holiday

Posted by Ellen

They say the original matzoh-makers were in a mad rush that first night out of slavery and couldn't bake their bread with customary care and patience. Somehow, that biblical hurry led to perfect squares of matzoh with neat rows of perforations, packaged in cardboard and sold at Passover time for next to nothing by supermarkets hoping to lure in customers for other holiday purchases.

At Metropolitan Bakery in Philadelphia, however, matzoh is the focus of a new business model. It's baked with black olives or sun-dried tomatoes, and it's primitive in appearance, artisanal by reputation. Crowds of people stand in line for it, and they pay a pretty penny.

It seems that there's more than one way to make money off "comfort foods" that invoke the bad old days. Happy Passover, y'all.

Posted by Ellen

This cheerful little snake is welcoming us to Tết, the Vietnamese version of Asian lunar new year festivities, which will be celebrated this coming Sunday in Philadelphia among many other places. What the snake is saying, according to Google's translator, is "Sing along, Men of targeted Heritage."

In 1968, at the height of what I've been told was called "the American war" by many people in Vietnam, the governments of both North and South Vietnam announced two-day cease-fires for Tết. But shortly after midnight on the first day of Tết, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong launched more than a hundred surprise attacks on American and South Vietnamese forces and on cities and villages throughout South Vietnam. More than 80,000 troops were involved in the attacks, and there was fighting even in Saigon. The objective was to demoralize South Vietnamese soldiers and show Communist strength literally in every corner of the land; over the next few weeks, however, U.S. forces regained control of virtually all the territory contested in the Tết offensive, and the war dragged on for seven more years.

One consequence (among many) of the eventual North Vietnamese victory in the war was that the South Vietnamese provinces adopted the same time zone and lunar calendar as the North Vietnamese, thus ensuring that everyone celebrated Tết at the same time. Most years, including this one, the Chinese New Year also falls on the same date as Tết, though time-zone differences across Asia occasionally result in different clebration dates.

Posted by Ellen

When the Cold War thawed, old Russian cultural traditions became new again, and Ded Moroz–Father Frost–emerged from hiding up near the Siberian part of the North Pole to resume his holiday responsibilities.

To acknowledge the new cultural politics, Ded Moroz's many colleagues in northern and eastern Europe–notably Joulupukki, Finland's Christmas Goatnow seek him out at border crossings and Christmas markets across the continent. The two Nicks typically engage in a little winter diplomacy, sometimes competing in endeavors such as chimney climbing.

This picture features Ded Moroz presenting a gift to Joulupukki during a diplomatic mission in Minsk, capital of Belarus. 

Incidentally, Ded Moroz can sleep in Christmas morning, because in Russia, the gift thing doesn't happen till New Year's. Happy New Year's one and all......

Posted by Ellen

This holiday art appeared in the Saint Paul Globe, St. Paul, Minnesota, on November 22, 1903. There's nothing peculiar about a people who set aside a day for giving thanks, but maybe we are a little odd to have this day set aside for both football and gratitude.

Well, all right then. Thanks to all.

Posted by Ellen

As Debby and her daughter Lily lit the candles for the first night of Hanukah, Lily's Hanukah bear sat on the kitchen counter just beyond the right edge of this picture. Use your imagination: the Hanukah bear is a stuffed polar bear wearing a yarmulke, with a battery-powered voice. Push the button, and the Hanukah bear sings and sings about a dreidel made of clay.

After the candles were lit and the bear had sung, there were dreidels made of plastic and gelt made of chocolate, plus presents for Lily and latkes for all.

Posted by Ellen

This Thanksgiving Day we 99-percenters might as well be grateful for football, a blessing as mixed as any but as American as . . . never mind. The postcard pictured here is from 1900

In Maine, Deering and Portland high schools have been facing off in their annual Turkey Bowl since 1911; the forecast for this hundredth annual game calls for clear skies, temperatures just below freezing, and a Deering victory, though you never can tell.

In Alabama, college football starts getting serious this weekend as LSU contronts Arkansas and Alabama has to deal with Auburn; if these games go according to book, LSU and Alabama will meet at New Year's for the national title, in a rematch of an October game that just didn't go right at all for Alabama.

I suppose that only the very smallest families in America could possibly all dine together at the same Thanksgiving table; our table, like so many others, will be missing important people this year, for all sorts of reasons. But we'll be thinking of them, and probably making fun of them, and we'll raise a glass and eat cranberries and maybe later if it's not too cold, some of us will go out in the street and throw a football around, because it's a free country or something like that.