National Ice Cream Month

It’s not really a surprise that National Ice Cream Month falls in the middle of the summer. And Americans are notorious for loving ice cream, but we’re not alone. You might even be surprised that the state that consumes the most ice cream per capita is Alaska! That’s right.

But around the world, ice cream varies by style and reflects the tastes of different cultures. From flavors like green tea to cardamom, popular flavors that play key roles in the culture are easy to see as well.

Watch this video to see some of the different ways people enjoy ice cream around the world, from ice cream rolls in Thailand to Jipangyi in Korea where ice cream is served in filled in a puffed corn tube.

Here’s an infographic of unique ice cream flavors in different cities and countries.

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It’s World Emoji Day!

Did you know? July 17th is World Emoji Day.

Emoji have become ubiquitous in our every day life. But do you know their original meanings? You might be surprised, because they were developed in Japan. In fact, the word emoji translates to “picture character” in Japanese.

Check out this list of surprising emoji meanings or this one.

You’ll find some of the meanings behind the emoji tie to Japanese culture. Yet, in America, we interpret the emoji slightly differently. And in fact, we use them in different amounts than other places around the world. There are some emoji that carry across cultures but there are many that are either used to represent different things.

In “People around the world use these emojis the most”, one study found the French love using the emoji the most, with nearly 20% of messages that they looked at using at least one symbol. This was followed by the Russians and Americans.

“Emojis are everywhere. They are becoming the ubiquitous language that bridges everyone across different cultures,” says Wei Ai, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Information and one of the lead authors of the study.”

You can also check out emoji use by country and which emoji are most used around the world.

This interesting study compared the usage of emoji and meaning in different countries:

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From our Executive Director: 2016-2017 School Year

Happy Summer!

After visits to 24 school campuses, serving 32 schools and nearly 25,000 students this past school year, the CCMM team is eager to recuperate and prepare for the 2017-2018 academic year!

As ever, we are deeply grateful to the people who make possible CCMM’s valuable work. From the teachers, administrators, and librarians who coordinate and support our visits to school campuses, to our crew who install and remove four iterations of CCMM’s collections in highly variable spaces, dozens of individuals contribute to the delivery of the CCMM-in-Schools program. On top of that, dedicated volunteers provide assistance and encouragement, creating a foundation for CCMM’s continued work.

Most of all, I would like to acknowledge and thank the generous donors, without whom our service to some 25,000 students last year would not have been possible. To our individual donors, THANK YOU. Also, a special thank you to the Nissan Foundation, which provided funding for CCMM’s visit to four school campuses (and is again providing funding for the CCMM-in-Schools program 2017-2018 school year!), and the Joseph Drown Foundation, which has supported CCMM for the past four years.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Julia Goldman,
Executive Director

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Spring is here!

Happy Spring! Let’s take a look at a few different (and similar) ways the coming of spring is celebrated in different cultures around the world.

Snowman Bonfire

Spring tradition in Switzerland

In a fiery celebration of winter’s end, the Swiss use a stunning show to ring in the new season.
A snowman is burned on a stake once the first flowers begin to bloom, marking the definite end to winter’s dark days. Known as the Böögg, the snowman’s demise is a popular tradition dating back to the 16th century. The snowman is often stuffed with explosives.

Popular tradition has it that the time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg’s head is indicative of the coming summer: a quick explosion promises a warm, sunny summer, a drawn-out burning a cold and rainy one. The shortest time on record is 5:07 minutes in 1974 and the longest is 43:34 minutes in 2016.

Burnings of Böögg figures (the Swiss German term for “bogey”, in origin scary-looking ragdolls) in spring are attested in various places of the city from the late 18th and early 19th century, without direct connection to the Sechseläuten. The combination of the Sechseläuten parade and the burning of an official Böögg was introduced in 1902. Source)

Image © Roland Fischer, Zürich (Switzerland) – Mail notification to: roland_zh(at)hispeed(dot)ch / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

A burst of color

Holi in India

In a celebration of the triumph of good over bad, the colorful Holi tradition takes place in late February or early March. A Hindu spring festival in India and Nepal, it is also known as the “festival of colors” or the “festival of love”. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships, and is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.

It lasts for two days starting on the Purnima (Full Moon day) falling in the Bikram Sambat Hindu Calendar month of Falgun, which falls somewhere between the end of February and the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar. The first day is known as Holika Dahan (हॊलिका दहन) or Chhoti Holi and the second as Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi or Dhulivandan.

