Mistral the penguin is very excited when he arrives at the North Pole Animal Day Care. He quickly says hello to his teacher, Rudolpha the reindeer, and then runs to see his friends, holding a bag.
“I found the magic blanket!” he announces, jumping up and down.
The other children look confused. They’ve never heard of a magic blanket before.
“The one from the legend?” asks Rudolpha.
Mistral is amazed. “You know penguin legends?”
“What’s the legend?” asks Storm the fox impatiently.
Rudolpha invites the children to gather in a circle around her and tells them the tale.
“Many years ago, the Enchanted Penguin wove a magic blanket for his wife who was very sick. This special blanket had the power to keep the wearer perfectly comfortable; not too hot and not too cold, no matter the weather.
“After his wife got better, the other penguins tried to claim the blanket for themselves and conflict overtook the community. So, to put an end to the matter, the Enchanted Penguin hid the blanket somewhere in the North Pole. No one knows where he hid it and it hasn’t been seen for many years”
“But I found it,” declares Mistral, “and I’m going to give it to my Grandpa Gale for Christmas. He’s old and can’t flap his wings and walk in place to stay warm anymore, so he can never take me fishing, even when I lend him my warmest hat.”
“Where was it?” asks Frost, the snowy owl.
“In Floe Creek?” guesses Storm.
“No,” says Mistral.
“On the Windy Plains?” proposes Bianca the rabbit.
“I know!” declares Frost, “on Mystery Beach!”
Mistral shakes his head. “I went to the source of One Thousand Waterfalls with my cousin Pampero and we searched for hours. We turned over huge boulders, swam in the pools of each waterfall —”
“Of all 1,000 waterfalls?” interrupts Snowflake, incredulous.
“You know, there aren’t actually that many waterfalls, the area is just called that because there are many small falls in the area,” explains Rudolpha.
“Anyway, it took us forever,” continues Mistral, “but finally, behind the highest waterfall, we discovered a cave. The blanket was there, inside a chest.” He pulled out his treasure from his backpack.
“Wow,” intone his friends as they gaze at the shimmering blanket.
“Your grandpa is going to love his gift, Mistral. You should be very proud of yourself,” Rudolpha tells him.
The little penguin smiles, thinking about how happy Grandpa Gale will be when he opens his gift on Christmas morning—and about the next time they go fishing at Floe Creek.
Written by Johannie Dufour and Sarah Beauregard
Translated by Cyan Caruso-Comas
Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day with kids
On January 20, Americans across the country will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The holiday presents a unique opportunity to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader and to follow his example by volunteering. However, for those with children, it’s also an opportunity to help kids understand why it’s more than a day off school. Here are some ways you can share the day with them.
Read to them
There are a number of accessible biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. Reading one with your kids is a great way to teach them about the civil rights movement and, depending on their age, to help them develop their understanding of the ongoing civil rights struggles taking place in America today.
Make a themed craft
For younger or more artistically-minded kids, try creating artwork centered around a theme like peace, diversity, acceptance or generosity. These values are all central to MLK Jr.’s legacy. You could create peace signs, doves or garlands made up of diverse people holding hands.
Bring your kids to museums and libraries holding events for the holiday. These institutions often have activities for younger kids while providing informative installations for older children and teenagers. Some places also hold parades and marches you can attend.
Watch the “I have a dream” speech
If your kids are older, watch the speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a timeless articulation of his message and watching it presents an opportunity for you and your kids to discuss how the speech continues to be relevant today. Perhaps it’ll even provide insight into ways they could volunteer.
Exposing young people to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. is a key way to help keep his message alive. This year, take a bit of time to share his insight and wisdom with your children.
To resolve or not: New Year promises and their critics
Making New Year’s resolutions is a tradition, of sorts, but a much maligned tradition through the years.
In 1908, the Lawrence Weekly World opined that any day would be good for a resolution but since New Year Resolutions were a custom, people should not be ‘laughed out of adopting one.’
“May be you will be able to keep them. At any rate, you will be better for trying.”
In 1916, the Mansfield Mirror In Mansfield, MO., pointed out that while it is fashionable to joke about resolutions, there’s no date better than Jan. 1, unless you do it on your birthday.
“A man who makes ten New Year’s resolutions, every one of them good, and breaks nine, is better off than if he made none at all.”
