Thursday, December 4, 2014

Holidays and Observances for December 4 2014

National Cookie Day


Haul out the cookie tins - 'tis the season for baking! In honor of December 4, National Cookie Day.

Did you know that the English word "cookie" is derived from the Dutch word "koekje," which means little cake? Dutch bakers used to test oven temperatures on small amounts of batter so that they would not waste the entire cake mix if the temperature wasn't right. It was not long before they discovered that these tiny pieces of cooked batter were actually quite tasty!

Cookies were first made after sugar became available as a baking ingredient about 1400 years ago. They were an enhancement to grain and water based breads made as early as 10,000 years ago. Persian bakers added sugar to bread recipes to create sweet cakes that baked in a clay oven fueled by dry wood fires. Because it was hard to estimate baking temperatures in that kind of oven, small amounts of cake batter, placed inside at intervals, determined the best time to start cooking the full-sized cakes. Eventually, those small "test" cakes became a delicacy in their own right, and today we know them as cookies, the Dutch word for "little cake."

The earliest cookie recipes made use of sweet cake ingredients such as flour, sugar, butter, spice and nuts. Baked twice to make a crisp biscotti cookie; they kept well for a long time. Dried fruit embellishments such as raisins and dates made these treats quite nourishing, and they soon ended up as a staple for sailors, nomadic traders, and soldiers. Today, these same ingredients, used in a centuries-old biscotti recipe, can inspire families and motivate kids to meet goals through success-oriented activities such as cookie dough fundraising projects. Otis Spunkmeyer Butter Sugar Cookie dough makes a fast and easy starter for hand-shaped and cutter-shaped cookies that make a great family project.

While you wait for your history-making cookies to bake, you can entertain the kids by sharing stories about different types of cookies from around the world, exploring how cookies have changed in each place over the centuries. After cakes became widespread in Persia they caught the eye of soldiers in the armies of Alexander the Great, and were soon brought back with them to Greece. From there, the idea of making small cakes into cookies spread to India, Asia, Africa and the rest of Europe. By the end of the 16th century, individual "fine cake" cookie recipes began making their way into the bread section of nationally representative cookbooks. Early explorers from Spain and France were instrumental to introducing cookies to South America, and pioneers from the Netherlands, Scotland and England made sure that cookie recipes became a part of North American colonial history.

When more exotic cookie ingredients, such as flaked coconut and chocolate, became available through international trade, the range of cookie types quickly expanded. In addition, with new recipes came novel ways for shaping cookies into fanciful and remarkable designs. One unique style we are all familiar with is the fortune cookie. Contrary to popular belief, this cookie actually originated in Japan, and it is often made by combining those same ancient ingredients in a slightly different way. For your next culinary adventure with the kids, you may want to visit the makefortunecookies.com site for simple instructions and printable fortunes. Another site that can take you through a world of food history ishttp://www.foodtimeline.org/index.html, with more specific resource links and detailed information in their section about cookies at http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcookies.html.

Familiarize your kids with the history of cookie stamps, molds and cutters used to decorate cookies from the time they were first invented. Carved into ceramics and wood, or fashioned from metal, they often carried family, clan or country emblems handed down through generations. Many examples still exist as collectible antiques, and illustrated designs are searchable online. You can reproduce those patterns, or invent your own, by crafting clay or rubber stamps to press on your cookie dough. Simple, iconic shapes are popular, such as a thistle outline to represent Scotland, or a family name carved into an heirloom cookie press.

Cookies are so beloved in modern history that most home cooks include them in their repertoire. More than half of the cookies baked at home are chocolate chip cookies. The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1930 at the Toll House Inn by Ruth Graves Wakefield, resulted when she chopped a semi-sweet chocolate bar into small bits and added it to a traditional colonial butter drop cookie recipe. As a result, the chocolate chip cookie became regionally famous and later renowned throughout the country. In 1997, Massachusetts designated it as the state cookie.

