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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.

Taxes: An Ancient Practice

Tax Day is once again upon us in the U.S. Because income taxes are due on April 15, chances are that you’ve already addressed them in some way. Chances are also fairly high that you’ve not given much thought as to why our taxes are due in the middle of April each year. Neither had I, until my daughter asked me about this and I developed a theory.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board. (01/1942 – 11/03/1945)

 

Although the U.S. government didn’t impose our current income tax system until 1913 (and citizens had been taxed for a brief period to fund the Civil War), most governments throughout the world have taxed their citizens. The ancient Egyptians taxed cooking oil and went as far as visiting people’s homes to ensure that they weren’t using an alternative oil in order to avoid the tax. The ancient Greeks used rain gauges to measure rain and thus determine the tax bills for farmers — the more rain, the more produce, the higher the tax.

But when in the year did this happen? Was it in April, like it is today, or at the start of the new year, January 1? It turns out that, to complicate things, the new year has been celebrated on many different dates throughout history (and continues to be celebrated at different times by some cultures.) Ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year in August, when the Nile River flooded to provide water for their crops. The Mayan new year was in May, at the year’s agricultural high point. The Jewish New Year continues to coincide with the fall harvest. The Incans linked, and the Chinese continue to link, their new year to the winter solstice.

And the ancient Romans and Babylonians marked their new year at the spring equinox, itself a moving target in ancient times, before precise measurements existed. (The English new year continued to be March 25, a full two centuries after France’s Charles IX changed it to January 1 for most of the world in 1564.) Our practice of New Year’s resolutions goes back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians, who made sure to settle up accounts by returning borrowed farm equipment before their new year. It was these ancient people whom I surmised may have influenced our current tax schedule.

Ancient Egyptian Calendar

 

It turns out that the first U.S. income tax payments in 1914 were due on March 1 for somewhat banal, rather than agrarian or seasonal, reasons. March 1 was chosen because that date fell about one year after the 16th (tax) amendment was enacted. Tax Day didn’t move to April 15 until 1955. (And, if April 15 falls on a weekend, Tax Day is moved to the next business day.)

So, while it made a fine story, my theory that we follow many of the ancients by paying taxes at the rough equivalent of the spring equinox did not hold (rain) water. It did, however, inspire us to learn a little bit about tax history and ancient ways, and recognize the fact that, even as the calendar and customs have changed, taxes have remained a fairly constant fact of life.

1500s Aztec Calendar

 

 Artwork based on ancient Egyptian calendar

 

 

Images: Tax History, Dark Roasted Blend, PBase

You might also be interested in:

Tax day tips: Eight things to check before April 17 tax deadline
Tax day: 8 top tax breaks for parents on tax deadline

 

 

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. He predicted an early spring 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 125 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 98 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”.

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 this one and 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

Taxes: An Ancient Practice

Tax Day is once again upon us in the U.S. Because income taxes are due this year on April 17, chances are that you’ve already addressed them in some way. Chances are also fairly high that you’ve not given much thought as to why our taxes are due in the middle of April each year. Neither had I, until my daughter asked me about this and I developed a theory.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board. (01/1942 – 11/03/1945)

 

Although the U.S. government didn’t impose our current income tax system until 1913 (and citizens had been taxed for a brief period to fund the Civil War), most governments throughout the world have taxed their citizens. The ancient Egyptians taxed cooking oil and went as far as visiting people’s homes to ensure that they weren’t using an alternative oil in order to avoid the tax. The ancient Greeks used rain gauges to measure rain and thus determine the tax bills for farmers — the more rain, the more produce, the higher the tax.

But when in the year did this happen? Was it in April, like it is today, or at the start of the new year, January 1? It turns out that, to complicate things, the new year has been celebrated on many different dates throughout history (and continues to be celebrated at different times by some cultures.) Ancient Egyptians celebrated the new year in August, when the Nile River flooded to provide water for their crops. The Mayan new year was in May, at the year’s agricultural high point. The Jewish New Year continues to coincide with the fall harvest. The Incans linked, and the Chinese continue to link, their new year to the winter solstice.

And the ancient Romans and Babylonians marked their new year at the spring equinox, itself a moving target in ancient times, before precise measurements existed. (The English new year continued to be March 25, a full two centuries after France’s Charles IX changed it to January 1 for most of the world in 1564.) Our practice of New Year’s resolutions goes back 4,000 years to the ancient Babylonians, who made sure to settle up accounts by returning borrowed farm equipment before their new year. It was these ancient people whom I surmised may have influenced our current tax schedule.

