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.
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.
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.
As September begins it brings to remind that the Fall seasonal holidays are not far behind. Presently Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year for 2013 is being celebrated from sundown Sept. 4 to nightfall on Sept.6. The literal meaning of Rosh Hashanah is “head of the year” and is considered one of four new years in the Jewish new year. It marks the completion of the creation of the world and is considered the new year of people, animals and legal contracts in the Jewish oral tradition.
According to the Huffington Post, “Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, or Yamim Noraim (the “Days of Awe“), and is followed 10 days later by Yom Kippur, the “day of atonement.” The Mishnah refers to Rosh Hashanah as the “day of judgment,” and it is believed that God opens the Book of Life on this day and begins to decide who shall live and who shall die. The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are viewed as an opportunity for Jews to repent (teshuvah, in Hebrew) and ensure a good fate.”
Rosh Hashanah is the only Jewish holiday celebrated for two days and also is the only major holiday celebrated on a new moon. Traditional ways of celebrating the holiday include gathering in synagogues for extended services that follow the liturgy of a special prayerbook, called a mahzor, that is used during the Days of Awe. A shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown at specific times during the service. The Mitsvah or commandment is a literal and spiritual wake up call to hear the shofar. Traditional foods include apples and honey, raisin challah, honey cake and pomegranate and a favorite greeting is shana tovah u’metukah, Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year.”
Friendship should never be taken for granted. The value of having a friend and especially a best friend is a true treasure. I was thrilled to see that there is a day to honor and cherish all the qualities that friendship embodies and that the scope of the holiday has been broadened to include opening the avenues of understanding to all nationalities and ethnic groups around the world.
Friendship Day was first proposed on 20 July 1958 by Dr. Artemio Bracho during a dinner with friends in Puerto Pinasco, Paraguay. The World Friendship Crusade was formed from this meeting of friends. It promotes friendship and fellowship among all human beings regardless of race, color or religion. Since that day July 30 has been designated as Friendship Day in Paraguay and also adopted by several other countries.
In the USA, Friendship Day was first promoted by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards in 1930. August 2 was chosen as the day for the celebration because it was in between other holiday celebrations. People felt like the holiday was too commercial and by the 1940’s, interest in it had almost disappeared. Although there the interest in the holiday has never surfaced and taken hold in Europe, there has been an interest shown in Japan and several countries in Asia have adopted it.
In 1998, an interest in the holiday again emerged when Nane Annan, wife of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, named Winnie the Pooh as the world’s Ambassador of Friendship at the United Nations. The World Friendship Crusade has lobbied the United Nations for many years to recognize July 30th as World Friendship Day. Finally on 20 May, General Assembly of the United Nations decided to name 30 July as the International Day of Friendship. All Member States were invited to observe the International Day of Friendship in accordance with the culture and customs of their local, national and regional communities. Educational and public awareness-raising activities about the holiday are encouraged.
“The International Day of Friendship is an important opportunity to confront the misunderstandings and distrust that underlie so many of the tensions and conflicts in today’s world,” he wrote. “It is a reminder that human solidarity is essential to promoting lasting peace and fostering sustainable development.”
Most of Americans are familiar with the basic information about the history of the fourth of July. It commemorates the signing of the declaration of independence when America became independent from Great Britain in 1776. But when did the holiday become official and what is the history behind it?
John Adams predicted to his wife Abigail that a new holiday would be proclaimed in two days. Actually he was off by two days. The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 2, 1976 but only by John Hancock, the presiding officer, and Charles Thompson, the secretary of Congress. Two days later the fourth it was passed by Congress. The formal celebration of the event did not occur until days to weeks later, when the Declaration was published in the Philadelphia Evening Post on July 6. The first celebration is considered to be when the muskets were fired and people shouted in support after hearing the good news. As copies of the Declaration were read in different township meetings, people would celebrate by lighting bonfires,fired guns, rang bells, and removed symbols of the British monarchy. The next year no one in Congress thought about commemorating the holiday until a day late, so the first celebration of independence was July 4, 1977 in Philadelphia, Pa. There were parades, fireworks and cannons firing 13-gun salutes. Ships in the harbour were decorated in patriotic colors.
Fireworks did not become popular for the fourth of July celebrations until after 1816, when Americans began to produce their own instead of relied on having them shipped in.
In America, the celebration has become a family favorite for the summer with picnics, barbeques and fireworks. It is also a time to show our pride for our country and the story behind the flag.
Many of the traditional holidays are recognized and celebrated regularly year in and year out since they are etched in our memory from the time we were children. One observance I was not familiar with is International Day of Families that is celebrated on May 15.
The holiday recognizes the importance of family and our personal relationships and encourages spending quality time with those we care for. The General Assembly of the United Nations created the holiday in 1992. It is a global observance and not a public holiday. The theme for this year’s celebration is “Advancing Social Integration and Intergenerational Solidarity.”
International Day of Families is celebrated with a range or events that are organized at local, national, and international levels including workshops, seminars and policy meeting for public officials; exhibitions and organized discussions to raise awareness of the annual theme; educational sessions for children and young people; and the launch of campaigns for public policies to strengthen and support family units.
The recognition of International Day of Families helps us realize the importance of our family and personal relationships and the priority that they should have in our lives.
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.”
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.