Author Archive

Passover 2017: Chag Sameach!

Jews Celebrating Passover. Lubok, XIXth century (image 1850), via Wikimedia Commons.

Jewish communities around the world are currently observing Passover (Pesach, in Hebrew)–one of the most important events in the Jewish calendar. So wish your Jewish friends chag sameach (happy festival)! Passover is a week-long celebration that takes place each year in early Spring, this year taking place between April 10-18th. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from ancient Egypt and God’s sparing or “passing over” Jewish homes during the final plague in Egypt. According to the Biblical story, the Israelites had to leave Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise, taking with them only unleavened bread. As a reminder of the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt, Jews today refrain from eating anything containing leaven (chametz) during Passover, eating unleavened products such as matzah (a type of flatbread) instead. Jews also eat matzah with bitter herbs such as horseradish, in remembrance of the bitterness of slavery in Egypt. Learn about Passover traditions in the CultureGrams Israel report.

Test your knowledge of Judaism with this quiz

CultureGrams: New Interviews for Afghanistan and Comoros!

Blue Mosque – Shrine of Hazrat Ali, by Lukaszcom, via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve recently added interviews from two Afghan women to the Afghanistan country report. Hear first-hand what life is like in Afghanistan for Farah and Zohal.








We’ve also added interviews to the Comoros report! Take a look at them to get a feel for life in different areas in the Comoros Islands among different age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds.Fatima, female, age 29

Patrice, male, age 43

Nourou, female, age 9


CultureGrams — New Kids Country: Mauritius

The CultureGrams editors are excited to announce a new Kids edition country report!

The new Mauritius report includes detailed information on the history, culture, language, food, and daily life of this country.

Here are some interesting Did You Knows about Mauritius:

  • The dodo—a flightless bird native to Mauritius—became extinct in the 17th century. The dodo only existed in Mauritius.
  • Mauritius Island is around 8 million years old, which is rather young in geological time.
  • Several different types of giant tortoise used to live in Mauritius but have now become extinct.
  • Mauritian ships are sometimes attacked by modern-day pirates in the Indian Ocean; Mauritius began holding court trials for pirates in 2013.

Read about Mauritian séga music and explore the fascinating history of Mauritius in this new report.

CultureGrams — New Kids Country: Comoros

The CultureGrams editors are excited to announce a new Kids edition country report!


Flag of Comoros via CultureGrams

The new Comoros report includes detailed information on the history, culture, language, food, and daily life of this country.

Here are some interesting Did You Knows about Comoros:

  • Comoros is one of the top two producers of vanilla in the world (second to Madagascar).
  • The name Comoros came from the Arabic word qamar, meaning “moon”
  • Arab slave traders used Comoros as a base for transporting African slaves as early as the 16th century.
  • Comoros has one of the largest populations of the coelacanth fish, once called a “living fossil” because it was thought to have become extinct more than 65 million years ago, until it was rediscovered in the 20th century.

Read about local Comorian games and sports, as well as musical instruments and styles, all in this colorful new report.

CultureGrams — New Kids Country: Equatorial Guinea

The CultureGrams editors are excited to announce a new Kids edition country report!


Flag of Equatorial Guinea

The new Equatorial Guinea report includes detailed information on the history, culture, language, food, and daily life of this country.

Here are some interesting Did You Knows about Equatorial Guinea:

  • In the Fang culture, many pregnant women take herbal baths to protect themselves from evil spirits.
  • Equatorial Guinea is the only country in Africa with Spanish as an official language.
  • When Portuguese explorers first found the island of Bioko, they named it Formosa, which means “beautiful.”
  • The islands of Bioko and Annobón are actually located closer to other countries like Cameroon and São Tomé and Príncipe than they are to Equatorial Guinea’s mainland.

Find out about popular foods and snacks in Equatorial Guinea, read about Bonko Dancers, and discover what life is like as a kid, all in this colorful new report.

CultureGrams: Eid al-Adha


Livestock bazaar in Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) ahead of Eid al-Adha, by Keith Tan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Today marks the beginning of Eid al-Adha celebrations for over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. The holiday, meaning “Festival of the Sacrifice”, commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and is celebrated during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. People visit friends and family and exchange gifts. Many families slaughter a sheep on this day as a symbol of the story of Abraham. Tens of millions of animals are sacrificed around the world in the first two days of the celebration. Families who cannot afford their own animal may join other families and pool their money together to buy an animal. The meat from the sacrifice is shared with family and friends, but a portion must also be reserved for the poor.


