You are currently browsing the monthly Archive for December, 2011.

Every year on 27 January, the world marks Holocaust Memorial Day. On the HMD website you’ll find all of the resources, information and advice you need to participate.

Holocaust Memorial Day provides an opportunity for everyone to learn lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides and apply them to the present day to create a safer, better future. On HMD you will find the shared memories of the millions who have been murdered in the Holocaust and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur in order to challenge hatred and persecution in the UK today.

Creating a safer, better future from Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Vimeo.

National Handwriting Day was founded in the USA by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association (WIMA) so that we could continue to recognise the reward of composing a handwritten note using a high quality writing instrument.

The date chosen was 23 January, the birthday of John Hancock, the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence with a flourish!

In the UK the National Handwriting Association aims to:

  • raise awareness of handwriting as a crucial component of literacy
  • promote and foster good practice in the teaching of handwriting
  • provide support for those working with children and adults who have handwriting difficulties

Together with John Catt Educational Ltd, the NHA is hosting the SATIPS National Schools’ Handwriting Competition 2012 (Monday 21st November 2011 to Wednesday 16th May 2012).  To find out more visit

Happy New Year!

 (and bonne année! bliadhna mhath ur! sretna nova godina! ??????? ???? ??????! gelukkig nieuwjaar! ???????? ???? ????! feli?an novan jaron! head uut aastat! gott nýggjár! ….)

What do we have to look forward to in the coming months?

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development, in particular recognizing their impact on poverty reduction, employment generation and social integration.

(Order your resource pack here)


2012 has also been designated as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All recognizing that “… access to modern affordable energy services in developing countries is essential for the achievement of … the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development.

(Fact: more than 1.4 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, and 1 billion more only have intermittent access. Some 2.5 billion people – almost half of humanity – rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating)

© Daniel Rogers

It has also been designated Alan Turing Year, commemorating the mathematician who, when seconded to top secret Bletchley Park during WWII, designed the first computer, which enabled the allies to crack the German Enigma code and, arguably, win the war.  Many events are scheduled for 23 June, the centennial of Turing’s birth.

Films relating to Turing include:

Breaking the Code
Enigma Secret
Decoding Nazi Secrets
The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing
The Secret Life of Chaos
Decoding Alan Turing


2012 marks 60 years of The Queen’s reign and Diamond Jubilee celebrations will centre around 2-5 June.

(Fact: The only other British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee was Queen Victoria in 1897.)

Find out more about London 2012London will host the Olympic Games from 27 July-12 Aug).

(Click here to find teaching resources inspired by the London 2012 Games and the Olympic and Paralympic Values)

Further details of forthcoming observances will continue to be posted here on our new look blog (check out the calendar on the right).  Meanwhile, you can follow us on Twitter (@observe_hq) and, to whet your appetite, here is a taster of what January has to offer:


  • 17 – Martin Luther King Day
  • 23 – Chinese New Year (Dragon)
  • 25 – Burns Night
  • 30 – Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (no, we’re not making it up, and if you want to pop some virtual bubble wrap, click here)

Big Garden Birdwatch is fun, free, really easy, and only takes an hour. You can do your birdwatch wherever you like – at home, in your local park, or do it as part of a group at an RSPB event near you.

When, what, where

All you need is a pen, some scrap paper (or, a printout of this handy Big Garden Birdwatch 2012 counting sheet), and an hour to spend watching the birds in your garden, or local park, on either Saturday 28, or Sunday 29 January 2012.

Simply make a note of the highest number of each bird species seen on the ground (not flying over) at any one time, and return to the Big Garden Birdwatch page to submit your info.

Check out this video for some of the more unusual places that people did their 2011 birdwatch:

Where do you do Big Garden Birdwatch? from The RSPB on Vimeo.

How this information helps

For over 30 years, the RSPB have been asking the public to count the birds in their garden and each year more people get involved.

With results from so many gardens, the RSPB are able to create a ‘snapshot’ of bird numbers in each region – and they can see that some of our birds are disappearing in scary numbers.

We’ve lost more than half our house sparrows and some three-quarters of our starlings.

These surveys not only help highlight problems but are the first step in putting things right.


Goddess Saraswati pics, photo scraps and graphicsVasant Panchami is the festival dedicated to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, music and art.One of the most notable features of this Indian festival is the abundance of the colour yellow, which represents the brilliance of nature and the vibrancy of life.

