1. St. Valentine's Day
St. Valentine's Day, on February 14, is dedicated to lovers, who express their affection for each other through messages and gifts. Legend has it that the holiday got its name from a priest named Valentine who lived in Rome when Christianity was a new religion. The Emperor at the time ordered the Roman soldiers not to marry or become engaged, because he believed that as married men, his soldiers would want to stay home with their families rather fight his wars. Valentine defied the Emperor's decree and secretly married the young couples. He was eventually imprisoned and put to death on February 14. Hence the Holiday.
2. Easter Eggs
When the first spring flowers blossom, Easter comes. It is the oldest Christian feast, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The giving of Easter eggs is a main feature of the feast.
Usally, the Easter eggs are carefully hidden in the garden or in the house and the children must search for them on the morning of Easter Sunday. They are told that the Easter bunny has brought them. This mysterious bunny is like Santa Claus at Christmas. But it is less of an educational figure than Santa Claus is, since the eggs are not given to children as rewards for being good.
3. The Origin of Easter Egg
The origin of Easter Egg is not fully known. One reason for it is that around Easter time the rural household had plenty of eggs. The hens began to lay eggs in the spring. Another explanation is that Easter marks the end of the time of fasting during which eggs and meat were forbidden. The decisive factor, however, probably had to do with the taxes which the peasants had to pay to their lords, or to the Church. Easter was one of the dates when they became due and many eggs were among the payments delivered at this time. The lords of the land, especially the church and the monasteries, gave some eggs to the poor as a kind of charity.
4. The Origin of April Fools' Day
The first of April is a special day, on which jokes may be played without punishment. This custom seems to originate in France as a result of the change to the Gregorian calendar in 1582.
Before 1582 in France, New Year was celebrated on April first. Then in 1582, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world, and the new year fell on January first. There were some people, however, who hadn't heard or didn't believe the change in the date, so they continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April first. Others played tricks on them called them "April Fools."
5. April Fools' Day Tricks
In France, children fool their friends by sticking a paper fish to their friend's back. When the "young fool" discovers this trick, the prankster yells "April Fish!" Today Americans play small tricks on friends and strangers alike on the same day. One common trick is pointing down to a friend's shoe and saying, "Your shoelace is untied!" Teachers in the nineteenth century used to say to pupils, "Look! A flock of geese!" and point up. School children might tell a classmate that school has been cancelled. Whatever the trick, if the innocent victim falls for the joke, the prankster yells, "April Fool!"
6. Independence Day in the U.S.
It is the most important American national holiday, commermorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, at Philadelphia and its adoption by the delegates from the thirteen colonies. Its observance increased in popularity as a sence of national pride and accomplishment increased, and by the 1880s has become a major patriotic occasion. It is a political holiday and a community enterprise traditionally observed with fireworks, parades, band concerts, oratory, picnics, publish entertainment, and especially sporting events.
7. Columbus Day
Columbus Day is intended to commemorate the discovery of a New World on October 12, 1492, when Christopher Columbus reached the American continent after over two months of sailing westward. The anniversary of his landing was formally celebrated for the first time by Society of St.Tammany in New York in 1792, and was made a legal holiday by presidential proclamation in 1892 at the opening of the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Now by federal law it is celebrated on the first Monday in Octorber. And as Columbus was a native of Italy, Columbus Day has become, especially for Italian Americans, a patriotic occasion of improtance.
8. Why America is not named Columbus
It is generally known that Christopher Columbus was the discoverer of the American continent and there is even a Columbus Day in Amercia paying tribute to the revelation of the New World. But the ironic thing is that history played a joke with Columbus. When Columbus arrived in America in 1492, he did not realize that he had discovered a new continent. Instead, he mistook it for India and called the local people "Indians". In 1499, another Italian navigator, Americo Vespucci, following Columbus, reached Brazil and found that it was a new land that they had landed on. And for this reason, the new continent was named after Amercigo instead of Columbus.
9. Halloween, AllSaints', and All Souls' Day
All Saints' or All-Hallow's Day is November 1, which begins as the sun sets the evening before. It is a festival of the dead, and was made into a celebration of all the known and unknown saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church in the seventh century. Originally, it was celebrated on May 13, but was shifted to its present date in the eighth century. All Saints' Day is followed by All Souls' Day, November 2, another festival for the dead. This is a day of intercession that had not yet sufficiently purified, in the belief that the prayers of the living will help.
10. Halloween Today
Nowadays All Saints' Day and All Soul's Day have become combined in modern secular tradition. Mumming, pranks, bonfires, decoration of graves, belief in the return of ghosts or dead souls, fortune-telling and ritualistic games are associated with the eves and days of both November 1 and 2 in America. But the most intersting thing about Halloween is the "trick or treat", which is a recent American phenomenon. It is played by children on the night before Halloween. They will knock the doors and windows of local residents, shouting "trick or treat", threatening to play tricks if they were not given small presents like candies and refreshments.
