Thursday, 30 December 2010

New Years in the UK

The New Year's is celebrated in many ways just like in the US. Huge parties in large banquet halls or smaller neighbor parties happily ringing in the New Year. The place to be (if you like crowds) is near the London Eye (a huge Ferris wheel) near the River Thames. They are advertising a fire work display that will be the envy of everyone. There is also a large London parade on the first of January; last year we did not know and did not look to see if it was televised so we have not seen it. We are hoping to see it on telly (English word for TV) this year.

But there are some special traditions that we have discovered for the New Year. The first one being called the First Footing. Which is, who will be the first person to enter your home on 1st. This often happens shortly after midnight, and usually one of your party guest will slip outside and ring the bell just after midnight. It is said that the first male visitor to the house on the New Year's day brings good luck. A blonde, a red-haired or a woman is not allowed to enter the house first as they are supposed to bring bad luck. The male visitor usually brings money, bread or coal as these are considered good luck. In some places, there is a tradition of gifting the holy mistletoe. It is believed to bring prosperity for the recipient. Another tradition which is popularly celebrated is the "burning of the bush". It symbolizes burning of all past events.

Another New Year tradition that I have been told about is celebrated in Scotland and that is Hogmanay. I am told that Scotland has some of the largest New Year's celebration parties on the Isle, the largest being in Edinburgh. Some New Year celebration can last for up to 5 days:)!
First is called the Redding of the house. Which is sort of like spring cleaning. Cleaning out the fire place is particularly important and there is a skill in reading the fire places ashes which is sort of like reading tea leaves.

Scotland also does a First Footing but it is slightly different. After the stroke of midnight, neighbors visit each other, bearing traditional symbolic gifts such as shortbread or black bun (a kind of fruit cake). The visitor, in turn, is offered a small whiskey. The first person to enter a house in the New Year, the first foot, could bring luck for the New Year. The luckiest was a tall, dark and handsome man. The unluckiest a red head and the unluckiest of all a red-headed woman.

Another tradition found up in the Orkney's islands north of Scotland is a very interesting games called Ba’ it sound a lot like mob football, I think, I would watch from a safe distance:)

Lastly did you know the the song Auld Lang Syne was written by a Scottish man called Robert Burns (the poet) it is a mystery as to how this song has become the first song of the year.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Reorganizing books

My husband has been gently (and not so gently) telling me I need to clear away some of my children's book for nearly a year now. The children and I have been resisting but this week we finally did it! It was time to finally get rid of some of the more childish books that my youngest has outgrown. It was a hard process as the kids resisted, they love all their books and they a hard time admitting that certain books were just too young for them now. Princess wanted to keep them because she said she reads them to her dolls. That made my heart melt and I almost gave in. But really I couldn't we are over flowing with children's books and out of book shelf room, they had to be thinned!

The before pictures -- I forgot to take a picture of their end tables next the their beds, they were overflowing with books my children insisted they were reading. I counted 13 on Princess's end table and 7 on Little Man's:)

The Hall way book case

Little Man's book case in his room

Princess's book case in her room -- this is not a fair representation as we had already started sorting by the time I thought to take a picture:) trust me it was in the same condition as her brother!

By the time we were done we had three boxes of books that are ready to donate!
I have invited a few people I know with small children to stop by the house this week and take what books they want for themselves the rest will go to the charity shop other wise known as the thrift store!

It took us two full morning to get these three bookshelves in order. The finish result.....

The top shelf is still full of books that the children have outgrown but said they could not live without. I admit there are a few of my favorites in there as well.
The second shelf is all my holiday books. I found so many missing Christmas stories that I usually read to the children every year but couldn't locate. I really need to label my clean shelves
The third shelf is full of classic novels I have found that I want to read to my daughter and eventually to my son. I have several revised versions as well as original versions. My husband and I really like Usbourne revised books for the classics. We have read Huckleberry Fin and Moby Dick and my daughter really enjoyed them and we as parents felt they were not dumb down to much and the themes of the story were still present. We have had some great discussions with her as we read. I highly recommend them:)

Little Man's bookcase. I have moved all of my daughter's starter chapter books into my son's room. I am really trying to get him out of the mind set that he can't read a chapter book without me. His reading skills are excellent and he is more than ready, just needs a nudge, I think. We have Magic tree house, Magic school bus, Dinosaur Cove, A to Z mysteries and a few others. He also has a shelf just for his super hero books:) and we still have all of Dr Seuss books.

