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MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Hello, everyone! I hope that you are saving enough energy for one of the most emotive moments of the year: Christmas, which we will be celebrating next week. In the Catholic world, each family and each culture has its own way of experiencing the symbolic birth of Jesus Christ to redeem the Humanity from sin. But do we know what the origins of Christmas are? And, which is more important, who is Santa Claus and why does he show such a big generosity in bringing presents to kids around the World? Let’s explore the sense and the evolution of this celebration. Will you join me?

In Ancient times the winter solstice was a crucial moment for every human community after the invention of agriculture and cattle rising: during the autumn, darkness had conquered daily life, shortening the hours of insolation and condemning the people to a season of terror, when they lived in permanent fear of being attacked by bad spirits and of not seeing the light again. As a result of increasing darkness, harvest could not go on either, so the whole community had to live on its savings, hoping that the gods were beneficent enough as to allow them to grow food again within the next weeks. December 21st marked the moment when their good hopes came true: once more, darkness would give way to sunlight, which would re-conquer its territory little by little, letting people undertake their rural occupations again until spring rewarded them for their efforts, with natural species came back to life in a whole explosion of colours. That is why the Romans institutionalised the celebration of the winter solstice as the Saturnalia, in order to honour Saturn, god of agriculture, between December 17th and 23rd. When Christianity became official in the Roman Empire, by the end of the 4th century A.D., priests and other religious authorities thought it convenient to make Jesus’ birthdate coincide with that of the Saturnalia, which was already so popular, to make it easier for the new religion to win support among Roman people. Only they moved it a few days forward, from December 21st to the 24th.
And what about Santa Claus? In him two different traditions merge: on the one hand, that of Teutonic god Odin, who was believed to give presents to children; on the other hand, that of Saint Nicolas of Bari, archbishop of Myra (in Turkey) in the 4th century A.D., who assisted a father that had not enough money to marry his three daughters by giving the latter a vast amount of golden coins, which he put into the sockets that the girls had hung out on the window of their house.  As centuries passed by, the man who had been so benevolent not only towards those three sisters, but also to every children around him, was remembered every Christmas in the shape of an elderly character, with white beard and moustache, always smiling, who gave presents to children that had behaved properly along the year.

 That is how present-day Christmas celebrations took place, adding of course the most important element: the familiar atmosphere that presides the dinner that we share with our beloved, or the love and tenderness that we provide to people that cannot spend the night with their relatives, but whom we try to make feel like home. Because the ‘Christmas spirit’ must be present in our lives not only in December, but also during the whole year. Don’t you agree?


Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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There were three of us



“There were three of us”

When telling a story or describing something, it’s quite common to have to talk about the number of people or things at any place in time.  In English we have a rather precise way to do this, so today we’re going to shed some light on this strange construction.  The sentence: “There were three of us,” means Éramos tres and many Spanish speakers have the tendency to say, “We were three”—but that’s incorrect! In English, if we want to express the idea of how many people or things were at a certain event/involved in a situation, we need to use:

·         The verb there is/there are OR it +to be (these can be conjugated in the past, present or future, depending on the situation)
·         The number of people or things
·         "of"
·         The accusative form of the personal pronoun (us, you, them).  Remember, since we’re counting, we’re only going to be using plural pronouns.

This little formula should be helpful but let’s look at some examples to make sure it’s clear.

How many books were there in your bag?
There were four of them.

How many students are there in your class?
There are 31 of us.

How many of us are going to participate in the concert?
I’m not; I think it will be just the two of you.

Obviously you could respond to these questions in other ways: “There were four books in your bag”; “there are 31 students in my class”; or “only you two will participate in the concert”.  However, this construction is a great way to show your domination of one of the intricacies of the English language, so try it out!

Here are a few examples to practice on (feel free to make up the answers):

·         How many people are in your family?
·         How many books are on your bookshelf?
·         How many employees are there in your job?
·         How many people were in that restaurant?
·         How many balls are on the field? 


Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.
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Fitting prepositions into your busy schedule

Fortunately or unfortunately, we have to admit that time rules our life.  We’re constantly scheduling things, marking our calendars, making sure we leave on time to get to the next activity—let’s face it, we’re slaves to the clock!  And so, you can move to a nice a little cabin in the woods and use the sun as your only form to measure time or you can accept your fate and learn how to talk about time terms in English.  Sorry guys, today we’ll have to go with the latter.

