December 31, 2011 - New Year's Eve – inside an Iguanodon!

On this date in 1853, a group of Great Britain's leading scientists ate a formal New Year's Eve dinner inside a huge model of a dinosaur! This was to mark the launch of sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins's first ever dinosaur sculptures in the world – and the world's first life-sized models of extinct animals. He created the iguanodon model plus models of extinct mammals and other dinosaurs to be displayed on the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London, on three islands in the two human-engineered lakes.

For more on the iguanodon and this famous feast, check out this earlier post.


Which fantastic place would you like to celebrate New Year's Eve? It would be hard to imagine, “inside a model of a dinosaur, along with famous scientists,” but it really happened. See if you can stretch your imagination to an even more amazing place...

How about New Zealand, to see fire poi (juggling fire)?

Or Frankfurt, Germany, to see fireworks?

For more on New Year's Eve, take a peek at this earlier post. 

Also on this date:

December 30, 2011 - Falling Needles Family Fest Day

If you have had a real “evergreen” tree slowly dying in your living room for almost a month, as I have, you may have noticed the soft sounds of needles falling onto your carpet and your tree skirt of fake snow. Perhaps the people who invented this wacky holiday intend celebrants to put away the ornaments and lights, carry out the dried carcass of the former tree, and vacuum.

Nothing says family festivities like un-decorating a Christmas tree, unless it's vacuuming!

Also, Happy Birthday, Rudyard Kipling!

Dig out your copies of The Jungle Book, Kim, Just So Stories, or Rikki-Tikki[Tavi, because their author is today's birthday boy.

Kipling was born on this date in 1865 in Bombay, India, when it was under British rule. His father was a sculptor and pottery designer who was a professor at an art school there. He only lived in India for the first five years of his life, however; as was the custom in British India, he was then sent to England to attend school and board with an unrelated family. He was alternately bullied and neglected; when his mother came back to England and collected him and his sister, the family finally realized (to their horror) that the children had been mistreated. Eventually, at age 16, Kipling returned to India to work on a small local newspaper.


Kids-n-Fun has coloring pages from the Disney version of The Jungle Book

You can read The Jungle Book online for free! 

If you want to go all out, you can check out the Jungle Book-themed crafts and games at the Disney Family website

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December 29, 2011 - Tick Tock Day

Only two days left in the year! This “holiday” has been declared to remind you to GET THINGS DONE! Maybe the things you wanted to accomplish in 2011 can still be ticked off your list before the clock tocks "2012"!

Also on this date:

Happy Birthday, Joaquin de Acosta!

This Colombian explorer and scientist was born on this day in 1800. He did a scientific survey of his country, studying its topography, its natural history, and traces of its aboriginal inhabitants.


Pico Cristóbal Colón,
the highest mountain of Colombia
Topography is the study of the Earth's surface features – the shapes and elevations of mountains and valleys and so forth.

Natural history is the study of the plants and animals native to a place (in other words, not the ones people brought from somewhere else, but the plants and animals that naturally grew in an area).

A crab-eating fox

The "Lost City"
Aboriginal inhabitants means people who have lived in an area from the earliest times that people lived in that place. You can see the word “original” inside the word “aboriginal.” The “original” inhabitants of the U.S. were the Native Americans, also known as Indians.


...this short video that shows some of the topography, animals and plants, and traces of aboriginal inhabitants of Colombia. 

December 28, 2011 - Pledge of Allegiance Day

-- United States

On this day in 1945, U.S. Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance as an American flag salute. The original pledge was written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy half a century before, for a public school program. Bellamy apparently never considered putting in a line about God (the words “under God” were added to the pledge in the 1950s), but he did want to include the word “equality.” Because Bellamy knew that powerful people who would see the program were against equality for women and for black people, he backed off from his good idea and simply wrote:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Did you know that in Bellamy's day
(late 1800s and early 1900s),
children saluted the flag
with a straight, upraised arm?
Can you guess why that was
changed to another quite different salute?

