October 26, 2013

Birthday Keeper goes to college

Hello again! I'm in college now and have already established a reputation as Birthday Keeper among the people here. Whenever a girl on my floor has a birthday, I leave a sticky note with "Happy birthday! -Maria" next to her name on her door. I recently went on the Facebook pages of everyone on the floor to make sure I had everyone's birthday written down. I would feel awful if I missed a hallmate's birthday.

Whenever someone comes to visit me and my roommate for the first time, I analyze his or her birthday using the book 365 Birthdays Interpreted by Michele Knight. I then go to famousbirthdays.com to discover which celebrities share our visitor's birthday. Sometimes I take it to another level and look up which celebrities share our visitor's zodiac sign. One friend of my roommate's, upon hearing that he shared his zodiac sign with a member of One Direction, said "Never mind, that's not my zodiac sign anymore."

My roommate's eighteenth birthday occurred during the first month of classes. I got her a stuffed dog at the gift shop in the student union building and set it on her desk before I went to bed the night before her birthday, since I knew she would wake up earlier than me. (I sleep late on Wednesdays since I don't have classes until after lunch.) She was pleased with the stuffed animal and said "Birthday Keeper strikes again."

I've been very busy with three honors courses but I still try to keep track of everyone's birthdays in all my classes. In the paper I wrote about this blog for my senior project (see my earlier post about my senior project presentation), I said "I hope I become a birthday keeper among my college friends too." I am happy to say that that prediction has come true.

Half birthday shoutouts to Uncle Steve and Anna

July 7, 2013

Eighteenth birthday

Today I, Birthday Keeper, legally became an adult. When I woke up I found nine small presents waiting outside my door. When I was younger, it was a tradition for my parents to give me the same number of small presents as the year I was turning on my birthday morning. The most memorable instance was my sixth birthday. We'd gone to a baseball game the night before and spent the night at a hotel. When I woke up, I found six round packages waiting for me. My dad said "Maybe Mom got you baseballs." The packages were actually gift balls - they unraveled and small presents, including erasers and troll dolls, fell out. Once I became a teenager my parents added up the numbers in my age to determine how many presents I would receive in the morning. So, today I received nine, since 1 + 8 = 9. These nine presents included Pop-Tarts. My birthday is the only time of year when I eat Pop-Tarts.

A friend came over in the afternoon and we went downtown. After she left I went out to dinner with my parents. In my family, the birthday person gets to pick where to eat dinner. When we got home I had a handmade card to look at and a few more presents to open. Then it was time to decorate my cake. It was star-shaped, as it always is.

My cake was frosted purple and decorated to look like leopard fur
There were twelve candles on the cake - nine for numerology (1 + 8 = 9) and one each for good health, good wealth, and good luck.

Blowing out my candles!
When I was a little kid, I thought every family celebrated birthdays the same way. I remember being surprised to find out that not everyone received the same number of presents as the age they were turning. The research I have done in the past year has helped me to see that birthdays are different everywhere, but no matter what, a birthday is always a day to celebrate.

July 5, 2013

Early birthday celebration

In a post on sharing birthdays with holidays, I mentioned my family's annual Fourth of July celebration. On Fourth of July, my mother's family gets together to celebrate all the summer birthdays in the family, including my grandpa's, which is on Independence Day itself, and mine, which is three days later. I've stopped singing names during Happy Birthday at the family birthday parties since the names always get mixed up. Seven birthdays were celebrated today; however, there were only three cakes.

Our three birthday cakes. Mine is the chocolate cake at the bottom right.
Grandpa and me blowing out birthday candles!
Many people eat more than one kind of cake at the family birthday parties. Today, I ate my chocolate cake as well as my grandpa's white chocolate cheesecake. After we were finished with cake, it was time for birthday people to open presents. I was happy to get gift cards to several of my favorite stores, as well as a calendar for me to use while in college.

We left my aunt's house around six and drove back home in time for the fireworks. Some people might say that Independence Day would not be the same without fireworks. However, for me, Fourth of July would not be the same without the family birthday celebration. We took my cake home. Less than half is left, and that is probably a good thing because I'll get another cake on Sunday, my real birthday.

Birthday shoutouts to Shana, myself, Paige, and Nick
Half birthday shoutouts to Emily and Luke

May 17, 2013


I originally started this blog as a required senior project for my school. In recent weeks I have been very busy studying for finals and AP tests, so I did not post regularly. Now that my senior project is finished, I no longer create educational posts every Saturday night; however, I do hope to still post about birthday celebrations in my family.

Seniors at my high school have been busy presenting their senior projects this week. We had to sign up for time slots last month. Each two-hour presentation time slot consists of four students presenting in the presence of two teachers, one of whom is the senior project coordinator at my high school. Presentations continue into next week, but I signed up for the earliest time slot, which was on Tuesday morning. (I wasn't able to post about my presentation until now because I was busy with AP tests.)

Prior to presenting, seniors had to compile a portfolio or annotated bibliography and write a three page reflection paper about their projects. I chose to keep an annotated bibliography. What with all the research I have done for my educational posts, my annotated bibliography was 43 pages. I actually really enjoy putting sources into MLA format, so I did not mind having to keep such an extensive works cited page. Thankfully I didn't have to print it! I had no problem meeting the three page requirement for the reflection paper; my paper was over four pages since there is so much to say about birthdays.

I presented third in my time slot. The first student had created a recipe book and discussed how she hopes to continue cooking in college. She even brought in samples of her food, which was great. The second student had studied how diet and exercise affected his health. He was very informative and had obviously done a lot of research about different factors that affect health. I was next. I presented a PowerPoint that discussed my lifelong fascination with birthdays, my decision to keep a blog for my senior project, and my experiences researching the many topics I covered in my educational posts. I then showed this blog to my classmates and teachers. I also showed them my annotated bibliography at the request of the senior project coordinator. The fourth student, who was an exchange student in Germany last year, had taught German to two high school juniors. She showed us a video of the two boys speaking in German (with English subtitles so everyone could understand it!) All the presentations were extremely interesting. I really enjoyed learning about everyone's unique projects; I wish I could have seen other people's presentations too.

Soon after I got home, I received an email with my senior project evaluation form. I am proud to say that I got honors on my project (the three categories were fail, pass, and honors.) Seniors were graded in five areas (preparation, research, project, presentation, and reflection paper) on a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 indicated no effort, 3 indicated that requirements were met, and 5 indicated that a student went above and beyond the requirements. I got a 5 on preparation, a 5 on research, a 4 on the project itself, a 3 on the presentation, and a 4 on my reflection paper.

Being Birthday Keeper has been a great experience for me this year. I am much more aware of other cultures and their celebrations and understand research techniques that will help me in college. I was very happy to receive such a high grade on my project; I can end high school proud of my accomplishments. On a similar note, I have been named salutatorian of my class and am glad AP tests are over because I have to write a speech for graduation!

Birthday shoutouts to Uncle Jim, Uncle Norm, Uncle Martin, and Jeff
Half birthday shoutouts to Max

April 20, 2013

Danish birthday traditions

In Denmark, birthdays are very important. The Danish take great pride in their flag, and the flag is usually hung from the window of a house in which someone has a birthday. The birthday cake is often decorated with small Danish flags, the card may be decorated with flag stickers, and a flag is often drawn on the family calendar to indicate a family member's birthday.

