Category Archives: Europe

Academy Award® Nominated: Il Divo

Ensemble post by: Audiegrl, Geot, and BuellBoy


Calm, ambiguous, inscrutable, Giulio Andreotti–known variously as “The Sphinx,” “Beelzebub” and “Il Divo” (from a nickname for Julius Caesar)–has been a fixture on the Italian political scene for more than four decades. He first entered government in 1946, and has served as Minister of the Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister, and currently, at the age of 90, Life Senator. Over the years he has been accused of ordering political assassinations and of betraying anyone necessary to maintain the reins of power. The film follows Andreotti as his long-dominant Christian Democrat party is toppled in the early 1990’s by a trial involving head-on accusations of corruption, murder and Mafia connections. The trial brought a wave of suicides of high-level national figures though Andreotti managed, after a series of trials, verdicts and appeals, to avoid permanent sentence.

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The cast includes: Toni Servillo, Anna Bonaiuto, Giulio Bosetti, Flavio Bucci, Carlo Buccirosso, Giorgio Colangeli, Alberto Cracco and Piera Degli Esposti

Reviews

IMDB member
“A stunning Italian film. And when was the last time I was able to say that? A masterful achievement without concessions to the larger public who doesn’t know or care about Italian politics. The film has a life of its own. It’s like a Shakespearean adaptation of a modern Mephistopheles. If you don’t know who Giulio Andreotti is you will want to know because it feels and looks like a fictional character. How is it possible that someone so obviously guilty of undiluted evil could sit, still, in the senate and being treated like a celebrity worthy of absolute respect. Someone said, only in Italy, but I think that’s far too simple. True, Italy seems to award some kind of venerable status to some big criminals that got away with it, one way or another. All of it is here, in “Il Divo” a riveting study, a wildly entertaining X ray of one of the most puzzling figures in modern political history.”

One Nomination

Best Makeup

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Academy Award® Nominated: The Young Victoria

Ensemble post by: Audiegrl, Geot, and BuellBoy


From Martin Scorsese & the makers of Gosford Park and The Departed, comes the story of Queen Victoria’s early rise to power, focusing on her early reign in the 1830s. From an object of a royal power-struggle in, to her romantic courtship and legendary marriage to Prince Albert, Emily Blunt (Devil Wears Prada) gives a stunning performance as The Young Victoria.

Packed with drama, romance, political intrigue, breath-taking cinematography and featuring an outstanding British cast including Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong, Paul Bettany and Miranda Richardson and Rupert Friend.

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The cast includes: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong and Jesper Christensen

44D’s Reviews

Audiegrl
“I’m not sure what I initially expected from this film, but it did exceed my expectations. In visualizing Queen Victoria, it was always as a very plump and stern-looking older woman in a daguerreotype; the exact opposite of Emily Blunt’s head-strong and spirited portrayal of a young Victoria. Blunt did a wonderful job of breathing life into this character. Plus as with many historical films set in England, the cinematography and costumes were simply amazing. Anyone interested in history and a peek into the private lives of the Royals will enjoy this film.”

Did You Know?

Producer Sarah Ferguson’s daughter, Princess Beatrice of York, has a small role in the film as one of Victoria’s ladies in waiting. Beatrice is a great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

The costumes that Emily Blunt wore were insured for £10,000 each.

Many of the interior scenes were filmed at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. The bed used in the honeymoon scene was slept in by the real Queen Victoria when she visited the castle in 1843. The bedroom is so small that all the cameras had to be placed outside the windows.

Three Nominations

Best Art Direction
Best in Costume Design
Best Makeup

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British Boy, Charlie Simpson Age 7, Raises $240,000 for Haiti Relief

Posted by: BuellBoy

Charlie Simpson

Simpson's efforts have been described as 'bold' and 'innovative' by Unicef's UK executive director.

