5 unique Christmas facts and traditions from around the world

Published: Saturday, December 23, 2017 @ 3:33 PM

Christmas decorations in Beirut, Lebanon
Christmas decorations in Beirut, Lebanon

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! With decorations popping up and cooler temperatures, the season is definitely upon us.

While you prepare for the holiday, with last minute shopping, finding the right tree and coordinating with family and friends, billions of others around the world will also be prepping for the season. Find out some interesting Christmas facts and how other nations around the world celebrate the season.

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1. Lebanon

Home to 18 recognized religious groups, including several major Christian sects, Lebanon actually marks Christmas twice each year. Maronites, Protestants and Catholics celebrate the holiday on Dec. 25, as in the U.S. However, Lebanese Orthodox and much of the country's sizable Armenian population mark the day according to the Gregorian calendar, meaning the day is celebrated on Jan. 6. Both dates are official holidays in the country.

While the country also has a large Muslim population, the entire country lights up for the holiday. Beirut, the capital, annually features a prominent Christmas tree in the city center, next to a large mosque and cathedral, which stand side by side. Colorful lights illuminate neighborhoods throughout the country, and Christians and many Muslims mark the holiday by spending time with their families.

2. Venezuela

While it may be normal for Christians around the world to attend church on Christmas Day, residents of Caracas have decided to add a special twist. Each Christmas Eve, Venezuelans in the capital head to church ... on roller skates. Streets are shut down, just to make way for the mass of roller skaters making their way through the city.

Throughout the country, Venezuelans begin celebrating on Dec. 16, with special programs and church services happening each day until Christmas Day.

3. Philippines

Each year, on the Saturday before Christmas Eve, the city of San Fernando hosts The Giant Lantern Festival (Ligligan Parul Sampernandu). The festival has led to the city being dubbed the "Christmas Capital of the Philippines." Visitors from throughout the country and around the world come to take part in the festivities. As it's also a fierce competition, 11 barangays (villages) work tirelessly to build the most elaborate lanterns, attempting to outdo their neighbors.

The tradition comes from simple paper Japanese lanterns, no bigger than half a meter in diameter. Now, due to the competition, the lanterns can be made from a variety of materials and are up to six meters in size. Instead of candles, electric bulbs are used, sparkling in colorful designs.

4. Ghana

In Ghana, where more than 30 languages are spoken, each group has its own unique traditions associated with Christmas. However, overall, the population celebrates from Dec. 20 through the first week of January. What kid wouldn't love two weeks of Christmas?

Although there are celebrations during the entire Christmas season, the biggest parties take place on Christmas Eve. Church services, which people attend wearing their colorful traditional clothing, feature drumming and dancing, as well as nativity plays and singing in languages understood by most people.

5. Sweden

Ever since 1966, the Swedish city of Gävle has erected a massive 40-foot-tall Yule Goat in Castle Square to prepare for Christmas. But the goat doesn't always survive until the holiday.

The bizarre tradition has led to a related one, where city residents attempt to burn the goat. These efforts have been successful 29 times, with the most recent success being last year. 

Will the goat survive the 2017 season? When it goes up on Dec. 1, there will be a live stream so you can keep tabs for yourself.

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What is Earth Day? 5 things to know

Published: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 4:24 AM

WATCH: Origin of Earth Day

Sunday is Earth Day 2018, and more than one billion people across the globe are expected to celebrate with environmentally friendly events.

But what exactly is Earth Day? Here's what you need to know:

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1. When did Earth Day start?

The first Earth Day celebration took place 48 years ago, in 1970, after a devastating oil spill in America brought environmental issues to the forefront of public consciousness. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 22 million people across the country came out in support of environmental reform.

"That day left a permanent impact on the politics of America," Gaylord Nelson wrote in the April 1980 edition of the EPA Journal. "It forcibly thrust the issue of environmental quality and resources conservation into the political dialogue of the nation.

"It showed political and opinion leadership of the country that the people cared, that they were ready for political action, that the politicians had better get ready, too. In short, Earth Day launched the environmental decade with a bang."

