Here in Canada, most of the country including our family is celebrating Christmas. After more than a few years at sea, I am happy to be spending Christmas time at home, with my wife and two boys, surrounded by most of our family.
For those of you around the world and especially at sea, please accept our sincerest wishes from our family for a Very Merry Christmas and a superb and safe New Year with a speedy return ashore, close to your loved ones.
Many of Martin's Marine Engineering Page visitors come from all over the world and may not be celebrating Christmas in the strictest of sense; we send you our warmest Seasons Greetings with equal happiness.
Below is a little post on the season's meaning around the globe...
HOLIDAY’S JOY GIRDLES THE GLOBE
BRUCE WALLIN/UCLA Today
With the holiday season upon us, members of the UCLA community are busy preparing for a wide range of festivities. Whether it’s Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or New Year’s, the holidays highlight the many cultures and customs of Southern California. But while we wait in line at Macy’s or brush up on our Swahili, what are people doing in Oslo? How about Okinawa? We took a quick trip around the globe to find out. So the next time you’re lighting the menorah or banging pots and pans at the stroke of midnight, consider these festive facts from around the world:
Ever since the Puritans banned the celebration of Christmas, Hogmany has been a symbol of Scottish independence. While most Scots still celebrate Christmas, Hogmany, which starts on New Year’s Eve and continues through New Year’s Day, is their wild winter holiday of choice.
Hogmany customs vary from town to town, but the new year is always welcomed with some form of fire to ward off evil spirits. In Stonehaven revelers swing fireballs from handles, while in Comrie they lead a flambeaux (flaming torch) procession through the city streets. Throughout Scotland, church bells ring at midnight while Hogmany celebrants pass around Scotch whiskey and sing "Auld Lang Syne."
Once the new year has begun, many Scots heed the ancient "first foot" superstition. According to tradition, the first person who crosses a Scot’s threshold in the new year should have dark hair and should come bearing salt, coal and a bottle of whiskey -- symbols of food, warmth and joy for the coming year.
EGYPT: EID AL-FITR
After 30 days of fasting for Ramadan, Egyptian Muslims erupt in a grand celebration called Eid al-Fitr. Based on the Islamic lunar calendar, the dates of Eid al-Fitr vary from December to March. (This year’s celebration starts at the end of December.) A cannon firing at dusk launches the three-day event in which people dress in new clothes, visit with friends, prepare elaborate feasts and give to the poor.
"The first day after Ramadan, everybody pays alms to the poor," says UCLA’s Ali Bakr Hassan. "Fasting is not accepted by god unless alms are paid in full."
Gifts to the poor are usually of the edible variety: Celebrants slaughter lambs as offerings and prepare a variety of special dishes, including qatayaf, a pancake-like dessert stuffed with nuts and other ingredients. In Cairo, almost every street corner has tables and chairs set up with food for the less fortunate -- or anyone else who cares to break the Ramadan fast.
New Year’s, or Ganjitsu, is Japan’s most popular annual holiday. For weeks building up to the celebration, Japanese people clean their houses, pay off their debts and attempt to mend broken relationships, hoping to start the new year fresh. "Because Japanese people don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s the equivalent of Christmas and New Year’s wrapped up into one holiday," said Fred Notehelfer, director of UCLA’s Center for Japanese Studies. "It is the most felicitous annual celebration and the first thing you do in any year is very important because it sets the tone for the whole year. The first thing many Japanese people do is dress in their finest clothes and visit the shrines."
Food is also a focal point. Family members take turns cooking mochi rice and pounding it into a dough-like mound in a stone mortar. The mochi is used as the main ingredient in ozoni, a traditional soup considered an offering to the God of New Year.
Ganjitsu festivities kick off at midnight on New Year’s Eve, as the bells at Buddhist temples ring 108 times to dispel the past year’s evil spirits. As further protection against evil, Japanese families decorate the entrance to their homes with kadomatsu (made of pine branches, bamboo and straw) and shimenawa (ropes made of rice straw). Individuals exchange cards with friends and family and give colorful, money-filled envelopes, called otoshidama, to the children. A week or two later, families burn their kadomatsu and shimenawa as a final offering to the New Year’s God.