He’s no Wyclef Jean or George Clooney, but that hasn’t stopped seven-year-old Charlie Simpson from raising more than $240,000 (£150,000) for the Haiti earthquake. Simpson from Fulham, west London had hoped to raise just £500 for UNICEF’s earthquake appeal by cycling eight kilometers (five miles)around a local park.

Charlie Simpson

Charlie Simpson

My name is Charlie Simpson. I want to do a sponsored bike ride for Haiti because there was a big earthquake and loads of people have lost their lives,” said Simpson on his JustGiving page, a fundraising site which launched his efforts.

I want to make some money to buy food, water and tents for everyone in Haiti,” he said.

Donate to Charlie Simpson’s Haiti fundraising page

And with that simple call, messages of support flooded the site.

Charlie's helpful little sister

Charlie's helpful little sister

Such a big heart for a young boy, you’re a little star!” wrote one supporter. “Well done Charlie. A real celebrity,” said another. More donations began pouring in after the story caught the attention of the British media — with many cheering Simpson past the £100,000 mark.

Even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is spreading the message. His “Downing Street” Twitter alias said: “Amazed by response to the great fundraising efforts of 7 yr old Charlie Simpson for the people of Haiti.”

David Bull, UNICEF’s UK executive director described Simpson’s efforts as “very bold and innovative.” “It shows he connects with and not only understands what children his own age must be going through in Haiti,” Bull said in a press statement.

The Simpson family

The Simpson family

The little seed — his idea — that he has planted has grown rapidly and his is a place well deserved in the humanitarian world. On behalf of the many children in Haiti, I thank Charlie for his effort.”

Money raised by Simpson will go towards UNICEF’s Haiti Earthquake Children’s Appeal which will provide water, sanitation, education, nutrition as well as support child protection.

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Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief” Video highlights

Thanks to everyone who joined us for a night of great music and a show of support for the people of Haiti

Posted by: Audiegrl

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President Obama Signs Legislation

President Obama Signs Legislation Providing Immediate Tax Deductions for Haiti Charitable Contributions January 22, 2010.

President Obama Is Making It Easier for Americans to Support Haiti
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In the days since the earthquake in Haiti, Americans have shown their generosity with millions of dollars in donations. Tonight, President Obama signed a bill into law that makes it easier to give. This legislation will allow taxpayers to receive the tax benefit from donations made to the Haiti effort in this tax season, rather than having to wait until they file their 2010 tax returns next year. Specifically, cash donations to charities for the Haitian relief effort given after January 11 and before March 1 of this year may be treated as if the contribution was made on December 31 of last year so that the contribution can be deducted from 2009 income. This measure applies to monetary donations, not goods or services.


Clinton Bush Haiti Relief FundUNICEFAmerican Red Cross

WFP:  World Food ProgrammePartners In Health Oxfam America
Yéle Haiti

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Update of Performers and Participants in the Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief Telethon

Posted by: Audiegrl

click here for video highlights from the show: 44-D

Friday’s multi-network “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief” telethon will feature Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Clint Eastwood, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Stewart, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Nicole Kidman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hanks, Robert Pattinson, Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Muhammad Ali, former President Bill Clinton and more than 100 of the biggest names in film, television and music.

The telethon, will air commercial-free across MTV, VH1, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, BET, the CW, HBO, CMT, PBS, TNT, Showtime, Comedy Central, Bravo, E! Entertainment Network, National Geographic Channel, Oxygen, G4, Centric, Current TV, Fuse, MLB Network, Epix, Palladia, SoapNet, Style, Discovery Health and Planet Green. Canada’s CTV, CBC Television, Global Television and MuchMusic also will air “Hope for Haiti,” as will BET International, CNN International, National Geographic and MTV Networks International, making the event available in 640 million homes worldwide. ‘Hope for Haiti Now‘ will be the first U.S.-based telethon airing on MTV in China. The event will also be live streamed online across sites including YouTube, Hulu, MySpace, Fancast, AOL, MSN.com, Yahoo, Bing.com, BET.com, CNN.com, MTV.com,VH1.com, and Rhapsody and on mobile via Alltel, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and FloTV. Facebook and Twitter are the official social-media partners for the telethon.