During the festival, devotees wear bright yellow clothing, eat yellow (coloured by saffron) food, and worship statues of Saraswati in their home and in the mandir.

All Hindu educational establishments conduct special prayers and students place their pencils at the feet of the goddess to be blessed.  It is during this festival that devotees are taught to write their first words.

It isn’t all about learning – it is also a day for art and painting competitions, poetry recitations, music festivals – and kite flying.

In 2012, Vasant Panchami takes place on 28 January.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR, is hosting a Burns Family Festival Day on Saturday 28 January.

It promises to be a fun-packed day for all the family! Interactive stories, music, song and laughter all inspired by Robert Burns.  To book call 0131 556 9579

10.30am (1hr) | £5/£3 | 5+
Burns in the City!
Kicking off our Burns Family Day with a bang, join storyteller Tim Porteus and friends for a fun-filled morning of getting to know Rabbie as he travels into Edinburgh for the first time. Plenty of stories, songs, poems and laughter for all the family.

12pm (1hr) | Free | All Ages
Burns Songs & Music
A celebration of all things Burns with live music and song in the Storytelling Court. Grab some lunch or tea and cake in the Storytelling Café and listen to the sounds of Burns, or just drop-in to the Court and enjoy!

2pm (1hr) | £5/£3 | 8+
Rabbie as a Laddie
Storytelling & Puppetry
What made Rabbie the way he was? Was Rabbie an awfu’ laddie? Where did his wonderful words come from? Join storyteller and puppeteer Sylvia Troon for an interactive session of stories and fun.

3pm (90mins) | £6/£4 | 12+
Simply Burns
Music and Spoken Word
Experience the romance and humour of Scotland’s most famous poet in this enchanting programme of song, story and verse. Combining atmospheric readings of some of his best loved poems and personal thoughts with songs inspired by his verse, Simply Burns is an event that celebrates the very best of The Bard. This captivating revue is a hit with devotees of Burns as well as with those who find it all a bit daunting. It’s witty, entertaining, and engaging… who knew Burns could be so much fun?

The Year of the Dragon begins on 23 January 2012, and will be marked in Scotland as well as in Chinese communities worldwide.

What is Chinese New Year ?

Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays. In China it is also known as “Spring Festival”. The festival begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar, and ends with Lantern Festival on the 15th day. The date varies from year to year with the lunar calendar, but is generally between mid January and mid February. In agricultural life, it represents the start of new life and the season of ploughing and sowing.

Chinese New Year is celebrated right across the People’s Republic of China, and in other countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, such Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and in Chinatowns worldwide.

According to folk legend, the Chinese New Year traditions started with the fight against a mythical beast called the Nian. Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers. To protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that after the Nian ate the food, it wouldn’t attack any more people.

On one occasion, people saw that the Nian was scared away by a little child wearing red. So, every year, the villagers hung red lanterns and red scrolls on windows and doors, and used firecrackers to frighten away the Nian. Many of the modern traditions are based on this story.

How is Chinese New Year celebrated ?

Within China, regional customs and traditions vary widely. People exchange gifts, clean and decorate their house and buy new clothes.    Families mark the coming of the New Year with fireworks to frighten away “evil spirits” – Chinese cities are very noisy places around midnight, and for hours afterwards! Early the next morning, children will greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes.

What is the significance of the animals ?

The Chinese Lunar Calendar names each of its twelve years after an animal. One legend says Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell, and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived.

The animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, which rotate in a 12 year cycle in that order. The current year, ending on 22 January 2012, is the Year of the Rabbit. The Year of the Dragon runs from 23 January 2012 to 9 February 2013.

The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying, “this is the animal that hides in your heart”.

