Cinco de Mayo: Celebrate Mexican culture and say ‘Ole!’ for the fifth of May

Kids dressed in Mexican traditional dress, outside

Kids at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Texas. Photo by Memorial Student Center Texas A&M University, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MAY 5: Warm the tortillas and smell the tantalizing aromas of a sizzling Mexican kitchen—it’s Cinco de Mayo!

Today, Mexican culture resonates around the world: The American President officially declares the holiday; Canadians hold street festivals; Australians put on a cultural fest and Brits celebrate with a toast to Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is an occasion to revel in Mexican food, culture, dance and music. Many American schools and communities hold Mexican educational events, and iconic Mexican symbols—including the Virgin of Guadalupe—are displayed. May 5 is also celebrated throughout the state of Puebla, in Mexico, though ironically, global recognition of the Mexican nation on this day didn’t start in Mexico: it started in the United States, where Americans of Mexican origin were commemorating a Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla, of 1862.

Spanish for the fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo recalls the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. A true underdog story, Mexico was exhausted and in debt from years of fighting when its poorly equipped, outnumbered militia took on the well-outfitted, larger French army that hadn’t been defeated in decades—and won.

Though the win was fairly short-lived, it nonetheless gave Mexico’s army and people a much-needed sense of national pride that is still remembered today. Since the first local Cinco de Mayo parties hosted by Mexicans mining in California, the holiday has expanded internationally.

THE BATTLE OF PUEBLA: A BOOST IN NATIONAL SPIRIT

Fish tacos on blue plate

Mexican seafood tacos. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Decades before the Battle of Puebla, Mexico was at a tumultuous time in its history. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, internal political takeovers ravaged the nation. The Mexican-American War took place from 1846-1848, and one decade later, the Mexican Civil War left the country in financial ruins. Deeply indebted to several countries, Mexico was left with no means for immediate repayment—and, as a result, France’s desire for expansion was fueled.

When Mexico stopped paying on its loans to France, the French installed Archduke Maximilian of Austria, a relative of Napoleon III, as ruler of Mexico. French forces invaded Mexico and began marching toward Mexico City, until Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin and his small militia stopped and defeated the famed French army at Puebla. Though victory was short-lived, and Napoleon soon sent additional military forces to Mexico, the Battle of Puebla had boosted the national spirit.

CINCO DE MAYO: THEN & NOW

In the United States, Mexican miners living in California fired shots and fireworks upon hearing news of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, and the holiday has been celebrated in California ever since. When the Chicano movement crossed America, Cinco de Mayo awareness grew. By the 1980s, marketers began capitalizing on the holiday and Cinco de Mayo gained national popularity. Today, many countries of the world celebrate Mexican culture on the 5th of May.

RECIPES & MORE

Hints of lime, fresh salsa and warm tortillas bring the tastebuds to Mexico like little else, so this Cinco de Mayo, cook up some south-of-the-border cuisine!

Find an array of delicious recipes from Food Network and Taste of Home.

Those hosting a party can find decoration ideas, food suggestions and more from Martha Stewart.

Vegetarian? Try this compilation of recipes.

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Categories: International Observances

Equinox, Ostara, Norouz and other worldwide celebrations welcome spring

Springtime tree branches covered in pink blossoms

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

MONDAY, MARCH 20 and TUESDAY, MARCH 21: Across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are looking toward spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient phenomenon fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz.
  • For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme throughout is joy in the promises of new life; a specific joy that comes with the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans reflecting on the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

THE NORTH WELCOMES SPRING (VERNAL EQUINOX)

On March 20 at 10:29 UTC, the 2017 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Green shoots sprouted grass in container, tied with pink ribbon, sitting on brown half-wall seat

Spring sprouts for Norooz. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year, many families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

A BAHA’I NEW YEAR: NAW-RUZ

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and that fast is broken for Naw-Ruz: the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

Wire basket of differently-colored, natural eggs

Eggs are a common symbol of springtime. Photo by woodleywonderworks, courtesy of Flickr

A PAGAN AND WICCAN SPRING: OSTARA

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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Categories: Baha'iInterfaithInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Valentine’s Day: Recall an ancient martyr and embrace the diverse looks of love

Heart of chocolates, surrounded by rose petals and a feather

Photo by Kumar’s Edit, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Or, you might say: “That’s amore!” in Italian tribute to the ancient Roman-Christian martyr known as St. Valentine.

This annual commemoration of feelings from the heart has spread across the globe in a massive exchange of cards, candy, chocolates and even jewelry—all in the name of love. In Ancient Rome, mid-January to mid-February was celebrated as a dedication to the love between Zeus and Hera, and Feb. 13-15 was a fertility festival. The Christian St. Valentines came into the picture just a few hundred years after Jesus Christ, although none were particularly associated with love; it was a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer that first began the association between St. Valentine’s Day and romance.

