and former schoolteacher.
Samuel Beckett was an Irish novelist, poet, literary translator, playwright, and theater director who wrote tragically absurd dark-comedy in the modernist genre. He studied Italian and French at Trinity College in Dublin and then spent the rest of his adult life in France, where he wrote in French and English. Legendary writer James Joyce worked with and influenced Beckett in his early career. Waiting for Godot is one of Beckett’s most important plays. Coined as “Absurdist Theatre,” its unconventional style with meaningless dialogue disoriented audiences. This new genre had a monumental impact on the theater world for subsequent generations. Beckett’s other most enduring works include: Endgame, Dante and the Lobster, Krapp’s Last Tape, Molloy, Nohow, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. He won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969.
James Joyce is one Ireland’s most beloved writers. The world-renowned author is celebrated for his life’s work every year on Bloomsday, June 16, in Dublin. The Irish novelist, teacher, and poet was an influential force in the modernist avant-garde movement. His most important novel, Ulysses, chronicles the experience of three main characters through the course of one day (June 16, 1904), in Dublin, and is loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. His other monumental works include: Dubliners, Finnegans Wake, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
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Did you know that dogs and cats donned masks during the Great Influenza? Or that Alexander Hamilton fled Philadelphia in 1793 to escape Yellow Fever? Or that scientists have found smallpox pustules on the mummy of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh? As the world confronts the devastating spread of Covid-19, we look back to previous epidemics to understand their grave impacts and the lessons we’ve learned. We also examine the way everyday people learned to adapt, coexist, and persevere among these severely frightening historical moments.
How much do you know about historical pandemics? Here are the most significant facts and surprising trivia of the deadliest outbreaks in U.S. history:
COVID-19 is a new and emerging infectious disease with ongoing outbreaks that continue to threaten the health of people in the United States and worldwide.
Although the disease can infect and kill anyone, the majority of infected young people tend to remain asymptomatic and never develop the illness. Whereas, older infected adults often develop either a mild case or serious illness, which requires hospitalization and can quickly lead to death.
Spread of this new strain of the novel coronavirus occurs when a person is exposed to an infected person’s respiratory droplets through close contact.
Infected people often appear healthy in the asymptomatic phase of the disease for 2-14 days after exposure to COVID-19, during which time they could be unknowingly spreading the disease.
The most common symptoms of this highly contagious virus includes fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath which typically presents 2-14 days after being exposed.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in November 2019.
In January 2020, the first documented case in the U.S. was confirmed in Washington state. The man had just returned from a trip to Wuhan.
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus which can lead to AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
HIV is caused by a retrovirus, which attacks the body’s immune system leaving its victim more susceptible to potentially fatal infections.
A type of chimpanzee from Central Africa has been identified as the source of HIV. The virus may have mutated and infected humans as a result of hunting practices as far back as the late 1800s.
In 1981, the virus was first officially identified in the U.S. after it started spreading through the gay community.
HIV is typically spread through body fluids during sex or needle sharing with other people.
The chances of an HIV-positive person infecting another person increases the higher their viral load.
One of the first drugs, AZT, that was developed to treat AIDS caused side effects that half the patients could not tolerate.
There is no cure for the disease, but more infected people are living longer due to educational outreach and advances in modern medicine.
Preventative measures include abstinence, using condoms, and avoiding the sharing of needles. Prevention medicines include prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).
Approximately 32 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the HIV virus was first identified.
Although AIDS was first identified in 1981, President Reagan failed to address the epidemic in a constructive way. His first notable mention of the crisis was in a 1985 press conference when he shared his doubts in allowing children with AIDS to continue to attend school. It was not until 1987, after thousands had already died of the disease, did his chilling silence end by recommending equal doses of medicine and morality to tackle the illness.
Polio, or poliomyelitis, is a crippling viral infection that affects the spinal cord which can lead to chronic shortness of breath, permanent paralysis, and death in humans.
The virus, which can be traced back to ancient Egypt, spreads through fecal matter and contaminated food and water that is ingested.
Milder symptoms of the disease can plague a person years later—causing joint pain, chronic fatigue, and muscle weakness.
Young people under five years old are most vulnerable to catching the disease. After exposure, some caught a severe form of the disease while most had mild symptoms and fully recovered.
In the U.S. alone, polio outbreaks caused approximately 15,000 cases of paralysis every year prior to the mid-20th century.
Polio was eventually eradicated in the U.S. after the introduction of the poliovirus vaccine (IPV), developed by Jonas Salk in the early 1950s. By the 1970s, there were fewer than 10 cases recorded.
In the United States, this strain of flu first infiltrated military personnel in Kansas, then spread east with the troops during World War I.
The mortality rate was high in young, healthy people; including the 20-40 years old, which are unusual casualties during common flu epidemics that typically kills the older population.
By the time the disease ran its course in 1920, it killed approximately 675,000 U.S. citizens and a staggering 50-100 million people worldwide.
Although commonly referred to as the Spanish Flu, there is no consensus on where it originated. The name stuck because Spain devoted so much coverage to the outbreaks.
While in pursuit of a cure, scientists incorrectly assumed the flu was caused by bacteria instead of a virus during the time.
At the height of the pandemic, U.S. officials encouraged citizens to wear face masks to prevent spread of infection. Many were distributed by the Red Cross or made at home using gauze or handkerchiefs.
