Category Archives: Holidays

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Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. He predicted an six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 126 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as I suspect they would do this year, as well, should Phil call for even more chilly weather.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

– Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

– English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like the one below from Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten and a great round-up of others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

Happy Chinese New Year: Celebrate the Year of the Horse with Crafts, Recipes and Fun

Chinese New Year is celebrated on January 31 this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4712. The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar calendar, with the new year beginning on the darkest day of the month. New years celebrations often go as many as two weeks, until the next full moon. And a celebratory holiday it is, with red decorations, good-luck gifts of oranges and money, parades with dragon dances and firecrackers, and special foods.

This year is the Year of the Horse. See a Chinese zodiac calendar.  Try one of these fun Chinese New Year activities:

Year of the Horse paper cutting from Craftiments

chinese new year horse

Write and paint a Chinese horse character from Artchoo

chinese new year horse

Paper dragon from Teach Kids Art

chinese new year dragon

Paper Plate drums from Crafts and Art for Children

chinese new year craft

Homemade fortune cookies from The Spiffy Cookie

fortune cookie recipe

Felt fortune cookies from Martha Stewart

fortune cookie craft

Fruit roll-up fortune cookies from Recipe by Photo

fortune cookie project

Noisemakers from Slow Family Online

new years noisemaker

Make these easy paper lanterns

This is probably the classic Chinese New Year craft. It’s easy and satisfying. I made these as a kid and, of course, with my daughter.

You’ll need:

  1. Construction paper
  2. Scissors
  3. Tape
  4. Glitter or other decorations, as desired.

Fold a piece of paper in half length-wise.

Beginning at the fold, cut out approx. 4 very skinny triangles that go halfway up the folded section of paper.

Unfold the paper and curl together so that the two shortest ends of the paper meet and the cuts run vertically. (The cuts should now each result in a “diamond” shape.)

chinese lantern craft

The paper lantern activity is adapted from  Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun.

A version of this post originally appeared on Bookboard.

Lantern photo: Planetforward.ca

 

 

Celebrate the Winter Solstice

There’s something about the solstice, the precise and dramatic moments when one season moves into another. These moments allow us to pause and reflect on the turning of the year, as well as mark the unique joy of each season in numerous small ways.

The winter solstice (December 21 this year for those in the Northern Hemisphere) provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season.

Marked by the longest night and shortest day of the year, winter 2013/14 officially begins at 17:11, Universal Coordinated Time, on Dec. 21 (12:11 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast.) At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. For the many who yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year as it occurs.) Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their summer solstice and their longest, sunniest day. This is a great site that explains the solstice.

In ancient Rome, the extroverted citizens celebrated the winter solstice for a full and rowdy week called Saturnalia. Though (much) milder in character, my family makes a habit of welcoming each summer and winter solstice with songs, stories, rituals and food, much the way people of many cultures have been bearing witness to the changing seasons and honoring life’s mysteries for thousands of years.

Looking for some simple ways to celebrate the winter solstice with your family? Try these:

  • Take a walk or have a family game night on the year’s longest night.
  • Celebrate the sun’s return by making or eating sun-colored foods, such as oranges and frosted yellow cupcakes.
  • Use an orange half as a candle holder by hollowing out space for the candle in the orange’s center, and enjoy the light together.
  • Place gold-covered toys or chocolate coins in bags and surprise children with them at night or during the morning after the solstice.
  • Take a walk at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.
  • Take a cue from Scandinavia, where some families place all their shoes together at the winter solstice, in the hope of living in harmony throughout the year.
  • Do a solstice spiral dance to welcome winter or summer (instructions below).
  • Summer solstice celebrants, greet the season outdoors and make a wish on the first star that appears on the year’s shortest night.

Spiral Dance

Gather in a circle and hold hands. Sing or chant simple songs to honor the earth and the changing season while moving slowly in a circle. Have a leader break one handhold and lead the group in increasingly smaller circles within the larger one to form a spiral. Some of our favorite spiral songs:

Wearing Our Long Tail Feathers

The boundaries of the earth,
The planet of our birth,
The sacred Mother Earth.
We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

Witchi Tai Tai

O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
O witchi tai tai, witchi tai o,
May we all be like eagles, flying so high,
Circling the universe, on wings of pure light.

Here’s some great information about cultural and religious celebrations of winter and solstice around the world. Some civilizations, like the ancient Incans and the Chinese, begin their new years at the winter solstice. (Interestingly, the ancient Mayan calendar marked the new year not at winter solstice but in May, the high point of the agricultural year.) However you choose, join in the global celebration of the solstice, the year’s longest night (or day), and perhaps the return of the light.

Photos – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf. Oranges, Public Domain

Adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, by Susan Sachs Lipman.

Thanksgivukkuh: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Holiday

thanksgiving and hanukkah

For the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will converge. That’s right, Thanksgivukkah! And we won’t get the chance to celebrate it again for 78,000 years. This calendar oddity has resulted in some really fun – and feasty – mash-ups. Buzzzfeed offers up potato latkes with cranberry applesauce and pecan pie rugalah. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade will feature a spinning dreidel balloon. There are menurkey menorahs, “challahday” cards and chocolate coins that read “gobble tov”. Sounds like a lot of fun, especially if the alternative is eight days of leftover turkey.

