NB: This post is in progress and is an experiment in taking seasonal parenting to its limit.
1 Nov: 1887 L.S. Lowry born; All Saints Day; Day of the Innocents (Mexico/Haiti remember the firstborn males killed by Herod, mainly with pranks and flour fights (Alicante)); Independence Day (Antigua and Barbuda, from UK in 1981); Day of the Bulgarian Revival Leaders; Foundation of the Indian States of Haryana, Karnataka and Kerala; D Hamilton Jackson Day/Liberty Day/Bull and Bread Day (US Virgin Islands remember man who helped them gain workers’ rights and free press under Denmark’s rule)
2 Nov: 1898 cheerleading first performed at Uni of Minnesota football game; 1936 BBC launched; 1982 Ch4 launched; North/South Dakota Statehood Day; All Souls Day
Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead): I love these Day of the Dead cookies.
3 Nov: 1954 Godzilla’s first film; 1957 Laika the dog goes into orbit in Sputnik 2; 1973 Mariner 10 launched to Mercury; Domenica Independence Day (from UK 1978); Japan Culture Day, Maldives Victory Day (failed coup from Sri Lanka, 1988); Micronesia Independence Day (from US 1986); Panama Independence Day (from Colombia in 1903); Hijri Islamic New Year (2013)
Diwali: (2013) The BBC has the Diwali story for kids here. Make a rangoli or a paper lantern. Maybe make chai tea or pumpkin halwa. Five days long: day 1 the cow and calf are worshiped. 2. birthday of Dhanvantari, the Physician of Gods; 3. the day the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. Wikipedia: “Hindus wake up before dawn, have a fragrant oil bath and dress in new clothes. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams /rangolis outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Krishna or Vishnu, as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges. After the puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicing, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends.”; 4. Lakshmi Puja: Hindus worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings, and then light little clay pots in the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being. 5. Govardhan Puja: Krishna – an incarnation of god Vishnu – defeated Indra and lifted Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. Large quantities of food are decorated symbolising the Govardhan hill. Also the victory of Vishnu in his dwarf form Vamana over the demon-king Bali, who was pushed into the patala. Men present gifts to their wives on this day. 6.Yama Dwitiya: Yama, lord of Death, visited his sister Yami (the river Yamuna). Yami welcomed Yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation. Brothers visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there, and also give gifts to their sisters
4 Nov: Vikram Samvat (Hindu New Year, 2013); Vir Samvat (Jain New Year);
Giant Omelette Festival
Giant Omelette Festival: (Louisiana); invite your friends round and make omelettes for everyone.
Russia National Unity Day:
Russia is a super interesting country to learn about. Get to a map and see how many countries it shared borders with. It’s crazy. It’s the largest country in the world. In general Russia began as part Slavic, part Greek, part Huns, part Turkic, and a little bit of Finnish and Hungarian. Some Scandinavian Vikings called the Varangians came over in the 9th century and conquered Kiev, which had previously been ruled by the Turkic nomads, and founded Kievan Rus’, which is where we now get the word ‘Russia’ from. In the 10th to 11th centuries Kievan Rus’ became one of the largest and most prosperous states in Europe, especially under Vladimir the Great (980–1015) and his son Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054), who introduced Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium and the created the country’s first written set of laws, the Russkaya Pravda.
Then the Turkic tribes came in and pushed the Slavs north, and generally there was a lot of in-fighting. Ultimately Kievan Rus’ disintegrated, with the final blow being the Mongol invasion of 1237–40 that resulted in the city’s destruction and the deaths of about half its population. The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, the north-west section of the Mongol Empire, which ruled/pillaged Russia for over two centuries.
Russia was then split between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Mongolian Empire, and had to fight against Swedish invaders and Germanic Roman Catholic crusaders; these latter they defeated in the excitingly named Battle on the Ice, which was fought on a frozen river in 1242. Imagine trying to fight on ice in a full suit of amour. Ridiculous.
After Kievan Rus’, the Grand Duchy of Moscow (or “Moscovy” in the Western chronicles) became strong. (I know what you’re thinking – ‘Oh, that must be where Muscovy ducks come from.’ No, they come from Mexico. I don’t know how that happened.) Mongols and Tatars raided it constantly and that plus the beginning of the Little Ice Age meant food was scarce. On top of all that, the plague kept hitting them, but unlike Western Europeans, Russian people had banya, a wet steam bath, which meant they had better hygiene than we did and fewer died.
Ivan the Great finally threw off the control of the Golden Horde, consolidated the whole of Central and Northern Rus’ under Moscow’s dominion, and was the first to take the title “Grand Duke of all the Russias”. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow became the new Eastern Roman Empire. Ivan III married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, and made the Byzantine double-headed eagle his own, and eventually Russian, coat-of-arms.
The Grand Duke Ivan the Terrible was officially crowned the first Tsar (“Caesar”) of Russia in 1547. However, Russia then had to fight against a coalition of Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden because they all wanted access to the Baltic sea trade in the Livonian War, as well as against the Tatars of the Crimean Khanate, the successors to the Golden Horde, who kept raiding Southern Russia with the Ottomans, even burning down Moscow in 1571. But the next year Russians defeated them in the Battle of Molodi, and then built great fortifications like the Great Abatis Line, which along with the kremlins are a distinctive feature of Russia.