Edinburgh Celebrations

On the weekend of Saturday 21 and 22 January, Edinburgh Zoo invites families to join them as they celebrate their Giant Pandas and all the Chinese animals at Edinburgh Zoo. Enjoy activities for children and adults. Learn Mandarin and discover all about Chinese Culture, take a calligraphy workshop and listen to Chinese music and entertainment. Even make your own dragon! There will also be competitions, quizzes and lots more. Admission charges apply.  Edinburgh Zoo, 134 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh EH12 6TS

For 12+, Take One Action Film Festivals is presenting ‘China On The Move: Marking Chinese New Year on Film‘ to mark Chinese New Year, with four award-winning films offering different perspectives on the complex transformations taking place in contemporary Chinese cinema, society and industry, and how they relate to the wider world. All screenings are at the Edinburgh Filmhouse, and will be followed by expert and audience discussion:

Mr Tree (Hello! Shu Xian Sheng)Wed 25 Jan only

Mr Tree
(Hello! Shu Xian Sheng)

Han Jie
China 2011
88 minutes
Rated 12A
Cast: Wang Baoqiang , Tan Zhuo.
Mandarin with English subtitles
Last Train HomeThu 26 Jan only

Last Train Home

Lixin Fan
Country of origin and year
Canada/China/UK 2009
85 minutes
Rated 12A
Mandarin with English subtitles
Apart Together (Tuan yuan)Sat 28 Jan only

Apart Together
(Tuan yuan)

Wang Quan’an
China 2010
97 minutes
Rated 12A
Cast: Lisa Lu, Ling Feng, Xu Cai-gen, Monica Mok, Baiyang.
Mandarin with English subtitles

Manufactured Landscapes
Sun 29 Jan only
Manufactured Landscapes
Jennifer Baichwal
Country of origin and year
Canada 2006
90 minutes
Rated 12A

English, Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles


Gong Hey Fat Choy!

(Wishing you prosperity in the coming year)

(Information from Scotland China Association)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

National Libraries Day

Win a free annual subscription for your school!

To celebrate National Libraries Day on 4th February 2012, JCS Online Resources is running a competition which is open to all secondary schools and 6th Form Colleges in the UK and abroad.

The six best entries as judged by the JCS team will win a year’s free subscription to one of the following online resources:

  • Bridgeman Education 355,000+ copyright cleared images providing access to the visual culture of every civilization and period from prehistory to the present.
  • The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World and Education in Chemistry – Two magazines which present authoritative review articles on a wide variety of chemical topics, from historical to state-of-the-art chemistry for teachers and students.
  • Credo Reference – A multi-publisher online reference library offering a wide range of innovative features.
  • eChalk – A broad and expanding range of curriculum-mapped games, puzzles, simulations and starter activities.
  • Keesing’s World News Archive (including a 2012 print subscription) – A comprehensive, concise and regularly updated record of the world’s most important political, social and economic events since 1931.
  • Scran – 360,000 images, sounds, movies and learning resources copyright-cleared for educational use.

Entries of no more than 500 words may be submitted from students, teachers and librarians from a school or 6th Form College in the UK or Worldwide:


  • Describe how your use of online reference resources has helped and enhanced your teaching, and the benefits that have been gained by you and your students. How do you determine the quality of the online resources you use?


    • How do you use online reference resources to help your studies, what do you like about them and how do you make sure the information is reliable?

Hints: Homework help? More fun than books? Quicker/easier? I can use my phone? Internet searches might not be right? Etc…


  • How has the introduction of online reference resources to your library collections helped enhance the service you provide to your school? Describe their key benefits and how you evaluate their quality.

To enter the competition, follow this link and circulate it to your teaching staff and students! Print off this poster to promote the competition in your staff room, library and school notice boards.

The aim of World Religion Day is to foster the establishment of interfaith understanding and harmony by emphasizing the common denominators underlying all religions.

The following could be described as the ‘Golden Rule’ of the major religions:

Attention: open in a new window.

Hurt not others
in ways that you yourself
would find hurtful.
What is hateful to you,
do not to your fellow man.
That is the entire law;
all the rest is commentary.
Do unto others
as you would have them
do unto you.
No one of you is a believer
until he desires for his brother
that which he desires
for himself.
Blessed is he
who preferreth his brother
before himself.
Baha’i FaithThis poster is designed by
Jeff Strieff

A baby was born today,Wednesday, February 29.

How old will this baby be the next time his birthday falls on a Wednesday?

Radishes for Christmas…

radish virgin w/ 9 radish stars
When: 23rd December every year.
Where: Zocalo area of Oaxaca city, Mexico.

While you are peeling sprouts and stuffing your turkey the good citizens of Oaxaca in Mexico are carving radishes. La Noche de los Rábanos (Night of the Radishes) is a unique folk art festival that takes place in the run up to Christmas.

