Today marks the start of the holy month of Ramadan, where millions of Muslims around the world will spend the month fasting and praying. It is believed that 1400 years ago the Quran was shown to the Prophet Muhammad in this month. The start of Ramadan varies around 11 days each year, as it is all to do with the lunar cycle; this year the new lunar moon was seen on Sunday evening in the Middle East.
Potentially the most well known part of Ramadan is the fasting that happens. Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink during daylight. For those who miss a day of fasting they have to make up for this on another day, for example those who are travelling a long distance are allowed to eat and drink; but must make up for this another time. During Ramadan, breakfast or ‘Suhoor’ as it’s known, must be eaten half an hour before sunrise, this is also where people have the chance to drink water to be hydrated for the day ahead.
At the end of the day after sundown a communal meal is made, called ‘Iftar’, which literally translates into ‘break fast’. This is where people come together and they can eat until the next morning’s Suhoor. At both meals, fresh fruit and vegetables are served, along with halal meat, cheeses, breads and sweets. The meal caters for all of the food groups needed for a healthy body. Following the main meal different snacks can be prepared such as dates.
As well as having to follow strict eating and drinking guidelines, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims will visit the Mosque regularly. The month is used as a way to improve morality and work on themselves. Last year 14 million Muslims visited the city of Mecca within the first 2 weeks of the holy month. Mecca is the holiest city in the Islamic religion, and is the place where Muhammad first saw the Quran.
At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate ‘Eid al-Fitr’ which translates as the ‘festival or breaking the fast’; here they gather at the Mosque for a prayer and spend all day with family and friends. The celebration goes on for three days and marks a new beginning for each individual.
Today is “Baba Marta Day”. In Bulgaria the 1st of March marks a holiday that welcomes the upcoming spring. “Baba Marta” translates to “Grandma March”, the mythical character who brings the end of the bitter cold winter!
On this day people exchange “Martenitsi”. These are red and white coloured bands or figurines that symbolise health and happiness. The white initially represented human nature and strength, whilst the red showed health and the woman’s nature.
The most traditional martenitsa consists of two small dolls (male and female) and are called “Pizho and Penda” (Пижо и Пенда). Martenitsi come in many other shapes and sizes and people wear them as lucky charms.
The tradition is to wear your martenitsa until you see some signs of spring: blossoming trees or birds like storks and swallows. Some people then tie their martenitsa to a tree – so next time when walking through a park, if you see red and white yarn bracelets hanging on a branch, you know the mystery behind it! It was also believed that people placed them under a rock. They would then come back nine days later to see if there had been any ants; if there were the year would bring lots of sheep. Some people also chose to throw them into the river and let them flow away, representing the troubles of life leaving.
Thanks to Nikolay, who made us all martenitsi to wear today! Let’s see how many of our wishes come true…
Bonus fact: “Mărţişor” is a Romanian holiday that is similar to “Baba Marta”. It’s also believed in Romania that wearing the red and white bands leads to a prosperous and healthy year. The threads are hung somewhere outside the house like a gate to protect against evil spirits. Today the threads are still bought by people for their friends and family to show admiration.
Happy Baba Marta!
Welcome to my family! My Grandma’s called Minnie, and my Granddad’s called Jack.
Except, they’re not really.
Because, in English, we have an eccentric tendency to distort names until they no longer resemble the original at all. My Gran’s actually called Mary and my Granddad, of course, is John.
Now meet my Uncle Bob, cousins Harry, Bill and Jim, and aunts Kitty and Nancy. Their real names – the names on their birth certificates – are Robert, Henry, William, James, Katherine and Anne. Makes total sense, right?
Some common English names have not one but several permutations, just to make things more confusing. The name Edward can be twisted into Ed (OK, fine), Ted (hmm) or Ned (well….), whilst Robert can be not only Bob but Rob, Bobby or Bertie. James can be Jim, Jimmy or Jem, and Richard can be Rich, Rick, Dick or Dickie.
On the girls’ side, Elizabeth must be one of the most prolific of names, producing not only Eliza, Liz and Lizzie, but Ellie, Beth, Bess, Bett and Bettie, whilst Margaret becomes Maggie and Meg, or Peggie and Peg. Victoria becomes Vic, Vicky, Tor and Tory, and Mary can be Molly, Minnie, Polly or Poll.
It’s not just our language that does this, of course, and Russian is another which can mutate its names into seemingly unconnected variants. When I was in Russia, my friends were Tolik, Vanya, Sanya and Masha, whose real names were Anatolii, Ivan, Alexsandr and Mariya. But whereas in English a Rob might always be a Rob, both in private and public arenas, formal and informal, in Russia someone might be called Alexandr in formal situations but Sasha with friends – and Sanya, Sanka or Sashenka for extra familiarity and affection.
