• Happy Birthday to HT Localization! Be Bold for Change
    Happy Birthday to HT Localization! Be Bold for Change

    Segment 55 – Happy Birthday to HT Localization! Be Bold for Change

    We’re excited to celebrate our company’s anniversary this March. As every year, the timing couldn’t be better, as we also celebrate International Women’s Day.

  • HT Localization Presents Language for Real Life: Localization and Graphics – Websites Matter
    HT Localization Presents Language for Real Life: Localization and Graphics – Websites Matter

    Segment 53 – Localization and Graphics – Websites Matter

    “If you can’t beat them, hire or acquire them.”

  • HT Localization Presents Language Translations for Real Life: My Teacher Says “Ladybird, But She’s Wrong...”
    HT Localization Presents Language Translations for Real Life: My Teacher Says “Ladybird, But She’s Wrong...”

    Segment 26 – My Teacher Says “Ladybird, But She’s Wrong, It’s Really Ladybug”

  • HT Localization Presents Language for Real Life Series: Expats Have Translation Needs Too!
    HT Localization Presents Language for Real Life Series: Expats Have Translation Needs Too!

    Segment 1 - Expats Have Translation Needs Too!

  • HT Localization Presents Language for Real Life: Does Globalization Still Matter?
    HT Localization Presents Language for Real Life: Does Globalization Still Matter?

    Segment 54 – Does Globalization Still Matter?

    Welcome to 2017! Or year 4715, according to the Chinese Lunar New Year calendar

 

 

23

April

World Book Day - El Dia del Libro

23 April 2017 Fun Facts

World Book Day - El Dia del Libro

Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died on this day in 1616. 

Miguel de Cervantes’ influence on the Spanish language has been so great that the language is often regarded as “la lengua de Cervantes”.  Don Quixote, a classic Spanish literature, is considered to be the first modern European novel and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written.  To celebrate this day, Don Quixote is read during a two-day "read-a-thon" and the King of Spain presents the Miguel de Cervantes Prize  [a prestigious award honoring the lifetime achievement of an outstanding writer of the Spanish language, nominated by Association of Spanish Language Academies].

This day is also known as the Day of the Rose in Catalonia, and involves the exchange of gifts, roses or books in memory of Cervantes.

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"…

William Shakespeare's work has made a lasting impression on English literature. In the days of Shakespeare, English grammar, spelling and pronunciation were less standardized; his use of language helped shape modern English. Expressions such as "with bated breath" (Merchant of Venice) and "a foregone conclusion" (Othello) have found their way into modern English speech.

Interestingly, the UK celebrates World Book day in March, rather than in April, to avoid mixing the holiday with St. George’s Day (although in Catalonia, they combine all three into a day’s celebration).

The son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, aka El Inca, is recognized primarily for his literary account of Inca history, culture, and society. His work was influential, well-received, and notable as the one of the first literary works by an author born in the Americas. El Inca produced chronicles of the Inca culture and Spanish conquest, as well as an account of Hernando de Soto's expedition in Florida. His works are considered to have great literary as well as historical value.

To honor this day, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, has proclaimed this day as World Book Day : 

"...to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. 

Go gift a book and a rose to someone special today!

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22

April

Happy Earth Day! Be Green

22 April 2017 Fun Facts

Over one billion people around the world celebrate Earth Day. This day is the day to not only look at our beautiful world with appreciation, but to also do something good for the environment.

The first Earth Day was celebrated across two thousand colleges and universities, and hundreds of communities across the United States back in the early 1970’s.  Over 20 million Americans came out to peacefully demonstrate for environmental reform.  It now is observed in over 192 countries across the globe, and coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, chaired by the first Earth Day 1970 organizer Denis Hayes.  

Here is an account of some activities around the world in appreciation of Earth Day, noted by Earthday.org:

  • In Copenhagen, Denmark, people participate in the annual CO 2 Green Drive Project in honor of Earth Day. Runners, walkers, bikers, and skaters use their cities as canvasses to spell “CO 2“ with GPS devices.
  • In Argentina, volunteers from the Surfrider Foundation clean-up the local beaches and plant evergreens and shrubs to help prevent wind and water erosion.
  • In Jalandhar, India, free saplings are often given to students, and various talks are held about the effects of climate change.
  • In Milan, Italy, thousands of people gather for the Earth Day Italia Festival to learn about environmental issues and local green initiatives.
  • In Seoul, South Korea, Ecomom Korea organized an “Eco-style” Earth Day Flash Mob, a variation of the popular song “Gangnam Style”. An Earth Day Walkathon and an Earth Day exhibition showcase Earth/climate awareness themes.
  • In Santa Barbara, California, thousands of people attend the local Earth Day Festival, which includes live music, speakers, a Green Car Show, etc.
  • In Veracruz, Mexico, Tortugas Fundacion Yepez and volunteers help to protect the habitat of sea turtles by cleaning up the local beaches and organizing a reforestation campaign.

On this day, we must all remember that we are citizens of the world. As a famous Vulcan once said “Live long and prosper”; that is our duty as Earth citizens. No matter which part of the world we may hang our hats at night, we all look up at the same sky, and lay down to rest under the same stars.

