Should I raise my kids vegetarian?

For most people the obvious answer is: nope.

But I’ve been vegetarian nearly all my life, with the occasional childhood wobble for lamb chops at grandma’s house, school dinner sausages, marshmallows, jelly, cod liver oil….Okay there were a lot of wobbles, but since about 12 I haven’t eaten meat or fish or worn leather shoes and all that.

I still eat free-range eggs, and milk. Even though all the male chicks are ground up and all the female chicks have their beaks lasered off and all the calves are killed so there’s more milk for us so they’re blatantly not vegetarian things to eat…*sigh*

I’ve had two fairly healthy vegetarian pregnancies and now have two fairly healthy vegetarian kids. They were a bit on the small side as babies – 6lb 10 oz for the first and 6lb for the second. They are now aged 5 and 2 and have been on the 25th percentile their entire lives – this is an NHS measurement of how they compare with other children their age – they’re smaller than 75% of other children.

There’s no way of saying whether they would be larger if they ate meat as I haven’t had a control child who eats meat. My brother, who ate meat as a child, was scrawny and tiny until puberty, so it could be that our family are genetically smaller and grow tall later (I’m 5ft9, he’s about 6ft.)


What are the risks of being a lifelong vegetarian, no meat, no fish?

Lower cholesterol – sounds like a good thing but weirdly scientists now think this increases your chances of heart disease. It can also impair your memory and  even lead to dementia.

Keep up good cholesterol with almonds (sneak ground almonds into food if your kids aren’t into nuts) and avocados. Foods containing polyunsaturated fatty acids (walnuts, flaxseeds) and monounsaturated fatty acids (eggs, olive oil, avocados, nuts) may reduce your risk of both depression and dementia.

Everyone since the Industrial revolution has eaten more Omega-6 than Omega-3. Omega-3 comes primarily from fish but also walnuts and flaxseeds. Omega-6 comes from vegetable oil and nuts and seeds  You’re supposed to eat equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3, because omega-6 is inflammatory and actually prevents omega-3 being turned into EHA and DHA

Colorectal cancer – gross. While studies in the UK and Germany found that vegetarians are about 40% less likely to develop cancer overall and an American study found that regular consumption of meat increases your overall risk of cancer by 300%. Recently an Oxford study found vegetarians had an increased risk of colorectal cancers, but all previous studies have found the opposite; e.g., a Californian study found vegetarians had a 22% less chance of developing colorectal cancer and pescetarians had a 43% smaller chance.

Lower bone mineral density – if you’re eating dairy and going outside to get vitamin D, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Lower vitamin B12 – this is added to breakfast cereals and is found in dairy and eggs so shouldn’t be a problem.

Conclusion – Basically there’s been a lot of studies linking diet to health and for every one that says vegetarianism increases the risk of something there’s another five saying a well-planned vegetarian diet decreases the risk.

Moderation is the key and you can always consider becoming a ‘flexitarian’ with the occasional portion of meat or fish when you fancy it. I don’t think I’ll ever fancy it; it makes my mouth feel dry and I feel very anxious, as perhaps other people would when having to eat something disgusting.

And hey, we all have to die of something. No diet will make you immortal. But a well-planned vegetarian diet, or a diet that’s mainly plant-based, should prove healthier overall than one rich in meat and processed foods.


December Activities for Kids

1 Dec: 1885 Dr Pepper first served; 1913 Ford uses first moving assembly line; 1955 Rosa Parks refuses to give up her bus seat (Rosa Parks Day); 1990 the two entrances of the Channel Tunnel meet 40m below seabed; 1761 Marie Tussaud born; Central African Republic National Day, Chad Day of Liberty and Democracy, Portugal Restoration of Independence Day, Mavlana Whirling Dervishes Festival, Turkey

2 Dec: 1859 George Seurat born – so try pointilist paintings; UAE National Day

Hot Air Balloon Festival Karnataka: For this we were able to buy one of those Chinese lanterns for £1 in our local cheap-stuff shop, but there are a lot of good websites on how to make your own if you’re feeling experimental.

Laos National Day: Laos began as the Kingdom of a Million Elephants – Lan Xang, what a great name – in the 14th century, when the prince Fa Ngum took over the Vientane (now the capital) with some Khmer (Cambodian) warriors. In 1548,  King Setthathirat had the That Luang built, a gold-covered Buddhist stupa that is now the national symbol of Laos. The site had been a temple site since the 3rd century to house the breast bone of Buddha. In the 1760s,  Burma and Siam annexed bits of Laos so it was divided into three. In the late 19th century, France protected Laos from a Chinese army of bandits, the Black Flag Army, and in return Laos became part of French Indochina. France rebuilt That Luang from a French explorer’s detailed drawings, as it had been destroyed by an earlier Thai invasion. In World War II the Japanese popped in for an occupation, but the French booted them back out. From 1953 Laos was independent, but almost immediately America offered to fund the Royalist army against the Laos Communist movement, Pathet Lao. Obviously this sparked a civil war, which ended in the Communists winning. Laos was also bombed and invaded by US and US-supported South Vietnamese when North Vietnam invaded and occupied it during the Vietnam War. In 1964-73, the US dropped some 250 million bombs on Laos trying to get North Vietnam out of it, with 80 million bombs not exploding and leaving Laos a minefield (well done there America). This is more bombs than were dropped on the whole world during World War II, so well done there as well America. From 1975 Laos became a socialist republic, controlled by Vietnam and supported by Russia. A lasting problem of the Vietnam War, aside from all the unexploded bombs, is Laos’s treatment of the Hmong people, who fought on behalf of the Royalists (i.e., against the Communists) and therefore the Laos socialist government felt they should all be hunted out and killed, just in case. The Hmongs mainly fled to Thailand, but when America and the UN persuaded Laos to take them back, the Hmongs said, no thanks. So then the US said they’d take 15,000 (they feel a bit responsible for them seeing as they were kind of fighting on the American side). So that only left something like 185,000 in Thailand, either hiding in monasteries or held in deportation centres. George Bush then amazingly stopped any more Hmongs from moving to America because they had been involved in armed conflict (even though they’d been fighting for the Americans – have I mentioned that?). Thailand continues to force the Hmongs back to Laos, where they claim they are attacked by the army. Not really a happy ending yet.

3 Dec: 1927 first Laurel and Hardy, Putting Pants on Philip; 1973 Pioneer returns the first close-ups of Jupiter; Illinois founded (1818)

Ghana Farmers Day: On this day the best farmers in Ghana win amazing prizes (like a three-bedroomed house) to help promote and support farming in the country. Make a farm! You’ll need different enclosures; a cow for milking; a sheep for wool and a sheepdog to round them up; pigs for meat; chickens for eggs; maybe some hives for honey; and a farmer and farmer’s wife of course. There’s a cute one here made of recycling waste.

Saba National Day: Saba is mainly a volcano, owned by the Netherlands since 1816.  It used to be a good place to hide if you were a Jamaican pirate – so play pirates. Or build a volcano out of baking soda or diet coke and mentos. Or make a fish mobile (maybe cut out fish like these), stick a straw in your mouth for a snorkel, and go scuba diving.

4 Dec: 1937 first issue of  Dandy; Tupou I Day (Tonga); Bona Dea rites (Ancient Rome)

Calendale: In Provence, Christmas celebrations run from 4 December (St Barbara’s Day) to 2 February (Candlemas)! On St Barbara’s Day, it’s traditional in many countries to plant wheat seeds in wet cotton wool. If they grow well by Christmas Day, the next year will be a good harvest; if they’ve rotted, the next year will be a bad wet year for the harvest. On this day Provence people also put up their Christmas tree and their nativity sets, which contain every kind of person you can think of.

Eid il-Burbara: In countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine, St Barbara’s Day is called Eid il-Burbara and is a lot like Hallow’en. Children dress up and people give them sweet foods, like Burbura or Lebanese St Barbara cookies.

Thai Environment Day: What do your kids know about environmentally friendly behaviour, both in their own lives and on a global scale?

5 Dec: Haiti and Dominican Republic Discovery Day; California gold rush 1848 – try a gold panning game at home;

Thailand National Day: Thailand used to be called Siam. From the 1st to the 13th centuries it was part of the Khmer Empire (Cambodia). The first Thai kingdom was the Sukhothai kingdom from 1238; this was overtaken by the Ayutthaya kingdom, which became the most wealthy city in the East because it was so welcoming to foreign traders, especially the French merchants from Louis XIV. In 1765 a Burmese army popped in to destroy everything, like the libraries and art treasures and historical archives, so that’s a shame. After that King Rama I the Great established the Thai capital at Bangkok and rebuilt the economy by turning almost a third of his own people into slaves. In the 19th century Thailand managed to resist France and Britain, although Britain took its peninsula which is now part of Malaysia. During World War II Japan invaded to get to the Malay frontier, so Thailand let them through after Japan promised to help them get their land back from Britain and France. Thailand then declared war on the US and the UK (brave) but kept up a resistance movement against Japan. Japan made about 240,000 Asian labourers and Allied prisoners of war build a bridge from Thailand to Burma, during which 115,000 of them died from atrocious working conditions, so it is now called the Death Railway. After the war and during the Cold War, Thailand was on America’s side.

Thailand’s national religion is Buddhism, and their date is 543 years ahead of ours because they count from Buddha’s era rather than Jesus’. In Wat Panang Choen is the world’s biggest solid gold statue, a 19-metre high Buddha. Try making a 2D Buddha out of gold leaf or tinfoil. Popular sports in Thailand include Muay Thai boxing and Takraw. Try some Thai food.

St Nicholas Eve: make Stutenkerls and put your shoes out for St Nicholas (but watch out for Krampus).

6 Dec: St Nicholas Day; 2006 water found on Mars; Johann Christian Bach born 1642; Finland’s Independence Day

Spain Constitution Day: Spain was originally populated by Iberians, Basques and Celts; from 210 B.C. it became part of the Roman Empire. But when the Germanic Vandals and Suevi along with Iranian Alans (imagine a whole tribe of Alans! Terrifying.) were driven into Spain by the (also Germanic) Visigoths, the western Roman empire began to disintegrate. [V]Andalusia is named after the Vandals. In the 8th century Muslim North African Moorish conquered most of Spain. Their capital, Cordoba, was the wealthiest and most advanced city in Western Europe. The Reconquiesta was the Christian conquering of Muslim Iberia. During this time a kingdom called the Crown of Aragon flourished, ruling from the east of Spain across to Italy, and later joined with the Crown of Castile and then pushed the Muslim rulers out. Everyone was going to get along, honest, until the Spanish Inquisition told the Jews to convert to Catholicism or be expelled – then the Muslims too.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus found the New World on Spain’s behalf and Spain emerged as the first world power, leading Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and owning bits of everywhere, like Belgium, France, Germany, Africa, the Americas, Italy, the Netherlands, etc. But the Spanish Hapsburg rulers of this empire, Charles I and Philip II, imposed harsh Roman Catholic rules on their lands and the Protestant Reformation against this caused revolts and wars and dragged the empire down. In particular it lost its bits of France, the Netherlands and Portugal. The Thirty Years’ War, which involved most of Europe ostensibly fighting over who should be Catholic and who should be Protestant, ruined Spain further. In the end, the civil war called the War of Spanish Secession put a French king on the throne, the Bourbon Philip V, uniting the remaining bits of Spain into a single state. It was no longer the top power in Europe.

After France overthrew its monarchy, Spain declared war on them… and lost. Napoleon persuaded Spain to join him in a declaration of war against Portugal and Britain. Then he took his army ‘through’ Spain to ‘invade’ Portugal…and conquered Spain on the way. Embarrasing. Spain started a war of independence against France and with Britain’s help and also with Napoleon greedily over-stretching himself with a war against Russia, France was booted out of Spain. Spain was left poor and unstable, so most of the Spanish Americas took the opportunity to declare their independence from Spain. In the 20th century Spain managed to colonise some bits of Africa – the Western Sahara, Morocco, Equitorial Guinea, but lost its monarchy and became a republic, which allowed the separate regions of Spain to have autonomy.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-9) was won by the facist Nazi-supporting side under Franco. Russia, America and Mexico had tried to help but Britain officially wasn’t bothered. Thanks to Franco likewise not being bothered about Britain or Nazis, Spain managed to keep out of World War II and so later wasn’t allowed in the UN, but gained American support as Franco was anti-Communist.

