February 28, 2013 - Kalevala Day in Finland

 Today is also known as Finnish Culture Day.

On this date in 1835, a collection of 12,078 verses was published in Finland under the title Kalevala. These verses told the oral folklore and mythology of the Finns, and they had an enormous impact on the people, helping them to form a national identity.

How did these oral traditions find their way onto paper? We have to thank a doctor and botanist (plant scientist) named Elias Lonnrot. He was the district health officer of all of Kainuu region of Finland, but in his spare time, he made field trips to collect the folklore of his people—songs that were sure to die out, he feared, as younger Finns read poems and stories from other European nations. The traditional songs had already all but disappeared from Western Finland!

After eleven collecting trips, Lonnrot published his first collection of songs woven into one long epic tale; he called the epic Kalevala, or “the land of Kaleva.” Lonnrot kept on collecting more verses, however, and later published another version of The Kalevala, this one 22,795 verses long.

This Finnish epic not only gave Finns pride but also influenced authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings), C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia books), poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Finnish author Paavo Haavikko. Cartoonists and children's authors have published illustrated versions of the stories told in the epic poems—including Disney cartoonist Don Rosa, who drew a Donald Duck story called The Quest for Kalevala. The Kalevala also influenced painters, musicians, and filmmakers.

In Finland, company and brand names and even place names have been inspired by The Kalevala.

How's this for impact? I already mentioned that The Kalevala gave Finns a sense of pride and national identity; the epic is credited with helping the Finnish independence movement form and succeed in breaking away from Russia in 1917!

(By the way, a few other folklorists collected some of the Finnish songs, both earlier than and contemporary with Lonnrot. But it is Lonnrot's continuous epic story told in verse that made the enormous impact I have described here.)

Also on this date:

February 27, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Alice Hamilton

She was the first woman professor at Harvard University.

She was a pioneer in toxicology, studying the effects of industrial metals and chemicals on workers' health.

She was a leading expert in occupational health—studying safety and health issues at workplaces.

And she lived to be 101 years old!

Alice Hamilton was born on this date in 1869. She was home schooled until she attended a college prep school and several universities. She became a resident of Hull House, which was founded by social reformer and Progressive Era star Jane Addams, and the two became lifelong friends. It was at Hull House that Hamilton first became interested in health hazards in the workplace.

This EH.Net article about workplace safety discusses roughly the same period as Hamilton's life—and it was a time of increasing interest and progress in workplace safety. It's cool that Hamilton got to live long enough to see a lot of changes for the better in her field...and to get medals and recognition for her major contributions, too. 

Thank goodness for people like Alice Hamilton!

Also on this date:

Science celebrations

Author John Steinbeck's birthday

February 26, 2013 - For Pete's Sake Day

Here is a book by Linda Verville...
This made-up holiday celebrates the creative word-makers and phrase-makers of the world. We usually don't know who started us saying particular phrases (although William Shakespeare is credited with coining many), but we can still tip our hat to the nameless unsung heroes who have added to our language.

...and another by Ellen Stoll Walsh.
The phrase “for Pete's sake,” which some people say when they are frustrated, was apparently created to be a substitute for similar phrases that many consider to “take the Lord's name in vain.” Why Pete is anyone's guess—although a nice one-syllable name with a popping first sound was surely more likely to catch on with frustrated people than something like, “Oh, for Jennifer's sake!”

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the phrase was first recorded in 1903. Other similar uses of Pete include “for the love of Pete” (first recorded in 1906) and “in the name of Pete” (1942).

Perhaps you can celebrate this holiday by trying to get your own name or nickname into a catchy phrase. (Good luck if your name is Jennifer, though!)

By the way...
As I typed the last sentence, I got to wondering how the word nickname came to be. Does it have anything to do with the name Nick? Turns out, no, it doesn't. The word nickname comes from the Old English “an ekename,” which means “an additional name.” Sloppy pronunciation and copying resulted in “a nekename,” which has over the years evolved to our current word nickname.

Celebrate wordsmiths and phrase-makers.

"Etymology" is the study of the origins of words.
  • Read Frindle, the story of a boy who tries to create a new word. 

  • Quiz yourself on word origins in order to learn more about them. You can play this quiz game over and over again, always with new words, to learn even more! 

  • If you want to look up the origin of a word or word part, you could try Online Etymology Dictionary. Remember, it is not explaining definitions of words, but where and when the words came from. 

Also on this date:

Western showman Buffalo Bill Cody's birthday

February 25, 2013 - Happy Birthday, Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir is one of the most famous painters of all time. He helped to establish the movement known as Impressionism—a movement in which painters didn't use their careful and precise brush strokes to exactly copy reality, but instead used looser, more visible brush strokes to convey movement and emotion. Artists began to show their own personal impressions of reality.

Renoir's paintings include many happy scenes such as people dancing or rowing on a lake or dining and laughing together.

It's amazing to think that we might not have these happy, light-filled paintings if Renoir hadn't hidden a man running away from the police!

You see, during Renoir's early years, a man named Raoul Rigault was running away from the police. Renoir saved the man from arrest by hiding him.

Later, in 1871, a group of Communists and anarchists had gained control of Paris's government. Raoul Rigault, who had once run and hid from the police, became a head of the “police” under this Commune government.

One day in 1871 Renoir was peacefully painting a scene by the Seine River, when suddenly he was seized by members of the Commune. Apparently these fellows thought Renoir must be a spy. They quickly decided to kill Renoir and throw his body into the river. Lucky for all of us, that's when Rigault showed up.

Rigaut recognized in Renoir, not a famous painter (because he wasn't yet famous), but his savior from years before. Rigualt returned the favor and saved Renoir's life.

