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Posts Tagged ‘Customs and Traditions’

12 Summer Solstice Celebrations Around the World

Today, June 21, is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The Summer Solstice is celebrated around the world and presents a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about world culture because celebrations often incorporate history, folklore, food, clothing, and music.

What Is the Summer Solstice? 

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Summer Solstice occurs between June 20 and June 22, depending on the year. Also known as the June Solstice, this is the time of year when the sun reaches its northernmost point from the equator. It is the longest day of the year and considered the beginning of summer. After the solstice, the days start getting shorter, the nights longer.

In ancient times, the Summer Solstice was used to establish calendars and to plan farming cycles. Throughout history, the solstice has been a day of celebration to mark the change of seasons and celebrate the beginning of summer.

12 Summer Solstice Celebrations Around the World

Have your students explore the world through learning about these 12 Summer Solstice celebrations:

Copenhagen, Denmark
Danes celebrate Sankt Hans Aften, also known as St. John’s Eve, during the Summer Solstice. This is a mix of pagan tradition and the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist. On St. John’s Eve, Danes meet with family and friends to have dinner. Then they light a bonfire and throw a straw effigy of a witch on the fire before singing Holger Drachmann’s Midsommervise (1885). The tradition of the bonfire started due to a myth that there was a special power on this night as the witches flew on their broomsticks on their way to Bloksbjerg. The bonfires were lit to keep the evil forces away.

Krakow, Poland
In the city of Krakow, Poles celebrate the midsummer tradition of Wianki. “Wianki” means “wreaths” in English. The holiday originates from the pagan Summer Solstice tradition of floating handmade wreaths down the river. Women wear garlands to celebrate midsummer. Crafts, food, and fireworks are enjoyed as part of the festivities. There is also a Fete de la Musique (Festival of Music) with many performances by artists of various genres of music.

Menorca, Spain
The Festival of St. John combines the Summer Solstice with the birth of Saint John the Baptist. The festivities last a few days and involve bonfires, fireworks, music, and dancing. People drink and celebrate and slap the backsides of large black horses with riders that go up and down the streets. At night people throw sackfuls of hazelnuts at each other as a sign of love.

Mount Olympus, Greece
For 2,500 years, people have been ascending Mount Olympus in Greece on the Summer Solstice. The Summer Solstice is the first of the year according to some Greek Calendars. This trek is considered a mythical pilgrimage where participants walk amidst the “home of the gods.”

New York, New York
In Times Square, the Summer Solstice melds with International Yoga Day for a special Solstice in Times Square event. Termed “Mind Over Madness Yoga,” thousands of yogis with their mats descend on Times Square for meditation and stretching throughout the day. The event was created as a way to draw energy from the sun to reenergize participants through stillness. It is also a counterpoint to the winter event of New Year’s Eve.

Porto, Portugal
Thousands gather in Porto for the Sao Joao Festival to celebrate Saint John the Baptist’s birthday and also to mark the Summer Solstice. The festival lasts over one month but has its pinnacle on the Summer Solstice. The streets are filled with people, music, parties, and food and drink and decorated with St. John’s balloons made of multi-colored paper. Churches are also decorated. People hit passers-by on the head with soft squeaky plastic hammers. At midnight there is a fireworks display along the Douro River to honor the sun.

Riga, Latvia
Jani Day is the year’s most festive holiday. Held on the Summer Solstice, it marks the beginning of the summer’s “white nights,” when the sun sets for only a few hours. Food is prepared weeks in advance. Businesses close for two days. Huge bonfires are lit, and revelers attend parties, dances, and concerts. They sing songs and many stay up all night.

Reykjavik, Iceland
The Secret Solstice Festival. This is a music festival where bands entertain for 72 hours straight. For the fourth year in a row, concerts and parties take place in interesting locations including an ice cave, volcano crater, glacier, and a lagoon heated by volcanic fires.

Santa Barbara, California, United States
The Summer Solstice Parade began in 1974 as a birthday celebration for Michael Gonzales, a popular artist and mime. Since then it has expanded to include a music festival and is now the largest arts event in the area, drawing over 100,000 spectators. There is a large parade with floats, puppets, and fantastic costumes. The festival in Almeda Park has music, food, arts, crafts, and a drum circle.

Stockholm, Sweden
Swedes’ celebration of the Summer Solstice is a national holiday called Midsommar (Midsummer). Celebrations are held in late June (usually around the 20th) when the summer days are much longer than the nights. Most people try to celebrate outdoors in the countryside, where festivities include traditional music, dancing around the maypole, and barbecues and picnics of fresh potatoes, herring, salmon, and strawberries.

Tirol, Austria
Tirol marks the Summer Solstice in town and villages throughout Tirol. After sunset, torches and bonfires are lit on mountaintops all around the country. These fires are a sight to behold illuminating the mountains and creating a beautiful, mystical effect.

Wiltshire, England
Yearly on the Summer Solstice, people gather at Stonehenge to catch the sunrise above the stones. Stonehenge is a prehistorical monument that has associations as an ancient burial ground, astrological observatory, and a general sacred site. On the morning of the Summer Solstice, thousands gather dressed in flowers, glitter, and Druid costumes to gaze at the sun, dance, and drum. If you stand at just the right place, you will see the sun rise above the Heel Stone.

Point your students to CultureGrams for more information on the holiday and seasonal traditions of the countries of the world.
Don’t have CultureGrams? Free trials are available.

New Year Traditions Around the World

New year in Kiev [CC BY-SA 3.0 tov_tob Wikimedia Commons]

New Year in Kiev [CC BY-SA 3.0 tov_tob Wikimedia Commons]

New Year’s (Jan. 1) is the most widely celebrated public holiday around the world, and in addition to staying up till midnight and partying with family and friends, many countries have their own unique traditions and customs to mark this holiday. Here are our top ten favorite New Year holiday traditions from around the world. Find more in the Holiday sections of CultureGrams World and Kids Editions.

