Did I ever tell you about my pen friends? I’ll skip the story about the two hundred letters from Japan, because that one always sends the Resident IT Consultant to sleep. But as a teenager I had lots of other friends all over the world, if only briefly for most of them. It’s a case of finding someone who speaks the same language as you do, and I don’t mean English.
I won’t forget the Burmese young man in Australia, who inquired as Christmas approached, whether in Sweden we had snow the whole year round, just like they do in England. The first part I’d heard before and I don’t mind people’s lack of knowledge. It was the snowy England that got to me. But I suppose he’d been looking at too many idyllic Christmas cards.
As a newcomer to England I believed the natives might find my traditions interesting, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that they didn’t. I’m sorry for any boredom caused before this enlightened state was reached. There’s an awful lot I don’t know about what others do, either. I didn’t know about displaying the Christmas cards as they arrive. In Sweden you just bung them in a pile somewhere. And most years I get to Easter Sunday and then I get the hot cross buns out, only to be informed they are two days overdue.
What this rambling account of my misspent past is trying to do, is to say that a book or two on traditions in different places is not a bad thing. I’ve just been looking through Festivals Together, A guide to multi-cultural celebration. It deals with traditions in several different religions for various times of the year. There are explanations, stories, recipes and much more. (I’ve always been intrigued to find that our Indian food favourites are Diwali specials.) Haven’t seen anything about snow covering England, but understanding that I’m a monkey to the Chinese is very useful. The witch family consists of three monkeys and a snake.
Another book Martin at Hawthorn Press sent me is Gail Johnson’s African and Caribbean Celebrations , which as the title suggests deals with one cultural background, so can cover more detail. It, too, has recipes, stories and lots of information on a great many things. Benjamin Zephaniah seems to be a fan of the book.
These two books should be good both for school use and for individuals who need to widen their horizons a bit. I once went to evening classes with a retired teacher, who mused a lot about what counts as English culture. She felt it was Shakespeare and stuff like that. I felt it was more the question of whether or not you take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Many countries feel Hamlet is theirs, too, if only in translation. The business of making a fool of yourself in people’s houses is a much more individual cultural issue.