Here are some tips for the ever-popular cookie exchange:
  • Form a group of participants. Make sure the people swapping cookies are committed to doing so. (It’s not as much fun otherwise!)
  • Establish a date for the swap as early as you can, before the holidays get hectic.
  • Consider a sign-up sheet so that you don’t end up with 10 dozen Snickerdoodles.
  • You could also assign each person a country and have them make a cookie that represents their designated foreign land. Think Lebkuchen from Germany, or Madeleines from France.
  • Set a few ground rules: How many cookies is each person bringing to eat at the exchange? How many cookies is each person bringing to actually exchange and send home with others? Usually a half dozen per person to exchange, and a full dozen to eat on the day works well.
  • If you’re hosting, try to find a cookie tin for each participant so they can take their loot home easily.
  • Consider baking an extra dozen to donate to a local bake sale or shelter.
  • Make sure to take allergies into account - nothing ruins the holidays like a trip to the ER. Cookies can be lactose-, nut- and gluten-free.
  • Don’t forget recipe cards so attendees can recreate their favorite cookie.
Cookies come in all different flavors, shapes, and sizes. To celebrate National Cookie Day, bake a few batches of your favorite variety and invite your friends over for a cookie swap!

National Dice Day


Each year on December 4th, people across the United States celebrate National Dice Day.  There are many games that dice are a part of and there are games with just the dice, so to celebrate National Dice Day, choose your favorite one and play away!

Typically dice are thrown onto a flat surface either from the hand or a dice cup.  The value of the throw is determined by the uppermost face of the die after it has come to a rest.  One popular dice game is craps where wagers are made on the total value of the throw of the dice.  Frequently used in board games, dice are used to randomize a players moves, commonly by deciding the distance a piece will move on a board.  Popular board games using dice are backgammon and Monopoly.

Archaeologists can’t pinpoint the first human who threw dice, but they do know this: Unlike many customs that started in one place and then spread, dice-throwing appeared independently all across the populated world. The oldest known dice -dating back at least 8,000 years- consisted of found objects such as fruit pits, pebbles, and seashells. But the direct precursors of today’s dice were bone: the ankle bones of hoofed animals, such as sheep and oxen. These bones -later called astragali by the  Greeks- were chosen because they are roughly cube-shaped, with two rounded sides that couldn’t be landed on, and four flat ones that could. Which side would be facing up after a toss, or a series of tosses, was as much a gamble to our ancestors as it is to us today. 

The first dice throwers weren’t gamers, though -they were religious shamans who used astragali (as well as sticks, rocks, or even animal entrails) for divination, the practice of telling the future by interpreting signs from the gods. How did these early dice make their way from the shaman to the layman? According to David Schwartz in Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling:
The line between divination and gambling is blurred. One hunter, for example, might say to another, “If the bones land short side up, we will search for game to the south; if not, we look north,” thus using the astragali to plumb the future. But after the hunt, the hunters might cast bones to determine who would go home with the most desirable cuts.
And with that, gambling -and dice gaming- was born, leading to the next big step in dice evolution. Around 7,000 years ago, ancient Mesopotamians carved down the rounded sides of the astragali to make them even more cube-like. Now they could land on one of six sides, allowing the outcome to become more complex. As their technology advanced, materials such as ivory, wood, and whalebone were used to make dice. (Image credit: Swiss Museum of Games)

It is believed that the shamans were the first ones to make marks on the sides of the dice, but it didn’t take long for them to roll into the rest of society. Dice first appeared in board games in Ur, a city in southern Mesopotamia. Now referred to as the “Royal Game of Ur,” this early version of backgammon (circa 3,000 BC) used four-sided, pyramidal dice. 

However, the most common dice, then and now, are six-sided cubic hexahedrons with little dots, or pips, to denote their values. The pip pattern still in use today -one opposite six, two opposite five, and three opposite four- first appeared in Mesopotamia circa 1300 BC, centuries before the introduction of Arabic numerals.

In the first millennium BC, civilizations thrived in Greece, India, and China- and they all threw dice.  In Rome, it was common for gamblers to call out the goddess Fortuna’s name while rolling a 20-sided die during a game of chance. But they had to do it quietly -dice games were illegal in Rome (except during the winter solstice festival of Saturnalia). Not that that stopped anyone from playing it: One surviving fresco depicts two quarreling dicers being thrown out of a public house by the proprietor.
  • When General Julius Caesar led his army across the Rubicon River to attack Rome in 49 BC -which set in motion his rise to power- he knew that there was no turning back, proclaiming, ”Lea iacta est.” Translation: “The die is cast.”
  • Later Roman leaders were also dice aficionados, including Mark Antony, Caligula (he was notorious for cheating), Claudius, Nero, and Commodus, who built special dicing rooms in his palace. 
After the fall of the Roman Empire, many of civilization’s advancements and inventions fell out of use. Not dice, though- their use continued through the Middle Ages, being one of the few leisure activities affordable to peasants. In the rest of the world, dice played an important role among the tribes and indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas, for both recreation and divination. And in 12th-century China, a variation of a dice game led to the introduction of dominoes, which are basically flattened-out dice.

