How Do You Celebrate? Presenting the 2023 Competition Shortlist
Everyone has their way of celebrating — it’s each to their own tradition.

How Do You Celebrate? Presenting the 2023 Competition Shortlist

We were keen to hear your tales about seasonal traditions, inspiring us to ask our community, ‘How do you celebrate?’ — and so the very first Resonate writing competition was born. We wanted to hear how your holiday gatherings might involve special music, or feature foods enjoyed only once a year. Perhaps you would tell us about spending time with family and friends, or taking part in community-wide holiday festivities.

Here, we present a shortlist of stories that our readers shared, whether of fond childhood memories, events that are upcoming on the horizon, or rituals that take a closer look at life’s meaning or mark the turning of its cycle. Well done to all the shortlisted writers, and our sincere appreciation to everyone who participated in this inaugural competition.

We kick things off with a reminiscence from our editor, Emily. Though she isn’t part of the competition, she couldn’t resist the chance to talk about what going home for the holidays means for her…

Photo: Emily Cathcart

Feeling the City’s Pulse / Emily, Editor at Resonate (USA)

Since childhood, I’ve loved walking through the holiday bustle that is December in New York. The streets are full of people bundled against the frosty weather in colourful woollens. Festive lights glow everywhere, winking on at dusk atop skyscrapers and festooning the giant spruce at Rockefeller Center in their thousands. As I approach the huge twinkling tree from Fifth Avenue, skaters glide under a golden Prometheus, the charred smell of roasted chestnuts from a vendor’s cart sparks a memory, and for a moment I’m a six-year-old in the city again.

Photo: Sandhya Maharjan

Contemplating One’s Existence / Sandhya Maharjan (Nepal)

Mha Puha is celebrated by the people of Newar community in Nepal. We celebrate Mha Puja within the Tihar festival after Laxmi Puja and before Bhaitika. The main theme of this festival is to understand one’s existence and pray for better health by worshipping different body parts in turn, from toe to head. Each family member sits together with their own mandala, made up of special grains.

Watching a Radiant Tapestry / Tahny Lou Vonan (Côte d’Ivoire)

In my local holiday tradition, we gather annually on Abidjan’s illuminated bridge, transcending the conventional New Year countdown. Amidst the vibrant spectacle of fireworks painting the starlit sky, family and friends unite, exchanging smiles and wishes. Street vendors offer bandji, a refreshing local drink, symbolising shared aspirations. The city transforms into a radiant tapestry, reminding us that, despite diverse paths, we are all interconnected stars.

Photo: courtesy of Gohar Balti (provided by Khalid Ismail) 

Celebrating the Longest Night / Khalid Ismail (Pakistan)

Jashn-e-Mayfang is a festival celebrated on the night of December 21 — the longest night. As darkness spreads, people gather in an open area and light a huge fire with rapila and shukpa (wood). People perform the fire dance and sword dance while playing local music. Some throw fireballs from the mountaintop; people ascend to their rooftops to witness this celestial descent. Women prepare a special dish called aloo zaan na mar.

Marking a Move into Adulthood / Susmita Aryal (Nepal)

Bratabandha is a traditional ceremony among Hindu followers; it’s a day when a boy will make the transition into manhood, performed in the presence of six Brahmin priests who are reading out the mantras. Done once in a lifetime, the boy has to secretly chant to his Guru. His hair will be shaved, with a tiny tail left remaining on the back of his head. He is given a thread, called a ‘Janai’ tie, around his left shoulder, to last for the rest of his life. He now has to follow the ‘men’s’ duties. 

Photo: Ana-Maria Alb

Welcoming Joy and Prosperity / Ana-Maria Alb (Romania)

The region of Bukovina, in the Romanian Carpathians, preserves many ancient peasant traditions. New Year’s Eve is filled with the pagan sounds of drums, whips, and bells from groups of masked carollers who use noise to drive away evil spirits and wish prosperity to everyone. Children and adults in costume sing and dance, presenting folk theatre scenes: the goat, the bears, the horses, and the plough. At midnight, the crowd gathers outside to celebrate the New Year in a noisy and joyful atmosphere.

