Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank and honor military personnel who have served in peace and war. The day originally began as Armistice Day to celebrate the end of World War I. It was first officially celebrated on 11 November 1919 and was originally the celebrate veterans who served in that war. In 1954 after many Americans served in both World War II and Korea, veterans organizations petitioned the name be changed from Armistice to Veterans Day to celebrate all who served in the military. Congress approved this change on 1 June 1954 and has been known as Veterans Day since then.
In 1968 as a result of the Uniform Holiday Bill, Veterans Day was shifted to the third Monday in October. Since this law allowed more three day weekends for federal workers (and states that followed the federal holiday calendar) and would allow more people to travel and spend money, this was thought good. The writers of the law never bothered to check and see if people wanted Veterans Day on the third Monday in October. And they were surprised when many states refused to honor the new date and stuck with November 11 for Veterans Day.
The reason is not hard to understand. This patriotic holiday had been celebrated since 1919 and many generations had grown up with with it. In 1975 President Gerald Ford signed into law specifying that Veterans Day would always be celebrated on November 11 no matter what day of the week it falls on. Currently most federal holidays, if they fall on a non-working day (Saturday or Sunday), the nearest working day is the holiday. Meaning if it falls on a Saturday, Friday is a federal holiday. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the official holiday is Monday. And if it falls into the middle of the week, Monday is when the holiday is observed. Thanksgiving and Fourth of July are two other holidays where they are observed on a specific day every year.
The day is marked with important ceremonies such as the national ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. It starts at precisely 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is followed by a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and then speeches and remarks from important dignitaries. Almost always the sitting president will attend though on occasion the Vice President will act in his place should he not be in attendance.
Veterans Day is to honor those who have chosen to serve our country, past or present. We honor and thank them for their service and remember as well that some gave all as well. They give up a lot so that we are protected. And this day is a big Thank You to all of them.
On November 9-10 1938, a violent wave of anti-Jewish pograms broke out in Germany, Austria and Sudetanland. Called Kristallnacht (means literally Night of Crystal but commonly called Night of Broken Glass) violent mobs destroyed synagogues, looted Jewish owned businesses, homes and schools, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps. Police and fire were ordered to stand down and only act to prevent damage to German buildings. Nearly all the Jewish synagogues were torched, except those close to historical sites or buildings.
Thanks to the presence of foreign reporters in Germany at the time, this event became known to the world changing perceptions about the Nazi regime.
Nazi officials depicted the event as a genuine response of the people to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan on 7 Nov 1938. Grynszpan, a 17-year old boy, was distraught over his family’s deportation from Germany to Poland. Vom Rath’s death two days later coincided with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazi Party leadership assembled in Munich used the occasion to push for demonstrations against the Jews arguing that “World Jewry” had conspired to commit the assassination. However, Hitler ordered that the demonstrations should not look they were prepared or organized by the Nazis’. They had to look spontaneous. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the chief instigator following Hitler’s orders in his speech to the assembled party officials.
The regional Nazi party leaders issued instructions to their local offices about how to proceed. Reinhard Heydrich, as head of the Security Police, sent instructions to headquarters and stations of the State Police and SA leaders about the upcoming riots. The SA, Hitler Youth and others were ordered to wear civilian clothes so it would like genuine public reaction. Heydrich ordered the rioters to not endanger non-Jewish German life or property. The rioters were also ordered to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing and destroying them. Police were ordered to arrest as many young Jewish men their jails would hold.
Violence began to erupt in the late evening of 9 November and in the early morning hours of 10 November. The two largest Jewish communities, Berlin and Vienna, would see massive destruction. Mobs of SA and Hitler Youth shattered store windows. They attacked Jews in their homes and looted. They publicly humiliated Jews in the streets. Many Jews were killed as well though numbers vary but likely in the hundreds. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Those who were arrested by the SS and Gestapo ended up in Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and other camps as well. Many would die in the camps and many who were released had promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht would spur Jews to emigrate from Germany.
