Kids Fun File © Paul & Wendy Potton 1995.
World Braille Day celebrates the birthday of Frenchman Louis Braille.
Louis Braille went blind when he was three. He was only fifteen years old when he invented the Braille language for reading and writing for those who are unable to see.
This is a system where patterns of only six different dots represent all the letters of the alphabet - and numbers too!
His system allowed blind people all over the world to read and write using only the touch of their fingertips and has given them tremendous independence.
You see how the letters of your name would be spelt in Braille using the chart at braillealphabet.org
You can even send a secret Braille email message to a friend at nationalbrailleweek.org
Twelfth Night used to be the most popular day of the Christmas period, we’ve just forgotten how to celebrate it properly.
Traditionally, Twelfth Night meant crowning a new King and Queen for the day, a Kissing Wishing Tree and lots of sweet spicy food and hot drinks. This is definitely a tradition that needs to be revived!
The twelfth night is the night before Epiphany, which was when the Three Kings found baby Jesus in his manger (see below). This was the last event in the Christmas story. After Epiphany, everyone has to go back to school and work, so this is the last chance to feel Christmassy until December. So, in olden times, Twelfth Night was a time when all the usual rules went out the window and everyone had a thoroughly good time.
Spicy fruit cakes were made called King and Queen cakes. (They were just like our modern Christmas cake but with a crown on the top).
Hidden within these would be a dried bean in the King cake and a dried pea in the Queen cake. Everyone would help themselves to a slice of cake and the boy and girl who found the bean and the pea in theirs would be crowned King Bean and Queen Pea for the evening. In the days when people had servants (like Downton Abbey) it was possible that a very humble servant could get to boss about their masters all evening and the masters would have to do as they were told! For family celebrations, the King and Queen simply got to choose all the games that would be played that evening.
To go with the King and Queen cakes and spicy foods such as gingerbread, everyone would drink a Wassail punch (see Winter Solstice entry in Seasonal Activities’ December section for a recipe).
A big evergreen branch of either holly or pine would also be brought into the house. This would be decorated with ribbons which would represent everyone’s wishes for the new year, plus sweets and little candles. It would then be held up high for the party guests to kiss each other under. (This is probably from where we’ve taken the custom of kissing under the mistletoe.)
You can still find a traditional Twelfth Night celebration going strong in London’s Bankside, just beside Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Find out more about it here: www.viewlondon.co.uk
Image from BBC History Ten Ages of Christmas
“Epiphany” means something being revealed and on Epiphany we celebrate the day when the Three Wise Men finally found baby Jesus in his manger beneath the guiding star. The wise mens’ names were Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.
The Three Wise Men have become known as the Three Kings, perhaps because of the extravagant gifts that they brought to the baby. These were gold (for a kingship), frankincense (for divinity) and myrrh (for humanity).
Epiphany is traditionally the day on which families make sure every last scrap of the Christmas decorations are put away and the house returned to normal.
In the olden days people used to believe that if you had any decorations left in the house after Epiphany the goblins would get you. So make sure you do a good job!
Sunday 13 January
St Hilary’s Day
Tuesday 8 January
A new 3 day series of “Stargazing Live” starts tonight on BBC 2. Featuring Dara O’ Briain and Brian Cox, it’s your guide to the wonders of the night sky.
There are lots of local events to tie in with this series (see “What’s On”). Being the BBC, they’ve also got all sorts of resources, including a star guide and even a stargazing party pack!
You can download these directly onto your PC from www.bbc.co.uk
This is traditionally the coldest day of the year, so wrap up good and warm.
In 1608 it was so cold the river Thames froze over and the ice was so thick they were able to hold a fair on it!
Scottish people celebrate the birth of their favourite poet, Robert Burns on Burns’ Night each year.
Burns was born long ago in 1759 in a farmhouse in a little Scottish village. Although his family were quite poor he was well educated and he loved to read. He loved poetry, nature and women(!) and by the age of 27 was famous throughout Scotland for his poems.
