Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Traditions

Last New Year's Eve I came across a couple of article on traditions for this day. I told myself I would do them this year. And I plan to do as many as possible.

This first was an article on Huffington Post about traditions in Latin America. Some were just so cool and different, I want to share them here:

1. Wear red or yellow panties. "On New Year's Eve wear red panties to guarantee passion and love in the new year, or yellow underwear to help bring money and happiness into your life." Or go for broke and wear panties with both colors!

2. Clean your house. "On December 31, scrub down your house and throw out any trash to cleanse your home from any negativity and to attract positive energy into your life." Interestingly, this cleaning ritual seems to cross all traditions around the world.

3. Write a wish list for the new year. "Similar to the widely practiced tradition of making a list of "New Year's Resolutions," a "lista de deseos" (wish list) for the new year should include all those goals you're hoping to reach next year and those less tangible wishes like "finding the one" or "world peace." Whatever it is that you put on your list make sure to also write how you plan to meet those goals or help realize those dreams. Then, fold it in half and after the clock strikes twelve read it to yourself. Keep it and refer back to it throughout the year!" I think this makes a little more sense than just the usual list of resolutions. Less pressure.

4. 12 months, 12 grapes. "This is no midnight snack. Before (or during) the hugs and kisses that ensue after the new year begins, make sure to eat 12 grapes -- representing the 12 months of the new year -- while making a wish for every month/grape that you have. But beware! Get a sour grape and that could mean a bad month is in store for you. Also, many believe the grapes must be consumed within the first 12 minutes of the new year -- or else..." This one takes place after the stroke of midnight, not before. So plan ahead.

5. Run around the block with luggage. "If travel is what you're looking for in the new year all you have to do is run around your block (or up and down your stairs) with your luggage in hand. But be careful, empty bags won't get you far. You should pack objects that represent the type of locations you'd like to visit. Place swim trunks in your luggage if you'd like to travel to the beach, a passport if you want to go abroad, or ski gear if you want to hit the slopes." Since you'll want to pack exactly the kinds of things you'll need, I suggest using the kind of luggage on wheels that you can pull. And if you are worried about weird looks from your neighbors, maybe just run around your yard.

6. Hold money in your hands when the clock strikes 12. "Before the clock strikes twelve put your drink down and grab some bills (preferably from your own wallet). Having money in your hand at midnight is meant to ensure economic prosperity in the new year. Keep in mind that holding a $100 bill will give you better results than a $1 bill!" I'm going to go out on a limb here and recommend against using play money. LOL!

7. Sweep out negative energy. "If this year brought you nothing but problems, suffering, tears, etc., then it's time to sweep it all out of your home -- and your life. On New Year's Eve simply take a broom to the front door and start sweeping towards the street. This ritual should rid you of all the negativity you've harbored throughout the year." This is another one of those rituals that I've seen across countries and traditions, as well.

8. Burn the bad. "Before midnight, take some time to write everything you'd like to forget from this year and then simply burn it up. Once you've left the past in ashes you'll be ready to take on the new year." I talked about something similar before, known as the Burning Bowl Ritual.

9. The drink of wealth. "For a little more financial luck in the new year simply take anything gold (like a ring) and drop it in the drink you plan to toast with." Word of caution: be sure not to swallow the gold! The last thing you want is a trip to the emergency room.

10. Eat lentils. "In this tradition that originated in Italy, eating lentils throughout the last day of the year, or a spoonful immediately at the beginning of the new year, will guarantee that the next year will be filled with riches!" Find a lentil dish you like and add it to your evening's dining repertoire. Continue that theme and "take a half a handful of (uncooked!) lentils and drop them in your purse, backpack, etc. Keep them in there year around and money won't be a problem in the new year!"

11. Light a candle. "Candles on New Year's Eve can help make the new year prosperous and positive. Lighting a green candle will bring you good health while a yellow candle will help your financial troubles. For those looking for some wisdom, an orange candle should be lit while a blue one will bring you peace and a red candle passion or love." One suggestion for the candle is to burn a bayberry candle. Tradition holds it be burned on either Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, with the idea that: For a bayberry candle burned to the socket, will bring joy to the heart and gold to the pocket.

12. Wear your underwear inside out. "Wearing your underwear backwards on New Year's Eve and fixing it during the first few minutes of the new year will guarantee plenty of new clothes in the new year!" I guess it would be okay if your underwear was red or yellow, too. That counts twice, right?