Happy Earth Day! Be Green.  Imagine what it would be like if it were more than a day, but a way of life everyday for everyone.

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12

April

Thailand Water Festival - Songkran Day! Happy Thai New Year

12 April 2017 Fun Facts

If you find yourself in Thailand in early to mid April, make sure to wear clothes that are comfortable when wet! Every year, Thai people ring in their lunar New Year with the Songkran Festival. Street parties, family reunions and friendly water fights are all combined, making Songkran the most colorful and refreshing event.

This may normally sound disconcerting, to walk around the streets full of young people ready to throw a bucket of water or spritz you with a water gun, however in the scorching heat of Thailand summer (where the day’s temperature is normally around 36° C with over 50% humidity), this is actually quite welcomed!

Like many other cultures, Thailand is rich in many beliefs and symbols. The water symbolizes “cleansing” or “rejuvenating.” Natives throw water on each other to wash away the misfortunes and struggles of the previous year, as well as to refresh for the new year.  

Deriving from the Sanskrit language, the word Songkran means to pass or to move into or literally "astrological passage." Derived from the ancient Hindu festival of Sankranti, the Grand Songkran Festival is considered to be the most appropriate time for the Thai New Year, due to the onset of the best season (spring) which comes right after the cold season. 

As part of the event, families come together to offer prayers and food to the monks, visit Buddhist monasteries and clean their homes, making it inviting for good luck to enter.  Younger people pour water with exotic perfume and flowers into the palms of elders, and on the Buddha images to ask for blessing.

The throwing of water originated as a sign of respect, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddha images, and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. The “gently pouring it on the shoulder,” has evolve into Thailand’s modern day water fights.

Songkran is also celebrated in neighboring Southeast Asian countries such as Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, along with other South Asian New Year celebrations (based on the astrological event of the sun beginning its northward journey). Songkran is similar to the Indian festival of Holi, with splashing of water as paints, colored dusts, and fragrances. 

If you see other Thais on that day, you can greet them with “sawatdi pi mai” (สวัสดีปีใหม่) aka "Happy New Year” or “suk san wan songkran” (สุขสันต์วันสงกรานต์) — meaning "Happy Songkran Day" — since "pi mai" is more often linked with the 1st of January.  

Have a look at the Songkran Festival in Thailand video sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

Happy Songkran Day to all!

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03

April

Pure Brightness Festival and Tomb Sweeping Day in Chinese Cultures

03 April 2017 Fun Facts

The Qingming Festival has arrived! This period, also known as the Pure Brightness or Tomb Sweeping Day
Festival
in China is celebrated in early April each year by Chinese families.  While the Qingming Festival has a close relationship with agriculture, it is not only a seasonal symbol; it is also a day of paying respect to the dead, a spring outing, and other activities such as flying kites and sky lanterns.

According to folklore, it is said that the Qingming Festival was originally held to commemorate a loyal man named Jie Zitui. Jie cut his own leg in order to save his hungry lord who was forced to go into exile. The lord came back to his royal position nineteen years later, and felt ashamed and decided to reward Jie. However, Jie had blocked himself up in a mountain with his mother. In order to find Jie, the lord ordered that the mountain be set on fire, which resulted in the death of Jie and his mother. In order to commemorate Jie, the lord ordered that the day Jie died was Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival - the day that only cold food could be eaten.

The second year, when the lord went to the mountain to remember Jie, he found willow trees revived, so he gave instructions that the day after Hanshi Festival was to be Qingming Festival. The two festivals have now been combined into one.  Qingming Festival is a time of many different activities and represents a combination of sadness and happiness.

Tomb sweeping is regarded as the most important ritual in the Qingming Festival. 

  • Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the dead with offerings are the two important parts of remembering the past relatives. 
  • Weeds around the tomb are cleared away and fresh soil is added to show care of the dead. 
  • The dead person's favorite food and wine, along with paper money are given as a sacrifice. These are burned with the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money. 

Not only is it a day for commemorating the dead, is it also a time for people to enjoy themselves outdoors due to the arrival of Spring. Spring outings not only add joy to life but also promote a healthy body and mind.

  • Kite flying is an activity favored by many people during the Qingming Festival.
  • Little lanterns are tied to the kite so that when the kite is flying in the night sky, the lanterns appear like twinkling stars.
  • People cut the string while the kite is in the sky to let it fly free. It is said this brings good luck and that illness can be eliminated by doing this.
  • Some other lost customs like wearing willow branches on the head and riding on swings have added infinite joy in past days.

 

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17

March

Is it possible to travel around Ireland only speaking Irish?

17 March 2017 Fun Facts

One would think that being the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, and having an official language status in the EU, the Gaelic language, also known as Irish, would be more widespread, understood and accepted throughout Ireland. However, only a quarter of the population claims to actually speak Irish.  Filmmaker and native Irish speaker Manchán Magan made a documentary No Béarla (No English) in which he travelled through Ireland only speaking Irish. He found some surprising reactions to his No English tour.  Many people in Ireland have been speaking English for so many generations, that it is hard to actually hear complete conversations in the nations’ first official language.

