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  • Pete Karolczak

October 2021 - Global Traditions

I cannot believe it’s October already! The good news is that I am no longer late in taking down the Christmas Tree (aka the Pandemic Tree) but just a couple of months early! October is officially Autumn in the northern- and Spring in the southern- hemisphere and my favorite time of year! The meaning of October comes from the Latin word Octo meaning eight. As you know by now, the old Roman calendar started in March, so October was the eighth month. When the Roman senate changed the calendar in 153 BC, the new year started in January and October became the tenth month.

October is Black History Month in the UK and Ireland! While the US and Canada celebrate Black History Month in February and most certainly inspired the UK version, there are of course different histories being honored. But while these two parts of the world may have different histories, the goal of Black History Month is the same: to ensure that Black history is shared, discussed, and honored.

And once again, several National Days and Independence Days around the world:

1st Independence Day for Nigeria, Tuvalu, and Cyprus

1st National Day in Hong Kong

2nd Independence Day for GUInea

3rd Independence Day for Iraq

4th Independence Day for Lesotho

9th Independence Day for Uganda

10th Fiji Day

18th Independence Day for Azerbaijan

24th Independence Day for Zambia

26th National Day in Austria

27th Independence Day in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

28th Independence Day in the Czech Republic

Oktoberfest – was in September. Don’t ask.

Chinese National Day is on October 1, which is an annual public holiday celebrated in the People’s Republic of China. The day marks the end of dynastic rule and honors the start of the Wuchang Uprising that eventually led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the birth of the People’s Republic of China.

Did you know that approximately 10% of the world’s population is vegetarian? On October 1, it’s World Vegetarian Day and time for all you carnivores to enjoy an amazing vegetarian meal!

October 1st is also International Coffee Day! This day celebrates one of the world's favorite (and mine) hot beverages, which is enjoyed and celebrated around the world. And as long as you don’t put meat in your coffee, it counts toward your Vegetarian Day goal!

The fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th of November in 1989, which marked the end of the Cold War, also paved the way for German reunification barely a year later. The Unification Treaty that was signed on the 20th of September in 1990 and declared the 3rd of October to be German Unification Day or the Day of Germany Unity.

Did you know that October 4, 1582, was the start of our modern Gregorian Calendar? Pope Gregory XIIIordered the calendar to “Jump” from October 4th 1582 to October 15th 1582. This corrected the 10-day gap the old Julian Calendar had accumulated. And no, I don’t know what happened if you were going to celebrate your birthday between the 4th and the 15th…

October 6th is the Tübingen Duck Race… Every year since 1999 over 7000 yellow rubber ducks are let loose in River Necker that courses through this historic town near Stuttgart in Germany. The competition starts at midday and anyone with a rubber duck can participate. Spectators stick their name and number on the ducks and cheer as the mass of yellow ducks float down the Neckar. I lived very close to Tübingen, and this was a wonderful tradition!

Also on October 6th is the Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a colorful but rather gruesome event held over a nine-day period in October, celebrating the belief abstinence from meat combined with various stimulants during the ninth lunar month will help them obtain good health. This festival originated in Phuket, Thailand, by a wandering Chinese opera group who fell ill with malaria while performing there. They decided to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and to everyone's amazement the opera group made a complete recovery.

Mysore Dasara, starting October 7, is a Royal Festival celebrating victory of Truth over Evil. Legend has it that the Goddess Chamundeeswari or Durga slew the demon Mahishasuran on Vijayadashami day. Dasara is a 10-day festival in the region culminating on Vijayadashami or tenth day. After ten days of different celebrations and parades, a grand Procession is held which starts from Mysore Palace and ends in Bannimantap. Throughout these ten days, the Mysore Palace is beautifully lit day and night!

October 7th (but cancelled this year) is the Okunchi Festival in Japan. This festival in Nagasaki dates to the 17th century, when many Chinese lived in the city and when both Dutch and Chinese traders regularly stopped there. For many years, the ruling shogun barred foreigners from other Japanese ports, so the few Dutch and Chinese ships that were allowed to stop in Nagasaki were the country's only point of contact with the non-Japanese world. The Okunchi Festival pays tribute to these traders with both a Dutch dance and a Chinese dragon dance, along with processions, street fairs, and other festivities.

Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday celebrated on October 11 commemorating the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492. Over the last few decades however, this celebration has faced serious controversy due to Christopher Columbus’ various horrific acts against Native Americans throughout his life as an explorer. Because of this, many places in across the US have transformed this holiday into Indigenous People’s Day!

I heard it might be International Skeptics Day on October 13, but I doubt it.

Vijaydashmi, or Dusshera is the 10th and the last day of Durga Puja; this year it’s October 15. All over India, Hindus celebrate this day, but interestingly, for different reasons. In some parts of India, it’s celebrated as the day Goddess Durga killed the demon Mahishasur. Elsewhere, this was the day King Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, killed Ravana, the 10-headed demon. Either way, it’s a day of celebration.

On October 18th, Mawlid al-Nabi is the observance of the Islamic prophet Muhammad’s birthday. It takes place in Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. Most denominations of Islam approve of the commemoration of Muhammad’s birthday, and it’s recognized as a national holiday in most Muslim-majority countries. Celebrations include street processions, acts of charity and food donations, and children reciting stories about the life of Muhammad.

October 20th is Boun Ok Phansa in Laos! Three months prior to Boun Ok Phansa, as the rainy season begins, Buddhist monks in Laos “hide themselves” in their temples to study the teachings of Buddha. When Boun Ok Phansa arrives, people line up at temples early in the morning and offer gifts to the monks. There are also candlelight processions around temples, and small decorative boats filled with flowers, lit candles, and incense are set out on the Mekong River. People also make beautiful paper lanterns and light them up at night. Traditionally, Boun Ok Phansa is a time to honour the “river spirit” of the Mekong. It is thought that sickness, bad luck, and everything negative can be sent away into the river.

Meanwhile, in nearby Myanmar, October 20th, 2021, comes on the full moon of the Buddhist lunar month of Thadingyut, just after the completion of Lent. Full Moon Day of Thadingyut is also known as Myanmar’s “Festival of Lights”. It is thought Buddha and other heavenly beings built a “star ladder” on Buddha’s way down to earth and that people put lights all over their homes to welcome him. Today, the tradition of lighting up buildings continues.

On October 24, United Nations Day, we celebrate the anniversary of the UN Charter of 1945 and the world-changing accomplishments the UN has enacted since then.

Oxi Day or Ochi Day, is commemorated each year on October 28 in Greece and Cyprus, and by all the Greeks living around the world. This day is celebrated in remembrance of the moment when the then prime minister of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, refused to let the Italian troops enter Greece’s border on October 28, 1940, during the Greco-Italian War. After receiving an ultimatum from the Italians, he responded that Greece refuses their demand even if it leads to war. Following this, Metaxas’s refusal became famous around the country and the people came out to the streets, shouting “Oxi!” (which means “No!” in Greek).

And we all know what the end of October means…

Samhain (Sow-inn) is the word for November in Gaelic. Traditionally celebrated from October 31 to November 1, it’s one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. The Festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the harvest season - at the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. The veil between the physical world and the spirit world is at its thinnest, allowing spirits to interact with the living. It’s also a time when the deceased are remembered and honored, the autumn harvest is reaped, and the preparation for winter begin. Samhain is also considered the Celtic New Year.

In many other countries, October 31st means Halloween! Traces of Halloween can be found in Samhain. In the 800’s, Pope Boniface IV created All-hallows from the Middle English Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints’ Day, to be celebrated on November 1st in an attempt to end Samhain. However, the eve of Samhain became known as All Hallows Eve and eventually Halloween.

In the late 1800’s, there was a strong effort to change Halloween from a scary, superstitious night to a family and community holiday. Families held parities for children and scary decorations were abandoned. Candy companies then got involved and we know what happened next.

Halloween is very popular holiday in many countries as the Christian All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognized by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would wear masks or costumes to disguise their identities.

On Halloween in Scotland, children get dressed in costumes and going ‘trick or treating’ is called ‘guising’ (as in ‘going in disguise’) and have to perform jokes or songs in return for sweets. The general etiquette is that it's ok to knock of people's doors who have carved pumpkins outside, or you know them. Also, traditionally neeps (turnips) are carved out with a candle inside and carried as lanterns instead of pumpkins.

The story of the original ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ dates back as far back as the 1500s in Ireland. A blacksmith called Stingy Jack made a deal with the Devil to never claim his soul—but when he died, God wouldn’t let him into Heaven either. So, Jack was doomed to walk the Earth for all eternity, with only a burning coal to light his way—which he carried in a turnip he had carved out. He roams the world to this day as "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack-O’-Lantern."

My favorite of all these traditions, however, is the Day of the Dead! While technically, the Day of the Day or Los Dias de los Muertos is November 1st, the celebrations start on October 31st. This originally Mexican celebration mingles the Aztec culture and Catholicism. This is one of the most beautiful traditions despite being a bit macabre – with skeleton suits and masks, colorful parades and amazing food!

The Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl governed a month-long celebration for the dead. When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they brought with them the religion and practices of the Catholic Church, including new ideas about death. The Aztecs believed the souls of the departed remained on earth in the form of butterflies and birds. When the Monarch butterflies returned (Monarch’s migrate to Mexico for the winter), the souls of the departed are welcomed home.

Happy October!

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