Heart candies and treats on a plate with pink and white stripes

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

EXPRESSING LOVE: THEN AND NOW

Today’s holiday traditions began a little more than 200 years ago, with “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer”—a publication of suggested poems for young men to give to their romantic interests. Technology advanced, and Valentine cards were soon being exchanged by thousands. Today, an estimated 190 million valentines are exchanged annually in the U.S. alone. An estimated 1 billion cards are exchanged on Valentine’s Day each year in the U.S., and Americans account for $20 billion of the $50 billion worldwide chocolate industry, according to trade publications. Of course, new media is also reshaping Valentine’s Day; last year, 15 million e-Valentines were sent via Internet connections.

Valentine’s Day is, today, a national observance in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the UK, France, Australia, Denmark, Italy and Japan.

ST. VALENTINE: THE MAN AND THE LEGEND

The history of the saint behind this holiday is mysterious, indeed, and parts of the story are more legend than documented fact. For that reason, in 1969, the Vatican removed St. Valentine from the “General Roman Calendar,” the official registry of saints and their feast days. However, this saint is so beloved that Catholics are free to observe feast days locally and regionally—and millions do so every year.

St. Valentine on a vintage Valentine's Day greeting

A vintage Valentine’s greeting featuring a rendition of St. Valentine. Photo by Joe Haupt, courtesy of Flickr

The problem is that “Valentine” was a popular name in the 3rd Century—and for many years after that. At least two, and most likely several, Valentines were very early Christian martyrs. By the 6th Century, Christian leaders were blending their stories into a single heroic tale. Sorting out those records got even more complicated when a dozen more Valentines eventually were regarded as saints—piling up through the centuries in various corners of the Christian church.

Usually, Valentine is described as a courageous and brilliant defender of Christianity, as a compassionate man who tried to help men and women who were endangered during the period of Roman persecution—and as a priest who performed Christian marriages, including weddings for Roman soldiers and their wives at a time when that practice was illegal. According to legend, Valentine was such a striking figure that Roman Emperor Claudius II personally interrogated him, a practice that would have been quite rare in the Roman court. As the story goes, Valentine refused to recant his faith; the emperor refused to budge; Valentine performed a couple of final miracles (including healing his jailer’s daughter)—and Valentine was killed on February 14.

Looking for a Christian twist on Valentine’s greetings? Get inspiration for a DIY card from Solomon’s Canticle of Canticles, a book that uses marital love as a metaphor for God’s love for the Church.

2017 NEWS, RECIPES & DIY GIFT IDEAS

Gifts may be a nice gesture, but Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to cost a fortune—especially with this year’s tips from Reader’s Digest. For DIY gift ideas, look to Martha Stewart, DIY Network and Real Simple.

Traveling for Valentine’s Day? Wandering lovers can score deals with tips from the New York Times.

Spending the night in? Find an assortment of romantic recipes at Food Network and Food & Wine.

LUSH Cosmetics is making headlines with its 2017 LGBTQ Valentine’s Day campaign, which has been dubbed “adorable.”

Gifting a box subscription this Valentine’s Day?  Parade reviews the best Valentine’s Day box subscription services.

Cheesecake and chocolate are two indulgent flavors that will be combined with the release of cheeseake M&Ms, for this year’s holiday of love.

Looking for this year’s love-inspired beauty trends? People.com tracks the most popular beauty trends for Valentine’s Day 2017.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Chinese New Year: Welcome the Year of the Rooster!

Dragon held by people in sunny bustling downtown city

A Lunar New Year celebration in Australia, 2014. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28: The Chinese Year of the Rooster starts today with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.

This festival also represents the world’s greatest annual human migration. The Reuters news service reports on January 23: “People are joining in the world’s largest human migration and are leaving China’s capital by train, making their way home for family reunions during the Lunar New Year holidays. The 40-day travel frenzy surrounding the week-long Lunar New Year began on January 13, and will last until February 21. During this period, the estimated total volume of people traveling is expected to be almost 3 billion, up 2.2 percent from the previous year, according to China’s Transport Ministry.

CHINESE NEW YEAR:
FROM BUDDHA TO THE ROOSTER

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. In 2017, the 10th animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac—the rooster—will have supremacy.

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year.  In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

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Categories: International Observances

Holocaust Remembrance Day: World reflects on Elie Wiesel, genocide education

“I have tried to keep memory alive … I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.”

-Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, December 1986

 

Asian woman looks at reflective wall covered in numbers, outdoors

A woman at the New England Holocaust Memorial, Boston. Photo by Wally Gobetz, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27: A focus on remembrance and education activities is the United Nations theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 under the title, “Holocaust Remembrance: Educating for a Better Future.” On this, the anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwtiz-Birkenau, every United Nations member nation is asked to commemorate the memory of those who perished during the Nazi genocide. According to the UN, the theme for 2017 emphasizes the fact that Holocaust education has a universal dimension and can serve as a platform for discussing human rights, increasing tolerance and defending the collective humanity.

(Note: The older annual remembrance of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah, will begin at sundown on April 23 this year.)

Following a 2005 session that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust, the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Countries worldwide remember the 6 million European Jews and millions of others who lost their lives during the massive Nazi “Final Solution.” Each Jan. 27, the United Nations reinforces its rejection of denial of the Holocaust, its rejection of religious intolerance, and the need to preserve Holocaust sites. (Learn more from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

The camp we know as Auschwitz actually was a complex of three camps, and together, they were the largest such facility established by the Nazi regime. Auschwitz II—also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau—was established in 1942, and of the three camps, Auschwitz II contained the highest number of prisoners. Between 1942 and 1944, more than 1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; the largest group of Jews sent to the camp came from Hungary, in numbers approximated at 426,000. It wasn’t until Jan. 27, 1945 that Soviet forces evacuated Auschwitz.

HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY 2017: ELIE WIESEL & EXHIBITIONS

Some major observances of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 include remembrances of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of “Night” and Nobel Peace Prize winner who passed away in July of 2016. (CNN has a tribute article on the life of Elie Wiesel.) Other major events surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day include the exhibition State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda; a screening of the documentary film Persona Non Grata, which reveals the story of a Japanese diplomat who issued visas to Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, and saved thousands of lives; and a discussion entitled, “Sugihara: Being an Upstander in a Tumultuous World.” Memorial events are encouraged in all UN member states. (Learn more here.)

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesJewish

Winter solstice and Yule: Grab a warm drink, sit by the fire & enjoy winter’s peace

Glass of drink and cinnamon stick on table by fire in fireplace

Photo by Dennis Wilkinson, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21: The pale winter sun’s waning rays give way to the longest night of the year, on today’s winter solstice—known also as Yule, or midwinter. One of the oldest celebrations of winter, Yule conjures visions of steaming cinnamon wassail, a crackling fireplace and the serenity of a blanket of snow. Despite the darkness and bitter cold, Yule is a time of joy: While enjoying the tranquility of midwinter, Pagans, Wiccans and many world citizens welcome the reemerging sun. Winter solstice marks a turning point when days begin, once again, to lengthen, and nights to shorten.

Wherever you live—and as long as men and women have walked the earth—the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice. Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun” and the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light. Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving, gambling and often ludicrous behavior. Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which will smolder for 12 days.

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Food Network, Taste of Home and Martha Stewart. Sit back, grab a hot drink and relax in the serenity of winter.

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule,” and during Yuletide—which lasted approximately two months—many participants paid tribute to the Wild Hunt (a ghostly procession in the winter sky) and the god Odin (the leader of the Wild Hunt). Of course, this depended on where you lived in Europe at that time. Traditionally, enormous feasts and livestock sacrifices were associated with Yule. So merry was the atmosphere in these activities, in fact, that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

WINTER: FROM MACHU PICCU TO DONGZHI

Pot of wassail with orange slices floating in it, steaming on a stovetop

Wassail cider cooks on a stovetop. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Solstice traditions have many names around the world: Inti Raymi in the Incan Empire in honor of the sun god Inti, and Soyalangwul for the Zuni and the Hopi. In Machu Piccu, there still exists a large stone column known as an Intihuatana, or the “tying of the sun”; ancient peoples would ceremonially tie the sun to the stone so that it could not escape. The East Asian Dongzhi festival recalls yin/yang and the dark/light balance of the cosmos.

YULE: EMBRACE THE CHILL

Winter got you down? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a recipe here. For an alcoholic version, check out the New York Times.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

Feast dishes like Shortest Day Ham Loaf, Brighter Day Cheese Ball, Solstice Surprise Salad and Roasted Lamb Feast for a (Sun) King are at Wicca.com.

Instructions for a Yule ritual with candles and blessings is available at this UK site.

Interested in Yule songs? How about a Yule altar? Get an altar how-to, learn Yule songs for kids, access a Yule playlist, find suggestions of things to hang on a Pagan tree and more at PaganWiccan.about.com.

