Archive for December 2011

NEW YEAR’S DAY – the first day of a calendar year, usually celebrated as a legal holiday   Leave a comment

Celebrating the end of one year and the start of a new one is an age-old religious, social, and cultural observance in all parts of the world. In Western nations the New Year festivities take place on December 31, but in other cultures they take place on different dates.

1582: Gregorian calendar adopted. Using the plan of Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, Julius Caesar adjusted slight errors in the existing calendar and thus developed the Julian calendar in the 1st century BC. In the late 16th century Pope Gregory XIII announced that the Julian calendar was slightly incorrect: it was 11 minutes and 14 seconds too long each year. While this difference may appear trivial, the error had set back the precise dates of the seasonal equinoxes by approximately one day every century.

In a dramatic step, Pope Gregory eliminated ten days from the year 1582. Calculating the proper date of the vernal equinox from the year of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), he removed approximately one day for each intervening century. In 1582 October 4 was followed by October 15. To correct the problem in the future, it was declared that years ending in two zeros that were not divisible by 400 would not be leap years contrary to the Julian calendar. Another change was that January 1 was officially recognized as the beginning of the New Year, whereas most countries had recognized Christmas or Easter as the start of the year. The new system was known as the New Style, and dates before 1582 were thereafter marked in official records with O.S. for Old Style.

Only the predominantly Catholic countries recognized Pope Gregory’s changes at first. England did not make the correction until more than 150 years later, and many other countries, such as the Soviet Union, did not adjust their calendars until the early 20th century.

Mesopotamia, region in Asia between Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now included in Iraq).

The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from 2000 BC in Mesopotamia. In Babylonia the New Year began with the new moon closest to the spring equinox, usually mid-March. In Assyria it was near the autumnal equinox in September. For the Egyptians, Phoenician, and Persians the day was celebrated on the autumnal equinox, which now falls on about September 23. For the Greeks it was the winter solstice, which now falls on about December 21 or 22. During the early Roman republic March 1 began a new year, but after 153 BC the date was January 1. This date was kept by the Julian calendar of 46 BC.

During the early Middle Ages March 25 (the feast of the Annunciation) was celebrated as New Year’s Day. January 1 was restored as New Year’s Day by the Gregorian calendar, which was adopted by the Roman Catholic church in 1582. Over the next 350 years other countries followed. Russia, in 1918, was the last major nation to adopt the practice. In countries that use the Julian calendar, New Year’s Day is on January 14 of the Gregorian calendar.

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year’s Day festival celebrated on the first or first and second days of Tishri (September or October).

The Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashana, is sometimes called the “feast of the trumpets.” It starts on the first day of the month of Tishri, which may begin any time from September 6 to October 5. The celebration lasts for 48 hours but ushers in a ten-day period of penitence. The Chinese New Year is celebrated wherever there are sizeable Chinese communities. The official celebration lasts one month and begins in late January or early February. There are outdoor parades and fireworks to mark the occasion.

In Japan the New Year festivities take place on January 1 to 3. In some rural areas the time of celebration corresponds more closely to the Chinese New Year, and the dates vary between January 20 and February 19. The house entrance is hung with a rope made of rice straw to keep out evil spirits. Decorations of ferns, bitter orange, and lobster promise good fortune, prosperity, and long life. In South India the Tamil New Year is a religious celebration that takes place on the winter solstice. It is marked by pilgrimages to holy places and the boiling of new rice.

The American celebration of the New Year marks the end of the Christmas holiday period. Many people go to church on New Year’s Eve, and many attend parties. Street celebrations in large cities are televised. New Year’s Day itself is often a time for receiving guests at home.

Posted 2011/12/31 by Stelios in Education

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ZEN – a variety of Buddhism, seeking to attain an intuitive illumination of mind and spirit through meditation   Leave a comment

Through his popular book ‘The Way of Zen’ (1957), the British-born American philosopher Alan Watts introduced Americans to the Zen school of Buddhism, which has a long tradition of development in China and Japan. Zen (Ch’an in Chinese) is a Japanese term meaning “meditation.” It is a major school of Japanese Buddhism that claims to transmit the spirit of Buddhism, or the total enlightenment as achieved by the founder of the religion, the Buddha.

563 BC: Birth of Buddhism. One of the world’s great religions was founded in India in the 6th century BC by a man who rejected wealth and turned to meditation. He was born a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama, or Gotama. As a result of his meditations, he achieved a spiritual awakening and was considered by his followers to be the enlightened one, or the Buddha.

The Buddha taught a way of life that avoided both self-indulgence and self-mortification. A Buddhist’s life consists largely of meditation, which leads to the profound understanding of the impermanence of the physical world. This realization is the Buddhist path to enlightenment.