To usher in the spring season, people participate in bonfires and parties the night before Holi. The next day, the masses gather on the streets for a giant color fight, throwing dyed powder onto each other. The carefree revelry offers a chance to connect with other human beings and let go of any past hardships. (Source)

Image by Ingo Mehling (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

The new day

Nowruz in Iran

Nowruz, which means “The New Day” in Persian, marks the beginning of the New Year in Iran and typically falls near the vernal equinox in March. Although it is now a secular holiday celebrated across religious traditions in Iran, Nowruz’s origins are in the ancient religious ideas of Zoroastrianism, which stresses the complementary workings of good and evil and the interconnectedness of humanity and nature.

Today, Iranians celebrate Nowruz over the course of 13 days by extensively cleaning their homes, purchasing new clothing, paying visits to family and friends, and by setting out a symbolic spring meal called Haft seen. On the thirteenth day of the festival, celebrants picnic outside with their families, in a symbolic renunciation of the bad luck traditionally associated with the number 13.

Haft Seen is the traditional table setting of Nowruz in Iran. Typically, before the arrival of Nowruz, family members gather around a table, with the Haft Seen set on it, and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year. At that time, the New Year gifts are exchanged.

The setting includes seven items starting with the letter S or seen (س) in the Perso-Arabic alphabet. The items include:

    – Greenery (سبزه – sabze): Wheat, barley or lentil sprouts grown in a dish.
    – Samanu (سمنو – samanu): A sweet pudding made from germinated wheat.
    – The dried fruit of the oleaster tree (سنجد – senjed)
    – Garlic (سیر – sir)
    – Apples (سیب – sib)
    – Sumac berries (سماق – somāq)
    – Vinegar (سرکه – serke)

These items are also known to have astrological correlations to planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Sun and Moon. Other symbolic items which are usually set along the Haft Seen are candles, a mirror, decorating coins, and decorated eggs (sometimes one for each member of the family). A bowl of water with goldfish, a holy book (e.g. the Avesta or Quran) and/or a poetry book (e.g. the Divan of Hafez), and rose water are also included to the setting.

The custom and the traditional practice of Haft Seen has been changed over times. The initial term Haft Chin meaning “the seven collected”, has been gradually altered to the present-day name of the setting. (Source)

Image by Rayeshman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Water that cleanses

Songkran Water festival in Thailand

In mid-April, the three-day Songkran Water festival marks the New Year in Thailand with a massive public water fight, meant to represent a cleansing of negative influences. Though the traditional iteration of the festival activity is a gentle, respectful sprinkling of water onto other people–a sign of respect and blessing–since the celebrations occur during the hottest month of the year in Thailand, revelers frequently douse each other in the streets.

The word “Songkran” comes from the Sanskrit word saṃkrānti, literally “astrological passage”, meaning transformation or change. The term was borrowed from Makar Sankranti, the name of a Hindu harvest festival celebrated in India in January to mark the arrival of spring. It coincides with the rising of Aries on the astrological chart, the New Year of many calendars of South and Southeast Asia. The festive occasion is in keeping with the Buddhist/Hindu solar calendar.

The Songkran celebration is rich with symbolic traditions. Mornings begin with merit-making. Visiting local temples and offering food to the Buddhist monks is commonly practiced. On this specific occasion, performing water pouring on Buddha statues is considered an iconic ritual for this holiday. It represents purification and the washing away of one’s sins and bad luck.[4] As a festival of unity, people who have moved away usually return home to their loved ones and elders.[4] As a way to show respect, younger people often practice water pouring over the palms of elders’ hands. Paying reverence to ancestors is also an important part of Songkran tradition.

The holiday is known for its water festival which is mostly celebrated by young people. Major streets are closed for traffic, and are used as arenas for water fights. Celebrants, young and old, participate in this tradition by splashing water on each other. Traditional parades are held and in some venues “Miss Songkran” is crowned.[5]” where contestants are clothed in traditional Thai dress. (Source)

Image by Jan [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Drowning of the Marzanna

Polish Spring Celebration

In a tradition originating from the 16th century, people in Poland celebrate the first day of spring with dramatic fashion. Called the drowning of the Marzanna, a doll, usually made of straw, is made to symbolize the cold, dreary winter. In Slavic rites the death of the Goddess Marzanna at the end winter (some sources compare her to the Greek goddess Hecate), becomes the rebirth of Spring of the Goddess Kostroma representing the coming of spring.