German leaders blamed Jews for the riots and fined the Jewish community one billion Reich Marks. To pay the fine, Germany seized property and insurance money. This left Jewish owners personally responsible for repair costs. Kristallnacht accelerated more laws and decrees to deprive Jews of the property and their ability to make a living. The Aryanization of businesses required many Jewish owned businesses and property to be transferred to non-Jews. Usually they got paid a fraction of the true value of the business or property. By this time, Jews could not be government workers or in any aspect of the public sector. Now many professions in the private sector were unavailable as well (doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.). Jews were no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, expelled from any German school they were still attending, be admitted to German theaters (movies and stage) or concert halls.
Kristallnacht was covered by newspapers in the United State and elsewhere. It was front page news in the United States in large banner headlines and perhaps the largest story of Jewish persecution to be reported during the Nazi years. Despite attempts by German censors to prevent images from getting to newspapers in the United States, pictures got out and got printed in the 28 November 1938 issue of Life magazine. A telling heading published on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner says it all:
Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (23 Nov 1938)
President Roosevelt denounced the attack on Jews at a press conference on 15 November 1938 and recalled the US ambassador to Germany (the US was the only one to do this) and not replaced till 1945. A chargé d’affaires would handle diplomatic relations with Germany until war was declared in 1941. The US and other countries had restrictive immigration quotas in place at the time. However, 12,000 German Jews already in the United States were allowed to stay and not be sent back to Germany. Attempts to allow refuge for children under 14 were introduced in Congress but despite widespread support did not get voted into law.
Kristallnacht is rightly seen as the turning point in Nazi policy and world-wide opinion of the regime. The Nazi’s began concentrating their pogroms into the hands of the SS and more restrictive policies on the Jews. They radicalized and expanded the measures to remove Jews from the economic and social life of Germany. It would lead to policies of forced emigration and deportations to the East and the goal of Judenrein-a Germany free of Jews.
The end of World War I had left Germany in dire economic straits. The allies demanded reparations through the Versailles Treaty resulting in staggering inflation as Germany tried to pay. By 1923 the German mark was valued at four billion marks per dollar causing many who disliked the new democratic government to join the nationalist Nazi Party. Others were drawn the Nazi’s as well for their strong anti-communist views and their vocal dislike of Jews.
Adolf Hitler planned a coup in Bavaria that he hoped would spread and bring down the central government. On 8 November 1923, Hermann Goering surrounded the Munich beer hall where Bavarian officials were meeting with local business leaders. Hitler, with the aid of Nazi stormtroopers, charged into the hall with Hitler firing off a gun proclaiming the revolution has begun. The Bavarian officials decided to reluctantly support Hitler. However, the following day they would rescind that support and ordered troops to surround the Nazi forces that had taken control of the War Ministry building. Hitler decided to lead a March to the center of Munich. He had 3,000 marchers with him to 100 or more policemen blocking them. Shots were fired and 16 Nazis and 3 policemen were killed. Goering was wounded the groin and Hitler had a dislocated shoulder and managed to escape.
The Beer Hall Putsch collapsed, and Hitler was arrested. He was charged with treason and sentenced to 5 years in jail. During his time in the Landsberg fortress, he wrote his autobiography Mein Kampf. Political pressure on the Bavarian government got his sentence commutated and he ended up serving only nine months in jail. The Nazi movement would continue to grow in strength in the 1920’s gaining more support against the Weimar government, Communism and Jews. The Beer Hall Putsch would be remembered by the Nazi Party. Although they lost, they used it for propaganda purposes and celebrated the heroes of that day.
On 6 November 1917*, the Bolshevik Party led by Vladimir Lenin (real name Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov) launched a coup d’ Etat against the Russian provisional government. With their allies, the Bolsheviks occupied key government buildings in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg) and formed a new government within two days with Lenin heading the new state. Bolshevik Russia, later to be formally called Union of Soviet Socialist States, was the first Marxist state in history.
