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Heri Za Kwanzaa

December 28, 2018

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Heri za Kwanzaa means Happy Kwanzaa. Since Kwanzaa began on December 26, and since I know so little about the holiday, I thought that today was the perfect opportunity to learn about it. Also, due to the fact that I know so little about it, I would be happy for anyone to correct anything that I have posted. This post intends simply to touch the surface of the holiday. Furthermore, I am very interested in literature that may include mention of Kwanzaa or other traditions related to Kwanzaa. Feel free to post comments for literature and/or corrections!

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga founded Kwanzaa in 1966. It is an African-American and pan-African holiday which celebrates community, family, and culture. It begins on December 26 and continues until January 1. The first symbol of Kwanzaa is the mkeka, a placemat which demonstrates African traditions. Kwanzaa is based upon seven principles called the Nguzo Saba. Karenga explains: “As we said in the ‘60s, the Nguzo Saba are a Black value system, a set of communitarian African values which aid us in grounding ourselves righteously and rightly, directing our lives toward good and expansive ends, and toward conceiving and bringing into being the good communities, societies and world we all want and work and struggle so hard to bring into being.” Kwanzaa is celebrated with feasts, music, dance, poetry and narratives. The holiday is concluded with a day of reflection upon the commitments of the seven principles. Karenga continues, “The holiday, then will of necessity, be engaged as an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people's culture.” I thought that this sentiment is consistent with the foundations of other religions. I am interested in Kwanzaa’s inclusion of metaphor, symbol, and history. Due to the foundational nature of the seven principles, I have listed them below. I find these ideas consistent with the season.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa include:

Umoja: Unity, the willingness to help one another

Kujichagulia: Self-determination, that we make our own decisions

Ujima: Collective work and responsibility, that working together creates a better life for all

Ujamaa: Cooperative economics, that we support our community

Nia: Purpose, that we have a reason for living

Kuumba: Creativity, that we use our hands and minds to make things

Imani: Faith, that we believe in ourselves, our ancestors, and our future.

All information for this blog is taken from the Official Kwanzaa website.

Whatever your faith, whatever your community, we hope that you celebrate with peace and love. Happy holidays from Harrison Middleton University!

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Holiday Menus

November 23, 2018

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

“Cookery is the most ancient of the arts, for Adam was born hungry.” - Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

I love cooking and so, naturally, I love old cookbooks. The holidays present a perfect time to rummage through my cookbooks. I learn so much about culture just from these pages. I also enjoy the pamphlets and chapbooks that small entities publish, such as church groups and non-profit organizations. Though some recipes are redundant, each publication adds a little flavor to the shelf. Today, I just wanted to share holiday tips from a variety of magazines and cookbooks over the last 100 years. As the years change, so does the style of food and the description of ingredients. It is fun to see recipes change from “a peck of potatoes” to “a pound of potatoes” and also to note changes introduced by accessibility to freezers, microwaves and other devices. If you have a favorite tradition or table setting, please, share it below!

Though it has no special section dedicated to Thanksgiving, the 1930 Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook explains, “At the formal dinner, butter is not served. None of the food is on the table when guests come into the dining-room. The napkin is on the service plate. Suppose the menu consists of a fruit cocktail, a soup, an entree, a main course, a salad, a dessert, and after-dinner coffee.”

From January 1951 article in EveryWoman Magazine. Article by Mary Grovesnor Ellsworth. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

From January 1951 article in EveryWoman Magazine. Article by Mary Grovesnor Ellsworth. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

Tucked inside a corner of this same cookbook, my grandmother saved an article by Mary Grovesnor Ellsworth titled “Blue Print for a Winter Party” from the January 1951 edition of EveryWoman Magazine. It recommends Jambalaya as the best holiday feast because it is a dish that “is much, much easier than pie – and that nobody will have had yesterday.” The page includes a map of footprints to guide your guests from serving table to dining tables and strictly advises that the traffic between kitchen and serving tables should never cross. She prepares everything the day before and suggests that men make the salad. Ellsworth writes, “The easiest and showiest way of coping with the salad is to dress it in the bowl. Men love to do this! It looks complicated and professional, is very easy to do, and actually produces a dressing that for some reason tastes different from the same ingredients combined before they hit the greens.”

