Beer Day! – Iceland

March 1


You may be aware of the United States’ 13-year experiment with prohibition back in the, well, Prohibition Era (1920-1933).

But it is a testament to the stout-hardiness of the Icelandic people that they kept up their beer ban for over five times that long: a full 75 years. Iceland was beer-free between 1914 and 1989 — a time period that roughly mirrors the entire existence of the Soviet Union.

The beer ban was finally repealed on March 1, 1989.

Nine months later the Berlin Wall fell, followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If you doubt the causal connection between these events, it is a clear indicator that you have not sufficiently participated in the celebration of Beer Day, a ritual which entails consuming your weight in the hop-filled elixir.

Just to clarify, the Icelandic people did have some help during the dark days of prohibition, and from an unlikely ally. The Spanish and Portuguese declared they would not import Iceland’s salted cod unless Iceland imported some Iberian red wine. Thus, wine was legalized while beer remained taboo.

Twenty years after the repeal, Iceland boasts one major brewery for every 100,000 people.

Which means three.

Yes, Iceland has about 300,000 people, less people than the L.A. School District, grades 7 through 12.

Iceland’s low population growth has be attributed to the fact that — in case you haven’t been paying attention — beer was illegal there for 75 years.

How Can I Do My Part to Celebrate this Historic Holiday?

Every year thousands of Americans stand in solidarity with the Icelandic people, commiserating their tragic 20th century beer drought by imbibing a round of Icelandic beer, or whatever beer happens to be nearby.

However, Americans don’t celebrate Iceland Beer Day on March 1, but whenever they get around to it, usually in April.

Night of the Radish

Forget everything you know about radishes.

Night of the Radishes is one of the most unique holidays in the Western hemisphere.  It has been celebrated in Oaxaca for hundreds of years, but only became an official holiday in 1897.

Radishes are actually native to China, and were brought to the New World by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. Two friars encouraged the the townspeople of Oaxaca to cultivate the radishes, and it is believed one of the friars suggested they carve and display the radishes to encourage the locals to buy their produce.

Night of the Radishes

Cinnamon Bun Day – Sweden

October 4

Not a good holiday for those on a diet.

It’s worth wondering how a people noted for their healthy physique could be gastronomically symbolized by a cinnamon bun. The thing is a black hole of caloric intake.

Cinnamon buns, or kanelbullar, have been a Swedish staple since at least the 1920s. According to Birgit Nilsson Bergström of Sweden’s Home Baking Council:

“We found that the cinnamon bun was the best symbol for Swedish home baking. I don’t think there are any Swedes who don’t like them.”

These angelic looking, yet devilishly tasty swirls of dough and sugar made their way across Northern Europe during the 20th century, and finally got their big Hollywood break in the hit 1977 film Star Wars.

I decided to celebrate today by finding the world’s best cinnamon bun, and came across a National Cinnamon Bun Day blog by baking aficionado Anne of Sweden. The Swedish cinnamon expert has sampled some of the finest buns in the world and proclaims she found the perfect bun, not in Scandinavia, but in a distant land…

“My favorite cinnamon bun is not a bun, but a roll, from Sweet Jill’s. That’s a small pastry shop on Second Street (Belmont Shore) in Long Beach, California. Needless to say, I don’t eat them very often. But on my California trips…The rolls are huge – incredibly large, I bet they weigh a pound. And so incredibly delicious.

So at great expense and hazard to my own person, I undertook the perilous journey to this quaint and mystical seaside town of Belmont Shore.

I was surprised to find the workers at Sweet Jill’s unaware of Cinnamon Bun Day. When I asked for a world-famous cinnamon bun, my server replied, “Walnut or low-fat?” He may have noticed the disappointment in my face, or the tears welling up in my eyes. (I don’t like walnuts and don’t believe in low-fat.) For, moments later, he pulled from the oven a fresh batch of beautiful, nut-free, fat-full cinnamon swirls.

I did not weigh it, but I would agree with Anne, you could feed a family of four for a week.

Okay, truth be told, I grew up near Sweet Jill’s, a classmate of mine even worked there in high school, and I set foot in there maybe once all the time I lived there. It goes to show the old axiom is true: You don’t know the treasure in your own backyard, until you start researching National Cinnamon Bun Day in Sweden.

The bun/roll/swirl was delicious as its legacy warranted, and I can honestly say, I end this holiday, if not wiser, heavier. (Warning: You may absorb calories just by looking at this website.)

Heritage/Braai Day – South Africa

September 24

We have 11 different official languages but only one word for the wonderful institution of braai. It’s braai in Xhosa, it’s braai in English, it’s braai Afrikaans…All it calls for is come with your friends and family, have a little fire, and braai…That should make you proudly South African.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The 24th of September was once known as Shaka Day, in honor of the Zulu king, but these days it’s celebrated throughout South Africa on as Heritage Day, or Braai Day. Today the “Rainbow Nation’s” near 50 million people come together to partake in the country’s national past time.

