Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year!

2011 was big and exciting! But I think 2012 will be even better!

Here's how they celebrate New Year's Eve around the world.

At exactly midnight on New Year's Eve in Austria, most radio and TV programs broadcast the sound of the bells of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, followed by "The Blue Danube Waltz" by Johann Strauss II, which people dance to at parties and on the street.

Danish people prepare and enjoy a huge feast for dinner that includes boiled cod, stewed kale and cured pork, with desserts like a marzipan ring cake. Stewed kale?? I'll stick with flapjacks!

Some Estonians believe you should eat seven, nine or even twelve times on New Year's Eve! Those are lucky numbers in Estonia, and for each meal eaten, the person gains the strength of that many men the following year.

Gleðilegt nýtt ár! That's Happ New Year in Icelandic. People here go outside and enjoy fireworks, bonfires, shows, musical events and lots of food.

According to Spanish tradition, wearing new red underwear on New Year's Eve brings good luck.

For good luck, Guatemalans wear new clothes and eat a grape with each of the twelve bell chimes during the New Year countdown, making a wish with each one.

What will you do to celebrate on New Year's Eve?

Now that 2011 is ending and 2012 is beginning, it's a good time to think about your favorite moments from the year and and make plans for the new year. Take a piece of paper and make two columns. Label the top of the first column 2011: FAVORITE MEMORIES. Write down the things you did that were special to you during the year. Maybe it was going on a vacation or winning a team championship or just doing something fun with your friends and family. Label the top of the second column 2012: MY BIG PLANS. Then write down what you'd like to do during the new year.

Or with an adult's help, download your own Thumbs Up Johnnie list from here:
Thumbs Up Johnnie New Year List

Put your list in a safe place. Get it out on New Year's Eve next year and see if you accomplished your plans.

Have fun and stay safe... all new year long!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Around the World

Have you ever wondered how they celebrate Christmas in other countries?

Christmas in Australia
It's hot this time of year in Australia. People shop in shorts and t-shirts, and Santa sometimes arrives on a surfboard! In the city of Melbourne, they have Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve, where tens of thousands of people gather outside to sing Christmas songs.

Christmas in Egypt
On Christmas Eve everyone goes to church wearing a new outfit. The service ends at midnight with the ringing of church bells, before people go home to eat a special Christmas meal known as fata, which includes bread, rice, garlic and boiled meat.

Christmas in the Czech Republic
St. Nicholas is called Svaty Mikalas and is said to climb down to earth from heaven on a golden rope along with his companions: an angel and a whip-carrying devil! I hope you've been good!

Christmas in Germany
Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a figure with wings dressed in white ropes and a golden crown who gives out gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.

Christmas in Holland
Farmers in Holland blow long horns at sunset each evening during the season to announce the coming of Christmas.

Christmas in Mexico
Children are blindfolded and swing at a clay piñata, breaking it and scampering to collect the candy that falls out.

All over the world people say "Merry Christmas" in different ways. Here's a list of languages and the words for wishing one another a Merry Christmas. Your activity is to learn a couple of these and tell them to your family! Teach them how to spread holiday cheer in another language!

Arabic: Milad Majid
Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha
Bosnian: (BOSANSKI) Cestit Bozic i Sretna Nova godina
Brazilian: Feliz Natal
Chile: Feliz Navidad
Chinese: (Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun
Chinese: (Mandarin) Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
Danish: Glædelig Jul
Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!
Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
French: Joyeux Noel
German: Fröhliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna!
Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hebrew: Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Hungarian: Kellemes Karasconyi unnepeket
Icelandic: Gledileg Jol
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie
Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swedish: God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt Ar
Welsh: Nadolig Llawen

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Christmas Traditions

It's a ho-ho-hoedown on the range in the town of Happy! How do you celebrate Christmas and the season's holidays with your family and friends?