In the 1920s, the National Flag Conference changed Bellamy's words “my Flag” to the phrase “the Flag of the United States of America.”  Bellamy disliked the change and protested it. Bellamy's granddaughter has said that he would also have resented the addition of the words “under God.” Apparently he had been pressured into leaving his job of minister because of his socialist ideas; eventually he left the Baptist church altogether.

Some people want to change the pledge to a version close to Bellamy's original concept:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty, and justice for all.”

By the way, did you know that the Supreme Court ruled that nobody can require others to salute the flag or say the pledge? In 1940, the court ruled by an eight to one vote that the government could make people show respect for the flag because it was the central symbol of national unity. But just three years later, by a six to three vote, it reversed its ruling, saying that the right to free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment meant that people did not have to salute the flag or say the pledge.

(These court decisions were in response to children whose families were Jehovah's Witness. The kids felt that reciting the pledge would go against the teachings of their religion—but they were expelled from school for their refusal to participate. Some school kids today who don't participate in reciting the pledge say that their refusal is due to the fact that they do not believe in God, and don't want to pledge with the words “under God.”)

Also on this date:

They're Always Changing the Map Day 

December 27, 2011 - Peter Pan Opens

– 1904

Before it was a beloved Walt Disney animated movie...before it was a children's book...before it was a million merchandising opportunities from dolls and amusement park rides to endless spin-offs and sequels and prequels—it was a play!

On this date in 1904, in the Duke of York's Theatre in London, England, Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up opened...

The play was very successful, which may explain the lasting power of this story—still apparently going strong more than a century later! And why not? Not only does Peter Pan never get old or die—he can fly, has a fairy for a best friend, leads a gang of Lost Boys, hangs out with Indians and mermaids, and fights pirates!


  • Watch a Peter-Pan-based movie such as Hook (1991) or the TV miniseries Neverland (a prequel to the familiar Peter Pan story, debuted just a few weeks ago). Or read a Peter-Pan-based book. My favorite by far is Peter and the Starcatchers, by humorist Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and three other books that form origin stories for Peter Pan's magical abilities, Captain Hook, fairies, and the Lost Boys.
  • Find some Peter Pan fun at Kaboose

Also on this date:

Kwanzaa (from 12/26/11 to 1/1/12) 

December 26, 2011 - Frisbee Patented

– 1967

It's a bird—it's a plane—no, it's a flying saucer!

Or........ an inexpensive plastic toy?

On this day in 1967, a newer, better version of the popular flying disc that we call Frisbee was patented by Wham-O inventor Ed Headrick. But the invention of the frisbee started long before then...

The Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, made pies, and some claim that the inventors of the Frisbee were workers tossing and catching empty pie tins. Others say that college students in New England were the first to find the fun in flinging the Frisbie pie tins—and several different universities claim the honor of being the “first to fling.”

In 1948, a Los Angeles building inspector named Walter F. Morrison created a plastic version of the Frisbie pie tin. He fiddled with his invention until he came up with one that flew better than a pie tin could, and he named it a “Pluto Platter” in order to cash in on the UFO craze. A company named Wham-O, famous for the Hula-Hoop and Super Ball, bought Morrison's design—and he received a million dollars in royalties. The head people of Wham-O decided to drop the name “Pluto Platter” and go back to the original name with a fun new spelling: “Frisbee.”

Later, Ultimate Frisbee and Frisbee Golf were invented. The U.S. Navy has studied Frisbees in wind tunnels, using cameras and computers, in order to learn more about flight for their vehicles and flare launchers. And more than 200 million modern Frisbees have been manufactured and sold!

Also on this date:

December 25, 2011 - Christmas Day

and A'Phabet Day (No “L” Day!)

Christmas is a religious holiday AND a secular holiday. Many Christians around the world celebrate it, but some Christians do not believe it is proper to celebrate Christmas, and many non-Christians also celebrate Christmas. It is often thought of as a celebration of the spirit of giving.

Did you know...?

