March 4, 2014 is Fat Tuesday and I was curious about the history of the Mardi Gras celebration. In the United States the mention of Mardi Gras brings to mind New Orleans, LA where is celebrated in a grand way. The history of the Mardi Gras celebration actually goes back many years in many European cities and countries since the Middle Ages. The celebration is the last opportunity for feasting and celebration before Christianity’s Ash Wednesday and Lent.The modern version of the Mardi Gras parade started before the Civil War. In 1857 the first group or “krewe” organized the parade [
The king cake is one of the traditions for Mardi Gras. It is colorfully decorated and has a small plastic baby hidden somewhere in the cake. During the celebration when the cake is served, whoever finds the plastic baby in their portion is designated to host the next celebration, a wonderful way to carry on the history of the Mardi Gras celebration.
Kwanzaa is a holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga to show respect and appreciation for the history and of people of African ancestry and to also celebrate family and community. It is celebrated for a week from December 26 to January 1st. The name comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. First fruits celebrations date back to ancient Egypt and Nubia and pertain to the harvest. The holiday is considered a cultural instead of religious holiday and any one can celebrate regardless of their faith.
The history of Kwanzaa dates back to the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements of the 1960’s. The principles are in the Swahili language since it is the most widely used African language.
According to the Huffington Post, “the colors black, red, and green are part of Kwanzaa celebrations due to their special significance. Black represents the people, red is for the blood uniting all those with African ancestry, as well as the blood shed during slavery and the civil rights movement, and green is for the lush land of Africa. These colors also reflect the Pan-African movement itself.”
Kwanzaa has seven principles, one celebrated on each day of the holiday and known collectively as Nguzo Saba. They are African values which are named in both Swahili with English translations.
Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility
Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
Some of the traditions celebrated during Kwanzaa include songs such as the Black National Anthem and lighting the kinara. A black candle from the center is used to light the candles from left to right. There is a candle to represent each one of the seven principles.Together, the candles are called the mishuuma saba. The kikombe cha umoja, or Unity Cup is another important tradition.
Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th each year but the Christmas traditions around the world can vary widely throughout other countries. In the USA the familiarity with our traditions of Christmas trees, indoor and outside lights are very common as are also advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, and Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is also a well celebrated figure for the tradition of bringing gifts to children, but is tied more to the commercial aspect of the holiday. Christmas greetings in the form of cards is also a common practice but has declined some in recent years with the more common use of email and the cost of postage increasing. Good wishes can also now be sent digitally very quickly and less expensive.
In Japan, Christmas is popular because it is encourage by commerce. Gifts are sometimes exchanged, but it is not a national holiday.
Malaysia does celebrate Christmas as national holiday, but it is not overly religious and mostly commercial in nature. In the Philippines, which is one of two predominately Catholic countries in southeast Asia, Christmas is widely celebrated as a religious holiday. Their celebration is known for being the longest Christmas season which begins September 1 with Christmas carols.
In Lebanon, Christmas is an official holiday and is celebrated on December 25, except for the Armenian Lebanese which celebrate it as an official holiday on January 6, the Epiphany. Santa Claus is known by the French and gifts are usually dropped off at church by Papa Noel or by a personal appearance to the home.
The Czech republic and Slovakia celebrate on Christmas eve, Dec. 24 and it is known as “Generous Day” because presents are given in the evening. Traditional holiday foods consist of fish soup, breaded roasted carp, and potato salad. Holiday greetings are shared after sharing a piece of Christmas wafer made with honey and walnuts.
In Russia as in some other Eastern Orthodox countries, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On January 6, Christmas Eve there are several long services and then families return home for the traditional Holy Supper for Christmas Eve. This consists of 12 different dishes which are to symbolize one for each of the Twelve Apostles. Sometimes devout families return to church that night and again the next morning on Christmas Day. Christmas became a national holiday in Russia in 1992 and remains as a ten day holiday celebration at the start of every new year.