All donations will benefit Oxfam America, Partners in Health, Red Cross, UNICEF and Wyclef’s Yele Haiti foundation. The Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and United Nations World Food Programme will also benefit from the telethon’s efforts, as aid will be split evenly among each organization’s relief programs for the ravaged island.


Clinton Bush Haiti Relief FundUNICEFAmerican Red Cross

WFP:  World Food ProgrammePartners In Health Oxfam America
Yéle Haiti

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A statement released Thursday detailed which musical artists would be featured from each location:

New York City, NY

  • Wyclef Jean, hosting
  • Madonna
  • Sting
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Jennifer Hudson
  • Shakira

Los Angeles, CA

  • George Clooney, hosting
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Alicia Keys
  • Dave Matthews
  • John Legend
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Taylor Swift
  • Emeline Michel
  • Group performance by Keith Urban, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow

London, England

  • Beyoncé
  • Coldplay
  • Group performance by Bono, The Edge, Jay-Z and Rihanna

Port au Prince, Haiti

  • Anderson Cooper, hosting

People can start donating even before the start of the 8 p.m. EST concert via phone and text.

The two-hour telethon will be shown on all the major networks and a host of other channels. It will be broadcast from New York, London, Los Angeles and Haiti.

Hope for Haiti Now” will begin accepting donations at 12:00 p.m. ET/9:00 a.m. PT on Friday, January 22 via the following methods:

Online: www.hopeforhaitinow.org
Phone: 877-99-HAITI
Text: Text “GIVE” to 50555
Mail: Hope For Haiti Now Fund, Entertainment Industry Foundation, 1201 West 5th Street, Suite T-700, Los Angeles, CA 90017

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A Tribute to Haitian Soldiers for Heroism in the American Revolution

Posted by: Audiegrl

Dedicated to the people of Haiti both in the US and abroad, please except our profound thanks, and know that our thoughts and prayers are with you…

Haitian Monument Statue in Franklin Square, Savannah, GA

Haitian Monument Statue in Franklin Square, Savannah, GA

After 228 years as largely unsung contributors to American independence, Haitian soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War’s bloody siege of Savannah had a monument dedicated in their honor. On October 9, 1779, a force of more than 500 Haitian gens de couleur libre (free men of color) joined American colonists and French troops in an unsuccessful push to drive the British from Savannah in coastal Georgia.

Chairman Daniel Fils-Aime

“We were here in 1779 to help America win independence. “ said Daniel Fils-Aime, chairman of the Miami-based Haitian American Historical Society. “That recognition is overdue.” “To see a monument in downtown Savannah and the commemoration of the involvement of the Haitian Americans, it’s a dream come true.” said Savannah Mayor Floyd Adams Jr. “This will help educate Americans but also Haitian youth about the significant contribution their ancestors made.” “The role of Haitian soldiers in the battle had long been ignored“, said North Miami Mayor Josaphat Celestin. “It means recognition for our efforts, that we were here all along, that Haiti was a part of the effort to liberate America and that they came here as free men, not as slaves,” Celestin said. “We hope this country will recognize this.”

Click to enlarge

“It’s a huge deal,” said Philippe Armand, vice president of the Association of American Chambers of Commerce in Latin America, who flew to Savannah from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. “All the Haitians who have gone to school know about it from the history books.”

Though not well known in the U.S., Haiti’s role in the American Revolution is a point of national pride for Haitians.

After returning home from the war, Haitian veterans soon led their own rebellion that won Haiti’s independence from France in 1804.


The Siege of Savannah

Click to enlarge

The Siege of Savannah on October 9th, 1779 presents the Revolutionary War as a world conflict more than does any other engagement of the Revolution. The memory of this battle also reminds us of the fact that significant foreign resources of men, money, and material contributed to the eventual success of the cause of American independence. French, Polish, Native Americans, African slaves, free men of African descent, Germans, Hessians, Austrians, Scots, Welsh, Irish, English, Swedish, and American and West Indian colonials also participated as individuals or whole units in this most culturally diverse battle of the war. For six weeks this diverse force was assembled in three armies to contend for the possession of Savannah. This battle resulted in the largest number of casualties the allies suffered in a single engagement.