13. End the year with a splash. "For many Latinos, moving on isn't necessarily water under the bridge... in fact it's more like throwing a bucket of water out of a window. In this New Year's Eve ritual, water symbolizes all of the suffering and tears you'd like to get rid off before the start of the new year. Whether it's a glass or a bucket full of water, splashing your woes out on the street can be the best way to put the past behind you!" Throwing this water on your guests does not count. Just sayin'.

14. A bright house means a bright year. "Nothing says clarity and prosperity like light, so many Latinos make it a point to welcome the new year by having all of the lights in the house on. Turn them on just minutes before the clock strikes 12, but don't leave them on too long or the first gift in the new year will be a hefty electricity bill!" And if you went crazy with Christmas lights...

15. Wear white for peace and health. "Wearing white on New Year's Eve is said to bring you good health and internal peace in the new year. The color is also known to absorb positive energy." But be aware how well every will be able to see your red or yellow underwear. Consider making it just a white shirt. ;)

16. Start the year on the right foot. Literally. "As you're counting down the final seconds of the year, making sure only your right foot is firmly on the ground can bring you good luck in the new year." A somewhat similar tradition is the Scottish practice of First Footer.

17. Burn the old year. "In many countries in Latin America large life-sized rag dolls are created with... really whatever you can find. This doll is known as the "Old Year" and on New Year's Eve it's tradition to burn the doll to symbolically purify yourself and be rid of all the negativity that the old year brought you." Just be careful you don't create a fire you can't handle, and please, please, please do not burn someone's treasured doll because you don't like it. That would just be mean and really set an ugly tone for the new year!

Be sure to check out the original article for a few more ideas to help ring in your new year. I just chose the ones that appealed to me.

Have a happy new year! May it bring all the blessings you desire!

Sunday, February 1, 2015


In ancient Roman times, if you were a god or goddess, you probably had a festival named after you. It was just a thing, I guess. A way to hedge your bets to ensure no deity took offense and did disastrous things.

Februalia, oddly, isn't named after a deity. A god, Februus, did come along later, but the festival is what actually gave the month of February its name.

Februalia is a month long period of ritual purification. According to Wikipedia, the festival, "which is basically one of Spring washing or cleaning (associated also with the raininess of this time of year) is ancient, and possibly of Sabine origin. According to Ovid, Februare as a Latin word which refers to means of purification (particularly with washing or water) derives from an earlier Etruscan word referring to purging." The god Februus also happens to be a god of purification.

According to, "because of the association with fire as a method of purification, at some point the celebration of Februalia became associated with Vesta. Not only that, February 2 is also considered the day of Juno Februa, the mother of war god Mars. There is a reference to this purification holiday in Ovid's Fasti, in which he says, "In short, anything used to cleanse our bodies went by that name [of februa] in the time of our unshorn forefathers. The month is called after these things, because the Luperci purify the whole ground with strips of hide, which are their instruments of cleansing..."

There seems to be some debate about exactly when Februalia is. It starts either at the beginning, or the middle of February, and has come to be closely associated with and celebrated at Lupercalia, which falls on February 14. I rather like the idea of starting it on February 1. But that's just me.

Regardless, following right along with Imbolc and Disting, Februalia is a time to being preparations for the coming spring. So take time during this month to *purify* yourself. I am not a proponent of detox plans, but there is certainly nothing wrong with spending some time pampering yourself by taking time to care about yourself. In this month so closely associated with love, make sure you shower some of that love on yourself. Soak in a hot bath. Drink plenty of water. Meditate.

As part of the purification, thoroughly clean your kitchen and bathrooms. Take a hose to wash down your windows outside. Try every day to do something to clean a different area of the home. By the end of the month you will have made a huge difference, and when spring does roll around next month, your spring cleaning will go much easier.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


In southern India, today begins a four day harvest festival known as Pongal. It begins with music and ends with a picnic.

On the first day of the festival, people thoroughly clean their homes and get rid of old clothes to symbolize a new start, a new life.

On the second day family members create a kolam for the front of their home. It represents happiness and prosperity. Then new pots are used to boil rice in milk until it boils over. You can find a recipe for pongal here. The name of the dish is the same as the festival, and demonstrates its importance. During the day, people visit friends and neighbors and exchange food gifts.

On the third day, thanks is given to the animals that help with ploughing. The animals are bathed and then adorned with flowers, beads, and bells.

The festival ends on the fourth day with a family picnic.