The death of Ivan’s sons marked the end of the ancient Rurik Dynasty in 1598. The following famine and civil war is called the Time of Troubles. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied parts of Russia, including Moscow, until 1612, when two national heroes, merchant Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, led a volunteer army against them.
The 17th century was the age of Cossacks, military communities of pirates or explorers. They helped the peasants of Ukraine to rebel against Poland-Lithuania, and Ukriane then offered itself to Russia, which led to another Russo-Polish War (1654–1667) which ended in Ukraine being split between them along the Dnieper River.
Cossacks hunting for fur and ivory colonised Siberia, and in 1648 Russian explorers crossed the Bering Strait for the first time. Under Peter the Great, Russia was proclaimed an Empire in 1721 and became recognised as a world power. Peter defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, forcing it to cede some of its regions, securing Russia’s access to the Baltic sea trade. On the Baltic Sea Peter founded a new capital called Saint Petersburg, later known as Russia’s Window to Europe.
Under Peter’s daughter Elizabeth’s rule, Russia participated in the Seven Years’ War (1756–63). During this conflict Russia annexed East Prussia for a while and even took Berlin. However, Peter III gave them back to Prussia.
Catherine II (the Great) ushered in the Age of Russian Enlightenment and expanded Russia considerably. She took control of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier into Central Europe. In the south, Russo-Turkish Wars against the Ottoman Empire advanced Russia’s boundary to the Black Sea, defeating the Crimean Khanate. In the 1800s, Alexander I took Finland from Sweden, colonized Alaska and even founded settlements in California, like Fort Ross. In 1803–06 the first Russian circumnavigation was made. In 1820 a Russian expedition discovered the continent of Antarctica.
Napoleon’s France invaded Russia in 1812, but Russia’s unshakeable army plus the icy winter killed off nearly the whole French army there. Russia’s army then drove right through to Paris and Alexander I went to the Congress of Vienna, which defined the new boundaries of post-Napoleonic Europe.
The last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II (1894–1917), was unable to prevent the Russian Revolution of 1905, triggered by the unsuccessful Russo-Japanese War and by Bloody Sunday, in which a peaceful march towards his palace was gunned down by guards (embarrassing). He then allowed freedom of speech and political parties.
In 1914 Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary after it declared war on Russia’s ally Serbia. Isolated from France and Britain, its allies, the war was hard on the Russians and in 1917 another Russian Revolution forced Nicholas II to abdicate; he and his family were imprisoned and later executed during the Russian Civil War. The October Revolution, led by Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the world’s first socialist state.
Following the October Revolution, a civil war broke out between the anti-communist Whites and the new Soviet Red Army. Russia lost its Ukrainian, Polish, Baltic, and Finnish territories after World War I and the Allied powers supported the Whites. Both sides carried out deportations and executions, known as the Red Terror and the White Terror. Millions of anti-Communists fled, becoming White émigrés.
The USSR formed in1922. Out of the 15 republics, the Russian SFSR was the largest in terms of size and had half the population, and so dominated the union for its entire 69-year history. Following Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin, an elected General Secretary of the Communist Party, managed to put down all opposition within the party and take power. Leon Trotsky, who wanted a worldwide Communist revolution, was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929, because he was distracting from Stalin’s idea of Socialism in One Country. The Great Purge followed in 1937–8, in which hundreds of thousands of people were executed for being even slightly against Stalin.
Under Stalin’s leadership, the government launched a planned economy, industrialising the rural economy and ‘collectivizing’ its agriculture, where in the name of efficiency Stalin basically decided one place would grow all the potatoes, one place would grow all the corn, etc. So if you wanted to grow potatoes, you had to move to where potatoes were legally allowed to be grown. Full on bonkers. Again, to suppress any naysayers, millions were sent to penal labor camps, deported or exiled.
While Stalin was still trying to reorganise agriculture into neat blocks, a drought led to the Soviet famine of 1932–1933, but ultimately the Soviet Union was transformed to a major industrial powerhouse in a short time.
Britain and France’s attempt to appease Hitler while he took the Ruhr, Austria and Czechoslovakia meant that Nazi Germany grew large enough to make the Soviet Union nervous. When Germany allied with Japan, the USSR’s rival in the Far East, Russia decided to work around them, signing a non-aggression treaty with Germany, building up its military and invading a bit of Poland while no one was looking.
In 1941, Nazi Germany broke the non-aggression treaty and invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history. The Siege of Leningrad saw the city fully blockaded for three years by German and Finnish forces, suffering starvation and more than a million deaths, but never surrendering. The Battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, and the icy winters, stopped the Germany army, and Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe to capture Berlin in May 1945. In August 1945 the Soviet Army ousted Japanese from China and North Korea, contributing to the allied victory over Japan. Basically, Russia won World War Two for us, even though Soviet military and civilian deaths were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively, accounting for about a third of all World War II casualties.
