Post Tagged with "history"

The Costa Rican Colorful Oxcart

Costa Rican oxcarts (Photo by Manu Martin)

La Carreta, “The oxcart” in English, was designated National Labor Symbol on March 22nd, 1988. During the nineteenth century, with extensive coffee plantations around the country, it was necessary to have a vehicle that could actually pass through muddy places, beaches, hills, curves, rocky mountains and deep small rivers. That’s when this rustic, wooden, strong cart was created.

As the coffee industry of Costa Rica increased, so did the need to use the oxcart to produce and export the coffee beans. Thus, the first shipment of coffee to London was transported from the coffee plantations to Costa Rica’s main ports by oxcart in 1843. Oxcarts carried coffee to the province of Puntarenas on a small road between 1844 and 1846. A curious fact is that oxcarts were originally pulled by people, not oxen. However, as the need for transporting goods grew, the loads became too heavy and the people were replaced by oxen.

"Coffee and sugarcane gave birth to our oxcart" (Photo by Manu Martin)

The oxcart also served as an ideal transportation for family trips and other types of social activities such as weddings and funerals, and even for medical assistance. It is interesting to know that before the railway was built, which connected San José with Puntarenas, many families used the oxcarts to spend summer days in the coast. The round trip consisted of 4 ½ days to get there, 2 days in the beach and other 4 ½ days to return!

The golden age of oxcarts is said to go from 1850 to 1935. The custom of originally decorating and painting these carts began in the early twentieth century, when cowherds decided to add life to oxcarts by hand painting them with bright colors and geometrical figures.  In 1903, people decided to start enhancing the carts by decorating the circle wheels, and in 1915, the entire wheels were painted and decorated to create a distinct look among families. After World War II, the oxcart became obsolete due to new inventions; being replaced by trains, tractors and trucks. It has been used since then as an ornamental object.

Oxcarts in the past (Photo by Manu Martin)

The oxcart is not only used in Costa Rica, but also in Central America. However, the Costa Rican oxcart is unique because it is the only one decorated in such an original way with colorful patterns and shapes, and even flowers, stars and animals. Although the oxcarts can present evident similarities, there are never two oxcarts painted exactly the same since all of them contain changes in color tones and figures. This art has been passed from generation to generation up to the present time.

Original oxcart with painted animals and flowers (Photo by Manu Martin)

The town of Sarchí, located in the province of Alajuela, is the great traditional center for manufacturing and decorating carretas. That’s why it is common to see beautifully painted oxcarts in gardens and in the more than 200 stores, where a wonderful variety of oxcarts can be found, offering all kinds of sizes and colors. The largest and oldest oxcart factory is also found in this place: the Joaquín Chaverri Oxcart Factory was built in 1902 and is considered to be the birthplace of oxcart handicrafts in Costa Rica. In front of the church of Sarchí you can also see the world’s largest painted oxcart, which was built in 2006 in order to get the name of the town into The Guinness Book of World Records. It is an amazingly beautiful oxcart!

One of the many stores in Sarchí (Photo by Nuria Villalobos)

Corridor in Sarchí where oxcarts get painted (Photo by Manu Martin)

The World's Largest Painted Oxcart

The oxcarts are nowadays used in parades and festivals around the country. The most famous one takes place on the second Sunday of every March in San Antonio de Escazú, a town in San José. The Oxcart Drivers Day, Día de los Boyeros in Spanish, has been celebrated for 30 years. This year, over 200 yuntas (sets) of oxen and beautifully decorated and colorful oxcarts participated in the event. The boyeros or oxcart men use a traditional prod or chuzo to keep the oxen moving and under control as they climb uphill to San Antonio. Besides the parade, where the priest blesses the oxcarts, the festival also offers visitors a good variety of typical food and traditional music.

