Happy 5th Anniversary Jewish Echo Magazine!
Celebrations Around the World
As we celebrate our own birthday, join us in commemorating this milestone by exploring the history of anniversaries and other special occasions and discover how they are celebrated around the globe and by different cultures.
Who can keep track of what year begets which anniversary gift: wood, silver, or gold? How did anniversaries even begin?
Anniversaries originated from the Roman empire when husbands crowned their wives with a silver wreath on their twenty-fifth anniversary and a gold wreath on the fiftieth. It wasn’t until the 20th century that commercialism led to the addition of more anniversaries represented by a named gift. While the history of these conventions is unknown, it is suggested that the materials of the gift for each wedding anniversary correspond with the strength and quality of the marriage at that stage. For instance, traditionalists believe that a gift of paper for a couple’s first wedding anniversary represents the delicate nature of the new relationship.
If you happen to be celebrating your 60th, 65th, or 70th wedding anniversary and live in the United Kingdom or any other Commonwealth of Queen Elizabeth II, you can have a royal message from Buckingham Palace mailed to your home.
In Australia and Canada, citizens can receive a letter of congratulations from the Governor-General for their 50th anniversary. Here in the United States, President Trump (or whoever happens to be the president at the time) can send you the best message you have ever received for any of your other anniversaries.
“By middle-to-late 1930s, people began to celebrate 1st, 10th, 20th and 70th anniversary along with 25th and 50th. A gift for each of these milestone anniversary years was also decided by the society. The logic of presenting gifts was that stability deserves a reward and the more the stability, the greater should be the reward,” writes Cookie Lee, author of the book Wedding Anniversaries: From Paper to Diamond. In 1937, the American National Retail Jeweler Association issued a comprehensive list, which associated a material for each anniversary year up to the 20th and then each fifth year after that up to the 75th, with the exception of the 65th.
Today, the day is commonly marked by a Hallmark card, perhaps flowers and dinner out at a nice restaurant.
Because many Jews consider it an ayin hora to prepare for an impending birth, once the baby is born everyone scrambles to get ready for the new arrival. In addition to diapers, formula, and crib, Jewish families buy items like red string to tie around a girl’s wrist to ward off the evil eye, gauze bandages and mineral oil for the boys in preparation for the upcoming bris milah, and chickpeas and beer for the shalom zachor (Friday night before the ceremony). Rounds foods are eaten as symbol of a mourner’s meal since we are grieving all the Torah knowledge that the baby forgot once he left the womb (Gemara Nidda 30b).
The birth of a baby is a happy occasion celebrated differently in various cultures. In Nigeria for example, the birth of a baby is more about honoring and caring for the mother. Nigerians have a custom called Omugwo, which refers to postpartum care. This custom is intended to allow the mother to rest while conveying the message that it indeed takes a village to raise a child and that the whole community is there to support her.
In Finland, the birth of a baby is such a happy occasion (perhaps due to their dwindling birthrate) that even the government sends a gift. All families are given a baby start-up kit, if you will, loaded with baby must-haves like diapers, clothes, bibs, bedding, and a first aid kit. There is also the option of taking a cash grant instead.
Japanese mothers get a different sort of gift from the hospital. Before being discharged, they are given a small wooden box called a kotobuki bako with their baby’s umbilical cord inside. Hindus celebrate a new baby by shaving their hair at the one-month mark. In some parts of India, the shaved hair is weighed, and the parents give the weighed amount for charity. In Malaysia, the women gather to wash their newly shaved baby’s scalps in a bath of fresh limes. They believe the way in which the pieces of lime fall into the bath water predict how the child will behave later in life.
Birthday celebrations existed even in Biblical times as we see in Parashas Vayeishev where it is written: “On the third day, the day of Pharaoh’s birth, he made a feast for all his servants” (40:20). Even Avraham made a feast when Yitzchok was weaned at the age of three (Bereishis 21:8). In Judaism, we see birthdays as a time of self-reflection and improvement. Many will give extra charity on that day and even bestow blessings to family and friends. Chabad Jews have a minhag of reciting Tehillim associated with one’s age on their birthday, and some even grant aliyahs to the Torah.
It was the Romans who were the first civilization to start the tradition of celebrating the birth date of family and friends together in a party. Some parties get pretty interesting: In Brazil and Hungary, the custom is to pull the earlobes of the guest of honor due to the lyrics of a popular song which links long life with long ears. In Denmark, a Danish flag is usually placed outside the home signaling that it is someone’s birthday. In India, a common birthday practice for a child’s one-year birthday party is to present him with various items representing specific professions such as a pen to represent a journalist, books to signify a professor, or lemons to represent a farmer.
In Judaism, we have bat mitzvahs, but in Mexico and many other Latin American countries, when a girl turns 15 she is considered entering womanhood, and an extravagant party called a quinceañera is celebrated in her honor.