Ancient Egyptian Calendar

 

It turns out that the first U.S. income tax payments in 1914 were due on March 1 for somewhat banal, rather than agrarian or seasonal, reasons. March 1 was chosen because that date fell about one year after the 16th (tax) amendment was enacted. Tax Day didn’t move to April 15 until 1955. (And, if April 15 falls on a weekend, Tax Day is moved to the next business day — unless that business day is a holiday, which it is this year, Emancipation Day, April 16, celebrated in Washington, D.C. Hence this year’s Tax Day of April 17.)

So, while it made a fine story, my theory that we follow many of the ancients by paying taxes at the rough equivalent of the spring equinox did not hold (rain) water. It did, however, inspire us to learn a little bit about tax history and ancient ways, and recognize the fact that, even as the calendar and customs have changed, taxes have remained a fairly constant fact of life.

1500s Aztec Calendar

 

Artwork based on ancient Egyptian calendar

 

 

Images: Tax History, Dark Roasted Blend, PBase

You might also be interested in:

Tax day tips: Eight things to check before April 17 tax deadline
Tax day: 8 top tax breaks for parents on tax deadline

 

 

Happy Leap Year and Day!

February 29th – Leap Day – only comes once every four years and represents our attempts to keep our man-made calendars aligned with nature – that is, the Earth’s revolutions around the sun. The Earth needs approximately 365 days and 6 hours to circle the sun and complete one year. At that rate, our Julian calendar, which was adopted in 46 B.C., would lose 6 hours a year or a full day every 4 years. Having a Leap Day or Leap Year every four years makes up for those hours and keeps the calendar on track.

Of course, calendars have endured their share of meddling for ages, from the ancient Romans, who originally moved the start of the year from the beginning of Spring to January, to the Catholic Church, which moved and changed the ancient Aztec corn festival from Summer to the Fall celebration of Dia de Los Muertos and “All Saints Day”.

Many traditional calendars, including Chinese, Jewish, Hindu, Iranian, and Ethiopian, also periodically adjust in various ways, such as adding a month every few years to even things up.

According to an old Irish legend, Leap Day is a day for women to turn the traditional tables and propose marriage to men.

Only about one in 1461 people celebrate a birthday on Leap Year.

Here are some things that have happened on Leap Day in history.

And some vintage photos that celebrate leaping!

Enjoy this extra, and extraordinary, day!

Photos: Unknown, State Library and Archives of Florida, Smithsonian Archives

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Sees His Shadow

Update:In the Feb. 2 early morning on Gobbler’s Knob, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow for the 99th time to predict 6 more weeks of winter.

Jan. 30 – 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. If he sees it – an early end to winter. If not – 6 more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”.

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

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

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.

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.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Activity: See if you see your shadow on Groundhog Day!

Read: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.

Fool your Family with Easy April Fools Day Pranks

Though we all love a good laugh year-round, April Fools Day offers some great opportunities to crank up the pranks. Here are a few simple pranks that are great for all ages and use simple kitchen ingredients.

Why do we even celebrate April Fools Day?

Even though the Julian calendar, which we use, was adopted in 46 B.C., many Europeans were resistant to the change — really resistant, as it turns out. For centuries, their New Year coincided with Easter and other Spring celebrations. In the 1560s, France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the New Year should officially begin on January 1, and Pope Gregory in Rome followed a full 18 years later. It is said that the Europeans who hadn’t gotten the memo on the date change continued to celebrate New Year’s in April, thus they were considered fools, and the source of our modern day pranks.

In France, the fools got paper fish hooked to their backs. These are vintage “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish) postcards:

Other theories hold that April Fools Day arose from the Spring renewal festivals that have long been held throughout the world. These have wonderful names and customs – Hilaria in Rome; Holi, the festival of color in India; Hock-Tyed, a randy event in Great Britain.

The Museum of Hoaxes site has more information about April Fools Day in history and literature. The infoplease site casts some doubt on the calendar theory and posits another, from Boston University History Professor Joseph Boskin, who explained that a group of court jesters told the Roman emperor Constantine that they could do a better job of running the empire, so he let a jester named Kugel be king for one day. “It was a very serious day,” Boskin said, and his story was run by the news media in 1983.

There was one glitch: Boskin himself had made the story up — in great April Fools Day tradition.

Fun and Easy Food Pranks

So, what are some fun and easy April Fools Day pranks that you can pull on your family? I’ve often used mealtimes to turn the tables and have some fun with food pranks, many of which will be a treat to eat even after the joke’s over. All of these are quick and easy to pull off, with ingredients available at most grocery stores.