If the birthday person is a child, he or she will be asked to make a list of birthday presents he or she would like to receive. The night before the big day, family members will go in his or her room while he or she is asleep and set presents on the bed. A big breakfast is always prepared on the birthday morning.

There are many dishes that could be considered for a Danish birthday celebration. The birthday person will most likely have say in planning the menu. Birthday meals are usually prepared on a large scale. There is often a layer cake. The most important edible creation is the kageman, or cake man, which is a pastry shaped similarly to a gingerbread man. It is traditional for someone to chop the cake man's head off before eating it.

A cake man: credits to danishpastryco.com
If there is to be a birthday party, it will be complete with songs (including the Danish version of Happy Birthday,) speeches, and handshaking, according to hejsonderborg.dk. Some people write songs about the birthday person to the tune of well-known songs. The biggest birthday celebrations occur for birthdays that are multiples of ten (20, 30, etc.) The 50th birthday is a particularly extravagant celebration; some people's 50th birthday parties are even advertised in the newspaper.

If someone makes it to 30 without getting married, he or she is considered a pebersvend (pepper man) or pebermø (pepper woman) and is given a pepper shaker. Sometimes people who make it to 25 without getting married are attacked with cinnamon.

Birthday shoutouts to Sam, Duncan, Lyndon, Ethan, and Uncle Steve

April 19, 2013

Birthday cakes

In an earlier post, I discussed the history of birthday parties, and included a description of the history of birthday cakes. I am certainly glad the ancient Greeks brought cakes with candles to Artemis's temple, and that the Germans gave children sweetened dough in the shape of baby Jesus on their birthdays. Birthdays would not be the same without birthday cake. I am lucky enough to have two birthday cakes in one week - one at the big Fourth of July family party (I mentioned this in an earlier post) and another on my real birthday three days later. My cake on my real birthday is always a star shape, but I have had many different cakes at the family party.

Here are some examples:

Three days before my 6th birthday, I blew out the candles of a cake that looked like my favorite stuffed dog, Taffy.

My family party 8th birthday cake was supposed to look like my cat, Beauty.
 It's too bad that I couldn't find a picture of my 9th family birthday party cake, which looked like a castle.

Three days before my 10th birthday, I had a rabbit cake.
I'm blowing out the candles on my butterfly cake three days before my 11th birthday.
A recipe for my 13th birthday family party cake, which looks like the sky on the outside and a rainbow on the inside, can be found at tasteofhome.com, although it is originally from American Girl magazine. I liked this one so much I had it several years in a row.
Three days before my 16th birthday, I blew out the candles on a cake decorated to look like fireworks.
My cake on my real birthday is always a star shape, but that has been decorated differently over the years. Some of my favorites include:

On my 6th birthday I still believed that my birthday had something to do with the celebration of America's independence just because they occurred during the same week, and my cake was decorated with patriotic sprinkles and flags.
My 9th birthday cake was the last one with flags. By then I opted for pink-white-and-blue rather than traditional 4th of July colors.
My overly sprinkle-laden 10th birthday cake and ocean-themed 11th birthday cake can be seen in an earlier post. 

I wrote my name and my cat's name and something else intelligible in icing on my 13th birthday cake . . . don't ask.
My 15th birthday cake was decorated with sprinkles in several shades of my favorite color, purple.
I couldn't find a close up picture of my zebra-striped 16th birthday cake.
My plain purple 17th birthday cake can be seen in my first post.

Two years ago, I took a cake decorating class and discovered many cake ideas. One friend made a three-layer cake with a rat on top (the rat is our high school mascot.) My favorite cake was the Teddy Graham pool party cake (the pool was made out of blue jello.) There was also a cake decorated with white fondant and black fondant dots. A great list of birthday cake ideas can be found at parenting.com.

Half birthday shoutouts to Aunt Leann, Jake, and Stefanie

April 14, 2013

Chinese birthday traditions

Families are very important to the Chinese. It is considered one's moral responsibility to have children; a common Chinese saying is that "of all who lack filial piety, the worst is he who has no children," according to chinaculture.org. The elderly are considered important and are highly respected. The biggest birthday celebrations in China are those held for infants and for the elderly.

The birth of a child is extremely important in China. Some conservative women try to hide the fact that they are pregnant so that evil spirits cannot kill the baby. Upon being born, the baby will be given a milk name, which is supposed to confuse evil spirits. A child is considered one year old as soon as he or she is born. The Chinese traditionally celebrate birthdays according to the lunar calendar and believe that everyone turns another year on Chinese New Year. Rather than stating his or her age, one will state the animal year of his birth.

Thirty days after a child birthday, a month-old party known as Moon-Yut is thrown and all the relatives are invited. Among Buddhist families, sacrifices are offered to the gods. The child's parents give gifts to guests, and guests bring gifts, often money, for the baby. Gifts are given in even numbers. Red-dyed eggs can always be found at Moon-Yut; another name for Moon-Yut is the "red egg and ginger" party. Eggs symbolize a harmonious life, and red symbolizes happiness. A child's name is often announced at Moon-Yut. (The milk name is only used for the first month.)

 A child's first birthday is very important. It could be celebrated on his or her first birthday according to the yang li, or Western calendar, or according to the ying li, or lunar calendar; the family can choose, according to go.com. A feast is given for friends and relatives. Long noodles, which represent long life, are served. A large number of items are placed in front of the child. The first item that the child grabs is an indication of her future career. For example, a pen indicates that the child will be a great writer, while a stamp means that he or she will become a high ranking official.

Subsequent birthday celebrations are not as elaborate. Long noodles, red-dyed eggs, and dumplings in the shape of peaches, which represent longevity, are always served on one's birthday. Red envelopes containing money are often given as birthday gifts. Clocks are never given, since the Chinese word for clock sounds similar to the word for death. As people get older, they tend to celebrate their birthdays on Chinese New Year rather than on their actual birthday. Every twelve years, one's birthday occurs during the same animal year as one's birth; these are considered important birthdays. 30, 33, and 66 are considered unlucky years for women. On a woman's 33rd birthday, she must chop a piece of meat 33 times and then throw it away; it is believed that this casts evil spirits into the meat. On her 66th birthday, her daughter (or, if she has no daughters, closest female relative,) must chop a piece of meat 66 times. 40 is considered an unlucky age for men.

60 is an extremely important age. At 60, the animal year as well as elemental year (the elemental zodiac is five year cycle, with years representing metal, wood, fire, water, and earth) are the same as one's year of birth. 60 is considered an entire life cycle. Adult children usually throw a large feast for their parents' respective 60th birthdays. Long noodles and peach shaped dumplings are always served, and everyone at the feast eats both as a way of expressing their well-wishes to the birthday person. Gifts include red envelopes containing money, eggs, and more long noodles and peach shaped dumplings. After 60, large birthday feasts are given every ten years.

Birthday shoutouts to Joseph and Magdalen

April 6, 2013


Janmashtami is the Hindu celebration of Lord Krishna's birthday. It is always celebrated on the eighth day of the waning moon during the Hindu month Shravan, which is in August and/or September. In 2012 Janmashtami was celebrated on August 10.