The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe after the war, including East Germany. When the USSR became the world’s second nuclear weapons power, the Cold War against the USA and NATO began. It’s hard for the modern generation to imagine what it was like for youth in the 1960s-80s, who very reasonably believed the world was going to end in their lifetime in the most horrific way.
After Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev launched the policy of ‘de-Stalinization’. Many political prisoners were released and rehabilitated (many of them posthumously), and places named after Stalin were renamed.
In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first ever satellite, Sputnik 1, kicking off the Space Age. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth in 1961.
In 1979, Afghanistan had a Communist revolution and invited Soviet forces in to help, but all they did was use up Afghanistan and Russia’s economic resources until literally everyone, other countries, Afghans and Soviets at home, got fed up with it.
From 1985, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to liberalise Russia a bit, with policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). Before 1991, the Soviet economy was the second largest in the world, but during its last years it was afflicted by food shortages, huge budget deficits and inflation.
Despite the will expressed by the people, on 25 December 1991, the USSR was dissolved into 15 post-Soviet states.
Boris Yeltsin was elected the President of Russia in June 1991, in the first direct presidential election in Russian history. Privatisation and liberalisation, encouraged by the US, only led to a major economic crisis. Many of the newly rich businesspeople took billions in cash and assets outside of the country. Russia took on the responsibility for settling the USSR’s external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. Nearly half of the population lived in poverty in the 1990s, and the country became corrupt and violent.
In 1999 Yeltsin resigned, and Vladimir Putin took over. Despite not being very democratic and not having a great human rights record, Putin’s leadership led to the return of order, stability, and progress and he is popular in Russia.
Activities to celebrate Russia’s National Unity Day: We watched an Attenbrough clip on the brown bear and played a game I called Bear Fishing, where we pretended the living room was a stream full of salmon, and Baby dragged five silver paper fish on strings down the river and I was the big brown bear trying to catch them for my tea (this was followed by a rendition of Once I Caught a Fish Alive and then If You Go Down to the Woods Today, and a teddy bear’s picnic – phew!). We tried Russian dancing; listened to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Rachmaniniov and Shostakovich; arranged some Russian dolls from smallest to biggest; made a collage of St Basil’s cathedral; made a virgin White Russian cocktail (a chocolate milk with ice cubes); made stuffed cabbage leaves; pretended to go on a rocket ship into outer space; and invented a silly game called Fur Hunters, where you both put on as many jumpers as possible and then try to hit each other with spit-paper balls fired through empty biros – if you hit the other person you have to put their jumper (or fur) on – the winner is the one to collect all the ‘furs’.
5 Nov: 1605 Guy Fawkes arrested
Bonfire Night: Fireworks pictures by scratching off a black crayon layer over coloured crayons, or using glue and glitter; make toffee apples or bonfire toffee; and of course make a Guy, a bonfire, play with sparklers and see a firework show.
6 Nov: Domenican Constitution Day; Tajikstan Constitution Day; Tatarstan Constitution Day; Finnish Swedish Heritage Day; Marche Verte (Anniversary of the Green March, Morocco tried to force Spain to hand over its bit of the Sahara with a mass demo)
7 Nov: Bangladesh National Revolution Day, Tunisia New Era Day; Liberia Thanksgiving Day (2013, first Thurs in Nov)
Bhai Dooj: (2013) This is the last day of the five-day Diwali celebrations, and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their house to feed them, make offerings for them at their altar and put a tilak, the red mark on the forehead, on their brothers for good luck. In return the brothers bring gifts. If your little one has siblings, could they do something to show each other affection, such as making each other presents or food?
8 Nov: 1895 x-ray discovered – learn about the inside of your body
9 Nov: Day of the Skulls (Bolivia: skulls of family members watch over the house three years after burial; on this day they are given offerings and taken to Mass); Inventors Day (Germany, Austria, Switzerland); Cambodia Independence Day, Allama Muhammad Iqbal Day (Pakistan – birthday of national poet); Germany’s Schicksaltag (Day of Fate because historically important things happened on this day)
10 Nov: 1871 Henry Morton Stanley finds explorer – ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?”; 1969 Sesame Street debuts; 1989 Berlin wall starts to fall; 1960 Neil Gaiman born; Panama First Call for Independence from Spain; Remembrance Sunday (2013; there may be a parade and service nearby)
11 Nov: Independence (Angola from Portugal, 1975), Poland Independence Day (1918), Karneval/Fasching opens; Maldives Republic Day
Armistice: Wear a poppy and talk about what it means; make a poppy picture; observe two minutes’ silence. We watch these two sand art/ shadow theatre pieces.
Pocky/Pretz/Pepero Day (Japan and South Korea): you can make your own using this recipe.
12 Nov: 1933 first known photos of Loch Ness Monster; 1980 Voyager I takes its first pictures of Saturn’s rings; Constitution Day (Azerbaijan), Birth of Sun Yat-Sen (founding father of Chinese Republic), also Doctors’ Day and Cultural Renaissance Day (China)
14 Nov: 1922 BBC radio service begins; 1952 the first UK singles chart published; 1967 world’s first laser made; 1840 Claude Monet; Children’s Day (India); Day of the Colombian Woman
Ashura (2013) – on this day Shi’a Muslims grieve the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, who died in battle against Yazid I, who was changing the teachings of Islam. Sunni Muslims celebrate it as a moment that gave Islam new meaning. It is the 10th day of Muharram, which is a sacred month in which Muslims cease any fighting. In Turkey they make Ashure, Noah’s pudding, celebrating something entirely different (Noah’s landing on Mount Ararat) and confusing everybody.
