Wednesday, January 14, 2015


In southern India, today begins a four day harvest festival known as Pongal. It begins with music and ends with a picnic.

On the first day of the festival, people thoroughly clean their homes and get rid of old clothes to symbolize a new start, a new life.

On the second day family members create a kolam for the front of their home. It represents happiness and prosperity. Then new pots are used to boil rice in milk until it boils over. You can find a recipe for pongal here. The name of the dish is the same as the festival, and demonstrates its importance. During the day, people visit friends and neighbors and exchange food gifts.

On the third day, thanks is given to the animals that help with ploughing. The animals are bathed and then adorned with flowers, beads, and bells.

The festival ends on the fourth day with a family picnic.

The weather may be too cold to go outside for a picnic, depending on where you live, so improvise! Take these four days to visit with friends and family and gift them with baked goods. Plan an indoor picnic. And find images online of different kolams and let your imagination take over and create your own!

The new year is underway. Celebrate!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


In the Punjab, in northern India, they celebrate Lohri, a harvest festival. It is believed the festival was originally celebrated on the winter solstice, but now it is celebrated on January 13. The harvest is of the rabi crops, which are sown in winter and harvested in spring. Sugarcane is one crop that is harvested in January. The day after Lohri, Maghi, is the financial new year. Confusion over winter solstice and Lohri has to do with the way the Punjabi calendar is calculated.

On Lohri, children go from door to door singing songs about a character much like Robin Hood and demanding *loot*. People give them popcorn, sesame seeds, sugar, peanuts, and even money. It is considered back luck to turn the kids away empty handed.

According to, "the central character of most Lohri songs is Dulla Bhatti, a Muslim highway robber who lived in Punjab during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Besides robbing the rich, he rescued Hindu girls being forcibly taken to be sold in the slave market of the Middle East. He arranged their marriages to Hindu boys with Hindu rituals and provided them with dowry. Understandably, though a bandit, he became a hero of all Punjabis. So every other Lohri song has words to express gratitude to Dulla Bhatti."

In the evening, people gather around bonfires and throw popcorn and sesame seeds into the fire. They shout  "Aadar aye dilather jaye" (May honor come and poverty vanish!) Songs and prayers are offered for a good harvest and prosperity.

(image from Wikipedia)

Lohri is an important day for newlyweds and newborn babies, for reasons of fertility. It is a day to dress in your finest, get together with family, and have a fancy dinner.

So today, get together with your family, plan a big potluck, have a bonfire (or, in my case, either a nice fire in the fireplace, or a small fire outside in the firepit). Sing songs. Treasure these moments.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Save the Eagles Day

In August 2007, the national bird of the United States, the Bald Eagle, was removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife list. The two main factors that led to the recovery of the bald eagle were the banning of the pesticide DDT and habitat protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act for nesting sites and important feeding and roost sites. 

(Bald Eagle in mid-air flight over Homer Spit Kenai Peninsula Alaska Winter)

Today commemorates Save the Eagles Day, in an attempt to highlight the importance of preserving the symbol of our freedom in a real and purposeful way. Throughout history, the eagle has been recognized as a symbol of power, courage, freedom and immortality.The founders of the United States were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery was prominent. For this reason, the United States chose the bald eagle as its emblem. 

The eagle is also found in several religions, including Christianity and Hinduism. It is considered a sacred bird in some cultures, and is thought to be able to touch the face of God. Eagle feathers are used in many spiritual customs, including some Native American tribes that consider eagle feathers as sacred. The feathers and parts of bald eagle and golden eagles are important to their culture. 

To honor Save the Eagles Day, donations can be made to a wildlife sanctuary in the interest of preserving the eagles. Google eagle sanctuaries to find one that resonates with you.

National Geographic offers these five bald eagle cams to watch.

Friday, January 9, 2015


In Roman mythology, Janus is depicted as a two faced god and is the god of beginnings and of doorways. By two faces, I mean one looking forward to the future and the other looking back to the past.

During the festival known as the Agonalia, which was celebrated on January 9, May 21, and December 11, honoring different deities. On January 9, that deity was Janus.

Typically the officiating priest would sacrifice a ram. Offerings of barley, incense, wine, and cakes called Januae were also common. Since I am a vegan, instead of killing a ram, I'm going to suggest perhaps a really nice seitan pot roast. Served with a nice glass of wine, and maybe a cupcake for dessert.

Burning incense is pretty cool, too.

According to the encyclopedia, Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome, honored Janus by dedicating the famous Ianus geminus, the arcade at the northeast end of the Roman Forum, to him. It was believed that passing through this arcade brought luck to soldiers on their way to war. Hopefully we won't see any soldiers going to war any time soon.