Krishna is considered to be the most important human incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to legend, he was born at midnight on the eighth day of the waning moon during Shravan around 5200 years ago in Mathura. His purpose in coming to earth was to free earth from evil, according to calendarlabs.com. Krishna is portrayed as pious yet mischievous, and loving and understanding to all people.

Krishna's birthday is celebrated all over India. The biggest celebrations take place in Mathura and Vrindavan, cities in which Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Devotees all over the world flock to these cities to participate in Janmashtami. People fast until midnight and chant Hindu mantras. Homes and temples are decorated. At temples, people perform kirtan (singing Lord Krishna's name with other devotees ) and japa (private prayer.)  A feast of over a hundred dishes is prepared for Krishna. Some children dress up as Lord Krishna.

The most important part of the celebration occurs in the temple at midnight, since that is the time at which Lord Krishna was born. A statue of baby Krishna is bathed with a mixture of holy water from the Ganges River, milk, ghee, curd, and honey poured from a conch shell, then placed in a cradle.

Rejoicing continues into the second day. Devotional songs and dances are performed to honor Krishna. Reenactments of important events of Krishna's life take place in temples. In cities, dahi handi (large earthen pots) are filled with milk and curd and hung from tall poles, and devotees form a human pyramid to try to break the dahi handi. This reenacts a time in Lord Krishna's childhood when he managed to grasp a pot containing curd that had been placed out of his reach.

A human pyramid: credits to about.com
Members of the Hindu community look forward to Janmashtami every year. People love Lord Krishna, who was the main propagator of the theory of good karma. It is believed that he will reciprocate any love and devotion that is offered to him.

April 5, 2013

Family birthday party

My mom's family gets together several times a year to celebrate all the birthdays in that time of year. The birthday celebration often coincides with a holiday. I mentioned our annual Fourth of July/ summer birthday celebration in an earlier post. We also get together on Easter to celebrate winter and spring birthdays. Our recent celebration included all birthdays from January through March, ten birthdays total. There were three cakes.
Our Easter/ birthday party with three cakes!
Imagine singing Happy Birthday at a birthday party like this one! No one sings the names of the birthday people in the same order. I have taken to not singing names when singing Happy Birthday at a family birthday party.

After eating cake, presents are distributed to the birthday people and opened. Many pictures are taken. There is usually some confusion. Our birthday parties are always crazy and loud, but I would not want them any other way. I look forward to every family birthday party.

April 4, 2013


Tet, Vietnamese New Year, is the most important holiday for the Vietnamese. Everyone celebrates their birthday on Tet, according to birthdaycelebrations.net. The actual date of Tet depends on the lunar calendar and varies from year to year, though it always coincides with Chinese New Year, which takes place in January or February. Vietnamese New Year is a time to get together with family and celebrate one's ancestors and culture.

Tet officially lasts three days, but the preparations begin a week in advance. A week before New Year's Eve, family members clean the house. Some families even repaint the house. It is believed that cleaning the house gets rid of bad fortunes from the old year. That night, the family offers a farewell ceremony to the Kitchen God, who is known as Ong Tao. The Vietnamese believe that Ong Tao goes to the Heaven Palace to report on the family to the Jade Emperor.

On Giao Thua, New Year's Eve, family members offer a ceremony to welcome Ong Tao back to earth, as well as to bid farewell to the old chief and welcome the new chief. The chiefs are the same twelve animals from the Chinese zodiac; the chief for 2013 is the Snake. Vietnamese children say what chief they were born under rather than saying how old they are. At the stroke of midnight, family members beat drums, light firecrackers, and encourage dogs to bark to welcome the new year.

Tet is a holiday to honor family and ancestors. On New Year's Day, family members gather in their hometowns. Incense is burned in honor of deceased family members. Traditionally, people visit close friends and parents on the first day of Tet. On the second day, people visit in-laws and other friends. Distant relatives are visited on the third day. There is a belief that the wealth of the first visitor on Tet will determine the family's luck for the entire year, so families try to invite wealthy people to their homes. Children wear their best clothes and everyone is on their best behavior, since the Vietnamese believe that one's actions during Tet influence a family's luck for the entire year.

Tet decorations are very important and symbolic. The plate of five fruits represents the five basic elements: metal, wood, fire, water, and earth. The fruits are arranged in a pyramid, and the plate is sometimes decorated with flowers.

A five fruits plate: credits to missouri.edu
 Parallel sentences are hung by the door. A pair of parallel sentences contain the same number of words, with contrasting or corresponding meanings. An example of a parallel sentence is "On the New Years’ Eve, pay debts on all sides; bending your legs, kick out poverty. On New Years’ day, rice wine makes you drunk; stretching your arms, carry in wealth" (credits to missouri.edu.) A piece of bamboo, known as a Cay Neu or New Year's Tree, is raised in the front yard and decorated with bells, clay fish, and thorny branches. It is taken down after seven days. Flower symbolize new beginnings, so many homes are decorated with flowers during Tet. Peach flowers and apricot flowers are the most popular.

Traditional Tet foods include banh chung (sticky rice cake) and pickled onions. Pork dishes, sugarcoated coconut, and boiled chicken are also common. Eating is an important part of Tet. The Vietnamese expression an Tet (to eat the Tet) refers to the tradition of celebrating Tet with a feast for the entire family.

A very important tradition is the presentation of sealed red envelopes. Older people give red envelopes to younger people to congratulate them on being another year older, as well as to remind them to live harmoniously with others. The envelopes contain li xi, lucky money.

Birthday shoutouts to Nathan and AJ. Sorry it took me so long to do these birthday shoutouts!

March 23, 2013


Shichi-go-san is Japanese for "seven-five-three," and the shichi-go-san festival is a Japanese festival honoring the good health and growth of all three-year-old girls and boys, five-year-old boys, and seven-year-old girls. The festival takes place on November 15th and is marked by families with seven, five, and three-year-olds visiting shrines. Odd numbers are considered lucky, 15 is the sum of 7, 5, and 3, and November 15th is considered the most auspicious date of the Japanese calendar. Since this date is not a national holiday, people usually visit the shrine on the nearest weekend.

During the Heian period (794-1185,) the child mortality rate was high in Japan. During this time period, members of the aristocratic class and the samurai class began having celebrations for children who lived to be three, five, and seven, which, being odd numbers, were considered lucky ages. By the Edo Period (1603-1868,) commoners had shichi-go-san celebrations for their children as well.

Three, five, and seven are all milestone ages for Japanese children. During the samurai era, children had their heads shaved until they reached the age of three. A child's first shichi-go-san after his or third birthday marked the first time he or she could grow hair and was referred to as kamioki, which means "putting on hair." A boy could start wearing hakama, formal Japanese pants, at age five, and his first shichi-go-san after his fifth birthday was called hakamagi-no-gi. Upon turning seven, a girl could tie her kimono with obi (a traditional sash) rather than strings, and her first shichi-go-san was called obitoki-no-gi.

Kamioki is no longer observed, and some families dress their children in Western-style suits and dresses rather than having hakamagi-no-gi and obitoki-no-gi, but shichi-go-san is still a very meaningful celebration for the Japanese. Some children have photo sessions taken for their shichi-go-san. Girls get their hair and makeup done. On the big day, the children's families visit the shrine and the kan-nushi (Shinto priest) blesses the children and recites a long prayer to a Shinto god asking for protection of the children. The family members participate in the prayer ceremony as well. After the ceremony, the priest gives the children omamori, which are good luck charms, according to iromegane.com.

