All human groups have traditional notions of time, the changing seasons, and celebrations. Many activities which encourage multicultural education can be based on the calendar. The calendar can be utilized as a resource around which to plan activities such as comparative studies of time concepts among various peoples such as the wide use of lunar and solar calendars, and recognition of the customs of celebration within nationality groups. Through studying the calendar variations and following a multicultural calendar, students can gain a broader understanding and become more aware of the events and time structures that shape the lives of other peoples.
This unit is intended for use in a Foreign Language Exploratory class for seventh and eighth graders. It is a continuation of a unit that I wrote on multicultural education in 1980 with the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. It is focused on a multicultural calendar of ethnic festivals and celebrations, dated from January 1982 through May 1982. I have further provided background information on several spring festivals around the world including: Chinese New Year, Lantern Festival, Holi, Hina Matsuri, Tango-No Sekku, Durbar, Pesach.
The background information is written so that it can be read to students if the teacher chooses. This unit is not intended to be a comprehensive five month program, but rather a supplement to many other activities in the classroom. It is hoped that this unit will be used by educators of all disciplines and grade levels in order to help students develop a sensitivity to and understanding of other ethnic cultures.
This consciousness-raising can be accomplished through the study of a variety of multicultural areas including: family life and roles, foods, religion, recreation, folk crafts, and history. Among the activities that can be used in a Foreign Language classroom to stimulate learning and to promote appreciation of the many customs and festivals of differing cultures are: culture capsules, international cookbooks, international dinners, minidramas or skits, multicultural sports and games, films and slides, magazines, newspapers, guest speakers, international music, folktales, fables, and field trips. Celebrating holidays of major importance to the different groups in school can foster positive multicultural interactions and understandings among students and teachers. The following background information is designed to support multiethnic modes of celebration.
The stories of festivals around the world are rich and varied. They mark the cycles of time and are often an outline of what man has found important throughout his life. There are two basic themes in all festivals: they are expressions of joy and they are shared experiences. Festivals are not meant to be celebrated alone. This time of joy is meant to be celebrated in harmony with the larger community. Studying the various holidays around the world can be enlightening to student and teacher alike. Sharing celebrations of other peoples can enrich our lives and help us to understand our own beliefs better.
The origins of these festivals are ancient. Pagan celebrations, Judaic and Christian traditions, and history give us the reasons why we celebrate certain days. Clearly the first festivals originated in response to seasonal changes. Human survival was dependent on the pattern of the seasons, from spring to winter, from seedtime to harvest. The early festivals originated in celebration of this natural wonder. They give us an insight as to how early man saw life, the world, and the heavens. In order to ensure that the pattern of seasons would not fail, rites and ceremonies dedicated to the different gods were devised.
Spring, the season of hope
Whenever spring comes, people react as if it was a holiday. Everyone is happy that the cold and dreary winter is over. Spring holiday customs reflect this happiness in singing, dancing, flowers, presents, and jokes. Spring festivals are joyous occasions in celebration of the rebirth of nature. This time of rebirth has also been regarded as the beginning of the New Year. The earliest calendars were lists of festivals celebrating the natural changes of seasons. According to this natural cycle of events, the year began with Spring.
As with many holidays, spring festivals were originally celebrated as fertility rites. Earlier man’s society was agricultural and survival was dependent on fertility. Spring rituals were taken very seriously. If not, the people feared that the sun would not warm the earth and the plants would not grow. Ancient Romans had a festival in March, dedicated to Mars, the agricultural god and god of war. Priests of Mars, called Salii, or leapers, marched about the city dancing and clashing their swords and shields. This dancing was thought to help the newly planted grain grow. High leaps would make the grain grow tall. Ceres, the goddess of grain was offered cakes and a sacrificial sow so that she would protect the newly planted seeds.
A festival in honor of Flora, goddess of flowering plants was held at the end of April and in early May. Children wound garlands of spring flowers around columns in the temple of Flora as an offering. So began our first celebration of May Day.
Great changes in these ancient spring rites and ceremonies took place with the advent of Christianity. The church abolished all pagan rites and ceremonies. Even though the form of many of these rituals changed, the people would not give them up. For most of man’s history, these rites had been a way of life. Consequently, the church had to adapt Christian festivals to fit the pagan rites and beliefs. Many of our religious festivals today have their roots in the rites and ceremonies of the distant past.
Today, spring celebrations include water and fire festivals, feasts and pageants complete with traditional foods, costumes, and music. Flowers are everywhere. Gifts and good wishes are exchanged during this time of generosity. People wear new clothes just as the earth decorates itself with new leaves and grasses.
Chinese New Year
The celebration of the lunar New Year 4680, Year of the Dog, is regarded to be the most important of all Chinese holidays. To Chinese people around the world, the New Year signifies a time of good will, of family gathering, the sharing of good wishes, love, hope, and good fortune.
The exact date of the New Year falls somewhere between January 21 and February 20 on the Gregorian calendar. Whereas the Western Zodiac follows a cycle of twelve months, the Chinese Zodiac is divided in a twelve-year cycle. Each year is designated an animal sign. The year’s character is destined by the attributes of its animal name. It is said that compatibility with other people is believed to be influenced by birth year. The Chinese therefore consult their astrological signs quite carefully when choosing a marriage partner.
