About Corazon

Friday, February 18, 2011

Potty Party @ Chuck E. Cheese

It's official: both of our kids are POTTY TRAINED! This past month Zakary made the momentous jump from diapers to underwear, and we as parents couldn't be happier! As a reward, we as a family, along with some friends of ours, had some fun at Chuck E. Cheese:

Shooting guns is always a highlight for our kids.
Mom and Zakary doing a news broadcast.
Jaxson in the virtual reality boat racer.
Zakary actually won the jackpot on one of the games. Here are his 100 tickets.
Chuck E. Cheese himself.
Jaxson and Zakary won a grand total of 437 tickets.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Colonial Valentine's Day

As we've discussed at length, holidays, and the means of celebrating them, were very different during the colonial era than they are today. Most of the holidays that we enjoy today were hardly even recognized by the first generation of Americans, due to the fact that they had a very different set of social and cultural norms.

As far as Valentine's Day is concerned, the differences are almost night and day. First off, colonial America did not celebrate Valentine's Day with chocolates and cards. They did not seek Cupid's arrow, nor did they send flowers. In short, Valentine's Day was hardly on Colonial America's radar.

With that said, this does not mean that early Americans completely ignored celebrating Cupid's favorite day. Though they did tend to avoid any formal recognition of Valentine's Day, many colonial Americans joined in celebrating some even older festivities, like the Roman holiday of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a holiday to commemorate both Romulus and Remus, the two fabled founders of Rome. During Lupercalia, men would chase women around in goat-skinned clothing, hoping to be able to catch a virgin. The women were also lightly whipped with leaves as they were chased. The men were to laugh as loud as possible, in the hopes of scaring away the evil spirits associated with winter (this would also supposedly aid in female fertility).

In addition to these festivities, young colonial women regularly pinned five bay leaves to their pillow (four leaves on each corner and one leaf in the middle). The belief was that the leaves would inspire the dreams of the young damsel, who would recognize her true valentine in her dreams. Young women also wrote the names of the village men on pieces of paper, which were then rolled into clay. The clays were then dropped into a vassal of water, where the women would wait for the first clay piece to rise to the water's surface. It was believed that the first clay piece to rise to the top was the young woman's true valentine.

Early Dutch settlers in the American colonies also celebrated a few Valentine's Day customs as well. The most popular tradition of young Dutch women was the belief that the first man she laid eyes upon on Valentine's Day was to be her future spouse. As a result, many young women would arise in the morning, keeping their eyes shut until a friend or family member advised them otherwise. It was usually planned by the family to have a pleasing male awaiting the young woman's first gaze. One can only imagine how much fun it would have been to play a practical joke on these helpless girls! =)

So whether it took the form of Valentine's Day, Lupercalia, etc. the bottom line is that February 14th (or thereabouts) has always been an excuse to spread the love!

Keep Cupid's arrow sharp, everyone!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Trip to Rudy's Barbecue

This afternoon our family had lunch at the semi-famous Rudy's Barbecue. Our friends introduced Elizabeth and I to Rudy's last night and we could immediately tell that it would be a hit with our kids. Rudy's is a popular local attraction here in the Springs thanks in large part to their signature BBQ flavor (I sound like a commercial). We like Rudy's because it is extremely kid friendly. You can make a mess and it's no big deal. Take a look:



And a video:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cartoon Propaganda/Racism: Volume XIX

It has been a few months since I posted one of these videos in my ongoing Cartoon Propaganda/Racism series. I think we sometimes forget just how prevalent racist stereotypes were in cartoons from the 30s and 40s. And let's not forget just how saturated some of these cartoons were with political propaganda. I invite you to take a look at the other 18 cartoons I have posted in this series (See "Blog Topics" on the right-hand side of my blog and select "Cartoon Propaganda/Racism) and see for yourself.

For today's installment, I give you "Uncle Tom and Little Eva" from 1934:

The Founding Fathers as Mormons?

