1st January

New Year’s Day/Hogmany/First Foot

Bring coin, bread, salt, coal, or whisky round a neighbour’s as the first person through their door to bring them luck. Extra lucky if you happen to be a dark-haired man. Anne Cartwright’s blog has these lovely kits.

Eighth Day of Christmas (Maids a’ milking – try these milk science experiments)

Taiwan Founding Day

Taiwan’s name is a bit confusing. It is ruled by the Republic of China, which is mostly Taiwan and a few other islands, and it also calls itself the Chinese Taipei. Its original native inhabitants were Austronesian, and in fact, as the island had so many native languages, Taiwan seems to be where the Austronesian people came from, spreading from Madagascar to Easter Island.

In 1624 the Dutch established a fort here; the Spanish also briefly took over.

In 1662 a Chinese Ming loyalist took over, and raided China from Taiwan for ages, until the Qing dynasty of China annexed it.

in 1894-5 the First Sino-Japanese War was won by Japan and Taiwan went to them. There was a resistance, calling Taiwan its Portguese name, the Island of Formosa, but this was quashed.

In the 1930s Taiwanese culture was outlawed and everyone had to pretend to be Japanese.

Taiwan fought for Japan in WWII, and after Japan surrendered it became part of the Republic of China. No one in Taiwan seemed particularly happy with the government until the 22/8 incident in 1947 when the government shot dead thousands until people stopped complaining.

After WWII China got back to its civil war between the Nationalists/Kuonmintang and the Communists. In 1949 the Nationalists had been defeated, and moved to Taiwan, along with 2 million supporters and a bunch of Chinese national treasures and gold reserves. Both sides claimed to still rule all of China, including Taiwan. Awkward.

The Treaty of San Francisco in 1951 was supposed to make everything official, but as the US and UK couldn’t agree, now nobody knows exactly who Taiwan is supposed to belong to. Communist China? The Republic of China? US and the Allies still?

There then followed the White Terror, martial law until 1987, during which 140,000 people were executed for being possibly pro-Communist. Gradually, though, Taiwan has become democratic, and the financial support it received from the West during the Cold War made it one of the fastest growing economies.

Sudan Independence Day (from UK, 1956)

Sudan, Africa. http://www.operationworld.org/suda

The earliest kingdom in Sudan was the Nubian Kingdom of Kush. The Kush dynasty were also Egyptian pharoahs after invading Egypt, but they were driven back out by the Assyrians. The Kingdom of Kush became the Meroitic Kingdom, which by the 6th century had dissolved into about 50 states. Christianity arrived from the Byzantine Empire at this time.

Islam began to spread. In 1821 Ottoman-ruled Egypt invaded Sudan. Britain occupied it from 1852. In the 1870s we abolished slaves, which had a bad impact on Sudan’s economy and led to a Mahdist (“guided”) army led by Muhammed Ali al-Mahdi pushing out the Turco-Egyptian government. He kept trying to invade everywhere else, Egypt, Ethiopia, etc., but was repelled.

Lord Kitchener defeated the Madhist forces in 1898, and Sudan was then ruled by an Anglo-Egyptian governor-general. Britain didn’t want the two counties to unite though, because they didn’t want Egypt to control the whole Nile valley.

To be continued…

Other events today that may inspire you:

  • Cuba Liberation Day (see 20th May)
  • Haiti Independence Day (from France, 1804 – see 22 May)
  • Independence Day of the Slovak Republic (see 17th July)
  • Founding of the Republic of China (see 30 November)
  • Brunei Independence Day (from UK, 1984 – see 23rd February)
  • Italy Constitution Day (see 2nd June)
  • Public Domain Day (expiration of copyright)
  • Czech Independence Day (see 28th September)

31st December

New Year’s Eve:

Most Spanish-speaking countries celebrate by eating a grape with each of the twelve chimes of a clock’s bell during the midnight countdown, while making a wish with each one.

