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Autumn Festivals: How the World Honors the Dead

A huge part of why I travel is just to experience something different.

I am always craving the unfamiliar. I want to be surprised by how different life, beliefs, and values can be across the hundreds of cultures around the world.

But on the other side of the coin, I also love finding things that remain consistent. It is interesting to see what is universal across all or most of humankind.

Halloween, which is very American in its modern celebrations (despite originating in Europe), is actually very similar to many other autumn festivals around the world in that it holds a very common theme: death.

When you take away the silliness and child-centered traditions, Halloweens true purpose has always been about honoring those who died before us. This theme is tied to autumn months all around the world.

Where can you see examples?

Mexico – Day of the Dead

The most well-known example is Dia de los Muertos, which translates to the Day of the Dead. It is celebrated widely in Mexico and other Hispanic cultures. It is a three-day event. On the first day, it is believed that spirits will return to earth to be close to their loved ones. On the second day, families visit the graves of their family members to leave flowers and fruit. The third and final day is giant party.

India – Fortnight of Ancestors

In India, 16 days are devoted to the deceased for “Pitru Paksha” around the time of the autumn equinox. According to Hindi legend, a spirit does not fully crossover into heaven until three more generations pass away. The three generations of spirits still waiting in limbo can visit their descendants during the Fortnight of Ancestors.

Hong Kong – Double Ninth Festival

The legend behind this festival is a bit dark, and, like many ancient myths from oral traditions, the story has several versions. The basic tale is of a man that is warned of an impending danger to his village and flees to a mountaintop. When he comes back down, he finds all his neighbors dead. The festival began as a way to honor those who lost their lives that day, and now it honors all who have passed on. Families in Hong Kong will visit the cemetery to clean their family’s tombs and leave flowers and small offerings.

Italy – All Saint’s Day

What we know as Halloween today descended from this holiday which honors Christian saints. It is celebrated in all Catholic communities, and many believe it borrows ancient Celtic traditions from the pagan holiday, Samhain.

Nepal – Gai Jatra

Rather than honoring all their ancestors, this festival is primarily for remembering those who passed away in just the last year. Cows, sacred creatures and the national animal, are lined up and paraded down the street in an effort to bring joy and luck to grieving families. Food is shared among the entire community.

Madagascar – Famadihana

We’ll end on this tradition, which is a bit strange from my western perspective. Once a year, the people of Madagascar retrieve the corpses of their ancestors from the family crypts. Their remains are wrapped in cloth and brought to a large party where they are paraded around and danced with.

As much as I love the spooky fun of Halloween, I can’t help but compare it to these festivals around the world that seem to have a deeper meaning. Do you think something is missing from our western culture that could be fulfilled with a holiday like these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Mythological Monsters from Around the World

October has always been my favorite month. I love the crisp weather (not that we get much of that in Thailand), the comfort foods, and, of course, Halloween.

Ghost stories, haunted houses, magic, and spooky myths – all things I adore.

Back in America, I am used to stories about witches, werewolves, and vampires – but now that I’m traveling the world, I’m much more interested in discovering new creatures and fabled beasts that go bump in the night around foreign lands.

Here are a few to get us all in the Halloween spirit:

Banshee (Ireland) – Catching a glimpse of this old, witchy woman is not a good omen – her presence guarantees the death of a family member. Her hair wild and the color of fire, and she has a painfully loud shriek. Sometimes she might disguise herself as a young, beautiful girl before revealing her true appearance.

Chupacabra (Puerto Rico) – Like vampires, this little monster has a thirst for blood. But isn’t about to bite your neck, it actually targets goats. In fact, its name translates from Spanish to “goat sucker” – a terrifying thought to small farming communities. Its appearance can vary, from reptilian to resembling a monstrous kangaroo.

Manticore (Iran) – This beast has the head of a man and the body of a lion. Sometimes it has dragon-like wings and a tail. It definitely has more of a taste for human flesh – its name means “man eater,” and it was often blamed for missing people. People say it never leaves any remains when it feasts, not even bones, clothes, or possessions.