Vicarious baptism -- more commonly known as baptism for the dead -- is one of the more controversial points of doctrine in the Mormon religion. For devout Mormons, this practice is seen as a holy and ultra-spiritual event, which brings salvation to the souls of the deceased. For the critic, vicarious baptism for the dead is viewed as a bizarre and secretive practice with little or no backing in traditional Christian doctrine. Yet despite the criticisms leveled against it, baptism for the dead has become a centerpiece in the religious lives of Mormon faithful.

The Mormon Church has practiced vicarious baptism since the 1840s, when their founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, revealed the doctrine to the Mormon congregation. Since then, baptisms for the dead have continued to be conducted in Mormon temples. To support the practice of vicarious baptism, Mormons will usually point out a few biblical verses from the New Testament. The first of which is Paul speaking to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 15:29, Paul is quoted as saying:
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?
In addition, Jesus' advice to Nicodemus in John 3:5 has been used to support the practice of vicarious baptism. The scripture states:
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
One important factor to remember about Mormon baptisms for the dead is that the baptism DOES NOT guarantee salvation. Instead, the deceased is given the opportunity -- in the afterlife -- to accept or reject the baptism that has been performed on their behalf. In other words, the PHYSICAL act of baptism, which is believed to be required of God for salvation, is performed on Earth, while the deceased is given the chance to accept the ordinance or reject it.

So what does all of this have to do with the Founding Fathers?

In 1877, President Wilford Woodruff -- the 4th President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- related the following experience that allegedly took place while he was working in the St. George Temple:
Before I left St. George, the spirits of the [Founding Fathers] gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, “You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God.” These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights...I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others. (Wilford Woodruff, The Journal of Discourses of Brigham Young, His Counselors, and the Twelve Apostles. Vol. 19, Pp. 229).
In addition to this account, President Woodruff recalled this experience before the 1898 April General Conference of the Church:
Those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord...Everyone of those men that signed the Declaration of Independence, with General Washington, called upon me, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Temple at St. George, two consecutive nights, and demanded at my hands that I should go forth and attend to the ordinances of the House of God for them. (Conference Report of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. April, 1898. Pp. 89-90).
In addition, President Ezra Taft Benson -- the Church's 13th President, who also served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration -- had the following to say about Wilford Woodruff's experience:
The temple work for the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence and other Founding Fathers has been done. All these appeared to Wilford Woodruff when he was president of the St. George Temple. President George Washington was ordained a high priest at that time. You will also be interested to know that, according to Wilford Woodruff's journal, John Wesley, Benjamin Franklin, and Christopher Columbus were also ordained high priests at that time. When one casts doubt about the character of these noble sons of God, I believe he or she will have to answer to the God of heaven for it. Yes, with Lincoln I say: "To add brightness to the sun or glory to the name of Washington is . . . impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name and in its deathless splendor, leave it shining on."
So, not only were the founding fathers given a vicarious baptism, but George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others were ordained to the highest office of the Mormon priesthood. An interesting and controversial prospect to say the least

What I find so very interesting about this entire story is that it demonstrates -- on the part of the Mormon Church -- a powerful devotion to the idea that the United States was founded by the hand of God. What is even more interesting is that this ideology was not a new concept, but it began in the latter part of the 1800s, while tensions between the Mormon Church and the United States government remained hostile. This idea of American providentialism has continued to the present day for the majority of Mormons. In fact, I found it surprising that Brigham Young University has the largest ROTC program in the country. Obviously relations beteen the Mormon Church and the U.S. government have changed over the past few decades.

Christ's Poor

Historian Gary Nash on the
Religion of the Average "Joe Sixpack"


When studying any topic of history, one of the main "sins" that is regularly committed is to focus on the stories of the "great man" while ignoring the sometimes boring and mundane tales of the average Joe. After all, the lives and legacies of the select (and often elite) few tend to be more exciting for both the reader and the researcher. As a result, the story of the subaltern often goes lost in the shuffle.