The history of Hanukkah dates back the year 164 B.C.E. The history can be found in books 1 and 2 Maccabee but these books are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible.
The story of how Hanukkah came to be is contained in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which are not part of the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Bible. According to myjewishlearning.com, “These books tell the story of the Maccabees, a small band of Jewish fighters who liberated the Land of Israel from the Syrian Greeks who occupied it. Under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian Greeks sought to impose their Hellenistic culture, which many Jews found attractive. By 167 B.C.E, Antiochus intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practice. The Maccabees–led by the five sons of the priest Mattathias, especially Judah–waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and rededication of the temple.”
It was decided since they were not able to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot at its proper time in the early Fall that would instead would celebrate it on the date the Temple was rededicated which was on the 25th of the month of Kislev in the year 164 B.C.E.
“According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.”
The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote his historical summary of the holiday some 250 years later but referred to it as the “Festival of Lights” and not as Hanukkah. This refers to the lighting of the menorah that holds nine candles. A candle is lit each night placing it at the far right. The Shammus candle is lit and three blessings are recited: l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and she-hekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year.
One of the other Jewish customs enjoyed for Hanukkah is a special dish called latkes which is like a potato pancake made of shredded potatoes, onions, and matza flour. Playing with a dreidel is also a poplar custom. The dreidel (a square top) is spun and small chocolate coins.pennies, match sticks or M&M’s are given as prizes.
November is Native American Awareness month. I can not think of a more fitting month for this awareness since Thanksgiving is also celebrated in the month of November, Well known to most Americans but probably not as much to people from other countries, our Thanksgiving and its history evolves from the Pilgrims giving a celebration and day of thanks for the Native Americans. In the United States,Thanksgiving is commonly observed on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
According to Wikipedia, “”the event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and was attended by about 53 Pilgrims and 90 American Indians. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.”Although the holiday was first celebrated in 1621 on the Plymouth Plantation as a harvest feast after a successful growing season, it was sporadic in the following years as an impromptu religious observance and later as a civil tradition. It was proclaimed as a national holiday in 1863 during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the holiday. Thanksgiving remains to the one of the major federal and public holidays and the beginning of the holiday season that runs through Christmas and New Years Day.
The nomadic ancestors of modern Native Americans hiked over a “land bridge” from Asia to what is now Alaska more than 12,000 years ago and many thousands of years before Christopher Columbus’ ships landed in the Bahamas. Scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas by the time European adventurers arrived in the 15th century AD. Some of these 10 million lived in the area that would become the United States.
Although most Native Americans now live their daily lives in modern-day customs, many choose to remember their traditional history and celebrate at Pow Wows that are held regionally all over the USA. The celebrations are alive with rich Native American traditions customs, and native regalia. The photos and videos shown in this blog post were from the Stone Mountain Park, Ga. Pow Wow in November, 2013.
Veterans Day is celebrated every year on November 11 in the United States. This federal holiday recognizes all men and women that have served in the armed services. In 2013, the day is being recognized on the November 12 because the 11th falls on a Sunday. A similar holiday, Memorial Day is celebrated in May to remember the men and women who died while serving. Often the two holidays are confused. .
According to Wikipedia, “It coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world and also mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect.)”
Veterans Day and its history dates back to June 4, 1926 when President Calvin Coolidge was asked by the United States Congress to issue a proclamation to observe November 11 with the proper ceremonies. On May 13, 1938, a Congressional Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U.S. Code, Sec. 87a) made November 11 each year a legal holiday and “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.” Congress amended this act on June 1, 1954, changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
Recognized a s a federal holiday in the USA, Veterans day is also celebrated locally in most cities and towns with ceremonies and parades with displays of American flags and other patriotic items. Many restaurants offer free meals to veterans in recognition of the holiday and to honor the sacrifice they have shown to their country.
Last week the Highland Games was held at Stone Mountain Park, Ga.. I knew it was a Scottish festival and celebration but not much more. Wikipedia describes the events as :
“Highland games are events held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games are so well-known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centered on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.”
