Of course, these forecasts aren’t entirely reliable: Meteorologists can barely predict the weather beyond next week, let alone next June. But getting upset about the almanac can be a bit like protesting a fortune-teller’s tent at a county fair. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is mild fake news. Flicking through its 2023 edition is a nostalgic nostalgic for the days when pop culture bunks were limited to astrology, psychology and ancient folk remedies. (Hay fever? Find the nearest mule and kiss its nostrils.) Cutely, the publication has a hole printed in the corner so you can easily hang it in your woodshed, outhouse, or whatever you like place to keep the mud fantasy alive – filthy, stargazing farming life.
My 10-year-old reminds me of the magic of almanacs
The Old Farmer’s Almanac is now oddly out of touch with the reason it exists. It wants to arouse our love of nature without showing too much interest in human nature or the natural sciences. So, it thinks small – gardening tips, life hacks, folklore. Consider the latest version of the two-page “best days” chart to do certain things each month, based on lunar readings. For example, July 25 is a good day for slaughtering livestock. March 8 is a good day to quit smoking. (Isn’t it a day?)
The yearbook envisions a world largely unaffected by current events. With the exception of a few articles on its website, Covid has consistently exceeded the yearbook’s promise of “something new, useful and interesting.” It features recipes, curiosities, gardening advice, jokes, a history lesson on mistletoe, and features on Ukrainian Christmas food — but doesn’t mention why Ukraine might be of interest at the moment. It’s a pale legacy for a publication developed with some urgency: Robert B. Thomas hurriedly published The Old Farmer’s Almanac in 1792 after leaving the hospital to be vaccinated with smallpox ‘ first edition.
The book may be full of nonsense, but its scope is broad: the old lunar calendar (along with its main competitor, the lunar calendar) has a circulation of about 4 million copies a year, with a massive presence online and on social media — These figures put the yearbook among the highest-circulation magazines in the United States.
That’s why I’m starting to think that the farmer’s calendar can be restarted for the good of the country. It would be nice to remove it from fake weather forecasts and astrology. Instead, the almanac should be more in line with its original mission: to teach Americans how to live in this new place they invented.
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This was Benjamin Franklin’s intention when he published his first “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1732. As he wrote in his autobiography, it was “an appropriate vehicle for conveying instruction among ordinary people who hardly buy any other books.” Reliable information was probably sparse at the time; the concept of a public library was more than a century away from us. Franklin believed that his teaching role in this area was primarily to convey his famous folk maxims and proverbs. But as the country grew, so did the content; during the Revolutionary War, many almanacs promoted the cause of patriotism. By the time Thomas published the first edition of The Old Lunar Calendar, the U.S. had ratified its constitution, but had yet to sort out its identity. As such, the yearbook includes information on state legislature leaders, government mechanisms, court timetables, religious dates, and even the history of Jewish persecution. It provides an outline of American civic life for a country that has yet to be identified.
As Jess McHugh points out in Americanon, her 2021 book on influential bestsellers in American history, Thomas’s Almanac “begins to weave democratic traditions into the lives of ordinary Americans. In everyday life, tie their agricultural cycles to their government cycles.” By including this disjointed information, she adds, it has pushed Americans to be culturally omnivorous, curious, and observant. That is, a product of the Enlightenment culture that created the country itself.
To be sure, the old-school peasant almanacs also promoted some unstable myths in their early days. It has a narrow idea of what it means to be an American farmer or an American. It removed much of the wisdom of slavery, black peasants, or living outside the white landlord class. But the yearbook is often designed to be an aspirational document, a unifying force on how citizens conduct business, tied to American ideals.
In this regard, Old Lunar never strives to be particularly provocative, nor does it intend to be the stubborn and harmless miscellaneous it is today. Its original goal was to build a stake on which a society could be built, but it has given way to something more banal: chicken soup of soul positivity. “We don’t engage in politics; we don’t cover religious topics in our publications,” Janice Stillman, the current editor of the yearbook, told McHugh. “As I like to say sometimes, it’s all good news. There’s no bad news in Farmers’ Almanac.”
The physical book is full of memories. Has the pandemic pushed them to ether forever?
But: a vaccine is good news. Elections without baseless allegations of fraud are good news. Books are good news, even if efforts to ban them are not. Climate science is good news, even if its findings usually aren’t. Civic institutions that are meaningful to America’s self-definition—its parks, museums, government, schools, and more—are good news. There’s nothing wrong with calling these things “politics” because everything is. But to see them as intellectual third tracks or unspeakable divisive ideologies is to patronize the American people who generally know better and certainly deserve better.
According to the old lunar calendar in 2023, August 22 is a good day for dismantling things. But the truth is, any day is a good day to break your mind and start over.
Mark Asitakisis a critic in Phoenix and author of “new midwest. “
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