The Chinese animal zodiac is shengxiao in Chinese and means “born resembling”. It is a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal and its corresponding attributes. There are many stories about how these animals came to fruition, but common belief is the animals simply represented dates on the calendar. It is said the Jade Emperor created a race of animals and the first twelve to win the race would be chosen. Prior to the race, the cat and rat were best friends. The rat promised to awaken the cat so they could arrive at the race early. The rat forgot and ran into the tiger, horse, ox and other animals that ran much faster. So the rat offered to sing for the ox if the ox would carry him across the river. The ox agreed assuming he would automatically win the race. The rat slid of the ox at the end and ran ahead to become the first lucky winner of the race. The other animals arrived and that is why they follow the rat on the zodiac calendar in the order of Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The cat overslept and was too late to participate and hated the rat from then on. This is why every time they meet, the cat will chase the rat.
Nothing says Christmas like a performance of The Nutcracker ballet! The Nutcracker ballet is adapted from The Nutcracker and The Queen of Mice by ETA Hoffman. The basic story is of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle of against a Mouse King. The first ballet was commissioned in 1891 by the Moscow Imperial Theater. The music is by Tchaikovsky and it was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa. The composer selections known at the Nutcracker Suite Op 71a became instantly popular, but the ballet did not achieve its great prominence as a Christmas event until much later when it was performed out of Russia in Europe and the United States.
The first performance outside Russia was in England in 1934 and annual performances still take place by the English National Ballet. The first US adaptation was in 1944 performed by the San Francisco Ballet. It was not until 10 years later in 1954 that widespread popularity was reached with George Balanchine’s Nutcracker in New York City. George Balanchine is a renowned choreographer whose version utilizes more children and since Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are children there is no romance aspect. This and other versions across the world are an essential part of the Christmas season for many families.
Holiday Traditions around the World: Christmas in JAPAN
Japan is predominately Shinto. Shinto is an ethnic religion based in ritual practices to connect modern Japan with its ancient past. It is said to have started in the sixth century, but there is no known scripture or founder so Christmas does not play much of a part in Japan. The small amount of Christians in Japan celebrate Christmas with an ethnic twist. For example, the nativity participants are dressed in traditional Japanese costume. The Christmas tree is decorated with origami ornaments. The Santa figure is an old man, Hoteiosho who carries a pack and is said to have eyes in the back of his head prompting the children to behave at all times! Hoteiosho is considered a god or priest in Japanese culture.
The traditional New Year celebration of O-Shogatsu is the most important Japanese holiday of the year. It is celebrated from January 1st – January 3rd. Years are viewed completely separately so worries must be left behind in an old year and the new year must start fresh. Homes are cleaned on New Year’s Eve to make way for a renewed start on January 1st. Bonenkai parties (forget the year gatherings) are thrown throughout the country for offices, friends and families to leave their troubles behind and conclude any unfinished business. Tokishoshi soba is known as the year crossing noodle and is served on New Year’s Eve to promote longevity. Read More