Monday, March 27, 2017


   While Semana Santa is a national tradition throughout Spain, the "Andalucians" arguably "feel" the week more than other regions of Spain.  Throughout 7 days, Andalucia is surrounded by a spiritual halo.  Semana Santa is a tradition which is repeated year after year, a time when the devout and  curious joint together to participated in the procession and converge on the streets and squares which take on the ambiance and mystique of an open air temple.


   The skill and expertise behind the parades rest with the religious fraternities and brotherhoods.  They have the responsibility of maintaining the statues as well as coordinating the penitents and musicians.  Sometimes up to two thousand members of a brotherhood take part, some carry candles, rods or banners depending on their level of seniority.  The most senior is the president who carries a golden rod.



    The "costaleros" who carry the weight on the floats and their sculptured representations of the biblical scene are directed by the overseer or head of the group who ensures that the float is carried with maximum seriousness, grace and tradition.  To be able to survive the long hours and distance carrying the heavy "thrones" the costaleros have a cushion, known as the costal, which prevents the direct contact of the wood rubbing against the skin.  The thrones are followed by "nazarenos" dressed in tunics, hoods and masks and women dressed in traditional costume.



    The high point of the procession is when the float exits and enters the respective church.  This is the moment when art and religion seem merged into one.  A sculpture of images created by superb craftsmen.  The best floats date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and can still be seen today.
   The entire scene is alive with color and sound, thanks to the polychromatic variety of tunics, hoods, ensigns and banners.  Emotions are stirred by the slow rhythmic beating of the drums and processional marches, the swaying paces of the bearers and the poignant wailing of the "saeta" which is a sacred song similar to the flamenco and sung through the Holy Week processions.


    Even if you are not religious, it is difficult not to be moved, the atomsphere is so vital and poignant.  For some it is a fun filled fiesta time, for others a week of ritual and reflection.  Without a doubt, Holy Week in Andalucia is a tradition that is an integral part of the culture and appropriatly reflects the spirit of the people.
   Year after year, each and every village proudly enjoys the berauty and mystery of "Semana Santa", although there are variances and some towns for instance, will preserve certain traditions more than others.  The villages and hamlets generally hold their parades on Thursdays and Fridays, while the large capital cities have week long celebrations and attract thousands of people from far and wide.
   Irrespective of size, each float represents the pride and enthusiasm of every Andaluz who will spend the entire night, from dusk until dawn, accompanying them in solemn reverence to his or her religion.


   The Carnaval de Oruro (or Carnival of Oruro), is the biggest annual cultural event in Bolivia.
   Celebrated in Oruro, the folklore capital of Bolivia, the carnival marks the Ito festival for the Uru people.  Its ceremonies stem from Andean customs, the ancient invocations centering around Pachamama (Mother Earth, transformed into the Virgin Mary due to Christian syncretism) and Tio Supay (Uncle God of the Mountains, transformed into the Devil).  The native Ito ceremonies were stopped in the 17th century by the Spanish, who were ruling the territory of upper Peru at the time.  However, the Uru continued to observe the festival in the form of a Catholic ritual on Candlemas, in the first week of each February.  Christian icons were used to conceal portrayals of Andean gods, and the Christian saints represented other Andean minor divinities.  The ceremony begins 40 days before Easter.

   Legend also has it that in 1789, a mural of the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared in a mineshaft of the richest silver mine in Oruro.  Ever since, the Carnival has been observed in honor of the Virgen de la Candelaria (Virgin of the Candle Mass) or Virgen del Socavon (Virgin of the Mineshaft).  The most important elements of the Carnival now occur in and around the Sanctuaria del Socavon (The Church of the Mineshaft).