Jews don’t have any specific laws or customs for retirement because Judaism doesn’t support taking a break from work….Torah work that is. In Judaism, the elderly are revered for their wisdom and experience. We consider them being a generation closer to Mt. Sinai. We are commanded to honor the elderly (Vayikra 19:32) and even the Talmud praises seniors (80-year-olds) for their peak in spiritual strength (Mishna 25).
The concept of retiring from the workforce so you can enjoy life is a relatively new concept introduced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Before this, workers worked until they died or couldn’t work anymore due to failing health or old age. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement benefits in 1889 when Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck promised any nonworking German over the age of 65 a pension if they resisted joining the Marxists who were threatening to take over Europe.
In Asian countries old age is respected. In fact, in Japan, they have a Coming of Age Day on the second Monday of January to celebrate the birthdays of everyone who attained the age of 20. In Korea, the hwan-gap, or 60th birthday, is a joyous time when children celebrate their parents’ passage into old age. The age is thought to be reason for celebration in part because many of their ancestors would not have survived past the age of 60 without the advances of modern medicine. A similar large family celebration is held for the 70th birthday, known as kohCui (“old and rare”).
Jewish weddings are filled with interesting symbolic customs and rituals. The bride and groom are seen as pure and void of sin on their special day. Often, the couple will visit the cemetery and personally invite deceased loved ones to attend their wedding.
Most of us have been to our share of Jewish weddings, and although they are all unique and special, it may be interesting to learn how other cultures celebrate this special day.
In Indonesia, particularly in Bali, the bride and groom have two teeth filled. It is done to keep any evil forces or characteristics away from the couple. This wouldn’t be an issue if you lived in the Congo because it is considered improper to smile the entire wedding day as it is seen as a very serious time. Hey, it could be worse; in Greece, they spit on the bride! According to Czechoslovakian legend, the bride will live as long as a tree if one is planted in her yard before the wedding. The tree is then decorated with colored ribbons and painted eggshells. Engaged pairs in Mongolia must kill and butcher a chicken to find a healthy liver. This is seen as an omen for a good marriage.
If you cannot afford to make a wedding, consider making it in Cuba, where guests pin money on the bride’s dress to help the young couple pay for the wedding and start their new life.
Jewish people have unique housewarming customs. Some will try to move on a Tuesday because Hashem said ki tov twice on that day. Even before the couch and pictures are hung, Jewish families will bring in sefarim and a pushke to instill holiness into the home. When Jews buy a new house, we put our happiness on pause for a moment while we acknowledge our “real” house in waiting: the Bais Hamikdash. Many Jewish homeowners will do this by leaving a corner or small section of a home unpainted (Shulchan Aruch: Orah Hayim 560:1). Those who don’t want to do this have another option of hanging a mizrach plaque or a piece of artwork that goes on the eastern wall of the home to indicate which direction to face when praying. When making a chanukas habayis (housewarming) party, Jews will use this time to hang up mezuzos and say a blessing of Shechiyanu.
Bread and salt are considered in Jewish and some other cultures as well as a sign of welcoming and hospitality. Bread is meant to signify sustenance and salt a flavorful life, so in combination, these two items are meant to convey the message that the homeowner will never know hunger or boredom. There are many cultures that make sure a loaf of bread and salt are the first items brought into the new home. In fact, it is common in Israel for a landlord or real estate agent to leave bread and salt in the home to welcome new tenants. Some believe this is a Russian tradition, while others say it has its roots in Judaism. Bread (lechem) and salt (melach) have the same Hebrew words and are often in Judaism used together ( karbon offerings and Kiddush). While the reason for this custom is unknown, perhaps “bread — the basic staple of human sustenance — is a metaphor for the prosperity we hope will accompany the inhabitants of this new domicile; and salt, which never decays, spoils, or loses its flavor, symbolizes the permanence of this new home”, writes Rabbi Naftali Silberberg a writer, editor, and director of the curriculum department at the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute on Chabad.org.
In Judaism we have books and bread. Other cultures have homecoming symbols and rituals that involve fruit or farm animals.
Ever wonder why pineapple is seen in so many home décor stores? According to the World Encyclopedia of Food, it stems from Christopher Columbus’ second sea voyage. This is when Europeans were introduced to pineapple. They observed that the natives who hung pineapple in front of their dwellings seemed more welcoming to newcomers. The concept eventually traveled to Colonial homeowners, who began showcasing pineapple-shaped decorations in common areas. Today, it has come to symbolize hospitality and is considered a universal housewarming gift.
The Jewish Echo is more than a magazine. Yes, it is a publication that distributes and exchanges news, information, humor and divrei Torah, but more so than anything, it is a bridge connecting the community to much-needed information, services and to each other. Mazal tov on our 5th anniversary and may we have many more!