Tag Archives: Winter

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 officially begins at the moment that the sun is 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

Make This a Slow, Joyful Holiday Season

For many of us, the holidays bring frenzy and stress. Budgets and available time and resources are stretched. We schedule so many activities that we become tired and unable to enjoy all of them. We spend extraordinary amounts of our time in crowded stores, parking lots and post offices. Why? Because we internalize societal messages that tell us we have to give our families a “perfect” holiday, which means taking advantage of every possible option and gift, often at the expense of true family meaning and fun.

How can we take back our holiday seasons?

Set a family intention for the holiday season

Intentions are extremely powerful. It will help you and your family if you determine and express exactly what you do want this holiday season. What is important to the family? Time spent together at home or out at parties? A family vacation? Treasured traditions (and which ones)? A shower of gifts? Discuss your intentions as a family and perhaps arrive at some new ones.

Question or limit consumerism

This act will help many families derail stress. Decide on a gift limit, say one or two per person. Offer to forgo traditional gifting with extended family members or office mates. Instead, try something fun like a “Secret Santa” activity, in which participants choose names from a hat and gift that one person a gift, instead of every person in the group. Other things you can do include supporting local small businesses and artisans, and choosing gifts that will get a great deal of use because they inspire creative play or exploration, or even gifts of time and activities.

Be a holiday tourist

Limiting consumerism doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy commercial holiday fun. Lots of towns and cities employ beautiful shop windows and other holiday and light displays. Find one near you and see how much more you and your family enjoy them when you’re not rushing by with a lengthy shopping list.

Visit your favorite holiday traditions, or create new (and inexpensive) ones

Holiday time can be extremely meaningful and memorable. Often, family memories are deepened when they attach to repeated fun rituals. These can include enjoying a holiday play, pageant, ice show or staging of a ballet such as the Nutcracker each year; attending a holiday tea; addressing cards together; making your own gift wrap; decorating your home; putting out cookies for Santa; enjoying holiday movies or books; playing old-fashioned games by firelight; playing in the snow; taking a holiday walk; or one of our frugal favorites, enjoying local holiday light and decoration displays. (These are often published in local papers.)

Gather for crafting and food

Holidays offer plenty of gathering time. Why not gather around fun, homemade activities? Make food together that is unique to the season, such as egg nog, apple butter, latkes or holiday cookies. Host a cookie exchange, to which guests each bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. Put all the cookies on a table and have guests walk around the table, taking one of each until the cookies are gone. (Serve guests a hearty or potluck meal before the cookie exchange, if you’d like.) Or make a gingerbread house or simple crafts like doily snowflakes. (Instructions below.)

Get outdoors

Often we get so carried away with some aspects of the holidays that we miss others. Holiday time can be a lovely time to enjoy nature. Often there are less other people on the walking trails and in the parks. Live in a snowy place? Make a Snowman Kit and keep it handy: Collect and store together coal pieces, rocks, or buttons for eyes, and woolens such as a knit cap, scarf, and mittens. Have carrots handy in the fridge. When the snow hits, take your kit outside and create your snowman, adding branches, twigs, evergreen boughs, and other items.

Celebrate the winter solstice

The winter solstice provides a special opportunity to slow down during the hectic holiday season. 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. 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 together at sunrise to greet the return of longer days.

Say no to some activities

As you’re saying yes to some of these new, fun activities, you might find yourself needing to say no to others. Do you really have to attend every office, school and neighborhood party or event? Decide which activities truly give you pleasure and try to guiltlessly skip the ones that don’t. The same goes for holiday cooking, decorating and other activities. If something isn’t pleasurable, no matter how much it fits into your idea of a “perfect” holiday, opt to do something you enjoy instead.

Give to someone less fortunate

There are many opportunities to serve and give over the holidays. Help at a local food kitchen, or participate in a toy or book drive. Or consider gifting in a recipient’s name to a worthy non-profit or other organization. These gifts may have much greater meaning than additional trinkets or things for families that have plenty.