The weather may be too cold to go outside for a picnic, depending on where you live, so improvise! Take these four days to visit with friends and family and gift them with baked goods. Plan an indoor picnic. And find images online of different kolams and let your imagination take over and create your own!

The new year is underway. Celebrate!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


In the Punjab, in northern India, they celebrate Lohri, a harvest festival. It is believed the festival was originally celebrated on the winter solstice, but now it is celebrated on January 13. The harvest is of the rabi crops, which are sown in winter and harvested in spring. Sugarcane is one crop that is harvested in January. The day after Lohri, Maghi, is the financial new year. Confusion over winter solstice and Lohri has to do with the way the Punjabi calendar is calculated.

On Lohri, children go from door to door singing songs about a character much like Robin Hood and demanding *loot*. People give them popcorn, sesame seeds, sugar, peanuts, and even money. It is considered back luck to turn the kids away empty handed.

According to, "the central character of most Lohri songs is Dulla Bhatti, a Muslim highway robber who lived in Punjab during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Besides robbing the rich, he rescued Hindu girls being forcibly taken to be sold in the slave market of the Middle East. He arranged their marriages to Hindu boys with Hindu rituals and provided them with dowry. Understandably, though a bandit, he became a hero of all Punjabis. So every other Lohri song has words to express gratitude to Dulla Bhatti."

In the evening, people gather around bonfires and throw popcorn and sesame seeds into the fire. They shout  "Aadar aye dilather jaye" (May honor come and poverty vanish!) Songs and prayers are offered for a good harvest and prosperity.

(image from Wikipedia)

Lohri is an important day for newlyweds and newborn babies, for reasons of fertility. It is a day to dress in your finest, get together with family, and have a fancy dinner.

So today, get together with your family, plan a big potluck, have a bonfire (or, in my case, either a nice fire in the fireplace, or a small fire outside in the firepit). Sing songs. Treasure these moments.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Save the Eagles Day

In August 2007, the national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle, was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife list. The two main factors that led to the recovery of the bald eagle were the banning of the pesticide DDT and habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act for nesting sites and important feeding and roost sites. 

(Bald Eagle in mid-air flight over Homer Spit Kenai Peninsula Alaska Winter)

Today commemorates Save the Eagles Day, in an attempt to highlight the importance of preserving the symbol of our freedom in a real and purposeful way. Throughout history, the eagle has been recognized as a symbol of power, courage, freedom and immortality.The founders of the United States were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery was prominent. For this reason, the United States chose the bald eagle as its emblem. 

The eagle is also found in several religions, including Christianity and Hinduism. It is considered a sacred bird in some cultures, and is thought to be able to touch the face of God. Eagle feathers are used in many spiritual customs, including some Native American tribes that consider eagle feathers as sacred. The feathers and parts of bald eagle and golden eagles are important to their culture. 

To honor Save the Eagles Day, donations can be made to a wildlife sanctuary in the interest of preserving the eagles. Google eagle sanctuaries to find one that resonates with you.

National Geographic offers these five bald eagle cams to watch.

Friday, January 9, 2015


In Roman mythology, Janus is depicted as a two faced god and is the god of beginnings and of doorways. By two faces, I mean one looking forward to the future and the other looking back to the past.

During the festival known as the Agonalia, which was celebrated on January 9, May 21, and December 11, honoring different deities. On January 9, that deity was Janus.

Typically the officiating priest would sacrifice a ram. Offerings of barley, incense, wine, and cakes called Januae were also common. Since I am a vegan, instead of killing a ram, I'm going to suggest perhaps a really nice seitan pot roast. Served with a nice glass of wine, and maybe a cupcake for dessert.

Burning incense is pretty cool, too.

According to the encyclopedia, Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome, honored Janus by dedicating the famous Ianus geminus, the arcade at the northeast end of the Roman Forum, to him. It was believed that passing through this arcade brought luck to soldiers on their way to war. Hopefully we won't see any soldiers going to war any time soon.

According to Ovid:
Janus must be propitiated on the Agonal day.
The day may take its name from the girded priest
At whose blow the God's sacrifice is felled:
Always, before he stains the naked blade with hot blood,
He asks if he should, Agatne? and won't unless commanded.
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because
The sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur).
Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia,
'Of the lambs', dropping a letter from its usual place.
Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water,
The day might be so called from the creature's agony?
It may also be that the day has a Greek name
From the games (agones) that were held in former times.
And in ancient speech agonia meant a sheep,
And this last reason in my judgement is the truth.
Though the meaning is uncertain, Rex Sacrorum,
Must appease the Gods with the mate of a woolly ewe."