My name, Natalie or Natalia, was used formally, but to most acquaintances I was Natasha, and to closer friends I would sometimes be Nata, Natashenka, Natusik or Natusyenka. Alekseii becomes Alyosha or, more colloquially again, Alyoha, Lyosha or Lyoha. Dmitrii become Dima, Dimka (the -ka ending adding another level of diminutive to the already familiarised Dima), Mitya or Mitka. Evgenii becomes Zhenya and Sergei becomes Seryozha.
Of course, if you have a bit of time in Russia then the aim is to collect a group of friends with the following rhyming names: Masha, Pasha, Dasha, Natasha and Sasha. And, because of the popularity of the names Mariya, Pavel, Natalia, Dariya and Alexsandr, that’s not as hard as it seems!
We’d love to know about other languages that mangle their names!
Sarah Barrett from Lingotastic runs language classes for children and families, using music, crafts, puppets and bubbles – it sounds so much fun we might have to go and check it out ourselves! Here’s Sarah’s language story…
On my first visit to Germany to visit my husband Maik’s parents, I had a few language misunderstandings.
One day we were in Große Straße in Osnabrück and I had to ask Maik what a travelling Bratwurst (“Riesenbratwurst”) was… it actually said “Reisenbratwurst”, which means giant Bratwurst. So I still don’t know what a travelling Bratwurst is.
A few years later I was at church in Germany listening to the preacher. I could not understand why he was talking so much about toast… he was actually talking about trost (an old German word for “comfort”)!
Maik and I got married in Germany, but they didn’t believe I understood what was going on, so we had to have a translator!
When my youngest daughter started school (two years ago), I set up some language classes for families as Lingotastic. As a busy mum, language learning hadn’t been a priority for a long time, but we had passed on German and French to our children, and I wanted to encourage other families to do this too. At Lingotastic we have six weeks of French, German or Spanish. We use simple songs, crafts, a story, puppets and bubbles to help little ones to tune into that language. It was tricky for me at first to separate the languages, but it came with practice.
I then wanted a challenge, so as a family we learned a bit of Mandarin and some Mandarin songs. We then delivered a class in the local library and also in my daughter’s school reception class.
We heard about the EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge at Easter and my daughters thought they might like to join in. They learned a lot of Portuguese through playing the simple games. Then in the summer we heard EuroTalk were doing an Esperanto challenge, using the uTalk app. We really enjoyed it and had a few simple conversations in Esperanto around the dinner table. A few months ago my daughter asked why gato and gâteau are not the same thing, and said maybe we should have a gato gateau!
I love to greet people in their native language and people are often really happy to teach you how. I can often say good morning in up to five languages whilst walking my children to school!
Language learning only works for me if I can see a purpose. I love to get to know others and language learning is a great way to do this. I love to learn languages by playing apps like uTalk, playing with FlashSticks and singing along to songs in other languages.
If you want to follow our language learning journey check out www.Lingotastic.co.uk/blog
by Anna Fawcett
My children, Ben, Josh and Saskia, have all taken part in EuroTalk’s Junior Language Challenge. Ben was first – introduced to it by their language teacher, Mrs Susannah Stockton at their school, Oakwood Prep School in Chichester. Ben really embraced it and managed to win his semi-final… although this was bittersweet, as it meant we had to fly back early from a family holiday in Disney World, just so he could compete in the final in London. It was a great experience for him and well worth it. He reminisces about finishing just one frustrating point away from the prizes! However, coming from a family of non-linguists he learnt a valuable lesson: it was possible to learn any language – even Kazakh – and what’s more it could even be fun! He loved the experience and is now in year 9 studying three languages. I honestly do not think he would have chosen to do so many languages without EuroTalk.
Then came Josh! He was determined to equal his brother, and worked hard to qualify as Ben had done before him. Josh got through the preliminary rounds of Spanish and then Greek in the semi-finals to qualify for the finals in London. Josh, like Ben, enjoyed the whole experience and is now studying two languages at his senior school.
No pressure for Saskia then! The youngest and final Fawcett sibling to enter the JLC, she has been anxious from the start; how could she not do something her brothers had done? I was keen for her to have a go, as I knew the longer term benefits of realising languages are friends, not foes. Saskia sailed through the first round and qualified in the Mandarin semi-finals in second place. She is now learning Arabic for this year’s final, and was delighted and relieved to continue the Fawcett finalist tradition!
The worst part of the competition for me is without doubt the live scoreboard, continually changing as each child answers questions. This time around, I have learnt that I have to be in the room as support for Saskia, but if I concentrate on a book in my lap I can avoid looking at the live scores!
As for me, I have gone from failing French O’Level, too many years ago to mention, to supporting my children learning 12 different languages in 5 years. My name is down at the local college to take up French again, and this time to crack it! EuroTalk and the JLC has been a mixture of emotions for us all: frustration, laughter, sweat, tears and a huge sense of success and achievement for all three of the children. More importantly, it has eradicated the fear of a new and often relatively unknown language and therefore culture.