ECUADOR: CHRISTMAS/NEW YEAR’S
Christmas is a major holiday throughout South America, but nowhere is it celebrated more enthusiastically than in Cuenca, Ecuador. A colonial town in Ecuador’s southern highlands, Cuenca is known continent-wide for its holiday revelry, which lasts from Christmas Eve to mid-January.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, the Pase del Niño Viajero parade marches through Cuenca’s cobblestone streets. Locals from surrounding villages decorate cars, trucks and donkeys with banknotes, bananas, liquor, chickens and other signs of prosperity. Children dress as biblical figures, while colorful Quechua musicians perform in the streets. The annual celebration peaks one week later, when locals burn effigies of celebrities and politicians on New Year’s Eve, but the dancing, feasting and drinking continue for weeks.
UNITED STATES: KWANZAA
Celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday based on the "first fruits" agricultural festivals of Africa. Created by Cal State Long Beach Professor Maulana Karenga in 1966, Kwanzaa is a time for African Americans of all religious faiths to celebrate their heritage and reinforce the Nguzo Sabe. Swahili for "seven principles," the Nguzo Sabe consist of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Kwanzaa celebrations take place throughout the United States. According to Itibari Zulu, librarian at the UCLA Center for African American Studies, the most popular events include a Kwanzaa Expo in New York and the Kwanzaa Parade in Los Angeles. Held the weekend before the 26th at Leimert Park, the L.A. parade features floats, drill teams, marchers in traditional garb and other entrants celebrating African American heritage.
In Ethiopia, Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date according to the ancient calendar. But it’s not for another two weeks, during the Timket festivals, that the real fun begins. A holiday unique to Ethiopia, Timket combines the Feast of Epiphany and the Feast of St. Michael. The annual celebration is marked by participants singing and dancing to beating drums while religious processions march through the streets of Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian cities.
The day before the Epiphany (Jan. 18), Timket celebrants prepare tej and tella (beer and mead), bake bread and slaughter sheep. Ethiopian priests, dressed in ceremonial velvet and satin decorated with jewels, emerge from their churches carrying stone or wooden tablets (representing the Arc of the Covenant and 10 Commandments). Presenting a sharp contrast to the local revelers, who are dressed in all white, the colorful priests lead their dancing congregation to a local water source. Once there, they bless the water and sprinkle it on members of the congregation. After the ceremony, the singing, dancing and eating continue through the night and next morning, when the tablets are returned to their churches and another celebration ensues.
On Christmas Eve in Norway, families gather to open presents and prepare a holiday feast. But when the food is gone, Norwegian custom strays from the yuletide norm, as families go through the house and hide all their brooms, shovels and tongs. This tradition stems from the belief that witches and evil spirits come out on Christmas Eve. If you don’t take the necessary precautions, witches will steal your brooms for transportation, while evil spirits will make bad use of your shovels and tongs -- apparently irresistible playthings for evil spirits.
As further defense against Christmas invaders, spruce logs burn in the fireplace to prevent witches from coming down the chimney (Santa must have an alternate route), and families leave their lights on all night to fend off the spirits. The next day, assuming no witches have run off with relatives, most Norwegians spend a quiet Christmas with their families.
Kurdish Jews have customs that are peculiar to their region for the celebration of the Festival of Lights, which commemorates the rededication of the Temple by the Macabees after their victory over the Syrians. Professor Yona Sabar of the Jewish Studies Center recalled that in his homeland of Northern Iraq, Jewish children the week before the start of the eight-day holiday lock the doors to their rooms and don’t allow their parents to enter until they give the children money. Those who are too poor to afford candles use egg shells as a substitute in the nightly candle-lighting ceremonies, placing oil and a wick inside a cracked shell.