December 13 – The Beginning of the End of Humans on the Moon

Posted on December 13, 2017

On this date in 1972, two astronauts walked on the Moon.

It was their third Moonwalk.

They were two of only twelve humans to ever walk on the Moon.

And - so far - they are the LAST humans to walk on the Moon. 

On this date in 1972, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt exited their Apollo 17 Lunar Module to collect 146 pounds (66 kg) of rocks and lunar samples and to take gravimeter readings. 

They took the Lunar Rover to some interesting looking formations, including the Sculptured Hills and an odd crater.

 They explored, they took pictures - but they were more scientists than tourists.

Eugene Cernan was an engineer and a fighter pilot.

Harrison Schmitt was a geologist.

And they knew that they were the last, for now. The two astronauts unveiled a plaque that commemorated the achievements of the Apollo program.

Cernan and Schmitt hoped that their "last ever" status wouldn't last long. They hoped that their records - longest moon landing, longest total moonwalks, largest lunar sample, longest time in lunar orbit - would be broken soon.

But it's been 45 years, and their records still stand.

Let's go back to the Moon!!

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December 12 – Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico

Posted on December 12, 2017

Today's celebration is based on the story of a native Mexican man - he is usually called an Aztec or a Nahua man - having visions of the "Virgin Mary" in the month of December. The Virgin Mary is said to be the mother of Jesus in the Christian religion. Diego saw the Virgin on a hill, and she asked him to build a church dedicated to her on that hill.

The man, Juan Diego, went down to town and told the Spanish bishop what he had seen and heard on the hilltop. Of course, the bishop did not believe him. But the vision of the Virgin kept appearing to Juan Diego - always on that hilltop - and asked him to insist.

The Virgin is supposed to have given Diego signs to prove to others that he was telling the truth. One sign was beautiful roses that would never grow on that hilltop in December; he carried the roses back to town in his cloak. The second sign was that a picture of the Virgin appeared on that cloak. 

The picture of the Virgin was supposed to have appeared magically, but there is evidence of paint on the cloak.

The story goes on to say that, when Diego came down from the hill with impossible roses and a miraculous image on his cloak, people finally did believe he had seen visions of the Virgin. 

The miracle and the change of heart for the bishop and other townsfolk is said to have happened on this date in1531.

A church dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe was built on the hillside, as requested. But a much more important effect of this story was that many more of the native peoples of Mexico began to accept the Christian religion that the Spaniards who had conquered them taught. 

The Fiesta of the Virgin of Guadalupe is one of the most celebrated religious holidays in Mexico, and it is the beginning of a Christmas tradition called Las Posadas. 

Kids celebrate the holiday with corn cake, candy sticks, and roses in December - made of paper, of course!

Adults often put flowers at shrines for the Virgin Mary, and they often have big feasts and parties. As you can see from these photos, some people participate in reenactments of the Juan Diego story, some walk on pilgrimages to church, many decorate shrines with flowers or candles, and dances and musical performances show a combination of Aztec or other native culture and Spanish culture.

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December 11 – Kaleidoscope Day

Posted on December 11, 2017

Today is the birthday of the man who invented the kaleidoscope, Sir David Brewster. This Scottish scientist / inventor was born on this date in 1781.

Someone, somewhere, decided that December 11 would be a great day to celebrate this fun optical toy.

Do you own a kaleidoscope? Have you ever made one? 

Here's what the view through a kaleidoscope can look like:

And here's how a kaleidoscope works:

The wonderful images are created by the reflections of reflections of reflections - of the three mirrors:

And here's a step-by-step in making one type of kaleidoscope.

Also on this date:

December 10 – Huckleberry Finn Day

Posted on December 10, 2017

It's always been "trouble"; it's always been great!

This is a sample of
the original
Although the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by an American author (Mark Twain), and although it is set in America (on and near the Mississippi River), and although it discusses some really important-to-America themes (like slavery) - it wasn't published first in the United States of America.

Instead, on this date in 1884, the book was published in Canada and the United Kingdom.

It wasn't until 1885 that Huck Finn was published in the U.S.

Instantly, it was a book full of controversy. But it was also popular with readers.

Still, it's a book full of controversy - but it's still a favorite of many.

Here's a teeny-tiny sample of why this book is so controversial:

1. It has "coarse" or "vulgar" language. But I read that "itched" and "scratched" were considered I am not sure how bad the language would seem today.


2. It includes the offensive word "injun" for "Indian" or "Native American," and even worse, it includes the N-word for black people or People of Color. When Mark Twain was writing and publishing the book, those words were not particularly frowned upon; now they are considered really bad.

3. People just can't seem to agree on whether the book is racist or anti-racist.

One of the main characters, Jim, is a black enslaved person who has run away from the white woman who "owned him." Since we grow to like Jim, and since we see him as a complex character and person, and since the book as a whole largely sides with freedom for enslaved people, I think it is fair to say that the book was anti-racist at the time it was written.

That said, most books published back in the 1800s and the early 1900s - even the anti-slavery ones - seem pretty darned racist to us now, in the 2000s.

We know that Mark Twain (whose non-author name was Samuel Clemens) was very, very, very much against slavery.

4. Some people assumed that the book must be for kids, or at least teens, because the character Huckleberry Finn is 13 to 14 years old. But then they worried about the coarse language and controversial themes (like the slavery thing).

And that is still happening today. People worry about kids reading the N-word, and sometimes other words are subbed in (but that can be confusing, honestly).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn still makes the news today, because one or another school or library staff will decide to remove the book from its shelves, but it also makes the news whenever the school or library staff decide to put it back on the shelf after a period of censorship! The same year that the book was published, people were censoring it; and it still ranks in top 20 of most censored books!

By the way, Mark Twain once wrote that he meant the book just for adults, not kids. But he went on to say, apparently with a lot of sarcasm, that the Bible is also upsetting to kids. So...I assume he may have meant his book for teens despite his words?

I did not read that Huckleberry Finn was controversial
because it portrays a teenager smoking...

But I doubt that any publisher these days would
emphasize the smoking by using this book cover.

Did you know...?

One TV-movie version of the book, in 1955, tried to get rid of the controversy by eliminating the character Jim  entirely!

Wh-wh-what? The book is mostly about two main characters, fellow-travelers on the Mississippi River, both of them running away from mistreatment and (different kinds of) enslavement.  

Much of the personal growth we see in Huck comes from his developing relationship with Jim and his evolving ideas about slavery.

How on earth would anyone be able to tell the adventures of Huck Finn without Jim?

Also on this date:

Settlers' Day in Namibia

Worldwide Candle Lighting

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