Here in Happy, we have lots of traditions. Traditions are things you do each year, like going to Grandma's for Christmas dinner or dropping off a toy for a needy kiddo. I'll tell you some of my traditions:

On Christmas Eve we build a big bonfire in the clearing behind the barn and set bales of hay for folks to sit on. Just about the whole town turns out: Banker Bill, Dime Store Sam, Hi-Five Handy, Little Digit, Buddy, Zipp Handy, everyone! And of course L'il Pinky brings hot chocolate and a basked load of her famous cookies and cupcakes. I play my guitar and we all sing Christmas carols and take turns telling stories about our favorite Christmas memories.

After a while the little ones start to doze off and their parents carry 'em home and put 'em to bed to await the arrival of Santa Claus.

We spend Christmas morning with our families, opening presents before heading over to the Long Horn Diner where I whip up a Christmas dinner for anyone who wants to join us.

What are your holiday traditions? Whatever they are, I hope they're filled with love and laughter and the magic of the season!

Virtual Christmas Caroling! You might not be able to gather your friends and family to go out caroling in your neighborhood, so why not do it from home? If you have a video camera or a webcam on your computer, record yourself singing your favorite Christmas songs. Then upload the video file and send it to your relatives! They'll get a kick out of seeing you sing on their computer! If you don't have a video camera, call up your grandma or grandpa and sing to them over the phone!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Cuckoo for Christmas Cookies!

Sure, I love the lights, the tree, the presents, the carols and the joy of spending time with friends and family at Christmas time. But what really spins my spurs is CHRISTMAS COOKIES!

My friend L'il Pinky makes the best Christmas cookies over at her Rumblin' Tummy Bakery, and I asked her pretty please with sugar on top if she would share some of her favorite recipes with us so I could post them here for you! So here they are, just in time for baking for the holidays!

REMEMBER: It's important to ALWAYS have a grownup around when you're cooking and working in the kitchen, especially with the hot oven. So partner up with a parent and get your cookie on!

Chocolate Mint Crinkles
* 3/4 cup finely chopped layered chocolate-mint candies (about 4 ounces or 24 candies)
* 1/3 cup shortening
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 eggs
* 2 teaspoons vanilla
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* Layered chocolate-mint candies, chopped

- In a heavy small saucepan, heat and stir the chocolate candies until melted and smooth.
- Remove from heat and let cool about 15 minutes.
- In a large bowl, beat shortening with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.
- Add sugar, baking powder, salt; beat until combined. Beat in cooled chocolate, eggs, vanilla. Beat or stir in flour.
- Cover and chill 3 hours or until dough is easy to handle.
- Preheat over to 350 degrees F.
- Place balls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes or until edges are set (tops should crackle).
- Sprinkle candy pieces on top of each cookie; don't press candies into cookies.
- Bake 1 minute more.
- Cool on wire racks.

Makes about 36 cookies.

Peanut Butter and Banana Drops
* 1 16 1/2 ounce package refrigerated peanut butter cookie dough
* 1 cup dried banana chips, coarsely crushed
* 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
* 1/4 cup turbinado sugar, demerara sugar, or colored coarse sugar

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Combine cookie dough, banana chips, and chocolate pieces in a large resealable bag and seal.
- Knead mixture with hands until dough is well mixed. Remove dough from bag.
- Put sugar in a small bowl.
- Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll balls in sugar to coat.
- Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten balls slightly.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown.
- Transfer cookies to a wire rack; let cool.

Makes about 40 cookies.

Super Chewy Sugar Cookies
* 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 cup softened butter
* 1 1/2 cups white sugar
* 1 egg
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 to 4 tablespoons buttermilk
* Sprinkles or colored sugar, for decorating

- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
- Gradually blend in dry ingredients.
- Add enough buttermilk to moisten dough and make it soft, not wet.
- Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
- With a brush or fingers, moisten top of each cookie with remaining buttermilk and slightly flatten top of each cookie.
- Sprinkle with raw sugar or colored sprinkles.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly golden.
- Let stand for 2 minutes before removing to cool on a rack.