11. The Origin of Thanksgiving
In 1620, 102 Pilgrims landed on the peninsula of Cape Cod. Their ship, the Mayflower, had intended to go to Virginia, but it made its land far to the north. They chose the area near Plymouth harbor as a site for their colony. When they stepped ashore in this utterly unknown world, they were totally isolated from any outside help and know no means of livelihood. But the vast stretches of forest gave them a hope. In this way, the nation's forefathers survived the first winter, and there came the first harvest of crops in the next autumn. In November of 1621, the settlers spent three days to celebrate and show thanks to God for a successful harvest.
12. Thanksgiving Today
Thanksgiving is now observed on the fourth Thursday of November. It is marked by families gathering together to enjoy a traditional dinner for roast turkey, and to speak to one another of the thing for which they are thankful. Young people who are at college or live away from their families usually come home for this dinner.
Basically the dinner menu includes roast turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin. It is like Plymouth in 1621, only better, simpler, and somehow more Amecian. It arouses strong nostalgic feelings and a longing for the good "folk" life.
Christmas was originally a religious festival commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but now it has become more secular. Many of the Christmas activities, including the evergreen decorations, the exchange of gifts, the indulgence in food and drink, are common to various thanksgiving days and to New Year rites. It also has its special and relatively new customs: the Christmas card began in England in the nineteenth century; Santa Claus' reindeer date from about the same time in America; and the Christmas tree was introduced in English-speaking lands by Prince Albert of Saxony as late as 1844.
14. Bridal Attire in the West
"Something old, new, borrowed and blue" is a popluar bridal attire saying in the West. Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the bride's family and her old life. Usually the bride wears a piece of family jewellery or maybe her mother's or grandmother's wedding dress. Wearing something new, such as the wedding dress or other new items, represents good fortune and success in the bride's new life. Wearing something borrowed is meant to bring good luck to the marriage. It could be a handkerechief or an item of jewellery. Wearing something blue dates back to old times when the color blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity.
15. Wedding Veil
The custom of the wedding veil is thought to predate the wedding dress by centuries. One explantion for it is that during the times of arranged marriages, the bride's face was covered until the groom was committed to her at the ceremony -- so it would be too late for him to run off if he didn't like the look of her!
It is also thought that the veil was worn to protect the bride from evil spirits that would be floating around on her wedding day. This is why the veil covers the bride's face throughout the ceremony until the minister pronounces the couple man and wife.
16. A Country Wedding in Sweden
A country wedding in Sweden is often celebrated in a traditional form. The bridegroom must formally ask for the bride's hand in the barn, because this is where the dowry is stored. On the wedding day the women of the family help the bride to dress in national costume, which includes silver jewelry and a bridal crown. Meanwhile, friends and male relations wait in the kitchen, drinking beer. When the bride is ready, all the relatives and guests from a procession, which is led by young men on horseback. They meet the groom's procession at the church and greetings were exchanged.
17. Country Wedding in Denmark
The country weddings in Denmark are also characterized by local convention. Until recently, a Danish country wedding was an event which concerned all who lived in the surrounding district. Everyone was invited to celebrate with the young couple. Preparations for the wedding lasted for many days. At the conclusion of the ceremony a large jar of beer was taken to the courtyard. The hands of the betrothed were joined over the jar and it was smashed into pieces. These pieces were picked up by the girls of marriageable age who were present, the girl with the largest piece being destined to marry first, the girl with the smallest being fated to remain a spinster.
18. Swedes' Charm
The charm of the Swedes comes from an apparent contradiction in the national character. They are extremely conservative in social relationships; within the family and when meeting friends, their conduct is governed by strict social patterns. When a visitor enters a Swedish home, he is received with a "Welcome"; when he leaves, his host will tell him "You will be welcome again." At the same time, they are one of the most intellectually progressive people in the world. Swedish homes are among the best equipped in the world and travelers in Sweden find their journeys made easy by the use of the most efficient modern devices.
19. Swedes' Charm(II)
The Swedes are an efficient and most capable people. Punctuality is more than a virtue to them -- it is a rule of life originating from the most attractive characteristic of this northern people. This is their respect for their friends and especially for the vistor to their country. At whatever cost to themselves, they take care not to give another person the slightest degree of discomfort. This respect for human rights runs through the whole Swedish social system. It makes politicians and bureaucrats, indeed anyone with social power, courteous in dealing with citizens and vistors. Courtesy thus has been developed into a social instinct in Sweden.
20. Drinking Culture in Finland
It is the milk instead of liquor that is the principal Finnish table drink. More milk is drunk by the Finnish people than in any other nation. It is made of curdled milk and a kind of yoghurt--like substance which is a dish on its own; the latter is especially popular in summer. A number of home-brewed beers include one made from juniper berries. Two well-known Finnish liquors are made from cloudberry and Arctic bramble. In Finland the sale of alcohol is a state monopoly and a check is kept on consumption by recording purchases on special card issued to all customers.
21. Vienna -- the Land of Music
On the first night of the New Year, people's eyes are frequently drawn to Vienna. The first-rate orchestra and its wonderful performance of the world -- famous waltz build an elegant glamour on this capital of music. A divine gift for music is believed to prevade the landscapge, the people, the atmosphere, and even the stones of Vienna. Vienna is associated with a great musical tradition. Many of the great classical composers had lived and worked in the city -- to name just a few, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss. Their historical presenece seems to reassure every inhabitant of Vienna that he shares in something glorious and universal.