Cholera is an illness caused by the bacteria V. cholerae that attaches to the intestines causing severe diarrhea, dehydration, and death.
The bacterium can be transmitted from person to person.
This disease is most often contracted from infected human skin, untreated sewage, and through contaminated food and drinking water.
Cholera was documented as early as 2,500 years ago.
In 1832, a new wave of immigrants crossing the Atlantic brought cholera to North America.
Up until the late 1800s, many doctors did not believe the disease was contagious.
The bacterium was not discovered until the last half of the 19th century by Italian anatomist Filippo Pacini, and then by German bacteriologist Robert Koch who made subsequent advancements in Pacini’s discovery.
After the link between sanitation and cholera was established, New York City created a board of health to manage the disease in 1870.
Public health improved when the city alleviated poor sanitation and quarantined those exposed to cholera.
The last major outbreak in the U.S. occurred in New York City after infected people from Italy arrived by steamship in 1910.
Typhoid fever is caused by Salmonella serotype Typhi and Salmonella serotype Paratyphi.
The bacteria is treated with antibiotics.
The disease spreads through impure water, tainted food, and human waste.
Symptoms of the disease include red marks on the skin, upset stomach, headache, and high fever.
In the early 1900s, the disease sickened approximately 3,467 people and killed 639 in New York City. The bacteria was lethal because antibiotics to treat it were not discovered until decades later.
Although typhoid fever is rare today, approximately 350 people are diagnosed with the illness in the United States each year.
Mary Mallon was nicknamed “Typhoid Mary” after infecting several New York households with the illness, in 1906. A total of 53 people were infected and 3 died due to her poor food-handling practices. When authorities finally tracked down the cook, she reluctantly tested for the disease with positive results. However, she refused to stop working as a cook and continued to knowingly expose other unsuspecting victims. Finally, Mallon was arrested and forced to quarantine for several years by court order—only to resurface again years later and sicken more people after her release.
A yellow fever epidemic devasted Philadelphia, in August 1793.
The invisible plague was brought to the New England town by war refugees from the Caribbean.
Because doctors were unaware of the existence of viruses and bacteria at the time, fatalities surged as officials argued about how to best treat and eradicate the disease.
By the time yellow fever finally started to slow with the arrival of cold weather the following October, the virus had claimed the lives of approximately 6,000 men, women, and children.
Sporadic outbreaks continued over the next 100 years in the Eastern United States, killing thousands more until 1905 when the last major outbreak of the scourge concluded in the U.S.
Tree-living monkeys in Africa and South America were the most likely source of the virus.
Mosquitoes are carriers of yellow fever.
Although there is now a vaccine against yellow fever, there is no cure.
Smallpox, or the variola virus, has plagued humans with random outbreaks for thousands of years. It was commonly spread on trade routes throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.
Smallpox is one of the most feared diseases because of its disfiguring rash which can leave permanent scars and cause blindness. Highly contagious, it has a 3 percent death rate.
Europeans first brought the disease to the New World via the slave trade in the 16th century, killing many indigenous peoples in America.
In colonial America, Benjamin Franklin’s son died of the virus when he was only 4 years old, in 1736. This founding father advocated for the distribution of pamphlets to the colonists instructing them on how to inoculate their children at home.
Dating back to China as early as the 15th century, this inoculation method called “Variolation” exposed healthy people to the mild form of the virus before they acquired it naturally. They would either rub their arm or inhale ground smallpox scabs from a smallpox patient. This treatment protected people from dying of a more severe form of the disease.
Scientific advancements perfected a smallpox vaccine, resulting in the eradication of natural outbreaks in the U.S. since 1949 and worldwide since 1977.
Scientists found traces of smallpox pustules on the head of a mummy thought to be Pharaoh Ramses V, who reigned in Egypt, during the 3rd century BCE.
Other early cases of the disease described as smallpox were documented in China during the 4th century and in India during the 7th century.
All of these examples show that diseases have flourished as long as human beings have congregated for survival. Often insidious, highly contagious viruses and bacteria can easily spread silently and swiftly through human populations. These deadly epidemics usually hit cities first and often claim the most vulnerable among us; generally, the socio-economically disadvantaged and immune compromised are impacted the most. Eventually, many of these infectious diseases disappear as mysteriously as they arrived, but not before wreaking immeasurable havoc—indiscriminately leaving destroyed economies and lives in their wake.
The month of March celebrates the momentous accomplishments women have achieved and the boundaries they’ve broken throughout history. In politics, science, art, service, journalism, academics, civil rights, and countless other areas, women continue to demonstrate an incredible impact on the world.
Here are a few of the women who have made significant marks on history and paved the way for those who followed. If you’re really inspired by these figures, you can see them and others in a solitaire game about notable women in history.
Renowned African American author, poet, playwright, and political activist, Maya Angelou was born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Over her lifetime, she authored 36 critically acclaimed books, the first, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” detailing her childhood in the Jim Crow South. This was one of the most widely read autobiographies by a 20th-century Black woman. Angelou gained mainstream exposure for her poetry when she read during President Bill Clinton’s swearing-in ceremony in 1993.