Such is the case with early American religion. When we stop to think about what our nation's earliest citizens believed we tend to focus on the select few (usually the Founding Fathers), whose beliefs, though important, sometimes differed from those of the common man/woman. While belief systems like deism, theistic rationalism, theological unitarianism, Christian orthodoxy, etc. each played a role in shaping the religious constructs of those we affectionately call the founders, these same forces were at work, in a very different way, on America's colonial "Joe Sixpack."

One of the best works of history in recent years on the life and influence of the common American during the American Revolution is Gary Nash's The Unknown American Revolution. In this book, Nash dissects how average colonial Americans (most of whom would have thought of themselves as British) played some of the most fundamental roles during America's quest for independence. And, among a plethora of other factors, Gary Nash mentions just how important religion was for the common American.

According to Nash, "Christ's Poor" as he refers to them, were the heart and soul of America's firestorm of religious enthusiasm, which literally devised new religious concepts for how an individual could commune with the divine. This "Great Awakening" as historians call it today, began to rebuke the traditional religious institutions, which had maintained a spiritual monopoly on the souls of common American for over a century. As a result, the colonial "Joe Sixpack" began to see religion as a personal endeavor that did not require the traditional sacraments or assistance of the clergy. As Nash states:
God did not operate through the elite corps of the learned clergy and their aristocratic allies. Rather, god worked through the inner light given to every man and woman regardless of their station in life, with lack of education or even slave status posing no barrier to achieving grace through the conversion experience (8).
In addition to this newfound sense of personal ecclesiastic independence, Americans of the founding generation began to see church attendance not as a prerequisite for salvation but rather as an optional alternative. In 1776, only 17% of Americans were official members of an organized church, as opposed to the estimated 80-85% from a generation before. And while some of the low attendance figures can be attributed to the difficulties surrounding a commute to church (colonial roads were poorly maintained and churches often located far from family farms) the reality is that Americans of the founding generation put less emphasis on habitual church attendance as a necessary component for salvation.

Not only were the traditional concepts of religious authority and Sunday worship questioned, but the very doctrine of Christianity had begun an evolutionary process, which developed independently from the traditional clergy of the 18th century. This evolution toppled the pulpit as a source of ecclesiastical domination, which had sought to subjugate the citizenry under its religious umbrella. By toppling the status quo, Americans were, for the first time, put on equal footing with their former clergymen. As Nash points out:
The message was one of social leveling, for it put all people on one footing insofar as the conversion experience was concerned. Moreover, the message was one that condemned the clergy as unconverted and deplored their love of velvet garments and other luxurious trappings (9).
With the emergence of enthusiastic preachers like George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, etc., "Joe Sixpack" religion became the religion of the "uneducated masses that had no minds of their own." At least this was the fear of the ecclesiastic and gentry class.

Even slaves, who, for the first time, were taught the principles of emerging evangelical Christianity, grabbed hold of the "good news" and found a refuge from the tyranny of servitude. As Nash points out, it was the gospel of early evangelical Christianity that gave Blacks the hope for freedom, even if it was only to be obtained in the world to come.

And while Nash devotes only a few pages to the impact of "Christ's Poor," the importance of the religion of the masses is not lost. For Nash, it was in this "Great Awakening" that Americans, as a mass movement, first challenged the authority of their day. It was under the fires of religious revolution that Americans learned to throw their first punches, all of which was to hone their skills in their eventual bout with the "Motherland" itself.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Edmund Genet and the "Conspiracy" to Destroy America

One of the few consistent truths throughout the course of United States history has been that Americans of all generations have believed that conspiracies to thwart their freedom lurk around every corner and under every rock. Whether it takes the form of Catholic incursion or McCarthy communist witch hunts, Americans have always been on the lookout for the next big threat to our seemingly fragile republic.

And our founding generation was no different.

