Sunday, December 6, 2009

Post 40: Final COMM 300 Blog

Well people it is the end of the semester, we are in the final week of classes, and this Blogging for Cmm 300 will now come to an end. It was an interesting class and I enjoyed reading, seeing, and discussing the different angles and aspects of different minorities within the United States and their struggles, triumphs, and continuos battles for proper representation. As a slight change of things I wish to post my final paper in my folklore class. I do this mainly because it is very Czech culture centric which brings a different light to traditions and holidays that we may not normally experience; which is partially what this class enjoyed discussing. To the Comm 300 class I wish you good luck and to Professor Bjorn thank you for the journey and understanding of cultural minorities! Happy Holidays everyone and good luck with your endeavors!

Michael Mullen Jr

Traditions, Festivals, and Holidays of the Czech Republic

There are many cultures that I am fascinated with but none has touched me in a way more profoundly than the culture and country of the Czech Republic. My girlfriend being born and raised within this country, she has told me over the near two year length of our relationship, of the different traditions, holidays, and foods of her homeland and how much they mean to her. Having a new fascination for the country that I am sure I will be visiting in the not too distant future, I decided to compose this paper in honor and recognition of the Czech Republic and the new found intrigue surrounding it. Their country is nestled in the “heart of Europe” surrounded by the countries of Germany, Poland, Slovakia, and Austria. The country was more than likely founded around the 5’th Century A.D. by Slavic tribes that settled themselves in the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. This is the heart and soul from which small tribes gave birth to a country of rich history, classic European diversity, and a well known traditions, festivals, foods, and beer. But it was not without its struggles to achieve the status in which it has today.

Brief Czech Historical Summary

We now know that in the 5’th century the Slavic tribes settled themselves within the regions of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. So what had happened since then that has developed their country into what it is today? Well the Czechs founded the kingdom of Bohemia and the Premyslide dynasty, which ruled Bohemia and Moravia from the 10th to the 16th century. One of the Bohemian kings, Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor, made Prague an imperial capital and a center of Latin scholarship. The Hussite movement founded by Jan Hus (1369?–1415) linked the Slavs to the Reformation and revived Czech nationalism, previously under German domination. A Hapsburg, Ferdinand I, ascended the throne in 1526, however the Czechs rebelled in 1618, precipitating the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Defeated in 1620, they were ruled for the next 300 years as part of the Austrian empire under full occupation. Full independence from the Hapsburgs was not achieved until the end of World War I, following the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

A union of the Czech lands and Slovakia was proclaimed in Prague on Nov. 14, 1918, and the Czech nation became one of the two component parts of the newly formed Czechoslovakian state. In March 1939, German troops occupied Czechoslovakia, and Czech Bohemia and Moravia became German protectorates for the duration of World War II. The former government returned in April 1945 when the war ended and the country's pre-1938 boundaries were restored. When elections were held in 1946, Communists became the dominant political party and gained control of the Czechoslovakian government in 1948. Thereafter, the former democracy was turned into a Soviet-style state.

Nearly 42 years of Communist rule ended with the nearly bloodless “velvet revolution” in 1989. Václav Havel, a leading playwright and dissident, was elected president of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Havel, imprisoned twice by the Communist regime and his plays banned, became an international symbol for human rights, democracy, and peaceful dissent. The return of democratic political reform saw a strong Slovak nationalist movement emerge by the end of 1991, which sought independence for Slovakia. When the general elections of June 1992 failed to resolve the continuing coexistence of the two republics within the federation, Czech and Slovak political leaders agreed to separate their states into two fully independent nations. On Jan. 1, 1993, the Czechoslovakian federation was dissolved and two separate independent countries were established—the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Czech Republic joined NATO in March 1999.