Gruesome, right?  Probably because one of the suggested meanings of the word translates to *sacrificial victim*. <shudder>

I choose to view this another way. Since the day is intended to honor Janus, I would rather honor what he represents. According to Wikipedia, "Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The doors of his temple were open in time of war, and closed to mark the peace. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys and exchange, and in his association with Portunus, a similar harbor and gateway god, he was concerned with travelling, trading and shipping."

As we look back on those noble resolutions we made for the new year, today is a day to look back over that list, and see if we have truly begun to put them into practice. Have we walked through the door and made a real and actual start? Have we closed any doors to conflicts in our lives and worked toward peace? If we haven't, today reminds us to make that effort. If we have started, today reminds us to not look back and keep going forward.

And pot roast and a glass of wine are still a very fine thing.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Midwive's Day

In the mountains of Greek Macedonia, the women honor the midwife, Babo, or St. Domenika. St. Domenika was a midwife, who according to tradition, birthed the Christ child. The women insist the men take over the housework on this day. Only women of childbearing age are allowed to participate, since it is hoped that by doing so they will ensure fertility. They dress all in white and honor the village midwife with gifts of practical tools such as towels and soap, but also wine and food. The attending women pour water for the midwife to wash her hands, and then she is expected to kiss a phallic shaped object (typically a sausage), which needless to say is a symbol of fertility. The midwife then sits on a makeshift throne wearing flowers, braids of garlic and onions, a necklace of figs, while the attending women dance around her kissing the sausage. Afterwards there is great feasting with good food and wine, however no attending woman is allowed to get drunk. The men are expected, of course, to stay indoors during this celebration. It goes without saying that the women return home with the hopes of getting pregnant.

A somewhat similar tradition takes place in Bulgaria. The story relates how a king ordered the old women to kill all newborn Jewish boys. The women refused out of fear of God. Babinden, or Old Midwives Day, is a feast to honor the old midwives, and includes new mothers and their babies. The day begins with a ritual bathing of the children by the midwife, followed by a symbolic, but sticky, spreading of honey and butter on them. Everything is conducted with blessings and wishes for health. This is followed by a feast for the midwives. Women who have been delivered of their babies by the midwives participate by bringing gifts of bread, cheeses, pastries, roasted chickens and wine. They help the midwife to wash her hands, then give her a new shirt, apron, head scarf and socks. No men are allowed to attend.

(photo from Wikipedia)

In both traditions, the women carry the midwife to a well or a river and ritually bathe her, all while singing and dancing, before returning her back to her home.

If you are a new mom, this is the perfect day to show appreciation for someone who has helped you deliver, whether a midwife, doctor, nurse, or a friend. Take a gift of cookies or something easy to make, something you know they might enjoy.

If you haven't given birth recently, or not at all, this day does not need to be related specifically to childbirth. Perhaps you are *birthing* any kind of creative project or going through an adoption of a child or pet. Take this day to honor yourself as midwife with a special feast you prepare (or someone prepares for you!), or go out for a nice dinner.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Mystery of Sherlock Holmes' Birthday (and how to celebrate it)

Arthur Conan Doyle never told us what day his brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes was born. That small detail, however, has not stopped fans from determining and setting - and celebrating! - that day.

Why January 6?

According to the article "The Curious Case of a Birthday for Sherlock", by Jennifer Lee:
Paul Singleton, a Sherlockian scholar and actor in New York, said Christopher Morley made the following argument: Sherlock Holmes quotes Shakespeare often, but the only play he quotes twice is “Twelfth Night.” “He determined that Sherlock Holmes was born on the twelfth night, which is January 6.” (That date would coincide with the night of the 12 drummers drumming from the famed song.).

Hmm. Okay. But what about the year? Also from the same article:
The birth year is less up for dispute: 1854. The argument for that? In 1914, Mr. Holmes was described to be a man of 60 when he was instrumental in the capture and arrest of a Prussian spy known as Von Bork. Nonetheless, his centennial was celebrated in 1987, 100 years after he first arrived in print.

The Baker Street Irregulars were originally a group of street urchins that Holmes used as his eyes and ears on the street. The name has been adopted to refer to the *New York City based literary society dedicated to the study of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Victorian world* that began in 1934. They publish the Baker Street Journal and have a trust that is dedicated to raising funds for research for their members. They meet annually in January for a dinner and celebration of all things Sherlock. Because they refused admittance into the group by women until 1991, women fans of Holmes formed their own group, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, in the 60s.

