Festivals of the World at HMNS Sugar Land

Come join us this Saturday, December 11 from 10 a.m. til 2 p.m. at HMNS at Sugar Land for our Second Saturday event Festivals Around the World.

In cooperation with PACE (Parents for Academic Excellence), the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land will help children appreciate 7 different cultures from around the world and what makes each one unique. Each culture will have a display, crafts and story time.

For Chinese New Year you will see Chinese clothing, a table setting, zodiac animals and pictures of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world. Participants will learn about the Chinese zodiac, make a zodiac card and complete a zodiac word search.
Story time will feature information about the Chinese Dragon Dance.

The Hanukkah display will feature clothing and jewelry for the holidays, decorations for the holiday season and an example of a traditional meal. For crafts, children will create a Menorah using their hands as patterns and a paper dreidel.

The Cinco de Mayo celebration will feature traditional Pueblan clothing, a display of Cinco de Mayo party decorations and a demonstration of the traditional way of making salsa. Visitors will make a papel picado, which is a type of traditional Mexican folk art.
Story time will feature a Mexican dance!

The festival known as Eid will feature displays of a prayer rug, the Koran, colorful illuminations, crescent moon, patakas (religious flags) and gifts. For crafts, children will make an Eid greeting card and a personal prayer rug.

The Kwanzaa display will feature a traditional table setting with an explanation of what each item means for the holiday. You will see decorations, food, flags, a Unity Cup and much more. Children will make an almost beaded headband.

The Diwali festival will feature clothing and jewelry for the holiday as well as traditional decorations for the holiday season. The craft will be making a paper lantern.
Story time will feature an Indian dance.

The Christmas season will feature displays of holiday items and decorations. For the crafts, children will make reindeer from their footprints and handprints and create a Christmas card using their fingerprints.
Story time will feature Christmas pop-up books.

Parents, bring your camera! Santa will be at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land for the Second Saturday celebration of Festivals Around the World.

This event is included with the price of admission to HMNS at Sugar Land.

The Unconquered Sun: Winter Solstice Today!

At 11:47 am Central Time on Monday, December 21, the sun is overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn. This is the farthest point south at which the sun can be overhead, indicating that the North Pole is tilted as far away from the sun as possible. At the Tropic of Capricorn and elsewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the high sun results in the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer.  Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, however, the sun is as low as possible in the sky, and we have our shortest day of the year.  This is the winter solstice for us.

Ancient peoples across America, Europe and Asia noticed that the sun got lower and lower and the daylight shorter and shorter throughout autumn.  When the sun reached its lowest point, this meant that it had stopped going away and would return–a cause for celebration.  One of the many pagan winter solstice festivals was Yule, celebrated in northern Europe.  Another was the festival of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) celebrated in Rome on Dec. 25.  Keep in mind that in antiquity the 25 was the date of the solstice itself–the sun which had stopped going away and begun to return was ‘unconquered.’  Due to the imprecision of the Julian calendar, the solstice had shifted to Dec. 21 by the year 325 A.D., when the Nicene Council convened. Since Pope Gregory’s reform was calculated to restore the equinoxes and solstices as of the Nicene Council, the winter solstice is now on Dec. 21 (occasionally Dec. 22).

No one in antiquity knew what date Jesus was born.  For one thing, many of the early Christians rejected all birthday celebrations of any kind as a pagan ritual.  Even had folks wanted to observe Jesus’ birth, the lunar calendar used in Israel at the time would complicate the choice of date.  The Chronology of 354 is the oldest document to list Christmas as a festival.  When the church selected Dec. 25 for this festival, it was probably because late December was already a festive time across the Roman Empire.

