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 Resurgent traditions

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Caro
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PostSubject: Resurgent traditions   Fri 22 Jun 2012, 00:07

On the Tumbledown Suite I mentioned matariki celebrations here. They were part of the normal cycle of life for Maori, with their New Year beginning when the Pleiades rose in the sky basically around the shortest day, and indicated a new season of planting and growth. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/matariki-maori-new-year/3 This site talks of the decline of this celebration with the growth of European traditions but now there has been a resurgence beginning in the town of Hastings in the North Island about ten years ago. Kite flying and song and stories form the main elements. Now there are books, especially for children, written about Matariki and a call for it to become one of our national holidays. (That's not going to happen in the near future.) It has become part of our language.

I was wondering about this sort of celebration, emanating from a traditional culture, in other European or colonised countries. Does Britain have Druid traditions in its commemorations, or does American incorporate Indian or African traditions in their holidays, or similar? I am thinking of cultures which have been considerably changed by colonisation, rather than ones that have kept strong links to their past, perhaps like Greece or Italy or China. Though maybe China's past traditions have been submerged a little in the past century. I suppose Easter could be considered in this light, though it's not how the general public think of Easter, so probably doesn't count.
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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Fri 22 Jun 2012, 15:33

Carnival celebrations go back quite a way, Caro [ the Roman Lupercalia]. The American ones [ New Orleans Mardi Gras/Rio Carnival ] incorporate African elements. I suppose we could include the Notting Hill Carnival, which is fairly recent.

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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Fri 22 Jun 2012, 16:05

I think the difficulty here is that most modern day nations are an amalgamation of many and various tribes and/or states each with (usually) it's own language, customs and traditions which can be seperate from the political entity to which it now belongs.

So whilst each have their own festivals etc and with roots in the distant past they tend, on the whole, to be fairly small and localised events.
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sun 24 Jun 2012, 13:38

A very timely thread, Caro. Yesterday was the summer solstice, and so here it was the Fête de St Jean.

The whole Catalan midsummer festival actually starts about 2 weeks ago, on the nearest Sunday to the 10 June when people gather at a mountain refuge halfway up El Canigou, the highest peak of the southern Pyrenées. From here they climb up to the summit (2784m altitude) carrying faggots of firewood. It is just about possible to get up the mountain on a quad-bike, but for the Trobada, as it’s called, to have any merit the wood has to be carried up on a human or animal’s back – so quite a lot of wood-carrying donkeys are coerced into making the climb too. Many of the firewood bundles bear personal messages: letters, postcards, photos, poems etc. from friends and family abroad, while others have messages to lost, recently departed, or deceased love-ones. Out of all these faggots of firewood a huge beacon is erected on the mountain’s summit.

Now, on the morning of the 22 June three mountaineers from the Mountaineering Club of Perpignan are sent to collect the "scared" flame that has been kept burning in an annex of Perpignan Cathedral. They then carry this flame, kept alive in an old Tilley lamp, up the mountain. At exactly midnight on the 22/23 June they light the beacon on the summit from the flame they have laboriously carried up. The beacon, on the top of the highest mountain peak, should usually be visible from nearly the whole region (I believe it is even visible from Marseille 250km away). A part of the rekindled flame is then collected and carried back down to Perpignan to be kept burning until next year.

As the bonfire burns through the night and into the morning groups also arrive to take their bit of the fire and bring it back down (it's a big mountain - it takes a full day's walking to get to the summit and back - most people take two days stopping at the refuge one night en route). Our village always sends someone armed with a paraffin lamp to collect "our" bit of flame. Then at sunset on the 23rd June all the towns and villages around the mountain light their own bonfires from the flames that have been brought back down. Some towns also have a firework display but our village, with a population of only 260, satisfies itself with a communal bbq, free wine and a dance … including the inevitable "sardane", the traditional Catalan round dance.

Last night was not that well attended because of France playing Spain at footy, but it was a good excuse for me to get out for a chat, and the dog had a good time… at one point someone dropped a platter of meat destined for the bbq and as it rained sausages he was briefly in doggy heaven.

Now all this bonfire malarkey on the night of the summer solstice smacks of pagan origins, although I really don’t know its history nor how far back its origins are. It was obviously stopped during the war and its re-emergence in the 1950s sort of coincided with a growing self-awareness of the local Catalan identity and consequently today it is seen as something especially Catalan … although admittedly quite a few other regions of France also do bonfire festivals on the night of the solstice.

Two extra points about the fête de St Jean. It is also associated here with the making of 'bouquets de bonventure'. These are small bunches of specific wild herbs and flowers which one makes, or buys (the ladies of our village make them as a communal effort and they are sold for 2€ each in the village shop, the proceeds going to charity). One hangs these bouquets next to the front door where they serve to ward of evil. Traditionally one casts the old bouquet, with all its stored evil, into the fire on the night of St Jean, and then obtains a new one (but mine have always departed long ago with the first gales of Autumn). With such obvious hints of superstition and even witchcraft this tradition was apparently banned by the church, but without much success.

