Pagan Calendar

Holika, or Holi for short, is the Festival of Color. It marks the end of the nippy winter months and the beginning of spring. This festival comes during the full moon in the Hindu month of Phagan, in February or March. In 2019, it falls on March 21, with the Holika Dahan beginning the evening of March 20.

Bura na mano, Holi hai!
“Don’t mind (feel offense), it’s Holi!”

Holi is one of the major festivals of India and is celebrated on different dates every year. This great Indian festival is observed at the end of the winters in the month of March after the full Moon. A day before Holi a large bonfire is lit that helps in burning out the evil spirits and that whole process is called as Holika Dahan.

Traditions and customs:

  • Throwing colored powder on each other
  • Throwing colored and scented water
  • Public bonfire
  • Singing, dancing, and festive parties
  • This is a day to forget your worries
  • Color can be found everywhere

Holi is celebrated with extreme enthusiasm and joy. Gulal, abeer and pichkaris are synonymous with the festival. Elaborate plans are made to color loved ones and family members. Everybody wants to be the first one to color the other. In the ensuing battle of colors, everybody is drowned not just in colors of gulal but also in love and mirth. People love to drench each other in colored water. Gujiyas and other sweets are offered to everyone who comes across to color.

Temples are beautifully decorated at the time of Holi. Idol of Radha is placed on swings and devotees turn the swings singing devotional Holi songs. Small plays are organized reflecting the spirit of the festival.

Fun, frolic, boisterousness to the extent of buffoonery marks this festival of colors. What more can be expected- when the people get a social sanction to get intoxicated on the bhang, open not just their hearts but also their lungs. And viola, nobody is expected to take offense too, as the norm of the day is, ‘Bura na mano Holi hai‘.

Holi Legends and Mythology

Foremost is the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. The legend says there once lived a devil and powerful king, Hiranyakshyap who considered himself a god and wanted everybody to worship him. He demanded that no one pray to Lord Vishnu and that they only pray to him. In fear, people did as he bid. However, his son Pralhad was devoted to Lord Vishnu and would not abide by his father’s rules. To discipline him, Hirankashyap ordered harsh and cruel punishments, yet no harm came to Pralhad.

Finally, Holika (Hirankashyap sister), who was immune to the harms of fire, was ordered to sit on a bed of flames with Pralhad on her lap. Holika was burnt, but Pralhad survived unharmed. As Holika lay dying she begged Pralhad for forgiveness. Pralhad forgave her and deemed that one day a year would be to remember her. To commemorate “Holi”, large bonfires burn and people say a prayer to “Holi” for well-being.

Holi is also associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. A young Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about having such a dark complexion compared to his love Radha who was so fair. Yashoda told him to apply color to Radha’s face and see what would happen.

Today, celebrations start early in Nandagaon, where Lord Krishna grew up. Men from Nandagaon raid nearby Barsana (where Radha grew up) with hopes of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji’s temple. The women of Barsana “beat” the raiders with long wooden sticks. This is a mock battle and the men are well-padded as they try to evade capture. If captured, the men are forced to dress as women, paint their faces, and dance!

Mythology also states that Holi is the celebration of death of Ogress Pootana who tried to kill infant, Krishna by feeding him poisonous milk.

Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular in Southern India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. According to the legend, people in south celebrate the sacrifice of Lord of Passion Kaamadeva who risked his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation and save the world.

Also, popular is the legend of Ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Raghu and was ultimately chased away by the pranks of the children on the day of Holi. Showing their belief in the legend, children till date play pranks and hurl abuses at the time of Holika Dahan.

Cultural Significance

Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassure the people of the power of the truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil. The legend of Hiranyakashyap and Prahlad also points to the fact that extreme devotion to god pays as god always takes his true devotee in his shelter.

All these legends help the people to follow a good conduct in their lives and believe in the virtue of being truthful. This is extremely important in the modern day society when so many people resort to evil practices for small gains and torture one who is honest. Holi helps the people to believe in the virtue of being truthful and honest and also to fight away the evil.

Besides, holi is celebrated at a time of the year when the fields are in full bloom and people are expecting a good harvest. This gives a people a good reason to rejoice, make merry and submerge themselves in the spirit of Holi.

Social Significance

Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular fabric of our country. For, the festival is celebrated by non-Hindus also as everybody like to be a part of such a colorful and joyous festival.

Also, the tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.

In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revitalizing relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.

Biological Significance

It is interesting to note that the festival of Holi is significant for our lives and body in many other ways than providing joy and fun.

We also need to thank our forefathers who started the trend of celebrating Holi at such a scientifically accurate time. And, also for incorporating so much fun in the festival.

Why Celebrate Holi?

As Holi comes at a time of the year when people have a tendency to feel sleepy and lazy. This is natural for the body to experiences some tardiness due to the change from the cold to the heat in the atmosphere. To counteract this tardiness of the body, people sing loudly or even speak loudly. Their movements are brisk and their music is loud. All of this helps to rejuvenate the system of the human body.

Besides, the colors when sprayed on the body have a great impact on it. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it.

There is yet another scientific reason for celebrating the Holi, this however pertains to the tradition of Holika Dahan. The mutation period of winter and spring, induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as in the body. When Holika is burnt, temperature rises to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Following the tradition when people perform Parikrima (circumambulation or going around) around the fire, the heat from the fire kills the bacteria in the body thus, cleansing it.

The way Holi is celebrated in south, the festival also promotes good health. For, the day after the burning of Holika people put ash (Vibhuti) on their forehead and they would mix Chandan (sandalpaste) with the young leaves and flowers of the Mango tree and consume it to promote good health.

Some also believe that play with colors help to promote good health as colors are said to have great impact on our body and our health. Western-Physicians and doctors believe that for a healthy body, colors too have an important place besides the other vital elements. Deficiency of a particular color in our body causes ailment, which can be cured only after supplementing the body with that particular color.

People also clean-up their houses on Holi which helps in clearing up the dust and mess in the house and get rid of mosquitoes and others pests. A clean house generally makes the residents feel good and generate positive energies.

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Nyepi Day in Bali is a New Year celebration unlike anywhere else on the planet. Unlike other cultures that celebrate New Year with vivacious and loud festivities, the pinnacle of Balinese New Year is a day of complete Silence. Hence the name Nyepi, meaning “to keep silent” in the local language, which falls on the day following the dark moon of the spring equinox.

It’s ultimately the quietest day of the year, when all of the island’s inhabitants abide by a set of local rules. These bring all routine activities to a complete halt. Roads all over Bali are void of any traffic and nobody steps outside of their home premises.

Nyepi is a day fully dedicated to connect oneself more closely with God (Hyang Widi Wasa) through prayers and at the same time as a day of self-introspection to decide on values, such as humanity, love, patience, kindness, and others, that should be kept forever.

