March 4, 2014 is Fat Tuesday and I was curious about the history of the Mardi Gras celebration. In the United States the mention of Mardi Gras brings to mind New Orleans, LA where is celebrated in a grand way. The history of the Mardi Gras celebration actually goes back many years in many European cities and countries since the Middle Ages. The celebration is the last opportunity for feasting and celebration before Christianity’s Ash Wednesday and Lent.The modern version of the Mardi Gras parade started before the Civil War. In 1857 the first group or “krewe” organized the parade [
The king cake is one of the traditions for Mardi Gras. It is colorfully decorated and has a small plastic baby hidden somewhere in the cake. During the celebration when the cake is served, whoever finds the plastic baby in their portion is designated to host the next celebration, a wonderful way to carry on the history of the Mardi Gras celebration.
Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th each year but the Christmas traditions around the world can vary widely throughout other countries. In the USA the familiarity with our traditions of Christmas trees, indoor and outside lights are very common as are also advent wreaths, Christmas stockings, and Nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa Claus is also a well celebrated figure for the tradition of bringing gifts to children, but is tied more to the commercial aspect of the holiday. Christmas greetings in the form of cards is also a common practice but has declined some in recent years with the more common use of email and the cost of postage increasing. Good wishes can also now be sent digitally very quickly and less expensive.
In Japan, Christmas is popular because it is encourage by commerce. Gifts are sometimes exchanged, but it is not a national holiday.
Malaysia does celebrate Christmas as national holiday, but it is not overly religious and mostly commercial in nature. In the Philippines, which is one of two predominately Catholic countries in southeast Asia, Christmas is widely celebrated as a religious holiday. Their celebration is known for being the longest Christmas season which begins September 1 with Christmas carols.
In Lebanon, Christmas is an official holiday and is celebrated on December 25, except for the Armenian Lebanese which celebrate it as an official holiday on January 6, the Epiphany. Santa Claus is known by the French and gifts are usually dropped off at church by Papa Noel or by a personal appearance to the home.
The Czech republic and Slovakia celebrate on Christmas eve, Dec. 24 and it is known as “Generous Day” because presents are given in the evening. Traditional holiday foods consist of fish soup, breaded roasted carp, and potato salad. Holiday greetings are shared after sharing a piece of Christmas wafer made with honey and walnuts.
In Russia as in some other Eastern Orthodox countries, Christmas is celebrated on January 7. Christmas is mainly a religious event in Russia. On January 6, Christmas Eve there are several long services and then families return home for the traditional Holy Supper for Christmas Eve. This consists of 12 different dishes which are to symbolize one for each of the Twelve Apostles. Sometimes devout families return to church that night and again the next morning on Christmas Day. Christmas became a national holiday in Russia in 1992 and remains as a ten day holiday celebration at the start of every new year.
November is Native American Awareness month. I can not think of a more fitting month for this awareness since Thanksgiving is also celebrated in the month of November, Well known to most Americans but probably not as much to people from other countries, our Thanksgiving and its history evolves from the Pilgrims giving a celebration and day of thanks for the Native Americans. In the United States,Thanksgiving is commonly observed on the fourth Thursday of November every year.
According to Wikipedia, “”the event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by the Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. This feast lasted three days, and was attended by about 53 Pilgrims and 90 American Indians. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.”Although the holiday was first celebrated in 1621 on the Plymouth Plantation as a harvest feast after a successful growing season, it was sporadic in the following years as an impromptu religious observance and later as a civil tradition. It was proclaimed as a national holiday in 1863 during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the holiday. Thanksgiving remains to the one of the major federal and public holidays and the beginning of the holiday season that runs through Christmas and New Years Day.
The nomadic ancestors of modern Native Americans hiked over a “land bridge” from Asia to what is now Alaska more than 12,000 years ago and many thousands of years before Christopher Columbus’ ships landed in the Bahamas. Scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas by the time European adventurers arrived in the 15th century AD. Some of these 10 million lived in the area that would become the United States.
Although most Native Americans now live their daily lives in modern-day customs, many choose to remember their traditional history and celebrate at Pow Wows that are held regionally all over the USA. The celebrations are alive with rich Native American traditions customs, and native regalia. The photos and videos shown in this blog post were from the Stone Mountain Park, Ga. Pow Wow in November, 2013.
