Category Archives: Worldly Events

Finds posts on international holidays, festivals, traditions, and other fun events with a global theme.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

As a child December 6th was one of my favorite days of the year. On St. Nicholas Day eve (December 5th) we would set our homemade slippers outside of our bedroom door with our Christmas wish lists inside. The next morning we would wake up to find that St. Nick had come for our list and left us candy, a new Christmas ornament, and a chocolate advent calendar in our bedroom shoes. To me, it always represented the beginning of the Christmas season.

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What I didn’t realize as a child was that most of my American friends did not celebrate St. Nicholas Day. My mom, being Pennsylvania Dutch, brought this tradition and several others to our family. While my mother’s family never spoke Pennsylvania German, they did maintain many of the German traditions. My grandmother was definitely a Pennsylvania Dutch cook and made pickled beet eggs, scrapple, and hog maw. Personally, I rarely tried any of these dishes as a child, and at the mention of them my response was always “yuck”. My mom and my aunts still make some of the traditional meals but I think they’ve all let hog maw be a recipe of yore. Cleaning pig stomach  just is not a pleasurable chore.

Now that I am older, I am so grateful for the traditions that have been passed down from my German ancestors and carried on my grandmother and mom. I know when Hubby and I have children we will be celebrating St. Nicholas Day too. If you missed St. Nick’s Day this year, I don’t think he’ll mind if you celebrate it on December 7th or 8th instead.

Happy beginning of the holiday season!

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Hennaed

On Tuesday night a group of students got together to talk study abroad. One of the students had recently returned from India and asked me if I would be willing to help do henna at the gathering.

DISCLOSURE: I have NEVER been hennaed, let alone used henna.

But I was willing to give it a shot. In the end, it was much like piping a cake. We looked up designs online and in an hour I tattooed five of the students. Overall, I was pretty excited about how they turned out. We all decided this would be a great activity for a birthday party or ladies night. I just need a bit more practice!

Exploring the Hajj from Home

With new friends from Iraq and Bangladesh, the Hajj and Eid al-Adha were topics of discussion this past week. As a Christian, I will never be allowed to experience Mecca during the Hajj (it’s a Muslim-only event) but I decided to at least do some research and learn a little more about the biggest religious gathering on earth. (This year it was estimated that 4 million pilgrims attended the Hajj; 1.7 million were from abroad.)

After some perusing on You Tube, I found this great 14 minute documentary by Suroosh Alvi, a Muslim from New York City. He snuck a handicam into Mecca on his own personal Hajj last year and shared his own thoughts on the experience but also the process and rituals that were required to complete the Hajj. It really helped me understand a little more and I would really recommend viewing it if you’re curious about the Hajj.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires each Muslim who is physically and financially able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Of the pictures I’ve seen of the Hajj before, the one that comes to mind is of the Kaaba, the black box that the Muslim believes to be the house of God. As part of the Hajj, the pilgrims must perform Tawaf where they circle the Kaaba seven times and then kiss the black stone (or point to the stone if the crowds are too bad).

The next ritual of Hajj is to go to Mt. Arafat, where the prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, and pray. Mt. Arafat is also known as the Hill of Forgiveness and is a highlight of the Hajj as the Muslim pilgrim spends the afternoon in contemplation and prayer.

The ritual of stoning Jamrat Al-Aqabah follows the day at Mt. Arafat. Jamrat Al-Aqabah can be found in Mina and consist of three columns (recently replaced by three walls) that represent the Devil. For the ritual, the pilgrims must throw 21 stones at the columns symbolizing their defiance of the Devil.

Once the stoning is complete, the pilgrims must slaughter their sacrifice in celebration of the sacrifice that God provided Abraham in replacement for his son (for Christians and Jews, this story may be familiar). This holiday is celebrated by all Muslims whether in Mecca or not and is called Eid al-Adha.

After stoning the Devil and slaughtering the sacrifice, the final rite of that day  is shaving the head (for men) or trimming the hair (for women). The hair cut symbolizes an important stage of the Hajj and almost all restrictions are lifted from the pilgrim after this point.

When these rituals have been completed, the pilgrim returns to the beginning and once again prays and circles the Kaaba seven times. These rites are completed by both men and women of the Muslim faith, although the rules are slightly different for the sexes. For example, women cannot complete the Hajj while menstruating, nor can they attend Hajj without a male relative to escort them. But once the Hajj is complete, whether male or female, they are given the honored name of Hajji.

I will admit that this account is far from detailed, and despite reading multiple websites and watching several videos, the Hajj is still a bit of a mystery to me. But considering even devout Muslims need a guide to help them through the Hajj, I decided not to feel to bad. However, I am still curious to learn more and welcome any comments from my more experienced readers!

