Writing for Fun! Holidays – Pilgrims and Pies (An Historical Feast of Thanksgiving History and all of the Giblets!) – First Course

Writing for Fun! Holidays – Pilgrims and Pies (An Historical Feast of Thanksgiving History and all of the Giblets!) – First Course

Thanksgiving at the Historic Plymouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Hi Everyone, the Whisperer and getting ready for another great day of relaxation at the end of the month. The Halloween season was wonderful an d now its autumn again, and what better way to celebrate but with a feast for Thanksgiving!

Ah…Thanksgiving, that great holiday where you can take off for four or more days (kids these days sometimes get the whole week off!) to enjoy a wonderful feast that you can only eat once a year.

The Whisperer enjoys all of the favorites at his usual family gathering: turkey and gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green veggies and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. All quite delectable in their own good ways! We remember this event as the time when the Pilgrims, some of the first settlers in the United States, enjoyed a meal with the neighboring Native American tribe, the Wampanoag, and had what we now call a day of  “thanksgiving” at the end of the harvest season. But how did Thanksgiving come about you might ask? What were the conditions the Pilgrims had to endure in their time? What about the food we eat such as the ubiquitous turkey? When did it become an American national holiday? Well just sit tight my friends, readers and students and we will catapult you through time to learn the history of Thanksgiving before the turkey runs off your plate!

Pilgrims in 17th century America

The people we now call the Pilgrims have also been referred to as “Separatists” as they did not believe in what the Church of England practiced during the 1600s in England apart from the rest of the British congregation. This group of religious dissenters assembled together and first traveled to the Netherlands to escape religious persecution. They came back to England and with the help of their soon-to-be governor William Bradford collected the necessary supplies and money to embark on a voyage over the Atlantic Ocean to the New World.

The Mayflower II, a reconstruction of the original Mayflower

After making all of the preparations about 102 passengers with Captain Myles Standish on board, set off on the Mayflower from Plymouth, England in September 1620. They had to endure poor and cramped living conditions out on the raging ocean, with many people dying on board. Land was not spotted until November 1620 which was a blessing for the remaining passengers on board during the long journey. Unfortunately their ship had gone too far north than their planned destination in North America and took several days by land and by sea until they reached the historic “Plymouth Rock”. Before disembarking they created a legal document known as the Mayflower Compact in order to set up a new colony and is considered America’s first step at democracy.

The reconstructed “Plimouth Plantation” in Massachusetts

 They established what is now known as Plymouth Colony before joining the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony several decades later. For the next year they had to learn to live off the land, growing their own food and having to endure constant sickness and disease with very few people surviving the harsh winter of 1620-1621. If it was not for a  native Patuxent tribesman named Squanto, who had learned to speak English from past British settlers, they would not have established their agricultural way of life.

 The “First” Thanksgiving

With help from Squanto and the neighboring Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims were able to become more self-sufficient in their new home learning to grow herbs, fruits (like pumpkins!) and vegetables native to America as well as how to hunt and cook their own meat. The surviving 47 or so settlers of men, women and children were able to enjoy a bountiful harvest in the fall of 1621, marking a year after their arrival in the New World. After the harvest had been collected, Squanto, Chief Massasoit of the Wampanoag and around ninety of his tribesman gathered together with the Pilgrim settlers bringing deer along with them while the Pilgrims hunted for wild fowl. Over a three day period they “entertained and feasted” (cited from Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation) , giving thanks to the harvest and of the year they had spent adjusting to a new way of life.