Children on their way to the shrine for shichi-go-san: credits to english-ch.com
 After visiting the shrine, parents buy their children chitose-ame, which means "thousand years candy." Chitose-ame are long red and white sticks. Red and white are lucky colors, and long sticks symbolize long life. The candy sticks are carried in bags decorated with pictures of turtles and cranes, two long-living animals that also represent long life.

Birthday shoutouts to Mattie, Cy, and Caitlin

March 18, 2013

Zodiac signs

The word "zodiac" comes from a Latin word that means "circle of animals." The zodiac is a circle of constellations that line the ecliptic path of the sun. It is divided into twelve equal segments. The moon and planets are also included in the zodiac. Many people draw significance from their zodiac sign, which corresponds to the constellation the sun aligns with at one's time of birth. A list of the twelve zodiac signs and their meanings can be found at psychicguild.com.

A zodiac chart: credits to minglecity.com
The Babylonians are usually credited with the origin of the idea of zodiac signs. They believed that a person's birth month influenced their personality and noticed that the stars were in certain positions at the same time each year. They used astrology to predict and explain wars and natural disasters. The Egyptians divided the ecliptic into twelve sections which are now the twelve zodiac signs. The Greeks discovered astrology around the 4th century. It later spread to the Romans, who gave the constellations of the zodiac the names they have today. Throughout the next century and a half, astrology fell in and out of popularity. Many religious groups disliked it. Today, astrology is not considered an actual science but is still studied thoroughly by some people. Many people enjoy reading their horoscopes though they may not take them seriously. There are many beliefs on how zodiac signs can shape one's personality and on how compatible different zodiac signs are with each other. A zodiac sign compatibility analysis can be found at eastrolog.com. For a complete astrological analysis of one's birth date, one must not only consider one's sun sign but also the constellations to which the moon and each planet correspond. According to twelveplanets.com, one's sun sign represents one's character, a moon sign represents one's thinking process and manner of communication, and Venus represents artistic abilities and love. Outer planets represent an entire birth generation rather than an individual. The rising sign, which corresponds to the constellation that was rising in the east at a person's time of birth, represents how a person approaches new things. A free astrological chart analysis can be found at alabe.com.

The zodiac does not lie perfectly in a plane with the ecliptic. Due to this fact, the time of year traditionally corresponding to each zodiac sign does not correspond with that sign's constellation. It takes about 2000 years for the ecliptic to shift over one constellation. During the time of the ancient Babylonians, the sun rose against Aries during the spring equinox (which is considered the beginning of the zodiac.) However, throughout the next two millenniums it began to rise against Pisces and is now beginning to rise against Aquarius. The current astrological age is referred to as the Age of Aquarius. It will take around 26000 years for the ecliptic and the zodiac to line up perfectly again, according to astro.com. This difference between the sun's path and the zodiac has led to two forms of astrology: tropical astrology, which is based on the seasons in the year, and sidereal astrology, which is based on the actual positions of the stars. The sidereal zodiac has a thirteenth constellation, Ophiuchus, between Scorpio and Sagittarius. The tropical zodiac is used in Western astrology and is the zodiac used in horoscope charts. The sidereal zodiac is used in Indian and Vedic astrology.

The zodiac can be divided into three groups of four signs. Cardinal signs, Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn, represent the equinoxes and solstices and stand for dynamic change. Fixed signs, Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius, stand for stability. Mutable signs, Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, and Pisces, stand for more gradual change. Zodiac signs can also be divided into four groups of three signs: earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn,) air signs (Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius,) fire signs (Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius,) and water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.) Additionally, zodiac signs can be divided into male and female groups.

Birthday shoutouts to Joseph and Uncle Andrew

March 15, 2013

Sharing birthdays with holidays

When one shares one's birthday with a holiday, it can mean a double celebration, or it can mean that one will choose to celebrate one's birthday on a different day. I asked a few people who share their birthdays with holidays how they feel about it and how they celebrate.

A friend who has his birthday on Valentine's Day says "I really enjoy having my birthday on Valentine's Day. The only problem is that it is hard to get dinner reservations."

I recently talked to someone who said that his birthday is St. Patrick's Day, his dad's birthday is Fourth of July, and his grandpa's birthday is Christmas. Being Birthday Keeper, I found that a very interesting coincidence.

My grandpa's birthday is Fourth of July. Every year my mom's family gathers at my aunt's house for a combined Fourth of July/ Grandpa's birthday celebration. We also celebrate other summer birthdays, including mine, on Fourth of July. My grandpa was born in Italy. According to my mother, author of Cats From Mars, he believed that the Fourth of July fireworks were for him when he first moved to the United States as a young boy.

Our most recent Fourth of July celebration
 My birthday is three days after Fourth of July, and when I was little I thought my birthday had something to do with the celebration of America's independence. For that reason I liked to decorate my birthday cake with a patriotic theme when I was little, although I stopped doing that when I was around eight or nine.

Half birthday shoutouts to Joe

March 10, 2013

Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah

Bar mitzvah means "son of the commandments" in Aramaic, which was once the vernacular language of the Jewish people. Upon becoming bar mitzvah, a boy is obliged by Jewish law to follow the commandments in the Torah. He can count in a minyan, the minimum number of people required to say certain prayers. A boy automatically becomes bar mitzvah upon turning thirteen. However, it is popular to have a ceremony to celebrate this important milestone in a Jewish boy's life.

The Talmud, compiled during the centuries following the publication of the Mishnah, the first published work of rabbinic law, around the year 200, is a set of documents that comment on the Mishnah. According to the Talmud, boys were able to perform many mitzvot (commandments,) even prior to becoming bar mitzvah. By the Middle Ages, children were no longer allowed these responsibilites, and a coming of age ceremony to celebrate a boy's first aliyah (recitation of blessings on the Torah) made sense. By the 16th century it was common to call a boy up to the Torah on the Sabbath following his thirteenth birthday. In the 17th century, bar mitzvahs in Germany chanted the entire Torah portion. A feast at the boy's parents house was eventually added to the ceremony. In Poland, it was common for a boy to give a drasha (discourse) in talmudic law during the feast.

Modern bar mitzvah ceremonies vary depending on the boy's family and synagogue and the movement of Judaism to which his family belongs. The ceremony usually takes place during the first Sabbath service following the boy's thirteenth birthday. He is called up to recite the aliyah. He may read some or all of the Torah reading, and traditionally reads the maftir, which is the final portion. Sometimes he chants the haftarah, the weekly prophetic portion associated with the weekly Torah portion. Often, the boy's father recites a blessing stating that he is no longer responsible for his son's decisions. It is common for the boy to give a speech following his Torah reading that relates to the reading in some way. He may also announce a mitzvah project, which is an in-depth study of one of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.

