Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Saint Valentine's Day

It’s Saint Valentine’s Day! Today, all across Japan, ladies will be giving obligatory gifts [gifts they feel they should give] to all their male friends – family members, classmates, TEACHERS, co-workers, and so on. (Did I mention TEACHERS?!)

In Western countries, the custom is almost completely opposite. Traditionally, men give a romantic gift – flowers, jewellery, lingerie, perfume, or chocolate – to their special girlfriend. Recently, couples often exchange gifts over a romantic dinner. In many ways, Saint Valentine’s Day in the West is a lot like Christmas Eve in Japan.

Saint Valentine’s Day was first promoted in Japan by chocolate companies. After many unsuccessful attempts to motivate men to buy chocolates for their lady friends, the chocolate companies targeted the ladies instead, creating a unique [special/one of a kind], Japan-only version of the popular international holiday. “White Day “ is a Japanese creation, celebrated nowhere else in the world.

Enjoy your Saint Valentine’s Day – but be careful not to eat too many chocolates!
But who is Saint Valentine? Click here if you want to find out more!

What's a Saint?

Coming soon!

The Origin of St. Valentine's Day (Intermediate Level)

Long before Christ was born, it was a Roman tradition for teenage girls and boys to hold a Festival for Lupercus (possibly Lupercalia), god of the flocks [many sheep in a group], in February. At the festival, the boys and girls would randomly choose a 'mate" to celebrate fertility [to have many babies or grow a lot of food].

Valentine was a Christian priest who lived and worked in Rome during the 3rd century. At that time most people in Rome were not Christian.

Claudius II, the Roman Emperor was waging war. He didn't want young men to get married; he wanted them to join his army. He said that no one could get married without his permission [they had to ask him in person, and he had to say yes].

Claudius II

Many young couples wanted to get married without the Emperor's permission. Valentine married them in secret, turning them away from the old Roman religion and making them Christian.

Valentine Marrying a Couple

When Claudius found out, he put Valentine in prison, where he was tortured [hurt for punishment]. Finally, Claudius had Valentine killed sometime around the middle of February 270 A.D.

There is a story – probably not true – about Valentine helping one of the guards in the prison. The guard was in love with a beautiful young girl but he was too shy to tell her. Valentine helped the guard write a love letter to the girl. When the girl read the letter, she fell in love with the guard.

About 200 years after Valentine's death, the Christians came to power in Rome. Many people became Christians, but they still celebrated the old festivals. The Festival of Lupercus was still very popular.

The Christian leaders were very unhappy that so many people were still celebrating pagan [a non-Christian religion with many different gods] festivals. They declared that Valentine was a Saint [a very good Christian who could go straight to Heaven], and started their own festival based around him.

They said that good Christians should only celebrate St. Valentine's Day and should not take part in the Festival of Lupercus. Eventually, St. Valentine's Day became a popular holiday throughout Western Europe, and recently, most of the world.

To read a Japanese translation of this post, click on: バレンタインズデーの始まりは?

The Origin of St. Valentine's Day (Beginner Level)

1) Valentine was a Christian priest who lived in Rome 1,740 years ago.

2) The Emperor of Rome at that time didn’t like Christians. Also, he was fighting many wars in other countries. He said that young couples couldn’t get married. He said the young men had to join his army instead.
Claudius II - The Emperor of Rome in Valentine's time
3) Valentine secretly married young couples, making them Christians.
Valentine marrying a young couple
4) When the Emperor found out, he got very angry. He put Valentine in prison.
5) He had Valentine killed on February 14th.
6) About 200 years later, Rome became Christian. They made February 14th a special holiday to remember that Valentine died helping young people who were in love.
7) There is a story – probably not true – about Valentine helping one of the guards in the prison. The guard was in love with a beautiful young girl but he was too shy to tell her. Valentine helped the guard write a love letter to the girl. When the girl read the letter, she fell in love with the guard.
8) In Japan, women give chocolates to the men they love on Saint Valentine’s Day. In other countries, men traditionally gave romantic gifts – flowers, perfume, chocolates, and so on – to their special girlfriend. They would also make beautiful cards to give to their special girlfriend on Saint Valentines Day. If a man didn’t have a girlfriend, he would give a card to a girl he liked, hoping she would become his new girlfriend.
9) These days, couples – including husbands and wives – exchange romantic gifts with each other.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Enjoy the Long Weekend!

When the Friday before a weekend or the Monday after a weekend is a holiday, we call the resulting 3 days off work a long weekend. Tomorrow is Japanese Foundation Day. National holidays don’t have much meaning when they fall on a Sunday, so Monday has been designated [made] a day off in its place. Yeeha! Our first long weekend this year! Have fun!!!

Friday, February 02, 2007

It'd Freeze the Balls Off a Brass Monkey

Today’s so cold it could freeze the balls off a brass monkey! means it’s very, very cold. This expression is commonly used in most English-speaking countries even though it sounds very vulgar [not polite – “balls” is slang for kin-tamma in English].

It’s generally believed that a brass monkey is actually a kind of tray that used to be used on old sailing ships to hold cannon balls in place. I once gave a presentation on student radio (2SER) explaining the details behind this belief. This morning when I decided to make the expression the focus of this Blog entry, I went to Wikipedia (an online encyclopaedia [a big book full of information on almost anything]) to check my facts – it turns out I’m completely wrong!

In the mid 1800’s, brass statues of monkeys were apparently [I’ve read/heard this but it may not be true] common decorations in living rooms. Around this time, the expression It’s cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey became popular. Some time after that, the vulgar-meaning “balls” was used to replace the word “tail.” The myth [a story that is not true] that its origin is from sailing ships has made this expression more acceptable than it probably should be!

Just Monkeying Around [Having Fun]