The dolls are then paraded through the street as crowds make their way to a river or other body of water. The decorated dolls are then tossed into the water to symbolize the end of winter’s wrath.Sometimes the effigies are first set on fire, or their clothes are torn. On the journey back to the village the focus falls on the copses, adorned with ribbons and blown egg shells. The procession, still singing, returns to the village. (Source)

Image by Ratomir Wilkowski, (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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From the Collection: Wind Instruments

To celebrate National Music in Our Schools Month, we’re taking a look at a few different wind instruments from around the world. Many students first learn the recorder, and to that end, we’ve selected a few similar, but different, flute style instruments from England, Peru, and Tibet.

Penny Whistle

English Recorder

Almost all primitive cultures had a similar type of flute and is most likely the first pitched flute type instrument in existence. This penny whistle was manufactured by Clarke Company. The modern penny whistle is indigenous to the British Isles, particularly England when factory-made “tin whistles” were produced by Robert Clarke from 1840.

The company showed the whistles in The Great Exhibition of 1851. The Clark tin whistle is voiced somewhat on an organ-pipe with a flattened tube forming the lip of the fipple mouthpiece and is usually made from rolled tin sheet or brass. Manufactured tin whistles became available no earlier than 1840, and were mass-produced and widespread due to their relative affordability.

As the penny whistle was generally considered a toy it has been suggested that children or street musicians were paid a penny by those who heard them playing the whistle. However, in reality the instrument was so called because it could be purchased for a penny. The instrument became popular in several musical traditions, including English, Scottish, Irish and American traditional music. (Source)


Tibetan Horn

Kangling is the Tibetan word for a trumpet or horn originally made out of a human thighbone. It literally translates as “leg flute”. Today, it may also be made out of wood or metal. The flute is used in Tibetan Buddhism for various rituals, including funerals, as a reminder of one’s mortality.

At first glance, one might assume that the kangling was assimilated from Himalayan shamanism or the ancient Bon religion that pre-dated the entry of Buddhism into Tibet. In fact, the thigh bone trumpet was not used by either of these older traditions. The long bones of the human body form a natural club or other utensil, but just as in Western culture, ancient societies did not use human remains casually. In fact, the reverse was true, ancestral bones being considered either sacred objects of reverence, or strictly taboo. Besides, animal bones, sinews and horns were readily available for a variety of practical uses.(Source)

The kangling is only used in chöd rituals performed outdoors with the chöd damaru and bell. In Tantric chöd practice, the practitioner, motivated by compassion, plays the kangling as a gesture of fearlessness, to summon hungry spirits and demons so that she or he may satisfy their hunger and thereby relieve their sufferings. It is also played as a way of “cutting off of the ego.” (Source)

Pan Pipes/Zampoña

Peruvian Wind Instrument

This zampoña, a wind instrument which belongs to the pan-pipe family, is made up of a series of cane tubes of varying sizes bound together. The size of the tube determines the musical note. The zampoña comes in a wide range of variations, depending on the region, where the length, location and quantity of cane tubes vary. The pan flute is played by blowing horizontally across an open end against the sharp inner edge of the pipes. Each pipe is tuned to a keynote, called the fundamental frequency. It is frequently played in nearly all the festivities in southern Peru.

The earliest known example of the zampoña was found at Cahuachi, Peru, dated to 4200 BC–a time that corresponds with what is called the Honda Period of this region. Researchers point to three different ancient Peruvian cultures as early users of the panpipes: the Nasca Culture (1,100 BC – 750 AD), the Paracas Culture (600 BC – 175 BC), and the Moche Culture (100 AD – 800 AD). Reed, cane, ceramic, condor quill and bone panpipes have been found across the Andes. (Source)

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From the Collection: Women & Clothing

In honor of National Women’s History Month, we are featuring some unique women’s clothing and clothing created by women pulled from our collection to share.

These artifacts span a variety of insights from the maintaining ethnic identity of cultures to political statements in changing worlds. Take a look as we explore items from Ecuador, India, Ivory Coast, China and Ireland.

Preserving ethnic identity

“Yana Anacu” from Ecuador

High in the Andes Mountains north of Quito, you can still find the indigenous ethnic identity in the clothing of the Otavaleno women. The traditional costume, called “churajuna” in Quechua, is worn on a daily basis and is considered to be the closest to the Inca costume worn anywhere in the Andes Mountains. It is a connection to the their history and a way to express their ethnicity.

