How do people celebrate New Year around the world?

Even if people celebrate New Year in a number of ways, on 31st December, the festivities hit all places across the world at slightly different times too, due to the different time zone. Where’s the first place in the world to celebrate New Year? Tonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island), part of Kiribati, are examples of the first places to welcome the New Year, while Baker Island in the United States of America is among the last. Some cultures may celebrate New Year at a different time to our 31st December,…

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Metelkova: the alternative cultural center in Ljubljana

If you ask any local in Ljubljana, they will point you in the right direction, 5 minutes from the city centre of Slovenia’s capital city. The area now known as Metelkova (full name in Slovene: Avtonomni kulturni centre Metelkova mesto, “Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Centre”) was once a military barracks, but you would never know it by its state today, covered in a psychedelic cacophony of colorful street art, graffiti, and every kind of punk rock visuals. Originally commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian army back in 1882 and completed in 1911,…

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Amelia Dyer: the Victorian “Baby Farmer” who killed 200 to 400 children

England was not a safe place for children in Victorian times. On the other hand, it wasn’t even for adults, if we think of serial killers like Jack the Ripper or Harold Shipman (1946-2004), who killed around 250 of his patients during his medical career and is considered the most ferocious of British serial killers. However, forgotten in the archives of the police and courts, is also the story of Amelia Dyer, one of the most prolific serial killers in history, murdering infants in her care over a 30-year period.…

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The ruins of the lost city of Nan Madol: a pearl in South Pacific

Off the coast of a remote Micronesian island are the ruins of a once-great city of man-made stone islands, that represent the remains of megalithic architecture on an unparalleled scale in Micronesia. Ruins that, in addition, have inspired the city of R’lyeh in H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Evidence of the earliest human activity in the area dates back to the first or second century BC, while the construction of artificial islets started probably about 8th and 9th century AD. However, the megalithic structures were built in period of 12th…

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Kransekake: the queen of cakes!

Around the world, holidays are an excuse for ambitious baking projects and, above all, for eat! But few delicacy are as architecturally impressive as the almond-based cake Kransekake, a Norwegian (and Danish) speciality. Its origin can be traced to the 18th century, where it was first created by a baker in Copenhagen. The Kransekake (or Kransekage in Danish), literally translated as “wreath cake”, is a type of tower cake. It’s more like a cookie than a cake, bakers make its rings from almond flour, egg whites, and sugar, and arrange…

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The World Discoverer: the ship that got left behind.

MS World Discoverer was a cruise ship designed for and built by German shipbuilding company, Schichau Unterweser, in 1974. The ship had a double hull construction, allowing for periodic voyages to the Antarctic polar regions to allow its passengers to observe ice floe movements and providing protection for minor impacts. It carried a fleet of inflatable dinghies, allowing passengers to move closer to ice floes for observation. During the Austral summer, from November through February, the ship conducted cruises in the Southern Hemisphere and visited places like Antarctica, the Falkland…

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Boilo: the original Coal Miner Liquor

In Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, chilly winters have long been accompanied by a powerful and potentially explosive companion, known as boilo. Typically, it’s an orange brew made of liquor, honey, citrus fruit, and spices and, sometimes, raisins or ginger ale are added to the mix. My brother recently learned many truths about boilo, but none more prominent than this: everyone loves talking about its propensity to explode. And it’s understandable: heating up a vat of alcohol over an open flame is not exactly the safest kitchen mission! Boilo is potent to…

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24# Feast of the Seven Fishes

On the night before Christmas, some people are preparing and decorating Christmas cookies, while others are readying a delicious roast beast for the oven. But for Italian-Americans, the traditional dinner can taste “a bit” fishy. This feast has no hard and fast rules, except one: seafood must be served! While the precise origins of the tradition are not clear, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, also referred to as “La Vigilia”, in italian, honors Italian-Catholic traditions of eating lean, or “magro”, in preparation for Christmas holiday feasting. Christmas Eve is…

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23# Julmust: the soft drink that outsells Coca-Cola during Christmas seasons in Sweden

Julmust is a soft drink that is typically consumed in Sweden during the Christmas season. Its name come from from Jul, the Swedish word for “Christmas,” and must, a common winemaking term for what you call the not yet fermented juice from fruit meant for wine or cider production. Julmust, which tastes like a blend of cola and root beer, was created by Swedish chemist Harry Roberts in the early 20th century as a nonalcoholic alternative to beer. Harry got the recipe from Germany where he studied chemistry and have…

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The Øresund Bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark and dives into the sea

The Øresund strait separates Sweden from Denmark, and the bridge linking the two nations is a masterpiece of engineering and architecture that has few equals in the world. The two connected cities are Copenhagen, the Danish capital city, and the Swedish city of Malmö. The bridge, the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe, runs nearly 8 kilometres from the Swedish coast to the artificial island Peberholm in the middle of the strait. The crossing is completed by the 4-kilometre Drogden Tunnel from Peberholm to the Danish island of…

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22# Black Cake: a Caribbean tradition

