Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures
Monthly Archives: January 2014

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

by Elspeth

Today marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the most important festival of the year for the Chinese – a time of feasting, fireworks and gift-giving lasting for 15 days, celebrated not only in China itself but also amongst Chinese communities all over the world. 

The Chinese calendar is based on the lunar year which means that the New Year, celebrated on the second new moon of the winter solstice, is not a fixed date and can fall any time from late January to mid-February.  Each year is named after an animal and 2014 is the Year of the Horse.  The other animals honoured by the Chinese in this way are the rat, the ox, the tiger, the dragon, the snake, the snake, the goat, the monkey, the rooster, the dog and the pig.  (You’ll probably have noticed that, although the animal everyone associates with China is the giant panda, rather surprisingly, the enigmatic creature is missing from the list.)  Interestingly, the Chinese believe that people take on the characteristics of the animal in whose year they are born.  I wonder if you would agree with this!  For example, if you were born in the Year of the Rabbit, you will be graceful, polite and cautious, have lovely big ears and love carrots! 

In the days leading up to New Year’s Day, it’s traditional for the Chinese to clean their houses, repay their debts, buy new clothes (particularly red as it’s thought to be a lucky colour), and have their hair cut.  On New Year’s Eve, a celebratory meal with close family takes place in houses decked with coloured paper lanterns and other decorations, groups of lion dancers, accompanied by drums, gongs and cymbals to scare away evil spirits, pass through the streets, bringing good luck to all the households they visit and the old year goes out with a bang as thousands of firecrackers are let off.  Early on New Year’s Day, parents and grandparents give the children lucky red envelopes called ‘Hong Bao’ containing sweets or money and it’s considered rude to open an envelope in front of the person who gave it to you. 

It seems, however, that this old-fashioned tradition, thought to date back more than 2,000 years to the Qin Dynasty, has now entered the digital age.  A wildy popular game, which lets users exchange virtual ‘red envelopes’, is thought to have pushed the value of China’s mobile payment market to almost £100 billion when, in only 48 hours, the game prompted hundreds and thousands of new users to sign up for mobile schemes.

The new game Xin Hong Bao is an add-on for the WeChat app, a cross between a messaging system and social network that encourages users to form small, close circles of friends.  The 600 million WeChat users are offered the chance to give the other members of their chat groups digital red envelopes stuffed with real cash, the maximum gift being 200 yuan.  The biggest winner is of course, WeChat as both the givers and receivers of the virtual envelopes need to have their bank accounts linked to the company and it appears that vast numbers have signed up simply to take part in the game. 

Naturally, as China is home to the giant panda, the cuddly black and white bears always play an important part in the Chinese New Year windows.  This year, two windows are packed with lanterns, drums, dragons, lots of red envelopes, assorted pandas and bears dressed in traditional Chinese costume and, of course, a couple of horses, as The Bears in the Windows prepare to welcome the Year of the Horse with a celebratory family meal when I’d be very surprised if bamboo shoots aren’t on the menu!   

 


HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

by Elspeth

 

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day and, although it has been marked in this country for several years, it is perhaps one of the less well-known days to be remembered by The Bears in the Windows.  The reason why 27th January was chosen is because it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp during the Second World War.

Of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, approximately one and a half million were children and, for me, visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington were heart-rending experiences. 

No Child’s Play’, one of the exhibitions at Yad Vashem, opens a window onto the world of the children who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, using toys, games, artwork, diaries and poems to highlight their stories.  Teddy bears and dolls became integral parts of these children’s lives and were often their main source of comfort and companionship.  At the end of the war, teddies were sometimes all that survived from their childhood and, even as adults, most still found it very difficult being parted from them.

In 2003, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Yad Vashem, the Israel Philatelic Bureau issued a special stamp in memory of the children of the Holocaust.  The design shows a teddy with the yellow Star of David, which all Jews were forced to wear, lying on top of a document called ‘the page of destiny’.  One of these stamps, along with the story of one of the children who found comfort in a teddy bear during the worst experience of his life, is always the central point of the bears’ Holocaust Memorial Day window. 

 

This year’s, mirroring the colours of the Israeli flag, also features several blue and white bears.  Without doubt, the most poignant for me is a little blue beanie bear with a white embroidered menorah on his chest who’s hugging a tiny blue and white teddy who, in turn, is holding tight to an even tinier blue ted.  There’s also an eternal flame and two stones, bought at the Holocaust Museum, which are simply inscribed, ‘Remember’.

