Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Would it Change Your Plans?

Let's see if I can get the hang of this vlogging thing for the new year.


Wordless Wednesday

Because I feel random and because I can!
Blogger Fuel!
(at least for me but I'd love to know what your octane is!)

BTW that's coffee with cream and 1 sugar in case anyone wants to send some Dunkin' Donuts.
I'm not against accepting some blueberry cake donuts either.

Want to check out some more Wordless Wednesday?
Hit up the gang at MomDot! We have plenty to see!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Join us in Korea!

You all remember my friend Nut, right? Well guess what she's back! This time to share Christmas in Korea. She and her family just recently got home (as in this past year) from a 4 year (sorry Nut it felt a lot longer but it was only 4, right?) term as missionaries on the Korean island of Jeju. I know she gets "homesick" fo rthe island often but being the trooper she is she put together a little peek at Christmas in Korea for us!

South Korea is a Buddhist and Shamanist country. Because of this, Christmas, in the past has held no great meaning for them. It was and in many cases, still is, just another day in the lives of most Koreans. In the past 100 years Christianity has spread throughout South Korea which brought with it, a small Christmas celebration. There is no large present exchange or tons of parties. You won't see Santa on every street corner or nativities placed throughout the town. However, on Christmas Day you will see that all the Christian Churches are open for a special worship services. They usually meet for an early morning prayer time (at about 5 am). Then they come back together for a worship service at 10. They break for lunch and fellowship and continue with a second worship service around 2 pm.

Every year that we were there, we did see more and more in the lines of Christmas decorations. Stores might have a small Christmas Tree or Snowman in the window. The International Wal-mart actually had fake Christmas Trees for sale. The town center will often decorate the trees with lights now. However, they still don't pause to celebrate on Christmas day.

If you wait a month or so, Koreans celebrate one of their two largest holidays of the year. Seol-ral or the Korean Lunar New Year (more commonly known as Chinese New Year) is a 3 day celebration. Koreans will travel to their home town where the entire family will meet for a celebration!

On the first day of celebration the Koreans will all dress in their tradition hanboks. They then perform a ceremony honoring their ancestors. After the ceremony at home, the entire family will drive to the grave site of their ancestors and perform a public ceremony honoring them. They then have a picnic at the grave. The traditional food eaten is dok-guk. It is a rice-cake soup that is absolutely delicious. They will leave soup, rice, and wine at the grave for the ancestors as they leave.

Children will bow to their elders as a sign of respect and in return they are given white envelopes filled with money. The adults often exchange gifts of well-being. The gifts they exchange are much more practical than the ones we exchange. They will give gift baskets of fruits and vegetables. It is common to see gifts boxes of spam, dove bar soap, socks, handkerchiefs, tissue, juice boxes, and other items used on a daily basis. Families will often spend the days playing tradition games such as yut and nol-twigi or go flying kites.

Seol-ral actually begins on Jan. 29 and continues through the first day of the new month. It is a time of the year that families look forward to all year long, much like we do for Christmas

And now I have a craving to go fly a kite myself! Especially with Mary Poppins playing in the background! Thank you again Nut for rescuing me from bloggy boredom.

For those of you playing along, I do believe our next stop is Japan (possibly this evening) and then to Australia tomorrow.


Well you saw it in Summer...

That is if you watched the Olympics you did. So let's go visit China for Christmas shall we?

Because Chrisitanity is not a wide spread faith, Christmas is not a very large celebration. Christians decorate their homes with trees and decorate with a lot of paper decorations such as paper chains, lanterns, and paper flowers. I've seen some complex origami from a co worker once upon a time and if it is any indication I think I know how I would love to decorate our tree next year!

In some of the metro areas of China Christmas is developing a larger presence but only from a marketing and retail perspective.

The more prominent winter celebration is New Years which falls at the end of January and into early February. This celebration is dedicated to the memory and honoring of the ancestors. It is also called the Spring Festival.

Maybe we'll come back and visit again a little closer to New Year's this year! Until then...Pass the fortune cookies!


Monday, December 29, 2008

'S Rozhdestvom!'

