Why do Japanese slurp Toshikoshi Soba 年越し蕎麦 on New Year’s Eve 大晦日?

Toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦), delicious buckwheat noodles, is one of Japan’s unique New Year’s customs. The history of this curious tradition dates back around 800 years, to the Kamakura period, and it is said that it all started at one Buddhist temple that gave soba to poor people on New Year’s. In the Edo period, when the common class developed customary religious and superstitious rituals, these New Year’s noodles turned into a fixed custom done by people all over Japan, still today. But why do people eat soba on New Year’s…

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Twelve Grapes: a New Year’s Eve tradition of scarfing down 12 grapes for good luck

When clocks strike midnight on New Year’s Eve many revelers are engaged to pop champagne, set off fireworks, or kiss their partner. Others, instead, in Spain and parts of Latin America, as midnight nears on Nochevieja, or “old night,” the last day of the year, are stuffing 12 green grapes in their mouths, as an unusual attempt to ward off bad luck in the new year. Traditionally, the camera of the main national TV channel focuses on the clock tower of the 18th-century Real Casa de Correos in Madrid’s Puerta…

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#TodayInHistory – December 31

December 31 – Some important events on this day 192 👉🏼 Roman Emperor Commodus survives poisoning attempt by his mistress only to be strangled in the bath in assassination plot 406 👉🏼 80,000 Vandals, Alans and Suebians cross the Rhine at Mainz, beginning invasion of Gallia 1744 👉🏼 English astronomer James Bradley announces discovery of Earth’s nutation motion (wobble) 1775 👉🏼 Battle of Quebec in American Revolutionary War; Americans defeated trying to take British stronghold 1857 👉🏼 Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa as new capital of Canada 1861 👉🏼 22,990mm of…

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Greece’s New Year tradition: Vasilopita and the Golden Coin

We are in Greece where, on New Year’s Day, a centuries-old tradition is observed in almost every household, that of Vasilopita (meaning St. Basil’s Cake), a sweet-tasting lucky treat. Across the country, recipes are quite a few, but they all have one basic ingredient: the much sought-after flouri, or lucky coin. Its story began in the Greek antiquity period, when ancient Greeks would offer bread and honey-kneaded sweets to honour the gods during the major harvest festivals. Today the New Year’s Day Cake custom is kept everywhere in Greece, and…

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#TodayInHistory – December 30

December 30 – Some important events on this day 1460 👉🏼 Wars of the Roses: Battle of Wakefield (Northern England), Duke of York killed and his forces soundly defeated by forces for King Henry VI 1703 👉🏼 Tokyo hit by Earthquake, about 37,000 die 1853 👉🏼 A dinner party is held inside a life-size model of an Iguanodon (ornithopod dinosaur) created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Sir Richard Owen in south London 1906 👉🏼 The All India Muslim League is founded in Dacca, East Bengal, British India Empire, later laid…

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Moose Milk: the Winter Cocktail of the Canadian military

On chilly nights during World War II, there was a potent elixir known as Moose Milk that filled the stomachs (and soothed the souls) of Canadian soldiers. This rich cocktail usually leaved drinkers full, warm, and quite tipsy. Despite there are many variants, historic recipes typically involved ingredients as liquor, cream, and egg yolks beaten with sugar. In any case, which division made it first is uncertain as the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Canadian Army all claim as the originator of the drink, and each made…

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#TodayInHistory – December 29

December 29 – Some important events on this day 1170 👉🏼 English Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket assassinated before the high altar of Canterbury Cathedral by four knights 1835 👉🏼 Treaty of New Echota is signed between the US government and representatives of a minority Cherokee political faction to cede all lands of the Cherokee east of the Mississippi River to the United States. It was US President Andrew Jackson’s policy to removing Native Americans from their ancestral lands to make way for settlers and speculators that led to the…

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Centuries of history and miracles: the beautiful Laorca Cemetery