15 Nov: German Community Holiday (Belgium), Palestine Independence Day (1988); King’s Feast (Belgium); Winter Lent (Eastern Orthodox
Shichigosan: (Means seven-five-three) Japanese people give children aged seven, five and three these cute packs with a red-and-white candy which represents the gift of longevity. The packaging traditionally shows a crane and a turtle.
Brazil Republic Day: We played football and watched a bit of the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival, then we cut out paper ‘feathers’ from a magazine and stuck them on a cut-out magazine model so she looked like she was in the parade. You could make a virgin caipirinha or beijinhos or brigadeiros.
16 Nov: is the anniverasay of the discovery of the Hoxne Hoard. Can you dig for treasure? If you have a budding archaeologist on your hands, a kids’ metal detector might be fun. It’s also Estonia’s Day of Declaration of Sovereignty (do not let your children find out about the Estonian sport of kiiking) and Iceland’s Language Day, so maybe learn a bit of Icelandic and learn about volcanoes and geysers. Bon Om Touk (Cambodia Water Festival celebrating the Tonle Sap river reversing its flow; I particularly like the procession of illuminated boats, Bandaet Pratip)
17 Nov: Queen Elizabeth I acceded the throne in 1558; Freedom and Democracy Day (Czech Republic, Slovakia), Chhath Puja, Marshall Islands President’s Day; Guru Nanak Birthday (2013, founder of Sikhism)
National Revival (Azerbaijan): Azerbaijan means ‘Guardian of Fire’ in Persian. It has world-famous petroglyphs in Gobustan – can your children make some rock carvings? You could tell the sad legend of the Maiden Tower in Old Baku or learn about earthquakes.
Azerbaijan has been part of the Scythian, Iranian Medes, Achaemenids and Alexander the Great’s empires. It was the first Muslim country in the world to allow operas and theatres and to give women the vote. It became part of the Russian empire in 1813 until that collapsed after World War I; then it became the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. But in 1920 Soviet Russia decided they needed Azerbaijan for Baku (its capital)’s oil and so Azerbaijan was independent for fewer than two years! Baku supplied most of Russia’s energy in WWII. When Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, Azerbaijan declared its independence.
Azerbaijan music is called monody, mugham, meykhana and ashiq art, and they often play the saz. They hosted the 2012 Eurovision after winning 2011. Azerbaijani national dance is quite fun. The Azerbaijani carpet – try some weaving. A very Azerbaijanian meal would be pilaf with black tea to drink. Favourite games are football, wrestling, chess and backgammon.
18 Nov: 1307 William Tell shoots an apple off his son’s head; 1928 short Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse’s birthday; 2013 MAVEN probe sent to Mars; Latvia Independence Day (Russia, 1918); Morocco Independence Day (from France and Spain, 1956); Battle of Vertièrés Day (Haiti, 1803); Oman National Day; Chinita’s Fair
Latvian National Day: Latvia had important access to the Baltic ports, which meant it tended to be attacked by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden and Russia who all wanted it too. From 1611 it was owned by Sweden, who were generally rather nice as you might expect of Swedes, the main change being that peasants started being educated. Then it was taken into the Russian Empire, who also took all of its industry into Russia proper, until WWI , when Latvia became independent. In 1939 Soviet Russia took Latvia into its protection, if it could be called that, replacing civil servants with Soviet Russians and deporting/killing thousands just in case. In 1940 Latvia became part of the Soviet Union, and during WWII Nazi Germany took bits too. Post-war it was back to Soviet Russia, with all the deportations and repression that entailed. In 1989-90 the USSR realised it wasn’t welcome and Latvia became independent again.
Latvia’s most popular sport is ice hockey. While they are a Christian country, they have a particular Latvian paganism called Romuva, and its followers are the Dievturiba, the Godskeepers. You could tell stories from their folklore. They export a great deal of amber so you can talk about how that’s made. They invented the Namejs style of ring, as well as the Lielvarde belt whose symbols are said to explain the cosmos. You could try their sorrel soup.
Morocco Fete de l’Independance (Independence Day): From the 6th century B.C. Phoenicians (Jewish traders in a purple dye from the Murex snail; they spread the use of the alphabet) settled and traded with Morocco. From the 1st century B.C. it was part of the Roman Empire called Mauretania Tingitana (awesome name). From the 6th century it was part of Byzantium. Umayyad Muslims from Damascus (in Syria) conquered Morocco; followed by a man named Idris, who formed the Idrisid dynasty and made Morocco a centre of Muslim learning. Berber dynasties followed, and a bunch that claimed to be descendants from Mohammed, until in 1666 the Alouite dynasty united the country and still rule today. Weirdly Morocco was the first country ever to recognise the US. From 1860 France and Spain started taking bits, and Moroccans fought for both countries in WWI and WWII, but after France exiled their sultan and replaced him with an unpopular one, Morocco really wanted independence; it gained this in 1956. Spain left their bit of the Sahara but Algeria and the Polisarios (Spanish settlers) fought Morocco for it. It’s still not really calmed down but there’s been a ceasefire since 1991. Cook some Moroccan food or make a little fez for a teddy bear. Try Andalusian classical music like Ziryab’s, or chaabi bands.