 

Paper or Doily Snowflakes
These snowflakes grace our windows each winter.

You’ll need:
• Doilies, or paper in circle or square shapes
• Scissors
• Ribbon, optional

Fold a doily or paper circle in half, then in half again, and then
in half again, resulting in eight wedge- shaped layers, or fold a
square piece of paper in half to form a triangle shape, then in
half again. Then fold both halves of the triangle in toward the
middle, so that there is one pointy top, with the pieces overlapping,
and two pointy ends sticking down. Trim the bottom to
cut the pointy ends off.

Cut out small shapes along the folds or ends, such as triangles,
half circles, or swirling edges.

Unfold the paper and enjoy your snowflake. You may wish to
string many snowflakes together on a piece of ribbon to create
a garland decoration.

Craft adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

 

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.

Fun Winter Activity: Create Ice Art

If winter’s cold weather has you thinking you can’t play outside, think again. There’s simple fun to be had by creating ice sculptures, or ice art. All you need are some empty containers with large openings, rain or tap water, food coloring, and some freezing weather to bring your winter artist out of hiding — or at least outside.

Gather a variety of empty containers with large openings, such as milk cartons, juice boxes, and disposable cups and bowls. Collect rain or water in your containers and color with food coloring, if desired. Leave the containers of water outside to freeze. Carefully remove your containers to reveal the ice sculptures!

Not cold enough where you live? No problem. Have fun making ice sculptures in your freezer!

Active Kids Club in Toronto and Sanborn Western Camps in Colorado both have excellent ideas and photos to inspire your ice art.

Go Explore Nature has lots of ideas for winter backyard nature fun, no matter what the weather!

Photos: Top – Active Kids Club, Bottom – Sanborn Western Camps

 

Happy Winter Solstice 2011!

Winter Solstice is just about here, in the Northern Hemisphere — Our longest night and shortest day of the year, when Winter will officially begin at 5:30 a.m., Coordinated Universal Time, on Dec. 22 (12:30 a.m. on the U.S. East Coast, 9:30 p.m. 12/21 on the U.S. West 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 how the Solstice occurs.

This link illuminates cultural and religious celebrations from around the world that mark the Winter Solstice, the year’s longest night, and the return of the light. I was interested to learn that the ancient Roman 7-day festival, the Saturnalia, sometimes slipped into debauchery, but also included the postponing of war. Locally, (and currently), in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration in the Muir Woods that my family has attended many times. It occurs rain or shine, and will take place Wednesday, Dec. 21, at Muir Woods National Monument, from 3-8 p.m. The event, which is free with a park entrance fee, includes Winter woods-inspired crafts, such as making Solstice crowns; singing, storytelling, and a shadow puppet show; hot chocolate for purchase; and the beautiful ancient Redwood-lined trails of the park lit with luminaria, and often ringing with the voices of choral performers. Attendees should dress warmly, bring flashlights and prepare to have fun. Perhaps there’s a Solstice celebration in your area. Let us know!

Photo – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Green Gift Wrapping

With all this attention to green holiday gifts, it seemed time to address the wrapping.

The practice of wrapping gifts in paper began modestly enough, as people around the world utilized cloth, brown paper, even wallpaper, to disguise their gifts. Hallmark is credited with creating the current gift-wrap industry, which earth911 tells us accounts for as much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans consume every year. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S., and the vast majority of that is generated during the holiday season. In addition, they note that the act of recycling wrapping paper presents more challenges than we might think.

Now, the good news: There are lots of alternative wrapping ideas worth exploring, many of which are as creative and fun (some perhaps more so) than traditional wrapping.

