May Day – Traditional Holiday

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As a child, I can remember a wonderful event at my elementary school in the Spring. Every year on May 1, the entire school would congregate around our flag pole in front of the school.  It was decorated with beautiful ribbons of different colors to transform it into the May pole for the celebration.  Children with flowers entwined around their heads would dance to music and weave the brightly colored ribbons in and out as they danced around the pole. Although this was a very long time ago, I still remember it vividly and thought about it yesterday as I was thinking of ideas for this blog.  I also wonder why in all my years of teaching school and being witness to my own children’s school activities, I have not heard of the celebration since then. With this thought I decided to do a little research about the history of May Day.

Entwined flowers and ribbons436_gi5f12glvc

 

maypole

 

 May Day is derived from the ancient festival of Beltane, and the waxing power of the sun at this time of year. Celebrated on May 1, it is one of four cross-quarter days, midway between an equinox and a solstice. In Europe, the May Pole was erected from chopping down a tree and often was a contest between the villages to see which would have the tallest.  In small towns the poles were erected just for the day, but in larger cities, like London, they were erected as permanent structures.  Another May Day tradition is to leave anonymous small baskets of fresh flowers and sweets on the doorstop of neighbors.

 http://youtu.be/4ctK4tswNEs

Universal Celebration – Earth Day

 

EARTH DAY 2013

As I have written in this blog about different countries, religions and their traditions, holidays and celebrations, I realized the history that has been carried on generation to generation.  One of my favorite celebrations that is relatively new compared to the other holidays I have written about is Earth Day.

Earth Day first came about on April 22, 1970 at the height of the hippie movement and rode on the stream of consciousness caused by it.  It has become know as a day to recognize the preservation and conservation of our earth for future generations. According to the Earth Day website,

“At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.  Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962.  The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.”

Earth-Day-Dana-Gray

In the 43 years that have passed since the first Earth Day, the consciousness on conservation and preservation has grown and has made grade strides but still there is much room for improvement.  Earth Day should be promoted widely to help pass the word that we all can have a part in preserving our environment by recycling, conserving water, food, and energy and encouraging others to do so.

 

Customs And Traditions of Mexico

Although Mexico’s border joins the USA on its southern border, the customs and traditions differ greatly from the USA.  As in other countries many of the traditions are handed down from generation to generation and may be very familiar to native Mexicans but not so to people outside of Mexico. Several of the Mexican holidays that are celebrated through the year is Cinco de Mayo, Day of the Dead, Christmas, and Mexican Independence Day.

Cinco-de-Mayo-Sacramento

Cinco de Mayo is one of the more well-known Mexican holidays, but most people assume that it is celebrated to commemorate Mexico’s independence.  Actually it is to commemorate a largely unknown conflict between Mexican patriots and the invading French forces in 1862. Napoleon III set out to expand the French empire by sending the army to occupy Mexico City and install a proxy ruler. The undermanned and under trained Mexican forces under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza repelled 6,000 of Napoleon’s finest troops outside the city of Puebla on May 5. Mexico did win the battle but it was only the beginning of a prolonged occupation of the French that ultimately ended in 1867. As it seems, Cinco de Mayo’s widely celebrated events were brought about by Corona’s marketing efforts.

Mexico celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. The celebration actually begins on the night of September 15 as families gather in town squares to hear the famous grito or shout of independence.  In the small town of Dolores, Guanajuato, On Sept. 16, 1810, a revolutionary priest named Miguel Hidalgo addressed a crowd that gathered pronouncing the beginning of the war of independence from Spain.  The speech is reenacted every year on the night of the 15th, the president of Mexico, as well as mayors and governors across the country, with the crowd cheering “¡Viva México!” (“Long live Mexico!”) three times in response.

The Day of Dead celebrations in Mexico are not sorrowful events as one might suspect. Mexicans chose to celebrate in a playful and cheerful manner death and the deceased. In the more indigenous towns of Patzcuaro or Oaxaca City, the people celebrate with dancing skeletons and sugar-coated skulls in graveyards on November 1. They celebrate around brightly decorated graves as they share food and laughter. The days leading up to the celebration, families build colorful altars to their deceased with their favorite food and drinks and beautiful yellow and purple flowers.  This belief dating back to early Hispanic times involves the idea that the special deceased loved on has lived in a spiritual purgatory and on the Day of the Dead, will come home.

Los Posadas - Mexican Christmas tradition

Although Christmas is celebrated widely throughout the world, in Mexico the traditions vary from the American customs of the holiday.  Children do not receive presents on Christmas Day and there is not a big interest in Santa Claus. Instead they wait until January 6 and the Dia de los Reyes or Three Kings’ Day which commemorates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus when they presented him with three gifts. Las Posadas is another Christmas celebration in which there is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph looking for room in an inn.  It is celebrated December 16-24.  Adults or children dressed up as Mary and Joseph and go from door to door knocking and asking if there is room in the inn.  After they are turned away three times, they meet in a central place for hot chocolate and warm bowls of pozole.

These are just a few of the customs and traditions of traditional holidays in Mexico.  In the future I will add to this to expand our knowledge of their rich culture and heritage.

 

The History of Passover and Seder

Passover, the Jewish holiday

 

An important Hebrew religious holiday occurs in the Spring. The Passover Seder is a traditional Jewish ritual feast that marks their holiday of Passover. It is celebrated on the 14th day of Hebrew calendar for Jews living in Israel and on the 15th for those living out of the country.  This corresponds to late March or April in the Gregorian calendar.

Although many of the Jewish holidays are celebrated in the synagogue, The Seder is celebrated in a community or with multiple generations in a home and is based on the Biblical verse commanding the Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. Traditionally families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah. The Haggadah tells the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt and special blessings and rituals.  There are also special Passover songs and commentaries from the Talmud.

Happy Passover

Jews throughout the world celebrate the  custom of having four glasses of wine, eating matzo, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder plate and reveling in a  celebration of freedom.

There is an obligation to drink four cups of wine during the Seder. The Four cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God in Exodus 6:6-7 :  “I will bring out,” “I will deliver,” “I will redeem.” and “I will take.”

Passover Seder table

According to Wikki, “the Passover Seder Plate is a special plate containing six symbolic foods used during the Passover Seder. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have special significance to the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The seventh symbolic item used during the meal—a stack of three matzot—is placed on its own plate on the Seder table.

The six items on the Seder Plate are:

  • Maror and Chazeret: Two types of bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt. For maror, many people use freshly grated horseradish or whole horseradish root. Chazeret is typically romaine lettuce, whose roots are bitter-tasting. Either the horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.
  • Charoset: A sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.
  • Karpas: A vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually parsley but sometimes something such as celery or cooked potato, which is dipped into salt water (Ashkenazi custom), vinegar (Sephardi custom), or charoset (older custom, still common amongst Yemenite Jews) at the beginning of the Seder.
  • Zeroa: A roasted lamb or goat bone, symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.
  • Beitzah: A hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and was then eaten as part of the meal on Seder night.”

Children are asked question during the ritual to involve them in learning the tradition and custom of the Seder.  Their involvement in their family tradition encourages that it will be enjoyed and cherished for years to come in the future. Passover Seder is certainly a wonderful holiday with a rich history.

My wishes for this blog is to educate others to the traditions and customs of religions and ethnic groups around the world.  Please feel free to comment if you have a suggestion to  other information that should be added on this topic.