The unique day of silence marks the turn of the Saka calendar of western Indian origin. It’s one among the many calendars assimilated by Indonesia’s diverse cultures. The Saka is also among two calendars that are jointly used in Bali. The Saka is 78 years behind the Gregorian calendar, and follows a lunar sequence. Nyepi follows after a new moon, and the dates vary from year to year.

Before the Silence Before ‘the silence’, highlight rituals essentially start three days prior to Nyepi, with colourful processions known as the Melasti pilgrimages. Pilgrims from various village temples all over Bali convey heirlooms on long walks towards the coastlines where elaborate purification ceremonies take place. It is one of the best times to capture on camera the iconic Balinese processions in motion, as parasols, banners and small effigies offer a cultural spectacle.

Village meeting halls known as ‘banjar’ and streets feature papier-mâché effigies called ogoh-ogoh. They are built throughout the weeks leading up to the Saka New Year. Youth groups design and build their mythical figures with intricately shaped and tied bamboo framework before many layers of artwork. These artistic creations are offshoots of the celebration. Much of it has stayed on to become an inseparable element in the island-wide celebration that’s Nyepi Eve.

Then on Saka New Year’s Eve, it is all blaring noise and merriment. Every Balinese household starts the evening with blessings at the family temple and continues with a ritual called the pengrupukan where each member participates in ‘chasing away’ malevolent forces, known as bhuta kala, from their compounds – hitting pots and pans or any other loud instruments along with a fiery bamboo torch. These ‘spirits’ are later manifested as the ogoh-ogoh to be paraded in the streets. As the street parades ensue, bamboo cannons and occasional firecrackers fill the air with flames and smoke. The Nyepi Eve parade usually starts at around 19:00 local time.

However on Nyepi Day, complete calm enshrouds the island. The Balinese Hindus follow a ritual called the Catur Brata Penyepian, roughly the ‘Four Nyepi Prohibitions’. These include:

  • amati geni or ‘no fire’
  • amati lelungan or ‘no travel’
  • amati karya ‘no activity’
  • amati lelanguan ‘no entertainment’

Some consider it a time for total relaxation and contemplation, for others, a chance for Mother Nature to ‘reboot’ herself after a year of human pestering. No lights are turned on at night – total darkness and seclusion goes along with this new moon island-wide, from 06:00 to 06:00. No motor vehicles whatsoever are allowed on the streets, except ambulances and police patrols and emergencies. Traditional community watch patrols or pecalang enforce the rules of Nyepi, patrolling the streets by day and night in shifts.

Sources:

Bun Day, or Bolludagur, is celebrated two days before Lent in Iceland (March 4 in 2019). Children wake their parents yelling, “Bolla, Bolla, Bolla”, and try to paddle them with homemade bun bats called bolluvendir. For each hit they get a bun. Their goal is to get lots of buns!

Adults just enjoy eating these special cream-and-fruit-filled, chocolate-covered buns that are only sold or made at home for this Lenten festivity. The custom is believed to originate from Danish and Norwegian bakeries in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Every bakery in town offers traditional and more cutting-edge bollur, such as the delicious concoctions in the accompanying photograph offered up by delux cake shop Sautján sortir at the Grandi harbour area of Reykjavik.

To complete “bolludagur” people like to eat other types of “bolla” for dinner , including “fiskibolla” (fish balls) and “kjötbolla” (meatballs). Fish balls are made from minced haddock, chopped onion and egg and are fried in butter and eaten with potatoes. Meatballs in Iceland are traditionally served with red cabbage, potatoes and gravy with a dollop of jam on the side.

Not in Iceland? Try making some at home.

Bolludagur

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sweetened whipped cream
  • 1/4 cup raspberry jam
  • 8 oz. chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Heat water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until butter has melted. Beat in flour, baking powder, and cardamon until mixture thickens and pulls away from the side of the pan. Remove from the heat, and beat in eggs, one at a time. Drop by the heaping tablespoon onto baking sheet, leaving room in-between mounds so they can spread while cooking.

Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer buns to wire racks to cool. When buns have cooled, slice them in half. Spread the bottoms with raspberry jam, then top with some whipped cream. Replace the top half and spread with chocolate.

Source: Web Holidays

Mardi Gras is a carnival celebration that begins on Twelfth Night (the Feast of Epiphany) on January 6th and culminates on the Tuesday before Lent. The best known Mardi Gras is in New Orleans, Louisiana where it is a legal holiday.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The biggest events happens on this day. The name Fat Tuesday comes from an old custom of parading a fat ox through the streets of Paris on Shrove Tuesday. The term Fat Tuesday also reflects the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season.

Related popular practices are associated with Shrovetide celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. In countries such as the United Kingdom, Mardi Gras is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which is derived from the word shrive, meaning “to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve”

Mardi Gras traditions are rooted in Ancient Greek and Roman customs. Carnival in Rome became popular around the middle of the second century as a way to feast and act wild before the somber days of Lent. They wore costumes and masks. They celebrated Bacchus and Venus and all things glutinous and pleasurable. The Bacchus parade is still held during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras in the United States

It’s believed the first American Mardi Gras took place on March 3, 1699, when the French explorers Iberville and Bienville landed in what is now Louisiana. They held a small celebration. Each year, it got bigger with street parties, masked balls, and extravagant dinners. However, when the Spanish took over, the celebrations were banned until Louisiana became a U.S. state in 1812.

On Mardi Gras in 1827, a group of students wearing bright costumes danced through the streets of New Orleans, emulating the revelry they’d observed in Paris. Ten years later, the first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade took place.

In 1872, the official Mardi Gras colors were established as purple, green, and yellow when the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff came to New Orleans during carnival in pursuit of actress Lydia Thompson. These were the colors of the Romanoff house. Purple stands for justice, green for faith, and yellow for power.

Carnival organizations are called Krewes. The first krewe was the “Mystick Krewe of Comus”, which began in 1857. The second oldest krewe is the “Krewe of Rex”, which started up in 1872. Balls and galas of elaborate and enormous proportion are held every year, but only members of the Kewes may attend.

Mardi Gras parades fill the streets. Beads, coins, balls, cups, and other trinkets are thrown to the crowds. In 1872, the Krewe of Rex, staged a daytime parade in the archduke’s honor. This parade is still held and is the largest of all the parades.

In 1916, Zulu began to parade featuring characters such as King Zulu, Big Shot, and the Witch Doctor. While Rex rules Mardi Gras with a golden scepter and jeweled crown, King Zulu carries a banana stalk and wears a lard can on his head.

Alabama and Mississippi also have Mardi Gras celebrations.