So, how do you celebrate the birthday of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes? Oh, so easy.

I admit it, I am a huge fan of the BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch.

But long before I ever saw my first episode of this show, I loved both Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

and Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

So the first thing you can do to celebrate is to watch any of these. You may also be interested to know that both Peter Cushing and Michael Caine have both also played Holmes on screen. And, of course, my least favorite, Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Hey, I'm not hating on the actor. I totally love him as Iron Man! I just didn't care for this interpretation of Holmes.

Of course, if you'd rather read than watch it on tv, you simply must get The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I read it years ago and it is still one of my favorites.

What kind of party would it be without food? By all means, try the Dining With Sherlock Holmes Cookbook or the Unofficial Sherlock Holmes Cookbook. I did come across this recipe online:

1 1/2 ounces single-malt Scotch, preferably Laphroaig
2 ounces chilled brewed Lapsang souchong tea
1 ounce Honey Syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice  Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir well. Double strain into a chilled coupe.

It is called, what else, Sherlock Holmes.

Whatever you do, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you simply must do something to celebrate today!

Nollaig na mBan

Today is Nollaig na mBan or Women's Little Christmas. On this day in Ireland, it is the tradition for the women to get together for a party or go out and celebrate and enjoy their own Christmas, while the men stay at home and handle all the household duties. It is also common for children to buy their mothers and grandmothers presents on this day.

(image from

From the website Ireland Fun Facts: During my childhood, I remember excited, shawled women hurrying to the local public house. On Little Women’s Christmas, they would inhabit this man’s domain without shame. Sitting in “the snug,” a small private room inside the front door, they would pool the few shillings they’d saved for the day. Then they would drink stout and dine on thick corned beef sandwiches provided by the publican. For the rest of the year, the only time respectable women would meet for a glass of stout would be during shopping hours, and then only because it was “good for iron in the blood.”

In his book The Year in Ireland, Kevin Danaher wrote that while Christmas Day “was marked by beef and whiskey, men’s fare”, on Women’s Christmas ” the dainties preferred by women – cake, tea, wine – were more in evidence”.

In Land of Milk and Honey, Brid Mahon says that high tea on January 6 might have featured “thinly-cut sandwiches, scones, gingerbread, apple cakes, sponge cakes decorated with swirls of icing, plum cake, brown bread, soda bread, baker’s bread, pats of freshly made butter, bowls of cream, dishes of jam and preserves and the best quality tea”.

So make sure you spend today with friends, preferably at a lovely tea shop. Or, what the heck, at a pub. Enjoy yourself. You deserve it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Herbal Tealights

I have several tealight candle holders. And I mean, several. I can buy scented ones, which I do, but they are sometimes surprisingly pricey for such little candles. So I like to make my own.

The process is ridiculously simple. I take unscented tealights and place them on a candle warmer. You know, those plug in burners that you place jarred candles on. They look like this:

I can get about 3 tealights on at a time. Warm them until they have completely melted. Lift them off the warmer, CAREFULLY, and sprinkle in your herbs of choice. Let them cool, and voila! Scented tealights!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Advent of Isis and the Beginning of Work Day

Anyone familiar with the love story of Isis and Osiris knows the tragedy of what happened to them. In brief, for those who don't know, Osiris, the king of Egypt, was murdered by his brother Set, who then dismembered him and scattered his body all over. Gruesome, yes, I know. Osiris' grieving and loving wife, Isis, set out to find the scattered pieces and restores his body. Once he is restored, Isis conceives their son and rightful heir to the throne, Horus.

(image from Wikipedia)

At the winter solstice, Isis sets out to recover the body of her husband. It is at the Advent of Isis, or around January 2, that she returns to Egypt, having succeeded in her quest. These celebrations involved music and dancing and singing.   In “Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” John Gardener Wilkinson explains that the Advent of Isis involved the sharing of cakes that had impressions of a bound hippopotamus stamped onto them; the bound animal served as a representation of Set.

To have your own celebration, bake a cake in the shape of a hippo and decorate it in such a way as to represent Set. Display a picture of Isis, burn a white votive and/or Egyptian incense.

And be sure to play music, and dance, and sing. This is a time of celebration!

Consider it this way, the new year has begun, and it is time to rejoice.

On a side note, January 2 is also known as the Beginning of Work Day in Japan. It is said any project begun on this day will be successful. Seems like an excellent time to tackle those projects you've been putting off!
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