The Thing About Today – December 17

December 17, 2020
Day 352 of 366

December 17th is the 352nd day of the year. It is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. Originally conceived as a memorial and vigil for the victims of the Green River Killer in Seattle, Washington, the event has since evolved into a call to attention against hate crimes committed against sex workers worldwide, as well as the need to remove the social stigma and discrimination that have contributed to violence against sex workers, indifference from the communities they are part of, and the customs and prohibitionist laws that perpetuate such violence.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Maple Syrup Day, Wright Brothers Day, and National Re-Gifting Day (typically observed on the Thursday before Christmas).

Historical items of note:

  • In 497 BC, the first Saturnalia festival was celebrated in ancient Rome. Saturnalia was a festival in honor of the god Saturn. It was held on December 17th of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to December 23rd, with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, a public banquet, private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms complete with gambling and masters providing table service for their slaves. It was seen as a time of liberty for both slaves and freedmen alike, and is believed to have influenced the later western European traditions associated with Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and Epiphany.
  • In 1777, France formally recognizes the United States during the American Revolution.
  • In 1862, during the American Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant issued General Order No. 11, expelling Jews from parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. Grant issued the anti-Semitic order in an effort to reduce Union military corruption and to stop an illicit trade of Southern cotton, which Grant thought was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” Jewish community leaders protested, and there was an outcry by members of Congress and the press. President Abraham Lincoln countermanded the General Order on January 4, 1863.
  • In 1865, the first performance of the Unfinished Symphony by Franz Schubert was conducted.
  • In 1892, the first issue of Vogue was published.
  • In 1903, the Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first controlled powered, heavier-than-air flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
  • In 1908, chemist and academic Willard Libby was born. He was noted for his role in the 1949 development of radiocarbon dating, a process which revolutionized archaeology and paleontology. For his contributions to the team that developed this process, Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960.
  • In 1938, Otto Hahn discovered the nuclear fission of the heavy element uranium, the scientific and technological basis of nuclear energy.
  • In 1940, Mexican actress, singer, director, and screenwriter María Elena Velasco was born.
  • In 1944, English actor Bernard Hill was born.
  • In 1945, actor Ernie Hudson was born.
  • In 1946, Canadian actor, director, and screenwriter Eugene Levy was born.
  • In 1953, actor Bill Pullman was born.
  • In 1957, the United States successfully launched the first Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • In 1964, the third James Bond film, Goldfinger, premiered.
  • In 1971, the seventh James Bond film, Diamonds are Forever, premiered.
  • In 1973, director, producer, and screenwriter Rian Johnson was born.
  • In 1974, actress Sarah Paulson was born.
  • In 1975, Ukrainian-American actress Milla Jovovich was born.
  • In 1989, The Simpsons premiered on television with the episode “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”.
  • In 2014, the United States and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations after severing them in 1961.

December 17th is Pan American Aviation Day, a United States Federal Observance Day that, according to According to 36 USC § 134, calls on “all officials of the United States Government, the chief executive offices of the States, territories, and possessions of the United States, and all citizens to participate in the observance of Pan American Aviation Day to further, and stimulate interest in, aviation in the American countries as an important stimulus to the further development of more rapid communications and a cultural development between the countries of the Western Hemisphere.”

The date commemorates the first successful flight of a mechanically propelled heavier-than-air craft, accomplished on this date in 1903 by the Wright brothers near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.


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