6 Things To Know About Hanukkah

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


1. This Jewish holiday always runs for 8 days starting on the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev

2. It began during the rule of Antiochus IV who desecrated a Jewish temple by sacrificing pigs on the alter (check out my post What Does Kosher Mean Anyway? to find out why this was a big deal). The Jewish people banded together and revolted, taking the temple back. At the time of rededication there was almost no oil left that had not been desecrated, and oil was needed for the menorah that was supposed to burn through the night. Though there was only enough for one day, it burned for eight and an eight day festival was declared to celebrate the miracle. 

3. The ONLY religious observance related to this holiday is the lighting of candles arranged in the candelabrum (menorah). They are lit from right to left (like how the Hebrew language is read) and can be lit anytime after dark before midnight. The candles can be blown out 1/2 and hour after they are lit or can be left to burn out on their own.

4. Giving small gifts on each day of Hanukkah is not a part of the religious ritual, but is an influence from the Christian tradition of gift-giving at this time of year. Because of its close proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah is often called the Jewish Christmas. 

5. Fried food is eaten during this time of year because of the significance of oil to the holiday.

6. The game played with a dreidel at this time of year is actually a gambling game — it is NOT just a child's toy! 

Traditional Temporary Tattoos: The Art of Henna

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

I have always been intrigued by the art of henna  — I've gotten a flower, a swirl, or a nonsense design put on one of my limbs more times than I can count while wandering a local summer festival, or hanging out at the beach. 

What I didn't know was the history behind the art, which is something that I discovered last week when chatting with a local henna artist (and a bit of research after the fact — you know how I like to ask questions!) while she drew a beautiful design on the back of my hand. 

Henna has been used for more than 5000 years to dye skin, hair, fingernails and even fabrics in Pakistan, India, Africa and the Middle East. The act of giving intricate henna tattoos is called Mehndi  and is traditionally only done on women — never men.

Why not men, you ask?

Well, according to my artist, these intricate designs are usually applied the night before (sometimes a few days before) a women's wedding day. The elaborate designs cover her hands and feet (often up to her knees and elbows) and tradition goes that as long as they stay on the skin the women does not have to do any housework. It isn't until the dye disappears that the new bride steps into her new role as housewife. 

Don't worry though guys, here in the Western world, the rules are a bit different. It is completely ok for you to give henna  a try. My artist told me that she often gives men tribal or sun designs on their arms or backs. And, in some hot desert cultures, both sexes use henna , not for its beautification factor, but its cooling one. Apparently soaking your hands and feet in a paste of henna helps to cool down your core temperature. 

The henna paste goes on black, but dyes your skin a brownish-orange color if left on for at least 5-7 hours

The leaves of the henna plant are crushed and mixed with different oils in order to make the creamy paste that is applied to the skin. My artist used eucalyptus oil and cloves (which left my hand smelling like a spa for the rest of the day). When applied the paste looks dark brown or black, and stays on the skin until it flakes off naturally (between 5-7 hours), or — in my case — you have to rub it off so you don't wake up with a henna tattooed face. 

My henna tattoo once the paste was rubbed off  

This natural dye is completely harmless, and does not discriminate (it works on all skin types). It works best on the hands or feet, and lasts anywhere from 1-4 weeks depending on the type of henna used and how you take care of it (for example if you exfoliate the tattoo everyday it won't last as long). Oh, and it will leave tan lines, so if you lay out in the sun with your tattoo exposed, you will extend the design's shelf-life a little longer. 

The Art of Telling People Who You Are Without Saying A Word — Fashion Blogs Worth Taking A Second Look At

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Nothing — and I mean nothing — made me feel more uncomfortable then when I spent a semester of University in Italy and sat down next to a sleek fashionable, Italian women in my ripped jeans, T-shirt and down-filled vest that made me look like a penniless student. I could tell by the way that she looked at me and sneered that she was judging me to be exactly that, and not the "worldly, intelligent exchange student" that I was hoping to be judged as (wishful thinking). 

I spent a large part of my youth playing sports, therefore school branded sweats were my regular uniform, and I proudly wore the "I don't care what I look like" badge.

Except that I did.

Even more so after I started travelling to the incredibly fashionable cities in Europe and Asia.

I cared.


Now it wasn't a jealousy or a vanity thing, it was a being judged as someone that I wasn't thing... and that's when I started looking at clothes differently.

Interestingly, the more conscious I became of what I decided to wear, the less self-conscious I became.