A boy reads from the Torah during his bar mitzvah ceremony: credits to mathiasphotography.com
 The service is usually followed by a large scale reception. In some communities, bar mitzvah receptions are as large as wedding receptions. There is no rule about what type of presents to give. Family members often give presents that have something to do with the boy's faith. Tefillin, black leather boxes containing parchments inscribed with passages from the Torah, are a common present, according to chabad.org. Tefillin are worn on the head and the arm with leather straps during weekday morning services. Wearing tefillin is one of the mitzvot, and a boy usually has not worn tefillin prior to becoming bar mitzvah. Monetary gifts in multiples of 18 are common. The number 18 represents good luck and the Jewish symbol chai, which means life.

Preparation for a bar mitzvah can begin up to eighteen months in advance. The boy studies the mitzvot and learns to chant the haftarah. He prepares a speech and learns how to lead the service. Often, a boy attends bar mitzvah lessons prior to the big day. These lessons help him understand what it means to be Jewish and the importance of becoming an adult in the synagogue. It is important to know that a bar mitzvah is not the end of one's Jewish education, but rather the true beginning of Jewish life. Some rabbis ask bar mitzvahs to sign an agreement stating that they will continue their Jewish education.

Bat mitzvah means "daughter of the commandments." A girl becomes bat mitzvah upon turning twelve. Traditionally, Jewish women were not allowed to participate directly in religious services. That began to change in the early 20th century. The first bat mitzvah in America was given by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, a leader in the Jewish reform movement, for his daughter Judith in 1922, according to about.com. Judith was allowed to read from the Torah when she became bat mitzvah, but the ceremony was not as complex as bar mitzvah ceremonies of that time. Over time, bat mitzvah ceremonies became more widespread. In liberal Jewish communities today, they are very similar to bar mitzvahs . In Orthodox Jewish communities women are still not allowed to participate in religious services, and a bat mitzvah ceremony may consist of the girl reading from the Torah during an all-women's prayer service.

A boy automatically becomes bar mitzvah upon turning thirteen, and a girl automatically becomes bat mitzvah upon turning twelve. A ceremony is not necessary; however, it helps many people understand the importance of this life event. Sometimes, men who did not have bar mitzvah ceremonies when they turned thirteen feel incomplete and have a bar mitzvah as an adult. Many women who grew up before bat mitzvahs were widespread had adult bat mitzvahs.

Birthday shoutouts to Sophie and Toni

March 8, 2013


A birthstone is a gemstone associated with a month. Some believe that a birthstone has special healing powers, especially when worn by a person born during its assigned month. Each birthstone is supposed to represent certain values; for example, my birthstone, ruby, represents love, success, and integrity. A list of birthstones and their meanings can be found at earthsky.org.

Some months are associated with more than one birthstone, and there is no fixed birthstone list. Nineteen birthstones are officially recognized by the American Gem Trade Association. Seventeen are recognized by the American Gem Society.

A chart of the most commonly recognized birthstones: credit to gatorgirlrocks.com
Birthstones have a long history. The first mention of associating a gem with each month is in the Bible. The breastplate of Aaron, Moses's brother, was said in Exodus to be decorated with twelve stones, each stone representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The gemstones were later associated with the zodiac signs and the months of the year.

Different cultures have different birthstone lists. Gems4friends.com provides lists of modern, traditional (dating back to the 15th century,) mystical (ancient Tibetan,) and Ayurvedic (Indian medicinal) birthstones. There is also a list of stones associated with each zodiac sign. Traditional birthstones are often the same color as their modern counterparts. This is due to the fact that people could tell the difference between stones of different color long before they understood the mineral composition and rarity of different stones.

Birthstone jewelry is an excellent birthday present, though some birthstones, particularly rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and sapphires, are more expensive than others due to their rarity. A large selection of birthstone jewelry can be found at jewelrycentral.com.

Birthday shoutouts to Isaac, Leah, and Christine. Sorry it took me so long to do these birthday shoutouts! I was out of town last weekend.

February 23, 2013

History of birthday parties

There has not always been a way to keep track of one's date of birth. Calendars were developed when people began to understand lunar cycles. With the advent of the calendar, people were able to celebrate the anniversary of someone's date of birth.

Before the birth of Christianity, pagan cultures believed that evil spirits came to visit a person on their birthday. To protect themselves from the spirits, people surrounded themselves with friends. Noisemakers were used to scare the spirits away. Gifts provided additional cheer to ward off evil.

Few records of ancient birthday celebrations exist. The only documented birthday celebrations were for royalty and nobility. Historians believe that only the wealthiest people could afford to throw birthday parties in ancient times, and that that may be the reason why people sometimes wear crowns on their birthdays.

Children's birthday celebrations originated in Germany. The Germans called children's birthday celebrations kinderfeste, which means "children's party." 

Birthday cakes originated in Greece. The ancient Greeks took round cakes to the temple of Artemis, the moon goddess. Candles were placed on the cake so that it would glow like the moon. The word "cake" was coined around the 13th century and comes from the Norse word kaka. The Germans gave children sweetened dough in the shape of baby Jesus in swaddling cloth on their birthdays. They placed one candle in the center of the cake to symbolize the light of life. In medieval England, people put small objects such as thimbles, coins, and rings in the cake batter. These objects served as fortunetellers for birthday party guests. For example, it was believed that the person who got the slice with the cake with the ring would marry in the coming year.

Birthday candle superstitions are believed to have originated with the ancient Greeks as well. They believed that smoke from birthday candles would help send prayers to the gods. Today, people often make a wish before blowing out birthday candles. If one blows out all the candles at once, one will get his or her wish. It is popular for children to have the same number of birthday candles as the age one is turning, plus one extra for good luck. Children also enjoy candles in the shape of numbers.

The song "Happy Birthday" was written by two sisters, Mildred J. Hill and Dr. Patty Smith Hill, in 1893. Mildred was a teacher at Louisville Kentucky Experimental Kindergarten, and Patty was the principal. The original song was titled "Good Morning To All" and was included in a book of children's songs. The second verse, which is the birthday song we know now, was added later. There was controversy over whether it was written by Patty or by a man named Robert Coleman. Dr. Hill took Coleman to court, and it was proven that she and her sister owned the song and were entitled to royalties. Over time, the second verse became more popular than Good Morning To All, and it received a huge boost in popularity when it was included in the Broadway musical As Thousands Cheer in the late 1930s. Warner Communications purchased the song in 1989. If the song is to be used for profit, royalties must be paid to Warner Communications. For this reason, many restaurants have their own birthday songs. Happy Birthday is one of the three most popular songs in the English language. It is sung all over the world. There are versions in other languages, but sometimes the English version is sung even in countries where English is not a primary language.

Birthday cards originated about a hundred years ago in England. If one could not wish a friend happy birthday in person, he or she sent a card as an apology. Nowadays cards can be given in person or sent, and they can be store bought or handmade. Several examples of handmade cards can be found at Cats From Mars. Birthday e-cards have also become popular in the past decade.

Birthday shoutouts to Rachel, Meghan, Matt, and Elliott

February 16, 2013

Presidents' Day

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. He served in the French and Indian War, was a member of the Second Continental Congress and a general in the American Revolution, and went on to become the first president of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1797. He is remembered as a Founding Father and one of the best known politicians in American history. The United States capital is named for him, and his image is used on the dollar bill and the quarter dollar coin. His birthday is celebrated on the third Monday in February every year.

