Monday, December 31, 2012

January Folklore & Facts

January is a month filled with folklore. Here are a few samples of the folk wisdom based upon communal beliefs and traditions and facts that has been generated and shared from one generation to the next:

 Mythology:The name January comes from the Latin word Januarius, and is considered the month of Roman god Janus. This mythical hero and first king of Latium (where the city of Rome was founded) was gracious to Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture who had been expelled from Heaven. Folklore has it that in thanks, Saturn taught the people of Latium how to cultivate land and gave Janus the ability to see both the past and the future. This is why he is always portrayed as a man with two faces – one that looks into the past and one that looks into the future.

Weather Lore: 
== A wet January, a wet spring. 
== If grass does grow in January, it will barely grow for the rest of the year. 
== On average, January has 31 of the coldest days and nights in the Northern Hemisphere.

January 6th Religious Customs: 
== Epiphany: This Christian feast day is designed to honor the revelation of God as he appears human through the embodiment of Jesus Christ. Western Christians celebrate the day that the Biblical Magi visited the baby Jesus while Eastern Christians celebrate the baptism of the baby Jesus in the Jordan River. Epiphany is celebrated in numerous countries, including Ireland, Greece, Malta, Portugal, Spain, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and others. 
== Coptic Christmas Day celebrated by the Coptic Church, a very small branch of the Catholic Church that follows an older calendar. Until the Pope of Rome changed the date in 1581, Christmas was observed on January 4th.  The date shifted slightly for several years following until finally, in the late 1800’s, the Western Christians settled on December 25th.

 January, a month of national recognition: 
== National Thank You Month
== National Soup Month
== National Staying Healthy Month
== National Blood Donor Month
== National Braille Literacy Month
January folk art exhibit:
The American Folk Art Museum offers tours of its exhibition Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions which celebrates New York City’s harbor-related folk art at the South Street Seaport Museum each Wednesday through January 30.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Year's Folk Song

Auld Lang Syne
 This Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 was a traditional folk song. In English the literal meaning is “old long since” or mostly known as, “long long ago” and also equivalent to, “Once upon a time…”  Robert Burns restored the piece and re-wrote the lyrics of the New Year’s song that was made before his time. 

Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is credited for making this folk song popular at New Year’s celebrations in the United States. He first recorded the song in 1939 and it soon became his trademark. It is now a celebratory song that is sung after a countdown when the clock strikes midnight of the New Year.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tamales: Holiday Food lore

The world of food lore is filled with beliefs and traditions concerning what to eat when and how. During the Christmas season, one of the most common Hispanic dishes is tamales.  Made from masa (Spanish dough made from corn) they come in different flavors and can be made different ways. 

The earliest recorded mention of the tamale was 5000 BC in the Pre-Columbian history. Women were taken into battle as army cooks to make the masa for the tortillas but the demand for preparing the meal became too overwhelming of a process. A more portable food item was needed. Hence, the tamale. It could be made in advance and put directly on top of the coals to be warmed. 

Even though there no one knows for sure which Pre-Columbian culture initially created this now popular food item, it quickly found its way into many cultures. People adapted the tamale ingredients to fit their geographics. That’s why some are made with red, green and/or black chili while others were made with fish or rabbit. There were also pineapple, cinnamon and berry tamales. Outer wrappings also reflected the terrain and so included cornhusks, banana leaves, avocado leaves and more.

Still a food item that takes time to make, tamales are a much-sought after holiday food. Made in advance they can be cooked dozens at a time and the sauces poured over them are as creative as the cooks want them to be. Meat sauces and sweet sauces alike reflect cultural diversity.

According to Lonely Planet, “no one  is entirely certain how tamales came to be associated with Christmas, but the general explanation is this: no one wants to go through the effort of making them more than once, so you might as well do it for the biggest  meal of the year. Tamales also fulfill an important Christmas food function: they make your house smell incredible.”

Personally I think it's because, like any other holiday gift, they are supposed to be unwrapped (opened) so that the delicious contents can be enjoyed.

Want to make tamales this year? Here are a few recipes to try:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Folk Symbol: Christmas Tree

Folklore celebrates the beliefs and customs of folk. These traditions – how special occasions like birth are recognized, how food is prepared and served, how dance steps are selected, how tools and other useful implements are decorated and how important information is passed on through stories and games– reflect the common wisdom that has helped people understand the mysteries of the world they live in. 

During winter one of the most common celebrations is Christmas and one of the more popular folk symbols is the Christmas tree. This festive occasion is similar to winter darkness festivities around the world. All of them ‘light the darkness’ with hope in the coming of spring; a time of birth and re-birth.

