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Quatr.us Study Guides Projects and Articles for December:

HANUKKAH: The big holiday this week (at least for some of us) is the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. This year people will be lighting their first candles this Sunday evening, December 2nd. Hanukkah’s an old holiday. It probably goes back to the beginning of farming in West Asia, about 10,000 BC – or it might even go back further into the Stone Age than that. Fundamentally, it’s the celebration of the olive oil harvest, which happens there around the end of November. Wow, now you’ve got lots of olive oil! Olive oil was (and is) an important part of the food people ate in the Eastern Mediterranean, the major source of fat in their diet. But olive oil was also the main source of lamp oil for lighting your house after dark. (So poor people had to choose between having light and having enough to eat!)

A golden seven-branched candlestickBut by the time of the Maccabees, in the 300s BC, Jewish leaders wanted their festivals to be more about God and Israel, and not just about the harvest. They attached a story to Hanukkah about a time when the Maccabees had just defeated the Greeks to win their independence, and God sent a miracle to keep the temple lamps burning for eight days with just one day’s worth of oil. That’s why people light candles for eight days, to remember that victory and the miracle – but also, still, to celebrate the olive oil harvest, they eat foods fried in oil, like doughnuts and fritters and potato pancakes. Find out more about Hanukkah in the Middle Ages, and about dice and the dreidel game and how to celebrate Hanukkah.

SPORTULA: My friends at Sportula are raising money to help Classics students who are down on their luck because of being working-class or from historically looted communities. Can you contribute a little bit? They take PayPal, and nothing could be more appropriate for this season than giving back!

CHRISTMAS TREES: Thinking of getting a tree this week? Check out the history of Christmas trees, from the earliest Roman custom of hanging metal ornaments on outdoor trees and using pine cones as decoration, to the medieval European habit of hanging apples on evergreens, to Renaissance Germany, when people first brought trees inside as a Protestant response to Catholic Nativity scenes. German immigrants brought Christmas trees to America in the early 1800s, but Christmas trees really took off when young, pretty Queen Victoria had one for her kids in the 1840s.

This week in history:

CLOVIS: November 27, 511 AD – After defeating the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouillé in 509 AD, the Merovingian king Clovis dies and is buried in Paris. His four sons divide his kingdom among themselves, giving their name to the dynasty (Merovingians) and to the country (France).

EVOLUTION: November 24, 1859 AD – Charles Darwin publishes his book Origin of Species laying out the theory of natural selection and evolution. Darwin shows correctly how life evolved from tiny cells to wormsinsectsfishfrogslizardsmammals, and people, answering hard questions like how eyes evolved.

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK: Light Hanukkah candles, or play the dreidel game, or make potato pancakes!

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History Gifts  – what to get with your Amazon gift card!


Especially check out the last one: The Silence of the Girls – a new novel giving a voice to the women whose voices we don’t hear in the Iliad, especially Briseis.

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What we’ve been working on:

ST. PAUL AND CHRISTIANITY: We just updated and improved this article on the life of St. Paul adding a lot of links so you can explore for more information. We have lots of other articles on Christianity too, and many other aricles about ancient Rome. We’d love a sponsor for this story, so we could stop showing ads on this page!

New discoveries this week:

ROMAN COMIC STRIPS: A newly discovered Roman tomb from Jordan, from the early Roman Empire, has paintings on the walls of people doing daily life things: construction work, farming, and banqueting. The characters on the walls have speech bubbles to show what they are saying to each other, like today’s graphic novels.

WIND CATCHERS: Not really a new discovery, but a nice feature on ancient and medieval air-conditioning methods in Iran and Egypt. People used high towers – ‘wind-catchers’ – to funnel cool breezes down into their houses, and even into their basements to help cool stored food.

EARLY AUSTRALIANS: They keep pushing human history earlier and earlier; this week, it looks like the first humans reached Australia as early as 65,000 years ago, and only 10,000 years later they had left the coasts and were living in the desert inland. Also, they were using resin glue to fasten handles to their stone tools.

Seasonal food of the week:

SWEET POTATOES: Sure, your grandma always made candied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, with maple sugar, and that’s absolutely traditional. But if you want to use sweet potatoes in some new ways, we’ve got some great suggestions for you. There’s that sweet potato and eggplant saute we mentioned last week, to start with. Then we also love salmon broiled with baked sweet potato fries and tahini sauce. Peel the sweet potatoes, and use a sharp knife to slice them into fries. Spread them on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 for about twenty minutes, or until they’re soft and just beginning to blacken. Then there’s a delicious (and vegan and gluten-free) lentil and sweet potato stew. Or, if meat’s not a problem, this sweet North African stew of lamb, sweet potatoes, parsnips, and dried fruit. Last but certainly not least, at our house we love sweet potato pie, and we always have that at Thanksgiving instead of pumpkin pie. Sweet potato pie has more flavor and it’s less watery, and it doesn’t come canned, so you’ll be making more of your meal from scratch!

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