 


G’DAY AUSTRALIA!

by Elspeth

Australia has given us so much that’s worth celebrating: beautiful beaches, cosmopolitan cities, didgeridoos, kangaroos, koalas, macadamia nuts, opals, superb sporting achievements, wonderful wine and some might also argue, Neighbours

The biggest day of the year down-under is Australia Day celebrated on 26th January, when millions of Australians turn out to parade, picnic, party and take pleasure in some of the best pyrotechnic displays in the world.  The reason for the celebrations dates back to 1788, when a fleet of 11 ships, led by Captain Arthur Phillips, arrived at Port Jackson, which now forms Sydney Harbour.  On board were hundreds of convicted prisoners from the United Kingdom, most of whom were not true criminals as the only ‘crime’ they had committed was that they were in debt.  These poor souls, banished from their home land, were the first European settlers, although the anniversary of their arrival is not a cause for celebration for everyone. 

Choosing the day when Britain proclaimed sovereignty over Australia as the country’s national day is not without controversy, with many indigenous Australians referring to it as ‘Invasion Day’ as they feel that the festivities exclude them and their culture which was thriving before the arrival of the First Fleet.  Today, Australia is as cosmopolitan as America with people from practically every nation in the world calling the vast country ‘home’.  Appropriately, Australia Day is when new Australian citizens make a public pledge of their commitment to the country at ceremonies around the nation. 

As this special day falls at the height of summer, rather than a formal sit down meal indoors, many Australians celebrate with ‘a barbie and a few tinnies’ on the beach.  No Aussie celebration would be complete without fireworks and displays take place in towns and communities all over the country.  Undoubtedly, the most spectacular is staged in Sydney where a sequence of light, sound and music climaxes with a massive pyrotechnic extravaganza over the Harbour.

Koalas, which appear in many Aboriginal myths and legends, are only found in Australia.  With their round fuzzy ears, incredibly cute faces and big noses, they look like real life teddy bears and, as a result, are often mistakenly referred to as bears.  In actual fact, they’re marsupials – that is, animals which carry their young in pouches. 

Every gum tree contains a koala or so most people assume but, in actual fact, Australia’s emblematic native animal is under threat and, as a result, scientists want it listed as an endangered species.  Already under pressure from habitat loss and disease, koalas now face a new threat: climate change.  As we’ve seen recently, they cope very poorly with the droughts and heatwaves expected to become more common in Australia in years to come and, to make matters even worse, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the nutrient content of eucalyptus leaves, their sole source of food.  (Unfortunately, like giant pandas, koalas put all their leaves in one basket!)  Koalas don’t drink water, but get fluids from the eucalyptus leaves and, in fact, the word ‘koala’ is believed to mean ‘no drink’ in an Aboriginal language. 

Because their fur provides excellent camouflage against the branches (I certainly know I had great difficultly spotting them even when I knew they were there), koalas are hard to count, but it’s estimated that there are only between 50,000 and 100,000 left in the wild.  Numbers have already declined sharply in some areas (in Queensland, for example, there are 80 per cent fewer koalas than there were 15 years ago) and experts predict that unless more energy conservation measures are taken, the fragile animal could actually be slipping into extinction under our very noses. 

Today, this unique little creature, once only seen as a source of fur, is recognised as a symbol of modern Australia.  And so, each year, several of The Bears in the Windows’ antipodean cousins join a wombat and a couple of kangaroos to celebrate Australia Day.


BURNS NIGHT

by Elspeth

On 25th January, people across the world pay tribute to Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet.  The custom dates back to 1801, when a small group of friends met in Burns Cottage to share a meal and raise a glass to the poet’s memory.  This simple celebration was the forerunner of the Burns Supper, now held not only in the bard’s native Scotland, but in almost every corner of the world, when thousands, especially Scotland’s expatriate communities, gather together to honour this remarkable man, consuming traditional haggis, neeps and tatties and large quantities of whisky in the process!