The other point to note is that although it is universally called the Fête de St Jean, it has absolutely nothing to do with him (St John the Baptist), it just so happens that his saint’s day falls on the 23 June. (The patron saint of Catalonia is actually Sant Jordi – ie St George, the same saint that patronises England). In French, St Jean’s Day, is the equivalent of Midsummer’s Day… but in France people take summer to start on the 23 June so it’s hard for it to be mid summer ... although not impossible but let’s not get into mathematical means, medians and modes.
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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sun 24 Jun 2012, 17:07

The Up Helly Aa festival in Shetland, dates back to the 1870s as a more refined version of the older,and much rowdier, "tar-barreling".

http://shetlopedia.com/Lerwick_Up_Helly-Aa
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Ozymandias
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sun 24 Jun 2012, 20:15

@Meles meles wrote:
... Now all this bonfire malarkey on the night of the summer solstice smacks of pagan origins, although I really don’t know its history nor how far back its origins are. It was obviously stopped during the war and its re-emergence in the 1950s sort of coincided with a growing self-awareness of the local Catalan identity and consequently today it is seen as something especially Catalan … although admittedly quite a few other regions of France also do bonfire festivals on the night of the solstice.
The midsummer solstice celebrations were widespread over Europe. Certainly there was a very strong tradition in Ireland of celebration on St. John's Eve (Féile Eoin) and central to the festivities was the lighting of a bonfire. There is no doubt that these festivities were pagan in origin and there were all kinds of superstitions associated with the fires that were lit. Communal fires were used to burn waste bones (hence the name 'bone' fire = bonfire). The fire was positioned in a significant or prominent place in the community, often on an eminence, and lit as night descended on St John's Eve. It had to be kept burning until at least midnight. Embers from the communal fire were brought into the hearth of every household as a token of good fortune for the coming year, or were placed in the fields where crops were sowed or cattle grazed. Cattle were driven between or around the fire(s) to ensure their health and welfare.

The solstice was a major watershed in the lives of rural folk. It marked the traditional time when migratory labourers bid farewell to their families and took to the roads for seasonal harvesting work. Farmers used to hope for wet weather before the solstice and warm dry weather after. Market fairs were scheduled for this time as travel and sleeping out in the open was likelier to be easier.

Unfortunately, these traditions can hardly be described as resurgent in Ireland where, in fact, they are now virtually all gone. I don't think midsummer bonfires are lit anywhere in Ireland nowadays.They would be considered a peasant tradition and people in Ireland have long since ceased to be peasants!
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sun 24 Jun 2012, 21:30

At one point back in the 90s it seemed Ireland was going for the world record in resurgent traditions as every village with more than one pub in it suddenly seemed to find some old "local tradition" that was worthy of celebrating for a full summer's week. Having said that there are also some very ancient traditions which in recent times have died out to a point where even artificial resuscitation has proven inadequate to revive them. I'm thinking chiefly of Lunasa (or Lammas) which, except in isolated pockets, seems to have disappeared completely from the calendar though even only 60 or so years ago was a festival common in rural areas and even quite a few towns and cities with traceable origins and continual celebration going back to pre-christianity.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Mon 25 Jun 2012, 06:12


That’s all very interesting. I am a little surprised at how many of these fire festivities take place in mid-summer; it seems the wrong time of year to me. We try to have Guy Fawkes night here in summer and it’s not completely satisfactory, since it’s still daylight at 10pm (that might not be the case in central Europe). And you would think the warmth of fire would be useful in winter. Not to mention the possibility of fire spreading out of control, though that doesn’t seem such a problem in Europe as other parts of the world.

These long-lasting traditions do seem very complex at times and I was surprised at the account of the Lerwick Up-Helly Aa one, where they were adapted so radically in the 1870s. I would have expected that sort of interference to either be met with the ignoring it, or it would have meant sooner or later the end of it, being changed from its original. But I suppose they understood the spirit of it and took the population along with it.

We don’t have a lot of these sort of celebrations in New Zealand which might be partly why Matariki has struck a chord. We have taken on board some overseas traditions, like the Chinese New Year which is made a lot of in Wellington; Waitangi Day only goes back to 1840 and is honoured more obviously (or perhaps just more newsworthily) in the fighting and arguing more than the celebrations; Guy Fawkes has become less and less important with more and more rules about selling fireworks, worries about frightened animals, people getting hurt, and other wowsery things. Christmas seems to be taking over more and perhaps being made more of a fuss, with wreaths and fancy table settings, and more feasty foods. (My son, last Christmas, had one of those animals stuffed with others for Christmas dinner – included bacon, venison, duck, guinea fowl, turkey.)