Mardi Gras in Belgium

In the Belgian city of Binche, the Mardi Gras festival is one of the most important days of the year and the summit of the Carnival of Binche. Around 1000 Gilles dance throughout the city from morning until past dusk, while traditional carnival songs play. In 2003, the “Carnival of Binche” was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Another noteworthy celebration in Belgium is Aalst Carnaval. Mardi Gras is considered the day of the “Voil Janet” or “Dirty Sissy”. Traditionally in Aalst, men dress as their wives or mothers. This custom called “Voil Janet” goes back to the time when Aalst was an industrial time and workers did not have the money to buy dresses. On Mardi Grass the “Voil Janet” gets a parade dedicated to it. Men and woman dressed traditionally get to walk along in the parade, and interact with the viewers.

The word “Voil” in the local dialect, means dirty (= Dutch “vuil”, cognate with English “foul”). For this reason, the parade is sometimes claimed obnoxious, dirty and flat out obscene. Though the parade has mellowed down over the years due to restrictions implemented by the town.

Later that day people gather around an effigy that is lit. This event is paired with a lot of music, emotions and fraternity. The event is known for the fact that almost every person in the crowd starts crying. After that, there is one last night of celebration.

Mardi Gras Around The World

  • Brazil

Carnival is the most famous Brazilian holiday. During this time, Brazil attracts 70% of its tourists. Variations in carnival celebrations are observed throughout the multitude of Brazilian cities. Commonality observed among them is the incorporation of samba into the celebrations.

The southeastern cities of Brazil have massive parades that take place in large sambadromes. The Rio Carnival is where two million people celebrate in the city. The city of Salvador holds a very large carnival celebration where millions of people celebrate the party in the streets of the city with a very big diversity of musical styles together.

  • Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands Mardi Gras hosts a popular Monday Food Festival prior to the Fat Tuesday Festivities. Ash Wednesday being a holiday has a daytime party in George Town which coincides with the annual Agriculture Fair which is attended by thousands of residents.

  • Colombia

Carnaval de Barranquilla is Colombia’s Mardi Gras celebration. In 2003, it was proclaimed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

  • Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic it is a folk tradition to celebrate Mardi Gras, which is called Masopust (meat-fast i.e. beginning of fast there). There are celebration in many places including Prague but the tradition also prevails in the villages such as Staré Hamry, whose the door-to-door processions there made it to the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

  • France

Carnival parades take place in many cities such as Nice, Alpes Maritimes, Dunkerque, Granville, Sarreguemines as well as in the French Caribbean islands Guadeloupe and Martinique.

The Nice Carnival is held annually in Nice on the French Riviera. The earliest records establish its existence in 1294 when the Count of Provence, Charles Anjou, wrote that he had passed “the joyous days of carnival.” This may make the Nice Carnival the original carnival celebration. Today the event attracts over a million visitors to Nice every year over a two-week period.

  • Germany

The celebration on the same day in Germany knows many different terms, such as Schmutziger Donnerstag or Fetter Donnerstag (Fat Thursday), Unsinniger Donnerstag, Weiberfastnacht, Greesentag and others, and are often only one part of the whole carnival events during one or even two weeks before Ash Wednesday be called Karneval, Fasching, or Fastnacht among others, depending on the region.

In standard German, schmutzig means “dirty”, but in the Alemannic dialects schmotzig means “lard” (Schmalz), or “fat”; “Greasy Thursday”, as remaining winter stores of lard and butter used to be consumed at that time, before the fasting began. Fastnacht means “Eve of the Fast”, but all three terms cover the whole carnival season. The traditional start of the carnival season is on 11 November at 11:11 am (11/11 11:11).

  • Italy

In Italy Mardi Gras is called Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday). It’s the main day of Carnival along with the Thursday before, called Giovedí Grasso (Fat Thursday), which ratifies the start of the celebrations. The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. The Italian version of the festival is spelled Carnevale.

  • Netherlands

The Netherlands also has a festival similar to Mardi Gras. It’s called Carnaval and is similar to the Venice Carnival. The origin of the word Carnaval is carnem levare which means “to take away meat” in Latin, or carne vale, Latin for “farewell to meat”. It marks the beginning of Lent, leading up to Easter.

The carnival in the Netherlands is mainly held in the southern part of the Netherlands in the provinces of Noord-Brabant and Limburg, some parts of Zeeland and in eastern parts of Twente and Gelderland. As with many popular festivals, people tend to loosen some moral codes and become laid-back or loose, which is based in the ancient role-reversal origins of Carnaval, including dressing in costumes.

  • Russia and Ukraine

Both Russia and Ukraine have the festival of Maslenitsa (Масленица, rus.), which on its pagan side celebrates the end of winter and the upcoming summer, and on its Christian side marks the last week before the Great Fasting period before Christian Easter.

The festival includes family gatherings with festive meals and treats of bliny (crepes) that resemble the round shape of sun, and culminates on the weekend with mass outdoors gatherings, festivities and entertaining activities such as pole climbing, where a wheel with variety of presents is affixed on the top of a long pole and the contestants need to reach the top to get them.

Also the festival’s mascot – a feminine figure made out of straw, which symbolizes winter, gets put on fire at the end of the celebration.

  • Sweden

In Sweden the celebration is called Fettisdagen, when you eat fastlagsbulle, more commonly called Semla. The name comes from the words “fett” (fat) and “tisdag” (Tuesday). Originally, this was the only day one should eat fastlagsbullar.

Mardi Gras Foods

Pancakes are a traditional food. Pancakes and related fried breads or pastries made with sugar, fat, and eggs are also traditionally consumed at this time in many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Food in New Orleans is incredible. A Mardi Gras specialty is King Cake. It is a circular sweet roll-like cake with a hidden treasure, a tradition that originated during medieval times. Originally a gold bean was baked inside but today, to avoid choking, a plastic baby is placed inside instead.

The Twelfth Night Revelers, a Mardi Gras krewe, use a King Cake to randomly select the queen for krewe. The one who finds the baby gets to be queen. At parties, offices, and causal gatherings the lucky person who finds the baby gets to bring a King Cake to the next occasion and/or be “king” for the day. Similar cakes and breads can be found in other cultures like Rosca De Reyes in Mexico.

Costumes

Mardi Gras, as a celebration of life before the more-somber occasion of Ash Wednesday, nearly always involves the use of masks and costumes by its participants. In New Orleans, for example, these often take the shape of fairies, animals, people from myths, or various Medieval costumes as well as clowns and Native Americans. However, many costumes today are simply elaborate creations of colored feathers and capes.

Unlike Halloween, Mardi Gras costumes are not usually associated with such things as zombies, mummies, bats, blood, and the like, though death may be a theme in some. The Venice tradition has brought golden masks into the usual round of costumes.

Going Topless

Women exposing their breasts during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA, has been documented since 1889, when the Times-Democrat decried the “degree of immodesty exhibited by nearly all female masqueraders seen on the streets.” The practice was mostly limited to tourists in the upper Bourbon Street area. In the crowded streets of the French Quarter, generally avoided by locals on Mardi Gras Day, flashers on balconies cause crowds to form on the streets.