For some reason, even though Spain was a republic, Franco had passed a law that let him choose his successor who would also be king. But King Juan Carlos I (who is still king today) very kindly allowed a democratic parliament to run the country with him.

Altamira cave paintings; Santiago Compostela; Spanish Inquisition; School of Salamanca; Spanish Miracle; Don Quixote; Gaudi; Dali; Picasso; flamenco; Spanish guitar; paella; gazpacho; arroz negro (made with squid ink!); Castilian soup (ham and garlic); bull fighting; La Tomatina (a tomato fight involving like 9o,000 people); tapas; siestas; Spanish Tortilla; Guggenheim Museum; El Carnaval de Cádiz; Las Fallas; La Feria de Abril in Seville; Las Fiestas de San Fermín in Pamplona; La Feria de Malaga; La Virgen del Carmen, patroness of fishermen, with celebrations in all coastal towns on July 16th; saffron; mazapan; turron.

7 Dec: Armenian Earthquake Memorial Day, so learn about earthquakes; Marshall Islands Gospel Day; Gallileo orbits Jupiter 1995 – so learn about Jupiter. Delaware founded 1787: very liberal; Mavlana Whirling Dervishes Festival, Turkey (2014)

Bernini born 1598: Bernini’s Baroque marble sculptures are incredible. Can you make ‘marble’ sculptures out of soap?

1732 Royal Opera House, London, opens:  so listen to some opera together or watch a clip from an opera like the Magic Flute, Madame Butterfly, the Barber of Seville, La Treviata, or Carmen.

Dia de las Velitas: From sunset in Colombia it’s the Day of the Little Candles – when people cover everything in candles and lanterns.

La Quema del Diablo: At 6 p.m. people in Guatemala set fire to papier mache devils to symbolise a cleaning out of sins in readiness for the Virgin Mary’s immaculate conception.

8 Dec: 1813 Beethoven’s 7th Symphony premiers; 1941 Japan attacks Pearl Harbour; Bodhi Day (celebrates Buddha acheiving enlightenment through meditation); Immaculate Conception (of the Virgin May – international); Lyon Festival of Lights; Romania Constitution Day; Uzbekistan Constitution Day

9 Dec: Tanzania Independence and Republic Day, Incwala Ceremony (2014)

10 Dec: 1868 first (gas) traffic lights installed outside Westminster; 1884 Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Sweden Nobel Day (award of Nobel prize); Mississippi state founded 1817, famous for Mississippi mud pie; where Roosevelt invented the teddy bear; pecans and sweet potato.

11 Dec: L’Escalade (Geneva celebrates defeating a surprise attack up the defensive walls by the Duke of Savoy and the King of Spain. Celebrations include a large marmite (cauldron) made of chocolate and filled with marzipan vegetables and candies, which is smashed to comemmorate the boiling hot vegetable soup poured on soldiers climbing up the walls of the city. Children in school to prepare vegetable soup, and there’s a parade.); Indiana Day (US); International Mountain Day; National Tango Day (Buenos Aires); Burkina Faso Proclamation of the Republic (Upper Volta, French Community); Indiana founded 1816, famous for James Dean; quarries of the white limestone that posh American buildings are made of.

12 Dec: Russia Constitution Day; Jamhuri Day (Kenya’s independence from UK, 1963); Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico), Turkmenistan Neutrality Day; Pennsylvania (1787): famous for being Dutch and Ben Franklin.

13 Dec: Malta Republic Day, St Lucia National Day; St Lucia Day (northern countries and Italy)

14 Dec: 1911 Roald Amundse first to reach South Pole; 2004 Millau Viaduct, world’s tallest bridge, opens; Alabama Day; Monkey Day; Alabama founded 1819: Peanut butter; Rosa Parks; space rockets; Montgomery was the capital of the Confederacy.

15 Dec: 1970 Soviet Venera lands on Venus; Alderney Homecoming [of WII evacuees] Day; Netherlands Kingdom Day; Zamenhof Day (creator of Esperanto); Bonaire Kingdom Day

16 Dec: 1770 Ludwig van Beethoven born; Bahrain National Day (independence from UK, 1971); Victory Day (Bijoy Dibosh) (Bangladesh, India); Kazakhstan Independence Day (from USSR, 1991); S. Africa Day of Reconciliation; Las Posadas (9-day celebration of Mary and Joseph looking for an inn)

17 Dec: Bhutan National Day; first performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony 1865; Beethoven born 1770; first day of Saturnalia.

Anniversary of the first powered flight by the Wright brothers 1903 (and Wright Brothers Day in the US); an aeroplane snack; make paper aeroplanes; turn a cardboard box into an aeroplane or recycle a milk bottle; make aeroplane magnet/picture holders; try a straw plane.

18 Dec: 1793 HMS Lutine sinks full of gold; 1892 the Nutcracker premiers; 1912 Piltdown Man announced; Niger Republic Day, Qatar National Day; UN Arabic Language Day;

New Jersey founded 1787: 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.

19 Dec: 1606 settlers depart from England to found the first colony of the US (Virginia); Goa Liberation Day (part of India, liberated from Portugal, 1961)

20 Dec: 1946 It’s A Wonderful Life released; Macau Special Administrative Region Establishment Day (became part of China); Fête des Cafres (Reunion/Guiana Abolition of Slavery Day)

Yalda: Iranian celebration of birth of Mithra, Persian angel of light and truth. People try to stay awake all night with parties, and eat the last of the autumn’s fresh fruit like pomegranate, and watermelon kept especially from summer for this night for good health. People practice bibliomancy using the poems of Hafez.

21 Dec: Mayflower lands in Plymouth, Massachusetts – Forefathers Day; 1872-6 HMS Challenger expedition sets off from Portsmouth, discovering many new things about the ocean; São Tomé Day;

Pancha Ganapati, a 5-day festival in honour of Ganesh (21: family build and decorate shrine with Ganesh dressed in golden yellow, then work on family relationships; 22 Ganesh dressed in royal blue and Hindus repair their relationships with neighbours and friends; 23, ruby red, for colleagues and customers; 24 emerald green, the family shares their artistic talents with each other; 25 family reflect on the love and harmony created thanks to Ganesh. Gifts put on the shrine every day til now are opened.)

Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year): Make a sundial or other artwork that catches the first or last ray of sunshine; make a Yule log and some virgin mulled wine.

Ziemassvētki (Latvia): Candles are lit for spirits and a fire is kept burning until the end, when its extinguishing ends the year’s unhappiness. A feast is served with bread, beans, peas, pork, and pig snout and feet, with a space at the table is reserved for ghosts, who arrive on a sleigh.

22 Dec: 1808 Beethoven premiers his Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto and Choral Fantasy; National Mathematics Day;

Dongzhi Festival: the days are getting longer from this day and so more positive yang energy will come in. People eat tangyuan.

23 Dec: Japan Birthday of the Emperor; Sweden Queen Silvia’s birthday; The Night Before Christmas is published (1823); 1893 Hansel and Gretel opera premiers; Night of the Radishes (Oaxaca, Mexico, radishes are carved into all sorts of things and then they have a party);

24 Dec: Christmas Island discovered by Captain Cook (1777); the first performance of ‘Silent Night’ – in German (1888)’ King John of England born (1216); Italians have a Feast of the Seven Fishes; Nochebuena / Navidad (Spain)

25 Dec: Christmas (Le Gros Souper) around the world; Isaac Newton’s birthday (1642) – discovered gravity (other weird gravity experiments here, the three laws of motion (or do this terrifying demonstration of the first law), divided the visible spectrum into the seven-colour rainbow; developed a reflecting telescope, studied the speed of sound

26 Dec: St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa (celebrates African American culture), the Second Day of Christmas, Australia Proclamation Day, S. Africa Day of Goodwill, Slovenia Independence Day (from Yuoslavia, 1990), Mummers Day (Padstow)

27 Dec: Johannes Kepler born (1571); Louis Pasteur (1822), the Third Day of Christmas

N. Korea Constitution Day: Up to the beginning of the 20th century, Korea always tried to stay out of the West’s way, and so was known as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’. In 1910 Japan took Korea and ruled it by force for 35 years. After World War II, Japan surrendered to the Allies and Korea was divided between Russia and America. North Korea was, of course, the Russian side. Russia and America withdrew and tried to allow the two sides to govern themselves again – except of course the country had now been artificially divided and the North thought it should rule the South and the South thought it should rule the North. In 1950, after North Korea had repeatedly asked Russia “Can we invade yet? Can we invade yet? Can we invade yet?”, it began the Korean War with Russian and Chinese support. America, etc., supported South Korea. In 1953, after 2 million had died, an armistice was declared, but it was not until 2007 that both sides agreed that the war was officially over. In the 1990s it had a horrible famine, during which America was actually the biggest donater of foreign aid. Activities: The Mass Games.

28 Dec: The Lumiere brothers show the first cinema film in 1895 – make your own film with dolls for actors or try making these optical illusions. South Australia Proclamation Day; the fourth day of Christmas. Iowa founded (1846)

29 Dec: Mongolian Independence Day; the fifth day of Christmas. Texas founded 1845 (Davy Crocket fighting against the Mexican army in the Battle of Alamo; oil; Austin country music)

Ireland’s Constitution Day: Celtic or Iron-Age Ireland was from the 8th century B.C. Ptolemy, an Egyptian who wrote in Greek, called Ireland ‘Little Britain’, and England and Scotland were called ‘Great Britain’. St Patrick came over with Christianity in 431 A.D. and the druidic system collapsed. The Irish were a bunch of tribes until they established a High King of Ireland, who ruled from the Hill of Tara from the 7th century A.D. While the Dark Ages hit Europe, Irish monks and scholars continued to learn Greek and Latin and were very good at illuminating manuscripts (like the Book of Kells) and making jewellery. Then the Vikings came along pillaging and ruined everything. The Normans (who by then were also technically the English) came over in 1169 to invade but Henry II had to come round three years later to sort them out. After that Ireland successfully ignored England’s rule, which essentially extended only over the ‘Pale’, a bit of land around Dublin. However, Henry VII remembered, and reminded everyone that he was King of Ireland and invaded. Tyrone’s Rebellion, or the Nine Years’ War, saw the Irish chieftains fight against him before fleeing to Europe. After that the English invaded more, took their land and even sent a lot into slavery in the West Indies! No wonder they hate us! England then enforced laws that didn’t allow Roman Catholics any rights at all, so only those that followed the Church of England could, e.g., inherit property or sit in Parliament, etc. In 1739-41 there was a horrible frost that ruined crops across Europe and caused a terrible famine in Ireland. From 1798 Ireland was allowed to make its own laws, but when Ireland tried to have a proper rebellion the English military squashed it and from 1801 declared Ireland part of ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. Catchy. In the 1840s the Great Famine was caused by a potato disease because so many Irish ate almost only potatoes. 1 million died and another 1 million emigrated. Ireland’s population is still less than it was before this famine. From then some Irish campaigned for ‘Home Rule’, where Ireland would be allowed to rule itself while remaining part of the United Kingdom. Ulster Unionists (who wanted to repeal the Act of Union that made Ireland part of the United Kingdom) were against this because they were Protestant and thought Home Rule would be dominated by the Catholics. England thought it had reached a compromise by allowing most of Ireland Home Rule except for Ulster, Northern Ireland. While England was busy in World War I, the  Easter Rising was another rebellion trying to get England to give up Ireland. England responded by executing 15 leaders and imprisoning more than 1,000 people. This did not help our popularity. We then tried to impose conscription. After that, the Sinn Fein (Gaelic for ‘we ourselves’) left-wing independent party had overwhelming support from the Irish and declared Ireland to be an independent republic. Their army, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), fought against Britain for three years in a guerrilla war called the Irish War of Independence (1919-21). England then allowed Ireland independence but offered Northern Ireland the chance to opt out and remain part of the UK, which they accepted. The Irish Republic became the Irish Free State… and then dissolved into civil war for a while, mainly out of opposition to the Anglo-Irish treaty which arranged all this but still wanted Irish people to swear allegiance to the English king. For a while Ireland was doing really well but the 2008-10 global recession left it pretty miserable. Northern Ireland, of course, has been divided by Roman Catholics wanting to join the rest of Ireland in independence and Protestants wanting to stay in the UK. The Protestants vote for the Ulster Unionist Party, who did something called ‘gerrymandering’, which is where you move the boundaries of electoral districts so you get a greater majority of the votes. From 1969 the Troubles began, where both sides were very violent to each other, and Britain removed Northern Ireland’s right to Home Rule, which surely annoyed everyone even more. The old Irish Republican Army, which wanted non-violent civil demonstrations for Catholic rights and against British rule, split into a new group, the Provisional IRA, who were super-violent. However, they were reacting to a violent time, and the Protestants were just as violent.  The British army also behaved appallingly, picking on the Catholics more than the equally naughty Protestants and torturing and detaining them without trial. On Bloody Sunday in 1972 the British army shot dead 26 people who were conducting a peaceful unarmed protest. In the 1980s and ’90s the IRA blew up some very big bombs in Brighton, London and Manchester. In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement ended the fighting, restored Home Rule to Northern Ireland and the British army stopped having to support Northern Ireland’s police. This was back in the good old days of Labour before Tony Blair became a war criminal.