TIME:

  • AT-When discussing time we use the preposition at.


Ex: My ballet lesson is at 3:00 (three o’clock).
        We’re going to the theater at 7:00pm. (at 7pm).

It’s also important to remember that when asking questions about time, we can you “what time is” OR “when”.

Ex: What time is your soccer practice? It’s at 4:30 (four thirty).
        When do you have your dentist appointment?  It’s at 10:45 (ten forty five).

We use “am” and “pm” in spoken English when it’s not clear if we’re talking about the morning or evening, or if we want to emphasize an exact time.

Ex: The business meeting begins at 10am. = (at 10am sharp!)
       I start work at 8pm; it’s the night shift.

DAYS and DATES:

  • ON-When we talk about days of the weeks or specific dates, we use the preposition on.

Calendar | Blog 121 Conversation

Ex:  I have English classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.
         My birthday is on December 3rd. OR My birthday is on the third of December.

Remember, we do use an article (the) with dates but we DON’T with days of the week.

Ex: I’ve got a date on Friday. –If we want to be specific we can say “this” but NEVER “the”.
       I’ve got a date this Friday.
       He’s going on vacation this Saturday.

MONTHS and YEARS:

  • IN-When we’re talking about months and years, we use the preposition in.


Ex: I have a huge project due in January.
       When did you get married? We got married in 1984.

So, until you find yourself living on the beach without a care in the world, make sure you use the right preposition when talking about time!



Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.
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"Yo man/How are you, sir?"

Believe it or not, we all choose our words carefully.  We speak differently when we speak to our bosses, our mothers and our friends.  However, when speaking a foreign language sometimes it’s easy for these differences to get lost in translation and you end up speaking to your boss as if he were your child.  Worrisome or embarrassing at best, it’s important to learn about register in English.  Here we’re going to give you some examples about how you can speak formally and informally but it’s up to you to decide when to use each one. 

1.     Greetings.
A simple “Hello” is a great go-to greeting for friends, family or colleagues.  To be even a bit more formal, you can try “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” or “Good evening.” 
When talking to your friends you can sound more relaxed by saying “Hey there,” “Hi,” “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?”

2.     Making a request:
In Spanish, there’s a strong tendency to use the imperative form (“Dame el boli; Pásame ese papel”).  However, in English we tend to form these requests as questions using “can” or “could”.

Now let’s look at a formal way to ask these same questions:

  • “I’m sorry to bother you but could you let me borrow your pen?”
  • “Would you mind passing me that paper over there?”
 
In informal requests we’re more relaxed but the imperative still sounds quite demanding. Sometimes we emper it with a tag question:

  • “Can I borrow your pen?”
  • “Pass that paper, will you?”

3.     Expressing emotion. 
Giving positive feedback or congratulating someone is always appreciated but it’s not really appropriate to say, “Cool!” or “Sweet!” to your boss or professor.

You could say, “Wow, that’s great news.” Or “I’m really impressed, that’s amazing.”  Excellent, wonderful, incredible and terrific are some other options.

You’d be more likely to tell your friend “Oh my god!! That’s awesome!” or “Wow, that’s so cool! Sick!!”

So there you have it.  To finish things off I’ll just say, “Thank you very much for your time,” or, “catch ya’ on the flip side!”



Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.
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Frequent misunderstandings: some English tips for job interviews

Saludos a todos. En el artículo de esta semana me gustaría tratar sobre un aspecto que a todos nos afecta cuando manejamos un idioma extranjero en la vida cotidiana: el empleo adecuado de expresiones que, bien traducidas literalmente o bien sacadas de contexto, pueden dar lugar a malentendidos y a situaciones embarazosas. Por este motivo, procederé a analizar determinados momentos en que debemos ser especialmente cuidadosos con el vocabulario que empleamos, y también con las indicaciones que se nos hacen.


To begin with, it will be very useful to comment some idioms that may be tricky when you attend a job interview and also when you elaborate your own résumé. It is important to notice that when Anglo-Saxon people ask you about your career, they are not interested about your university studies,
as we Spaniards might assume since the word is quite similar to our ‘carrera’, which we use to talk about our university degree. In this sense, ‘career’ means your professional life and is therefore closely linked to your experience, which you may want to describe backwards, that is, beginning from your last position and going back to the previous ones only if you are asked to. Once you have talked about your professional experience, there are many chances that your interviewer(s) will ask you about your university studies, in order to know whether your knowledge, together with your experience, meets the requirements of the post to which you are applying. The same as before, do start describing your last studies and go back to other academic activities only if the interviewer(s) think it necessary, as most times he/she will only need to know about your more recent achievements.

