"May Day: America's Traditional, Radical, Complicated Holiday," from the Smithsonian NMAH blog. Part One, Part Two.
The Surprising History Behind Leap Year by Brian Handwerk [National Geographic]
The ancient Egyptians did it, and so do we. Here's how a leap day—which occurs Februrary 29—helps keep our calendars and societies in sync. It's that time again: This Monday, February 29, is a leap day, the calendar oddity that occurs (almost) every four years. For centuries, trying to sync calendars with the length of the natural year caused confusion—until the concept of leap year provided a way to make up for lost time.[more inside]
"The rich Jewish traditions in the city of Uzhhorod were all but wiped out by Nazi death camps and decades of Soviet rule. Now one born-and-bred New Yorker aims to bring them back, one perfectly browned challah at a time." "Bringing a Bite of Old Brooklyn to Ukraine," by János Chialá, Tali Mayer, and Ilya Ginzburg.
Field Peas, a Southern Good Luck Charm [The New York Times]
Eating a bowl of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is not the nation’s sexiest food ritual. Peas are not as beloved as Thanksgiving turkey. They lack the easy appeal of Super Bowl guacamole or the religious significance of a Hanukkah latke. But for a day, a broad swath of the nation stands united in its belief that black-eyed peas simmered with cured pork and served with soupy greens like collard or folded into rice for some hoppin’ John promise a year of luck and money.
"To outsiders, the sight of a troupe of dancing bears, decked out in blood-red tassels, stomping through the snowy streets of a small Romanian town might be a strange, almost sinister sight."
Lidia Celebrates America: Home for the Holidays "This special features Lidia and six celebrity guests—Christopher Walken, Ann Curry, Padma Lakshmi, Rita Moreno, Marcus Samuelson and Carlo Ponti, Jr. as they share their immigrant experiences and holiday traditions."
The stories, legends and history that lead to the modern Santa Claus go back to the third century, but what of his better half? She is a relatively recent invention, at least in written form. First mentioned in reference and passing in 1849 and 1851 respectively, Mrs. Claus finally appears in person, with a babe in arms, in 1854 in a story written in The Opal volume 4 (a literary journal written by the patients of New York Lunatic Asylum in Utica). She didn't get a name until the 1996 musical TV movie, Mrs. Santa Claus, where Angela Lansbury is Mrs. Anna Santa Claus, the plucky wife of Mr. Claus who takes the sleigh out herself. [more inside]
Children have been sending letters to Santa for well over a century now, and for much of that time those letters don't look very different from today's. Children want toys, and they want to convince Santa that they ought to get them. But where did that tradition come from, and how did it develop into its modern form? How did we come to believe that Santa lives at the North Pole and that the postal service can carry letters to Santa? What kinds of things have changed in the things children ask for over time? The Smithsonian's trying to deliver some answers for the holidays. (Previously: 1, 2).
[Note: *starred* links contain images of scantily clad women, making them possibly NSFW] If you've caught some of the *shorter "Crazy China" articles* circulating around recently, you've heard that the Chinese government is trying to crack down on stripping at funerals in rural communities. While you generally won't find stripping mentioned in descriptions of Chinese funeral traditions, other sources like *CNN* and *NPR* try to add context to this news. NPR notes that this **also occurs in Taiwan (Nat. Geo. video)**, but the article doesn't delve further. Luckily, we have the *research from University of South Carolina anthropologist Marc L. Moskowitz* to elaborate, capturing the more varied and complex reality of Taiwanese Electric Flower Cars and *the culture of dancing for the dead.* There's also a great Q&A recorded at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), which addresses questions of class division, safety of the women, gender equality, and other related topics. [more inside]
From eagles and robots to wrenches and cruise ships, the artisans of Ghana's Kane Kwei Carpentry Workshop ensure decedents will be ushered to the afterlife in meticulously detailed coffins designed to fit the dearly departed's lifestyle, in accordance with Ga-Adangme traditions. [more inside]
It's St. Paddy's Day, Not 'St. Patty's Day' (Gawker). Also, everything you know about St. Patrick's Day is wrong (HuffPo).