Experiencing a Village Christmas / Temitayo Olofinlua (Nigeria)

Every year, we left the city and visited my parents’ homeland. There, we experienced a ‘village Christmas’! It was always exciting to meet my grandparents, and not only for the joy they expressed in seeing us. I always looked forward to my grandmother calling me by my native names, performing my oriki, and giving me precious gifts — small shiny bowls, beautiful wrappers and prayers in my local language. My grandparents are all long dead now but this Christmas tradition lives on with me.

Time to Read:  4 Minutes
18 December 2023
Local Stories - Customs and Traditions

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The Men Singing – and Saving – Ancient Carols
The carolling ensemble, Glasul Străbunilor, performing  at a festival in Tulcea. | Photo: Glasul Străbunilor archive

The Men Singing – and Saving – Ancient Carols

A group of men — the most senior, aged 84 — still sings two-century-old Christmas carols in a village in Romania. The songs have complicated texts and outdated words, reaching back to an earlier style of music. The singers participate in festivals and sing from house to house on Christmas Eve, and their preferred reward is their hosts’ joy at watching them.

At festivals, the choreography is always the same. First, a group of young people carrying nine folding chairs enters the stage. Then, the older men sit on the chairs, leaning on canes. Together, they start to sing Christmas carols that are two centuries old. The 20 men, aged 43 to 84, wear black pants and coats, a traditional white blouse called ‘ie’ (pronounced ee-eh), white scarves, wide belts, and shearling hats. Some of them, with tensed stiff shoulders, are rubbing their hands anxiously, while others, more relaxed, joke and laugh.

Whether they are in their native village of Jijila, Tulcea county, nearby villages like Luncavița, or larger cities, Gabriel Caramarin, the coordinator, shouts into the microphone: “Green chicory leaf, we came from a land between the Danube and the sea to bring you a greeting.”

Then, 20 rich, drawling male voices begin singing in unison, with no rush and only short breaks. Their songs usually have a main character: a hunter, a young girl or boy, someone elderly, a shepherd, or a religious individual. The protagonist often goes on an adventure, and the melody ends with a greeting for the audience.

men singing carols
The band in 2012 singing in a host’s yard. | Oana Racheleanu

“Our carols are a bit monotonous,” said Caramarin. “They are nice, but you must really listen to the words to understand the story.”

The carolling ensemble, Glasul Străbunilor, stepped onto a stage for the first time in 2013. It was formed organically, starting with a handful of individuals who never ceased singing the traditional tunes. After the collapse of communism in 1989 and the opening of Romania’s borders, the country welcomed modern, commercial, and rhythmic festive songs. Young people adopted the new tunes with simpler lyrics. The old songs had long and complicated texts (the longest has 20 stanzas), with some words dating back to 1840 and no longer in use.

Before 1989, groups of carolers — always composed of men — started rehearsing on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day. They would meet in some of the members’ houses and keep repeating the carols until Christmas Eve, so they wouldn’t embarrass themselves in front of the hosts by not knowing the complicated lyrics. 

“We had quite a large group, and we were taking turns on stanzas,” said Tudor Brezeanu, who was born and raised in Jijila and researched the carols of that area. “We had to learn the lines well because the hosts were attentive, and they had expectations of us. So we didn’t want to be ashamed.”

On Christmas Eve, they would visit the important families in the village — the mayor, the priest, some teachers — and their own families, but especially the families of the girls they were in love with. The songs were about universal aspects in people’s lives, like marriage, stories that captured the history and spirit of the community, but also about bravery, wisdom, and totemic animals like the deer and doe. Because the nation lacked money back then, the reward for their effort consisted of lean meat, sausages, and wine. They didn’t share the goodies but would meet on Christmas Day, have a barbecue, and eat it together. 

In addition to the festivals, Glasul Străbunilor still maintains the tradition of singing from house to house on Christmas Eve. Because very few groups do this, it’s an honour to be visited by them and to hear the old songs. For some villagers, this is the most-awaited moment of the day. 

They start at noon and finish around 9 in the evening, which is enough time to visit about 40 houses and for the oldest to get exhausted. Especially since some of them attend the service in the church the following day, starting at 5 am, and sing to the end of the worship service. The hosts always await them with snacks, cakes, cookies, wine, or țuică, a type of alcohol made of fruits. Most of the time, neighbours show up, especially to hear them. It’s a rare occasion.