Washington's birthday was unofficially observed for most of the 1800s, and it was first celebrated as an official holiday in Washington D.C. in 1880. However, the holiday only applied to the District of Columbia. Five years later, President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill establishing Washington's Birthday as a federal holiday. Lincoln's birthday, February 12 (he was born the same day as Darwin!), was also celebrated in many states beginning in the late 1800s. In the early 1950s, the National Association of Travel Organizations suggested that Washington and Lincoln's birthdays be combined to a single "Presidents' Day" celebrated on the third Monday of February, and that several other federal holidays be moved to designated Mondays rather than fixed dates. In 1968, the Uniform Holidays Bill passed. This bill allowed Americans more three-day weekends. Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day were moved to designated Mondays, and Columbus Day, also a designated Monday, was established. (Veterans Day was moved back to a fixed date, November 11, several years later.) However, Washington's Birthday and Lincoln's birthday were not combined into Presidents' Day.

The third Monday in February is known as Washington's Birthday at the federal level. However, most states recognize it as Presidents' Day. Not all states celebrate Presidents' Day on the same day as the federal holiday. Some states still celebrate Lincoln's birthday separately, some only celebrate Washington's birthday, some combine them into a single Presidents' Day, and some celebrate neither. Some states even celebrate Presidents' Day during a different month.

Since Washington's Birthday is a federal holiday, federal offices are closed on the third Monday in February and mail is not delivered. Some schools and stores are closed. Other stores feature Presidents' Day sales. A list of Presidents' Day sales can be found at dealspl.us. Some communities stage reenactments of Washington and Lincoln. According to the Huffington Post, many babies born on Presidents' Day are named for presidents. Presidents' Day is one of two days on which the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress is open to the public.

Birthday shoutouts to Zoe, Aaron, Kaylee, and Ian

February 10, 2013

Darwin's birthday

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England. He was the fifth of six children. His father was a doctor, and his grandfather was a botanist. His mother died when he was eight years old. Darwin had a fascination with natural science from a young age. His father hoped that Charles would become a doctor like him and enrolled him at Edinburgh University when he was sixteen; however, Charles Darwin could not stand the sight of blood. He left Edinburgh and enrolled at Christ's College in Cambridge at age eighteen, but soon realized he would rather study natural history than become a member of the clergy.

After graduating from Christ's College in 1831, Darwin was recommended for a naturalist position on board the HMS Beagle. The ship was to make a five-year survey trip around the world. Darwin had to convince his father to allow him to go. The voyage was a life-changing experience to Darwin. He observed similarities and differences between different species. Species native to the Galapagos Islands were of particular interest to him. After returning home, he spent over twenty years continuing his research and compiling his ideas into a book. He married his cousin Emma Wedgewood and had ten children. Their second child, Anne, died from tuberculosis at age ten, causing Darwin to question his faith.

In 1859, Darwin's most famous work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was published. This book discussed natural selection, the idea that some species possess traits that increase their likelihood to survive and that species with these traits will become the most common over time. A more extensive definition can be found at visionlearning.com. Over a decade later, Darwin published another book, Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man. His books contributed much to the study of evolutionary theory. To this day his name is closely associated with the theory of evolution and natural selection.

Darwin's birthday is celebrated in many different ways around the world. The biggest celebrations took place in 2009, Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. Some schools teach students about Darwin on his birthday. Many college campuses have birthday parties for Darwin, often involving guest speakers and Darwin impersonators.

A birthday cake for Darwin in 2005: credits to sbc.edu

One Darwin impersonator, Richard Milner, turns Darwin into a singing comedian in his one-man musical, Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert, according to the New York Times.

The theory of natural selection has sparked controversy among religious groups, especially those who believe that evolution should not be taught in schools. Some of these groups celebrate "Question Evolution Day" on Feburary 12th, according to christianpost.com

"Darwin Day" is officially recognized by the American Humanist Association. More information on Darwin Day, including a list of Darwin Day events, can be found at darwinday.org.

Birthday shoutouts to Addy and Sophia

February 8, 2013

Birthday party themes

Many people like to celebrate their birthday with a party. Some people, especially children, enjoy having a themed birthday party. During my upper elementary school years, I had themed birthday parties that I planned almost exclusively on my own. I enjoyed picking out decorations as well as making them by hand, making up my own games that related to the party theme, and planning theme-appropriate crafts.

For my tenth birthday, I had a flower themed birthday party. I encouraged guests to wear floral themed outfits. We made tissue paper flowers and flower themed jewelry, played a game with a point system in which flower shaped beads were worth more than other beads, and even made up a flower dance. The cake was star shaped since my birthday cake is always a star shape, but we decorated it with flower sprinkles. I received several flower themed gifts.

This is what happens when you leave several 10-year-old girls alone with a cake and flower sprinkles.
In this picture you can see floral decorations and flower-themed presents as well as my floral outfit and jewelry.
For my eleventh birthday, I had an ocean themed party. Blue and green balloons and fish decorations were hung all over the house. I planned a scavenger hunt in which guests had to follow a trail of shells. We had a "fortunetelling" session in which we asked questions, then selected a bead from a bag of ocean-themed beads. Different colors represented different answers. We completed ocean themed crafts. I even kept party favors in waterproof plastic bags and floated them in the bathtub, which had been filled with water that was dyed blue. My star shaped cake was frosted with blue frosting and decorated with Swedish fish and green sour candy that resembled seaweed.

The whole house was decorated with fish decorations and green and blue balloons!
My cake was decorated with candy fish and candy seaweed!
I have not had a themed birthday party since I turned eleven, but I love reminiscing the two themed birthday parties I planned for myself. I was fond of keeping checklists for parties. Other themes I considered during elementary school included a princess theme and an outer space theme.

Several birthday party themes suggested on shindigz.com include decade themes, carnival themes, and luaus. Some themes appeal to specific age groups, but some can be fun for people of all ages. Similarly, some themes appeal more to girls or to boys. However, there are many themes that can be enjoyed by both.

February 2, 2013

Sweet sixteen

Sixteen is considered an important age. At sixteen, one can drive and work. In the olden days, sixteen was considered a marriageable age. Sweet Sixteen parties have recently become popular in the United States due to the popularity of the MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen. However, the tradition goes back several centuries. The term sweet sixteen was coined in the late 1500s. The parties go back to the 1700s. At that time in England, young women in the upper class were presented to the royal court during debutant balls as potential brides for men of high standing. The ceremony symbolized the fact that a girl could now marry and start a family. This is no longer true, but many girls still enjoy Sweet Sixteen parties. Nowadays, some boys have Sweet Sixteens; however, the tradition is still much more common among girls.

There is no fixed set of Sweet Sixteen traditions. The girl usually gets dressed up. A large selection of Sweet Sixteen dresses can be found on missesdressy.com.

A Sweet Sixteen dress: credits to missesdressy.com.
Some Sweet Sixteen parties borrow traditions from Quinceañeras; for example, the Changing of the Shoes sometimes takes place at a Sweet Sixteen party. This is especially common among Latina girls who choose to have a Sweet Sixteen rather than a Quinceañera. Sometimes a girl receives a family heirloom at her Sweet Sixteen. She often wears a tiara and participates in a father-daughter dance. Dances can range from waltzes to hip-hop.