Sunset over Chicago
Creative Commons License photo credit: kevindooley

Although today is the shortest day of the year, you may have already noticed that sunset is a few minutes later now than at the beginning of the month.  In June, the North Pole was tilted towards the sun as much as possible.  Since then, the North Pole has tilted a little more away from the sun each day.  Days have been getting shorter because each day the sun has taken a slightly lower path across the sky.  Sunrises have been getting earlier and sunsets have been getting later.  By late November the sun had already gotten about as low as it is now.  As the day to day difference in the sun’s height gets smaller, another effect begins to dominate.

Earth’s orbit is not a circle; it is an ellipse.  The orbit is almost a circle, however; the eccentricity (out-of-roundness) is just 0.016, where 0 is a perfect circle and 1 a parabola.  This is enough of a difference to bring Earth slightly closer to the sun in early January and take it slightly farther away in early July.  Therefore, Earth is now beginning to make its closest approach to the sun (called perihelion).  As a result, Earth is speeding up on its orbit.  This causes sunrise, local noon, and sunset to occur just a little later each day.  By the 21, sunset will occur at 5:27 pm, as opposed to 5:22 pm on Dec. 2 (the actual date of the earliest sunset).  Sunrise, however, will have shifted from 7:00 am to 7:13 am.  Thus, that days are still getting shorter even though the sunsets are a little later.

Many people assume that the winter solstice should be the coldest day, but this is usually not true. January is usually colder.  Although days get a little bit longer and the sun a little bit higher beginning Monday, it takes quite awhile for this to add up to an appreciable difference in the Sun’s height in the sky and in the amount of light and heat reaching the arctic.  Frigid air masses continue to form in the arctic and move across the Northern Hemisphere throughout January, February, and often March.  Although the sun is higher in those months than in December, the air can be just as cold if not colder.

Equinox 2

Hopefully, we are getting all of our cloudy, gloomy weather over with , and the solstice will be sunnier. If so, you can join us on the museum sundial at noon on Monday, Dec. 21 to observe the sun!  This is one of the Fun Hundred events celebrating our 100 anniversary here at the Museum.   On top of the gnomon on our sundial is a silver ball with three sets of holes, which allows the sun to shine through pairs of lenses near each solstice or equinox.  To account for cloudy weather, our gnomon’s holes are big enough that the sun aligns with them for a few days before and after the exact equinox or solstice date.  The holes aligned with the winter solstice are so big that you can still project the sun’s image through them deep into January!  If the weather does not cooperate Monday, you can come and observe the sun on our sundial near noon on any day in the next few weeks.

Preview: Disney’s A Christmas Carol [12 Days of HMNS]

Bah, HUMBUG! Today is the Third Day of HMNS! In the spirit of the classic holiday carol, we’re taking 12 days to feature 12 different videos that preview or go behind-the-scenes of a holiday museum activity, here on the blog (or, you can get a sneak peek at all the videos on 12days.hmns.org – we won’t tell).

For our third video, preview Charles Dickens’ timeless tale – A Christmas Carol, stunningly reimagined by Disney. Then come to the Museum to experience it as never before – six stories high at the Wortham IMAX Theatre. (Plus, tickets include admission to the Museum’s permanent exhibits!)

Disney’s A Christmas Carol captures the fantastical essence of this classic in a groundbreaking motion picture event. Ebenezer Scrooge, played by Jim Carrey, begins the Christmas holiday with his usual miserly contempt. But when the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come take him on an eye-opening journey, he must open his heart before it’s too late.

Click play to preview this immersive movie adventure, now showing in the Wortham IMAX Theatre!

Happy Holidays!

Need to catch up?
The First Day of HMNS – Explore: Snow Science
The Second Day of HMNS – Preview: The Chronicles of Narnia Exhibition

Get into the holiday spirit! Visit our 12 Days of HMNS web site to see the videos and get more information about each event, exhibit and film: 12days.hmns.org

Happy Holidays!