Nandi Bear (Kenya) – Imagine an overgrown hyena with massive muscles, and you’ve got the Nandi Bear. Folklore blames it for the deaths of both man and other animals. They say it eats only brains, leaving the rest of its victim’s body behind.

Revenant (Central Europe) – These spooky creatures are similar to ghosts or zombies – they are deceased humans who have returned from the dead. They are still made of flesh like a zombie, but they have human consciousness like a ghost, usually choosing to haunt places and people they know.

Rakshasa (India) – These demons were accidentally created as the gods slept, and they immediately began feasting on Brahma. They were banished to Earth, where they still try to satisfy their appetite by attacking and eating mankind.

Which creature do you find the scariest? Have you heard of any other mythological monsters during your travels? Share below!

 

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6 Unusual Temples in Southeast Asia

Temples – they are some of the most frequented sights on the tourist trail in Southeast Asia.

After living here for several years, we have to confess that we usually skip temple visits when we’re traveling. After awhile, they start to blend together and we’ve started to think that many just look the same as the last.

Not everyone agrees with us – and that’s fair. There is definitely some stunning architecture to be seen. If you are a spiritual person, they can also be a very peaceful environment (when the crowds aren’t too heavy).

But even if you are in the same boat as us, we don’t necessarily recommend skipping every temple. Here are some that we find truly interesting and unique:

Angkor Wat – Cambodia

This complex is huge, and if you are committed to seeing the whole thing it would take all day (even if you usually breeze through places with impressive speed). Aside from its size, what sets it apart? The age of the buildings (dating back to the 12th century!) is so apparent, it feels like you’ve stepped into a different world. It’s almost like magic. The surrounding temples are also very unique – some resemble castles, some have mysterious faces carved all over the walls, and some look as if they are being swallowed up by the jungles around them.

Bagan Temples – Myanmar

Also ancient, and also massive, Bagan can be toured in so many fun ways. One of the most popular (but also expensive) tours is a hot air balloon ride. It is surrounded by plains and fields, allowing you to completely escape your modern life.

Shwedagon Pagoda – Myanmar

You’ll also find this shiny, gold temple in Myanmar. It’s makes up a prominent part of the capital city’s skyline, especially when it’s brightly lit up against the all the other darker buildings. It’s a beautiful sight while exploring during the day, and when it’s a backdrop to your night out.

The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) – Thailand

This temple is partly a spiritual place of worship, and partly an art exhibit. This little twist gives it a completely new aesthetic that you won’t find anywhere else. Everything is white and sparkling. Dramatic sculptures are everywhere, from hands desperately reaching out of the ground, to dragons, to skeletons.

Sri Mariamman – Singapore

If you love lots of color, lots of art, and lots of detail, you will be delighted with this Hindu temple. There is so much to look at, it’s almost hypnotizing. The temple is bursting with life and energy.

Prambanan – Indonesia

Not only is this the oldest Hindu temple in all of Southeast Asia, its towering buildings are quite photographic. It is known for beautiful dance performances held at sunset at the neighboring park, with the temples as the backdrop.

Did we miss your favorite temple? Have you ever seen one that was just bizarre? Share it below and tell us why it was so interesting!

 

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Mid-Autumn Festival: A Chinese Celebration of Gratitude

We spent this past week in China and caught the beginning of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. This is the second largest Chinese holiday and you’ll find decorations and traditional foods everywhere if you’re in the country, especially round red lanterns strung up in the trees and very dense cakes called moon cakes.

This time marks the fall harvest and, like many cultures around the world, this is a time for expressing gratitude and enjoying time with family.

This festival has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years, with its first written records coming from the Shang dynasty. It is always celebrated during the full moon of the 8th month of the lunar calendar.

In ancient times, the Mid-Autumn Festival also honored the gods or mythological figures honored in each region, such as gods of the moon, the local mountains or the great dragon who was believed to control the weather – therefore creating a bountiful harvest season.