   The carnival starts with a ceremony dedicated to the Virgen del Socavon.  Marching bands, compete simultaneously in the grotto of Pie de Gallo on Sunday, which is the greeting to the Virgin.  The highlight of the Carnival is conducted over three days and nights, with 50 groups parading through the city over a route of 4 kilometers.  The groups represent various indigenous dance forms, and are accompanied by several bands.  Over 28,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians participate in the procession that lasts over 20 hours.  The dances include Caporales, Diablada, Kantus, Kullawada, Llamerada, Morenada, Potolo, Pujllay, Suri Sikuris, Tinku, Tobas, Waca Waca and La Diablada (Dance of the devils).  These demonic dancers are dressed in extravagant garb.  The design and creation of Diablada costumes has become an art form in Oruro, and several Diablada clubs, consisting of members from all levels of Oruro society, are sponsored by local businesses.  There are anywhere from 40 to 300 dancing participants, whose costumes may cost several hundreds of dollars each.


   The main event kicks off on Saturday before Ash Wednesday, with the spectacular entrada (entrance procession), led by the brightly costumed San Miguel character.  Behind him, dancing and marching, come the famous devils and a host of bears and condors.  The chief devil, Lucifer, wears the most extravagant costume, complete with a velvet cape and an ornate mask.  Faithfully at his side are two other devils, including Supay, an Andean god of evil that inhabits the hills and mineshafts.  The procession is followed by other dance groups, vehicles adorned with jewels, coins and silverware (in commemorating of the achura rites, in which the Inca offered their treasures to Inti, the sun, in the festival of Inti Raymi, and the miners offer the year's highest quality mineral to El Tio, the demonic character who is owner of all underground minerals and precious metals.  Behind them, follows the Inca characters and a group of conquistador's, including Franciso Pizarro and Diego de Almagro.


   When the devils and the archangel arrive at the soccer stadium, they engage in a series of dances that tell the story of the ultimate battle between good and evil.  After it becomes apparent that good has triumphed over evil, the dancers retire to the Santuario de la Virgen del Socavon at dawn on Sunday, and a mass is held in honor of the Virgin, who pronounces that good has prevailed.


   There's another, less spectacular entrada on Sunday afternoon, and more dance displays on Monday.  The next day, Shrove Tuesday, is marked by family reunions and cha'lla libations, in which alcohol is sprinkled over worldly goods to invoke a blessing.  The next day people make their way into the surrounding countryside where 4 rock formations, the Toad, the Viper, the Condor and the Lizard, are also subjected to cha'lla as an offering to Pachamama.  Plenty of the spirit is sprinkled down the revelers' throats as well.
     Oruro's Carnival has become Bolivia's most renowned and largest annual celebrations.  It's a great time to visit, when this somewhat unfashionable mining city becomes the focus of the nation's attention.  In a broad sense, these festivities can be called re-enactments.  The festival is so interlaced with threads of both Christian and indigenous myths, fables, deities and traditions that it would be inaccurate to oversimplify it in this way.

    Ceremonies begin several weeks before Carnaval Oruro itself, with a solemn pledge of loyalty to the Virgin in the sanctuary.  From this date on, there are various candelite processions and dance groups practice boisterously in the city's streets.


    Can you say Starkbierzeit?  It's German for "strong beer festival", an event held every March in Munich.  For two weeks, breweries bring out their most potent beverages, and beer halls throw noisy parties with a  host of Bavarian entertainment and food.  It's Oktoberfest without the tourists.
   The festival's roots go back to the Paulaner monks who, according to legend, began making an extra strength beer to sustain themselves during their Lenten fast.  The beer, first brewed in the 17th century, gained a "word of mouth" following.  The townspeople called it Salvator.


   Strong beer's popularity took off after Napoleon rode into town and sold the monasteries to local businessmen.  Paulaner ended up in the hands of a entrepreneur named Franz Xavier Zacheri, who turned the monastery into a beer hall and mass produced the monks' beer.  In an inspired bit of marketing, he promoted Salvator as a cure for the wintertime blues.  Munchner's answered the call, descending on Zacheri's beer hall in droves.
   Salvator is classified as a doppelbock, which means an "extra strength" version of the Bock style.  "Bock", in Bavaria, is a generic term meaning strong beer--pale as well as dark.  Just how strong are doppelbocks?  They start at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume.  Anbd because their strength is masked by a strong malty flavor, they can sneak up on the most experienced of beer drinkers.