That said, some knowledge of the Irish language is still important if you do decide to go on a tour of the countryside:

First of all, one should know that the sentence structure is: VERB SUBJECT OBJECT

Sentences have Verb Subject Object order. So "I ate some bread" would be "Ate I some bread." "I always wash my hands" would be "Wash I my hands always." This word order is relatively rare—less than 10 percent of the world's languages use it. In fact, this has even spilled over in the usage of English phrases in Ireland:

"I'm after eating my breakfast” (I just ate my breakfast), "I gave out about the terrible service" (I complained about the terrible service), and in some places, "He does be working every day."

There are a handful of expressions that would confuse even the native English speakers:

  1. Sure look it - What does it mean? God only knows! But if ever you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what to say, just say "sure look it" and you'll probably get a nod of approval.
  2. The Jack - "Tell ye what, you get in another round, while I head to the jacks." That’s right; they don’t call it a WC or restrooms. In fact, if you end up needing public restrooms, you will need to know the words Mná and Fir, because not all the WC’s will have a symbol of a woman or a man on the door. Misunderstanding these words can lead to embarrassing situations.
  3. Arseways - To do something the wrong way or when something goes wrong. "We tried to roast the turkey but it went arseways on us."
  4. Donkey's years - No idea what the length of time a donkey's year is, but it's widely accepted that it's a very very long time. "We haven't had this big a crowd here in donkey's years."
  5. Wet the tea - if anyone asks you to wet the tea, they're telling you to put a few teabags in the teapot and pour boiling water in. “Sit down there and relax while I go wet the tea."
  6. Like hen's teeth - Derived from the original phrase as rare as hen's teeth, but has been shortened over the years, means that something is rare. "We used to have lots of great translators rounds these parts, but they're like hen's teeth now."
  7. Pint of Gat - A pint of Gat is another term for Guinness.  Also good to know that when drinking Guinness, look towards the horizon so you don't drink the head. And if someone asks if it's good Gat, and you're not sure how to judge it, simply respond with Sure look it.
  8. Ossified- How you'll end up after too many pints of Gat."Lord you were fairly ossified last night weren't you?"
  9. Chips are crisps and French fries are chips in Ireland. Be warned you will fall in love with a delicacy called curry cheese chips some night when you're ossified.
  10. The Fear - The Fear is what you will have the morning after you were ossified, and ate said curry cheese chip. Also called "drinker's remorse” and the “chronics" – it sums up how you feel when you can't remember large chunks of the night before. "I'm afraid to show my face in there again. I'm crippled with The Fear."

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! May The Luck Of The Irish Be With You

Food for Thought: The expression "May The Luck Of The Irish Be With You" is actually a peculiar expression. Think about what it actually means to have the Luck of the Irish with you (given the history of the Irish people)...

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13

March

Spring has sprung! The Festival of Colors in India and Nepal - Happy Holi!

13 March 2017 Fun Facts

Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival of Holi. The festival celebrates the beginning of the new season: Spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring's abundant colors and saying farewell to winter.  It is probably one of the most exhilarating festivals in India. During the festivities, there are bonfires and loads of people throwing colored powder or paint at one another. The modern day celebration is awesome.

The Legend: Holi is derived from Holika, and is considered a festival of victory of good over evil.

  • There was once a demon king called Hiranyakashyap; he was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But to his great disappointment, his own son, Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father.
  • Hiranyakashyap tried several ways to kill his son, but Lord Vishnu saved him each time. Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap.  Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a blessing; whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed. 
  • Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the blessing worked only when she entered the fire alone. 
  • Prahlad, who kept chanting the Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion. 
  • Holi is also celebrated as the triumph of a devotee. As the legend depicts that anybody, howsoever strong, cannot harm a true devotee. Furthermore, those who dare torture a true devotee of god shall be reduced to ashes.

Celebration: 

Even today, people enact the scene of 'Holika's burning to ashes' every year to mark the victory of good over evil. 

  • In several states of India, effigies of Holika are burnt in the huge bonfires that are lit. There is even a practice of hurling cow dungs into the fire and shouting obscenities at it as if at Holika. Then everywhere one hears shouts of 'Holi-hai! Holi-hai!'.
  • On the last day of Holi, people take a little fire from the bonfire to their homes. It is believed that by following this custom their homes will be rendered pure and their bodies will be free from disease.
  • There is also a tradition of cleaning homes (ie. Spring Cleaning), removing all dirty articles from around the house and burning them. 
  • View an exquisite display of the festivities with this colorful video: Happy Holi 

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07

March

5 Things We Could All Learn From Spain

07 March 2017 Fun Facts

1. Amigos, dinero, y tiempo para disfrutarlo 
In Spain, there is not a single night of the week when the streets are not bustling with people moving from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, enjoying life. Spaniards have an amazing ability to function on minimal sleep, hence allowing after work hours for friends and fun. Rather than coming home from a long day’s work to veg on the coach all night; it is not uncommon to see Spaniards living their lives outside – swimming, drinking, eating and generally enjoying their free time. Spaniards work to live, rather than live to work.

