December 21, 2011

Hanukkah/Solstice Blogstravaganza!

It's a big day!  Pop versions of old Hebrew standbys were softly playing in the cd player before the kids ever woke up.  I will admit to reliving my childhood a little this morning, challenging myself to see how many words of Mi Yemalel I could recall from way back when my mom would play the karaoke version of the Children's Hanukkah Classics in the car on long drives and we'd rudely and irreverently scream out the Hebrew words, proud of our abilities and unphased by our own ignorance of their meaning.   Yes, folks!  Those are the memories I'm passing down. Ignorant parroting of ancient Hebrew verses, now set to a Shakira like sound track to interest the modern child.  Sounds heinous, but I love it!

My mom sent along a ton of Hanukkah gifts, which you will be able to spy in the background of the Nebra Disc picture farther down in this post.  Among them was a set of 3 paint-your-own dreidels.  We painted those last week so they would be dry for today and on a trip to Joanne's I found a bag of chocolate gilt near the checkout line.    Score!

Today I made cheater latkes for lunch, setting off the smoke detector for a 3rd consecutive Hanukkah.  I should really work on that, but instead I tell myself what a good thing it is to test your smoke detecting system every now and again.  If you're into cheating on Hanukkah food, 2 cups of hash browns mushed up, 1 egg, a ton of salt, fried in a skillet, drained on paper towels, and sprinkled with garlic salt.  Done!

The kids gave the lunch a thumbs up.  Maybe that's because this is the only occasion on which I am willing to go to the trouble of cooking anything on the stove in the middle of the day.  Hannah Jane asked if I would make latkes once a day for all 8 days.

Being Winter Solstice, we've also got those activities all over the house.  Last year we had a smallish party with our dear friends.  It was kind of fun, but nothing to write home about.  Our friends, in turn, took on Summer Solstice and invited us and their sister in law, who is an actual pagan, to lead everyone in the real pagan solstice ritual.  One of our crew was sick so we missed it, but it was reportedly very dry, long, and wordy, leaving the kids crying for it to be over so they could eat cookies.  There's quite a picture painted in my mind when I envision an upbeat Mormon family around a firepit with their pagan aunt droning on as the kids beg for cookies and the serious pagan being unwilling to cut things short in honor of snack time.  Haha!  Needless to say, none of us are planning to celebrate it in true pagan style after that!  But this time we're going to their house for Disco Karaoke (in honor of the return of the great disc!), ample snack eating, and a white elephant gift exchange. 

Before the sun was even up, they were building Stonehenge!

Since the party has very little to do with actual solstice observances, we spent our morning learning a little about more ancient accounts of the sky.  I enlarged a sketch of Harvard's 1:50 scale model of Stonehenge and we built upon it with sugar cubes.  Then we used yarn to get a straight line of sight from the center to where the sun would rise and set on important sun related occasions. 

Sunrise and Sunset
Then we looked at the Goseck Circle for the first time.  I had never even heard of this until yesterday.  It is basically a series of concentric ditches that dates back much earlier than Stonehenge and also marks the sunrise and set points at Winter Solstice.  Its center was found to be littered with human bones, possibly human sacrifices made while asking the gods to bring back the sun so the harsh, killing winters would end. 

We talked about what kind of power you could exert over the common man if you were merely aware of the sun and its habits.  How what was simply the result of intense observation could be conveyed as magic, wisdom, of favor by the gods.  Hunter said, "I could have been king if I knew all of that!"  Hannah Jane said, "Who wants to be king?  If you're king, then when things go wrong - and they always do - you're going to have a ton of people mad at you!"  Wow.  That's pretty darn wise, in this age of power lust.  Hunter wants to dominate the world and Hannah Jane wants to fly under the radar and avoid conflict.  It wasn't clear yet what Haven would favor.  He just kept saying, "Fake magic.  Science is just fake magic."  Ha!

Oh, Look!  There are those cool Hanukkah things my mom sent! 

Our studies of the Goseck Circle led us to another neat solstice related relic, the Nebra Sky Disc.  This was a disc created in the Bronze Age during a time when historians always assumed people were just ignorant brutes, not really paying much attention to matters of observation and science.  But this disc has constellations and the exact position of the setting and rising sun on winter solstice for the region where it was found.  We watched a neat little video about a museum curator who tracked it down and became obsessed with the disc.  Then we made our own. 

This afternoon, once all of the more standard school subjects have been covered, we'll listen to this cool Hanukkah story I heard on NPR the other night, about the origins of Hanukkah and how it has been elevated in social status to compete with Christmas even though it's not honestly that significant of a holiday in comparison to some others.  We'll play dreidel and eat some coins.  And we'll probably watch the Paul Winter Solstice concert as soon as it goes online.  That is quite a show! 

So to friends near and far, celebrating Hanukkah or Solstice or nothing at all, have a fantastic shortest day of the year!

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