Smile and Say “Grilled Cheese”

What you’ll need:

A pound cake
Buttercream or white frosting
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Cut the pound cake into slices to resemble bread. Toast them in an oven (on a cookie sheet) or in a toaster oven just until they turn golden brown. Once they’ve cooled a little, stack two slices for each sandwich and cut each stack in half diagonally. Mix drops of the red and yellow food coloring into the frosting, stopping when the frosting appears like American cheese. Carefully spread a generous amount of frosting onto the bottom slice, then gently press the top slice over it. This will make the frosting ooze a bit over the sides of the “bread”, so that the whole resembles a melted cheese sandwich.

Sweet Potatoes

What you’ll need:

Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Butterscotch or caramel sauce

How to do it:

Place a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt on a plate. Top with butterscotch or caramel sauce. Let the sauce drip down to resemble gravy.

Fishy Fish Sticks

What you’ll need:

Log-shaped candy bars such as Twix, Mounds, or Kit Kat, or wafer cookies
Shreded or toasted coconut, or crushed graham crackers
Peanut or other nut butter or corn syrup

How to do it:

If you are using shredded coconut, toast the coconut by placing the shredded pieces on a baking sheet and baking at 350 degrees for 2-4 minutes, or until it is light brown with some white shreds remaining. Allow the coconut to cool and then spread it, or the graham cracker crumbs, atop a sheet of wax paper. Roll the candy or cookies in the peanut butter or corn syrup until they are lightly coated, and then roll the coated candy/cookies in the coconut/cracker crumbs. (Note that some candy bars may have to be cut to more closely resemble the shape of a fish stick.)

Different Dog

What you’ll need:

A banana
A hot dog bun
Peanut butter
Vanilla yogurt
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Place the banana into the hot dog bun. Mix drops of red food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter until the color of the peanut butter resembles ketchup. Mix drops of yellow food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt until the color of the yogurt resembles mustard. Generously spread the “condiments” over the banana to make the hot dog.

Not So Fried Egg

What you’ll need:

Lemon or vanilla pudding or yogurt, or a canned peach half
Marshmallow sauce (used for sundaes)
Piece of toast (optional)

How to do it:

Spoon a generous amount of marshmallow sauce on a plate or a piece of toast. It will spread. Finesse it with a spoon into an egg-white shape. Place a small, neat spoonful of pudding or yogurt, or the canned peach half on top of it so that the whole resembles a fried egg.

A Stiff Drink

What you’ll need:
A package of flavored gelatin.

How to do it:

Dissolve the gelatin according to box directions. Pour the gelatin into drinking glasses and place a plastic straw in each. Refrigerate the gelatin until firm, then watch when someone tries to drink their “drink”.

A Meaty Dessert

What you’ll need:

A meatloaf recipe
Mashed potatoes
Cake decorators’ icing

How to do it:

Combine the ingredients for the meatloaf recipe. Before baking, divide the mixture into the two round cake pans and pat it flat. Bake as usual, shortening the cooking time to adjust for the thinness of the meat loaves. Prepare the mashed potatoes, adding a little extra milk to them and whipping them until they are fluffy. Once the loaves have cooled a little, place one of them onto a plate and cover it with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Place the other meatloaf on top of the potato layer, and finish frosting the “cake” with the remaining potatoes, swirling them with a knife to imitate cake frosting. Decorate the top with a fun April Fools’ message.

Backwards Meal

Even if you don’t have time to make or buy special food, you can serve a meal backward, starting with dessert. Or you can have a whole backwards day where meals are concerned. Even a few drops of food coloring can instantly change a bowl or oatmeal or a scoop of mashed potatoes.

Have fun and get silly! Happy April Fools Day.

These and other fun pranks and seasonal activities appear in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World.

Photos: Wikimedia, Blogger of the Beach, Susan Sachs Lipman

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney Phil Predicts Early Spring

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, 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 today, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil rose from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, and signaled to his handlers that he saw no shadow today and accordingly foretold an early end to winter. Over the 125 years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and not seen it only 16, counting today. (Records don’t exist for every year.) The last time he didn’t see a shadow was in 2007. In 2008, the crowd booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as they no doubt would have today, when a smaller than usual crowd stood in the freezing rain to watch the ceremony.

The same article also notes that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

How did the groundhog tradition get started?

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 festival, 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, none is nearly as famous as Punsxutawney’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.

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.

Photos: Aaron Silvers, Creative Commons

Try it yourself: Do you see your shadow on Groundhog Day?

Read: Happy New Year! Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home.


Happy New Year: Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home

In Denmark, the New Year may be marked by breaking dishes on friends’ doorways. In Swaziland, tradition has it that people celebrate a long harvest season and bring their king back into the community from a brief seclusion.