One popular tradition is the candle-lighting ceremony. Sixteen candles are lit on a large cake. Each candle represents an important person (or, in some cases, people) in the birthday girl's life. The first candle represents her parents, the second represents her siblings, candles three through six represent extended family members, candles seven through fourteen represent the birthday girl's friends, the fifteenth candle represents her best friend, and the sixteenth candle represents her boyfriend or another close male friend. Sometimes a seventeenth candle is added for good luck. Candles are often lit by the people they represent.

Sweet Sixteen parties can be formal or informal, and they can be large or small. There are a countless number of themes one could consider. Several are listed on ehow.co.uk. Preparations for a Sweet Sixteen must be made well in advance, what with selecting a theme, buying outfits based on that theme, renting a space, and hiring a DJ. In this way, Sweet Sixteens are similar to Quinceañeras.

Some people believe that girls focus more on the party itself than on what it symbolizes. For this reason, many Latino parents are sad when their daughter chooses to have a Sweet Sixteen rather than a Quinceañera. 

Birthday shoutouts to Darcy and Henry

January 31, 2013

My parents' birthdays

My parents were born one year and five days apart. They both celebrated their birthdays in the past week. When I was a kid I thought people could only get married if they had birthdays in the same week.

My dad's birthday was last Friday. He always has the same birthday cake, a chocolate sponge cake filled with cocoa-flavored whipped cream and topped with semisweet chocolate icing and powdered sugar glaze. More information on this cake can be found on my mom's blog, Cats From Mars.

My dad's birthday cake: credits to Cats From Mars

My mom's birthday was yesterday. For the past few years she has had an oatmeal cake. (However, I remember her having other cakes as well.) This cake is well-liked and always gets eaten up quickly.

My mom's birthday cake: credits to Cats From Mars
The most entertaining part of my parents' birthday week is seeing the cards they make for each other. My mom, who makes cards out of vintage materials (this can be seen on Cats From Mars), usually makes a birthday card for my dad pertaining to a certain theme. My dad then finds humorous images relating to that theme and makes my mom a card on the computer with those images. The theme is usually animal-related; this time, it was horses.

My dad's birthday card: credits to Cats From Mars
Five days later, my dad gave my mom a card that included pictures of runaway horses. It is always amusing to celebrate my parents' birthdays, and I will definitely miss being there for their birthdays when I am away at college next year.

January 27, 2013


A quinceañera is a Latina girl's traditional fifteenth birthday celebration. The word comes from the Spanish words quince (fifteen) and año (year.) It symbolizes the girl's transition from childhood to womanhood and the renewal of her faith. Quinceañeras are celebrated in many parts of Latin America, particularly Mexico. Latina girls in the United States often have quinceañeras as well. Quinceañera traditions vary from place to place.

The tradition is believed to go back to the Aztecs. Aztec girls were not considered to be a part of society until around age fifteen, when they prepared for marriage. Older women in the community taught women's tasks to young girls. Once the preparation was complete, a coming-of-age ceremony would take place. When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they brought Christianity to the indigenous people. Over time, a Christian aspect was added to the coming-of-age ceremony.

Preparations for a quinceañera often begin months in advance. The girl (who is known as a quinceañera herself) must select her damas and chambelanes (girls and boys, typically friends or relatives, who will accompany her during the ceremony) and rehearse for the traditional dances. A girl traditionally has fourteen damas and fifteen chambelanes (one chambelan is her personal escort,) each dama representing one year of her life. However, some girls choose to have only damas or only chambelanes. Sometimes a girl takes classes at her church dealing with her faith and her relationship with God, according to therosedress.com. A hall must be rented, guests must be invited, a dress must be bought, and the menu must be planned. Quinceañeras are typically very expensive.

There are two parts to a quinceañera, the Mass and the reception. The Mass is known as Misa de Accion de Gracias (thanksgiving Mass.) The girl wears a full-length dress. It is usually white or pastel-colored. At the beginning of the Mass, the quinceañera walks up the aisle escorted by her parents and padrinos (godparents) and followed by her court (the damas and chambelanes.) The quinceañera sits or kneels on a pillow in front of the altar. The priest blesses her gifts and gives a sermon on faith and the girl's new role as a woman in her church community. The girl renews her baptismal vows, gives thanks for fifteen years of life,  and receives gifts, including a tiara, a scepter, a Bible, and jewelry. The tiara symbolizes the fact that the girl is a princess before God. The scepter symbolizes authority and responsibility. At the end of the Mass the girl places a bouquet on the altar to honor the Virgin Mary and younger family members pass out bolos (favors) to the congregation. The court then attends a photo session.

A Quinceañera Mass: credits to Wikipedia
 At the beginning of the reception, the Changing of the Shoes takes place. The birthday girl sits in a chair and her mother or father removes her flat shoes and puts on her high heels, symbolizing her transition into womanhood. She then waltzes with her father.

The vals (waltz) is a very important part of the reception. It begins with the birthday girl dancing with her father. She then dances with her chambelan escort and is eventually joined by her entire court. The court practices the vals for months prior to the quinceañera. Another popular tradition is the presentation of la ultima muñeca (the last doll.) The doll often wears a tiny version of the birthday girl's dress and represents the end of childhood. Sometimes the quinceañera gives the doll to a younger girl in the family; sometimes she keeps it.

The reception is typically a lavish celebration. There is a multi-layered cake that is often decorated in the color of the girl's dress. The quinceañera's father gives a brindis (toast) to his daughter. Then the fifteen candles on the cake are lit. Sometimes each candle is lit by a different guest. Quinceañeras are celebrated differently in different places, but no matter what, a quinceañera is a birthday that a girl will never forget.

Birthday shoutouts to Mom

January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father was a pastor. King Jr. was very intelligent and graduated from high school at age fifteen. He studied at Morehouse College, Crozer Theological Seminary, and Boston University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1955. By then he was the pastor of a Baptist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He married Coretta Scott, a woman he had met while in Boston.

King Jr. had always been concerned with civil rights. He became a member of the executive committee for the NAACP and led a boycott of the segregated Montgomery bus system that lasted over a year and led to the desegregation of the bus system. In 1957, King Jr. became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization that took its ideas from Christianity. He spent the next eleven years traveling and speaking to promote civil rights. He led the March on Washington in 1963, during which he gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech during the March on Washington: credits to aphelis.net
 He supported non-violence and used civil disobedience to get his message across. He was arrested many times. King Jr wrote five books, was named Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1963, and became the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He donated his prize money to the civil rights movement. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated, shocking the nation.

Four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., an African-American Democratic congressman from Michigan named John Conyers proposed a bill that would declare January 15 a federal holiday in King Jr.'s memory. The bill was met with resistance in Congress, but Conyers re-introduced it at each new legislative session. In the 1970s, cities, beginning with New York City and St. Louis, began commemorating King Jr.'s birthday. In 1974, Illinois was the first state to celebrate MLK Day as a state holiday. In 1981, Stevie Wonder released a song, "Happy Birthday," to support the idea of a federal holiday honoring MLK Jr. Wonder and Coretta Scott King presented a petition with six million signatures supporting the federal holiday to Congress the following year. Congress passed the holiday bill in 1983. The date was moved from January 15 to the third Monday of January. President Reagan signed the bill, and the federal holiday went into effect in 1986. However, Arizona boycotted MLK Day until 1992, and it was not until the following year that it was recognized as a state holiday in all fifty states.