Ireland has amazing myths, legends and landscapes. Newgrange was thought to be the abode of the Tuatha de Danaan, which were a kind of fairy (but very tall and powerful) – we now know it is an incredible work by Neolithic people before Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids were thought of. The Giant’s Causeway was said to be built by Finn MacCool (great name) who built a causeway to Scotland, but a giant ripped it up so that Finn could not chase him. Blarney Castle holds the Blarney Stone, which if you kiss gives you the gift of eloquence and is also said to be the Lia Fail stone upon which Irish kings were crowned.

Older children might like to have a go at colouring in some Celtic knotwork or illuminating a letter or a poem for someone’s birthday. Read a children’s version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Try some Riverdance, Gaelic football or hurling.

30 Dec: Rudyard Kipling’s birthday (1865), author of The Jungle Book and Just So Stories; Slovakia’s Independence Declaration Day; the sixth day of Christmas.

Rizal Day (Philippines): The Philippines are named after King Philip II of Spain. No one really knows whether the first human inhabitants of the Philippines evolved around there or moved in from Southeast Asia. By the 15th century Islam had arrived from Malaysia and Indonesia. In 1521 Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered and claimed the islands for Spain, who later made Manila their capital of the East Asian colonies. In 1762 Britain sneaked in and occupied the islands for a couple of years during the Seven Years’ War. From the 1870s a nationalist movement began which led to the Revolution in 1896. One of the men who organised pro-nationalist propaganda in Spain was Jose Rizal, who was executed for his rebellion. In 1898 the Spanish-American War, in which America helped Cuba gain independence from Spain, reached the Philippines and Spain sold the islands to America for $20 million. The people of the Philippines thought this meant their independence, and declared themselves a Republic. America said no. The Philippines declared war on America. Yes, America won. In World War II Japan invaded and set up their own government and were as cruel as ever, leaving 1 million Philippinos dead when the Allies ousted them at the end of the war. In 1946 the Philippines finally gained independence. There were still a few Communist insurgents from the rebel army that had fought against Japan and now felt forgotten, but the main problem turned out to be the president himself, Ferdinand Marcos, who, when he realised his two terms were coming to an end, declared martial law so he could stay in power. His rival, Benigno Aquino, came back from exile in America to sort things out and was shot dead coming off the plane. Following some rigged elections against Aquino’s widow, Corazon, the Filipinos got a bit angry and Marcos fled to Hawaii, leaving Corazon in power. The Philippines is the second-largest producer of geothermal energy as it harnessed the power of its volcanoes, and it experiences around 20 small earthquakes a day. There are 175 languages spoken on the islands!

Activities: Try and describe what native Philippine animals might look like just going on their names: tamaraw of Mindoro, the Visayan spotted deer, the Philippine mouse deer, the Visayan warty pig, the Philippine flying lemur, the palm civet cat and the Phillipine tarsier. Then use Google images to see if you were close. Try some Original Pilipino Music.

31 Dec: Day of Azeri Solidarity; 1759 Guinness started brewing Guinness; in 1853 Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins hosts a dinner party inside a life-size model of an Iguanadon he’d made with Sir Richard Owen; in 1879 Thomas Eddison displays the first incandescent lightbulb; 1960 the farthing (1/4 penny) ceases to be legal tender in Britain; 1869 Henry Matisse born.

New Year’s Eve: Most Spanish-speaking countries celebrate by eating a grape with each of the twelve chimes of a clock’s bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one. Mexican families decorate homes and parties in colors that represent wishes for the upcoming year: red encourages an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow encourages blessings of improved employment conditions, green for improved financial circumstances, and white for improved health. Mexican sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden in the dough. When the bread is served, the recipient of the slice with the coin or charm is said to be blessed with good luck in the New Year. Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events over the past 12 months; before midnight, this list is thrown into a fire, symbolizing the removal of negative energy from the new year.

In Austria, instead of singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight, they dance to Strauss’s Blue Danube. In Belgium children write beautifully decorated ‘New Year’s Day’ letters that they read out to their families wishing them health and happiness in the coming year and promising not to be as naughty as they were last year. Danish bake a Kransekrage; Greeks eat a Vasilopita. Finland and Germany melt lead and drop it into cold water to tell fortunes from the shapes. They eat a tiny marzipan pig for good luck. In Russia New Year’s Eve is very much like Christmas because the Communists banned Christmas (I know, right?). They remember the best bits of the last year and in the last 12 seconds make secret wishes for the next year. Spanish and Italians wear red underwear for good luck. Welsh give each other bread and cheese. In Brazil New Year’s Eve marks the start of the summer holidays! In Ecuador men dress as women (not kidding). In Guatemala adults exchange gifts as the Christ Child only brings presents to children on Christmas day. In Japan people prepare their homes for the toshigami, the god of the new year, with Kadomatsu (a plantpot arrangement of bamboo and pine) and Shimenawa (rice-stalk ropes to cordon off sacred areas). Pakistanis often accidentally shoot each other as they like to fire their guns into the air to express joy. Filipinos wear polka-dot clothes and serve circular fruits to attract money, and throw coins in the air at midnight.

Activities: Make New Year’s Eve cupcakes (add real sparklers for extra excitement; we tried melted white choc mixed with food colouring as I don’t know what candy coating is; you could also try arranging snipped-up strawberry/bubblegum laces in firework patterns) or make a calendar together out of last year’s photos. Older kids would probably love molybdomancy (divination with molten lead or pewter) because it’s so bloody dangerous, so that’s up to you. Make confetti wands, make pipecleaner glasses, make silent underwater fireworks, make a wishing tree for New Year’s Resolutions, eat marzipan pigs,  try and eat 12 grapes on the bongs, make a time capsule, make countdown bags, turn the year into a banner or nail art or set of finger rings or on a fancy party hat, and drink fancy mocktails.

November activities for kids

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

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)

13 Nov:

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.

Montana: …

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.

Iowa: …

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.

Ohio: …

California: Hollywood, beaches, graffiti, the gold rush, San Francisco, Alcatraz.

Nevada: Las Vegas, Hoover Dam

Utah: Mormons

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.

Ming Vase

Ming Vase

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

Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong

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.

October Activities for Kids

NB: This is an in-progress post about taking seasonal parenting to its limits.

1 Oct: 1946 Mensa founded in UK;  1969 Concorde breaks sound barrier; Thimphu Drubchen (sacred masked dance in Bhutan to appease the protecting deity, Pelden Lhamo – try making a Bhutan mask); China National Day (see 30 November); Cyprus Independence Day (from UK, 1960); Hong Kong National Day; Nigeria Independence Day (from UK, 1960),  Palau Independence Day (from UN Trust Territory Status, 1994 – see 24 November), Tuvalu Days (Independence from UK, 1960); World Vegetarian Day

Cameroon Unification Day (independence of South Cameroon from UK, 1961): Settled from Neolithic times, Cameroon was first inhabited by Baka/Pygmies, Bantu immigrants, then the Sao civilisation, the Kanem Empire which introduced Islam, the Bornu Empire. In 1472 Portuguese explorers named it Rio dos Cameroes – Shrimp River. Modibo Adama led a jihad against non-Muslims, creating the Adamawa Emirate in the 19th century, and northern Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network. In 1884 Germany decided it was theirs now; after WWI it was divided between France and Britain. Popular music styles include makossa, bikutsi, ambasse bey, assiko, mangambeu and tsamassi. Nico Mbarga’s ‘Sweet Mother’ is the top-selling African single of all time. Older kids could try some beadwork.

2 Oct: 1950 Peanuts (Snoopy) first published; 1890 Groucho Marx born; Mahatma Ghandi’s Birthday; Mahregan (Persian Festival of Autumn); Batik Day (Indonesia)

Guinea Independence Day (from France, 1958): first part of the Ghana Empire after the domestication of the camel allowed African tribes to trade and flourish. Then the medieval Sosso kingdom, then the Mali Empire, then the Songhai Empire, one of the largest Islamic empires in history, which fell to Moroccan invaders who dissolved the area into smaller kingdoms. France invaded in 1898. In 1957 Guinea voted for independence, and the French colonists and much of the infrastructure and money left. Guinea went with Soviet Russia and China, and capitalist countries like the US carried on helping it too. Sékou Touré was the one-party leader and a bit mad, flitting between US/USSR support and imprisoning/exiling/executing opponents. After Touré died, Lansana Conté took power, turned away from socialism and freed some political prisoners. Recently the country has been affected by West African instability. Try listening to Bembeya Jazz.

3 Oct: 52 BC Vercingetorix surrenders to the Gauls under Julius Caesar; Day of German Unity, Iraqi Independence Day (from UK, 1932), S. Korea National Foundation Day; Yom Kippur begins (2014) (a 25-hour fast to try and rectify sins and get God’s forgiveness); Thimphu Tshechu (2014)

4 Oct: Cinnamon Roll Day (Sweden); World Space Week (Discovering Mars, 2013); World Animal Day; Lesotho Independence Day

5 Oct: 1962 first Bond film and first Beatles single (‘Love Me Do’) released – so we learned some ’60s dancing; Vanuatu Constitution Day (see 5 March); Portugal Republic Day; World Teacher’s Day; Navratri (2013)

6 Oct: German-American Day, so make pretzels; Syria October Liberation War/Egypt Armed Forces Day (commemorates Yom Kippur War 1973, when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel trying to reclaim land they’d won in the 1967 Six Days’ War), Turkmenistan Remembrance Day (Anniversary of the 1948 Earthquake)

7 Oct: World Habitat Day (2013, first Monday in October); Italian Evacuation Day (after Italy invaded Libya from 1911 to WWII; in 1970, the Italian settlers were evacuated), Nagasaki Kunchi (harvest festival)

8 Oct: Croatia Independence Day (see 25 June);

Sukkoth (8-15 October 2014): Jews build a sukkah, or temple, and eat their meals in it.

9 Oct: Hangul Day (S. Korea celebrates invention of its alphabet, 1446); Leif Erikson Day (Viking bringing first Europeans to America in the 10th century); Takayama Autumn Festival; World Post Day (after Swiss Universal Postal Union founded, 1874)

Durga Puja (Dashami)/ Dussehra/Vijayadashami: (9-14 Oct 2013) This is when Hindus make icons of myths that essentially boil down to a triumph of good over evil. Can you make a sculpture (playdo/salt dough/blu tack/papier mache) of good winning over evil?

Uganda Independence Day: Learn Swahili! Up until around 300 B.C., Ugandans were hunter-gatherers. Then the great lakes were ruled by the Empire of Kitara, or the Chwezi Empire, until the Luo and Ateker peoples of the Nile valley invaded. From the 1830s Arab traders arrived, followed by British explorers, and from 1888 it was part of the British East India Company. The Brits imported Indian workers to build the Ugandan railway. In 1900-20, two-thirds of Ugandans by the lakes died of a sleeping sickness. From 1962 Uganda was independent from the UK and became part of the Commonwealth. After that, as with nearly all post-colonial countries, democracy soon turned to violent dictatorship. The first voted-in government had a prime minister, Milton Obote, and a president  who was also king, Edward Muteesa II; four years later the prime minister booted out the king-president, changed the constitution, declared Uganda a republic and abolished the traditional kingdoms. In ’71 Obote was deposed, and a violent dictator Idi Amin killed 300,000 Ugandans and extradited all the Indians, ruining the country’s economy. Eight years later Ugandan exiles joined with Tanzania, invaded and reinstated Obote. He was again deposed and replaced by Tito Okello in 1985, who six months later was deposed in a ‘bush war’ led by the current president Yoweri Musoveni. If you’re a child, female or gay in Uganda, it’s pretty bad times. Children can be kidnapped to serve in Kony’s army, or work in dangerous factory conditions, and parliament is pushing for homosexuals to receive the death penalty. Because women are expected to do all the housework, looking after the young, ill and old, and also have to bring in an income, they work 15-hour days compared to the men’s 8-hour days. Despite fertile lands, lots of mineral resources and untapped cruel oil reserves, Uganda owes $2 billion in foreign debts. Through open discussion, Uganda managed to reduce HIV cases from 30& in the 1980s to 6.4% in the 2000s.  In 2003 George Bush started financially supported ‘abstinence-only’ campaigns against HIV, and cases doubled. Nice one, Bush. Make a handprint elephant.