The Laorca cemetery is located in the Laorca district north of Lecco, region of Lombardy, in Northern Italy, and has developed around the caves and the ancient church of St John the Baptist (also called Chiesa ai Morti, “Church to the dead”) in Laorca. In 2011, together with Monumental Cemetery of Lecco, it was included in the “European Cemeteries Route” that is the European itinerary of monumental cemeteries. It is in fact inserted in a unique natural context, and it is a jewel of art and nature. The environment is…

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#TodayInHistory – December 28

December 28 – Some important events on this day 1065 👉🏼 Westminster Abbey in London consecrated. One of the most famous and well-known buildings in all of Britain is Westminster Abbey, the site of numerous royal weddings, coronations and funerals over its 1000 year history. The construction of the present church began in 1245 during the reign of Henry III, who selected the site for his burial, but an abbey of various sorts has existed on the site since around 1060, and an order of Benedictine monks occupied the area…

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Rakfisk: Norway’s notorious fermented trout is a tangy Christmas tradition.

The Rakfisk dates back to the ancient Scandinavian culturem when peoples needed to store food over a considerable period of time. The first record of rakfisk probably dates back to mid 1300’s. The dish is actually salted, fermented stored char or trout, and is now a popular dish around Christmas time. 400 tons of rakfisk is produced in Norway every year, mainly from farmed rainbow trout. The traditional Norwegian treat has such a strong smell that most diners chase it with a bracing shot of aquavit. Comparisons include also old…

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How the wren became the King of the Birds

Many years ago, all the birds of the world gathered to decide which of them would be their king. After many days of debate, they decided that they would hold a contest: whichever bird could fly the highest would be the king. Thus, on the day of the competition, all the birds took off into the air. The small song birds quickly tired, with their fragile wings unable to carry them far. They were soon joined by the ducks, crows, and many others. In short order, only the strongest of…

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#TodayInHistory – December 27

December 27 – Some important events on this day 537 👉🏼 Hagia Sophia inaugurated by the Emperor Justinian I as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral. The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) is the third church to be built in this site. The Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered its construction in 532 after riots destroyed an earlier church on its site in Istanbul. It was finished in just five years in 537 and was then the world’s largest building. It served as the Greek Orthodox cathedral and was the place where Eastern Emperors…

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How to play a hot victorian Christmas game without get burned

In the 19th century, a regular Christmas was a little different. For holiday fun, revelers in the United States, Canada and England scared their friends with ghost stories, fortune-telling, and played boisterous party games. One of these, the so-called snapdragon, was a parlour game popular from about the 16th century and is rarely part of anyone’s Christmas these days. After all, it involves pulling sweets from a puddle of flames! The game itself is simple: take a wide, flat plate, and cover it with raisins. Carry the plate into a…

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#TodayInHistory – December 26

December 26 – Some important events on this day 795 👉🏼 Leo III is elected to serve as Pope on the day his predecessor was buried and is consecrated the following day 1492 👉🏼 1st Spanish settlement La Navidad in the New World is founded by Christopher Columbus (modern Môle-Saint-Nicolas in Haiti) 1792 👉🏼 Trial of French King Louis XVI, court hears the kings defense brought by Raymond Desèze 1825 👉🏼 Decembrist uprising in Russia against Tsar Nicholas I begins 1973 👉🏼 Horror film “The Exorcist” based on book and…

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The Lord of Misrule

In some areas of England, during the late medieval and early Tudor periods, especially through the reign of King Edward VI, a custom emerged in which the lord of a manor or other great house appointed an individual to be in charge of all of the Christmas holidays. This person was titled “the Lord of Misrule”, the tradition expanded from the homes of noble families, and the Yuletide events at a manor house or at Court ran anywhere from a few days to the entire month of December. This entire…

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#TodayInHistory – December 25

