Dollywood – Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival (Tennessee – United States)

Smoky Mountain Festival. Dollywood, Tennesse

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Dollywood is a famous family amusement park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, United States. It takes it’s name after it’s owner, a music singer, Dolly Parton who owns it along with Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation. The park is the most famous tourist attraction in Tennessee for more than a decade. It hosts a traditional Christmas holiday festival with special Christmas shows, food stalls, camping, bonfire, family events, thrilling rides and other attractions in the month of November and December every year. The park glistens with over 4 million sparking lights. It offers more than 40 amazing rides. Dollywood has restaurants that bring heavenly food to tantalize the taste buds. A special 25 pounds apple pie is also made during the festival in three different flavors.

This year the celebrations started on November 6, 2010 and will contine till January 1, 2011. It has a wonderful and amazing toy shop, Visits with Santa, where you can buy the perefct Christmas present for your kids. Carols of The Tree is a marvelous and breathtaking nightshow which displays thousands of lights and pyrotechnics synchronized with holiday music by the Rivertown lake. And then there is Parade of Lights which is a spectacular display of beautiful and traditional Christmas Floats decorated with lights.

SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment, Warner Brothers, and Dollywood have put combined efforts to create the newest of The 4D Polar Express experiences. It is by far the finest magical cinematic experience of our lifetime, Mark Cornell, SimEx-Iwerks Vice President, Attraction Development said.

This year the festival won the Golden Ticket Award for Best Christmas Event for the third time .

“I’m thrilled that my Smoky Mountain Christmas festival won its third Golden Ticket Award for Best Christmas Event, and it means the world to me that families get to enjoy the smiles and squeals of the little kids—and the big kids, too!—as they spend the holidays together at Dollywood,” Dolly Parton said.

Nestled in the footstep of the beautiful Smoky Mountains, Dollywood offers the ultimate fun and adventure packed Christmas Festival. If you are planning a perfect holiday with your family on Christmas, Dollywood would be an excellent choice. For more details you may visit the official website. Following are few highlights of the park and the festival.

Dollywood Express

Dollywood Express

Dollywood Grist Mill

Dollywood’s Grist Mill

Dining with Santa

Dining With Santa Clause

Christmas in the smokies angel mary joseph

A play

Christmas Tree at Dollywood

Christmas Tree

Dizzy Disk at Dollywood

Dizzy Disk

Dollywood Christmas Tree

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Dollywood's Smoky Mountain River Rampage

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain River Rampage

Smoky Mountain Festival

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Krampus Frightening Bad Children Near Christmas Eve (Austria and Hungary)

In Western part of the World the first two weeks of December are judgment weeks for children. Young men dress and act like Krampus, a magical and mythical creature. It is believed that Krampus used to threaten and frighten the bad children in the first two weeks of December and especially on the 5th of December while St. Nicholas gave gifts to the good ones. This practice is still carried out by young men in Austria and Hungry. It is also prevalent in many parts of Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and northern Italy. Young men wear a hand stitched costume consisting of larve (wooden mask) and made of sheep’s skin. They room in the streets and frighten the naughty children with rusty chains and bells. This act is actually done to straighten the naught ones. Many naughty children start behaving properly just to get their Christmas gifts and to avoid the Krampus.

Krampus with St. Nicholas

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Krampus threatening a naughty girl

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Groom’s Shoe Stealing and Hiding in Indian Wedding (India)

In India, weddings are an occasion rich with traditions. Weddings bring with them celebrations and customs full of fun. One strange tradition in Indian weddings is the stealing and hiding of groom’s shoes on the day of his wedding by the bride’s sisters and cousins. The groom has the remove the shoes during the ceremony. Bride’s family makes wacky plans to steal the shoe and hide it. On the other hand the groom’s family tries to protect the shoe. Usually the bridesmaids successfully steal the shoes as it is a matter of their pride and honor. Once the ceremony is over and the groom needs his shoes back he and his family start searching for it. The bridesmaids surround him and ask for a huge sum of money which the groom pays them and gets his shoes back.