19 Nov: 1994 National Lottery starts; Garifuna Settlement Day (in Belize, after being evicted from Grenadine by UK), Monaco National Day, Discovery of Puerto Rico Day, Brazil Flag Day; International Men’s Day
Telemontecarlo, Europe’s oldest private tv channel, was launched on this day in 1954 – why not make a tv out of a cardboard box and put on your own show?
20 Nov: 1820 an 80-ton sperm whale attacks the Essex, inspiring Moby Dick; 1985 Microsoft Windows first released; Argentina Day of National Sovereignty; Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910; Elizabeth II’s wedding anniversary (1947)
21 Nov: 1783 first hot-air balloon flight; 1877 Edison invents phonograph; National Adoption Day; World Hello Day (say hello to at least 10 people); World Television Day; No Music Day; Le Beaujolais Nouveau Day (wine)
22 Nov: 1928 Ravel’s Bolero premiers; 1963 JFK assassinated; 1977 regular supersonic London>NY Concorde service begins; 1995 Toy Story released; 1808 Thomas Cook born; Guam/Micronesia/Puerto Rico Thanksgiving Day (with USA), Lebanon Independence Day (from France, 1963)
US Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November)
The USA is possibly the world’s most ethnically diverse and multicultural nation. Its human history began when Paleoindians moved in from Asia about 15,000 years ago.
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue while working for Spain and discovered America. He thought he’d gone all the way around the world and found the other side of Asia; a few years later Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named, realised it was a whole new country. Spain and France began to colonise the US. The Native Americans were nearly wiped out by the new diseases they brought. Britain sent over its Puritans and convicts; the Dutch followed too but later gave their bits to England and their New Netherland was renamed New York.
13 British colonies – Virginia, Massachusetts Bay, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island – were the beginnings of the United States. In the French and Indian War (1754-63), Britain took Canada from the French, although parts have obviously remained stubbornly French. The British colonies now made up 2.6 million people and by now one in five Americans were black slaves.
Britain taxed the American colonials but didn’t let them vote for the British parliament, so eventually America revolted and in 1776 the states declared themselves independent. France and Spain helped them to defeat the Brits in the American Revolution. The US Constitution was adopted in 1787; their first president was George Washington.
The War of 1812 against the British Empire also conveniently stopped an independent Native American nation starting up in the midwest, so the states could expand across the north in the 19th century.
The northern states had abolished slavery by 1804, but the southern states carried on with it. Just before Abraham Lincoln came to power in 1860, seven of the southern states broke away and formed the Confederate States of America. Four more states joined them and the America Civil War began in 1861. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation said that if the rebelling states didn’t calm down, their slaves would be freed. He made the abolition of slavery the goal of the war, which meant the Europeans who had been planning on helping the Confederacy now couldn’t in case it looked like they were in favour of slavery. The Union (North America) won the Civil War in 1865 and four million African Americans were made citizens with voting rights and everything.
As the United States expanded, they took French Louisiana and Spanish Florida, the Republic of Texas, a large area of Mexico, and bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. In the 1830s ‘Trail of Tears’, Americans moved all the Native Americans they could find to Oklahoma so that there was more land for white people. Oh, and they killed off all the buffalo too. They started to believe in something called Manifest Destiny, that it was America’s destiny to expand as far as it could, bringing democracy and civilisation. You can see America still thinks that way now. In 1893 the US overthrew the indigenous Hawaiian royal family and took their island too; in the same year the US won in a war against Spain and took Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
In WWI the US hung around on the outside for three years and then helped with the victory bit. In 1920 US women won the vote, and in 1929 the Wall Street Crash ruined the economy for the whole world. After that Roosevelt came to power and implemented a social security system to help impoverished Americans.
In WWII, again, the US waited around for two years until Japan surprised everyone with an attack on Pearl Harbour. America had been conquering Pacific islands for the last fifty or so years and had recently started to annoy Japan by trying to put barriers on its trade. Japan needed to defeat America if it wanted to have a Pacific empire or just not feel threatened by the US anymore. As a consequence of Pearl Harbour, thousands of Japanese Americans were put in prison just in case.
America was the only country to emerge from WWII richer than before. While the first useful, peaceful, nuclear power station wouldn’t be invented until 1954 (in Russia), America was working on the first nuclear bomb. Well done them (although to be honest, Britain and Canada helped. Nazi Germany was trying too but luckily all the best nuclear physicists were Jewish and had fled to America. Just imagine if they’d got there first though.) The US is still the only country to have used a nuclear weapon in a war.