Why the alignment between the festival of fowl and the festival of lights?

So, why is this Hanukkah different from all others? While Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, Hanukkah is a moving target because it’s based on the lunar Hebrew calendar, which has 29-day months. The Hebrew calendar adds a 13th month every few years, to ensure that Passover is always celebrated in spring and the harvest festival of Sukkot in fall. This is why Hanukkah can swing from late November to late December. Thanks  to these quirks, November 28th is the latest possible day for Thanksgiving, and the earliest possible day for Hanukkah, which begins at sundown, November 27.  Though associated with Christmas because of its timing, some theologians are saying that the holiday has more in common with Thanksgiving, as both celebrate freedom from religious persecution. They also both feature a large food component (what’s a good holiday without that?) and offer plenty of opportunity for family fun.

How to Make the Most of Thanksgivukkah

Of course you will want delicious, celebratory, unusual food and fun. If you notice an emphasis on the sweet in these recipes, it’s because every holiday should contain much sweetness, as well a dollop of Hanukkah’s traditional oil.

Pumpkin Challah from the Jew and the Carrot

Potato Latkes topped with Turkey and Cranberry Chutney from Girl in the Little Red Kitchen

Apple Spiced Latkes with Cinnamon Yogurt Caramel Sauce from What Jew Wanna Eat

Pumpkin Kugel from Thanksgivukkah Boston

Manischewitz Brined Turkey from BuzzFeed

Challah Stuffing with Turkey Sausage, Leeks and Cherries from Little Ferraro Kitchen

Delicata Squash and Sage Biscuits from PBS Food. (These have nothing to do with Hanukkah, but they look so good I had to include them.)

Spiced Pumpkin Sufganiyots (Doughnuts for Hanukkah) with Turkey and Gravy or Turkey and Cranberry made to order from Zucker Bakery.

More Cranberry Filled Sufganivots (Doughnuts) from Thanksgivukkah Boston

Pecan Pie Rugelach from BuzzFeed

Chocolate Cranberry Cake with Gelt Glaze from What Jew Wanna Eat

Acorn Dreidels from Reci-Bee

The Menurkey (menorah turkey), the invention of 9-year-old Asher Weintraub

Thanksgivukkah Scarf from Zazzle

American Gothic Thanksgivukkah poster from Modern Tribe

Challahday Card from Manischewitz

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

A version of this post originally appeared on Bookboard

More Thanksgiving and Fall Fun from Slow Family:

Make a Beaded Corn Ear for Thanksgiving

31 Awesome Pumpkin Recipes

Make a Fall Leaf Placemat

How to Make an All American Apple Pie

Honor Your Family with Fun Gratitude Crafts

Let Nature Decorate Your Holiday Table

Stir up (or Cook Down) Some Colonial Apple Butter

Enjoy Fall, Nature, Cooking and Reading with Kids

Hello Friends! You may have noticed that my blog has been sparse the last couple of months. I appreciate your visits and checking in. I haven’t been completely quiet. I have been writing some interesting things for other blogs and thought I’d share here.

Celebrating Seasons Helps Promote Family Bonding, Parents Place

Autumn and the Outdoors: Experiencing Nature’s Benefits with your Children, Center for Childhood Creativity

9 Ways to Tame Fall Frenzy, Frugal Mama

When Toys “R” Us Pits Toys Against Nature, the Children and Nature Movement Wins, Children & Nature Network

Raising Readers in the Digital Age, Dot Complicated

Cooking with Kids: 31 Days of Unforgettable Recipes, Stuff Parents Need

Also, look for these Fall favorites on my blog:

Join Project Feeder Watch, and other Citizen Science Activities

Make a Beaded Corn Ear for Thanksgiving

31 Awesome Pumpkin Recipes

Make a Fall Leaf Placemat

How to Make an All American Apple Pie

Honor Your Family with Fun Gratitude Crafts

I look forward to sharing more seasonal and parenting fun in the weeks ahead. Thanks again for stopping by.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Summer! Easy Summer Solstice Cupcakes

Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of the summer season, is upon us June 21 this year, at 05:04 Universal Time, or 1:04 am on the U.S.’ east coast, 10:04 pm, June 20, on the west. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a summer solstice celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.

View more photos of summer solstice at Muir Beach.

An easy way to celebrate Summer Solstice, whether your gathering is a large one or a cozy one, is to make Summer Solstice Cupcakes. This recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round:

Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.

1/2 C butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C flour, sifted first and then measured
pinch of salt
2 t. baking powder
1 C milk
1 C chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375′ oven.

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.

This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?

Happy Solstice to all!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Welcome Spring!

(Updated for 2014: Spring will occur Thursday, March 20, at 16:57 UTC, or 12:57 pm, Eastern Daylight Time.)