December Book List: Holiday Classics

Reindeer cookie
Creative Commons License photo credit: Samdogs

Everyone seems to have one special holiday book from their childhood that stands out because of the special memories it evokes.  For me, the book is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  This book was originally written by Robert May for his employer, Montgomery Ward, to give away during the 1939 Christmas season.  The song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks was first recorded in 1949, and the rest is history.

Although Rudolph is on the list of holiday books posted this month, I have decided to write about a specific type of books I collect: Pop-Ups.

The earliest moveable books were created in the thirteenth century, and were for adults, not children. My interest in Pop-Ups began when I was a school librarian and read an article stating that Pop-Up books were the least expensive way to collect art.  As I thought about this, I saw these books in an entirely different light, and marveled at the paper engineering that makes these books possible.  Today’s Pop-Ups are incredibly complicated, and several names stand out: Robert Sabuda, Jan Pienkowski, Nick Bantock and David Pelham.

Three of Robert Sabuda’s Pop-Up books are on the holiday list. The Christmas Alphabet is a series of windows that open to expose the mostly white pop-ups behind each letter.  It is fun to ask a child what they think will see.  They will probably guess “angel” for A, “candle” for C and “ornament” for O, but they will never guess “friends” for F, “quartet” for Q or “zzzzzzz” (Santa sleeping) for Z.  Some of the pop-ups almost explode off the pages of the book. For example, “unwrap” for U, “snowflake” for S and “poinsettia” for P.  But, my favorite pop-up is “gift” for G.  As you open the window, you will see a small square box with ribbons appearing to be untied.  Follow the arrow on the top of the box and you will find your gift:  a kitten!

Sabuda also created the Pop-Up book The 12 Days of Christmas, a unique retelling of the Holiday classic.  All of the pages are laid out in the same way.  When you turn a page you see one pop-up that takes up ¾ of the space, then you lift a flap for the next part of the song.  Opening the book you see a very large partridge with five green pears, and when you open the flap you find two turtledoves in a fancy birdcage with a bow attached.

Sabuda uses the unexpected to keep the song fresh.  For example, the four calling birds are in a cuckoo clock that is getting ready to chime, the five gold rings adorn the antlers of a giant reindeer, the six geese a-laying are sitting on top of a piece of pie with a fork nearby, the seven swans a-swimming are in a holiday snow globe and the nine drummers drumming are tiny mice holding drumsticks.  Although it does not appear to be as complicated as some of the pop-ups, I particularly like ten pipers piping.  When you open the flap you see a chain of angels that appear to have been cut like paper dolls, and the scissors are part of the pop-up, too.  However, eleven ladies dancing may be the most complicated.  You see an open musical jewelry box, complete with a mirror on the back, and you can almost see the tiny ballerinas spinning.

The retelling of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas by Robert Sabuda is particularly striking.  The pages are laid out the same way as in The 12 Days of Christmas, and the members of the family are mice.

When you read “When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter,” you see Mr. Mouse springing into action.  His pillow has been thrown aside and he is heading for the window.  Look carefully and you will see the shade pull and the tiny town outside the window.  When you read “More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name” eight reindeer leap off the page at you.  They are harnessed together with a silver cord which Santa is holding, and each pair of reindeer holds their heads in a different direction.  The most elaborate pop-up is on the last page, “But I heard him exclaim ere he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night’!”  You see the entire village complete with houses, a church, a bridge and a gazebo with Santa and the reindeer circling in the background.  When everything unfolds off the page it is always fascinating to me that all the objects fold down and the book closes.

While I was researching the list of holiday books, I thought about my favorite Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and decided to buy a new copy.  Can you imagine my surprise when I found a 1950 spiral-bound pop-up copy of Rudolph? The reindeer on the cover looked like I remember, so I bought the book immediately.  This copy is a bit worn and the simple pop-ups are simple. However, I look forward to sharing them with my grandchildren Abbie, Elizabeth and Emma, hoping that it will become a lasting memory for them, too.

May the holidays bring you and all those you love peace, joy and very special memories to last a lifetime.