The Allies had decided to invade Japan because, well, we were at war, casualties were at an all-time high, and Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbour … but then they realised they’d probably incur about 4 million casualties doing so. The US checked with the UK that they could use their new atomic bombs… and Churchill said yeah, sure. God I hate us.
The first bomb, on Hiroshima, honestly meant to land on a tactically important bridge, but landed on a hospital instead, so that that 90% of all doctors and nurses in the area were killed or injured. The second, on Nagasaki, was even larger.
The Japan surrendered shortly afterwards. They would have surrendered earlier if America had agreed not to change the emperor or government, to allow Japan to demobilise and punish war criminals of its own accord, and not to invade Japan or its territories. But why negotiate when you have new explosive toys to play with? Some 240,000 people died, either immediately or later from burns, radiation and all the cancers that brings. In the year 2000 leukemias and cancer deaths were still occurring as a fault of the bombs. When UNESCO declared the Hiroshima Peace Memorial a world heritage site in 1996, when you’d think we’d all had enough time to feel ashamed of what we’d done and happy to encourage peace efforts, America and China whinged because Japan hadn’t lost that many people.
Anyway, on to the joys of the Cold War. America and Russia vied to be the bestest superpower but never actually threw the first atomic bomb, although everyone else was waiting for them to do it and destroy the world five times over. When Russia launched the first man into space, America worked on getting the first man on the moon. And so on and so forth until Soviet Russia collapsed.
Meanwhile, at home, the Klu Klux Klan were being horribly violent to black people and Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were showing everyone how to express your emotions properly. Kennedy was assassinated; Nixon started the unsuccessful Vietnam War (which wasn’t supposed to be a war; the Americans were just helping. Honest.) Nixon became the first president to resign after Watergate, when he tried to cover up the fact that his party members had broken into and wiretapped the Democratic National Committee.
America emerged from World War II as the sole superpower with the largest economy. Today 41% of all military spending in the world is by them – if they slowed that down a bit they’d be even richer. Since 11 September 2001, after al-Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, the ‘War on Terror’ has seen America (and Britain, of course) invade Afghanistan to remove the Taliban government (which led to another guerilla war) and then Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. The US officially ended the Iraq war in 2011, after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan.
What all the States are famous for (I need help with some of these, please):
Washington: where Starbucks and Microsoft come from.
Idaho: is famous for its potatoes. I’m not kidding.
Wyoming: is pretty much empty.
North Dakota: has shale fields
South Dakota: The Wounded Knee Massacre (named after Wounded Knee Creek rather than any actual wounded knees) of the Sioux Native Americans…and weird-sounding places like the Badlands. The Native American Crazy Horse is being turned very slowly into the world’s biggest monument.
Minnesota: is very Scandinavian, healthy and literate.
Wisconsin: dairy farming
Illinois: Chicago, the world’s first skyscraper; invented the sundae; Oreo cookies.
Michigan: That song. Henry Ford’s car factory. Detroit. 8 Mile Road and Eminem.
Indiana: James Dean; quarries of the white limestone that posh American buildings are made of.
Kentucky: Fried chicken, cheese burgers, bourbon whisky and tobacco; Happy Birthday to You was written here; post-it notes are made here; the first electric light was switched on here; Middlesboro (my home town is Middlesbrough) is here in a meteor crater.
California: Hollywood, beaches, graffiti, the gold rush, San Francisco, Alcatraz.
Nevada: Las Vegas, Hoover Dam
Arizona: desert and cacti, Grand Canyon, Native Americans
Colorado: (Spanish for ‘colour red’) …
New Mexico: Hispanic and Native American population
Kansas: Wizard of Oz, cyclones
Missouri: St Louis world fair – ice tea and the ice-cream cone; the blues.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma was given to the Native Americans…then the whites moved in anyway. State Capitol building, the Grapes of Wrath.
Texas: Davy Crocket fighting against the Mexican army in the Battle of Alamo; oil; Austin country music.
Arkansas: Jonny Cash
Louisiana: New Orleans, voodoo, jazz, tobasco sauce, Mardi Gras, jambalaya, gumbo, pralines
Tennessee: formed the Klu Klux Klan and assassinated Martin Luther King in Memphis; rock and roll; Memphis blues; rockabilly; Dollywood and Graceland.
Mississippi: Mississippi mud pie; where Roosevelt invented the teddy bear; pecans and sweet potato.
Alabama: Peanut butter; Rosa Parks; space rockets; Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy.
Maine: Blueberries, and the Maine coon cat.
New Hampshire: Granite, Dan Brown.
Vermont: Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Massachusetts: British Puritans landed here in the Plymouth Colony. The Boston Tea Party was when colonists threw tea out of boats rather than pay tax to the Brits for importing it. Their first-response militia, the Minutemen, were among the first to fight in the Revolution. Cape Cod. Boston cream pie.
New York: named New York after Charles II gave it to his brother, the Duke of York. Influences the culture of the world in fashion, media, finance, entertainment, etc. The Statue of Liberty; Times Square; Broadway; Wall Street; Frank Sinatra’s song; cheesecake.
Pennsylvania: Being Dutch, Benjamin Franklin.
Rhode Island: …
Connecticut: Yale, ESPN, Gilmore Girls, election cake.