A Mid-Autumn Festival Story

My favorite parts of any holiday are the myths and stories behind them.

In China, where stories were told orally for generations, the myths tend to vary per region. Here is one version:

It was believed in ancient days that there were once 10 suns that took turns lighting the sky. As long as only one sun rose at a time, Earth was safe and warm.

But one year, all 10 suns rose at once, which was understandably a disaster.

A very talented archer, Hou Yi, saved all of humanity was shooting down 9 suns, leaving us with only the one we have today.

In reward for his quick thinking, Hou Yi was given an elixir that would grant him immortality.

But Hou Yi loved his wife very much, and he did not want immortality if it meant she would eventually die and he’d have the rest of eternity without her.

A student of Hou Yi knew about this elixir and wanted it for himself. One night, when he knew Hou Yi was away, he broke into his house to steal the vial.

Hou Yi’s wife tried to fight him off, but in the end she took the elixir herself to keep it from the disloyal student.

She could no longer live among mortals and was carried up into the heavens. Hoping to stay as close to Hou Yi as possible, she chose the moon as her new home.

After Hou Yi discovered what had happened, he would often spend time looking at the moon and thinking of his wife. During the full moon, he’d leave out her favorite foods and drinks in honor of her. Others felt compassion for him, and began the same practices, which spread throughout the country.

An Alternative Version

The first story was very sweet, but not all depict Hou Yi in the same positive light.

Another version says he was crowned king after shooting down the nine suns, and later given the immortality elixir.

Unfortunately, he was a prideful and cruel king, and his wife knew he should never be made immortal. To protect the country, she took the elixir to keep it from him.

She flew to the moon, and the mad king died of anger. The people celebrate the wife and the moon as their heroine.

How to celebrate:
Share a mooncake with family or friends. This symbolizes unity and a strong bond between loved ones.
Have a glass of cassia wine. It is the traditional drink, and a favorite of the archer’s wife.
Watch a dragon dance. These are common performances around China during this time of year.
Pray for love. Whether you are hoping to begin a new relationship or preserve an existing one, the time is right for this kind of intention.

I’ve experienced two Mid-Autumn Festivals in China now. Have you ever been? Which story do you prefer – the romantic one or the one with a darker twist?

 

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Qixi Festival: The Chinese Valentine’s Day

One fun part about living as an expat is encountering your favorite familiar traditions with a foreign twist. It has always interested me to see what is universally honored around the world, and also to note the incredible variety in how different cultures can celebrate the same themes.

My first experience with this was two years ago in China, when a Chinese co-worker dropped some chocolate on my desk in August and told me “Happy Chinese Valentine’s Day!”

It was actually Qixi Festival, a Chinese holiday that also celebrates love and romance. It’s held on the seventh day of the seventh month on their lunar calendar. The name translates to “Evening of Sevens.”

This year it’s coming up soon on August 28th.

A Love Story

Although there are several versions of the myth behind this festival, they all center around a couple who were forbidden to be together, forcibly separated, but who find a way back to each other once a year for one night – on the seventh day of the seventh month.

In the most common version of the story, the girl is a fairy and the youngest daughter of the Goddess of Heaven. She often finds herself bored with with her celestial life, and she sneaks off to Earth to have a little fun.

During one of her trips, she meets a mortal boy – a cow herder – and falls in love. They marry secretly, even have a couple of children, and the fairy manages to keep her double life hidden for years.

But eventually the Goddess of Heaven discovers her daughter’s secret. She is forced to return to the heavenly realm, never to come back to Earth again, separated from her children and husband.

Some versions of this story detail how the cow herder tries return to his wife, even by disguising himself with the hide of his dead ox. But ultimately, he cannot reach her.

It is a romantic story, but it is also heartbreaking. The only moment of joy comes briefly once a year, during the Qixi Festival, when legend says a flock of magpies intervene for the lovers. They create a bridge so the two can reunite for one night, but only one night.

Traditional Celebrations

So how exactly is Qixi Festival celebrated?

Needlework is practiced, as this was a talent of the wife in the story. Competitions are often held among unmarried women.