Green Wrapping Ideas

Furoshiki — This long-time Japanese practice of wrapping gifts in cloths. Presents are wrapped in lovely fabrics, ranging from traditional Japanese fabrics and designs to silk, cotton and designs that are modern and retro, all of which can be used over and over. The wrappings and decorations themselves can also be quite elaborate and pretty. This method requires no cutting, only wrapping and knotting, so that it is also practical and sturdy. You may have scrap fabric you can wrap with at home. This Furoshiki site has lots of great fabrics to choose from, in a variety of prices, including fabrics by San Francisco design studio, Chewing the Cud.

This video provides a fantastic Furoshiki tutuorial (thank you to Recycle Now). Once you learn this technique, it’s very easy to do. (Click on “Furoshiki gift wrapping”):

Furoshiki gift wrapping from RecycleNow on Vimeo.

The Fabric Society also offers wonderful inspiration, tips and fabric for wrapping with furoshiki.


Clothing – This is really thinking outside the box — why not wrap a present in a fun recycled shirt?

Recycled Paper Items – Fun wrappings can be made from old paper maps, Sunday comic pages, sheet music or tissue sewing patterns. Feeling especially artistic? Decorate paper bags, or easel or other artist paper that you already have on hand. Color, paint, stamp, sticker, create collages from other papers or magazine pictures, dip old cookie cutters in paint to create a unique stamp, or create a decorative paint roller: Glue yarn or string onto a coffee or other can in striped or zig-zag patterns, let dry, paint the string, and roll the wet-painted can onto the paper.

Reusable Bags – If you don’t want to go the wrapping route, there’s still time in this holiday season to buy (or perhaps even make) reusable bags. These fabric bags from Lucky Crow are super-cute and come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. They really solve the problem of wanting to use recyclable wrapping materials, without going the route of a grocery-supplied bag. They work for party favors, too. The Portland, OR-based company also sells its bags in stores. Check their web site for details.

Just as with the wrapping, there’s no need to buy new gift tags. Make your own by cutting rectangles of construction paper and folding them in half. Decorate with paint, stickers, stamps, drawings, glitter, or other items you have on hand. You can also cut up from recycled holiday cards from years past. Tape to the gift or punch a small hole in one corner and tie on with ribbon.

You might also like these Green Holiday Gifts:

Gifts that Help Others
Butterfly Girl Dolls
Homemade Cookies
Root Viewer Garden Kit

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Katorisi, Philip Friedman/Studio D (three photos), Lucky Crow

 

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Gifts That Help Others

Updated December 21, 2012

Last year, my family gave me a cow for my birthday. I never got to see it, but it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The cow helped its recipient family, which may be anywhere on the globe, in multiple ways. Milk from the cow offered nutrition to the family and neighbors and was sold to support the family and buy needed food and supplies for a larger circle. Calves from the cow were given or sold to others in the town or village, so that they too could be nourished and supported. The cow was bought through Heifer International, which offers gifts of sheep, goats, chickens, pigs and other animals and resources, to help people worldwide achieve hunger relief, self-sufficiency and income by becoming trained in farming skills. My family chose the cow for me because it seemed the most directly nourishing. I was extremely pleased and moved to be part of such a beautiful and empowering gift from an organization that has made a big impact using a simple model.

Read more stories about Heifer. They offer gifts at many levels and opportunities to get involved.

Looking for other groups to support with a gift? There are a great many organizations doing wonderful work. The following are just a few. Think about the recipient and something that would have meaning for him or her. (Please send your suggestions for more, especially those outside the U.S., so we can learn about them.) Also be sure to take these steps to research any group before donating:

Here are some organizations that have crossed my radar and are doing good work.