  The site of Zackeri's beer hall is still the gathering place for Starkbierzeit--especially on  March 19th, St. Joseph's Day.  Today, it's called the Paulaner Keller.  This sprawling complex can hold 5,000 revelers, and there's room for thousands more outside.  It has everything you'd expect in a traditional beer hall: sturdy beermaids; brass bands blaring out drinking songs; and plenty of malty, amber colored Salvator Doppelbock.
   It didn't take long for Munich's other breweries to follow Paulaner's lead and come out with their own doppelbocks.  But as a tribute to the original Salvator, they've all given their beers names ending in "-ator". 
   Paulaner's biggest competitor is Lowenbrau, which brings out its sweetish--and lethal--Triumphator in March.  You can find it all over town, but if you want to join the party, the place to go is the brewery's enormous Lowenbraukeller.  Show up on the right evening, and the entertainment will include boulder-lifting competitions and other feats of strength.


   Doppelbock isn't the only style of beer served during Starbierzeit.  For an interesting change of pace, head for Weisses Brauhaus, a popular destination for those who like to start their evening with a good meal.  As the name suggests, it specializes in wheat beers, which Germans often call weiss, or white beers.  This time of year, the brewery pours Starkweizenbier, a dark colored beer whose pronounced wheat flavor hides a big alcoholic punch.


     Munich's most intriguing strong beer venue is Forschungbrauerei, which means "research brewery", in English.  By tradition, it's allowed to start serving its doppelbock, called St. Jakobus, a week before Starkbierzeit, it is a small, family run establishment whose entire production is consumed on the premises.  It's also one of the few remaining places where beer is served in ceramic mugs which do a better job of keeping beer cold. 


   Starkbierzeit isn't widely publicized,which is just fine with Munchners.  It's their time of year to show pride in Bavarian culture and tradition.  But don't let the local color scare you away,  that's why millions of people visit every year!  Bring a good guidebook, a hearty appetite, and a taste for strong Bavarian beer.  That'll be enough to earn you a "Wilkommen" at any beer hall in town.

Monday, March 20, 2017


    St. Patrick's Day is a lively celebration, traditionally observed with parades, music, dancing, Irish food and green beer.  Chances are, there will be a parade near you, as there are parades and celebrations all over the United States on this Irish holiday.  The following are the top 10 of the heap.


Boston, Mass.

   They've been partying since 1901 in "Bean Town".  About 850,000 people attend this spirited party.  The city's population is about 16 percent Irish and they celebrate St. Patrick's Day with enthusiasm.



New York City

   New York's parade has been celebrated since 1762.  They expect about 2 million people to line the streets of New York for the largest and oldest St. Patrick's parade in the United States.  The huge parade has about 150,000 marchers.  No floats or automobiles allowed.  Plenty of bagpipes and green beer in the city on this Irish event.  As the original St. Patrick's Day Parade in U.S. history, the first event was held in 1762.


Chicago- South Side

   The South side parade draws about 325,000 people.  This Irish neighborhood's parade has a lively party atmosphere.



   The event in Chicago has taken place since 1843.  About 300,000 people attend the parade.  Before the parade the famous Chicago River is turned green with the help of some green dye, and a leprechaun or two.  The fantastic dying of the famous Chicago River takes place in the early morning and the parade follows.


Savannah, Georgia

   The St. Patrick's Day event has taken place since 1825 and draws a crowd of 400,000.  Local traditions include dying the city's fountains green and eating green grits for breakfast.  The annual parade, one of the oldest in the country, is designated as one of the top 20 special events in the Southeast.



Kansas City, Missouri

   This parade attracts about 200,000 spectators.  The parade was first held in 1873 but did not take place for several years.  In 1973, the parade was brought back to life by a group of businessmen trying to help out a pal by drawing a group of marchers to an Irish pub.  The procession turned into a street party, and the parade has grown into one of the largest int he United States.  There is a trip to Ireland to the grand prize winners of the procession, so participants give it their best effort.



San Francisco, California

   The oldest and biggest celebration west of the Mississippi.  The parade marches along the trolley tracks.  There is a post parade party for the entire family.  This event draws more than a million people.  It is billed as one of the most fashionable parades in the country.


