Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year Traditions Around The World


When it comes to celebrating the New Year it seems that everyone has their own peculiar way of doing things. Some people throw bread, others burn scarecrows, and still others fist fight for good luck. These are some of the strangest New Year’s traditions I have found from researching New Years Eve on the internet, from around the world.

Broken Plates (Denmark)

In Denmark they save all of their unused dishes and plates until the 31st of December when they affectionately shatter them against the doors of all their friends and family.

Scarecrow Burning (Ecuador)

In Ecuador they celebrate the New Year by burning paper filled scarecrows at midnight. They also burn photographs from the last year. All in the name of good fortune.

Eating 12 Grapes (Spain)

In Spain, if you can manage to stuff 12 grapes in your mouth at midnight you’ve achieved good luck for the next year.

Round Things (Philippines)

In the Philippines it’s all about the cash. They believe that everything should be round so as to represent coins and bring wealth. Round food, round clothes, as long as it’s round.

Coloured Underwear (South America)

In some South American countries wearing coloured underwear will determine your fate for the new year. Red underwear means you’ll find love. Gold means wealth, and white signifies peace.

108 Rings (Japan)

In Japan they ring all of their bells 108 times in alignment with the Buddhist belief that this brings cleanness. It’s also considered good to be smiling going into the New Year as it supposedly brings good luck.

Takanakuy Festival (Peru)

Every year at the end of December people in this small Peruvian village fist fight to settle their differences. They then start the year off on a clean slate.

Dropping Ice cream (Switzerland)

In Switzerland they celebrate the New Year by dropping ice cream on the floor.

Coin Tossing (Romania)

In Romania they throw their spare coins into the river to get good luck.

Water Buckets (Puerto Rico)

In some parts of Puerto Rico they throw pails of water out of their windows to drive away evil spirits.

Don't Forget The Cows (Belgium)

In Belgium they take their livestock seriously. At least seriously enough that the farmers wish their cows a happy new year!

Sweet Coins (Bolivia)

In Bolivia coins are baked into sweets and whoever finds the coins has good luck for the next year.

Pancakes (France)

The French like to keep things simple and delicious. Every new year they consume a stack of pancakes.

Suitcases (Colombia)

In Colombia they carry their suitcases around with them all day in hopes of having a travel filled year.

High Jump (Denmark)

In Denmark people climb on top of chairs and literally “jump” into the New Year to bring good luck.

Talc Smearing (Thailand)

Besides throwing buckets of water on each other in Thailand they also go around smearing each other with grey talc.

Cemetery Sleepover (Chile)

In Chile families spend the night in the company of their deceased loved ones by sleeping at the cemetery.

Animal Whispering (Romania)

Just like in Belgium, Romanian farmers try to communicate with their cows. If they succeed, however, then it means bad luck for the year.

Bread Power (Ireland)

In Ireland they hit the walls with bread to get rid of evil spirits

Furniture Disposal (South Africa)

In some parts of South Africa they throw furniture out the window

Frozen Trunks (Siberia)

Just as you might expect, in Siberia they jump into frozen lakes carrying tree trunks

Metal Casters (Finland)

In Finland people predict the coming year by casting molten tin into a bucket of water and interpreting the resulting shape.

Effigy Burning (Panama)

In Panama effigies of everyone and anyone famous are burned as a way to start the new year off with good luck

First-Footing (Scotland)

In Scotland the first person to cross the threshold of a home in the new year should carry a gift for good luck.

Eating For Abundance (Estonia)


In Estonia people eat seven times on new years day to ensure abundance in the new year.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is a seven day festival that celebrates African and African American culture and history. Kwanzaa takes place from 26th December to 1st January.