During the early years of the new American republic, scandals and conspiracies against the infant republic were a regular fixture in the halls of government. Divisions between those who supported a strong federal government (the Federalists) and those for limited centralized power (the Democratic-Republicans) created a rift in the political arena that seemed to grow with each passing day. Issues such as the Jay Treaty, which created an economic alliance with Britain over France, had caused an uproar amongst Democratic-republicans that only intensified with the later election of Federalist John Adams. For Democratic-republican leaders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the cause of France was the cause of America. They passionately believed that America needed to throw its weight behind the French cause, which was rapidly moving toward revolution itself. In their minds, to deny the French would be treasonous against the very ideals of the American Revolution itself. And as war between England and France continued to become more of a reality, America's economic and political preference with the British made relations with the French extremely tense.

The arrival of Edmond Genet as French ambassador to the United States in 1793 only intensified the ongoing political battle. Genet had been sent to America in an effort to garner support for the French cause. Democratic-republicans like Jefferson were initially ecstatic over Genet's arrival. As Gordon Wood points out in his book, Empire of Liberty:
He [Genet] landed in Charleston, South Carolina, in April 1793, and in his month long journey north to Philadelphia he was everywhere greeted with warmth and enthusiasm. Americans sang "Marseillaise," waved the French revolutionary flag, and passed liberty caps around. Some Federalists thought the French Revolution was being brought to America. Later in his life John Adams still vividly recalled the frenzied atmosphere of "Terrorism, excited by Genet," that ran through the nation's capital in the late spring of 1793. "Ten thousand People in the Streets of Philadelphia, day after day, threatened to drag Washington out of his office and effect Revolution in the Government, or compel it to declare War in favour of the French Revolution, and against England" (185-186).
Perhaps nobody was as excited to see Edmund Genet as was Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to his friend James Madison, Jefferson attacked President Washington's quest for neutrality, stating that Genet's intentions (and the larger French intentions) were as pure as the driven snow:
"It is impossible for anything to be more affectionate, more magnanimous, than the purpose of Genet's mission. He [Genet] wishes to do nothing but what is for our own good and we should do all in our power to promote it." (Jefferson to Madison, May 19, 1793).
For Federalist leaders like Alexander Hamilton, Genet's arrival was not met with the pomp and circumstance afforded it by the Democratic-republicans by instead with a deep sense of concern. As Ron Chernow points out in his autobiography on Hamilton:
Where others saw camaraderie and high spirits, Hamilton detected an embryonic plot to subvert American foreign policy. The organizers of Genet's reception "were the same men who have been uniformly the enemies and the disturbers of the government of the U[nited] States."

[...]

In private talks with George Hammond, Hamilton promised that he would vigorously contest efforts to lure America into war alongside France. He also predicted that the United States would extend no large advances to the revolutionary government, and he delayed debt payments owed to France. In a dispatch to London, Hammond noted that Hamilton would defend American nutrality because "any event which might endanger the external tranquility of the United States would be as fatal to the systems he has formed for the benefit of his country as to his...personal reputation and...his...ambition."
(Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 439).
And Hamilton wasn't alone in his disdain for the French ambassador. After observing Genet's antics, President George Washington commented:
"Is the Minister of the French Republic to set the Acts of his Government at defiance, with impunity? and then threaten the Executive with an appeal to the People? What must the world think of such conduct, and the Government of the U. States in submitting to it?"(Elkins and McKitrick, Age of Federalism, 351).
For the Federalists, Genet's arrival was seen as a precursor to an even deeper plot to undermine the sovereignty of the new American republic. In a very real sense, Hamilton (and other fellow Federalists) saw Genet's presence in America as a possible foreshadowing of the French guillotine, which would sever not only the heads of Federalist leaders, but would destroy everything the revolution had created. As historian Paul Newman, author of the book, Fries's Rebellion points out:
"The Republican leadership, men like Jefferson and Madison, were not the Hamiltonians’ greatest fear. What frightened them most was the popular following the two Virginians and their newfound French ally attracted, and the fact that citizens had begun to publicly criticize and directly oppose Federalist policies" (52).
The following clip from HBO's John Adams miniseries helps to illustrate some of the tensions that Genet's arrival had caused:


