May Day

May Day is celebrated for two reasons: one is as an ancient spring festival, and the other is as Labour Day. This post will look at the spring festival.

It’s a day to celebrate the farm work being completed and the last of the seeds being planted. Labourers would have the day off to rest and celebrate. Perhaps the most famous portrayal of the May Day festival is in Thomas Hardy Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The heroine, Tess, appears for the first time at a May day celebration, dressed in white to symbolise her purity and innocence.

Traditional May Day celebrations include dancing around the maypole, and crowning a Queen of the May. Nobody really knows where the tradition of dancing round the maypole came from, but if you want to have a go I found this website with instructions on how to do so! www.maypoledance.com.

Candlemas

Candlemas is celebrated on February 2nd. It is 40 days after 25th December, and so it is believed to be the day that Mary was purified after giving birth and therefore the day that Jesus was first taken to the temple.

The date is known as Candlemas because in the 11th century all candles that were going to be used in church that year were blessed, and people took their own candles to church to be blessed also.

In Mexico the date is called Día de la Candelaria and it marks the end at the Christmas celebrations. The baby Jesus is taken from the Nativity scene and dressed in a special outfit before being taken to church to be blessed. According to tradition, whoever found the baby Jesus charm inside the Roscón on 6th January has to buy the tamales (chicken and meat wrapped in corn dough) for the party after the Candelaria ceremony.

February 2nd is also linked to many non-Christian festivals relating to hopes and prayers for a good harvest later in the year. It is the date of the pagan festival of Imbolc, the Roman festival of Lupercalia and a Mexican festival were the indigenous villages took their corn to be blessed before planting.

Noche de los Rábanos

Believe it or not, in Mexico there is a festival dedicated to radishes!

Known as the Noche de los Rábanos, the festival takes place on the 23rd of December in Oaxaca City. It begins at sunset and lasts for just a few hours, during which time visitors can wander through the streets admiring ornately carved radishes.

Nobody knows why this festival came into being, but it dates back to 1897 and was the idea of the mayor at that time. One suggestion is that it is reminiscent of when the Spanish brought radishes to Mexico in 16th century. Two local monks encouraged the locals to cultivate and sell them. To entice people to their market stalls, the sellers carved some of the radishes into interesting shapes.

Contestants of the modern day festival have to register months in advance to be able to take part. Although they can plan their designs well in advance, they have to be carved on the day itself because the radishes start to wilt after just a few hours.

Usually the carvings are of nativity scenes, but they don’t have to be and it’s not unusual to see dancers, animals and kings amongst other things.

The radishes used can weigh up to 3 Kilograms and are about 50 centimetres in length. Nowadays they are grown especially for this event.

 

 

Hanukkah

Hanukkah is sometimes also written as Chanukkah, and both spellings are equally acceptable. This is because the word is actually pronounced with a soft ch sound, like in the Scottish word loch which is a sound that doesn’t exist in English.

The festival begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev and last for 8 days. This year that will be from 24th December to 1st January.

It is called the Festival of Dedication (hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew) or the Festival of Light, and is to commemorate the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

About 2500 years ago the land had been taken over by the Syrian-Greeks. The King, Antiochus, wanted the Jewish people to worship the Greek gods. The Jewish temple was desecrated and a statue of Antiochus was placed inside.

Against all the odds, a small group of Jews defeated the Greek army and reclaimed the temple. They cleaned it up and reconsecrated it, but they only found one jar of sacred oil, which was only enough to keep a flame burning for one day. Miraculously the flame remained burning for 8 days, which was long enough to prepare more of the oil to keep it burning.

At Hanukkah now Jews celebrate this miracle by lighting 8 candles on a special menorah, called a hanukkiyah, which has nine branches – one for an attendant flame and eight to represent the eight days during which the one jar of oil continued burning. One candle is lit on the first day, two on the 2nd and so on until all eight candles are lit on the final day.

The celebrations include spending time with family, eating foods which have been fried in oil (such as potato pancakes and doughnuts) and exchanging gifts.

Related posts: Sukkot   Yom Kippur

What is Sukkot?

Sukkot falls two weeks after Rosh Hashanah and a few days after Yom Kippur, and is quite a fun festival after the more serious ones. It begins on 15th Tishrei and lasts for seven days.

This festival celebrates the Jews being freed from Egypt, and is a commemoration of the following 40 years which they spent in the desert before reaching the promised land. During this time they had to live in temporary shelters, and sukkot is the Hebrew word meaning temporary shelters. It’s a joint thanksgiving / harvest festival as they remember God feeding the Jews while they were in the desert.

For the festival, Jewish people live in a sukkah (singular of sukkot) for seven days. Usually they just have their meals in the sukkah, but some people choose to sleep in them as well. Guests are invited to dine in the sukkah and Abraham and Sarah are thought of amongst the guests.

Although the festival is fun, there are some rules for building a sukkah: it must have at least three walls, it must be made from natural materials such as wood or stone – definitely no plastic (!) , and you must be able to see at least three stars through the roof.

Related post: Hannukak