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

Children on their way to the shrine for shichi-go-san: credits to
 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

A zodiac chart: credits to
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 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, 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

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 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
 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 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 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

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
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. 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

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.