Princess's book shelf. We have Boxcar children, Nancy Drew, Harry Potter, Ink heart series, Secret of Droons, and her mystical creatures books and mythology books. We found several books that her father has bought her that haven't been read because she forgot they are there:)

I wonder how long they will stay like this....

Sunday, 26 December 2010

What is Boxing day?

Traditionally Boxing Day was a day to open the Christmas box to share the contents with the poor. The Christmas box was a wooden or clay container where people placed gifts

Christmas boxes were used in many ways and these are just a few that my family have heard of so far:

To Help the Poor:
An "Almes" box was placed in every church on Christmas day. Worshipers would place a gift for the poor of the parish into the box which would then be opened the day after Christmas, hence that day became known as Boxing day.

To Protect Ships:
During the exploration age a Christmas box was used by the sailors as a good luck talisman. It was a small container placed on the shop by a priest while it was still in port, and those crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the box. It was then sealed and kept on board for the entire voyage. IF the ship came home Safely, the box was handed over to the priest in exchange for the saying of a Mass of thanks for the success of the voyage. The priest would keep the box sealed until Christmas when he would open it to share the contents with the poor.

A Present for the Workers:
Many poorly paid workers were required to work on Christmas Day and so took the following day off to spend with their families. During the 18th century, Lords and Ladies of the Manor would "box" up their leftover food or sometimes gifts and distribute to the tenants who lived on their lands on the day after Christmas.

This tradition still continues today -- it is customary for householders to give small gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting trades' people (milkman, dustman, coal man, paper boy etc) and in some places employers give Christmas bonuses to employees. Schools across Britain gather gifts to be put into Christmas boxes that are sent to poorer countries.

This was taken from our newsletter sent out by the base British Liaison explaining the meaning of boxing day.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Cakes

In England they have a fabulous Christmas Fruitcake. I have to say it beats the American fruitcake hands down (but that is just my opinion):). Although my kids and Husband are not the biggest fans of this dessert, I love it. They won't eat American fruit cake either:(
The Christmas cake got its start as an off shoot of the Christmas pudding but the cake is baked and not steamed. Originally this dessert was baked as part of the refreshments offered to village priest and his entourage who would visit and bless each house in the parish on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. This custom died out after the Reformation in the late 16th century. Around the mid 1800's the Christmas cake was revived but this time it was served during the Christmas festivities and decorated with simple Christmas themes.

Next is the Yule Log cake which is also known as the Buche de Noel. It is believed this custom was brought over to the British Isles from the Continent. The first mention of the Yule Log in British history is in the 1600's when it was actually a wooden log added to the fire on Christmas to ward of evil and bring prosperity to the household. The wooden Yule Log custom died out and has been replaced with this yummy dessert instead:). Definitely adding it to our Christmas celebration while living in England. This one did not make it till Christmas, the kids and I ate it shortly after this picture was taken and I don't feel guilty about it:)!

Last but certainly not least is our family tradition--Birthday cake for Jesus. I started this when my daughter was 3 years old and we have done it every year since. The children and I will bake a cake and decorate it. Our first Jesus birthday cake was ordered from Walmart, 6 years ago, and at that time they had these lovely baby manager toppings. I saved them and every year it goes on the cake. I also have a set of small plastic finger puppets of the nativity that I received from church one year that is also added for decorations. My kids really enjoy this tradition and after Christmas dinner we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus. My husband also reads the Nativity story from the Bible.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!! Hope you are having a wonderful and joyous time with your family and friends!

