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