In the 1926, the Brooklyn Eagle (clipped by Newspapers.com) wrote that New Year customs have fallen on hard times, since customs used to be sensible and useful. In ancient England, everyone cleaned out their chimney. And, according to the paper, in China and Japan, everyone paid their debts.
But, in Paris, according to the Brooklyn paper, fashionable people drove their fashionable carriages throughout the city just for fun. Meanwhile, beggars fleeced everyone else.
Fortunately, the Brooklyn paper did find someone sensible to talk about resolutions. Chauncey Depew, an officer of the New York Central Railroad, said only two resolutions should be made:
“It would be a wise plan if a man and his wife should make some sort of pledge to each other every year — that’s a contract and I believe a good thing. And everybody on New Year’s Day ought to say that, ‘With God’s help, I will meet all obligations for the coming year in a way which He will approve.’
The new year always looks shiny and new, wrote Brooklyn columnist Mignon Rittenhouse almost 100 years ago, but watch out! Looks are deceptive and before you know it that unsoiled year is full of follies and foolishness.
Mistletoe winds its way through human history
Being kissed under the mistletoe has been a Christmas tradition for more than a thousand years. But mistletoe is not only associated with a gentle kiss, it has a lore all its own.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that lives off trees. It has attracted human attention for thousands of years because, in the depth of winter, it is green. That made it a natural for legend and ritual, especially fertility rituals.
The actual kissing under the plant may have begun with the Greeks in their agricultural festival, according to The Wall Street Journal, but its kissing properties continue to this day where, as the old song puts it, we can see mama kissing Santa Claus.
To the ancient Scandinavians, mistletoe symbolized peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe declared a truce until the following day. On a more domestic note, disgruntled spouses kissed and made up under the greenery.
The Druids believed mistletoe possessed magical powers. Their priests cut the plant with golden sickles and gathered the trimmings on white cloth so the plant would never touch the earth and lose its enchantment.
The French didn’t like it. They said mistletoe was cursed because it grew on the wood from which the cross of Christ was made and that it was doomed to be a rootless parasite forever.
In the Middle Ages, mistletoe was hung from ceilings in Europe to ward off evil, or it was dangled over doors to prevent the entrance of witches. If mistletoe was suspended over a crib, the child was said to be safe from kidnapping.
Viking lore describes the goddess of love, Frigga, who made each plant and animal promise not to kill her son Baldur. She forgot the mistletoe plant and Baldur was killed by a spear made from it.
The white berries on the mistletoe are said to have been created from her tears.
When her son returned to life, Frigga proclaimed the mistletoe to be sacred. She kissed everyone who passed under it and decreed the plant should henceforth bring love. This is said to be the origin of kissing under the mistletoe.
So go ahead. Kiss under the mistletoe, have fun doing it, and give a nod to Frigga for starting a very enjoyable custom.
In 1776, the fate of America turned on the Christmas Crossing
At Christmastime in 1776, George Washington’s troops were in retreat, barely keeping ahead of the Redcoats. The Revolution was in great danger of collapsing.
Washington’s troops had reached Trenton on the Delaware River on Dec. 2. Gathering every boat they could find so the British couldn’t follow, they crossed the river into Pennsylvania.
Washington expected the British to attack when the river froze, but they delayed.
The American troops were described by an enemy officer as “dying of the cold, without blankets, and very ill-supplied with provisions.” Meanwhile, some 1,000 Hessians, German professional soldiers, had arrived in Trenton.
With morale crumbling, one fiery supporter of the Revolution refused to despair. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense, had written a new essay, the first in a series he called The American Crisis. It was published on Dec. 19. The troops were inspired as they read:
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Washington formed an audacious plan. He would cross the Delaware some nine miles north of Trenton and surprise the garrison. The Hessian commander said the Patriots were just farmers, and he never prepared for an attack.
The crossing began at 6 p.m. on Dec. 25. After nine hours, the last boatload of men and cannons were on the shore. Then came the nine-mile ordeal through freezing wind and hail to reach Trenton.
Washington and his men attacked the Hessians shortly after dawn, surprising them completely. It was over in two hours with nearly 900 taken prisoner. The Americans suffered few casualties.
The Christmas victory at Trenton marked a turning point of the American Revolution. The effect on troop morale was tremendous, because they had taken on the King’s forces and won. As word of the victory spread, confidence in Washington and in the Revolution was revived. Once written off as beaten, Americans fought on and won.