Ask a parent what his or her favorite holiday cookies are and bake them! Find a recipe (or use one from above) and team up to make cookie history. When you're done, share them with your friends and family, and be sure to seal some up fresh and save them for Santa!

Friday, December 2, 2011

December: Let's Get Holiday Happy!

December's calendar is bursting with fun and festive events for all sorts of people! There's a lot going on in this one month. Which of these special days do you celebrate with your family?

December 6: St. Nicholas Day
This festival, celebrated by children in America and Europe, celebrates the life of the famous saint who gave gifts to needy children 1,700 years ago. Today, kids put their shoes by the door so St. Nick can fill them with candy, fruit and small toys.

December 20 - 28: Hanukkah
This holy Jewish holiday lasts for eight days and the family celebrations include burning the Menorah, a holder with eight candles, spinning special tops called dredels, eating potato pancakes called latkes, Hanukkah donuts called sufganiot and cookies called mandelbrot.

December 24: Christmas Eve
Last-minute shoppers rush out to finish getting what they need so they can enjoy the evening with their families, awaiting the overnight visit from Santa Claus.

December 25: Christmas
People all over the world celebrate Christmas, a day of giving fits and being with families, to celebrate peace and enjoy a fine feast, while celebrating the birth of Christ.

December 26: Boxing Day
This holiday has nothing to do with putting on thick gloves and fighting in a ring. Celebrated in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and other countries, the day is celebrated by giving gifts in boxes. Many people go shopping on this day to take advantage of big sales.

December 26 - January 1: Kwanzaa
This week-long African-American holiday is based upon the ancient customs of Africa. Created in 1966, Kwanzaa celebrates African heritage and culture. Family and friends gather to wear traditional African clothing and celebrate seven special principles of their heritage, one for each day of the holiday week.

December 31: New Year's Eve
It's party night! Friends and families gather together to see out the old year and ring in the new, with good food and drink, games and lively conversation, Oh, and a lot of noise! Happy New Year!

These days have become traditional holidays, with millions of people celebrating them each year. But did you know there are some other holidays this month that are just a little bit out of the ordinary?

December 12th is Poinsettia Day, celebrating the famous Yuletide flower and the man who introduced it to the US from Mexico. Violin Day is celebrated on December 13th. December 18th is Baking Cookies Day (one of L'il Pinky's favorite days!). December 21st sees National Flashlight Day shining on us. And National Eggnog Day falls on December 24th.

So whatever holidays you celebrate, whether traditional or slightly off-the-saddle- as we like to say around these parts- have a delightful December and a warm holiday season! And don't forget to bring your violin and your flashlight!

Can't wait for Christmas? Me either! This weekend, make your own Countdown to Christmas calendar! Print out this December calendar page or get a grownup to help you. Then circle Sunday, the 25th and draw a picture of Santa in that box. Each day, draw and color another square on your calendar with these pictures:

Dec. 3: A snowman
Dec. 4: A Christmas tree
Dec. 5: Candy canes
Dec. 6: An elf
Dec. 7: A Santa hat
Dec. 8: A wrapped present
Dec. 9: Holly leaves and berries
Dec. 10: A reindeer
Dec. 11: A string of colorful Christmas lights
Dec. 12: Your favorite Christmas cookie
Dec. 13: Mrs. Claus
Dec. 14: Christmas bells
Dec. 15: A gingerbread man
Dec. 16: A Christmas wreath
Dec. 17: Santa's sleigh
Dec. 18: A Christmas candle
Dec. 19: The star or angel on the top of your Christmas tree
Dec. 20: Your smiling face
Dec. 21: A snowflake
Dec. 22: Your favorite ornament on your tree
Dec. 23: A sack full of toys
Dec. 24: Stockings hung by the fireplace

After Christmas, have a parent help you scan your completed Countdown to Christmas calendar and email to my special Christmas helper at:

To get your blank Countdown to Christmas calendar, click below!
Thumbs Up Johnnie Countdown to Christmas Calendar