♪ It’s the most won-der-ful tiiime of the year ♫

It’s August I know..and here I am starting off this entry with a Christmas song?  I know…it’s too soon to be thinking about Christmas, even by retail standards, and it’s too hot here in the northern hemisphere to be thinking about much of anything. August can be miserable here in the US deep south, and even worse if you are a student who is having to return to class.  Also, Americans know that August is that one month of the year where there are no major holidays.  If you want to celebrate something this time of year, you might have to do a little bit of research.

One of my other hobbies that I pursue when I am not perusing and musing upon all things volcanic is calendars and holidays. I love to collect odd observances, lesser-known regional holidays and especially am fascinated by National-Days-Of every food and drink under the sun. I also have in the past produced a few PDF calendars featuring artwork done by friends as my holiday gift to them. Along the way I managed to work a few of the newly discovered holidays into my year..notably Pi Day, First Contact Day and National Pupusa Day…and of course Vesuvius Day.

View of Vesuvius from Pompeii. Photographer unknown - Image originally posted by Encyclopædia Britannica

View of Vesuvius from Pompeii. Photographer unknown – Image originally posted by Encyclopædia Britannica

Vesuvius Day, much like Wright Brothers Day is probably one for which you won’t find a Hallmark greeting card or Charlie Brown TV special, and you will likely still have to go to school or work on that day….and you probably give neither observance a second thought unless you are really into airplanes or volcanoes. Vesuvius Day commemorates the famous 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum under ash and pyroclastic flows. As far as I can tell, there are no real public events held on that day annually except perhaps by tour guides in the vicinity of the ancient ruins. After all, an estimated 16.000 people died during that eruption, so it isn’t exactly a cause to celebrate..at least not within the bounds of good taste. Still, most history teachers feel it is important we recall the date or at least the year.

“Joseph Wright of Derby – Vesuvius from Portici” by Joseph Wright of Derby – Art collection of the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – originally posted to wikipedia.org

Incidentally, the volcano has erupted around 50 times since then, including two VEI 5 eruptions in the 5th and 17th centuries….but you probably did not have to learn ALL of those dates in school, did you?

Being that proper US holidays are rare in August, but being the volcano-nerd that I am, I decided the proper thing to do would be to “celebrate” on the day before, which I had been previously misinformed by one particular site’s holiday list to believe was National Cupcake Day. It was a fine arrangement…and I found an excellent recipe for individual molten lava cakes baked in cupcake tins.

Then some things came to light last year that turned my August holiday calendar upside down. First I learned that the actual date of Cupcake Day was a topic of much contention, but I was okay with that. It turned out that, unlike the US congress’ crime of combining Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday into a single Presidents Day, cupcakes were actually celebrated several times in a year..once for chocolate, again for vanilla, and a third time for cupcakes in general.

Then, as I read more about Vesuvius and Pompeii, I learned that the long-recognized date of August 24 was coming under new scrutiny based on archaeological evidence from the two buried cities. The fruits and grains found in storage and the bits of clothing around the victims as well as the odd nuances in Pliny the Younger’s letters regarding the date of the eruption were telling historians that it most probably happened on the 24th of October. The notion must be gaining traction too among the volcanology community, because it is recognized (though sometimes followed by a questionmark) by Smithsonian as well as in Encyclopedia Of Volcanoes. So I figured I would celebrate in October, but continue having a second celebration in August…because tradition..and because cupcakes.  I like cupcakes.


The “cupcano”

It was in the process of nosing around in articles about Vesuvius that I came across Vulcanalia for the first time. I thought I was pretty read-up on ancient holidays..such as Saturnalia, which may have been co-opted into Christmas later on, but was completely unaware that the (alleged) August eruption of Vesuvius had happened the day after a holiday dedicated to a deity associated with volcanoes. It’s one of those “things that makes you go ‘Hmmm.” Did the date of Vulcanalia confuse Pliny the Younger years later as he wrote his letters recollecting the eruption?

Vulcanalia originated sometime around the 7th century BCE in Rome and involved bonfires (of course) into which live animals, usually fish, were thrown as sacrifices in exchange for not burning Rome down to the ground. Other holiday rituals included starting the day’s work early by candle-light and, strangely enough, hanging ones laundered clothes and linens to dry in the sun. Um..so how did the ancient Romans dry their laundry on days that weren’t Vulcanalia?  I suspect the Roman way was by design more discreet, as they believed that washing clothes devalued them.

That’s historical Vulcanalia, but apparently it is still an event on the Pagan calendar, especially in Italy, and they have a few added thoughts on how to properly celebrate. In addition to being associated with fire, metalworking and volcanoes, Vulcan was regarded as a patron deity of the household hearth (like Vesta) and other occupations that had to do with ovens such as bread bakers and confectioners. You see where this is going, right?

Yep. Right back around to Cupcake Day!

(Incidentally, Vulcan was also a fertility god….but that sort of thing will have to wait until after cupcakes.)

“Vulcan statue Birmingham AL 2008 snow retouched” by David Gunnells (Earthsound) / (flickr profile) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – Image originally hosted at Wikipedia

Vulcanalia falls on a Sunday this year…a work-day for me, so no pre-dawn baking by candlelight for me…nor do I plan on hanging my washing. With relative humidity of 103% in this part of the country I think my clothes would just get wetter..and covered in bird poo. Nor will there be a bonfire, because unlike the temples of Vulcan in ancient  Rome which were built outside the city and away from other buildings, my house is very much in the ‘burbs, and we have stupid codes about open burning.


Photo “resti del Tempio di Vulcano” by Mauro Tacca at Valle dei Templi, Agrigento, Sicily. Image originally hosted on Panoramio.

But Vulcan is my homeboy and I ought to do what I can….so I’m thinking a fish-fry and something sweet is in order for the evening….and maybe some Star Trek. Also, I will probably spend at least a few moments contemplating the awesomeness of volcanoes.

Oil on canvas painting by François Boucher (1703–1770) Title Français : Vulcain présentant à Venus des armes pour Enée English: Vulcan Presenting Venus with Arms for Aeneas - originally hosted at Wikipedia

Oil on canvas painting by François Boucher (1703–1770)
Français : Vulcain présentant à Venus des armes pour Enée
English: Vulcan Presenting Venus with Arms for Aeneas – originally hosted at Wikipedia

And then Monday I will still celebrate Vesuvius Day, regardless of evidence. I have come to think of Vulcanalia and Vesuvius Day as an inseparable volcanic version of Christmas and Boxing Day.

Also, with the first anniversary of the Holuhraun fissure eruption in Iceland coming round on the 29th of August, we may just as well take the whole week off and observe it as what they call in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa “the silly season”.  Perhaps I best pick up some beer and wine.

It would also seem that the Holuhraun anniversary will coincide with a full moon. 😀

“Vulcan’s backside” photo by Jimmy Emerson – Image originally hosted at Flickr.


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