Here are some people who celebrated their birthdays on Christmas Day:

  • Isaac Newton, scientist and inventor of calculus (born in 1642)
  • Clara Barton, nurse and organizer of the American Red Cross (born in 1821)
  • Cab Calloway, bandleader (born in 1907)
  • Rod Serling, TV writer who created The Twilight Zone (born in 1924)

Isaac Newton is one of the greatest and most influential scientists who ever lived. He used mathematics to describe the law of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion, built the first practical reflecting telescope, developed a theory of color after studying the visible spectrum—and much more! Because of his great contributions to science—and the fact that he was born on December 25—some people celebrate today as “Newtonmas” and greet each other with the words “Reason's Greetings.” (Note: Isaac Newton was a Christian, although he had some unusual beliefs.)

For more Christmas spirit, check out this and also that earlier posts. 

December 24, 2011 - Christmas Eve / Nochebuena

Many people around the world celebrate Christmas Eve tonight, and many different cultures have different traditions.

In Spain, Christmas Eve is called la Nochebuena. After a Christmas mass, Spanish families gather for dinner that often starts with a seafood dish, includes hot homemade soup, and finishes off with turron for dessert (a cake made of nougat and nuts).

Cuba Cuban families in Cuba and the U.S. often roast an entire pig for the Nochebuena feast, and dominos is the traditional game.

Filipino families also serve pig roast, often, along with sweet style spaghetti, fruit salad, rice, fried chicken, and many other meat and side dishes. Drinks include hot chocolate, coffee, soda, wine, beer, and fruit juice!

In New Mexico, la Nochebuena is celebrated by lighting luminaries and farolitos. These small paper lanterns light up the night along walkways and walls.

In Mexico and other Latin American nations, Nochebuena is the last night of las Posadas. Here is a video that explains some of the customs. (Click on the preview.)


I love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo” music video. 
And here is the same song done in “dancing” Christmas lights. Bravo! 

For more on Christmas Eve...
Check out this and that other earlier post. In both cases, you will need to scroll down. 

Also on this date:

December 23, 2011 - Man Crosses Ocean with No Food (?)

– 1952

Don't try this at home! Or on the ocean! Or anywhere!

On this date in 1952, Frenchman Alain Bombard arrived in Barbados after sailing across the Atlantic Ocean alone with almost no provisions. That means he had almost no food or fresh water with him on his small inflatable boat!

Or so he claimed.

Bombard was a biologist and doctor. He had already sailed across the ocean solo twice before, but this time he wanted to prove that a human being could survive such a trip without provisions. By testing his theory, he said that he would help save thousands of lives – which seems to me a weird claim. (Surely shipwrecked and lost people don't commit suicide once their water runs out, right? They try to survive, I imagine...)

Bombard visited his newborn daughter in France and then set off on October 19. He said he made a harpoon and hooks and was able to catch or spear fish with these—and the fish were a source of fresh water as well as of food. He also harvested surface plankton with a small net. According to Bombard, he sipped a little salt water when necessary. (Warning: drinking salt water will cause dehydration, and eventually seizures and death. Don't do it – not even in little sips.) 

On the fourth day of his journey, Bombard's backup sail was blown away, and he had to mend a torn sail to continue. On his 53rd day, he encountered a ship. The people on the ship gave him a meal and warned him that he was still 1,000 kilometers away from his goal, but Bombard chose to go on.

When Bombard arrived in Barbados, he had lost 25 kg (around 55 pounds), and he had to go to the hospital for a short time. However, he recovered, wrote a book about his adventure, and lived to be 80 years old.

Some people think that Bombard's story is too unlikely to be true. A German doctor named Hannes Lindemann tested Bombard's claim by trying to repeat his journey. However, he found that he needed fresh water from rain most days. Lindemann has speculated that either Bombard secretly took fresh water along on his journey or was secretly provided supplies along the way. The World Health Organization bases its recommendations for ocean crossings on Lindemann's findings, not on Bombard's story.

Also on this date: