Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Kick Back with Your Almanac

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Kick Back with Your Almanac

Article excerpt

Did you give or receive an almanac for Christmas? Even though the contemporary almanac is far different from the "almanack" of yore, it still echoes its noble genealogy.

For our American ancestors, the publication of a new almanac signaled another new year on the horizon. The first almanac in the colonies was printed in 1639 by Stephen Day in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After the Bible, it was the most common book in colonial households. Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, first published in 1732, and Robert Bailey Thomas' Old Farmer's Almanack, first published in 1793, were but two of a myriad of almanacs in this country's early history. (The spelling almanack prevailed until the mid 1850s.) Today, the Old Farmer's Almanac is the oldest surviving such book published in the U.S.

The Ordo, the Roman Catholic tabulation of feasts, fasts, and festivals, a distant ancestor of the almanac, had little use or appeal to Protestant Americans. An almanac's secular listing of days was more suitable, first to the Puritans and later to other non-Catholic religious groups.

In addition to functioning as a calendar, the almanac also kept time for our forebears. The passage of time was noted by using the astronomical observations delineated in each year's almanac. Since only a few early settlers could afford the luxury of clocks or watches, the almanac guided people's reckoning of time.

Almanacs have also functioned as repositories of prognostication, information, and inspiration. Stories, proverbs, riddles, aphorisms, prophecies, engravings, poetry, prayers, and sermons were included in various almanacs. …

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