President Václav Havel left office in Feb. 2003, after 13 years as president. Over the years, Havel lost some of his immense popularity with the Czechs, who became disenchanted with his failings as a political leader. But internationally Havel has remained a massive figure of moral authority and courage. In March, Václav Klaus became the Czech Republic's second president. A conservative economist, he and Havel often clashed. In May 2004, the Czech Republic joined the EU. After an inconclusive election in June 2006, the political deadlock was broken in August, with rightist Mirek Topolánek appointed prime minister. His government resigned in October, after losing a no-confidence vote. He formed another government in January 2007. A year later, Topolánek's government narrowly survived another no-confidence vote. While the Czech Republic held a six-month rotating term as President of the EU, the government collapsed and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek resigned after his center-right government lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in March 2009. (, 2009)

The Aftermath

It is clear that the Czech Republic has had its times of troubles and struggles. It is a peaceful country, with a loving and tight-knit family structure, and non-violent tendencies which is why, I believe, it was a country ripe with prospect to conquer and occupy. Much of its history has been under the influence of ruling countries, political Communism, and the iron fists of Europe’s warring past. However I maintain that through the intense struggles these people had to endure, the family traditions became extremely important to them and their identities. So much so, that even today these traditions are passed on and practiced within the many village communities located throughout the country. While Western Culture has prevailed in making a permanent residence within the capital city of Prague, suggesting a slight movement away from the old traditions, it seems clear that the old traditions are still extremely relevant and practiced with passion and remembrance.
There is also an extremely strong presence of the Czech culture located in Chicago, IL of the United States where many of these traditions and festivals are celebrated in America. So much so that one of the best governors Chicago ever had was the Czech citizen Anton Cermak who is forever hailed by the local Czech community as a strong, good, and moral leader who has become immortalized in everything from museums to streets bearing his name. However it is the traditions that I would like to begin to focus on and hope to shed some light on them to honor Czech Republic and its culture. This paper will be focused on only a handful of major holidays and festivals, but will hopefully inspire others to look into this truly rich culture.

A Traditional Czech Christmas

The Czech Christmas season begins with Advent four weeks before the 25th. St. Nicholas, who visits each village on the 6th accompanied by an angel and devil to symbolize the opposition between good and evil, provides another sign of Christmas' approach. The Christmas season is traditionally a time for fortune telling in the Czech Republic. On December 4th, St. Barbara's Day, people cut branches from cherry or morrello trees. They are placed in a warm corner in the hopes that they will bloom by Christmas Eve, a sign that the family will enjoy good fortune in the coming year. The shapes seen inside apple cores or those created by pouring hot lead into water were also thought to prophesize the major events of the next year. The three days from the 24th to the 26th are a time of family closeness and religious reflection for many Christians in the Czech Republic.

Those without close family members are often invited to join their neighbors in their celebrations, provided that no table has an odd number seated around it, as odd numbers on Christmas Eve are thought to bring bad luck. Nativity scenes in all sizes from miniature to larger than life models are set up in churches and in homes. In contrast to the more somber celebrations of Christmas, New Year's Eve festivities are extremely animated. Some people throw rowdy parties and others some have more gentle gatherings in restaurants, but almost everyone spends the evening of Silvester, December 31st, with friends celebrating the close of the holiday season. The typical food enjoyed on Christmas day would be a hearty thick soup often made of fish, a fried fish which is typically a carp, a traditional Christmas potato salad, with the entire meal garnished with many different kinds of sweet biscuits that was prepared in the days before-hand, and finished with a traditional hot apple strudel for dessert. (Holiday Traditions: Czech Republic, 2009)

Traditional Czech Easter

Easter in Czech Republic is known by the traditional name of 'Velikonoce'. Easter celebration in the country is a collage of colorful traditions and folk customs, dating back to pre-Christian times. Most of the traditions indigenous to the country are largely observed in villages and small towns. With the passing time, they have lost the symbolism and are now performed mainly for fun. Nonetheless, Easter is one of the prominent festivals in Czech Republic and calls for full fledged celebrations

In Czech Republic, the traditional name for Easter Monday is 'Whipping Monday', because on this day, the village boys symbolically 'whip' girls on the legs and buttocks. Young, live 'pussy willow' twigs are thought to bring a health and youth to anyone who is whipped with them. This braided homemade whip is called the 'Easter pomlázka'. While whipping the girl, the boy would recite an Easter carol or poem, usually asking for an egg or two. The girl would reward the boy with a painted egg or candy then offered a snack or drink (typically beer or wine) and tie a ribbon around his pomlázka. This tradition is still followed in many parts of Czech Republic.