In the end, it would be Genet's arrogance and lack of foresight that would be his undoing. The harsh tone in both his letters and speeches against the American government ended up costing Genet not only his American allies but his French support back home as well. Instead of coming off as the great "citizen of world liberty", Ambassador Genet became a liability. In addition, the American populace was beginning to see that the French Revolution was not as similar to their own as they had once thought. And as the French Jacobins seized power in 1794 (and demanded the return of Genet to France to face execution) the former French ambassador was forced to plea for asylum from the very government officials he had once opposed. Coincidentally, it was Hamilton, Genet's fiercest opponent, who advocated for Genet's asylum in the U.S. Genet lived out the rest of his life as a humble New York farmer.

And the republic, despite all of the threats to its security, lived on...happily ever after.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Land of Confusion: The Delusions and Realities of New World Colonization

Once upon a time, in a land far away, lived a brave and wise man named Christopher Columbus. Columbus lived in a world of ignorant fools, who refused to believe that the earth was round. One day, Columbus convinced the King and Queen of Spain to give him some boats, so that he could prove his theory was right. Columbus then sailed on the ocean blue, in the year 1492. He arrived in a new world, populated with dark-skinned savages, whom he educated and converted to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Soon, scores of people flocked to the New World, bringing the imbecile Negroes of Africa with them. Years later, a group of brave Christians known as the Puritans set out upon the Mayflower, in hopes of creating a better world. When they arrived in Massachusetts, these pilgrims became best friends with their savage Indian neighbors, who were more than happy to welcome their new neighbors. Together, the Puritans and Indians celebrated the first Thanksgiving, by eating turkey, singing songs, and praying to God. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Any person with even an elementary understanding of history is more than capable of seeing through the sarcasm of this fairytale. To suggest that such a story provides a just and accurate account would invoke laughter and scorn from most. Despite this knowledge, there are still many who have succumbed to a fairytale of their own. They maintain that the "New World" was a land of freedom, opportunity, and wealth for European immigrants, who were blessed by the watchful hand of Providence. While their assertion is partially true, its bias is obvious. Such a perspective fails to recognize what the New World meant to the thousands of African slaves, who instead of freedom, found themselves in chains in the New World. It also negates the opinions of millions of Natives, who had called this “New World” home for centuries. Such a simple perspective also denies us the opportunity of understanding the numerous nations, cultures, religions, social classes and motivations of Europe, which all contributed to American colonization. In essence, the colonization of America was not a simple affair, but a complex series of events that changed the world forever.

For years, the history of American colonization has been wrapped up in a counterfeit blanket of ignorance. This blanket has provided a warped sense of warmth and comfort, which has given many a blissful but misled understanding of the past. Though the established myths of popular culture provide an uplifting account of American colonization, they neglect essential truths that help piece the puzzle together. For example, to suggest that American colonization was a loving endeavor, brought to pass by God himself, is hard to prove conclusively when we take into account the actual motivations for colonization. From the English perspective, the elder Richard Hakluyt made it clear that the main motivations for colonization were, "To trafficke" and "To conquer." Not exactly a well-balanced Christian agenda.

Despite the primary agenda of securing worldly wealth, there is no doubt that the establishment of Christianity was a strong motivation for American colonization. From the very beginning, many explorers were driven by religious convictions, which propelled them into the unknown. Alan Taylor, an early colonial historian and author of the book American Colonies: The Settlement of North America, claims that Columbus desired to convert those he encountered to Christianity and, "to recruit their bodies and their wealth to assist Europeans in a final crusade to crush Islam and reclaim Jerusalem. Such a victory would then invite Christ’s return to earth" (33). The Franciscan Friars of Spain were also motivated to migrate to America, in an effort to convert the Pueblo Indians. Upon their arrival, the Friars committed themselves to eradicating old Indian traditions. They raided homes, confiscated ceremonial emblems, destroyed idols, and defiled native gods (Taylor, 89). The Friars also sought to undermine the family traditions of the Pueblo Indians, by indoctrinating their youth, restricting their sexual activities, and emasculating the men (Taylor, 92-93). A strange agenda for a group of self-proclaimed pious Christians.

