Poisson d’Avril

On the 1st of April in France they celebrate Poisson d’Avril. The idea of the day is to pin a paper fish on your friend’s back without them noticing.

Nobody knows for certain where this tradition has come from but it’s believed to date back to 1564 when Charles IX decided to move the beginning of the year from 1st of April to the 1st of January. In the days before phones and instant messaging, it took a long time for communications to filter through to everybody, and so the people in the countryside, that is mostly the uneducated folk, were the last to receive the news and so they carried on celebrating new year on the 1st of April. The upper classes mocked them for this, and started giving gifts on the 1st of April as a joke.

Because April 1st was often still during the period of Lent, meat was not allowed and so often fish would have been the main part of meal. For this reason many of the gifts were of fish, and over time the presents became more jokey and some people began to give fake fish on this day.

One of the best things about this time of year in France now, is that you can buy chocolate fish in the shops!

Related post: April Fools’ Day

Qi Xi Festival

hearts and flowers white

The QiXi festival is known by several other names, including the Double Seventh Festival, Qiqiao, Chinese Valentine and the Festival of Young Girls. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, which this year is today, 20th August 2015.

It celebrates the legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu, and for this reason it has come to be associated with love and romance.

Traditionally the festival was a time when young girls would pray for good skills in needlework which would help them to find a good husband. They have various sewing competitions, such as making things and threading needles as quickly as possible by moonlight or candlelight.

One custom is to drop a needle into water. If it floats the girl is already highly skilled at needlework; if it sinks she needs more practice. Another is for 7 close female friends to make dumplings together. They place a needle, a copper coin and a date into three of the dumplings and then eat them. Whoever finds the needle with be blessed with good needlework skills. The girl who finds the coin will be wealthy, and the one who finds the date will have an early marriage.

In some parts of China, children would hang flowers from the horns of oxen to celebrate the old ox in the legend.

Today the festival is heavily influenced by western traditions and so it is celebrated in the same way as St Valentine’s Day, with flowers and chocolates being exchanged.

Related post: Chinese New Year

Trooping the Colour

This evocatively named ceremony is an annual event, and has become a well-known part of Britain’s famous royal pageantry.  It takes place every year on the Queen’s Official Birthday (this year 14th June) on the parade ground of Horse Guards in London.

In simple terms, it involves the regiments of the Queen’s Household Division parading in strict formation, with the regimental standard (the “colours” of the title) being carried by soldiers marching on foot for inspection by the monarch.  Every year, the event features around 1400 men and over 200 horses, 10 regimental bands and an RAF fly-past.

The various regiments of the Queen’s Household Division traditionally take it in turns to have the honour of presenting their colours to the Queen.  This rotation is generally observed, but is subject to operational commitments.  Many people may be unaware, but the traditionally dressed soldiers who stand guard at Horse Guards and outside Buckingham Palace, and who participate in famous pieces of pageantry such as this one and the famous Changing Of The Guard, are part of the regular British army.  As such they can be called upon to serve in conflict zones, completing tours to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years alongside their counterparts from other parts of the armed forces.

The ceremony begins with a parade from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards, before the Queen inspects the assembled troops.  When she was younger, she rode on horseback from the Palace – riding side-saddle in traditional fashion and wearing the uniform of the regiment whose colour is to be presented – but in recent years she has done this in a coach.  She rides (drives) along the massed ranks of soldiers in turn, taking their salute, before the colour is trooped.  The parade then proceeds back to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen and other members of the Royal Family gather on the famous balcony to see an RAF fly-past.

Although it has been a ceremonial event to mark the monarch’s birthday for over 250 years, trooping the colour is based on a very practical custom from the time of Charles II.  During battle, the regimental colours were used as a rallying point for soldiers, and it was vital for them to be able to recognise their own colours instinctively when called upon to do so.  To help them do this, the regimental colours were trooped in front of the soldiers every day during their parades.  This tradition was subsequently incorporated into Changing of the Guard ceremonies during the 18th Century, and the form used then is essentially the same as what can be seen in today’s annual event.