Japanese families may celebrate the New Year for two weeks of “firsts” including “first writing”, in which family members inscribe favorite poems or sayings with fresh ink. In the Philippines, wearing polka dots and eating round fruit is said to attract prosperity and luck.

Traditional Hmong people, pictured above, thoroughly clean their houses and place the dirt outside near a loop of rope that has been tied to a tree. Children jump in an out of a loop to confuse the dirt spirits. The Dutch, pictured below, make doughnuts, called oliebols, which are only eaten at the New Year, have great firework shows, and often celebrate the day as many seaside dwellers do, by running into the sometimes freezing water — here, with the New Years Dive. at Scheveningen, in Amsterdam.

All over the world, people celebrate the New Year — often at the turning of the Julian calendar on January 1, but sometimes not — and do so with a wide variety of traditions, celebrations and rituals.

This is a wonderful list of  New Years celebrations from around the world. Many traditions have to do with driving away evil spirits and ringing in the new.

The New Year used to coincide with Spring (which makes sense in agrarian societies and perhaps even today), until Julius Caesar’s Julian calendar was created in 46 B.C. and declared the New Year to begin January 1. Many Europeans held firm to their Spring celebrations all the way until the 1560s, when France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the year should officially begin on January 1. It still took Pope Gregory in Rome a full 18 years to follow suit, and some Europeans even longer. Those who continued to celebrate the New Year in April were considered fools — yes, April Fools.

More New Year Traditions

Do you make resolutions? Irresistible to those of us who like an occasional “fresh start”, New Years resolutions are said to go back 4,000 years, all the way to ancient Babylonia. Because the New Year occurred at the Vernal Equinox, many Babylonians resolved to make good on their word and return borrowed farm equipment, so their neighbors could begin the new year of farming.

How about Auld Lang Syne? If you sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, you’re like much of the English-speaking world, who brings out this maudlin Scottish tune each new year at the stroke of midnight. “Auld Lang Syne” means “old long ago” or the “good old days”. The song as we know it was penned in the 1700s from an older traditional tune.


Then, there’s the New Years Baby. This symbolism is said to go back to ancient Greece, where parading a baby in a basket represented the rebirth of Dionysus, the God of Wine and symbol of fertility.

From ancient times, the New Year has been an occasion for contemplation and celebration. Happy and Healthy New Year to you and yours. Please let me know if you wear polka dots, break dishes, run into the ocean, or enjoy another or your own New Year tradition.

Images: PTD Phonsavan, Lybil BER, J.C. Leyendecker, Michael Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Make Noisemakers to Welcome the New Year

New Years Resolutions and Gratitude Lists

Toast the New Year with Inexpensive and Tasty Sparkling Wines

Fool Your Family with Easy April Fools Day Pranks

Though we all love a good laugh year-round, April Fools’ Day offers some great opportunities to crank up the pranks.

Why do we even celebrate April Fools’ Day?

Even though the Julian calendar, which we use, was adopted in 46 B.C., many Europeans were resistant to the change — really resistant, as it turns out. For centuries, their New Year coincided with Easter and other Spring celebrations. In the 1560s, France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the New Year should officially begin on January 1, and Pope Gregory in Rome followed a full 18 years later. It is said that the Europeans who hadn’t gotten the memo on the date change continued to celebrate New Year’s in April, thus they were considered fools, and the source of our modern day pranks.

In France, the fools got paper fish hooked to their backs. These are vintage “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish) postcards:

Other theories hold that April Fools’ Day arose from the Spring renewal festivals that have long been held throughout the world. These have wonderful names and customs – Hilaria in Rome; Holi, the festival of color in India; Hock-Tyed, a randy event in Great Britain.

The Museum of Hoaxes site has more information about April Fools’ Day in history and literature. The infoplease site casts some doubt on the calendar theory and posits another, from Boston University History Professor Joseph Boskin, who explained that a group of court jesters told the Roman emperor Constantine that they could do a better job of running the empire, so he let a jester named Kugel be king for one day. “It was a very serious day,” Boskin said, and his story was run by the news media in 1983.

There was one glitch: Boskin himself had made the story up — in great April Fools’ Day tradition.

Fun and Easy Food Pranks

So, what are some fun and easy April Fools’ Day pranks that you can pull on your family? I’ve often used mealtimes to turn the tables and have some fun with food pranks, many of which will be a treat to eat even after the joke’s over. All of these are quick and easy to pull off, with ingredients available at most grocery stores.