10 Oct: 1813 Giuseppe Verdi born; 1971 London Bridge dismantled and rebuilt in Arizona; Cuba Anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence in 1868, Laos Day of Liberation, Taiwan National Day (Double Ten Day, anniversary of Wuchang Uprising that led to Chinese Republic being founded); Finnish Literature Day (birthday of Aleksis Kivi)

Fiji Day (independence from UK, 1970): first inhabited by the Lapitas, ancestors of the Polynesians, Fiji was famous for cannibalism, with ‘Eat me!’ being the proper way to address a chief. New boats were rolled over men, crushing them to death, to ensure successful journeys. The Brits took Fiji in 1874 and brought in Indians to work on the plantations so as not to disrupt native life. In 1970 when Fiji became independent the Indian population was clearly unwelcome and many left. Try the Cibi or Bole war cry (rugby); weave a tapa cloth; dance a meke dance; make a canoe (origami?) for a race.

11 Oct: 1982 Mary Rose salvaged; General Pulaski Memorial Day (a Polish-American who died fighting the Brits during the Revolution); Old Michaelmas Day (don’t pick blackberries after this date cos the devil’s spat on them); Macedonia Revolution Day; Columbus Day, Fulpati Saptami (Nepal)

12 Oct: Equatorial Guinea Independence Day (from Spain, 1968); UN Spanish Language Day; Freethough Day (US, commemorating end of Salem witch trials)

Columbus Day: In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. San Francisco, with a large Italian-American population, has a Columbus Day parade (although Columbus was working for Queen Isabella of Spain, he was Italian. And he was really called Cristoforo Colombo). Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day celebrating the Polynesians, and South Dakota celebrates Native American Day; Dia de la Raza or Day of the Race is celebrated in a lot of Latin America. Venezuela celebrates Day of Indigenous Resistance; Spain does Dia de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacionale. The Bahamas do Discovery Day. Activities here and here.

13 Oct: 1884 Greenwich becomes Universal time meridian of longitude; 1958 Paddington Bear debuts; Thailand National Police Day; Chung Yeung Festival (2013 Hong Kong: 9th day of 9th lunar month; ancestor-worship in cemeteries; they also hike to the highest points for good luck and eat ko cakes)

14 Oct: 1926 Winnie the Pooh first published; 2012 Felix Baumgartner jumps from the stratosphere; Svetitskhovloba (Georgian Orthodox Festival of the Life Giving Pillar Church, which holds Jesus’s mantle); Nyerere Day, Vijayadashami (2013)

15 Oct: 1783 Montgolfier brothers go up in tethered hot air balloon – first human ascent; 1928 Graf Zeppelin airship flies from Friedrichshafen to New Jersey in 11 hours; Eid-al-Adha (2013; celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son and marks end of Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Some Muslims sacrifice an animal to share with poor)

16 Oct: Dashain (2013)/Ghatasthapana; Simchat Torah (2014)

17 Oct: 1860 first Open Championship golf; 1956 Sellafield opens, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station;

Anniversary of the Death of Dessalines: Dessalines is celebrated in Haiti as he led the country to become the first black republic in the world back in 1804. But he didn’t quite get everything right: the country’s economy had been built on slavery for the sugar and coffee plantations and after he’d massacred the white Haitian minority he made the black Haitians continue to work in quasi-slave conditions ‘for their country’ as military duty, etc. He also needed educated people in his government office and as the mixed race Haitians were usually the better educated, he accidentally made a light-skinned government, which didn’t look great. For those who understand French, the Dessalinienne, Haiti’s national anthem, is pretty terrifying. This could be a good opportunity to talk about the consequences of slavery or, for younger children, to learn some freedom songs.

 18 Oct: 1851 Moby Dick first published; 1922 BBC founded; 1967 Soviet Venera reaches Venus and measures its atmosphere; Alaska Day (1867 US bought Alaska for $7.2 million), so make a Baked Alaska, or learn about the aurora borealis or watch sled dog races; Azerbaijan Independence Day (from USSR)

19 Oct: 1946 Philip Pullman born; Beatification of Mother Theresa; Nieue Constitution Day

 20 Oct: 1720 Carribean pirate Calico Jack captured by Royal Navy; his flag was the Jolly Roger with the skull and two crossed swords; 1632 Sir Christopher Wren born;  Kenyatta Day

Guatemala Revolution Day: Guatemala was the home to the fascinating ancient Mayan civilisation until around 900 A.D., when they were killed off by drought. The Spanish came in in 1519. The capital city moved around a lot, and was finally moved from Antigua to the Ermita Valley after an earthquake in 1773. In 1821 Guatemala declared its independence from Spain. They then had a bunch of revolutions and civil wars, accidentally got caught up in the Cold War on America’s side. In 1996 (!!) the civil wars finally ended and history has embarrassed America in showing their support of the Guatemalan government’s genocide of all those dangerous possible socialists, like students and farmers. We learnt about hurricanes, because Guatemala is kind of in a hurricane basin, by creating ‘hurricanes’ by stirring a pint glass of water very fast, and spinning ourselves in to hurricanes too, and watching some clips of how they are formed on Youtube. You could also learn about the Mayans or draw the iconic cross in Antigua.

21 Oct: Apple Day (UK); International Nacho Day; St Ursula’s Day, Antillean Day

Trafalgar Day: On this day in 1805 Nelson beat the 33 Franco-Spanish ships with his 27 ships by inventing a new naval tactic. He was mortally wounded in battle and became a war hero. Trafalgar Day has not really celebrated in Britain since World War I when we realised war is something horrendous and tragic, but there are still some places like Birmingham and Portsmouth that hold ceremonies. We pretended to be sailors, with spoons for oars and a washing basket for a boat!

22 Oct: 1797 first recorded parachute jump, André-Jacques Garnerin; 1811 Franz Liszt born; Sun Festival Abu Simbel (Egypt)

23 Oct: 1958 Smurfs debut in comic; Mole Day (chemists); Hungary Republic Day (Anniversary of 1956 – see 20 August); Phoolwalon ki Sair (procession of florists, 2013)

24 Oct: 1851 William Lassell discovers Umbriel and Ariel, two of Uranus’s moons; 1861 the first Transcontinental Telegraph Line built; 1901 Annie Taylor first person to survive going down Niagara Falls in a barrel; Egypt’s Suez Day (celebrates popular resistance in the Yom Kippur War against Israel); United Nations Day

Zambia Independence Day: Originally inhabited by Khoisan people, then by Bantus, Zambia became the British colony of Northern Rhodesia (named after Cecil Rhodes who had acquired the mineral rights to the land) in the 18th century. On 24 October 1964 it declared independent and renamed itself Zambia after its Zambezi river. It was then a one-party state until 1991, when the price of its main export, copper, fell drastically and it found itself with one of the highest foreign debts in the world. The average life expectancy is still only 43 years.

It has the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls – can you make a waterfall, in the shower or in the garden? Pretend to go on an African safari. We got in a washing basket, took along a plastic camera and made some cardboard binoculars, and hid stuffed and imaginary animals all round the living room. Then we ‘drove’ round the safari and saw elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, antelopes, etc.

25 Oct: 1881 Pablo Picasso born; Lithuania Constitution Day; Day of the Basque Country; Taiwan Retrocession Day (Japan handing back to China in 1945); Kazakhstan Republic Day

Grenada Thanksgiving gives thanks for when their Communist government was overthrown and their Prime Minister murdered, and the US (and Jamaica) came and bombed them. Then they got a democratic government and it’s that they’re being grateful for on this day. Grenada is known as the spice isle, and is especially famous for nutmeg, so maybe try making nutmeg ice-cream or nutmeg pancakes. Here is an alcohol-free Grenada punch for kids! Older kids might like to do a blindfold test and see how many of the spices in the spice cupboard they can recognise.

26 Oct: 1863 the Football Association formed in London; 1936 Hoover Dam’s first electric generator starts; 1685 Scarlatti born; Austrian National Day, Nauru Angam Day (Nauruans celebrate having a population of more than 1,500).

27 Oct: 1782 Paganini born; 1923 Roy Lichtenstein born; St Vincent Independence Day, Turkmenistan Independence Day

28 Oct: 1893 Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique premieres; 1915 Strauss conducts first performance of Eine Alpensinfonie; US Labour Day (2013); Czech Independence Day; International Animation Day

Greek National Day (Ochi Day)

Greece’s official name is the Hellenic Republic but no one calls it that. It was home to the first advanced civilisations in Europe, the Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenian civilisations, from 3200 B.C. The first Olympic Games occurred in 776 BC, and Homer’s Iliad (an epic about the Trojan war) and the Odyssey (an epic about Odysseus’s adventures around magical Greek islands) around then too. Their architecture, philosophy, maths, drama, science and literature were all ground-breaking and still influence the West today. They invented democracy, for cripes’ sakes. The Persian Empire invaded in 500 BC, but Philip II and his son Alexander III, or Alexander the Great, pushed them out again. Alexander the Great’s empire dissolved after his death into lots of little empires. Greece then became a protectorate of the Roman Empire, which greatly admired its culture, and Greece helped with the spread of Christianity as it was well into it.

The Roman Empire then fell in the West and became the Byzantine Empire, predominantly Greek-speaking, with its capital in Constantinople. The Goths, Huns and Slavs invaded (known as the Barbaric Invasions). After the Fourth Crusade (when Western Europe honestly intended to go and conquer the Muslims in Jerusalem but was distracted by invading Christian Constantinople and causing quite a big divide between Roman Catholic and Green Orthodox Christianities), Greece came under Frankish rule in 1204 (the Franks were some Germans who settled in France. That’s right, France is named after Germans.) In the 14th century the Slavs then the Ottomans (Turks) invaded, and Byzantine scholars fled to Western Europe and brought Greek knowledge to the Renaissance. The Ottomans hated the Greeks, especially the Christian ones, and whenever the Ottomans had to fight against other invaders the Greeks usually took the side of the invaders. The Reformation and the Enlightenment were kept out of Greece, but in the 18th century Greek merchants did a bit of travelling, raised a bit of money, and started to think about kicking the Ottomans out.

The resulting civil war was going quite badly until England, Russia and France came in and won it for the Greeks. From World War I the country was very much divided on a few important subjects, like what the national language should be (Ancient Greek or Demotic), whether to be royalist and pro-German or republican and pro-Britain. In the end they fought against Germany. After WWI they tried to conquer Asia Minor (nope); in World War II Italy decided they wanted Greece and had a fight with them, and it is their resistance to this ultimatum that the National Day celebrates today, and the Germans got involved and occupied Greece (and treated them very badly, of course). After being liberated, Greek communists and anti-communists had a civil war and generally distrusted each other for the next 30 years. From 1967 they were under a horrid military rule until 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus, about which NATO didn’t do much. Greece pulled out of NATO in protest and replaced its government with a democratically elected one. They rejoined NATO in 1980, joined the EU in 1981, forgave Turkey its misdeeds when both Turkey and Greece were hit by earthquakes in 1999 and had an economic crisis in 2010.

Greek activities: Mums can read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which fictionalises an account of the refusal to allow Mussolini to just pop in and take Greece. Kids can do all sorts of stuff, like make paper dolls of the Greek gods and goddesses to learn about their attributes, or do any Olympic games, or play online games here, here or here. There are a lot of Greek foods you could try here.