Decoration of Easter eggs is one of the popular traditions associated with the celebration of the festival in Czech Republic. Hand-painted or decorated eggs (kraslice) are the most recognizable symbol of Easter in all of Europe. Different materials including bee's wax, straw, watercolors, onion peels, stickers are used to decorate the eggs. As a part of the traditions, young girls decorate Easter eggs to give them as presents to boys, on Easter Monday. Easter Sunday (Nedele velikonocní) is a day of preparations for Easter Monday. While the girls are occupied with painting, coloring and decorating eggs, boys prepare their pomlázkas. A nationwide Easter egg contest is held in Prague and other Czech cities around Easter time.

On Easter, people in Czech Republic eat delicious sweet delicacies that are prepared especially for the festival. Usually, traditional Czech Republic recipes are made for the ceremonious occasion. Czechs eat a type of coffee bread called 'Babovka'. 'Mazanec' is another special Easter food, which is a yeast-raised cake filled with almonds, raisins and citron. A cross is cut into the top of the cake, just before it goes into the oven. Easter gingerbread, Easter Ram Cake, Judas Cake, 'God’s Mercy' (a type of doughnut sprinkled with sugar) are some more of the traditional sweet snacks served on Easter Sunday. (, 2009)

The End of Winter, and the Burning of Witches

April 30 is "pálení čarodějnic" ("burning of the witches") or "čarodějnice" in the Czech Republic Czechs gather to build a bonfire and prepare an effigy of the witch that kept winter around so long. Czechs used to believe that the power of witches would weaken as the weather got warmer. So they thought that if they made something that looked like a witch and burned it, they could finally get rid of the cold weather. First, they tie two large sticks together to form a cross. Then they stuff old shirts, pants and socks with straw and place a pointed hat on the top of the stack. The witch is tied to a broomstick and set aside until darkness falls. When the fire is roaring, people roast sausages on sticks, strum guitars, and sing their favorite songs. Everyone looks forward to nightfall, when they will face the spirits of the witches. As soon as it's dark, the effigy of the witch is brought out and held up for all to see. Then, with a heave of the arm, it is thrown on top of the bonfire. As the witch burns, so does the last of winter's chill. (Chudoba, 2009)

Name Day Celebration

Ever feel like a birthday is not enough? Want more reasons to celebrate your existence on this wonderful word? Well why no discover over 365 Czech names that are part of the Czech calendar! In the Czech Republic, every day of the year is someone's name day ("svátek" or "jmeniny" in Czech - the latter is more formal). It is a reason to celebrate, wish the person a Happy Name Day, and buy a little present, like flowers and a box of chocolates. However always remember to never give anyone an even number of flowers! Such bouquets are used at funerals. The number should be an odd number such as 1, 3, 5, etc. The typical food eaten when more formally celebrated is any type of prepared chicken, rolls, and vegetables (primarily potatoes) along with beer or wine. (Czech Name Days, 2009)


It is amazing to me that despite being worlds apart, the traditions celebrated in the Czech Republic have striking similarities between them and ours in the United States. However to them the holidays typically take on a different form unique to their culture and heritage. In this day and age it is encouraging to see unique traditions to help celebrate the diversity and differences that make each of our country’s unique and special to our hearts. This uniqueness is only amplified since I am involved in a relationship with someone of this culture and I owe her my respect and gratitude for teaching me the folk customs of her homeland, bringing Czech a little closer to me and injecting her culture into my own family. I hope that this paper has given the reader a small taste to the treasures that await within the Czech Republic and encourages them to explore the cultural uniqueness within.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Post 39: The Ebook Experience

Having recently purchased an Amazon Kindle (and loving it might I add) I found a very interesting article about "ebooks" in general and how they could change the future of literacy. The link to the article is below with my response to it after.

