Wednesday, September 30, 2009

October Celebration: Sukkot

Sukkot: Feast of Booths
Along with harvest festivals that celebrate agricultural bounty, there are also other festive remembrances. Sukkot is one such festival. This seven day commemoration is held on the 15th day of the lunar Hebrew month Tishrei (this year it begins at sunset on Oct. 2) and marks the pilgrimage of Jews to the Temple in Jerusalem. It lasts seven days.
Those who celebrate this holiday create booths that resemble the type of thatched huts in which the ancient Israelites dwelt during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Egyptian Exodus. During the holiday meals are eat in the booths and in some cases families also sleep in them.
In fact, many families build their own booth then decorate it with gourds, colorful squash, and dried flower wreaths.
More details for building a Sukkah (Sukkot booth) visit

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guest Blog: Halloween Folk Art

This month’s guest blogger Tricia-Rennea is an illustrator whose eye for folk art is at the heart of a select series of Halloween paper she has designed.
The paper is perfect for many of the season’s homemade craft projects.
A paper artist, she also includes Origami in her handbag of tricks.

Little squares of elegant origami paper can be the perfect addition to your Halloween D├ęcor!

Small pieces of perfectly practical paper can be used to create little bats or cranes you can hang in your window, from the ceiling or a light fixture. Origami cubes can be placed over white string lights (small whites Christmas lights) to cast a lovely glow in the room.

With the use of contact-paper to laminate, you can make coasters and even “patch-work” them together to created a table runner or place mats. Want to add more creative flair? Here is a template for a whirly-gig, string many together to create a garland, use them as gift bows, or attach them to straws for your party guests!

Of course we will need a coordinating party invite, right? Print them out on cards stock and write the location, date and other important information on the back. Invitations can be hand-delivered with a Halloween themed sugar cookie or small bag of Halloween Candy, you can find a do it yourself matching mini gift bags on my blog.

Be creative and enjoy these little treasures, using them to help set a fun and creative mood at your Halloween soiree!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shine On, Shine On Harvest Moon

The Harvest Moon is the moon at and about the period of fullness that is nearest to the autumnal equinox. In legend, it is said that all full moons have their own special characteristics.
Because the Harvest Moon rises about 30 minutes after sunset, it has been said that it helped farmers working to bring in their crops. They could continue being productive by moonlight even after the sun had set. Hence, it’s name Harvest Moon.
It seems to be bigger and brighter than other moons. This has to do with the seasonal tilt of the earth. The moon’s warm color is an optical illusion. Because the moon is low in the sky, it is seen through a greater amount of atmospheric particles than when it is overhead.
The Harvest Moon is also known as the Wine Moon, the Singing Moon and the Elk Call Moon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What’s in a Name?

Much can be learned about a folk culture by the names it ascribes to its days, weeks, months, and seasons. They are often based upon the weather conditions, beliefs or activities of community life that take place.
September, for example, is known as the month of abundance. Originally it was the seventh month of the Roman Calendar (Romulus Calendar) which started in March (spring) and in time was converted to the Julian Calendar. According to HyperDictionary, September’s Latin name was Septem (seven).
Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and orchards, was its patroness.
The French Republican calendar referred to September as Fructidor (fruit month) which lasted from August 18 through September 21. No doubt this was in recognition of the time of year that a majority of available fruits ripened.
Martin P. Nilsson, author of Primitive-Time Reckoning (Oxford University Press, 1920) collected other names of interest from Europe for this time of year. Here are a few examples. Notice how the month names chronicle food cultivation activities:
Bulgarian: Sowing month, gathering month.
Slovakian: Time when the goats rut or gadfly mouth.
Swedish: Harvest Month.
They suggest how important food cultivation was to everyone’s survival; important enough to be the basis of how the days, weeks, and seasons were measured.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fall Folklore in Tennessee

This traditional jamboree - now in its 11th year - sounds like so much fun!
Hosted by the W
est Tennessee Agricultural Museum and University of Tennessee Research and Education Center at Milan, it takes place on Saturday, October 17.
This well-attended event draws many visitors from across the mid-south who want to spend the day learning about and celebrating past traditions. Highlights include bluegrass music, old-fashioned foods, and more than 130 friendly folk artists who will share remarkable skills and crafts such as blacksmithing, wood carving, and knitting and weaving.
Museum officials say that during the Jamboree, visitors are free to tour the museum to learn more about the agrarian lifestyle of the past, including horse plowing and logging, and a working grist mill.
What's especially exciting is that the event focuses in upon fall folklore; what people used to do to end one agricultural season (harvest) and prepare for the next (spring).
If anyone knows of other fall folklore events, please let me know.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lubna Hussein: A Folk Heroine in Trousers