In the 3rd century BC, the Indian ruler Asoka helped unite the diverse schools of Buddhism into a coherent religion. In the 4th and 5th centuries AD Buddhism became the dominant religion of China and was introduced into Korea, where the Ch’an, or Zen, sect became dominant. In the 6th century AD Korean missionaries brought Zen Buddhism to Japan, spreading the view of meditation as a means of achieving enlightenment. The monk Nichiren, who lived in the 13th century AD, attempted to find the one true doctrine of Buddhism, and claimed he found it in the ancient scripture known as the ‘Lotus Sutra’.

Today Buddhism is practised in both Eastern and Western countries, including Japan, Europe, the United States, and many South-East Asian nations. New Buddhist communities have also formed in India again, where the religion had been virtually extinct for about 500 years.

China (or People’s Republic of China), country in e. Asia; area 3,692,000 sq mi (9,561,000 sq km); cap. Beijing; pop. 1,165,888,000. Circa 1995.

Zen has its basis in the conviction that the world and its components are not many things. They are, rather, one reality. The one is part of a larger wholeness to which some people assign the name of God. Reason, by analysing the diversity of the world, obscures this oneness. It can be apprehended by the non-rational part of the mind the intuition. Enlightenment about the nature of reality comes not by rational examination but through meditation.

Meditation has been an integral part of Buddhism from the beginning. Nevertheless, a school of meditation grew up in India and was taken to China by Bodhidharma about AD 520. When the meditation school arrived in China, it had a strong foundation on which to build: Taoism, the ancient Chinese religion. This religion is based on the idea that there is one underlying reality called the Tao. Taoists, like the followers of the meditation school, exalted intuition over reason. This Taoist tradition was easily absorbed by the Chinese meditation school, the Ch’an.

Within two centuries the meditation school had divided into two factions: Northern Ch’an and Southern Ch’an. The northern school, a short-lived affair, insisted on a doctrine of gradual enlightenment. The southern school, which became dominant, held to a doctrine of instantaneous enlightenment.

Hui-neng (638-713), sixth great patriarch of Zen Buddhism and founder of the Southern school, which became the dominant school of Zen, born in Guangdong Province, China.

The southern school evolved under the powerful influence of Hui-neng (638-713), who is recognized as the sixth great patriarch of Zen and the founder of its modern interpretation. In a sermon recorded as the “Platform Scripture of the Sixth Patriarch,” he taught that all people possess the Buddha nature and that one’s nature (before and after being born) is originally pure. Instead of undertaking a variety of religious obligations to seek salvation, one should discover one’s own nature. The traditional way to do this, sitting in meditation, is useless. If one perceives one’s own nature, enlightenment will follow suddenly.

The goal of adherents of the southern Ch’an is to gain transcendental, or highest, wisdom from the depths of one’s unconscious, where it lies dormant. Ch’an tries to attain enlightenment without the aid of common religious observances: study, scriptures, ceremonies, or good deeds. Reaching the highest wisdom comes as a breakthrough in everyday logical thought. Followers are urged to find within themselves the answer to any question raised within because the answer is believed to be found where the question originates. Training in the methods of meditation leading to such an enlightenment is best transmitted from master to disciple.

Ch’an flourished in China during the T’ang and Sung dynasties (960-1279), and its influences were strongly felt in literature and painting. Ch’an declined during the Ming era (1141-1215), when Ch’an masters took up the practice of trying to harmonize meditation with the study of traditional scriptures.

Soto, largest of the Zen Buddhist sects in Japan; practices method of quiet meditation (zazen) as a means of obtaining enlightenment.

Meanwhile, sects of Zen had been transplanted to Japan. The Rinzai school was taken there in 1191 by the priest Enzai (1141-1215), and the Soto tradition arrived in 1227, taken there by Dogen (1200-53), the most revered figure in Japanese Zen. These schools had their origin in China during the 9th century, when Ch’an divided into five sects that differed from each other in minor ways.

Rinzai, one of two major Zen Buddhist sects in Japan; stresses the abrupt awakening of transcendental wisdom, or Enlightenment.

Obaku, one of three Zen Buddhist sects in Japan; close to the Rinzai tradition except for its emphasis on invoking the name of Buddha.

The Rinzai sect evolved from the work of Lin-chi (died 866), who was an exponent of sudden enlightenment. The Soto was founded by Liang-chieh (died 869) and Pen-chi (died 901). The Soto stressed quiet sitting in meditation to await enlightenment. A third group, the Obaku, was established in 1654. The Obaku school is closer to the Rinzai tradition except for its emphasis on invoking the name of Buddha.

Zen gained an enthusiastic following among the Samurai warrior class and became in effect the state religion in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th century Zen priests were diplomats and administrators, and they enhanced cultural life as well. Under their influence literature, art, the cult of the tea ceremony, and the No drama developed.

The focal point of Zen is the monastery, where masters and pupils interact in the search for enlightenment. A newcomer arrives at a monastery with a certificate showing that he is a regularly ordained disciple of a priest. He is at first refused entry. Finally being admitted, he spends a few days of probation being interviewed by his master. When he is accepted he is initiated into the community life of humility, labour, service, prayer and gratitude, and meditation.