Russia had allied with Britain and France in fighting Germany and the Central Powers in World War I. The war had gone very badly for Russia. They had sustained massive casualties and the economy had been devastated by the war effort. Food and other necessities had become scarce leading to unrest. Troops had been demoralized by defeats and ineffective military leadership. With riots breaking out and unrest spreading, trust in Tsar Nicholas II had evaporated even among the ruling class. He was forced to abdicate on 15 March 1917 (called the February Revolution since it took place in February under the Julian calendar). A Provisional Government was put in place which shared power with councils of soldiers and workers committees. However, the new government choose to keep Russia in the war setting the state for the next phase.
Russia in the 19th and early 2oth centuries tried to portray itself as emulating Europe with its art, science, and music. However, this culture represented a small fraction of Russian society at the time. Three quarters of the population were agrarian and lived in a whole different world that had little or no contact with Western civilization. They were not all farmers, but land was important to each of the communities. They were tied to the Russian Orthodox Church and to the monarchy. Nor did they believe they were oppressed. They were not fertile ground for revolution as the they wanted to be like their wealthy neighbors.
Industrialization began late in Russia in the 1890’s. This helped form the social democracy movements that would arise the address this issue. Russia was moving fast and would soon acquire capitalism. Violence had failed to topple the regime (it actually made people turn against them) so the movements focused on peaceful and focusing on industrial workers. The goal was to first get rid of the aristocracy and create a weak government. Then the second goal was to overthrow this government and implement a socialist regime. The movement split into two factions: the Mensheviks who believed this could be achieved without violence and the Bolsheviks (Lenin’s group) who believed in revolution. The two factions would never reconcile.
Lenin was born in 1870 to a conservative family. His father was devout Orthodox and a school inspector. The high rank of his father qualified both him and his offspring for membership in hereditary nobility (this was not uncommon in old Russia). Many children during this time felt guilt over their status and became radical in college. Lenin’s brother Alexander was executed in 1887 for his involvement to assassinate Tsar Alexander III. Lenin’s sister got into trouble as well and went to prison. As the brother of an executed terrorist, Lenin was expelled from the University of Kazan. His anger and hatred at the regime that had executed his brother and imprisoned his sisters would drive him to want to bring it down.
He was able to attend school again in 1890 and obtained a law degree. Moving to Petrograd, he associated himself with revolutionary Marxist circles. He worked to organize Marxist groups and enlist workers. But in December 1895, he and other leaders were arrested and jailed. And then he was exiled to Siberia for three years. After that between 1900-1917, he would spend most of his time abroad working further develop his revolutionary ideals and fight those internally who opposed his goals.
One hurdle that Lenin had to overcome was standard Marxist doctrine that mandated stages in which the final revolution would take place. Russia was barely an industrial state compared to the West. Marx argued that you needed a “bourgeois” stage in order for the revolution to occur. Lenin argued this was unnecessary and that Russia was already in the throes of capitalism. This change would encourage revolutions much later in countries that had little or no industrial sector. He also formed alliances with groups he would not normally align with to bring about the revolution in Russia.
With the outbreak of World War I, Lenin opposed citing it as an imperialistic war. The abdication of Tsar Nicholas II opened the opportunity to take Russia out of the war. Germany allowed Lenin and his lieutenants passage through Germany in a sealed railway car from Switzerland to Sweden. The thinking was by allowing antiwar Socialists to Russia would help undermine the Russian war effort. Lenin immediately called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and was called a German agent. He had to flee to Finland but the call for “peace, land, and bread” was very popular. And it resulted in the Bolsheviks getting more support and a majority in the Petrograd council (called soviet). He returned secretly to Petrograd on 6 November led the coup that overthrew the Provisional Government.