The name Kwanzaa comes from the phrase 'matunda ya kwanza' which means 'first fruits' in the Swahili language (an Eastern African language spoken in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe). Kwanzaa is mostly celebrated in the USA.
Kwanzaa CandlesDuring Kwanzaa a special candle holder called a kinara is used. A kinara hold seven candles, three red ones on the left, three green ones on the right with a black candle in the centre. Each night during Kwanzaa a candle is lit. The black, centre, candle is lit first and the it alternates between the red and green candles stating with the ones on the outside and moving inwards. This is quite similar to the lighting of the menorah in the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.
The seven days and candles in Kwanzaa represent the seven principles of Kwannzaa (Nguzo Saba):
  •      Umoja: Unity - Unity of the family, community, nation and race
         Kujichagulia: Self-Determination - Being responsible for your own conduct and behaviour
  •      Ujima: Collective work and responsibility - Working to Help each other and in the community
  •      Ujamaa: Cooperative economics - Working to build shops and businesses
  •     Nia: Purpose - Remembering and restoring African and African American cultures, customs and history
  •      Kuumba: Creativity - Using creating and your imagination to make communities better
  •      Imani: Faith - Believing in people, families, leaders, teachers and the righteousness of the African American struggle
There are also seven symbols used in Kwanzaa. The seven items of often set on a Zwanzaa table, with the kinara, in the house:
  •       Mkeka: The Mat - A woven mat made of fabric, raffia, or paper. The other symbols are placed on the Mkeka. It symbolises experiences and foundations.
  •      Kikombe cha Umoja: The Unity Cup - Represents family and community. It is filled with water, fruit juice or wine. A little is poured out to remember the ancestors. The cup is share between people and each person takes a sip.
  •      Mazao: The Crops - Fruit and vegetables from the harvest. These normally includes bananas, mangoes, peaches, plantains, oranges, or other favourites! They are shared out.
  •      Kinara: The Candleholder - It represents the days, and principles of Kwanzaa
  •       Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles - are placed in the kinara. Black, red and green are the colours of the Bendera (African Flag)
  •       Muhindi: The Corn - There is one ear of corn of each child in the family. If there are no children in the family, then one ear is used to represent the children in the community. It represents the future and the Native Americans.
  •      Zawadi: Gifts - Gifts given to children during Kwanzaa are normally educational, such as a book, dvd or game. There's also a gift reminding them of their African heritage.
There are also sometimes two extra symbols:
  •       Bendera: A flag with three horizontal stripes of black, red and green
  •       Nguzo Saba Poster: A poster of the seven principles of Kwanzaa
There's also a special greeting used during Kwanzaa in Swahili. It's 'Habari gani' and the reply is the principle for that day. (Umoja on the first day, Kujichagulia on the second and so on.)
The Kwanzaa festival was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Dr. Karenga wanted a way bring African Americans together and remember their black culture. Harvest or 'first fruit' festivals are celebrated all over Africa. These were celebrations when people would come together and celebrate and give thanks for the good things in their lives and communities.
From these festivals he created Kwanzaa.


Monday, 29 December 2014

The Story behind Hanukkah


About 200 BC Israel was a state in the Seleucid Empire (an empire ruled under Greek law) and under the overall charge of the King of Syria. However, they could follow their own religion and its practices. In 171 BC, There was a new King called Antiochus IV, who also called himself Antiochus Epiphanes which means 'Antiochus the visible god'. Antiochus wanted all the empire to follow Greek ways of life and the Greek religion with all its gods. Some of the Jews wanted to be more Greek, but most wanted to stay Jewish.
The brother of the Jewish high priest wanted to be more Greek, so he bribed Antiochus so he would be come the new High Priest instead of his brother and then he had his brother killed! Three years later another man bribed Antiochus even more to let him become the High Priest! To pay his bribe he stole some of the objects made of gold that were used in the Jewish Temple.
On his way home from having to retreat from a battle, Antiochus stopped in Jerusalem and he let out all his anger on the city and the Jewish people. He ordered houses to be burned down and tens of thousands of Jews were killed or put into slavery. Antiochus then went to attack the Jewish Temple, the most important building in Israel to Jews. The Syrian soldiers took all the treasures out of the temple and on 15 Kislev 168 BC Antiochus put up a status of the Greek god Zeus in the centre of the Jewish Temple (but it had the face of Antiochus!). Then on 25 Kislev he desecrated the most holy place in the temple and destroyed the Jewish holy scrolls.
Antiochus then banned practicing the Jewish faith & religion (if you were found out you and all your family were killed) and made the Temple into a shrine to Zeus. There were many Jews killed for their faith. Soon afterwards a Jewish rebellion started.
It began when a 'former' Jewish Priest, called Mattathias, was forced to make an offering to Zeus in his village. He refused to do so and killed a Syrian Soldier! Mattathias's sons joined him and killed the other soldiers in the village. Mattathias was an old man and died soon after this, but his son Judah then took charge of the freedom fighters. Judah's nickname was 'Maccabee' which come from the Hebrew word for hammer. He and his troops lived in caves and fought an undercover war for three years. They then met the Syrians in open battle and defeated them.
When they got back to Jerusalem, the Temple was in ruins and the statue of Zeus/Antiochus was still standing. They cleaned the Temple. They rebuilt the Jewish altar and on 25 Kislev 165 BC, exactly three years after the statue was put up, the altar and Temple was rededicated to God.
There are several theories about why Hanukkah is celebrated over eight nights. One legend says that when Judah and his followers went into the Temple there was only enough oil to burn for one night, but that it burned for eight nights. Another story says that they found eight iron spears and put candles of them and used them for lighting in the Temple.