Do you have a fur hat? Are you bundled up? It's time to head off to Russia for Christmas! But guess what? We are early! But I'm getting ahead of myself!

The key religion in Russia (now that it is allowed again) is Eastern Orthodox. Because the Orthodox church still follows a Julian calendar Christmas is not celebrated until January 7th. And for the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas the faithful participate in a fast. The Russian fast however is not like the fast we found during Eid. Fasting involves avoiding meat and declining to participate in gatherings and parties.

The largest part of the celebration is on Christmas Eve. Folks gather at the cathedrals for mass involving incense and carols. At one point in the service there is a preocession around the church led by the clergy.

After the service families go home for a feast (still meatless). This little bit from was too good not to pass on!

Christmas Eve dinner is meatless but festive. The most important dish is a special porridge called kutya. It is made of berries, wheat or other grains that symbolize hope and immortality, and honey and poppy seeds that ensure happiness, success, and untroubled rest. A ceremony involving the blessing of the home is frequently observed. The kutya is eaten from a common dish to symbolize unity. Some families used to throw a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. According to the tradition, if kutya sticks there will be a great honey harvest.

I will not be sharing the food flinging tradition with my children!

On Christmas Day the fast is broken with a 12 course meal to honor each of the 12 Apostles. The meal includes (but I'm sure is not limited to) fish, Borsch (a beet soup), cabbage stuffed with millet, cooked dried fruit, goose, suckling pig and many more dishes.

There are two figures commonly associated with Christmas. Babushka (Grandmother) is the bearer of the gifts. The legend tells that she was invited to go find the Chist Child with the Wise Men but declined due to the weather. She regretted her decision almost immediately and packed a basket with her own gifts and went in search of the Child. Along her way she distributed her gifts to good children.

There is also a figure (Grandfather Christmas) Dedushka Moroz but he is simply a figure head and not held as much more.

And that my friends is our little visit to Russia. perhaps this evening we can all have some Chinese together? See you there!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

No More Appropriate Place to Visit

For those of us who are Christian, there is no more appropriate place to visit for Christmas than Israel. And there is no more appropriate person to guide us on our tour than a child. Please welcome my beloved Melisa (aka Misa Bug!), a nine year old brilliant writer and joy of my heart!

Mo'adim Lesimkha!

That is Merry Christmas in Hebrew. In Israel at Christmas time Christians go to church at the exact place Jesus was born. The Church is called the Church of the Nativity. Flags and other decorations fill the church. If you go down the deep winding stairs, you'll find baby Jesus' manger site. There is a big silver star around it that has 14 points with 15 silver lamps. Around the star it says, "Here of the Virgin Mary Jesus Christ was born."
Every year they have a parade with galloping horsmen and policemen that ride Arabian horses. Then one horseman on a solid black steed carrying a cross rides by. All of the churchmen and goverment officials walk at the end.

(Note added from Melisa's Mom: This procession leads the people to the Church of the Nativity where they have the worship service. Only a few hundred people can fit into the church, so they now place large screens and do a video cast of the worship service for the thousands of people gathered outside to worship at the place of Jesus' birth. After this service, many people then head out to the fields where the shepherds saw the angels to continue the worship service).
In the cities a Christian home has a red cross on the door. Plus they decorate their homes with a homemade nativity set. In the middle of every village is a pole with a star on the top.

And so that's how they celebrate Christmas in Israel.


Isn't she AWESOME!! And Nut, you're welcome for the easy writing and literature homework! Merry Christmas to my Bug and my Boo and to Nut and Clark too! I love you guys!!


One More Day in the South!

I know you have missed me and you thought the trip ended abruptly with no warning, right? Not a chance! I got tied up in a lot of last minute Christmas preparation and parties but I'm back. So we are going to take this week between Christmas and New Years and visit a few more countries before we call it a day.

My beloved college roommate Peanut, who you will hear from again, spent a summer in Africa on a mission trip and came home with an incredible love of all things international! She has (in her gracious and loving way) agreed to share with us the traditions of South Africa.