29 Oct: Cambodia Coronation Day; Turkey Republic Day

30 Oct: Anniversary of the Declaration of the Slovak Nation; Mischief Night (also celebrated 4 November in Yorkshire)

31 Oct: 1941 Mount Rushmore completed; Former King Sihanouk’s Birthday, Germany Day of Reformation


Go apple-bobbing, carve a pumpkin or a turnip, tell a ghost story, wear fancy dress; if you have a deceased loved one you wish to remember, you could leave out soul cakes or Spanish Huesos de Santo (saints’ bones) and a drink at a place for them on the table when you eat; do fancy dress trick-or-treating; do divination games, like baking a barmbrack with different symbolic items in it to predict the year ahead for those who eat it. There are some good gross apple recipes in Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes that I’ll have to try and put up here. In Cornwall it’s called Allantide and children have apples under their pillows to dream of the future or for good luck. The Scots used to peel an apple in one long strip and throw it over their shoulder to see the first letter of their future love’s name;

September Activities around the World

1 Sept: 1974 SR-71 Blackbird flies from New York to London in under 2 hours; 1985 wreckage of Titanic discovered; Eritrea Anniversary of the Start of the Armed Struggles (start of war of independence from Ethiopia, 1961-91); Amerindian Heritage Month (Guyana); Slovak Constitution Day; Uzbekistan Independence Day; Russian Knowledge Day; Luxembourg City Kermesse (2014)

2 Sept: 1666 the Great Fire of London breaks out; Vietnam National Day (independence from Japan/France, 1945); Tibet Democracy Day

3 Sept: 1950 first Formula One winner, Nino Farina; 1976 Viking 2 lands on Mars; V-J Day (China); Feast of San Marino (founded in 301); Australia Flag Day; Canada/US Labour Day (2013, first Monday); Qatar Independence Day (from UK, 1971); San Marino’s Day and Foundation of the Republic, Zambia Levy Mwanawasa Day (Zambia’s third president, 2002-8, tried to rid country of corruption).

4 Sept: 1888 Kodak camera patented

5 SeptJeûne genevois (Geneva fasts; the day is symbolised by plum tart); Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year 2013, celebrating anniversary of Adam and Eve; apple and honey represent a wish for a sweet new year).

6 Sept: 1522 Ferdinand Magellan’s ship the Victoria is the first to circumnavigate the world; 1620 the Pilgrims leave Boston in the Mayflower for America; 1962 the 2nd-century Blackfriars ships found in the Thames; 1766 John Dalton born – learn about atoms or colour blindness; Bonaire Flag Day; Swaziland Independence Day; The Unification of Bulgaria

7 Sept: 1695 English pirate Henry Every raids the Indian ship Ganj-i-Sawri; 1895 first game of rugby league played in Britain; 1936 the last thylacine dies in Tasmania Zoo (Australia’s National Threatened Species Day); Brazil Independence Day (from Portgual, 1822); Mozambique Victory Day (independence from Portugal, 1975)

8 Sept: Andorra National Day; Nativity of Our Lady (Leichtenstein); Macedonia Independence Day (from Yugoslavia, 1991); Malta Victory Day/ Our Lady of Victories Day Micronesia Liberation Day; first day of Fiestas de Santa Fe, New Mexico (celebrating the reconquest of the area from the Pueblo Indians by Spanish colonists in 1692

9 Sept: Japan’s Chrysanthemum Day (Kiku no sekku) N. Korea Independence Day, Tajikistan Independence Day, California Statehood Day

Ganesh Chaturthi (2013): Ganesh’s birthday. The goddess Pavarti as she wanted to have a bath in peace without her husband Shiva looking in, so she created Ganesh out of sandalwood paste. Ganesh guarded the door and Shiva was so angry that Ganesh wouldn’t let him in that he knocked his head off. Pavarti was quite cross that Shiva had decapitated her son, and Shiva felt sorry so he found an elephant’s head and put that on. In India Hindus make big models of Ganesh for parades, so why not make one out of play-do?

10 Sept: 2008 the Large Hadron Collider is powered up; Amerindian Heritage Day (Guyana); St George’s Caye Day (British colonists in Belize defeated Spanish in 1798); Gibraltar National Day

11 Sept: 1921 first moshav, or Jewish settlement, appears in Palestine to become part of Israel; 1961 World Wildlife Fund founded; 2001 Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre (US Patriot Day); Nayrouz (Coptic New Year)/Enkutatash (Ethiopia); National Day of Catalonia; 1st day of Thoth (ancient Egypt);

Jeûne genevois (2014, Geneva fasts; the day is symbolised by plum tart)

12 Sept: 1906 Newport Transporter Bridge opens; 1910 Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 premiers; 1940 Lascaux cave paintings discovered; Cape Verde National Day

13 Sept: 1994 Ulysses probe passes Sun’s south pole; 1916 Roald Dahl born; International Chocolate Day; Yom Kippur begins (2013) (a 25-hour fast to try and rectify sins and get God’s forgiveness)

14 Sept: 1741 Handel completes his ‘Messiah’; 1995 Body Worlds opens in Tokyo; Hindi Day (language formally adopted by Indian parliament, 1949); Yom Kippur, Battle of San Jacinto (Nicaragua, 1856), Our Lady of Sorrows, Day of the Workers in the Oil, Gas, Power, and Geological Industry (Turkmenistan, 2013, 2nd Saturday); Thimphu Tshechu (2013),

15 Sept: 1254 Marco Polo born; Battle of Britain Day; National Hispanic Heritage Month starts in US; Silpa Bhirasri Day (Thailand celebrates architect); Costa Rica/El Salvador/Guatemala/Honduras/Nicaragua Independence Days (from Spain, 1821); National Grandparents Day (2013, 2nd Sunday, US, Canada, Estonia), Turkmen Bakhshi (2013 – Turkmenistan culture celebrated)

16 Sept: Mexico Independence Day (Grito de Dolores), Papua New Guinea Independence Day (from Australia, 1975); Ozone Day; Malaysia Day (formed 1973)

Onam (2013): Harvest festival, Kerala, India. The mythical king Mahabali visits from the underworld. Vamana, an avatar of Vishnu (the creator/destroyer), is also celebrated. The Pookalam (flower carpet) is made over several days, starting yellow and adding a new couple of colours every day. A little pandal is hung over it, and two earthern square pyramids representing Mahabali and Vamana either side, also decorated with flowers. They have an onam sadya, or feast, of up to 15 curries served on plaintain leaves. There is lots of dancing, like the Kummattikali, a colorful-mask dance, sometimes around a procession of elephants. The Kathakali dance re-enacts legends. Pulikali, or Kaduvakali, has dancers painted like tigers. There’s a Vallamkali, or snake boat race. People buy new clothes and put rice flour batter on their doors as a welcome sign.

17 Sept: US Constitution Day; Von Steuben Day (German-Americans); Nation’s Founder and National Heroes Day (Angola); Anniversary of Operation Market Garden (Netherlands helping Allies fight Germany with parachutists and airforce; unsuccessful)

18 Sept: 1809 London’s Royal Opera House opens; 1928 Juan de la Cierva makes the first autogyro crossing of the English Channel; 1709 Samuel Johnson (dictionary) born; 1819 Leon Foucault (pendulum) born; Azerbaijan Day of National Music; Chile Independence Day (Dieciocho); Sukkoth (18-26 September 2013): Jews build a sukkah, or temple, and eat their meals in it.

19 Sept: Oetzi the Iceman discovered; Saint Kitts and Nevis Independence Day (from UK, 1983); International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Mooncake Festival (2013): Parade with lanterns and masks; mooncakes. Tell the story of the Jade Rabbit.

20-Sep, Japan Respect for the Aged Day,
21 Sept: 1937 The Hobbit published; 1866 HG Wells born; 1874 Gustav Holst born; Armenian Independence (from USSR, 1991); Belize Independence Day (1981 from UK); Malta Independence Day (from UK, 1964), Oktoberfest (2013)

22 Sept: 1791 Michael Faraday born (electromagnetism); Car Free Day (Europe, Canada); Bulgarian Independence Day (from Ottoman Empire, 1908); Hobbit Day; Mali Independence Day (France, 1960)

Autumnal Equinox: Day and night are the same length; first day of autumn. Corn dollies; learn about balance; make a big feast of spiced cider, squashes, bread, apples, pomegranates. Gather pine cones, acorns, autumn leaves. We like to make apple and cinnamon loaf. Make animals out of fallen leaves. Make a fairy tea set out of acorns.

23 Sept: 1846 Neptune discovered; 1909 Phantom of the Opera published; Saudi Arabia National Day

24 Sept: 1870 Georges Claude born (inventor of neon lighting); 1936 Jim Henson born; Cambodia Constitution Day,Guinea Bissau National Day (independence from Portugal, 1973), S. Africa Heritage Day, New Caledonia Day; Trinidad and Tobago Republic Day;Thailand Mahidol Day (founder of modern Thai medicine); Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year 2014, celebrating anniversary of Adam and Eve; apple and honey represent a wish for a sweet new year).

25 Sept: 1066 King Harald defeats the Norwegian Vikings in Yorkshire at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. He’s killed at Hastings three weeks later, but this is seen as the end of the Viking Age. 1906 Leonardo Quevedo demonstrates his remote control robot, the Telekino. 1903 Rothko born.
26 Sept: 1898 George Gershwin born; Ecuador National Flag Day; New Zealand Dominion Day; European Day of Languages; Yemen Revolution Day; New Zealand Dominion Day; Simchat Torah (2013)

27 Sept: 1825 Stockton-Darlington Railway opens; 1998 Google ‘born’; End of the War of Independence (Mexico); French Community Holiday (Belgium)

28 Sept: Czech Statehood Day, Manit Day (Marshall Islands cultural day).

29 Sept: 1885 the first public tram opens in Blackpool; 1571 Caravaggio born; Michaelmas, feast of the Archangels; International Coffee Day; Inventors’ Day (Argentina); World Heart Day

30 Sept: Mozart’s Magic Flute debuts; 1860 first tram service in Britain; Edison’s first hydroelectric power-plant opens in USA; 1935 Hoover Dam dedicated; Boeing 747 shown; 2004 first video of giant live squid shown; Botswana Day (independence from UK); Morelo’s Birthday (Mexico founding father); Blasphemy Day (right to criticise religion on anniversary of Mohammed cartoon)

August activities around the world

1 Aug: 1759 Joseph Priestley publishes discovery of oxygen; 1984 the Lindow Man discovered; Carribean Carnival celebrates end of slavery in British Empire – so do some calypso dancing; Anguilla/Barbados/Bermuda/Guyana/Jamaica/Trinidad and Tobago/British Virgin Islands/St Lucia Emancipation Days; Iceland Commerce Day; Benin Independence Day (from France, 1960); Colorado Statehood Day (famous for rodeos and inventing cheeseburgers), Yorkshire Day (definitely a day for Yorkshire pudding); Esala Perahera starts

Lughnasadh/Lammas: Beginning of the harvest season, halfway between solstice and equinox. Named after the Irish god of light, Lugh, they originally include the Tailteann Games, in honour of Lugh’s mother Tailtiu who died of exhaustion after clearing the Irish plains for agriculture (maybe symbolishing how the earth goddess dies back from here on in the year). Games included the long jump, high jump, running, hurling, spear throwing, boxing, contests in swordfighting, archery, wrestling, swimming, and chariot and horse racing, as well as craft competitions for storytellers, jewellers, etc. It is traditional to eat bilberries on this day, and to climb a hill or visit a holy well. It was the day you baked a loaf from the fresh wheat harvest and brought it to church to be blessed and then broken into four pieces, for the four corners of the barn, to protect the grain. We also made a corn dolly from long grass and lavender.

2 Aug: Virgin of the Angels Day (Costa Rica celebrates its patron saint, La Negrita, a statue discovered that refused to budge and so a church was built around it). Macedonia Ilinden (National Holiday)

3 Aug: 1958 USS Nautilus, a nuclear submarine, travels under the Arctic. It was commissioned in response to Russia’s Sputnik, the world’s first manmade satellite, which made America super jealous. Niger Independence Day (from France, 1960), St Vincent and the Grenadines Emancipation Day, Venezuela Flag Day; Lailat-ul-Qadr (Night of Power) (2013)

4 Aug: 1693 Dom Perrignon invites champagne; 1901 Louis Armstrong born; Matica Slovenska Day (Slovenia); Burkina Faso Revolution Day, Cook Islands Constitution Day.