According to Ovid:
Janus must be propitiated on the Agonal day.
The day may take its name from the girded priest
At whose blow the God's sacrifice is felled:
Always, before he stains the naked blade with hot blood,
He asks if he should, Agatne? and won't unless commanded.
Some believe that the day is called Agonal because
The sheep do not come to the altar but are driven (agantur).
Others think the ancients called this festival Agnalia,
'Of the lambs', dropping a letter from its usual place.
Or because the victim fears the knife mirrored in the water,
The day might be so called from the creature's agony?
It may also be that the day has a Greek name
From the games (agones) that were held in former times.
And in ancient speech agonia meant a sheep,
And this last reason in my judgement is the truth.
Though the meaning is uncertain, Rex Sacrorum,
Must appease the Gods with the mate of a woolly ewe."

Gruesome, right?  Probably because one of the suggested meanings of the word translates to *sacrificial victim*. <shudder>

I choose to view this another way. Since the day is intended to honor Janus, I would rather honor what he represents. According to Wikipedia, "Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The doors of his temple were open in time of war, and closed to mark the peace. As a god of transitions, he had functions pertaining to birth and to journeys and exchange, and in his association with Portunus, a similar harbor and gateway god, he was concerned with travelling, trading and shipping."

As we look back on those noble resolutions we made for the new year, today is a day to look back over that list, and see if we have truly begun to put them into practice. Have we walked through the door and made a real and actual start? Have we closed any doors to conflicts in our lives and worked toward peace? If we haven't, today reminds us to make that effort. If we have started, today reminds us to not look back and keep going forward.

And pot roast and a glass of wine are still a very fine thing.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Midwive's Day

In the mountains of Greek Macedonia, the women honor the midwife, Babo, or St. Domenika. St. Domenika was a midwife, who according to tradition, birthed the Christ child. The women insist the men take over the housework on this day. Only women of childbearing age are allowed to participate, since it is hoped that by doing so they will ensure fertility. They dress all in white and honor the village midwife with gifts of practical tools such as towels and soap, but also wine and food. The attending women pour water for the midwife to wash her hands, and then she is expected to kiss a phallic shaped object (typically a sausage), which needless to say is a symbol of fertility. The midwife then sits on a makeshift throne wearing flowers, braids of garlic and onions, a necklace of figs, while the attending women dance around her kissing the sausage. Afterwards there is great feasting with good food and wine, however no attending woman is allowed to get drunk. The men are expected, of course, to stay indoors during this celebration. It goes without saying that the women return home with the hopes of getting pregnant.

A somewhat similar tradition takes place in Bulgaria. The story relates how a king ordered the old women to kill all newborn Jewish boys. The women refused out of fear of God. Babinden, or Old Midwives Day, is a feast to honor the old midwives, and includes new mothers and their babies. The day begins with a ritual bathing of the children by the midwife, followed by a symbolic, but sticky, spreading of honey and butter on them. Everything is conducted with blessings and wishes for health. This is followed by a feast for the midwives. Women who have been delivered of their babies by the midwives participate by bringing gifts of bread, cheeses, pastries, roasted chickens and wine. They help the midwife to wash her hands, then give her a new shirt, apron, head scarf and socks. No men are allowed to attend.

(photo from Wikipedia)

In both traditions, the women carry the midwife to a well or a river and ritually bathe her, all while singing and dancing, before returning her back to her home.

If you are a new mom, this is the perfect day to show appreciation for someone who has helped you deliver, whether a midwife, doctor, nurse, or a friend. Take a gift of cookies or something easy to make, something you know they might enjoy.

If you haven't given birth recently, or not at all, this day does not need to be related specifically to childbirth. Perhaps you are *birthing* any kind of creative project or going through an adoption of a child or pet. Take this day to honor yourself as midwife with a special feast you prepare (or someone prepares for you!), or go out for a nice dinner.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Mystery of Sherlock Holmes' Birthday (and how to celebrate it)

Arthur Conan Doyle never told us what day his brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes was born. That small detail, however, has not stopped fans from determining and setting - and celebrating! - that day.

Why January 6?

According to the article "The Curious Case of a Birthday for Sherlock", by Jennifer Lee:
Paul Singleton, a Sherlockian scholar and actor in New York, said Christopher Morley made the following argument: Sherlock Holmes quotes Shakespeare often, but the only play he quotes twice is “Twelfth Night.” “He determined that Sherlock Holmes was born on the twelfth night, which is January 6.” (That date would coincide with the night of the 12 drummers drumming from the famed song.).

Hmm. Okay. But what about the year? Also from the same article:
The birth year is less up for dispute: 1854. The argument for that? In 1914, Mr. Holmes was described to be a man of 60 when he was instrumental in the capture and arrest of a Prussian spy known as Von Bork. Nonetheless, his centennial was celebrated in 1987, 100 years after he first arrived in print.

The Baker Street Irregulars were originally a group of street urchins that Holmes used as his eyes and ears on the street. The name has been adopted to refer to the *New York City based literary society dedicated to the study of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Victorian world* that began in 1934. They publish the Baker Street Journal and have a trust that is dedicated to raising funds for research for their members. They meet annually in January for a dinner and celebration of all things Sherlock. Because they refused admittance into the group by women until 1991, women fans of Holmes formed their own group, the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, in the 60s.

So, how do you celebrate the birthday of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes? Oh, so easy.

I admit it, I am a huge fan of the BBC series Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch.

But long before I ever saw my first episode of this show, I loved both Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

and Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

So the first thing you can do to celebrate is to watch any of these. You may also be interested to know that both Peter Cushing and Michael Caine have both also played Holmes on screen. And, of course, my least favorite, Robert Downey, Jr. as Sherlock Holmes. Hey, I'm not hating on the actor. I totally love him as Iron Man! I just didn't care for this interpretation of Holmes.

Of course, if you'd rather read than watch it on tv, you simply must get The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I read it years ago and it is still one of my favorites.

What kind of party would it be without food? By all means, try the Dining With Sherlock Holmes Cookbook or the Unofficial Sherlock Holmes Cookbook. I did come across this recipe online:

1 1/2 ounces single-malt Scotch, preferably Laphroaig
2 ounces chilled brewed Lapsang souchong tea
1 ounce Honey Syrup
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice  Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir well. Double strain into a chilled coupe.

It is called, what else, Sherlock Holmes.

Whatever you do, if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you simply must do something to celebrate today!

Nollaig na mBan

Today is Nollaig na mBan or Women's Little Christmas. On this day in Ireland, it is the tradition for the women to get together for a party or go out and celebrate and enjoy their own Christmas, while the men stay at home and handle all the household duties. It is also common for children to buy their mothers and grandmothers presents on this day.

(image from

From the website Ireland Fun Facts: During my childhood, I remember excited, shawled women hurrying to the local public house. On Little Women’s Christmas, they would inhabit this man’s domain without shame. Sitting in “the snug,” a small private room inside the front door, they would pool the few shillings they’d saved for the day. Then they would drink stout and dine on thick corned beef sandwiches provided by the publican. For the rest of the year, the only time respectable women would meet for a glass of stout would be during shopping hours, and then only because it was “good for iron in the blood.”

In his book The Year in Ireland, Kevin Danaher wrote that while Christmas Day “was marked by beef and whiskey, men’s fare”, on Women’s Christmas ” the dainties preferred by women – cake, tea, wine – were more in evidence”.

In Land of Milk and Honey, Brid Mahon says that high tea on January 6 might have featured “thinly-cut sandwiches, scones, gingerbread, apple cakes, sponge cakes decorated with swirls of icing, plum cake, brown bread, soda bread, baker’s bread, pats of freshly made butter, bowls of cream, dishes of jam and preserves and the best quality tea”.

So make sure you spend today with friends, preferably at a lovely tea shop. Or, what the heck, at a pub. Enjoy yourself. You deserve it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Herbal Tealights

I have several tealight candle holders. And I mean, several. I can buy scented ones, which I do, but they are sometimes surprisingly pricey for such little candles. So I like to make my own.

The process is ridiculously simple. I take unscented tealights and place them on a candle warmer. You know, those plug in burners that you place jarred candles on. They look like this:

I can get about 3 tealights on at a time. Warm them until they have completely melted. Lift them off the warmer, CAREFULLY, and sprinkle in your herbs of choice. Let them cool, and voila! Scented tealights!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Advent of Isis and the Beginning of Work Day

Anyone familiar with the love story of Isis and Osiris knows the tragedy of what happened to them. In brief, for those who don't know, Osiris, the king of Egypt, was murdered by his brother Set, who then dismembered him and scattered his body all over. Gruesome, yes, I know. Osiris' grieving and loving wife, Isis, set out to find the scattered pieces and restores his body. Once he is restored, Isis conceives their son and rightful heir to the throne, Horus.

(image from Wikipedia)

At the winter solstice, Isis sets out to recover the body of her husband. It is at the Advent of Isis, or around January 2, that she returns to Egypt, having succeeded in her quest. These celebrations involved music and dancing and singing.   In “Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians,” John Gardener Wilkinson explains that the Advent of Isis involved the sharing of cakes that had impressions of a bound hippopotamus stamped onto them; the bound animal served as a representation of Set.

To have your own celebration, bake a cake in the shape of a hippo and decorate it in such a way as to represent Set. Display a picture of Isis, burn a white votive and/or Egyptian incense.

And be sure to play music, and dance, and sing. This is a time of celebration!

Consider it this way, the new year has begun, and it is time to rejoice.

On a side note, January 2 is also known as the Beginning of Work Day in Japan. It is said any project begun on this day will be successful. Seems like an excellent time to tackle those projects you've been putting off!
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