 

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

St. Nicholas Day: Welcoming the ‘real’ Santa Claus (and his companions)

Boat with people dressed in colorful outfits and Saint Nicholas

On December 5, Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands welcome St. Nicholas and his companions as they arrive. Photo by Tom Jutte, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET MONDAY, DECEMBER 5 and TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6: Whether he’s known as Sinterklaas, San Nicola or St. Nicholas in your part of the world, keep watch for the white-bearded man in the red suit, as Christians across the globe celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. In European countries, today’s festival means heaps of sweets, small toys and exciting surprises left by the famed fourth-century saint as he makes his rounds. By receiving gifts—or coal—on St. Nicholas Day, advocates of this observance say,  then children can focus on the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

ADVENT FOR WESTERN CHRISTIANS: This special season for more than a billion Western Christians begins on November 27, this year.

NATIVITY FAST FOR EASTERN CHRISTIANS: Families who belong to Orthodox churches began their annual fast on November 15.

BEHIND THE LEGEND: LIFE OF ST. NICHOLAS

The “real” story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, a man born in the 3rd century in modern-day Turkey. Orphaned at a young age, Nicholas took to heart the words of Jesus and eventually sold what his wealthy parents had left to him. Nicholas gave his proceeds to the poor, and was made bishop of Myra while still a relatively young man. His reputation for compassion and generosity continued. (Learn more from St. Nicholas Center.)

With the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, Christians—included Bishop Nicholas—were imprisoned and exiled. Following his release, Nicholas’s passion for helping others persisted. Stories of his deeds rapidly spun into legends, and many of those legends are still told on St. Nicholas Day.

Did you know? It is popular custom for families to host a St. Nicholas Day feast on the eve of this saint’s holiday, on December 5.

Wooden shoes filled with candies

Traditional shoes filled with sweets, a custom of St. Nicholas Day. Photo by Thomas Cizauskas, courtesy of Flickr

In 343 CE, Nicholas died in Myra on December 6, and was buried beneath his cathedral church. A relic known as manna formed in his grave, and the sweet-smelling liquid was rumored to have healing powers. This manna posthumously increased the popularity of the saint, and the anniversary of his death became a feast day in the Christian Church.

AROUND THE WORLD:
FRENCH MANNALA TO THE FIERA DI SAN NICOLA

In stark contrast to the secular figure of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas bears religious connotations in many of the countries that grandly celebrate his feast day. In Germany and Poland, boys dress as bishops and beg for alms for the poor; in the Netherlands and Belgium, it’s legend that St. Nicholas arrives by steamship and rides a white horse. French children often hear the tales of St. Nicholas from grandparents and elders, while gingerbread cookies and mannala (a brioche shaped like the bishop) are prepared in kitchens and bakeries. In Italy, the Fiera di San Nicola (St. Nicholas Fair) is celebrated in early December.

ACTIVITIES, RESOURCES & SPECULAAS GINGER COOKIES

Children young and old can get into the spirit of St. Nicholas with help from the St. Nicholas Center, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting his life.

New this year at the St. Nicholas Center: For 2016, this page lists the site’s new additions. A few of the highlights include:

Across the site, visitors can find everything from printable candy bar wrappers and paper bag puppets to recipes for St. Nicholas cookies and chocolate initial cookies. Men dressing up as St. Nicholas can join the St. Nicholas Directory, and churches can find inspiration from a new devotional: “From the Holly Jolly to the Holy: Reclaiming the Sacred during Advent and Christmas.”

In addition, Sycamore Stirrings suggests ideas for St. Nicholas spoon puppets.

ZWARTE PIET‘ CONTROVERSY

St. Nicholas has many different companions, according to traditions that evolved across Europe. The St. Nicholas Center offers an overview of the entire array, which includes a white horse, a donkey, angels and then some companions from the dark side of mythology. Among them is Krampus, a demonic figure associated with St. Nicholas in some European cultures. Krampus was  largely unknown outside of Europe until the last decade when versions of the demon began showing up in a handful of American TV shows and even a 2015 feature film.

The most controversial figure from the dark side of the St. Nicholas legend is Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who has been popular in the Netherlands and also Belgium and Luxembourg. Historians debate whether this figure, often described as the saint’s playful black servant, was part of popular traditions before the mid 19th Century. But, all agree that a hugely popular 1850 children’s book crystalized the figure as part of St. Nicholas Day in the Low Countries.

The St. Nicholas Center has a lengthy, detailed history of this controversial figure, including updated information for 2016. Dutch communities are gradually coming to terms with this figure, who many observers around the world now consider a racist stereotype. Some traditional Dutch towns continue to feature Piet in the original black-face characterization. Other cities, businesses and organizations are changing to more acceptable forms of Piet: some as rainbow-hued helpers; some as a servant whose face is dark from chimney soot.

At a November 12 event welcoming St. Nicholas and his companions, approximately 20,000 spectators gathered in the Dutch town of Maasluis; though protests were banned for the day, more than 100 people began protesting Black Pete and were arrested but soon released. (This news publication has the story.)

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Categories: ChristianInternational Observances