Prayers are offered to the couple, usually for a good and happy marriage.

Offerings of paper, fruits, flowers, or tea are also made at local temples.

Divination is sometimes practiced to predict a future spouse or the happiness of a marriage.

Women might wear a special face powder believed to help them mirror the beauty of the fairy wife.

People will search for constellations in the sky, keeping an eye out for the bridge of magpies reuniting the separated lovers.

Rain is considered a bad omen. If a storm comes, it is believed that the river has washed away the bridge of magpies before the lovers could come together. The rain symbolizes the overflowing river and the tears of the heartbroken couple.

The biggest difference between the western Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Qixi Festival is that Qixi is primarily for unmarried people. Newlyweds couples only celebrate one final time, to say goodbye to the mythological couple.

Have you ever celebrated Qixi Festival in China? How did you think it compared to Valentine’s Day at home? Do you prefer one over the other?

 

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The Symbolism of Chiang Rai’s White Temple

Over a year ago, I was about to head to Thailand for the first time. Simon asked me to make a list of my top priorities of things to see and do. Near the top of my list was The White Temple in Chiang Rai (known as Wat Rong Khun to the locals).

While many temples around Asia start to look very similar after you’ve been traveling or living here awhile, the White Temple stands out with its surreal statues, surprising references to pop culture, and twisted fairytale-like architecture.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it up to Chiang Rai during that trip, but we recently, finally, made it there a couple weekends ago.

Our thoughts? It made for some beautiful pictures, but in person it was a bit smaller than expected.

But! Despite its size, there is a lot going on if you know what to look for. Here is what you should know:

Temple or Art Exhibit?

Years ago, Wat Rong Khun was a typical Buddhist temple that had fallen out of use and was badly in need of repairs. An artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided he wanted to completely renovate the building in an unorthodox way with his own money.

So is the current temple still a religious center or is it all for the sake of art now? It’s a mixture of both. While you can definitely see that an artist designed every inch of this attraction, it is still intended to enlighten its visitors about the teachings of Buddha and eventually provide space for meditation and religious learning. Kositpipat sees his work on the temple as a spiritual mission.

A Story Comes to Life

Exploring the White Temple is essentially entering into a narrative of temptation and redemption. To keep each visitor in the intended progression of the story, no one is allowed to turn back as they explore. They must move through each chapter just as they would a novel – without skipping forward or backward. (So make sure you get any pictures you want the first time around.)

Overcoming Temptation

At first, the artwork in front of the temple is almost disturbing. Multitudes of hands desperately reach out of the ground – this scene is supposed to represent the problem of desire and greed. Visitors pass over it by bridge, entering a state where they are free of worldly attachments and pain.

Mythological Creatures

You will also encounter many strange, mythological figures within and around the White Temple, including:

Kinnarees – Look for statues of half-bird, half-man creatures. They are similar to guardian angels in Buddhist mythology, keeping an eye on humans and intervening when we are in trouble.

Rahu – This creature is a beheaded serpent, and Hindu myths teach that he will determine the fate of each soul upon their death.

Nagas– You will also see plenty of snake symbology with their full body still intact – these are Nagas, and they are minor deities that guard the temple.

Pop Culture

When you actually enter the building, you are no longer surrounded by figures of ancient myths. Instead, you’ll see a display of movie posters, western celebrities, and popular fictional characters alongside news photos of war, terrorism, and other horrors. Again, the message is that the world is full of sorrow, vanity and destruction.

Where’s the Toilet?

Even the bathrooms have become an elaborate work of art. They are housed in an ornate building designed to contrast the spiritual purity of the White Temple with a materialistic, worldly gold coloring.

There’s Much More to Come

Kositpipat has many more plans for the temple in the future – according to his timeline, the entire project won’t be finished until 2070.

For those of you who have traveled around Asia, has any specific temple caught your eye? Why did it impress you?

 

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Strange Museums Around the World

There is really no “right way” to travel.

