A Smorgasbord of Septembers

Daniel Tures, Adult Librarian, Edendale Branch Library,
a desk calender flipped open

There are many serious national holidays and days of remembrance in September this year, including Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, 9/11, Armenian Independence Day, and Mexican Independence Day. But September also brings us days like National Chimichanga Day, National Iguana Awareness Day, Purple Bra Day, National Hug a Greeting Card Writer Day, National Talk Like a Pirate Day, National Meow Like a Pirate Day, World Rabies Day and National No Excuses Day. Seems there is a holiday, an official week, or a month for just about every niche interest or silly hang-up you can name. I'm a sucker for these, and so are you, so let's take a look at a few of them.

First, the Months. September is…

Oddfellows Friendship Month. The Oddfellows are an international fraternal organization. Like the Freemasons, they are known for boisterously convivial meetings and arcane initiation rites. From their oldest recorded mention of the Aristarchus Lodge No. 9 in London in 1748 (indicating the existence of previous lodges), they have grown and spread into many overlapping orders, including the Order of Patriotic Oddfellows, the Ancient Order of Oddfellows, the Grand United Order of Oddfellows, and even a female auxiliary, the Daughters of Rebekah. One theory of their name is that they were originally formed of 'odd fellowes' who did not share a single occupation, in distinction to medieval guilds centered around a specific skill or trade. Another is that it was considered 'odd' back in medieval times for a group of 'fellowes' to be so focused on universal benevolence, charity, and goodwill. Whether you are an Oddfellow or not, this is a month to celebrate the joys of friendship.

National Velociraptor Awareness Month. It is good to be aware of the velociraptor, especially if there is one about. When I was growing up, us kids had a basic cast of dinosaurs to obsess over: brontosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops, the lumbering but triumphant T. Rex. Michael Crichton's 1990 novel Jurassic Park and Steven Spielberg's blockbuster 1993 movie adaptation put the lithe, vicious, strategizing velociraptor center stage, hunting down movie stars in packs with its signature slashing claw. But Crichton took a few liberties. The fossilized creature originally designated 'velociraptor' upon its discovery in the 1920s was only about the size of a turkey, probably covered in feathers, and lived around the modern-day Gobi Desert in China. In the late 1960s, paleontologist John Ostrom revolutionized the long-held view of huge, plodding, cold-blooded dinosaurs with his studies of Deinonychus, a 6-foot tall, fast-moving, even possibly warm-blooded scaly beast (related to the Gobi velociraptor) whose bones have been unearthed around Utah, Montana, and Wyoming. Crichton was fascinated by this discovery, met with Ostrom many times and read all his publications, and made Ostrom's terrifying new predator the star of his novel—but he decided to call his Deinonychus the 'velociraptor,' a scarier-sounding name, but one that already belonged to a different dinosaur. At least later, Jurassic Park sequels added some feathers back in.

National Honey Month. September is the final month in the honey-collecting season for most American beekeepers. Honeybees and other bees make honey by gathering the nectar of various flowers, ingesting it, and then regurgitating it back into the hexagonal wax cells of the honeycomb part of their hive, where it air-dries to its familiar viscosity. Entomologically-minded 20th-century mathematicians hypothesized and proved the efficiency of the bees' hexagonal honeycomb design, which creates nearly the maximum number of cells in a given area from the least possible material. Beekeepers remove the honeycombs, spin them in a centrifuge to extract the honey and return them to be filled again. In addition to being healthful and delicious, honey has some interesting properties. The enzymatic process it undergoes in the bees' stomachs gives it a very long shelf life. Some jars of honey, as well as objects preserved therein, have kept well for centuries. Honey has long been used as a folk remedy, and studies have shown that burns treated with honey heal several days more quickly than with antiseptic and gauze. Celebrate with the 1977 sweet soul classic "Oh Honey" by Delegation, available on Freegal.

Sourdough September. This was originated by something called the Real Bread Campaign. The use of sourdough as a leavening agent in bread baking goes back millennia; ancient sourdough yeast has been isolated from the remains of a bakery near the pyramids of Giza. Sourdough bread is created from a starter or mother, which is a fermented blend of flour and water that produces a live colony of wild lactobacilli. This releases carbon dioxide gas during baking, giving the bread texture, lightness, and a sour tang, as well as preservative properties. Sourdough starters can be passed down through generations, creating a lineage of bread made from descendants of the original bacilli. During the pandemic, sourdough cultivation became a widespread hobby and a topic of fierce online debate over such issues as whether chlorinated or unchlorinated water is better, or whether baker's yeast or, grapes, or milk can be used as a starter aid, or whether these options are insufficiently purist and can only lead to inauthentic 'sourfaux.'