The decorated Christmas tree can be traced back to the ancient Romans who during their winter festival decorated trees with small pieces of metal during Saturnalia, a winter festival in honor of Saturnus, the god of agriculture.

Once designed for community-wide gatherings, these specially forested trees were village centerpieces. Over time the winter celebrations became less communal and more personal with people taking the holiday indoors, literally. 

Christmas trees were sold at local markets and set up in homes undecorated in Germany in the 16th century.  Devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes or they built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles.  It is believed that Martin Luther, the protestant reformer, was the first to add lighted candles on the trees.

In the 19th century the Christmas tree began to appear in the United States. It was first introduced during the War of Independence by Hessian troops. Folklore reports that a Christmas tree was set up by American soldiers at Fort Dearborn, Illinois, the site of Chicago, in 1804. Most other early accounts were among the German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania. 

While Europeans used small trees, Americans preferred trees that reach from the floor to the ceiling.  Tree decorating hit a new height in the 20th century when American started using homemade ornaments. Christmas lights came shortly after electricity.

Franklin Pierce was the first president to introduce the Christmas tree to the White House in 1856 for a group of Washington Sunday School children. The first national Christmas Tree was lighted in the year 1923 on the White House lawn by President Calvin Coolidge.

In America today, Christmas trees are grown in all fifty states, including Hawaii and Alaska. The top six Christmas tree producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Washington & Wisconsin. The Christmas tree farm industry employs about 100,000 each year until recently, all trees came from forests. 

Here are few sites that provide do-it-yourself ornament making ideas:

Homemade Ornaments
Recycled Ornaments 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

December in Austria

In Austria, the last month of the year - Dezember - is dominated by the folk customs and traditions of the coming of Christmas. In late November Christmas Markets pop up in many communities all over Austria. Common fare includes crafts and food items like Gl├╝hwein, Maroni (roasted chestnuts) or Gebrannte Mandeln caramelised, roasted almonds with a hint of cinnamon).  
Here is an overview of some popular events:

December 4 is St. Barbara′s Day. She is the patron saint of miners. People cut branches of cherry trees and put them into a jug of water. It is believed that if they cusp and bloom by Christmas, good luck and health will be forthcoming in the next year.

December 6 is St. Nicholas′ Day. This folk hero is the Austrian counterpart to Santa Claus, although he does not bring presents. He visits children′s houses and is sometimes accompanied by a Krampus (a furry, scary creature) that can punish the naughty children.  St Nicholas traditionally brings small gifts, like fruits, nuts and some sweets.

December 24. Shops close midday and people attend a night church serve where they sing familiar carols, such as Silent Night and then celebrate at home with food and presents.  

December 26 is Boxing Day and many people will travel distances to visit relatives and exchange gifts.

December 31 is Silvester,  the day of St. Sylvester. The common tradition is to have parties and fireworks at night that bring in the New Year.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Turkey Then and Now

Yesterday's Turkey:
The turkey is known to be clan animal in some Native American cultures. Their feathers have been used in the traditional regalia of many tribes, particularly the feathered cloaks of eastern Woodland Indians like the Wampanoag and the feather headdresses of southern tribes like the Tuscarora and Catawba. The Turkey Dance, one of the most important social dances of the Caddo tribe, is associated with songs about war honors and tribal pride. Turkey dances are also found in other eastern tribes, such as the Lenape, Shawnee, and Seminoles.

In folklore, some legends portray the turkey as a wily, overly- proud trickster while others make the bird out to be shy and elusive. In parts of Mexico and the American Southwest, turkeys were domesticated and kept as food animals by some tribes, and their role in stories from these tribes is similar to chicken stories from Europe, with the birds mimicking the concerns and activities of human farmers. 

At the time of the first European contact wild turkeys were abundant because the and management skills of native people, which including burning forest undergrowth, provided a good habitat for wild turkeys (bison & elk, too). 

Ben Franklin nominated the wild turkey as a national symbol, citing the bird’s modesty, alertness, self- reliance and ability to live off the land. 

Today's Turkey: 
It's estimated that turkeys have 3,500 feathers at maturity. Some of the feathers are still used in the making of  Native American costumes and pen quills. 
Big Bird, of Sesame Street fame, is actually dressed in turkey feathers. Although he is not a turkey, his costume is made of nearly 4,000 white turkey feathers, which have been dyed bright yellow.
Turkey feather down has been used to make pillows.

More About Turkeys:
Only tom turkeys gobble.

Hen turkeys make a clicking noise.
Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.
Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Paul Bunyan's Babe the Blue Ox

Paul Bunyan is an American folk legend. A North American lumberjack he was considered to be a giant man with tremendous strength and skills. And he was often accompanied by his animal friend, Babe the Blue Ox.

How Babe came to help Paul Bunyan:
One winter, when it was so cold that the snow turned blue, Paul Bunyan went out walking in the woods.  He heard a funny sound and looked down to see a tiny baby blue ox trying to hop about in the snow.

Paul Bunyan picked the ox up and brought it home. Warmed up by the fire, it was still as blue as the snow outside. Paul named him Babe the Blue Ox and he grew up to be very big.

Babe the Blue Ox helped out at Paul Bunyan's logging camp. Because he was strong enough to pull anything that had two ends, he was able to straighten out twisted logging roads. He also pulled the heavy tank wagon which was used to coat the newly-straightened lumber roads in the winter.

Here are some of the duo’s accomplishments
(according to legends): 
  •   The lumberjack was so fond of his four-legged companion that he formed the Great Lakes so that Babe had a large enough drinking hole.
  •  The 10,000 Lakes of Minnesota were made by the footprints Paul Bunyan and Babe left as they wandered blindly in a deep blizzard.
  • Paul Bunyan dug the Grand Canyon with an axe he dragged behind him as he walked with Babe.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween Contest WINNER!

A FolkHeart Press 
Halloween Writing Contest
Winner Has Been Chosen!
 Congratulations  Gregory Kimball

His prose-poem story, Dead Man's Shoes was selected just in time for Halloween. Prizes included being featured in the blog and in the monthly FolkHeart Press e-newsletter AND  a $25 gift e-card from Sweet Lolllipop Shop!
Honorable Mention: Girls vs. Ghoul by Lily Hagan

Dead Man’s Shoes   By Gregory Kimball

In the alley in the rain with his head in his hands things weren’t going as Willy had planned.
Broke, forlorn and driven to drink. Into the pits of perdition he was beginning to sink.
His wife was gone and his dog had died. He was running rather low on strength and pride.
Sitting and staring as the rain came down. If his mouth had been open he would probably
Out in the alley with the rest of the trash, heartbroken and blubbering with zero cash.
Poor little Willy had nothing to lose when he stumbled upon the dead man’s shoes.
Wingtips they were polished and bright and they shone like a beacon in the dark of the night
Inside of the shoes were the dead man’s feet with the rest of him there like a side of meat.
There in the alley: Stiff, spoiled and dead with black plastic bags for his final bed.
 Off they came, quick as a flash and the dead man’s body sunk in the trash.
 On they went and Harry stood tall. They fit rather well though a little too small.
Into a grin his lips stretched wide and he felt his body filling with pride.
Suddenly then his heart ceased to pump and his head hit the ground with a terrible thump.
Along came Hector, dejected and alone. He was feeling the loneliness deep down in his bones.
Poor little Hector had nothing to lose when he stumbled upon the dead man’s shoes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's Witch Season!

One of the most common folklore motifs for women is that of the witch, the sorceress. And Halloween is definitely one of her most popular times of year.  Also known as wise women since the medieval times, they have been feared for their ability to create and use powers of magic power to form potions and ointments that can dramatically change those they come into contact with.

There is a lot of folklore that surrounds the appearance of a witch.  Her pointed hat, for instance is more than just an accessory.  The point has actually been known as “the cone of power or wisdom”.  It is said that the hat helps power flow from a higher source into the mind of the witch. 

The green face of a witch is another common feature. A witch’s green face is said to originate from the beatings they received during medieval witch hunts.  Old, unattractive women were the primary targets during these witch hunts.  Until they confessed their participation in evil magic, the women would be beaten and dragged through the streets. This is what turned their faces green, blue and black with bruises. 

Commonly associated with the witch is the black cat.  Prior to the black cat's relationship with a witch, they were actually known for good luck.  However, the black cat quickly turned into a symbol of fear once their loyalty and faithful companionship to witches was redefined.

The broom, a common household object in medieval Europe became another accessory. Some believe that witches cleaned their brooms using hallucinogenic herbs that had magical powers that could only be rubbed in during a broom ride.
Here are four popular witches:

Circe-  A mythical sorceress remembered in Odyssey.  She was skilled in the magic of metamorphosis and the power of illusion.  Her most known feat was that of  transforming Odysseus’ men into swine. She did so by replacing their wine with potion.  She turned them back into men only after Odysseus agreed to sleep with her. 