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The presence of the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue as the largest unit of soldiers of African descent to fight in this war is worthy of commemoration. The fact that their number was made up of free men who volunteered for this expedition is startling to most people and surprising to many historians. Their presence reminds us that men of African heritage were to be found on most battlefields of the Revolution in large numbers. As a new and relatively inexperienced unit, the Chasseurs participated in the siege warfare including the battle of September 24th and the siege of October 9th.

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The Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue served as a reserve unit to American and French forces fighting a British contingent. As battered American and French soldiers fell back, the Haitian troops moved in to provide a retreat.

Twenty-five of their number has their names recorded as wounded or killed during the campaign. Over 60 were captured in the fall of Charleston eight months later. The British Navy captured three transports carrying Chasseurs; these soldiers were made prizes of war and sold into slavery. Other members of this unit were kept on duty away from their homes for many months as part of French garrison forces. A subsequent unit of Haitians was a part of the French and Spanish campaign against Pensacola where they faced some of the same regiments of British troops that their comrades faced in Savannah.

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The efforts of Haiti to secure its independence from colonial rule beginning in 1791 are remarkable for the fact that what began as a slave revolt was to ultimately succeed in prevailing over the resources of the French Empire and to form a government of Western Hemisphere Africans. Haiti, much smaller in population than the United States, was attacked by armies as large as those sent against America by Britain. The Haitian victory over the legions of Napoleon was achieved with much less foreign assistance than the United States enjoyed.

Henri Christophe

Henri Christophe, Click to enlarge

Many key figures in the Haitian War of Independence gained military experience and political insights through their participation in Savannah — most notably Henri Christophe, a youth at the time but in his adult years a general of Haitian armies and king of his nation for fourteen years. Many of the Haitian soldiers later fought to win their country’s own war of independence, crediting their military experience in Savannah. Influenced by both the events of the American Revolution and the rhetoric of the French Revolution, the people of Haiti began a struggle for self-government and liberty. The first nation in the Western Hemisphere to form a government led by people of African descent, it was also the first nation to renounce slavery.

Sources: Haitian American Historical Society, We Haitians United We Stand For Democracy, Wikipedia, and the Associated Press.


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BBC Airing Guantánamo Guard/Detainee Reunion

Posted by: Audiegrl

“He would say, ‘you ever listen to Eminem or Dr Dre’ and… I thought how could it be somebody is here who’s doing the same stuff that I do when I’m back home”~~Former Guard Brandon Neely

Brandon Neely, center, was a Guantánamo Bay guard, and Ruhal Ahmed, left, and Shafiq Rasul were prisoners.

Brandon Neely, center, was a Guantánamo Bay guard, and Ruhal Ahmed, left, and Shafiq Rasul were prisoners.

Why would a former Guantanamo Bay prison guard track down two of his former captives – two British men – and agree to fly to London to meet them?

BBC News/Gavin Lee~~”You look different without a cap.”

You look different without the jump suits.”

With those words, an extraordinary reunion gets under way.

The journey of reconciliation began almost a year ago in Huntsville, Texas. Mr Neely, 29, had left the US military in 2005 to become a police officer and was still struggling to come to terms with his time as a guard at Guantanamo.

He felt anger at a number of incidents of abuse he says he witnessed, and guilt over one in particular.

Highly controversial since it opened in 2002, Guantanamo prison was set up by President George Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to house suspected “terrorists“. But it has been heavily divisive and President Barack Obama has said it has “damaged [America’s] national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda“.

Mr Neely recalls only the good publicity in the US media.

The news would always try to make Guantanamo into this great place,” he says, “like ‘they [prisoners] were treated so great’. No it wasn’t. You know here I was basically just putting innocent people in cages.”