If you hang around the travel community a lot, you might start to hear some people talk about “real travelers,” “authentic experiences,” or passing judgment on someone else’s decision to go (or not go) to certain attractions.

But the truth is that there are as many ways to travel as there are people traveling.

Our travel confession? We aren’t really into museums, even though these attractions seem to top the must-see lists of many other travelers.

But the occasional museum does catch our eye – when it’s something so bizarre we can’t believe it exists. We have to see it for ourselves. Here are some of the strangest museums around the world we would love to visit:

The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (Osaka, Japan)

Into noodles? Even the biggest enthusiasts might find this museum a little over the top. You’ll explore the many types of ramen sold over the years, including taste testing some of the selections.

The Mummy Museum (Guanajuato, Mexico)

In a small Mexican community, a strange discovery was made. Corpses were being exhumed from a certain crypt, only to find that a peculiarity to that region had mummified them all. The Museo de Las Momias now displays many of the creepy looking mummies.

Iceland Phallological Museum (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Ever wondered how the penis compares from human to animal? Here you’ll find 215 penises to size up and learn about. The museum’s founder says he became interested in penises as a kid, and he later began collecting whale penises as a hobby. When his collection grew, he turned it into a museum open to the public.

The Underwater Museum (Cancun, Mexico)

This museum is found in the ocean and can only be viewed by divers, snorkelers, or passengers in a glass-bottom boat. The sculptures were created and placed underwater with the hopes of spreading awareness about the preservation of clean oceans, marine life, and coral reefs.

International Spy Museum (Washington DC, United States)

As a kid I was very into Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, and other mystery novels. I dreamed of becoming a spy and having dramatic adventures around the world – so this museum definitely intrigues me. Not only are cool spy tools on display, visitors can role play in their own interactive spy mission.

Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creature (Paris, France)

This gothic museum was founded by a scholar who devoted his life to the undead and other occult subjects. You’ll learn plenty about vampire folklore, old protective superstitions, and the history of vampirism in Paris and beyond.

The Museum of Death (Bangkok, Thailand)

Finally, in our current home base of Bangkok, we have the Siriraji Medical Museum, also referred to as the Museum of Death. The most popular (and creepiest) part of the museum is the forensics exhibit, which displays the corpses of murder victims and executed criminals.

What’s the most interesting museum you’ve been to while traveling? Would be tempted by any of the museums listed above? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

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The Conspiracies and Obscure History of Vatican City

Vatican City isn’t a normal place.

To start with, it is technically its own country – despite only being a mere 110 acres with a population of about 1,000. But it does have its own post office, railway station, radio station, and, of course, a rich and influential story. It has certainly earned its prominent place in European History. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its unique power.

The conspiracies swirling around Vatican City are honestly mind-boggling, especially when they stray from the typical power plays and corruption you learned about in history class. From aliens to time travel, we want to discuss some of the strangest and most obscure legends we found.

Does extraterrestrial life exist? According to many conspiracy theories, the answer lies in the Vatican’s secret archives, which some claim detail an encounter between the Vatican and an alien society that wants to help Earth’s impending energy crisis – unfortunately they are afraid to reach out publicly because of our overly violent nature.

Are we alone?

And if that seems far-fetched, get ready for this strange rumor: Also hidden away in those strictly confidential archives? The secrets of time travel, and proof that time travel has already occurred to change history in dire situations. Apparently this powerful technology is owned and restricted by the Vatican, but it has been borrowed by both American and British governments in times of need.

From forgiving sins to defying the laws of time, the Vatican is rumored to have a lot of power.

Of course, we can’t forget about the secret, strange, or scandalous lives of popes throughout history.

Pope Stephen VI was so opposed to his predecessor, he dug his body from the grave, dressed him in his papal robes, and shouted horrible accusations at him before tossing him into a river.

John XII transformed the Vatican from holy grounds to a huge brothel, in which he was the center of the sinful activity. Eventually his wild life caught up with him when he was killed by a jealous husband who found him in bed with his wife.