MLK Day can be celebrated in many ways. Some schools get the day off. Other schools teach children about Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he helped our nation. Some people like to participate in service projects on MLK day. Information on these projects can be found at mlkday.gov. "A day on, not a day off" is a common saying, according to this website.

Today was a particularly special Martin Luther King Jr. Day, as it was also the day of President Obama's second inauguration. People gathered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where King Jr. and his father had served as pastors, to celebrate MLK Day. King Jr.'s daughter, Bernice, made an appearance at the service. The congregation was invited to watch the inauguration on a big-screen TV. However, they insisted on singing "We Shall Overcome" to honor MLK Jr. first. In Washington, President Obama took the oath on two Bibles - one that had been used by Martin Luther King, Jr., and one that had been used by Abraham Lincoln. He considered it a great privilege, according to the Huffington Post.

Birthday shoutouts to Dad and Josiah

January 13, 2013

Mswati III: a controversial monarch

His Majesty King Mswati III of the Kingdom of Swaziland was born on April 19, 1968 to Inkhosikati Ntombi Tfwala, the youngest Emakhosikati (wife) of King Sobhuza II. Several months later, Swaziland won independence from Britain and Sobhuza II became head of state. As a child, Mswati III was very energetic and was so fascinated by marching and drilling that he wanted to become a member of the Royal Guard at age five. The Prince loved hunting and herding cattle. He excelled academically as well as in his military training. He attended university in England and traveled around Europe during his free time. After completing his education in 1986, four years after the death of his father, Mswati III ascended the throne.

Mswati III in 2012: credits to telegraph.co.uk
Mswati III is Africa's last absolute monarch. He opposes using violence to settle disputes between nations and has worked to combat drug trafficking and terrorism. He has thirteen Emakhosikati, several whom participate in charities. Inkhosikati LaMbikiza founded the Lusito Charity Organisation, which pays for medical treatment for Swazi children whose parents cannot afford their medical bills.

However, His Majesty Mswati III is very controversial. Forbes magazine ranked him as one of the world's richest monarchs several years ago. Each of his wives has her own palace. Every year, a lavish celebration is hosted by a region of Swaziland for His Majesty's birthday. Cows are slaughtered for a mass feast and there is traditional music and dancing. In 2008 the party was a celebration of two milestones: His Majesty's 40th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland's independence. The only year the party was cancelled was 2011, when Swaziland was suffering from an economic crisis.

Mswati III's subjects are poor. Two-thirds of Swazi people make less than the equivalent of $1 a day. Swaziland has the highest HIV rate in the world. Unemployment is high and life expectancy is low. Many believe that it is inconsiderate for His Majesty to celebrate his birthday with such an expensive party while so many of his people suffer. A new stadium built for His Majesty's 40th birthday celebration sparked protests.

His Majesty's most recent birthday celebration was especially controversial. It took place in the Shiselweni region, the second poorest region in Swaziland. Mswati III ordered the region's chiefs to provide cattle for his birthday celebration. Swazi citizens were asked to contribute to funding the celebration. The banned opposition group People's United Democratic Movement (PUDEMO) urged His Majesty to cancel his 44th birthday celebration. The country was still recovering from the economic crisis and many people could hardly afford to feed themselves, let alone fund the King's extravagant feast.

Mswati III received a private luxury jet complete with a lounge, a telephone, WiFi, and Blu-Ray for his 44th birthday. Swaziland's government's spokesman stated that the jet was a gift from "development partners and friends of the King" who preferred to remain anonymous, according to allafrica.com. PUDEMO has doubts that any development agency would be able to afford such a purchase and believes that no development agency would wish to remain anonymous. The banned opposition group fears that taxpayer money may have been used to purchase the jet. Another group, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, believes that the King had already owned the jet for some time before his birthday.

Birthday shoutouts to Maddy

January 6, 2013

Half birthdays

Since my half birthday is tomorrow, I am doing my first feature post on half birthdays. One's half birthday is exactly six months after one's birthday. I have been interested in the concept of a half birthday since I was a little kid. My dad used to make me cupcakes on January 7th every year. From ages five to eight I made sure to not only announce my birthday and half birthday, but every month in between. For example, on August 7th I would say "It's my one-twelfth birthday," and a month later I would say "It's my one-sixth birthday." I no longer make these monthly announcements, except on my birthday and my half birthday.

My dad made me cupcakes when I was 51/2!
 I always try to wish family members and classmates a happy half six months after their birthday. Sometimes the half birthday person nods in acknowledgment, sometimes he or she looks surprised. He or she is always flattered. Some people remember their own half birthdays; some people don't. No matter what, wishing someone a happy half is always a way to brighten one's day. If someone wants to take half birthday acknowledgment beyond saying "happy half," trendy concepts include giving the half birthday person half of a birthday card or half of a cupcake.

Half birthday shoutouts to myself, Paige, and Nick
Feature posts will include half birthday shoutouts for the coming week!

King Norodom Sihamoni's Birthday

Cambodians celebrate many holidays. There are 18 public holidays in Cambodia, which is officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia. Several of these holidays, including the King's Birthday, take place over the course of three days. Many people celebrate Christmas, though that is not an official holiday in Cambodia. Public holidays include Buddhist holidays, the King's Birthday and birthdays of former monarchs, the celebration of Cambodia's independence from France, and many others. A list of all Cambodian public holidays can be found at flightpedia.org. According to thediplomat.com, many Cambodians live in poverty, and holidays are considered a form of empowerment.

His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni was born on May 14, 1953. He has ruled since his father's abdication in 2005. Prior to becoming King, he worked as a ballet instructor and a cultural ambassador. He spent many years living in foreign countries, speaks four languages, and has worked to promote Cambodian culture internationally.

The public holiday for His Majesty's birthday takes place over the course of three days, usually beginning the day before the King's birthday and ending the day after, unless His Majesty's birthday falls on a weekend. It is considered to be a rather low-key celebration in comparison to other Cambodian holidays, for example Pchum Ben, a religious holiday, and the Water Festival, which celebrates the end of the monsoon season.

During the three-day holiday, almost all offices, businesses, and government buildings are closed. Cambodians get three days off work. Buildings are decorated with colorful lights. Government buildings display portraits of the King. People raise the national flag from their homes. Some people use their time off to visit with family or to travel. Many people give parties on the evening of the King's birthday. The biggest celebration takes place on the river in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. Fireworks are launched on the riverbank and are reflected in the river. Tourism is Cambodia's second-biggest industry, and many foreign tourists visit Cambodia for the King's birthday as well as other holidays, fascinated by the country's festivities, religious fervor, culture, and history.

 The King's father, Former HM King Norodom Sihanouk, ruled from 1939 to 2005 and was very popular with his people. His birthday, October 31, has been celebrated as a public holiday even after his abdication; however, this may no longer be the case, as he recently passed away. The Cambodians have deep affection for the current King's mother, who is known as the Queen Mother. Her birthday, June 18, is also celebrated as a public holiday. However, the former Queen's birthday is a minor holiday.

Birthday shoutouts to Emily and Luke