Preparations for the holiday begin during the last few weeks of the old year. Special steamed and fried dumplings must be made. The house must be scrubbed thoroughly, to clean it of any ill luck or evil omens that remain from the old year.
A week before the first day of the New Year, the family bids farewell to the kitchen god. A picture of Tsao-Chun, god of the kitchen, has watched the family from his place on the wall. At the end of the year, he reports to the gods on the family’s behavior for the past year. To sweeten his thoughts, sweet cakes and fruits are offered to him. Sometimes a sticky sweet is given to him in efforts to keep his mouth shut. The family sends him on his journey to heaven by burning his picture. Tsao-Chun later returns on the eve of the New Year when the family hangs a new portrait of him on the kitchen wall.
On the eve of the New Year everyone bathes and dresses in new clothes to insure a fresh new start. The first feast of the holiday also begins on New Year’s eve. The family members gather to exchange good wishes and share in a meal of thanksgiving in gratitude for the blessings of the past year. The house is decorated with bowls of oranges, tangerines, and flowers. Sprigs of Cypress, the symbol of long life are displayed. Red papers on to which good wishes are written hang from the walls. The color red is the color of good fortune and happiness and it is believed to have power to exorcise evil.
The New Year’s day is greeted with the explosion of fire crackers. Guests arrive bringing gifts of fruits and sweets. They are offered dried melon seeds and candied fruits. The children are given red envelopes containing lucky new money. Food which has been prepared ahead of time is reheated and served. No one cooks on New Year’s day as it is considered bad luck to use knives or sharp instruments or to kill animals. One must try to avoid dropping dishes or punishing children. Only good words are to be spoken.
The lion dance is preformed on the first day of the New Year. The ornate lion’s head is made of papier-mache and his tail of bright colored silk. The lion stops before every house and dwelling. His presence assures the occupants that no evil spirit dares to enter. To entice and reward the lion for his visit, red envelopes containing gifts of money are hung from the windows. He leaps and dances to catch these presents.
The festivities culminate on the 15th day of the New Year with the Festival of Lanterns. On the eve of the first full moon of the year, decorated, lighted paper lanterns are hung from the houses and shops. A huge dragon made of bamboo, paper and silk is carried through the streets. The dragon, symbol of strength and goodness, leads a parade of lighted lanterns carried by men, women, and children.
Holi is India’s ancient welcome to spring festival. It is characterized by song, dance, fire, water, and an abundance of color. This two part festival bids farewell to winter with fire and ashes and welcomes spring with rejoicing. The Holi festival comes on the 15th day of the light half of the moon in Phalguna, which is late March or early April on the Gregorian calendar.
The week before Holi, young people set out to collect wood and scraps in preparation for the great bonfire. The celebration begins when the moon is high. Bonfires are lit and the dancing and singing to the beat of throbbing drums is heard everywhere. Special songs, plays, and dances retell the story of Lord Krisna’s adventures. Lord Krisna is the most celebrated hero of Hindu mythology. His youthful deeds were similar to those of Hercules. Water is poured on the embers at sunrise and everyone dips their fingers in the ashes and marks a sign on their forehead. These ashmarks represent the death of winter and are worn as a symbol of good luck.
Now that the old year is gone and forgotten, the most uninhibited part of the celebration begins. Young people go into the streets carrying spray guns or bamboo blowpipes filled with brilliantly colored dyes or powders. Showers of colors burst forth hitting faces, hair, clothing—anything and everything within range! Anyone passing through the streets becomes a walking display of spring’s bright colors. The result is a joyful mess!
The origin of Holi is ancient eventhough its present characteristics were developed by the Mogul Emperor Akbar in the 16th century in an attempt to unify the people of India. When everyone is clothed in a rainbow of colors, all the people appear equal. Nobleman and peasant, Muslim and Hindu dance together around the festival fire and in the streets.
There is another ancient legend that says the bonfire of Holi celebrates the destruction of Holika, an ogress who snatched children from the villages each spring. In order to capture Holika, the villagers armed themselves with fagots and noisemskers. When Holika appeared, the people began shouting and pounding drums. When she hesitated, confused by the noise, the villagers threw the fagots around her and set them on fire. The fearful Holika was destroyed and everyone celebrated.
In various parts of India, Holi is known by different names, but the spirit of the celebration is the same. Color, music, dancing, and merriment bring the people of India together to celebrate and share in the joy of spring.
Hina Matsuri and Tango-No Sekku
On March 3, the Japanese celebrate a gala day called Hina Matsuri (Festival of Dolls). It is sometimes referred to as the Peach Festival. Little girls dress in their f nest kimonos and the house is decorated with fragant peach blossoms, symbol of gentle feminine qualities. The main part of the festival is each family’s display of heirloom dolls. The
(festival dolls) represent the Emperor and Empress and ladies of the imperial court. For this one day, the royal dolls rule over their loyal subjects. They receive guests very formally and tea is served. These collections of dolls become very valuable as they are exemplary of the history of the Japanese people in the costumes and furnishings of successive periods. Sometimes special houses are built in the garden to house the set of dolls and to safeguard them from earthquakes.