A street vendor makes food at the livestock bazaar in Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) ahead of Eid al-Adha, by Keith Tan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The holiday takes place following the the Muslim Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. In Saudi Arabia, the government declares a 12-day holiday that includes the days of the Hajj and the following Eid al-Adha holiday. Traditionally, Eid al-Adha festivities lasted about 4 days. Today, celebrations range in length between different countries–ranging from as little as 3 days (in the Philippines), 9 days (in Gulf states) and 12 days (Saudi Arabia). Learn more about some of the different countries that celebrate Eid al-Adha with CultureGrams: see Egypt, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Albania, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

CultureGrams: One Religion, Many Practices


Mir-e Arab Mosque, Bukhara, Uzbekistan by Robert Wilson (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Did you know that there are over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide? Across this massive group, there is a considerable range of religious practice and doctrinal interpretation. Catholicism and Buddhism have similarly large and diverse populations whose adherents can be found in very different geographic regions and societies. To better understand how religious belief impacts people, students need to understand that most religions have a range of beliefs and practices. The following activity from the CultureGrams Activities PDF helps students to explore differences within one religion across different cultures.


Mosque in Isfahan, Iran by Babak Farrokhi (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Teaching Activity: One Religion, Many Practices

Time requirement
Preparation: 10 minutes
In-class : 1 hour and 30 minutes, two different days

Research and Writing
Grade level: 6–8; can be modified for other age groups
Objective: Students will compare the practice of a single religion across multiple countries and interviews.

Materials: CultureGrams Online Edition—Interviews

1. Have students read three interviews with people who practice the same religion. Some options are Islam (Qosimov: Uzbekistan, Djiba: Senegal, and Joud: Jordan), Catholicism (Javier: Bolivia, Trina: Costa Rica, and Petrosse: Mozambique), and Buddhism (Sai: Cambodia, Dawa: Nepal, and Chhun: Cambodia).
2. What differences do students notice in the way the interviewees practice their religion? Differences may be found in how often a person attends worship services, how important they consider religion in their life, ways they worship, and holidays they celebrate.
3. Now have students read the Religion section of each interviewee’s country in the World Edition report. What do these sections say about the religion? How does the information in the report compare to the information in the interviewees’ answers? How does the practice of the religion vary between countries?
4. Have students write a short essay on their observations about the ways a single religion varies in different areas and between individual observers of that religion. They may also speculate on why this could be.

*See pg. 55-56 of the CultureGrams Teaching Activities PDF  to view the education standards that are targeted in this activity.


Mosque in Bahrain by Denise Krebs (CC BY 2.0) via Fickr

Hibiscus Tea: an African Tradition

Enjoy a good cup of hibiscus tea? You’re not alone. This tart, red herbal tea can be found all over Africa–from Côte d’Ivoire to Sudan. The hibiscus plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa), commonly known as roselle, has been used for hundreds of years in beverages and traditional medicines in various regions of Africa.

Dried Hibiscus in Aswan souk (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In North Africa and the Sahel region, hibiscus tea is popular as a hot or cold drink, and is usually sweetened with sugar. Hibiscus iced tea, known as karkadé in Egypt, is sold by numerous street vendors in Cairo. In Sudan, hibiscus tea is commonly served to guests. However, Sudanese generally prefer to soak the hibiscus flowers in cold water for two days, rather than boil them (as in Egypt), a method that some believe makes the tea more flavorful.

In West Africa, hibiscus tea (known as bissap) is popular in countries like Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal–especially iced and sweetened with sugar. Here, as in Egypt, bissap is a popular drink sold by street vendors; on the beaches in Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, vendors sell the drink iced or frozen, and often in plastic bags. In West Africa, bissap is often flavored with fresh mint leaves or ginger. Below is a recipe for bissap from our Côte d’Ivoire country report. Enjoy!

Jus de Bissap

Karkadeh, Kerma, Sudan (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Hibiscus Juice/Iced Tea


1 cup dried red hibiscus flowers

1.5 liters water

A few fresh mint leaves (optional)

1 cup super-fine sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Rinse the hibiscus flowers and put them in a pot with the water.
  2. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the liquid from the heat and add the mint leaves. Let steep for 10 minutes.
  4. Pour through a strainer into another bowl to separate the flowers and mint from the liquid.
  5. Add the sugar and vanilla extract and mix with a wooden spoon.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and serve cold.