New London, Wisconsin

   Magical leprechauns change the name of this northern town to New Dublin.  A Parade, corned beef and cabbage and Irish music and dancing.  A rowdy reenactment of Finnegan's Wake precedes the parade and festival, the parade is followed by an afternoon of celebrations at Irish Fest.

Dublin, Ohio

   One of nine U.S. Cities named Dublin, it has one of the better St. Patrick's Day parties.  130 unites of clowns, floats, bands and lively pre and post parade parties.  The Blarney Bash Tent features Irish music, dancing, drums and pipes.



Hot Springs, Arkansas

    Described as what may be the "World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade", by Ripleys, this parade has unique touches including: Elvis look a likes, green fireworks and Irish Belly dancers.


   Ah, St. Patrick's Day: the day when each one of your friends and even your grandfather seems to be Irish.  This is probably the only day when you'll dig through your closet, just to find that  special green something to wear wherever you go.  St. Patrick's Day is celebrated all over the world, and for many, it's a day to relax and drink, whether it's a favorite ale or just some random green beer served at the bar.  Many think St. Patrick's Day is just about wearing green, drinking, and dealing with the hangover the next day.  However, there are probably some things that many don't know about St. Patrick's Day.
   Some of the facts you'll find surprising, while others are a little bit more expected, especially if you've participated in a St. Patrick's Day festivity once in your life.  And of course, have a Happy St. Patrick's Day!

  • Shamrocks
    Of course with St. Patrick's Day comes the massive appearance of shamrocks.  Whether you're wearing one pinned to your lapel or you have them on your socks, shamrocks have definitely become a central symbol for this day.  In the olden days in Ireland, the shamrock was seen as sacred.  Due to its green color and overall shape, many believed it to represent rebirth and life.  The four leaves of the clover represent faith, love, hope, and of course, luck.  Because of this, the shamrock has continued to be very popular in the Irish culture.  When the Irish were under control of the English, many silent protests were held, and each person should wear a shamrock pinned to their shirt.  From then on the shamrock has became a very well known symbol that represents Ireland and the Irish people.


  • Prohibition in Ireland....Really
   When you think of March 17th, you almost surely will think of beer, and when you think of someone Irish, you probably think of beer and pubs as well.  But, in the history of Ireland, beer wasn't always a given on this widely celebrated day.  In 1903, a member of the Irish parliament, James O'Mara introduced a new bill that called to recognize St. Patrick's Day as a religious observation in Ireland.  However, because this was made a law, this meant that all of the local pubs had to close; therefore, no beer was readily available.  So for 67 years, the Irish suffered through a total shut down of all pubs until 1970 when the law was overturned and the holiday was no longer a religious observance, but a national holiday.



Newfoundland and Labrador

  • Only Three Locations Truly Care!
   While many places all over the world celebrate St. Patrick's Day, from the U.S. to Australia to Argentina and South Korea, only a very select few locations have actually made this day a public holiday for everyone.  First, the very tiny island sometimes known as "Emerald Island of the Caribbean", Montserrat, is one of three countries that publicly celebrate the holiday.  This is due to the high number of Irish refugees that came from Nevis and St. Kitts to the island.  So to commemorate them, the holiday is celebrated.  The holiday is also considered to be a public one in Newfoundland and Labrador.  Here the holiday is celebrated to remember a failed slave uprising that occurred in 1798.  And of course, last but not least, Ireland has made March 17th a public holiday as well.

  • Yes, Hallmark Makes Some Money Too
   We all know about Hallmark and their greetings that are perfect for some of the most prized holidays such as Christmas, Mother's Day, and even Valentine's Day.  If you've ever given someone a card, or received a card yourself, you've probably opened one that was closed by Hallmark's famous gold seal.  Though it seems crazy, on St. Patrick's Day, Hallmark usually sells anywhere from 8-15 million St. Patrick's Day cards each year.  But, offering these cards to the public isn't anything new for Hallmark.  According to their website, the company has been offering these green cards since the early 1920's, and there is always a wide selection to choose from, usually between 100-150 cards each year.