5 Aug: Australian Picnic Day (2013, after Chinese went for a picnic after being offered Australian citizenship in the 19th century); Burkina Faso Independence, Croatia Victory Day and National Thanksgiving Day

6 Aug: 1926 Gertrude Ederle is the first woman to swim the Channel; 1945 ‘Little Boy’ drops on Hiroshima; 1991 World Wide Web invented; 1881 Alexander Fleming (discovered penicillin) born; 1928 Andy Warhol born; Bolivia Independence Day (from Spain 1825); Jamaica Independence Day (from UK, 1962)

7 Aug: Battle of Boyaca (Colombia), Cote d’Ivoire Independence Day, Kiribati Youth Day;

End of Ramadan (2013): Muslims put on their best clothes, celebrate the end of their month-long fast and generally feel grateful about life. They are also encouraged on this day to forgive and forget any differences with others or animosities that may have occurred during the year; they show happiness, give to charity, and until they’ve done their big prayer (called the Eid Salaat) they try not to chit-chat with others and just focus on thinking about Allah. Then they visit family, have a big feast and often swap prezzies. Traditional foods for this festival around the world include baklava (Tunisia), Fata, Kahk (Egypt), halva (Pakistan, Somalia), Jelabi, Shor-Nakhut and Cake wa Kolcha (Afghanistan), ketupat, dodol, opor, rendang, lemang (South East Asia), Shai Mai (Burma), samosas (Bengali). In India girls henna their hands. See if you can spot the new moon. Cook an Eid feast. Make henna patterns on your hands.

8 Aug: 1709 Bartolomeu de Gusmao demonstrates the lifting power of hot air; 1908 the Wright brothers first public flight; Nane Nane (Farmer’s Day, Tanzania)

9 Aug: 1483 the Sistine Chapel opens; 1930 Betty Boop debuts; 1945 ‘Fat Boy’ dropped on Nagasaki; Singapore National Day, S. Africa Women’s Day (commemorates the female protest against identity papers in 1953); Perseid meteors at peak until 14th – why not have a garden party with blankets, hot chocolate, etc.?

10 Aug: 1675 the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, begins construction; 1792 the storming of the Tuileries, where Louis XVI lived, ending the monarchy in France (until 1814, anyway); 1793 the Louvre opens; 1990 Magellan space probe reaches Venus; Janmashtami (birth of Krishna. Pots of buttermilk are hung high up and people form human pyramids to smash them (dahi handi) and people reenact Krishna’s youth (Rasa lila). Raksha Bandhan/Rakhi (2014 – full moon. Hindu sisters tie a rakhi thread on their brothers’ wrists to symbolise love and devotion); Ghost Festival (China, 2014); Missouri founded 1821.

11 Aug: 1897 Enid Blyton born; Melon Day (Turkmenistan), so make melon sorbet; Pueblo Carnival, London (2013), Chad Independence Day (from France, 1960)

Nag Panchami (2013): Brahma, Hindu god of creation, had four wives. The first gave birth to devas (gods), the second to garudas (bird-like creatures), the third to nagas (cobra-like gods), and the fourth daityas (giants). In this festival Hindus worship the nagas. Married women and girls go out to ant hills, said to be cobras’ homes, and pray to the Snake God for their family’s wellbeing. They make an offering of milk, sometimes with wood apple leaves, honey, white flowers and saffron. Some milk is brought home for the family as a blessing. Sisters dip a flower in the milk, put it on their brother’s back, light a candle and give him a present. This is a good day to learn about cobras.

12 Aug: BBC Proms start (2013); the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ (start of UK grouse-shooting season); 30 B.C. Cleopatra kills herself with an asp bite; 1851 Isaac Singer patents sewing machine; Kiribati Independence Day, Thai HM The Queen’s Birthday (Sirikit), Awa Dance Festival (Tokushima, Japan)

13 Aug: Central African Republic Independence Day (from France, 1960); Lao Issara (Day of the Free Laos), Tunisia Women’s Day, Gujo Odori (dance festival in Gujo)

14 Aug: 1959 American Football League founded; Fete Oued Eddahab (return of the Saharan provinces to Morocco), Pramuka Day (Indonesian Scouts Day)

Pakistan Independence Day: Some of the earliest human civilisations in South Asia originated in Pakistan, like the Neolithic Mergarh, early farmers; and the Bronze-Age Indus Valley civilisation, which had brick multistorey houses and road drains. The Vedic Civilsation (1500-500 BC) founded Hinduism. The area was ruled by the Persian Achaemenid Empire, the Greek Alexander the Great, the Indian Iron-Age Mauryan Empire and the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which created the world’s first university in Taxila. In 650-1250 AD Sufi missionaries converted a lot to Islam. The Turko-Mongol Mughal Empire controlled Pakistan for a while but its decline allows Sikhs and then the British East India Company to take over. In 1947 Britain said it wouldn’t rule India anymore, Some were worried that Muslims weren’t represented in Indian politics, and so Pakistan was created where the Muslim majority lived. Hindus and Sikhs promptly moved out; outsider Muslims moved in, and there was a war over whether Kashmir should be Indian or not. Elizabeth II was still its queen until 1956, when it became a republic, and it was going alright until it had another war over Kashmir with India and a cyclone killed half a million people. In 1970 it attempted democracy but the loser refused to hand over power, leading to civil war. Later it had a war with India which ended up with Bangladesh becoming its own state. Then Pakistan and India had a bit of a Cold War situation where they both kept testing nuclear bombs. Recently it has been ‘involved’ with America’s war on terror, as it had militant groups in the north-west, which is costing millions.

15 Aug: 1939 Wizard of Oz premiers; 1858 E. Nesbit born; Assumption [into heaven] of the Blessed Virgin, a public holiday in many Catholic countries; Equatorial Guinea Constitution Day; Panama Old Panama City Day, N./S. Korea Anniversary of Liberation (from Japan, 1945); the first day of the Flooding of the Nile; Bon Festival (Japan); Victory over Japan Day (US)

Congo Independence Day (from France, 1960): The Congo was first inhabited by Pygmys, then by Bantu-speaking tribes who traded with Europeans. The area north of the Congo river became the French Congo, and France took a lot of its resources, and built a railway to the ocean for which the labour cost thousands of lives. During the Nazi occupation of France, Brazzaville, Congo’s capital, became the capital of Free France. After its independence, Congo became a socialist state. From 1992 it had a democracy, but in 1997 civil war broke out and since then democracy’s been a bit iffy.

Weirdly the Democratic Republic of Congo/Congo-Leopoldville/The Congo is next door to the People’s Republic of Congo/Congo-Brazzavile/Congo. The former is the most populous Francophone country in the world.Bantu-speaking Stone-Age and Iron-Age people displaced indigenous Pygmy tribes and became the Kingdom of Lupa, rich from ores. Leopold II of Belgium decided he owned the Congo and then exploited it a lot. If the natives didn’t meet his rubber-producing quota the Belgian army chopped their arms off. Britain told Belgium off and the Belgian parliament took over, improving rights and economy. They got independence from Belgium in 1960. Later they became Zaire, with US support because they were anti-Communist, even though the President Mobotu was a corrupt dictator. Since 1996 there’s been all kinds of civil war, somehow involving the Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis. In 1998, the Second Congo War involved 9 African countries and 20 armed groups, and has killed 5.4 million, although 90% were from disease rather than fighting.

India Independence Day (from UK, 1947): India is the 2nd most populated country in the world. India is named after the Indus river, and the word ‘Hindu’ is closely related. … [incomplete]

16 Aug: Domenican Republic Restoration Day, Paraguay Children’s Day (commemorating a day when Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina devastated an army made of children); Gozan no Ukuribi (Kyoto lights five fires in the shape of Japanese characters to celebrate end of O-Bon, when the ancestors finish their visit and return to the spirit world); Xicolatada (Languedoc-Roussillon gives out free hot chocolate)

17 Aug: 1908 the first animated cartoon, Fantasmagorie, shown – make a flip-book; 1959 Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, bestselling jazz single of all time; 1786 Davy Crockett born; San Martin Day (liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru)

Gabon Independence Day: Originally inhabited by Pygmies then by Bantu-speakers. They traded with Europeans from the 15th century; explorers became colonialists and in 1910 it became part of French Equitorial Africa. Indepence was kind of acheived in 1960, but the first dictator, M’ba, was heavily supported by France and since him the dictators have been a bit… dictatory. But they have oil and a low population

Indonesian Independence Day (from Japan, 1945): Indonesia is made up of about 17.500 islands. It was first inhabited 1.5 million years ago by a kind of human called the Java Man (Homo erectus). 42,000 years ago Homo sapiens arrived with boat-building, sailing and fishing skills. Trade with India brought Buddhism and Hinduism from the 7th century; Islam came from the 13th century. From 1512 Portugal and then the Netherlands came to monopolise trade. The Dutch held on until the Japanese kicked them out in World War II, after which Indonesia claimed independence. Becoming anti-Communist and therefore supported by the US, Indonesia has more recently become more democratic. Try a wayang kulit (shadow puppets), badminton and football.

18 Aug: 1868 helium discovered; Thailand Science Day

19 Aug: 1939 the first Soap-Box Derby (car-racing using cars made of soap boxes); 1883 Coco Chanel born (so make perfume); National Aviation Day (after Orville Wright’s birthday, US)

Afghanistan Independence Day: Afghanistan had one of the world’s earliest farming communities, from 50,000 years ago. From 3,000 B.C. it began to have urban civilisation; from 2,000 B.C. Central Asian semi-nomadic people came across. Zoroastrianism was born here (a religion in which all good and creation comes from the god Ahura Mazda, with evil forces or druj opposing him). Alexander the Great conquered the area, and his succeeding Seleucid Empire gave it to the Indian Mauryan Empire in an alliance treaty. This brought Buddhism. Then a whole bunch of other empires fought over and ruled the area. During the Islamic Golden Age Afghanistan was one of the main centres of Islam; but then Genghis Khan caused such devastation that many people reverted to rural society. Later a man named Mir Wais Hitak overthrew the Persians and Khan’s descendants. His son, Mahmud, sacked the capital of Persia and declared himself king, but the Persians weren’t impressed and the dynasty was ousted. In 1738 Iranian Nader Shah invaded, and a 16-year-old, Ahmad Shah Durrani, led an Afghan army to conquer India, Pakistan and parts of Iran. But the Persians and Sikhs kept coming back to invade and take bits, and 21 Khan brothers divided up the rest of the Afghan empire once the leader Fateh Khan died. Then the Brits came in the Great Game, vying with Russia to own Central Asia. We never conquered Afghanistan but we helped Abdur Rahman Khan to power and then stuck our nose in all the politics. From 1919 King Amanullah Khan started to modernise the country, with better international relations, education for all, no slavery, etc. But he also dared to abolish the burqa and set up mixed-sex schools, so rebels made him abdicate. Afghanistan wasn’t involved in WWII and didn’t take sides in the Cold War, so, like the child of divorced parents got spoilt by both Russia and America who both competed to help build infrastructure there. But from 1978 a Communist party seized power, leading to civil war with America funding the guerrilla forces, while the Soviets accidentally got involved in government and fighting most of the civil war until 1989. After they pulled out, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran got involved. In 1994 the Islamic State government finally got control, stopped the fighting and introduced democracy (although the Taliban said no, they don’t believe in democracy). The next year the Taliban began shelling civilians, with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia’s support. They managed to take Kabul and then destroyed women’s rights. From 1996 the al-Quaeda, headed by Bin Laden, joined up with Taliban and Pakistan forces to fight Massoud. Massoud was killed in a suicide attack, the al-Quaeda attacked the World Trade Centre, and Bin Laden took full responsibilty for it. By December the Taliban government was toppled. Since then coalition forces have tried to rebuild Afghan infrastructure.