Overlooked as a significant novelist during her brief life, Jane Austen later became one of the most celebrated writers of the 19th century. Born in southern England in 1775, Austen penned just six novels, including “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Her ability to craft everyday characters faced with dramatic situations continues to enthrall readers. Austen’s timeless works have inspired movies, shows, and miniseries.
Called to serve, Clarissa “Clara” Harlowe Barton was compelled to care for soldiers of the Civil War on the battlefields. Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” she treated and comforted the sick. After the war, Barton traveled to Europe and learned about the Switzerland-based Red Cross. Inspired, she returned home and worked with influential friends to develop the American Red Cross, which protected and provided for the sick and wounded in crisis in the United States. Barton served as president of the organization for 23 years.
At just 15 years old, Rosalind Franklin determined that science was her vocation. Born in London in 1920, Franklin only lived to 37. But in that short time, she made groundbreaking discoveries. While studying chemistry at Cambridge University, she learned crystallography and X-ray diffraction. She applied those techniques to DNA fibers, coming up with a photo that became the foundation of the DNA structure.
Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940 and became the first woman to earn a doctorate in East or Central Africa. She was a professor, author, and visionary environmentalist who developed a successful reforestation program that launched in Africa and was adopted across the globe. Maathai was named the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for her contributions to sustainability and peace.
Called to serve the poor through the Church, Mother Teresa, born Agenese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu of Albania, chose to enter the religious life as a missionary at the age of 12. When she was 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto and was eventually sent to India to teach young children English. She took her vows in 1931. Mother Teresa was known around the world for her humanitarianism, and she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She was canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
Madame Curie was the first woman to win the nobel peace prize for her work discovering radioactive substances. Beyond science, she helped develop ambulances which saved countless lives during WWII. She also put her life on the line. Her long term exposure to radiation eventually killed her.
Needless to say, countless women have made an impact on our world with accomplishments large and small. They’re not only worth recognizing, but celebrating. Women’s History Month not only helps us remember the milestones women have made, but also reminds us to continue to drive towards a just and equal society.
Have you ever wondered who the earliest people were to discover America and where they originated from? Because Christopher Columbus arrived on the Caribbean Islands in the fifteenth century, many history books focus on him as the first European founder. However, recent archaeological evidence reveals other stories seldom told.
In fact, the first explorers to inhabit North and South America were from Asia, not Europe. Scientific tests show that Asians and Native Americans share a large percentage of the same mitochondrial DNA. Therefore, most anthropologists believe that ancient people migrated from Asia and settled in the Americas thousands of years ago; these are the ancestors of today’s indigenous people. These first pioneers likely crossed over the frozen Bering Land Bridge—which connected modern-day Siberia to Alaska—during the last Ice Age.
As the Paleoamericans journeyed south throughout these vast continents, they adapted their survival skills and then opened up communication channels and established trade routes. Their innovative hunting and agricultural practices enabled a multitude of new societies to form and prosper. Advancements in science and architecture followed.
Here are just a few of these indigenous cultures and their significant accomplishments—long before the arrival of Europeans to the “New World” who would eventually change their way of life forever.
The Inuvialuit are the Inuit indigenous people of Western Canada, who currently live in the Arctic region. They are the descendants of the Thule culture who migrated eastward from the Bering Strait around 200 B.C.—then eventually settled in Alaska, Northern Canada, and as far away as Greenland by the thirteenth century. Archaeologists have found specialized tools for harvesting whales and other artifacts at early Inuvialuit villages near the Mackenzie River. The modern-day Inuvialuit still practice the same hunting and fishing techniques as their ancestors. They are considered the world’s best fishermen and big game hunters, and remain closely connected to animal migrations in one of the world’s most extreme environments.
The People of Cahokia
The great Native American city of Cahokia is considered one of the most advanced civilizations ever discovered in the United States. The founders—who were accomplished hunters, farmers, and builders—settled Cahokia close to the modern-day city of St. Louis. Like most Native Americans, they were expert hunters who employed sophisticated techniques such as wearing camouflage, setting traps, and utilizing bird calls to capture prey. They started growing beans, corn, and squash near the shores of the Mississippi River around the eighth century. They constructed elaborate pyramids that are still standing today. These mound builders created approximately 120 large pyramids—surrounded by fortified plazas—which housed temples, mortuaries, workshops, and elaborate works of art. At its height, the city supported 20,000 people. Eventually, the Cahokia ceremonial center was slowly abandoned in the fourteenth century. Most likely, the people of Cahokia exhausted a variety of natural resources and were no longer able to sustain their large population.
The Puebloan culture began to thrive at the Four Corners region of the United States around 1,500 B.C. At Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado, they built elaborate structures carved from stone as early as the seventh century. There are hundreds of cliff dwellings containing long houses, storage units, and family spaces. The Pueblo farmed squash, beans, and corn using reservoirs and irrigation systems in a fragile environment that was susceptible to soil erosion and low rainfall. The Pueblo people of this region also raised turkeys and hunted rabbits to subsist. The Mesa Verdeans abandoned their homes around the thirteenth century most likely due to drought, then assimilated into other Native American cultures which included the Zuni and Hopi tribes. The Puebloan settlements still exist as a reminder of their advanced culture. Eventually, the Navajo tribe migrated into the Four Corners region around the fifteenth century and remain in the southwest today.
