Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fun Facts about New Year

The Year of The Snake

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New Year's Eve

Throughout the year, visitors to Times Square in NYC can write their New Year wishes on pieces of official confetti. At the end of the year, the wishes are added to the one ton of confetti that showers the crowd at midnight. (I didn't know this! We were in Times Square a few months ago!)

The Times Square New Year's Eve Ball came about in 1907 as a result of a ban on fireworks. 

The first ball was an illuminated 700-pound iron and wood ball adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs.

The modern ball, designed by Waterford Crystal, weighs 11,875 pounds, is 12 feet in diameter and bedazzled with 2,668 Waterford crystals.

The ball was not lowered in 1942 and 1943 due to wartime restrictions.

In Columbia, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, families stuff a life-sized male doll with memories of the outgoing year and dress him in old clothes from each family member. At midnight, he is set on fire.

In Brazil, a sacrificial boat filled with jewelry, candles and flowers is pushed into the ocean from the beach in Rio de Janeiro.

In Belgium, New Year's Eve is known as St. Sylvester Eve. 

In Wales, the back door of the house is opened and shut immediately at the first toll of midnight. At the 12th toll, the door is re-opened to welcome the new year.

The Spanish eat a grape at every toll of the clock, to symbolize the coming twelve months of the year. 

In the US, people believe that kissing at midnight is a lucky gesture that purifies everything that is evil.

New Year's Day

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According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more vehicles are stolen on New Year's Day than on any other holiday.

40-45 percent of American adults make one or more resolutions each year. The top resolutions include:  weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking, and better money management.

By the second week of January, 25 percent have abandoned their resolutions.

Lucky traditions around the World

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In Italy, people wear red underwear.

In England, the first guest of the year should be a male, bearing traditional gifts such as food for the kitchen, drink for the head of the family, and coal to light the fire.

In Denmark, people throw old dishes in front of friends' doors. This symbolizes friendship and brotherhood. The home with the most dishes outside has the most friends.

In China, every front door is painted red and all knives are hidden. 

In Germany, people pour molten lead into cold water. Whatever shape the lead takes predicts the future.

In Greece, special bread is baked with a coin buried inside the dough. The first slice is offered to God, the second to the head of the home, and the third is meant for the house. 

In the Philippines, they believe round things are lucky. They consume grapes, carry coins, and wear polka-dotted clothing. 

Lucky Food

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Cooked greens




Cakes (especially round or ring-shaped)

To avoid setbacks, you should NOT eat lobster and chicken . Lobsters move backward and chickens scratch backward. 

On New Year's Eve, my family holds money in our hands at midnight. 

What are your plans for the New Year? Does your family have any special traditions?

Friday, December 21, 2012

This Is It...

I've run out of time.  Whatever is not done is not getting done.

The craziness will start in about 12 hours:

Tonight, Amanda's flight lands in Allentown, PA.
Tomorrow is our company Christmas party.
Sunday, I will pick up my mother and sister, and then the festivities will be in full swing.
I'm gearing up for lots of hugs, and four days of cooking, gift exchanging, eating, wrapping paper tearing, and smiling.

Here's wishing you and yours the same.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

No Post Today

I should have scheduled a post for today. I meant to schedule a post today, but this is me right now:

Intense Kitten

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Hope your Holiday preparations are going smoother than mine...

Friday, December 14, 2012

To Do

Note On A Cork Board

I'm so busy, but I'm getting there. I think. Let's see what's on my list...

  1. Write and send Christmas cards...Check.
  2. Bake 8 varieties of cookies. A 1/2 Check.
  3. Clean house. Check. Well, sort of. Is the house ever really clean for long?
  4. Buy Christmas gifts. Check. But there's always that one more gift...
  5. Wrap Gifts. 
  6. Food Shopping.
  7. Decorate house.
  8. Hang stockings.
  9. Trim Tree.
  10. Set up Spare bedroom.
  11. Pick up Amanda from airport.
  12. Pick up Mom and Sister from Bayonne.
  13. Make Stuffed french toast for Christmas breakfast.
  14. Make Baked zit and meatballs for Company Christmas party.
  15. Make Christmas dinner.
  16. Read The Night Before Christmas to Amanda.
  17. Relax. (Yeah, right.)

I'd better get back to work.

What about you? Are you almost ready?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fun Facts about Kwanzaa

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Kwanzaa began in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Dr. Karenga was concerned at the loss of identity of The African American people and wanted a celebration of their cultural heritage and roots.

This holiday reinforces community, family and good social values. The community comes together to teach young people to be proud of who they are and reaffirm the commitment to family and community. Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and lasts for seven days.

The word kwanzaa is Swahili. The origin comes from an ancient African tradition of celebrating the first fruits.


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Each day of Kwanzaa has a different theme or value.

Umoja (unity) To come together as a family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (self-determination) To have a separate identity and to let others know about it.

Ujima (cooperation) To build a community and solve problems together.

Ujamaa (support) To build business and places of work especially to support others in the community.