Education in Australia is considered to be advanced and is broken down into basically three categories that includes primary education (primary schools), followed by secondary education (secondary schools/high schools) and tertiary education (universities and/or Vocational Education and Training). There is another classification according to the sources of funding and administrative structures which includes government schools (public schools or state schools), Catholic schools, and independent schools (private schools).
Private schools usually have religious affiliations and public schools usually are secular but may offer optional religious affiliations. 64% of children in Australia attend public schools and 34% attend Catholic schools. Uniforms are customary.
Education in Australia is the responsibility of the states or territories. The Australian federal government helps fund the public universities, but does not set the curriculum. According to Wikipedia, “The Education Index, published with the UN‘s Human Development Index in 2008, based on data from 2006, lists Australia as 0.993, among the highest in the world, tied for first with Denmark and Finland.”
Recently I learned something I was not familiar with, the official holiday Juneteenth. Celebrated on June 19th, it marks the end of slavery in the United States. It has been a tradition in the African American community since the late 19th century. Considered a state holiday or special day of observance in 42 of the states, the 8 states that do not recognize it are Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.
The popularity of the holiday has varied over the years. In the early 20th century there was a decline in the Juneteenth celebrations because of economical and social forces. During the Depression, many blacks were forced off farms and into cities to find work. The employers in urban environments were less likely to permit leave for the celebrations. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the celebrations were considered a reminder of the historical struggle of their ancestors and declined because of this. In 1968, Rev. Ralph Abernathy’s Poor People’s March call for people of all races, creeds, economic levels and professions to come to Washington to show support for the poor. Afterwards many of these attendees returned home and initiated Juneteenth official holiday celebrations in their communities. During the 1980s and 1990s the Juneteenth popularity continued to grow. African American communities and organizations throughout the country have an interest to see that the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten and recognize roots tying back to Texas soil from which all remaining American slaves were finally granted their freedom.
What are the challenges for education in Africa? I have wondered about this and have heard of various charities, including Oprah, that are opening schools and reaching out to Africa to help establish educational priorities. Being a former educator, I was wondering what are the statistics and facts concerning this.
“Although literacy rates have greatly improved in Africa over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25 remain illiterate.
Illiteracy among individuals over the age of 15 stands at 41 per cent; gender disparity in education prevails in 75 per cent of countries.In the period 2000–06, Seychelles had the highest adult literacy rate (92%); Mali and Burkina Faso had the lowest (24%).
Early childhood development is, in most countries, left to private sector actors primarily working in urban areas in aid of more advantaged social groups.
Almost 50% of countries may not attain the goal of universal primary education by 2015; nearly 40 million children are not going to school.
Liberia has the lowest primary student-teacher ratio of 19; in Mozambique the ratio is 67. Cape Verde has the highest gross enrollment rate in secondary education (80%); Niger has the lowest (11%).
Enrollment in lower secondary school rose to 46% in 2003 from 28% in 1991. The gross secondary school enrollment rate exceeds 20% in half of the countries, yet remains below 8 per cent in in 10 countries.”
Approximately ten years ago, the daughter of a close friend of mine from high school started a small school in Dianti Beach, Kenya, Africa. As it was explained to me, the Amani school was to meet the need for those children that had been kept out of public school because they could not afford the fees and were behind for their grade level. I became friends with Consolata Muysawa, one of the teachers and we exchanged our students art work.
The story for the Amani School has progressed with great strides. In the last 10 year the school has expanded from very modest beginnings of a thatch roof on four poles to four permanent buildings that contain a nursery, two kindergarten classes, primary education up to grade 5. There are adult education courses in the evenings. In addition to reading and writing in both English and Swahili, the students are taught math, social studies, art and physical education. The property is also home to Maweni Village’s only fresh water well, three sanitary latrines. There is a kitchen that enables Amani’s free lunch program. Just recently, a clinic was opened in the village which affords free medical care to all students of the Amani School. There is a continued need for support for the Amani School and other educational charities and programs in Africa, but you can make a difference by donating and helping spread awareness.