The Aztecs were an advanced civilization who ruled several ethnic groups in central Mexico, between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. These Nahuatl-speaking peoples were well educated and at its pinnacle the civilization was over one million strong. They constructed vast architectural complexes with plazas, pyramids, temples, markets, and irrigation canals. This Mesoamerican culture developed a complex writing system conveyed in artwork, such as calendars, which guided their cyclical rituals and government-controlled agriculture. To further consolidate power, the Aztecs conquered additional tribes and sacrificed prisoners of war to their god Huitzilopochtli.
The Aztecs continued their economic and territorial expansion until the Spaniards arrived, in 1519. The natives’ weapons were no match for the Europeans’ steel arms. Eventually, the Aztec ruler Motecuhzoma surrendered to the Conquistadors after he gifted them a substantial amount of gold treasure to go away. However, the tribute only encouraged the foreign invaders to continue their expedition. The king was imprisoned in the capital city of Tenochtitlán where he died soon after. By 1521, the conquest of the Aztecs and their great cities was nearly complete. Tenochtitlán was then rebuilt as Mexico City under Spanish rule.
As early as 2,000 B.C. the Maya civilization started to form permanent villages. Their complex society relied on agriculture, trade, and science. Through the ages they evolved into a highly sophisticated society, which at its peak spanned from southeastern Mexico to Central America. The Maya were accomplished artists, engineers, and astronomers who created great cities that served as religious and cultural centers throughout the region. Many of the Maya sites aligned with the astronomical constellations. This Mesoamerican culture is best known for its massive pyramids which functioned as observatories, religious edifices, royal tombs, and calendars.
At Chichén Itzá, in the Yucatán Peninsula, the 91 steps on each of the four sides of the pyramid are thought to represent the days of the four seasons. All sides total 364 steps, with the top platform representing the 365th step to complete the giant calendar. The steps are so accurately positioned that the shadow of what appears to be a serpent aligns with a stone sculpture exhibiting a reptile’s face at its base. This shadow snake rises from the ground then slithers back into the Earth during the spring and fall equinoxes. Despite the Maya’s superior abilities to master the Earth and sky, their culture started to collapse by the tenth century. Over the next several centuries they abandoned their cities due to overpopulation, drought, and depletion of natural resources.
The Inca Empire inhabited a large swathe of the South American west coast between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Incas were the largest civilization in that region during this time. They operated a highly organized central government that relocated diverse groups of people in order to unite the empire. The Incas were highly adaptable to the extreme elevations and landscapes of the Andean Mountain range and deserts. They established a vast trading network throughout these regions where they grew potatoes, corn, legumes, and grains on steep inclines.
Machu Picchu was an important agricultural center located on a 7,970-foot mountain ridge in Peru. It is where the Incas expertly engineered elaborate buildings, stone walls, and terraces. The Incas were able to successfully grow crops in the rugged terrain by optimizing their environment to avoid the threats of soil erosion, poor drainage, and landslides. Abandoned in the sixteenth century, after the Incas were defeated by European diseases and superior weaponry, it still stands as a testament to their exceptional civic and agricultural capabilities.
The Norse explorer Leif Erikson sailed to Canada from Greenland five centuries before Columbus arrived in America. His seafaring father, Erik the Red, previously founded an original Norse settlement in Greenland where Leif spent most of his youth. With the same pioneering spirit as his father, Leif embarked on a voyage to discover new lands in the late tenth century. His adventurous curiosity led him to become the first known European to make landfall and erect temporary shelters west of Greenland, on the mainland of North America. The land he discovered in northeastern Canada was referred to as “Vinland” by the Vikings because of the wild grapes they found there.
According to The Vineland Sagas, Thorfinn Karlsefni was inspired by Leif’s tales of new lands. With his permission, Thorfinn repurposed those same shelters Leif had established years earlier to build the first European settlement in America. Thorfinn constructed the small encampment made of timber and sod, which anthropologists strongly suggest might be the Norse settlement identified as L’Anse aux Meadows, at the tip of Newfoundland. The Viking settlers huddled into their completed longhouse for the winter, then had a violent encounter with indigenous people by spring. The Norse referred to them as Skrælingjar, who were most likely native Algonquian-speaking people. After skirmishes with them over trade negotiations gone wrong, the Viking settlers were attacked and driven out. Isolated and without reinforcements, the Norse abandoned their North American settlement then returned to Greenland. Thorfinn eventually moved back to his homeland of Iceland.
Christopher Columbus made four voyages to the New World from Spain, between 1492 and 1502. While he explored the Caribbean Islands extensively—and portions of Central and South America—he never ventured further afield to the U.S. mainland. Initially, Columbus believed he had found Asia, hence why he called the indigenous people he discovered “Indians.” Columbus’ second trip to the New World was more dangerous. Some of his men were killed and by his third voyage they had mutinied against him. This led to a formal inquiry by the monarchy that sent him back to Spain in chains. Columbus was freed eventually to make his fourth and final trip back to the New World. He died after his return to Europe, in 1506.
Long before Columbus sailed to America, the Arawaks were well established throughout South America and the Caribbean. This culture was among the first the mariner encountered after he landed in the Bahamas on October 12. Columbus’ ambitious pursuit of gold, spices, and other natural resources emboldened him to take advantage of the Arawak people, who he noted were gentle and bright, but ignorant in nature. He forcefully enslaved 500, but only 300 survived the trip to Spain.