In the last decades of the 20th century, the rise in producing commercial videotapes catering to voyeurs helped encourage a tradition of women baring their breasts in exchange for beads and trinkets. Social scientists studying “ritual disrobement” found, at Mardi Gras 1991, 1,200 instances of body-baring in exchange for beads or other favors.

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This festival marks the start of Spring in the old Roman calendar. Each year the Feriae Marti was held, beginning on the Kalends of March and continuing until the 24th. Dancing priests, called the Salii, performed elaborate rituals over and over again, and a sacred fast took place for the last nine days. The dance of the Salii was complex, and involved a lot of jumping, spinning and chanting. On March 25, the celebration of Mars ended and the fast was broken at the celebration of the Hilaria, in which all the priests partook in an elaborate feast.

March is the third month of the year in the Gregorian calendar system, but was actually the first month on the Roman calendar. Originally named Martius, this month in Ancient Rome was characterized by religious festivals and preparations for war. Mars, the Roman god of war was responsible for protecting Rome and securing victory in military campaigns. He is not to be confused with Ares, the impulsive Greek god of war; Mars was depicted as a more “level-headed” and “virtuous” deity than his Grecian counterpart.

General frivolity was characterized by large processions, animal sacrifices, athletic competitions, and musical performances. Courts were closed, and some agricultural chores were suspended to honor the deities. Merry-making with seeds wasn’t restricted though. Some accounts say Romans tossed seeds in the air during the festival to honor the pending thrust of spring.

During the months of March and October, specially-trained religious leaders, called flamen Martialis, led several Mars-centered festivals including:

  • Feriae Marti (celebrating the new year)
  • Equirria (the blessing of war horses)
  • Tubilistrum (to cleanse and favor trumpets)

One of the most important rituals performed during this time was the rousing of Mars before battle. This critical ritual was performed by the commander of the Roman army who “shook the sacred spears,” shouting, “Mars, vigilia!.”

Because early Roman writers associated Mars with not only warrior prowess, but virility and power, he is often tied to the planting season and agricultural bounty.

Ritual For The Feriae Marti – Festival of Mars

  • Color: Red
  • Element: Fire

Altar: Set out a red cloth and lay crossed weapons, such as spears and swords, upon it. Lay a helm in the center, a horn, and a burning red candle or torch.

Offerings: Candles. Finger-shaped cakes (strues). Acts of courage, especially those which force one to fight for the defense of another or of one’s beliefs. In the morning, the exercise of Gymnastika shall be hard aerobic movements.

Daily Meal: Finger-cakes. Spicy foods, such as cayenne and chilies. Meat from uncastrated male animals.

Invocation to Mars:

Mars, warrior god, Fire that leaps
And dances, Protector of cities
And of this house, and our spirits,
Courageous one, mirror us back
Some of your courage.
Fearless one, show us a path
Through our many fears.
Armored one, give us protection
From all who would harm us.
And may your sword turn away
All danger from our flesh,
Our bones, our house, our home,
Our hearth and our hearts
Our eyes and our spirits.
Protect us from destruction and ruin,
O fiery god of the shining spear.
We hail you, eternal warrior,
And ask that you grant us
Some small measure
Of your boundless fiery heart.

Chant: (To be accompanied by drums and people clashing blades against shields in the manner of the Salii of ancient times)

Gloria Martial! Gloria Martial! Gloria Martial!
Honoria et Gloria Honoria et Gloria!

A libation of red wine is poured out for Mars. One person lifts the horn and winds it, long and slow, five times, and the rite is ended.

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According to astrological and lunar lore, there are best days for doing a variety of tasks. The best days listed here are based on both the phase of the moon and its position in the zodiac. Many people believe that if you do the tasks on the dates listed, you will get the best results possible.

March 1:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Prune Trees
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 2:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Dig Post Holes
  • Harvest
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Paint
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)  
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 3:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Dig Post Holes
  • Harvest
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Paint
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)   
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 4:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Dig Post Holes
  • Harvest
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Paint
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)  
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 5:

  • Brew
  • Can Fruits and Vegetables
  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Get Married
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Transplant (seedlings and plants)   
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 6:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Firewood
  • Cut Hair (to increase growth)  
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Plant Above Ground Crops
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Start Diet (to gain weight)  
  • Wax Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 7:

  • Bake
  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 

March 8:

  • Bake
  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 

March 9:

  • Bake
  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth)  

March 10:

  • Advertise Something for Sale
  • Buy a Home
  • Cut Firewood
  • Cut Hair (to increase growth)   
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Paint
  • Plant Above Ground Crops
  • Wax Floors

March 11:

  • Advertise Something for Sale
  • Buy a Home
  • Cut Firewood
  • Cut Hair (to increase growth)   
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Paint
  • Plant Above Ground Crops
  • Wax Floors

March 12:

  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Travel (for pleasure)    

March 13:

  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth)  
  • Travel (for pleasure)    

March 14:

  • Bake
  • Cut Firewood
  • Cut Hair (to increase growth)  
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth)  
  • Plant Above Ground Crops
  • Plant Flowers
  • Plant Seed Beds
  • Start Diet (to gain weight)  
  • Wax Floors

March 15:

  • Bake
  • Cut Firewood
  • Cut Hair (to increase growth)  
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Plant Above Ground Crops
  • Plant Flowers
  • Plant Seed Beds
  • Start Diet (to gain weight) 
  • Wax Floors

March 16:

  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Paint
  • Travel (for pleasure)  

March 17:

  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Get Married
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Paint
  • Travel (for pleasure)   

March 18:

  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Wax Floors

March 19:  

  • Cut Firewood
  • Dig Holes
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to increase growth) 
  • Wax Floors

March 20:

  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Flowers
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Slaughter

March 21:

  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Flowers
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Set Eggs
  • Slaughter

March 22:

  • Can Fruits and Vegetables
  • Hunting
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Plant Seed Beds
  • Prune Trees
  • Set Eggs
  • Slaughter
  • Transplant (seedlings and plants)    

March 23:

  • Can Fruits and Vegetables
  • Hunting
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Plant Seed Beds
  • Prune Trees
  • Set Eggs
  • Transplant (seedlings and plants)    

March 24:

  • Can Fruits and Vegetables
  • Hunting
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Plant Seed Beds
  • Prune Trees
  • Transplant (seedlings and plants)   

March 25:

  • Advertise Something for Sale
  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Demolition
  • Dry Fruits and Vegetables
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Pick Apples and Pears
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)  
  • Wash Windows
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 26:

  • Advertise Something for Sale
  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Demolition
  • Dry Fruits and Vegetables
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Pick Apples and Pears
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)  
  • Wash Windows
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 27:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Prune Trees
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 28:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Plant Root Crops
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Prune Trees
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 29:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Dig Post Holes
  • Harvest
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Paint
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)   
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 30:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Harvest
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Paint
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)   
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

March 31:

  • Castrate Farm Animals
  • Cut Hair (to slow growth)
  • Harvest
  • Kill Plant Pests
  • Make Jams and Jellies
  • Mow Grass (to slow growth)  
  • Paint
  • Potty Train a Child
  • Quit Smoking
  • Start Diet (to lose weight)   
  • Wash Wooden Floors
  • Wean a Baby or an Animal

Source: The Farmer’s Almanac

Aphrodisia, festival of Aphrodite, ancient Greece was, according to Wilson’s Almanac celebrated on or around February 6th. If you’d like to invoke the Goddess of love, sex, and beauty, you can prepare for a feast honoring Aphrodite’s loving sensuality and warmth.