As I did further research I found that the Highland Games at Stone Mountain have been a tradition for 41 years. Other locations for the games have include many locations in the USA and in other countries throughout the world. The largest celebration remains to be The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August.
Although music and dancing are a part of the celebration also, the athletic games are considered to be the main events. Some of the more popular and traditional athletic events for the Highland Games are:
The two athletic games that I saw were the caber toss and sheaf toss. The caber toss is remarkable to watch. Different participants carry a long 8 foot pine pole and try to toss it so it lands on the opposite end. not only is it very difficult to execute but also it is very dangerous and I noticed that each athlete had someone to spot them as they had their turn throwing the pole/caber. The sheaf toss is 20 pounds( for men and 10 pounds for women) placed in a burlap bag and is tossed with a pitch fork over what looks like a bars that are used in a pole vault.
Yesterday morning I decided to visit a place that I had seen as I was driving by in the old town part of Lilburn, Ga in my community. I had seen as I was driving by what looked like many scarecrows in raised flower gardens. It is located in the community gardens of Lilburn on Main Street. As I drove up I was amused by the different scarecrows staring into space, one of which had a bird perched upon its arm. This struck me as ironic because I thought the scarecrows were erected to scare the birds away.
As I viewed the different scarecrows and the raised flower beds I thought of the time that must have gone into preparing and maintaining the gardens and creating the scarecrows. One garden with a scarecrow would have been nice but by working together to produce multiples had caused something quite spectacular to be created. What was behind this? It must have been a sense of community that these gardeners had all shared. One idea shared for the better of all. The result was amazing to see the individual efforts combined into this spectacular project. It occurred to me that if people throughout the world could focus on making the world a better place and putting aside any conflicts and petty differences they have concerning political party affiliations, race and religion, the world could truly come together. It would be the world effort of community.
September 21 is the day of celebration for International Day of Peace. Also called World Peace Day it was first celebrated in 1982. According to Wiki, “it is dedicated to world peace, and specifically the absence of war and violence, such as might be occasioned by a temporary ceasefire in a combat zone for humanitarian aid access.”
To begin the celebration for this special day, the United Nations Peace Bell is rung at UN Headquarters in New York City. The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents except Africa. It was a gift from the United Nations Association of Japan, as “a reminder of the human cost of war”; the inscription on its side reads, “Long live absolute world peace”.
So many people speak of peace as the ideal condition for all mankind but fail to see how they can help the world’s condition and the lack of peace. In reality it takes much more than having nations agree to no war and solving national conflicts. If every person in the world could make a vow to involve peace in every aspect of their life, we could reach that dream and every day would be an International Day of Peace.
You might ask, how can I as an individual without any political power and influence possibly have any bearing on this ideal of peace for the world. ” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has given the following suggestions,
“On this International Day of Peace, let us pledge to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect. Let us invest in the schools and teachers that will build a fair and inclusive world that embraces diversity. Let us fight for peace and defend it with all our might.”
Yom Kippur is considered to be a high holy holiday for Jews. For the year 2013 it begins on the evening of Sept 13th and ends on the evening of Sept. 14th. Three of the Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot are celebrated during the Jewish month of Tishrei. The significance of this is represented with the belief that the number three is identified with balance, the Essence, and the symbol of the triangle as stability.
The holiday represents forgiveness of sins committed against God. The custom is to dedicate the eve of Yom Kippur to apologies for sins committed against fellow human beings, but an apology or compensation is not sufficient unless forgiveness by the injured person is also requested. It is customary to invite transgressors to also participate in Yom Kippur services.
These activities parallel the human condition and the Biblical account of expulsion from the garden of Eden. The purpose of these prohibitions is to make both the body and spirit uncomfortable and to feel compassion to others feel when they are in pain.
Each religion has their own important holy days and Yom Kippur is considered to a high holy day of great importance for Jews throughout the world.