Sunday, December 28, 2014

Holidays and Observances for December 28 2014

National Card Playing Day


Pull up a chair and get ready to shuffle, friends! National Card Playing Day, a day dedicated to playing card games, is December 28th.

Card games, around since the ninth century – the first playing cards were invented in China during the Tang Dynasty – have survived for centuries as a form of entertainment. In today’s technology-saturated climate, however, it’s easy to forget this old tradition.

National Card Playing Day is an effort to ensure this doesn't happen. The benefits of playing card games along with other strategy and board games are many, and they qualify as brain fitness exercises.

According to the National Institute on Aging, engaging in these types of activities helps seniors maintain brainpower as they age.

A 2012 study conducted by Rush University Medical Center and the Illinois Institute of Technology also found that playing cards may contribute to a healthier brain and fight brain aging.

The best card games for maintaining mental health are ones that incorporate memory, concentration, strategy and problem solving, so skip those endless games of solitaire in favor of bridge, gin rummy or poker.

Card games such as these require paying careful attention to what cards have been played as well as the subtle body language signs of other players.

Short-term memory games have also been shown to improve long-term memory functions, as well as other cognitive skills.

Children also benefit from playing card games, as they provide a fun way to mentally stimulate their brains. Many card games for children are also educational, helping them detect patterns, predict the outcome of alternative moves, and learn basic mathematical skills.

Along with boosting mental health, playing card games with adults or older children can teach kids other valuable skills such as how to win and lose with grace and how to interact with others in competitive situations.

When choosing a card games, pick one that is challenging, and make an effort to switch games or learn a new one every so often. This stimulates the brain and keeps neural pathways functioning.

National Chocolate Candy Day


We're milking today for all it's worth - December 28 is National Chocolate Candy Day!

It's impossible to have a bad day when chocolate is on the menu, especially melt-in-your-mouth candy that comes in oh so many flavors and forms.

Chocolate has been prepared as a drink for nearly all of its history. For example, one vessel found at an Olmec archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, dates chocolate's preparation by pre-Olmec peoples as early as 1750 BC. On the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Mexico, a Mokaya archaeological site provides evidence of cacao beverages dating even earlier, to 1900 BC. The residues and the kind of vessel in which they were found indicate the initial use of cacao was not simply as a beverage, but the white pulp around the cacao beans was likely used as a source of fermentable sugars for an alcoholic drink.

An early Classic-period (460–480 AD) Mayan tomb from the site in Rio Azul had vessels with the Maya glyph for cacao on them with residue of a chocolate drink, suggests the Maya were drinking chocolate around 400 AD. Documents in Maya hieroglyphs stated chocolate was used for ceremonial purposes, in addition to everyday life. Mayans grew cacao trees in their backyards, and used the cacao seeds the trees produced to make a frothy, bitter drink.

By the 15th century, the Aztecs gained control of a large part of Mesoamerica and adopted cacao into their culture. They associated chocolate with Quetzalcoatl, who, according to one legend, was cast away by the other gods for sharing chocolate with humans, and identified its extrication from the pod with the removal of the human heart in sacrifice. In contrast to the Mayans, who liked their chocolate warm, the Aztecs drank it cold, seasoning it with a broad variety of additives, including the petals of the Cymbopetalum penduliflorum tree, chile pepper, allspice, vanilla, and honey.

The Aztecs were not able to grow cacao themselves, as their home in the Mexican highlands was unsuitable for it, so chocolate was a luxury imported into the empire. Those who lived in areas ruled by the Aztecs were required to offer cacao seeds in payment of the tax they deemed "tribute". Cocoa beans were often used as currency. For example, the Aztecs used a system in which one turkey cost 100 cacao beans and one fresh avocado was worth three beans.