There is also a 9th century pope appearing in several historical texts that many people believed to secretly be female. Now referred to as Pope Joan, legend says she entered the priesthood with the encouragement of her lover, quickly advancing in rank because of her intelligence and spotless character. Her lover was her greatest weakness and ultimately her downfall. Their secret was uncovered when she became pregnant, giving birth one morning as she rode her horse. She was executed within days.

The legendary, probably mythical, Pope Joan

One last papal story: Pope Paul II. He was not very popular during his reign, as he was always trying to wear a very fancy tiara and apply rogue to his face despite the objections of everyone around him. He met an untimely death, supposedly caused by eating too many melons. He may have been a bit materialistic and vain for a pope, but no one can say he didn’t live life on his own terms.

There’s no denying that behind the walls of Vatican City lies the inspiration for countless conspiracies, mysteries, and speculations of secrets and scandals. This is why, for such a small city-state, there seems to be endless histories to explore. Its influence stretches to the strangest of places.

Have you ever visited Vatican City? What interesting facts (or pseudo facts) did you uncover?

 

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New Orleans: Legends of Pirates, Ghosts, and Voodoo Queens

Without a moment of hesitation, I can name New Orleans as my absolute favorite city in America.

Sure, you might have heard some negative perspectives on it – people often say it’s dirty and full of drunk tourists.

And they’re right – but there is so much more to it, if you can get away Bourbon Street (not that Bourbon Street isn’t a great time).

This is a city full of culture and superstition. If you are attracted to cities with a little edge, a little mystery, and a little myth, New Orleans is sure to deliver. You’ll get rich histories, scandalous tales of pirates, plenty of ghost stories, and a touch of Voodoo. As soon as you arrive, you’ll know there is no other city like this in America.

I am always seeking the stories behind a city, and these are some of my favorites from New Orleans.

Let’s Start with Some Pirates

When New Orleans was still a French Territory, it was known to be a haven for the pirates of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The most well-known pirates to make appearances in these legends are Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre. Law enforcement was lax during this time, so pirates took advantage of this port city to take care of their business on land.

Jean Lafitte

“Pirates Alley,” a small road running between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, is rumored to be where the Lafitte brothers conducted some of their nefarious business. People still report seeing Jean Lafitte’s ghost strolling the alley from time to time – along with haunting a few local bars.

Of all the places in the city, why would a pirate feel most comfortable by a church and the governor’s offices? Perhaps it’s because Lafitte is said to have formed an unlikely partnership with Andrew Jackson during 1814’s Battle of New Orleans against Britain.

Although the pirate certainly didn’t respect the laws of any country, he saw Britain as his ultimate enemy because their navy was after his ships. He also used his cooperation as a bargaining chip when trying to negotiate the release of his brother from prison.

A Few More Ghosts

There are ghost stories around every corner in the Crescent City. Here are just a few:

Bottom of the Cup Tea Room – You’ll find a heartbreaking story here – a woman fell in love with a man of a higher station. He asked her to prove that her love was genuine by going to the roof, stripping off her clothes, and waiting for him. He did not come for her, but she stayed all night, falling ill because of the cold and dying. The man was overcome with guilt and killed himself. Now both ghosts continue to haunt the building.

LaBranche Building – Once owned by a wealthy plantation owner, his wife became enraged when she learned of his mistress after his death. She invited the woman over, then held her hostage and killed her. The wife died many years later, and the ghosts of both women continue to haunt the building – spending eternity unable to escape their greatest rival and enemy.

St. Anthony’s Garden – These grounds have seen much blood spilled and many lives lost to duels of the past. It is said to hold several unmarked graves that cause a shiver to run up the spine of those walking across.

For more haunts and ghost stories, check out our self-guided supernatural tour of New Orleans.

Don’t Forget the Vampires

There’s a reason why so many Vampire movies and novels are set in Louisiana. These creatures of the night commonly appear in New Orleans folklore, thanks to the strong influence of French culture.

One of the most famous legends surrounds a man named Jacques Saint Germain. He was rich and mysterious, always throwing grand parties with tons of food – but never eating a bite himself.