Oklahoma. This was a place where Kathryn's workplace had a cussing jar, a quarter per swear, and the words written on it, “Let Go and Let God.” Here, Christianity was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and Oklahoma football was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and people could be decent and kind and judgmental, sometimes all at once, which was why, when Tracy told some Rotary Club friends that she and Kathryn were getting married, she kept her eyes planted above their heads so she wouldn't have to look at their faces.
In the Middle Ages, the nation that was to give the world the full English widely skipped breakfast. Yet, by 1600, a culinary non-entity had become a key part of our daily routine. Why the change?Ian Mortimer investigates "How the Tudors (re)Invented Breakfast" for History Extra. See also: Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Have we always eaten them? (BBC, 2012); and Meals of the Day in the early and classical Roman empire, which counters the statement about Romans eating only one meal a day. Extra credit: Merienda - South American-style Afternoon Tea.
December is a month of darkness across the Northern Hemisphere, where 90 percent of the global population lives. We battle it with candles and song, and above all with parties and food.
Destruction and sacredness of life are often reasons for conflicts in Western culture; on the contrary, ceremonies like hari kuyo can become, even for Westerners, precious opportunities for reflection. In our habit of first producing and then acquiring, often with craving, a great quantity of objects destined to be thrown away like useless, harmful, and cumbersome rubbish shortly after their acquisition, are hidden the germs of attachment and hate that, together with nescience (avidyā), form the sad trio of spiritual poisons. We generally believe we are good custodians of the environment when hurriedly, even with a bit of resentment, we throw in the rubbish bin all that has been discarded. In transforming "removal" into "restitution," the getting rid of useless objects can instead become a stimulus, and not a mere gesture of refusal, for considering our relationship with activities, objects, and the environment, by carrying out, through decorous and at times melancholic farewell ceremonies, daily exercises of kindness and giving.Farewell Ceremonies for Things, from Dharma World, providing context for a number of Japanese ceremonies, including Hari-Kuyo, the Festival of Broken Needles, Fude-Kuyo, a ceremony for brushes, Ningyo-Kuyo, "a doll funeral", and other ceremony for valued items, activities, and professions.
Halloween and Thanksgiving are two of the slipperiest holidays in the American tradition. Costumed masquerading and trick-or-treating used to happen on Thanksgiving, while Halloween was mostly devoted to vandalism. As Americans did they best to stamp out the vandalism, they also cleaned up the unruly traditions of Turkey Day, banishing the Thanksgiving Ragamuffins to October. [more inside]
"If we start from the guts, we go back to our origin. It is the butchers, in the end, that bring our food back to the rusticness of the tribe." Italian butcher Dario Cecchini, guts a pig, and discusses the tradition and art of butchering and the importance of being "responsible carnivores...thankful for the gift." Cecchini is the "Dante-quoting butcher" featured in Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany. And here's another video with a similar message, but a different piece of meat, more details about his village as a "tiny little gastronomic republic" and instructions on how to use every piece of the pig "in the best way."
His recipe calls for a bustard stuffed with a turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a pheasant stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck stuffed with a guinea fowl stuffed with a teal stuffed with a woodcock stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a plover stuffed with a lapwing stuffed with a quail stuffed with a thrush stuffed with a lark stuffed with an ortolan bunting stuffed with a garden warbler stuffed with an olive stuffed with an anchovy stuffed with a single caper - The Roti Sans Pareil or Roast Without Equal.
Thank Goodness We Don't Have To Do That Anymore: a selection of US social customs and rituals that have mercifully passed on. Spinster Etiquette! Paying Calls! Hand Kissing! Bathing Machines! Wedding Gift Displays!
The AP Stylebook as dropped the distinction between "over" and "more than." Journalists everywhere appear to be outraged. Others think it is no big deal. Dictionaries tend to agree.