Lenin would the supreme leader of the first Marxist state in the world. Russia, despite objections from Britain and France, made peace with Germany. The new state would nationalize all industry and seized all land (the peasants had everything seized, including farming tools, and had to get permission from the commissar to do anything on their former farms). Civil war erupted in 1918 against Tsarist forces that ended in 1920 with their defeat. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was proclaimed in 1922. The USSR did promote revolution activity in India and Afghanistan but were thwarted by British agents. Russia suffered a devastating famine from 1921-22 due to the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Russia had to accept help from European and American relief efforts to help alleviate the severe conditions the famine caused. When Lenin died in 1925, Stalin became leader and would remain so until 1953. The Communist regime did not fulfill the Marxian hope of government withering away to allow people the fullest possible freedom. Instead it became an oppressive totalitarian society complete with massive internal police to monitor its citizens. During Stalin’s tenure, the infamous purges and show trials took place. It was no joke to wonder if you might be picked up and never return home at the end of the day.
*Russia was still using the Julian calendar at this time, so it took place on October 25, 1917 in Russia. That is why it is also called the October Revolution.
On 4 November 1922, British archaeologist Howard Carter found steps near the entrance of King Ramses IV in the Valley of the Kings. By this time many of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered but not the little-known King Tutankhamen, who died at age 18. The discovery of the steps would lead Carter and his fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon to enter the interior chambers of the tomb finding them intact. It would start a large excavation process in which Carter explored the four-room tomb over several years and cataloguing its contents. The best known was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin (made of solid gold), was Tutankhamen’s mummy preserved for over 3,000 years. Since many royal tombs had been looted in the past, finding an intact tomb and its mummy was a rare archaeological find. The Cairo Museum houses the treasures from the tomb.
A letter written by Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour on 2 Nov 1917 to Baron Walter Rothschild expressing Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine would lead to the Balfour Declaration and setting the stage for the eventual creation of the state of Israel. World War I was in a stalemate and disagreements between the allies over the course of the war were growing. Efforts to defeat Turkey had also failed thus far. Russia was a big issue as well with the Czar being toppled. The current leadership kept the war against Germany against growing opposition to it. The revelation of the Zimmerman Telegram in March 1917 finally prompted the United States to declare war on Germany but their troops were still very far off.
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George publicly supported Zionism (a movement to support the creation of a Jewish state). Lloyd George was supported by other leaders and hoped that such a formal declaration would gain support from Jewish supporters in neutral countries. And it was hoped gain support both in Russia and the United States. Lloyd George also knew that after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the British would dominate Palestine and that was crucial to Britain. It was an important land bridge between India and Egypt, a post-war goal they wanted to control. So, establishing a Zionist state there under their protection would accomplish this goal.
It was not without opposition that held it up. Obviously, anti-Semites opposed it because they hated the Jews and had no desire to give them any state of their own. Some Jews opposed it as threatening the status of Jews in both Europe and the United States. There were also fears of violence against the Jews being encouraged by this declaration. However, the declaration did get the approval for France, Italy, the United States, and even the Vatican. The letter sent to Baron Rothschild stated:
His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The Treaty of Versailles (1919) established a mandate system. Britain was temporarily given administration of Palestine and to work with both Jewish and Arab inhabitants in that area. Many Arabs there and elsewhere were not happy with the idea of a Jewish state and felt cheated by the British who had promised them their own nations. As the Jewish population increased, violence between Jews and Arabs increased. This led to instability and delays in establishing a Jewish state. In the aftermath of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust revealed, international support for Zionism led to the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948. However, there are those that oppose the Balfour Declaration to this day and seek its recission.
Portugal was a prosperous country in the 18th century. It had acquired immense wealth thanks to its colony in Brazil and its trade in Asia. Lisbon had become a bustling center of trade and one of the busiest ports in the Atlantic. Roughly 10 percent of its population lived in Lisbon and many had become wealthy off the trade generated in gold and diamonds. It would all change on All Saints Day in 1755.