Sunday, 28 December 2014

Hanukkah - The Jewish Festival of Lights


A Hanukkah Menorah/Hanukkiyah and DreidelsHanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights and it remembers the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This happened in the 160s BC (before Jesus was born). (Hanukkah is the Jewish word for 'dedication'.) Hanukkah last for eight days and starts on the 25th of Kislev, the month in the Jewish calendar that occurs at about the same time as December. Because the Jewish calendar is lunar (it uses the moon for its dates), Kislev can happen from late November to late December.
In 2014, Hanukkah is from in the evening of Tuesday, 16th December until the evening of Wednesday, 24th December.
In 2015, Hanukkah is from in the evening of Sunday, 6th December until the evening of Monday, 14th December.
During Hanukkah, on each of the eight nights, a candle is lit in a special menorah (candelabra) called a 'hanukkiyah'. There is a special ninth candle called the 'shammash' or servant candle which is used to light the other candles. The shammash is often in the centre of the other candles and has a higher position. On the first night one candle is lit, on the second night, two are lit until all are lit on the eighth and final night of the festival. Traditionally they are lit from left to right. A special blessing, thanking God, is said before or after lighting the candles and a special Jewish hymn is often sung. The menorah is put in the front window of houses so people passing can see the lights and remember the story of Hanukkah. Most Jewish family and households have a special menorah and celebrate Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is also a time for giving and receiving presents and gifts are often given on each night. Lots of games are played during the time of Hanukkah. The most popular is 'dreidel' (Yiddish) or 'sivivon' (Hebrew). It's a four sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. The four letter are the first letter of the phrase 'Nes Gadol Hayah Sham' which means 'A great miracle happened there' (in Israel, 'there' is changed to 'here' so it's 'Nes Gadol Hayah Po'). Player put a coin, nut or chocolate coin in a pot and the top is spun. In the letter 'nun' (נ) come up nothing happens, if it's 'gimel' (ג) the player wins the pot, if it's 'hay' (ה) you win half the pot and if it's 'shin' (for 'there' ש) or 'pe' (for 'here' פ) you have to put another item into the pot and the next person has a spin!


Friday, 26 December 2014

The Boxing Day in Australia


Boxing day is a Great Australian tradition at Christmas time. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas day. It's a commemoration day that we inherited from the British for a reason we have forgotten about and never cared about anyway. It's a big day out. It's always a public holiday and always much cherished. It is a sports day, but we don't fight.

Two great Australian sporting traditions always capture us on Boxing day. The Cricket and the spectacular Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Many families hang around at home on boxing day and snooze whilst they watch these events on the TV, whilst the kids play cricket in the backyard. Others pack up for a picnic or a trip to the beach. There is always boating and fishing, also great family outings.

An extract from a poem, "Tangmalangmaloo" by John O'Brien, perhaps captures the way many Australians feel about Boxing day. The poem describes the day the bishop called in at an outback school and questioned the class about religion.

"And oh, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
'That's good, my boy. Come tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?'
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew -
'It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangmaloo.' "


Thursday, 25 December 2014

My Christmas Day


Merry Christmas everyone, yes I know most of my posts lately have been about Christmas traditions but since it is Christmas Day I thought I would end the day by telling you a bit about how I spent the day. Well I was woken up around 7am by Blain, no he didn't spend last night here but he and Tasha turned up early to give us their presents and to receive our presents to them. Blain went in and woke up Leo and Jessica and Papa as well, so there was a big exchange of gifts here, yes Jessica and Leo spent last night here so Leo was super excited to see that his Christmas bag had been filled by Santa. It was great to see Leo get so excited by all his gifts although Blain was in a mood going one about Leo's presents and when his mum told him to stop he got all moo dy.