2. Enjoy a lengthy "Sobremesa" 
What happens in Spain when the meal is done? The bill won’t come and the staff won’t rush you out; instead Spaniards will settle in and enjoy their after-meal conversation. Breakfast, lunch, coffee, snack, tapas or dinner, Spaniards always take time to sit and enjoy the eating experience. This includes good food, good companions and good conversation. No rush and ample time to digest before getting back to the grindstone. Spaniards move at their own relaxed pace.

3. “Hola, buenas” 
No matter where you are, when Spaniards enter a room, they always offer a simple courteous acknowledgement aka greeting to everyone in the room.  It’s simple and polite, and doesn’t imply an offer of open conversation. Interestingly, others in the room always respond back with a reciprocating “Hola.” Go ahead and try it the next time you enter your doctor’s office waiting room, and see what happens.

4. Tapas 
Tapas are wonderful.  How else can you eat a variety of different foods in snack-like quantities, with friends and never feel like you’ve over indulged because you've shared! The art of eating involves savouring each unique flavor, and preparing your palette for the next experience. Tapas allow you to enjoy such variety at a Spanish pace.

5. Olive oil is liquid gold 
Olive oil is not only delicious, it’s also very nutritious. Olive oil is substituted for butter and most other types of oils in Spain. Spaniards even enjoy olive oil with breakfast, in cakes and cookies, etc.  Antioxidant-rich olive oil can help lower cholesterol. It is a main ingredient in cooking, but it is also commonly infused in soaps, lotions and cosmetics. Olive oil might also be a contributor to Spain’s successful universal healthcare system that covers all Spanish residents. Less cholesterol and heart-related medical needs are typically associated with a Mediterranean diet.

Fun Facts About Spain

  • Spain was once a number of separate kingdoms with different languages.  These kingdoms became the basis for many of the different regions in modern Spain. 
  • Spain has the fourth highest life expectancy of all the OECD countries – with a life expectancy of 82 years - after Switzerland, Italy and Japan.
  • The Spanish love to relax, on average they devote 16 out of every 24 hours to leisure, eating, drinking and sleeping.
  • Spain produces over half of the world’s olive oil – more than some 1.5 million tons, and almost all of it comes from the southern region of Andalusia.
  • Over 400+ million Spanish speakers across 21 countries worldwide. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world.
  • Spanish is referred to as Castellano and Español. “Castilian Spanish” can be used to refer to the Spanish spoken in Spain.

¡Y viva España!

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27

February

Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day – Let The Good Times Roll!

27 February 2017 Fun Facts

Carnival is Here!  Carnival is the most famous holiday in Brazil and has become an event of huge extravaganza. Celebrated around the world in many Roman Catholic regions, Carnival is an annual festival held between the Friday afternoon (51 days before Easter) and Ash Wednesday at noon.

The festival marks the 40 days before Easter, when devout Roman Catholics abstain from pleasures, including the consumption of meat. This is intended to remember the fasting of Jesus, who spent 40 days in the desert before beginning his ministry.  In fact, some suggest that the word carnival is derived from the Latin 'Carne Vale' which means a farewell to meat signifying the coming period without meat.

Despite its original religious beginnings, Carnival displays humanity’s festive nature where the festivals offer an opportunity for final indulgence before the lent period. Mardi Gras, which is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, displays the final expression of feast and celebration, and has become a tradition in New Orleans, as well.

While Brazil is home to perhaps the greatest carnival on Earth, many other regions also enjoy the tradition annually.

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - An estimated two million people turn out on Rio’s streets every day of carnival to watch performances from around 200 samba schools and 300 neighborhood street bands. It is a four day celebration, from Friday through Tuesday (Mardi Gras) featuring amazing entertainment, parades, and colors.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, USA –The festivities actually begin in various locales up to 2 weeks before Fat Tuesday (the eve of Ash Wednesday), but the culmination is around the final celebration on Mardi Gras day. The festivities draw three quarters of a million people to New Orleans annually.

Carnaval in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife – Festivities in Tenerife include performances from over a hundred music groups and large fantastic public dancing stages. The televised Carnival queen competition is a key event. For many people, Tenerife’s Carnival is second only to Rio’s.

Carnevale di Venezia  in Venice, Italy - A masquerade affair, all about capturing centuries-old refined social customs while donning a mask and an elaborate costume. Carnevale is an elaborate display of costumes and culture with the backdrop for one of Europe’s most oldest and picturesque cities. 

Quebec Winter Carnival in Quebec City, Canada – In Quebec, the festivities take advantage of the winter wonderland. The carnival’s all about winter sports including dog-sled racing, sleigh racing, canoe racing, snow sculpture contests, snow bathing, ice skating and sledding.  Featuring 50 meters wide, by 20 meters high, and 20 meters deep, the official Ice Palace is a fascinating attraction.

Fun Fact: Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras all refer to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  It is the last day to indulge before Lent. 

