The Stories Behind Some Common Rituals And Habits

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The Stories Behind Some Common Rituals And Habits


Have you ever paused to wonder why we place candles on birthday cakes or why diamond rings symbolize engagement? Here, we delve into the fascinating origins and intriguing facts about eight everyday customs. Prepare to see these habits in a whole new light and feel a bit wiser too!

Birthday Candles: Lighting Up History

The custom of placing candles on birthday cakes originates from ancient Greece. The Greeks made moon-shaped cakes adorned with candles to honor Artemis, the goddess of the moon and the hunt. The candles' glow represented the moon's light, and blowing them out was believed to ward off evil spirits or send prayers to the gods.

Over time, this practice evolved, with pagans and other cultures using candles to protect birthday celebrants from bad spirits. By the 1700s in Germany, it became customary to place a candle for each year of a person’s life, plus an extra one for good luck. Today, we continue to light up our birthday celebrations, blending ancient beliefs with modern joy.

Airport Security: From Hijacks to High-Tech

In the late 1960s, airplane hijackings were frequent in the United States, with over 50 incidents in just two years. These hijackings were mostly nuisances until a tragic event on St. Patrick’s Day in 1970. A gunman on an Eastern Airlines flight shot the pilot and co-pilot, leading to swift Congressional action.

By 1973, all passengers were required to undergo security screenings. This system remained until the devastating events of September 11, 2001, which prompted further stringent security measures, shaping the airport experience we know today.

Diamond Engagement Rings: A Brilliant Marketing Move

The tradition of diamond engagement rings became widespread thanks to a 1947 marketing campaign by De Beers, a British company with a vast diamond supply in South Africa. The campaign, featuring the slogan "A Diamond Is Forever" coined by copywriter Mary Frances Gerety, linked diamonds with eternal love.

It even suggested how much men should spend on these rings—initially one month's salary, later rising to three months. This campaign was incredibly successful; whereas before World War II only 10% of American brides had diamond rings, today that figure is 75%.

Walking 10,000 Steps: A Catchy Fitness Goal

The concept of walking 10,000 steps a day for health originated with the Manpo-kei, a pedometer launched in the 1960s during the Tokyo Olympics. Its name means "10,000 steps meter," chosen partly because the Japanese character for 10,000 (万) resembles a person walking.

While not based on scientific evidence initially, recent studies confirm that walking 8,000 steps daily significantly reduces risks of heart disease, dementia, stroke, and certain cancers. Surprisingly, exceeding 10,000 steps offers no extra benefit, but even modest increases in daily steps can lower mortality risk by 40%.

Plastic Bags: From Eco-Savior to Environmental Hazard

In 1959, Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin invented plastic bags, hoping to save trees by offering a reusable alternative to paper bags. Thulin envisioned people reusing these strong, cheap bags. However, the convenience of single-use plastic bags led to widespread adoption.

By 1979, they made up 80% of Europe's bag market and soon dominated globally. Ironically, Thulin’s invention, meant to protect the environment, has contributed significantly to marine plastic pollution, with predictions that plastic could outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.

These everyday habits, from birthday candles to plastic bags, have rich histories and surprising origins. Understanding the stories behind these customs not only enriches our knowledge but also makes us appreciate the fascinating evolution of human practices.