No matter how much we fight it, our appearance tells the world who we are — how our hair is styled, whether we wear glasses or contacts, the state of our shoes, and what kind of pieces we decide to use to cover our bodies tell a story. NONE of these items have to be designer or expensive, but (in my humble opinion) they should be consciously chosen. 

I decided to start thinking of clothes as an extension of my personality, or (being an art history student) as the paint to decorate my personal canvas (body). I can reflect a mood, a belief, a persona, and literally manipulate (for lack of a better word) the world around me to see and treat me the way that I want them too... who knew fabric had that much power?!

Interestingly, the more conscious I became of what I decided to wear, the less self-conscious I became.

I'm not the only one who sees individual's clothing combinations as an expression of self or an art form. The following fashion bloggers have inspired me for years, not only because they are incredibly fashionable themselves, but because they capture the essence of a person in their beautiful photographs. I hope you find some inspiration here as well! 

Screen shot of Scott Schuman's website The Sartorialist

1. THE SARTORALIST — The personal fashion blog of the amazingly talented Scott Schuman, The Sartorialist is "a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life". Schuman captures incredible characters on the street, living their lives, and has released two beautiful books filled with his inspiring photos. His work has also been featured in magazines like GQVogue ItaliaVogue Paris and can be found in the permanent collections of art galleries all over the world(!!!) 

Screen shot of Garance Dore's website 

Screen shot of Garance Dore's website 

2. GARANCE DORE — Garance is one of those women who makes everything look effortless. Not only is she a talented photographer and writer, she is also an amazing illustrator (who's work has appeared in multiple publications) and is a fashionista in her own right. From France, she writes her blog in both French and English, and has a famous boyfriend... Scott Schuman! They travel to world together attending fashion shows and taking beautiful shots of inspiring street fashion... what a life! 

Also check out...  Man Repeller, and Sea of Shoes!

To Kiss Or Not To Kiss? Your Guide To Cheek Kissing Etiquette

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Social greetings can be hard enough to navigate when in a different country (do you shake hands, hug, bow... ) but when social kissing gets thrown into the mix (especially when kissing is not the norm where you come from) things can get VERY confusing.

When do you kiss?

How many kisses?

Left cheek? Right cheek? Both? Ahhhh!!!!

(You can see why social kissing can lead to serious social anxiety.)

Oh, and to make matters worse, not only are there different rules in every country, there are different rules in every city in every country... sigh...

Feeling overwhelmed? Here are a few simple, general rules to help you out:

  • Don't kiss people you don't know unless you are introduced to them in a social environment.
  • It is usually right cheek first, but be prepared to change direction at the last minute. (NOTE: A sense of humor is useful for an accidental meet-in-the-middle moment)
  • Sound effects, air kissing, and leaving behind saliva are to be avoided AT ALL COSTS!
  • Don't linger and keep your hands WELL above the waist.
  • When in doubt, let the other person take the lead. 

Cheek kissing is very common in most of Europe, the Mediterranean, Latin America, the Middle East, Quebec (in Canada), and in parts of the US. Here are a few places you will encounter this custom:

  • UNITED KINGDOM: Cheek kissing is not very common, outside of close family and friends, except for amongst the upper and middle classes (usually in London) and is historically considered to be a French practice. 
  • FRANCE: The French seem to enjoy two kisses — once on each cheek called faire la bise — starting on the left, though a popular French joke states that you may recognize the city you are in by counting the number of cheek kisses as it varies widely across the country.
  • SPAIN: Spaniards like the two-kiss rule, often starting with the right cheek.
  • NETHERLANDS, BELGIUM, AND SWITZERLAND: Cheek kissing is a common greeting between relatives and friends. Usually, three kisses are exchanged. 
  • MIDDLE EAST: Cheek kissing in the Arab world is common between friends and relatives. However, cheek kissing between a male and female is usually considered inappropriate, unless they are related or married. Cheek kissing in Turkey is also widely accepted.
  • PHILIPPINES: Cheek kissing or beso is a common greeting. But, it is important to note that the Philippine cheek kiss is a cheek-to-cheek kiss, NOT a lips-to-cheek kiss.
  • LATIN AMERICA: In this part of the world, cheek kissing is a universal form of greeting between a man and a woman or two women. It is not necessary to know a person well or be intimate with them to kiss them on the cheek.
  • QUEBEC (CANADA): In Quebec, cheek kissing is referred to as un bec. People of the opposite sex often kiss once on each cheek. Cheek kissing between women is common, but not between men.
  • NORTH AMERICA: Cheek kissing is common in large cities with a European flare, in the southern United States, and among immigrant groups that have carried their customs over from their native countries. This type of greeting is, almost exclusively, performed only among friends and family. 