Pancakes are associated with this day preceding Lent because making and eating pancakes (or crepes) were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent.  The fasting period emphasized eating plainer food and refraining from decadent foods such as meat, dairy products, and eggs.

“Let the Good Times Roll!”

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17

February

Is it President’s Day or Presidents’ Day?

17 February 2017 Fun Facts

The third Monday of February is a Federal Holiday in the U.S., as such many banks are closed as well as many government offices. This day is officially acknowledged by Washington D.C. as Washington’s Birthday. Even the date of George Washington’s actual birthday depends on which calendar is used (Feb. 11, 1731, according to the Julian calendar, or Feb. 22, 1732 according to Gregorian calendar adopted by Britain and her colonies).

George Washington was the first president of the United States, and is a very important founding father; additionally, many people also recognize Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, as a very critical leader in our nation's history. Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is on February 12, and is celebrated as an official holiday apart from the third Monday in February in some states.

A number of the states that celebrate Washington's Birthday also recognize Lincoln's Birthday as a separate legal holiday. Furthermore, some states choose to celebrate the third Monday in February as Presidents’ Day to commemorate both presidents together.

On this 3rd Monday in February, some celebrate Washington’s Birthday, some celebrate both Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays separately, while the majority simply celebrate Presidents’ Day (though even the placement of the possessive apostrophe varies).

Moreover, some states don’t even choose this month to commemorate the Presidents.

  • Georgia and Indiana observe Washington’s Birthday on Dec. 24th
  • New Mexico observes Washington Birthday the day after Thanksgiving
  • 9 states don’t observe any form of the Presidents’ birthdays at all at any time during the year

And, some states use the term “Presidents Day” to commemorate the presidents coming from their own state (ie. May 29th in Massachusetts, which is JFK’s birthday, officially commemorates all of presidents from that state).

Language fun facts about American Presidents:

  • At least half of all the American presidents have some proficiency in speaking or writing a language other than English. 
  • Martin Van Buren’s first language was Dutch. He learned English as a second language.
  • John Adams and Thomas Jefferson demonstrated proficiency in multiple foreign languages.
  • James A. Garfield knew Ancient Greek and Latin, and used his ambidexterity to write both simultaneously.
  • Both Roosevelts spoke French. 
  • Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke German. 
  • Herbert Hoover was fluent in Mandarin Chinese. 
  • Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush displayed some ability in Spanish.
  • Bill Clinton had some knowledge of German.
  • No contemporary American president has gained proficiency in any foreign language. 
  • Barack Obama, the 44th President of the US, claims to not speak any foreign language, but others beg to differ…

 Happy Presidents' Day to all!

 

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10

December

Did you know that Santa Claus lives in Finland?

10 December 2016 Fun Facts

Far away in a magical town in the Arctic Circle exists the magical Santa Claus Village in Lapland, Finland. At
the beginning of the last century, Santa Claus announced to the world that Rovaniemi is his official hometown. Rovaniemi is the capital and commercial center of Finland's northernmost province of Lapland. The Arctic Circle is a line visible on the map, north of which the sun can be seen above the horizon even at midnight during the summertime.  According to the locals, during midwinter, light is provided by the moon and stars in addition to the magical Northern Lights and clean, bright cover of glistening snow. It is said that the Arctic Circle is also known as the border where “regular time” changes into the “magic time” of elves and reindeer.

Finland is the northernmost country in the world after Iceland and the fifth largest country in Europe in terms of area.  Finland has Sweden to the west, the tip of Norway in the north, a long border with Russia to the east, and Estonia to the south, across the Gulf of Finland.  Its official languages are Finnish and Swedish. Finnish is spoken by most of the population, while Swedish is spoken as a first language by some 5 % of the Finns. In Lapland, the Sami language is spoken by some 1800 indigenous Sami people (including Santa’s elves).  The Finnish language belongs to Fenno-Ugrian languages and is related to Estonian and Hungarian. 

According to the locals, over a hundred years ago, some folks found out that Santa Clause lived somewhere in Korvatunturi  (meaning Ear Mountain in Finnish). This special place is about 485 meters high and called “Ear Mountain” because of the three large ears positioned on the summit.  It is said that these “ears” function like satellites triangulating and hearing all the dreams and wishes of adults and children across the world. This is the place where the wishes are received and sent on to Santa Claus and his workshop (managed by elves). 

As more people began hearing about this place, people began exploring the region in hopes of meeting Santa.  While Santa was happy to greet visitors who may have stumbled upon his private residence and workshop, he also wanted to safeguard his secret magical place.  So his elves created his “official” home in the Arctic Circle near Rovaniemi, called the Santa Claus Village. This village serves has Santa’s place to meet, greet and enjoy Christmas with visitors around the world.  

See for yourself - the live-cam of Santa's Village 

And in case you are wondering, Yes, Santa Claus is multilingual!

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03

December

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

03 December 2013 Fun Facts

 

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree
Thy leaves are so unchanging

Not only green when summer's here
But also winters cold and dear

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree
Much pleasure do you bring me!