Along with its famous World Heritage Site rolls, UNESCO maintains lists of more intangible cultural treasures. In 2013 alone, they recognized the vertical calligraphy of Mongolia, the communal name pools of western Uganda, the 8000-year-old viticulture traditions of Georgia, the skeletal melodies of Vietnam, the forty-fold feast of the Holy Forty Martyrs, the making of kimchi, the use of the abacus, the annual rebinding of the Q’eswachaka bridge, the carol epics of Romania, and the shrimp-fishing horsemen of Belgium. These are only a few of the hundreds inscribed. [more inside]
During oral arguments this week on the Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States case, Justice Antonin Scalia chastised attorney Steven Lechner for reading from his script. Justice Stephen Breyer broke the tension with these words: "It's all right." [more inside]
Nearly 200 years after "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was written, the authorship is still in dispute. In the years since, there have been quite a few parodies and variants of the poem written, recorded and performed, including at least two different versions of a Cajun Night Before Christmas (a recording of the version by Te-Jules, and Trosclair's version[Google books preview], read by Larry Ray, recorded from WLOX). Snopes tracked down the history of The Soldier's Night Before Christmas, Fifties Web collected 21 tame versions (with auto-playing music), and Dirty Xmas has a number of "adult" versions. Yuks 'R' Us has a large collection, including some dated computer-related stories. Speaking of dated, you can view a vintage '98 "enhanced" version of the original poem plus more variations from Purple Lion (a member of the Merry Christmas Webring from 1998). But for the ultimate collection of variants and parodies, you might recall this thread from 2002. The link is dead, but Archive.org caught the site around that time, with 581 versions. That was over a decade ago, and now Alechemist Matt is up to 849 versions, parodies and variants of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.
Occurring once before in 1888 and possibly not again for another 77,798 years (really), the two holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving will overlap. The result? Chefs, food blogs, and nearly everybody else scrambling to create distinct fusion menus that draw from the delicious traditions of each holiday (NYT). Buzzfeed's massive Thanksgivukkah menu. Gothamist: Four Easy Fusion Dishes. Food 52's recipe challenge (in comments). Serious Eats' response ( Latke-Crusted Turkey Stuffing Fritters With Liquid Cranberry Core and Turkey Schmaltz Gravy) . NY Daily News asks Chef Zach Kutsher for ideas.
“Movie theaters wanted nothing to do with popcorn,” Smith says, “because they were trying to duplicate what was done in real theaters. They had beautiful carpets and rugs and didn’t want popcorn being ground into it.” Movie theaters were trying to appeal to a highbrow clientele, and didn’t want to deal with the distracting trash of concessions–or the distracting noise that snacking during a film would create. - So Why Do We Eat Popcorn At The Movies Anyway? (Smithsonian Mag)
"The natural ice from Chimborazo is the best ice. The tastiest and sweetest. Full of vitamins for your bones. But nobody wants natural ice from Chimborazo anymore. They have factory ice. My father taught me and my brothers how to work in the ice mines. My name is Baltazar Ushca Tenesaca. Now I'm the only ice merchant of Chimborazo." El Último Hielero (The Last Ice Merchant), is a short documentary. [more inside]
My fellow Mefites, I implore you. Don't even think about clicking the more inside if you have anything pressing to do. [previously] [more inside]
The Last of the Mongolian Eagle Hunters. "In remote Mongolia, a few men continue the dying tradition of training golden eagles to hunt. Australian photographer Palani Mohan describes his project to document what remains of this centuries-old culture." [more inside]
A Daruma doll will always remind you of your goal. First read it here then watched it here. Nana korobi yaoki!
Tweedland has some interesting stories and characters. Here's two to get you started:
Robert de Montesquiou - "Tall, black-haired, rouged, Kaiser-moustached, he cackled and screamed in weird attitudes, giggling in high soprano, hiding his little black teeth behind an exquisitely gloved hand – the poseur absolute. He was said to have slept with Sarah Bernhardt and vomited for a week afterwards."
Lord Berners - "As a child, having heard that if you throw a dog into water it will learn how to swim, he threw his mother's canine companion out of the window on the grounds that if one applies the same logic it should learn how to fly. (The dog was unharmed, and he was "thrashed" by his mother.)"
Auctioneers as hypnotists? (Hurry up, you could lose the bid...)
