July 27th – National Bagpipe Appreciation Day

Today sports a number of holidays. Three separate entities celebrate their independence day holidays today (Liberia, Maldives, and Peru) while Cuba has a holiday for the anniversary of their revolution, marked by the July 26th, 1953 attack on the previous power’s military base. As with the independence days, their actual dates were yesterday, so today is a day off in those countries.

It is also an observed holiday in The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, (DPRK), or North Korea, where they are celebrating the end of the Korean War. Details of what celebrations this entails are hard to find, and frankly, the history surrounding these events are much more depressing than I wish to get into this morning. So, in flagrant violation of my hitherto-unspoken guidelines about what types of holiday I cover, I’m doing something entirely different.

I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but someone somewhere declared that today is National Bagpipe Appreciation Day! That wonderful, derided, consternation of an instrument, the sack full of air. Ah, how they play my favorite: John’s Tune, by the Tartan Terrors.

Bag Pipes: How do they Work?

Bagpipes are played by adding air to the bag through a mouth piece, then squeezing the bag to push the air through reeds. This has the distinct advantage over other instruments in providing uninterrupted sound for extended periods of time. When a piper plays a bagpipe, their mouth blows air through the mouthpiece as their lungs allow, their arms cradle and squeeze air out of the bag as the music requires, and their fingers cover and open holes on the exit reed, called a chanter, providing the changes in sound – but that’s only half of it. The other, more obvious sound is the ever present droning coming from the other stick-like protuberances frequently found on the top of the bag – aptly named, drones. They add the background accompaniment most easily associated with the instrument.

The fact that you can blow into the instrument at a different rate from the music blew my mind as a child. It still blows my mind today. (Maybe that means I’m still a child.) Regardless! High Road to Linton

Bagpipes: Where do they come from?


No seriously, historians place it possibly in the Middle East 1000 years B.C.E., definitely in the Roman Empire during its identity Crisis/Brand dilution to the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantines (300 CE to ~1200 CE). Pipes with attached bladders were prevalent enough that a Persian geographer listed the Τὸ ἀγγεῖον (Ancient Greek, anglicized as Dankiyo), a bagpipe-like instrument, as typical of the Byzantines. By the 1300’s, the pipes had made it to western Europe with wide enough acceptance that they featured in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. That jump from east to west is widely accepted as the Roman’s fault. 

The first known reference to the Scottish variety of bagpipes, the Highland Bagpipes, are by a Frenchman observing the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, during which he claimed the bagpipes had replaced the trumpet as the musical instrument for the Scottish army. The instrument’s propensity for laments proved unfortunately apt, as the Scottish suffered a devastating defeat.

Avian’s Wedding

And Lastly, Why are they everywhere?

Bagpipes found there way to every english speaking country, frequently by way of the military. For this we blame the next imperial power in the story, the United Kingdom. Once they captured Scotland, they found they had a rather war-hardy people on their hands. Better to pit them against external enemies then let them foment rebellion at home, so off the Scottish regiments went – and with them, their bagpipes. The otherworldly solemnity of the bagpipe’s drone quickly linked it to formal occasions in the wider consciousness, and now we almost expect to see them at every martial ceremony.

Go forth! Celebrate National Bagpipe Appreciation Day! And do know that bagpipes are used for more than “Amazing Grace.”

All music samples credit: The Tartan Terrors.



July 24th – Αποκατάσταση της δημοκρατίας

Today’s holiday-inspired history lesson takes us the Mediterranean land of Ελλάδα (Elláda) or Greece, for Αποκατάσταση της δημοκρατίας! That is, Apokatástasi̱ ti̱s di̱mokratías, or Restoration of Democracy! No, it is not a political statement on the current Eurozone discussions, though you can bet a number have been made. Today’s holiday marks that day in 1974 when the seven years of oppressive rule by the military Regime of the Colonels came to an end. Let’s get into it.

Much like political turmoil and violence led to يوم النهضة in Oman, government issues in Greece lead to the eventual events spawning this holiday. The greek government was an unstable mess after World War II. Things got worse in 1965 after the King of Greece Κωνσταντῖνος Β, or Konstantínos II dismissed the Prime Minister and appointed a new one. Various factions disagreed with his actions (strongly) and the next 2 years were a mess with multiple governments, failed elections, and other difficulties. In 1967 a group of military personnel enacted a coup, countered a counter coup, and initiated the καθεστώς των Συνταγματαρχών, kathestós ton Syntagmatarchón, or Regime of the Colonels. They declared a military rule, suspended various portions of the constitution, started jailing, torturing, and exiling dissidents, and responding violently to protests. Within 5 months of the coup, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands accused the government of violating most human rights protected by the European Commission. Things only got worse from there.