Another common mistake might be committed when you are asked about your main virtues as a worker: in this case, you will be asked about your ‘skills’ and you have also to talk about your ‘skills’ or ‘abilities’, never mention the word ‘qualifications’. Again, the Spanish term used in this situation is cualificación’, but its English translation means ‘the marks that you have obtained during your studies’. Hence, there will be a huge difference between the topic that you will be speaking of and the one that you were asked about if you make this wrong translation. As you will surely have noticed, I am using different words to refer to your potential new job, because all of them have the same meaning: job, post or position, though the last two are related to relatively complicated tasks that are carried out normally as a member of a public institution or a private company, whereas ‘job’ means any professional activity of which you make your living.

Una vez superada esta primera fase, si tu perfil ha sido interesante y consideran que entras en la categoría de candidatos elegibles para el puesto, deberás pasar a tratar un aspecto en el que conviene ser cauteloso: las condiciones del contrato, que se refieren fundamentalmente al salario y otras gratificaciones monetarias, vacaciones, etc. En el ámbito de las remuneraciones, es conveniente diferenciar varias categorías: primeramente, el salario base que recibirás por tu trabajo, que puede definirse empleando dos términos: wages o salary. Ambos se refieren a la cantidad que percibe el trabajador, que puede expresarse en cuantía mensual o, lo que suele ser más frecuente, en total anual, sin contar los impuestos. A esta cantidad hay que sumar ciertos complementos que obedecen a conceptos diferentes: gratificaciones extraordinarias (‘paga extra’), ganancias por horas extraordinarias de trabajo, etc. En todos estos casos se pueden emplear varios términos en inglés, tales como ‘bonus’ o ‘perk, que se refieren a cualquier tipo de beneficio o incentivo obtenido aparte del sueldo ordinario. El último término suele tener carácter más genérico, refiriéndose a las bonificaciones extraordinarias en sentido amplio, mientras que ‘bonuspuede aludir a beneficios concretos ligados a un puesto específico: primas o bonificaciones, seguros médicos, participación en los dividendos de una compañía, etc.

The same as before, there is a detail of your new contract that you must never mistake: holidays. This expression is the one that we translate in Spanish as ‘vacaciones’. Once more, there is an English idiom that can be used as equivalent to that one: ‘vacation’. Only that the latter is more commonly used to refer to a period of time in which you have not been working for other reasons different from holidays, for instance a medical condition, a field research leave, etc. And never forget that, if you wish to know any specific details about your new occupation, you will never use the expression: ‘Which tasks will I realise in the company?’ Here we are confronting another false friend: ‘realise’, which is very similar to the Spanish word ‘realizar’ (meaning ‘to carry out / to do an activity’), in English means ‘to suddenly become aware of something’. Therefore, the right question will be: ‘Which tasks will I have to develop at my new post?’

Como se ha podido ver, en muchas ocasiones encontramos expresiones tremendamente parecidas en dos idiomas distintos, y nuestro instinto nos lleva a emplearlas como sinónimas. Cuando actuamos así, olvidamos que cada idioma apareció en un contexto cultural diferente y que, por tanto, palabras que se escriben de igual o de similar forma pueden tener significados no sólo distintos, sino también opuestos, en muchas ocasiones. Aunque es necesario tener presente este dato en todas las circunstancias de la vida cotidiana, es especialmente aconsejable ponerlo en práctica en momentos importantes, como las entrevistas de trabajo.

Though it is not my intention to talk about false friends, since Abigail Franckquepohl has already analysed them in a previous article previously published in the blog , I have included a table with the expressions that I have mentioned in these lines. People at ‘121 Conversation’ would also be very thankful if any of you wish to comment a situation similar to the ones that have already been described in a job interview or in any other context.