This is a very interesting article since it is something that I have been thinking about for a long time with my own personal interest. I have been debating for a long time whether or not to pick up my own copy of an Amazon Kindle due to the extremely attractive ideas of owning an Ebook machine. There is something luring about owning a machine that can let me store many books onto it, the portability, adjustable easy-to-read fonts, built in dictionary for words that are not understood for instantaneous understanding, the durability of the “book” never having to face breaking bindings or folding pages, they have wi-fi support, automatically download popular daily newspapers, it is back lit, and can read to me in an auditable voice what the book says if I am driving or otherwise distracted from physically holding the device. All of these things are only going to vastly improve as time goes on but this calls into question, What about paperback books?
Sam Kleinman, the writer for this article, clearly thins that while the overwhelmingly cool features of an Ebook device are certainly alluring; they are still no match for a physical paper-made book in your hands for several reasons. As his article states books are “long from extinct”. First and foremost, a paper-made book is still the most widely and easily accessible source of information in the entire world. From libraries, to coffee shops, to book stores, no matter where you go magazines, books, and newspapers are still the traditional and easily accessible formats of reading. Secondly, no matter how technologically advanced we become, not everyone will be on the same page (if you will pardon the pun) as everyone else. With Ebooks you need to know how to transfer files, how to store them properly, and how to back them up. Not to mention know how to use the device itself. This automatically cuts a chunk of the population from easily enjoying the Ebook experience where as all they need it literacy to pick up and enjoy a good book. Another noticeable mention is that books are collector’s items. There is still a sense of pride for those who own first editions/first copies of books and they are still greatly valued. For another there is no comparison (in his eyes) for ink printed text on a page versus the digital text on a screen. He feels no matter how many improvements are made to the devices there is something that stands out better with ink and paper than on text on screen.
So where many people may fear that the Ebook may completely eliminate the paper-made reading experiences from our daily lives, there are many who feel exactly the opposite. Ebook technology is new, it’s not widely accessible, and it will take a very long time for it to establish itself as a dominant source of reading that super cedes over paper-made reading. However the future remains bright for Ebooks, as it continues to get more and more popular. It is no doubt of mine that it will become a challenge for paper-made reading in the distant future, but for now books and magazines can find comfort on their bookshelves knowing that they are still the #1 source of information and enjoyment accessible by the entire world.

Post 38: The Skype Movement and Future of Communication

I read a very interesting article about Skype the other day. I provided a link below so that people can reference it and know what I am talking about.

I am a huge user and advocate for Skype. I can look (and listen) in pride and happiness as my girlfriend, who came from and grew up in the Czech Republic, can talk and see her parents for free using this program. With the world of communication shrinking and the Global Village becoming a reality years ago (thanks to Internet) we are finding many ways to communicate cheaper and easier than ever before. One such ways is through the program Skype. It allows you to not only quickly make a voice call with better quality than that of a telephone, but it also grants you to see each other via the use of webcams, as well as granting you the ability to transfer files, play games, etc all at the same time for FREE! That last word is one of the biggest reasons why this program has been sought after for years and why, despite some legal hiccups here and there, it has come out on top as one of the best ways to communicate; and average consumers are not the only people to have recognized this. It is becoming much more relevant in businesses as well.
Stefan Öberg makes this case in his article Skype for Business where an increasing number of business owners and employees use the Skype program on a regular basis and the numbers don’t lie. 95% of businesses say they are saving money, 80% say they are seeing increased productivity, 70% say they are using it while traveling for business and 62% say they communicate better with customers using it. These numbers are only expected to grow as time goes on and it’s not without wonder: it’s a free, clean, small, powerful communication tool widely accessible with anyone with internet, a computer, and a simple headset (or webcam if you want video).
Its my personal opinion that in time, the preferred way of communicating over the internet will not be typing but by voice/picture communication. It’s already happening with the ability to attach voice messages, pictures, or video in emails. Even popular programs such as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, and ICQ are trying to directly compete with Skype by offering their services with voice and video. With so much interest on these programs and the voice/video services (especially being free) we may start to see a crumbling of the telephone industry and if they are not careful and do not embrace the internet as a source of communication that they can benefit from they may find themselves in the same situation as the newspapers are facing these days. It’s only a matter of time, and popularity…

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Post 37: COMPLETED!!!!!!!

It is done!! I have finally completed my final research paper for COMM 300 with a week to spare! I know I have to catch up with my blogging but this is certainly a moment to celebrate (for me at least). This was the most in depth paper I had to accomplish for the semester, and while it was a struggle to make some points, I think in the end I have succeeded in doing so. Its also a good time to reflect on all that we (my schoolmates and I) have accomplished over the duration of the semester. It feels weird that all of us are working so hard and constantly posting but I have never even seen these peoples faces (except for a couple that I know from other classes). As I pat myself on the back for completing this "monster" of a paper, I would also like to start extending my appreciation to those in the class that actually took the time to engage in excellent conversation/discussion boarding, witty remarks, and open-minded revelations. It was YOU that made this class worth while (and of course Bjorn!). Thank you everyone and good luck in the final stretch.


