Around the World in Celebrations

By MJ Ali

We’re thick in the traditional holiday season here in the US (Planning Day, Purchasing Day, Crazy Shopping Day, Last-Minute Shopping Day, “You can’t deliver it until WHEN?” Day, Mad Rush Day… and also, you know, Chanukah, Festivus, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day). Sometimes, it’s nice to pop our heads out of the proverbial spin cycle of holiday season and take a look at the kinds of celebrations people around the world go gaga over.


BOXING DAY

When is it?

December 26th

What is it?

It’s not boxing (sorry, boxing fans!).

Boxing Day originated in the United Kingdom in the Middle Ages (we’re not talking your 40s, here; we mean the 5th through the 14th Centuries. You know, pre-internet. The “Don’t make me go Medieval on your *&#!”. THAT age).

What’s the story?

According to this TIME article, Boxing Day may have been inspired by the Duke of Bohemia (a.k.a. King Wenceslas) in the 10th century, who saw a man gathering up wood in a snow storm, and collected surplus food and wine to take to the man and his family.

The Church of England would set out boxes for donations to the poor during the Christmas season, hence “Boxing” Day. Maybe.

Salvation Army bell ringers and donation boxes in the US are said to be inspired by Boxing Day.

Where is it celebrated?

UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries hold soccer matches and horse races to celebrate.

The Irish call it St. Stephen’s Day and relate it to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. Apparently, the song of a wren betrayed the Irish as they tried to sneak up on English invaders. Guess which bird is not the official bird of Ireland?


JUNKANOO

This holiday was listed under Boxing Day by TIME, but we don’t know why, although the Bahamian official site does mention Boxing Day. This is a distinctly Bahamian celebration, as their official website will explain.

When is it?

During Christmas and New Year traditionally, but they’ve added Junkanoo Summer in June and July due to its popularity.

What is it?

Street carnivals, parades, cultural extravaganzas, costumes, you name it and it’s probably happening somewhere on the Bahamian Islands in spectacular fashion, overflowing with talent, creativity, and community.

What’s the story?

From the Bahamas official site: “Some believe the holiday was established by John Canoe, a West African Prince, who outwitted the English and became a local hero; and others suspecting it comes from the French ‘gens inconnus,’ which translates to ‘unknown’ or ‘masked people’.”

The site goes on to describe the holiday’s most popular belief, which is that it was born out of slavery times, when Loyalists would migrate to the Bahamas and bring their slaves with them. The slaves were given three days off during the Christmas season, during which time there were large celebrations involving costumes and song and dance.

Junkanoo almost disappeared after slavery was abolished, and the revival of this phenomenal festival, open to all, continues stronger than ever.

Where is it celebrated?

All over the Bahamian Islands. It usually starts in Nassau, and the Summer Festival is held all over the Islands. Check out the website to learn more. From the Rush-Out to the Children’s Rush and Big Parade, there’s always reason to celebrate in The Islands of the Bahamas.


 MONKEY BUFFET FESTIVAL

I’m elated to finally find a celebration that doesn’t involve animal cruelty, and it’s found in Thailand. Thank you, Thailand. This festival is dedicated entirely to feeding the long-tailed macaques, considered to be descendants of the Monkey King.

When is it?

The last Sunday in November.

What is it?/What’s the story?/Where is it celebrated?

Long-tailed macaques live in the ancient Khmer ruins and roam freely in the streets of Lopburi. And, as we primates do, they get into everything, but the locals honor them instead of treating them like pests (or unwanted relatives who always show up for dinner uninvited).

A banquet is held in their honor; residents decorate their homes with fruit sculptures, and the festival is held at the ruins. Huge banquet tables overflowing with fruit, salad, and sticky rice are shared by monkeys and festivalgoers.

 


INTERNATIONAL HAIR FREEZING COMPETITION 

Every winter, Canada has a festival dedicated to creating wild and crazy frozen hair sculptures, and it’s an international event.

When is it?

When it’s ccccccold! (Winners are announced in March.)

What is it?/What’s the story?/Where is it celebrated?

Participants gather at the Takhini Hot Pools to soak their heads in the hot water. The freezing air creates the sculpture when you take your head out of the water.

The only story you need is “minus 20 degrees”.

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