Monday, January 5, 2015

World Festivals & Holidays

As many countries around the world celebrated Christmas and New Years, GRG met in the spirit of cooperation for a discussion of world festivals and holidays!

Carnival Masks of Venice: A Photographic Essay by J.C. Brown
(amazon) Every February, Venice becomes a living theater as residents and tourists alike take to the canals and streets in fabulous costumes for one of the major events of the year. The tradition of wearing a mask to hide your identity and allow you to misbehave with impunity is ancient, but only in Venice is the tradition kept so alive today. This pictorial essay on the disguises that characterize Carnival will delight and inspire by examining the history of the event and providing a clear explanation of the different types of mask in use. With 125 exceptionally beautiful photographs, all presented with the highest of production standards, this exquisite record is a true treasure.

Black Orpheus (DVD, 1959)
(Rotten Tomatoes) Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) is literally what its title suggests: a retelling of the "Orpheus and Eurydice" legend enacted by black performers. This time the setting is the annual Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Orpheus (Breno Mello) is a streetcar conductor; Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) has just jilted her lover and is attempting to escape his wrath. Orpheus himself falls in love with Eurydice, whereupon her ex-lover, disguised as the Angel of Death shows up and kills Eurydice. To reclaim his lost love, Orpheus enters "Hell" (the Rio morgue) and uses supernatural methods to revive the dead girl. A multi-award winner on the international film scene, Black Orpheus features a samba musical score by Luiz Bonfa and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: The African/Native American tradition of the Big Chiefs during New Orleans' Mardi Gras.  In 1995, Rick Bragg wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning article about thistradition, which honors American Indians who once gave sanctuary to escaped slaves.  Also, the multicultural, celebratory sounds of the Afro Celt Sound System.

Holy Holidays: The Catholic Origins of Celebration by Greg Tobin
(powells) How did Sunday become the “Sabbath Day?” Why did St. Valentine become the patron saint of lovebirds? Most people happily participate in Mardi Gras, Halloween, and St. Patrick's Day with very little knowledge of the origins and meanings of those celebrations. Greg Tobin unearths the religious roots of the seemingly secular, offering historical trivia and the sometimes bizarre origins of the days throughout the year that bring people together. In these pages, readers will discover that:
--Jesus was not born on Christmas Day.
--The Easter Bunny is a deeply pagan tradition that simply could not be suppressed by the Church. Same with Easter eggs.
--Mothers Day falls in early May, the month dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Catholic symbol of motherhood.
--Saint Patrick is not only the patron saint of Ireland but also Nigeria.
--and much more!

Calendar: Humanity's Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year by David Ewing Duncan
(powells) The adventure spans the world from Stonehenge to astronomically aligned pyramids at Giza, from Mayan observatories at Chichen Itza to the atomic clock in Washington, the world's official timekeeper since the 1960s. We visit cultures from Vedic India and Cleopatra's Egypt to Byzantium and the Elizabethan court; and meet an impressive cast of historic personages from Julius Caesar to Omar Khayyam, and giants of science from Galileo and Copernicus to Stephen Hawking. Our present calendar system predates the invention of the telescope, the mechanical clock, and the concept of zero and its development is one of the great untold stories of science and history. How did Pope Gregory set right a calendar which was in error by at least ten lull days? What did time mean to a farmer on the Rhine in 800 A.D.? What was daily life like in the Middle Ages, when the general population reckoned births and marriages by seasons, wars, kings reigns, and saints' days?

GENERAL DISCUSSION: Talk of time and the marking of its passage brought to mind the 2012 novel, Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. (powells) On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life — the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

The Book of Thanksgiving by Paul Dickson
(amazon) An illustrated celebration of the traditions and festivities surrounding America's most popular holiday--Thanksgiving--is filled with anecdotes, toasts, blessings, recipes, and facts of regional and historical interest covering everything from Lincoln's designation of the holiday to carving a turkey.