The Oxcart Drivers Day in Escazú (Photo by

After learning so much about the oxcart, it is easy to understand its importance in the Costa Rican culture. As María Alvarado says in her article about the typical oxcart, it is one of the most genuine folkloric manifestations of the country as it represents the simplicity and aspirations of rural Costa Rican people, who have become artisans thanks to it. La carreta symbolizes humility, patience, sacrifice and endurance in an effort to pursue goals in a pacific manner. The national progress is linked to the oxcart, which imposes respect in virtue of its glorious past. The typical oxcart was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO on November 24th, 2005.

Oxcart with boyero (Photo by Manu Martin)

Beautiful oxen with cart (Photo by Nuria Villalobos)

So, if you are ever in Costa Rica, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Sarchí or Escazú, get on an oxcart to take a picture or buy a miniature oxcart somewhere. It will always remind you of how the Costa Rica you know today was forged.

Tourists on oxcart (Photo by Manu Martin)

The Oxcart: National Symbol of Costa Rica (Photo by Manu Martin)

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A brand of lighters at the origin of the French Father’s Day

Father’s Day, a celebration that goes back to the Middle Ages

Sunday, June 17, 2012, French children will celebrate Fête des Pères  – Father’s Day and will offer paper neckties and bowties, pencil holders and frames made with love with the re-used cardboard of their cereal boxes or will simply spend a large amount of their pocket money in the many gift shops that offer already made and expensive gifts.

Father’s Day is not a recent invention as it was already celebrated during the Middle Ages in many Catholic countries including France. But it was celebrated on March 19, the day of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus.

Father’s Day re-invented by a brand of lighters

This religious festival was lost over the generations to re-emerge in the 20th century.
Unlike Mother’s Day, which was established to celebrate women of course but also to encourage them to repopulate France after the two world wars, the Fête des Pères was re-invented for purely commercial reasons by a Breton brand of lighters!
Yes, I said a Breton brand of lighters called Flaminaire!

Father's Day gift - paper tie

Father's Day gift - paper tie

Flaminaire commercialised the first conventional lighters in 1908. The lighter, first a luxury object, never ceased to evolve and its use became widespread during the First World War.

At the end of the Second World War consumer society was booming and people discovered the concept of gifts, a move that quickly became a social obligation. As in those times most men smoked, offering a lighter to their Dads for Father’s Day became a standard practice for children. Luminaire invested into a large scale advertising campaign, thus creating the habit of offering a lighter to men.

Father’s Day was instituted in 1952, two years after Mother’s Day became an official celebration, but has never been formalized, even if it is celebrated each year on the third Sunday of June!

In addition to the various gifts, it is also a tradition to offer roses, the symbol flower of Father’s Day but there is a code to follow. Red roses are offered to a father who is alive, and white roses are placed on the grave of a deceased Dad.

Many detractors see in Father’s Day, which is an unofficial celebration, the expression of abusive and tacky marketing and they could be right but Father’s Day celebration is an integral part of our culture and traditions and is primarily an opportunity to show our love and affection to our Dads.

Wishing a Happy Father’s Day to all the French Dads and the others.


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June 15, 2012 2 comments

French Mother’s Day – Fête des Mères

France celebrates Mother’s Day - Fête des Mères on June 3.

Celebrating women is not a modern concept! It goes back to the Greek mythology when Rhea, the mother of all gods and goddesses was duly celebrated during spring.

The Romans took over the celebration and the cult of Cybele, the mother of all the Roman gods, survived until the 4th century AD!

Ink 96645mm happy mothers day

Mother's Day Card

The French thought of celebrating the Mums and their families as early as in 1806 when Napoleon I intended to implement an official date! But History decided otherwise!

The next attempt to create a Mother’s Day occurred in 1906, a century later, in the little village of Artas in the department of Isère and at the instigation of a man named Prosper Roche who founded the Union Fraternelle in order to pay tribute to the parents of large families.

Artas has since been recognised as the cradle of the French Mother’s  Day celebration.

Mothers Day card

Mother's Day Card

The city of Lyon followed the example and organised a Mother’s Day in 1918 to pay tribute to all the women who lost a son or/and a husband during World War I, a conflict during which the loss in human lives was astronomical.