December 25th is right in the middle of the summer for those in South Africa. Needless to say the beach, rivers and shady moutain tops often entice many on Christmas Day! :-) Schools are out and many people love to spend the Holiday camping. They may not have a "white Christmas" but they will have a Christmas filled with beautiful wile flowers in all their glory!

It is very common to see people out Caroling on Christmas Eve. In some of the larger cities the Christmas Carolers will be done by candle light with a screen and floor show. They wake up to head to church on Christmas morning for special services.

Their decorations are more natural than ours are. They will decorate their home with pine branches and a Christmas Fir tree decorated in the corner. They will surround the tree with presents for children just like we do. On Christmas Eve the children will take out their stockings to leave them for Father Christmas to fill with goodies.

Christmas dinner is usually one of two things. Many will go out to the open-air for lunch. Others will have the traditional turkey, roast-beef, minced pie, or even suckling pig. They have yellow rice with raisins, vegetables, and plum pudding, crackers, paper hats, and all to go along with it. After Christmas dinner, many families spend their Christmas in the country side playing games and soaking up the sunshine. They then spend the cool evening at home with their family.

They aren't done yet. Boxing Day (December 26) is a National Holiday as well. They spend the day outside resting in the beautiful weather. It must be nice to get a vacation from all the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day! :-)
And that my friends is with love from my roommate and "sister." You can find more of her adventures at Peanut's Place. If you enjoyed her take on things make sure you come back later this afternoon for Christmas in Isreal. Oh, no! It's not Nut writing again- it's my wonderful 9 year old "niece" Misa's turn!


Friday, December 19, 2008

A Quick Stop Over in Madagascar!

Everyone together now...I like to move it, move it! And now that I have that stuck in your head for the rest of the day...You're welcome!

A lot of my bloggy friends are struggling with overwhelming snow, ice and general nastiness right now so I thought I would let them take a virtual trip south of the Equator into summer time again. It's the peak of summer on this now famous African island.

Tratry ny Krismasy - or "be caught by Christmas!" I think we call all feel the net closing a little right now so it only seems appropriate that we share the traditional Madagascan greeting. What intrigued me was the traditional response. Samy ho tratry ny ho avy isika - "May we all be caught by the next one!" And it truly is a response that we want to come true if you think about it. May we all be here together again next year!

Decorations in Madagascar are modest. Pine trees aren't native to the island and deforestation is a real environmental concern so the decor of a Christmas tree is avoided. Poinsettias are actually grown as shrubs and bloom all year - not just for Christmas. How pretty must that be?!

The big guy is called Dadabe Noely but is a thin version of our Santa Claus. He doesn't bring lavish or huge amounts of gifts. As a matter of fact, most children are content with a few new clothes and some hard candy.

The real celebration is the Christmas Eve service at the churches. Many start as early as five o'clock and go until well past midnight. The whole family is involved and the children are featured as carolers and performers in plays and presentations. On Christmas Day folks may go back to church for another service or they may spend the day picnicking or at the beach.

I'm on a roll today so make sure you stop back in a little while for a visit to Kenya. I'm liking this summery weather - sure beats the gray outside my house!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome to the Land of the Pyramids?

How well do you know the Christmas story? What happened AFTER the manger and the angels and shepherds and wise men? Do you know? An angel came to Joseph in a dream and warned of Herod's mission to find and kill the Child. Joseph packed everyone up then and there and headed to Egypt.

Today we are headed to Egypt ourselves. I was wondering how much of this part of the Christmas story would be recognized or if it had been dominated by the addition of Islam to the religious landscape. It turns out that there is still a very strong Christian presence and therefore Christmas is actually a very prominent celebration.

Something I was not aware of is that the Church in Egypt (called the Coptic Church) is a branch of the Catholic Church but they recognize St. Mark as their founder rather than St. Peter. The Church does not celebrate Christmas on December 25th however. They recognize January 7th as Christmas instead. The holiday is a long and very festive season in Egypt because of the visit of the Holy Family.

In some cities there are complete streets of shops that dedicate thier wares to Christmas this time of year. One particular item that was mentioned on several websites caught my eye (this one is for you J Jiggety!) Apparently there is such a thing as a belly dancing Santa! Try as I might I couldn't find one but please know that I put a lot of effort into it!