According to

“Cooking food on an open fire is an international phenomenon, but to braai is a truly unique South African past time that penetrates racial, cultural, religious and social boundaries.”

Heritage Day–or Braai Day as it’s been called the last few years–is one of several holidays that came into being with the fall of the Apartheid government in the 1990s. These new holidays sought to remember dates that resonate with all South Africans.

Braai Day Video – 2009

Other national holidays include:

March 21: Human Rights Day

In memory of the sacrifice of 69 protesters killed by police on this day in 1960. The demonstrators were protesting the infamous pass laws. In the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre, the government outlawed black political organizations.

April 27: Freedom Day

The anniversary of the first truly free election in South Africa in 1994.

June 16: Youth Day

Dedicated to those his lost their lives in the protests and riots of 1976, fighting for equal education.

August 9: National Women’s Day

When 20,000 women marched to Pretoria’s government buildings in 1956 to protest the pass laws.

Women’s ‘Repeal the Pass Laws’ flyer

December 16: Day of Reconciliation

Both the anniversary of the beginning of the armed anti-Apartheid movement in 1961 and of the defeat of the Zulu army at Battle of Blood River in 1838. That South Africans have their different reasons for remembering the date underscores its true purpose: to come to terms with the country’s often brutal past of racism, violence, and injustice.

Mid-Autumn Festival

September 12, 2011

The Mid-Autumn Festival is known as Eighth Moon because it falls of the full moon of the eighth month. It’s also known as Mooncake Day, because billions of mooncakes are prepared for this holiday. (Though billions aren’t necessarily eaten. It’s more like the Chinese holiday fruitcake.)

For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert. – Mid-Autumn Festival

One story of the popularity of mooncakes dates from the 1300’s AD. China was ruled by the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, that overthrew the Chinese Sung Dynasty. To coordinate a secret attack on the ruling power, Han Chinese rebels hid secret messages inside mooncakes, which were then distributed throughout the kingdom. The revolution was a success.

Joyce Hor-Chung theorizes that had mooncakes been more tasty, there would have been no revolution, and the Yuan might still be in power today.

The importance of Eighth Moon in China goes back to the third millennium B.C. The traditional origin story of the holiday revolves around a beautiful young woman of unsurpassed beauty, and a rabbit.

Okay, not what I had in mind.

Getting colder.

No, the woman in question was Ch’ang-O, wife of Hou Yi. Hou Yi, you’ll remember from your textbooks, was the greatest archer in the land, famous for shooting down nine of the ten suns that scorched the earth, back in the Great Deci-Solar Debacle of 2170 BC.

Hou Yi had an elixir, a pill for attaining immortality, but he was told he would have to pray and fast for a year before taking it. His wife Ch’ang-O was as curious as she was beautiful. Finding the pill hidden in the rafters, she swallowed it and immediately began floating toward the moon. She landed on the great white orb, where she’s been stranded ever since. Instead of a “Man in the Moon”, the Chinese refer to Ch’ang-O, the Woman on the Moon.

There on the moon lives the immortal Ch’ang-O, with only a Jade Rabbit to keep her company (and, we can assume, an occasional astronaut). The Jade Rabbit on the moon is an important character in Chinese folklore. His sworn duty is to continually make the elixir of immortality for the Gods.

Origin stories vary, but they say Hou Yi eventually built a house on the sun, (Yang) and visits Ch’ang-O on the moon (Yin) once a year on the full moon of the eighth month, which is why the moon is so full and bright on this night.

Today families and friends gather to share mooncakes, pomelo, stories, and good times. Lanterns are lit, Mid-Autumn trees are planted, dandelions are plucked, and incense is burned in honor of the goddess on the moon, Ch’ang-O, who will increasingly watch over the earth as temperatures drop and summer makes way for fall.

Google Moon

Mid-Autumn Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival

Enjoying the Wind and Moon Together

La Tomatina

Last Wednesday in August
August 31, 2011
August 29, 2012

364 days out of the year, Buñol is a quiet, ordinary Spanish town country nestled in the foothills of the Valencia mountains about 40 kilometers from the Mediterranean coast; its population is just shy of 10,000.

But if you happen to visit Buñol on the last Wednesday of August, don’t wear your finest. You will notice that the population has tripled in size, the bulk of these tens of thousands have amassed along a few narrow streets, and they’re all engaged in a peculiar activity: throwing tomatoes.

Lots of tomatoes.

Over a hundred TONS of tomatoes.

La Tomatina is essentially the world’s largest food fight. (Although the Great Kettering Elementary School Food Fight of 1986 comes close.)