Lubna Hussein is a folk heroine of the truest order. This Sudanese journalist is standing up for her rights and the rights of other women in Sudan to wear pants.
She is so committed, she is willing to go to jail for her belief that women have the right to dress themselves as they see fit.
In case you've not been following this news story: Lubna Hussein challenged Sudanese law when she went out in public in trousers. According to Sudanese Shirah Law this is a crime and she was charged accordingly.
Today's story by Guardian Reporter Nesrine Malik, Hussein chose to go to jail rather than pay the imposed $100 fine. Wanting to avoid global disapproval, the judges decided to withdraw the 40 lashings that are supposed to have accompanied the fine. (Note: other women who were also charged did receive the lashings).
Malik described the tensions that existed during today's hearing and noted that already Hussein has made a heroic impact upon the women of her community:
More disturbingly, the end of the case has flushed out hardline elements allied with the government who appear to be relishing the opportunity to villify the women who have been protesting. The irony is that on the way back from court I witnessed several women in trousers freely walking the streets of Khartoum proving that it was never about modesty but about Hussein's refusal to capitulate to the authorities' temperamental and arbitrary invocation of public order laws.
Hussein has opened a door for others. For this she deserves to be remembered as a folk heroine.

Friday, September 4, 2009


What I love about folklore is the way with which it reflects society.Want to know what a particular culture thinks about something, check out its folklore. Remember: folklore is the lore of the folk, the everyday people who hold certain truths to be true.

Take for example Gretchen Rubin's recent Huffington Post blog about Happiness. The blog, 5 Tips For Happiness Reinforced By My Recent Family Vacation, is a list Rubin credits her family with creating.

This post is part a special project. Rubin is
a writer working on The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving every conceivable principle about how to be happy, from the wisdom of the ages to current scientific studies, from Aristotle to Ben Franklin to Martin Seligman. On her Happiness Project blog, she reports her daily adventures on her way to becoming happier.

The principles she references are, in fact, elements of folklore; societal interpretations about what happiness is and how it can be both achieved and experienced.

Happiness is subjective. It means something different to different cultures. So what does it mean to Rubin and the American society within which she lives?

Before we begin with Tip #1, notice here the American approach to happiness: vacation - the need to get out of the daily grind; to take a break from what is routine, etc.

So here's her first tip. What's yours?

Being on vacation reminded me of several things about happiness - the first being, remember to take a vacation! Especially given the technology these days, it's tempting to have a change of scenery and call it a vacation. But a vacation really means taking a break from work.

I was reminded of several other happiness principles, as well:

1. Fun is important to happiness. Is there such a thing as "fun for the whole family"? I think so, but I've learned that on vacation I need to make sure I make time for the things that I find fun - which in my case means reading. Sometimes I think, "Why am I just lying here, reading, on such a beautiful day? I should be going for a run/playing in the ocean/learning to play tennis." But it's a Secret of Adulthood - Just because something is fun for someone else doesn't mean it's fun for me. I love to read, and now I let myself read as much as I can get away with, given the realities of a family vacation. After all, I still do plenty of other things.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Flying Folktales II

Folktales On The Wings of the Tibetan Wind Horse

In Tibetan folklore, the wind horse travels to all four corners of the world. In its travels it is able to deliver blessings and prayers intended to increase the world’s sense of peace, wisdom, strength, and compassion. According to tradition these qualities ultimately lead to enlightenment which recognizes human suffering as a temporary condition.

Historically the flags, rooted first in Indian religion, were used as a means to carry forth prayers. Today, Tibetans believe that these prayers and blessings are carried by the Wind Horse (blown by the wind) to spread good will and compassion everywhere. In this way the flags benefit everyone.

So what makes them prayer flags? The people who create them pray over the flags upon which they have written prayers and drawn sacred images. According to Tibetan tradition, the flags are generally flown in sets of five, one in each of five colors. The five colors represent the natural elements of the world and are arranged from left to right in a specific order. The colors and corresponding elements are:
• Blue (sky/space)
• White (air/wind)
• Red (fire)
• Green (water)
• Yellow (earth)

Because Tibetans, like so many other indigenous cultures, such as Native American tribes, use organic bio-degradable materials, the flags in time will fade and then dissolve.