On subsequent voyages back to the New World, Columbus and his men plundered their way through previously unexplored islands. When some of the Arawak tried to defend themselves, the Spaniards overwhelmed them, burning some and hanging others. Those who remained took their own lives rather than be enslaved. As more Europeans immigrated over the next several centuries, this same model of conquest played out time and again. The indigenous people who were not enslaved by the Europeans, or ravaged by their diseases, were permanently displaced throughout most of the Americas.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a celebration of their rich culture and legacy. Agricultural, hunting, warfare, and survival techniques have been passed on for generations. Today’s citizens are the beneficiaries of their diverse cultural heritage, including the cultivation of these exotic New World crops which all originated from America: corn, sunflowers, avocados, blueberries, cranberries, papayas, peppers, pineapples, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, chestnuts, black walnuts, cashews, pecans, peanuts, potatoes, cotton, maple syrup, tobacco, chocolate, and vanilla.
The leaves are turning and the crisp air announces the arrival of fall. Wherever you are, the start of school brings new experiences. On high school and college campuses, students are assessing their coursework, breaking open new books, and making friends. The novels and memoirs below feature the ups and downs of campus life. From the pressures of academics to the excitement of new relationships, they present the challenges we all face navigating the social life of school.
Educated is Tara Westover’s inspiring memoir that shares her struggles to break free from unhealthy familial bonds in pursuit of her full potential. Bright, but uneducated, Tara is determined to learn more about the world despite her survivalist parents’ choice to live in relative isolation from society, in the mountains of Idaho. Their distrust of the government instills fear and distrust in Tara and her siblings, and prevents them from attending school. Throughout her childhood, the family struggles to survive in the face of limited job opportunities. However, after suffering severe emotional and physical abuse from an older brother, Tara gains the strength to forge her own path in the pursuit of knowledge. She finds the courage to strike out on her own and manages to attend college despite unsupportive parents—eventually attending Harvard and Cambridge Universities, earning both bachelor’s and doctoral degrees.
The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, tells the story of sixteen-year-old Starr Carter who witnesses the shooting of a childhood friend, Khalil Harris, by a police officer. Starr lives in an impoverished inner-city neighborhood but attends a privileged prep school where most students don’t understand the dangers of growing up black in America. It doesn’t take long for the shooting to make national headlines and for protesters to erupt in her community demanding justice. The publicity threatens to plunge Star into an unwanted spotlight. As she navigates between her neighborhood and school, she must decide whether to risk the safety of her family and future by speaking up against the murder of her friend or remain silent about the brutal killing.
A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, is a coming-of-age story about the tumultuous relationship between best friends, Gene Forrester and Phineas. Set at an exclusive prep school in New Hampshire during the early 1940s and World War II, the roommates, who have opposite personalities, become unlikely friends. Although the war is not being fought in their country, the boys feel its threat since they are close to the age of enlistment. Overtime, Gene feels increasingly threatened by Phineas’ athleticism. Eventually, the boys’ close bond devolves into a destructive rivalry that drives Gene to commit a brutal act of betrayal against Phineas. Both boys are forced to confront their motivations, fears, and the grim consequences of Gene’s selfish actions which change their lives forever.
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, is a novel about an odd high-school student who calls herself “Stargirl.” At first, she is embraced by other classmates despite her unusual behavior of carrying a pet rat and breaking out in celebratory song and dance. Stargirl’s enchanting presence entertains and inspires other students, including Leo Borlock, who begins to fall in love with her. However, after she commits a series of selfless, but misunderstood acts of kindness, her new-found popularity begins to diminish. Leo encourages Stargirl to act more “normal” so they can continue their relationship. When she complies, she still can’t shed the negative label of being different; the dramatic change threatens to destroy her magical persona. Stargirl and Leo are forced to question the value of abandoning uniqueness for the sake of conformity.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli, is a novel about a gay sixteen-year-old, Simon Spier, who struggles with keeping his sexual identity a secret. He is excited to cultivate a hidden relationship by email with an unknown admirer named “Blue,” until his classmate Martin threatens to “out” him after inadvertently seeing their heart-felt correspondence. Meanwhile, Simon’s involvement in the school musical and interactions with other students keeps him guessing who “Blue” might be. Eventually, as social pressures to disclose his secret mounts, Simon is forced to confront his worst fears and find the courage to reveal who he truly is to classmates, friends, and family.
One of Us is Lying
One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus, is no ordinary depiction of high school drama. It’s an unsettling murder mystery that keeps the reader guessing. As rumors swirl around four classmates in different cliques, one student outcast, Simon Kelleger, is determined to destroy their reputation through a scandalous gossip app he created called About That. When Simon dies suddenly while serving in detention with Addy, Bronwyn, Nate, and Cooper, all four students become prime suspects. An investigation into the app by police reveals unpublished exposés of each, which leads the authorities to surmise one of them could have committed an act of murderous revenge. As the four classmates conduct their own investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Simon’s death, they soon learn to question the unfounded assumptions they hold about each other.