Fishy Fish Sticks

What you’ll need:

Log-shaped candy bars such as Twix, Mounds, or Kit Kat
Shredded coconut or toasted coconut (available at specialty stores)
Corn Syrup

How to do it:

Toast the coconut by placing the shredded pieces on a baking sheet and baking at 350 degrees for 2-4 minutes, or until it is light brown with some white shreds remaining (if you are not using toasted coconut). Allow the coconut to cool and then spread it atop a sheet of wax paper. Roll the candy in the corn syrup until it is lightly coated, and then roll the coated candy in the coconut. (Note that some candy bars may have to be cut to more closely resemble the shape of a fish stick.)

Sweet Potatoes

What you’ll need:

Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Butterscotch or caramel sauce

How to do it:

Place a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt on a plate. Top with butterscotch or caramel sauce. Let the sauce drip down to resemble gravy.

Different Dog

What you’ll need:

A banana
A hot dog bun
Peanut butter
Vanilla yogurt
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Place the banana into the hot dog bun. Mix drops of red food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter until the color of the peanut butter resembles ketchup. Mix drops of yellow food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt until the color of the yogurt resembles mustard. Generously spread the “condiments” over the banana to make the hot dog.

Not So Fried Egg

What you’ll need:

Lemon or vanilla pudding or yogurt, or a canned peach half
Marshmallow sauce (used for sundaes)
Piece of toast (optional)

How to do it:

Spoon a generous amount of marshmallow sauce on a plate or a piece of toast. It will spread. Finesse it with a spoon into an egg-white shape. Place a small, neat spoonful of pudding or yogurt, or the canned peach half on top of it so that the whole resembles a fried egg.

Smile and Say “Grilled Cheese”

What you’ll need:

A pound cake
Buttercream or white frosting
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Cut the pound cake into slices to resemble bread. Toast them in an oven (on a cookie sheet) or in a toaster oven just until they turn golden brown. Once they’ve cooled a little, stack two slices for each sandwich and cut each stack in half diagonally. Mix drops of the red and yellow food coloring into the frosting, stopping when the frosting appears like American cheese. Carefully spread a generous amount of frosting onto the bottom slice, then gently press the top slice over it. This will make the frosting ooze a bit over the sides of the “bread”, so that the whole resembles a melted cheese sandwich.

A Stiff Drink

What you’ll need:
A package of flavored gelatin.

How to do it:

Dissolve the gelatin according to box directions. Pour the gelatin into drinking glasses and place a plastic straw in each. Refrigerate the gelatin until firm, then watch when someone tries to drink their “drink”.

A Meaty Dessert

What you’ll need:

A meatloaf recipe
Mashed potatoes
Cake decorators’ icing

How to do it:

Combine the ingredients for the meatloaf recipe. Before baking, divide the mixture into the two round cake pans and pat it flat. Bake as usual, shortening the cooking time to adjust for the thinness of the meat loaves. Prepare the mashed potatoes, adding a little extra milk to them and whipping them until they are fluffy. Once the loaves have cooled a little, place one of them onto a plate and cover it with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Place the other meatloaf on top of the potato layer, and finish frosting the “cake” with the remaining potatoes, swirling them with a knife to imitate cake frosting. Decorate the top with a fun April Fools’ message.

Fairy Burgers for Tiny Pranksters

What you’ll need:

A box of Nilla wafers
A bag of small peppermint patties such as York
Shredded coconut
Green food coloring
Red or yellow “Fruit by the Foot”
Sesame seeds (optional)
Corn syrup (optional)
Toothpicks (optional)

How to do it:

Dissolve a drop of green food coloring into a cup of water. Place about a quarter cup of shredded coconut into a mixing bowl and pour the food coloring over it. Mix the coconut to coat it with color and then let it sit a few minutes to make sure the color is absorbed. Pat dry with a paper towel. That is the lettuce for your burger. Roll out the “Fruit by the Foot” and cut small squares of red or yellow to represent tomato slices and cheese. If you wish your Nilla wafer “bun” to have sesame seeds on it,  place the desired number of wafers on a flat surface. Dip a toothpick into the corn syrup and dot the wafer with drops of the syrup. Carefully place a sesame seed on each syrup drop and let it sit for a couple of minutes to dry.

Assemble the “burger” by starting with a wafer for the bottom and then adding a peppermint patty, the fruit square(s), the coconut, and, finally, the top bun. Nibble with tiny bites, just like the fairies do.

Backwards Meal

Even if you don’t have time to make or buy special food, you can serve a meal backward, starting with dessert. Or you can have a whole backwards day where meals are concerned. Even a few drops of food coloring can instantly change a bowl or oatmeal or a scoop of mashed potatoes.

Have fun and get silly! Happy April Fools’ Day.

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