With the expansion of the Spanish into the New World, the Protestant nation of England felt additional pressure to secure their own colonies and preach their own brand of religion to the "savages" of America. To allow the Catholics of Spain total access to the New World was fundamentally unacceptable. As historian Karen Kupperman points out in her book, Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony:
We should not underestimate the emotional force of this confrontation between Christians, which has been compared to the Cold War of the twentieth century. Each side believed the other was absolved by its religion of all normal moral and ethical behavior in dealing with the enemy, and capable of the most heinous plots”
To the English, there was nothing worse than confronting the possibility of a New World ruled under the banner of the Pope.

While there is no doubt that religion played a vital role in American colonization, it was not the exclusive motivation for settlement in the New World. The drive to establish trade with the Indians, and to conquer new lands, was just as significant as the drive to spread Christianity. Contrary to popular opinion, European colonization was not an explosive and daring operation. Instead of seeking to further humanity’s knowledge of the unknown world, many explorers hoped to find lands and cultures that could be exploited for profit. As Alan Taylor states, "the adventurers did not pursue exploration for pure love of geographic knowledge…They proceeded incrementally…seeking the sources of known commodities" (American Colonies, 29). Instead of being a benevolent voyage to chart the unknown, most European exploration was empowered to exploit opportunity for immediate profits.

The conquest of the Aztecs by Hernando Cortes is a prime example of these profit-hungry intentions, which many explorers exhibited. Like many other conquistadores, Cortes came from the Spanish gentry. To turn a profit, men like Cortes depended on their ability to plunder, conquer, and enforce their will on others. Alan Taylor sums up the life of a conquistador perfectly when he writes, “Greed was the prerequisite for pursuing the hard life of a conquistador” (American Colonies, 58). Upon discovering the riches of the Aztecs, Cortes held to the Spanish law of conquest, which demanded that all Indians were required to submit to Spanish rule, or receive the punishments of a “just war.” By gaining the allegiance of neighboring tribes, who detested the Aztecs, Cotes was able to conquer a literal treasure of wealth for himself and his nation.

The conquests of the Spanish in the New World provided an incredible amount of wealth for the homeland. Between 1500 and 1650, Spanish settlers shipped home 181 tons of gold, and 16,000 tons of silver (American Colonies, 63). With such a bountiful supply of riches, the Spanish government moved to monopolize on the market. They made it illegal for all foreigners to trade directly with the colonies, which forced them do deal directly with Spain. Such a policy protected Spain from losing this very lucrative market.

Spain was not the only European nation to seek economic gain in the New World. England quickly caught the fever of colonization, believing that the New World was an undiscovered Utopia, overflowing with untapped potential. In their planning, Europeans perceived the New World to be a bountiful paradise, which “bringeth forth all things in abundance, as in the first creation, without toil or labor” (Karen Kupperman. Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 17). This Eden-like New World must have appealed to the hopes and imaginations of many English, especially considering all the poverty, disease and warfare that had plagued Europe over the past two centuries. There is little doubt that such hopes and dreams grew into unrealistic fantasies for many who longed for a better world. Speaking from his perspective, nevertheless lacking a full understanding of global weather patterns, the elder Richard Hakluyt made the following assumption of what settlers could expect in the new world:
"This land that we purpose to direct our course to, lying in part in the 40 degree of latitude, being in like heat as Lisbone in Portugall doth, and in the more Southerly part as the most Southerly coast of Spaine doth, may by our diligence yeeld unto us besides Wines and Oiles and Sugars, Orenges, Limons, Figs, Resings, Almonds, Rice…"
Returning from his recent explorations to the New World, Sir Richard Grenville stated that “we have discovered the main to be the goodliest soil under the cope of heaven” (Kupperman. Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 34-35). With such a Utopia awaiting them, Englishmen began gathering and making preparations for a journey that they believed would ultimately make England even mightier than it already was. All of these men, “had an image of England’s future greatness and the exhilarating feeling that they were the people who would make it come true” (Kupperman. Roanoke: The Abandoned Colony, 30). From the English perspective, there was a clear expectation of a bountiful, fertile, and relatively easy to maintain oasis that awaited them, and that England would become even greater because of it.

