Category Archives: Holidays
by Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
The Russians got used to not celebrating Christmas during the Soviet years; they celebrated New Year’s Day just like we celebrate Christmas. Luckily for them there was a legendary figure who fit the bill as a Santa Claus figure to help celebrate New Year, and now also Christmas. He’s known as Grandfather Frost (definitely not to be confused with Frosty the Snowman). In Russian, he’s called Ded Moroz, “d’ed” being Grandfather, “moroz” being frost. He is often accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden. In Russian Snegurochka (just FIY – sneg is the Russian word for snow.) And truly these are not modern figures made to help celebrate (and sell) a modern Christmas holiday. They are ancient mythological figures.
Grandfather Frost predates Christianity. In the pagan days, before the Russian tsar sent out envoys to compare the various religions in the area and chose the Greek Orthodox Church (choosing to differentiate their own version as Russian Orthodox), the peasants worshiped nature. Frost and snow were very important in their lives, so they made a name for the frost lord. He is a winter wizard who brought the frost and snow and he could be helpful if treated nicely, but vindictive if treated badly. Winter was a powerful figure in Russia; just look at what happened to both Napoleon and Hitler…
Frost is considered to be around 2,500 years old. He usually wears a long red wool or fur robe and boots, but no belt. He has a long bushy beard and sometimes wears a wreath of holly and sometimes a hat similar to our Santa Claus. He has also been shown wearing a crown. And he has powers. He often carries a staff which he might use for magic spells and to help him walk through the snow drifts. He doesn’t travel down chimneys either, he comes in through the front door. He travels around in a troika; that’s a carriage driven by three horses (troika means three in Russian…). Even though there are caribou in some parts of Russia, they are not widespread enough for the legend of flying reindeer. Though his troikas have been known to fly as well.
In 2002, a tradition was started between Finland and Russia where Father Christmas (or Santa Claus) crossed the border to greet Ded Moroz. They hand out gifts to all, the crowd of children dance and then they all go inside and have fun. We know that this Santa Summit was still taking place in 2016. Perhaps it still is.
The Snow Maiden is not as old a character as Grandfather Frost. She first appeared in a collection of folktales published in the 1860s by Alexander Afanasyev. He eventually collected three volumes of Russian folktales. No one knows if the story of the snow maiden goes back further, though, since he was the first to collect the stories. In her tale, she longs to be able to love her foster parents but has no heart since she is made of snow. She is granted a heart by her mother and father but melts away as she joins other children jumping over the fire. Grandfather Frost is considered her grandfather and the two of them bring joy and beauty to the snowy Russian winter.
In 1998, the Moscow Mayor proposed to officially make Veliky Ustyug the residence of Ded Moroz, The residence, which is a resort promoted as his estate, is a major tourist attraction. The town also has a post office there that answers children’s mail to Ded Moroz. Between 2003 and 2010, the post office in Veliky Ustyug received nearly 2,000,000 letters from all over Russia and worldwide. On January 7, 2008, Vladimir Putin visited the estate for the Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve celebration.
Santa Claus made some inroads in Russia during the 1990s, but Russia’s resurgence has brought a renewed emphasis on the basic Slavic character of Ded Moroz. The Russian Federation has even sponsored classes about Ded Moroz every December. People playing Ded Moroz and Snegurochka now typically make appearances at children’s parties during the winter holiday season, distributing presents and fighting off the wicked witch, Baba Yaga, who children are told wants to steal their gifts.
In November and December 2010, Ded Moroz was even one of the candidates in the running for consideration as a mascot for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
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By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian
We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?
Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?
Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion. Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.
But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).
The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).
Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.
The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.
The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around). The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
In case you don’t know, Cinco de Mayo means the Fifth of May in Spanish.
So sit down with a margarita, put on some mariachi music and read about this almost more American than Mexican holiday. (May 5 is often confused with the Mexican day of independence. The nation celebrates its Independence Day on September 16. On this date in 1810, Mexico won her independence from Spain.)
Cinco de Mayo does commemorate an historic event in the city of Puebla de Los Angeles in Mexico. President Benito Juarez sent a rag tag army of volunteers to meet the French army there. General Zaragoza led this army against the much-better supplied French army. The 4,000 man Mexican army defeated the 8,000 man French army on May 5, 1862. The French army was considered the best in the world at that time and defeating the French was a huge morale booster, and gave the beleaguered country a sense of unity and patriotism. The Mexicans lost 100 men in the battle, the French 500.
France returned next year with a much bigger army (30,000 soldiers) and a chip on its shoulder. This time France defeated Mexico, and ruled the country for three years. How did this all come about? When Juarez became president in 1861, Mexico was broke. They were still recovering from the Mexican-American war in the 1840s, when a defeated Mexico allowed the United States to annex Texas. The country had borrowed money from Spain, Britain and France to keep the country going, and was recovering from the defeat. It couldn’t afford to pay back the loans.
Spain and Britain negotiated with Mexico and settled the matter. France was in no mood to settle; they wanted more territory and decided to invade Mexico at the port city of Veracruz. France only ruled Mexico for three years, installing Maximillian I as king. The United States was able to help Mexico after the Civil War ended. With additional funds and arms, plus with the pressure on France from Prussia, France withdrew to protect closer borders. In June, 1867, President Benito Juarez became president again, and started pulling Mexico back together.
Interesting Facts about Cinco de Mayo:
- Napoleon III, the emperor of France, had the idea to take over Mexico, and then send arms and men to help the Confederate Army. Not that he was pro-Southern, he just wanted the nation to continue to be divided and weak. Since this invasion, no foreign country has ever invaded any nation in the Americas.
- Some historians believe that if it were not for the Mexican victory during the Battle of Puebla, the Confederates would have won the Civil War and changed the fate of the United States forever.
- Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico, and is not really celebrated outside of Puebla and a few other cities. In the United States, however, it is a huge holiday.
In and around Puebla, “Cinco de Mayo” is known as El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (the Day of Puebla Battle). And they celebrate with re-enactments and parades more than with tequila, margaritas and such.
- May 5th was made more popular under Franklin Roosevelt, who established the “Good Neighbors policy” in the 1930s.
- Americans eat nearly 81 million pounds of avocadoes on Cinco de Mayo every year, according to the California Avocado Commission.
- Many cities in the United States celebrate Cinco de Mayo with weekend-long festivals, including Denver, Chicago, Portland and San Diego.
- Los Angeles wins with the largest party (in the world!). It is called Fiesta Broadway. Many other countries enjoy this celebration as well. Even Vancouver, Canada has a big celebration, with a skydiving mariachi band!
- Chandler, Arizona has a Chihuahua race on May 5!
- Because we like to celebrate and drink tequila, the United States drinks more of this potent liquor than Mexico, where most tequila is made!
- Enchiladas and tamales make up more the traditional dishes and as they take a bit of time to create and cook, it becomes a time for family togetherness.