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Wednesday, March 20, at 11:02 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 7:02 am, Eastern Daylight Time, and 4:02 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox, the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

Spring conjures growth and new life, play, beauty, flowers, and the return of the sun and longer days. There are many simple ways to honor spring, from dancing a maypole dance to dyeing eggs.

Celebrations of spring happen all season, of course, as buds bloom on trees and the tulips, daffodils and other bulbs planted in the dead of winter show their cheery, colorful heads.

In my neck of the woods, wildflowers and spring bulbs have recently popped their heads up to welcome this expansive and lovely season. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As I often do, at times of seasonal change, I turned to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Host a Kid-Friendly Oscar Party

Updated for 2014.

Planning to watch the 86th annual Academy Awards? Turn your evening into a fun family event, or even an Oscar party, by serving easy finger foods, such as mini hot dogs; golden food, like easy yellow cupcakes, star-shaped sugar cookies with gold sprinkles, or chocolate coins; and sparkly drinks like champagne, sparkling wine (these are good budget sparkling wines ) or sparkling apple cider.

If you’re feeling ambitious, Epicurious offers some wonderful Oscar-themed menus based on this year’s movie nominations. (Although, I think having pie to denote Life of Pi would work just fine!) Make food and drinks extra special by digging out any gold or silver platters and champagne flutes (plastic versions of these are available at party stores), or serving food on doilies.

Make copies of this printable Oscar ballot and have everyone vote for their favorites. The winner can receive a big box of movie candy, a certificate for a local movie theater, or a homemade voucher for a movie excursion.

Before the show starts, have kids dress up and walk the red carpet (roll out a piece of red fabric or a vinyl or fabric tablecloth, or denote a section of floor with tape) and take pictures. Make a gold star out of yellow construction paper (or cardboard, spray painted gold) and tape it to a door or wall to create an instant star’s dressing room.

Everyone likes to make acceptance speeches. Make an Oscar statuette by spray painting an old Barbie or Ken-sized doll gold. The ones below come from Ellie and Blair, who set theirs on stands. (They have lots of other fun Oscar party ideas.) In a pinch, spray paint a paper-towel roll to denote the Oscar, or have  children hold a bouquet of flowers.

Be sure they thank all the little people who helped make their success possible!

Who me?

Enjoy the show!

Photos: USA Today, Ellie & Blair, Us Magazine

 

 

Best (and Worst) Candy Heart Sayings of All Time

Iconic, goofy and sometimes romantic candy hearts from Necco are the second best selling Valentine’s Day candy, right behind chocolate. 8 billion little Sweethearts are produced each year. Their bright, chalky colors and pithy and sometimes irreverent candy heart sayings have been entertaining people and helping them declare love for 147 years, ever since the brother of the original Necco creator designed a machine that stamped words directly onto the candies with red vegetable dye. The original candies were large and had various shapes. When the company arrived at the small heart shape in 1902, the sayings got smaller to accommodate it.

Necco wafers themselves have been around 166 years and even accompanied two explorers on their expeditions (Admiral Byrd’s to the South Pole and Donald MacMillan’s to the Arctic) in addition to feeding the WWII troops. Necco’s wafers and sweethearts even survived a move to “healthier” flavors three years ago, which was thankfully scrapped.

 

I’ve watched the sayings get updated over the years, as new ones like FAX ME and  E MAIL ME came and went. New sayings in recent years include TEXT ME and TWEET ME (how long will these last?) as well as MY PET and U R HOT, as an addition to classics like SOUL MATE, SWEET PEA, SAY YES, TRUE LOVE and ALL MINE. Perennial favorites from the early years include BE MINE, BE TRUE, MARRY ME and KISS ME. The company adds about 20 sayings, out of 80, each year, so naturally some older ones are not going to make the new group. New sayings are often themed, like these pet-themed ones from 2007.

Some of my favorite new sayings over the past decade include HEART OF GOLD, MELT MY HEART, CLOUD NINE and HONEY BUN. A few that have bitten the dust, mostly because their lingo became dated, include DIG ME, HEP CAT, HOTCHA, SAUCY BOY and OH YOU KID.

However you express it, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photos: Necco, The Fun Times Guide

Bonus Trivia Question: What does Necco stand for?

Answer: New England Confectionary Company

 

Read more:

History of Sweetheart Candies, Smithsonian Magazine

10+ Years of Conversation Hearts, Readers Digest

How Do They Get Those Tiny Words on Sweethearts Candies?, Time Magazine

17 Amazing Retired Sweetheart Candy Sayings, The Atlantic

New Sweetheart Candy Sayings by Year, Infoplease

Mixed Reviews for New NECCO Sweetheart Candy Flavors, Slow Family Online


Vintage Valentines, Part 2

More vintage valentines! (You didn’t think we were going to stop with Part 1, did you?)

Space Age Valentines

Transportation Valentines

Winter Valentines

 

Music Valentines

More Fun Valentines

 

More terrific vintage valentines can be seen at:

Vintage Valentine Museum

Seven Deadly Sinners

TipNut

Here’s how to make your own fun and easy homemade valentines.

Still want more? See my: Vintage Valentines, Part 1

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