Wendy the Good Little Witch- We all know Casper the friendly ghost but what about his companion Wendy the Good Little Witch?  Wendy was introduced as a fictional cartoon character by Harvey Comics in the 20th century. Contrary to being mean and cold hearted, she only uses her magic for good.  TV episodes about the same character revolve around her resistance to her aunts who wanted her to use her powers for evil.  

Mabaa- Known to be the most powerful witch featured in the Japanese comics Soul Eater.  She, along with her fellow witches, has the natural ability to perform magic used for destruction.  She also possesses the power of Soul Protect which disguises her soul as ordinary to hide herself from the witch hunts. 

Fenella Feverfew- A young female witch who is fascinated by forbidden spells and potions.  Her character originated from a book series and grew into a film titled The Worst Witch.  Nicknamed “Fenny”, she is best at using spells to get her and her friend out of complicated situations.
How many witches do you know?

This post was co-written by Caitlin Petrucelli. Thanks, Caitlin!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nursery Rhymes & Folklore

Hey Diddle Diddle

Nursery rhymes with their sing-songey style are easy to remember. Maybe that’s why they’ve been so popular with children. They are catchy because the words and the melodies create a cadence that is pleasing. 

An oral tradition, most nursery rhymes were not written down until the 18th century, when the publishing of children's books began to be more commonplace.

Simple in nature, these folk poems have been an ideal way to convey information and can generally be identified as either a lullabye or game song, In all cases, the information varies from historical events to folk beliefs about love and marriage, and death.

For example,"Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" is believed to reference the slave trade. "London Bridge is Falling Down" recalls the burial of children in London. "Mama Zamanha Gaya" is an Egyptian rhyme about a child's mother coming home.

Lullabies are those used to help children go to sleep were lullabies. “Rock a Bye Baby” is a well-known example.

They are the  oldest children's songs and exist in every human culture. It is believed that the Roman nurses' lullaby, 'Lalla, Lalla, Lalla, aut dormi, aut lacte', may be the oldest to survive. 

Game songs are connected to particular games, including  clapping games like 'Miss Susie', and 'Mpeewa' played in parts of Africa. Unlike lullabyes, they are often sung by children and can have an educational element to them. Many traditional Maori children's games, such as hand movement, stick and string games, were accompanied by particular songs.

Some have suggested that skipping games and their related nursery rhymes could have been important in the formation of hip hop and rap music. 

Here are a few examples of nursery rhymes based upon history:

  • “Jack and Jill”: Louix XVI and Marie Antionette of France
  • “Mary,Mary Quite Contrary”: Mary, Queen of Scots
  • “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”:  14th century Black Death

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Down Under Autumn Comfort Foods

Food lore identifies which foods to eat when and why. It is an important element of folklore. Agreed upon food traditions and customs, including preparation, serving and storing, have historically designed to help a community prepare for and survive significant life cycle changes. 

They have also become opportunities for celebration and identification around beliefs and values. The Thanksgiving Turkey, for example, represents a Fall coming together of cultures; a collaboration, if you will, of resources gleaned from the harvest.  The turkey was a native bird and the customary pumpkin pie (made with fresh pumpkin) that completes today’s Thanksgiving meal is a seasonal vegetable.

Everywhere around the world, people have found creative ways to incorporate seasonal foods into their seasonal meals which are often referred to as comfort foods.  Autumn, in particular, is traditionally harvest season no matter where you live. The Northern Hemisphere harvest season includes cold and cooler weather foods, whereas the harvest season of the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand) which is more moderate in temperature has its own offerings. 

Here are some examples of Down Under comfort foods: 

Herbs: They grow year round. The more common are mint, lemon balm, sage, parsley and rosemary. Mint can be found next to every stream or grassy area. Lemon balm grows wild and is known for its calming nature. Sage, parsley and rosemary, they are often used as decorative objects for homes. 

Kiwifruit: These egg-shaped fruits are delicious, full of fibre and vitamin C.

Kumara: Brought over to New Zealand over thousands of years ago by Maori settlers, this root vegetable has been growing there ever since. Its color ranges from dark orange to a yellow color and sometimes to white with purple marks. It is related to the sweet potato of South America.

Oysters: Bluff oysters are a prized seasonal delicacy and world-renowned for their taste and size. The oysters are harvested from the rich fishing grounds of the Foveaux Strait, and are in great demand from restaurants and markets throughout the country.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The First Day of Fall

The first day of fall, also known at the Autumnal Equinox, begins this year in the Northern Hemisphere on September 22, 2012 at 10:49 A.M. EDT. The word equinox comes from the Latin words for "equal night." The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator.