But it was in Medieval Europe that the popularity of dice game soared, starting in the 1100s with a game called Hazard that was played by both aristocrats and commoners. “They dance and play at dice both day and night,” wrote Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. These games were so popular that over the ensuing centuries dice guilds and schools formed all over western Europe. That didn’t stop the Catholic Church from attempting to ban all gambling games, though. Over the next few hundred years, dozens of popes, bishops, and priests instituted bans against dicing games. And just like in ancient Rome, the bans didn’t stop people from playing them.

It was inevitable then, that dice traveled aboard the ships emigrating to the New World (the religious Pilgrims on the Mayflower were none too fond of the crew’s gambling games). In colonial America, the game of Hazard was introduce by the French in New Orleans, who called it crapaud, meaning “toad.” The game became popular with slaves, who shortened the name to craps, which is still the most popular gambling dice game in the the United States. And in the early 20th century, board games like Monopoly became popular, guaranteeing that nearly every American home would have at least one set of dice.

Where there is gaming, there is cheating. While ancient civilizations may have believed the gods were responsible for the outcome of the roll, many unscrupulous players felt the need to give the gods a little help. Loaded dice -as well as dice with the corners shaved off- were found in the ruins of Pompeii. When wooden dice were common, enterprising gamblers would grow small trees around pebbles; then they’d carve the dice with the weight inside, leaving no visible marks. 

Modern cheaters are just as crafty in their methods. One type of trick dice are trappers: Drops of mercury are loaded into a center reservoir; by holding the die a certain way and tapping it against a table, the mercury travels down a tunnel to another reservoir, subtly weighting the die. Another trick is to fill a die with wax that melts at just below body temperature: Held in a closed fist, the wax melts, settling to the desired side. 

Today casinos spend millions trying to thwart cheaters in a high tech war of wits using extremely sensitive equipment to detect even the slightest alteration in a pair of suspect dice. And to keep people from bringing their own dice to the craps table, all casino dice have tiny serial numbers. A more radical way of stoping cheaters: virtual dice rolled by a computer. This not only makes loading dice impossible, but also allows craps players to “roll the bones” from the keypad of a cell phone. But nothing can replace the actual feeling of shaking the dice in your hands and letting them fly. 

Dice made from the ankles of sheep are still used in Mongolia today. And they’re just one type of thousands that exist. Have you ever rolled a 30-sided die -the highest number symmetrical polyhedron? Or how about the 100-sided die, called the Zocchihedron (invented in the 1980s by a gamer named Lou Zocchi)? There’s also the no-sided die -a sphere with a moving internal weight that causes the sphere to stop rolling with one of its six numbers facing up. There are barrel dice (roughly cylindrical, with flat surfaces), letter dice (like in the game Boggle), playing card dice (often called “poker dice”), six-siders numbered zero through five, three-sided dice, doubling cubes (such as those used in backgammon), asymmetrical polyhedrons, and countless others. 

And those are just the varieties used in gaming. Myriad other dice are used in cleromancy, the ancient practice of divining with dice. Tibetan Buddhists use a set of three dice made from conch shells to help make daily decisions. Astrologers use a set of 12-sided dice relating to the Zodiac signs. There are I Ching dice with trigrams and yin/yang symbols. And if you’ve ever shaken a Magic 8-Ball and asked it a question, you’ve practiced cleromancy: The responses -“Yes,” “No,” “Ask again,” “Later, “ etc.- are printed on a 20-sided icosahedron.

Though rarely used in games since the Roman Empire, noncubical dice have made a resurgence in the past few decades. They were used for teaching arithmetic before they took hold of the world of gaming by storm, most notably in the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

Santa's List Day


Santa's List Day is observed on December 4th. It's the day that Santa makes his Naughty and Nice lists. Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and to deliver presents, including toys, and candy to all of the well-behaved children in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh. 

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle and simply "Santa", is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric origins who, in many western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children on the night before Christmas, December 24. However in some European countries children receive their presents on St. Nicholas' Day, December 6.

You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. Because Santa is making his list, checking it twice, and now that it is December, it is crunch time to get on Santa’s Nice list.

