Halloween!

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October 31, tomorrow, is my favorite holiday: Halloween! I wanted to write a long post about Halloween, but my life is a little stressful right now. However, I noticed this today: Ten Tales of Terror, by several excellent authors including Neil Gaiman, who is one of my favorite writers. Each story is very short–only a paragraph or two long. In addition, there is a sound file of each story, read aloud by the author.

Some might be a little hard to understand, such as the next to last one (which is about politics). However, I think you’ll be able to understand and enjoy most of them–at least, if you like scary stories!

Several friends from other countries have asked me this week about the origins of Halloween. It’s a little hard to explain because Halloween is so old that it began before Christianity was common in Europe, and before things were regularly written down. As a result, we don’t really know much about the beginnings of the ancient cultural or religious celebration that is now Halloween. Halloween originated in the British Isles (Ireland, England, etc.), but is probably most popular now in North America. You can read about the history and customs of Halloween at Wikipedia in the Simple English article, the main English article, or in several other languages. Just look on the left side of the main article for explanations in other languages.

In the USA, Halloween is popular with most ages and ethnic groups, although some groups of conservative Christians don’t like it. Every year, they protest Halloween celebrations. However, for most people, it is a fun day to celebrate the imagination. Many adults and families have Halloween parties, where the guests often come in costume. After sunset, children dress up and are taken trick-or-treating in their neighborhood or at a shopping center. Adults may also go to themed events such as Halloween dances at nightclubs, costume contests with big cash prizes, and concerts. You can see a lot of Halloween party photos and other Halloween photos at Flickr (or you can also view more artistic Halloween 2007 photos).

Usually several horror movies are released near Halloween. This year, “30 Days of Night” has been popular. It’s about a group of vampires who go to Alaska. The movie I want to see is the 3-D version of “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Halloween season is extended from October 31 through November 2. November 1 and 2 are the Dias de los Muertos, or Day(s) of the Dead. This holiday from Mexico and Latin America has many themes in common with Halloween. In the Bay Area, there are various events such as concerts and neighborhood street festivals. At Mexican bakeries, you can buy special bread and sugar skulls. I recommend going to a Dias de los Muertos event if there is one near you!

If I can find my camera, I’ll post photos from our party tomorrow.

Send Your Stuff

Remember the previous entry about PostCrossing? Well, how about sending more than just a postcard? That’s the idea behind Gimme Your Stuff. You put together a small package of interesting things from where you live, and trade it by mail with someone in a faraway country. For example, I might send a small box of Californian stuff to someone in Italy, and the person in Italy would send a small box of Italian stuff to me. Right now, there are over 500 participants from 41 countries. (The website and most of the participants use English to communicate; there are also lots of participants in the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia.)

In order to participate, you need to have a website or blog page where you can post a description of the kind of thing you’d like to send and receive. Then you’ll add your information to the Gimme Your Stuff site, and choose someone to trade with. (Here’s their How To page of instructions.)

Check out the website for fun photos of some of the “stuff” that has been sent across the world. People send magazines, postcards, jewelry, candy, toys, stickers, yarn, pasta, recipes, handbags, and even things they’ve made themselves. Many of the exchangers seem to have made friends with each other, too. Here’s a great chance for you to make an English-speaking friend somewhere in the world, and share your culture with someone else, too.

(If you don’t currently live in your home country, you can still participate, of course. A mix of local things and whatever you can find that originates in your home country would be great!)

Dare to Fail

Elizabeth Bear, an excellent writer whom I’ve gotten to know online, posted this line in her blog today: To double your success rate, quintuple your failure rate. (That means “To have twice as many successes, you should try failing five times as much.”)

She was talking about writing fiction, but this is also true for learning languages. Researchers have looked at this. They found out something interesting: Students who are brave enough to take more chances DO make more mistakes, but they ALSO learn faster and better. If you only say or write things that you know are correct, it’s nearly impossible for you to raise your level.

I know it’s scary, but it’s also necessary.

Now, I don’t particularly like Nike, and I don’t like TV ads in general. However, I think Michael Jordan does a good job in this video. He reminds us that making mistakes and failing is part of getting better and winning:

When you hesitate to speak or write, think of what Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Bear said. Then take that chance!

Please share your thoughts with me.

People who teach English writing have learned that it is important for writers to have an audience. In other words, if you just write an essay and give it to your teacher, it’s not too interesting for you. You’re probably going to have more fun and learn more if you know several people will read what you have written. By writing a letter to somebody, publishing a blog, or having an e-mail penpal, your writing becomes real communication. It’s not just pointless homework anymore.

Well, this kind of motivation works on me, too! I want to write here on Readable Blog regularly, but I don’t know if anyone is reading it. I can see that my pages have been viewed, of course, but that doesn’t tell me if you think this blog is useful or interesting. If you do think this blog is useful, especially if you are an English learner, I would really appreciate your feedback!

Comments on entries are very motivating for me. I really love to hear from you, even if you just say “Oh, that’s interesting!” or “I think I’ll try it.” I especially love it if you try something I have posted about and then tell me what you think. (For example, if you read a book that I recommended, come back and tell everyone in a comment. Tell me even if you didn’t like it … then I can do better in the future.)

One other thing you can do for me is to fill out this survey. The questions are for English-language-learners only! If you are studying English, please fill out the poll. It should only take a few minutes. If you have any questions about it, please leave a comment on this post. I’d really appreciate it!

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Thanks again!

P. S. If you read this blog by e-mail, through RSS, etc., you may need to come to readableblog.com in order to fill out the survey.