According to legend, late one evening Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, was walking home through the woods and noticed the beautiful stars shining through the trees. To share the beauty with his wife, he cut down a fir tree and took it home, where he placed small lighted candles on the branches, and pronounced that it would be a symbol of the beautiful Christmas sky. 

Elsewhere in Germany around the same time period, people were said to have combined two customs: the Paradise tree (a fir tree decorated with apples) representing the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden, and the Christmas Light, a small pyramid-like frame decorated with glass balls, tinsel, and a candle on top to symbolize the birth of Christ as the Light of the World. 

In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. In the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night of the year falls in the winter - December 21 or 22 - and is called the winter solstice. Many people believed that the sun was a god and that winter came every year because the sun god had become sick. The solstice was celebrated as a symbol of the sun god returning. Evergreen trees reminded everyone that all would grow again when the sun god was strong with the return of spring and summer.

Today, the Christmas tree is traditionally decorated in with lights, tinsel, and ornaments.  Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it today. 

One of the first records of the Christmas tree in America was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania.  While, the Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees earlier, it was not widespread in America until the late 1890s, as Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols barring acceptance by most Americans before that time.

Christmas Trees Around the World

Canada

As with the United States, when German settlers migrated to Canada in the 1700s, they brought with them many of the things associated with German Christmas—advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies—and Christmas trees. 

Britain

In 1848, Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert, put up a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, commencing the Christmas tree tradition throughout England, the United States, and Canada. The Norway spruce is the traditional species used to decorate homes in Britain. 

Ireland

Christmas trees are decorated with colored lights, tinsel, and baubles. Some people favor the angel on top of the tree, others the star. The house is decorated with garlands, candles, holly, and ivy. Wreaths and mistletoe are hung on the door.

Sweden

Most people buy Christmas trees well before Christmas Eve, but it's not common to take the tree inside and decorate it until just a few days before. Evergreen trees are decorated with stars, sunbursts, and snowflakes made from straw. Other decorations include colorful wooden animals and straw centerpieces.

Norway

The Christmas tree was not introduced into Norway from Germany until the latter half of the 19th century. When Christmas Eve arrives, there is the decorating of the tree, usually done by the parents behind the closed doors of the living room, while the children wait with excitement outside. A Norwegian ritual known as "circling the Christmas tree" follows, where everyone joins hands to form a ring around the tree and then walk around it singing carols. Afterwards, gifts are distributed.

Philippines

Handmade artificial pine trees in an array of colors and sizes are used. Star lanterns, or parol, made from bamboo sticks, covered with brightly colored rice paper or cellophane, usually feature a tassel on each point, appear virtually everywhere in December - usually one in every window, each representing the Star of Bethlehem.

Japan

Christmas is holiday devoted to the love for their children. Christmas trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans and lanterns, and wind chimes. Miniature candles are put among the tree branches. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan. Japanese children exchange folded paper "birds of peace" with people all over the world as a pledge that war must not happen again.

Fun Facts about Christmas Trees

  • Christmas trees generally take 6-8 years to mature.
  • More than 1,000,000 acres of land are planted with Christmas trees. On average, over 2,000 Christmas trees are planted per acre.
  • 34 to 36 million Christmas trees are produced each year and 95 percent are shipped or sold directly from Christmas tree farms.
  • The top trees are Scotch Pine, Douglas Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Pine.
  • In 1912, the first community Christmas tree in the United States was erected in New York City.
  • The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree tradition began during the Great Depression era. The tallest tree displayed at Rockefeller Center came in 1948 and was a Norway Spruce that measured in at 100 feet tall and hailed from Killingworth, Connecticut.
  • Today, the giant Rockefeller Center tree is laden with over 25,000 Christmas lights.
  • In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.
  • In 1979, the only the top ornament of the National Christmas Tree in Washington DC was lite, in honor of the American hostages in Iran.

Hear a beautiful rendition of the German classic by Nana Mouskouri - O Tannenbaum 

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23

November

Niinamesai(新嘗祭) Japanese Thanksgiving

23 November 2016 Fun Facts

Niinamesai(新嘗祭) Japanese Thanksgiving

The New Autumn Harvest Celebration or Niinamesai, which literally means “the festival of new crops” is considered to be Japanese Thanksgiving. Niinamesai is one of the most important rituals of the country; the Emperor makes the season’s first offering to the gods giving thanks for the fruitful harvest on behalf of the Japanese people.

Niinamesai is a Shinto ritual to offer newly cropped rice to the deities, and to express deep gratitude. The Emperor conducts Niinameai  in solitude, as the Shinto Priest, and gives thanks to Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大神 the Sun Goddess, Ruler of Heaven, and Ancestor of Emperor) who provided the abundant harvest.

The Japanese acknowledge spiritual beings (Kami 神) in all of nature, such as the mountains and rivers. In Japanese mythology, the principle deity is Amaterasu-ōmikami.  The story goes like this: 

In order to sustain life to the people of Japan, Amaterasu-ōmikami bestowed rice to her grandson Ninigi-no-mikoto(ニニギノ尊). Rice is not just a staple food for the people; each grain of rice contains part of the life of Amaterasu-ōmikami. Rice represents the spiritual bond connecting people and Heaven. The essence of the Japanese Niinamesai  ceremony is the custom of having meals. By way of the rituals and eating food, the Japanese experience communion with deities, expressing gratitude. 