New Jersey: had the world’s first organised baseball game, drive-in movie, the first movie (by Edison), submarine, condensed soup, robots to replace workers, salt taffee, the first town to be lighted by electricity.
Delaware: very liberal
Maryland: cookies, Edgar Allen Poe
Washington D.C.: the capital, where the President lives in the White House
West Virginia: Lumberjacks, caves, coal mines.
Virginia: Jamestown was the first English settlement; Virginia is named after Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. The Franklin & Armfield Slave Market was here. The Pentagon. A flag with a boob out.
North Carolina: The Cherokee Reservation; the Wright Brothers’ flight; Krispy Kreme doughnuts; Pepsi-Cola; emeralds.
South Carolina: peaches.
Activities: We did impressions of Disney characters and had to guess who was being who; we raced to see who could built the tallest skyscrapers out of Lego; we played baseball; we ate cheese-burgers; we danced to Elvis Presley; we tried to make a Niagara Falls; we made Ben & Jerry ice-cream sundaes; we tried to name all the states; we tried line dancing; singing the blues; and peanut butter and ‘jelly’ sandwiches and Krispy Kreme doughnuts washed down with Pepsi-Cola. We played cowboys and Indians and sung Broadway musical songs.
23 Nov: 1924 Edwin Hubble discovers that Andromeda is not a nebula but a galaxy, so the Milky Way is not alone; 1963 Dr Who premiers; Giorgoba (St George’s Day), Japan Labour Thanksgiving Day
24 Nov: Lachit Divas (Assam); Abel Tasman discovered Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1642; Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859 (Evolution Day); Pachelbel’s (wrote the Canon in D) birthday; William Web Ellis’s birthday, said to have invented rugby; Frances Hodgson Burnett’s (wrote The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy) birthday 1849; Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s birthday 1864;
Palau Thanksgiving Day: Palau is one of those islands that has been passed around imperialists like a recycled Christmas present. Spain took it without asking in 1522 when one of its explorers, Ferdinand Magellan, named it San Juan while passing by. Spain sold it to Germany in 1899 with a bunch of other Caroline Islands; Japan took it at the start of World War I and the US took it from Japan in World War II. In 1978 it finally became independent again. I like it because when it asked the US if it could become independent, the US said yes but could it store nuclear missiles on the island, and Palau quite rightly said “No thanks” – making it the world’s first nuclear-free constitution.
Virgin Islands Thanksgiving Day: The Virgin Islands were named by Christopher Columbus in 1493 after St Ursula and her virgin followers (she’s a martyr who put off marrying her husband by saying she wanted to do a pan-European pilgrimage first. And she took 11,000 virgins with her, as you do. When they got to Cologne it was in the middle of being invaded, and they were all shot by some Huns. Now there is the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne, where the alleged bones of her 11,000 virgin followers are stuck up on the walls). Again these islands have been passed around. The Danes used slave labour on them to make sugarcane until slavery was abolished in 1848. During WWI America worried Germany might sneak in and use them as a submarine base and so bought them for $25 million. The islands get a lot of earthquakes and tropical cyclones.
First day of Brumalia: This festival celebrated Cronus (Saturn), Demeter and Bacchus, harvest gods, and was celebrated until 25 December (ring a bell?) which was the ‘Waxing of the Light’. There was lots of feasting and drinking, and prophecies were made for the rest of the winter.
25 Nov: Suriname Independence Day;
Bosnia-Herz National Statehood Day: First inhabited by Neolithic Illyrians, conquered by Rome in A.D. 9, and by the Middle Ages fought over by Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. In 1463 it fell to the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) and a native Serbian Muslim population began to dominate. By the late 17th century it was the front of the Empire and so kept being fought over. From 1875 a peasant uprising in Herzogovina spread to involve many Balkan states and Great Powers until the Treaty of Berlin put it under Austro-Hungarian rule. This led to Gavrilo Princip assassinating Franz Ferdinand and sparking WWI. Then it became part of Yugoslavia, invaded by the Nazis, and aroumd 350,000 Serbs were killed in the Holocaust. Josip Broz Tito led a communist resistance and was supported by Allies. When Soviet Russia fell, Yugoslavia broke up. Serbs wanted to stay with the Yugoslav federation; Bosniaks and Croats wanted independence. This led to the war 1992-5 that decimated Sarajevo and was termed a genocide: Serbs against mainly Bosnian Muslims.
26 Nov: 1922 Howard Carter enters Tutankhamen’s tomb; Mongolia Independence Day;
27 Nov: Hannukah (2013); a menorah candelabra is lit over eight days to commemorate the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Fried things are eaten (because of oil lights), like potato latkes or doughnuts; children play with a dreidl that has four letters on, N, G, H, S, for money.
