Tag Archives: hollidays

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.

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

Juneteenth Official Holiday

 

Emancipation Day Celebration
Emancipation Day Celebration

Recently I learned something I was not familiar with,  the official holiday Juneteenth. Celebrated on June 19th, it marks the end of slavery in the United States.  It has been a tradition in the African American community since the late 19th century. Considered a state holiday or special day of observance in 42 of the states, the 8 states that do not recognize it are Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.

The popularity of the holiday has varied over the years.  In the early 20th century there was a decline in the Juneteenth celebrations because of economical and social forces.  During the Depression, many blacks were forced off farms and into cities to find work.  The employers in urban environments were less likely to permit leave for the celebrations. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the celebrations were considered a reminder of the historical struggle of their ancestors and declined because of this. In 1968, Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Poor People’s March call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor.   Afterwards many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth official holiday celebrations in their communities. During the 1980s and 1990s  the Juneteenth popularity continued to grow.  African American communities and organizations throughout the country have an interest to see that the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten and recognize roots tying back to Texas soil from which all remaining American slaves were finally granted their freedom.

Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas - where the proclamation was read from the balcony
Ashton Villa, Galveston, Texas – where the proclamation was read from the balcony

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Families – International Day of Families

 

international-day-families

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.

 

 

Mother’s Day Remembered

 

sunrise cactus

 

I can remember as a child always trying to think of something I could give my mother for Mother’s Day.  Before I had an allowance or worked a part-time job, I would try to think of something I could make her or would hunt for a pretty flower in the yard.  I always came up with something and she was always grateful no matter how simple the gift.  When I became a mother she would give me a present also.  I felt this was underserved but she told me that I was a mother now too and I needed to be remembered.  As the years past and she became not only a grandmother but a great-grandmother, she expressed complete joy at the mere mention of any little story or glimpse of a photo of the great-grandchildren. When she became ill and was confined to a nursing home one of her most prized possessions was a picture of my granddaughter, her great-granddaughter, 6 months old at the time. She kept the photo right beside her on the table where she could constantly see it. She became very ill after this and her last Mother’s Day and I once again was trying to think of something I could give her.  This time the selection was more difficult trying to choose something that she could use in the nursing home.  I chose a sunrise cactus plant that was full of beautiful fuchsia blooms.  I knew she would love it but sadly enough she was not conscious enough to acknowledge it that Mother’s Day.  She passed away about two weeks later.  Mother’s Day seems empty now but I hold in my heart something she told me that I will never forget.  She told me that I was a good mother to my children and she was very proud of that. Assuring me she told me she knew this was true because I read books to my children before they went to bed each night.  She apologized that she never did that for me, saying that no one did for her and so she did not realize that was how you became a good mother.  I am sure there are many other qualifications women need to have to be qualified as a good mother, but the fact that my own mother recognized and put me in this category is of great satisfaction to me this and every Mother’s Day.  I still have the sunrise cactus plant I gave her and after 7 years it finally bloomed again.  I think it is because my mother is looking down from heaven and smiling in acknowledgment of me becoming an author and illustrator of children’s books in the same year, and that I am painting and working on my art as she encouraged me to as a child.

May 5 is Cinco de Mayo

Cinco-de-Mayo-Sacramento

 

May 5 is the day that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated each year.  What is the history of this traditional Mexican holiday? 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.

How is this holiday celebrated in Mexico?  There are parades to especially honor the military. Celebrations also take place in a Zocalo which each city has as a place of celebration. A fair with rides may also be available for the celebration. There are sometimes reenactments of the battle of Cinco de Mayo. People also enjoy music, laughter, and decorations with bright, vibrant colors, and food. One of the more popular traditional dishes is mole poblano. It is a thick spicy sauce made from than 40 ingredients. It is served on top of turkey or chicken with Mexican style rice. Cinco de Mayo celebrated on May 5 is a holiday rich in tradition and Mexican culture that all people can enjoy.

 

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May Day – Traditional Holiday

May-Day-New-Haven_2007_100_1619-1

 

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

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.