The Otavalo women’s traditional dress consists of a long dark skirt (called “yana anacu”) with pale underskirt, fastened with a woven belt, an embroidered white blouse with full, lacy sleeves and a shawl. The skirts are actually two separate pieces of cloth with no tailoring at all, simply wrapped around and held in place by the belt.

The outfit would be completed by layers of mostly gold-beaded necklaces and bracelets. The many strings of the tiny gold bead necklaces represent grains of maize and signify the woman’s importance in the Otavalo community; the more beads, the higher the status. Red coral bracelets are traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits.

Politics in clothing

Cheongsam from China

Cheongsam is a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women, also known as “qipao”.

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), certain social strata emerged, the Manchu. Manchu women typically wore a one-piece dress that retrospectively came to be known as the “qípáo”. The original qipao was wide and loose. It covered most of the woman’s body, revealing only the head, hands, and the tips of the toes. The baggy nature of the clothing also served to conceal the figure of the wearer regardless of age.

With time, though, the qipao were tailored to become more form fitting and revealing. After the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, China began to have more freedom and wanted to modernize their clothing. The cheongsam represented a compromise to western dress and their traditional dress, using traditional Chinese fabrics, like silk and a traditional collar, but the form-fitting cut and lack of binding ties were Western.

The cheongsam soon came to represent the politics of a modernizing China. It was advertised heavily and worn by famous actresses, often with high heels popular in the West. However, when the Communist Party took control of mainland China in 1949, the cheongsam quickly went out of style. By 1966 it was banned by the ruling party. In Hong Kong, on the southeast coast of China, however, which until 1997 was a crown colony of Great Britain with a majority Chinese population, the cheongsam never went out of style. The dress was particularly popular during the 1950s and 1960s, for it marked Hong Kong’s resistance to the changes being brought to China by the Communists, who severely restricted what the Chinese people could wear. (Source)

Stitches as family heirlooms

Aran sweaters from Ireland

At the mouth of Galway Bay are the Aran Islands, home to clans of fisherman and farmers at the mercy of the Atlantic Sea. The wool Aran sweaters, knitted by the women of the islands, reflect this environment and are water repellent. In fact, the Aran sweater can absorb 30% of its weight in water before it feels wet. What also makes these sweaters unique is the craft behind them.

Historically, each family or clan had their own pattern made from a unique combination of stitches. These patterns were closely guarded within clans and passed down from mother to daughter. The sweaters are a reflection of the lives of the knitters and their families. Often the patters were used to identify bodies of fisherman washing up on the beach following accidents at sea. There is even an official register of the patterns recorded and registered at the Aran Sweater Museum on the Aran Islands.

Many of the stitches used in the Aran Sweater are reflective of Celtic Art, and comparisons have been drawn between the stitches and patterns found at Neolithic burial sites such as Newgrange in Co. Meath. Each stitch carries its own unique meaning, a historic legacy from the lives of the Island community many years ago.

The Cable Stitch is a depiction of the fisherman’s ropes, and represents a wish for a fruitful day at sea. The Diamond Stitch reflects the small fields of the islands. These diamonds are sometimes filled with Irish moss stitch, depicting the seaweed that was used to fertilize the barren fields and produce a good harvest. Hence the diamond stitch is a wish for success and wealth. The Zig Zag Stitch, a half diamond, is often used in the Aran Sweaters, and popularly represents the twisting cliff paths on the islands. The Tree of Life is one of the original stitches, and is unique to the earliest examples of the Aran knitwear. It again reflects the importance of the clan, and is an expression of a desire for clan unity, with long-lived parents and strong children. (Source)

Tradition on the wrist

Bangles from India

Bangle bracelets are part of traditional Indian customs. In fact, archeologists have excavated protohistoric ancestors of the bangle from the remains of Indus Valley Civilization dating as far back as 2500-1750 BC.

These ancient bangles are of gold, silver, copper, stone, shell and fired ceramic. In the earliest layers, ceramic bangles are most common.

Today they are usually worn in pairs by women, one or more on each arm. Most Indian women prefer wearing either gold or glass bangles or combination of both. Some are also made of lac,  a natural resin produced by a unique scale insect indigenous to Indian forests.

