Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 16, 2017

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Reasons to celebrate

From Día de los Muertos in Mexico to Holi in India, six events that get people to gather

Turkey: Poetry in motion

Every December, the Anatolian city of Konya celebrates the 13th-century Sufi poet Mevlâna who taught peace, love and tolerance. Mevlâna is more commonly known as Rumi. The Mevlâna Museum in Konya, three hours south of Ankara, contains the tomb of Rumi, and his son Sultan Veled. The 10-day Rumi Festival brings together over a million people; many want to see the Order of Mevlevi or the Whirling Dervishes, a Sufi movement that was founded after Rumi’s death. The dervishes rotate in a counter-clockwise direction like the earth’s orbit around the sun; they raise their arms towards heaven. The dance is a symbolic journey through which the dervishes are meant to get closer to God. Traditionally only men dance, but that’s beginning to change.

The Netherlands: The real Saint Nick

In some European countries, particularly The Netherlands, December 5 is the day for gift giving. Saint Nicholas Day commemorates the fourth-century bishop known for his generosity. He was buried in what was Myra, Turkey, but his remains were stolen and brought to Bari, Italy where he became extraordinarily popular during the Middle Ages. In Holland, he’s known as Sinterklaas. His Feast (or Celebration) Day is December 5 (or 6 in Germany, for example), which is when he arrives on horseback accompanied by “Black Peter,” a freed slave or a Moor, depending on your sources. Traditionally kids leave their shoes on windowsills for him to fill with sweets; they leave a bit of grain or a carrot for his four-legged friend.

Taiwan: High hopes for growth

The rural district of Pingxi in New Taipei is home to just 5000 people and yet its Yuanxiaojie (Lantern) Festival is famous around the world; about 1200 sky lanterns are released high in Pingxi’s mountains every year. Sky lanterns were invented during China’s Three Kingdoms period by Zhuge Liang to carry military signals. Traditionally the paper lanterns carry prayers and vows on the cusp of the spring planting season in late February or early March. In days past, people released lanterns on which they’d written requests like “may the harvests be bountiful” or “may a son soon be born.” The Sky Lantern Festival coincides with the end of Chinese New Year so the freeing of lanterns into the night sky also symbolizes the letting go of old ways.

India: The colours of happiness

Holi is an ancient Hindu festival in India and Nepal that’s recognized as the Festival of Colours around the world. It falls between late February and late March, and celebrates love and fertility, youth, playfulness and vigour, and coincides with the arrival of spring and all the new colours the season brings. Holi is spread over two days — short by Indian standards. Holika Dahan is the night before the big event; it involves a fire as purification ritual, and represents the triumph of good over evil. Rangwali Holi is the next day and when everyone blankets each other in gulal or coloured powder. Non-harmful mixtures are made of food dye, flour and water; people are advised to moisturise their skin and oil their hair beforehand so the powder can be rinsed off afterwards.

Mexico: Family reunions

Even though it coincides with Halloween, there’s no trick or treating during Día de los Muertos. The centuries-old tradition that originates from the Aztecs is when the gates of heaven are said to open so that the spirits of deceased love ones can visit with family and friends. The souls of deceased children descend on November 1, the Day of the Innocents; the souls of adults on November 2, the Day of the Dead. Altars meant to welcome the spirits are built in homes and cemeteries; they’re laden with the favourite foods and drinks of the weary travellers from heaven. Most importantly are the marigold flowers; they adorn the altars and also gravesites as a way to guide the wandering souls back to their place of rest.

Thailand: Expressions of gratitude

While the origins of the Loi Krathong Festival are obscure — some sources say it began as a Brahmin (Hindu) Festival that evolved into a tradition that worships Buddha, others describe it as gratitude to the Water Goddess for the rice harvest — there’s little debating that it’s an important festival in Thailand. On a full moon every November, adults and children gather around lakes, rivers and canals to release small offerings onto the water. Some krathongs are made to resemble rafts using banana leaves, others are made of bread; all are decorated with candles, flowers and incense. Another belief is that people are washing away and freeing themselves of previous transgressions. Some even put a lock of hair in the krathong as a symbolic cleansing.

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