Our winter almanac 12.02.2010 – 18.02.2010

Mahashivratri, is a Hindu festival that takes place this year on 12.02.2010 and is dedicated to Shiva, who destroys the universe, one of the deities of the Hindu Trinity. While most Hindu festivals are celebrated during the day, Mahashivratri is celebrated during the night and day that come just before the new moon.

Each new moon is dedicated to Shiva, but Mahashivratri is especially important because it is the night when he danced the ‘Tandav’, his cosmic dance.

It also celebrates the wedding of Shiva and Sati, the mother divine. Night represents evil, injustice, ignorance, sin, violence, and misfortune.

Tradition says that Shiva, like his symbol the new moon, appeared in order to save the world from darkness and ignorance, before the world entered complete darkness.

Looking for constellations
The following constellations are near the meridian on February 14 at 21h ; Auriga, Taurus, Gemini, Orion, Canis Minor and Canis Major.

Canis Minor is a small constellation. It was included in the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy‘s 48 constellations, and is still included among the 88 modern constellations. Its name is Latin for “smaller dog” in contrast to Canis Major, the larger dog, and it is commonly represented as one of the dogs following the constellation of Orion the hunter.

Canis Minor was the Constellation Logo for Chalk Ridge School.

One of the schoolchildren at Chalk Ridge School came up with brilliant modern version for the constellation Canis Minor.

Procyon is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor. To the naked eye, it appears to be a single star, the seventh brightest in the night sky with a visual apparent magnitude of 0.34. It is actually a binary star system, consisting of a white main sequence star of spectral type F5 IV-V, named Procyon A, and a faint white dwarf companion of spectral type DA, named Procyon B. The reason for its brightness is not its intrinsic luminosity but its closeness to the Sun; at a distance of 3.5 pc or 11.41 light years, Procyon is one of our near neighbours.

A Moveable Feast
Pancake Day is on Shrove Tuesday, February 16 2010, and is the traditional feast before the forty days of fasting that leads up to the celebration of Easter Day.

Carnival is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent; the main events are happening this weekend in places like Cologne, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Trinidad and Tobago and New Orleans. Carnival typically involves a public celebration or parade combining some elements of a circus, masque and public street party. People often dress up or masquerade during the celebrations, which mark an overturning of daily life.

Carnevale in Venice – Sun and Moon?. The origin of the name “carnival” is unclear. Perhaps the name comes from the Italian carne levare or similar, meaning “to remove meat”, since meat is prohibited during Lent. Or, perhaps the word comes from the Late Latin expression carne vale, which means “farewell to meat”, signifying that those were the last days when one could eat meat before the fasting of Lent. Another possibility is carne vale as “a farewell to the flesh”, a phrase embraced by certain carnival celebrations that encourage letting go of your former (or everyday) self and embracing the carefree nature of the festival.

Another possible explanation comes from the term “Carrus Navalis” (ship cart), the name of the roman festival of Isis, where her image was carried to the sea-shore to bless the start of the sailing season. The festival involved a parade of masks following an adorned wooden boat, not unlike the floats of modern carnivals.

The Moon and the Sun set the calendar

The date for Easter Day is set by the old tradition in Judaism, whereby the time for celebrating the Passover is governed by the appearance of the full moon. The Jewish calendar is a lunar-solar, using both the Sun and the Moon to set the months and years. Easter Day is the first Sunday after the full moon which happens on, or after, March 21, the time of the spring equinox. If the full moon happens on a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after.

The forty days of fasting before easter begins on Ash Wednesday this week. This period is called Lent, after the Teutonic word for the spring season. The Latin word for this fast is Quadragesima, which means the ‘forty days’.

Moon time
The Moon has always been important in the setting of religious festivals, and is sometimes revered as a deity. The ancient Egyptians called their moon god Khonsu.

The ancient Sumerians called their moon Nanna.

The ancient Greeks and Romans had three names for the moon goddess, and these names were connected to the three main shapes of the moon. The new moon was called Hecate.

The half moon shape, or waxing moon, was called Artemis or Diana.

The full moon was called Selene or Luna.

The Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
This week sees a new year begin in China, and the celebrations are known as the Spring Festival. Each year in the Chinese calendar is associated with one of these twelve animals: the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the goat or sheep, the monkey, the chicken or rooster, the dog and the pig.

Taoist symbols carved in stone: yin-yang and animals of the Chinese zodiac. Qingyanggong temple, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. The word 道, Tao (or Dao, depending on the romanization scheme), literally translated as “path” or “way”, although in Chinese folk religion and philosophy it carries more abstract meanings. Taoist propriety and ethics emphasize the Three Jewels of the Tao: compassion, moderation, and humility, while Taoist thought generally focuses on nature, the relationship between humanity and the cosmos (天人相应), health and longevity, and wu wei (action through inaction), which is thought to produce harmony with the universe.

So, February 14 2010 marks the beginning of the Chinese Year of the Tiger. The traditional Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, and was the sole calendar in use up until 1911, when the government adopted the new Gregorian calendar for official and business activities. A lunisolar calendar is a calendar found in many cultures, where dates are organized by both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. In the Chinese calendar, the winter solstice must occur in the 11th month, which means that Chinese New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice.

16 days of celebration and traditional foods
The festival traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the Chinese calendar and ends on the 15th; this day is called Lantern Festival. Chinese New Year’s Eve is known as chú xī. It literally means “Year-pass Eve”. The biggest event of any Chinese New Year’s Eve is the dinner every family will have. A dish consisting of fish will appear on the tables of Chinese families. It is like Christmas dinner in the West. In northern China, it is customary to make dumplings (jiaozi 饺子) after dinner and have them around midnight.

Dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape is like a Chinese tael, a weight used as coinage. In the South, it people make a new year cake (Niangao, 年糕) after dinner and send pieces of it as gifts to relatives and friends in the coming days of the new year. Niangao literally means increasingly prosperous year in year out. After the dinner, some families go to local temples, hours before the new year begins to pray for a prosperous new year by lighting the first incense of the year; meanwhile many households hold parties and even hold a countdown to the new lunar year.

Lighting the first incense of the year.

These decorative gifts for the Chinese New Year resemble the old currency called the sycee. A sycee was a type of silver or gold ingot currency used in China until the 20th century.

Winter colours in the hedges near Chalk Ridge School 18.02.2010.


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