Around 9:40 am three tremors struck Lisbon and one of them is thought to have been 8.0. The shaking was so violent that it was felt in Morocco. The earthquakes caused considerable damage but something far worse occurred. A 20-foot tsunami generated by the earthquakes raced ashore knocking down everything in its path. Since it was All Saints Day many were in churches where candles were lit. When the earthquakes hit, churches and buildings were toppled killing many right away and injuring scores others. The lit candles then ignited fires and were fanned by the winds. The fires would burn for days, and aftershocks would cause more damage and death,
Most of the destruction in Lisbon took place along the Tagus River and the center of the city. The destruction took with it priceless works of art and homes of both the wealthy and the poor. Other areas of Portugal were affected by the earthquake and tsunami. Lisbon saw great cathedrals toppled along with the grand library and the royal palace. Those who had fled down to the docklands saw water had retreated. Some went into the shallow water to try to retrieve treasure from sunken ships not knowing the great danger they were in. When the tsunami hit, everyone in docklands were swept away and perished. Many who had made it out of the city after the earthquake or after the tsunami would never return. Great works of art, literature and prized buildings for their architecture were all gone.
It was a stunning blow to Portugal and the city had to be rebuilt from scratch. 85% percent of the infrastructure was gone. The old city had been built in medieval times with narrow streets and confusing layout. The Marquis of Pombal, the prime minister, was given the task of rebuilding Lisbon. Lisbon would be modeled on French architectural trends of the time that called for wider streets, squares, and avenues. Using the military as a guide, buildings were put up in manner followed an exact pattern making it prefabricated for its time. And they made sure the buildings were made strong so as not to collapse from an earthquake again. The earthquake greatly affected the economy of Portugal that took a while to recover. While price controls were enacted, there were still volatile swings in prices. If there was an upside, construction workers got paid well for their efforts (comparative to what they made before the catastrophe). Also, the economy was reformed in the process making the country less dependent on Great Britain.
The Marquis of Pombal sent out a survey to all local parishes asking them for information about what happened. He was the first person to do this and the preserved detailed responses he got back are a wealth of information as to how much the earthquake did in many areas of the country. This has allowed a scientific reconstruction of the earthquake (and tsunami as well) allowing scientists to understand more fully what these natural forces can do. In effect, Pombal began the science of seismology, the collecting of data about such events.
Today if you visit Lisbon, you can see the effects of the reconstruction and how its people adapted to this massive reconstruction. Rick Steves covers it in his travel to Lisbon. Old world charm with very modern touches.
(Note:This has been edited and rewritten in some parts for the 2023 edition. ]
October 31st is set aside as Halloween. It is not an official holiday (meaning government shuts down, banks closed, and many professional offices closed) but is celebrated nearly as one these days. There are really two separate Halloweens, one is secular and the other religious. The secular one most people easily understand. Kids dress up in silly or scary masks and go to homes asking for candy by yelling “trick or treat” to those who open their doors. Pumpkins have become associated with the day along with all kinds of scary decorations as well. Horror movies get shown during this time. Halloween has a religious meaning to that goes back to how the Catholic Church set the day up.
The original meaning of Halloween was All Hallows Eve that got contracted over time to Halloween. All Hallows Eve is the vigil of All Saints Day, a solemnity (meaning a major feast in the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar). All Saints Day honors all the saints we know by name and any saint in heaven whose name is unknown to us. Originally this feast was celebrated on 13 May, but Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) moved it to 1 November as that was the day the foundation of a new chapel (St. Peter’s Basilica) was being laid. He wanted to dedicate the new chapel to All Saints. Halloween then became part of a three-day period called ‘Days of the Dead” which it is the first day of (the vigil), then followed by All Saints and then by All Souls (those in purgatory).
During the reign of Pope Gregory IV (827-844 AD), he decided to make the feast of All Saints (just celebrated in Rome at that point) universal meaning all dioceses had to observe it. This meant that people with their own cultures would celebrate in their own ways. Since it was customary to have vigils before a major feast day, there was nothing unusual in this. In celebrating these particular holy days, we are reminded of heaven and hell. It reminds us that we have choices to make in this life that can lead to one of two outcomes: heaven or hell. By striving to live good lives by following God’s teachings, we want to go to heaven rather than the other place.