Nia (purpose) To rebuild the community ties and maintain them.

Kuumba (creativity) To improve the community and make it a better and more beautiful place.

Imani (Faith) In the leaders and the community.


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This holiday has many symbols.
The candleholder, or the kinara, holds seven candles.
The center candle is black to symbolize the face of the African people. Three red candles (symbolizing the blood of the people) are to the left, and three green candles (symbolizing the land and hope of new life) are to the right.

A table is covered with a piece of African cloth. On top of the cloth is a straw mat, or mkeka. The kinara is placed on the mat.

For every child, an ear of corn, or muhindi, is placed on the mat. There is also a cup of unity (kikombe cha umoja)

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Each day, the family, or several families, gather to discuss the principle of the day. Traditionally, the youngest person lights the candle. Starting with the black candle in the center.
After the discussion, the candle is put out.
The next day, the black candle is lit again, and then a red candle for the next principle. The red and green candles are alternated on the remaining nights.
On the last night, a karumu, or feast is held. Authentic African food, dancing, story telling and stories about Kwanzaa. Everyone drinks from the Cup of Unity. Gifts of books, heritage symbols, and homemade crafts are usually given to the children. Some celebrations may include drumming and musical selections.


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Homes are decorated with objects of art and colorful African cloth such as kente.
Celebrants wear dashiki (shirt or suit) Kaftans (dress) and Kufi (cap) made of the cloth. 


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In 2009, the first film about Kwanzaa was a documentary The Black Candle, narrated by Maya Angelou.

The greeting is ‘Joyous Kwanzaa.'

Previous posts: Christmas and Hanukkah

Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? Why don't you share your favorite tradition with us all?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fun Facts About Hanukkah
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Whether you spell it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, or Chanuka, this Jewish holiday is also known as the Festival of Lights. The name Hanukkah derives from the Hebrew verb meaning 'to dedicate.'

The eight-day and night celebration commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE.

Hanukkah starts on the the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. The date may occur at any time from late November to late December. This year, Hanukkah begins on December 8th.

The story of Hanukkah, along with its laws and customs, is entirely missing from the Mishna. It was believed that information about the holiday was so commonplace there was no need to explain it.

The story is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, apocryphal books.

The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is described in the Talmud, written 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees. After the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. Only a single container sealed by the High Priest was found. It contained only enough oil to keep the Temple menorah lit for a single day. They used it, but it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready).

The festival is celebrated by a series of rituals performed every day throughout the eight day holiday. Some are family-based and others are communal.

The Menorah
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The Menorah or Hanukiah is a unique nine-branched candelabrum. The typical Menorah consists of eight branched with an additional raised branch. The extra light is called a shamash (attendant) and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for use, because using the Hanukkah lights themselves is forbidden.

The lights can be candles or oil lamps. Electric lights are sometimes used. The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for lighting the house within, but to illuminate the house without, so that passersby are reminded of the holiday's miracle.

Kindling the Lights
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Hanukkah lights should burn for at least one half hour after it gets dark. On the first night, the shamash is lit and may be used to light a candle on the right side of the Menorah. On the second night, the shamash and two candles are lit, and so on.

Typically, three blessings are recited during the festival. One the first night, Jews recite all three blessings. On all subsequent nights, they recite only the first two. The blessings are said before or after the candles are lit.

Each night after lighting the candles, the hymn, Hanerot Halalu, is recited, and the hymn, Maoz Tzur, is sung.

Other Customs

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Singing Hanukkah songs is customary in many Jewish homes. Some families recite Psalms. It is common in North America and Israel to exchange gifts.

A large number of songs have been written on Hanukkah themes. Some of the best known are 'I Have a Hanukkah Menora', 'Eight Little Candles', 'Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel' and 'Chanukah, Oh Chanukah'.


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The custom of eating foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil) commemorates the miracle of a small flask of oil keeping the Temple flame alight for eight days.

Tradiitonal foods include potato pancakes (latkes), Sephardi and sufganiyot(jam-filled doughnuts), and bimuelos (fritters).

There is also a tradition of eating cheese products in honor of Judith and other women in the events of Hanukkah.

The Dreidel

The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that children play with on hanukkah. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter, maarking what the players win or lose.

The dreidel commemorates a game devised by the Jews to camouflage the fact they were studying the Torah, which was outlawed by Greeks. The Jews would gather in caves to study, posting a lookout. If Greek soldiers were spotted, the Jews would hide their scrolls and spin tops.


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Yiddish for 'money', gelt is often distributed to children to add to the holiday excitement. In the 1920s, American chocolatiers picked up on the gift/coin concept by creating chocolate gelt.

Previous post:  Christmas
Next post: Kwanzaa

Do you celebrate Hanukkah? Can you share some of your family traditions?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fun Facts About Christmas

Hello, and Happy December. Welcome to the first Fun Facts post about holidays. December has a few holidays, so I'll be doing three Fun Facts posts this month. Enjoy!