In the end, the regime brought itself down. In July of 1974 one of its members backed a coup on the island of Cyprus, overthrowing the president. Neighboring Turkey, who long held an interest in Cyprus, used the overthrow as an opportunity to quickly invaded the island, pitting its military against both the Greek and Cypriot forces. By itself the invasion was certainly a crisis, but an extra detail spelled the end for the Regime: 8 months prior, the regime had ordered a surprise attack with a tank on a group of students protesting at Athens Polytechnic. That action and other issues undermined the regime’s legitimacy and revealed its disunity.

Fear of war with Turkey, some 8 times larger than Greece, and recognition of internal problems led the regime to call in politicians from before the coup. Within 6 days of the overthrow, on July 23rd, a previous Prime Minister was invited to head a new government. He had been in self-imposed exile in France since 1963. France flew him to Greece, and a subsequent popular election confirmed him as head of state. Peace talks with Turkey began immediately and prevented an all-out war, but Turkey Declared roughly 40% of Cyprus the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. (That’s continued to the present day, but large steps were taken towards reconciliation in 2014.)

On the 24th of July, 1974, the Greek government took formal steps towards democracy, and later, this holiday was established to recognize that fact.

And that’s your piece of history for the day! If you’re interested in how today is being played alongside the European Union bailout, see the decent summary from the various political parties in Greece here:
http://news.in.gr/greece/article/?aid=1500014670 Also, it’s in Greek.

Other Sources:

July 23rd – يوم النهضة

Get ready to get your history on! It’s time to celebrate يوم النهضة , ywm ạlnhḍẗ, or Renaissance Day in Oman. It’s a celebration of the beginning of Oman’s change from a state in violent collapse to a Persian Gulf state with $50+ Billion in national income. July 23rd marks the coup and the assumption of the Sultante by قابوس بن سعيد آل سعيد‎, (Qābūs bin Saʿīd ʾĀl Saʿīd, or Qaboos bin Said Al Said) against his father, سعيد بن تيمور‎, Said bin Taimur. The change in the county’s fortunes in the last several decades, and changes to the country itself, are said to have begun on the day of the coup, July 23rd, 1970. To understand all of this, we need some historical perspective.

In the 1830s, the government centered in what was known as the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman was doing well. It was called Muscat and Oman because it was a combined entity of freshly joined Muscat, the coastal regions, and Oman, the inland regions. They linked up in 1820, the same year that they lost a number of colonial holdings to the English. The Sultanate retained colonies in Africa and Asia, including cities such as Gwadar Pakistan, Mombasa Kenya, Dar es Salaam Tanzania, the African Great Lakes region, and the island of Zanzibar. The colonies provided a strong foundation for the Sultanate based on slaves.

In the 1840s, Muscat and Oman’s fortunes reversed. In a cascade of agreements, Great Britain forced and/or signed treaties abolishing African slave trading and indentured slavery in India, South America, Tunisia, the Ottoman Empire, and finally, in 1848, with the Sultanate itself. The next year, several other Persian Gulf states agreed as well. Without their foundation, the economies of Muscat and Oman collapsed. By the 1870s the population of the capital would fall by 86%, from ~55K to ~8K. But We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

With that loss of power as a back drop, the Sultan سعيد بن سلطان‎ (Sa‘id bin Sulṭān, or Said bin Sultan Al-Said) died in 1856 without naming an heir. The country fell into conflicts and fights, often involving considerable English intervention. Violence continued off and on for the next 100 years.

Fast Forward to 1966: In the midst of rebellion and violence, the Sultan سعيد بن تيمور‎, Said bin Taimur, survives an assassination attempt and isolates himself from threats – including the perceived threat of his son, Qaboos bin Said Al Said. The English, with substantial financial interests in the area, decide to intervene and actually select Qaboos bin Said as their preferred ruler. They assist him in a supposedly bloodless coup on July 23rd, 1970, and are successful. Thus empowered, Qaboos bin Said and his English supporters rename the region The Sultanate of Oman, put down the rebellions, and redirect the country’s economy. In 1970 the World Bank estimated the National Income of Oman at $106 Million of today’s dollars. By 1980 it had risen to $2.8 Billion, and as of 2012, was $57.4 Billion. While I do not have enough information to comment on any other measure of success, financially, Qaboos bin Said’s reforms worked. Thus, July 23rd, the anniversary of the start of the Sultan’s reign, is celebrated as a national holiday.

