“Diving” into Greek Festival of the Epiphany

Fla-town-hosts-hemispheres-largest-epiphany-event-RFPMSUQ-x-largeI’m not going to say that my brother Jim’s Epiphany Jeopardy! game is my sole reason for posting, but events surrounding this holy day have inspired a great deal of thought, curiosity, and research.

Today, Roger pointed to the photo in The Washington Post of a Greek youth in Piraeus (near Athens) holding aloft the cross he had retrieved from the very cold waters.  This is a tradition of the Greek Orthodox Church (Eastern Orthodox) on January 6, or Epiphany Day (also called the Theophany or Fota).  The symbolism relates to the celebration of Jesus’ baptism (one of the three events commemorated on this day).

Young Greek men dive for a cross, and the first to bring it out of the frigid waters is reputed to be blessed with good health or, depending on the tradition, “freed from evil spirits” throughout the year.

Outside of Greece, one of the biggest celebrations of this event is held in Tarpon Springs Florida.  This year, the young man who “won” the cross, 18-year-old Kosta Pseftelis, was diving for his third (and last eligible) time.  The event draws 10,000 spectators.  As the dive has continued to grow in Tarpon Springs, church officials, concerned that  “the dive had become more of a sporting event than an opportunity for the young men to reflect spiritually and biblically on the cross,” began requiring the young men to attend classes focused on the development of their religious lives.

In other parts of the world, similar dives are held .  I read about the annual tradition in Battery Park, NYC on the Hudson.  Of all of the dives, that sounds the coldest!

Blessed be the chalk!

Epiphany ChalkYesterday Natalie wrote a little recalling some Epiphany posts of the past. It sparked me to review some ideas and practices for the liturgical feast.  Today Epiphany is celebrated at the mass on the Sunday between January 2 and 6, but the actual feast day is the 6th (or the 5th if you stick to the strict Julian calendar dates of old- but that’s a whole other post).  The feast combines the major points that showed the new baby Jesus being recognized as man and God’s flesh on earth- the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, and the 1st miracle of the wedding feast in Cana.  The importance and level of recognition of the feast varies around the world today.  It is relatively unnoticed in the US but continues to be a national holiday in places like Finland, where all but a few essential services are closed.  Traditions of the day include activities like the baking of the king’s cake, community carols, and gifts for the children to represent the gifts of the Magi. Did you remember to replace your shepherds with the wise men in your nativity scene?

The formal mass for the feast includes the blessing of the gifts the Magi brought- the gold, the Frankincense, and the myrrh.  Also blessed is sone epiphany water and some chalk. Chalk? That’s right chalk.  The chalk is blessed with the prayer: “Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk to render it helpful to men. Grant that they who use it in faith and with it inscribe upon the entrance of their homes the names of thy saints, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, may through their merits and intercession enjoy health of body and protection of soul. Through Christ our Lord.”

Epiphany Chalk 2At the end of mass people take some of the epiphany water and the chalk home.  The water is used to bless the rooms of the house for the new year.  The chalk is used to bless the house.  To do the blessing the chalk is used to write above the door to the house like this 20 C + M + B 15.  The 20 signifies the millennium and century and the 15 the decade and year.  The C, M, and B are the initials of the Magi- Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar but also represent the blessing “Christus mansionem benedicat”- Christ bless this house.  The blessing remains above the entryway until Pentecost (May 24th).  As an added little challenge, tradition holds that the first time any enter through the door they should step first with the right foot- maybe the origin of the phrase “starting out on the right foot”.

Epiphany ChalkI didn’t make it mass to get chalk last Sunday but it’s ok for the “father of the house” to do a blessing as the note is made above the door: “Let us pray. Bless, + O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.”  A blessed and happy new year to you all!

What’s the cost of those 12 Days of Christmas?

12 Days D3I had a little extra time while working with a group of kids today. To finish up our time, groups were challenged to see who could list all the gifts of the classic song Twelve Days of Christmas first.  Funny enough none of the groups got the list just right- not sure about the ducks and the chickens that were suggested- HA! After reviewing all the correct gifts for each of the days, the groups were challenged to guess what the cost of the gifts might be.  Following a WILD set of guesses we went to the web and found this little gem: The PNC Christmas Price Index.