“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1914)

Governor William Bradford recorded this singular event, along with first-hand accounts of the Pilgrims’ and later the Puritans’ way of life from their arrival in 1620 through the 1640s in his work, Of Plymouth Plantation. Later Puritan settler and leader named Edward Winslow, who came after the feast, related about early life in Puritan New England, including a mention of the “first” Thanksgiving in his book called Mourt’s Relation, which he co-wrote with William Bradford. If not for Winslow’s book and Bradford’s accounts, we might not have known anything about what we now call our “first” Thanksgiving. Soon after the Pilgrims were settled into their new home across the Atlantic, they were joined by other members of the Puritan faith and so the seeds of the New England colonies started to take form. (A brief note to distinguish between the Pilgrims and the Puritans: the Pilgrims had “separated” from the Church of England but were still members of the Puritan religion while Puritans at large were mostly still linked with the Church of England and called for strict and conservative reforms from within).

A Picture into the Past – what the first Thanksgiving may have looked like

Onto the feast

So now we know about the Pilgrims, what about the turkey? Why is it a part of Thanksgiving? Although turkeys were indeed prominent and native to America, it may or may not have been eaten by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe in 1621 or even the later feast held in 1623. Over time it may have been substituted being such a large bird found here in America to eat and has since graced our tables and has become a major iconic symbol for the holiday. An historical note of interest is that Benjamin Franklin actually proposed for the national bird to represent the new United States of America to be none other than a turkey. (Despite all of its delicious properties are we not glad we settled with the eagle    instead, let Tom Turkey be the mascot of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day…but I get ahead of myself!)

Days of Fast and Thanksgiving and other Harvest Festivals

Now our American Thanksgiving holiday is not the only “thanksgiving” that has been celebrated     before or since. We just refer to the historical event as a prominent recorded Thanksgiving Day which took place on American shores. Others had in fact occurred in the 16th and early 17th centuries by the Spanish and the British colonists who settled in Jamestown, Virginia. Also, the        Puritans held their own “days of thanksgiving” with prayer and fasting as part of their religion. Our first American Thanksgiving was in essence a mixture of a harvest festival and a religious day of prayer. This is not something unique to the first settlers of America but indeed was practiced by our Native American ancestors to thank nature for her bounty and is a common festival that was and still is celebrated around the world with the end of the harvest season such as the one celebrated to honor the goddess Demeter in ancient Greece or even the Jewish festival of Sukkot. (Remember the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated in China from the September holiday issue, it was also a harvest festival). Canada celebrates a Thanksgiving Day similar to the one celebrated in the United States that takes place a month before on October 12th every year. But the question still remains, how did we make Thanksgiving a “national holiday”?

                                                                                            Stay tuned to find out more!

Writing for Fun! Holidays – Festivities for the Dark Half of the Year  Part 2 (Hallowe’en and All the Rest)

Writing for Fun! Holidays – Festivities for the Dark Half of the Year Part 2 (Hallowe’en and All the Rest)

Happy Halloween from the Movies, Bates House!    The journey continues…

La Calavera de la Catrina - Jose Guadalupe Posada

La Calavera de la Catrina – Jose Guadalupe Posada

When the Spanish Catholics journeyed to the New World and came across the indigenous peoples of Central America, they discovered they had their own festival of the dead. These ancient practices somehow merged together with the Catholic All Hallowstide and what came from that is the elaborate and colorful pageantry that is known as “Los Dias de los Muertos” (the Days of the Dead Ones celebrated primarily in Mexico but throughout Central, South and even North America amongst Spanish-speaking communities. It is a happy and celebratory time that makes light and makes fun of the dead with all of the figures and costumes that come with this time. People prepare special food, like pan de muerto “bread of the dead” (pictured below top) as well as create beautiful ofrendas (altars) (pictured below bottom) to deceased relatives decorating them with marigolds, an ancient Mexican flower of the dead, food and beverage. On November 1st the souls of children are believed to visit the living while November 2nd is the main festival Day of the Dead to honor all departed souls. Here people picnic amongst the gravestones of their loved ones, singing, dancing, playing music and talking with each other about times gone by. People are not mourning the fate of their own mortality but rather celebrating death as another aspect of life.

Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead)ofrenda de muertos

During this time, and even today in Catholic parts of the world, people visit cemeteries lighting candles, bringing flowers and attending special “requiem” masses to honor their loved ones. One tradition that came from the medieval period that was practiced around this time, and even around other holidays too like the Christmas and Easter seasons, was ritual begging. In this case, the All Hallowmass begging was known as “souling” where children and the poor went door to door, especially to the homes of the wealthy, asking for “soul cakes” or food in exchange to pray for the household’s loved ones to escape the middle spirit realm known as Purgatory, where souls were “purged” of their sins, so that they could go to Heaven. This practice of ritual begging, which continued in other forms such as mumming troupes and the Scottish guising (guise being another name for costume) is thought to be the ancestor to the American custom of children going around their neighborhoods on Halloween  night “trick or treating”. Cemetery at Night on Day of the Dead

The “soulers” asking for “an apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry/ any good thing to make us all merry” as one soul cake song goes, were adding to as well as re-creating a belief that spirits around this time could be appeased by providing food and beverage to the dead. So the trick or treaters we see around Halloween masquerading in costume are, metaphorically speaking, like the ghosts that haunt this holiday’s imagery, asking for candy in order to appease them. By wearing masks and costumes they disguise their identities in order to be someone they admire or want to be like; this in turn has become one of the most prominent customs of American Halloween (Really who wouldn’t want to wear a costume in order to get free food!).Halloween Trick or Treaters

To speed things up, the “Catholic” Halloween was met with much opposition when the various “Protestant” sects came into power across Europe and England. As a result, its festivities were stunted and even the Calvinist Puritans who came to North America in the 17th century did not celebrate Halloween. Some parts of the southern United States where more Catholic groups emigrated to, did in fact celebrate Halloween. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, autumn gatherings were popular for the first people of America where people would come together for dancing, merriment and preparing for the winter ahead with the harvest season and the making of warm quilts. These get-togethers were known as “play parties” (see the painting below) with the British versions of these called Snap Apple or Nutcrack Night, featuring much of the harvest imagery we associate with Halloween today.  Even American author Washington Irving has his spindly schoolmaster Ichabod Crane attend one of them in the hopes of winning the hand of the wealthy farmer’s daughter, Katrina van Tassel in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

"Snap Apple Night" by Daniel Maclise (1833)

“Snap Apple Night” by Daniel Maclise (1833)

With the arrival of many Irish immigrants in the 19th century due to the potato famine, ghost stories, love divinations, witches, black cats, etc. were thrown into the brewing cauldron of Halloween. Long story short about why witches are part of Halloween is that they were thought to be evil practioners of magic and so were seen as a threat to God and the Church. For three centuries in Europe, from around the 1400s to the 1700s, people were tried and killed, either by hanging or burning at the stake, for witchcraft and sorcery, even during the famous Salem Witch Trials in 1692 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in early America. Black cats became associated with Halloween as they were thought to be the witch’s familiar, thought to be a witch or evil spirit in disguise.

The Victorians took a keen interest in romanticizing the past and so, like Christmas, “resurrected” and invented new traditions for Halloween. For example, the jack o’lantern was being used as a Halloween decoration. In Ireland, turnips, beets and a similar vegetable called the mangelwurzel were carved with faces to serve as lanterns as well as a way to scare evil spirits, like the ancient Samhain bonfires. Pumpkins, a native fruit to the Americas, was in larger abundance in North America and soon people started to carve these into the jack o’lanterns we known today, one of the major symbols of Halloween. You can look up the story of Stingy Jack (the real “Jack of the Lantern”) and his turnip lantern if you like!

Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o'-lantern

Traditional Irish Halloween Jack-o’-lantern

In the 20th century Halloween became more of a children’s holiday. To counteract much of the mischief and vandalism that was prevalent around Halloween night in the 1920s and 1930s, cities started to hold community parties and parades along with “trick or treating” emerging as a way to keep children in line. It was not until after World War II in the 1950s and 1960s that Halloween became the way we know it today: children trick or treating in costume, attending parties and putting up fun and scary decorations. In the latter part of the 20th century and into our own time, Halloween has become a day for everyone, adults and children alike where we can scare ourselves silly at creepy “haunted houses” full of costumed monsters, dance the night away at themed parties and get tons of candy!