Bangles are also an important part of the wedding custom for women. Wearing bangles made of glass, gold or other metals signify the long life of the husband as well as good fortune and prosperity. The bride will try to wear as many small glass bangles (using oil to aid as lubricant) as possible at her wedding which signifies that her married life would be full of love and affection. Traditionally, breaking of the bridal glass or lac bangles is considered inauspicious. Every region has a separate set of rituals that are associated with bangles, from how they are gifted and by whom to the materials and traditional colors.

But, it’s also a tradition to wear bangles after marriage for the sake of health, luck and prosperity. In the Indian culture, different colored bangles traditionally signify different things. Red signifies energy and prosperity, while green denotes good luck and fertility. Yellow bangles are meant for happiness, white is for new beginnings and orange is for success. Silver bangles denote strength and gold bangles are the ultimate symbol of fortune and prosperity. (Source)

Intersection of cultural influences

Senufo dress from Ivory Coast

The Senufo live in a region spanning northern Ivory Coast, southeastern Mali, and western Burkina Faso. This dress was woven by hand at a women’s cooperative in the Senufou tribal area of northern Ivory Coast. The blue coloring comes from indigo and the foundation of centuries-old textile traditions throughout Africa. Indigo dye was also known to ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Britain, Mesoamerica, Peru, Iran, and Africa. Clothes dyed with indigo signify wealth and prestige. The color came to the area with Muslim traders as long ago as the Middle Ages. The style of the dress reflects the Muslim influence as well.

The Senufo are also known for their mud cloth textile technique. Locally-made mud cloth is cotton cloth decorated and dyed with natural materials that blend into the colors of the Senufo landscape. You can learn more about mud cloth here.

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From the Collection: #NationalHatDay

Today is a day to celebrate hats. And our Everyday Connections collection includes a wide variety of hats from all around the world. Here are six interesting ones from the collection and a little bit about them.

Fez from Morocco

fezThe origins of the fez, or “tarboosh” in Moroccan, is not clear. The design may have come from ancient Greece or the Balkans. In the 19th Century it gained wide acceptance when the Ottoman rulers moved to modernize traditional costumes. The brimless hat did not get in the way of a Muslim’s daily prayers and was cleaner and less cumbersome than the turban. The name fez is believed to come from Fez, the city, which once produced the hat’s red dye, made from crimson berries. The hat has become very controversial in the Muslim world. In most Muslim regions it is considered the hat of the oppressors and wearing it is politically incorrect. Morocco however has resisted the onslaught against the fez (it is noteworthy that the Ottomans never actually controlled Morocco) and the king of Morocco is the only Arab leader to wear it. Wearing a fez in Morocco is a nationalist statement and was seen as a protest against the French occupation. So, like many hats, the fez is a charged symbol with a long and complicated history. (Source)

Fedora from Ecuador

fedoraThe indigenous Incan women who live in Otavalo high in the Andes Mountains north of Quito wear this traditional costume, called “churajuna” in quechua, on a daily basis. Their attire is considered to be the closest to the Inca costume worn anywhere in the Andes Mountains. In addition to their fedora hat, traditional dress for the Otavalo women consists of a long dark skirt with pale underskirt, fastened with a woven belt, an embroidered white blouse with full, lacy sleeves and a shawl. The “skirts”, called “yana anacu”, are actually two separate pieces of cloth with no tailoring at all, simply wrapped around and held in place by the belt. Tiny, detailed embroidery appears along the edges of the cloth. The wide belts are woven in detailed and intricate designs with traditional weaving techniques which have been used in Otavalo for centuries. The traditional white blouses for the women of Otavalo have broad, intricately-embroidered collars and sleeves. Traditionally all the embroidery would be done by hand, though these days some is done by machine.

Trenker from Germany

The trenker is a variant on the tyrolean hat, a traditional bavarian hat that originally came from the Tyrol in the Alps, in what is now part of Austria and Italy. This version with a grey felt with dark green cord is called the “Luis Trenker” model by Bavarians – after the renowned mountain climber and film star. A typical Tyrolean hat originally had a crown tapering to a point and was made of green felt with a brim roughly the width of a hand, something that was especially common in the Zillertal. There are various forms of Tyrolean hat. Frequently the hats are decorated with a colored, corded hatband and a spray of flowers, feathers or “brush” at the side of the crown. The traditional “brush” is made of the tail of the chamois goat. It takes a variety of forms, and may often be combined with feathers. (Source)