Posted 2011/12/29 by Stelios in Education

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SCOUTING – participation in, or the activities of, the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts/Guides   Leave a comment

 

Fleur-de-lis

While British Army commander in South Africa during the Boer War, Col. Robert Baden-Powell was unhappy with the attitude of his troops. He said that the men lacked character, acting as if they expected to be tucked into bed at night. To help solve this problem he published ‘Aids to Scouting'(1899), a military textbook that was later adapted for training boys in British schools.

1907: Boy Scouts. Voluntary youth organizations have been formed in Europe and North America since the early years of the 20th century. One of the first and best known is the Boy Scouts, now an international organization.

The Boy Scouts were founded in Great Britain by an army officer, Lieutenant General Robert S.S. Baden-Powell. The idea came to him during service in the Boer, or South African, War of 1899-1902. He started a program to teach men how to survive in the outdoors under difficult conditions. Back in England, he conducted his first scout camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 and published his handbook, ‘Scouting for Boys’, in 1908. The scouting organization was incorporated in the United States in 1910.

An organization for girls, the Girl Guides, was started by Baden-Powell’s sister, Agnes, in 1910. The Girl Scouts were established in the United States in 1912. A similar organization for girls, the Camp Fire, was begun in the United States in 1910. In 1970 boys were permitted to join the group.

Unintentionally, Baden-Powell had launched a worldwide movement for boys and girls, known as scouting. The word scout comes from the French verb ecouter, which means “to listen.” Armies have long used scouts to gather information about the enemy.

Boy Scouts. British school officials asked Baden-Powell to adapt his program for boys. After much preparation, he conducted the first Boy Scout camp on Brownsea Island in 1907. The following year he published ‘Scouting for Boys’, a book that introduced the Scout’s Oath, the Scout Law, and the official motto, “Be Prepared.” Some qualities for Boy Scouts outlined in the book include obedience, honour, thrift, and a willingness to help others. Typical scouting activities are camping, nature study, and first aid training.

Seton, Ernest Thompson (1860-1946), U.S. naturalist, lecturer, and author and illustrator of animal books, born in South Shields, Durham, England; lived in Canadian backwoods 1866-70; founded Woodcraft Indians 1902; chief scout Boy Scouts 1910-15 (‘Wild Animals I Have Known’; ‘Lives of the Hunted’; ‘Animal Heroes’).

Beard, Daniel Carter (1850-1941), U.S. illustrator, author, and outdoors man, born in Cincinnati, Ohio; in 1905 founded Sons of Daniel Boone club for boys, which later merged into the Boy Scouts of America; taught animal drawing 1893-1900; author of many handbooks on scouting and camping, including ‘Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties’ and ‘Wisdom of the Woods’; Mt. Beard, near Mt. McKinley in Alaska, named in his honour.

In the United States the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) had been running camps for boys since 1884. In 1902 Ernest Thompson Seton founded the Tribe of Woodcraft Indians as an organization for boys. Three years later Daniel Carter Beard started a similar society called the Sons of Daniel Boone. These two groups, along with the YMCA camps, laid the foundation on which the Boy Scout movement developed in the United States in conjunction with Baden-Powell’s work in England. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was incorporated on Feb. 8, 1910. On June 15, 1916, Congress granted a charter to the organization. In England the Boy Scouts had been formally started on Jan. 24, 1908.

The scouting program in the United States has three phases: Cub Scouting is for boys 8 through 10 years old; Boy Scouts are 11 through 15 years of age; and Explorer Scouts are 15 through 20. Cub Scouts are organized into dens of seven or eight boys, and local dens make up one scout pack. Boy Scouts are organized into patrols, and patrols are parts of troops. Each troop is headed by a scoutmaster. Reversing a long-standing policy, the BSA in 1988 allowed women to be scoutmasters.

Each Scout, by meeting specific requirements, advances through grades called Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class. A First Class Scout may earn merit badges to qualify as a Star Scout, Life Scout, and Eagle Scout. There are other awards given for outstanding achievements. Eagle palms are given for merit badges earned beyond the Eagle requirements. The Order of the Arrow is a national brotherhood of Scout campers. The Medal of Merit and the Honour Medal are awarded by scouting’s National Court of Honour The Medal of Merit is presented for outstanding acts of service. Scouting’s highest award, the Medal of Honour, is bestowed upon Scouts who save, or attempt to save, lives at the risk of their own.

More than 10 million boys and men throughout the world participate in the movement. Scouts from many nations meet, usually every four years, in a world jamboree. At these gatherings as many as 50,000 Scouts set up camp, demonstrate wood craft skills, and work for better international understanding. The first world jamboree was held in England in 1920. National jamborees are held between the international events.

Girl Scouts. Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell asked his sister, Agnes, to start a similar organization for girls. She founded the first company of Girl Guides, as they are called in England and some other countries, in 1910. Baden-Powell’s wife, the former Olave St. Clair Soames, later took charge of the Girl Guides. The spread of the movement was interrupted by World War I, but in 1919 she formed the International Council for the movement. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts was established in 1928.