If you’re among people who can’t wait to plan (well in advance) Christmas every year, it’s never too early to start preparing the Caribbean holiday treat! Known as black cake or Christmas cake, to prepare this dessert the islanders soak dried fruit in rum and cherry brandy for up to a year before baking. Before baking, the fruit soaks in rum and cherry brandy until it’s so plump and intoxicated, that only good things can come from it! After British colonists introduced plum pudding, which is more like cake than…

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21# Puto Bumbong – Philippines

We are in the Philippines, which are home to one of the longest Christmas seasons in the world, stretching from the beginning of September until the end of December. In fact Christmas carols are heard as early as September and the season last until Epiphany, the feast of the Black Nazarene on the second Sunday of January, or at the Feast of the Santo Niño held every third Sunday of January. As a results, months of festivities are dotted by a wide array of delicious, often colorful treats, and among…

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“The Ugly Duchess”: the Enigma of the portrait of a woman deformed by a rare disease (or not?)

Probably, before devoting himself to painting, Quentin Matsys (1466-1530) was a blacksmith. However, perhaps to conquer his future wife, who was seeing a painter more romantic than a blacksmith, or perhaps because of a much more prosaic illness that prevented him from being at the forge, Quentin devoted himself to art, and his stupendous realism often slipped towards a satirical and grotesque representation. His best known work (although not the most important) is a portrait called “An Old Woman Grotesque”, more commonly known as “the ugly duchess”, painted in 1513…

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20# An Australian white Christmas…

A dessert called White Christmas is an Australian holiday classic. It’s easy to make and a delicious kid’s treat (but not only). It keeps really well, making it a tasty dessert to make in advance for when guest pop over. It is a mixture of raisins, glacé cherries, desiccated coconut, icing sugar, milk powder and Rice Crispies, with hydrogenated coconut oil (such as the brand Copha, that I have only seen sold in Australia) as the binding ingredient. The hydrogenated oil is melted and combined with the dry ingredients. Then…

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19# Fruitcake: the gift that keeps on giving

American journalist and humorist Calvin Trillin theorized that there is only one fruitcake and that it is simply sent from family to family each year. What is true, is that most Americans turn their noses at the very thought of fruitcake even though, for some reason, this item keeps making the rounds and this is made possible because the cakes are soaked in alcohol or other liquors to keep them from go bad. Don’t believe me? This man sampled a cake that someone had kept as a family heirloom dating…

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How to predict winter weather using a persimmon seed: a curious peasant legend

According to weather folklore, you can predict winter weather with a persimmon seed. The seeds of the persimmon, scientifically known as Diospyros kaki, are small grains of a few centimeters in length. If you find a locally-grown persimmon (a locally-grown persimmon is necessary because it will reflect local conditions!), all you have to do is cut open the seed and observe: inside the seed may appear the shape of a cutlery such as a fork, a knife or a spoon. According to peasant tradition, the presence of cutlery was a…

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18# Melomakarona: Greek Christmas Honey Cookies with curious origins

Sweet orange-zest cookies soaked in honey and topped with walnut? Yes, please! This treat is a holiday treat that regularly appears on tables in Greece. Known as melomakarona, if you visit Greece in Christmas time, you’ll eat far too many of these delicious Christmas honey cookies. Imagine a cross between baklava and an gooey pecan pie and you’ve got these: typical Greek Christmas honey cookies, and probably you won’t be able to eat just one. Every self-respecting Greek household has a huge pile of these on their Christmas treat table.…

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17# Lussekatter – Swedish saffron buns

Julbord, a three course meal, is served come Christmas in Sweden. The first dish is usually fish, often pickled herring. As second, cold cuts (including Christmas ham) along with sausages are served and the third course is often meatballs and a potato casserole called Janssons frestelse. For dessert, rice pudding is popular, but there’s another treat for which the Swedes are known to make around this time: Lussekatter. Light and fluffy, these saffron buns are a fun to make treat for St. Lucia’s Day and beyond! Sweet yeast rolls are…

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The beautiful letter of 1973 from an illiterate woman to a distant husband

Being far from the people you love is one of the most difficult experiences in life, even with today’s trans-continental video-calls, skype and similar, all solutions cheap and easy. So one can only imagine how hard it was for our ancestors not so long ago, when international phone calls were luxuries for few and the only way to keep in touch was writing letters that took days, sometimes weeks, to arrive. But that’s assuming, of course, they could write! It was November 2, 1973. The man had gone on the…

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16# Traditional German Weihnachtsgans – the Christmas Goose

Christmas season in Germany conjures different things: winding and pictoresque Weihnachtsmärkte, seasonally draining wallets or St. Nick and terrifying (at least in Bavaria) counterpart Krampus. One thing, however, a German Christmas should always conjure: delicious food, and plenty of it! Crispy goose, gingerbread or sugar-covered raisin cake: good food belongs to German Christmas celebrations as much as the Christmas tree. And many traditional dish dates back to medieval times or even earlier. Before they adopted Christianity, Germanic peoples celebrated winter solstice around the same time as Christmas and meals were…

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15# Kūčios: traditional Christmas Eve Dinner in Lithuania

Kūčios, the traditional Lithuanian Christmas dinner, is held on December 24th every year. And hosting kūčios is no small feat: this meal can take up to a week to prepare. For Lithuanians, the holidays are about spending time with family, so a week-long meal prep is certainly a great opportunity for families to get together and is likely why the tradition has persisted still today. Many people fast during the day, and also Kūčios meal shouldn’t contain any meat. Often an extra place is set for a family member who…

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Panam Nagar: a ghost town of Sonargaon – Bangladesh.

