jueves, 9 de diciembre de 2010


The use of a Christmas tree indoors appears to have begun in Germany. German Christians would bring trees into their homes to decorate. In some areas evergreen trees were scarce so the families would build a Christmas pyramid, simple wooden structures which they decorated with branches and candles.

The tradition of the Christmas tree eventually spread through out Europe. The English Royalty help popularize the tree in England by decorating the first Christmas tree at Windsor Castle in 1841. Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, decorated the first English Christmas Tree with candles, candies, fruits, and gingerbread.

When the German immigrants went to American they also brought along their Christmas trees. In the 1830's most Americans still considered the Christmas tree an oddity. One of the first public displays of a Christmas tree was set up by German Settlers in Pennsylvania. At the time many still considered the tree to be a symbol of pagans and it wasn't until the late 1800's that Americans began accepting the Christmas tree.

Early Christmas trees were often decorated with apples, nuts, cookies, colored popcorn and candles. The invention of electricity in the early 20th century and use of electrical Christmas lights helped spread the use of the Christmas tree.

It is now common in most communities through out the US to feature public displays of Christmas trees. Every year the President of the United States lights the National Christmas Tree in Washington and in New York skaters spin beneath the lighted tree of Rockefeller Center. Through Europe and the rest of the world the Christmas tree has also become readily accepted and adored.

A beautifully decorated evergreen tree, with colored lights ablaze inspires in many warm memories of Christmases long past. The Christmas tree has become one of the most beloved and well know holiday symbols.

The tradition of a holiday tree has been around since ancient times and has played an important part in winter celebrations for many centuries. Many pagan festivals used trees when honoring their gods and spirits. In Northern Europe the Vikings considered the evergreen a symbol and reminder that the darkness and cold of winter would end and the green of spring would return. The Druids of ancient England and France decorated oak trees with fruit and candles to honor their gods of harvests. At the festival Saturnalia the Romans decorated trees with trinkets and candles.

There have also been many legends surrounding the lore of the Christmas tree. In one story Saint Boniface, an English monk, came upon a group of pagans who had gathered around an oak tree and were preparing to sacrifice a child. To stop the sacrifice and save the child, the Saint flattened the oak tree with one blow of his fist. A small fir sprang up in its place, which Saint Boniface told the pagans was the Tree of Life and represented the life of Christ.

Another legend tells of Martin Luther, the founder of the Protestant religion, walking through the woods late one night. As it was clear, many stars were shining through the branches of the trees giving the impression of twinkling lights. Luther was so inspired by the beauty of the sight that he cut down a small evergreen and brought it home. He recreated the stars by putting candles on the tree's branches.

jueves, 18 de noviembre de 2010


Carrying the Can for San Andrés

(The Fiesta of San Andrés in Tenerife)

The 30th November is a day worthy of celebration in Tenerife; firstly, it’s the Fiesta of San Andrés or Saint Andrew as he’s better known to Scots. Secondly, it’s the day the wine cellars throw open their doors for the tasting of the new wines. Although on the face of it these two happy events appear to having nothing more in common than their place on the calendar, popular tales speak of a much stronger link.

The big noise in town

29th November, the Eve of the Fiesta of San Andrés, sees Puerto de la Cruz staging the ‘Arrastre los Cacharros’ or ‘run with pots and pans’. As the afternoon turns to evening, children drag pots, pans, tins and assorted metal containers through the streets on lengths of string, with the intention of making as much noise as possible. As the evening progresses, so the age of the participants and the weight of the metal increases as groups of teenage boys appear, dragging vast chariots of empty oil drums, old washing machine drums, exhaust pipes and even old microwave ovens on great lengths of rope.

To the untrained eye, Arrastre los Cacharros looks like an attempt to engage the young in environmental sustainability through the re-cycling of tins, but in fact its origins are rooted in tradition, some practical, others more fanciful. One of the nicest tales is that when San Andrés arrived on Tenerife he was already late (the rest of the Saints having arrived on 1st November – All Saints’ Day) and, to add insult to injury, he discovered the new wine, partook liberally of its medicinal properties and fell asleep in the street. Whereupon, local children tied pots and pans to his clothes so that every time he tried to turn over he’d wake up.

Roll out the barrel

Whatever the legends about the origins of the Fiesta of San Andrés, his feast day falls fortuitously in line with the year’s wine harvest and the more practical explanation for the tradition of Arrastre los Cacharros is the practice of rolling barrels down to the sea to wash them.

The toboggan run

While in Puerto de la Cruz it’s the children who play, in Icod de los Vinos and La Guancha wooden sledges are constructed from heartwood and waxed with resin before being ridden down the near vertical streets at breakneck speed. The faster the sledge, the greater the impact and the louder the applause; needless to say, the Red Cross are on hand in case anyone’s judgment goes seriously awry.

The practice of riding the boards (Arrastre de las Tablas) in Icod and La Guancha originates from the seventeenth century, when the wine was transported down to the coast for export on sledges drawn by bullocks. The barrels rested on wooden planks and a helmsman would stand on the boards at the back, steering the sledge with the use of a wooden oar. The sound of the barrels riding the cobbled streets meant that the cellars were open for tasting.

Whatever the origins, one thing is clear; the Fiesta of San Andrés is cause for celebration and it would be nothing less than impolite not to drink a toast to the man himself with the new vino del país; fruity, light and lethal if drunk in large quantities but perfect accompanied by a bag of hot roasted castañas (chestnuts), a pincho (small skewer of marinated pork) and a piece of anis bread while sitting on the harbour trying to ignore all that noise.

copyright: http://www.realtenerifeislanddrives.com/San%20Andres.html

miércoles, 27 de octubre de 2010


Ancient Origins of Halloween

Halloween's origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in).

The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls', were called Hallowmas.