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Category: Holidays

Items left in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial: a red rose sits on top of a worn pair of brown boots, with flags and letters positioned on either side.

VHP’s Newest Online Exhibit: In Memoriam

Posted by: Megan Harris

Today, the Veterans History Project (VHP) launches a new online exhibit titled “In Memoriam: Honoring the Fallen,” featuring the stories of 15 servicemembers who died during their time in the military. For many, Memorial Day may feel like nothing more than a day off from work, a holiday that serves to mark the start of …

A group of 14 people in costumes

Happy Holidays! AFC’s 2023 Literary Ball Mummers Play Video

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Happy holidays from the American Folklife Center! Watch a video of the AFC Mummers performing our 2023 mummers play! Then you can read the play, see the pictures, and even read the annotations if you’re interested in the history of holiday customs. This year’s play is called “Artificial Intelligence Meets Natural Stupidity: A Literary Ball Mumming.” When Artificial Intelligence tries to make writers obsolete, can St. George Eliot, Sherlock Holmes and Enola Holmes save the day? Find out in this play set at the North Pole Library Literary Ball, which includes wassailing carols and dancing to traditional tunes as well! Mummers plays are short plays which were traditionally performed in Britain, Ireland, colonial America and the West Indies at holiday time. Mummers went from house to house and pub to pub, collecting food, drink and small change as a reward for their entertainment. The American Folklife Center’s archive boasts a large collections of British mummers play texts in its James Madison Carpenter Collection.

The Green Man and Calendar Customs

Posted by: Stephen Winick

This is an entry in our occasional series on the Green Man, a figure from traditional folk culture. Among the traditional meanings shared by the figures of the Foliate Head and the Wild Man or Green Man seems to have been that humanity, like vegetation, must follow and adapt to the changing seasons. This traditional meaning could well have given rise to a connection between the Green Man and calendar customs, which goes back to some of the earliest appearances of the figure. In this post we’ll look more closely at the Green Man as an element of seasonal celebration.

Reproductions of two covers--on the left a stylized woodcut of a woman dancing with the devil, on the right a comic-style cover of a man fleeing from ghosts.

Graphics for Halloween and Dia de Muertos

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In this post, we're providing a Blast from Holidays Past, featuring graphic art that we used in the Halloween and Dia de Muertos exhibit LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery. As part of that exhibit, which occurred here at the Library of Congress back in 2017, we presented some spooky covers from the Brazilian chapbook genre known as literatura de cordel, as well as some posters created by Library of Congress artist Joon Yi. See these beautiful examples of graphic arts here in the blog, then follow the link to our updated resource guide to Halloween and Dia de Muertos!

Three young girls in colorful makeup and clothes.

Photos for Dia de los Muertos Newly Online

Posted by: Stephen Winick

For Dia de los Muertos 2023, we thought we'd add some never-before-seen photos to the blog of a classic Dia de los Muertos celebration 24 years ago. These photos were submitted to the American Folklife Center as part of Local Legacies, a collection project undertaken by the American Folklife Center in the late 1990s to help celebrate the Library's Bicentennial in 2000. Members of Congress participated in identifying and documenting traditions. Representative Barbara Lee's team submitted the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival from the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, California. Project documentation in the collection included nine 8 x 10 color photographs, which we're reproducing in this blog.

A groundhog holds a peach in its front paws

Groundhog Day on the Folklife Today Podcast!

Posted by: Stephen Winick

In this podcast episode, John Fenn, Michelle Stefano, and Stephen Winick discuss Groundhog Day traditions. Drawing on the research of Don Yoder, they discuss the history and folklore of the holiday, including groundhog traditions among the Pennsylvania Dutch, weather proverbs, and even cooking and eating groundhogs! There are even four groundhog songs! Find the link to the podcast in this blog post!

A group of costumed performers in front of a Christmas Tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

Happy Holidays: AFC’s 2022 Video Mummers’ Play

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Happy Holidays from the American Folklife Center! In this blog post, you can enjoy our 2022 holiday mummers' play.  As you may know, every year, in the week of the Library’s holiday party, staff members of the American Folklife Center put our research and performance skills into play, bringing collections to life in a dramatic performance that tours the halls of the Library of Congress.  Dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public. Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century. This year's play was called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming from the Vault. This blog post includes the video, the script, explanatory notes, and still photos from the performance and dress rehearsal.

Photo showing a basket of diverse and colorful dreidels

The Truth Behind the Hanukkah Dreidel: Metafolklore, Play, and Spin

Posted by: Stephen Winick

Hanukkah this year will be celebrated from December 18 to December 26. Jewish children all over the world will be playing a gambling game with a traditional spinning top known as a dreidel. Many of them will also be told stories about the origin and meaning of the dreidel, stories which claim that the dreidel once had a subversive purpose or that it was created to commemorate a great miracle. These stories are themselves interesting folklore. Since the dreidel is a traditional toy used to play a traditional game, such stories about the dreidel and game can be called metafolklore--that is, folklore about folklore. In this blog, we'll take a look at some of these stories about the origin of the dreidel and examine the toy's real history.

A man playing a guitar and singing to a close crowd of a dozen or so men and women

Mumming Up 2022: AFC Mummers on December 13

Posted by: Stephen Winick

The American Folklife Center Mummers will present their annual mummers' play in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress, 10 1st Street SE in Washington, DC, at 1:00 and  3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 13. This year's play is called The Flute of Ice: A Mumming From the Vault. It's 1816 and President Madison visits the North Pole Library to deposit a flute made of ice! But soon Father Christmas, the North Pole Librarian, and Dr. Joculus have to deal with dueling monsters. Will their celebrity guest get to play the flute before it melts? The American Folklife Center’s annual holiday play incorporates traditional songs, music, and folk drama from Library of Congress collections for a zany and fun time in the Great Hall. It's open to the public, so come on in and see us perform!