The first reference I had ever heard using the term “random acts of kindness” was in a movie I saw many years ago, “Pay It Forward“. In the movie, a young boy encourages others to perform random acts of kindness after his teacher did something very nice for him. Part of the project is not only the act of kindness but for the person to also “pay it forward” and encourage the person involved to also repeat the action for someone else. The idea is that this will make the world a better place one person at a time. I was amazed at the concept and loved the movie, but years later when I was teaching inner city school, it was announced that there would be an assembly. The speaker was one of the directors with the Pay It Forward organization. I discovered that the organization worked with the students to encourage kindness and sharing through random acts of kindness. I had the overwhelming reaction of what a wonderful idea not only the organization is but that they would target inner city schools where often fighting and bullying is common place.
I remember acts of kindness that have been bestowed on me through my life many were by friends and family, but the ones from people you don’t know and are so unexpected are pressed into your memory. Once when I had to take a leave of absence from my teaching job, a church in the community left me a gift bag and an encouraging note saying that thing would get better, just have faith. I did not know anyone in this church nor had ever attended their services. I still carry the note in my wallet because I want to be reminded of the feeling it gave me.
Other examples of random kindness can be found through volunteerism. There are many volunteers that unselfishly give their time on a regular basis to encourage helping others. This includes people who volunteer in food banks, churches, the Red Cross, the United Way and many others. the important thing to remember is that everyone can take part and it does not cost anything to participate. Kindness encourages the world to become a better place.
Please visit the Random Acts of Kindness blogspot:
This week I wrote a review for one of my other blogs about a really cute book for young children entitled People Are Like Lollipops, by Annie Fox. I suddenly remembered that the book should probably be on this blog but to also be included in a list of books for young children that all have the same common theme of teaching diversity in a simple and easy to understand method. Fortunately there are many more books available than I realized but I will start with a list of ten that I find particularly interesting and add to it from time to time as I find new ones.
Books That Teach Diversity
1.My book –Roland’s Stupendous Imagination And The Native Americans
Teaching African American history during the month of February is important to all cultures not just for African Americans. By helping the students be aware of African American history recognition and value is placed on the culture as a race. Dr. Martin Luther King is the most widely recognized hero to all people but there are many more. I have noticed that African American students are much more knowledgeable of a broad spectrum of African American leaders and heroes are than students of other races.
One idea to help emphasize and form better understanding of whatever specific topic is being focused on such the Civil War, civil rights heroes, African American inventors, etc, is to have the students create a mural either on long bulletin board paper or on a large stretched canvas. One year my fifth grade students had been studying the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. In their art class with me, we discussed of how to determine a symbol for each event on the timeline of the Underground Railroad. Then a background was painted on a large canvas and then the students were divided into groups. Each group was assigned a symbol to paint on the mural. Some of the symbols that we chose were a lantern, a slave running during his escape, a plantation owner with a large home, etc. Another way to accomplish this is to research ahead of time and collect pictures from the internet on certain African American history topics or go to a local library and look up the newspapers during the time frame of the civil rights movement on microfish. Have the articles printed out with the dates and pictures and let the students assemble a collage using a painted background and either thinned down glue or acrylic medium.
This should be painted on the surface of the mural, then apply the article or picture and then another coat directly on top. After it dries several more coats of the thinned glue or acrylic medium will seal the collage. the project can become a permanent accessory for the school’s hallway or offices. This project is very interesting for the students and was met with wide acclaim with the administrators and parents alike.
February serves us as the second month of the year, African American History month, and a holiday that is not recognized as a federal holiday, but still one of my favorites, Valentines Day. I have wonderful childhood memories of our classroom project every year decorating a cigar or tissue box with red, white, and pink construction paper hearts and then preparing a valentine for each and every one of my classmates. Next was the anticipation of opening the box and viewing all the different cards from all of my friends.
When I was teaching art to elementary students I remembered this and since the students I taught already were doing this in their classroom, I decided to take it a step further. We created Valentines and sent them to a school in Africa. I corresponded with several of the teachers and much to my surprise the students there not only did not celebrate Valentines Day but also had never seen glitter and some of the materials we used. They were very excited to receive them and the teachers said they especially loved seeing their name written on the hearts and coming from such a long distance across the ocean.
With all of this in mine, I would like to list several websites that give information on international exchange for children individually or classrooms.