The Secret History
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, is a novel following six privileged but disturbed students who attend an exclusive college. Each has their own demons to grapple with as they descend into a spiral of debauchery that eventually leads to murder. They are encouraged by their amoral professor, who teaches Ancient Greek studies, to immerse themselves in their research. The group of intellectual deviants push the boundaries of their studies by trying to replicate a Dionysian ritual practiced by the ancient Greeks. Tragedy occurs when their debauchery leads to the accidental, but savage death of a man. Their relationships slowly unravel as drug addiction and blackmail cause them to spiral into further emotional instability and acts of violence and murder.
Bunny, by Mona Awad, is a fantastical novel about a lonely MFA student, Samantha Heather Mackey, who finds friendship with a clique of wealthy classmates. These unscrupulous but imaginative women, who call each other “Bunny,” seduce Samantha with erotic tales, drugs, and magic. When they invite her to collaborate on their collective literary project, she is coerced into the bizarre ritual of turning rabbits into handsome young men that are killed by the “Bunnies” once an inadequacy is discovered. Samantha, desperate for companionship, delves deeper into drugs with the shameless encouragement of her friends. Soon, she must choose between an authentic and healthy relationship with a poetry student or the “Bunnies” guiding her on an uncertain path to self-destruction.
Climate change is perhaps the worldwide challenge of our time. As we celebrate Earth Day on April 22, global temperatures and sea levels are rising in unprecedented ways, and we are losing more and more animal and plant species to extinction. Human life as we know it is at stake. How can we face the facts of global warming? We know that radical change is necessary, but it is too easy to feel hopeless. How do we open our eyes to our rapidly evolving world and empower ourselves at the same time?
Our study guides below offer not only the history and facts of climate change, but also provide models for how we narrate this crisis. The problem is dire and the politics frustrating, but we still have time to act. As so many of the books below remind us, don’t give up—not yet.
The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, by David Wallace-Wells, explores the horrors of climate change on an unprecedented scale. He reveals how global warming has already started to affect us and why it is much worse than most of us are aware. Wallace-Wells explains how the intricate ecological and geopolitical systems behind these disasters are only beginning to unravel throughout the world. Many scientists believe there is still time to save the planet even though most of humanity has done little to tackle the problem of climate change over the last two centuries. Even if we could gain worldwide consensus and action to cut carbon emissions, we would still experience the negative consequences of global warming for centuries to come. Furthermore, if this generation continues to do nothing in the interest of reaping short-term profits, then the consequences will be catastrophic—making the earth uninhabitable in the near future.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
In the book Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, author Jared Diamond examines the environmental factors that influence the rise and decline of civilizations throughout history. Societies often fail due to the depletion of natural resources and a lack of political will to recognize the problem adequately and mitigate impending disaster. Diamond uses global case studies from ancient to modern-day civilizations—including the United States—revealing how each society failed to implement conservation solutions that contributed to their demise. History shows us repeatedly that damage to our fragile ecosystem has long-term consequences for the survival of the human race and our planet.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert, documents the author’s journey around the world to gather evidence of mass extinction on earth. Consulting with scientists and naturalists about loss prevention, she explores the theories behind the natural extinction process versus swift, mass extinction events. As Kolbert investigates the historical data further, she begins to understand the causes of the current mass extinction underway. It’s due to man-made global warming. As humankind advances rapidly, species in the natural world will inevitably be disturbed—such as the death of coral reefs and other marine life. Since we are closely connected to nature, these abrupt changes have powerful impacts on humans—putting us at serious risk for survival.
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water
Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, by Marc Reisner, exposes the creation of a subsidized and expensive “hydraulic society” in the Southwestern United States. This harmful dependence on irrigation canals and dams was built on and maintained by greed in pursuit of the American Dream. These ambitious infrastructure goals have disrupted the fragile ecosystems of the desert and damaged the environment. Driven by corruption and profits, corporations and government powers have mismanaged our national resources in their attempts to get rich from taming the American West.
This Changes Everything
This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein, tackles the complexities of the climate change debate from different perspectives. Conservative think tanks and lobbyists employ experts to craft misinformation campaigns about fossil fuels to influence legislation. These efforts favor Big Oil players and other polluters who contribute to the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, approximately 97% of climate scientists continue to present overwhelming evidence that human-made carbon emissions threaten all life on Earth. As governments remain deadlocked and hinder solutions to the highly politicized issue of global warming, catastrophes escalate globally along with the soaring profits of major polluters. Most environmentalists believe the answer begins with replacing capitalism—which focuses on profits at the expense of our environment—and developing an alternate economy that effectively combats climate change.
The Control of Nature
The Control of Nature, by John McPhee, examines the price humans pay by radically altering their environment instead of respecting the unpredictable forces of nature. The author investigates how societies have created disorder and suffered tragic consequences. Geopolitics and corruption influence destructive policies that disrupt the natural order of things. The author visits the people who chose to live near beautiful but fragile habitats susceptible to earthquakes, floods, lava flows, droughts, and other natural disasters globally. Working with nature to successfully protect societies is vital, instead of subduing it at all costs.
The Ecology of Commerce
The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken, examines the ways industrialization has negatively impacted the environment. Our economic system and the processes of industrialization do not support nature, where most waste is not recycled or utilized in ways that are conducive to maintaining the character of the natural world. Hawken argues that society must transition to a restorative economy to save the planet from destruction. However, the author acknowledges this will be a challenge since corporations are driven solely by profits. The costs of not transitioning will be far greater than the dividends and lead to the destruction of the earth if we don’t convert to a sustainable ecologic economic system yielding minimal waste.