Until the 16th century, no European had ever heard of the popular drink from the Central and South American peoples. Christopher Columbus and his son Ferdinand encountered the cacao bean on Columbus's fourth mission to the Americas on 15 August 1502, when he and his crew seized a large native canoe that proved to contain cacao beans among other goods for trade. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés may have been the first European to encounter it, as the frothy drink was part of the after-dinner routine of Montezuma. Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who lived in Peru and then Mexico in the later 16th century, wrote of its growing influence on the Spaniards:
Loathsome to such as are not acquainted with it, having a scum or froth that is very unpleasant taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians, where with they feast noble men who pass through their country. The Spaniards, both men and women that are accustomed to the country are very greedy of this Chocolate. They say they make diverse sorts of it, some hot, some cold, and some temperate, and put therein much of that "chili"; yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach and against the catarrh.
While Columbus had taken cacao beans with him back to Spain, chocolate made no impact until Spanish friars introduced it to the Spanish court. After the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, chocolate was imported to Europe. There, it quickly became a court favorite. It was still served as a beverage, but the Spanish added sugar, as well as honey, to counteract the natural bitterness. By 1602, chocolate had made its way from Spain to Austria. By 1662, the bishop of Rome had declared that religious fasts were not broken by consuming chocolate drinks. Within about a hundred years, chocolate established a foothold throughout Europe.

The new craze for chocolate brought with it a thriving slave market, as between the early 1600s and late 1800s, the laborious and slow processing of the cacao bean was manual. Cacao plantations spread, as the English, Dutch, and French colonized and planted. With the depletion of Mesoamerican workers, largely to disease, cacao production was often the work of poor wage laborers and African slaves. Wind-powered and horse-drawn mills were used to speed production, but chocolate would remain a treat for the elite and the wealthy until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution brought steam-powered engines to speed the processing of the bean. The first steam-driven chocolate mill was created by a French inventor named Debuisson in the early 1700s.

As the processes for chocolate making sped the production, new techniques and approaches revolutionized the texture and taste. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad Van Houten introduced alkaline salts to chocolate, which reduced its bitterness. A few years thereafter, in 1828, he created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cocoa butter or cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made chocolate both cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This innovation introduced the modern era of chocolate. Known as "Dutch cocoa", this machine-pressed chocolate was instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form when, in 1847, Joseph Fry learned to make chocolate moldable by adding back melted cacao butter. Milk had sometimes been used as an addition to chocolate beverages since the mid-17th century, but in 1875 Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing a powdered milk developed by Henri Nestlé with the liquor. In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching machine.

Besides Nestlé, a number of notable chocolate companies had their start in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868. In 1893, Milton S. Hershey purchased chocolate processing equipment at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and soon began the career of Hershey's chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels.

And if bars aren't your fancy, it's not too early to buy yourself a big box of fondant and cream-filled chocolates in a heart-shaped box, or a big-box-store bag of your favorite chocolate candy. Indulge yourself today, and we're sure you'll be melting with chocolate happiness.

Pledge of Allegiance Day


The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is an expression of fealty to the Flag of the United States and the republic of the United States of America, originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945. The last change in language came on Flag Day 1954 when the words "under God" were added.

Congressional sessions open with the recital of the Pledge, as do many government meetings at local levels, and meetings held by many private organizations. It is also commonly recited in school at the beginning of every school day, although the Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that students cannot be compelled to recite the Pledge, nor can they be punished for not doing so.

According to the United States Flag Code, the Pledge of Allegiance reads:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
According to the Flag Code, the Pledge "should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform, men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute."

A number of states, including Ohio and Texas, have adopted state pledges of allegiance to be recited after the national pledge.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855–1931), who was a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy (1850–1898). Bellamy's grave site is located at the Rome Cemetery in Rome, New York. The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the September 8 issue of the popular children's magazine The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas. The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, as a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism in students and sell flags to public schools. According to author Margarette S. Miller this was in line with Upham's vision which he "would often say to his wife: 'Mary, if I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into The Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.'"

Bellamy's original Pledge read as follows:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge was supposed to be quick and to the point. Bellamy designed it to be recited in 15 seconds. As a socialist, he had initially also considered using the words equality and fraternity but decided against it – knowing that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans.

Francis Bellamy and Upham had lined up the National Education Association to support the "Youth's Companion" as a sponsor of the Columbus Day observance along with the use of the American flag. By June 29, 1892, Bellamy and Upham had arranged for Congress and President Benjamin Harrison to announce a proclamation making the public school flag ceremony the center of the Columbus Day celebrations (this was issued as Presidential Proclamation 335). Subsequently, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892, during Columbus Day observances organized to coincide with the opening of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.