The Night of the Radishes is one of the most anticipated events in Oaxaca. Every year, this humble vegetable is carved into intricate sculptures of animals and saints, conquerors and kings, and anything else you can possibly imagine.

Nobody really knows how this festival started, although it is believed to have originated towards the end of the 1800s when markets during Christmas eve sold salt-dried fish and vegetables for customers coming out of midnight mass. To differentiate the fish from the veg (and no doubt pass the time as they waited for customers) the vendors sculpted their radishes into tiny figures. These carved radishes then became a popular addition to the Christmas table and more and more intricate carvings were made each year.

(via Somewhere in the world today)

The winter solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s polar hemisphere is farthest away from the star that it orbits.

Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′.  More evidently from high latitudes, a hemisphere’s winter solstice occurs on the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun’s daily maximum elevation in the sky is the lowest. Since the winter solstice lasts only a moment in time, other terms are often used for the day on which it occurs, such as ‘midwinter’, ‘the longest night’ or ‘the first day of winter’.

Worldwide, interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but most cultures have held a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time (e.g. Dōngzhì Festival in East Asia, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, the Inca festival of Inti Raymi, to name but a few).


“Let us live our daily lives in solidarity with those less fortunate than us – the poor, the sick and elderly, those enduring abuse, discrimination or violations of their rights – and thereby build a better world for all”.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for International Human Solidarity Day
20 December 2010

International Human Solidarity Day

The General Assembly, on 22 December 2005, by resolution 60/209 pdf icon identified solidarity as one of the fundamental and universal values that should underlie relations between peoples in the Twenty-first century, and in that regard decided to proclaim 20 December of each year International Human Solidarity Day.

At the World Summit for Social Development, Governments committed themselves to the eradication of poverty as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative of humankind.

By resolution 57/265 pdf icon the General Assembly, on 20 December 2002, established the World Solidarity Fund, which was set up in February 2003 as a trust fund of the United Nations Development Programme. Its objective is to eradicate poverty and promote human and social development in developing countries, in particular among the poorest segments of their populations.

Through initiatives such as the establishment of the World Solidarity Fund to eradicate poverty and the proclamation of International Human Solidarity Day, the concept of solidarity was promoted as crucial in the fight against poverty and in the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.

International Human Solidarity Day serves to remind us about the importance of solidarity for the achievement of the international agreements on social development, including programmes of action of international conferences and multilateral accords.

2010 theme: Reaching Out to Our Neighbours

The theme for the 2010 International Human Solidarity Day is: “Reach out to our neighbours,” to highlight the fact that despite the encouraging signs of progress made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), deep disparities remain, among and within countries.

Role reversal in Ancient Rome…

When: December 17th to 23rd.
Where: Ancient Rome.

The tradition during the popular Roman festival of Saturnalia was for slaves and masters to switch places in a reversal of roles. The slaves were allowed to treat their masters with mock disrespect and hold a banquet which was served by their masters. However, this role reversal was mostly superficial as the banquet was often prepared by the slaves in the first place whilst preparing their master’s dinner as well.

Children headed the family, cross-dressing and masquerades took place and general merriment of all kinds prevailed. Grudges and quarrels were forgotten, wars were put on hold, gifts exchanged. Candles and lamps chased away the spirits of darkness. A mock king (the Lord of Misrule) was also crowned chosen by bean ballot. This evolved into the practice of baking a cake containing a bean, whosoever finds the bean is crowned king.

Saturnalia was introduced around 217 BC to raise morale after a particularly crushing military defeat at the hands of the Carthaginians. It was based upon the Persian holiday (Sacacea) and the Egyptian mid winter celebrations. Originally only celebrated for a day it became so popular (probably more with slaves than masters!) that it grew into a week-long extravaganza.

Saturnalia is believed to have had the first parade floats, called the ‘carrus navalis’ and could be the origins of today’s carnivals.

(via Somewhere in the world today)

On 4 December 2000, the UN General Assembly, taking into account the large and increasing number of migrants in the world, proclaimed 18 December as International Migrants Day.

On 18 December 1990, the General Assembly had adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

THE Scottish Government has in recent years sought to increase Scotland’s falling population and introduce initiatives to attract and retain new migrants.

The Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, in launching a workers’ rights poster for migrants said:
Migration to and from Scotland is not a new thing. For generations, people from all over the world have come here to start new lives. We recognise the need for Scotland to continue to attract skills and talent from overseas – to help us weather the current economic storm and to enable Scotland to flourish in the longer term.