In the United States the Girl Scouts were organized on March 9, 1912, by Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Ga. The group was met with opposition from Boy Scout leaders, who were against the use of the title “Scouts” for girls. In 1950 the United States Congress passed a law giving a special charter of incorporation to the Girl Scouts of the United States of America. The first Girl Guide company in Canada was organized in 1909 in St. Catharines, Ont.

Girl Scout activities include arts and crafts, nature walks, and community service projects. Much of the group’s funding comes from the annual sale of Girl Scout cookies. The organization is divided into five age groups: girls 5 and 6 (Daisy Girl Scouts), girls 7 and 8 (Brownie Scouts), girls 9 through 11 (Junior Scouts), girls from 12 through 14 (Cadet Scouts), and girls from 15 through 17 (Senior Scouts). Girl Scouts are organized into local troops, which are divided into smaller patrols.

Nearly 8 million girls and women from almost a hundred nations are members of the World Association. Membership in the United States is around 3 million, making the Girl Scouts the world’s largest voluntary organization for girls.

Posted 2011/12/28 by Stelios in Education

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CHRISTMAS   Leave a comment

The word comes from the Old English term Cristes maesse, meaning “Christ’s mass.” This was the name for the festival service of worship held on December 25 to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. While it is accepted that Jesus was born in the small town of Bethlehem a few miles south of Jerusalem, there is no certain information on the date of his birth, not even of the year. One reason for this uncertainty is that the stories of his birth, recorded in the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, were written several decades after the event. And those who wrote of it gave no specific dates for the event.

4 BC: Birth of Jesus. Since the designation BC means “before Christ,” it seems strange to date the birth of Christ with a BC year. Nevertheless, the known facts surrounding the birth of Jesus point to the year 4 BC, in spite of what later calendar makers thought. When the BC/AD system was established in the early 6th century, it was uncertain when Jesus was born. The significant date is the death of King Herod in 4 BC; Jesus is thought by many to have been born just before then.

This change in the measurement of history was unprecedented and remains un-duplicated. It shows just how much history changed after the birth of this child in Bethlehem. From his early apostles down to modern-day Christians, his followers have regarded him as the Son of God, the Messiah foretold by the ancient Hebrew prophets, a performer of great miracles, a learned teacher, and a martyr who died for the sins of mankind. From his teachings, based on Judaism, came Christianity, a religion that would influence most of the Western world for centuries to come. Jesus’s birth is celebrated on Christmas, and his death on Good Friday.

For several centuries the Christian church itself paid little attention to the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The major Christian festival was Easter, the day of his resurrection. Only gradually, as the church developed a calendar to commemorate the major events of the life of Christ, did it celebrate his birth.

Epiphany (from Greek epiphaneia, “appearance”), Christian festival celebrated on January 6; one of the three principal and oldest festival days of Christianity (including Easter and Christmas); commemorates the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi, and the manifestation of his divinity, as it occurred at his baptism in the Jordan River and at his first miracle at Cana in Galilee; festival originated in the Eastern Church; in the Western Church the festival primarily commemorates the visit by the Magi to the infant Jesus; in the East it primarily commemorates the baptism of Jesus.

Because there was no knowledge about the date of Jesus’ birth, a day had to be selected. The Eastern Orthodox and the Eastern Rite churches within the Roman Catholic church chose January 6. The day was named Epiphany, meaning “appearance,” the day of Christ’s manifestation. The Western church, based at Rome, chose December 25. It is known from a notice in an ancient Roman almanac that Christmas was celebrated on December 25 in Rome as early as AD 336.

Magi (plural of magus), from Persian magu, meaning magician; members of a priestly caste of ancient Medes and Persians; name is applied also to the wise men in the Bible (Matthew ii) who followed a star to Bethlehem; the Bible story does not name them nor give their number, but Christian tradition from about the 7th century names the three Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar; their bodies are said to have been brought to Constantinople by Empress Helen, mother of Constantine, thence taken to Milan, and finally to Cologne in 1162 by Frederick Barbarossa; since that time they have often been called the Three Kings of Cologne.

In the latter half of the 4th century, the Eastern and Western churches adopted each other’s festival, thus establishing the modern Christian 12-day celebration from Christmas to Epiphany. In some places the 12th day is called the festival of the three kings because it is believed that the three wise men, or magi, visited the baby Jesus on that day, bringing him gifts.

Today Christmas is more than a one-day celebration, or a 12-day festival. It is part of a lengthy holiday season embracing at least the whole month of December. In the United States the holiday season begins on Thanksgiving Day and ends on January 1.

The reason for this extended holiday period is that Christmas is no longer only a religious festival. It is also the most popular holiday period for everyone in countries where Christianity has become the dominant religion. Even in Japan, where Christianity is in the minority, Christmas has become a festive, gift-giving holiday time.