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St.Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth
(powells) Shamrocks, shillelaghs, reed pipes, and leprechauns—these are some of the many symbols that remind us of St. Patrick's Day. Who was St. Patrick? And what is this early spring holiday all about? With warmth and vitality, Edna Barth tells the colorful stories, legends, and historical facts behind St. Patrick's Day and shows how the spirit of this ancient Irish holiday is still alive in many countries. Illustrated with black and white drawings by Ursula Arndt, this is a book to be discovered and read with pleasure by young readers.

The Haggis: A Little History by Clarissa Wright
(powells) The author, one of the Two Fat Ladies of television cookbook fame, handles the history of the haggis with aplomb in this little cookbook. Haggis, for the unititated, is a dish commonly made in a sheep's maw, of minced lungs, hearts, and liver of the same animal.However, the haggis is much more than a mere meal. The haggis, or some version of it, may be found in the histories of countries as varied as ancient Greece, Sweden, and the United States. Yet the haggis is most closely associated with Scotland and has come to represent that country just as pasta represents Italy. Scotland may thank its beloved bard, Robert Burns, for this. Burns immortalized the dish in perhaps his best-known poem, Address to the Haggis. In it, he refers to the haggis as the Great Chieftan o' the Puddin'-race. How far the haggis had come. Originally a meal of the lower classes who could not afford to waste any edible portion of their livestock, the haggis mysteriously transformed into a delicacy deemed worthy of royalty. Queen Victoria, an enthusiast for most all things Scottish, said of the haggis, “I find I like it very well”

Yule: A Celebration of Light & Warmth by Dorothy Morrison
(powells) There's just something magical about the Yuletide season, no matter where you live or who you are. As bright candlelight mingles with the smells of pine and warm cookies and we perform our yearly rituals of song and family gatherings, the spirit of peace and goodwill seems to reach the heart of even the most cynical Scrooge. In the pages of Yule, Dorothy Morrison presents a wonderful potpourri of holiday lore from around the world and throughout history, along with fun crafts, delicious recipe seven a calendar of celebrations for every day in December. Learn where the traditions of the season originated--for instance, did you know that the ringing of bells was meant to drive away the demons who inhabited the darkest days of the year? That leaving cookies for Santa mirrors the old tradition of leaving a loaf of bread on the table overnight to bring prosperity in the new year? That the Yule log can be traced back to the ancient Greeks? Need a recipe for wassail or plum pudding? Tips for your holiday party? Want to make the season special by making your own decorative crafts and gifts? That's just a sampling of what's inside. Best of all, Yule shows that the spirit of the season is universal and, however we chose to celebrate and worship, we can all join together in the spirit of peace, love, and harmony at this special time of year.

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell
(powells) How does Santa really know who is naughty or nice? The answer is finally revealed in... The Elf on the Shelf, a Christmas Tradition.The Elf on the Shelf, a Christmas Tradition is an activity the entire family will enjoy. Based on the tradition Carol Aebersold began with her family in the 1970s, this cleverly rhymed children's book explains that Santa knows who is naughty and/or nice because he sends a scout elf to every home. During the holiday season, the elf watches children by day and reports to Santa each night. When children awake, the elf has returned from the North Pole and can be found hiding in a different location. This activity allows The Elf on the Shelf to become a delightful hide-and-seek game. In addition, each shipment is marked for special delivery from Santa's workshop.

New Orleans: Behind the Masks of America's Most Exotic City by Carol Flake
(publishers weekly) Beneath the surface wildness of New Orleans's Mardi Gras persona lies an urban alchemy that, for over a century, has created and dominated the city's flamboyant character--its politics, high and low society, and economy--according to Flake. New Orleans has brought about the marriage of pagan tradition, Catholic religiosity, black jazz and blue-blood Anglo society, and it has served as a uniquely integrating force for its Creole, black and white communities, gays, transvestites, artists, musicians and businesspeople. But the city has also been a powerful instrument of conflict, segregation and decadence. In Flake's kaleidoscopic vision, layers of secret societies, Carnival clubs and virtual caste structures are laid open. The jousting for dominance among the eccentric characters who run the city and produce its famous Carnival plays against New Orleans's declining fortunes and the now-shifting foundations that made the Mardi Gras synonymous with the city. Flake ( Tarnished Crown ) brings to her account both the affection of an erstwhile resident and the skeptical eye of a reporter. The book is a tour de force worthy of the colorful city she profiles.

