Thanksgiving: strictly an American holiday?

Even though I realize that Thanksgiving is still over a week away, I don’t plan on doing any writing during this family-centered holiday. So I figured I would go ahead and write a post on Thanksgiving in different cultures this week instead. I’m sure it will help to get everyone in the mood anyway.

I know what you might be thinking right now: isn’t Thanksgiving an American holiday? What about the pilgrims and Indians? Pretty sure that’s exclusive to our country.

While it’s true that Thanksgiving is a holiday unique to the United States, other countries have picked up on the idea over the years and put their own little spin on it. These are the “Thanksgivings” we will be focusing on in this post.

Brazil: In 1949, the ambassador of Brazil visited the U.S. on invitation. He was so impressed with the idea of dedicating an entire holiday to giving thanks to the Almighty that he brought the tradition back to his home country. Ever since then, families in Brazil cook a big meal on every fourth Thursday in November, with recipes and dishes similar to those of traditional Thanksgiving meals in the States. Along with the Thanksgiving meal, there is usually a big carnival held in Brazil to celebrate the blessing of a great harvest.

Canada: In Canada, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated on every second Monday in October. The holiday didn’t become nationally recognized until 1957. Since everyone has this day off of work, families usually take the opportunity to enjoy a weekend vacation or visit other friends and extended family in other parts of the country. A large meal is usually prepared sometime during this weekend to remember God’s blessings and be thankful.

Korea: A Thanksgiving-like holiday is celebrated in Korea on August 15. This holiday is known to the Korean people as Chu-Sok (or “fall evening”). Their equivalent to a “Thanksgiving meal” is a meal they call  Songpyon, which consists of rice, beans, sesame seeds, chestnuts among other locally grown foods.

Thanksgiving is a holiday which originated in America, but it is no longer exclusive to us. The U.S. has influenced many other countries and cultures to take part in this important celebration.

What are some Thanksgiving traditions that are unique to your family?

Discovering Ghana

Well, as I promised, we’ll be taking a brief journey through the West African country of Ghana this week.

I’ve had a connection with this country ever since I was little; my grandparents, along with some very close family friends, have been involved in mission work in Ghana my whole life. This connection I felt with the country was only amplified when I moved to Nashville for college and met a close friend who is actually Ghanain (he moved to the U.S. when he was only five years old).

So, while I’ve certainly never been there myself, I still feel some kind of connection to this little African nation for obvious reasons.

As some of you might already know, the official language of Ghana is English, but because of colonization, many Ghanaians speak French as well. Along with English and French, there are nine “government-sponsered” African languages spoken in different regions in Ghana. These include Ewe, Dagomba, Dangme, Dagaare, Ga, Nzema, Gonja, Kasem and the most popular Akan language. Akan itself has been broken down into two different dialects over the years: Twi and Fante.

Just like the language, Ghanaian cuisine may change depending on what region of the country you’re in. A few local cooking ingredients in Ghana are plantains, millet, yam, maize, beans and peanuts. A few imported ingredients like wheat and rice have also become incorporated in a lot of traditional Ghanaian dishes as well. As you can imagine, Ghanaian meals are usually starchy and centered around very bread-like ingredients. Seafood dishes (like tilapia, whitebait and crayfish) are also favored and enjoyed in many parts of the country.

It might surprise you to know that Ghana is the mother country of its own genre of music, known as “highlife”. Highlife is popular for its jazzy horns, accompanied by rhythmic guitars. Along with highlife, Ghanaians enjoy melodic music rich in stringed instruments, wind instruments and vocals.

“Ghana is my beginning,” said Emmanuel Boateng, my Ghanain friend from Vanderbilt University. “Although it’s been a long time since I was there, I am not complete without my heritage and culture.”

What about Ghana do you find most intriguing?

Trick or treat? A look into other culture’s Halloween celebrations

This week, I had already planned to write a post about Ghana, West Africa, because a good friend of mine is from there and I thought it would be interesting to learn about the county straight from a native, much like what I did with my Singapore post a couple of weeks ago.

