Tag Archives: customs and tradtions

The History Mardi Gras Celebration

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 [

Mardi Gras king cake
Mardi Gras king cake

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.

PBS – New Orleans

The Times-Picayune

New Orleans Online

History of Mardi Gras

 

Kwanzaa

 

Kwanzaa

 

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 Stamp


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.

    • Umoja: Unity
    • Kujichagulia: Self-determination
    • Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility
    • Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics
    • Nia: Purpose
    • Kuumba: Creativity
    •   Imani: Faith

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.

 

Christmas Traditions Around The World

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.

Christmas in Japan
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.

Twelve dish Christmas eve supper

 

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

Menorah
Menorah

 

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.”

Star of David
Star of David

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.

Latkes
Latkes

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.

Dreidel

Hanukkah is probably the most well know of the Jewish holidays but is of the least religious significance as compared to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu’ot.

 

 

 

 

Yom Kippur, High Holy Holiday For Jews

Yom Kippur, High Holy Holiday For Jews
Yom Kippur, High Holy Holiday For Jews

 

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.

According to Wikipedia:

"Five additional prohibitions are traditionally observed, as detailed in the Jewish oral tradition (Mishnah tractate Yoma 8:1)

The number five is a set number, relating to:

  1. In the Yom Kippur section of the Torah, the word soul appears five times.
  2. Soul, in the Torah is known by five separate names: soul, wind, spirit, living one and unique one.
  3. Unlike regular days, which have three prayer services, Yom Kippur has five- MaarivShacharisMussafMinchah and Neilah
  4. The Kohen Gadol rinsed himself in the mikveh five times on Yom Kippur.[6]

The traditions are as follows:

  1. No eating and drinking
  2. No wearing of leather shoes
  3. No bathing or washing
  4. No anointing oneself with perfumes or lotions
  5. No marital relations "

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.


RoyalDiscount.com

 

 

Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture in Russia

 

Culture in Russia
Culture in Russia

Culture in Russia, or the USSR is rich and many faceted.  Russia is a vast country with and estimated population of 150 million people.  Approximately 81% of the people speak the official language of Russia as their primary language.  There are more than a 100 minority languages but the most popular spoken language is Tartar.

Proud and hardworking, Russians value family and the connection it provides.  Most families live in small apartments, often with 2 or 3 generations sharing the same space.  In modern times the typical family has only one child because of the necessity of women to work outside the home to help support the income of the family. Very patriotic, they love patriotic songs and events that support their country’s patriotic efforts and they expect others to also recognize this also.

Russian life today centers around the collective spirit. This first began many years ago when life centered on the agricultural village commune, where the land was held in common and decision-making was the province of an assembly of the heads of household.

Several interesting traditions the Russians have when greeting a friend or family member is for men giving a firm, almost bone crushing handshake and for women kissing the other person three times on the cheek alternating the cheek each time. Men give a less firm handshake for women.  Friends may give a pat on the back and a hug.

Gift giving is a tradition that is observed on birthdays, New Years and Orthodox Christmas between close friends and family. If you are invited to the home of a Russian family you should take a small gift.  Men are expected to bring flowers but don’t bring yellow. Don’t give a baby gift before the birth.  It is considered bad luck to do so.  Russians typically will refuse a gift when it is first given but will usually accept it if you ask again to please accept the gesture of kindness.

According to Wikki, “Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, Russian cultural life was left in chaos. Some prominent writers, like Ivan Bunin and Vladimir Nabokov left the country, while a new generation of talented writers joined together in different organizations with the aim of creating a new and distinctive working-class culture appropriate for the new state, the Soviet Union. Throughout the 1920s writers enjoyed broad tolerance. In the 1930s censorship over literature was tightened in line with Joseph Stalin’s policy of socialist realism. After his death the restrictions on literature were eased, and by the 1970s and 1980s, writers were increasingly ignoring official guidelines.” Art and music have also have flourished since restrictions eased in recent years offering artists a more relaxed approach to their creativity. This has also contributed to an increased interest to culture in Russia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Friendship Day

International Friendship Day
International Friendship Day

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.

According to the Huffinton Post, “Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently issued a statement to promote international solidarity on this special day.

“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.”

 

 

 

 

Customs And Traditions in Australia

 

Australia flag
Australia flag

As one of the seven continents of the world, Australia evokes visions of beautiful natural settings, kangaroos and kola bears, but I was interested to know more about their cultural traditions and customs.

One of the strong influences in Australian culture is the Aboriginese people and the history that surrounds them.  According to Aboriginal belief, the earth descended from the sky to awaken a dark and silent world from which the totemic spirit ancestors emerged.  This time in Australian history is referred to as Dreamtime.  Many of the traditions and customs from this period can be found in the study of rock art, craft and bark painting. The songs have lyrics that have remained unchanged for thousands of years and are usually accompanied by clapsticks or the throbbing tone of the didgeridoo.

Australians are drawn to having a “fair go””, believe in mateship and have a strong affection for the underdog.Their language is described as “strine” which can be described  as a combination or blend of a strong Irish accent with cockney words or phrases while also combining some words from the Aborigines languages.  It is common place to add “ie” or “o” to the end of words and use reverse nicknames such as “Snowy” for someone with dark hair.

Sports and games and are very important to Australians and they have won many championships and trophies in competition. With a population of just over 21 million people, it’s estimated that six-and-a-half million people in Australia are registered sport participants. Football, rugby, and swimming are the most popular sports. Camel racing is also a popular sport which seems very unusual rather comical way to pass time.

camel racingThe common sport of jumping rope is common for children and stems from an ancient Aborigines activity.  The boomerang is also a popular activity for all ages.

Australians love food and especially love foods cooked on the barbie (barbecue).  Alcohol is very popular with beer being the preferred beverage.  It is easy to see why Australians have a reputation for being fun-loving and down to earth.

 

 

 

The History of the Fourth of July Holiday

 

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?

The Declaration of Independence

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.