As regards when the seasons begin, we date the start of seasons at the 1st of the month –December, March, June, September. Because I think the solstice is the middle of the summer/winter and because it fits better with our weather, I put the seasons all back a month, so my seasons start at November, February, May and August. But actually our seasons don’t follow three monthly periods at all – we have summer from January to mid-March, autumn from March to May, winter from May/June to August/September, and then spring for quite a long time – August till mid-December usually. Summer, if you are used to hotter temperatures, actually exists for about three days really.

One of the local women here spends quite a bit of time in a little Greek village, and she talks of wild herbs being used a little like the bouquets de bonventure. It is very important to gather the herbs and bring them to their homes, maybe not quite so much to ward off evil spirits as to ensure health for the year.
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Anglo-Norman
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Fri 29 Jun 2012, 12:01

@Caro wrote:
Does Britain have Druid traditions in its commemorations,

I daresay some traditions in Britain have pagan, and perhaps druidical, origins, but I doubt that much of what is done by those who call themselves druids today (like the people who gather at Stonehenge at the Solstice) can be reliably traced back more than a few decades.

One Jersey tradition which has been a bit of a revival in popularity is ‘Le Niere Buerre’, the the time in winter when Black Butter is made, in a tradition which dates back at least to the 17th century. Black Butter isn't butter at all, but a spread based mainly on apples and cider, with lemons, sugar and assorted spices added. It's made in a large cauldron over an open fire, taking roughly 24 hours (traditionally it's ready when a wooden spoon stands upright in a blob of the 'butter' on a plate), and must be stirred constantly with a wooden paddle or rabot, with more ingredients being added from time to time. It's very much a communal event, with song-singing, story telling and so on to pass the time. Apparently the tradition also exists in Pennsylvania (where the product is know by the much less sinister, though still misleading, name of Apple Butter), exported by Jersey emigrants.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Fri 29 Jun 2012, 20:47

If you keep on cooking the apple butter it will become thick enough to set in a mould, at which point it becomes apple cheese. There's a real resurgence of these kinds of 'traditional' recipes, at least in the fine dining world where they're tarted up and then dished up at eye watering prices.
This topic chimes with the one on disappearing cultural traditions, one might well be a reaction to the other. The harking back to a better, simpler, or so it's perceived, earlier time seems to crop up from time to time; the food revival now, the emergence of Folk Life Studies in the 20s and 30s, even the Arts and Crafts movement, all reflect a reaction to different types of modernity and the desire to recreate some qualities of the past, pretty much always by those who have the luxury of choosing the elements they wish to espouse and reject the less appealing aspects of that past.
I find it hard to think of any resurgent tradition - and 'tradition' is of itself usually a concept redolent with nostalgic misunderstanding and misinterpretation - that is genuinely authentic.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sat 30 Jun 2012, 06:11

I am fascinated by AN's Black Butter, never having heard of it before. It is not unlike a traditional sweet made from grape must here every autumn, after the grapes have been harvested. But the Moustoalevria are not cooked and stirred nearly so long....24hrs gosh, no wonder it is a community effort!

I suppose the Olympic games would be a good example of a resurgent tradition, and of how reclaimed traditions become bastardised.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sat 30 Jun 2012, 10:21

My childhood neighbours kept two traditions alive in a private way. One was observing May day by the women and children of their family - with selected neighbours by invitation. The women and children gathered may blossom at dawn, decorated a bower and dressed themselves in finery with flowers and leafy garlands for the solemn crowning of their chosen May Queen. I was that for several years until a daughter was born into their family. When the elders died and the family gradually dispersed and with fewer women, I suppose the custom died away for them. One sensed at the time that the procedure was deep rooted and personal..... my mother was not invited. The other tradition that they observed was the wearing of oak galls for Oak Apple day - the restoration of the monarchy - Charles 2nd. The galls were collected the night before and worn on the 29th May - with some explaining to do at school every year as I recall. I looked it up and found that the tradition is maintained or possibly honed into ceremonies in several places.
What is interesting is the need of communities to sustain links with the past through revival or on going ritual. Revived traditions seem tainted by self consciousness and rather empty. The two rites above were not done in fun or amusement. They were observed and important annual rituals in that family's life along with a few others such as the gathering of 'psalm' willow buds for Psalm Sunday. My own family had no such markers to sustain but I enjoyed the inclusion allowed me at the time.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Resurgent traditions   Sat 30 Jun 2012, 10:45

Interesting also that you should talk about the women maintaining these traditions P; at least as far back as the Medieval, it has always been the women who have been the repositories of family history, heirlooms and traditions.
Is this revival of some kind of facsimile of community traditions a reaction to the dispersal of extended families I wonder and yet another example of the search for roots that seems so prevalent today?
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