You can read about the experience of immigrants in Scotland from 1830 to 1939 here.

Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are.

The Whirling Dervishes Festival is one of the world’s most intriguing sights, a mesmerising spectacle of dizzy twirling. The ritual whirling is an act of love and a performance of faith for the Sufi arm of Islam.

Whirling DerwishThe dervishes are a kind of monk of the Mevlevi Order, (see for more info) named after their founder Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi, the great 13th century Sufic saint and poet, from Konya, Turkey who made this whirling dance famous. Mevlana taught tolerance, positive thinking, and forgiveness, and as a way of connecting with God, he would whirl through the city streets. He encapsulated his religious philosophy in one of his poems, the philosophy which gave fame to the Sufi branch of Islam and brought about the Mevlevi order of whirling dervishes.

Every December on the anniversary of Mevlana’s death thousands of pilgrims flood to Konya to witness the whirling at his Mausoleum. The ceremony known as Sema, takes place in the evening through an intricate tradition of mystical dances. The dancers are accompanied by the “Ney” (one of Mevlana’s longer poems) and a reed pipe which is symbolic of the mythological trumpet that will be blown on the Day of Judgement. With downcast eyes, the dancers spin faster, their long white skirts spinning open like umbrellas. Their leader represents the sun and the spinning dancers the orbits of the stars and moon. There are four dances symbolising the four seasons, the four elements and the four ages of man.

(via Somewhere in the world today)

International Mountain Day is an opportunity to create awareness about the importance of mountains to life, to highlight the opportunities and constraints in mountain development and to build partnerships that will bring positive change to the world’s mountains and highlands.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 11 December, from 2003 onwards, as International Mountain Day”. 

This year’s International Mountain Day theme will focus on Mountains and Forests. It aims to raise awareness about the relevance of mountain forests and the role they play within a Green Economy as well as in climate change adaptation measures.

Healthy mountain forests are crucial to the ecological health of the world. They protect watersheds that supply freshwater to more than half the world’s people. They also are the home of untold wildlife, provide food and fodder for mountain people and are important sources of timber and non-wood products. Yet in many parts of the world mountain forests are under threat as never before and deforestation in tropical mountain forests continues at an astounding rate. Protecting these forests and making sure they are carefully managed is an important step towards sustainable mountain development.

By linking this year’s International Mountain Day to the International Year of Forests 2011, we can benefit from the international existing attention and focus on the theme as well as twinning certain communication activities and products to produce a more effective awareness raising exercise.





The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted on 10 December 1948. The date has since served to mark Human Rights Day worldwide. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, as the main UN rights official, and her Office play a major role in coordinating efforts for the yearly observance of Human Rights Day.
[kml_flashembed movie=”″ width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

This year, millions of people decided the time had come to claim their rights. They took to the streets and demanded change. Many found their voices using the internet and instant messaging to inform, inspire and mobilize supporters to seek their basic human rights. Social media helped activists organize peaceful protest movements in cities across the globe – from Tunis to Madrid, from Cairo to New York – at times in the face of violent repression.

Human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values. As a global community we all share a day in common: Human Rights Day on 10 December, when we remember the creation 63 years ago of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On Human Rights Day 2011, we pay tribute to all human rights defenders and ask you to get involved in the global human rights movement.

Visit and make a wish.

Since it’s conception by the International Union of Soil Sciences in 2002, the 5th December is internationally recognised as World Soil Day; a day to advocate the importance of soil for human survival and to raise awareness of the threats facing it and the vital nature of sustainable management.

‘DIRT! The Movie’, narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis, provides an excellent tool for awareness raising and to help generate support for the protection of this much under valued natural resource.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Tree Dressing Day takes place on the first weekend of December each year.

 In different parts of Britain, Ireland and northern Europe, there is a tradition of fastening rags to trees (usually hawthorn) near holy wells. After taking the water, people tie a piece of their clothing to the tree. The tree is a symbol of long life and health. In Scotland these are known as clootie (cloth) trees.

Read the rest of this entry »

Download a free interactive advent calendar from the Woodland Trust:

Snow angel


Winter wonderland

Hidden in this snowy woodland are 24 baubles, each one hiding a festive activity.


Secret doors

Reveal a daily surprise behind each door.