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William A. McDonough, explores alternatives to current methods in favor of environmentally friendly building and manufacturing practices. The author focuses on utilizing environments with designs that best take advantage of the surrounding landscape’s natural ability to heat and cool. Designers and manufacturers are encouraged to consider various ways of planning buildings and industrial complexes using nontoxic and biodegradable materials. McDonough challenges them to employ uncomplicated, healthy design options using recycled materials as optimal ways to build durable and eco-friendly structures.
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution
Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, by Paul Hawken, evaluates the cost of our current industry on the natural world. The author argues that the United States should be responsible for leading the world into an alternative industrial revolution that will restore a healthier environment. Communities and cities should organize around pedestrian accessibility rather than reliance on cars. Businesses must form a new model of industry practices that avoids waste and recycles everything they take from nature. The simplicity of systems and their efficiency in using less energy are more cost-effective in the long run. Since humans cannot manufacture anything better than what nature has already provided, we must find better ways to protect the environment from industrial waste and destruction.
Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming
The book Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming, by McKenzie Funk, focuses on the economic perspective of climate change issues. Companies are figuring out how to profit from losses as global warming accelerates floods, droughts, and the melting of glaciers. The Netherlands is stepping up investment in water infrastructure to help with sanitation issues that threaten to overwhelm Bangladesh. As the Southwestern United States struggles with lack of water, it is becoming a hot commodity bought and sold on the open market. Greenland is gaining access to vast stores of minerals as glaciers disappear into the sea. Canada is looking to capitalize on ice breaks that are clearing the way for new commercial shipping routes in the Northwest Passage. These case studies show the continued drive to place profit ahead of the protection of the environment.
For many Americans, Presidents’ Day does not elicit serious reflection about our nation’s turbulent history, but it’s a time for recognition nonetheless. Dating back to the early 19th century, Presidents’ Day began as a way for citizens to commemorate George Washington’s birthday on February 22. Eventually, the day evolved into a federal holiday observed on the third Monday of February, which also honors other U.S. Presidents—including Abraham Lincoln who was born in the same month.
These Presidents are acclaimed not only for their superior leadership, but also for their renown in strategically bringing together people of polarized ideologies. Here are the most important Presidential figures who challenged our country to rise above distrust and hostility, in order to forge a more peaceful union.
President George Washington
George Washington was an aristocratic planter born in Virginia, in 1732. He was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army at the start of the Revolutionary War, in 1775, and then elected the first President of the United States after the war ended. He risked his life of privilege to become a traitor of the British Crown, resisting taxation without representation and other unfair acts imposed on the British Colonies. Although many colonists sided with the Crown, Washington demanded discipline from his soldiers and respect for all civilians—loyalists and patriots alike—who were on opposite sides of the deep political divide during the war. Once the war concluded, the commander quelled a military coup, called the Newburgh Conspiracy. He met with his subordinates directly and subsequently lobbied a newly formed Congress successfully to distribute pensions his soldiers were due, in 1783.
Washington regularly sought advice from people with the best minds of the day. In 1787, at the Constitutional Convention, he conferred with delegates and Alexander Hamilton about supporting a more stable and centralized form of government, to avoid anarchy in the newly formed and fragile union. The former commander was elected President in 1789 after the Constitution was ratified. He focused on continuing to unite a war-torn nation, employing his astute diplomatic skills to bring influencers together, often with opposing political views, including Thomas Jefferson. He also dined on food and beer with convicts locked up in debtor’s prison. Perhaps one of Washington’s most enduring and unifying acts was the establishment of Thanksgiving Day on November 26, in 1789.
President Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born into a humble beginning in rural Kentucky, in 1809. He was primarily self-educated before becoming a lawyer, then a representative in the U.S. Congress. Lincoln was adamantly against the expansion of slavery into other U.S. states, which prompted him to enter the Presidential race. He won the election in 1860, becoming the 16th President. When Southern States then seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy, the Northern States refused to recognize the succession. The Confederacy’s firing on Fort Sumner ignited the American Civil War in 1861, which lasted four brutal years and claimed a minimum of 620,000 of lives. During this time, Lincoln was forced to contend with radical factions on both sides, each of whom threatened to tear the Union apart forever.
As a newly elected President, Lincoln was thus tasked with bringing together a young republic radically divided by geography and ideology. He ultimately succeeded by using a combination of political strategy and public relations. Lincoln was able to leverage the wealth and resources of the North to cripple Southern trade with blockades and keep foreign interference at bay. He freed slaves in states in active rebellion, with the Emancipation Proclamation, and delivered the powerful Gettysburg Address, in 1863—promoting freedom and equal rights for all. This powerful speech further strengthened the resolve of the North. Finally, the passage of Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlawed slavery for good. Ultimately, Lincoln was reelected and, as the war was ending, assassinated in 1865. Despite this tragic end to a distinguished life, President Lincoln’s enduring legacy of uniting a nation under constitutional crisis lives on.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt was born to a wealthy New York family, in 1882. He became the 32nd president of the United States, in 1933, during the Great Depression. His optimism, strong will, and extraordinary leadership during World War II, allowed him to rebuild an impoverished nation.