After one party, a woman reported that he tried to bite her neck, causing a struggle in which she fell off his balcony. She was not seriously injured, and the police immediately headed to Germain’s place to investigate.

They found that he had vanished, along with all signs of the evening’s party – aside from many bottles of wine. Upon closer inspection, they discovered the wine was actually human blood.

New Orleans Voodoo

You’ll definitely stumble upon a few Voodoo shops while exploring New Orleans. These old beliefs and traditions are alive and well in the Crescent City.

It’s important to remember that, although some businesses might use Voodoo culture to intrigue tourists, many locals take these practices very seriously. If you’re curious about this side of the city, be as respectful as possible.

Voodoo is a religion that began in West Africa and made its way to New Orleans through the slave trade. Louisiana Voodoo is now its own tradition, which borrows some of its symbols and customs from Catholicism, specifically Catholic saints. Voodoo rituals are typically elaborate prayers to spirits and ancestors who might intervene in the lives of humans when petitioned.

New Orleans was the home of famous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. Her tomb attracts many visitors hoping to leave a gift and gain the favor of her spirit in the afterlife. After a gift is left, the visitor knocks three times on her tomb.

Gifts left at Marie Laveau’s tomb

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Did you immediately fall in love with its Gothic charm, or were you turned off by the constant partying in the French Quarter? What is your favorite American city and why?

 

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Celebrating Summer Solstice Around Europe

It’s summer!

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have become hot, long, and stormy. The Summer Solstice is around the corner, and many cultures are celebrating it, especially around Europe.

The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. For months the sun has been setting later and later, and it will be reaching its peak on the 21st of June.

Americans might see the Summer Solstice as an ancient pre-Christian holiday without much relevance today, but you don’t actually have to travel through time to see it for yourself. You can still find it celebrated in various ways in certain countries.

Here are some of those places, and what they’ll be doing:

Greece – Summer Solstice is the traditional New Year’s Day in Greece, and it also used to mark the beginning of the summer Olympic sports. Some Greek locals still take this time to make an annual trek up Mount Olympus.

Russia – The summer festival in Russia lasts three months (May, June, and July), but the largest celebrations always fall on the Solstice. Festivities include ballet, opera, and many other cultural performances. People also stop wearing colors of winter (black or gray), and start wearing bright colors to the celebrate the season.

Latvia – You won’t get a lot of sleep celebrating the Solstice in Latvia. It is traditional to stay awake the entire night before. Friends enjoy each other’s company by a fire. After the sun rises, they’ll collect a bit of morning dew to wipe on their faces. This ritualistic “cleansing” is said to bring luck. During the day, a great feast is held with many traditional foods.

Austria – Fireworks, bonfires and boat rides mark this summer holiday in Austria. Parties take place on land with a bonfire, but many people also board river boats to see fireworks displays as they drift down the river.

Sweden – Solstice is a time for costumes and maypoles during the day, and a giant bonfire at night. Parties continue on for many hours, until the wee hours of the next morning.

Denmark – You’ll also find bonfires around Denmark, with the added tradition of throwing in a witch made of fabric to burn. The witch symbolizes several things: winter, misfortune, and bad spirits.

Romania – The Summer Solstice is one of Romania’s oldest festivals, and it is celebrated with a rain dance to encourage good harvests for the rest of the year.

Iceland – In this part of the world, the summer solstice is about 72 straight hours of sunlight. To celebrate 3 days without any darkness, there is a huge music festival.

England – No one really knows the origin or purpose of Stonehenge, but it does line up perfectly with the sunrise on the summer solstice. For this reason, it is a popular gathering spot for people to celebrate the holiday, usually with a lot of dancing and drumming.

Portugal – In some countries, the old pagan roots of the Solstice are hidden by Christian traditions. For example, Portugal marks it as the birthday of John the Baptist, and it’s celebrated with street festivals and fireworks.

What kind of Summer Solstice celebrations have you witnessed abroad? Are there any fun traditions that we’ve missed? Share below!

 

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