The Weeks. September’s Weeks include…

National Waffle Week. This would be the first full week of September. Waffles consist of batter or dough cooked between two metal plates, patterned to give it a characteristic surface impression. The English word 'waffle' is related to older Dutch and Germanic words for weave, web, and honeycomb, as well as to an old Scottish usage meaning to bark like a dog, talk foolishly, or vacillate. Waffles may be sweet or savory and bear an ingenious range of toppings. Belgium boasts several noteworthy regional variants, but there are also distinctive waffle styles ironed in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Hawaii. In 1955, two Atlanta neighbors, Joe Rogers and the aptly named Tom Forkner, opened the first Waffle House. This beloved all-day breakfast chain now has nearly two thousand locations across the South and the Midwest. Waffle Houses pride themselves on staying open 24 hours a day and never closing, although the rumor that they guarantee this by burying the front door keys in their concrete foundation seems doubtful. However, their dependability is such that FEMA uses an informal 'Waffle House index' to gauge the severity of natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Green indicates that a Waffle House location is open and serving their full menu, Yellow means open but a limited menu and Red means that the location is closed, so the storm damage in that vicinity must be pretty rough.

British Food Fortnight. Gotcha with the fortnight! This is the third and fourth week of the month. The ancient Celtic Britons were partially Romanized by the expansion of that empire, and after that, the isles were further peopled by waves of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians, as well as Vikings. In the 11th century, the Normans invaded France, bringing along spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and ginger. One of the oldest extant English cookbooks is a 14th-century collection of recipes called The Forme of Cury (in modern terms, the method of cooking) in which these spices play a large role. Despite a flavorful infusion of Indian cuisine starting in the 19th century, British cooking is generally thought of as being stolid, hearty, and dull. In 2002, Alexia Robinson spearheaded a harvest-time reappreciation called Love British Food, which led to the fortnight; her campaign was also intended to help the British tourism and food industries recover from a disastrous outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Explore dishes beyond fish' n chips such as Yorkshire pudding, bubble and squeak, rumbledethumps, Eton mess, bangers and mash, Scotch eggs, mucky dripping, toad-in-the-hole (which contains sausages, not toads), jellied eels, haggis, Welsh rarebit, stargazy pie, spotted dick, dead man's arm (a dessert of suet pudding with lashings of custard), plum duff, frogspawn pudding, Cullen skink, Beef Wellington, and of course, the full English fry-up breakfast with fried eggs, baked beans, blood sausage, kippers, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, and a strong cup of black tea.

Sea Otter Awareness Week. The last full week of September pays tribute to the delightful and still endangered sea otter native to the coasts of the North Pacific Ocean. Starting in the 18th century, they were hunted nearly to extinction for their thick, warm pelts; fortunately, sea otters' numbers and range have rebounded somewhat since protections were enacted in the 20th century. Sea otters are a relatively recent case of land mammals going aquatic, some 2 million years ago; whales, by contrast, evolved from land mammals that returned to the sea around 50 million years ago. (The unverified but popular Aquatic Ape Theory posits that certain anatomical features distinguishing humans from other primates are due to an aquatic phase of human evolution, though little evidence of this has shown up in the fossil record.) Sea otters are considered a keystone species because they prey on purple sea urchins, which otherwise overpopulate and kill off the Pacific's coastal kelp forests, as has been happening in many offshore areas around California, a state that obviously does not have enough sea otters. Otters have a reputation for playfulness. I recall watching an otter documentary whose narrator expressed this in absolute terms: "If it's not fun, the otter won't do it!" The best-documented otter play behavior seems to take place mostly in zoos, where otters thrive and have no pressing need to hunt for food and avoid predators.

The Days of September. Some interesting ones are…

National Emma M. Nutt Day, September 1. Emma M. Nutt became the world's first female telephone operator on this day in 1878, when she was hired at the age of 18 by the Boston exchange of Alexander Graham Bell's recently established telephone company. Her calm, soothing, professional voice was popular with customers, and she remained on the job for over 30 years. Reportedly, she knew every number in the New England telephone directory by heart. In 1998, Philips Electronics debuted a virtual speech attendant system (something like an early Alexa or Siri) named 'EMMA' in her honor. September 1 is also Uzbekistan Independence Day and supposedly National Chianti Day.

National Skyscraper Day, September 3. On this day in 1856 was born future architect Louis Sullivan, who in 1884 worked with William LeBaron Jenney on designing and building the first steel-framed skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago (demolished in 1931). There has since been a fascinating series of design and engineering breakthroughs and a procession of buildings claiming the title of the world's tallest—currently, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which may someday be eclipsed nearly 500 feet by the kilometer-tall Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia (designed by the same architect, Adrian Smith) if the Tower is ever completed. In 2017, the 62-story Wilshire Grand Center was completed in downtown Los Angeles, nominally stripping the title of the tallest building west of the Mississippi from its previous holder, the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower – which is also known as the Library Tower, because its completion in 1989 was made possible by its purchase of the airspace rights from the next-door Central Library, enabling the Library's recovery and rebuilding after its 1986 arson fire. Angeleno architecture buffs have mixed feelings about the Wilshire Grand's claim, as its surpassing height is due solely to a 294-foot metal spike added to the upper section (Google that for terrifying photos of construction dudes hanging out on top of the spike during installation). It has been pointed out that when you stand atop the U.S. Bank Tower's helipad on the roof, which not many people get to do, you are 1,018 feet above the ground, whereas the helipad on the roof of the Wilshire Grand is only 925 feet up; the rest is spike. Not that we are biased in favor of the Library Tower, just sayin'. It is also National Pet Rock Day.