According to the website the index was started 31 years ago by one of the economists at PNC.  HE wanted to know what the cost would be for one set of each of the gifts listed in the song.  This initial quest for knowledge has become 30 years of looking at the adjustments and cost rise and fall over time. You can see trends in the US economy reflected in the Christmas Price Index.  The site is pretty cool. There is a lot of interesting financial info- you can look at the total price over time, the price of individual gifts over time, and look how things as varied as the internet and fuel cost have affected the prices.  There is a complete separate section of the site the provides educators with ways to use the information to implement some lesson on financial literacy (don’t be surprised in my classes if you see this round about the 22nd and 23rd).

Great CarolThe site also has lots of fun and clever parts to it.  There is a section dedicated to “updating” the song itself since it “has fallen to an all-time low in popularity”. The section is titled The Great Carol Comeback and features cool renditions of the song for each of the 12 gifts.  Future classics like “Milk Bucket Music”, “Golden Ring Orchestra”, “Bird Call Quartet” and “French Hen Hairband”.  Be sure to check out all twelve of the The Great Carol Comeback.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the 2014 price of one set of all gifts is $27,673.21.  Seems fair, right?

Podcast #62- 315 Days to Go!

russian santaPodcast #62- 315 Days to Go!  Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Russian Christmas!

Listen this week as Natalie and Jeremy discuss some of the Russian stories, traditions, and characters related to Christmas.  We’ve got Father Frost, a snow maiden, a snow queen, and Babushka!  Which one turns to a cloud of white smoke?  Guess you’ll have to listen to find out!

Podcast #61- Island Christmas Call

mele-kalikimakaPodcast #61- Click here to listen to this week’s podcast- Island Christmas Call.

This week we check in with our friend Siobhan in Hawaii.  Natalie gets all the details on the unique island twists on the Christmas traditions.  Listen as they talk about outrigger Santa, Christmas lights on palm trees, trans-Pacific Christmas trees, and music.  They also introduce an awesome concept, what I think is the best idea so far in 2014!  Keep June 25th open on your calendars my friends- Mele Kalikemaka!

 

Eddie WouldSpecial audio bonus!  Listen to some more of the conversation to hear about the Wave and to find out where “Eddie would go”.  

 

 

A True Tradition- Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Macys LogoAlmost through the first month of our new format for 2014!  My fourth Thursday entry each month will focus on tradition and/or history somehow connected to Christmas.  For January we’ll have a tradition steeped in history or is it  a historic tradition?  Hmm…  Either way, I’m talking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In my family it is most definitely a tradition.  We have watched this parade together since my earliest memories, and definitely every year my sister has been alive.  But the parade has a huge history having just held it’s 87th march.

Macys 2Today the parade is a modern marvel full of dancers, bands, floats, singers, balloons, and technology everywhere.  Over 3.5 million people watch it in person on the streets of Manhattan and 50 million more tune in to watch on TV.  10,000 volunteers and scores of city workers insure the success of the parade in our modern times but it didn’t start that way.  Let’s talk history!  The original Macy’s parade began in 1924.  It is the second oldest Thanksgiving parade in the US.  (the oldest is the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade- originally the Gimbel’s Parade.  Yes, that Gimbel’s!)
The original Macy’s parade was based on and took over a parade  from Newark, NJ where it operated as the Bamberger’s Parade.  That first parade in ’24 was re-named the Macy’s Christmas Parade.  It began in Harlem and moved through Manhattan to end in Herald Square in front of Macy’s Department Store.  It included floats, bands, and animals from the zoo in Central Park.  The parade ended with the arrival of Santa Claus who was crowned as “King of the Kiddies” in front of the store.  Changes started right from the beginning and the parade had been modernized and improved continually for 90 years.  The iconic image with the parade has to be those giant balloons!