This drink may also be flavored with a combination of 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon orange blossom extract, or with a combination of 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon strawberry extract. The mint leaves are optional but are commonly added.

Mother’s Day Around the World

“Mother and baby ducks” [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Do you know about any Mother’s Day traditions in other countries? This article gives some interesting facts about Mother’s Day in ten different countries. For example, did you know that in Japan, the carnation is also the main flower associated with Mother’s Day? Or that in the UK, Mother’s Day developed out of a tradition called Mothering Sunday that was celebrated as early as the 16th century? Or that many countries in the Arab world (including Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon) celebrate Mother’s Day on March 21st, at the beginning of the spring equinox? Other traditions are sobering: in France, in the years following WWI, the government awarded medals to French mothers of large families–as a way of honoring them and their contribution to rebuilding France’s population following the war.  

While many countries celebrate Mother’s Day in ways similar to the US–including family gatherings, presents, and flowers, many celebrate mothers in other ways. For example, in Ethiopia, people honor mothers in the three-day Antrosht festival, which follows the fall rainy season. During this festival, communities gather to enjoy large meals and to sing and dance. In India, a festival called Durga Puja celebrates the Hindu goddess Durga, and lasts for several days. Explore different cultures and families in this National Geographic photo gallery of mothers and children around the world. Below is a bit more information about different Mother’s Day traditions from CultureGrams.

“Flag map of Thailand” [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons


Several holidays celebrate the monarchy of Thailand. Celebrations include a national holiday for Queen Sirikit; her birthday (August 12th) is referred to as Mother’s Day, since the queen is revered as the mother of all Thai people.  Mother’s Day in Thailand honors both Queen Sirikit and Thai mothers. During the month of August, the streets and city centers are decorated with lights and feature large portraits of Queen Sirikit. The holiday is filled with parades and ceremonies. On Mother’s Day, people decorate their homes with flags, lights, and portraits of the queen. White jasmine flowers are common decorations as a symbol of maternal love and are a common Mother’s Day gift. Learn more about Thai culture and holidays with CultureGrams.

El Salvador

Mother’s Day is an important holiday for Salvadorans. Some schools host special breakfasts or brunches for mothers and, even before Mother’s Day was declared a state holiday in 2016, many schools dismissed their students to allow them to spend the day with their mothers. Mothers and grandmothers are given gifts and treated to one or more meals throughout the day. A popular way to recognize mothers is with a mariachi band hired to play and sing a few songs at the woman’s home, either in the morning or at night, during a dinner or party for the mother. Learn more about El Salvador with CultureGrams.


“Flag-map of El Salvador” [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons









Oral Traditions Around the World


The Storyteller [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Oral Literature Lesson Plan

In CultureGrams, students can learn more about cultures that have strong oral traditions. In the Oral.Literature  lesson plan that is part of our Teaching Activities PDF, students research specific country reports and discuss their findings, from Senegal to Mongolia. Also, in this CultureGrams video, students can watch an illustrated story told by a griot (traditional West Africa storyteller) from Senegal. 

Map and Explore

Teachers can help spark students’ interest in learning more about oral traditions by sharing examples from the Cambridge World Oral Literature Project. This interactive map highlights the locations available in the collection.

The project is rich in video and audio material documenting oral traditions of cultures around the world, some of whose languages are dying or at risk of disappearing. Students can see an example of the phenomenon of dying cultures and languages in this video about an anthropological linguist’s work in Greenland. The linguist describes his experience of trying to document a disappearing Inuit culture in northern Greenland. You can watch the full version of Aijakko Mitiq performing a traditional drum dance (featured in the above video) in this clip. The 67 year old belongs to the Inugguit (or Inughuit ) people of northern Greenland and is one of the few in his community that remember these traditional songs.


Students can get a glimpse into what storytelling looks like in different communities with the Cambridge video resources. Here, students can watch a Tanzanian storyteller perform the story of “The Headless Crab” for a group of children. Notice the interaction between the children and the storyteller. In this video, a woman from Zanzibar, Tanzania, uses music to express anger over abuses committed against women. Music is often a framework for storytelling. Have students explore the connection between music and storytelling as they look at examples from different countries and compare them with their own. 

Additional oral history resources from Cambridge can be found here.