So see there is much more about Halloween and its brethren celebrations than you thought you knew! All of these celebrate life and death, day and night, summer and winter and light and dark, the dual forces of nature that we have and will always think about, honoring, celebrating and pondering over what make us human with all the mysteries of the universe and whether there is in fact life everlasting.Nighttime Bonfire

And so I close by hoping that you all had a Happy Halloween, Samhain, Dias de los Muertos and Bonfire Night!

Next time, look for some ideas on college applications, writing stories and more holidays to come!

Stingy Jack and his Lantern

For some good books on Halloween you can read:

  • “Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History”  and “Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night” by the renowned  Halloween scholar, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne (check out her website!).
  • “The Pagan Mysteries of Halloween: Celebrating the Dark  Half of the Year” by Jean Markale

             and many more!



Writing for Fun! Holidays – Festivities for the Dark Half of the Year Part 1 (Ancient and Early Beginnings)

Haunted Halloween

“Remember, Remember

The fifth of November

The Gunpowder treason and plot

I know of no reason

Why Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot” ~English folk rhyme

Hello my fellow readers, the Whisperer is back to tell you all about his favorite time of year with all of the activity in the air! The nights are longer and cooler, the leaves have changed into shades of red, orange and yellow and the smell of pumpkins is all around (from the pies being baked and eaten to the carved out pumpkins that really need to be put into the trash!).

Halloween is in fact the Whisperer’s favorite holiday! But there is more to this day and the holidays that take place around this time that many students let alone adults may not know about. This past weekend people also remembered their dearly departed loved ones during the Days of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos), a Mexican holiday with ancient native Mexican and Spanish Catholic roots that takes place from October 31st to November 2nd.  Tonight “across the pond”, people all across England will be celebrating Bonfire Night, commemorating the night back in 1605 when the plot to blow up the Protestant-run Parliament by Guy Fawkes and his Catholic conspirators was foiled. Originally this holiday was predominantly an anti-Catholic one but has now become a secular holiday for the whole family to celebrate out of doors on the night of. Guy Fawkes Effigy

London Fireworks Display for Bonfire Night


Annual Lewes Bonfire Night Parade

Tonight, our British compatriots will be eating toffee (caramel) apples, drink mulled wine and watch elaborate fireworks (pictured left in London) and bonfire displays. One of the largest events takes place in Lewes, England (pictured above center and right) with various communities dressing up in costume, parading down the street with lit torches and setting on fire an effigy of Guy Fawkes, just like children had been doing years and years before asking for money, “penny for the guy” for the bonfire and effigy making.  Most people know about Guy Fawkes thanks to the comic book series and movie “V for Vendetta”, but do know that this holiday is quite popular in England and people love it just as much as we do for Halloween.

All of these holidays are unique in their own right but they do share some similarities: festive occasions occurring at the end of autumn and the harvest season, the dead are remembered and lights, especially with bonfires and jack o’lanterns, are used during the waning part of the year as we all prepare for the winter ahead. So gather about the hearth fire fellow students and readers and let’s go on a very brief and concise journey to learn about some of these holidays and their probable origins. The rest you can research in your good free time!

So now to Halloween. Many scholars, historians and folklorists have agreed that the main ancestor to Halloween was a Celtic and Gaelic festival celebrated in ancient Ireland known as Samhain (meaning roughly in Gaelic “the end of summer”). It was time for the tribal people known as the Celts to finish with the harvest season, bringing in crops and animals for the coming winter. Tribes came together to discuss business and politics as well as for feasting and remembering the dead as they prepared for the harshest season where death could be knocking at anyone’s door. (Pictured below is a contemporary Samhain gathering at the Hill of Ward in County Meath in Ireland where Samhain was allegedly started and now is home to the Spirits of Meath Halloween Festival!).

