Burt Wolf is the host and author of nine internationally syndicated television series that deal with cultural history, travel and gastronomy. Burt, a former James Beard Foundation Award winner, has also worked as a travel journalist and written or edited nearly 60 books.
Our first nationwide Thanksgiving in the United States took place at the end of the Revolutionary War when George Washington called for a Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 26th, 1789. But it was only a one-time event. Join Burt Wolf and discover why it took until 1941 for Thanksgiving to be a federal holiday, how the bald eagle won out over the turkey as our national bird, and what stuffing our founding fathers preferred.
Every year Jews throughout the world light Hanukkah candles in memory of a miracle. In this program Burt Wolf uncovers the history of the holiday, visits the largest and most comprehensive collection of Hanukkah lamps in the world, explains why potato pancakes and doughnuts are served at Hanukkah and discovers the secret of the spinning dreidel.
In the northern hemisphere, we celebrate Christmas at the coldest and darkest time of the year when the fields are barren. Accordingly, the central message of Christmas is "no matter how dark and how cold it looks now, light, warmth and growth will return". Join Burt Wolf and learn how the Christmas tree got indoors, what the First Lady is doing for the holidays, how department stores create their magical windows and what Santa has to say about all of this.
Kwanzaa runs from December 26th to January 1st. It is not a religious holiday, but a holiday of reflection--an opportunity for African Americans to celebrate their African roots. Join Burt Wolf as he uncovers the epicenter of African American culture in the United States and takes viewers on a tour of Harlem. We'll also stop in to the Apollo Theater on Amateur night, explore what faith means at Abyssinian Church and pickup some down-home recipes.
The moment when the old year turns into the New Year is always dangerous - it is the instant when the past and the future meet. We prepare for it by taking stock of our own strengths and weaknesses and making plans for our future. In this program Burt Wolf explains why we celebrate New Year on January 1st, how noise keeps the evil spirits away, what makes a champagne cork go pop and why caviar is an acceptable food to eat on New Year's Eve but not on New Year's Day.
Chinese New Year
In China, the most important celebration of the year is the one that takes place on the first day of the first lunar month-it's Chinese New Year, and it usually starts at about the same time as the western calendar month of February. Join Burt Wolf as he explores how Chinese Americans celebrate this holiday, learns why it's important to clean your house before the New Year, introduces you to the Kitchen God, shows you the art of making dumplings and explains the meaning of the Lion Dance.
February 14th is designated as St. Valentines Day and on that day America turns to thoughts of love-thoughts that are expressed by giving heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, red roses and greeting cards with messages of love. Join Burt Wolf and find out if there really was a St. Valentine, how the Egyptians felt about love, the best spots for finding a Valentine and why tortellini is the noodle of love.
January 6th, which is known as Twelfth Night, Epiphany or King's Day marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of a new season called Shrovetide. Shrovetide lasts from January 6th to Mardi Gras. It is a time of feasting in preparation for the fasting of Lent. In New Orleans, Shrovetide kicks off with the Reveler's Ball, which also marks the beginning of the Carnival season. Unlock the secretive society of the Krewe of Comus with Burt Wolf, discover what happens when you get the coin in your king cake, learn how to make pecan pralines and get in touch with your wilder side.
The holiday that is observed by more American Jews than any other is Passover-the celebration that commemorates the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. On the first night of Passover, Jews hold a Seder which is a Hebrew word meaning "structured or in order". Families gather at the Seder meal and retell the story of Passover. Join Burt Wolf for a seder at Famous Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse, take a tour of the Hassidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, watch a master scribe at work, and learn how matzah is made.
Of all the holidays and celebrations in the Christian calendar, none is more directly involved with the taste of freedom than Easter. The theme of Easter is liberation -liberation from time, liberation from sin and liberation from death. Spend a half hour with Burt Wolf and discover how a rabbit jumped into the moon, learn the intricate egg decorating tradition from the Ukraine, inspect the ultimate Easter eggs created for the Czars of Russia, and take a walk down Fifth Avenue on Easter Sunday.
Every year on the 4th of July the United States of America celebrates Independence Day. Communities from coast to coast commemorate the day in 1776 when the Continental Congress proclaimed America's freedom from British rule. Join Burt Wolf for a fascinating trip to Boston where the American Revolution began, witness the spot where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the citizens of Boston, discover why the town of Gloucester thinks its parade is horrible, and enjoy one of the best firework shows in the world.
The Importance of Ritual
Most of our holidays and celebrations were developed to mark the cycles of nature and they have existed in traditional forms for centuries. They bind the past to the present and predict the future. They are a basic part of every society that has ever existed. But when these ceremonies arrived in America, they started to change. No longer controlled by convention these ancient celebrations began to evolve. Explore with Burt Wolf what happened to these holidays when this nation got its first taste of freedom.