Burns, the eldest son of a tenant farmer, was born on 25th January 1759 in a humble cottage in the village of Alloway.  Recognising the importance of a good education, his father worked hard to pay for a tutor for the young Robert and, by the age of 15, he was well-read in a wide range of subjects and had written his first poem.  Some of his best-known works are Tam O’ Shanter, the great narrative poem, the Address to the Haggis, a traditional part of every Burns Supper, and Ae Fond Kiss which, according to Sir Walter Scott, ‘is the essence of a thousand love tales’.  Auld Lang Syne, undoubtedly Burns’ most famous work, is traditionally sung on New Year’s Eve and at the end of all kinds of events – although most people, even many Scots, rarely get the words right and usually cross hands with their neighbours a verse early!

Robert Burns is, of course, also known for his fondness of women and is known to have fathered 12 children!  Nine of these were with his wife Jean Armour, the last born on the day of Burns’ funeral, though, sadly, only three survived infancy.  The great loves of his life were, Mary Campbell, to whom Burns dedicated Highland Mary and To Mary in Heaven (she died at the age of 23 after catching typhus from her brother), and Agnes McLehose, often referred to as Clarinda, the inspiration for Ae Fond Kiss.

Burns died in 1796, aged 37, but his memory lives on through the hundreds of poems, songs and letters penned during his tragically short life.  Several years ago, Clare Potts, a talented bear artist, made the most wonderful Robeart Burns teddy for me and, each year, he takes pride of place in my Burns’ window.  Dressed in authentic brown tweed jacket and velvet breeches, in one paw, the delicate green velvet jointed bear holds a quill pen, having just finished writing My Love is like a Red, Red Rose, one of his namesake’s most beautiful love songs and, in the other, a red rose.  This year, a hand-made Burns’ Cottage, picked up at Ayr car boot sale, adds authenticity to the window in which poems like The Twa Dugs, To a Mouse and, of course, the epic Tam o’ Shanter, with Cutty Sark about to pull off Meg’s tail, are brought to life.

The Bears in the Windows really look forward to 25th January when they hold a Burns Supper here at Dalbear Road, complete with haggis and their very own ‘whisky’ with which to toast the bard!  

 

 

 

    

    


TWO BY TWO

by Elspeth

 

Normally at this time of year, the weather is cold and frosty with the occasion fall of snow.  However, so far this winter, it has rained at some point every day.  This meteorological phenomenon gave me the idea for a new window – Noah’s Ark!  

The story of Noah’s Ark has captivated children for hundreds of years and, although legend has it that the animals went in ‘two-by-two – the elephant and the kangaroo’ – in order to get out of the rain, no one can say exactly which animals would have climbed on board.  However, what is known is that there definitely wouldn’t have been any kangaroos in ancient Iraq!

The modern-day nursery rhyme mentions all kinds of creatures including wasps, ants, bumble bees, hippopotami, monkeys and pigs but the clay tablet version only mentions wild animals.  Some experts believe that if the Ark really did exist then it would have contained domestic animals and although it has always been assumed that it was a rectangular wooden ship, Dr Irving Finkel of the British Museum claims it was a round doughnut-shaped vessel with a skyscraper cabin to house all the animals about two-thrids the size of a football pitch and so it’s very unlikely that the Ark would have floated! 

Waiting to climb on board my Ark are two teddies, a couple of koalas, a pair of pandas, two penguins and two meerkats while, already on the ark with Noah and his wife are two elephants, two dogs (Labradors, of course), another two pandas and even two dodos!


TWELFTH NIGHT

by Elspeth

Today is Twelfth Night, also called Epiphany by western Christians, which marks the end of the festive season and is traditionally the day we’re supposed to take down our Christmas trees and decorations and pack them away for another year. 

In Britain we used to celebrate Twelfth Night with a drink called Lamb’s Wool, a concoction made from roasted apples, sugar, nutmeg and beer.  As you know, I enjoy trivia and so today’s is that George Washington, George Bush Senior and Henry VIII were all married on 6th January!   

One of the traditions still associated with Twelth Night is the extraordinary Holly Man, the winter guise of the Green Man, (a character from pagan myths and folklore, used on many pub signs in England), who emerges each year from the River Thames decked in fantastic green garb and evergreen foliage.  With the help of the town crier, the Holly Man ’brings in the green’ and toasts or wassails the people of London, the Thames and the Globe Theatre which traditionally represents good growth.

A cute little green bear was the obvious choice to play the Holly Bear and he had a great time decorating himself with the popular evergreen shrub.


HAPPY NEW YEAR

by Elspeth


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