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Friday, Dec. 21 is the winter solstice—the shortest day of the year and the date that marks the onset of winter. And,
as you’ve no doubt heard by now, it’s also the day the Mayan calendar ends, which
many people believe translates to the end of the world. Happy holidays, eh?
This isn’t the first time people have predicted the end of days and braced for the
apocalypse. Here are three instances featured in Good
Old Days, My Ass: 665 Funny History Facts and Terrifying Truths About Yesterday by
David A. Fryxell:
Way back in 448, Moses of Crete, a rabbi, claimed to be the Messiah as predicted by
Talmudic calculations and led his followers to the sea, which was supposed to part
so they could reach Palestine. Having given away all their possessions, the rabbi’s
followers cast themselves into the Mediterranean. Seeing them crash on the rocks or
drown, the rabbi declined to follow and “suddenly disappeared,” leading some to conclude
he had actually been “some malignant fiend” in human form.
Then there were the astrological predictions that a 1524 planetary alignment in Pisces
would produce an apocalypse. Germans built boats, including a three-story ark constructed
by Count von Igleheim, and residents of port cities took refuge afloat. When doomsday
arrived with only a light drizzle, angry crowds outside the ark stampeded, trampling
hundreds, and stoned the count to death.
In America, forerunners of today’s Seventh-Day Adventists, the Millerites, followed
Baptist preacher William Miller, who concluded Christ would return in 1844. Another
Millerite pegged it more precisely on Oct. 22, 1844, a day that came to be known as
“the Great Disappointment.” Thousands of followers gave away their possessions
and awaited the end. When Jesus didn’t appear, one wrote, “I lay prostrate for two
days without any pain—sick with disappointment.” Even children in the streets would
taunt the disappointed Millerites, saying, “Have you not gone up [to heaven]?”
For a look at more interesting and often funny history facts—and terrifying truths—from
the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, check
out David’s book.
And if, by chance, the world is ending on Friday, what’s to stop you from indulging
in another piece of homemade fudge washed down by a cup of eggnog? After all, it is the
holiday season …