Blain has never been one to get excited about Christmas presents or about birthday presents he is just like his mum in that regard but let's move onto something more important, how I spent the rest of the day.

Well I sliced the tomatoes ok more to the point I made a mess of them my slicer first sliced them too thin so I swapped slicers and the second on just tore them apart and I also sliced the cucumber which turned out well.

By 9.30am Tim and I headed over to my parents place where we had another exchange of gifts between family members. Then it was time to start cooking the roast potatoes we only do the frozen ones in the air fryer, I had cooked the potato bake last night and had it warming in the oven since I arrived.

After lunch we pack up the car and head home again, mum & dad love having all the family around Christmas morning but by 2pm they are glad to see the back of us as everyone leaves and they have a quiet afternoon.

Being Christmas Day I have had a number of drinks, ok I am a bit tipsy but what the hell it isn't like I drink a lot. I will write more about my gifts over the next few days.


I hope everyone of my blogging friends as well as my family have had a bloody wonderful Christmas or in some cases have a wonderful Christmas as I know not all my friends are in the same timeline as me.    

Australian Christmas Traditions - History of Christmas


Christmas is always the most exciting time of the year. School children get six weeks holiday, and many professionals close their office from Christmas eve to the Australia Day Public Holiday on 26th January, so many families are in a holiday season over this period.

Christmas in Australia


Businesses and shops close on Christmas day and Boxing Day, however the major retail centres open after Christmas for clearance sales on all Christmas stock that did not sell. This has become an important part of Christmas for many bargain shoppers. Some people now wait to buy their gifts after Christmas at the sales. Those families that can afford it head for coastal resorts and beachside caravan parks for the holiday period.
December is one of the hottest months in Australia so outdoors sports like swimming, surfing and fishing are common and easy cold meat & salad dominates most meals.

Most Australian Christmas traditions have derived from our British beginnings, European influences and later the American commercial influences

The countdown continues with Carols by Candlelight in a park nearby from mid December. (see below)
On Christmas eve, children leaving out the Christmas stocking, or pillow case (because you can't fit much into a stocking in this commercial world).

Church services, both on Christmas eve and Christmas Day, although this has developed into midnight services on Christmas eve which covers both in recent years.

Santa still comes silently down the chimney and eats a piece of cake and takes a drink left out for him before he goes.

Santa rides 'a miniature sleigh', with eight tiny rein-deer". (although in the Australian outback it is too hot for the reindeer and Santa is pulled by Six White Boomers.

The small children are brimming with so much excitement that they can't get to sleep on Christmas eve, and then wake you Christmas morning, when you have hardly closed your eyes, with excitement and wonder as they rip the wrappings to pieces.

Then comes a formal gathering around the Christmas tree as the presents from each other are handed out by the patriarch of the family, wearing a Santa suit or at least a Santa cap and a "tinnie".
Christmas dinner, served at lunchtime on Christmas day, is at Grandma's home, (while she is still able bodied).
The dinner table has a special Christmas tablecloth, Christmas napkins and napkin rings that you didn't know she had. Also bonbons or Christmas crackers, streamers and balloons are added to the dining room and lollies and soft drinks are already on the table. Often the kids are on a separate table on the verandah.

The traditional Australian Christmas dinner had been the English style roast Beef or lamb sometimes also a turkey, with Gravy and baked potatoes & pumpkin followed by plum pudding and custard, which grandma used to fill with little silver thripences or sixpences.


In recent years more and more busy mothers are not subjecting themselves, and the family, to the heavy baked dinner on hot days and go for the cold meat and salads. Cold turkey with cranberry sauce and ham with apple sauce are now the leading Australian meat dishes for Christmas. But the steaming Christmas pudding with hot custard is still common and much, much, beer is consumed in the delirious heat.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas Eve Traditions and Customs

Christmas Eve has many of its own customs and traditions. The most widely practiced one that still exists today is going to a Midnight Mass Church Service. In many countries, especially Catholic ones such as Spain, Mexico, Poland and Italy this is the most important Church service of the Christmas season. People might fast during Christmas Eve (not eat any meat or fish usually) and then the main Christmas meal is often eaten after the Midnight Mass Service in these countries. In some other countries, such as Belgium ,Finland,Lithuania and Denmark the meal is eaten in the evening and you might go to a Midnight Service afterwards!