The roots of Halloween thus are not founded in any pagan celebration (such as Samhain or Druid festivals), and it is just coincidence that it occurs during the same time frame. If you study what those festivals were about, they had nothing to do with Christianity and followed a different belief system. Samhain, perhaps the best known, was a harvest festival in Scotland to celebrate the end of the harvest and to prepare for the coming of winter. It was a common belief (and not limited to Scotland, Ireland, or England) that this particular time of year where the transition from light to dark occurred meant also when evil spirits would abound to cause trouble. So they would offer them food at their tables for these invisible guests. Mischief Night grew out of this as well where you would do pranks on your neighbors.
Communal eating during this time meant lots of shared foods given out. The Scottish Halloween Cake was popular was hidden inside was a special prize of three trinkets. Later others celebrating All Souls Day would hand out pastries to those who came to console them on family who had passed away and that to would also add to the idea of handing out food during this time. Many wore masks to cover their faces so evil spirits would not see them. As the celebration of Samhain and others like it faded with the conversion to Christianity, some of the old rituals of having harvest festivals, wearing masks, and asking for food would continue. Creating lanterns too out of turnips and other things would continue. The Irish tradition of the Jack O’ Lantern was imported to the US and, thanks to the wonderful availability of pumpkins (and easier to carve than turnips) became a symbol for Halloween that many adopted as well.
Protestants had a different take on Halloween and All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day. The argument (and there are several different ones, but this is the most basic) is that the Catholic church merely taken over these pagan festivals and incorporated them into the church by renaming them. More zealous Protestant denominations like the Puritans banned Halloween (along with Christmas and Easter) saying they were pagan. In places where such views were strongly held (such as in the northeast of the U.S. or in England when the Puritans were in charge), it had the full power of the state to impose the restrictions. As time went out, and without many Catholics around to push back (in countries like England they were forbidden to practice and adherents who failed to submit to the new Protestant order imprisoned or executed), this became a dominant view of what Halloween was.
The religious origins of Halloween were overtaken and completely secularized as a result.
What the Protestants who hated Halloween didn’t count on was the many peoples who still practiced forms of Halloween immigrating to the U.S. While they had strict controls in New England, many simply landed in other areas where it was allowed and even embraced. The old English and Scottish custom of knocking on doors for Soul Cakes and promising to pray for the departed resumed along with wearing costumes. Likewise, the old customs of holding harvest festivals where people would gather, eat food, and share stories of old would resurrect. Kids would bob for apples, there would be spooky tales told, but most of all it was just a fun time. Halloween, far from being made extinct by like the Puritans, came back. And when the Puritans and those that shared their views fell out of favor and power in England, it came back (though sadly some traditions would remain more secular as a result).
Halloween then became a time of festivity, trick or treating, and putting on funny or sometimes scary outfits. The idea of Halloween parades would come about as a result of trying to curtail some of them more unpleasant sides of Halloween, namely Mischief Night pranks that sometimes got out of hand. Using toilet paper to cover trees, eggs to pelt cars and people, and sometimes more dangerous ones (like a flaming bag of dog poop on a porch) led to the creation of more ways to channel that energy.
Halloween candy, once a small, became national as did pumpkins. No longer were pumpkins just for pumpkin pie but many wanted them for decoration as well. And competition would emerge as to who could grow the biggest one of all. And of course, the selling of costumes and holiday decorations would explode as well. From costumes to candy, pumpkins to Halloween cakes, Halloween became an unofficial but nationally practice holiday that included kids as well as adults. And let us not forget the various Haunted Houses, haunted hayrides, and people decorating their houses in a wide variety of decorations that no doubt future people will ask “what the heck?”
There is a darker side to Halloween practiced by those who want to glorify violence, horror, and sexuality. Some use the time to dabble in such things as fortune telling, seances, using Ouija boards, or even ghost hunting. All of those things most pagans wanted to avoid during their ancient festivals during this time. At best they wanted to placate spirits and avoid the evil ones as much as they could. Yet now many decide to do these things thinking they are harmless, but many find out it is not at all like they thought it would be. This is why people now are trying to reclaim Halloween to make it less dark and more family-friendly rather than just people dressed up as zombies or worse dressed up in some sexually explicit costumes.
