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While I have taken a short break from writing my blog and missed Valentines Day it seems appropriate that I would start back up with another holiday that celebrates love, not only that but also one that I think many of the people who may read this blog would not know about thus maybe even more appropriate then Valentines Day would have been.
In Romania what is sometimes considered the first day of spring is known as Dragobete’s Day and happens on the 24th of February. This is an ancient holiday and comes from a mythological figure similar to Eros or Cupid. Dragobete watches over love and helps to insure that it lasts. Known as the day when birds marry and nest the thought was this extended to people as well. As with many holidays that have been celebrated for many years there are numerous traditions and superstitions that are associated with it and vary depending upon region. Most of these traditions revolve around love in some way. Play engagements would be arranged, snow collected and turned into water for a love potion to be used the rest of the year by girls, no work was to be done, things like this.
One tradition I read about was, assuming the weather was nice children would go off singing into the woods and at noon the girls would start to run back to town. The boy that liked a particular girl would chase her and assuming he could catch up with her (probably with her “not” being fast enough to get away) they would have a long kiss. This would indicate they would be a couple for at least a year.
In the evening there is dancing and revelry for this is a time to celebrate love in all forms.
While not an official holiday Setsubun is celebrated every February 3rd as part of the Lunar New Year celebration in Japan. Though the Japanese will typically celebrate the Gregorian New Year as well traditions that held for generations still are practiced today. Setsubun can be thought of as a New Years Eve with the next day being the start of Spring and a new year.
As with many new year traditions the customs preformed are to assure good luck for the coming year while chasing away the bad luck of last year. The most common tradition is the throwing of roasted soy beans at home while saying “oni wa so to, fu ku wa uchi”, translated to “get out demons, come in happiness”. This is done by either throwing the beans out the front door, around the house or at a person wearing a oni, demon, demon mask. It is not uncommon to see children in masks throwing the beans at one another in the street repeating the saying. Though not just a children’s game, this ceremony is also carried out with in the temples of Japan by the monks there. It is also said to bring good luck if one picks up a number of the beans that have been thrown that corresponds to their age and eats them.
Another tradition is the eating of a special sushi roll while facing in the lucky direction based on the year. This custom has become wide spread but was once a regional tradition. To truly get the luck a person is said to have to eat the whole roll without saying a word.
Groundhog Day is very well known in the United States and I would not be surprised if it is known well in other countries as well but I would bet many do not know where it comes from. Germans who came to the United States brought with them the tradition of looking to animal to tell them how much longer the winter would last. While in their homeland they looked to the hedgehog it turned out the groundhog would server them in the New World. The first recorded mention of the tradition was by James Morris in his diary in 1841.
The most well famous of the groundhogs in the U.S. is Punxsutawney Phil who recieved quit a bit of publisty from the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. The city of Punxsutawney has a screening of the movie during it’s four day event. The Punxsutawney Spirit first reported on a groundhog day celebration in 1886. The legend of seeing his shadow meaning six more weeks of winter comes from the Christian celebration of Candlemas where in the middle ages priests would bless candles to be used for the rest of the winter. There was a saying that if it was bright and good weather on Candlemas there would be six more weeks of winter if the weather was bad then winter was over. From this if one could see a shadow the weather was nice and the tradition was born.
Many other countries have similar celebrations as well and I suggest listening to my podcast to learn even more and hear an interview with the event coordinator of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Day celebration.
Official Punxsutawney: http://www.groundhog.org/