A small book called the Foodorama Party Book, published by Kelvinator (at that time a division of American Motor Corps out of Detroit), 1959, contains recipes centered around frozen foods (which makes sense for Kelvinator, one of the first big names in freezers). For example, their Thanksgiving includes “Broccoli California” which is frozen broccoli cooked according to directions and topped with olive oil, garlic, almonds, and olives. To prepare for the feast, they write:

“The Thanksgiving table is set with your prettiest cloth and appointments. The ever-perfect centerpiece is that traditional symbol of a plentiful harvest: red cabbage, acorn and yellow squash, white and yellow onions, pumpkin, eggplant, green peppers, apples, grapes and oranges – all arranged on a tray lined with autumn leaves. … Simple family games for after dinner include Nut Throw (take turns pitching unshelled nuts into a bowl set a few feet away), Thanksgiving Day (make words from the letters in Thanksgiving Day), Nut Relay (push a nut along the floor over the finish line – but push only with your nose!).”

The Thanksgiving Feast suggested by Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook (from 1961) is as follows: Roast Turkey, Bread Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Giblet Gravy, Creamed Onions, Mashed Squash, Carrot and Celery Curls, Ripe and Green Olives, Assorted Hot Rolls, Old-fashioned Mince Pie, and Autumn Pumpkin Pie. They also included a picture of their advised table setting (below).

Thanksgiving table setting according to  Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook , 1961. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

Thanksgiving table setting according to Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook, 1961. Photo credit: Alissa Simon.

And finally, jumping up to 2007, in The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters displays her love of entertaining with the following advice:

“Here are a few practices I employ to help me plan a menu, think it through, and cook it. These are critical for large gatherings and complex events, but they are useful for simple dinners, too. Once you have decided on the menu, make a game plan. First write out the menu and draft a shopping list. If, when you make the shopping list, you discover that the shopping, not to mention the cooking, is too complicated, go back and revise the menu – or see if anyone can help. … I also like to have a little something ready to nibble on when the guests arrive. This can be as simple as a bowl of warm olives or roasted nuts. I often make croutons topped with a tasty tidbit. Another of my favorite little somethings is a plate or bowl of freshly cut seasoned vegetables (carrots, fennel, radishes, celery, sweet peppers) served with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon.”

Whatever your holiday tradition or feast, enjoy! We wish you all the best.

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Holiday Words

December 22, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I have been busy wrapping presents. But I've also been wondering about some of the language that we casually throw around this time of year. So, in today's post, I am going to compile a couple of terms and tell you what I learned about them. Perhaps the most important word of the season (noticeably missing from this list) is gratitude. I am extremely grateful to the work of Evan Morris of The Word Detective for all of his etymology research and information, as always, couched in a sprig of humor.

Forgive – transitive verb: 1] To cease to feel resentment against (an offender); 2] to give up resentment

The Word Detective offers an excellent synopsis of the first word in our list. He explains:

The root of “forgive” is the Latin word “perdonare,” meaning “to give completely, without reservation.” (That “perdonare” is also the source of our English “pardon.”) When the Latin “perdonare” was adopted into the Germanic ancestor of English, it was translated piece-by-piece, making the result what linguists call a “calque” (from the French “calquer,” to trace or copy) a literal transliteration. “Per” was replaced by “for,” a prefix that in this case means “thoroughly,” and “donare” with “giefan” (“to give”). The result, “forgiefan,” appeared in Old English meaning “to give up, allow” as well as “to give in marriage.” In modern English, “forgive” has also taken on the meanings of “to pardon for an offense,” “renounce anger at” (“I forgive you for feeding bean tacos to my dog “) and “to abandon a claim on” (as in “forgive a debt”).

Deck out – phrasal verb: to decorate a person or object with something, usually for a special occasion.