WORD
TRANSLATION
Career / University degree
Experiencia profesional / Carrera universitaria
Job / Post; position; profession
Trabajo / Puesto de trabajo (requiere mayor cualificación)
Wages / Salary
Sueldo
Perk / Bonus
Beneficio o incentivo / Gratificaciones (pagas extraordinarias, seguros médicos, participación en los beneficios de la empresa...)
Qualifications / Skills
Calificaciones (resultados académicos) / Habilidades o cualificación personal
Holiday / Vacation
Vacaciones / Vacaciones o excedencia
Carry out; do; make / Realize
Hacer o realizar / Darse cuenta de algo





Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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Society and work: spaces for intercultural links

Hi everyone; in this article I wish to share with you some thoughts about the implications of today’s multicultural society in work environments, as well as in the classroom. Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, either in Spain or in any other Western country, it was rather common to share the classroom and the working space with people that had the same culture as us. There were only a few countries with well-known imperial past that hosted some people from their former colonies, but they were an exception and they used to regard immigrants as second-class citizens. A radical shift in the situation occurred by the late 1990s and early 2000s, when economic prosperity and mass media spread the Western way of life and turned the ‘civilised West’ into de destination of hundreds of thousands of migrants that longed for a better living.
As a result of the situation, we share our everyday spaces with people from different cultural contexts and it is necessary to stress the importance of tolerance and respect to make possible a comfortable work atmosphere, specially in a moment of economic recession like the one we are living, in which xenophobic proclaims that blame ‘the other’ for our own faults gain more and more popular support. Either at the school, at the university, or at the worksite, we must regard other cultures as experiences different from our own that we have to know in order to enrich our knowledge of the world around us. In our minds, ‘the other’ must always be an endless source of information about how different peoples experience life in a broad sense: how they live religiousness, what their values are, which their main celebrations and their special rituals are, what their consideration towards the other is, etc. Getting to know these aspects will not only help us understand everyone better, even people from our same culture: it can even make us reconsider some aspects of our lives and change certain elements of our cultural discourse to adapt them to our daily life. In addition, it will enable us to use the proper expressions when talking to other colleagues and to understand better what they imply when they make suggestions or remarks, too: this is the main goal and the best result of studying and using foreign languages in our job (or any other daily routines) from a grammatical as well as from a cultural perspective. And that is why nowadays a well-respected trend in teaching and learning foreign languages is to frame them within the cultural background in which they were produced.
In the different scenarios that I have mentioned before there are always very good chances to become interested about different cultural elements: religion, celebrations and rituals, costumes... that become especially visible in certain moments. For instance, if we are dealing with a Brazilian company we will need of course to speak Portuguese, but we will also have to bear in mind that there are significant differences between our concept of time and theirs, so if you want something finished for ‘tomorrow’ you may want to clarify that you mean ‘the day after today’, not ‘a certain moment within the next few days’. Another common situation occurs when we are sent to work in a foreign country, and we receive lessons of its language but not of its work culture, that is: what their daily timetable is, whether they respect punctuality or not, to what degree they trust each person’s individual initiatives... And of course, it is crucial to know about how people tend to salute each other in other cultures: in Spain men usually shake hands, women kiss each other in both cheeks, and men and women do the same between them, since shaking hands is regarded as extra formal and rather cold. But... look out! French people always kiss each other every time they meet again, whereas the British and the Germans tend to shake hands, as do the Italians. As you can see, all the aforementioned aspects may escape our thoughts, but they can easily lead to uncomfortable misunderstandings if they are not taken into account, since they will condition our interaction with the others.

The ideal attitude towards different cultural manifestations is curiosity and eagerness to learn, as well as to empathise with them and turn them into a part of us when we need to use them in our job. Thus we will create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, and also of reciprocal influence that makes us mentally wealthier and socially wiser. And that is the main reason why we must transmit these values to our children, so they become rooted in everyone’s minds from an early stage of their lives. One may argue that sometimes we confront intolerance when trying to know ‘the other’, but if we persevere and at the same time we show a good disposition to share our own cultural discourse, resistance will undoubtedly give way to a more welcoming attitude to dialogue and to making a multicultural society possible. 


Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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Giving Thanks (or the other way round)


Hi everyone!!! Two weeks ago we explored the origin and the meaning of Halloween, making it clear that it was born among pagan communities in Ancient Times as a tradition to celebrate the end of harvest, as well as to frighten bad spirits and warn them to leave the community alone during the harsh winter. So now it is time to learn about another Anglo-Saxon celebration that will take place within the next few days: Thanksgiving. The funny thing is that Thanksgiving was born with the same spirit.