For further comparison, in the same period of time, the US’s National Income expanded by 15 times, just shy of $1 Trillion to $14+ Trillion. Oman’s growth may seem small in comparison, but relatively speaking, it’ s an incredible expansion of 541 times. You can see why folks consider the 1970s the beginning of the renaissance.

Happy يوم النهضة Everybody!


CIA World Fact Book
World Bank Via Google Data Visualization

July 10th – Bahamas Independence Day

Happy Independence Day everybody! Bahamas Independence day, that is! July 10th is a day to celebrate the 1973 declaration of independence from the United Kingdom, labelling the Bahamas as an independent Commonwealth Realm, a sort of constitutional monarchy with the English Monarch as the royal head.

The Bahamas – Island paradise, exotic local, richest country in the Americas per capita… Folks know it as all sorts of things. But did you know it was here that the European expansion into the New World started?

Before European expansion there were the Lukku-Cairi, or “people of the islands”, an indigenous people thought to have settled the islands somewhere between 500 and 800 CE, arriving from Cuba or Hispaniola. Sadly, the only known first hand accounts of these people were in Christopher Columbus’ diario, written after making his first landfall in the America on the islands of the Bahamas in 1492. By 1520, all of the Lukku-Cairi had been killed or taken as slaves.

With no native civilization to project ownership of the islands, the Bahamas varied in use until they became a haven for pirates, including Blackbeard. In 1718 the English took ownership and removed the pirates. After American independence, Great Britain settled loyalists and their slaves on the islands. When the English and Americans declared the slave trade illegal in 1807 and 1808 (but not slavery), the English intercepted illegal slave ships and deposited the freed slaves in the Bahamas. This history of slaves escaping or being sent to the Bahamas continued for decades. Today, 83% of the 320,000+ people claim descendants from slaves or free Africans.

The transition to an independent commonwealth was mostly political; in 1968 the acting head of government declared the Bahamas would seek independence, and 5 years later, after a June vote by the British House of Lords, the Bahamas were recognized as independent on July 10th, 1973.

Bahamas’ Independence is celebrated over the course ofa week, culminating today. Costumed parades are popular, as are other performances, parades, fireworks displays, and similar activities. July 4th is also celebrated for America’s Independence, leading a to a very festive week of food and fun. The costumed parades, called Junkanoo, stem from the African heritage of much of the island. It is believed the celebration can be traced back to the Igbo people, an ethnic group of Nigeria.



Wikipedia 1, 2, 3, 4

Bahamas.com, US Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas

MapsOfWorld (ad Heavy)

July 9th – ᓄᓇᕗᑦ Day

Following yesterday’s young holiday, Today is ᓄᓇᕗᑦ Day in Canada. Latinized “Nunavut”, ᓄᓇᕗᑦ Day celebrates the formation of the newest Canadian territory of Nunavut in 1999. It is a formal day off work, and is celebrated with gatherings and community breakfasts, games, and dancing. While originally celebrated on April 1st to correspond to last stage of acceptance, the day was moved to July 9th to recognize the day that the Parliament of Canada adopted the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Nunavut is the north-eastern fifth of Canada, home to the Inuit people of Northern and Eastern Canada. It is the 5th largest subdivision of land, just behind Greenland, and one of the least populated. Across its 787,000+ square miles of land and water live ~32,000 people.

Nunavut has 4 official languages: ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ (Inuktitut), Inuinnaqtun, French, and English. The first two are Inuit languages, with ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ commonly written in symbolics, called “Qaniujaaqpait” and with Inuinnaqtun commonly written in the latin alphabet, called “Qaliujaaqpait. To see these languages in action, I highly recommend the multi-lingual Nunavut official website, Langcom.nu.ca.

 Roughly 70% of the people in Nunavut list Inuktitut as their native tongue, 26% English, and roughly ~1% each for French and Inuinnaqtun. By declaring Nunavut its own territory, the Canadian government gave more say over land usage and resource harvesting to the people who actually live there – an example governments around the world could learn from, including our own (USA). See: The Gwich’in people of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and Yukon.

If you’re looking to join in a celebration in warmer parts of the world, consider grabbing a flight over to Pamplona, Spain, for Encierro, The Running of the Bulls, going on all this week. The fifth run of the week will take place tomorrow at 8am local. Just enough time to get there!


Sources: WikipediaLangcom.nu.ca

July 8th – День сім’ї

July 8th – День сім’ї

Today is День сім’ї (Denʹ sim’yi) or “Family Day” in Ukraine. It’s a relatively young holiday brought into being by Declaration No. 1209/2011 “Про святкування в Україні деяких пам’ятних дат і професійних свят” or, “On the Celebration of Some Memorable Dates and Professional Holidays” by past president Viktor Yanukovych on December 30th, 2011.  The declaration touched a number of holidays, hence the name.