“Charro Sombrero” from Mexico

Charro is a term referring to a traditional horseman from Mexico, originating in the central-western regions primarily in the state of Jalisco. Sombreros, like the cowboy hats invented later, were designed in response to the demands of the physical environment. The concept of a broad-brimmed hat worn by a rider on horseback can be seen as far back as the Mongolian horsemen of the 13th century. In hot, sunny climates hats evolved to have wide brims, which provided shade. The Spanish developed a flat-topped sombrero, which they brought to Mexico. It was modified by the vaquero into the round-crowned Mexican sombrero and poblano. Although sombrero is usually taken to refer to the traditional Mexican headwear, the term sombrero predates this item of clothing, and is and has been applied to several differing styles of hat, since it is the actual word for hat in Spanish. Other types of hats known as sombrero can be found in South America and Spain, including the sombrero calañés, sombrero cordobés and sombrero de catite (Spain), sombrero vueltiao (Colombia). (Source)

Blangkon from Indonesia

A blangkon is a traditional Javanese headdress worn by men and made of batik fabric. In ancient Javanese society, blangkons are believed to originate from the legendary story of Aji Saka. In the story, Aji Saka defeated Dewata Cengkar, a giant who owns the land of Java, by spreading a giant piece of headdress that could cover the entire land of Java. Aji Saka was also believed to be the founder of the Javanese calendar. There are theories stating that the use of blangkon is the influence of Hindu and Islamic culture absorbed by the Javanese. The first Muslims who entered Java are people from mainland Arab and Gujarati traders. Blangkons are believed to derive from turbans worn by Gujarati traders. (Source)

Samurai Kabuto from Japan

The Kabuto is a type of helmet first used by ancient Japanese warriors, and in later periods, they became an important part of the traditional Japanese armor worn by the samurai class and their retainers in feudal Japan.The kabuto was an important part of the equipment of the samurai, and played a symbolic role as well, which may explain the Japanese expressions, sayings and codes related to them. One example is Katte kabuto no o o shimeyo (lit. “Tighten the string of the kabuto after winning the war”). This means don’t lower your efforts after succeeding (compare to “not to rest on one’s laurels”). Also, kabuto o nugu (lit. “to take off the kabuto”) means to surrender.

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5 Unique Ways Different Cultures Celebrate New Years

Fireworks and loud noises are common across many cultures and their celebrations to ring in the New Year. And not all New Year celebrations take place December 31st-January 1st.

But here are a few unique ways people will celebrate this weekend around the world:

1) Albania
Instead of a “Christmas tree”, the Albanians have a “New Year’s Pine”. There is also a tradition to have Bakllava on Albanian tables for New Year’s Day to bring luck to the year ahead.

2) Chile
New Year’s Eve celebrations in Chile include a family dinner with special dishes, usually including lentils to ensure prosperity in the coming year, and twelve grapes to symbolize each month of the year to bring good economic fortune.

3) Finland
The tradition of molybdomancy – to tell the fortunes of the New Year by melting “tin” (actually lead)-  in a tiny pan on the stove and throwing it quickly in a bucket of cold water (or snow). The resulting metal shape and the shadows it casts by candlelight are interpreted to predict the coming year.  Often, the shapes are interpreted symbolically too: a bubbly surface refers to money, a fragile or broken shape misfortune. Ships refer to traveling, keys to career advancement, a basket to a good mushroom crop year, and a horse to a new car.

4) Greece
New Year’s Eve in Greece includes a pie named “King’s pie (Vassilopita locally)”, which is a cake flavored with almonds. Following tradition, they put a coin wrapped in aluminum foil inside the pie. The person that gets the wrapped coin is the lucky person of the day and he is also blessed for the rest of the year.

5) Japan
New Year’s Eve welcomes Toshigami (年神), the New Year’s god. In preparation, people clean their home and prepare Kadomatsu  (a traditional decoration of pines placed in pairs in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits) or Shimenawa (lengths of laid rice straw rope used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion) to welcome the god before New Year’s Eve.







Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times at midnight in the tradition Joya no Kane. Each bell ring is to drive away the 108 earthly desires or passions (bonō) that cause human suffering.

What are some of your family’s New Year traditions? Share them in the comments.

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Happy Winter Solstice

Today is the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere (usually celebrated on December 21st or 22nd). In the southern hemisphere, June 20th or 21st mark the winter solstice. From those days forward, the daylight hours increase and so celebrations often welcome the return of the sun.

