Simple family observances for almost every holiday... from a Humanist perspective.

"By recognizing the validity of the many, you make the one less and less sacred -- the very sort of thing that could end us up with a more reasonable world."

- Dale McGowan, Parenting Beyond Belief

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dr. Seuss's Birthday - March 2

Brief Background:
This is the day we celebrate the life and works of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as the beloved Dr. Seuss. Schools and businesses in our community have started recognizing this day as a great opportunity to get community leaders into the classroom to share their love of reading. So while we're celebrating Dr. Seuss, we're also celebrating the joy of reading and learning and what a wonderful world is opened up to us with these two wonderful skills!

My kids always dress up as Dr. Seuss characters and head off to school. They each have "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" T-shirts that they like to wear. One year I made the green egg costume shown above in the pic. My son was so embarrassed he refuses to wear it anymore, but I thought it was a particularly clever idea on my part. Besides dressing up, we also eat "Green Eggs & Ham" for at least one meal that day, and we always snuggle up to read as many Dr. Seuss books as we can find. We'll play rhyming activities, draw silly characters and put them together in our own little silly poem book. Then we of course learn about the life of Dr. Seuss. We always end the celebration by reading "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" and talking about our dreams and goals.

  • Oh, the Places You'll Go! and every Dr. Seuss book we can find

Friday, February 19, 2010

President's Day - 3rd Monday in February

Brief Background:
This is a National holiday set aside to honor past president's and the current president. It's a great opportunity to do character connection activities and discuss the importance of honesty and leadership.

We read lots of stories about the president's during dinner and discuss what it takes to be president. Then we quiz the kids about which president's are on what U.S. coin or bill. It's a simple way to acknowledge the holiday and yet not have a huge celebration. These holidays are like "breathers" for me in between the larger holidays.

  • Don't know much about the President's by Kenneth C. Davis
  • George Washington, Our first president by Garnet Jackson
  • The Story of George Washington by Patricia A. Pingry
  • The Story of Abraham Lincoln by Patricia A. Pingry
  • Abraham Lincoln loved animals by Ellen Jackson
  • President Obama's speech to students

Mardi Gras - February 16

Brief Background:
The ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia honoring the god Lupercus is not only credited for being the origin of Valentine's day, but of Mardi Gras as well. The Romans celebrated Lupercalia in ways that are now associated with Mardi Gras: feasting and drinking and enjoyment of the "pleasures of the flesh". Like most of the ancient Roman and Greek festivals, Lupercalia was adopted and adapted by the Church as a way of converting pagans to Christianity. It thus morphed into a last "fling" before the beginning of the Lenten period. Lent refers to the 40 days of penitence and purification celebrated between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. During Lent, the religiously faithful refrain from a number of indulgences of the "flesh", including eating meat.

I always make a simple Kingcake using a Krusteaz Crumb Cake mix and a bundt cake pan. I frost it with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle yellow, green and purple colored sugars on top. I hide a baby inside the cake and whoever finds the baby gets to be King and lead the rest of us in a parade around the house. We made floats by wrapping green tissue paper around shoe boxes and decorating them with doubloons, beads and confetti. Each year the boys choose a character to dance on the top of their float. One year it was the Wiggles, lately it's been Lego guys. We decorate masks and wear lots of colorful beads and parade around to Mardi Gras music. For dinner I usually make Gumbo and read books about the holiday while we eat. This is one of my children's favorite holidays!

  • Mardi Gras (Best Holiday Books) by Dianne M. MacMillan
  • Mimi's First Mardi Gras by Alice Couville
  • Mardi Gras in New Orleans: An Alphabet Book by Karen Jansen

Valentine's Day - February 14

Brief Background:
This is one of those holidays that I would just assume let go of, but the kids enjoy it and their school makes a big deal out of it, so I've decided that I will play along, but I insist that they know the origin of the holiday. The roots of this romantic holiday can be traced back to two ancient celebrations: Lupercalia, a pagan festival for the fertility and protection of flocks and their owners, and the Christian observance of the martyrdom of Valentine, a third-century priest who secretly performed marriages in defiance of the Roman emperor.

Each year I fill a small bag for each of my sons and fill it with underwear and candy. We always try to have a heart-shaped meal by candle-light and I read a book about the holiday during the meal. We also make Valentine's for classmates and cousins. This year I was in charge of putting on my kindergartner's class Valentine's party so my husband and I dressed up like the characters from a fun children's book and found another parent to help us act out the story for his class. They loved it!