A couple of years later a Mother’s Day celebrating the women of large families was implemented in order to encourage women to have children and repopulate a country that had lost 10% of its active male population! The celebrations included the award of a medal “Médailles de la Famille Française” to those who had many children.

Mothers' Day Cake crop

Mothers' Day Cake

However, it was not before 1929 that the Fête des Mèresbecame an official celebration.

It didn’t become part of our calendar until 1941, though, when Marshal Pétain re-launched the celebration during World War II, once more in order to encourage the repopulation of the country!

The notion of family and housewife were to become the base of the French society for the years to follow.

The celebration was very controversial at the time, not only because it had been implemented by the Regime of Vichy, but also because many thought that it was a sexist concept that denied emancipation to women, in other words that recognised them only good enough to have children, cook and clean.

Mother's Day

Mother's Day gifts, the way it should be!

Men seemed to forget that women had been working in factories to replace the men who were fighting at the front, they had contributed to the war effort, they had proven that they were equal to men and now they were asked to return to their cooking!

The stigma remained for a few years only as women’s suffrage was granted by General De Gaulle at the end of the war (better late than never!) and they painfully but successfully gained their emancipation!

On May 24, 1950 Mother’s Day was officially decreed by law and fixed to the last Sunday of May and has become one of the most popular French celebrations.

If the last Sunday of May happens to be celebrated on that same Sunday Mother’s Day is then postponed until the first Sunday in June.

Homemade Mother's Day Gift Cookie Bouquet

Mother's Day home-made gift

We all love the Fête des Mères in France!

The only downside is that, like everywhere around the world, it has been taken over by a vulgar mercantilism. Children can’t anymore get away with giving their Mum a little bunch of flowers they picked in the garden or a necklace made with noodles but they have to break their piggy bank to buy a designer item! Perfume is nice, but a noodle necklace made with love is priceless.

Source photos Wikimedia Commons: Photo#1 Happy Mother’s Day Attribution Public Domain Photo#2 Mother’s Day Card Attribution Photo#3 Mothers’ Day Cake Attribution Photo#4 Mother’s Day gifts Attribution Photo#5 Mother’s Day cookie bouquet Attribution


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June 2, 2012 Comments disabled

Windmills in France

Most French people will tell you that bread is a basic food, that they won’t go a day without it… our milling industry has therefore always been thriving!

For many centuries, women painfully ground grains by hand to obtain the precious flour but this was a very tedious and time consuming exercise.

Windmill in France

17th century restored and working windmill


April 7, 2012 2 comments

French Royal Mistresses

Valentine’s Day is over.  But let’s still celebrate Love by talking of the royal mistresses who often influenced the fate of France.

The Royal Mistress, a vast and controversial topic that makes us either smile or shy away!

François Boucher 019

Madame de Pompadour (Source Wikimedia)

Were they exceptionally attractive?

Not always but they were undoubtedly more attractive than the average women of their time when hygiene was questionable, when teeth started to decay in teenage, when women’s life expectancy was so short, when they had reached their “shelf-life” by the age of 30, if they had had the extreme luck of surviving until such an “advanced age” despite the multiple births and epidemics.


February 15, 2012 6 comments

From our contributors: August 30

This roundup of posts published by our contributors on their personal blogs is now bi-weekly.  Happy reading!

Mike, our contributor from Japan, brings us an impressive photo essay about a cave called Shimuku Gama, located in Yomitan -Okinawa-, where a thousand villagers took refuge during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The monument to two local heroes is, indeed, a sobering sight.

“To appreciate what it must feel like being bombed into the Stone Age it’s probably best to show you this cave from the inside, looking out.  Welcome to a cave called Shimuku Gama in Yomitan Okinawa, Japan.”

Anu, our contributor from India, writes about different religious traditions and celebrations in India, especially those which are new to her. She comes across a new festival by chance while visiting a market. (more…)

August 30, 2011 Comments disabled