The holiday is also known as Labor Thanksgiving as a way to gives thanks to one another for the abundance of the harvest and society. 

Fun Fact: There are several ways to say “Thank you” in Japan, depending on the level of formality:

1. "domo arigatou"  どうも有難う  This is a standard yet casual way to say "thank you."  Use this expression with friends and co-workers, but avoid using it with someone who is in a position of authority over you.

2. Shortened to "arigatou"  有難う or ありがとう  An even more informal way of saying "thank you."  Use this phrase with friends and family. It is appropriate with people who share your status, but someone with a higher status, such as supervisor or teacher, should be treated with more respect.

3. "domo"  どうも More polite than arigatou, falling somewhere in between casual and formal speech.  Domo literally means "very much," but it is understood to mean "thank you" depending on the context of the conversation.  Use this in most polite contexts, but if you need to be extremely polite to someone, there is an even more formal expression.

 4. "arigatou gozaimasu"   有難う 御座います  This phrase essentially means "thank you very much." Use this expression with people who have a higher status than you, such as supervisors, family elders, teachers, and acquaintances who appear older than you.  You can also use this to express formal or deep gratitude to someone close to you.

5. "domo arigatou gozaimasu"  どうも 有難う 御座います  This is an even politer way of saying "thank you very much."  Use this phrase with those who have a higher status or in formal circumstances. You can also use the phrase to express sincerity with someone familiar.

In response: 

"dou itashi mashite"  どういたしまして。In both casual and polite contexts, this phrase is used in response to thanks. It essentially has the same meaning as "you're welcome."

 Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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20

November

Thanksgiving Around the World

20 November 2016 Fun Facts

Every year on the last Thursday of November, turkeys in the United States run for cover, as
Americans across the world
celebrate one of their most beloved family holidays. Thanksgiving has a rich history dating back to the time when the English pilgrims reached America, and were warmly greeted by the Native Americans.  The story of Thanksgiving recounts the story of the Pilgrims and their community feast of the autumn harvest at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. Harvest fest celebrations are not honored solely by Americans, but also throughout the world, in many cases referred to by the local name and generally celebrated during the harvest period.

Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. Instead of eating turkey,  their feast includes ham or lamb, and traditionally some have La Tourtiere, a pastry pie filled with potatoes, rabbit and partridge or pheasant.  The holiday is celebrated as a gesture of thanks for a bountiful harvest.

In Barbados, the traditional harvest festival is called Crop Over. It has origins dating back to the colonial period, where singing, dancing and festival carts were decorated with flowers signifying prosperity for the plantation owners. In return, the plantation owners would provide a feast for the plantation workers, honoring their loyalty and dedication to the crop.

In China, the August Moon Festival or the Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the most celebrated Chinese harvest festivals.  The festival is held in September or early October, close to the autumnal equinox. This festival ends with a big feast among family and loved ones. Friends and relatives send Moon cakes to one other as a way of showing gratitude. The Autumn Moon festival has much in common with the American and Canadian Thanksgiving Festival.

India has several different harvest festival celebrations, and they are typically celebrated in the Spring. In the Northern Indian Harvest festivals, during late February or early March, people harvest wheat. This is also the time for Holi, which is a Hindu Harvest festival.  In Eastern India, the primary crop harvested is rice. Springtime is the season of love, and the love story of Krishna and Radha.  In Southern India, Onam is one of the most popular harvest festivals of Kerala. It is a time for everyone to reap the benefits of a good harvest after a year of hard work and labor, and a time for communal thanksgiving. 

Korea celebrates ChuSuk, as their harvest festival. The festival is a time for feasting and happiness, and paying respects to elders. Families visit their ancestral home towns, offering newly harvested foods, and memorial services dedicated to ancestors and elders. As with many of the other festivals, a special meal to celebrate, honor and offer thanks is prepared and shared among family, loved ones and friends.

In Malaysia, the Kadazan is the harvest festival, Tadau ka’amatan, celebrated in the month of May to thank the Rice God. The people believe that there is no life without Rice.

In Scotland the Harvest Festival usually takes place in September, celebrating the harvest festival known as “Lammas".  A loaf of bread is made from the first wheat cut, which is then taken to Church so that the bread may be eaten for mass.  

In Zambia, the Harvest Festival is one of the popular and entertaining festivals celebrated in the country in February. The festival is the celebration of the Ngoni people, believed to have inhabited Zambia since 1835. The Harvest Festival is celebrated by local dance and music, and offerings.

In the UK, the Harvest Festival, in the month of September, is one of the oldest festivals beginning in churches in 1843, when Robert Hawker invited local parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at a church in Cornwall. The ancient ceremony, “crying of the neck", takes place in Cornwall.  It was believed that the success of crops determined the success or failure of the people. During the festival, the entire community is invited for a dinner. 