Needless to say, these religious and economic motivations for the colonization of the "New World" primarily resulted in utter failure. Converting the "savages" proved to be more difficult than previously thought, since, contrary to European beliefs, the Native Americans cared very little for Christian theology. On the economic front, colonization proved even more difficult. Instead of discovering and settling in a Garden of Eden-like frontier, European settlers were met with Indian attack, harsh weather, terrible crop yields, and disease. For the English, their first experiment at Roanoke met with complete failure, as was almost the case with Jamestown. Even Plymouth suffered terrible losses and afflictions.

What is interesting about these preconceived European beliefs as to what awaited them across the Atlantic is their complete faith and surety that God would grant them a safe and uneventful trek into an unknown land. Upon their arrival, these same Europeans quickly came to the realization that their faith was not only lacking, but their arrogant presumption that God would grant them immediate success was unlikely to happen. This tug-o-war between the religious presumptions of the Europeans and the reality they experienced helps to explain why the early years of American settlement were a violent, hostile, intolerant and unpredictable environment.

The Origins of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is officially upon us and the only question left is will Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow or will he free us from winter's grasp? Yes, the meteorological fate of the planet rests in the hands (or paws) of this furry little Pennsylvania woodchuck!

But where does Phil get his amazing powers? How did the idea of a groundhog predicting the weather come to be? Truth be told, good ol' Punxsutawney Phil has quite a heritage that is older than Pennsylvania itself.

As is the case with many of the holidays and festivals we enjoy today, Groundhog Day's roots are buried deep in pagan culture and tradition. And as is the case with most pagan festivals, the emphasis on the seasons and changing weather patterns take a front seat. In the Celtic world, right around the time that Christianity was in its infancy, the celebration of Imbolc was becoming a popular pastime. Imbolc was hailed as a special day of weather prognostication where spectators anxiously watched to see if badgers or serpents would emerge from their winter shelters, thus predicting spring's impending arrival. This popular Gaelic proverb helps to capture the importance that early Celtic societies placed on Imbolc:
The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.
In addition to its emphasis on weather, fire and light played an important role in various purification rituals during Imbolc. In many northern Celtic lands, the holiday also celebrated Brigid, the goddess of healing and wisdom. Celts believed that Brigid, if pleased, would bring the first stirrings of spring and liberate society from the clutches of harsh winter. It was through animals (usually a badger or a bear) that the will of Brigid was made manifest, which is why people would gather in almost every village to see if these "holy animals" would emerge or not. In addition, villagers also closely watched the skies. If the day of Imbolc (February 2) was clear, that meant that Brigid had created a pleasant day for herself in order to gather additional firewood for a long winter. If the day was cloudy, snowy, etc. it meant that springtime was around the corner.

With the emergence of Christianity, most pagan holidays, including Imbolc, were either forced out or adapted to fix the new dominant faith of the region. For the festival of Imbolc, the Catholic Church brought about the celebration of Candlemas, which was created to be a commemoration of the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the purification of Mary (to read the biblical account of Jesus' presentation at the temple see Luke 2: 22-39). This day (Feb. 2) became the conclusion of Christmastide, since Feb. 2 is 40 days after December 25th.