Today you see more families doing more things together such as going to haunted hayrides or holding Halloween parties where kids can get treats and have fun as well. During Covid lockdowns, such celebrations were limited but coming back as is trick or treating. Many though are opting to also take the time to revisit what the original Halloween was all about. This is perhaps a natural outgrowth of the overhyping and commercialism of Halloween. The higher costs of many items such as candy as made people revisit some classics from the past such as popcorn, roasted pumpkin seeds, baking cookies, and even making your own candy. It is not as hard as you might think.
While the original meaning of Halloween has been secularized for a long time (like Christmas was before it got its resurgence in the 19th century), it is starting to move away from some of the more excessive parts. And for some, the day does include just a few prayers for the two days of the dead that are to come.
Rossetti, Msgr Stephen. Diary of an American Exorcist: Demons, Possession, and the Modern-Day Battle Against Ancient Evil. Sophia, 2021.
Van Den Aardweg, Gerard J. M. Hungry Souls: Supernatural Visits, Messages, and Warnings From Purgatory. Tan Books, 2009.
Baker, Robert Allen and Joe Nickell. Missing Pieces: How to Investigate Ghosts, UFO’s Psychics, & Other Mysteries. Prometheus Books, 1992
Thigpen, Paul. Saints and Hell, and Other Catholic Witnesses to the Fate of the Damned. Tan Books, 2019
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
The Charge of the Light Brigade occurred in a now mostly forgotten war between Britain and France against Russia in 1854. 600 calvary armed only with swords and not supported by infantry or artillery were sent to take a Russian artillery position at the end of a valley. Only 490 would come back with descriptions of a battle that horrified the public. So what happened and why did a light brigade be sent in against a Russian artillery position by itself? Let’s find out
From 1853-1856, Britain and France were at war with Russia. Russia had sought to pressure Turkey in supporting its goals but sent troops to take control. This threatened British commercial and strategic assets in the Middle East (and to a smaller extent France). France used the tension to bolster an alliance with Britain and to bolster its military power. The allies landed in the Crimea in September 1854 to destroy both Sevastopol and the Russian fleet. The Allies, after taking two weeks to set things up, started bombarding Sevastopol on 17 October. The Russians were well prepared but tried to break the siege attacking the British supply base in the fishing village of Balaclava.
The Russians were repelled but occupied the Causeway Heights outside of the town. Lord Raglan, the British Commander-In-Chief, wanted to send in both Heavy and Light Calvary supported by infantry to get to the Russians and get back any British artillery they may have taken. Raglan wanted them to move immediately (meaning send in the calvary with the infantry to follow later). However the calvary commander George Bingham, the earl of Lucan, thought the order meant both calvary and infantry together. This caused a delay as they had to wait for infantry to arrive. Raglan issued a new order to advance rapidly to stop the Russians from taking any guns away. Bingham did not see this happening. He asked Raglan’s aide where to attack, and he pointed in the general direction of the Russian artillery at the far end of the valley. Lord Lucan conferred with his brother-in-law, James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan who commanded the light brigade. Neither liked each other and apparently they were not respected by those under them. Both decided to follow Lucan’s order without checking first to confirm it. 670 members of the light brigade drew their sabers and lances and began the infamous mile and a quarter charge into the valley.
The Russians began shooting at them from three different angles (not at the same time though). Onward they rode though they took severe casualties. Descriptions of survivors reported horrors of horses covered in blood, arms and heads being carried off by gunfire or artillery, and human brains on the ground. The area was so thick with smoke from Russian gunfire that some said it resembled a volcano. Amazingly the Light Brigade reached its destination crashing the enemy lines and holding it for a brief time. They were forced back, and Russian artillery fired from Causeway Heights. The Heavy Brigade had been turned around before it went further into the valley. When it was all over, 110 were dead and 160 injured and 375 horses were lost. 60 were taken captive. Reaction from many was to admire the bravery and honor of the calvary who were in the charge, but not so much their commanders that had ordered the attack. It took three weeks for it to be reported in Britain and recriminations would fly.