Celebrate Renoir!

Fun Learning Activities for Children has a page about Renoir. 

Livingston-dot-org has coloring pages emulating works by many artists, including Renoir. 

And Art Makes Kids Smart has a suggestion for creating impressionistic landscapes using markers. Great idea! 

Garden of Praise offers a short bio of Renoir along with puzzles and other activities.

Jigzone offers online jigsaw puzzles, including a puzzle made from a picture by Renoir.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of first black U.S. Senator sworn in

February 24, 2013 - Lantern Festival in China

I already mentioned the Lantern Festival that marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations (also known as the Spring Festival).  Tonight's festival is also called the Yuanxiao Festival because it is traditional to eat yuanxiao, which are rice balls stuffed with various fillings such as sugar, rose petals, sesame, and sweetened bean paste. These rice balls can be boiled, fried, or steamed.

Lighting lanterns on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month of the Chinese year began as a tradition during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE). It was meant to show respect for Buddha. So the Lantern Festival has been celebrated for more than 2,000 years!

One tradition I had never heard of is guessing lantern riddles. People write riddles and paste them on the colorful lanterns in their house or shop. Visitors try to guess the riddles; when people think they know an answer, they pull off the paper and go to the host to see if they are right. Gifts are given to the people who get the right answers.

Another tradition is the Lion Dance. This is often performed by one or two people in a lion costume; performers can either show off their acrobatic and stilt-walking skills or they can go for realistic lionlike movements.

You don't have to be in a lion costume to do stilt-walking during this festival! Many performers walk with stilts bound to their feet, and some performers do difficult tricks on the stilts.

If I could be anywhere in China tonight, I might choose Culture Park in Sichuan. The park is supposed to be an ocean of lit lanterns, with one golden-dragon lantern spiraling up a 27-meter-high pole; the dragon lantern spews fireworks from its mouth!

  • Kaboose offers directions to help you make a simple paper lantern.

  • This video shows many more advanced lantern shapes, which you can learn to make here

Also on this date:

Robot-building pioneer Vaucanson's birthday

February 23, 2013 - Curling Is Cool Day

I bet you're wondering “Curling what is cool?"

Curling hair can be a pretty warm activity, if you use an electric curling iron.

Curling ribbon is temperature-neutral but not “cool” enough in the hip/fashionable sense to earn it a holiday.

Curling strips of paper to be used in quilling is pretty cool...is that what today is all about?

No, today is about the sport of curling.

Curling combines the chilly fun of ice skating with the techniques of bowling and shuffleboard and also the household skill of sweeping the floor! 

 There is a lot of strategy to the game, so some call it “Chess on Ice.”

Curling was invented in medieval Scotland. It has been an Olympic Sport since 1998.

Stones, Brooms, and Teflon Shoes

Curling is played on an ice rink that has been sprayed with water droplets that freeze into a surface called pebbled ice. Curlers slide the curling stones, which are literally granite stones fitted with colored handles, over this pebbled surface. Any rotation a curler gives to the stone causes the stone to travel in a curved path—in other words, the stone curls inward or outward. The stone's path may also be influenced by the sweepers who use their brooms to slightly melt the ice in front of the stone.

Curling shoes have different soles. One shoe is a slider shoe, and it is typically made of Teflon. The other shoes is called the hack foot shoe. It is more like a regular athletic shoes, made for maximum traction. By the way, there are rubber hacks on the ice to help players push off as they start their bowling-like delivery of the stone.

The goal of curling is to accumulate the maximum score, determined by the stone's distance to the center of a target. Stones must at least touch the outer rim of the target to score any points.

Sliding the stones to the target is only part of the goal, however—because the other team is also taking its turns in sliding their different-colored stones. Each team can put two stones into positions that “guard the house” (the house being the target)—and these stones are not allowed to be touched. After the guard stones are in place, however, the two teams often deliberately aim their stones to hit the other team's non-guard stones out of play. The trick is to (1) avoid your opponent's guard stones, (2) hit your opponent's scoring stones out, and (3) still leave your own stones in a good scoring position.

Check out curling in this short video

Here, NHL (pro-hockey) players try curling. 

By the way...

I guess I would have to admit that curling really is cool! All that ice, you know....

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the writing of the song “This Land Is Your Land”

February 22 - Independence Day in Saint Lucia

When a Caribbean island is named after a woman named Lucia (or Lucy), why do some people call it “the Helen of West Indies”?

This nickname is a reference to Helen of Troy, who was a mythological woman who was said to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She had around 30 to 50 men competing for her hand in marriage, and she ended up marrying Menelaus, King of Sparta. Then she was kidnapped by a Trojan prince named Paris—and Sparta and Troy went to war over her.

(The Trojan War was one of the most important events in Greek Mythology and may be based on a real war—although nobody knows for sure.)

Now, back to St. Lucia. This island-with-a-female-name was also fought over by two important powers. Although Carib Indians lived on the island and Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to “discover” the island, it was French settlers who created a treaty with the locals and who established the first permanent European presence on the island. However, in 1763 England obtained control of the colony by winning the Seven Year War with France.

And then the fighting began. Back and forth, forth and back, the island switched from French to English rule over and over again. France had control over the island seven different times, and England had control seven other times.


St. Lucia (the island) was fought over just like Helen (the legendary woman) was fought over. But we all know that Helen really didn't belong to Menelaus or Paris; she belonged to herself. And St. Lucia needn't belong to either France or England; the islanders could rule themselves.
They finally got a chance to do just that on this date in 1979.

Learn about St. Lucia with this Travel Guru video.

Also on this date:

Anniversary of the announcement of a cure for tuberculosis 

World Thinking Day