Shoe Stealing and Hiding in Indian Wedding
Custom of Shoe Stealing and Hiding

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La Tomatina – Tomato Fight (Bunol, Valencia, Spain)

If you are in the town of Bunol, Spain in the Last week of August don’t forget to wear a rain coat and goggles because it’s La Tomatina time in Bunol. You might have witnessed or experienced water gun fighting or snowball fighting since your childhood but in this festival you will witness the town to be all red and and slippery with pulpy tomatoes. Some may enjoy the festival and some might find it to be weird but the festival is held every year on the last Wednesday of August.

In the festival of La Tomatina tens of metric tons of pulpy and juicy red tomatoes are thrown in just one hour’s time. Squeezed tomato puree is splashed and the biggest tomato fight is celebrated in the town. Traditionally women wear white and men wear no shirts on the day of the festival. This festival is quite famous among tourists as statistics show that around 50,000 tourists on average show up  every year to witness and participate in this what I may call a  juicy festival. A supply of 150,000 tomatoes (About 90,000 pounds) is arranged for the festival before hand.

The festival starts when a person tries to scale a heavily greased pole in an attempt to capture a cooked ham. Once the ham is taken down from the pole, water canons are fired at the participants and the greatest tomato fight begins in the streets of the famous town of Spain.

History states that the festival started in 1945 and became an officially recognized event by 1952. The festival is celebrated to honor the Virgin Mary and St. Louis Bertrand.

The City of Reno, Nevada in the United States also celebrates a similar event on the last Sunday of August. The organizers credit the Spanish festival and gave the festival the same name as that of the festival in Spain.

In my view the festival is an opportunity for those who enjoy wasting tomatoes and want to take a bath in tomato puree.

Tomato Fight in The Festival of La Tomatina

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La Tomatina Spain velanica bunol

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The festival of La Tomatina
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Skidding in Tomato Puree La Tomatina Spain Bunol Valencia

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Coral Castle Built By Edward Leedskalnin For His Beloved, Florida, America

Coral Castle was designed and built by Edward Leedskalnin, a 5 Feet tall man, weighing 100 pounds and suffering from tuberculosis. He was jilted by his 16-year-old fiancee Agnes Scuffs  just one day before their wedding. Heartbroken he decided to leave for America and build his own home. He states that magnets cured his tuberculosis. He purchased a land in Florida from Ruben Moser and started building his own castle. He spent 28 years building his home and allowed no one to visit him and his home. He had chosen this location because it was a remote area at that time with no development. In 1923 he named the castle Rock Gate Park. The Castle remained in Florida City till 1936 until he heard of some development in the area and decided to move 10 miles north from Florida City. He moved his castle with him too to it’s present location. Leedskalnin continued to work on the castle up until his death in 1951.

The castle is built from several megalithic stones (mostly limestones formed from coral) each weighing in tons. It is amazing how a single person with low physical strength and suffering from a disease built such a masterpiece with the mere use of primitive tools. The grounds of Coral Castle consist of 1,000 tons of stones found in the forms of walls, furniture, carvings and castle tower. The two story castle tower served as Leedskalnin’s home. The walls were made of 8-foot high pieces of stone. He made an accurate sundail, a Ploaris telescope, a barbecue pit, a fountain, a water well, heart shaped table, bath tubs, royal throne, 25 chairs, chairs resembling crescent moon, a star shaped healing point, beds and a table in the shape of Florida. In his book, A Book in Every Home he expressed his love for his fiancee and declared the castle a gift for his “Sweet Sixteen”.

He became ill in December 1951 and died of stomach cancer. In January 1981 Coral Castle, Inc. bought the castle from a relative of  Leedskalnin for $175,000. In 1984, The National Register of Historic Places added the castle to it’s list of historic places.

Coral Castle Florida, America

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Entrance Coral Castle, Florida, America

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Coral castle, Florida, America

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Coral Castle Center Table

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Coral Castle

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Coral Castle Entrance

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Yusheng , yee sang, yuu sahng or Lo Hei – Chinese New Year (China, Singapore, Malaysia)

Yusheng , yee sang or yuu sahng also known as Lo Hei is a luck bringing appetizer usually served on the 7th day of Chinese New Year.