The Midnight Mass Communion Service (or 'Christ-Mas') was a very special one as it was the only one that was allowed to start after sunset (and before sunrise the next day), so it was held at Midnight!
Christmas Eve is also the day when people in some countries, like Germany, Sweden and Portugal exchange their presents. I think Santa must have those countries on his extra early list! Christmas Eve is also Santa's busiest day of the year when he has to travel over 220 million miles (355 million km) to get to every house on earth!

In many European countries including Germany, Serbia and Slovakia, Christmas Eve is the day when the Christmas Tree is brought into the house and decorated.

It was also traditional to bring the Yule Log into the house and light it on Christmas Eve. It was lit using a piece of the previous years log and then would burnt non-stop until Twelfth Night (6th January). Tradition also said that any greenery such as Holly Ivy and Mistletoe should only be taken into the house on Christmas Eve.

It's also the time that the wonderful book 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens is set and that going out Carol singing was and still is very popular. In the past, if you weren't carol singing, in parts of the UK, you might go out wassailing or mumming.

There were lots of superstitions in the UK that said girls could find out the initials, or even have visions, of the person they would marry on Christmas Eve! This was often done by cooking a special cake called a 'dumb cake'. You were supposed to make the cake in silence and prick your initials into the top. When you went to bed, you left the cake by the fire hearth and your true love was supposed to coming in at midnight and prick his initials next to yours!
Other Christmas Eve superstitions included that farm and wild animals would kneel at midnight in honour of Jesus being born or that they could even talk!


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Santa Claus and Coca-Cola


Santa by Thomas Nast in 1863St. Nicholas in Harper's Weekly: January 1863
There's a Christmas Urban Legend that says that Santa's red suit was designed by Coca-Cola and that they might even 'own' Santa!
This is definitely NOT TRUE!
Long before coke had been invented, St Nicholas had worn his Bishop's red robes. During Victorian times, he wore a range of colours (red, green, blue and brown fur) but red was always his favourite!
In January 1863, the magazine Harper's Weekly published the first illustration of St Nicholas/St Nick by Thomas Nast. In this he was wearing a 'Stars and Stripes' outfit! Over the next 20 years Thomas Nast continued to draw Santa every Christmas and his works were very popular indeed (he must have been very good friends with Santa to get such good access!).
This is when Santa really started to develop his big tummy and the style of red and white outfit he wears today. Nast designed Santa's look on some historical information about Santa and the poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas'.
Santa by Thomas Nast in 1881St. Nicholas in Harper's Weekly: January 1881

On January 1st 1881, Harper's Weekly published Nast's most famous image of Santa, complete with a big red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe!
This image of Santa became very popular, with more artists drawing Santa in his red and white costume from 1900 to 1930.
By 1931, when Coke first used Santa in their advertising, his image was well established. The first 'Coke Santa' was drawn by artist Haddon Sundblom. He took the idea of Nast's Santa but made him even more larger than life and jolly, replaced the pipe with a bottle of Coke and created the famous Coke holding Santa!
Coca-Cola also agree that the red suit was made popular by Thomas Nast not them!


Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas or Xmas?

Christmas is also sometimes known as Xmas. Some people don't think it's correct to call Christmas 'Xmas' as that takes the 'Christ' (Jesus) out of Christmas. (As Christmas comes from Christ-Mass, the Church service that celebrated the birth of Jesus.)