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. But let’s take a step back for a moment. If he sees you when you are sleeping… that’s a little off-putting. I mean, sorry Santa, but I’d rather you not watch me while I sleep or keep track of where I am when I’m awake. Even as a child I didn’t fall for this one. It’s just not physically possible, for one, but also I am pretty sure Santa is not a creeper. Part of being on the “nice” list is being trustworthy enough to not require 24/7 surveillance to keep you in line.

Nevertheless, today is Santa’s List Day. A good day to step back and take a look at your year. Do you think that you would fall into the Naughty List or the Nice List? As Christmas approaches, we should be thinking about the way we live our lives, whether or not Santa is keeping an eye on us.

Watch a Christmas movie tonight. Make some hot chocolate, enjoy a few freshly baked cookies, and get into the Christmas spirit. Tis the season!

Make a “Santa’s List” of your own. It is the season of giving after all, and sometimes we get lost in the Black Friday sales and Cyber Monday steals. It can be easy to focus on what we want for ourselves, so try to be observant about your loved ones and what they need. Come up with thoughtful gifts this holiday season. Don’t wait until the last minute… only 20 more shopping days left til Christmas, so start your list!

Make a personal goals lists. In light of the idea of Santa’s Naughty and Nice Lists, what are some things that you would like to improve in your life? This is great New Years resolution prep.

Wear Brown Shoes Day


Wear Brown Shoes Day is celebrated on December 4th. We were hoping to find the history/origin behind Wear Brown Shoes Day in hope there was some significance, some meaning, behind this holiday. We weren't able to find any background information about this holiday other than it exists. Thus, care not and proudly wear your brown shoes in celebration of this mysterious holiday.

A shoe is an item of footwear intended to protect and comfort the human foot while doing various activities. Shoes are also used as an item of decoration. 

The design of shoes has varied enormously through time and from culture to culture, with appearance originally being tied to function. Traditionally, shoes have been made from leather, wood or canvas, but are increasingly made from rubber, plastics, and other petrochemical-derived materials.

World Wildlife Conservation Day


The sad truth is that the world’s best loved, beautiful and fascinating species are being slaughtered by widespread and dangerous criminal networks that will stop at nothing to get what they want. And what they want are animal parts and products that for reasons no sane person really understands, are worth lots of money. There are plenty of synthetic substitutes for things like ivory and fur that don’t require the brutal slaughter of an animal to obtain, not to mention how hard it actually is to tell the difference between high-quality synthetic substitutes and the real thing. And do you mean to tell me no other dish in the world tastes as good as shark fin soup, and that we really have to mutilate live sharks and then throw them back into the ocean to die? Long story short, there is simply no excuse for the amount of animals being poached every year. And yet they are. In 2011 alone, for example, there were 13 large-scale seizures of ivory, and over 23 tons of ivory confiscated, which is equivalent to at least 2,500 elephants. A 2010 United Nations report suggests that gorillas could disappear altogether from large parts of the Congo Basin by the mid-2020s.

And it is not just the animals that are suffering. Park rangers get killed on a regular basis by poachers they’re trying to stop, and the local economies of entire towns and villages suffer terrible damage once enough wildlife is wiped out to make them irrelevant as wildlife tourism destinations. Corruption and intimidation are weakening law enforcement efforts. Unscreened wildlife and wildlife parts increase the risk of human health pandemics such as bird flu. Everyone involved is suffering.

A call to action was put out by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 to raise awareness and engage conservationists on Wildlife Conservation Day, December 4. During the “Wildlife Trafficking and Conservation: A Call to Action” event held at the State Department on November 8th 2012, Secretary Clinton outlined the White House’s strategy to address the global problem of wildlife trafficking. These efforts are estimated to cost between $7 and $10 billion dollars a year. “Wildlife cannot be manufactured. And once it’s gone, it cannot be replenished. Those who profit from it illegally are not just undermining our borders and our economies, they are truly stealing from the next generation,” she said.

Raise awareness and contribute to the conservation and protection of endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers on World Wildlife Conservation Day’s website. This global occasion provides everyone with the opportunity to learn more about wildlife conservation and to be part of the solution to wildlife crime. Go online and join the thousands of other individuals who have taken the wildlife pledge. Promise to learn more about wildlife conservation, to spread the word about the importance of protecting our plane’ts most endangered species and the impact of poaching on our environment. Learn how to become a responsible consumer in order to stop illicit wildlife trade.

You can also take direct action by making a charitable donation to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). 100% of all donations go towards training and equipping the rangers who are the wildlife protectors, and often the only thing standing between a baby tiger or elephant and a poacher.