  • Decorate with pink carnations; they are the flowers of friendship.
  • Burn warm yellow sandalwood scented candles – sandalwood loosens inhibitions.
  • Put symbols of love including pomegranates, apples, and seashells out in blue ceramic or crystal bowls.
  • Invite friends to bring an aphrodisiac food for sharing (cherries, oysters, papaya, chocolate, truffles, red wine, etc).
  • Open a window or door slightly.
  • Join hands around the dinner table.

Recite this invocation:

Aphrodite, Greek goddess of friendship, love, and life
Come join us, bring peace and eliminate all strife
We welcome you with fruit, flowers, fire, and fresh air
Release us from anxiety, stress, or despair

Come down; be with us
Grace us this special day
We call you with love
We hope you will stay.

Repeat three times with sincerity.

Who is Aphrodite?

Aphrodite is the Olympian goddess of love, beauty, sexual pleasure, and fertility. She is regularly attended by few of her children, the Erotes, who are capable of stirring up passion in both mortals and gods at the goddess’ will.

Portrayed as both insatiable and unattainable, Aphrodite was born near the coast of Cythera out of the foam (aphros) Uranus’ castrated genitals created when they fell into the sea. Even though married to Hephaestus, she had affairs with all Olympians except Zeus and Hades, most famously with Ares, the god of war. She also had famous romances with two mortals, Anchises and Adonis.

A Ritual for The Aphrodesia

  • Colors: Sea green and white
  • Element: Water
  • Offerings: Shells. Fishes. Promises to aid expectant parents.
  • Daily Meal: Ocean fish. Shellfish. Sweet things, especially desserts. Whipped cream.

Altar:

Lay with a cloth of sea green, strings of pearls, white lace, many scallop shells, colored glass sea floats, abalone, small shells with hearts and fishes painted on them, and a large chalice of Greek wine with frothy sugared egg whites floating in it.

Invocation to Aphrodite Genetrix

Lady of Sea-Foam,
Green as the ocean from which
You sprang, with pearls
Of whitest foam,
Aphrodite Genetrix
Love that creates all Life,
We thank you for the Love
That sparked our existence.
We remember that we were all born of love
Whether it was brief and poignant
As a firefly’s courtship
Or solid and lasting
For half a century,
Whether it sprang from the body
Or the heart, or the soul.
You who bind the proton to the electron
And so bind the world together,
May we never forget your gift of attraction
That makes us all human
Even as you are divine.

Chant:

Amor Invictus
Amor Invictus

The ritual for this day is the Great Rite, performed by one man and one woman, as Aphrodite Genetrix is the matron of procreative sexuality. If done symbolically, the man plunges a blade into the chalice held by the woman, and then it is poured as a libation.

Ideally, it should be done literally, either by members of the house or by two who have come in for this purpose. If outsiders, it would be an auspicious time to conceive a child. All sit facing outwards in a circle and chant as the couple are wrapped in a red cloth and lay together in the center, and when it is done all repair to their rooms and either contemplate love or have ritual sex, alone or together.

Sources:

Reindeer racing championships are held annually around Easter time in small Sami town called Kautokeino, when the snow is still divine. Another famous reindeer race takes place within the Sami Week in Tromsø on the Sunday closest to the Sami National Day that falls on the 6th of February. (In 2019, it will be February 4 thru 10.)

In addition to the championships, an amateur race is also held. Participation in this amusing spectacle is available for all the interested. Volunteers are given a number and a ticket for the race. Whoever has not skied before is advised to race on their butts as it will surely make the race last longer and perhaps some will even manage to pass the finish line.

On Sunday, barriers go down along both sides of the whole of Tromsø’s main street, to create a track for some fast and furious reindeer racing. When the start signal goes, the reindeer burst out of their stalls at the northern end and pound at full speed down the street, pulling their drivers after them on skis. The finishing line is at the southern end.

The event is the Nordic championships, with the 12 fastest reindeer from Norway and Finland on the starting line. There is no distinction between male and female drivers; it’s the fastest reindeer that counts.

According to historical documents, on the day when Shun, who was one of ancient China’s mythological emperors, came to the throne more than 4000 years ago, he led his ministers to worship heaven and earth. From then on, that day was regarded as the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar. This is the basic origin of Chinese New Year.

The new year is by far the most important festival of the Chinese lunar calendar. A long time ago, the emperor determined the start of the New Year. Today, celebrations are based on Emperor Han Wu Di’s almanac. It uses the first day of the first month of the Lunar Year as the start of Chinese New Year. The Chinese New Year always occurs in January or February on the second new moon after the winter solstice, though on occasion it has been the third new moon.

In 2019, the Chinese New Year officially begins on February 5th and ends on February 19th. This begins the Year of the Pig.

The holiday is a time of renewal, with debts cleared, new clothes bought, shops and homes decorated, and families gathered for a reunion dinner. Enjoying extravagant foods with family and friends is arguably the cornerstone of the occasion, along with receiving the ubiquitous red envelopes full of cash (called lai see in Cantonese, or hongbao in Mandarin).

Chinese New Year is marked by fireworks, traditional lion dances, gift giving, and special foods. This is one of the most important holidays. It is observed all over the world. Similar celebrations occur in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival. The “Spring Festival” in modern Mainland China, is China’s most important traditional festival, this public holiday starts on the Chinese New Year, and lasts for 7 days.

About The Chinese Calendar

The Chinese Calendar is a based on the cycles of the moon. The start of the New Year begins anywhere from late January to mid-February. A complete lunar cycle takes 60 years. It is composed of five cycles that are 12 years each. Each 12-year segment is named after an animal.

According to legend, Buddha called all the animals to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came and as a reward to them, he named the years after them in the order they arrive (the order is listed below). It is believed the animal ruling of the year you are born effects your personality and “it is the animal that hides in your heart”.