Children & Nature Network

Full disclosure: I work for these folks. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe heartily in their mission of building an international movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature. In an age when many children are deprived of school recess, let alone nearby yards, parks and woods, it seems essential for their future physical, psychological and spiritual health, and the health of the planet, that we support those working to reconnect children and people with the green spaces around them. C&NN does this by providing the latest research and resources to parents, teachers, urban and playground planners, health care professionals, nature professionals, and those working at the grassroots level to enact change.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America

An incredible number of children, particularly those at risk, cite the lack of a caring adult in their lives. For more than 100 years, BBBS has been providing and supporting long-term, caring adult mentors to youth ages 6-18, in communities across the U.S. The carefully administered one-on-one relationships between the “Bigs” and the “Littles” has changed many lives, in terms of confidence and personal and academic achievement.

First Book

First Book provides access to new books for children in need, sometimes the first book a child will ever have. Expanded to include online content and other educational resources, First Book has distributed more than 85 million books and materials to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the U.S. and Canada. Judging by its ratings, it’s an exceptionally well-run non-profit with an admirable track record and goal.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Many historic homes and sites, neighborhood schools and public lands are in danger of being lost forever to development. Their loss can affect more than aesthetics and character — communities and livelihoods, resources and aspects of America’s rural and cultural heritage are destroyed as well. The THP brings awareness and considerable public-policy muscle to saving endangered sites. The group also works to rebuild neighborhoods after natural disasters and to revitalize communities using smart growth and sustainable practices.

American Farmland Trust

About an acre of American farmland is lost every minute. Family farms are in grave danger, from factors ranging from corporate farming to unsustainable development that results in the paving over of farms for roads, housing tracts and malls. American Farmland Trust works with legislators, communities and farmers to protect America’s farm and ranch land; promote environmentally sound farming practices, clean air and water, and a healthy food supply; and ensure an economically sustainable future for farmers and ranchers.

Your or Recipient’s Local Land Trust

Many areas have land trusts, which work to purchase and preserve land for the enjoyment, recreation, habitat preservation or agricultural use of future generations. A donation to a local land trust makes a wonderful and thoughtful gift. The Land Trust Alliance has a list of accredited land trusts.

National Wildlife Federation

NWF works to protect wildlife and wild spaces in the U.S., for everyone’s enjoyment and health. They are actively working at the public policy level to expand clean energy, reduce our dependence on oil, and improve our relationship to the natural world through areas like health and urban planning. They provide resources and education about the many ways families can enjoy nature, through programs like their popular Certified Wildlife Habitat, which allows people to nurture and learn about animals and the ecosystem in their own backyards.

Teens Turning Green

Started by students a few years ago, TTG has grown into a national movement devoted to education and advocacy about environmentally and socially responsible choices for individuals, schools, and communities. The group promotes global sustainability by identifying and working to eliminate toxins that threaten public and environmental health. At the same time, it empowers young women and men to lead and advocate.

Looking for more?

My Slow Family Resource List offers still more wonderful groups who are working to help create a rich, just and sustainable world for children, families and communities, such as The Center for Ecoliteracy, Edible Schoolyard, the National Park Trust and many more.

This list of 25 Top Children’s Charities includes many well-known ones and some you may not know, that I think are doing great work, including KaBOOM!, CASA, Children’s Defense Fund and Locks of Love.

The Good Human lists wonderful Green Charities who are doing great work, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Earth Justice, The National Resources Defense Council, and The Center for a New American Dream.

Mother Nature Network offers a list of Green Charities that features Earth Island Institute, The Sierra Club Foundation, the California State Parks Foundation, which desperately needs our help this year to prevent park closures, and the only group to make both “Green” lists, The Nature Conservancy.

And, now you can even give the gift of giving! I recently learned about Charity Checks, which allows you to order blank checks for recipients or even for your own family. Recipients receive checks in the denominations of your choice, and then they get to choose their own charities. The entire face value of the check goes to that charity. No money goes back to Charity Checks. This unique organization was the brain-child of Lisa Sonne and Victor Dorff. Not only is the structure of their organization highly unusual (a charity whose sole purpose is to funnel funds to other charities), it can have a powerful and tangible impact on families and children. Explains Lisa Sonne in Huffington Post:

You really get to watch the kid think about something that never has occurred to him or her before. There’s a certain empowerment there. It’s one thing to say, ‘What do you care about?’ when it’s abstract. But if you say to a kid, ‘Okay, here’s $25. Do you want to save a puppy’s life? Feed a hungry person? Buy a book for the library?’ Suddenly, the kids find themselves thinking about things they never thought about before.