We wish we could say La Tomatina originates from an ancient pagan fertility rite, but it’s only 60 or so years old. Stories of the festival’s origin vary. Combining them would sound like this:

During a Gigantes y Cabezudos festival (the kind with the really big heads as featured in Borat) some rowdy spectators attempted to become participants, knocking over a big-head-carrying procession member in the process. A scuffled ensued among the hot-tempered youths.

Now, the people of Buñol had always enjoyed throwing things at each other. And fortunately for posterity, a truck or cartload of tomatoes had overturned just prior this auspicious occasion, providing the feuding parties with the perfect ammunition.

The following year authorities hoped to stem a repeat of the disaster, but the veterans of the previous year had some unfinished business to attend to.

The activity was first sanctioned by Town Hall in 1950. It was permitted and prohibited intermittently over the next few years. It got out of hand in 1956, townspeople got hurt, and it was canceled the following year. Some folks held a Tomatina Funeral instead. The festival was brought back by popular demand in 1959–but with regulations*–and they’ve been throwing tomatoes ever since.

Yes, La Tomatina started out as a Buñol style gang war. Perhaps in the States, if we armed our inner-city youths with tomatoes (in LA, avocados) we would attract tourists instead of violence.

As it is, in Buñol tens of thousands of tourists flock to La Tomatina each year. The festivities begin with the scaling of the “soap pole”. A ham is stuck atop a tall greased pole, and the tomato throwing can’t begin until a brave crowd member retrieves it.

*If you go, it’s considered proper Tomatina etiquette to squish your tomato before hurling it. Don’t bring bottles or anything that could cause injury, and be careful not to rip other people’s clothes. And it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing red or not. You will be.

La Tomatina


One writer’s horrifying story:

“Our red tornado became an inexorable hurricane. It was becoming difficult to stand upright in so much slush and with so many wet missiles impacting from every possible direction. We blotted out the sun and sky…I had become one vast squelching mound of pulped tomato…

Seeing Red — Louis de Bernieres

What To Do With Your Extra Tomatoes

Russian Apple Spas

August 19

Before you grab your towel and get undressed, no, this has nothing to do saunas or back rubs, so put your pants back on. This is a family blog.

No. Spas in Russian means “savior”. The ‘Spases‘ are three folk holidays celebrated in August, that bring the Russian summer season to a close with style. And food.

August 14 (Gregorian) is mokryi Spas, or “Wet Savior”, but is more commonly referred to as Honey Spas (medovyi Spas), so named because it coincides with the late-summer gathering of honey.

The second, and most important of the three takes place today. Spas na gore/iablochnyi Spas, aka, “Savior on the Hill”/”Apple Spas”.


Apple Spas falls during the Feast of the Transfiguration in the Eastern Orthodox Calendar (August 19, Gregorian; August 6, Julian). Fruits and veggies from orchards and gardens are blessed today, and it’s considered bad luck to eat apples until now. More specifically, children in heaven are said to receive apples to eat this day, only if their living parents have not done so before Apple Spas.

The third Spas is orekhovyi Spas–Nut Savior–which once coincided with–you guessed it–the gathering of nuts at month’s end (August 29, Gregorian; August 16, Julian).

The Spas developed out of agrarian festivals during which the first spoils of the harvest were consecrated in honor of nature deities, in the hopes of a bountiful harvest and mild winter. Over the centuries the folk festivals became inextricably intertwined with Christian traditions.

The Apples Spas coincidentally falls on the anniversary of the start of the 1991 coup in which Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was kidnapped by hard-liners who disagreed with his reformist policies. The coup failed, and within days, five Soviet republics had declared their independence. By the year’s end, the 75 year-old Soviet Union had ceased to exist.

This is not Russian Spas but it looks like theyre having fun.
This is not Russian Spas but it looks like fun.

Xicolatada – France

August 16


Today (August 16) the town of Palau de Cedagne in Southwestern France celebrates Xicolatada. At 11 am on this date, residents indulge in a delicious cup of piping hot chocolate.

This 300+ year-old tradition grew out of another festival. According to legend (i.e., Wikipedia):

15 August was once a festival day, and the locals would drink quite a bit, to the point that they felt a bit ill the following morning. To feel better, the village chocolatier would offer them a hot chocolate, which he claimed was an excellent remedy. Over the years, this habit grew into a custom, and eventually a municipal association was formed to remember the tradition and to organise the distribution of hot chocolate every year on 16 August, at precisely 11 in the morning.

At the time, chocolate was imported through Spain from the Latin American colonies. Located on the border of Spain and France in the Pyrenees, Palau de Cedagne was perfectly situated along popular trade routes.

Today the hot chocolate brewing follows an age-old secret recipe, cooked up in cauldrons, by a brotherhood of well-trained “Mestres xicolaters” (maîtres chocolatiers).

A Master Chocolatier, Xicolatada
A Master Chocolatier serves Xicolata

Xicolatada –

Xicolatada –