Head over to No Ordinary blog hop hosted by Linda, Tracy and me to link up your blog. New rules for 2011!!

Also any Christmas post can be linked up to Our Worldwide Classroom.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Childrens Christmas Party

The American base had a Christmas celebration for the children and the kids had lots of fun!!!

Santa Claus arriving!

Decorating cookies

Painting ceramics

Making Snowman poo (a baggie with marshmallows and coconut) Little man got a big laugh out of that. Poo is big news in our house at the moment:)
He also made magic Reindeer food (oats with glitter) The children are going to spread this in the front yard on Christmas eve to feed the Reindeer and help them fly:)

I think the kids have seen at least 4 Santa Clauses this year. Last year we struggled to find one:)!! Since this Santa was on the American base there didn't seem to be a problem sitting on Santa's Lap:)!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Wood Green Animal Shelter

Last week the children and I join a few other home ed kids and went to the animal shelter down the road from us. We have been driving past this animal shelter for 2 years and always wondered what it was like. We often see sheep, goats, horse and chickens from the road and wondered what they were doing at an animal shelter. I was truly amazed by the size of this facility and how caring the staff seemed to be with every animal. They knew the names, stories and histories of every animal we came across. The facility was clean and every animal had a lovely little cozy home.

Every cat had a little cubby and they were quite cozy with cat beds, pillow, blankets and toys. Every cubby had an exit door to an outside area that the cats to could go to whenever they chose.

The outside area where the cats can explore. Again filled with toys, blankets, chairs, climbing apparatuses and other things to entertain the cats.

The staff brought out a cat for the kids to pet. This is a no kill shelter so above every animal cubby is a chart that gives the cats name, reason (if known) why it was rescued and how many days it had been in the shelter. We were told the average length of stay was 30 days. Also interesting the staff said that to adopt a cat you must agree to allow the cat outside as they felt keeping cats indoors was unfair to the cat. Now I understand why there are so many cats roaming our neighborhood:)

Next we were taken to a huge barn where farm animal were kept while looking for new homes. You don't see this in the States:)

These are Battery Hens--I am told these hens are shocked every day to lay eggs for farmers and UK law says after 18 months you can no longer shock the hens so most farmers get rid of them. Now that I know this I am thankful we as a family buy organic eggs!! I had to ask "Is there a demand for chickens as pets?" The answer was "Yes there is a waiting list". Who knew:)
The staff let the children feed the chickens which the kids enjoyed.

These sheep are new to the facility and were being kept indoors until the vet could examine them. There is an large out door pen just waiting for them.

Goats waiting for a home

Horses waiting for a home

Next we went to the Dog kennels and I was so happy to see the large individual pens the dogs had. Each one was made homely, with beds, pillows, curtains, dog toys and even pictures.

There was a small dog door at the back of every dog kennel and an outside area they could use. This is different from any dog shelter I have seen in the states, I must say. The staff said they have a large number of volunteers who come in every day and take dogs for walks. Every dog gets 2 walks a day as well as access to the outdoor pen attach to their kennel. I asked if I could volunteer with my two children but was told the kids would not be able to walk with me due to child safety rules. Such a shame we would have loved to do that.

This was one of the dog pens and notice all the dog toys and activities. Families who are thinking of adopting can spend time here playing with the dog. They had several areas with different types of surfaces.

Another dog pen but this time the surface was sand, stone and cement. Even the kids like the dog playground:)

Meeting one of the dogs. Marley only had three legs after being hit by a car. Every dog that I saw being walked outside was wearing their winter sweater or coat:)

Next the children were brought into the animal kitchen were they made some tasty treats for the dogs and put them in dog toys to give the dogs some stimulation.

Next was the rodent barn. Where we saw mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs and something called "degus". Once again I was impressed with the cage set up each was unique to every animal and we were told the staff clean the cages every week and change the toys in their house to make sure the animals did not get bored.
I liked that they recycle children's toys for some of the cages.

Meeting two of the rodents.