Mexican families decorate homes and parties in colors that represent wishes for the upcoming year: red encourages an overall improvement of lifestyle and love, yellow encourages blessings of improved employment conditions, green for improved financial circumstances, and white for improved health.

Another tradition is to make a list of all the bad or unhappy events over the past 12 months; before midnight, this list is thrown into a fire, symbolizing the removal of negative energy from the new year.

In Austria, instead of singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight, they dance to Strauss’s Blue Danube.

In Belgium children write beautifully decorated ‘New Year’s Day’ letters that they read out to their families wishing them health and happiness in the coming year and promising not to be as naughty as they were last year.

Danish bake a Kransekrage; Greeks eat a Vasilopita.

Finland and Germany melt lead and drop it into cold water to tell fortunes from the shapes. They eat a tiny marzipan pig for good luck.

In Russia New Year’s Eve is very much like Christmas because the Communists banned Christmas (I know, right?). They remember the best bits of the last year and in the last 12 seconds make secret wishes for the next year.

Spanish and Italians wear red underwear for good luck.

Welsh give each other bread and cheese.

In Brazil New Year’s Eve marks the start of the summer holidays!

In Ecuador men dress as women (not kidding).

In Guatemala adults exchange gifts as the Christ Child only brings presents to children on Christmas day.

In Japan people prepare their homes for the toshigami, the god of the new year, with Kadomatsu (a plantpot arrangement of bamboo and pine) and Shimenawa (rice-stalk ropes to cordon off sacred areas).

Pakistanis often accidentally shoot each other as they like to fire their guns into the air to express joy.

Filipinos wear polka-dot clothes and serve circular fruits to attract money, and throw coins in the air at midnight.


Make New Year’s Eve cupcakes (add real sparklers for extra excitement; we tried melted white choc mixed with food colouring as I don’t know what candy coating is; you could also try arranging snipped-up strawberry/bubblegum laces in firework patterns) or make a calendar together out of last year’s photos.

Older kids would probably love molybdomancy (divination with molten lead or pewter) because it’s so bloody dangerous, so that’s up to you.

Make confetti wands,

make pipecleaner glasses,

make silent underwater fireworks,make a wishing tree for New Year’s Resolutions,

make a time capsule (we do timed sports/mental challenges, like how fast can you run around the house, and see if we improve the next year),

make countdown bags,

have a party bath,

turn the year into a banner or nail art or set of finger rings or on a fancy party hat,

and drink fancy mocktails.

Also today:

1853 Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins hosts a dinner party inside a life-size model of an Iguanadon he’d made with Sir Richard Owen

Day of Azeri Solidarity

1759 Guinness started brewing Guinness

1879 Thomas Eddison displays the first incandescent lightbulb

1960 the farthing (1/4 penny) ceases to be legal tender in Britain

1869 Henry Matisse born.

30th December



The sixth day of Christmas

Rudyard Kipling’s birthday (1865), author of The Jungle Book and Just So Stories

Slovakia’s Independence Declaration Day – see 17th July

Rizal Day (Philippines):

The Philippines are named after King Philip II of Spain.

No one really knows whether the first human inhabitants of the Philippines evolved around there or moved in from Southeast Asia. By the 15th century Islam had arrived from Malaysia and Indonesia.

In 1521 Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered and claimed the islands for Spain, who later made Manila their capital of the East Asian colonies.

In 1762 Britain sneaked in and occupied the islands for a couple of years during the Seven Years’ War.

From the 1870s a nationalist movement began, which led to the Revolution in 1896. One of the men who organised pro-nationalist propaganda in Spain was Jose Rizal, who was executed for his rebellion.

In 1898 the Spanish-American War, in which America helped Cuba gain independence from Spain, reached the Philippines and Spain sold the islands to America for $20 million.

The people of the Philippines thought this meant their independence, and declared themselves a Republic. America said no. The Philippines declared war on America. Yes, America won.