Hill of Ward Halloween/Samhain Celebration

The Celts believed in a universal duality seen in nature and so split their “calendar” year into the “light” (Summer) and “dark” (Winter) halves of the year and Samhain, the beginning of winter, was also their New Year’s festival. As it was believed to be a “time outside time” between one year and the next, people thought that the spirits of the dead, gods and fairies could come into our world and interact with the living, emerging from the mounds of ancient tombs long before the time of the Celts, later called fairy or “Sidhe” mounds seen across Ireland today (pictured below right). People looked to their priestly caste called the Druids for guidance as it was a great time for divination and communion with the dead in order to discover the health and well-being of the entire community. Bonfires were lit across the hills of ancient Ireland, serving a dual purpose to both welcome the kindly spirits of ancestors as well as to frighten away unwanted evil spirits who could possess or do harm to the living. With all of these elements put together (e.g. ghosts, magic, fire, darkness and the night) we have the basic ingredients for Halloween.

(Sidhe) Fairy Mound

Later when Europe and the British Isles, the latter the lands where Samhain was celebrated in Ireland and parts of the United Kingdom, were being converted to Christianity in the early Medieval period, the Catholic Church decided not to abolish old holidays altogether but to allow people to continue celebrating but now as worshippers of God. During the Middle Ages, two popes tried to appropriate “Samhain” and other pagan festivals by giving people days to honor their dead as Christians. All Saints’ Day, a holy day to honor early Christian martyrs without a feast day of their own, was created to counteract pagan worship. All Saints Day first tried to “de-paganize” an ancient Roman festival of the dead called Lemuria around May 13 but later moved the date to November 1st to “de-paganize” the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Centuries later All Souls’ Day, to commemorate all of the dead, was then placed on November 2nd, after All Saints Day. In old English, the word for “saint” was “hallow” and so All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Day. The day before was called “All Hallows’ Evening” or “All Hallows’ Eve”. Over time, especially with Scottish influence, this became shortened to “Hallowe’en” and soon became the day we all know today…Halloween. All three days were put together, akin to the three days Samhain was supposed to be celebrated over, and it became known as “All Hallowstide” or “Hallowmas”. So we have the medieval Christians to thank for giving this holiday its modern name!

Samhain Bonfire

Stay tuned to hear the rest of this haunted holiday season, so don’t fly off your broomstick yet!


Areteem Institute’s UC Berkeley Summer Camp

Every year, we embark on an important labor of love. Homeschooled students, Areteem Institute students, and gifted students from across the United States and China come to the United States for our condensed summer programs. We have a STEM focus, and have phenomenal Science, Technology, Engineering and (tons of) Math programs. Our exciting faculty is there in person to connect with students. Each year, we have an East Coast and West Coast location.

While we are still in the final stages of selecting the most appropriate Institution to work with on the Eastern US, our West Coast location has been determined. Our students enjoyed Southern California last year at Cal State Fullerton, however, we are heading north this year. UC Berkeley is well known for it’s phenomenal math programs and alumni, and would be a wonderful location for our students to enjoy 4 year campus life. They will meet Berkeley staff, sleep in Berkeley dorms, and study in Berkeley classrooms.

The dates for the Berkeley camp are: June 22nd – July 12th, 2014
The dates for our East Coast camp is: July 20th – Aug 9th, 2014

Camp is open to all gifted students.

Our camp is open to select non-Areteem students who have demonstrated a proficiency in any of the STEM subjects. Contact us at 949-679-8989 for more information.

UC Berkeley Campus, where our Science Technology Engineering Math summer camp will be held.

Beautiful UC Berkeley Campus, the 2014 Home of Areteem Institute’s West Coast Summer Program.