Just in case you want to consider getting a rat for your child:)

Rabbits looking for a new home.

Guinea pigs

And just in case you are wondering how much it cost to adopt an animal in the UK here was the price list in British sterling.

We spent over 3 hours at the animal shelter and had a very interesting experience. This facility receives no government money and gets all its money from donations. They also host many weekend events that we will have to check out. Usually I come away sad but in this case I felt the animals were really getting great care. Although we would love to take a cat or dog home it isn't in our lease. I may have to talk to the landlord about that and see if we can work something out.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Where is Santa Claus?

This is our second Christmas in England and we are loving experiencing the different ways Christmas is celebrated here. In England Santa Claus is called Father Christmas. An interesting fact I found out was before the 1880's Father Christmas in England was dressed in a green coat which was a sign of returning spring. Now however he is usually found wearing a red coat.

So where do you find Father Christmas? Not at the malls like you do in the states but in his Grotto which is located in the Garden Centers. It took us a while to find him! Garden centers are very different from the ones in the states. In addition to selling garden supplies you will find art-n-crafts, house hold decorations, books and toys. But best of all Garden Centers almost always have a cafe, where you can find special coffees, teas, pastries and a very good hot lunch. Shopping in England is a whole different experience than shopping in the states:).

Now we have been to 2 different Grotto's and found the experience to be very different at each one. Last year Father Christmas Grotto was filled from floor to ceiling with various toys for all ages. After a child's visit with Father Christmas, they are able to pick a toy and take it home. This can be quite an experience if you have a indecisive child, as the room full of toys is overwhelming:). Of course parents you pay for this as most Garden centers charge you to see Santa in his Grotto.

This year I found a Father Christmas Grotto in London and it was free, except for the photo, and the kids were given a candy cane.

Another difference is children are not allowed to sit on Father Christmas lap. It is a child safety regulation:(. The boxes on either side of Father Christmas is where the child sits, next to Father Christmas. Last year we didn't know of that regulation and it wasn't pointed out to us, but this year it was!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christmas Pudding

Another British Tradition around the Christmas holidays is Christmas Pudding:

Victorian England is when the Christmas Pudding began as a mainstay in British history and began as more of a Christmas Porridge called Frumenty, which was made of wheat or corn boiled up in milk. However there are reference to puddings as far back as the 1420's Over time other things were added: prunes, eggs, raisins, currants and sultanas and even meat. Plum pudding is steamed not baked which makes it very different from Christmas cake. Some families hide a silver coin inside the pudding and it said to bring good luck to whomever was fortunate to find it. However this practice fell away once real silver coins were not available, as it was believed that alloy coins would taint the pudding. Additionally, coins pose a real choking hazard. Other tokens are also known to have been included, such as a tiny wishbone (to bring good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), an anchor (to symbolize safe harbor) or a ring (for future marriage).

The time for making a Christmas pudding is at the beginning of Advent. A Christmas pudding is said to be stirred from East to West in honor of the three Wise Men and made with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and His Disciples. The day became known as "Stir Up Sunday". Traditionally everyone in the household, or at least every child, gave the mixture a stir, and made a wish while doing so.

Presentation of the Christmas pudding is very important and always brings ooh and aahs to our Christmas table.

Add a spring of holly to the top of your pudding and then pour brandy on your pudding. Turn off the lights and light and watch the blue flame surround the pudding.

Serve with custard

Christmas puddings are often dried out on hooks for weeks prior to serving in order to enhance the flavor. This pudding has been prepared with a traditional cloth rather than a bowl.

After Brandy has been poured on top and set alight. best done in a darken room to see the blue flame!

Some Information and all pictures taken from Wikipedia, available here
If you're brave enough to try a recipe go to Mandy Barrow's "British Christmas Customs and Traditions", here

Although my family has done this tradition I have to say it is not our favorite it is a taste that you must grow up with I think. But the kids think it is really cool to see the blue flame:) I also must add we always buy our Christmas puddings at the store.

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