Family Day is a formal adoption of the United Nation’s International Day of Families, which is observed on May 15th. Started in 1993, the UN themes one day to discuss issues that impact families, and picks and promotes a theme. For 2015, that was “Men in Charge? Gender Equality and Children’s Rights in Contemporary Families”. The 1209/2011 declaration moved Ukraine’s observance of that day to July 8th. It is observed by spending time with one’s family, typically at festivals or other outdoor events, though it is not recognized as a day to miss work.

Interestingly, July 8th is also the observance of День Святых Петра и Февроньи (Den’ Svyatyh Petra i Phevronii, The Day of Saint Peter and Saint Fevronia) in Russia, which goes by the common name  День семьи, любви и верности (Den’ sem’i lyubvi i vernosti) or Day of Family, Love and Faithfulness, and espouses similar values. These two saints are patrons of marriage. This holiday is also young, having been introduced by the Orthodox Church in 2008.


Sources: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_Fevronia_Day

UN: http://www.un.org/en/events/familyday/,

News: http://moya-rodyna.org.ua/en/the-news/vosme-lypnia-den-simivukraine.htmlhttp://sputniknews.com/voiceofrussia/2013_07_06/Russia-celebrates-Family-Love-and-Fidelity-Day-6566/

Daily Holiday – Kickoff!

Long time no see! I have a treat I’d like to share.

For the last few months I have been delving into the holidays and cultures of people around the world. What I’d like to do is share what I find in the form of a roughly daily writing of holidays, at least on the weekdays. I’ve done what I could for research and mean to present the information in a respectful manner, but most of my knowledge will be second or third hand. If I do make mistakes or you find my handling of different holidays and customs disrespectful, please contact me immediately. I want this to be fun and positive for everyone.

Without Further ado:

July 7th – 七夕

Today is 七夕 in Japan, pronounced “Tanabata” and translated as “The Evening of the Seventh.” Particular celebration dates vary by region, but the earliest official start is July 7th.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, weaver and daughter of the Sky King (天帝 ) Orihime (織姫) spent her days on the banks of the Milky Way (天の川) weaving beautiful silks. While the Sky King was proud of the cloth his daughter wove, he was concerned she would be forever lonely, for her craft took so much time. The Sky King crossed the Milky Way and found a good man and cowherd, Hikoboshi (彦星), and introduced the two. They quickly fell in love and were married. The two proved to be a fit match, and they were very happy- but their infatuations proved so consuming that they forgot their duties.

Orihime ceased weaving anything at all for the Sky King, and Hikoboshi let his cows wander all over heaven. Angered, the Sky King cast each of the lovers to opposite sides of the Milky Way and demanded they resume their work. Orihime burst into tears, and so troubled and thoroughly despondent was she that the Sky King relented. Partially.

On the 7th day of the 7th year, he would allow his daughter to see her husband if and only if her work was finished.  Overjoyed, Orihime agreed. She worked dutifully. When the 7th day of the 7th month next came, she hurried to the Milky Way – only to find there was no bridge. Such was her despair that a nearby flock of magpies took pity on her. They flew across the Milky Way and, wings together, formed a bridge. Orihime crossed and was able to see Hikoboshi again. The Magpies promised to return every year and be the lover’s bridge – but they cautioned that if it was raining, they would not be able to fly up and form that connection. Rain on Tanabata is one of the saddest events that can occur. But on a clear night, you can look up and see the lovers in the sky, in the constellations  Arabic speakers named, roughly, Vega and Altair*. 

As with all good legends there are many variations of this tale. The characters have different names, and the conditions of the lover’s meeting and separation vary. 七夕 has a special reason for this variation though – Japan has celebrated this holiday widely for ~400 years, narrowly for 1260 years, … and the Chinese have celebrated it for over 2,600 years. That’s right – here we have a cross-cultural, international holiday. The details of the acquisition of the holiday would be a bit much to go into here, but be it known that not only Japan but Korea and Vietnam also draw on the Chinese celebration for holidays of their own. Which Holiday, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

七夕 is decorated with massive colorful streamers placed in public areas, particularly shopping malls, and is observed by people writing wishes on small pieces of paper, called 短冊 (tanzaku), and hanging the paper from bamboo trees. Sometimes those wishes are written as poems. After the celebrations wind down, the wishes are often set afloat on rivers or burned, a practiced borrowed from the Japanese Buddhist custom of Obon (お盆) but more on that later.