20 Aug: 1858 Darwin publishes theory of evolution; Estonia Restoration of Independence Day (from Russia, 1991), Morocco Revolution du Roi et du Peuple; Akshay Urja diwas (renewable energy day in India); World Mosquito Day (commemorating the day Dr Ronald Ross discovered they transmit malaria in 1897);

Hungarian National Day (Feast of St Stephen): 1000 AD Hungary founded by St Stephen; [incomplete…]

21 Aug: 1872 Aubrey Beardsley born; 1770 James Cook claims eastern Australia (New South Wales) for Britain; King Mohammed VI’s Birthday (Morocco)

22 Aug: 564 AD St Columba reports seeing the Loch Ness Monster; 1862 Claude Debussy born; Russian Flag Day; Folklore Day

23 Aug: Umhlanga Day (Reed Dance, Swaziland); Ukraine Flag Day; Portsmouth International Kite Festival (2014)

24 Aug: 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius erupts and covers Pompeii ash; 1932 Amelia Earhart first woman to fly across America; Liberia Flag Day, Ukrainian Independence Day; Uruguay Nostalgia Night (radio and and events for nostalgic music)

25 Aug: 1989 Voyager 2 makes its closest approach to Neptune; Uruguay Independence Day (from Brazil, 1825); Liberation of Paris (WWII from Germany, 1944); La Tomatina (Bunol, Spain); Notting Hill Carnival (2014)

26 Aug: Namibia Heroes Day;

27 Aug: Moldova Independence Day (from USSR, 1991)

28 Aug: 1963 Martin Luther King gives his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech; Mariamoba (Day of the Virgin Mary)

29 Aug: 1831 Michael Faraday discovers electromagnetic induction; 1885 Gottlieb Daimler invents motorcycle; Anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising (against the Nazis)

30 Aug: Kazakhstan Constitution Day; East Timor Popular Consultation Day (to have independence from Indonesia in 1999); St Rosa of Lima Day; Turkey Victory Day (1922 War of Independence against the Allies after WWI)

31 Aug: 1895 the Zeppelin invented; 1897 Edison invents the movie projector (Kinetoscope); Malaysia Merdeka Day (independence from UK, 1957); Kyrgystan Independence Day (from Soviet Union, 1991); Limba Noastra (Moldova National Language Day); Trinidad and Tobago Independence Day (from UK, 1962).  , Trinidad Independence Day; Kyrgyzstan Independence Day

July Activities for Kids (in progress)

NB: These posts are in progress as part of my attempt to take seasonal parenting to its limit

Esala Full Moon Poya Day: Celebrating Buddha’s first sermon, as well as his conception (when he was just a Boddhisatta in the womb of Queen Maya) and his Great Renunciation, when he left his father’s palace to become a beggar, and his Twin Miracle where he proved to his father’s kingdom that he had achieved enlightenment by emitting flames from his upper body and streams of water from his lower, then swapping it round, and the time a bit after that when he nipped up to Tavatimsa heaven to preach to his deceased mother and the ordination of the first Sri Lankan, the king’s nephew, and the laying of the foundation stone of the Mahastupa dagoba or temple. Sri Lanka holds a big procession, or perahera, which is started by cutting down a young jak tree, cuts that into four and places the four pieces at the four temples to Vishnu, Kataragama, Natha, and the Goddess Pattini. At the end of the perahera a lay official or kapurala cuts a circle in the water with a sword and takes a bucket of this ‘cut water’. This water is saved until next year, when it will be poured back into the circle before the next year’s bucket is taken. The Kandy Esala Perahera is really colourful and the most famous because it is held near the Temple of the Tooth (a temple which contains one of Buddha’s teeth).

1 July: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day; Somalian Foundation of the Republic; Suriname Abolition of Slavery Day; Madeira Day (also celebrated in England); 1858 Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace present papers on evolution; 1903 first Tour de France; 1908 SOS becomes international distress call;

Ghana Republic Day: Ghana is one of the world’s largest exporters of gold and cocoa. The area was originally inhabited by the Akan people, who traded in the plentiful gold. It became part of the Ashanti Empire, and in the 19th century the Portguese, Dutch, Spanish and British had built forts there. It was known as ‘White Man’s Grave’ though due to all the tropical diseases, which put a lot of the invaders off. But not the Brits, oh no. We captured it in 1856 and named it the Gold Coast. The Akan fought us a lot until they were defeated in the War of the Golden Stool (best war name ever, I think you’ll agree; it refers to the Ashanti throne). They did not give up, and gained independence in 1957.

Activities: Learn about kente cloth, Afro-jazz, highlife, hiplife, dances such as Adowa, Kpanlogo, Azonto, Klama, and Bamaya

Sir Seretse Khama Day: Sir Seretsa Khama was born in Bechuanaland, Botswana, and became the king of the Bamangwato people from age 4 after his father’s death. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, and studied to become a barrister at the Inner Temple. He met and married Ruth Williams. South Africa did not like the king of the country next door being married to a white lady seeing as it had just banned interracial marriages. To get some peace and quiet, as Britain was in charge of Bechuanaland, they investigated Khama’s ability to be a chief. The report found he would be a good chief, so the Brits hid the report and exiled him anyway. Khama was eventually allowed back once he renounced his throne… then he ran for President. And won. In 1966 Botswana gained its independence and Khama was a very good President, focusing on economic development through beef, diamonds and copper, and remaining anti-corruption and anti-violence.

Virgin Islands’ Territory Day: The Virgin Islands are short for St Ursula and Her Eleven Thousand Virgins Islands, which was the snappy title Christopher Columbus gave them (this is almost as interesting as the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne which is decorated with the alleged 11,000 virgin’s bones. Eat that, Laurence Llewellyn Bowen.) The Islands were first inhabited by the Arawak, Carib and Cermic peoples, all of whom died from European disease, brutal slavery or mass suicide. So instead the European plantation owner/settlers imported African slaves. In 1916/17 Denmark sold their bits of the West Indies to the US for $25 million in gold.

Activites: Listen to scratch bands and quelbe music, the cariso folk song, or St Thomas’ bamboula.

Burundi Independence Day: Burundi was its own kingdom ruled by a Tutsi king until 1899 when it became part of German East Africa. Its king, Mwezi IV Gisabo, opposed this so the Germans helped his son Maconco lead a revolt against him; then Mwezi said ok, I’ll be part of Germany, so the Germans helped him defeat his son. Sorted. From 1916, Belgium conquered the area and it was joined with Rwanda under Belgium and called Rwanda-Urundi. On 1 July Burundi gained independence after Belgium allowed it to run its own democracy. At that point the Tutsi king became head of state of a government made up of Tutsis and Hutus in equal numbers. In 1965 the Hutu prime minister was assassinated, and next door in Rwanda, a ‘social revolution’ in 1959-61 saw their Hutu government massacre all the Rwandan Tutsis they could find. This prompted the Tutsi monarchy in Burundi to disallow Hutu members of parliament, so the Hutus tried to carry out a coup, so the Tutsis killed a whole bunch of Hutu politicians and intellectuals. These back and forth killings and oppression continued until 1972, when bands of Hutus killed all the Tutsi civilians they could find and proclaimed a republic. Then the President and his army killed around 250,000 Hutus. From then until 2006 the Tutsis and Hutus continued to assassinate each other at every opportunity and HIV has killed off a lot more. Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world.

Activities: Watch the Royal Drummers of Burundi perform. Go on a gorilla trek.

Canada Day: This is a celebration of the Brits uniting their colonies Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada together to become Canada in 1867. There is a Canada Day held in Trafalgar Square, London.

Activities: Play street hockey. Eat pancakes with maple syrup. Learn about Niagara Falls and moose and beavers and Canadian geese and mounted police officers.

Rwanda Independence Day: Similar to Burundi, Tutsi kings dominated until the Germans colonised the area in 1884, then Belgium from 1916. Aside from the Tutsis and Hutus, there are also a group of aboriginal pygmy hunters called the Twa. The Tutsis and the Hutus were more like social castes, with the Tutsis the kings and the Hutus the lower classes, and well-behaved Hutus could become Tutsis. However, Belgium thought they were different races and introduced identity cards labelling the Tutsis, Hutus, Twas or Naturalised (the latter for Belgian settlers?) and no one could move ranks anymore. In 1959 the Rwandan Social Revolution occurred, in which the Hutus started killing the Tutsis. And vice versa and back and forth and so on until 1990 (by which point the Twas had been forced out of their forests and had mainly become beggars) the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Tutsis) invaded and initiated the Rwandan Civil War. At some point there must have been a ceasefire because the ceasefire ended in 1994, when the President’s plane was shot down and began the Rwandan Genocide up to a million Tutsis, Hutus and even Twas were killed by the government. The RPF fought back and eventually regained control of the country.

Activities: Watch an umushagiriro, or cow dance, or the intore, or dance of heroes. Learn about an imigongo, a cow dung art. Can you make a nyakatsi house for your doll, with mud walls and a grass thatched roof?

2 July: 1897 Marconi patents radio in London; 2002 Steve Fossett completes a nonstop round-the-world flight in a hot-air balloon; World UFO Day; Bahia (Brazil) Independence Day (from Portugal in 1822, a year later than Brazil); Palio di Siena (horse race in Siena, Italy)

Curaçao Flag Day: Originally inhabited by Arawak (Carribean) peoples, Spain enslaved the whole lot from 1499. Then the Dutch came and used it as a trade centre and for salt mining. Sephardic (Spanish) Jews emigrated here and impacted local culture. Slavery made the island a rich place for the colonialists, but Holland banned slavery in 1856. Oil was found in 1914 and helped a lot. In 1954 Curaçao gained self-government under the Netherlands. It wasn’t until 1984 that they decided on a flag and a national anthem. From January 2014 the Lynx rocketplane will do space tourism. Make ‘curaçao’ cocktails using blue food colouring.

Hemis Festival: Celebrating the birth of Guru Padmasambhava, who founded Tantric Buddhism in Tibet.

3 July: 1886 Karl Benz patents the Benz Motorwagen, the world’s first car designed to be powered by a motor. His wife, Bertha Benz, took it on a tour of Germany, inventing the first filling station (buying oil from a pharmacy), the first brake pads (asking a shoemaker to nail some leather to the brakes) and generally being a go-getter. The country still celebrates her journey every two years on the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. 1996: the Stone of Scone returned to Scotland.

4 July: 1862 Lewis Carroll first tells Alice Liddell the story of Alice in Wonderland; 1865 Alice in Wonderland published; 1997 NASA’s Pathfinder probe lands on Mars; Philippines Independence Day; Rwanda Liberation Day (end of Rwandan genocide, 1994)

US Independence Day: As teddy bears (named after ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt) and a whole lotta food were invented in the US, today is perfect for a teddy bears’ picnic (and I suppose any Disney toys who want to come too). Get your jeans on, switch on the jukebox and try granola, bubble gum, Coca-cola, candy floss, ice cream sodas, jelly beans, and making popcorn. For dinner with daddy, it has to be beefburgers or hotdogs for dinner, with sweet potato fries; then for pudding making smores on a campfire or pancakes with patriotically coloured strawberries, blueberries and white chocolate/meringue/cream.

5 July: Algerian Independence Day; Day of the Apostles St Cyril and St Methodist (invented the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets for translating the Bible into Slav languages); Venezuela Independence Day

Aphelion (2013): The Earth is at its closest to the sun.

6 July: Comoros Independence Day; Anniversary of the Martyrdom of Jan Hues; Wife-Carrying Championships; Anniversary of the Coronation of King Mindaugas; Malawi Republic Day; Marshall Islands Fishermen’s Holiday; Jan Hus Day (Czech Republic); Lithuania Statehood Day; the first night of Ivan Kupala Day; first day of San Fermin.

7 July: 1911 seal hunting banned by US, UK, Japan and Russia; 1928 sliced bread sold for first time in Missouri; 1990 world wide web born; Solomon Islands Independence Day; Vartavar (a big water fight in Armenia, 14 weeks after Easter); Saba Saba Day (Tanzania; means 7/7 and marks the day the National Union party was formed, but is also called Tanzanian Peasants/Industry Day and is generally celebrated with a trade fair); Cayman Islands Constitution Day/Remembrance Day (2014, 1st Mon in July)

Ivan Kupala Day: St John the Baptist Day in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, as in the Julian calendar this would be 23 June; lots of water fights, and there’s the usual jumping over bonfires, this time as couples for good luck in their relationship; looking for fern flowers and magical herbs in the woods; women float wreaths of flowers lit with candles down rivers to try and foretell their futures in romance by the eddies they take; the men try and catch the wreaths to woo the women;

Tanabata: In Japan this is the one day a year that Vega and Altair meet in the Milky Way – can you spot them in the night sky? Girls wish traditionally for better sewing skills, boys for better handwriting, by writing the wish on a bamboo leaf, or on a piece of coloured paper tied to bamboo. In the 1700s the tradition was to write the wish in dew on a taro leaf. The myth behind the festival is here – can you make a puppet show of it? Here are some different decorations you can make.