But that is not quite right! In the Greek language and alphabet, the letter that looks like an X is the Greek letter chi / Χ (pronounced 'kye' - it rhymes with 'eye') which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos.
The early church used the first two letters of Christos in the Greek alphabet 'chi' and 'rho' to create a monogram (symbol) to represent the name of Jesus. This looks like an X with a small p on the top: ☧
The symbol of a fish is sometimes used by Christians (you might see a fish sticker on a car or someone wearing a little fish badge). This comes from the time when the first Christians had to meet in secret, as the Romans wanted to kill them (before Emperor Constantine became a Christian). Jesus had said that he wanted to make his followers 'Fishers of Men', so people started to use that symbol.
When two Christians met, one person drew half a basic fish shape (often using their foot in the dust on the ground) and the other person drew the other half of the fish. The Greek word for fish is 'Ikthus' or 'Ichthys'. There are five Greek letters in the word. It can also make up a sentence of Christian beliefs 'Ie-sous Christos Theou Huios So-te-r' which in English means "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour". The second letter of these five letter is X or Christos!
So Xmas can also mean Christmas; but it should also be pronounced 'Christmas' rather than 'ex-mas'!


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Is Rudolph a girl

Did you know that Rudolph might actually be a girl!? Only female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter. By Christmas time most males have discarded their antlers and are saving their energy ready to grow a new pair in the spring.
The UK Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus became more and more alike over the years and are now one and the same.
Some people say that Santa lives at the North Pole. In Finland, they say that he lives in the north part of their country called Lapland.
But everyone agrees that he travels through the sky on a sledge that is pulled by reindeer, that he comes into houses down the chimney at night and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their beds, in front of the family Christmas tree, or by the fire place.
A fireplace with a hanging stockings

Most children receive their presents on Christmas Eve night or early Christmas morning, but in some countries they get their presents on St. Nicholas' Day, December 6th.
St. Nicholas putting the bag of gold into a stocking is probably where the custom of having a tangerine or satsuma at the bottom of your Christmas stocking came from. If people couldn't afford gold, some golden fruit was a good replacement - and until the last 50 years these were quite unusual fruits and so still special!
The biggest Christmas stocking was 51m 35cm (168ft 5.65in) long and 21m 63cm (70ft 11.57in) wide (from the heel to the toe). It was made by the volunteer emergency services organisation Pubblica Assistenza Carrara e Sezioni (Italy) in Carrara, Tuscany, Italy, on 5th January 2011. Just think how many presents you could fit in that!



Thursday, 18 December 2014

How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus

Santa in different colour outfitsIn the 16th Century in Europe, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas had become very unpopular.
But someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK, he became 'Father Christmas', a character from old children's stories; in France, he was then known as 'Père Nöel'; in Germany, the 'Christ Kind'. In the early USA his name was 'Kris Kringle'. Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle became 'Sinterklaas' or as we now say 'Santa Claus'!

Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas' Day on 6th December. In Holland and some other European Countries, children leave clogs or shoes out to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas's horse, they will be left some sweets.

St. Nicholas became popular again in the Victorian era when writers, poets and artists rediscovered the old stories.
In 1823 the famous poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' or 'T'was the Night before Christmas', was published. Dr Clement Clarke Moore later claimed that he had written it for his children. However, some scholars now believe that it was actually written by Henry Livingston, Jr., who was a distant relative of Dr Moore's wife. The poem describes eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became really well known in the song 'Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer', written in 1949. Do you know all eight names?





Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Man Behind the Story of Father Christmas/Santa Claus

St. Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century AD in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. There are several legends about St. Nicholas, although we don't know if any of them are true!

St NicholasImage from the St. Nicholas Center
www.stnicholascenter.org
The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to get presents in first started! It goes like this:
There was a poor man who had three daughters. He was so poor, he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn't get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the brides parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (This meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married.). The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.
Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas is not only the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him helping some sailors that were caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves. They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.
St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352 AD. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari. On St.Nicholas feast day (6th December), the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages throughout the year.


Monday, 15 December 2014

The Colours of Christmas

There are several colours which are traditionally associated with Christmas. This site uses Red, Green and Gold. But why do we have them and what do the colours represent?

Most the colours and their meanings come from the western/northern European traditions and customs, when Christmas is in the middle of winter and it's dark and cold.

Green

Christmas HollyEvergreen plants, like Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe have been used for thousands of years to decorate and brighten up buildings during the long dark winter. They also reminded people that spring would come and that winter wouldn't last forever!
The Romans would exchange evergreen branches during January as a sign of good luck. The ancient Egyptians used to bring palm branches into their houses during the mid winter festivals.
In many parts of Europe during the middle ages, Paradise plays were performed, often on Christmas Eve. They told Bible stories to people who couldn't read. The 'Paradise Tree' in the garden of Eden in the play was normally a pine tree with red apples tied to it.
Now the most common use of green at Christmas are Christmas Trees.

