Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Around the World, Part 3

This is the last Christmas Around the World post. And this will not be one of those posts that takes twenty minutes to read. I hope. School certainly occupied much less of our days the last week or so before Christmas. But I still didn't get most of the stuff done that I wanted to. On the other hand, this was just not the year to try to do extraordinary things. I am very content with what I accomplished. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all that was done for me and my family. I started this post a while ago when I was still finishing the Christmas unit, so I figure I should go ahead and finish it up and post it. And the main reason is just because I want a record of it in case I teach it again to my younger children, or if any of you should need an extra idea. But again, I know it isn't that interesting to anyone besides homeschool mommies. Sorry about that.

The first day of the week, I combined Egypt and Israel. I could have done Christmas in Egypt and tried various recipes I found in a search for Egyptian cookies. And I could have done a day on Chanukah too; potato latkes sound like they would be darn good. But I decided that the Christmas story takes place in Israel and Egypt and it would be a good day to sit down and spend a lot of time on the story in Matthew without bringing other traditions into the picture. At this point I am somewhat skeptical of all that I am finding anyway. I mean, sure these things were parts of Christmas celebrations in their country a hundred years ago, but World War II and television and internet has changed everything. Pretty much everyone has the Coca Cola Santa now. Sorry to insert my skepticism, but I am just explaining my choice to not really treat these days individually, to not focus on Egyptian Christmas celebrations or Israeli Chanukah celebrations. I just wanted to do a day on the Christmas story. Plus, after Christmas we begin world history in Ancient Egypt and in the Bible (we're going Classical, baby!), so why confuse things by talking about modern day Egyptian and Israeli practices? However, there is a lot to do with both of these countries if you wanted to, lots of recipes for both, plenty of Chanukah books, etc.

Moving on then, the next day was Chile. Chile is just sort of all over the place because it is so long and skinny- beaches, mountains, tropics, subarctic regions, etc. So there wasn't a whole lot to nail down except that they are Catholic and Spanish speaking and in the Southern hemisphere, none of which is new at this point. It seems that there are two Christmas dishes that are huge no matter what part of Chile you are in though, Pan de Pascua (I know, it sounds like Easter bread, but it's Christmas bread) and Cola de Mono (literally translated "monkey's tail."). Well, Cola de Mono is an alcoholic beverage that sounds somewhat similar to eggnog and coffee, mmmm, but not helpful for second graders. So it had to be Pan de Pascua. And after my success with the St. Lucia buns, I was very excited to make it. But then I got to the grocery store. All of the candied fruits and citrus peels I needed were either extremely expensive or just unavailable. So, while I could have substituted, I knew that so many times in my searches for a good recipe I had seen this compared to Panettone, and I figured those ingredients would be better, and the level of satisfaction higher- Chilean Christmas bread? sure, thanks. Widely known to be delicious Italian Christmas Bread? Hurray! But what to do about Chile? I didn't know. If you do, let me know, because we just did a couple of worksheets and ran some errands. I'm getting sick of Christmas around the world! Ha! But seriously, the bread sounds like it would be a really good idea if you didn't have Italy two days later. If you can't find/afford an ingredient, just substitute. Recipes seem to be somewhat available. Again, I won't post something I didn't try. But good luck to you.

The next to last day was Russia. Well, what makes me think of Russian Christmas? The Nutcracker. I had never actually read The Nutcracker or seen The Nutcracker Ballet, though I was somewhat familiar with the story. I think I would love the ballet. I am not much for performing arts. Well, really, I am just not much for musicals and singing performances of any kind. I don't know if it is because you get majorly ODed on these growing up in Music City or if it is something to do with having both sisters and almost all of my friends in high school being in "Vision." Ulghck! Vision! (My apologies to Sara, Courtney, Rachael, and any other former members of Vision who read. Do you know I never actually went to a Madrigal Feast? How is that even possible?) "Vision" was our high school's elite choral group. Or something. Everyone else was in Vision while I was either working on the yearbook or running. And then at lunch or between classes or whenever, everyone would have these inside jokes about whatever from Vision practice or gossip about how flat so and so was and how they couldn't believe she had a solo or whatever. It was super annoying. And once they realized how irritating it was to me, they did it on purpose to tease me. At my friend Matt's graduation party, all of Vision held hands and made a circle around me and sang me a song. Matt was Mr. Vision. He thought it was hilarious. It actually was. Anyway, people don't sing in ballets. I enjoy that about them. And so I might like to see The Nutcracker sometime. Instead, we watched The Wonderpets Save the Nutcracker! I know, that's hilarious. After all these weeks of working so hard, I just bailed and rented a Nick Jr. video. Well, we read the book too. But no baking. Actually, lots of baking, just no Russian baking. I didn't feel too bad about this as Russians often fast before Christmas. Alternatively, Mexican wedding cakes are quite similar to Russian Tea Cakes, and I may have made some of them if I hadn't just done so for Mexico day. The book we checked out was the actual "short story" (not so short though, really) which was written by E. T. A. Hoffman. Yeah, like Tales of Hoffman, Hoffman. And I hadn't realized that. But it really is a Hoffman-ish story. I guess I just didn't really know the story before. The ballet is a little different, I guess. Because yeah, the story's a little Hoffman creepy.

Last day! Our last day we "visited" Italy. Well, there is a lot to be said about Italian Christmas, but again, it seems like most of it is what they used to do. The gift bearing person in Italy is an old lady, or witch, who was said to have met the wise men as they travelled. She was far to busy to join them in their search for the Christ Child and sent them away so she could continue her housework. Later on, as she swept, she realized her mistake and went out in search of the wise men who had already left. It is said that she flew away on her broomstick to try to catch up to them in order to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. She never has found them, but to this day she flies around, bringing gifts to children on Epiphany, hoping to find the Christ Child. So, you still have time to celebrate Christmas in Italy! We read Tomie de Paola's Old Befana (the story of the old woman- there is a nearly identical story in Russian culture about and old lady named Baboushka) and ate panettone. I did want to make it, but Trader Joe's had it just right there on the end cap! In the end, I do not recommend the Trader Joe's variety, which is actually imported from Italy, because of the citrus peel. Citrus peel turns out to not be my friend, nor my children's. But citrus peel is not a definitive ingredient to panettone, so I may try to make it before Epiphany. If so, I will let you know how it turns out. We also had a whole gaggle of people over for chicken parmesan on Italy day.

Alright, so I longer post than I thought, and not so informative, but I just wanted to get it out there. I will have some time this week to bake up some of the stuff I didn't get to try during the busy weeks before Christmas, so be on the look out for more recipes- stroopwafels (which I also recently picked up at Trader Joe's, imported from Holland), fortune cookies, and panettone. Hope y'all are having a wonderful Christmas!

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