Christmas services are held at midnight followed by the ringing of the church bells. Part of the celebration includes a period of fasting daily. When Egyptians eat in the evenings they are only allowed foods that have no animal source (no meat, fish, milk, or eggs). After the Christmas midnight service they go home for a feast including meat and rice called "fatta."

Decorations are heavy with candles and lanterns in tribute to Joseph who legend tells lit candles to warm Mary the night of the Nativity. Another bit of interest for me was that the Christmas holiday is actually a heavy tourist season. In the early 20th century European families would vacation in Egypt for the warmer climate. The hotels however went out of their way to create a Christmas feel with artificial snow and trees. The guests would dress to the nines and celebrate with grand parites. The tourism continues today but maybe without all the snow and trees.

Eid (remember Chris's tour yesterday?) is also celebrated by the Muslim population in the country. But the interesting aspect to me is that the two celebrations are held siultaneously and peacefully. Something to think about!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

You waited patiently all week. So here it is - The Magic Seed all grown up.


Let's Visit the Captain in Afghanistan!

Ladies and gentlemen would you please stand a salute our guest poster for today! A ton of thank you's to Chris of MomDot fame for agreeing to host our visit to Afghanistan today. Chris spent a tour in Afghanistan and has expeienced the culture and faith there first hand. Welcome him and share the comment love please!

Eid and Ramadan

Every religion has major holidays to celebrate a major event in its history. Christianity has Christmas, Judaism has Chanukah, and Islam has Eid ul-Fitr (Eid) which concludes Ramadan, etc. This blog will cover Eid and Ramadan. I am not a Muslim so I do not claim to be an expert by any means on the subject. However I was asked to write about it as I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2005 at that time that Eid took place.

First, be it known that Muslims observe five formal prayers each day. The timings of these prayers are spaced fairly evenly throughout the day, so that one is constantly reminded of God and given opportunities to seek His (‘Allah’) guidance and forgiveness. Like many Christians not everyone follows this rule to a “T”. Some Muslims are very devout while others are like your every day Sunday church goers but don’t practice much during the week, while others fall more to the not much involved side of the house. Now, a little on what Eid and Ramadan are.

From Wikipedia ( –because it is a good explanation and I liked the Arabic writing that was included (which by the way is read right to left).

Ramaḍān (Arabic: رمضان‎) is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; the month in which the Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. It is the Islamic month of fasting (lunar calendar), in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from true dawn until sunset. Fasting is meant to teach the person patience, sacrifice and humility. Ramaḍān is a time to fast for the sake of God, and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramaḍān, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds.

Eid ul-Fitr or Id-ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر ‘Īdu l-Fiṭr‎), often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning "festivity", while Fiṭr means "to break the fast" (and can also mean "nature", from the word "fitrah"); and so the holiday symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. It is celebrated starting on the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal.

Eid ul-Fitr is a three day celebration and is sometimes also known as the "Smaller Eid" (Arabic: العيد الصغير al-‘īdu ṣ-ṣaghīr‎) as compared to the Eid ul-Adha that lasts four days and is called the "Greater Eid" (Arabic: العيد الكبير al-‘īdu l-kabīr‎).

Muslims are commanded by the Qur'an to complete their fast on the last day of Ramadan and then recite the Takbir all throughout the period of Eid[Qur'an 2:185 (Translated by Shakir)].

From (

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. During the blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. As a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking.

Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means "to refrain" - and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.

During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast.

Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God.

Now that you have a basic understanding let me explain my experience in Afghanistan. The annual fast of Ramadan is considered one of the five "pillars" of Islam. Muslims who are physically able are required to fast each day of the entire month, from sunrise to sunset. The evenings are spent enjoying family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Qur’an. I can’t think of anything in Christianity to that compares to this month long dedication except for maybe when you ask for forgiveness and turn you heart over to Jesus for the first time. The difference is that Muslims do this every year. I guess this could be compared to confession for Catholics as well, only there is an intense amount of focus and discipline in not repeating one’s sins.