In World War II Japan invaded and set up their own government and were as cruel as ever, leaving 1 million Philippinos dead when the Allies ousted them at the end of the war.

In 1946 the Philippines finally gained independence. There were still a few Communist insurgents from the rebel army that had fought against Japan and now felt forgotten, but the main problem turned out to be the president himself, Ferdinand Marcos, who, when he realised his two terms were coming to an end, declared martial law so he could stay in power.

His rival, Benigno Aquino, came back from exile in America to sort things out and was shot dead coming off the plane. Following some rigged elections against Aquino’s widow, Corazon, the Filipinos got a bit angry and Marcos fled to Hawaii, leaving Corazon in power.

The Philippines is the second-largest producer of geothermal energy as it harnessed the power of its volcanoes, and it experiences around 20 small earthquakes a day. There are 175 languages spoken on the islands!

Activities: Have a look at some Phillipino animals: the tamaraw of Mindoro, the Visayan spotted deer, the Philippine mouse deer, the Visayan warty pig, the Philippine flying lemur, and the Phillipine tarsier. Try some Original Pilipino Music.

29th December

The fifth day of Christmas.

Mongolian Independence Day – see 26th November

Texas founded 1845 (Davy Crocket fighting against the Mexican army in the Battle of Alamo; oil; Austin country music; eat Tex-Mex)

Ireland’s Constitution Day:

Celtic or Iron-Age Ireland was from the 8th century B.C. Ptolemy, an Egyptian who wrote in Greek, called Ireland ‘Little Britain’, and England and Scotland were called ‘Great Britain’.

St Patrick came over with Christianity in 431 A.D. and the druidic system collapsed. The Irish were a bunch of tribes until they established a High King of Ireland, who ruled from the Hill of Tara from the 7th century A.D.

While the Dark Ages hit Europe, Irish monks and scholars continued to learn Greek and Latin and were very good at illuminating manuscripts (like the Book of Kells) and making jewellery.

Then the Vikings came along pillaging and ruined everything. The Normans (who by then were also technically the English) came over in 1169 to invade but Henry II had to come round three years later to sort them out.

After that Ireland successfully ignored England’s rule, which essentially extended only over the ‘Pale’, a bit of land around Dublin. However, Henry VII remembered, and reminded everyone that he was King of Ireland and invaded.

Tyrone’s Rebellion, or the Nine Years’ War, saw the Irish chieftains fight against him before fleeing to Europe. After that the English invaded more, took their land and even sent a lot into slavery in the West Indies! No wonder they hate us!

England then enforced laws that didn’t allow Roman Catholics any rights at all, so only those that followed the Church of England could, e.g., inherit property or sit in Parliament, etc.

In 1739-41 there was a horrible frost that ruined crops across Europe and caused a terrible famine in Ireland.

From 1798 Ireland was allowed to make its own laws, but when Ireland tried to have a proper rebellion the English military squashed it and from 1801 declared Ireland part of ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. Catchy.

In the 1840s the Great Famine was caused by a potato disease because so many Irish ate almost only potatoes. 1 million died and another 1 million emigrated. Ireland’s population is still less than it was before this famine.

From then some Irish campaigned for ‘Home Rule’, where Ireland would be allowed to rule itself while remaining part of the United Kingdom.

Ulster Unionists (who were in favour of the Act of Union that made Ireland part of the United Kingdom) were against this because they were Protestant and thought Home Rule would be dominated by the Catholics. England thought it had reached a compromise by allowing most of Ireland Home Rule except for Ulster, Northern Ireland.

While England was busy in World War I, the  Easter Rising was another rebellion trying to get England to give up Ireland. England responded by executing 15 leaders and imprisoning more than 1,000 people. This did not help our popularity. We then tried to impose conscription.

After that, the Sinn Fein (Gaelic for ‘we ourselves’) left-wing independent party had overwhelming support from the Irish and declared Ireland to be an independent republic. Their army, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), fought against Britain for three years in a guerrilla war called the Irish War of Independence (1919-21).