In many regions of North America, vibrant colors of red, yellow, and orange begin to take over our landscapes. Leaves begin to drop and baseball season is coming to an end, while football season is just warming up. Temperatures begin to drop and nights begin to get longer. 

With Autumn coming into full swing, it is easy to see the merging of cultures in America with their different traditions.Here are a few:

Scarecrows are traditionally in the shape of a man, covered in old clothes and placed in a field to scare away birds.  The earliest known record of these straw men comes from Japan, where they are known as Kuebiko.  They were written about in a book known as the Kojiki, which was first printed in the year 712 and describes a scarecrow-god which could not walk and was propped on a stick, yet he knew everything about the world around him.  Now they appear in Fall for decoration and to continue to scare those pesky birds from eating gardens!

When one thinks of the Jack-O-Lantern, one usually imagines a big pumpkin carved out for Halloween.  The original purpose for the Jack-O-Lantern was a lantern.  Holding a lit candle while you were walking around caused hot wax to get on your hands.  Placing that candle inside a carved out pumpkin, squash, or for the very poor, a turnip,  with holes cut out so the light could be cast seemed a perfect solution.

In time people started carving faces onto the turnips or pumpkins but the term "Jack-O-Lantern" didn't occur until 1837 and was used to refer a lantern made from any vegetable. 

In the United States, the pumpkin - which is native to the Americas - has been associated with as a seasonal lantern and not with Halloween.  Some suspect the name of the lantern comes from an early Irish Christian story about a man named "Stingy Jack" who tricked the Devil.  Thus, Jack-O-Lanterns became good luck symbols against evil.

Bobbing for apples is a game played as far back as Celtic times and requires a person to snatch an apple out of a bucket of water using only their mouths.  The game is based on the belief that the apple is the symbol of love by ancient people.  When families would gather for autumn festivals, teenage boys and girls would duck for the apples to see if they could grasp one.  The young girls would then keep the apple and place it under their pillows and it was thought that they would dream of their future husband. 

Here are familiar  Autumn proverbs:

  • Autumn days come quickly, like the running of a hound on the moor. - Irish proverb
  •  Spring rain damps; Autumn rain soaks.  - Unknown 
  •  Of autumn's wine, now drink your fill; the frost's on the pumpkin, and snow's on the hill.  - The Old Farmer's Almanac, 1993
  •  Autumn has caught us in our summer wear. - Philip Larkin, British poet (1922-1986)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Che: Revolutionary Folk Hero

Folk heroes and heroines are those who embody the values of the culture they represent. These people make choices and take actions that improve the conditions of the world they live in. They possess inner strength and courage that allows them to ‘do the right thing’ at the right time – often a moment of crisis. And they can be on the right or the wrong side of the law, like Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor.

Here is a South American folk hero who was known for his 
socio-political convictions:

Che Guevara was an Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat, and military theorist. Born in 1928, he had influenced the Cuban Revolution and before his death in 1967, had become a symbol of rebellion and was a global insignia of pop culture. 

As an inspiring doctor, he traveled across Latin America where he was exposed to a great amount of poverty and alienation. He believed what he saw was the result of a corrupt society. His remedy to cure capitalism, monopolismneocolonialism, and imperialism was a world-wide revolution. As a result, in the 1950’s he helped Fidel Castro and others overthrow U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. In time Guevara was promoted to second-in-command of the battle and played a pivotal role in the victorious two-year guerrilla campaign that deposed the Batista regime.     
After the Cuban Revolution, Che played many roles in the new government. He reviewed the appeals for those convicted as criminals during the revolutionary tribunals , instituted agrarian land reform as minister of industries, helped lead a successful nationwide literacy campaign, served as both national bank president and instructional director for Cuba’s armed forces and traveled the globe as a diplomat on behalf of Cuban socialism. 

These positions led him to play a central role on training the militia forces who repelled the Bay of Pigs Invasion and brought  the Soviet nuclear- armed ballistic missiles to Cuba which resulted in the 1962, Cuban Missile Crisis. Along with his success he became a proficient writer, composing a seminal manual on guerrilla warfare and a best- selling memoir on his youthful motorcycle journey across South America. In 1965, Guevara left Cuba but then was captured by CIA- assisted Bolivian forces and eventually executed.

Today Guevara remains a very present historical figure. He is collectively stayed in the imaginations of many biographies, memoirs, essays, documentaries, songs and films. As a result of his perceived martyrdom, poetic invocations for class struggle, and desire to create the consciousness of a "new man" driven by moral rather than material incentives; he has evolved into a quintessential icon of various leftist-inspired movements.