Día de los Muertos

The Mexican holiday, Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is celebrated from midnight on October 31 until November 2.

On November 1 (All Saints Day), deceased children (“angelitos”) are celebrated; on November 2, (All Souls Day) deceased adults are celebrated. In order to make the holiday appear  to “more Christian”, Day of the Dead combines both days and all deceased family members are celebrated. The idea is that the spirits return on this one day of the year to be together with their families. Festivities take place in cities and villages throughout Mexico, though each location may have different customs and ways of honoring their dead. Many years ago, relatives used to be buried close to families or sometimes, in a tomb, located under the family home.

After cleaning the house and setting up an altar in one’s home, offrendas or offerings are displayed on the altar and offered to the ancestors. It is believed that the deceased relatives consume the food by its essence or aroma.

By far, the most popular offering is the sugar skull. These skulls are made into a sugar mixture and then pressed into a skull shape and then dried and iced with frosting. Although they are edible, most sugar skulls are used for decoration only. Sugar skull art is very popular in Mexico. The name of the celebrated deceased is written on the sugar skull and then placed on the altar.

Pan de muertos  or bread of the dead is also placed on the altar as an offrenda. It is a sweet, soft bread often decorated with pieces of dough shaped likes bones. These bones represent the dead loved ones and there is also a tear-shaped piece of dough baked on the bread. The bread is often flavored with anise seeds or orange flower water.

Marigolds are in bloom in Mexico at this time of year and are also placed on the altar.

Although at first glance Halloween and Day of the Dead seem similar and both are rooted from early cultural beliefs about death and Christianity, unlike Halloween, the Day of the Dead celebrants don’t view the spirits as malevolent; they welcome and celebrate them. Day of the Dead is not at all scary. It is joyous, loud and especially colorful!


¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!

Thai Pongal

January 23, 2014 by Clover van Steenberghe · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Holidays, Language Learning 

Thai Pongal (தைப்பொங்கல்) or Pongal (பொங்கல்) is one of the most important holidays in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Union territory of Puducherry, and Sri Lanka. The holiday marks the end of the harvest season and is celebrated every year from January 13th to 16th by the Tamil people in the region. The tradition of Thai Pongal may be around 1,000 years old although some believe it to be much older.

Thai refers to the tenth month in the Tamil calendar. The word Pongal means “overflowing,” “boiling over” or “spilling over” in Tamil. The word Pongal and the holiday Thai Pongal symbolize material abundance. Traditionally Thai Pongal is intended to thank the Sun God and livestock that created the material abundance in the rural areas and farms. During the Thai Pongal holiday, Tamils return to their home villages to spend time with family and participate in ceremonies and traditions that thank the Sun God for the good harvest.
Pongal is the biggest harvest festival of the Tamils and is spread over four days. Each of the four days have their own significance. On the first day, people discard old unused possession, homes are cleaned and washed and then decorated. The outside of doorways are painted or adorned with garlands, flowers and leaves. “Bhogi” or the Rain God is also worshipped on the first day. Pongal falls on the second day and starts with the symbolic boiling of rice in milk with other special ingredients in a new clay pot. The moment the milk boils over (the symbol of abundance) family members shout “Pongalo Pongal!” The rice is then offered to the Sun God and later eaten. The third day or “Maatu Pongal” is a day to celebrate cattle and their role in traditional Indian farming. This day is celebrated together with other villagers and people bathe their cattle and paint their horns. The last day of Pongal is about visiting family and friends in the village and surrounding areas.

Here are a few Tamil phrases to wish your Tamil friends a good holiday.
இனிய பொங்கல் நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள் or Iniya Pongal Nalvazhthukkal translates to “Happy Pongal” in English
பொங்கல் வாழ்த்துக்கள் or Pongal Vazhthukkal translates to “Pongal Wishes” or “Pongal Greetings” in English

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