December 25 – Some important events on this day 1 👉🏼 1st Christmas, according to calendar-maker Dionysus Exiguus 274 👉🏼 Roman Emperor Aurelian dedicates a temple to Sol Invictus on the supposed day of the winter solstice and day of rebirth of the Sun. 337 👉🏼 Earliest possible date that Christmas was celebrated on Dec 25th 352 👉🏼 1st definite date Christmas was celebrated on Dec 25th 597 👉🏼 England adopts Julian calendar 800 👉🏼 Pope Leo III crowns Charles the Great (Charlemagne), Roman Emperor 1066 👉🏼 William the Conqueror…

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The day they banned Christmas

Happy and excited, millions children (and not only) across the world will tonight have one eye on the clock as the countdown to Christmas Day and their visit from Santa runs its magical course. However, it wasn’t always like that. “Bah, humbug!” has become the commonplace taunt of those wishing to distance themselves from Christmas festivities, a little bit as a direct reference to the popular Charles Dickens’ character, Scrooge. But long before him, the English Puritans under Oliver Cromwell who overthrew King Charles I in 1647 took it much…

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24# The Neapolitan nativity scene: a combination of history, art and tradition

Every year during the Christmas holidays there are two categories of people, those who prefer the nativity scene and those who prefer the Christmas tree. However, in Neapolitan culture this conflict almost does not exist. Although Christmas trees are decorated even in the beautiful Italian city, the nativity scene is the real star of the season. The reasons are endless and have historical, cultural and artistic roots. The idea of representing the nativity of Christ during the Christmas period comes from St. Francis of Assisi, who created the first nativity…

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#TodayInHistory – December 24

December 24 – Some important events on this day 563 👉🏼 The Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Constantinople is dedicated for the second time after being destroyed by earthquakes. 1565 👉🏼 Compromise of the Nobles in Habsburg Netherlands closes against inquisition 1777 👉🏼 Kiritimati, also called Christmas Island, is discovered by James Cook 1814 👉🏼 Treaty of Ghent signed, ending the War of 1812 between the United States, the United Kingdom and their allies. The Treaty of Ghent, signed in the city of Ghent, Belgium, ended the War of 1812…

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23# The curious story of the Swedish Yule goat

In Sweden there is a town that every year celebrates the start of the Christmas season by putting up a giant straw statue of a goat. Then folks wait (and sometimes bet) on whether the goat will make it to Christmas. The reason? The town of Gävle has another, very different, tradition: every year someone tries to burn down the goat! But, above all…why a goat? For hundreds of years, folks in northern Europe had big festivals in December called Yule, traditions that became part of regular Christmas celebrations in…

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#TodayInHistory – December 23

December 23 – Some important events on this day 962 👉🏼 Byzantine-Arab Wars: Under the future Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, Byzantine troops storm the city of Aleppo, recovering the tattered tunic of John the Baptist 1482 👉🏼 The Peace of Atrecht (now Arras) concluded between Louis XI of France and Maximilian of Austria, ending the War of the Burgundian Succession 1688 👉🏼 King James II, the last Roman Catholic British monarch flees to France from William of Orange 1690 👉🏼 English astronomer John Flamsteed observes Uranus without realizing it’s undiscovered 1783…

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22# History of the tradition of Christmas Elves

Uncertain, lost in fantasy and popular tales, is the concept of Christmas elves. Most modern folks think of elves as Santa’s helpers, often in the form of little people who work at the North Pole busily making toys for good children all over the world. But these elves are a relative recent invention, a creation from 19th century minds full of fantasy. Actually, elves have their origins deeply staked in ancient mythology and their history, unlike St. Nicholas, is completely lacking any relation to religion, deity or the divine. Most…

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#TodayInHistory – December 22

December 22 – Some important events on this day 1596 👉🏼 Ferryboat Meuniers crashes in Paris, 150 die 1666 👉🏼 The French Academy of Sciences, founded by Louis XIV with Jean-Baptiste Colbert first meets in the Kings Library 1790 👉🏼 Supposedly impenetrable Turkish fortress of Izmail stormed and captured by Suvorov and his Russian armies during the Russo-Turkish War (1787–92) 1808 👉🏼 Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6, Choral Fantasy and Piano Concerto No. 4 (featuring the composer as soloist) premiere at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna,…

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21# Caganer: the best Christmas souvenir from Spain

The so-called Caganer is a figurine depicted in the act of defecation appearing in nativity scenes in Catalonia and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra, Valencia, despite you can also found it in other areas of Spain (where they are called cagones), Portugal (cagões), some areas of Southern France (Père la Colique), and southern Italy, especially in Naples (cagone or pastore che caga) where nativity culture is a must. The name “El Caganer” means, not by chance, “the pooper”. Traditionally, the figurine is depicted as a Catalan peasant…

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#TodayInHistory – December 21

December 21 – Some important events on this day 1163 👉🏼 Hurricane hits villages in Holland/Friesland, causing floods 1582 👉🏼 Flanders adopts Gregorian calendar, tomorrow is Jan 1 1583 1620 👉🏼 Mayflower Pilgrims come ashore at in Plymouth Bay, traditionally thought to be at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts 1891 👉🏼 1st game of basketball, based on rules created by James Naismith, played by 18 students in Springfield, Massachusetts 1894 👉🏼 Mackenzie Bowell becomes the 5th Prime Minister of Canada 1898 👉🏼 French Scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discover radium 1913 👉🏼…

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20# The true story of Silent Night

It was 1914 when soldiers on both sides of the battlefield somewhere in France were enduring a dark and frozen Christmas Eve night. World War I, or the Great War, as it is called still today, eventually took the lives of more than 10 million people. And, of course, the mostly soldiers of that Christmas Eve were contemplating much more beyond their longings for home and warmth and family. When soldiers on the German line placed candles on small Christmas trees and raised them above their trenches it touched the…

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#TodayInHistory – December 20

December 20 – Some important events on this day. 1046 👉🏼 Pope Gregory VI abdicates at the Council of Sutri, ending a conflict between himself, Benedict IX and Sylvester III; Clement II becomes the new Pope 1522 👉🏼 Suleiman the Magnificent accepts surrender of the surviving Knights of Rhodes, who are allowed to evacuate. They eventually settle in Malta and become known as the Knights of Malta. 1790 👉🏼 1st successful US cotton mill begins spinning yarn in Pawtucket, Rhode Island built by Samuel Slater based on Richard Arkwright’s design…

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19# Why we leave oranges in Christmas stockings?

A modern child would probably be disappointed by the goodies found in the Christmas stockings of the past. In the past, stocking stuffers were more like candies, nuts, and fresh oranges, all of which were considered to be a real treat at the time. The holiday tradition may have started during the Great Depression, or war time, when many families couldn’t afford to buy holidays presents and gifted these sweet and hard-to-come-by fruits instead. And in fact, waking up on Christmas morning and finding a fresh orange in your stocking…

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#TodayInHistory – December 19

December 19 – Some important events on this day. 1642 👉🏼 4 of explorer and seafarer Abel Tasman’s crew killed at Wharewharangi (Murderers) Bay by Māori; Tasman’s ships depart without landing 1732 👉🏼 Benjamin Franklin under the name Richard Saunders begins publication of “Poor Richard’s Almanack” 1776 👉🏼 Thomas Paine publishes his 1st “American Crisis” essay beginning”These are the times that try men’s souls” (date disputed) 1783 👉🏼 William Pitt the Younger becomes the youngest ever British Prime Minister at age 24 1842 👉🏼 US recognizes independence of Hawaii 1843…

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Le Mort Homme: a memorial to the soldiers who died in the bloody battles to control Verdun in World War I

In World War I, the battle of Verdun was a really brutal battle that lasted from February 21 to December 18, 1916. Each meters around the French city was fought over by hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers, and more from the farthest reaches of the European empires. There was 302 days of bloodshed, and historians still argue over how many actually died, with some estimates claimed near a million, from both sides. Even after the battle, technically won by the French, the story of Verdun wasn’t over:…

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