Here are just a few celebrations from around the world.


Iranians celebrate the ancient Persian festival of Yalda on December 21st, the longest and darkest night of the year. Friends and family members gather together late into the night to tell stories and to eat nuts and fruits, especially pomegranates representing the red of the rising sun.


In June, the Incas, of what is now Peru, gathered to honor the sun as a source of light and life during Inti Raymi, Quechua for “Sun Festival.” Inti Rami marked the start of a new planting season. Although the colonial Spaniards banned the celebration, today it is one of the largest festivals of South America. Week-long festivities include processions, musical performances, mock sacrifices, and dancing.


Dongzhi, the “extreme of winter,” is an important festival in Chinese culture. Traditionally, farmers and fisherman would take the day off to celebrate the return of longer days with their families. In southern China, families get together to eat tang yuan, a sweet soup made of glutinous rice balls. In the north, people eat special dumplings to celebrate.

New Zealand

The Maori of New Zealand celebrate Matariki, or the first rising of the cluster of starts known as the Pleiades, in late May or early June. This signals the Maori new year when, traditionally, the dead were remembered, the harvest was celebrated, and plans were made for the planting of the new season’s crops. In modern times, flying kites, hot-air balloons, and fireworks are part of the celebration of the stars.


In Scandinavian countries, St. Lucia’s Day incorporates earlier Norse solstice traditions in the celebrations. This festival of lights features a “Light Queen” who wears a crown of lighted candles to represent the returning sun. Pagan ceremonies had involved lighting fires to ward off spirits during the longest night. Today in Swedish homes, the eldest daughter wears the candle crown and serves coffee and baked goods to her family and visitors.

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Artifact in Focus: Jebena Coffee Pot

The scent of roasting coffee beans wafts through the air, mingling with the fragrance of burning incense. The coffee ceremony in Ethiopia is certainly not for the impatient; preparation of the strong coffee can take several hours. An Ethiopian coffee pot, the jebena, is a critical part of the ceremony. CCMM’s jebena, as with all jebenas, is made from black clay with a rounded bottom and a very slender spout. The pot is held upright by a round wicker stand.

Typically, a woman of the house will roast beans on a heated pan over a tiny charcoal stove until they are black and shiny and have released their aromatic oil. The hostess passes the beans around for her guests to smell and then grinds the beans with a mortar and pestle. The grounds are placed in a jebena along with water. As the coffee boils the grounds sink to the bottom of the jebena. The hostess strains the coffee several times before pouring it into tiny cups. All the while, the frankincense and myrrh burn. Guests drink three rounds of coffee; each has a slightly different flavor and strength. And while drinking all these cups, and munching on roasted barley and corn, friends and neighbors discuss the community and events of the day. Perhaps an ancient proverb best describes the place of the coffee in Ethiopian life, “Buna dabo naw”, which when translated means “Coffee is our bread!” The Ethiopian family that donated the jebena to CCMM also donated a whicker tray to serve roasted barley and a clay cup to burn the incense.

The Ethiopians have had a lot of practice preparing coffee. Coffee plants, with their bright red berries containing the coffee bean, grew wild only in Ethiopia. According to Ethiopian folklore, coffee was discovered when a goat herder watched his goats became excited after they ate the berries from a particular plant. He tried the berries himself, and discovered the effects of caffeine. He took the berries to the local monks who tossed the berries into their fire, believing the effects of the berries to be sinful. But the aroma of roasting beans inside the berries proved irresistible and the monks ground the beans and poured water over them to create the first coffee drink.

Coffee beans were first exported from Ethiopia to Yemen in the middle 1500s, where coffee beans were first roasted and brewed as they are today. From Yemen, coffee spread to Egypt and North Africa, and by the 16th century, it had reached the rest of the Middle East, Persia, and Turkey. From the Muslim world, coffee drinking spread to Italy, then to the rest of Europe. Unfortunately for the Europeans, their climate does not support the growth of coffee plants. They had to rely on their colonies in tropical climes to grow the beans they had come to love; coffee plants were transported by the Portuguese to Brazil, by the Spanish to the Americas, and by the French to Vietnam. The rest is history!

Ethiopia is the fifth largest producer of coffee in the world, employing nearly 10% of the population. More than 95% is grown by small garden farmers. Ethiopia’s coffee ceremony is an integral part of their social and cultural life. Click here to read more about the Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

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