Wednesday, December 28, 2011

January 1st New Year’s Day – Is it for Everyone?

Yes, it is for everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar. However, some nations use a different calendar even if the Gregorian calendar is widely used. It is not uncommon for certain countries and religious groups to either follow a different calendar totally or to use two calendars to track significant dates. In the case of the New Year’s Day, many celebrate it on two different dates. One date, January 1, is based on the Gregorian calendar. The other date for New Year’s Day is based on a calendar important to the culture or prevalent religion of the country.

Buddhist New Year

The dates for Buddhist New Year fall on different days of the year depending on the principles and values of the countries where Buddhism is practiced. Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka are just some of the countries that practice Buddhism. The dates are based on the Buddhist calendar, which is luni-solar. For the above-mentioned countries, New Year starts on the first day of the full moon in the month of April. In countries where Mahayana Buddhism is practiced (Vietnam, Korea and China, for example), the New Year begins on the first full moon in the month of January, sometimes even in the earlier part of February. In Tibet, the Buddhist New Year starts in March according to the Tibetan calendar.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day – It Has Nothing to Do With Muhammad Ali

A lot of you have probably heard the term “Boxing Day” at least once in your life just like millions of people across the globe. But since you don’t celebrate Boxing Day, it is likely that you never bothered to find out what it was all about. Now you can find out what Boxing Day is and what happens during this holiday.

At the heels of December 25’s Christmas celebration is Boxing Day. It’s a holiday celebrated in countries like Britain and Canada. Boxing Day has evolved into an extra day for families and friends to spend more quality time together. For retailers in countries where it is observed, it’s like Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day, in the United States. Almost everything goes on sale much to the shoppers’ delight.

Countries that recognize Boxing Day

The United Kingdom (England, Scotland and Wales), Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong, Fiji, Cook Islands, Greenland, Denmark, British Virgin Islands, Finland, Greece, and Hungary are some of the countries that observe Boxing Day. Apart from these countries, several Commonwealth countries and protectorates also celebrate Boxing Day. 

In Ireland, instead of Boxing Day, they celebrate St. Stephen’s Day, which is a religious holiday. Since 1994, in South Africa, the term Day of Goodwill has replaced Boxing Day.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! ¡Feliz Navidad!

Christmas is probably the most well known religious holiday in the world. Christians and non-Christians alike celebrate Christmas in traditional and non-traditional ways. Part of the reason why Christmas is so popular is because it has become the biggest commercial holiday in the world. Business-savvy companies usually make a big profit during this season by tapping into the gift-giving tradition of this yuletide holiday.

But Christmas is not solely a holiday of glitz, glamor, endless parties and exchanging of presents. This Christian holiday centers on the birth of the child Jesus, who, according to Christian beliefs, is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Christmas is the story of the Nativity where Joseph led Mary around Bethlehem to look for a place where Mary could give birth to the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Joseph and Mary were turned away by all the innkeepers and had to settle for a barn. Thus, the child Jesus was born in the lowliest of places. And instead of a crib, the baby Jesus was placed on a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. Shepherds, upon the call of an angel, came to pay homage to the newborn, as did Three Wise Men, who were guided by a star. The Three Wise Men or Magis, offered gifts of myrrh, frankincense and gold.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights

What Jewish holiday falls between late November and late December? Hanukkah, of course!

It falls between late November and late December of each year. Years ago, Hanukkah was just a minor celebration. Towards the end of the 19th century it has become almost popular as the celebration of the Passover. The popularity is credited to its nearness to Christmas, which other Christians all over the world observe.

Why is it then called the Festival of Lights? It is because Hanukkah begins four days before the new moon appears in the sky, hence that period is considered the darkest time of the month. Therefore it is very fitting that the most symbolic item to use for the celebration is light, to illuminate the darkness. The Hanukkah ritual involves the lighting of the candles, one at a time. The candles are added from right to left, while the lighting starts from the left to the right, one candle for each night of the celebration. The candle is allowed to burn until morning. So on the first night, a candle is lit; on the second night, two candles will be lit and the pattern goes on until the eighth day. The middle candle is the shammash, the source of the light used for the others.

Blessings are recited when the candle is lit or after lighting a candle. The prayer gives thanks to God who continues to bring light into this world and to everyone’s life.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Santa’s Not the Only Star of the Christmas Season

What?! There’s someone else aside from Santa? The most popular character during the holidays is Santa Claus. The jolly man in the red suit is known all over the globe as the man who knows when you have been naughty or nice. But apart from Santa, there are other popular characters that pop up during this festive time. Jolly St. Nick (the basis for the man in red, white and black, Santa Claus) shares the limelight with a few good and not so good characters this season. It’s time to find out who’s out during the Yuletide season.