The Chinese calendar uses the stem-branch system. The branches are the 12 years. There are ten stems that are used in the counting system. The stems are metal, water, wood, fire and soil; each having a yin and a yang side. There are a lot more intricacies in the system, but you should also know that the elements correlate to colors. Metal=white or golden, water=black, wood=green, fire=red, and soil=brown.

When you put all of this together you end up with the following:

  • 2007 is the Year of the Red Pig
  • 2008 is the Year of the Brown Rat
  • 2009 is the Year of the Brown Ox
  • 2010 is the Year of the White or Golden Tiger
  • 2011 is the Year of the White or Golden Rabbit
  • 2012 is the Year of the Black Dragon
  • 2013 is the Year of the Black Snake
  • 2014 is the Year of the Green Horse
  • 2015 is the Year of the Green Sheep
  • 2016 is the Year of the Red Monkey
  • 2017 is the Year of the Red Rooster
  • 2018 is the Year of the Brown Dog
  • 2019 is the Year of the Brown Pig
  • 2020 is the Year of the White Rat

Which Chinese zodiac animal are you?

According to the Asian astrology, your year of birth – and the animal this represents – determines a lot about your personality traits. Find the year you were born, and you can figure out which animal in the Chinese Zodiac is yours. The animal changes at the beginning of the Chinese New Year, and traditionally these animals were used to date the years.

Remember, Chinese New Year is a movable celebration, dictated by the lunar cycle, which can fall anytime between January 21 and February 20. So, if you were born during that time, you may need to do some research to figure out which animal applies to you.

  • Rat: 2008, 1996, 1984, 1972, 1960, 1948
  • Ox: 2009, 1997, 1985, 1973, 1961, 1949
  • Tiger: 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950
  • Rabbit: 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951
  • Dragon: 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952
  • Snake: 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953
  • Horse: 2014, 2002, 1990, 1978, 1966, 1954
  • Goat: 2015, 2003, 1991, 1979, 1967, 1955
  • Monkey: 2016, 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956
  • Rooster: 2017, 2005, 1993, 1981, 1969, 1957
  • Dog: 2018, 2006, 1994, 1982, 1970, 1958
  • Pig: 2019, 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1959

Traditions

Traditions observed during the New Year stem from legends and practices from ancient times. Legend tells of a village, thousands of years ago, that was ravaged by Nian, an evil monster, one winter’s night. The following year the monster returned and again ravaged the village. Before it could happen a third time, the villagers devised a plan to scare the monster away.

The color red protects against evil. Red banners were hung everywhere. Firecrackers were set off, and people banged on drums and gongs creating loud noises to scare the beast away. The plan worked. The celebration lasted several days during which people visited with each other, exchanged gifts, danced, and ate tasty food. Today, celebrations last two weeks.

The red posters with poetic verses on it were initially a type of amulet, but now it simply means good fortune and joy. Various Chinese New Year symbols express different meanings. For example, an image of a fish symbolizes “having more than one needs every year”. A firecracker symbolizes “good luck in the coming year”. The festival lanterns symbolize “pursuing the bright and the beautiful.”

Preparing for the New Year

Spring cleaning is started about a month prior to the new year and must be completed before the celebrations begin. All the negativity and bad luck from the previous year must be swept out of the house.

Many people clean their homes to welcome the Spring Festival. They put up the red posters with poetic verses on it to their doors, Chinese New Year pictures on their walls, and decorate their homes with red lanterns. It is also a time to reunite with relatives so many people visit their families at this time of the year.

People also get haircuts and purchase new clothing. It symbolizes a fresh start. Flowers and decorations are purchased. Decorations include a New year picture (Chinese colored woodblock print), Chinese knots, and paper-cuttings, and couplets.

Flowers have special meanings and the flower market stocks up on:

  • Plum blossom for luck
  • Kumquats for prosperity
  • Narcissus for prosperity
  • Sunflowers to have a good year
  • Eggplant to heal sickness
  • Chom mon planta for tranquility

Offerings are made to the Kitchen God about a week before the New Year.

On The Eve of The Spring Festival

The Annual Reunion Dinner, Nian Ye Fan, is held on the eve of the festival. This is an important part of the celebration. Families come together and eat together. The food is symbolic. Many dishes have ingredients that sound the same as good tidings. In northern China, dumplings are served at midnight, they symbolize wealth.

In the evening of the Spring Festival Eve, many people set off fireworks and firecrackers, hoping to cast away any bad luck and bring forth good luck. Children often receive “luck” money. Many people wear new clothes and send Chinese New Year greetings to each other. Various activities such as beating drums and striking gongs, as well as dragon and lion dances, are all part of the Spring Festival festivities.

The dragon dance is a highlight in the celebrations. A team of dances mimic the movements of the dragon river spirit. Dragons bring good luck.

Lions are considered good omens. The lion dance repels demons. Each lion has two dancers, one to maneuver the head, the other to guide the back. Business owners offer the lions a head of lettuce and oranges or tangerines. The offerings hope to insure a successful year in business. Lettuce translates into “growing wealth” and tangerines and oranges sound like “gold” and “wealth” in Chinese. The lions eat the oranges, then spew them up and out into the hordes of people who eagerly tried to catch the them. After eating the lettuce, they spit out it out in a thousand pieces.

During the New Year

Red packets called Lai See Hong Bao (or Hongbao) with money tucked inside are given out as a symbol of good luck. The amount is an even number as odd numbers are regarded as unlucky.

  • Bright red lanterns are hung.
  • Brooms and cleaning material are put away. No cleaning takes place during the holiday so no good luck is swept out of the home.
  • During the New Year celebrations people do not fight and avoid being mean to each other, as this would bring a bad, unlucky year.
  • Bright colors and red are worn.
  • Everyone celebrates their birthday this day and they turn one year older.
  • Traditional red oval shaped lanterns are hung.

The end of the New Year is celebrated with the Lantern Festival.

Top Ten Taboos for The Chinese New Year

The Spring Festival is a time of celebration. It’s to welcome the new year with a smile and let the fortune and happiness continue on. At the same time, the Spring Festival involves somber ceremonies to wish for a good harvest. Strict rules and restrictions go without saying.

To help you with that, here are the top 10 taboos during the Chinese New Year. Follow these and fortune will smile on you.

  • 1. Do not say negative words

All words with negative connotations are forbidden! These include: death, sick, empty, pain, ghost, poor, break, kill and more. The reason behind this should be obvious. You wouldn’t want to jinx yourself or bring those misfortunes onto you and your loved ones.

  • 2. Do not break ceramics or glass

Breaking things will break your connection to prosperity and fortune. If a plate or bowl is dropped, immediately wrap it with red paper while murmuring auspicious phrases. Some would say 岁岁平安 (suì suì píng ān). This asks for peace and security every year. 岁 (suì) is also a homophone of 碎, which means “broken” or “shattered.” After the New Year, throw the wrapped up shards into a lake or river.