So, to kiss or not to kiss? When in doubt, don't. Good luck! 

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Your guide to cheek kissing etiquette around the world

The "Pants" Scandal in England

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

I — and two of my closest friends — had taken the long flight from Canada to the UK (specifically York) to be the bridesmaids for our childhood pal. A fellow Canadian, she was marrying the love of her life — a ginger haired lovable guy from Scotland. 

The days leading up to the wedding were a whirlwind of last minute shopping, events, decorating and general wedding preparations, giving very little time to get to know the Scottish/English side that would be attending the wedding.

The ceremony was held in a beautiful stone building at the edge of the lush, green museum grounds, and after the "I do's" we all filtered out into the courtyard to sip champagne, and mingle. 

Embracing the change to finally get to know some of the groom's friends and family, I approached a group of dapper looking gentlemen to introduce myself. One was wearing a pair of vibrantly colored plaid pants, and thinking that it was the perfect icebreaker, I alked up to the group and said,

"I noticed your pants from across the room, and I have to tell you that I love them! They are fantastic!"

The man to his right spit his beer out and started laughing. The ne to his left covered his had with his mouth trying to hide his amusement, while the man that I had spoken to — the one with the FABULOUS pants — just looked at me a bit wide-eyed. 

A bit confused at their reaction, I could feel myself turning red and said again, "Really, those are great pants!"

Now all three of them were laughing. Really confused, and now the color of the nearby roses, was debating running away when one of the VERY kind groomsmen leaned over from the group next to us and whispered, "In the UK, 'pants' mean underwear."

Shit. I had just told the groom's uncle that I liked his underwear. After I closed my mouth, I turned to the laughing men and sheepishly said, "TROUSERS, I like you TROUSERS." Then shrugging, I pointed at myself and said, "Canadian, not my fault!" and walked away in search of people who understood my own language...

Walking past a group of kilted men on the way to the bar I had an "Aha" moment, as I realized that all the groom's friends who had been telling me that they weren't wearing "pants" (duh I had thought, I can see that you are in a skirt), were actually telling me that they weren't wearing... hmmmm...

Who Is This Saint Called Patrick Anyway?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

I don't know about you, but I just spent my entire weekend celebrating some guy that I don't even know!

Who is this St. Patrick character anyway?

All I know about him is that he must have LOVED the color green (and pinched those that refused to wear it), his favourite drink was green beer (or green whiskey), he always brought his ladies clover instead of flowers, and he must have loved the Canadian Newfie/Celtic band Great Big Sea.

There has to be more to this story...


Well, after a bit of research, here's what I've discovered:

Apparently, this saint known as Patrick lived during the fifth century AND Ireland was not even his native home (gasp!). He was born in Britain and was kidnapped and brought to Ireland for the first time as a slave. He managed to escape captivity, returned to Britain and became a priest. For some reason, he was drawn back to the mysterious island — the home of his kidnappers — and returned as a missionary determined to convert the Irish to Christianity and create a structured church system. 

So why is he such a big deal?

He is considered to be the one that laid the foundation for the true Irish Catholic Church! Irish Catholics are undoubtedly one of the most devout groups of people in the world (until the more recent decline and dissatisfaction) so it's no wonder they love this guy! 

Still not sure how the green beer came into play, but I for one will continue to raise an emerald coloured pint to this Irish hero every March! Cheers! 

6 Things To Know About The Inuit

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

1. The Inuit are the indigenous people that inhabit the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, the US (aka Alaska), and Eastern Siberia.

2. Inuit is the plural version of Inuk meaning "people" in the Inuktitut language.

3. Archaeologists believe they are descendents of the Thule culture that emerged in the far north after crossing the land bridge from Asia around CE 1000.

4. Almost 75% of their daily caloric intake comes from fat. This is because they eat whales, walrus, caribou, seal, narwhal, polar bears, muskoxen and birds!

5. Traditional modes of transportation include a sealskin qajaq aka kayak, dog sleds and good old-fashioned walking (in mukluks of course!).

6. The Inuit have a strong connection to the natural world, believing that ALL things have souls like humans and that their ancestors can be seen in the aurora borealis aka northern lights.