I would compare the celebration portion of Ramadan, Eid to Christmas in a sense that the majority of the country celebrates it and it truly is much like the holiday season in the states. Decorations are hung, people tend to be in a good mood and it is pretty much all anyone talks about at that time (probably because they are hungry). They are so dedicated to the holiday that they built and entire temple/palace to celebrate in. When I say temple I mean 200,000+ square feet of banquet space. This place is so big that three pictures taken 200 yards back glued together still won’t get the whole thing in the picture. It must have been 300- 400 yards across and I have no idea how deep. It was amazing in every detail of tile, ornamentation and color all the way down to the pavers in the “square” ( I use that term lightly—more like football fields) in front of the building. To top it off they only use the temple during Eid. For the record the famous stadium in Kabul known for the public executions by the Taliban is directly across the street (yes I have seen it). They play soccer there now.

I had the pleasure of working with some Afghans who fasted during this time. I will admit I did not understand the rules of fasting during Ramadan. I thought that they didn’t eat for the entire month which made me wonder how they survived. I am lucky if I can make it from breakfast to lunch without a snack. After a small lesson from our Afghan warehouse manager we learned that they can indeed eat when it is dark.

Don’t be fooled though, going all day with no food is not easy, especially when you are working manual labor. The Afghans were some of the toughest SOB’s I have ever met. I thought basic training was tough. These folks walk around in the snow wearing a robe and some sandals (if they are lucky). We had these guys climbing up lockers stacked three high on top of each other while pulling up another row to go on top of those. I am not talking five or ten. I am talking 100-150 at time all while it is 30 degrees outside and no heat in the warehouse. This is tough enough to do when you have had something to eat, let alone when you haven’t eaten all day and you will probably only eat one meal before tomorrow.

For us as American’s the hardest thing was trying not to eat in front of them. At first we had no idea that they weren’t allowed to eat, so we offered them snacks and drinks. Eventually we caught on (after a huge hint from the warehouse manager). My point to this is that the dedication involved in eating only one meal per day for a month as well as the efforts that they put into celebrate for 3 days straight at the end is up there in my book. For Christians, we complain about the bills that we have to pay after opening presents (which really isn’t the point of Christmas). Instead maybe we should turn our focus back on what the holiday is about and think about the sacrifices we should make for our family.


Thank you to Trisha for letting me borrow Chris today. Make sure you pop over to MomDot and check out all the really awesome posts and contributors. If your blog roll is running low you're sure to find some fabulous folks to follow and read while you're there!

I hope you all took notes because we are touring down through the Middle East into Africa for the rest of this week. I have a feeling we will be coming across Ramadan and Eid again in our travels.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No Meatballs Here!

Sorry Ikea fans. On this trip to Sweden there are no meatballs or furniture with funny names. Man I love Ikea! No, this time it's just your traditional Swedish Christmas. But prepare yourself because I am pretty sure you are about to encounter some traditions that very few of you have ever heard of much less experienced!

Christmas in Sweden begins with the lighting of the first Advent candle. The first widely held celebration though is on December 13th for the celebration of Santa Lucia. Lucia was a Christian martyr who legend tells took food to persecuted Christians in Rome. She wore a wreath with candles on her head so that she would be hands free to deliver and serve. In her honor the eldest daughter of the home will dress in a white gown with a red sash, wear an evergreen wreath complete with lit tall tapered candles, and will serve her parents a breakfast of coffee and Lucia buns. She is accompanied by the other children of the house who also dress in white; the girls with glitter and the boys with pointed starry hats. {Side note - when I pictured the Orangutan in said outfit I had a moment but that's just me!}

The Christmas tree is not brought into the home until the two days before Christmas. It is decorated with candles, apples, Swedish flags, and small gnome figures. many of the decorations may be made of straw. The decorations made of straw are meant to serve as a reminder of the birthplace of Jesus in the manger. The homes are decorated with red tulips and the smell of gingerbread biscuits called Pepparkakor lingers through the home.