“When the hosts welcome me into their home,” said Iamandi Dumitru, the oldest man in the group, “and I see that they enjoy the carols, I don’t need any other payment.”

Glasul Străbunilor in the church. | Glasul Străbunilor archive

They have 14 old carols in their repertory. For some of them, they had to negotiate the lyrics as they learned them differently at home, from older siblings or their parents. But some carols are simply considered lost because they don’t remember the lyrics or the melody. 

“Some carols had similar melodic lines to others, so it was easy to mistake them,” said Brezeanu. “Besides that, the bands chose the most beautiful ones and ignored the more dull ones, so people forgot about them.”

Not everyone in the village understands why they put in so much effort. “Don’t you have anything better to do?” some ask. 

However, preserving traditions is a vital way for communities to pass down their cultural heritage from one generation to the next. Each note of a carol and every detail of the traditional costumes holds the values that have shaped the community over time.

Oana Racheleanu


Oana Racheleanu is a passionate freelance journalist with a keen eye for bringing characters to life in her writing. Based in Bucharest, Romania, she embarks on frequent travels that inspire her storytelling. With a love for profiling individuals, Oana has crafted nearly 60 profiles of Romanian teachers dedicated to transforming traditional teaching methods inherited from the communist era. She approaches people's lives like a puzzle, respectfully collecting each piece and skillfully arranging them to create a vivid and clear picture of their stories. Always curious and excited about the amazing world we live in, Oana writes about the environment, education, and artisans. See her portfolio here, follow her work on LinkedIn, and her travels on Instagram.

Time to Read:  4 Minutes
Storyteller: Oana Racheleanu
8 December 2023
Local Stories - Customs and Traditions

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Al Ayjah, the Catch of the Day, and Innate Hospitality in Sur, Oman
The watchtower in Al Ayjah affords beautiful views of the city and surrounding sea. | This photo by Falco; all others by Erin Coyle

Al Ayjah, the Catch of the Day, and Innate Hospitality in Sur, Oman

Sur is a coastal city two hours south of the capital of Oman, Muscat. Very much a product of its serene location by the ocean, the town was an important trading port and is still known for making traditional wooden dhows in its shipyards. When approaching Sur, the turquoise-coloured sea and golden beaches invite travellers to get off the highway and relax into the friendly native ambience. Local expert Erin Coyle introduces us to this maritime gem.


Upon Arrival

After a visitor arrives in my city, I always recommend going straight to the watchtower in Al Ayjah because, from its elevated vantage point, visitors can see the city with its white square homes, the main bridge, and the wooden dhows in the water. Sunset is one of my favourite times to go, because there’s something so calming about the sun setting while hearing the call to prayer from a dozen mosques.

Another place to visit in the area is the lighthouse. You can walk from the tower to the lighthouse because it is also in Al Ayjah, one of the oldest neighbourhoods. It should take about fifteen minutes or less to get there. 

The best time to be here is between November and January. That’s when the winter months are cooler, with daytime temperatures averaging 20-25 degrees Celsius, making it pleasant for walking around. This time of the year is the high tourism season for Oman, but Sur itself will be more relaxed, so there will only be a few crowds. It is still fine to come in other months, but keep in mind that June-September temperatures will be over 40 degrees.

I tell first-time travellers to dress modestly and that they will not have to worry about safety. Dressing modestly is essential for those planning to swim in wadis (pools of water). Locals will appreciate it if guests have their shoulders and knees covered. Oman is one of the safest countries, so if you leave your belongings at a table, they will still be there at the end of the day. I also tell them to avoid taking pictures of people without their permission.

People from here know better than to ignore visitors and not say hello. Instead, they would rather greet guests in a friendly way by saying ‘Salim Alikum’ and welcome them to Oman. 