A Very Special Christmas: Volume 1 (music CD)
(amazon) When was the last time you heard collard greens being sung about in a Christmas song? Probably never, unless you're a Run DMC fan, or were wise enough to hop on the Very Special Christmas tip. The rappers' contribution to this benefit collection is probably the highlight, although traditional songs covered by now-traditional artists like the Pretenders ("Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas") provide the majority of the material here. Eurythmics turn in a suitably chilly "Winter Wonderland," Stevie Nicks sings a beautifully haunting "Silent Night," and Whitney Houston proves again that she's every woman with "Do You Hear What I Hear"--that is, every woman with a voice strong enough to do the song justice. "Santa Baby," Madonna's contribution, isn't as sultry as it could be, but there's more fun thanks to hell-on-heels, the Pointer Sisters and Bon Jovi. --Steve Gdula

GENERAL DISCUSSION: (From their website) For the last 26 years, the biggest and brightest voices in the recording industry have generously lent their time and talents to Special Olympics to create the holiday album series – A Very Special Christmas (AVSC) – the single most successful benefit recording in musical history.  This series has also brought joy to the world through the transformative power of sport. Approximately $116 million in royalties and investment proceeds has been generated by the sale of the AVSC albums to support Special Olympics’ athletes with intellectual disabilities.

Several GRG members mentioned that an MTV documentary about the popular series aired at some point, but I could find no additional information about it. 

The Little Drummer Boy (VHS)
(amazon) The model animation techniques in this 1968 Rankin and Bass TV chestnut are primitive by today's standards, and picky kids may reject them out of hand. The story, however, which elaborates on the popular Christmas song about a shepherd boy who plays his drum for the baby Jesus and makes the animals dance, is a little more tough-minded than you might expect. The kid begins the story as what we'd now call a neglected child, a surly urchin who says he hates all people. He's pulled back from the brink, first by learning to make music, and then by his encounter with the Christ child. The underlying message alone--that everybody has something worth contributing--qualifies the show for holiday-perennial status. The big-name voice performers, Jose Ferrer and Greer Garson (who narrates), may be a little too ponderous for the occasion, but the familiar cartoony tones of Paul Frees (aka Boris Badenov) and June Forey (aka Rocket J. Squirrel) help liven up the proceedings. It's only 23 minutes long, so it's worth a shot for younger children. --David Chute

A Christmas Prayer by Kimberla Lawson Roby
(powells) Alexis Fletcher hasn't had a merry Christmas since losing her mother. Every December she remembers the joy her mother brought to everyone during the holiday season, and wishes her family could be whole again. And even as Alexis prepares to start a new family with her fiancé, Chase Dupont, outside forces threaten to destroy her potential happiness. But fate has one more surprise in store for Alexis, and it might be exactly what she needs to finally embrace the one holiday that has brought her nothing but heartache.

Touring Great Festivals of Europe (DVD, 2008)
(amazon) Here's your invitation to Europe's most festive celebrations. These festivals are not staged for tourists. They are for the locals celebrating their own lives and traditions. Share in the rituals and revelry, the folklore and fun, the costumes and the commotion of eight spectacular festivals. The colorful Storica Regata in Venice, Italy, honors the fastest rowers on the Grand Canal. Spend three madcap days in Fasnachtin Switzerland. Witness mask making and mask mischief at Carnival in Limoux in the south of France. During the Moors & Christian Fest in Alcoy Spain, an epic mock battle resolves the ancient turmoil between two bloodlines. Party like its 1549 at the Ommegang in Brussels.April Fest in Brielle, Netherlands is Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day and the Fourth of July all rolled into one. Raise a stein at Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, a festival of rowdy abandonment that celebrates Germany's longstanding love affair with beer. Finally, plunge into winter and drive out pagan ogres during Perchten in Altenmark, Austria.

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