AMC Math Contest

AMC Math Contest

Attention Gifted Math Students:

Areteem Institute is a proud sponsor of the American Mathematics Contests.  Our director Dr. Kevin Wang is on the AMC Advisory Board. Our professor Dr. Harold Reiter is the former AMC director for many years. He is the current chair of the Sliff Teachers’s Award Committee. Our professors also write problems for AMC to be used in future tests. For our students, we administer the AMC 8, 10/12 and subsequent competitions AIME, USAMO. We prepare students for the rigorous mathematical contemplation that the test requires, and we delivered outstanding results. Our MC-II, MC-III, and MC-IV courses provide training for AMC10/12 and beyond. These content are covered extensively in the summer camp curriculum. Areteem Institute works with students to improve their math flexibility.  Our goal is to have students take their knowledge to further heights.  As a student becomes more aware of deeper mathematical creativity they will be more relaxed and more confident when working on math competitions.  And this confidence will carry over into all aspects of their lives.

The American Mathematical Competitions have their origins in 1950 when a committee in New York tentatively wrote a competition for high school students.  From that modest beginning the AMC has grown into a world wide competition involving over 400,000 students in over 5,000 schools in several countries beside the USA.  We are always looking to the future to expand and bring more students into the competitions.  Our goal is not simply find the best students but rather involve all students because any student who can solve just one problem in the competition has made a great achievement in his/her life.

Of course the American Mathematical Competitions are a precursor to the International Math Olympiad, but any student who participates in the AMC is a winner, because the problems in the AMC are not simple homework problems.  The problems require mathematical understanding and the ability to be flexible and pursue a train of thought that leads to further insight.  Usually the AMC problems never have a one-step solution.  The problems require sound mathematical understanding and a keen insight to seek out the solution.  Nonetheless if students simply let themselves become involved in the problem they can find the insight needed within themselves.  The problems are written with that goal in mind.  We do not write problems that are so terribly hard no one can solve them.  Rather we take an idea that we expect students to have mastered and twist it a little bit to make it challenging.  And we consider all levels of mastery to pull our problems from so that students at any level will be able to participate.  We expect most all students to be able to solve the first 5 problems and then the problems progress harder from there in groups of five with the last five being the hardest, maybe only 1% of the students can solve those problems.

AMC 8 – The AMC 8 is a 25 question, 40 minute multiple choice examination in middle school mathematics designed to promote the development and enhancement of problem solving skills. The examination provides an opportunity to apply the concepts taught at the middle school level to problems which not only range from easy to difficult but also cover a wide range of applications. Many problems are designed to challenge students and to offer problem solving experiences beyond those provided in most middle school mathematics classes. AMC 10/12 – The AMC 10 and AMC12 are 25 question, 75 minute multiple choice examinations in secondary school mathematics containing problems which can be understood and solved with pre-calculus concepts. The main purpose of the AMC 10/12 is to create interest in mathematics and to develop talent through the excitement of solving challenging problems in a timed multiple-choice format. A special purpose of the AMC 10/12 is to help identify those few students with truly exceptional mathematics talent. Students who are among the very best deserve some indication of how they stand relative to other students in the country and around the world . The AMC 10/12 provides one such indication, and it is the first in a series of examinations. In this way the very best young mathematicians are recognized, encouraged and developed.

Areteem is working with Math Zoom Academy to offer the AMC 8 contest in Irvine, California.  AMC 8 is an annual national math competition for students in 8th grade or under.  It has 25 multiple choice questions, with a time limit of 40 minutes.  All students up to 8th grade are encouraged to participate.

The contest date is Tuesday Nov. 19, 2013.  The location is at the Headquarters of Areteem Institute: 4850 Barranca Pkwy, #203, Irvine, CA 92604.  The contest will start at 7pm and end at 7:40pm.  Participation is free of charge.

To register for the contest, please contact Areteem Institute at (949) 679-8989, or send email to info@areteem.org.  Spots are limited, so please register early.