The best museum to start your journey and get a good sense of this city is Fatah Al Khair Centre with its traditional Omani ship, because it highlights Sur’s oceangoing history. The old fishing vessel, said to be hand-built without using any nails, is dry-docked in the Al Qanjah Boat Yard, as part of the Sur Maritime Museum

Parents should take their kids to the nearby Dhow Factory because they can see the building of these traditional wooden boats, with a mix of modern and traditional techniques. It will only take about fifteen minutes to walk around the factory itself, but do leave some time to soak up the atmosphere along the way and browse the shop afterwards.

However, if the kids aren’t into woodcraft, go to Al Batah Beach for a boat ride. The boats are to the left of the Khor Al Batah Bridge. Visitors can go to the boats around 4 pm to wait for a ride (there is no number to book ahead). They go out for one hour and along the way, passengers will get a view of the watchtower, lighthouse, and glimpses of the marina. 

This area also has kayaks for rent. For information or to book, contact Marine Sports Company at +968 9932-6046 or Elite Sports at +968 9945-1149.

Food From The Heart

Among the food (or dishes) my city is most proud of, shuwa, goat meat cooked underground, is an absolute must. I like to go to Star Raidan to really enjoy it. Order rice with caramelised onions to accompany it. 

When we get together to celebrate finishing a walk, enjoying the cooler weather, or meeting friends after a long time, Omani coffee or karak is what people here traditionally drink (karak is black tea with condensed milk and sugar; some places add saffron or cardamom). I like to gather my friends and go to Tea Time or any tea or coffee shop across the street from the corniche.

When I eat completely local, I will go to Al Bait Al Suri restaurant. I know the food here is tasty and fresh. I recommend qabouli, rice with chickpeas and caramelised onions with chicken or beef.

Other classic, iconic restaurants include a real locals’ spot; a fish restaurant near the marina. The nameless sign says ‘restaurant and coffee shop’, but to give you more of a steer, it’s next to Elite Sports. Sometimes, they have kingfish (a type of white fish), tuna curry, or shark. They also have vegetable sides, such as dal

Also suggested is Zaki. In addition to Omani food, they sell Chinese and Indian dishes. If there is a mixed group of men and women visiting, the restaurant will accommodate by having diners eat upstairs in the family section.

The place where locals come for traditional food is Al Hawash. The restaurant is on the water and has an excellent lighthouse view. I recommend their seafood grills and Arabic breakfast, which includes dishes such as ful (fava beans).

Shopping Locally

As my city is known for making traditional wooden boats, visitors can buy pocket-size or slightly bigger replicas at the Dhow Factory’s shop. The shop also sells wooden decorative items, such as bowls, carved turtle figures, and doors.

One of the best snack shops in Sur is Golden Luqaimat. Luqaimat is fried sweet dumpling-like dough resembling a doughnut hole. They come plain, with drizzled honey, or stuffed with cheese. This shop makes them fresh, and you’ll encounter locals also buying them. 500 baisa (around $1.3) will get you about eight pieces.

The best markets for things like everyday household items and crafts are Global Village and Sur Gift. To buy real, local souvenirs I always take visitors to the souq; the products are good quality and the vibe is lively at night. Visitors can purchase bahour, a type of incense, and gold and silver. The souq is open from 9 am to noon and 4:30 pm to 11 pm. And we know to avoid buying seashell bracelets because they are overpriced.

Getting Deeper Into Sur

There are only a few books in English about Oman, but ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess of Oman and Zanzibar,’ by Emily Said Ruete, is for those who want to learn more about the history of when Oman ruled Zanzibar. This princess of Zanzibar eventually marries a German trader, but she describes palace life, customs, and other happenings.

Most people know about the Dhow Factory but Sunayslah Castle should also be visited because the landmark was once a defence fort with three watchtowers. While there is not any information on display about the castle, it’s enjoyable to walk around and take pictures of the outside storage rooms and towers. Sometimes it’s closed in the afternoon, so I recommend going in the morning between 9 am and noon.

My city is a place people are attracted to because of the sea, the bridge, and the atmosphere. When tourists and locals visit, they comment on how relaxed and peaceful the city is. The bridge is the only suspension bridge in Oman, and at night, the changing colours of red and blue make for some great photos.