  • Hearts, Cupids, and Red Roses, The Story of the Valentine Symbols by Edna Barth
  • Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox

Chinese New Year - February 14

Brief Background:
This is the most important holiday of the year for Chinese people and has been celebrated for more than four thousand years. Dating from 2697 B.C.E., it grew out of ancient celebrations marking the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The date is determined by the Chinese lunar calendar so it varies every year, but is typically celebrated in late January to early February. In China, the celebration lasts for 15 days but we usually just dedicate a day or two to the celebration.

We start by cleaning and decorating the house with lights and paper lanterns. For dinner we made homemade pot stickers using a recipe from Family Fun magazine. They were a big hit! During dinner we read books about the holiday and how it is celebrated in China and around the United States. After dinner we listened to Chinese music and made our own dragon masks ending the evening with a parade around the living room. We also gave the boys a good luck red envelope filled with money (a traditional activity done at Chinese New Year). Prior to this celebration, we had a "Family Values Night" where we learned about and did a comparison Venn Diagram about the major religions of China, Buddhism and Taoism.

  • Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
  • Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
  • Buddha by Demi
  • The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao te ching by Demi
  • One World, Many Religions by Mary Pope Osborne

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Darwin Week - February 12-17

Brief Background:
This is one of the only truly humanist holidays I've seen and this is the first year we've celebrated it as a family. I got many of my ideas from Agnostic Mom's blog, but I adapted her ideas to fit our needs and added books from our collection that helped give explanations on my children's level. February 12th is Charles Darwin's birthday and the designated date for the celebration of the advancement of science, especially in regards to Charles Darwin's influence.

Each day of the week we had a special dinner discussion about Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution. Each night had a theme according to the stage of evolution we were discussing. After each discussion the boys each got a tube with a special treat inside related to the discussion.

  • February 12 - Introduction of Evolution: Cells, worms & shellfish. Dinner: Shrimp. Treat: Gummy worms.
  • February 13 - The Second Phase of Evolutionary Life: Ocean life & fish. Dinner: Fish. Treat: Swedish Fish.
  • February 14 - The Third Phase of Evolutionary Life: Plant life on land & Dinosaurs. Dinner: Lentil Soup & Salad. Treat: Gummy Dinosaurs.
  • February 15 - The Fourth Phase of Evolutionary Life: Birds. Dinner: Rotisserie Chicken. Treat: Jelly Beans.
  • February 16 - The Fifth Phase of Evolutionary Life & Going Bananas: Mammals & First Humans. Dinner: Pork Tenderloin (we sat on a blanket in the living room and ate with our hands). Treat: Gummy Bears.
  • February 17 - Celebrate Humanity! Dinner: Formal meal set to candle-light with classical music playing in the background. Treat: A combination of leftover gummy goodies.

By the end of the week, I really felt they were grasping the concept of evolution (more than I did at their age because I'd never even heard of it at their age). What was interesting were some of the conversations it sparked between them and their friends at school. My 9-year-old told us of a debate he and a friend of his got in over whether Adam & Eve were the first humans on earth or not. His friend stated "it's a fact" regarding the bible story, and my son just rolled his eyes at her. We talked about how obviously this topic is controversial and discussed whether it was worth getting into an argument over it on the playground or not. My son got a dose of "how to deal with people with different beliefs" that we couldn't have simulated at home.


  • Our Family Tree, An Evolution Story by Lisa Westerberg Peters
  • The Tree of Life, The Wonders of Evolution by Ellen Jackson
  • Who was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson
  • 100 things you should know about Oceans by Clare Oliver
  • Living Sunlight, How Plants Bring the Earth to Life by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
  • 100 things you should know about Dinosaurs by Steve Parker
  • The First Humans by Nicholas Harris

Brigit/Ground Hog's Day - February 2

Brief Background:
Like so many holiday's, this one stems from ancient pagan beliefs. Ancient peoples celebrated a spring festival called Brigit in early February on the date that is 6 weeks from the Winter Solstice and 6 weeks to the Vernal Equinox. People had always thought they could predict when spring would come by watching hibernating animals (badgers, bears, hedgehogs) who awoke from their sleep in the beginning of February. If the animal saw its shadow, there would be several more weeks of winter. This holiday has evolved from it's early beginnings to what it is today and is now usually only celebrated by children in elementary school. But I like to use this holiday to explore the ways that holidays morph over time.

What we do:
We discuss ancient mid-winter customs over a candle-light poetry dinner. Pagans celebrated creativity at this holiday, so we celebrate our creativity by sharing our favorite poem or book with the family. Then we talk about whether the groundhog saw its shadow or not and try to think of things that we're thankful for about the winter, in order to focus on the positive during the next 6 weeks, because we know that no matter what the ground hog sees, we'll still have 6 more weeks of winter.


  • Groundhog Day by Gail Gibbons
  • Circle Round, Raising Children in Goddess Traditions by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill