Tag Archives: festivals

Hina Matsuri

Image from deerahmawati.blogspot.com

Each year on March 3rd, Japan celebrates its Girls’ Day with the Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival. The festival celebrates young girls in Japan, wishing them healthy growth. The contemporary festival celebration originated from Hina-nagashi, wherein the past dolls in straw boats were set afloat onto a river in order to guard from evil spirits. This custom is still done today in the festival in Kyoto.

Image from The Spill

Leading up to the festival, families in Japan who have female children display a set of traditional dolls. Traditionally, families that have girls in the family acquire a set of these dolls after the first girl is born, usually inheriting them or through purchase. The dolls are representations of happiness, health, beauty for girls.

The custom of displaying the dolls is said to have begun during the Heian period of Japanese history, from the late 8th century to the early 12th century. The dolls in fact represent the hierarchy of the imperial court at the time, and are arranged on the display platforms.

Image from deerahmawati.blogspot.com

The dolls are intricately crafted pieces in themselves. The doll bodies are primarily composed of fabric, usually reinforced with wood or straw on the inside. The face and hands are usually hand-carved, hand-painted wood. The dolls’ hair was traditionally made with real human hair, but silk has also been used in more recent years.

Image from Chuzai Living

Woven fabrics with traditional patterns are used for the dolls, similar to the woven fabric used to make kimonos. The fabrics are layered intricately and decorated with different ornaments depending on the type of doll.

Image from Chuzai Living

Each doll has beautiful, intricate details. From the 17th Century to the late 19th Century, doll making as a craft surged when prominent families commissioned elaborate sets to show off their wealth.

From A Japanese Life

While most families usually put out traditionally crafted doll sets, today there are many contemporary variations of the hina dolls, for example those portrayed by Disney characters beloved in Japan.

Image from Vignette Bricks

The dolls are usually promptly taken down the day right after the festival (March 4), with the superstition that if they are left out too long, the girls in the family will have late marriages.

Image from Unified4Change

Apart from the doll displays and festivities usually done at a local shrine, the festival is also characterized by the uniquely colorful food made for the occasion.

Image via Guava Rose

The traditional festival foods include colored candy, rice cakes (mochi), and sweet rice wine. The special ball-shaped, colored rice crackers made for the festival are known as Hina-arare. The brightly colored, delicate foods are made of course to appeal to girls.

Hina Matsuri is a great start to the spring season in Japan–filled with color, happiness, and well wishes, which although are intended mainly for girls, surely bring joy to everyone who participates.

With spring almost here, the cherry blossoms are getting ready to bloom!

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Origami for Chinese New Year

For most of my life, my origami repertoire has been quite limited. I only know the flapping bird, which my brother taught me when I was really little, and other very basic stuff from  my 5th grade art class — paper cup (very useful, I swear), crane, and a few others. But ever since a friend of mine got me a pack of beautiful origami papers for Christmas, I’ve been expanding my knowledge quite a bit.

Since Chinese New Year’s coming up on February 10th, I thought I’d learn to make some cute little things to mark the occasion. They’d make awesome decorations and if they bring good luck, well that’s a great bonus!

So I did a little research online and found some lovely prospects. I am listing them below in order of difficulty and complexity.

Gold Yuanbao

Yuanbao are what the Chinese call the boat-shaped gold ingots. Having likenesses of these precious bits are said to bring good luck, as they supposedly attract the real things. I found some instructions on how to make paper versions of these, and they are insanely easy!

Here are the products of my efforts. I used matte gold giftwrapping paper left over from the holidays, which I cut into squares.

Lotus flower

The Lian Hua, or lotus flower, represents of purity and wholesomeness, peace and harmony. Feng shui experts say that it clears away negative chi and generates positive chi and helps achieve enlightenment.

Some say it even attracts love and good marriage, which makes it a great good luck charm for Valentine’s Day. They’re pretty easy to make too, no complicated folds. The last bit is a bit tricky, but nothing that a patience and a gentle touch can’t manage. Here are the instructions.

The Omega Star

This awesome star is by John Montroll. It looks like a nightmare to make, but after bungling dismally on my first try, it got a whole lot easier. I love how sophisticated it looks, and it’s just made from a single piece of paper. Small versions of this would make great hanging ornaments and charms, and I can picture this as a lantern, when done on a large scale.

There’s a modular version of this, composed of pretty easy-to-make components, but takes some practice to put together.

Here’s a great video how-to from Origami Nut, and the page also has a link to a diagram, for those who find it easier to look at one picture rather than sit through a 10-minute video.

The Snake

This year is the Year of the Water Snake. This origami snake by Jo Nakashima is modular and is composed of several identical components that are joined together in the end, and the ends modified to make the head and tail. I thought this would be easy to make, only to discover later on that it’s not really for the faint of heart, nor for somebody who only has 2 hands with only 5 fingers each. But it felt so rewarding when I finally assembled it. And it looks adorable — probably because of the pastel blue and green paper. But still, even a person with ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) wouldn’t find anything scary in this cutiepie.

Ready for this challenge? Here’s a video on how to make it.

All images by Nathalie Mariano.

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Autumn Festivals

Oktoberfest in Munich Tent

Image vie Wikia Travel

Autumn is a great season for festivals. Around the world, autumn heralds different types of celebrations according to place, religion, and culture. While most autumn celebrations are specific to the temperate climate, they usually have something to do with the harvest season and have roots in the culture that celebrates them.

In the United States, the most well-known celebrations equated with the autumn season are Halloween and Thanksgiving, which are both very soon! Their approach reveals the imagery traditionally associated with the autumn season here, including pumpkins, pie, turkeys, and of course, the warm colors of foliage.

Around the world as well, there are a number of festivals that happen during the later months of the years, which can be specific to a culture or religion. Here are a few, some well-known and perhaps less known festivals celebrated this season.


An aerial view of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany

Image vie EzineMark

This German festival is for beer lovers. It is usually held from the last few days of September until the middle of October, where it derives its name from. Throughout different cities around the world, people gather to celebrate the harvest by drinking beer throughout the days, especially seasonal brews that are introduced for the occasion. Although the festival is celebrated worldwide today, it originated in the city of Munich, where the main festival continues to be held faithfully every year.

Waitress with mugs of beers

Image via EasytoBook.com

In the Munich festival, the name “Oktoberfest” also refers to type of beer served, which is specific for the occasion. The beer served is known as Märzen or Märzen-Oktoberfestbier, and is brewed within the city limits of Munich. The beer typically has medium alcohol content (5-6%), and have a rich and toasty flavor. It has a specific, specialized brewing process that begins in the spring and continues over the summer until the festival in the fall.

Mooncake Festival

Mooncakes for sale

Via The Accidental Wino

From the other side of the world is the Chinese mid-autumn festival, or mooncake festival. Despite its name, it is also usually celebrated early in the season, around September. The mid-autumn it derives its name from is the season in the Lunar calendar.

Image via Grand Centre Point

The harvest moon is celebrated at this festival, and people eat mooncakes baked with bean paste filling.

Jewish Sukkot

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Celebrates Sukkot

Image via Zimbio

This Jewish festival follows the solemn celebration of Yom Kippur, one of the biggest holidays in Judaism. It commemorates the years the Israelites spent in the desert, and also has an agricultural significance.

Image via The Big Picture

During the holiday, Jewish families build temporary shelters called Sukkah, where they eat their meals for the duration of the seven-day long holiday. Some families sleep in these structures as well. As family event, it has connotations similar to the American Thanksgiving holiday, especially since it takes place after Yom Kippur.

Image via Treehugger

The Sukkah shelters are very iconic of the holiday, and have come to be the architectural representation of this tradition. You could say that it is similar to the modern pavilion – and in 2010, an exhibition called Sukkah City took place in New York that showcased modern conceptual designs of these little habitats.

Autumn is certainly a season of pleasantries, with good food, drink, and quality family time in abundance. No matter where you are in the world, the celebrations herald the forthcoming holiday season, making the season a certainly festive one.

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Fiesta Fare

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Cagayan de Oro festival dancers. Image via Firing Squad.

Today is the fiesta in the city where I live — as it is the feast day of the city’s patron saint, St. Augustine. For the past couple of weeks there has been a flurry of activity ongoing and building up to today — parades, fireworks, carnivals, a beauty pageant, food festivals organized by various companies and organizations.

Other cities and towns in the Philippines and in other countries with some Christian influence, particularly Spanish Catholic influence, each have a patron saint and celebrate his or her feast day every year in their own particular way. Before malls and advertising got into fiestas, these celebrations just consisted of a procession, a Mass, and lots and lots of eating. There’d be buffets in individual homes to which friends and neighbors are invited. Though city folks are quite restrained about it these days, there are still places that go all out, where every house is an open house, and anyone can just walk in and eat before proceeding to the next house. Many people scrimp and save for an entire year to have a decent spread come fiesta time.

A basic fiesta spread. Image via Photoblog user shyaman.

I have received not one fiesta invitation this year, so I’m just taking the writing of this post as an opportunity to daydream about certain festive dishes. In the more urbanized, globalized areas, one can find a lot of influences from different cuisines around the world, the ones mentioned below are what I would call old school favorites.

Lechon (Roast Pig)

This is a whole pig stuffed with herbs and aromatics and turned and roasted over a spit. It is a glorious reddish brown on the outside, with really crispy skin, and inside it’s moist and juicy, lemongrass-scented flesh. This is so good, it’ll make a convert out of those who shun pork. To those who are already pork lovers, it’s sheer bliss — Anthony Bourdain himself called it the “best pig ever”.

Roast pig

Lechon, cut up. Image via Zee Lifestyle.

Exotic dishes from unusual animal parts

What some may think belong to a Bizaare Foods episode is typical celebratory fare for those who live in this part of the world. There’s kare-kare (oxtail and tripe stewed in peanut sauce and served with shrimp paste), dinuguan (blood stew), lengua estofado (ox tongue slices in gravy).

Kare-kare, oxtail stew. Image via Kitchen Magic.


The stronger the town or city’s ties with its Spanish colonial past, the higher the probability of finding this dish during a fiesta celebration. It is rice cooked in saffron and stock with chicken pieces, chorizo, peas, and various shellfish.

Image via Alba

Kinilaw (Ceviche)

Basically it’s fresh fish in a gingery, lime-y, spicy, vinaigrette. Different regions have different ways of preparing this, and have versions for ordinary days and for special occasions. The special version uses more “special” fish, such as marlin, swordfish, or tuna. Unlike the rich and heavy foods it normally gets served alongside, kinilaw is fresh, bright, and light.

Image via Jen's Joyful Life

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Summer Fireworks


Fourth of July Fireworks. Image by Renee Alfonso.

Last week the United States celebrated its birthday, and in true American tradition, the fourth of July was celebrated in the capital with a fireworks display that attracts thousands of tourists each year. In other parts of the US as well, fireworks are an independence day tradition, and many other major cities also boast their own displays, such as New York and San Diego.

Although fireworks are a global symbol of celebration, its origins are in Asian culture – with some of the most elaborate displays today being done in the Asian region today.

Fireworks originated in China, with the earliest recorded accounts of fireworks dating back to the 7th century. They were originally developed fireworks as a means  of entertainment for the emperor’s court. However they quickly gained popularity, and the science of firework-making became a respected profession.

Fireworks print

Woodblock print of Fireworks. Image via Era Woodblock Prints.

Europeans and western cultures came to know about fireworks in the mid 17th century, right about the time when Christian missions and colonial expeditions began to bring bits of asian culture back to their homelands. Early explorers called fireworks “Chinese flowers,” relating to the aesthetic qualities of the displays. Similarly, the Japanese term for fireworks, “Hanabi,” also translates to “flowers of fire.”

Fireworks are still traditionally Chinese and are a large part of the chinese culture, especially for festivals. Two of the major festivals celebrated with fireworks are the Mid-autumn festival and of course, Lunar new year. Today, China remains the largest manufacturer of fireworks in the world.

Fireworks over the Forbidden City

Image via Emperor Tours Ltd

Elsewhere in Asia, particularly in Japan, fireworks are also a cultural event, especially in the summer. Fireworks festivals, or Hanabi-taikai, are held throughout Japan, showcasing some of the most elaborate displays in the world.

Japan's fireworks festival

Image via Blog From Tokyo

Famous fireworks festivals in Japan include the Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai, held over the Sumida river in Tokyo, and the Yokohama Hanabi Taikai, which also takes place over water in Yokohama bay. During such festivals, street vendors set up stalls, where spectators can buy street food and also play games. Many people also wear traditional garb during the festivals such as Yukata (Summer Kimono)  and Jinbei (Summer shorts and short robe).

Going to the Yokohama fireworks festival

Spectators in traditional wear on the way to the Yokohama fireworks festival.

Waiting for the fireworks to start

Spectator view of the Yokohama Hanabi taikai

Of course, one doesn’t really need to go to a large event to see fireworks displays – provided you can purchase them where you are, you can try and have your own fireworks summer party. Smaller fireworks are generally safer and ideal for these events, but still definitely have a festive vibe.

Mini fireworks

Add some sparkle to your summer with some fireworks!

All images in this post by Renee Alfonso, unless otherwise indicated.

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