Almost immediately after he was elected President, Roosevelt implemented numerous federal relief measures, helping millions of poor citizens during the worst depression in U.S. history. The “New Deal” included banking reform and agricultural, mortgage, and job assistance programs. The most popular acts were Civilian Conservation Corps, which hired thousands of unemployed workers, and The Public Works Administration, which constructed massive public works projects across the nation.
When World War II arrived, President Roosevelt tried his best to keep America out of the war. However, when Japan attacked a U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, in 1941, he delivered the famous and inspiring “Day of Infamy” speech. Immediately, Congress declared war on Japan and Americans volunteered enmasse to join allied forces in eventually defeating Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy in 1945. His unification and leadership skills were so popular, he was reelected for an unprecedented third term as President, in 1940.
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson was born in Texas in 1908. He was a school teacher, senator, and Vice President before becoming the 36th President of the United States after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, in 1963.
Johnson’s vision for a “Great Society” included the expansion of public broadcasting, the arts, and healthcare, including Medicare and Medicaid programs. His “War on Poverty” included releasing federal funds to aid the poor in housing, jobs, and public education—creating food stamps, Head Start and Work Study programs.
America was severely fractured, riotous and racially divided in the early 1960s. Although highly criticized for escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Johnson was able to bring the country together by signing into law the Civil Rights Act. He succeeded where his predecessor, President Kennedy, had started but failed. As a former representative and senator, he understood how to expertly navigate Congress and was a master statesman. He managed tactically to gain consensus from key Southern senators who were blocking the civil rights legislation with a filibuster for over a month. Johnson rallied enough powerful legislators to his cause through compromise and capitalizing on his familiarity with the political motivations and delay tactics of key players, having deployed similar strategies while serving as senate majority leader previously. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is arguably one of the most important acts ever passed—making it illegal for public facilities to discriminate based on color, race, national origin or religion. It also guaranteed equal employment rights for women.
The wonder of Christmas is upon us again. Every year we participate in time-honored traditions—Yule logs, eggnog, Santa hats, and ugly sweaters—mostly unaware of the holiday’s origins. If you’ve ever asked why, come December, we risk our sanity propping up and decorating fir trees in our living rooms, wonder no longer. Keep reading to discover the answer to these mysteries and more.
Why do we celebrate Christmas in December?
The holiday honors the birth of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. Although early Christians did not agree on the exact date of his birth, by the 4th century December 25 became the official holiday. This day aligned with pre-Christian pagan festivals that would continue to be celebrated throughout Europe during the Medieval winter solstice.
When did we start bringing trees into our homes?
Staging trees to celebrate winter festivals is a long-held tradition dating back to the Romans. Decorating evergreens for Christmas extended from Medieval Northern Europe to the Victorian era, when a German emperor brought the custom to England. The Christmas tree was soon after adopted by Americans. Starting in the Renaissance, celebrants decorated conifers with candles, glass figures, garlands, ribbons, snow-like cotton candy, pastries, and fruits. By the mid-20th century, decorators added flocking to simulate snow, sugar ornaments and a wide variety of modern accoutrements we still use today.
Why so many balls?
Some of the first adornments on Christmas trees were apples, believed to be the forbidden fruit that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. However, these edibles did not have a long shelf life. Eventually the red and green objects morphed into shiny round spheres of the same colors hanging from our cherished trees.
Why the holiday lights up our lives?
Until the 20th century, wealthy Europeans used candles to shine light on the tree ornaments. They usually glued the melted wax or attached lanterns to the branches, until light bulbs were invented. By the early 20th century, American businesses started displaying Christmas lights to illuminate their store windows. Most people could not afford the luxury of expensive lights until the 1950s, when they became the norm.
Why do we buy Christmas presents?
You can thank the Magi for the season of giving. Although some lament that the true spirit of Christmas has been lost in crass commercialization, gift-giving is an ancient tradition with strong religious roots. Its origins can be traced to three foreign kings who, having traveled far from home, bequeathed treasures to the infant child Jesus. Each of the wise men gave expensive presents fit for a king—including gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts likely helped finance Jesus and his parents’ subsequent migration to Egypt, an attempt to escape violence in their homeland.
This traditional spice-giving ritual continues today as well. The festive drink called Glühwein (pronounced “glue-vine”), literally “glow wine,” is consumed customarily at Christmas parties and markets throughout Northern Europe. The mulled wine is served warm with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange, and rum. Likewise, Americans traditionally spike their eggnog drinks not only with rum, but also with similar aromatic spices including nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla.
What is a Yule log and why is it necessary?
The Yule log is a handsome piece of wood that is placed in a hearth and burned during Christmas celebrations. Originating in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages, the burning brightness of logs in the gloom of mid-winter symbolizes good, while the ashes left over represent the triumph over evil. While the forces of darkness are typically not considered when these logs are burned today, this holiday tradition continues to warm reclining pets and merrymakers throughout the season.
Does Santa Claus really exist?
Warning: spoiler alert. The answer to this question depends on your age and willingness to believe in the magic of Christmas. While many American children under eight believe Santa Claus delivers toys via a reindeer-guided sleigh and climbs down countless chimneys every year, others remain skeptical. The origins of Santa Claus can be traced to a monk named St. Nicholas, who was born in a Greek town during the late 3rd century, in present-day Turkey. He currently lives at the North Pole.