In the 16th century King Henry 8th of England, who had just made himself head of his own Church, departing from the large embrace of Catholicism, decided to create a celebration that would serve three purposes: first, it would be a more familiar way than Halloween to give thanks for the prosperous harvest, gathering all the families together by the warmth of fuming chimneys in order to share a delicious and loving dinner; second, Thanksgiving would equalise the amount of holidays in the Anglican and the Catholic calendar; finally, the new holiday would evidence the power of the English King at the head of the Anglican church against the Roman Pope, its main antagonist in the European continent shaken by the spirit of the Council of Trent.

As it often happens with the institutionalisation of every celebration, doubtlessly Thanksgiving soon overcame the British Crown’s expectations and it became so popular that the Pilgrims that fled Great Britain in the 1620s and the 1630s brought the tradition with them to North America. There are different opinions on when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the British colonies that later became the United States of America, though everyone may have seen the typical image of a Pilgrim family sharing their food with the American Indians in Plymouth by 1621. But leaving such irrelevant details apart, the most important thing about Thanksgiving is that it has become a familiar event in every house in the Anglo-Saxon world, regardless of each one’s beliefs, since it is now considered as an excuse to share time with relatives and friends and enjoy some intimate moments before going back to the stress of everyday.

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

With your permission I will tell my personal story concerning Thanksgiving. I must confess that in my youth I had always approached it with some prejudice, as I was not really aware of its meaning and I was afraid that it is another pretext to make us spend our money. However, when I was in London four years ago I had the chance to celebrate it at the house of the family with which I was living. It was a rather humble and discreet celebration, but it was enough to make me conceive good feelings towards it. One year later I was living in New York and my landlady, a loving Colombian woman, took me to her brother’s place to share thanksgiving with a representation of the Colombian community in the state of New Jersey. As you can guess, the new experience was radically different from the previous one, but even so it made me learn to appreciate more and more the affective element of that day. Finally, when one year later I celebrated it in Pittsburgh with many Spaniards that had gone there to work, the same as me, I had already fallen in love with Thanksgiving: it has always given me the chance to feel like home every time that I have been abroad. I hope everyone will find the same meaning in it, and I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.




Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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False Friends

False Friends | 121 ConversationIsn’t that the worst feeling when one of your friends disappoints you?  Or even worse, when they betray you? It’s like you’re stabbed right through the heart.  Well, words are the same, although hopefully it doesn’t hurt quite so much.  False cognates, more colloquially known as “false friends,” are words in two languages that look the same but don’t have the same meaning.  They can really deceive you, those little tricksters. 

Some words in English and Spanish are spelled exactly the same way and have the same meaning, take chocolate--the only difference is the pronunciation. Animal, legal, taxi, video and sofa are some more examples.  Other words look very similar and have the same meaning like apartment-apartamento, contact-contacto, elegant-elegante, dialogue-diálogo, band-banda and many more.  However, those aren’t the crux
of our problem.  What we’re going to focus on today are words that look the same but have totally different meanings—the false cognates or infamous “false friends.” Here are 15 of the most common false friend mistakes for Spanish speakers.
False Friends | 121 Conversation

Spanish term
English definition
English false friend
Spanish translation
Actual
Current
Actual
Real, existente
Asistir
Attend
Assist
ayudar
Carpeta
Folder
Carpet
alfombra
Constipación
A cold, stuffed up
Constipation
Estreñimiento
Decepción
Disappointment
Deception
Engaño
Éxito
Success
Exit
Salida
Embarazado
Pregnant
Embarassed
Avergonzada
Fábrica
Factory
Fabric
Tela, tejido
Idioma
Language
Idiom
Modismo, frase hecha
Noticia
News
Notice
Aviso/Notar
Remover
Stir
Remove
Quitar, sacar
Reunión
Meeting
Reunion
Reencuentro/Reunión
Sensible
Sensitive
Sensible
Sensato
Sopa
Soup
Soap
Jabón
Soportar
To put up with
Support
Apoyar

 Here are some examples of these false friends in use-hopefully they help you remember the difference.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net |121 Conversation
1. I eat carrot soup everyday but I wash myself with soap.
2. I stuffed my papers in my folder and put it down on the carpet.
3. Actually, I’m really interested in current events.
4. I was so embarrassed that I asked that a woman if she were pregnant-it turns out she was just fat!
5. What a beautiful fabric! Yes, it was made in a factory.


