6th December

St Nicholas Day

2006 water found on Mars




Johann Christian Bach born 1642 – famous for the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor

Finland’s Independence Day



Finland was first settled about 8,500 years ago as the Ice Age receded.

Swedish kings took over in the 12th century in the Northern Crusades. By the 17th century, Swedish was the language of the aristocrats and Finnish was the language of the peasants.

Russia invaded twice in the 18th century, which Finns call the Greater Wrath and the Lesser Wrath. During the Greater Wrath nearly a whole generation of Finnish men was lost as Russia destroyed homes, farms and set fire to Helsinki. From 1809-1917 Finland was part of the Russian Empire.

In 1835 the Kalevala was published, and the Finnish language gained equal status to Swedish in 1892.

After the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 deposed the tsar, Finland was a bit confused as to who was now in charge of it. As Russia was taken over by Communists, Finland declared itself independent. However, they then fell into civil war between the Whites (right-wing) and the Reds (left). The Whites won and tens of thousands of reds were put in internment camps or executed. In 1919 Finland became a presidential republic.

During WWII Finland fought Russia in the Winter War of 1939-40, and then again after Finland allied with Germany against Russia. Then in 1944 Finland signed an armistice with Russia and then fought against Germany, who were retreating from Russia in northern Finland.

Finland lost 10% of its land and 20% of its industry in the treaties with Russia that followed.

In the 1990s, after Soviet Russia’s collapse, Finland’s main trading partner, it had a bad recession. Finland is one of the world’s oldest countries, with half of voters aged over 50.

Its national animal is the brown bear. It also has wolverines, wolves and elk. It has warm summers but is covered in snow from November to April. At Finland’s northernmost point, the sun never sets for 73 days of summer, and never rises for 51 days of winter.

ST NICHOLAS LIVES HERE! IN LAPLAND! Coincidence that their independence day is on St Nicholas’ Day?



Spain Constitution Day:

Spain was originally populated by Iberians, Basques and Celts; from 210 B.C. it became part of the Roman Empire. But when the Germanic Vandals and Suevi along with Iranian Alans (imagine a whole tribe of Alans! Terrifying.) were driven into Spain by the (also Germanic) Visigoths, the western Roman empire began to disintegrate. [V]Andalusia is named after the Vandals.

In the 8th century Muslim North African Moorish conquered most of Spain. Their capital, Cordoba, was the wealthiest and most advanced city in Western Europe.

The Reconquiesta was the Christian conquering of Muslim Iberia. During this time a kingdom called the Crown of Aragon flourished, ruling from the east of Spain across to Italy, and later joined with the Crown of Castile and then pushed the Muslim rulers out. Everyone was going to get along, honest, until the Spanish Inquisition told the Jews to convert to Catholicism or be expelled – then the Muslims too.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus found the New World on Spain’s behalf and Spain emerged as the first world power, leading Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and owning bits of everywhere, like Belgium, France, Germany, Africa, the Americas, Italy, the Netherlands, etc., did.

But the Spanish Hapsburg rulers of this empire, Charles I and Philip II, imposed harsh Roman Catholic rules on their lands and the Protestant Reformation against this caused revolts and wars and dragged the empire down. In particular it lost its bits of France, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The Thirty Years’ War, which involved most of Europe mostly fighting over who should be Catholic and who should be Protestant, ruined Spain further.

In the end, the civil war called the War of Spanish Secession put a French king on the throne, the Bourbon Philip V, uniting the remaining bits of Spain into a single state. It was no longer the top power in Europe.

After France overthrew its monarchy, Spain declared war on them… and lost.

Napoleon persuaded Spain to join him in a declaration of war against Portugal and Britain. Then he took his army ‘through’ Spain to ‘invade’ Portugal…and conquered Spain on the way. Embarrasing.

Spain started a war of independence against France, and with Britain’s help and also with Napoleon greedily over-stretching himself with a war against Russia, France was booted out of Spain.

Spain was left poor and unstable, so most of the Spanish Americas took the opportunity to declare their independence from Spain.

In the 20th century Spain managed to colonise some bits of Africa – the Western Sahara, Morocco, Equitorial Guinea, but lost its monarchy and became a republic, which allowed the separate regions of Spain to have autonomy.

The Spanish Civil War (1936-9) was won by the facist Nazi-supporting side under Franco.

Russia, America and Mexico had tried to help but Britain officially wasn’t bothered. Thanks to Franco likewise not being bothered about Britain or Nazis, Spain managed to keep out of World War II and so later wasn’t allowed in the UN, but gained American support as Franco was anti-Communist.

For some reason, even though Spain was a republic, Franco had passed a law that let him choose his successor who would also be king. But King Juan Carlos I (who is still king today) very kindly allowed a democratic parliament to run the country with him.

Spain is famous for: Altamira cave paintings; Spanish Inquisition; Spanish Miracle; Don Quixote; Gaudi; Dali; Picasso; flamenco; Spanish guitar; paella; gazpacho; arroz negro (made with squid ink!); Castilian soup (ham and garlic); bull fighting; La Tomatina (a tomato fight involving like 90,000 people); tapas; siestas; Spanish Tortilla; Guggenheim Museum; El Carnaval de Cádiz; Las Fallas; La Feria de Abril in Seville; Las Fiestas de San Fermín in Pamplona; La Feria de Malaga; La Virgen del Carmen, patroness of fishermen, with celebrations in all coastal towns on July 16th; saffron; mazapan; turron.


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