How do they celebrate Christmas in Mexico?

Christmas in Mexico is a celebration that spans several weeks, beginning on December 3rd with the Festival of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and ending on February 2nd with the Día de la Candelaria, with Las Posadas and Los Santos Inocentes in between.

Christmas trees are not traditional in Mexico but they are becoming more common because of the influence from the USA. The most important decoration though is a Nacimiento, or nativity scene. They are set up on December 12th and Jesus is added to it on Christmas Eve, and the Three Kings are added on the 5th of January.

On Christmas Eve there is a late mass called la Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster), so called because a rooster is said to have crowed at midnight on the night Jesus was born. After mass there is a meal, traditionally roast pig Pig, but nowadays often turkey, and just a few small presents brought by Santa (another influence from USA) . Christmas Day itself is quiet, and usually spent with the family.

On the night of 5th January, children leave their shoes by the door and the Three Wise Men visit and leave the bigger presents. The following day there is more eating, including the Roscón de Reyes, to decide who will pay for the tamales at Candlemas!

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in Spain, How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark, How do they celebrate Christmas in Italy.

How do they celebrate Christmas in Poland?

Christmas Eve in Poland is a day of fasting. When the first star comes out in the evening, the family sit down together to eat. This star is to represent the Star of Bethlehem, and children are always keen to spot it so that the festivities can begin.

Often hay is placed under the tablecloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in a manger, and there is always a spare place set in case a stranger should come looking for food and shelter.

There are 12 dishes – some sources say this is one for each month, others that it’s one for each of the Apostles – and it is considered lucky to try to eat all 12. The centerpiece is carp, and none of the other 11 dishes contain meat, as a reminder that there were animals in the stable and that they too played their part in welcome in Jesus. In fact tradition says that on Christmas Eve the animals can talk – should they wish to!

The first dish to be eaten is an opłatek, which is a wafer with religious pictures engraved into it. They are shared, and as you share, you forgive and are forgiven for any offences caused throughout the year.

After the meal there are presents and these are brought by St Nicholas, the little star (or the Starman) or Ded Moroz, depending on whereabout in Poland you live.

Rosh Hashanah

This is the Jewish New Year celebration. It takes place on the first day of Tishrei, which is the first month of the civil year (although the 7th month of the ecclesiastical year) and is said to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.

One of the customs of this celebration is eating apples dipped in honey to symbolise the wish for a sweet New Year. Another is the founding of a horn (known as a shofar) which is a call to repentance in remembrance of mankind’s first sin. The horn is sounded 100 times over the 2 day festival unless the first day falls on Shabbat.

No work is allowed on this day and Jews spend much of the time in the synagogue. Rosh Hashanah is a time for self-reflection, for asking forgiveness for wrong-doings, and for planning to be better in the coming year.

Related posts: Sukkot    Yom Kippur

Day of Ashura

The Day of Ashura, which means day of remembrance, is on the 10th day of Muharram, and it commemorates many different events.

It is believed to be the day that Noah left the ark after the floods receded, and this is one of the events thought about on this day.

For Shi’ite Muslims, it is also a day of mourning that I think about Iman Hussain (Hussain ibn Ali) the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who was killed in battle in 680CE.

Sunni Muslims think about God saving Moses from the Egyptians, also believed to have happened on this day, and for them it is a day of fasting.

Related posts: Laylat al-Qadr   Islamic New Year

How English lost the double negative (and French gained it)

double negativesDouble negatives are considered bad grammar in English. Try telling an English teacher that you “haven’t got no pencils” or that you “didn’t see no-one” and he or she will pounce and say “Aha…. A double negative cancels out to become a positive, so you do have some pencils and you did see somebody.”

It hasn’t always been like this though. There was a time in English when using a double negative was an acceptable way of emphasising something. Shakespeare is littered with double, and even triple, negatives!

In As You Like It, Celia says: You know my father hath no child but I, nor none is like to have…

In Richard III, Stanley says: “I never was nor never will be”

And in Twelfth Night, Viola says: I have one heart, one bosom, and one truth.
And that no woman has, nor never none
Shall mistress be of it, save I alone.”

Other languages still have a double negative. For example in Spanish to say I see nothing you would say “No veo nada.”

Well, if it was good enough for Shakespeare, and it’s still good enough for other European languages, what went wrong in English? To paraphrase Baldric in Blackadder goes forth, “ There must have been a moment when double negatives being acceptable went away, and double negatives not being acceptable came along. So, how did we get from the one case of affairs to the other case of affairs?”

Well, what happened is that the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason came along. Mathematics became more socially important and scholars tried to impose the same mathematical rules to language. In the mid 1700s Robert Lowth wrote a book about English grammar, proclaiming that two negatives must make a positive, and so it has been ever since.

Interestingly – French made the opposite change. As anyone who has tried to learn French will probably remember, to say something in the negative you have to make a ne pas sandwich. I don’t want is “je ne veux pas, I don’t know is “je ne sais pas” and so on. If you’ve ever wondered why you had to use two bits, and why the second word was the same as the word for a step, well… there is a reason!

It wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time I don’t want was “je ne veux, I don’t know was “je ne sais” and so on. But then there came a great fashion for exaggeration for emphasis: I couldn’t eat another mouthful….I couldn’t drink another drop……I couldn’t walk another step. Over time this manner of speaking became the norm, but then gradually most of the expressions disappeared, just leaving “pas” which tacked itself onto all of the negatives and has stayed there ever since.

And that’s the story of how English lost the double negative, and French gained it.