I once wrote a news story about Virginia Ray, an artist who grew the materials she used to make her prayer flags for cancer centers in San Francisco as well as Atlanta. In those intimate workshop settings the flags provided cancer patients, cancer survivors and their families opportunities to write well wishes for the entire world community of cancer patients. Her paper came from garden greens and she also used vegetation as decoration. For example, a leaf dipped in beet juice and then placed on a flag would work like a stamp and stamp pad on paper. In the end a finely outlined leaf would appear.

It’s a good thing that papers made from plant materials and inks created from ground rocks and minerals, do not last forever. How else can the Wind Horse take the messages they hold and deliver them to the far reaches of the earth?

Prayer flags can now be found in many places. Considered to be art forms as well as visual and tangible blessing tools, they not only exist in healing centers and cancer wards, they can also be seen waving in the wind at school yards, farmers markets and elsewhere.

I once facilitated a writing workshop in which the members wrote short family folktales onto paper flags that were on display during a community-wide literary project. In this way they let the world know about select treasured memories.

Families can make their own family folktale flags. The flags can be written or painted upon. They can be created at a family reunion and then laced through the branches of a tree in someone’s yard. Installed on the back porch during an anniversary they could “announce” to the Wind Horse special moments in the celebrated couples’ lives. No matter the occasion, making of the flags themselves can become the source of another family folktale.

It is important to note that while the family folktale flags are temporary in nature because they would dissolve, the folktales themselves would not be lost. Make sure the flags can carry a copy of the folktale. The original can be preserved in a book or on a computer disc.

Perhaps with family folktale flags it will be as the Tibetans believe it is for prayer flags: that blessings which ride upon the Wind Horse will become a permanent part of the universe.

Be sure to read Flying Family Folktales I about the world of family folktales and kites

Flying Folktales I

The most blustery months of the year occur in early spring. March and April are rife with wind-blown possibilities, especially because these sun gladdened, blossom-filled months lure everyone outdoors.
We all know that this is kite season, complete with large spools of thread and dazzling colored kites swirling in the sky overhead.
Just last night while walking my dog in the neighborhood park, I saw a kite stuck in the branches of a mulberry tree and was reminded of how when my nephew Steven was nine-years-old he flew kites at the beach. Kite in hand he would run off towards the waves of the protected Bodega Bay alcove. Lifting the brightly colored kite up in the air, he always knew exactly when to let it go; the spool of white thread quickly unwinding as the wind whisked the nearly weightless paper kite out to sea.
Kites can become the center of a family folktale as mentioned above. They can also become a family folktale messenger. Here is one such example:

Paper Kites carry Family Folktales on their tails

When I was writing for the Marin Independent Journal, I interviewed members of the Hispanic community about their Dia De Los Muertos traditions. This community of immigrants whose homelands included Mexico, San Salvador and Guatemala held an annual Day of the Dead multi-media fall extravaganza that always included altars, skeleton cookies and a community procession of at least one hundred people; many of them in costume. The grassroots parade was always led by the local Aztecan dancers and drummers in full regalia.
During the interview, I spoke with Eduardo Galatia, a young man from Columbia who had only recently become part of the festival’s organizing committee. This family man had come to the San Francisco Bay Area as so many immigrants do in search of a better life for his family.
However, unlike other residents who baked and decorated sugar skulls upon which they wrote the names of deceased children or who built lavish altars displaying pictures, momentos and favorite foods just in case the ancestors were hungry, he explained that kites were an important part of how his countrymen remembered loved ones who had passed on.
Resourceful, his Columbian community took advantage of their mountainous geography. Exposed to sea winds not punctuated by trees, the terrain was perfect, he said, for kite flying. And because kites could virtually reach the heavens where ancestors resided, they became ideal vehicles for transmitting family messages.
Each family made at least one kite of paper that was colorful painted with designs the ancestors would recognize. The kites also had thickly woven tails that had handwritten messages on strips of paper or cloth tucked into them.
The kites were released during the afternoon when the winds were their strongest. In that way, Eduardo said, well wishes and reminders of love could better reach the other world.

Now It's Your Turn
So maybe the next time you want to remember someone (living or not), you can make a kite upon which you can either write a brief folktale about that person or you can weave the story (on a scroll of paper) into the kite’s tail.
This could also be done for special occasions such as birthday party celebrations. Everyone could write a brief folktale about the birthday boy or girl and then take turns flying the kite for a while before letting it go, sending it on its way to another place. Who knows? Much like a message in a bottle, it may be found by someone else!
Don’t forget that even the act of making and flying a kite with special messages can also become a family folktale to tell others about at a later date.

Flying Folktales II will explore Family Folktales on the Wings of the Tibetan Wind Horse