8 July: 1947 Roswell UFO crash;

9 July: 1877 inaugural Wimbledon championships; Australia Constitution Day; Palau Constitution Day; South Sudan Independence Day; Nunavut (Canadian natives) Day; Argentina Independence Day

10 July: 1856 Nikola Tesla born; Bahamas Independence Day (from UK, 1973); Silence Day; Ramadan begins (2013)

11 July: Flemish Community Holiday (Belgium); Naadam (Mongolian festival, centred around wrestling, horse racing and archery games); Eleventh Night (a bonfire night for Irish Protestants, from the Glorious Revolution 1688 when William of Orange overthrew James II)

12 July: 1730 Josiah Wedgwood born, so make or paint a plate; Kiribati Independence Day (from UK, 1979); Sao Tomé and Principe Independence Day (Portugal, 1975); The Twelfth/Orangemen’s Day (Protestant Northern Ireland)

13 July: Latvia Festival of the Sea & Fisherman (so visit the seaside, go fishing or pond dipping. If it’s an indoor day, those little magnetic fishing games are great fun, and afterwards you can use the magnetic fishing rod to go fishing for other magnetic materials in your house).

14 July: 1960 Jane Goodall arrives in Tanzania to study chimps; 1862 Gustav Klimt born (painting geometric shapes and lots of gold paint over photos of family and see if you can make your own Klimt). Iraq Republic Day.

Bastille Day: (La Fête Nationale) 1789 Paris citizens storm the Bastille, a prison for political prisoners who had wronged the monarch. This may seem like a noble thing to do, but it was probably because there was a lot of gunpower and ammo in there that they wanted to get hold of. From 1790 it became la Fête de la Fédération, celebrating a constitutional monarchy (i.e., a king with rules to stop him getting tyrannical).

15 July: 1606 Rembrandt born; 1858 Emmeline Pankhurst born; Japan Marine Day (2013; 3rd Monday in July); Botswana Presidents’ Day (2013); Brunei Sultan’s Birthday; St Swithin’s Day (if it rains today, it will rain for 40 more days)

16 July: 1969 Apollo 11 launches, to put first astronauts on moon.

17 July: 1717 Handel’s Water Music premiers, while George I sails on a boat with 50 musicians down river Thames; 1955 Disneyland opens;South Korea Constitution Day; King Letsie III’s Birthday (Lesotho); Slovakia Independence Day

18 July: Uruguay Constitution Day; Nelson Mandela Day

19 July: 1545 the Mary Rose sinks; Brunel’s SS Great Britain launched; Degas born 1834; Nicaragua Liberation Day; Salzburg Music Festival (5 weeks)

20 July:  1969 Apollo 11 lands on the moon; 1976 Viking I lands on Mars; Colombia Independence Day (from Spain); Dia del Amigo (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay); Gentse Feesten (2013)

21 July: 1969 Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walk on the moon; 1970 Aswan Dam completed, allowing the Nile’s floods and droughts to be controlled and generating hydroelectricity; Galla Bayramy (Turkmenistan celebrates wheat harvest); Guam Liberation Day (from Japan 1944 – see 4 March)

Belgian National Day: (independence from Netherlands and crowning of Leopold I). Belgium is made up of Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia. Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are also known as the Low Countries. It was ruled by Franks, including the Merovingian kings and becoming part of the Carolingian Empire under Charlemagne/Charles the Great. The Eighty Years’ War divided the area between Spain and Austria, and France fought them both until it managed to annex the Low Countries entirely. Later Napoleon was defeated and it become the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1830 Belgium revolted and gained independence with its own king, Leopold I. In the First World War Germany invaded and west Belgium was the scene of most Western Front fighting. Germany invaded in WWII. Artists like Rubens and Magritte are very famous and Baroque was invented in Belgium. Tintin is Belgian. The country is also famous for beer, chocolates, waffles and fries with mayonnaise.

22 July: 1894 first ever motor race, between Paris and Rouen; 1951 Dezik and Tsygan are the first dogs in space; Ratcatcher’s Day (celebrating Pied Piper of Hamelin); Revolution Day (Gambia); Birthday of the Late King Sobhuza (Swaziland); US Virgin Islands Hurricane: Supplication Day (2013; 4th Monday in July)

23 July: Khao Phansa Day (Buddhist Lent, 2013; day after July full moon); Egypt Revolution Day

Oman Renaissance Day: (Oman celebrates the coronation of their Sultan). Humans moved from Africa to here and Arabia in the Pleistocene age, during an ice age when many huge plants and other species of human died out. From 6th century BC to 7th century AD, Oman was ruled by Persian kings, until Islam arrived and Oman became ruled by an imam and got involved in all kinds of Islamic wars. In 1497 Portugal owned a bit of it, and the Ottoman (Turkish) Navy took Oman’s port in its efforts to control the Persian Gulf. From the 17th century Oman had its own empire along Africa, including Zanzibar where the Sultan made his palace because of the slave industry. The Hajar Mountains split the country; the middle, Oman, was ruled by the imam; the coast and the capital, Muscat, was ruled by the sultan from 1920. But of course they fought, over oil, naturally, and since the ’70s the sultan officially rules everything again. The central desert of Oman is an important source of meteorites for science. Make halva; read 1,001 Nights (Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad the Sailor)

24 July:<strong>24 July</strong>: 1911 Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, rediscovered; 1860 Alphonse Mucha born; 1895 Robert Graves born; 1897 Amelia Earhart born; Utah Pioneer Day; Simon Bolivar’s Birthday (led Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to independence from Spanish Empire); Vanuatu Children’s Day

25 July: 1788 Mozart completes Symphony No. 40; 1909 Louis Blériot crosses the Channel in a ‘heavier-than-air machine’. Puerto Rico Constitution Day; Tunisia Republic Day (see 25 June); Guanacaste Day (Costa Rica annexed Guanacaste in 1824); the Incas celebrated a festival for Illapa, god of thunder; National Day of Galicia (Spain); Ebernhoe Horn Fairy (Sussex)

26 July: 1882 premier of Wagner’s Parsifal; 1951 Disney’s Alice in Wonderland premiers; Liberia Independence Day (1847 from America; weirdly this is a country populated by US slaves); Maldives Independence Day (from UK, 1965); Kargil Victory Day (India over Pakistan, 1999. Even though both had nuclear weapons, they used regular old warfare.)

Cuba Day of the Rebellion: (started by Fidel Castro, 1953). Cuba was first inhabited by the Taino. In 1492, Christopher Columbus claimed Cuba for Spain, which it remained until 1898, when America supported its revolution. Fulgencio Batista became its dictator in 1952-9, when he was ousted by the July 26 movement led by Fidel Castro. Castro legalised the Communist Party, which Batista had outlawed, and then set about executing Batista’s supporters. US President Eisenhower armed Cuban rebels to take down Castro, who was getting too friendly with Russia, in what is known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It failed and Russia offered to put Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter future attacks. This really cheesed America off. Since 1965 Cuba ha been a Communist one-party state. After Soviet Russia collapsed, Cuba has been supported by China, Venezuela and Bolivia. While Cuba has amazing free healthcare, long life expectancy, lower infant mortality rates, are almost completely literate and the only country in the world that the WWF found to be good at sustainable development, there is no political dissent allowed and food shortages are a problem (food is rationed). Cuban music is based on Son, and includes salsa, mambo, rumba and cha-cha-cha. Instruments include maracas and marimba.

27 July: 1054 Siward, Earl of Northumbria, defeats Macbeth, king of Scotland; 1940 ‘A Wild Hare’, Bugs Bunny debut; 1870 Hillaire Belloc born; Finland’s National Sleepy Head Day, when the last person to wake up is woken with water, perhaps even being thrown into a lake. North Korea Victory Day (over South Korea, 1953); Vartavar (2014, a big water fight in Armenia, 14 weeks after Easter); end of Ramadan (2014)

José Celso Barbosa’s Birthday: (Puerto Rico celebrates founder of their Republican party. Columbus found Puerto Rico in 1493, when it was inhabited by the native Taino. From the 16th century Spanish came to colonise the island and used the Taino for forced labour. When they killed them off with smallpox, etc., they had to import African slaves to work for them. Spain tried to keep the islanders on side by allowing them to vote in Spanish elections, but the slaves kept revolting and the people wanted independence. To try and dilute this, Spain offered free land to any Europeans wanting to settle on the island. Around 1890 the US started to think about building a navy, and the Panama Canal, and tried to buy Puerto Rico and Cuba from Spain. Spain said no, but in 1898 America helped Cuba in their revolution, and Spain and America went to war (imagine that happening now). This resulted in America taking Puerto Rico. The US offered Puerto Ricans American citizenship, but the Puerto Ricans thought this was just so the US could conscript them into WWI. It is now a Commonwealth of the US, and no one’s really sure what that means. Ricky Martin is Puerto Rican.

28 July: 2005 Birmingham tornado; 1866 Beatrix Potter born; 1887 Marcel Duchamp; Commemoration of the Great Upheaval (1755-64 Brits kicked out Acadians, French settlers, from Canada); Ólavsøka Eve (Faroe Islands Parliament opens tomorrow on St Olaf’s Day, when there will be a boat race, Faroese chain dancing, etc.)

Anniversary of the Fall of Facism: (San Marino, after WWII) St Marinus founded San Marino when he built a church and monastery on Mount Titano, a secluded Alpine peak, in 301 A.D. When Italy was being unified, San Marino protected those that were pro-unification, and this meant that Garibaldi let San Marino off the hook when it came to being part of Italy. San Marino made Abraham Lincoln one of its honorary citizens for trying to build a similar republic. During WWI it remained neutral, which annoyed Italy so it cut its telephone lines. WWII it was neutral again. In 1923-45 it was ruled by a fascist party; in 1945-57 it had the world’s first democratically elected Communist party. It has no national debt, and makes a lot of income selling its own coins, its own Euros, and its own stamps to collectors. Their most famous dessert is the Torta de Tre Monti.

Independence Day (Peru from Spain): Peru was home to the Norte Chico civilisation 3,000 years ago, the oldest civilisation in the Americas and one of only six known ancient civilisations in the world. In the 15th century the Incas flourished, but in 1532 king Atahualpa was captured by Spanish conquistadors. Its silver resources and native slave labour made it valuable. After it gained independence in 1821, it managed to find income through exporting guano (bird or bat poo). Peru was defeated by Chile in the 1879-83 War of the Pacific (also involving Bolivia, over resources and land). Now it has problems with debt, drug-trafficking, inflation, human rights issues, corruption and all that. Here is a nice site on the Incas for kids, and there are lots of crafts: make Peruvian beads, make a llama felt bag, try some weaving, metal tooling using disposable tinfoil containers.

29 July: 1907 the first Scouting camp (8-day Brownsea Island camp. The boys were in four patrols: Wolves, Ravens, Bulls and Curlews, each with a different coloured knot on their shoulder. They began the day at 6am with cocoa, exercises, prayers, then breakfast at 8am. Activities were based on campaigning, observing, woodcraft, chivalry, saving lives, and patriotism. The day ended with games, supper, campfire stories, prayers, 9pm bed. passed tests on knots, tracking, the national flag; Baden-Powell told campfire stories of his fighting in Africa.) 1987 Thatcher and Mitterand agree to build the Channel tunnel. International Tiger Day; National Anthem Day (Romania); National Thai Language Day; St Olavs Day/Olsok (Norway and Faroe Islands)

30 July: 1863 Henry Ford born so build some cars; 1898 Henry Moore born so make some Playdo sculptures; Morocco Feast of the Throne (see 18 November)

Vanuatu Independence Day: Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian (Pacific Coast islander) people. Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós claimed it for Spain in 1605 and named it Espiritu Santo (Holy Spirit). In the 1880s France and the United Kingdom claimed bits and agreed to share it as the New Hebrides. An independence movement started in the 1970s, and the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980. They have the John Frum cult, which basically says an American soldier will grant their wishes. Others worship Prince Philip. Cricket is very popular.

31 July: 1965 J.K. Rowling born; Ke Hae Hawaii (Flag Day – see 11 June)

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