Since then, celebrations have only grown. This year, organizers estimate more than one billion people in 192 countries will participate in events the world over. The day is celebrated each year on April 22.

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2. Is there a theme for Earth Day 2018?

This year, organizers are focusing on curbing plastic pollution.

"Our goals include ending single-use plastics, promoting alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials, promoting 100 percent recycling of plastics, corporate and government accountability and changing human behavior concerning plastics," the Earth Day Network, which partners with tens of thousands of organizations in 192 countries to organize Earth Day events, said on its website.

The organization also said it "will educate millions of people about the health and other risks associated with the use and disposal of plastics, including pollution of our oceans, water, and wildlife, and about the growing body of evidence that decomposing plastics are creating serious global problems."

Read more here.

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3. How are people celebrating?

In Tokyo, thousands of people will attend beach cleanups, concerts, art exhibits, classes and other events coordinated by the Green Room Festival, according to the Earth Day Network. In India's Karnataka state, a "no plastic" event will feature workshops led by "organizations that are champions of environmental sustainability in fields including electric vehicles, solar power and zero-waste living," the network said. Cleanups also were scheduled in Palm Beach, Florida; New York; New Jersey and other locations across the United States and worldwide.

Read more here.

4. What are businesses doing?

Google marked Earth Day with a "video doodle" featuring primatologist Jane Goodall. 

>> Click here to watch

“It is so important in the world today that we feel hopeful and do our part to protect life on Earth," Goodall said. "I am hopeful that this Earth Day Google Doodle will live as a reminder for people across the globe that there is still so much in the world worth fighting for. So much that is beautiful, so many wonderful people working to reverse the harm, to help protect species and their environments. And there are so, so many young people, like those in JGI’s Roots & Shoots program, dedicated to making this a better world. With all of us working together, I am hopeful that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part for this beautiful planet.”

Read more about the doodle here.

Apple also joined in on the celebrations, announcing on April 19 that "for every device received at Apple stores and apple.com through the Apple GiveBack program from now through April 30, the company will make a donation to the nonprofit Conservation International."

In addition, Apple "debuted Daisy, a robot that can more efficiently disassemble iPhone to recover valuable materials," according to a company press release.

“At Apple, we’re constantly working toward smart solutions to address climate change and conserve our planet’s precious resources,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social Initiatives, said in a statement. “In recognition of Earth Day, we are making it as simple as possible for our customers to recycle devices and do something good for the planet through Apple GiveBack. We’re also thrilled to introduce Daisy to the world, as she represents what’s possible when innovation and conservation meet.”

Read more here.

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5. How can I get involved?

There are multiple ways to get into the Earth Day spirit, from participating in a local event to changing your bills from paper to paperless. Here are some suggestions from the Earth Day Network:
  • Urge your local elected officials or businesses to make a substantial tree planting commitment by starting a letter-writing campaign or online petition.

  • Lead a recycling drive to collect as much plastic, metal, and glass as possible.

  • Pick up trash at a local park or beach.

  • Set up a screening of an environmentally themed movie. Consider supplementing the screening with a speaker who can lead a Q&A following the film.

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April Fools' Day 2018: See this year's top pranks

Published: Saturday, March 31, 2018 @ 12:25 PM

Fun Facts about April Fools' Day

This year, April Fools’ Day is sharing the spotlight with Easter, but there are still plenty of pranks to be found.

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Along with Easter greetings, companies have been hard at work creating their April Fools’ Day pranks. 

Here is a roundup of the best of them. 

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Why is it called Good Friday and what’s so good about it?

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 10:50 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 10:50 PM

Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.
Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images
Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.(Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

Christians believe Jesus was mocked publicly and crucified on a solemn Friday more than two thousand years ago. Today, the calamitous day is celebrated as Good Friday.

But what’s so good about that?

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One answer is that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, “good” may have referred to “holy” in Old English, a linguistic theory supported by many language experts.