England then allowed Ireland independence but offered Northern Ireland the chance to opt out and remain part of the UK, which they accepted.

The Irish Republic became the Irish Free State… and then dissolved into civil war for a while, mainly out of opposition to the Anglo-Irish treaty which arranged all this but still wanted Irish people to swear allegiance to the English king.

For a while Ireland was doing really well but the 2008-10 global recession left it pretty miserable.

Northern Ireland, of course, has been divided by Roman Catholics wanting to join the rest of Ireland in independence and Protestants wanting to stay in the UK.

The Protestants vote for the Ulster Unionist Party, who did something called ‘gerrymandering’, which is where you move the boundaries of electoral districts so you get a greater majority of the votes.

From 1969 the Troubles began, where both sides were very violent to each other, and Britain removed Northern Ireland’s right to Home Rule, which surely annoyed everyone even more.

The old Irish Republican Army, which wanted non-violent civil demonstrations for Catholic rights and against British rule, split into a new group, the Provisional IRA, who were super-violent. However, they were reacting to a violent time, and the Protestants were just as violent.

The British army also behaved appallingly, picking on the Catholics more than the equally naughty Protestants and torturing and detaining them without trial. On Bloody Sunday in 1972 the British army shot dead 26 people who were conducting a peaceful unarmed protest.

In the 1980s and ’90s the IRA blew up some very big bombs in Brighton, London and Manchester.

In 1998 the Good Friday Agreement ended the fighting, restored Home Rule to Northern Ireland and the British army stopped having to support Northern Ireland’s police. This was back in the good old days of Labour before Tony Blair became a war criminal.

Ireland has amazing myths, legends and landscapes.

Newgrange was thought to be the abode of the Tuatha de Danaan, which were a kind of fairy (but very tall and powerful) – we now know it is an incredible work by Neolithic people before Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids were thought of.

The Giant’s Causeway was said to be built by Finn MacCool (great name) who built a causeway to Scotland, but a giant ripped it up so that Finn could not chase him.


Blarney Castle holds the Blarney Stone, which if you kiss gives you the gift of eloquence and is also said to be the Lia Fail stone upon which Irish kings were crowned.

Older children might like to have a go at colouring in some Celtic knotwork or illuminating a letter or a poem for someone’s birthday. Read a children’s version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Try some Riverdance, Gaelic football or hurling.

Incwala Ceremony (Swaziland, 2015)

27th December

Johannes Kepler born (1571)

Johannes Kepler Kopie eines verlorengegangenen Originals von 1610

– I think he discovered that planets speed up as their orbit takes them closer to the sun, and slow down as they get furthest away.

Louis Pasteur born (1822)


– most famous for inventing ‘pasteurisation’, boiling milk or wine to kill poisonous bacteria. He proved that micro-organisms do not spontaneously appear; they only grow in contaminated areas. Try this bread experiment.

The Third Day of Christmas

N. Korea Constitution Day: Up to the beginning of the 20th century, Korea always tried to stay out of the West’s way, and so was known as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’. In 1910 Japan took Korea and ruled it by force for 35 years.

After World War II, Japan surrendered to the Allies and Korea was divided between Russia and America. North Korea was, of course, the Russian side.

Russia and America withdrew and tried to allow the two sides to govern themselves again – except the country had now been artificially divided and the North thought it should rule the South and the South thought it should rule the North.

In 1950, after North Korea had repeatedly asked Russia “Can we invade yet? Can we invade yet? Can we invade yet?”, it began the Korean War with Russian and Chinese support. America, etc., supported South Korea.

In 1953, after 2 million had died, an armistice was declared, but it was not until 2007 that both sides agreed that the war was officially over. In the 1990s it had a horrible famine, during which America was actually the biggest donator of foreign aid.

Activities: The Mass Games.