Gifts that help others work in so many profound ways. They are truly the ultimate gifts.

Friesian Holstein Photo: Keith Weller. Bear Photo: Charity Checks.
Other photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Butterfly Girl Dolls

I adore these Butterfly Girl Dolls from the Canadian company, Little Humbugs. Each of the cute 12″ plush dolls comes snuggled inside a chrysalis, the way a real butterfly is. It’s a great idea — The chrysalis provides further play, teaches about nature, and doubles as the dolls’ packaging as a way to cut down on waste. Each doll is cutely designed in a color-coordinated outfit and bright wings, and each has a nature-inspired story — Jasmine is a protector of nature, making sure animals and plants are safe; Chloe is a gardener, growing beautiful and healthy things in her organic garden; Lucy is a bird keeper, nurturing and spending time with her feathered friends; Nika is a gemstone collector, making beautiful things with found objects.

There’s even an eco superhero for boys, Flint the Dragonfly Boy, who is strong, mischeivous and courageous.

Little Humbugs also offers beautiful Butterfly Girl books, custom prints and colorful fair-trade felt beads.

Little Humbugs and Butterfly Girls are the creation of children’s book author and illustrator, Marghanita Hughes. Marghanita is passionate about connecting children to nature and encouraging them to enjoy and steward the Earth, as well as appreciate its magic. This is easily apparent in all she does, from creating a company and products that use resources consciously to share a gentle message about the Earth, to exploring the wonders of the outdoors with groups of young children through a series of nature workshops, videos and books. The Butterfly and Dragonfly dolls are lovely, made with heart, fun to play with, and devoid of the consumerist trappings that similar plush dolls include.

Photo: Little Humbugs

My criteria for a green holiday gift? One that :

Promotes nature play or care of the earth
Uses all or mostly natural ingredients
Fosters observation and/or open-ended active and creative play
Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping
Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Got any suggestions? Send them my way!

Other Green Holiday Gifts:
Homemade Cookies
Root Viewer Garden Kit

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Root Viewer Garden Kit

I recently saw this wonderful toy and immediately got very excited about it. The Root Viewer Garden, from Toysmith, allows you to see what’s happening underground when you grow root vegetables like carrots, onions, radishes, and beets. And, best, it contains everything you need to grow your own root veggies and watch the show: a wooden tube holder; three 5 1/2” plastic tubes; growing medium; carrots, onion and radish seeds; instructions; and a journal for recording their progress from sprouting to harvest.

I’ve forced flower bulbs before, by growing bulbs in a water-filled bulb-forcing vase, but I think growing root vegetables in the Root Viewer’s tubes is far more visual, and therefore rewarding, for kids. With root vegetables, all the action is normally underground! Plus, there’s something about growing a food and learning about that process that is educational and stays with one for life.

Find Root Viewer Gardens at Home Training Tools or Wild Bird & Gifts. Or, make your own and spend time this holiday season enjoying it.

You’ll need:

Clear plastic cups, or bottles or jars
Seeds and dirt

Fill containers most of the way with dirt.
Plant root vegetables or quick-sprouting seeds, like beans, peas, lettuce, radishes, bachelor’s buttons, Sweet Alyssum, or Sweet William, close to one side, one or two per cup.
Place containers in the sun or on a sunny windowsill and water gently.
Watch as roots form and plants sprout.

My criteria for a green holiday gift? One that :

Promotes nature play or care of the earth
Uses all or mostly natural ingredients
Fosters observation and/or open-ended active and creative play
Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping
Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Got any suggestions? Send them my way!

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.


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