Homework! 

Now it’s your turn.  Watch out because these are difficult. Each sentence contains a false friend error. Try to spot the false friend and replace it with the correct word in English.

1. When you make a sauce, remove it slowly.
2. English is an easy idiom to learn.
3. It was a good notice - Sheila had twins.
4. The film was a great exit - it won 8 Oscars.
5. He put the papers inside the carpet.
6. They have a reunion every morning at 10am.

Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.
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Happy Halloween!!!

It’s been a week now since we started to see a very peculiar decoration in every shop window: some smiling diabolic cabbages seeming to say ‘hello!’ to passers by, ‘get ready for Halloween!’ That’s right: Halloween is approaching, and in some days many people will wear terrific costumes to attend massive parties or just to celebrate the special occasion with friends. In the last two decades the Spaniards have incorporated the tradition of Halloween, as a way of showing our immersion into the global Anglo-Saxon culture, but do we really know what Halloween means and which its origins are? Let’s investigate about it!

Two thousand years ago, while the Romans were trying to control Europe, members of the Celt tribes that resisted Roman domination to the North of present-day France and in the British Islands gathered every late October to celebrate the end of harvest. Apparently the celebration was supposed to be a big one, as another year had gone by without great problem and the gods had favoured their worshippers with enough food to go trough a harsh winter. However, Celts knew that the end of harvest was also the beginning of dark times, when the sun would go down shortly after midday, leaving the people to their own luck and, of course, exposed to the threat of bad spirits, who would feel rather comfortable in an isolated land abandoned by the sunlight. Suddenly they had an outstanding idea: what if they dressed up as bad spirits? What if they walked around disguised as terrific creatures of which the bad spirits themselves would be terrified? Thus the commemoration of Samhain, or the end of harvest, became also a means of terrifying the devil and making sure that the whole community passed the winter unthreatened by it.



Happy Halloween | 121 Conversation
Picture taken by Antonio J. Pinto in Hoboken, New Jersey. Halloween, 2010
The Celts could not imagine that they had just invented Halloween, though some centuries had still to pass by before the contemporary celebration took shape. First, the Romans adopted it once they had already taken control of the whole continent, and they too celebrated the end of harvest and of summer in a very similar way, in order to honour Pomosa, the holy goddess of harvest whose symbol was a poma, that is, an apple. By the end of the 5th Century Catholicism became official within the Roman Empire and maintained the tradition, only that three centuries later popes Gregory 3rd and Gregory 4th made some changes in it: on the one hand, they decided to turn it into a celebration in daytime, as Catholicism tended to associate sin to everything that happened after sunset; on the other hand, they decided to make it a remembrance of the souls of the dead and to empty it of its pagan meaning. Hence they called it ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, which contracted became ‘Halloween’.

In the same places where the Celts had lived hundreds of years before, Catholic communities started to honour the souls of their deceased relatives or friends, but they also preserved the tradition of wearing terrifying customs, only then it was just a way of having fun and losing one’s inhibition behind the mask of anonymousness. European Anglo-Saxon migrants that crossed the Atlantic and colonised America took the tradition with them and strengthened it, especially in a new land where they felt a special necessity to conjure the threat of the devil and the unknown, as well as to demand protection and good luck by thanking God for the recent and prosperous harvest. That was why Halloween became so popular in the United States, where it turned into a major celebration in the 1920s, when everyone wished to let the world know about the benefits of the American Way of Life.

At present, Halloween has become a major occasion to meet with friends, have a nice time and, just for one night, forget about everyday life and lose the fear of making a fool of oneself. Therefore, it is another way of bringing a smile to your own face and, by that, to the faces of all the people that share the moment with you. This is one of the main reasons why it has become so popular in Spain and in other non-Anglo-Saxon countries that have incorporated it to their popular culture, where people pretend to terrify the others in the evening just to wake up the next day with the sweet taste of candy on their lips.

Happy Halloween!!!

Before finishing the article, let me ask you some questions:

Were you aware of the origins of Halloween? Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, how do you do it? If you have children, do you encourage them to wear dresses and go door after door asking ‘trick or treat’? What do you think of incorporating this tradition to the Spanish popular culture? What other ways do you think we might promote to celebrate Halloween?

(Add your comments below)

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".
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