We are in Sonargaon, about 30 km southeast of Dhaka, along the Meghna River, Bangladesh. As early as the 14th century, Sonargaon was the ancient capital of Bangladesh, or more accurately, it was the capital of Isa Khan’s Bengali empire. The cotton textile industry and trading were always a part of life and livelihood of Bengali people besides agriculture. In its heyday, Panam Nagar was home to a prosperous community of Hindu merchants that turned the medieval Bengali capital into a thriving textile trading hub around 19th century. They built…

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14# The Christmas Pickle

Each december, millions of people dust off Christmas ornaments and hang them on their respective trees. They carefully place glass baubles and string lights to respect a tradition that, as we already know, has very ancient origins. However, in Berrien Springs, Michigan, some Christmas trees have something to hide. But why, if they are adorned in tinsel, string lights, and ornaments, and they don’t absolutely appear out of the ordinary? A closer look might reveal a shimmering emerald vegetable hiding inside the evergreen branches. No mistake, you’ve just spotted a…

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#13 Cuccía: a Sicilian tradition on Saint Lucy’s day

On the calendar, December 13th appears a day like any other, but in Sicily many are waiting for this date. The day of Saint Lucy (also celebrated in other parts of the world) is in fact one of the most awaited (minor) holidays by the Sicilians, and above all by the Palermo people. For devotion, of course, but above all for gluttony, and the cuccìa that certainly cannot miss. Large excluded: flour products.  The origin of this custom remains disputed between the cities of Palermo and Syracuse, where Lucy also…

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The true story of Trim, the adventurous cat belonging to navigator Matthew Flinders

Outside Sydney’s Mitchell Library stands a statue of Matthew Flinders, the celebrated English navigator and cartographer who helped map Australia, declared it a continent, and was influential in giving it its current name. In addition, on a window ledge behind the statue stands a bronze figurine of his faithful cat, Trim, who accompanied the seafarer on many of his adventures. Eyes wide open and a front paw raised, he is sculpted alert, as if waiting to pounce on a pigeon. A plaque in front of the statue explains the cat…

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12# the Christmas tradition of making Tamale

For Latin Americans, making tamales is a Christmas tradition and every family has their own secret recipe. The basis is a corn dough, wrapped in a banana leaf or corn husk, and then steamed. Some are stuffed with pork, and some with beef or chicken. Other foods that may be a part of the filling are garlic, onion, potatoes, or raisins. At first glance, they might seem simple enough. However, Tamales are different not just from country to country, but also from region to region and even from abuela to…

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11# Chicken Bones: the story behind an uniquely Canadian holiday treat

In the riverside town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, sweet tooth still speak with reverence about an almost 140-year-old candy known as Chicken Bones, a vibrant pink candy made of pulled sugar, with a cinnamon-flavored outer layer and a bittersweet chocolate filling. It hold high regard in Canadian Christmas traditions, where it appears as a common stocking stuffer, or as a staple in grandma’s candy dish. They are a product by the most experienced confectioners at Ganong Brothers Limited, the oldest candy manufacturers in Canada (in business since 1873). The…

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Vyborg: Once Finland’s 2nd most influential city, now only a small provincial town somewhere in Russia

In Vyborg, Russia, time seems to have stopped. The city has a long history behind it that the ruins of its past never cease to pass down. Once Finland’s second most influential city, Vyborg is now only a small provincial town somewhere deep in Russia, about 30 km from the border with Finland and 138 km West of Saint Petersburg, one of Europe’s largest megapolis. According to locals, the city has been damaged the most in recent years than it was devastated during the Soviet period. About 1km east of…

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10# Struffoli: Neapolitan Christmas Tradition

Of the many pastries and dishes that Italy has gifted to the world, the Neapolitan delicacy known as struffoli are the quintessential festive dessert on Neapolitan tables and for Italian-American families alike. They originated in Napoli, the capital of the region of Campania, and dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks who once ruled the port city. And then the Romans have adapted the recipe into their own version, stuffing the dough balls with candied fruits and chopped almonds. It seems the name struffoli comes from the Greek…

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9# The Tradition of Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding, known also Plum pudding, or simply “pud” is a type of pudding traditionally served as end of the Christmas dinner in the UK, Ireland and in other countries where it has been brought by Irish and British immigrants. It has its origins in medieval England, and despite the name, it contains no actual plums. Its name come from the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for raisins. Many households have their own recipes for Christmas pudding, some handed down through families for generations, but what…

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