Customs and Traditions

People who live in the cold winter climates of North America and Europe look forward to a “white Christmas,” because snow is one of the features associated with the holiday season. But Christmas is also celebrated in South America, Australia, and New Zealand places where it is summer at Christmastime and also places with year-round warm climates. Each place where the holiday is celebrated has developed its own attitudes toward the occasion and has created customs that try in many ways to express the meaning of the day.

Over the centuries a significant number of customs and traditional observances have emerged to make the Christmas season one of the most colourful and festive times of the year. Probably the most universal custom is gift giving, frequently associated with the person of Santa Claus. Other customs have to do with decoration evergreen trees, lights, wreaths, and holly; the sending of cards; good and plentiful food and drink; and the singing of carols and other songs.

Gift giving is one of the oldest customs associated with Christmas: it is actually older than the holiday itself. When the date of Christmas was set to fall in December, it was done at least in part to compete with ancient pagan festivals that occurred about the same time. The Romans, for example, celebrated the Saturnalia on December 17. It was a winter feast of merrymaking and gift exchanging. And two weeks later, on the Roman New Year January 1, houses were decorated with greenery and lights, and gifts were given to children and the poor. As the Germanic tribes of Europe accepted Christianity and began to celebrate Christmas, they also gave gifts.

Nicholas, Saint (4th century), bishop of Myra, Asia Minor; in many legends, patron of children; his feast day (December) was near Christmas, so he came to be the Christmas gift-bringer, St. Nick or Santa Claus; taken off Roman Catholic calendar 1969.

In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, children traditionally do not receive gifts on December 25 but on January 5, the eve of Epiphany. In several northern European nations gifts are given on December 6, which is the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children.

The exchange of gifts has remained a central feature of the holiday season the world over. It has become so significant that most merchants count on making a very large proportion of their annual sales during the period from late November to December 24. So important has the Christmas selling period become that many stores fail to show a profit at the end of the year if Christmas sales are low.

Trees and decorations. Ancient, pre-Christian winter festivals used greenery, lights, and fires to symbolize life and warmth in the midst of cold and darkness. These usages, like gift giving, have also persisted. The most splendid symbol of a modern Christmas is the brilliantly decorated evergreen tree with strings of multicoloured lights.

Evergreen, tree or plant that retains its foliage all year or for several years, such as the pine, fir, laurel, and hemlock, in contrast to deciduous trees.

Yule, name of a winter month in Northern Europe; also name for Christmas in some countries.

The use of evergreens and wreaths as symbols of life was an ancient custom of the Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews, among other peoples. Tree worship was a common feature of religion among the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples of northern Europe before their conversion to Christianity. They decorated houses and barns with evergreens at the new year to scare away demons, and they often set up trees for the birds in winter. For these northern Europeans, this winter celebration was the happiest time of the year because it signified that the shortest day of the year about December 21 had passed. They knew the days would start to get longer and brighter. The month during which this festival took place was named Jol, from which the word Yule is derived. Yule has come to mean Christmas in some countries.

The modern Christmas tree seems to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages. A main prop in a medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples. Called the “Paradise tree,” it represented the Garden of Eden. German families set up a Paradise tree in their homes on December 24, the feast day of Adam and Eve. On it they hung wafers, symbolizing the bread distributed at the celebration of the holy Eucharist, or communion, in churches. Because the Christmas holiday followed immediately, candles representing Christ as the light of the world were often added to the tree. Eventually cookies and other sweets were hung instead of wafers.

In the same room as the tree Germans kept a Christmas pyramid made of wood, with shelves to hold figurines. The pyramid was also decorated with evergreens, candles, and a star. By the 16th century the pyramid and the Paradise tree had merged, becoming the Christmas tree so popular today.

The Christmas tree was introduced into England early in the 19th century, and it was popularized by Prince Albert, the German husband of Queen Victoria. The trees were decorated with candles, candies, paper chains, and fancy cakes that were hung from the branches on ribbons.

German settlers brought the Christmas tree custom to the American colonies in the 17th century. By the 19th century its use was quite widespread. Trees were also popular in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, and Holland. In China and Japan Christmas trees were introduced by Christian missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. There they were decorated with intricate paper designs.

The use of evergreens for wreaths and other decorations arose in northern Europe. Italy, Spain, and some other nations use flowers instead. Holly, with its prickly leaves and red berries, came into holiday use because it reminded people of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the way to his execution the berries symbolizing droplets of blood.

Christmas cards. The first Christmas greeting card is believed to have been designed in England in 1843 by an artist named John C. Horsley for a friend, Sir Henry Cole. The design showed a family party, beneath which the words “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You” were inscribed. The practice soon became popular in all English-speaking countries and is most widespread in the United States.

Music. The range of Christmas music, both sacred and non-religious, is large from the majestic oratorio ‘Messiah’ by George Frideric Handel to the light-hearted “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The most popular of non-religious tunes is probably Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” written for the movie ‘Holiday Inn’, released in 1942.