Families and friends gather around a table to toss the shredded ingredients served in a communal dish into the air with chopsticks. The aim is to toss high, loud and messily. While tossing rosy, auspicious and bright wishes are said out loud. The louder the wishes are said and the higher and messier the food is tossed, more good fortune Lo Hei tossing is thought to bring.

Lo Hei tossing Chinese new year CNY celebrationsSource

Chinese associate meanings with most of the things. 25 primary ingredients are used for making Lo Hei and each serves it’s own purpose in bringing good fortune. Raw salmon/mackerel, carrot, chopped peanuts, daikon, crystallized ginger, green radish, oil, pepper and pomelo, sesame seeds and  cinnamon are the main ingredients which symbolize abundance, luck, gold and silver, a flourishing career, a sweet year, youth, smooth flow of wealth, good fortune, flourishing business and a sweet life respectively. It is served with a dressing made of plum. Via Link

The following You Tube video shows how Lo Hei is celebrated on Chinese New Year.

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Mausoleum of Taj Mahal Built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan – Agra

Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal

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Today I will narrate the story of an illustrious epitome of an epic love story. I am talking about a splendid example of art and a symbol of true affection between two lovers, a wonder of world “Taj Mahal” (The crown of buildings). Taj Mahal described as “A tear drop on the cheek of time” by Rabindranath Tagore is a finest example of Turkish, Persian and Mughal architecture. The Mausoleum was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz mahal.

Shah Jahan was 14 years old when he fell in love with a Persian princess Arjumand Bano Begum and decided that she is the one he will marry. She was 15 at that time. After few years they got married and he named her Mumtaz Mahal (Chosen one of the Palace). He was crowned in 1628 AD. She always accompanied him, even on military expeditions. On one such expedition in 1631 AD, she was expecting their 14th child. She died while giving birth to the baby. Before dying she took four promises from her husband. She asked him to build the most beautiful monument for her and not to remarry. She loved her children so she wanted a promise that he will stay kind to them and will visit her tomb. Via Link.

entrance Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal

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Some stories say that Shah Jahan was so overwhelmed and devastated that he locked himself in a room. According to some historians he banned music, feasts and any kind of party for about two years in his regime. He decided to build a monument entirely in white marble, expressing their pure love and decorated with jewels. In 1633 AD, the construction began on the banks of the Yamuna river in Agra. The place was visible from his Palace and he could see her whenever he wanted to.

20,000 skilled craftsmen from allover the subcontinent and the neighbouring countries worked for 17 years to complete the monument. The chief architect was Ustaad Ahmed Lahori. The main dome of Taj Mahal measures about 110 yards in circumference and is about 107 yards above the ground. The monument is standing in a lush green garden amongst fountains and floral plants and trees. The tomb is standing on a platform of red stones. The material was brought in from all over India and central Asia and it took a fleet of 1,000 elephants to transport it to the site. Taj Mahal’s construction costed 50 lac rupees at that time. Taj Mahal is decorated with Gold, Rubies, Turquoise, Lapis lazuli, Sapphire and Diamonds. The verses of Quran are written in the passages in beautiful calligraphic styles. There is a beautiful mosque inside the monument.

Mosque of Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal

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Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal interior

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Taj Mahal beautiful interior, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah  Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal

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Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal calligraphy

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Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal decorations carving

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Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.
Via Link

Mosque Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal

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Taj Mahal is symmetrical and one side mirrors the other. Many don’t know this but the building is still incomplete. This symbol of true love is incomplete because a part of the structure was never built. Shah Jahan wanted to build a similar mausoleum for himself, facing the mausoleum of his wife. He felt that this would keep them together but he was not able to fulfill his wish as he was overthrown by his own son and spent the last eight years of his life in imprisonment. Via Link

Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal

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The mesmerizing beauty of the monument makes it special but what makes it more special is love. People die but love never dies. Muslims believe that soul never dies and one day they will be together with their family in heaven.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India Mausoleum Built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal aerial view

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A Tour of Arab Street/Kampong Glam (Singapore)

Today I decided to give my readers an etour of the famous “Arab Street” in Singapore. Arab Street or Kampong Glam, a beautiful and eye-catching integration of old culture and modernization, is a very beautiful cultural area of Singapore. The beautiful and colorful ambiance of the street, it’s shophouses and restaurants make the street so special. It is like a little piece of Middle East or Arabia in Singapore. Here you can get shawls, scarves, carpets, rugs, beautiful clothes, Spa treatment and enjoy a variety of Arabian food ranging from food from Lebanon to traditional sweets from Turkey.

arab street kampang glam sultan mosque

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arab street kampang glam sultan mosque

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It is located just a few blocks away from the hustle bustle of Bugis Junction. This area has beautiful old shophouses that line the streets. The most beautiful example of Muslim architecture in Singapore, “The Grand Sultan Mosque” is centered in Arab Street. Sultan Mosques is open for properly dressed visitors too. This area is important in Singapore history, since the Sultan had his Istana (palace) here.

arab street kampang glam sultan mosque

There are two stories about the origin of the name Arab Street. Some say that the area was owned by an Arab merchant, Syed Ali bin Mohamed Al Junied and as it was the site of an Arab Kampong, hence the name Arab Street. The Chinese race of Singapore refers to the street as jiau a koi (Javanese street), in the view of the Javanese who used to be the majority inhabitants of the area. The other explanation is linked to the pre-existing situation at the time of the nation’s founding by Sir Stamford Raffles who allocated the area to the Bugis seamen and merchants living near the Sultan Palace. So the areas Bugis and the Arab Street were given their names. Via Link

The street is colorful and lively, famous for Muslim shopping and food. Food, clothing, spices, basketry items and Sonkoks are some of the specialties of the street. Vendors sit outside the shophouses selling beautiful fabric. On Baghdad street-there are a lot of new restaurants/cafe houses opening up. In Arab street you can find food from Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and many other Arabian countries. Islamic restaurant and Zam zam restaurant are famous for their Biryani and Murtobaks respectively. Kampong Glam Cafe is cheap and comforting, while Alaturka serves up authentic Turkish, and next door at B Bakery wonderful mains and pastries are available in a modern Aussie-style cafe. You can try the strawberry shortcake, lemon tart meringue, sticky buns and sticky date cakes.

arab street kampang glam sultan mosque Singapore

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Cafe Samar offers Arab and Yemeni fare. Here you can enjoy a trip to Middle East while listening to a traditional Arab band playing live. For better and cheaper food, though, try the Lebanese delicacies at El Sheikh on Pahang Street. Another interesting place is Cafe le Caire  (also known as Al-Majlis). Here delicious Arab cusine and sheesha go hand in hand.Via Link

arab street kampang glam cafe le caire Singapore

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I guess I talked too much about mouth watering food and delicacies. You will definitely enjoy the variety of food available at Arab street. As I said earlier Arab Street offers beautiful traditional clothes and fabrics so Arab Street offers a lot for ladies who enjoy shopping and visiting boutiques and parlors. Wayan spa on bussorah street behind the Sultan Mosque is a very famous Spa. Molkan Fabrics is famous for it’s beautiful fabric. There are shops selling carpets from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Iran. I think it is a place worth visiting, giving a wonderful cultural experience. If you go to Singapore, do visit this little Arabian part of Singapore.

arab street kampang glam sultan mosque

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Korean Wedding Ducks – They bring Luck and Bliss (Korea)

Korean Wedding Ducks Korea

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You can see a pair of ducks in the picture above. These are Korean Wedding Ducks. It is believed that ducks have only one mate through out their life so long ago a man in love with a girl went to her parents to ask for her hand and took a pair of hand crafted ducks with him. The idea  gradually got popularity. Since then, wedding ducks have been an integral part of Korean wedding ceremonies.