Macys 1Balloons were first added to the parade in 1927 with Felix the Cat.  He was filled with just air and carried through the streets by volunteers.  Helium was added to the balloons the next year (we can talk about some of the challenges of the helium balloons another time).  Also in 1928 began the release of the balloons.  They were let go at the end of the parade and each had a label.  If you found the balloon you could return it to Macy’s for a $100 prize!  That practice would end when the competition to “find” the balloons became too dangerous.  But the balloons are still one of the most popular parts of the parade.  Lots of different balloons have been part of the parade over time.  Some of the additions include Mickey Mouse in ’34, Donald Duck in ’35, Bullwinkle in ’61, Underdog in ’65, Cat in the Hat in ’94, and Buzz Lightyear in ’08.  Some balloons have made many different appearances in the parade.  “Harold” is a character who was in 4 different parades (1945-1948) as 4 different characters: a clown, a baseball player, a policeman, and a fireman.  Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, and Hello Kitty are some of the balloons appearing in different versions.  The winner is Snoopy.  Charlie Brown’s pet beagle has had seven different balloons in the parade- a record set in 2013.  A few interesting facts related to these balloons.  During World War II the balloons were given to the military to use- over 650 lbs of rubber!  Macy’s is the largest helium consumer after the US Government.  When a shortage occurred in 1958 the balloons were filled with air and moved through the streets on cranes.

Macys 3Aside from those incredible balloons, how did the parade grow into the global event it is today?  The parades of the 20s were watched by hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of New York.  It has been held every year since 1924 with the only break from 1942-1944 for World War II due to restrictions on fuel, rubber, and helium.  The awareness of the parade grew first from the radio broadcasts of the action.  Yes.  Radio! The parade was broadcast live on radio from 1932-1951.  The first television broadcast of the parade was an experiment in 1939.  Local tv broadcasts started in 1946 and national broadcasts followed in 1947. That year was the same year the parade got lots of attention from the movie Miracle on 34th Street.  The film used filmed scenes from the actual parade the year before.  NBC became the exclusive television broadcaster of the parade in 1952 with the name of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Color broadcasts became the norm in 1960.  NBC has been that exclusive broadcaster for the last 62 years, winning 12 Emmy awards since 1979.  Since the parade is in public other broadcasters can set-up shop and show the parade too.  CBS shows the parade too with the name The Thanksgiving Day Parade on CBS.  You can also catch it on local channels in the New York area and even streaming online.  The three-hour spectacle has become a focal point to officially begin the holiday season.  As we say in my family- “we can’t start our Christmas until Santa gets here”.

So make your plans now to include the parade as part of your holiday plans in 2014.  Tune in 9:00 AM, Thursday, November 27, 2014 on NBC.  Book a hotel and go in person maybe.  Until then find out more about the parade, play games, and shop at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade official website.  You have 308 days to wait for THE kick-off to the holiday season!

Did you know? A yule log burns no more

The Yule Log Washington PostIt wasn’t until I read a letter to the editor in The Washington Post that I remember that there was a yule log display  in President’s Park near the National Christmas tree. For years, huge logs, lifted and deposited by forklift and guarded by a National Park Service employee, burned in the fire pit . Before Roger and I visited President’s Park in 2012 to visit the National Christmas Tree, I vaguely remember standing on the Ellipse on a cold December evening sometime in my childhood–probably the mid-70’s.  With the prompting of this article, I think I remember the fire pit!  (I am going to consult my mother on this issue.)

The yule log was discontinued before the Christmas 2012 season, the explanation being that the design of the annual display left no room for the fire pit, so it was covered over.  I, for one, didn’t realize that we have lost a treasure–until it was too late!  I did find a Facebook page dedicated to resurrecting the fire pit: Bring Back the Yule Log. I’ll be following that page, too.

Here is a more recent letter written by Marsha Schmidt on January 4, 2014 explaining her memory of the yule log and her efforts to have it reinstated.  I think that Jeremy and I should support the return of the yule log and make it our special 2014 mission!