28 Nov: 1811 Beethoven’s Op.73 premiers; 1909 Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 premiers; 1757 William Blake born; Albanian Independence (from Turkey, 1912); Burundi Republic Day; Chad Proclamation of the Republic, Mauritania Independence Day (from France, 1960), Panama Independence Day (from Spain, 1821)
29 Nov: 1972 Atari release video game Pong; 1898 C.S. Lewis born; Liberation WWII Albania; Yugoslavia Republic Day; President Tubmans Birthday (longest-serving Liberian president), Vanuatu Unity Day
30 Nov: 3340 BC earliest recorded eclipse; 1872 first international football match (England v Scotland); 1934 The Flying Scotsman reaches 100mph; 1982 Thriller album debuts; 1667 Jonathan Swift (author of Gulliver’s Travels); Barbados Independence (from UK, 1966); Benin National Day; St Andrews Day (Scotland); South Yemen Independence Day (from UK, 1967)
China has the world’s largest population at 1.3 billion and is the second largest country after Russia. For most of the last 2,000 years China has had the world’s largest economy, even though everyone seems surprised they’re on their way there again. Hominids first lived there 2.24 million years ago – fossils in a cave near Beijing of the Peking Man. They invented paper – for writing on, for wrapping presents, for wiping bums, for bank notes – as well as Confucianism (after Confucius, who basically wanted everyone to be nice to others and try to better themselves), Buddhism (seeking enlightenment or nirvana, often through meditation), printing, the compass and gunpowder.
Oracle Bone Script
Chinese writing first appeared in the Shang dynasty in 1700 BC – they used the oracle bone script, which later turned into the modern writing used now.
Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty after which China was named, was the first to rule all of China in 221 B.C. and started building the Great Wall of China.
Then came the Han dynasty, which expanded into Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam and Central Asia and helped create the Silk Road, China’s link to Western Europe. Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms is about the period after the Han dynasty’s collapse.
Under the later Tang and Song dynasties, China invented the woodcut printing block, which led to more people being able to read … and play cards. They studied medicine and diagnosed diabetes; invented porcelain; and transported natural gas through bamboo pipes to power stoves.
In 1271 Mongolian leader Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis) took over, and halved the population in his cruel conquest. A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew his Yuan dynasty and founded the Ming Dynasty, in which China developed a strong navy and economy, explored the world, and developed arts and culture even more.
In 1644, the Ming dynasty was overthrown and was followed by the Manchu Qing dynasty, the last of the dynasties, finishing in 1912. During this period China had two Opium Wars with Britain, when the Chinese government noticed that literally everyone in China was addicted to opium mixed with tobacco. The government tried to ban it and seize the imported opium, and Britain declared war. Ridiculous. It ended badly for China, with Britain taking Hong Kong and imposing a whole bunch of other unfair terms. The embarrassment for the Chinese people led to the Taiping Rebellion in 1850, by a man who believed himself to be the (much) younger brother of Jesus. The civil war cost up to 40 million lives (WWI killed off about that around the world). A famine in 1876-9 took another 13 million lives.
While China was mucking around fighting each other and dying all over the place, Japan was invading Korea. China went to help and this became the first Sino-Japanese War, in which China lost Korea and Taiwan to Japan in 1895.
In 1912 Yuan Shikai overthrew the last emperor, Puyi, and the Republic of China was established. Sun Yat-sen of the Nationalist/Kuomintang Party became the temporary president, before being replaced by Yuan Shikai. Yuan decided he wanted to be emperor, actually, but that really annoyed everyone and he had to step down.
The Kuomintang reunified the fragmented country by marching across the country in the Northern Expedition, defeating all the warlords and uniting everyone, and then went back to fighting the Communists, against whom they’d been fighting since the civil wars. The Commies retreated in the Long March (370 days long, to be exact), but came back to help the Kuomintang fight the Japanese during WWII.
After Japan surrendered they went right back to fighting each other, of course, until 1949, by which time the Communists were in control of mainland China and the Kuomintang were just left with the islands of Taiwan, etc. Mao Zedong declared his country the People’s Republic of China and set out on his economic Great Leap Forward, which had the very best intentions but starved about 45 million people. His Cultural Revolution
Weirdly, China was not particularly allied with Soviet Russia, even though you’d think they’d be best buds in the Cold War. In 1971 the People’s Republic of China (the Communists) replaced the Republic of China (the non-Communists) in the UN and began to be accepted in the world. After Mao’s death Chinese socialism became a bit less strict, peasants were granted land and the market was more open.
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 were against government corruption and for greater freedom of speech. The army came in and killed hundreds and the government cracked down even harder on freedom of speech,
Activities: We dressed up as pandas and talked about why they were becoming extinct. We went out into the garden and ate chives, pretending they were bamboo. We watched some Chinese opera and we tried to eat Chinese food (rice, dumplings, noodles, soy products, dim sum). We tried some green tea and tried kung fu and tai chi. We made paper and tried to write our names in Chinese script with a calligraphy pen. We looked at the Great Wall and on our walk, every time Baby wanted to walk along a garden wall I said “You’re walking along the Great Wall of China! Can you see any pandas from up there?” We looked at how silk is made. Make pottery.You could try ping pong, mah jong or making a go board with buttons or counters. You could try seeing how big and long a wall you can build at the seaside or with Lego, etc. You could try reading the Tao of Pooh together. Little boys would probably love living like a caveman for a day, making a tent out of sticks and leaves, making tools and foraging for food. Making dragons is always fun. Probably don’t try acupuncture.