This is one of my favorites because deck is just a silly and fun metaphor – a ship's deck or a card deck, does not matter. It participates in a lot of phrases, such as (but not limited to): deck the halls, hit the decks, not playing with a full deck, on deck, and stack the deck. Apparently we love our card jokes so much we transfer them to our halls. We could say “decorate the halls”, but that sounds pretty lame. Deck the halls it is!

Carol – noun: 1] an old round dance with singing; 2] a song of joy or mirth; 3] a popular song or ballad of religious joy

Again, The Word Detective wins the game by providing this bit of research:

“Carol” meaning a song or hymn sung at Christmas, has nothing to do with the personal name “Carol,” which is derived from the same Germanic root as “Charles.”

There’s a debate as to the origin of “carol” in the “song” sense, but English definitely adopted it from the Old French “carole,” and the favored theory traces it back to the Latin “choraules,” meaning “flute player who accompanies a choir or dance.” This trail leads back to the Greek “choros,” which also gave us “chorus” and “choir.” This is all very logical and fits in nicely with our modern English use of “carol” to mean a song usually sung by a group.

The original sense of that Old French “carole,” however, was “a dance in a circle accompanied by singing,” which has led to an alternate theory that the root of “carol” is actually the Latin “corolla,” meaning “little crown, garland,” carrying the sense of “ring” or “circle.” In fact, the original use of “carol” when it first appeared in English around 1300 was “a ring-dance accompanied with song.” Our modern sense of “carol” as a Christmas song didn’t appear until the early 16th century.

Tiding – noun: a piece of good news, usually used in the plural “good tidings”

Tide – noun: 1] a fit or opportune time; 2] an ecclesiastical anniversary or festival; 3] a space of time (obsolete)

Tide is a great noun. It is rare to hear tide in a sense disconnected with the sea. Yet, we still have remnants of those ancient roots in phrases such as Yuletide and Good Tidings. Traditions have a funny way of sticking around for a long time. It is particularly helpful to have songs and jingles to spread the language unanimously. Yule comes from an Old Norse word, and if we had the time, I would love to investigate the associations of Jul in Swedish and Norwegian. Since this is about English, however, I'll skip back to the idea of tides and tiding, which stems from Old English, meaning “time or season”. The Word Detective says, “If we wish someone 'good tidings' or hear the phrase 'tidings of great joy,' we are harking back to a related Old Icelandic word meaning 'news or events.'”

I hope this list increases your festive attitude! Happy holidays!

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Winter Solstice

December 23, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

We have just passed the 2016 Winter Solstice. The longest night and coldest temperatures often derive strong images of sadness or death. These are the days of greatest darkness, and yet, for all the dark, we also find hope for the coming of the light. Small cycles often represent much larger cycles, more difficult to coherently map out.

The larger picture includes, among other things, the summer solstice. These two, winter and summer, create a yin/yang balance of light and dark. In most literatures and philosophies, the one is framed by the other. About ten years ago, I found myself in Ecuador, participating in the dances of Inti Raymi. June in Ecuador is part of winter, which brings heavy rains and shorter days. Before the dance, I learned about the concept “tinkuy”, which signifies the coming together of two things. It grants one the ability to hold two opposing things in simultaneous balance. Even the name, Inti Raymi, celebrates the sun during a time of little sun. Summer and winter solstices represent something like a duality, or a yin/yang relationship. They are not oppositional in the sense of opposites, but really, more like a cycle. Dancing with a circular step down dirt streets, singing songs and wearing the colorful dress of Inti Raymi reminds us that it is about being present. This dance represents the continuum of life, in which the darkness is just as necessary as the light.

Many cultures focus on the changing of the light. For these reasons too, solstices often find themselves in literature. I love this stanza from Timothy Steele's “Toward the Winter Solstice”. It develops the ideas of so many civilizations and groups simultaneously, almost as if a performance of tinkuy.

 

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born. - Timothy Steele, “Toward the Winter Solstice”

Enjoy your holiday and all the hope that it implies.


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