Holidays Archives

January 17, 2008

Flickr: The Library of Congress Pilot Project

rothstein-chute.jpgNo, it's not a World Almanac editor's meeting, though we do wear remarkably similar uniforms... this is a photo pulled from a terrific new collaboration between the Library of Congress and Flickr. The LOC has placed thousands of images from two major collections on Flickr, and invites the public to browse the collections and contribute tags, notes, and comments to individual photos. User-generated data might (or might not) end up in the LOC's own database; for the time being it's just a test program, focused on three major goals:

  • To share photographs from the Library's collections with people who enjoy images but might not visit the Library's own Web site.
  • To gain a better understanding of how social tagging and community input could benefit both the Library and users of the collections.
  • To gain experience participating in Web communities that are interested in the kinds of materials in the Library's collections.

There's really nothing more to say except: clear a few hours from your schedule, and start browsing some fascinating photographs.

Flickr: The Commons
Library of Congress Photos on Flickr (FAQ)

Image: Instructor explaining the operation of a parachute to student pilots, Meacham Field, Fort Worth, Tex. (LOC)

November 29, 2007

November's Greatest Hits

World Almanac 2008 StacksNew to the World Almanac blog? Today's your lucky day: here's a roundup of some featured entries from recent weeks.

The World at a Glance: 2008 Edition
What's the most popular tourist destination in the world? The fastest roller coaster? How much fat does the average American consume each year? A roundup of some of the year's most interesting facts, straight from the pages of The World Almanac 2008.

Less Reading in the United States
The National Endowment for the Arts says that teenagers and adults are reading less, and less well. What's on your reading list?

Word of the Year
What the heck is "bacn"? Read up on The Oxford Word of the Year (and its runners-up) to find out.

Talking Turkey
The truth behind the history of the Thanksgiving "turkey pardon" at the White House

A Festival of Lights, In Space and On Earth
For most people, Comet Holmes has grown too dim to see with the naked eye, but you can still spot it with the help of binoculars or a telescope. Catch up on all the Holmes-ian news with this previous post.

November 27, 2007

Rushing the holidays

suicide.jpgIt seems that the holiday season starts a little bit earlier each year here in the U.S., and so it's not so unusual to see Christmas lights and decorations up before Thanksgiving.

Edward H. Johnson, an assistant to inventor Thomas Edison, is generally credited with creating the first set of electric Christmas lights, and exhibiting them on his tree in 1882. The auspicious beginning to the decorating age began with a rotating tree with flashing red, white and blue lights. For some, it's been down hill ever since!

The proliferation of websites exhibiting ugly Christmas lights and tacky decorations grows each year, and if you think you've found the worst, you can go ahead and submit a photo to a multitude of ugly Christmas light contests.

November 22, 2007

The Origins of Thanksgiving

TurkeySince most of you probably can't focus, through the turkey-and-stuffing haze, to read much on the blog today, we'll keep it short, and just let you jump into today's segment from Wake Up With Whoopi—a quick run-through the origins of Thanksgiving, and a few notable modern-day Thanksgiving traditions (including football).

Download (2mb mp3) / Subscribe in iTunes

If you can manage to stay awake to click through a few interesting links, you can get the full Thanksgiving story on the World Almanac for Kids site, or visit the Census Bureau for a great round-up of Thanksgiving-related stats—turkey, cranberry, and sweet potato production in the U.S., number of places in the U.S. named after the holiday's main course... enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day (The World Almanac for Kids)
Thanksgiving Day Facts (US Census Bureau)

Image: Happy Thanksgiving! from ckirkman's Flickr stream

November 21, 2007

Talking Turkey

turkey.jpg According to the White House, this Thanksgiving marks the 60th anniversary of the grand presidential tradition of pardoning a turkey. The White House's Thanksgiving website explains that the first turkey pardoning took place in 1947, when Harry Truman accepted the first National Thanksgiving Turkey. Not to quibble with the White House's website, which has a photo gallery of Turkey pardons over the years (a Kennedy turkey has a sign around its neck that reads "Good Eating, Mr. President!"), but they may want to do a little more homework.

According to the Truman Library, the Truman photo that the White House offers as proof-of-pardon dates to Dec. 15, 1947—well after Thanksgiving—and the library has "found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency."

I just hope, for my own amusement's sake, that the White House accurately reported this year's turkey's fate following its pardon: "After the presentation, the turkey will be flown first class to Disney World in Orlando, where he will be the grand marshal of 'Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade.' After the parade, guests will be able to visit the bird in the backyard of Mickey's Country House in Magic Kingdom Park."

White House Thanksgiving
The Annual Pardoning of the Thanksgiving Turkey photo gallery
Truman Library

December 25, 2007

A Remembrance of Christmas past

Dece 1983.pngWhile those schmaltzy Hallmark commercials can produce a tear or two during the holidays, one photograph that consistently opens my tear ducts (from laughter) is the 1983 picture of first lady Nancy Reagan sitting on Mr. T's lap. Oh Nancy, what were you thinking?