Red

As mentioned above, an early use of red at Christmas were the apples on the paradise tree. They represented the fall of Adam in the plays.
Red is also the colour of Holly berries, which is said to represent the blood of Jesus when he died on the cross.
Red is also the colour of Bishops robes. These would have been worn by St. Nick and Santa Claus!

Gold

Gold is the colour of the Sun and light - both very important in the dark winter. And both red and gold are the colours of fire that you need to keep you warm.
Gold was also one of the presents brought to the baby Jesus and traditionally it's the colour used to show the star that the wise men followed. Silver is sometimes used instead of (or with) gold. But gold is a 'warmer' colour.

White

White is often associated with purity and peace in western cultures. The snow of winter is also very white!

White paper wafers were also sometimes used to decorate paradise trees. The wafers represented the bread eaten during Christian Communion or Mass, when Christians remember that Jesus died for them.
White is used by most churches as the colour of Christmas, when the altar is covered with a white cloth (in the Russian Orthodox Church Gold is used for Christmas).

Blue

The colour blue is often associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus. In medieval times blue dye and paint was more expensive than gold! So it would only be worn by Royal families and very rich people. Mary was often painted wearing blue to show she was very important.

Blue can also represent the colour of the sky and heaven.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

The History of Christmas Cards

The custom of sending Christmas cards was started in the UK in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole. He was a civil servant (Government worker) who was very interested in the new 'Public Post Office' and wondered how it could be used more by ordinary people.

The First Christmas CardSir Henry had the idea of Christmas Cards with his friend John Horsley, who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for 1 shilling each. (That is only 5p or 8 cents today(!), but in those days it was worth much much more.) The card had three panels. The outer two panels showed people caring for the poor and in the centre panel was a family having a large Christmas dinner! Some people didn't like the card because it showed a child being given a glass of wine! About 1000 (or it might have been less!) were printed and sold. They are now very rare and cost thousands of Pounds or Dollars to buy now!
The first postal service that ordinary people could use was started in 1840 when the first 'Penny Post' public postal deliveries began. Before that, only very rich people could afford to send anything in the post. The new Post Office was able to offer a Penny stamp because new railways were being built. These could carry much more post than the horse and carriage that had been used before. Also, trains could go a lot faster. Cards became even more popular in the UK when they could be posted in an unsealed envelope for one halfpenny - half the price of an ordinary letter.
As printing methods improved, Christmas cards became much more popular and were produced in large numbers from about 1860. In 1870 the cost of sending a post card, and also Christmas cards, dropped to half a penny. This meant even more people were able to send cards.
An engraved card by the artist William Egley, who illustrated some of Charles Dickens's books, is on display in the British Museum. By the early 1900s, the custom had spread over Europe and had become especially popular in Germany.
The first cards usually had pictures of the Nativity scene on them. In late Victorian times, robins (an English bird) and snow-scenes became popular. In those times the postmen were nicknamed 'Robin Postmen' because of the red uniforms they wore. Snow-scenes were popular because they reminded people of the very bad winter that happened in the UK in 1836.
Christmas Cards appeared in the United States of America in the late 1840s, but were very expensive and most people couldn't afford them. It 1875, Louis Prang, a printer who was originally from German but who had also worked on early cards in the UK, started mass producing cards so more people could afford to buy them. Mr Prang's first cards featured flowers, plants, and children. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, who are still one of the biggest card makers today!
In the 1910s and 1920s, home made cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had things such as foil and ribbon on them. These were usually too delicate to send through the post and were given by hand.
Nowadays, cards have all sorts of pictures on them: jokes, winter pictures, Santa Claus or romantic scenes of life in past times. Charities often sell their own Christmas Cards as a way raising money at Christmas.

Charities also make money from seals or stickers used to seal the card envelopes. This custom started in Denmark in the early 1900s by a postal worker who thought it would be a good way for charities to raise money, as well as making the cards more decorative. It was a great success: over four million were sold in the first year!

Soon Sweden and Norway adopted the custom and then it spread all over Europe and to America.


I have little pain and it feels good

Hello Thursday, a lovely day here today, I went to find clothes this morning being that it is warm day I wanted shorts or ¾ pants and foun...