You are familiar with the term smorgasbord right? Well welcome to its origin. The buffet with is served on Christmas Eve is complete with fish dishes such as lutfisk (dried, lye soaked codfish) herrings and salmon dishes, turkey, Christmas ham, pickled pigs feet, and many other meat dishes. The finisher to the meal is the Risgryngrot - a special holiday rice pudding that contains one whole almond. It is told that the person who finds the almond in their pudding will marry in the coming year.

After the meal there is a visit from Tomte - a gnome that lives under the floorboards of the home or the barn and cares for the family and livestock throughout the year. Some legends tell that if one takes very good care of the livestock during the year Tomte appreciates the help and provides a gift accordingly! (I think I just heard mothers around the blogosphere suddenly adopting Tomte!)

Christmas Day begins with a service at church and is followed by a day of family and rest. But the holiday season does not end until January 14th or Knut's Day. On Knut's Day the children may dress up as Knut and play practical jokes while they snack on the edible ornaments from the tree. Then the trees are returned to nature to rejoin their fellows.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I had to close my mouth as I read about these traditions. Maybe I am revealing my closed mindedness but I had no idea just how many very different versions of Christmas there really were. There is one thread that I have found in all of the traditions and customs that we have come across. There is always a time set aside for rememberance and family.

I know we have crossed over into the dreaded ten day countdown to Christmas and I know that there are probably some stress levels climbing even as I say that. But please take this moment and this reminder to look at who and what is around you. Remember the Reason for the Season and make sure to take time today, tomorrow and every day to show those you are fussing over and for what they mean to you. The paper will be gone in two weeks. The presents will be mixed in before the month is out. Take time for family!

God Jul! (Good Yule!)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Have you been Missing Christmas?

Sorry about that! I got caught up in all the Christmas prep around the Zoo and ran a little low on Steam! But I'm back and ready to move through Europe today! Tomorrow we are going to make a few stops in Africa and then it's off to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Are you ready to move it on? (The Amazing Race has NOTHING on us!!)

Welcome to Italy! I am so excited about this stop!! A) Because I am the world's biggest pasta butt and B) because this is such a rich culture. Let's take a moment and review some history before we start exploring ok? This is the home of Rome - anciently remembered for being big on the mythic gods. Rome is also home of the largest empire in history and home to the Catholic Church and ancient Christianity. As a result when it is time to celebrate at this time of year you are surrounded by many rich and varied customs and traditions.

In a nod to the ancient pagan culture Saturnatalia (Winter Solstice) and Advent blend to create Buon Natale or Good Birthday - a combined celebration of winter and the birth of Christ. Piferari (fifers) march down fro the mountains to herald the season and kick of the celebrations. Eight days before Christmas children celebrate in their own way by participatin gin La Novena during which that travel through town and sing carols and recite Christmas poetry.

On Christmas Eve families visit Cribs (nativities) throughout thier communities much like we would tour lights and outdoor decorations. They also begin burning the Yule Log which will burn until New Year's Eve to clean the house of any bad luck or evil from the year before. It is legend that Mary would tour the homes where the Yule was burning and warm her newborn thus blessing the home when she left.
On Christmas Day families join in a huge banquet which features many fish and seafood dishes including capitone (roasted eel) or sausage stuffed pig leg served with lentil. For sweets one would have their choice of panettone (fruitcake), torrone (nougat)or panforte (gingerbread). And no Christmas banquet is complete without an assortment of nuts and honey. The nuts symbolize the fertility of the earth so eating the two together ensures one of a sweet and propserous New Year.

In Italy gifts are delivered by La Befana - a female Santa Claus. She is portrayed as a kind ugly witch which teaches the children that gifts can come from anywhere and anyone. Another tradition tied to gifts and giving is the Urn of Fate. A bag is loaded with wrapped boxes, some containing gifts and some empty. There is a box for everyone so a new meaning is given to "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!" But one gift that is given to everyone no matter where or who is the Pope's Christmas blessing which is delivered from St. Peter's at noon on Christmas Day.

So Buon Natale! I hope you enjoyed this little visit to Italy with me. I think I'll pass on the eel though if you don't mind. See you later today for a quick stop over in Sweden!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mom Tip #55

Should a mom attempt to take a day (or even a few hours off), she should be prepared for the consequences of her diminished vigilance.