The pair of wedding ducks wrapped in beautiful clothe represents peace, many children and no separation. The couple always keeps the wedding ducks in their home. The position in which the ducks are placed explains the relationship of the couple. Nose to nose placement means they are happy together and tail to tail mean that they are having a trouble in their married life.

At the time of marriage, the family of the bride looks for a man with 5 qualities to carve the pair of the ducks to bring good luck and bliss in the life of their daughter. The carver should be rich and healthy. There should be no divorce in his family. He must have a good wife and many children. It is not the quality of carving but the purity of the carver that is thought to bring love in the marriage.

The carver doesn’t accept money for the work and carves only one pair of wedding ducks through out his life. While carving he prays that may the couple have love, happiness, luck and good fortune, peace, prosperity and many children (just as the duck has many eggs) . Via Link

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Some Strange Chinese Wedding Traditions (China)

chinese wedding bride and groom

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Chinese wedding has some strange traditions. Chinese have staunch belief in these customs. China comprises of population from several ethic groups and tribes, each having it’s own traditions and customs. The following are a few strange Chinese Wedding Customs.

Choice of Wedding Data and Time:

Choice of the wedding date is very important among Chinese. The astrologists study their birth date and birth time and choose even dates as even numbers are considered lucky. It is made sure that the sun and the stars must be aligned on the wedding day. The couple should marry on the half hour so that they begin their new life when the hands of the clock are moving upward. They believe that this will prevent them from downfalls and bad times in their married life. Via Link

chinese wedding invitation

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“The Crying Wedding Song” Ritual (Tujia Tribe):

The Tujia people live in central China. Preplanned crying is a wedding custom in this tribe. A month before the wedding, the bride cries for about an hour. Twenty days before the wedding day her mother cries with her. When ten days are left in the wedding, the grandmothers and aunts of the bride sit by her and they all must cry.

The bride also performs “The Crying Marriage Song”. She weeps in different tones and with diversified words. This crying singing ritual is very important among the Chinese people. Via Link

Crying Marriage Song China

Arrow Shooting Ceremony by Yugar Ethic Group:

Yugur ethnic group lives in Northwest China’s Gansu Province. In Chinese, “Yugur” means “wealth and stability.They hold grand wedding ceremonies, which last two days for ordinary people and several days for the elite class. Some customs are quite peculiar. One such custom is arrow shooting by the groom to his bride. Bridegroom shoots three arrows (that have no arrowheads and will not hurt anyone) to his bride and then breaks the arrows. They believe that by doing this they will love and live with each other forever. Monogamy is adopted and marriage among people of the same surname and kin is strictly prohibited. Via Link

arrow shooting Yugar Ethic Group

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Dissection of Chicken Liver To Decide The Date (Daur Tribe):

The Daur people live in Chinese Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Heilongjiang Province. Some Daur communities exist in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The have a very crazy criterion to select the wedding date. The couple kills a chicken and then they analyze it’s liver. The date will be set according to the appearance of the liver. If the liver does not have a lucky and healthy appearance, the young couple should kill another chicken. Via Link

Baldness Considered a Sign of Beauty (Lahu Tribe):

Lahu tribe lives in Yunnan province. In this tribe baldness was considered a sign of beauty and charm so only single girls had hair. After marriage the woman would keep a lock of hair on top of the head. Nowadays this tradition is quite rare. Via Link

Fish Skin Bridal Dresses (Hezhe Ethnic Group):

In Hezhe ethnic minority wedding dress is made from fish skin. The skin of the fish is skillfully sewn with hand-twined animal tendons. They make gowns out of the skin of salmon or any other fish of choice. Via Link

Chinese wedding hezhe tribe fish skin bridal dress

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Three Wedding Dresses:

In most of the tribes the bride wears three different dresses during the wedding ceremony. The white dress with veil is worn during the wedding ceremony. The second wedding dress, a traditional Chinese wedding dress is used at the banquet. The last dress is called the bride’s going away dress. This dress is worn before the bride leaves the banquet.

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