1. Colombia

Colombians wear yellow underwear on New Year’s because they believe it will bring good fortune.

2. Guinea-Bissau

A common traditional belief encourages Bissau-Guineans to take a bath right at midnight in the New Year in order to cleanse one’s self of bad luck and pass into the new year with a fresh start.

3. Czech Republic

Czechs exchange small marzipan candies or paper cards in the shape of pigs for good luck in the new year.

4. Ecuador

Some superstitious New Year rituals include burning and jumping over the año viejo ( an effigy, literally meaning “old year”) for good luck, eating 12 raisins to ask for 12 wishes for the new year, wearing red underwear for good luck in love, and running around the block with an empty suitcase in hopes of travel opportunities in the new year.

5. Spain 

The Spanish wait for midnight and watch New Year’s television programming to see the clock strike 12; with each stroke, each person eats a grape.

6. Japan

The Japanese visit shrines and relatives during this time. Children receive money from their parents or grandparents. Families put up special decorations and eat special foods, such as mochi (pounded sticky rice).

7. Tonga

On New Year’s Eve, Tongans typically attend a midnight church service. Afterward, church groups proceed to the palace, where they greet and present gifts to the king. People also pay visits to family members and close friends, exchanging kisses to welcome the new year.

8. Russia

Almost every Russian family decorates a fir tree a week or two before the holiday and decorates it with glass balls, toys, and garlands. Underneath the tree, families place a figure of Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz). Russians traditionally exchange and eat mandarin oranges on New Year’s Day.

9. Bulgaria

On New Year’s Day, Bulgarian children go door-to-door, wishing good fortune to friends and relatives. The children carry a small decorated stick (survachka) which is used to tap people’s backs in exchange for candy and money.

10. Philippines

In the Philippines, everyone watches a fireworks display in town plazas or parks at midnight. Fireworks displays are traditionally thought to banish the bad spirits of the previous year.

Share some of your traditions with us. We would love to hear from you. Happy 2017!

New Year’s History and Traditions

New York Ushers In New Year With Celebration In Times SquareNew Year’s Eve is here, and, depending on your outlook, you might see it as the last hurrah of the holiday season or a merciful release from two months of hubbub and gluttony. Either way, here is a quick look at the origins and some of the traditions of new year celebrations via resources available in eLibrary.

The earliest commemorations of the new year go back 4,000 years to when ancient Mesopotamians held an Akitu festival near the time of the vernal equinox. Today, the Persian calendar new year, Nowruz, is still celebrated at the spring equinox in Iran and parts of the Caucasus, Central Asia and China.

In much of the world, the start of the new year is observed on January 1. This stems from widespread adoption of the Gregorian calendar., which was instituted by Pope Gregory in order to standardize the day on which Easter was celebrated.

TET Festival, Lunar New Year In VietnamAsia has many different new-year celebrations, including Thailand’s Songkran purification festival, featuring mass water fights, and Chinese New Year, a lunar-calendar event known for its lion dances and fireworks and is observed in many countries on the continent and by Chinese communities around the world. This article provides a sampling of traditional Asian new-year foods.

The traditions and beliefs associated with the New Year’s Eve and Day are seemingly endless.

In the U.S., the ball drop in Times Square at midnight is the culmination of the New Year’s Eve party in New York City and for the rest of the East Coast. The ball drop has inspired other “drops” of items, including a possum drop in North Carolina. After the ball descends, there is often singing of Auld Lang Syne, the lyrics for which are attributed to Scottish poet Robert Burns, and lots of kissing, a tradition that is traced back to the ancient Romans and their Saturnalia and winter solstice festivals.

Since New Year’s Day is seen a chance for a new beginning, it has become customary for people to make resolutions for the coming year. Having trouble keeping promises to get in shape, work harder or be nicer? Try shooting for achievable resolutions or “unresolutions.”

There are many more New Year’s customs and superstitions to be discovered in eLibrary; just start searching. Here are some round-ups to get you started: article 1, article 2, article 3. Also, see our New Year’s Eve/Day Research Topic, which, like thousands of other RTs, can be found by typing an exact-match phrase in the eLibrary search box (note the drop-down list as you are typing) and by clicking the Browse Research Topics button below the Basic Search area.

The First Kwanzaa

(Credit: The Official Kwanzaa Web Site)

The first Kwanzaa, an African American celebration of life, was celebrated in 1966. Kwanzaa is based on the year-end harvest festivals that have taken place throughout Africa for thousands of years. The name comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means “first fruits of the harvest.” Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa as a way to bring African-Americans together, and emphasize the role of the family and community in African-American culture.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) honors a different principle–unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. A different candle on a seven-branched candle holder (kinara) is lit each day. Three candles on the left are green; three on the right are red; and in the middle is a black candle. These three colors were important symbols in ancient Africa. Green represents the fertile land of Africa; black is for the color of the people; and red stands for the blood that is shed in the struggle for freedom. Along with the seven principles (nguzo saba) and the seven days of Kwanzaa, there are seven symbols that are used to represent the meaningful themes of the holiday. These seven items are arranged in an area set up as a Kwanzaa altar or table in the home. The celebration also includes the giving of gifts and a karamu, or African feast, held on December 31.

ProQuest’s SIRS Knowledge Source allows educators and students to learn more about the history and traditions of Kwanzaa by exploring resources like these:

More Cultural Than Religious, Kwanzaa Rooted in Tradition

Why We Celebrate–or Don’t Celebrate–Kwanzaa

Rooted in Africa, but Made in U.S.A.