The most traditional Christmas songs are carols. The word carol was associated with dance and open air. It later came to mean simply a joyful religious song. In France the term is Noel, and in Britain Nowell. Best known of modern carols is “Silent Night, Holy Night,” composed in Austria by Franz Gruber in the 19th century. Other popular carols include “The First Nowell.,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Away in a Manger,” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Manger scene (or crèche), representation of the stable at Bethlehem displayed during Christmas season.

Manger scenes. A custom that originated in southern Europe is the manger scene, often referred to by its French name, crèche This is a small model of the stable where Jesus was born, containing figures of Mary, Joseph, the infant, shepherds, farm animals, and the three wise men and their gifts.

Francis of Assisi, Saint (1182-1226), Roman Catholic saint, founder of Franciscan order, patron saint of Italy; festival Oct. 4 .

The custom is said to have been started by St. Francis of Assisi. On a Christmas Eve in 1224 he is supposed to have set up a stable in a corner of a church in his native village with real persons and animals to represent those of the first Christmas.

Christmas in the Holy Land

Apart from the many ingredients that go into making the Christmas season a festive and happy time for people around the world, the day itself and the religious observances that highlight it remain the focal points. One of the most colourful and solemn celebrations of the holiday takes place in the village of Bethlehem, which is in the modern state of Israel.

On Christmas Eve a long line of people winds through the narrow streets. At its head march church dignitaries, priests, and attendants, all in magnificent robes. They carry a tiny, gilded, wicker cradle containing a wax image of the infant Jesus. At the old fortress like Church of the Nativity they pause as each worshipper stoops to enter the low door into the sanctuary. The people gather in the Roman Catholic chapel of St. Catherine for the celebration of a midnight mass. Pilgrims from all parts of the world participate. The ceremony ends when the patriarch of Jerusalem carries the image of the Christ child to the ornate glass and marble manger in the Grotto of the Nativity under the church.

Christmas in Art and Literature

Few themes have inspired so many great paintings, poems, and stories as the Christmas narrative and the ways it is commemorated. The manger scene has been the favourite subject of master painters such as Fra Angelico, Giotto, and Sandro Botticelli.

The religious theme inspired John Milton’s poem, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” The Santa Claus story was put into verse in 1822 by an American, Clement Moore. Entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” it is more commonly known by its first line: ” ‘Twas the night before Christmas.”

The American short-story writer O. Henry (the pen name of William S. Porter) wrote a touching Christmas tale about a young husband and wife entitled “The Gift of the Magi.” In a more humorous vein, the children’s writer Dr. Seuss (the pen name of Theodore Seuss Geisel) has written ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’. The story has been made into a motion picture cartoon and is usually televised every holiday season.

There is a story by the 19th-century German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann entitled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which inspired a ballet ‘The Nutcracker’, with music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky. It is often performed at the Christmas season.

‘Christmas Carol, A’, book by Charles Dickens, published 1843; story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miser, who sees on Christmas Eve the ghost of Jacob Marley, his late associate in business, and beholds visions that make him a new person; he then sends a Christmas turkey to his threadbare clerk, Bob Cratchit, and becomes the soul of generosity.

Of all the stories relating to Christmas, none is better known or more popular than Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. As a book, it has been read and reread by millions of people in the last 100 years. It has also been turned into a drama performed on stage, radio, and television every year. The last name of its leading character, Ebenezer Scrooge, has come to stand for unloving, selfish, and miserly individuals. And the ending of the story, after Scrooge has mended his ways, presents a meaningful combination of the religious and non-religious nature of Christmas.

BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR CHRISTMAS

Christmas Stories

Adams, Adrienne. The Christmas Party (Scribner, 1978).

Anglund, J.W. A Christmas Book (Random, 1983).

Baker, Betty. Santa Rat (Greenwillow, 1980).

Barrett, John. Christmas Comes to Monster Mountain (Childrens, 1981).

Bishop, C.H., ed. Happy Christmas: Tales for Boys and Girls (Ungar, 1956).

Capote, Truman. A Christmas Memory (Children’s Book, 1983).

Carlson, A.L. The Mouse Family’s Christmas (Karwyn, 1983).

Carty, M.F. Christmas in Vermont: Three Stories (New England Press, 1983).

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol (Buccaneer, 1981).

Fenner, P.R., ed. Keeping Christmas: Stories of the Joyous Season (Morrow, 1979).

Gackenbach, Dick. Claude the Dog (Scholastic, 1976).

Gammell, Stephen. Wake Up, Bear . . . It’s Christmas! (Lothrop, 1981).

Henry, O. Gift of the Magi (Bobbs, 1978).

Jurie, Jeri. Bizzy Bubbles: Santa’s Littlest Elf (Al Fresco, 1977).

Moore, Clement. The Night Before Christmas (Random, 1984).