How do they celebrate Christmas in Italy?

In Italy, Christmas celebrations begin 8 days before Christmas day with a period known as the Novena, which is a series of prayers.  During this time children dress up as shepherds, and go door to door singing, reciting poems and playing pipes and the householders give them money.

The man decoration is the nativity scene (presepio) and these are found in homes, shops and public squares. Sometimes the baby Jesus is not added to the scene until Christmas Eve.

On Christmas eve, people go to Midnight Mass, and afterwards the family gets together for a meal of fish or seafood. In some small towns, especially in the mountains, bonfires are lit (the Luminari) to keep baby Jesus warm.

One last Christmas Eve tradition is the Urn of Fate. Inside the urn are boxes for everyone in the family. If it has their name on, they open it; if not they put it back in. Some of the boxes contain small gifts, and some are empty, although there is at least one gift for everybody. Family members take it in turns to draw a box out of the urn.

On Christmas Day they have another special meal (there is no set Christmas meal in Italy – it differs from region to region) and Christmas cake (panettone).

la befana - an Italian witch on her broomstickThe main day for receiving presents is January 6th. During the night of the 5th January, La Befana, a kindly witch, flies around on her broomstick leaving presents for the children.

Happy Christmas in Italian is Buon Natale and Father Christmas is Babbo Natale.

Related posts: Who or What is La Befana?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Spain?   How do they celebrate Christmas in France?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?   How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?    How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?

How do they celebrate Christmas in Denmark?

presents under a Christmas treeThis is a guest post from Anne Christine Jensen of RS Globalization.

Some of the most typically Danish Christmas traditions in December are: almost all families have a decoration with a “kalenderlys” (calendar candle) on which we count the days until Christmas Eve.

It’s also a tradition that the families have an Advent decoration with four candles – one for each of the four Sundays until Christmas.

Each evening in December it’s also a tradition for the children (and even some adults) to watch “julekalender” (a special “made for Christmas” series) on the television. There are 24 episodes, one for each day until Christmas Eve.  Most years there is also a special made “julekalender” for adults.

In Denmark we celebrate Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. Often families meet in the afternoon and drink coffee together and  “hygger sig” (have fun together). In many families it’s a tradition to go to church to a worship in the afternoon too.

In the afternoon it’s also a tradition to see the “Disneys Juleshow: Fra Alle Os til Alle Jer“ (“The Disney Christmas Show: From All of Us to All of You”). The show always shows the same shorts and some clips from films and at the end of the show a sneak peak of new movies or recently released Disney movies are revealed.

In the evening the families eat the well-prepared Christmas dinner together. It’s different from family to family what the traditional Christmas dinner consists of, but some of the most common dinners include one of these meats:  “flæskesteg” (pork), duck, goose or turkey. With that we eat white potatoes, sugar glazed sweet potatoes, cabbage and gravy. For dessert the traditional dish is “ris à la mande”, which is cold rice porridge with whipped cream, chopped almonds and warm cherry sauce. One whole almond is put into the rice porridge on one of the plates and the person that gets this almond receives a “mandelgave” (= a present) –it’s often chocolate.

After the dinner and a little pause, the families get ready to dance around the tree. Everyone joins hands in a circle around the tree and while walking around the tree, we sing traditional Christmas songs. When we have finished with the dancing and singing, we start getting the presents. In families with small children “Santa Claus” comes with the presents, but when the children are a bit older, the present are normally just under the Christmas tree and are delegated by a person from the family.

Thanks again to Anne Christine for this post. Anne works at RS_Globalization Services, which provides multilingual translation and localization services to SMEs and corporate clients. RS_Globalization Services is EN15038 certified.

Related posts: How do they celebrate Christmas in France?  How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany?   How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?