The Devil

Yes, the devil is a popular character during Christmas. Surprising, huh? Not for the people of Guatemala. The most popular Christmas tradition involves toasting the devil into smithereens. After spending years hiding under beds or in piled up junk and casting all sorts of bad luck and misfortune on unsuspecting mortals, the devil finally gets what’s coming to him. Guatemalans have a date with the devil each year at exactly 6 p.m. of December 7. Effigies or images of the devil are thrown out of dwellings together with the trash. The effigies are set afire in the tradition known as Quema del Diablo or Burning of the Devil. This seemingly un-Christmassy custom is actually how the Guatemalans start their Christmas season. The burning of the devil and the trash serves as a form of purification, a depiction of good’s triumph over evil. Children are delighted with the tradition and participate by lighting the bonfire or setting off a firecracker or two. Quema del Diablo is a celebration like no other.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spreading the Christmas Spirit Through the Five Languages of Love

It’s Christmas time once again. Although Christmas is rooted on a Christian event, the birth of Jesus Christ, Christians and many non-Christians get into the spirit of the holidays in more ways than one. Christmas is a time to be with loved ones whether they be family or friends. It’s a time for endless Christmas get-togethers, from big blown out parties and family reunions to small intimate meals or drinks with close friends that have not seen each other for a long time.

Christmas is a time to dust up different holiday traditions, of which there are many. The traditions during this holiday season vary according to a particular race, their locations, their Christian religious affiliation and their overall beliefs. For example, some have a white Christmas because of the presence of snow while others have a more tropics inspired celebration. Some put up decorations a day before Christmas while other start Christmas in September. Yes, September. As soon as the “ber” months (months whose names end with the letter “b-e-r”) start, Christmas carols are played on radio stations across the Philippines signaling the start of preparations for the holidays.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thank You O’ Canada

The United States of America and Canada share the continent of North America. These two countries are divided by a land border to the northwest and to the south of the continent. Referred to as the International Boundary, this is the longest border in the whole world. Alaska, which belongs to the US, lies alone on the northwest corner of the continent. Thirteen US states share the International Boundary with 8 Canadian provinces/territories. Of the two countries, Canada is bigger than the US. In fact, it is the 2nd largest country in the world while the US ranks 3rd.

A federal state, Canada is under a parliamentary democracy. It is also under a constitutional monarchy with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as the current head of state. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Although the US is still the most admired country among all countries across the globe (this according to the annual GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications report), there is much to be admired about Canada, which incidentally also made it to the top 10 list of admired nations. One of the things Americans probably wished they had in the US Canadian citizens enjoy is universal healthcare. President Barack Obama’s health care bill is yet to materialize in a concrete way.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Laughter – A Universal Language

Ha-ha-ha, hi-hi-hi, tee-hee-hee, bwah-hah-hah, yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk, mu-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha….these are just some of the different sounds people make when they laugh. Of course the last one sounds more like malevolent laughter that comes out of an evil character’s mouth; but it is still laughter just the same. Some believe that laughter is the universal language of man. Regardless of race or creed, everyone enjoys a good laugh.

Laughter is the sound one makes as a reaction to a particular stimulus. Usually, it comes about due to amusement and during merriment. It is also common for people to laugh as a result of stress, fear or nervousness. Laughter is one faculty that some human’s use to regain balance when there is anxiety, tension, or pressure around them. Hyenas use laughter this way, too.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Switzerland’s Romansh, Struggling to Survive

Apart from German, French and Italian, Switzerland has another national language that many people across the globe have never heard of. This language, which originated from Latin, is called Romansh. Romansh is also known by these names: Romansch, Rumantsch, Romanche and Rhaeto-Romansch. In Switzerland, speakers of this unfamiliar language account for about less than 1% of the whole population of the country.

Accounts on how many actually speak Romansh vary. Some statistics indicate there are around 50,000 – 70,000 speakers while others peg the number of speakers to 30,000 plus. Another source says that in Switzerland, the language is understood by more than 100,000 people and that 75,000 speak it regularly while 40,000 refer to it as their main language. Majority of Romansh speakers live in eastern Switzerland, specifically in the canton of Graub√ľnden/Grisons. Graub√ľnden is a trilingual canton. German and Italian are the two other languages in use in the canton.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

KOREA: Hangul and the Great Man Who Created It

Hangul or Hangeul is the name of the alphabet used by both North and South Koreans today. Many language experts consider Hangul as a highly efficient writing system. Easy to master, when it was first put to use, Hangul was made up of 28 letters. Today’s Hangul only uses 24 letters. Even with the diminished amount of letters, this Korean script is able to communicate anything and everything that Koreans want to express on paper.

The history surrounding this Korean script is quite interesting. Hangul was invented in the royal court of the Choson Dynasty by one of its royals. The creator/promulgator was not just any royalty; he was known as “a great” royal. Koreans owe their native alphabet to King Sejong the Great.

Hangul and its history

Hunmin chong-um, sometimes spelled as Hunminjeongeum, was the original name of Hangul, Korea’s native script. It was created between the years 1443 to 1444 and then proclaimed by the court as the first Korean alphabet in 1446. Other monikers for Hunmin chong-um were Eonmeun or vulgar script and Gukmeun or national writing. Eonmeun was a name given by the intelligentsia because the alphabet was created more for the common people than the educated and the elite. The literal meaning of Hunmin chong-um is “the correct sounds for the instruction of the people” or “right sound to teach people of the nation.”