May 5 is the date of the Kite Festival in Japan called Tango-No Sekku. On that day the sky is filled with fish twisting and turning in the air. Boys of all ages meet in groups with kites of every description made with Japanese paper and bamboo. They fly from tall poles above the rooftops.
Large carps made of cloth or paper are an important feature of the festival. They are made with mouths wide open so the wind will come in and puff them up to handsome proportions. They are hung out to fly from poles, one for each boy in the house. The carp symbolizes strength and perserverance because every year it swims upstream and lays its eggs. It inspires Japanese boys to develop the ambition, strength, and will to overcome life’s obstacles.
Elaborate sets of warrior dolls or miniature suits of ancient armor are displayed in the home during the Boys’ Festival. These statues of important historical persons are used to illustrate good conduct and proper manners.
The Boys’ and Girls’ Festivals have existed for at least a thousand years and are hinted at in the legends of Japan. Some of the
have religious significance. In Chinese, the word for doll and idol are the same. Kites used by the Mandarin in the 3rd century B.C., have long been popular in Japan where they are given to children at temples as good luck charms for the future.
Ceremonial gatherings are traditionally held at the beginning of the rainy season in Ghana. This event is called a Durbar. It was the British who gave this African ceremony its Indian name.
This festival is characterized by brilliantly colored umbrellas which glorify each of the Ashanti chieftains. Everyone gathers at the Durbar ground as the Ashanti chieftains arrive to pay hommage to the paramount chief in the ancestral village. They are attired in traditional handwoven robes, carrying guilded canes of office. Each chief comes with his entourage of drummers, singers, followers, and most important, the court linguist. Ashanti chiefs do not speak directly to inferiors without an interpreter.
The moment of excitement comes when the paramount chief is carried into the Durbar ground on a palanquin. The air is filled with the sound of beating drums, chanting and singing. The great chief literally dances on his swaying litter, clothed in magnificent robes of silk and wool, woven with golden threads. Everyone is swept into the dancing rhythm. A feast of specially prepared foods adds to the celebration. The dancers will eat in order to regain their strength so that they may continue dancing. Rhythm and dance form the way of life in Africa.
To the Ashanti, this is also the time when Nyame, the Sky-god, is preparing to send rain to the farmers and Asasa Ya, the mother Goddess Earth, is waiting to bring forth new life. Nyame represents the sun. He not only sends the rains but he is responsible for conquering the floods and providing cool drying winds during the heat of the rainy season. Throughout the Durbar, dancing and singing will be in praise of Nyame as well as the ruling chiefs. Durbar is a celebration in honor of all living things.
Spring in Palestine was a season worth celebrating. The spring festival which the Jews call Pesach (Passover) is based on two rites of the ancient Hebrews. Each spring Hebrew herdsmen would sacrifice a lamb to their god of fertility. They also celebrated the beginning of the spring barley harvest. A feast was held during which only unleavened bread was eaten. Just before the first harvest, a sheaf of grain was brought to the priest in the Temple. Both of these rites were held to assure the continuance of the flocks and the grain.
Today, this spring festival has come to be better known as the Festival of Freedom. For it was in this same season that the Jews were delivered from slavery in Egypt. It is the most beloved of all Jewish festivals. The word Pesach or Passover comes from the passing over or sparing of the Hebrews in Egypt when God smote the first-born of the Egyptians. Passover is celebrated for eight days: the first two days and the last two are observed as holy days when no work is done; the intervening days are semi-holidays.
The most distinctive feature of this holiday is the eating of
(unleavened bread) throughout the eight days. The unleavened “Bread of Affliction” is reminiscent of the hurried flight of the Jews from Egypt when they had to bake their bread without allowing time for it to rise. Since everything containing leavening is forbidden, special dishes, cooking utensils, and silver are used for the entire period.
A service known as the
(Hebrew for order) is held in Jewish homes at sundown on the first two evenings of Passover. The story of the exodus from Egypt is read from a special prayer book called
(recital). This narrative consists of prayers, psalms, folk songs, and rhymes which explain the ways in which “this night is different from all other nights”.
The various foods used as symbolsin the service are arranged on a special dish: a roasted lamb bone and a roasted egg, symbols of the sacrificial lamb and of renewed life and hope;
(a bitter herb) symbolizes the bitterness of slavery;
(parsley) symbolizes the color of spring; salt water symbolizes the tears shed by slaves;
(a combination of nuts, apples, raisins, cinnamon, and wine) represents the clay out of which the slaves made bricks. Cups of wine and matzah complete the symbols used in the Seder.
One piece of the matzah (
Greek for dessert) is hidden from the children. Whomever finds it at the conclusion of the Seder receives a reward. A goblet of wine is always prepared for the Prophet Elijah, symbolic messenger of hope and faith. The door is left open so that his spirit may come in. The seder ends with riddles and games.