Raglan blamed Lucan and Lucan was angry at being made a scapegoat. Raglan would argue that Lucan should have used his discretion while Lucan argued he was obeying orders. Cardigan blamed Lucan for giving the orders. Cardigan returned home a hero and was promoted. Lucan continued to defend himself in public and parliament and escaped blame as well. However, he never saw active duty again though promoted to general and later field marshal. In short recalled, promoted, and sent to the rear where he could do the least harm. The charge is still studied today of what happens when military intelligence is lacking, and orders unclear. The Russians would claim victory despite never taking Balaclava and paraded the captured weapons in Sevastopol. However, the Allies in 1855 were able to cut Russian logistics and force them out of Sevastopol when it fell between 8-9 Sept 1855.
Other battles in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855 had not gone well for the Russians either. The British appeared to be ready to destroy both Kronstradt and St. Petersburg in 1856 using naval forces. The Russians accepted defeat and sought peace in early 1856. Russia had lost 500,000 troops in the war (not from battle but apparently from diseases and malnutrition amongst other things) and its economy was ruined. They also lacked the industrial infrastructure to build modern weapons. The Peace of Paris on 30 March 1856 formally ended the Crimean War. Britain got what it wanted: the independence of Ottoman Turkey. The Black Sea was made a neutral zone (no warships allowed to enter), and the Danube opened to all commercial shipping. Bessarabia became part of Moldavia along with Walachia to become autonomous states (later Romania). Russia in 1870 would repudiate the Black Sea neutrality to rebuild its naval fleet.
The Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an evocative poem called The Charge of the Light Brigade which was published on 9 December 1854. He praises the brigade while mourning the futility of the charge.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there,Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke;Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well. Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) saw many battles on land but the most pivotal naval one was on 21 Oct 1805. It was the naval battle that established British naval supremacy for 100 years. It was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain putting it between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. 18 French and 15 Spanish ships would fight a British fleet of 27 ships. Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve commanded the combined French/Spanish fleet while Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet. Villeneuve had hoped to avoid battle with the British when he slipped the fleet out of Cadiz on 19-20 October heading for the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, Nelson caught him off of Cape Trafalgar on 21 October. Villeneuve ordered his ships to form a single line heading north. Nelson order his fleet into two squadrons and to attack from the west at right angles.
He signaled his famous message at 11:50 am from his ship Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Nelson’s squadron attacked the van and center in Villeneuve’s line.* Nelson’s squadron broke through ignoring six leading French and Spanish ships in the first attack. Those six ships under Admiral Pierre Dumanoir did turn around to help but were driven off. The rear of Villeneuve’s fleet was destroyed, and Villeneuve was himself captured. The battle ended around 5:00 pm with 19 or 20 French & Spanish ships surrendering with crews and prisoners of war around 14,000 men. Admiral Nelson died during the battle but knew before he died of British victory. The British lost no ships but 1,500 crewmen were either killed or injured. The Battle of Trafalgar ended forever any dreams Napoleon had to invade England.
Napoleon did not learn of the defeat for many weeks due to being involved in military battles on land. He censored news of the defeat in Paris for a month. And then in a brazen propaganda move had the French newspapers portray it as a great victory over the British. Villeneuve would return to France in 1806 but was found dead in an inn room with six stab wounds from a knife. It was ruled a suicide, but some suspect he was killed. The battle made it clear Britain was master of the seas, but it did not slow Napoleon down on his strategy to conquer and defeat the Third Coalition and Austria. Napoleon buttoned up the continent to deprive British trade. French and Spanish armies would occupy Portugal in 1807. In 1808, Napoleon uneasy with his Spanish allies, invaded and took control of Spain. French troops and their supporters were disliked by many Spanish who took up arms. The British, after liberating Portugal, would drive out the French and used the Spanish guerrillas to harass the French. British forces under General Wellington would drive the Spanish out after the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The French forces in Madrid would surrender ending the Peninsular War but starting the final campaign to drive Napoleon from power. *During the age of sail, fleets were divided into van, center, or rear squadrons and named after each squadrons place in the line of battle. ” You can read about how this was developed here.