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Reference Question of the Week – 7/28/13

   August 3rd, 2013

parade fire truckI just ran across this saved reference question, from the week before July 4th. It would have been a little more appropriate to post it then, and I don't know how I forgot, considering I have a memory like a steel sieve.

But anyway. So, a program we offer at my library is called "conversation circles," which are available in a few different languages. They are informal groups, lead by a volunteer, open to anyone trying to learn the same language. It's not a formal class, just a casual opportunity to practice something you're learning.

Our most well-attended conversation circle is for people learning English, and most of the attendees are recent immigrants from a variety of countries. As such, the volunteer leaders help them learn American culture in addition to English.

The week before the Fourth of July, I got an email from our volunteer coordinator:

[The volunteer leader of the English circle] is looking for some suggestions to help teach the folks in the Conversation Circle about the town's 4th of July celebration. They all currently live in Chelmsford but are from China and Russia, so I thought if she could refer to a holiday they celebrate in their countries it might help her explain our 4th of July more easily. The folks she works with have none (or very limited) English skills.

We actually have a DVD documentary about our Town's July 4th parade made by a local filmmaker, and our local cable station's website has online videos of past parades, too. Another immediately-to-mind resource is our Town's Parade Committee's website.

Those visuals should give a good portrayal of what an average American parade is like, but not exactly explain why we celebrate that particular day. The best way to answer that seemed to equate it to a comparable holiday in other countries, so the first resource I went to was our print copy of Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary.

Unfortunately it didn't give a ton of information, but I was able to get the names of some holidays to further research online - which lead to:

Neither Russia nor China really have a comparable independence day - celebrating the birth of their nation by fighting for independence from a colonial power. But these two holidays both seemed close, and the way they celebrate them are similar as well. Both are celebrated with parades, fireworks, and parties nation-wide (although I don't know if they have cookouts and hotdogs).

This wasn't an especially difficult question, and since it was just a quickie answer, I may have missed a few other options. But I thought I'd share this anyway because I really enjoyed it - not just the mental exercise of the self-reflection of July 4th in terms of what and why it is, but also looking for parallels in other nations to bridge cultural gaps. I had never heard of either of those holidays, so yay for learning something new.

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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/28/13”

  1. Michael Golrick Says:

    I had been to American parades in three New England states, New York, Illinois, Arizona, and Wisconsin. Then I moved to Louisiana. I will have to tell you that here in South Louisiana, parades are different. They are a way of life. I heard someone from here watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and ask “Where are the throws?”

    Here, every parade and float has “throws.” Those are what the float riders throw to the crowd. Best known are Mardi Gras beads. But you can get beads at any parade, not just Mardi Gras. I have had throws from a Halloween parade (Krewe de Boo in New Orleans) and green beads from a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

    Parades are different here. “Just sayin’!”

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Michael: growing up in Ohio, it seemed like every float in every parade threw candy or little somethings for kids. I don’t see that as much anymore now that I’m in New England, and I wasn’t sure if it was a regional difference, a health thing, or a “there might be razor blades in there!” fear thing. It’s good to hear NO’ers really live their parades (although that doesn’t surprise me) – next time I’ll have to work up a cultural guide to outline the differences between different parts of the country.