To add a further measure of credibility to the holiday, early Christians canonized St. Brigid, who is one of the three patron saints of Ireland and whose feast day fell on Candlemas. It is important to point out that St. Brigid is NOT the Brigid of Celtic folklore. St. Brigid was a real woman who became an influential nun of the 5th century BCE. Obviously, the coincidence of St. Brigid and the Celtic Brigid sharing the same holiday was not lost on early Christians who used the canonization of St. Brigid to eradicate the Celtic version.

In addition to the introduction of St. Brigid, Candlemas adopted the Imbolc usage of candles. On this day it became tradition for priests to light and dedicate candles in the dark of winter to symbolize the hope of spring's rapid return. Candlemas itself was seen as a day to predict weather. If the weather was fair and clear on Candlemas it meant that winter was sure to linger on. If the weather was cloudy and snowy then spring was just around the corner. Obviously this was an adopted Imbolc custom that made its way into early Christian culture. An old Scottish couplet helps to capture the feeling of this day:
"If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year."
So what does this all have to do with Groundhog Day?

It's relatively simple. The colonization of many parts of Pennsylvania by German settlers, who eventually became known as the "Pennsylvania Dutch" (it's worth noting that the term "Pennsylvania Dutch" does not mean the settlers were of Dutch ancestry, rather it's a corruption of the German word "Deutsch") brought with them to the New World many of their customs and beliefs, Candlemas being one of them. And since the traditions of Imbolc were embedded in with Candlemas, it was natural for these settlers to look for the same traditional weather signs (i.e. animals and weather patters) that they had embraced for centuries. The importance of the Candlemas/Imbolc tradition on the modern American Groundhog Day should not be overlooked. As one popular New England song of the 18th century put it:
As the light glows longer,
the cold grows stronger.
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas be cloud and snow,
Winter will be gone and not come again.
A farmer should on Candlemas day,
have half his corn and half his hay.
On Candlemas day if thorns hang a drop,
you can be sure of a good pea crop.
So why did the groundhog become the accepted animal of choice to become the "prognosticator of prognosticators?" The reason may be as simple as the fact that groundhogs were in abundance in colonial Pennsylvania at the time and are easier to deal with than badgers. With that said, there is another possible explanation as to why these early settlers chose the groundhog. The Delaware Indians, who settled many of the western lands of Pennsylvania in the early years of the 18th century, revered the groundhog as a sacred animal. In fact, they considered the groundhog to be the reincarnation of their honorable ancestors who had returned to earth. These Native people established several camps in the area including one they called "Punxsutawney." The very word, "Punxsutawney" comes from the Indian "ponksad-uteney" which means "the town of the sandflies." In addition, the word "woodchuck" (a woodchuck is the same animal as a groundhog) comes from the Indian word "Wojak." The religious beliefs of the Delaware Indians suggested that a "Wojak" was in fact the ancestral grandfather of their tribe. As a result, groundhogs were revered with great respect.

So colonial America clearly embraced the Imbolc/Candlemas festival. But when did it become "Groundhog Day?" The first official record of Groundhog Day being celebrated in America comes from the diary of one James Morris who was a shopkeeper in western Pennsylvania. On Feb. 4, 1841 he wrote:
Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate.
The first official celebration of Groundhog Day as a holiday took place on Feb. 2, 1886. In the local newspaper, The Punxsutawney Spirit, editor Clymer Freas wrote:
Today is groundhog day and up to the time of going to press the beast has not seen its shadow.
On that same day, the official groundhog was given the name "Punxsutawney Phil: Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary" and his hometown dubbed "The Weather Capital of the World."

So what is Punxsutawney Phil's track record? Well, if you're a warm weather fan you won't be pleased. In the 122 year history of Phil predicting the weather he has seen his shadow 98 times compared to the 15 times he did not (9 years have no record as to what Phil predicted). As a result, roughly 85% of the time Phil declares an additional 6 weeks of winter. But do not fear my fair weather friends. The National Climatic Data Center states that Phil has been correct in his predictions only 39% of the time.

I guess those Celts are just full of it! =)