  • So does McDonald's
   If you've ever taken a look at McDonald's "dessert" menu, to put it lightly, you've surely seen the pies, ice cream, cookies, and probably even one of those fruit parfaits.  You've probably also noticed the varying milkshakes that McDonald's offers, especially during certain holidays and season.  Usually around the end of February or beginning of March, McDonald's offers its Shamrock Shake.  Of course the milkshake is nothing but a green color that tastes like mint.  First served in 1970, the shake had become very popular in the U.S., Canada, and Ireland but today is mostly popular in the U.S.  Prices of the shake have about doubled in the last decade, and new additions are often added.  Recently, McDonald's has served the shakes with whipped cream topped with a cherry.

Evacuation Day

  • Evacuation Day
   With every event that occurs, there's usually some sort of coincidence to it, and St. Patrick's Day is no exception.  In a few counties in Massachusetts, the state with the largest amount of an Irish population ( about one fourth), there is a celebration of a day known as Evacuation Day.  Mainly the day is celebrated in Somerville, Cambridge, and Suffolk County.  While Boston is already well known for its celebration of St. Patrick's Day, Evacuation Day is important as well.  Coincidentally the holiday falls on March 17th, but it does commemorate a very special event in Irish history.  On March 17, 1776, the British forces left Boston after troops headed by Henry Knox and George Washington,  placed heavy artillery around the city.  To celebrate this significant event, counties in Massachusetts made the day a holiday in 1901.  However, the holiday is usually under heavy fire, as some see it as a wast of money, as workers are paid for a day off.


  • Snakes in an Ocean
   We've all heard one Irish folklore story or another, especially those center on St. Patrick.  One very popular story is that St. Patrick was able to chase all of the snakes out of Ireland where they then drowned in the ocean.  However, when it come down to it, St. Patrick didn't chase any snakes out of anywhere, nor can you take folklore literally.  In all reality, there has never been any record of snakes living anywhere near the Emerald Isle.  Instead, figurative language was often used in these folklore's, and in this case, the serpents more than likely represented druid and pagan religions that slowly disappeared from Ireland over a period of centuries after St. Patrick is said to have place the seed of Christianity there.

  • New York Has More Irish Pride

   With a holiday all about the Irish, you'd probably think that the biggest and most widely known celebrations come from nowhere else but Ireland.  However, as history shows, Ireland isn't the country that tops the list with Irish pride, at least not when it comes to celebrations and festivities.  After decades of studying, no one has found the exact time when St. Patrick's Day was first widely celebrated.  The first known depiction of the holiday comes from a man named Jonathan Swift, who mentions a 1713 celebration taking place in London.  The only thing mentioned is a day where Westminster Parliament was given a holiday and that buildings were decorated in green.  In 1762 in New York City, the first parade honoring this holiday took place.  Today it stands as the largest celebration and parade in the U.S.  Almost 3 million people come to see the parade, which contains over 150,000 people that span a mile and a half long.

  • Green or Blue?
   Though green is a very popular color on St. Patrick's Day, the original color that was very popular and often related back to St. Patrick was not green, but blue.  However, in today's world, if you're without an ounce of green, expect a pinch.  In Irish folklore, green is known as being worn by immortals and fairies, and often signified new life and crop growth.  Some even say that wearing green is considered to be unlucky as it is known to represent a time in Irish history when Ireland was not a free country.  Blue came into the picture long ago when the military men wore "St. Patrick's Blue" in their uniforms.  The blue is also represented during the time when Henry VIII was declared King of Ireland and the flag used was a gold harp on a blue background.  But today, green is the prominently known and worn color.  In Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green using 40 pounds of green vegetable dye.

  • St. Patrick Wasn't Irish
    Because St. Patrick's Day is so popular in Ireland, and all you really ever hear about on the date is Irish this Irish that, you probably just assume that St. Patrick is as well.....Irish.  However, your assumption would be wrong St. Patrick was actually Scottish and was said to be either born in Scotland or Wales.  Even more shocking is that his nae wasn't even Patrick.  His birth  name is actually Maewyn Succat.  However, at the age of 16, he was kidnapped and sold into Irish slavery.  Later on in time he became a priest under bishop of Auxerre and took on the name Patricius, better known as Patrick.  her he felt that this was his calling in  bringing Christianity and Ireland closer together.  In any case, the Scottish should get some recognition on this day as well.