"I'm in a nondescript warehouse in Seattle, to which I've traveled so that award-winning science fiction novelists can demonstrate how they could cut me in half if they felt like it." i09 Talks to Neal Stephenson about working on the multi-author IP-experiment *thing* The Mongoliad and sword fighting as a heart-healthy hobby.
Craftsmen and women, some of them the last of their breed, making their art by hand and profiled in beautiful short-form videos: Knifemaker. Ornamental glass artist (previously). Master printer . Swordguard maker (previously). Beekeeper and honey maker. Stone lettercarvers. Carmaker. More, and related, at This Is Made By Hand, FolkStreams.net and (less related, but still wonderful) eGarage.
African-American fiddler Joe Thompson, probably the last living link to the black string band tradition of the 19th century, has died at the grand old age of 93. Hear Joe and his cousin, banjoist Odell (who passed on back in 1994) offer some reminiscences on the origins of their music, and a spirited rendition of Cindy Gal. Here's the short but sweet and deliciously ragged Old Corn Liquor. Hear Joe and Odell in concert in 1988, part one and part two, and this little ditty from a living room in 1987. And there's... [more inside]
No Nativity scene is complete without the caganer - a figure caught in the act of taking a dump near the manger. (NSFW tag, ahoy!) The figurine (whose name translates as "the shitter") is an addition to the Nativity tableaus in the Catalonia region of Spain. Some interpret the caganer as a reminder that God can arrive on earth at any moment - and he doesn't care if he catches you with your britches down. [more inside]
The Decorated Bride - "In Lubinje, a small, picturesque village of 3500 inhabitants, a few hours from Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo, members of the Trebesh community live in colorful houses. They also have a colorful custom - or rite - of beautifying brides on their wedding day."
This weekend marks the time of the Hajj, a core pillar of Islam in which great tides of humanity venture to the ancient city of Mecca to honor God. Predating Mohammed's birth by centuries, the pilgrimage comprises several days of rites, from congregation like snow on Mount Arafat and the ritual stoning of Shaitan to the circling of the sacred Kaaba (the shrouded cubical monolith Muslims pray toward daily) and kissing the Black Stone (colored by the absorption of myriad sins, and believed by some to be a fallen meteorite). While the city has modernized to handle this largest of annual gatherings -- building highway-scale ramps, gaudy skyscrapers for the ultra-rich, and tent cities the size of Seattle -- it remains mysterious, as unbelievers are forbidden from entering its borders. Richard Francis Burton became famous for touring the city in disguise to write a rare travelogue, but contemporary viewers have a more immediate guide: Vice Magazine journalist Suroosh Alvi, who smuggled a minicam into the city to record The Mecca Diaries [alt], a 14-minute documentary of his own Hajj journey. Browse the manual to see what goes into a Hajj trip, or watch the YouTube livestream to see the Grand Mosque crowds in real time.
"This Halloween, give somebody a scary book, to read. That's it. That's the idea. It's going to be a tradition." It's an idea Neil Gaiman came up a year ago. It's called All Hallow's Read, with a website and everything, which has book recommendations of all sorts, plus stickers, bookmarks, cards, and a small story you can print off, as well as a poster contest for next year's event. [more inside]
A modern day pow wow is a Native American social gathering for dancing, singing, and honoring customs and traditions. [more inside]
The Triumph of New-Age Medicine "Medicine has long decried acupuncture, homeopathy, and the like as dangerous nonsense that preys on the gullible. Again and again, carefully controlled studies have shown alternative medicine to work no better than a placebo. But now many doctors admit that alternative medicine often seems to do a better job of making patients well, and at a much lower cost, than mainstream care—and they’re trying to learn from it." [more inside]
The last hand-written newspaper in the world - A brief film about The Musalman, which has been penned in Urdu calligraphy every day since 1927. via CreativeRoots [more inside]
The mark strolls along a city sidewalk, fresh out of the bank, his wallet in his back pocket, blithely unaware that he's stumbled into the clutches of a practiced jug troupe. Slate's Joe Keohane mourns the dying art of picking pockets. [more inside]
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