  • 3. Do not clean or sweep

Before the Spring Festival, there is a day of cleaning. That is to sweep away the bad luck. But during the actual celebration, it becomes a taboo. Cleaning or throwing out garbage may sweep away good luck instead.

If you must, make sure to start at the outer edge of a room and sweep inwards. Bag up any garbage and throw it away after the 5th day. Similarly, you shouldn’t take a shower on Chinese New Year’s Day.

  • 4. Do not use scissors, knives or other sharp objects

There are 2 reasons behind this rule. Scissors and needles shouldn’t be used. In olden times, this was to give women a well-deserved break.

Sharp objects in general will cut your stream of wealth and success. This is why 99% of hair salons are closed during the holidays. Hair cutting is taboo and forbidden until Lunar February 2, when all festivities are over.

  • 5. Do not visit the wife’s family

Traditionally, multiple generations live together. The bride moves into the groom’s home after marriage. And, of course, she will celebrate Chinese New Year with her in-laws.

Returning to her parents on New Year’s Day means that there are marriage problems and may also bring bad luck to the entire family. The couple should visit the wife’s family on the 2nd day. They’d bring their children, as well as a modest gift (because it’s the thought that counts).

  • 6. Do not demand debt repayment

This custom is a show of understanding. It allows everyone a chance to celebrate without worry. If you knock on someone’s door, demanding repayment, you’ll bring bad luck to both parties. However, it’s fair game after the 5th day. Borrowing money is also taboo. You could end up having to borrow the entire year.

  • 7. Avoid fighting and crying

Unless there is a special circumstance, try not to cry. But if a child cries, do not reprimand them. All issues should be solved peacefully. In the past, neighbors would come over to play peacemaker for any arguments that occurred. This is all to ensure a smooth path in the new year.

  • 8. Avoid taking medicine

Try not to take medicine during the Spring Festival to avoid being sick the entire year. Of course, if you are chronically ill or contract a sudden serious disease, immediate health should still come first. Related taboos include the following ~ Don’t visit the doctor, Don’t perform/undergo surgery, Don’t get shots

  • 9. Do not give New Year blessings to someone still in bed

You are supposed to give New Year blessings (拜年—bài nián). But let the recipient get up from bed first. Otherwise, they’ll be bed-ridden for the entire year. You also shouldn’t tell someone to wake up. You don’t want them to be rushed around and bossed around for the year. Take advantage of this and sleep in!

  • 10. Chinese gift-giving taboos

It was mentioned above that you should bring gifts when paying visits. It’s the thought that counts, but some gifts are forbidden.

  • Clocks are the worst gifts. The word for clock is a homophone (sounds like) “the funeral ritual”. Also, clocks and watches are items that show that time is running out.
  • Items associated with funerals – handkerchiefs, towels, chrysanthemums, items colored white and black.
  • Sharp objects that symbolize cutting a tie (i.e. scissors and knives).
  • Items that symbolize that you want to walk away from a relationship (examples: shoes and sandals)
  • Mirrors
  • Homonyms for unpleasant topics (examples:green hats because “wear a green hat” sounds like “cuckold”, “handkerchief” sounds like “goodbye”, “pear” sounds like “separate”, and “umbrella” sounds like “disperse”).

Some regions have their own local taboos too. For example, in Mandarin, “apple” (苹果) is pronounced píng guǒ. But in Shanghainese, it is bing1 gu, which sounds like “passed away from sickness.”

These don’t just apply to the Spring Festival, so keep it in the back of your mind!

For the Spring Festival, these rules may seem excessive. Especially when you add in the cultural norms, customs and manners. But like a parent would say, they are all for your own good. Formed over thousands of years, these taboos embody the beliefs, wishes and worries of the Chinese people.

Foods For The New Year

Dishes may vary slightly according to regional and family customs. Dumplings (gau ji) are more commonly served in the north of China, while Hong Kong families often go for a dim sum meal.

Food symbolism goes back centuries in China, and is taken very seriously on special occasions such as Lunar New Year. All food items have their symbolic meanings which, for Hongkongers, are often derived from their Cantonese homonyms. For instance, the Cantonese word for lettuce – sang choi – sounds very similar to the phrase which means “growing wealth”. Of course, nothing considered “unlucky” is allowed near the dining table.

By carefully choosing the menu in this way, families will supposedly be able to increase their luck and manifest their wishes for the coming year, whether those be earning more money or having more children.

Red meat is not served and one is careful not to serve or eat from a chipped or cracked plate. Fish is eaten to ensure long life and good fortune. Red dates bring the hope for prosperity, melon seeds for proliferation, and lotus seeds means the family will prosper through time. Oranges and tangerines symbolize wealth and good fortune. Nian gao, the New Year’s Cake is always served. It is believed that the higher the cake rises the better the year will be. When company stops by a “prosperity tray” is served. The tray has eight sides (another symbol of prosperity) and is filled with goodies like red dates, melon seeds, cookies, and New Year Cakes.

Here the origins of some traditional Chinese festival foods and their often quirky symbolic meanings.

  • Lettuce for the lion dance

No traditional Lunar New Year celebration is complete without the famous lion dance, which is thought to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Performers wearing the traditional lion costume normally dance through the streets to the sound of gongs and drums. When the lion briefly stops at houses and businesses along the way, it will “eat” lettuce that is hung up outside the doors, since the humble vegetable symbolizes “growing fortune”. Inside the head of the lettuce will often be a red envelope, further emphasizing its significance.

  • Dried oysters and ‘hair vegetable’ stir-fry

This unusual but lucky dish is named ho see fat choy in Cantonese, which sounds a lot like the words meaning “flourishing business”. For an extra dose of luck, ho see (oyster) on its own sounds similar to the Cantonese for “good things” or “good business”, while fat choy (hair vegetable) sounds similar to “prosperity”, as in the traditional Lunar New Year greeting kung hei fat choi. What’s more, the expensive “hair vegetable”, which looks like strands of black hair, is actually a type of fungus. But that doesn’t put off Cantonese restaurants from serving the auspicious dish at Lunar New Year.

  • Egg noodles, or yi mein

This classic dish of stir-fried egg noodles is often served at formal dinners during Lunar New Year and other festivals, as it symbolises longevity. The chef must not cut the noodle strands to preserve their length. For this reason, yi mein is often eaten at birthday celebrations too – kind of like the Chinese equivalent of a candle-lit birthday cake.

  • Glutinous rice cake, or neen go

The Cantonese term for this traditional sticky treat sounds the same as the literal words “year high”, which symbolize the promise of a better year to come. Families may eat this for several reasons: wanting to have a higher income, higher social status or even more children. Rice cake can be cooked in a variety of ways, and can be sweet or savory. Historical records date the yearly custom to at least 1,000 years ago, in the days of the Liao dynasty (AD907-1125). If there’s one thing that is unmissable from every family’s Lunar New Year feast in all parts of China and Hong Kong, it must be this dish.