To celebrate my city at its best, come in mid-November when the 18th marks the country’s National Day. Some people paint their cars white, red, and green — for the Omani flag — and you may see some traditional dancing inside Carrefour or around Al Ayjah. Even if there is no dancing, November is a cooler month, and it is enjoyable to walk around the city.

Most people think of my city as a place to pass through, but really this is a destination to recharge for a few days. Visitors soon realise this quieter town is a special place to explore in its own right.

This is one of the best places in the world to experience hospitality. Locals are proud of that because they are always friendly and approachable. I have been to weddings, have had Iftar meals in friends’ homes, have celebrated Eid with locals, and have had home-cooked meals.

Getting Around The City

One thing you should know about getting around my city is that there are no buses. However, it is easy to park the car at the corniche and walk around this area and Al Ayjah.

The best way to travel in my city to have as little impact as possible is to drive a car if planning to explore other areas, such as Al Bar, Shiya Beach, and Murtafa, all of which are about fifteen minutes in either direction from Al Ayjah.

Luckily this method of transportation also allows me to stop and investigate when I find something interesting, such as camels walking around.

Outside The City

To get away and into the outdoors, I like to drive 25 minutes to Wadi Tiwi (read more here to find out what makes it unique)

For a day trip just beyond my city, I like to drive along the coast, going south toward Al Ashkara. The sea views on one side, with dunes on the other, make the drive enjoyable. Sometimes, my friends and I will barbeque on the beach at Asilah, about an hour and 20-minute drive before Al Ashkara.

Many people will head to Fins Beach or Wadi Shab, but locals know to go to other secret beaches and wadis that require a four-wheel vehicle. No one else is here, so you can enjoy it with no crowds.

I really enjoy the view of my city from the watchtower because I like seeing the panorama it presents, from the buildings to the bridge to the sea.

Connecting With Locals

When I want to have fun and celebrate being out in my city, I get together with friends for a walk or a meal.  

To go to a real insider spot, I go to Joma Café or the White Coffee Shop, where I sit and enjoy bridge views. 

The best resource for finding out what’s going on around town is asking locals. While few organised events may be happening, sometimes a hiking group sets up a local walk or nearby hike (check out Quick Challenge on Instagram for information). To watch the locals play football and volleyball, you’ll find Al Batah Beach busy with activity after 4 pm, making it a fun place to spectate and people watch.

The Rahmani traditional drum is my first choice for music because of the deep sound. And when I want to watch the locals dance, I go to a horse or camel show in Jalan, about an hour and 20 minutes away. The dances can seem like a short story with how they sway and jump around.

Finding Solitude In Sur

When I want to go somewhere to sit and relax in my incredible city, I go to the beach in Al Bar to watch the waves and sometimes read a book.

What makes me proudest of my city is the abundance of fresh seafood. I like going to the fish souq at the marina to buy the day’s fresh catch that’s just come off the boats.

When I want to enjoy my city without spending much (or any) money, I like to walk around and take pictures of traditional wooden doors.

When The Seasons Change, This City Shines

Oman does not experience four seasons. There is summer and winter, then there is Khareef — the rainy season. 

I always recommend visitors do whatever’s on their list before 10 am in the summer (March to September/October) because it is too hot to walk around outdoors later in the day. 

The winter (November–February) is a great time to be outside and enjoy the cooler weather. More people will be on the beaches having picnics and barbeques in the afternoon and evening.

Khareef season in Sur (June–August) is when locals and tourists can experience the rainy season and the greenery it encourages. Visiting is more expensive during this time, and hotels and guesthouses fill up fast, so book early.

Erin Coyle

Local Expert

Erin Coyle is a freelance writer and ESL teacher based in Oman. Her work has been published in the Oman Observer, Go World Travel, Wander with Wonder, Confetti Travel Cafe, Rovology, Foodie Flashpacker, among others. She also lived in China for five years, teaching ESL. Erin's travels have taken her to Southeast Asia, Oceania, Europe, the Middle East, East and South Africa. She is always planning her next trip.

Time to Read:  10 Minutes
Local Expert: Erin Coyle
1 December 2023
Destination Guide

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  • Interesting stories from people in all corners of the globe
  • Vibrant photos sure to spark wanderlust
  • Ideas on where to go now — and how to do it responsibly