According to Slate, the Oxford English Dictionary notes the Wednesday before Easter was once called “Good Wednesday.” Today, it’s more commonly known as Holy Wednesday.

And Anatoly Liberman, a University of Minnesota professor who studies the origins of English words, told Slate if we consider the alternative names for Good Friday, such as “Sacred Friday” (romance languages) or “Passion Friday” (Russian), this theory makes a lot of sense.

Another possible reason for its moniker — a theory supported by both linguists and historical evidence — refers to the holiday’s ties to Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ.

Because Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected without dying, the day of his death is, in a sense, “good.”

“That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” the Huffington Post reported.

A third answer, some believe, is that the “good” in Good Friday was derived from "God” or “God’s Friday” — the way the term “goodbye” comes from a contraction of the phrase “God Be With You.”

Fun Facts About Easter

Still, not everyone refers to this day as Good Friday. For example, 

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that, in the Greek Church, the holiday is known as "the Holy and Great Friday." In German, it's referred to as "Sorrowful Friday."

And as aforementioned, “Sacred Friday” and “Passion Friday” are also used.

In addition, because the holiday is also commemorated with a long fast, Good Friday was also referred to as “Long Friday” by the Anglo-Saxons.

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'Beware the Ides of March' -- What does that mean?

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 @ 12:40 PM

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Today marks the Ides of March, which may vaguely remind you of a high school English class. Here are some things to know about the 15th day of the month.

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Day marks the assassination of Julius Caesar

Most famously on this date, some 2,060 years ago, Roman dictator Julius Caesar died in an assassination by senators at the Curia of Pompey.

Tensions had been simmering between senators and Caesar before his death, fueled by Caesar's continued consolidation of power. However, Caesar considered the senators his allies. Just a few years before his death, Caesar was named “dictator in perpetuity,” a move that further strained relations.

According to historians, sixty senators planned and participated in the conspiracy to kill Caesar in 44 B.C.

Death marked a turning point in Roman history

Caesar was popular with the lower class people of Rome, who saw his death as an unwelcome decision made by the aristocratic class. With Caesar no longer leading, potential leaders waged war to fill the power vacuum.

The civil wars eventually culminated in the end of the Roman Republic and beginning of the Roman Empire.

'Beware the Ides of March' made famous by Shakespeare

In case you really did forget your high school English class, it's worth noting the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” was immortalized by William Shakespeare in his tragic masterpiece “Julius Caesar.”

In the play, a soothsayer warns Caesar to be careful on March 15, although the ruler ignores the mystic with tragic consequences.

Famous line based on historical events

It may come as a surprise to know the well-known phrase was actually inspired by real events.

According to Greek historian Plutarch, a seer really did warn Caesar that he would be at the very least injured by the Ides of March.

Caesar did not heed the warning.

On the day of his death, he saw the oracle and joked that he had made it to the Ides of March, to which the seer responded the day had not yet ended.

So why is it called the "Ides of March?"

The Romans kept track of days on its calendar by dividing each month up into three separate points marking the beginning, middle and end of the month. You may have guessed it but the Ides fall in the middle of the month, on the 15th of March, May, July and October and the 13th for the rest of the year.

The Ides were sacred and marked a monthly sacrifice to the Roman god Jupiter. Various other religious observances also took place on the Ides of March.

Other famous events on this day

Today isn't the anniversary of Caesar's death. Here are a few other famous events that have happened today in history:
  • 1972: Forty-four years ago (yes, that number is right) Francis Ford Coppola's three-hour crime epic "The Godfather" first played in theaters. Before "Jaws" came along in 1976, the film was the highest-grossing film ever made. It went on to win three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.

  • 1917: Czar Nicholas II was forced by the revolting Russian people to abdicate the throne after ruling the country for more than 20 years. The February Revolution -- so named because Russia used the Julian calendar at the time -- broke out just four days before the czar abdicated his throne.

  • 1767: Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, was born on this day somewhere between the Carolinas near the end of the colonial era. His exact place of birth is disputed.

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