One of the reasons I love this holiday is because of how many cultures we touch discussing it. The holiday originated in China, was adapted by the Japanese, carries sentiments sourced from an originally Indian religion, and to talk about it in English, we use adaptations of the Arabic names of constellations as recorded in a astronomical table commissioned by a ~Spanish King of Castille . Even when you wouldn’t think it, our cultures and histories are deeply interwoven.

*The Arabic names were longer phrases, such as النسر الطائر, an-nasr aṭ-ṭā’ir, or  “the flying eagle” for Altair.


Surprise Validation

Sometimes life can still get you.

My girlfriend and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. We attended lectures on Hosukai, the woodblock printer; 3/11, the triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear power plant, and listened to the music of shamisen and koto in a performance set called “Evergreen” by Sumie Kaneko. (Pieces from 1650, from Sagi Musume, and a 1985 composition).
The music she played followed the style and themes of my own meanderings on the harp -meanderings I have tried to strip myself of because “it’s not real music”.

Less recently, I started to learn German. The freedom of grammar and sentence arrangement followed the same patterns and interchangeable nature of my own word orders – characteristics that prompted one professor to ask “Do you have an undiagnosed learning disability?” (I still marvel at that question.)

People say mixing cultures show you new worlds and expands your horizons. I never expected that these multicultural experiences would validate my own tendencies. I may misuse words in English, and I may not play planxties, but there are whole peoples and cultures that approach music and language like I do. They just happen to be German and Japanese.

With links:

Hosukai, the woodblock printer;

3/11, the triple disaster of the earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear power plant,

The music of shamisen and koto in a performance set called “Evergreen” by Sumie Kaneko.

Pieces from 1650, from Sagi Musumeand a 1985 composition.


Today is a short one. My tablet screen cracked. It comforts me.

It’s not a big crack, not a slash through the screen or a spiderweb spiral. But it is a crack right around the audio-out in the lower right corner. To me, it shows that technology is not the invincible boogie-spirit we deify it to be.

I’m writing this on the east coast, so maybe mine is a local saturation. But that crack is proof that ‘technology’ and its development world, the talked up land of high prices and higher expectations, is not everything. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day, it’s just a device, just a tool made by humans to further their goals. It’s fallible, and fragile.

The real question to ask when that next new device comes out, is not what its specs are, but what will we use it for?

I’m going to hold on to this device for a while longer.

Brass Tacks

Alright alright, enough with the poetry. Let’s get down to brass tasks.
“Travel?” You say, “What’s that? How can it last?”
Well my friends, travel is living. But what can one do with grand statements? Let me tell you a story.
Or rather, let me give you a set.

A man sees his goal across traffic.
Sniffling with germs he prepares.
And then, at the signal, he embaks down the street
shouldering the plentiful stares.

He approaches a quiet side market
So fresh it has yet to stock shelves
and using words pulled from old pages
Attempts to convey how he fares.


A woman screams inward at confines
That counter each move that she makes.
She clenches her fists, nails cutting her flesh
and finally,
it breaks.

She leaves her cellphone and passport.
She leaves her wallet and keys.
And with barely a word to her partner,
Grasps the door latch,
swings it open,
and leaves.

I may have lied about forsaking poetry.


Child of the Orient
Plump in youth and love
Your look like a Buddha
Why are you so angry?

Daughter, running, slow down!
Don’t trip, you will hurt your knees!
Oh, now you’ve gone and done it.
Thank you stranger, for lifting her, please.

Furry sausage?
Miniature lion?
Ancient mascot of the sea?
Nay, I believe that’s a pet dog.
Dragon Dog, you forever be!
When it comes to it, travel, in the way of myself and my peers, is of putting oneself in the unknown and forcing oneself to pay attention. It is a ritual and a recipe for experiencing the facets of the world that we overlook. Yes, it is possible to see those aspects without going far and away – but appreciation is enhanced by effort. Circumstance as well; helping another is a special thing, but is even more so when their thanks come in a language you do not understand.

The nature of travel, then, is the nature of life: a never-ending-until-it’s-done, always impermanent, never fully realized journey you barely exert control over. There is always more than you can experience. There is always something else to be mindful of. There is always a waiting surprise. But the mindset of travel is opposite what daily life encourages: It’s a cyclic process of renewal and repeated, exerted openness. It is, at its core, a recognition of the size of the child in comparison with the parent. Rather than gaining dominance over a static, arbitrary, or outright imaginary territory, travel is an embrace of the dynamic nature of life, the rise of all things, and their inevitable wane. It is an invitation to make peace with your place in the world, and to learn as much as you can stand. All of that can take a heck of a lot of time.
That is why Travel Lasts.