What brought these two superstars together was their common anti-drug stance. Reagan inaugurated the "Just Say No" to drugs campaign in the 1980s, and Mr. T even recorded a song titled"No Dope No Drugs" in 1984.

Where are they now? Nancy Reagan, 87, lives in Bel Air, California, and is a vocal supporter of stem cell research. Mr. T (Lawrence Tero), formerly of The A-Team, could be found on the 2006 TV Land reality show I Pity the Fool, in which T traveled around America giving advice and solving problems.

November 8, 2007

A Festival of Lights, In Space and On Earth

Comet Holmes.jpgLiving in New York, sometimes you forget to look up and enjoy the night sky—but if ever there was a time to do so, it's now. Dedicated skywatchers should know by now about Comet Holmes (at right), which just a few weeks ago erupted, becoming nearly a million times brighter practically overnight. Before Oct. 23, the comet was visible only through a telescope, but a sudden and rapid emission of dust particles made the comet visible to the naked eye by the following day. From the Associated Press:

The comet is exploding and its coma, a cloud of gas and dust illuminated by the sun, has grown to be bigger than the planet Jupiter. The comet lacks the tail usually associated with such celestial bodies but can be seen in the northern sky, in the constellation Perseus, as a fuzzy spot of light about as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper.

This isn't the first time Holmes has undergone a sudden and dramatic change; here's a clip from The Baltimore Sun, Feb. 9, 1893: Erratic Comet Holmes

Astronomers aren't certain how much longer the comet will be visible in its current, extra-bright form; it could be months or just a few more weeks, so outer space buffs should check out this once-in-a-lifetime event as soon as possible. Why not do it tonight? He didn't have anything to do with discovering comet Holmes, but it is, fittingly, Edmond Halley's birthday. You can find a simple guide to locating Comet Holmes at And you can listen to today's brief comet-chat on Wake Up With Whoopi here:

Diwali handsIf you're looking for a more earth-bound celebration of lights, you're in luck this week: I was just reminded by Ajay, our excellent webmaster, that he will be celebrating Diwali (or Deepvali) this Friday. The festival, whose name comes from the Sanskrit dipavali ("row of lights") is one of the largest celebrations in Hinduism—a five-day festival which, at its most basic level, celebrates the victory of good over evil. Throughout the festival, celebrants set oil-filled lamps outside buildings and set them adrift on rivers; the main festival day, tomorrow, marks the Hindu new year, and is celebrated with gifts, fireworks, feasts... and even gambling, commemorating legendary games of dice said to have been played by Hindu gods.

And yes, like so many other holidays, Diwali has undergone some commercialization in recent years. Some trends cross all cultural boundaries.

See Comet Holmes Tonight! (
Comet Holmes roundup on Google News
Hindu holiday of Diwali attracts attention of businesses (Houston Chronicle)
Diwali Specials (recipes from Saroj's Cookbook)

Comet Holmes Grows a Tail (NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day; copyright Vicent Peris and José Luis Lamadrid (

Hands in Hands (Kunal Daswani)

November 2, 2007

Turning Back Time

Time SpiralYes, it's that time again: those glorious Daylight Saving Time days are over, as of 2AM on Sunday, Nov. 4.

Seem later than last year? It is: Daylight Saving Time in 2007 started several weeks earlier, and ended a week or so later, than in recent years. The U.S. Congress claims that the change will save energy across the country—or is it just a sinister conspiracy to sell more Halloween candy?

Either way, don't forget to set your clocks back one hour before bedtime, Saturday night.

Want a little more history about Daylight Saving Time? Hit the links below, or listen to this week's World Almanac Wake Up With Whoopi segment, on that very topic:

It's Time to Fall Back (World Almanac for Kids)
An Extra Hour of Halloween Daylight? Thank Politics

Photo: Time Spiral (by gadl)

February 20, 2007

Happy Year of the Boar

year%20of%20the%20pig.jpg The Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, was on Sunday. People are still celebrating through today in most parts of Asia (different countries observe it as a public holiday for different amounts of time). So how did the animals get paired up with their respective years? I liked the explanation from the Chinese Culture Center in San Francisco:
According to Chinese legend, the twelve animals quarreled one day as to who was to head the cycle of years. The gods were asked to decide and they held a contest: whoever was to reach the opposite bank of the river would be first, and the rest of the animals would receive their years according to their finish.
All the twelve animals gathered at the river bank and jumped in. Unknown to the ox, the rat had jumped upon his back. As the ox was about to jump ashore, the rat jumped off the ox's back, and won the race. The pig, who was very lazy, ended up last. That is why the rat is the first year of the animal cycle, the ox second, and the pig last.
China Central Television (CCTV) also aired their annual gala and midnight countdown. The variety show of live entertainment and performances is the country’s most watched event (You can watch some clips on Youtube). Apparently, they banned advertisements with pigs from the event.

Photo of pig statues in Singapore from Beggs' Flickr stream (CC)

About Holidays

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the Holidays category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

History is the previous category.

Internet is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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