Because he had lived an ordinary life and worked on the land, his poems reflected these things and many people felt that he spoke for them.
One of his most famous poems is called “To a Mouse” and is about finding a little field mouse whose nest he’d destroyed by turning over the earth with his plough. He writes about how frightened the mouse must be and how upset that it’s lovely cosy home has been destroyed, especially as winter is coming. You may recognise a famous quote from this poem, which says that the careful plans of men as well as mice often go wrong. :
“The best laid schemes o' mice an 'men,
Gang aft agley”.
This was the quote that John Steinbeck took for the title of his famous book “Of Mice & Men”. (Incidentally, anyone studying this for GCSE might want to see the EODS production during half term) - details on the EODS website.
You can listen to actor Brian Cox reciting the poem here
You can read the poem with the strange Scottish words explained on the BBC Bitesize revision page here
If you pop over to the Seasonal Activities page you’ll find out how to host a Burns Supper on Friday night. You can make it as elaborate as you like, but remember, Robert Burns was an ordinary man who made fun of people who took themselves too seriously, so this is one occasion when a relaxed, friendly dinner is probably the most appropriate way to celebrate!
If January really is as cold as they say, then what could be better than a full English breakfast to set you up for the day?
You can find out why it’s important to start each day with breakfast plus lots of kid friendly recipes including fruit smoothies and Banana & Peanut Butter Muffins at:
As this is Sunday, it’s a good time to try out some of these ideas and maybe even do a bit of baking.
This is a long established Sussex tradition.
In the days when people didn’t have supermarkets, their fruit trees were incredibly important to them. If they didn’t bear fruit one year there would be no lovely apples to eat (or cider to drink!) until the next. So, to encourage the apple trees to grow well in the Spring, the local people would gather in an orchard to sing to the trees and share some of the previous year’s cider with them. Trees obviously can’t drink from a glass, so the villagers would soak a piece of bread with cider and place it in the branches of the trees. They’d then make lots of noise with singing and drumming and, of course, have a great big party to celebrate the lovely harvest of apples they could look forward to later.
This is a Somerset apple wassailing song:
“Old apple tree, we wassail thee
And are hoping you will bear
Hat-fulls, cap-fulls, three bushel bagfulls
And a little heap under the stairs”.
If you don’t have an apple tree of your own to sing to, there’s a family friendly event organised by our own Pentacle Drummers at Stone Cross Nursery on Saturday 19 January. Details are on our What’s On page.
The RSPB are asking families to watch the birds in their garden or local park for one hour over the weekend (26, 27 January) and to note down what they see. The birds to look out for are ones you’ll probably recognise, like blackbirds, chaffinches, sparrows and magpies. If you’re not usually a bird spotter, you can visit the Big Garden Birdwatch website for pages of information about these birds. You can learn what they look and sound like, where they are often seen and find fun bird related craft activities.
There lots of bird and nature activities at the excellent Nature Detectives website, including printables, games, crafts and fun facts.
National Storytelling Week runs from the 26 January until the 2 February this year. The aim of this awareness week is to celebrate the art of story telling and all the wonderful stories from around the world. At this time of the year, with its frosty days and the wind whistling outside, what could be nicer than settling down to tell or listen to a story in the warmth of your own cosy home?
Visit the East Sussex libraries facebook page for inspiration. It’ll direct you to details of library storytimes and rhyme times near you.
The Bookstart website is a great place for ideas if you have a preschool child.
The BBC’s Listen & Play radio programme has lovely traditional stories like “The Enormous Turnip” and “The Magic Porridge Pot” which you can listen to as podcasts with your kids.
You can also get free Barefoot Books podcasts for your iphone or ipad from itunes. Barefoot Books is a lovely publisher that encourages children to explore nature and other cultures with beautifully illustrated stories:
However, the best thing you can do is just get down to your local children’s library and choose some books yourselves. It’s a great way to keep the kids entertained for a while and you’ll get exactly what interests you most. Plus nothing beats a good old-fashioned children’s book and Britain has the best children’s authors in the world!