Christmas (from the Old English, meaning 'Christ's Mass') is a commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday on December 25 by billions of people around the world.

According to popular tradition, the birth of Jesus took place in a stable surrounded by farm animals. A manger (a feeding trough) is mentioned in Luke 2:7. The precise date of Jesus' birth is unknown.

The original date of the celebration in Eastern Christianity was January 6th, in connection with Epiphany. The Western Christian Church had placed Christmas on December 25th sometime in the 4th century, possibly to coincide with the solstice.

The holiday has been known by various names throughout its history, such as Midwinter, Nativity, Xmas, Yule, and Noel. The popular customs associated in various countries have a mix of pre-Christian, Christian, and secular themes.

Countries in which Christmas is not a formal public holiday include China (except Hong Kong and Macao), Japan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Turkey, and North Korea.

Christmas Controversy Throughout the Years

Following the Protestant Reformation, groups such as the Puritans strong condemned the celebration, considering it a Catholic inventions and the 'trappings of popery.'

England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647. The Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 ended the ban.

The Presbyterian Church of Scotland also discouraged the observance of Christmas. James VI commanded its celebration in 1618, but attendance at church was scant.

The Parliament of Scotland officially abolished Christmas in 1640. It was not until 1958 that Christmas again became a Scottish public holiday.

In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England shared disapproval of Christmas. The celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban was revoked by English governor Sir Edmund Andros, but it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston Region.

Christmas fell out of favor in the US after the American Revolution, since it was considered an English custom.

President Theodore Roosevelt, an environmentalist, banned Christmas trees from the White House in 1912.

In 1870, Christmas was formally declared a United States Federal holiday, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.

The American Civil Liberties Union has initiated court cases to bar the display of images and other Christmas material from public property, including schools.

In November 2009, the Federal appeals court in Philadelphia endorsed a school district's ban on the singing of Christmas carols.

Christmas Trees and Decorations

The Christmas tree is considered by some as Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice. The first artificial trees were made using dyed goose feathers.

The first commercially produced decorations appeared in Germany in the 1860s, inspired by paper chains made by children.

The words, 'Christmas tree' was first recorded in 1835. By the 1870s, people in the US had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.

The traditional colors of Christmas are red, green and gold.

The earliest known Christmas tree decorations were apples.

The poinsettia is a native plant from Mexico and has been associated with Christmas since the 19th century. Other popular plants are holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus.

Poinsettias are NOT poisonous, but holly berries are.

The tallest Christmas tree ever cut was a 221 foot Douglas fir, displayed in 1950 at the Northgate Shopping Center in Seattle, WA.

Christmas Cards and Carols

'Jingle Bells' was copyrighted in 1857.

The first commercial Christmas card was produced by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843.

The earliest Christmas hymn appear in 4th century Rome.

Each year, more than 3 billion Christmas cards are sent in the US alone!

The songs we know as carols were originally communal folk songs. Later, they were sung in church.

Christmas Cuisine

Sicilians serve 12 kinds of fish on Christmas Eve.

In England and other countries influenced by its traditions, a standard Christmas meal includes a turkey or goose. Special desserts are also served, such as Christmas pudding, mince pies, and fruit cake.

In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe and Scandinavia, fish is traditionally used for the main course.

In Germany, France, and Austria, goose and pork are favored.

The Maltese serve a chocolate and chestnuts beverage after Midnight Mass.

Gift Giving

The exchange of gifts is one of the core aspects of modern Christmas, making the season the most profitable for retailers throughout the world.

Gift giving was common in the the Roman celebration of Saturnalia and may have influenced Christmas customs.

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh were given to the infant Jesus by the Biblical Magi.

Santa Claus

A number of figures are associated with Christmas and the giving of gifts: Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, Pere Noel, Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, Joulupukki, Babbo Natale, Saint Basil, and Father Frost. 

The modern popular image of Santa Claus was created in the US and made his first appearance in 1810, drawn in bishops' robes.

The German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast (1840-1902) drew an image of Santa Claus annually, beginning in 1863. By the 1880s, Nast's Santa had evolved into the figure we now recognize. The image was standardized in the 1920s.

Current tradition in some Latin American countries hold that while Santa makes the toys, he gives them to the Baby Jesus, who is the one that delivers them to the homes.

Each year, there are approximately 20,000 'rent-a-Santas' across the US who undergo seasonal training on maintaining a jolly attitude under pressure from the public.

Family Traditions

My family celebrates Christmas at our home. In the morning, we open our gifts and eat a special breakfast of stuffed french toast, before changing into our personalized Christmas pajamas. Yup! That's the family's Christmas outfit! (The family is growing—a new set with additional pairs is required for next year!) We pop open English Christmas crackers before sitting down to a big Italian dinner (We used to have a traditional Polish second dinner also!) One of my favorite traditions is reading 'The Night Before Christmas' with my daughter on Christmas Eve.

Next post: Hanukkah

Do you celebrate Christmas? What are some of your favorite traditions?