Peet, Bill. Countdown to Christmas (Childrens, 1972).

Schulz, C.M. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Random, 1977).

Seuss, Dr. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Random, 1957).

Wiseman, Bernard. Christmas with Morris and Boris (Little, 1983).

Christmas Customs

Barth, Edna. Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights: The Story of the Christmas Symbols (Houghton, 1981).

Bohrs, M.A. Getting Ready for Christmas (Judson, 1976).

Fowler, Virginie. Christmas Crafts and Customs Around the World (Prentice, 1984).

Lee, Sharon. Joyous Days: A Collection of Advent and Christmas Activities (Winston Press, 1984).

Slawter, Linda. Christmas Activity Book (Carson-Dellos, 1982).

Wilson, R.B. Merry Christmas! Children at Christmastime Around the World (Putnam, 1983).

Christmas Plays

Berry, Linda. Christmas Plays for Older Children (Broadman, 1981).

Kamerman, S.E., ed. Christmas Play Favorites for Young People (Plays, 1982).

Lahr, G.L. Merry Holiday Plays (Vantage, 1979).

Miller, S.W. Christmas Drama for Youth (Broadman, 1976).

Posted 2011/12/25 by Stelios in Education

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CONSERVATION (Part 1 of 5)   Leave a comment

The reasonable use of the Earth’s natural resources water, soil, wildlife, forests, and minerals is a major goal of conservation. Conservation is the preservation and maintenance of the environment to meet human needs for production while insuring that proper consideration is also given to aesthetics and recreation. An effective conservation program results in a continuous production and supply of native plants and animals, and the continued availability of critical mineral resources. Timber, fuels, ores, and other resources are being depleted at such a rapid rate that the need to conserve them has become crucial. The prevention of environmental pollution from industrial, agricultural, urban, and domestic sources, including toxic chemicals, radioactive wastes, and elevated water temperatures, is another concern of conservation. People concerned with conservation seek to prevent the waste of natural resources, to maintain a high-quality environment, and to preserve the natural heritage for future generations.

1869: Birth of ecology. Most people are unaware that the subdivision of biology called ecology is over a century old. Over the course of its development, ecology has emerged as one of the most significant and studied aspects of biology. Ecology refers to the overall interrelated system of nature and the interdependence of all living things.

The word ecology has been popularized more recently because of the many environmental concerns that have been raised since the 1970s. But as a word, ecology was coined in about 1869 by a German zoologist named Ernst Haeckel. A researcher in evolution and a strong supporter of Charles Darwin’s theories, Haeckel spent most of his career teaching at the University of Jena.

The study of ecology dates back to the ancient Greek philosophers. An associate of Aristotle named Theophrastus first described the relationships between organisms and their environment. Today the field of ecology has expanded beyond narrow biological studies to include environmental pollution, population growth, and food supplies.

2300 BC: Invention of paper In ancient Egypt paper was made from the papyrus plant. The stalk was split, sliced, pressed and dried into thin sheets. In China, a government servant named Ts’ai Lun is credited with inventing paper in AD 105. He made the paper from mulberry fibres, hemp waste, rags, fish nets, and other materials. It took many centuries for this invention to travel west: it reached Samarkand, in Central Asia, by 751 and Baghdad by 793. Finally, through Arab contacts, this technology arrived in Europe in about the 12th century. Three hundred years later the invention of printing with moveable type spurred the demand for paper in Europe. Even so, processes for making it were not technologically advanced, and shortages persisted for several hundred years. The use of wood pulp in the early 19th century greatly increased the paper supply. In the 20th century, concern over deforestation led to the growth of recycling processes for paper.

 Soot, car fumes, and acid rain pollute the air.

The world’s rain forests are being destroyed.

Toxic waste and garbage contaminate the water.

Pesticides and chemicals poison our food.

Strip mining ravages the land.

Gas and oil are wasted.

Humans have been slowly destroying the world’s resources for years.

The goal of conservation is to make the environment clean and healthy while continuing to use the Earth’s resources. This goal is gaining popularity throughout the world as all nations begin to see the results of abusing the environment.

Everyone must think seriously about the environment. Humans cannot live happy, healthy lives in an unhealthy world.

Renewable Resources can be maintained with careful planning. Examples include:

wild animals

forests

soil and water

grasslands

Non-renewable Resources will eventually be used. Examples are:

oil, coal, and gas

gold and silver

uranium

iron

Natural resources are sometimes classified as renewable or non-renewable Forests, grasslands, wildlife, and soil are examples of renewable resources. They can be regenerated, and prudent management can maintain them at steady levels. Such resources as coal, petroleum, and iron ore are non-renewable Consumption, wasteful or not, of their limited supply speeds the rate at which they are depleted.

Every creature, large or small, plays a part in the balance of nature.

Balance of nature means the way in which everything in nature depends upon other things in nature in order to live. All of nature works well together, with one creature or plant or mineral supporting others. Sometimes it appears that the elements of nature are not working well together, for example when a volcano erupts or when lightning starts enormous forest fires. However, both of these events that may seem like total disasters are extremely helpful in that they make it possible for new habitats to be created.

