June 22, 2017

#05-058: December Potpourri

primitive painting of the Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon supported by a small figure; behind her rays shine out like the sun, and her robe is covered with stars; she stands with palms joined in a reverent gesture
Image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as seen in Juan Diego's cloak

Note: Faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe, the loyalty of the 47 Ronin, and the renewal promised by New Years Eve: December is a time of beginnings as well as endings.

Get Ready: The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe teaches faith; that of the Forty-seven Ronin teaches loyalty. Which of these two virtues is more important?

In our final look at just a handful of the world's thousands of holidays, let's see some miscellaneous celebrations happening at year's end.


December 12 is celebrated throughout the former Spanish Empire--including Latin America, the Philippines, and parts of the United States--as the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It commemorates a miracle which is said to have happened near Mexico City in 1531.

A poor shepherd named Juan Diego had reported to the bishop an apparition of the Virgin Mary. When the prelate asked for proof, Mary told Juan Diego to wrap some unusual roses in his cloak to bring to the bishop. When the poor man opened the cloak to show the flowers, an image of the Virgin was imprinted inside. This sacred object can still be seen in Mexico City.


Across the sea in Japan, December 14 is a very different kind of commemoration.

In 1701, the lord of Ako fell into a dispute with an officer of the shogun. Strongly provoked, he drew his sword inside the palace and attacked the official. This was a capital offense, and he was forced to commit ritual suicide.

His followers then became ronin, or leaderless samurai. For two years, they waited for the right time, and in 1703, 47 of them struck the official's mansion, killing him and many of his men. They did this knowing that they themselves would have to commit suicide as well.

This much is history, and a parade is held every year, ending at the cemetery holding the graves of the "faithful retainers." But stories of the "Forty-seven Ronin" also became the focus of opera, puppet plays, and other works of art. (You can read more about this story in Lesson #08-070.)


The winter solstice occurs in the northern hemisphere on or near December 21, and is perhaps the reason so many different cultures, especially in the temperate zone, hold religious celebrations at this time. See Lessons #05-055, #05-056, and #05-057 for examples.


Finally, coming full circle, December 31 is New Year's Eve, the night when people following the western calendar prepare for another year, often with wild celebrations harking back to the "Topsy Turvy Day" we mentioned when discussing New Years Day way back in Lesson #05-001.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. apparition
  2. cloak
  3. harking back
  4. imprinted
  5. prelate
  6. provoked
  7. retainers
  8. samurai
  9. shogun
  10. temperate zone

  1. a high church official
  2. the military ruler of Japan, 1185-1868
  3. the area between the tropics and the arctic region
  4. a Japanese warrior
  5. marked; impressed upon
  6. appearance or manifestation, especially one that is ghost-like
  7. returning to a previous point
  8. servants
  9. a long, hanging garment worn about the shoulders
  10. incited, stirred up

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 22, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. i; 3. g; 4. e; 5. a; 6. j; 7. h; 8. d; 9. b; 10. c