 

Czech This Out

It was only 45 degrees outside but thousands of people still lined Main Street to watch the Czech Day Parade come through downtown Yukon, Oklahoma. To celebrate the immigrants from Czechoslovakia that settled in Yukon in the early 1900s, the town puts on quite the party each year. The two day festival blended traditional Czech culture with its Oklahoma setting.

Traditional dances were matched with the local high school cheerleaders.

The klobasy were sold as the cowboys rode on by.

The Czech ribbons and crafts could be found right across from the painted bull’s skulls.

But most of all, Czech and Oklahoma pride were blended into a great celebration for this little town.

A Saturday in the South

Hubby and I are back in the south this weekend to celebrate our nephew’s first birthday in my husband’s hometown of Dallas, Georgia. Dallas is a small city of 11,000 about 30 miles from Atlanta and a hub for southern culture. My husband’s family has now lived in Dallas since my in-laws were very young and being a small town, everyone knows everyone, something much different from where I grew up. If you ever visit, you’ll hear plenty of authentic southern accents, you’ll find a church on every street corner, and you should definitely treat yourself to some good barbecue at the local Hickory Hut.

After a busy day of helping prep for the big birthday party yesterday, the family went to the downtown square for the monthly car show. It was fun to walk around and experience my Hubby’s hometown culture while being stopped regularly by his past teachers and family friends. I also really enjoyed seeing the cars. While all of the cars were American, they ranged in age from the 1920s to present and in quality from ugly to incredible.

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Opa! Guide to the Greek Festival

September is just a month full of festivals…and I love it. This past weekend we were invited by a friend to the Greek Festival in OKC. As a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, she knew everything about the food, dances, and traditions. Being escorted by a “local” definitely enhanced the entire experience. She taught me how to pronounce everything correctly, told us what we should try and what to avoid, and introduced us to a number of the people running the festival. I even got a picture with the pastor’s wife in her full costume.

We ate our way through the festival. With each ticket came two al a carte items or the Greek dinner so Hubby and I decided to get one of each. First we did the gyro and loukoumades. We both agreed that the gyro was one of the best we’ve ever had. The tomatoes and onions were diced small making it easier to eat and the flavor was delicious.

The loukoumades were equally good. Similar to a donut hole in appearance but not texture, the fried dough balls are very light, similar to a puff pastry. Covered in honey and cinnamon, we probably ate all of our calories for the day in just that one dessert.

But we were not done yet! Next came the dinner which was a choice of lamb, chicken or pasticcio (the Greek version of lasagna). We went for the pasticcio which was served with Greek-style potatoes, green beans, spanakopita, and pita. I loved the pasticcio but the potatoes were incredibly salty. Since Hubby is not fond of spinach, I ate most of the spanakopita and it was pretty good too.

And finally we were thoroughly entertained by our friend’s daughter and her dance troop, the Opa! Dancers. Ranging from age 4 to 9, these kids put on four performances in one night.

The Beginning of A New Year

Raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, I was never exposed much to other cultures until I went to college. Although my alma mater is also in Atlanta, it draws students from around the U.S. and the world and prides itself on diversity. It wasn’t long before I realized that Emory’s Hillel was a whole lot bigger than the Baptist Student Union. With approximately 1/3 of the student population being Jewish, it was normal to see a guy walking on campus wearing his Yamaka or groups of students walking to Shabbat services on Friday night. There was even a student in my residence hall who had obtained Israeli citizenship and served in their army between high school and college. Judaism was part of the culture I was in.

By the time I graduated, more of my college friends were Jewish than not. And though I am a Christian, thanks to my friends, I had opportunities to celebrate Passover, attended several Jewish weddings, and even had the Hora at our wedding.

Yes, that is me screaming. The hora is scary!

My first Jewish holiday was actually celebrated while I was in Argentina. It was Hanukkah and my best friend was finishing up her culinary school exams when I first arrived in Buenos Aries. While there was a huge electric menorah outside of her apartment, she had nothing inside. So I researched all I could about the holiday while she was at school and made her a paper menorah. We hung it on the fridge and every night we added a lit yellow paper flame to celebrate the oil not running out. When she came home I bought her a real menorah and even keep Hanukkah paper in closet just for her.

Last night at sundown Jewish people around the world began their celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which starts the High Holy Days. While I won’t be joining any friends to celebrate this time around, I want to wish all my dear friends shana tovah umetukah, which is Hebrew for “a good and sweet new year.”

Start the sweetness of this new year with a Rosh Hashanah tradition of apples and honey. Find out about other green ways to celebrate at Greenopolis