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Giving Thanks (or the other way round)


Hi everyone!!! Two weeks ago we explored the origin and the meaning of Halloween, making it clear that it was born among pagan communities in Ancient Times as a tradition to celebrate the end of harvest, as well as to frighten bad spirits and warn them to leave the community alone during the harsh winter. So now it is time to learn about another Anglo-Saxon celebration that will take place within the next few days: Thanksgiving. The funny thing is that Thanksgiving was born with the same spirit.

In the 16th century King Henry 8th of England, who had just made himself head of his own Church, departing from the large embrace of Catholicism, decided to create a celebration that would serve three purposes: first, it would be a more familiar way than Halloween to give thanks for the prosperous harvest, gathering all the families together by the warmth of fuming chimneys in order to share a delicious and loving dinner; second, Thanksgiving would equalise the amount of holidays in the Anglican and the Catholic calendar; finally, the new holiday would evidence the power of the English King at the head of the Anglican church against the Roman Pope, its main antagonist in the European continent shaken by the spirit of the Council of Trent.

As it often happens with the institutionalisation of every celebration, doubtlessly Thanksgiving soon overcame the British Crown’s expectations and it became so popular that the Pilgrims that fled Great Britain in the 1620s and the 1630s brought the tradition with them to North America. There are different opinions on when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the British colonies that later became the United States of America, though everyone may have seen the typical image of a Pilgrim family sharing their food with the American Indians in Plymouth by 1621. But leaving such irrelevant details apart, the most important thing about Thanksgiving is that it has become a familiar event in every house in the Anglo-Saxon world, regardless of each one’s beliefs, since it is now considered as an excuse to share time with relatives and friends and enjoy some intimate moments before going back to the stress of everyday.

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

With your permission I will tell my personal story concerning Thanksgiving. I must confess that in my youth I had always approached it with some prejudice, as I was not really aware of its meaning and I was afraid that it is another pretext to make us spend our money. However, when I was in London four years ago I had the chance to celebrate it at the house of the family with which I was living. It was a rather humble and discreet celebration, but it was enough to make me conceive good feelings towards it. One year later I was living in New York and my landlady, a loving Colombian woman, took me to her brother’s place to share thanksgiving with a representation of the Colombian community in the state of New Jersey. As you can guess, the new experience was radically different from the previous one, but even so it made me learn to appreciate more and more the affective element of that day. Finally, when one year later I celebrated it in Pittsburgh with many Spaniards that had gone there to work, the same as me, I had already fallen in love with Thanksgiving: it has always given me the chance to feel like home every time that I have been abroad. I hope everyone will find the same meaning in it, and I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.




Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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Happy Halloween!!!

It’s been a week now since we started to see a very peculiar decoration in every shop window: some smiling diabolic cabbages seeming to say ‘hello!’ to passers by, ‘get ready for Halloween!’ That’s right: Halloween is approaching, and in some days many people will wear terrific costumes to attend massive parties or just to celebrate the special occasion with friends. In the last two decades the Spaniards have incorporated the tradition of Halloween, as a way of showing our immersion into the global Anglo-Saxon culture, but do we really know what Halloween means and which its origins are? Let’s investigate about it!

Two thousand years ago, while the Romans were trying to control Europe, members of the Celt tribes that resisted Roman domination to the North of present-day France and in the British Islands gathered every late October to celebrate the end of harvest. Apparently the celebration was supposed to be a big one, as another year had gone by without great problem and the gods had favoured their worshippers with enough food to go trough a harsh winter. However, Celts knew that the end of harvest was also the beginning of dark times, when the sun would go down shortly after midday, leaving the people to their own luck and, of course, exposed to the threat of bad spirits, who would feel rather comfortable in an isolated land abandoned by the sunlight. Suddenly they had an outstanding idea: what if they dressed up as bad spirits? What if they walked around disguised as terrific creatures of which the bad spirits themselves would be terrified? Thus the commemoration of Samhain, or the end of harvest, became also a means of terrifying the devil and making sure that the whole community passed the winter unthreatened by it.



Happy Halloween | 121 Conversation
Picture taken by Antonio J. Pinto in Hoboken, New Jersey. Halloween, 2010
The Celts could not imagine that they had just invented Halloween, though some centuries had still to pass by before the contemporary celebration took shape. First, the Romans adopted it once they had already taken control of the whole continent, and they too celebrated the end of harvest and of summer in a very similar way, in order to honour Pomosa, the holy goddess of harvest whose symbol was a poma, that is, an apple. By the end of the 5th Century Catholicism became official within the Roman Empire and maintained the tradition, only that three centuries later popes Gregory 3rd and Gregory 4th made some changes in it: on the one hand, they decided to turn it into a celebration in daytime, as Catholicism tended to associate sin to everything that happened after sunset; on the other hand, they decided to make it a remembrance of the souls of the dead and to empty it of its pagan meaning. Hence they called it ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, which contracted became ‘Halloween’.

In the same places where the Celts had lived hundreds of years before, Catholic communities started to honour the souls of their deceased relatives or friends, but they also preserved the tradition of wearing terrifying customs, only then it was just a way of having fun and losing one’s inhibition behind the mask of anonymousness. European Anglo-Saxon migrants that crossed the Atlantic and colonised America took the tradition with them and strengthened it, especially in a new land where they felt a special necessity to conjure the threat of the devil and the unknown, as well as to demand protection and good luck by thanking God for the recent and prosperous harvest. That was why Halloween became so popular in the United States, where it turned into a major celebration in the 1920s, when everyone wished to let the world know about the benefits of the American Way of Life.

At present, Halloween has become a major occasion to meet with friends, have a nice time and, just for one night, forget about everyday life and lose the fear of making a fool of oneself. Therefore, it is another way of bringing a smile to your own face and, by that, to the faces of all the people that share the moment with you. This is one of the main reasons why it has become so popular in Spain and in other non-Anglo-Saxon countries that have incorporated it to their popular culture, where people pretend to terrify the others in the evening just to wake up the next day with the sweet taste of candy on their lips.

Happy Halloween!!!

Before finishing the article, let me ask you some questions:

Were you aware of the origins of Halloween? Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, how do you do it? If you have children, do you encourage them to wear dresses and go door after door asking ‘trick or treat’? What do you think of incorporating this tradition to the Spanish popular culture? What other ways do you think we might promote to celebrate Halloween?

(Add your comments below)

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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About the Independence Day

The Fourth of July, otherwise known as Independence Day, has an interesting origin. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, signatories to the Declaration of Independence (approved on 04 July 1776) and future presidents of the United States, both died on the same day - July 04, 1826 - the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration.


Another future president who was also a founding father (but who did not sign the Declaration), James Monroe, died on July 04 ,1831.Only one president was born on 04 July - Calvin Coolidge.

As the U.S.A. is an aconfessional country with a relatively brief history, it was not easy to identify one day of the year as a national festivity. Therefore, 4 July was chosen for lack of a suitable alternative and in spite of irritating those who would have liked to preserve the union with Great Britain.

In recent times, now that there is no credible threat to the independence of the U.S.A., the Fourth of July continues to be celebrated and the first week of July in general is used to promote tourism, sports events, sales and for other commercial purposes as well as for festivities and celebrations.

In the Philippines, the Fourth of July is celebrated as the anniversary of independence from the U.S.A. and as Liberation Day in Rwanda, also with U.S. connotations.

Wrote by Paul Laurence Sweeney