Post 36: Woods is deforested

Its official ladies and gentleman. The most lovable, agreeable, professional golfer (and quite possibly sports celeb to grace the television) is not as perfect as the media made him out to be. Tiger Woods has apparently been caught in having an affair behind his wife’s back for some time. Dare I say it that he is human after all?? The sad truth of the matter is that the media makes celebrities to be much grander than the “average people” of the country. Their lives are exemplified as perfect. We all know from just reading the daily tabloids that celebrities are anything but perfect, but their social status gives them a air of perfection that preaches how they are above the status quo in a society. So as it turns out; Tiger Woods is merely a human being who made a very poor choice and if going to have to deal with the consequences of his actions. I have no doubts in my mind this will follow him for a long time and damage his career in some way. But let this be a lesson to people who blindly follow the media as if it were a truth-telling Bible of sorts: the media paints a wonderful picture of the positives, but it also paints a destructive picture of the negatives. Who would have thought the media was its own self-serving “yin & yang”?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Post 35: The Death of Tradional Media?

This was a very interesting article about the drastic changes that CBS’ band of radio station going to replace the old NYC K-Rock radio station with their own station in efforts to attract the younger generation. In the article senior vice president of CBS Radio division stated that “… CBS Radio offers something for everyone in the market-including young adults who are using the radio to discover today’s most popular music.” However there is a fundamental flaw in this type of reasoning as the article continues to talk about, and that all centers on the use of the Internet. It seems that not only young adults are getting their music information and “fixes” from the internet sources (Pandora, iTunes, YouTube, and BitTorrents) but adults and seniors are catching on to the methods as well. This raises the question of if Radio has already started the dangerous slope downward into oblivion. Will internet-fueled programs be the future of radio communications? It certainly appears to be heading in that direction, and radio isn’t the only victim in the fall out. Television, news, communication, and archiving all seem to have been affected greatly by the Internet. However as the article expresses, its not so much the Internet being the CAUSE of the destabilization of these emdia sources but the lack of EMBRACING the internet as a fundamental delivery system. K-Rock, after losing its biggest selling show The Howard Stern Show, quickly started to decline. Several offers were made to them to merge with Satellite or Internet Radio programs but their flat our denial earned them a one way ticket of cancelation with the birth of CBS’ Radio station taking its place. However CBS has also stated it will not focus its efforts on Internet rather; try to give people an alternative method of listening to music without having to rely on the internet. I have a feeling however, that any who don’t embrace the internet are doomed to failure. Ignorance isn’t always bliss it turns out…

Convergance of media IS happening.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Post 34: Thanksgiving in another Country?

Today was a very nice day of family, friends, and my loved one with us. My family Thanksgivings are typically loaded with insurmountable amounts of food (all prepared by my dad who happens to be the best chef I have every experienced thus far), lots of beer or wine, and a loud excitable family who seems to get all the louder as we retell stories for the millionth time that never seem to grow old. It’s a great time, and it has been even better since my girlfriend has joined in the festivities. Along with my girlfriend comes a very nice, refreshing, and interesting outlook on her culture and traditions since she is from the Czech Republic. One of the topics of conversation turned to her, her country, and if she had anything similar to Thanksgiving there. While there wasn’t anything precisely like our country’s Thanksgiving (given its extremely unique history), her own history was interesting to listen to. These were traditions and holidays I had heard before from her but I love to watch her talk about her country and the way things are there. One such holiday they celebrate is the freedom her country won from Communism exactly 20 years ago this November. They also celebrate famous people from their history that had become martyrs which is always interesting to hear about (in my opinion). So on this Thanksgiving I would like to give a special “thank you” to my girlfriend Katerina for providing my family with not only your wonderful company, but the experiences and stories of your country bringing your culture to my home! I look forward to many more culturally diverse injections into my family as time goes on!