Then I realized what day it was. Duh! I’m updating my blog on HALLOWEEN! Of course I should write about Halloween in other cultures! How could I let such an opportunity pass me by?

So, sorry, Ghana. You can wait one more week.

Ireland: October 31st is a big deal in Ireland. It is celebrated every year as “Feast of the Dead” (or “Oiche Shamhna” in Gaelic). It all began about A.D. 100, and tradition has it that all of the souls that have passed from this mortal world revisit on the last day of October every year. Along with feasts and celebrations to welcome the friendly spirits, the Irish folk light big bonfires to keep away all of the evil ones.

Spain: Although Halloween begins on Oct. 31 for the people of Spain, the celebration continues on for three days. They call it either Dia de las Brujas (the Day of Witches) or Noite dos Calacus (Night of Pumpkins), depending on what region of the country you’re in. The Halloween celebration in Spain is unique because, while it is recognition of the deceased, it is also a celebration of the continuation of life and the beautiful cycle of vitality that keeps the earth turning.

Germany: Each year on Oct. 31, according to German tradition, all knives must be put away and not touched for the entire day. This is because the people are afraid of hurting and therefore, angering the returning spirits. Not only is this custom still practiced, but also faces are carved into German pumpkins, and then the jack-o-lanterns are placed in windowsills to scare off the demons and witches that always go hunting on Halloween.

How do you think American Halloween traditions developed from all of these ancient European customs?

Discovering wedding traditions across the globe

For this week, I decided to keep with the theme of my post from last week and write a sort of continuation post; the topic, of course, being wedding customs in different cultures.

If this is disappointing to my more manly readers, I apologize. One of my friends just recently got engaged. I’m sure the excitement and having marriage on my mind will wear off eventually, but for now, forgive me.

When I looked into how different cultures celebrate marriage, I actually found some very interesting traditions and facts.

Japan: Historically, in Japanese wedding ceremonies, the bride is painted white from head to toe, declaring her innocence and purity to the gods. She adorns herself in a white kinono with an elaborately decorded headpiece, while the groom typically wears a black kimono. During the actually ceremony, the two families face each other to symbolize that the union includes the entire family, not just the couple.

France: Traditional French wedding ceremonies include a church elegantly decorated with incense and flowers. Once everyone is assembled and seated, the groom will walk his mother down the aisle. The groom and bride then sit in two red velvet chairs, exchange vows and allow the priest to bless their marriage.

Nepal: Wedding celebrations in Nepal usually last for days and involve the entire village. Historically, a priest-like matchmaker generally arranges the marriages, matching young (usually teenage) couples based on similar backgrounds and families. Today, however, “love marriages” take place, where the groom and bride choose each other. Both types of marriages can be found throughout the country. The actual ceremony varies in rituals and traditions because of the different ethnic groups that can be found in Nepal.

Which traditions do you find appealing, and which traditions do you not like so much?

Popping the big question in different ways

“Will you marry me?”

Every American woman dreams of hearing these words someday. The reason being what traditionally follows these words: a diamond ring, a big white dress, a huge ceremony, an after-party and eventually a certificate. Choosing a lifelong partner and proposing are two customs firmly rooted in tradition here in our Western culture. There is a set of rules, a list of steps, if you will. First, the couple goes out a few dates before deciding to be in a committed relationship with each other. Then, after a good amount of time and a lot of thinking, the man in the relationship buys a ring that’s usually way more than he can afford and presents it to the girl of his dreams while posing the much-anticipated question. Hopefully, the girl will cry with happiness and agree to marry him as she jumps into his arms.

That’s a snapshot of the traditional American proposal process. Of course, though, this isn’t how it’s done in every culture.