The prisoners arriving on planes, in goggles and jump suits, from Afghanistan were termed by then US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the “worst of the worst“. But after getting to know some of the English-speaking detainees, Mr Neely started to have doubts all of them were fanatical terrorists.

Mr Neely was 22 when he worked at the camp and left after six months to serve in Iraq. But after quitting the military his doubts about Guantanamo began to crystallize. This led to a spontaneous decision last year to reach out to his former prisoners on Facebook.

Released in 2004, after being held for two years, Mr Rasul and Mr Ahmed and another friend from Tipton had been captured in Afghanistan on suspicion of links to the Taliban. The three said they were beaten by US troops although this was disputed by the US government at the time.

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But what were the pair doing in Afghanistan in 2001?

They explain that, being in their late teens and early twenties at the time, they had made a naive, spontaneous decision to travel for free with an aid convoy weeks before a friend’s wedding, due to take place in Pakistan.

Mr Ahmed admits they had a secret agenda for entering Afghanistan, but it wasn’t to join al-Qaeda.

Aid work was like probably 5% of it. Our main reason was just to go and sightsee really and smoke some dope“.

Does their former prison guard believe them? Yes, says Mr Neely, who says he thinks it was a case of “wrong place, wrong time“.

Both sides are beginning to bond, yet towards the end, Mr Neely has a confession of his own. It threatens to destroy the mood of reconciliation.

He is deeply ashamed of an incident in which he “slammed” an elderly prisoner’s head against the floor.

Mr Neely recalls that he thought he had been under attack because the man kept trying to rise to his feet. But weeks later he discovered the prisoner thought he was being placed on his knees to be executed and believed he was fighting for his life.

Mr Ahmed is speechless, then evidently conflicted as he wrestles in his mind with whether or not he can forgive. Eventually, he says he can.

But should Mr Neely be prosecuted for his actions? Mr Ahmed pauses again.

He’s realized what he did was wrong and he’s living with it and suffering with it and as long as that he knows what he did was wrong. That’s the main thing.”

Afterwards, each say they had genuinely found some sort of closure from meeting. The sense of relief in all their faces speaks volumes, and they leave the meeting closer to one another.

Their story will be featured on the documentary Guantanamo Reunited on BBC Radio 5 live on Thursday 14 January at 2200 BST.

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NYT-Guantánamo Reunion, by Way of BBC

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Welcome to 44’D’s Happy Holiday’s Special

We here at The 44 Diaries would like to say Thank You for participating in our blog and we hope that you all have a happy holiday and a prosperous new year. We also hope that you get to spend plenty of time with the people you love the most…

Please note: We will be keeping this up all week in celebration, but will be posting political news in the top section next to ‘Home’.


History of Christmas




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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

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Celebrating Kwanzaa



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Santa Claus Through History



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Famous and Not-So Famous Christmas Movies List

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The History of Christmas at the White House 1789-2009

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Twenty-Five Days of Christmas Music Videos

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Christmas Around the World



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Fun Filled Christmas Facts



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Christmas in the Age of Dickens

Christmas in the Age of Dickens



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Amazing Christmas Truce of 1914



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Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s 2009




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The History of Christmas

People all over the world celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th. But why is the Nativity marked by gift giving, and was He really born on that day? And just where did the Christmas tree come from? Take an enchanting tour through the history of this beloved holiday and trace the origins of its enduring traditions. Journey back to the earliest celebrations when the infant religion embraced pagan solstice festivals like the Roman Saturnalia and turned them into a commemoration of Jesus’ birth. Learn how Prince Albert introduced the Christmas tree to the English-speaking world in 1841, and discover how British settlers in the New World transformed the patron saint of children into jolly old St. Nick.

We’re going to explore the origin of Christmas and how it came to be the way we know it today.