Now it is the Christmas season and between decorating, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and making gifts things are a little hairy here at Zoo Suburbia. I've been up at 6 and going to bed at 2 and lather, rinse, repeating for three weeks straight. I'm a little tired and more than a little punchy. So I thought I would cut myself a little slack and take a break today. I have been at this for five years - you would think that I would know by now.

We put the tree up last night and the Lion and I put the lights on and then he supervised while I put the basic decorations on. It was beautiful with the dried grapefruit and oranges, the homemade cinnamon clay and baking soda clay ornaments, the white twinkling lights and the candy canes. I just sat in the glow for a while last night and looked at it.
(Last year, just learning to crawl and explore)

This morning after everyone was distributed to their proper places I took a time out with my coffee and the blogosphere and just relaxed. I was happily reading along and commenting on friends posts when suddenly there was an EXTREMELY sticky hand on my arm. I really didn't want to look. I tried for the longest to ignore what I knew was inevitable. Then the thought occurred to me that the longer that sticky hand stayed there without moving the more it was going to hurt when it came off taking even the smallest armhairs with it.

I peeked out of the corner of my eye and my worst fears were confirmed. There beside me in all of her curly headed glory was my beloved little Marmoset, bright pink from her nose to her chin and grinning from ear to ear. In her other hand a remnant with a few faint red and white stripes left on it.
(This year, learning how to be sneakiy while maintaining the cute factor!)

What's a mom to do? I heaved a little sigh and scooped her up. But the fun wasn't over. There curled up in a lttle ball under the coffee table was a certain S.M. Rhino trying to shove the stepstool around the corner out of sight. I shooed him out from under and hustled them both to the bathroom to clean up. There were no canes on the bottom three feet of a nine foot tree. None. When interviewed about how many he had consumed Rhino assured me that he and Marmoset had only had two a piece. So what happened to the rest of the canes?

He had tucked them away in a secret stash under the coffee table. You have to give him some credit. He was smart. He was fast. And he was honest.
But the crash from that sugar high took me out! Last time before Christmas I take a day off!!


Is that a Guest Tour Guide I See?

**My bloggy pal Tina of Adventures of a Working Mom was a delight to help me out with Christmas Around the World. She has first had knowledge and experience with Christmas in Germany so she has graciously agreed to be our guide on this leg of the trip! Make sure you leave some love for her!!**
Frohe Weihnachten!

Germany is rich in tradition and culture when it comes to Christmas. I come from a German family and when my parents moved to the U.S. when I was younger, thankfully they continued to keep the German culture alive in our house.

St. Nikolaus Day
One such tradition is St. Nikolaus Day. This is celebrated on December 6th. On this day children place their boots outside their home and hope that St. Nikolaus will fill them with apples, oranges/tangerines, lebkuchen, cookies, or fruit bread. Traditionally these items were reserved for special occasions and children did not get such sweets on a regular basis. If the children had been good and polite during the year, they received treats; if they were not good, they had a switch placed in their boot.

Christmas Eve
The German Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Parents decorate the Christmas tree and place the presents underneath without the children around. The Christmas tree also serves as a present since no one has seen it until the Christkindl brings the presents. The Christkindl means "Christ Child." In Germany the Christkindl is the bringer of gifts for children. A young girl with a golden crown and wings usually portrays the Christkindl. On Christmas Eve, traditional food is goose, fish, or deer. In my family, we always have deer on Christmas Eve and have goose on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day
December 25 is known as the "1st Christmas Day". On this day, families visit the other set of grandparents (usually the father’s parents). There is no traditional food eaten on this day, it is more like a traditional Sunday dinner in the U.S.
December 26 is known as the "2nd Christmas Day". On this day, families visit relatives who live out of town. Again, the traditional food is more of a Sunday dinner.

Germany has many rich traditions during the Christmas season, from celebrations to foods. I am fortunate to have been raised in these deep cultural traditions during my childhood and now have the opportunity to pass these traditions to my daughter while also teaching my husband about my cultural traditions.
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