The Wonderful World of Rudolpha: Rudolpha at the general store
Rudolpha the reindeer, teacher at the North Pole Animal Day Care, is shopping. As she enters the general store, the owner, Chatty the elf greets her.
“Rudolpha, my dear, what brings you in today?”
“Hi Chatty! I’m looking for craft supplies to make Santa Clauses with the children this week.”
“Wonderful, wonderful. I’ll let you take a look around. Let me know if you need anything.” The shopkeeper is never able to keep quiet for long though. As Rudolpha heads to the crafting section, he says, “I think I’m going to sell the store.”
“Really?” asks Rudolpha who can’t imagine the kind old elf without his shop.
“Yes. I’m getting older, and running a business is hard work. The only thing that I’ll miss is chatting with my wonderful customers. I suppose I’ll get to hang out at the Holly Cafe more often. Although Moka may get tired of me spending all my time in her coffee shop,” Chatty laughs.
Rudolpha smiles, imagining Moka the elf, owner of the cafe, watching Chatty talking to her customers.
“I’m going to have to start emptying the back of the store,” continues Chatty. “That’s going to be a lot of work.”
“What do you keep back there?” asks the teacher.
“Just a bunch of old junk that can’t be sold.”
“Could I take a look?”
“Of course,” says Chatty, opening the door with a theatrical flourish, “take anything you like.”
The reindeer feels like she’s entered Ali Baba’s cave of wonders. Everywhere she turns are mountains of forgotten items. Here a pile of ripped blankets, there some necklaces with broken clasps. On the shelves are toys with missing pieces. Against the wall are mismatched pairs of skis. In the back are big buckets with holes in the bottom.
Rudolpha is thrilled. She picks up some chipped square bowls, a reindeer toy that’s missing half its stuffing, wrinkled blue tissue paper, frayed white ribbon and two elf dolls, one that’s missing a hat and the other with only one shoe.
“What are you going to do with all that?” asks Chatty as Rudolpha re-enters the store.
“Make a model of the North Pole! It’ll be an even better project for the kids than making Santas. We’ll make some repairs and the children can collect pinecones. Once that’s done, we’ll have everything we need to make Christmas trees, houses, streams and snowy roads. The reindeer and the elves can be our characters.”
“What a wonderful idea. I should have let you into the backroom long ago. Feel free to return any time you need materials.”
“Thanks! I’m sure I’ll be back soon.”
Thinking about all the things she might do with the items in Chatty’s back room, Rudolpha happily makes her way home.
Written by Johannie Dufour and Sarah Beauregard
Translated by Cyan Caruso-Comas
Virginia Beer Museum hosts ‘Ugly Christmas Sweater’ competition to raise the holiday ‘spirits’
It was fun for all ages at Front Royal’s Virginia Beer Museum’s “Ugly Christmas Sweater” contest Friday evening, December 20th on Chester Street. A highly competitive campaign to show the sheer ugliness and/or bad taste in Christmas attire saw the top three places go to Victoria Stemmer, Susan Bantawan and Alec Tweedie.
Tweedie’s third place attire was an impressive walking Christmas Tree hoodie sweater – but who wants to see a spangled tree coming for them? – It may not have liked what you’ve placed under it OR the fact you cut it down to do so? Or as the tree itself described its look, “A rancid, disgusting Christmas tree” met with chants of “Chop it Down!!!” (That’s three exclamation points for third place)
However, Tweedie’s somewhat frightening bad taste was outdistanced by Bantawan’s “Naughty & Nice” grandmama look and winner Stemmer’s somewhat explicit reindeer party sweater.
Hey, sometimes it gets boring waiting for Santa to get back to the roof after a delivery, especially when he stops for milk and cookies, and sometimes a kiss from an appreciative mom, along the way.
The excited winner and sometime Beer Museum Helltown Saloon bartender exuded after her win, “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Beer Museum, with love – and thank you, mom” (Mama don’t raise no losers).
Beer Museum patrons provided a wide and tasty variety of food for the occasion; and Helltown Saloon barkeep for the event Jennifer Mulligan kept holiday festive history of Virginia craft beer connoisseurs informed about their refreshment options, as well as potential consequences of any “Ugly Sweater” campaign violations as contestants and their supporters maneuvered for the cash prizes.
And in the spirit of the season, Beer Museum ownership handed out Christmas gift certificates as the evening was winding down.