Care Bears Share Your Care Day is September 9. Share Your Care Day is intended to encourage giving and volunteering. The Care Bears were created in 1981 by artist Elena Kucharik for the American Greetings card company and were an instant hit. Each is a different color and sports a unique tummy symbol representing its personality, including Share Bear, Tenderheart Bear, Funshine Bear, Love-A-Lot Bear, Laugh-A-Lot Bear, Best Friend Bear, and the mysterious magenta Secret Bear. When something has gone wrong or needs fixing, the Care Bears can unite to project the 'Care Bear Stare' from their tummies, a multicolored ray of light that beams forth caring and good cheer. There have been a series of product tie-ins, movies, record albums (originally recorded and sung by Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan of The Turtles), and television shows, including the current series Care Bears: Unlock the Magic. This day is also International Box Wine Day and International Sudoku Day.

Constitution Day is September 17, celebrating the day in 1787 that the document was signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

National Talk Like a Pirate day is September 19. Arrr! It is also National Meow Like a Pirate Day and Aortic Dissection Awareness Day.

The Autumn Equinox is September 23. Unlike National Meow Like a Pirate Day, this one is based on the earth's position relative to the sun and is, of course, one of the two yearly occasions on which our planet's tilt lines up such that the plane of the equator passes through the sun's geometrical center, and day and night are of equal duration. This day is also National Rabbit Day and, as of last year's inaugural celebration, International Za'atar Day. Za'atar is an herb used to make a time-honored spice blend used in Arabic, Israeli, and North African cooking. There is actually a family of related herbs native to the region that can be used, but the primary one is origanum syriacum, also called ezov in the Hebrew tradition (sometimes misleadingly translated as hyssop in English), a wild aromatic perennial whose leaves are dried and ground and usually blended with sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt. It can be moistened with oil and spread onto flatbread, added to hummus or labneh, brushed onto roasted chicken, or added to salad dressing.

National One Hit Wonder Day is September 25. The term' one hit wonder' combines affection and disparagement to memorialize artists in every field of endeavor who have hit it big once, usually meaning bands and musicians who are known for one hit song. Most bands hope to have many hits, and a few have to settle for one; some of the best have no interest in mainstream hits whatsoever. That one hit can be a burden for a certain kind of band, overshadowing and warping the perception of the rest of their musical career. For example, it is unfair to label Devo a one-hit-wonder band for their Top 20 Billboard hit "Whip It," Soft Cell for "Tainted Love," or T.Rex for "Get It On (Bang a Gong)," considering the strength of the rest of their catalog and the scope of their influence; in those cases, the hit is an outlier rather the band's primary claim to fame. The same might be said of Simple Minds' fluke "Don't You Forget About Me," a song Keith Forsey wrote for the Breakfast Club soundtrack and originally pitched to Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol, both of whom declined; it was recorded quickly and reluctantly by Simple Minds, who normally preferred to stick with their own excellent self-penned material. The success of "Come On Eileen" helped derail the career of the very talented and eccentric Kevin Rowland and his band Dexys Midnight Runners, who had plenty of other brilliant songs and should have had more hits. To my mind, the quintessential one-hit wonder is a goofy commercial jingle by a band barely intended to produce anything more—Los Del Rio's "Macarena," Aqua's "Barbie Girl," Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5," Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy," Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus" (although he actually had many hits in Austria, and a cover version of his song "Der Komissar" by After the Fire did well on the American charts). Milli Vanilli seems like a one-hit-wonder kind of band, although they certainly are not because they had three huge number-one hits. The gritty 1966 anthem "96 Tears" by ? (Question Mark) and the Mysterians helped define garage rock and later punk rock, and may still be the only million-selling number-one Billboard hit by a Mexican-American band; the Mysterians also had a long and productive career thereafter.

National Pet Tricks Day is September 30, along with National Chewing Gum Day, National Ghost Hunting Day, and Save the Koala Day. My choodle Wylma had a pretty good pet trick—she owned about 30 stuffed dog toys, and if you promised her a treat, you could tell her to "get the squirrel!" or "get the crawdad!" or "get the octopus!" and she would run down the hall to her room and dig through the basket and return with the right one. It was pretty impressive, although she quit performing it in her later years, preferring to rest on the laurels of her youth.

Further Reading

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Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary

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The Story of the Dinosaurs in 25 Discoveries
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Beekeeping for Beginners: How to Raise Your First Bee Colonies
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Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More
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Waffles: Sweet, Savory, Simple
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Vitamins and Minerals
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British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History
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Sea Otters: A Natural History and Guide
Nickerson, Roy

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The Invention of the Telegraph and Telephone in American History
McCormick, Anita Louise

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Supertall: How the World's Tallest Buildings are Reshaping our Cities and Our Lives
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Care Bears: Share Your Care

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Olives, Lemons & Za'atar: The Best Middle Eastern Home Cooking
Bishara, Rawia

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One-Hit Wonders: An Oblique History of Popular Music

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Super Dog Tricks: Make Your Dog a Super Dog With Step-by-Step Tricks and Training Tips
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