In my third year of my B.A. degree I took a course called Introduction to Anthropology. One of the most important lessons of the class is that a ritual which is so inherent to a specific culture may seem very strange to another. With that in mind I will mention a few rituals which seem particularly alien to me!
To merit children:
I will start off by mentioning a good luck ritual done within the Jewish community which, to me, as a practicing orthodox Jew is totally normal — however looks very strange to onlookers! When my first son was born we planned the day of his circumcision in accordance with Jewish Law. Shalom was born on a Saturday morning, which meant that he would be circumcised on the following Saturday morning, and as is traditional, his circumcision was to take place in the synagogue immediately following services.
His circumcision was performed in front of the entire congregation. In addition to finding a mohel (a Jewish man who is experienced performing circumcisions), ordering enough food for all of our friends, and arranging accommodations for all of our guests, my husband and I needed to think of a couple who was trying to conceive. This couple would be honored to take part in a ritual, as a blessing that they should merit children in the near future.
In Jewish tradition the new baby is passed from the mother’s arms on a pillow all the way to the grandfather, who will hold the baby during the circumcision. The baby from one person to the next. Eventually the baby is passed to the “kvatter” – the man who will bring the baby to the father, who will then place the eight day old baby into the grandfather’s arms.
One of the origins or this ritual is the idea that it is seen as insensitive of the mother to bring her baby directly to the mohel – or maybe the mother wouldn’t be able to bring herself to hand over her newborn! There is a tradition to include a couple who is trying to conceive in the ceremony – as form of good luck that they will have a baby in the merit of their participation in the ritual.
To merit health:
Some rituals seem so frightening to onlookers that local authorities are working to ban their practice. For more than 700 years Muslims and Hindus alike have asked clerics to drop their infants from a height of approximately 30 feet. The cleric ascends to the top of a religious shrine with the baby in tow. Once at the top of the shrine he hands to baby to a man waiting on the balcony. One of these men holds the child while chanting praise to G-d. Then, he drops the baby to a faithful crowd. Once they are dropped the baby is passed through an eager crowd to the parents.
The parent’s fervently believe that a baby who has been tossed will be healthy, brave, intelligent and luckier. It is important to mention that the crowd at the bottom initially catches the baby with a large sheet.
This ritual is performed at a shrine in western India’s Maharashtra. It takes place in the first week of December. Despite the long lasting tradition, the origins of this ritual are unclear. This practice has been the subject of much dispute regarding religious freedom in India. The religious authorities claim that no accidents have ever happened.
Merit a good new year:
January 1st is one of the most widely celebrated days on the Gregorian calendar. While this day is almost universally accepted as the start of a new year, the way one usher’s it in varies from culture to culture. One particularly strange ritual – to foreigners that is – is found in some towns in Italy. Immediately after a dinner of “cotechino e lenticchie”, and a dessert of dried fruit and grapes, locals return home for the most startling New-Years custom! Historically, locals could be found shoving old large household items out of their windows.
For example, someone walking in the street on New-Year’s Eve in Italy might suddenly have seen a couch, table, or even an old refrigerator shoved out the window. This seemingly bizarre custom is was not at all unusual to some locals who see it as a way to symbolically accept the new. While this tradition is rarely practiced by contemporary Italians it is good to be aware just in case.
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