In Sri Lanka, for example, a traditional Buddhist proposal is typically what takes place. This consists of the young man’s parents formally asking the girl’s parents for permission to unite their children. Surprisingly enough, this is rarely done face to face, but instead through a mediator. This mediator is known as the magul kapuwa, a humorous character from a favored cultural satire. Next, the couple’s horoscopes are compared. If they are a match, a dowry is immediately negotiated and agreed upon. Then the boy’s family finally visits the girl’s house to actually meet her (usually for the first time) in person. After exchanging rings, a wedding date is decided upon based on astrological precision.

The East African country of Uganda has a different way of going about marriage proposals. It generally all begins with a respectable person in the community expressing the groom’s interests to the bride’s family. This person is called a Kateraruume. If the bride’s family agrees, then the two parties get together to discuss emihingiro (gifts for the groom’s family, almost like a dowry). Finally, the elders of both families must bless the union. Ultimately, it is the family elders who have the final say-so.

Over in Europe, Austrian proposals are traditionally based on a good deal of superstition and luck. In Austrian culture, it is customary for the groom to formally send a group of close friends or members of his family to walk to the house of the bride-to-be’s family to present a proposal of marriage to her. If they happen to see a monk, pregnant woman or blind man along the way, it is said to be an omen of bad luck. At that point, they believe the marriage to be doomed. If they see goats, pigeons or wolves, however, the marriage is supposedly going to be blessed with good luck.

I hope this short blurb on how different some cultures are both satisfied and intrigued your curiosity a little bit. I know I personally found it all quite fascinating!

How would you prefer to propose/be proposed to?

What you should know about Singapore

Photo credits: Janice Ng

Since recently becoming a college student (I’m a freshman this year), I have had the honor and pleasure of meeting many new, lifelong friends in the last couple of months. Because of this, not only has my social horizon been broadened, but also my cultural horizon as well. Many of my friends are from other cultural backgrounds, and even other countries. I love taking advantage of opportunities like this to learn about different places, and I have decided to blog about just such a friend this week.

Janice Ng is a good friend of mine. She too is a communications major, and I have known her for about four months now. Janice is ethnically Malaysian, but considers herself Singaporean since a good majority of her childhood was spent in Singapore. If you ask her, she claims Singapore as her hometown.

After talking to Janice a while, I learned a great many things about Singapore that I didn’t know before.

Photo credits: Janice Ng

Singapore is apparently similar to New York in that it is a densely populated city, but it differs from New York in that it’s a “freakishly clean” place, according to my friend (and as we all know, New York is far from “freakishly clean”). Everyone in Singapore is always in a hurry, always moving with a mission and also like New York, people aren’t always friendly in Singapore.

While Singapore can easily be described as a concrete jungle, there is also plenty of greenery sprinkled and scattered heavily throughout the city. Lush plant life is everywhere, including many exotic trees (like coconut trees, for example). Because I have never been there, I can only imagine how beautiful such a place must look.

Photo credits: Janice Ng

There are four major ethnicity groups in Singapore: Malay, Chinese, Indian and other. Because of this, Singaporean religion has become diverse and varied. The four main religions that can be found in Singapore, as Janice explained to me, are Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity.

Now, let’s discuss the portion of Singaporean culture that Janice was definitely the most enthusiastic about: the food.

Here are her three favorite dishes:

  1. Chicken rice. This dish consists of roasted or broiled slices of chicken over slighly flavored rice, and is usually served with chicken soup and chili sauce. The genre of this dish is considered either Hainanese or Chinese.
  2. Tandoori chicken & Roti naan. This one is roasted chicken with flat bread. The bread is dipped in either a yogurt or mint sauce. Its genre is Indian.
  3. Veggies! This is simply stir-fried vegetables, cooked over an extremely hot fire. This is considered a Sambal Kangkong dish.

“It’s just a good country,” my native friend said, to sum up this Singapore-centered post, “It’s clean, it’s in the now, there are opportunities, it’s growing and it’s… home.”

What are some reasons you would want to visit Singapore? What experiences would you like to have while there?