An Ancient Holiday

Norse God Oden

The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

The Yule Log

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.
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Saturnalia

Ancient Romans Celebrating Saturnalia

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

Lord of Misrule

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.
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An Outlaw Christmas

In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, canceled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.
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Christmas Reinvented

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.
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A Christmas Carol

Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.

The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.

Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.

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Origins and Traditions of Hanukkah

Hanukkah (also known as Chanukah, Hanukah, Hannuka and the Festival of Lights) is an eight-day Jewish holiday that usually takes place between late November and late December. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees, a Jewish rebel army, over the Syrians in 165 B.C.E., as well as the subsequent re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Jews around the world celebrate with eight nights of merriment. Traditions include lighting the menorah, exchanging gifts and enjoying treats cooked in oil.

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The History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.”

The holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews’ 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 B.C.E. the Jews’ holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.

The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias’ family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.

Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.

Hanukkah Traditions

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The Menorah
On each night of Hanukkah, the menorah is lit to commemorate a miracle which occurred after the Jews proclaimed victory over the Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E. When Jews came to rededicate the Temple-which had been defiled by the Syrians-they found only one small flask of oil with which to light the menorah. This flask contained only enough oil for one day, yet the lamp burned for eight days (by which time a fresh supply of oil was obtained).

  • In Israel, the Hanukkah menorah is called the Hanukiyah
    Menorahs come in all shapes and sizes. The only requirement is that the flames are separated enough so that they will not look too big and resemble a pagan bonfire.

  • Ancient menorahs were made of clay. They consisted of small, pearl shaped vessels, each with its own wick, which were arranged side-by-side.
  • Today’s menorah, which stands on a base from which the branches sprout, resembles the holy Temple’s menorah and started to appear towards the end of the Middle Ages.

Latkes at Hanukkah

Classic Potato Latkes

Classic Potato Latkes

The most popular themes throughout the Hanukkah dishes are the use of oil. The oil reminds us of the oil which burned eight days instead of one. Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. The texture is crispy on the outside and tender within. They’re served hot and often dipped in apple sauce or sour cream. The Maccabbee soliders ate latkes made from cheese, vegetables, or fruits which were brought to them on the battlefields. However, they didn’t eat potato latkes, as potatoes weren’t available until the 16th century.

Hanukkah Dreidel
The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each side. In America the letters stand for “A Great Miracle Happened There“. In Israel the letters mean “A Miracle Happened Here“. Each player receives a given number of coins or candy pieces. Before spinning the dreidel, each player puts a fixed proportion of the amount received into the “kupah” or kitty. Each player in turn spins the dreidel. When the dreidel falls, it will fall on one of the 4 letters. According to the letter, the following will happen: Nun – no win / no lose Gimmel – take all (from the kitty) Heh – take half (from the kitty) Peh or Shin – lose (what you deposited) The game continues until players have run out of ‘funds’ or it is agreed to stop (anyone losing all funds is out of the game). The dreidel game was popular during the rule of Antiochus before the Maccabees’ revolt, a time when soldiers executed any Jews who were caught practicing their religion. When pious Jews gathered to study the Torah, they had the top ready in case they heard soliders approaching. If the soldiers appeared, they would hide the holy scriptures and pretend to play with the dreidl. In Israel the dreidel is called a sivivon. The yiddish word “dreidel” is derived from the German word “drehen“, or “turn“.

Sufganiyot – Hanukkah Jelly Donuts
Sufganiyot, fried foods recall the oil that burned in the temple

Sufganiyot, fried foods recall the oil that burned in the temple

Sufganiyot are jelly doughnuts without the hole. They’re dropped into hot oil without being shaped and come out in odd, funny shapes, then covered in powdered sugar and/or cinnamon. Sufganiyot are particularly popular in Israel, where they are sold on stands in the streets over a month before Hanukkah begins. Some great recipes can be found here.

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Helpful Information and Related Articles

The White House Hanukkah Celebration 2009
Hanukkah Food and Entertaining
Hanukkah Decorating
Hanukkah Gifts and Cards
Hanukkah Games and Songs


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