  • ‘Basin food’, or poon choi

Originating from the walled villages of the New Territories, this traditional celebratory dish soon spread throughout Hong Kong and later China. Legend has it that the early settlers in the New Territories would pool together their most prized ingredients – meat and seafood – in a big wooden washbasin and cook them to be served to the whole village. The communal dish required huge efforts of co-ordination and manpower to cook, so it quickly became associated with celebrations and religious rituals. Each village had its own secret poon choi recipe consisting of various ingredients layered in a particular order in the pot, but the dish is now found in most Cantonese restaurants on special occasions.

  • Lotus root soup, or leen gnau tong

The fleshy, tuber-like roots of the lotus flower have been a staple of Chinese cooking for millennia, and traditionally symbolise “abundance”, since the Cantonese term sounds like “having [money] year after year”. The ingredient is also prized for its supposed “cooling” effect on the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine. Lotus root soup, or alternatively stir-fried lotus root, is commonly eaten at Lunar New Year for these reasons.

  • Dim sum

Another Cantonese food tradition that is now common in the West is dim sum. The phrase literally means “a light touch of the heart” or “a little bit of heart”. This reflects the care and attention put into each bite-sized dish that is shared between the table, such as har gau (shrimp dumplings), various types of filled buns, and cheung fun (rice noodle rolls). Like a Chinese take on brunch, dim sum is often served at lengthy afternoon yum cha sessions in tea houses. But Hongkongers often go for an even more lavish version of this meal around Lunar New Year.

Auspicious Greetings

The Chinese New Year is often accompanied by loud, enthusiastic greetings, often referred to as auspicious words or phrases. New Year couplets printed in gold letters on bright red paper is another way of expressing auspicious new year wishes. The most common auspicious greetings and sayings consist of four characters, such as the following:

  • 金玉滿堂 Jīnyùmǎntáng –
    “May your wealth [gold and jade] come to fill a hall”
  • 大展鴻圖 Dàzhǎnhóngtú –
    “May you realize your ambitions”
  • 迎春接福 Yíngchúnjiēfú –
    “Greet the New Year and encounter happiness”
  • 萬事如意 Wànshìrúyì –
    “May all your wishes be fulfilled”
  • 吉慶有餘 Jíqìngyǒuyú –
    “May your happiness be without limit”
  • 竹報平安 Zhúbàopíng’ān –
    “May you hear [in a letter] that all is well”
  • 一本萬利 Yīběnwànlì –
    “May a small investment bring ten-thousandfold profits”
  • 福壽雙全 Fúshòushuāngquán –
    “May your happiness and longevity be complete”
  • 招財進寶 Zhāocáijìnbǎo –
    “When wealth is acquired, precious objects follow”

These greetings or phrases may also be used just before children receive their red packets, when gifts are exchanged, when visiting temples, or even when tossing the shredded ingredients of yusheng particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore. Children and their parents can also pray in the temple, in hopes of getting good blessings for the new year to come.

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Every year, Lam Tsuen holds the Hong Kong Well-Wishing Festival. It part of the Chinese New Year celebration which attracts hundreds of thousands local citizens and tourists from all over the world.  (In 2019, the festival runs from February 5 through March 3rd). Various activities at the festival include throwing wishing placard, setting wishing lanterns to make wish, joining international float exhibition, shopping in food carnival and setting lantern light to celebrate new born babies.

The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are a popular shrine in Hong Kong located near the Tin Hau Temple in Fong Ma Po Village, Lam Tsuen.  The two banyan trees are frequented by tourists and locals during the Lunar New Year. Every year, wish-makers flood to Lam Tsuen for good fortune. The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees are said to have the magic power to make a wish real.

The Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree was originally a camphor tree and later a redbud tree. The present Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree refers to an at least 200 year old banyan tree at the entrance of Lam Tsuen. There is also a newly planted banyan tree inside the village and a plastic Wishing Tree.

Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree has long been regarded as a deity by locals, who light candles and burn joss sticks at the root to worship the god. It is a tradition to make red or yellow papers on which people would write down their names, dates of birth and wishes, and roll the papers and tie them with weights (usually an orange) and finally toss them up onto the Wishing Tree. The paper scrolls are called “Bao Die.” Legend has it that if the “Bao Die” does not fall down, a wish would come true. Otherwise, the wish is said to be too greedy.

The Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree at the entrance was covered with “Bao Die” all the year around. As a result, it became extremely fragile. This practice was discouraged by the authorities after 12 February 2005, when one of the branches gave way and injured two people. Instead, wooden racks are set up in place for joss papers to be hung while a period of conservation is imposed to help these trees recover and flourish. Due to the lack of attractiveness of the attraction, A new plastic tree from Guangzhou was purchased in late 2009, plastic mandarin oranges are now only allowed to be tied to the branches. The tradition was able to continue since then.

There are four wishing trees in Lam Tsuen. Different trees symbolize various wishes. The first tree prays for career, academic and wealth. The second tree is for marriage and pregnancy. For the third tree, it states anything can be prayed. Yet, the fourth tree is believed to be most special. It is a fake 25-foot wishing tree made of plastic. Most people make wishes on the plastic Wishing Tree. This plastic fake wishing tree allows worshipers to throw their wishes to the tree.

A traditional “ Bao Die “ includes an orange and it ties with a yellow paper. Worshipers can write their name, date of birth and wishes on the yellow paper and throw it to the wishing tree. If you can successfully throw the “Bao die” and it hangs up on the tree or its branches, the myth said your wishes can come true. However, if it drops, the legend reckoned that your wishes are too greedy. But still, if the “wishes” drop, do not give up, try more and keep throwing until you make your wishes success.

There are lots of interesting stories about Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree. Lam Tsuen wishing tree was an ordinary camphor tree where a tablet for enshrining and worshipping Pak Kung was placed. As years passed, the branches and leaves gradually withered and eventually it became a hollow tree. People started to believe that Lam Tsuen wishing tree was magical after a legend: a man whose son had had a slow learning progress made a wish to a hollow tree. After that, his son’s academic performance has shown drastic improvement.

Another popular legend goes that the original wishing tree was huge with holes in the trunk. When people came to worship it and burn joss sticks, there would be oils flowing down form the holes. Unfortunately, the tree broke down after a fire accident. Surprisingly, before its death, two redbud blossoms appeared on the tree and grew rapidly. Soon the two blossoms were even bigger than the whole wishing tree.

In 2011, a Wishing Well was founded beside the wishing trees. The Wishing Well is a rectangle water channel flanked by glass with a length of 4 meters. The public can write down their wishes on paper, put it into a lotus-like lamp and drift the lamp on water to make a wish.

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