Japanese Thanksgiving, the New Autumn Harvest Celebration is called Niinamesai, which literally means “the festival of new crops”.  Niinamesai is one of the most important rituals of the country; the Emperor makes the season’s first offering to the gods giving thanks for the fruitful harvest on behalf of the Japanese people.

Thailand’s Loy Krathong is an ancient Thai festival to honor and thank the water spirits for the water provided during the growing season. It is celebrated November, on the first full moon after the rice harvest.  People across Thailand flock to the rivers and canals with their Krathong floats to celebrate the Loy Krathong Festival, or the 'festival of light.'  

These are just a few of the world’s Harvest Thanksgiving days celebrated with cultural differences around the world; all have the common theme of offering food, warmth and celebration as a gesture of gratitude for the fruits of Mother Earth.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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20

November

Loy Krathong, (ลอยกระทง), Festival of Lights, Full Moon Celebration: A Thai Tradition

20 November 2016 Fun Facts

On the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month, when the tide in the rivers is highest and the moon at its
brightest, people across Thailand flock to the rivers and canals with their Krathong floats to celebrate the Loy Krathong Festival, or the 'festival of light.'  The Krathong is a small floating raft made from the leaves and wood of a banana tree, decorated with flowers, a candle and an incense stick, along with coins and locks of hair.  The ritual entails lighting the candles and incense, making a wish and launching the Krathong floats into the rivers or sea.  The hope is that one’s Krathong will drifts silently downstream with a forever burning candle.  The flame signifies longevity, fulfillment of wishes and release from sins. Some believe that this is the time to symbolically ‘float away’ all the anger and grudges that one has been holding onto, and the inclusion of a lock of one’s hair is seen as a way of letting go of the darkness inside, to begin living free of negativity.  If the candle stays alight until your Krathong disappears out of sight, it means a year of good luck is ahead.

In Chiang Mai the celebration features beautifully lighted lanterns displayed in houses and temples, and launched into the night sky. It is believed that Loy Krathong is originally an ancient festival from India; it was a ceremony where people paid their respects to three different gods known as Phra I-Suan (Shiva), Phra Narai (Vishnu) and Phra Phrom (Brahma).  People made lanterns using candles and paper to be displayed in the homes of royalty, the wealthy and/or high-ranking officials. By launching one of these lanterns, one can send bad luck and negativity away into the air, especially if the lantern disappears into the night before the fire goes out.   It was King Mongkut (Rama IV) of Thailand who adopted the celebration to honor the Buddha.

Like many regional traditions, the true origins are often derived from different ancient legends of the people. 

  • Loy Kratong is an expression of gratitude to the goddess of water 'Phra Mae Kongka', a thanksgiving to her for providing water for the livelihood of the people. 
  • Others believe the festival originates from Buddhism and that by offering flowers, candles and incense sticks, a tribute of respect is being made to the footprint of the Lord Buddha on the sandy beach of the Narmaha River in India.  This is reminiscent of a Hindu festival that pays tribute to the god Vishnu, who meditates at the center of the ocean. 
  • The floral krathong symbolizes an offering to the pagoda temple containing the Buddha's topknot, which was cut off at his self-ordination and is now in heaven. 

One popular story about the first Loy Krathong describes the devotion and loyalty of a Queen to her god, King and people.  There once was a beautiful fair Lanna girl, whose father was a Brahmin priest, whose beauty and charm were so radiant that she was the subject of many local songs and stories.  The King immediately found her, and she became his new bride.  On the evening of the Thai Kathin water ceremony in Chiang Mai, where the people anxiously awaited their king, Queen Noppamas prepared a secret floral vessel of banana leaves and candles to launch into the Ping River.  Although the Lanna lady was married to a Buddhist King, she maintained her Brahmin beliefs and prepared the Krathong as an offering to the water gods and spirits.  Upon seeing this beautiful vessel adorned with lights and flowers, the people and King were mesmerized.  The Queen immediately offered the beautiful Krathong to the King, who couldn’t hide his admiration for such beauty.  However, after examining the vessel, he understood that this Krathong, was not simply a craft of beauty for his eyes, but a religious offering to the spirits of the waters honored by Brahmin beliefs.  This provided for a very difficult situation for the Buddhist King, who loved his Queen, but could not betray his people nor his own beliefs.  So, he took the Krathong, lite the candle and incense, proclaimed to all who could hear him on the bank of the river that the beautiful Krathong would serve as an offering to honor the Buddha and also the spirits of the river that his Queen intended to honor.

ขอให้สนุกวันลอยกระทง kŏr hâi sà-nùk wan loy grà-tong – Have fun on Loy Krathong Day! The Loy Krathong song: 

November full moon shines, 

Loi Krathong, Loi Krathong,

and the water's high in the river and local klong,

Loi Loi Krathong, Loi Loi Krathong,

Loi Krathong is here and everybody's full of cheer,

We're together at the klong, We're together at the klong,

Each one with this krathong, As we push away we pray,

We can see a better day.

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