In many cases, people have upset this balance of nature. The Earth’s environment can handle some of the bad things done to it, but with so many people living on the Earth, there’s no such thing as “a little bit” of damage. All people on Earth need a healthy, balanced environment.

Natural resources are a vital part of sustaining human life, and conservation measures are designed to control, manage, and preserve them so that they can be used and appreciated to the fullest. Freshwater habitats must be kept clean for drinking and for recreational activities. Soils must be kept fertile, without the accumulation of toxic chemicals from pesticides or herbicides, to provide fruits and vegetables. Forests must be managed in a manner that can provide not only lumber and pulpwood for paper products but also homes for native wildlife. The use of oil, coal, and minerals important for an industrial society must be carefully monitored to be certain that the supply does not dwindle too rapidly. The proper conservation of these natural resources is of key concern in maintaining the balance of nature in a world with a large human population.

The Abuse of Natural Resources

When the first European settlers arrived in North America, they found a continent rich in natural resources. Much of the land was covered with forests where wild animals abounded. Great herds of bison roamed the grasslands. The soil was deep and fertile. Clean lakes and streams, unpolluted with silt and chemical wastes, held a wealth of fish.

In the struggle to obtain food, clothing, and shelter the settlers cut down and burned most of the Eastern forests. As they moved westward, they ploughed up the grasslands to plant corn and wheat. Their growing cities dumped sewage and waste materials from factories into the lakes and streams.

The roots of hundreds of thousands of ground-covering plants and grasses form a sponge-like net that holds the topsoil in place and soaks up rainwater.

If this plant cover is removed:

There is no net to hold the soil down, and nothing for rain to soak into.

The good soil needed for farming and the water needed to fill underground reservoirs wash away into streams and rivers.

Flooding occurs because the rivers and streams can’t hold all of the water and soil that is washing away.

Flooding is a major problem in areas of North America where rain tends to fall quickly in heavy thunderstorms. In Europe rains usually fall slowly and gently enough not to wash away bare topsoil.

The settlers who first came to North America didn’t know that the heavy rains of America would cause so much damage to bare soil. They also had no idea that the methods they used to plough and plant crops were causing soil problems to worsen.

Much of the spring and summer rain in the United States falls in torrential thunderstorms, especially in the vast Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio river basins. The farmers who settled the country were mainly Europeans who had been used to gentle rains. The methods of tilling and planting which they brought with them were not suited to the new climate. The land’s capacity for water storage was diminished by the loss of the grasses that hold soil in place and prevent the escape of rainwater. With the blotter like plant cover gone, many rivers flooded when the winter snows melted. During natural drought periods, wells ran dry and crops died in the fields. Dust storms blew the topsoil away. Birds and animals that once thrived in the forests and on the prairies became scarce. Some kinds vanished forever. Fish died in the unclean waters.

The Conservation of Natural Resources

The Earth’s environment will continue to become less healthy unless all nations work together to improve it. To protect our world, everyone must understand the need for conservation.

People who worry about the environment have grouped together into organizations that fight for conservation, such as:

the Sierra Club

Greenpeace

the Nature Conservancy

the World Wildlife Fund

Many of these groups have succeeded in getting laws passed to protect land, wildlife, and other natural resources. Once laws have been passed, anyone who disobeys them can be punished.

The abuses of the past and even the present have emphasized the need for the wise use of natural resources. Conservation groups have promoted corrective legislation and instituted legal proceedings against violators. People have been made increasingly aware that their continued existence depends on these efforts to stop environmental deterioration.

Individuals have no right to destroy nature’s wealth for profit. The logging company that cuts down too many trees without replanting for the future; the industrial plant that fouls a river or pollutes the air with its wastes; the farmer who neglects his own farm and so damages his neighbour’s land are injuring their whole community. The camper whose carelessness starts a forest fire; the automobile driver who wastes gasoline; the picnickers who tear up armfuls of wild flowers or litter the landscape with their garbage; the hunter who kills more than the legal limit all are abusing natural resources. Conservation is everyone’s responsibility. It is a uniquely human problem. Stringent laws to stop the waste and destruction of natural resources must be supported and effectively enforced.

RESULTS OF LACK OF CONSERVATION

  1. Rampant streams destroy land and fail to recharge underground water sources.

  2. Bad forestry leaves timber fire-prone and causes soil erosion and flooding.

  3. Poor farming methods drain soil fertility and hasten erosion by wind and water.

  4. Sprawling, monotonous suburbs blight good land and foster obsolescence.

  5. Rural industrial parks create pollution that can affect downstream communities.

  6. Abandoned mining operations poison streams and permanently scar the landscape.

  7. Haphazard placement of industry leads to the pollution of water and air in cities.

  8. Failure to treat garbage and sewage adequately contaminates the surroundings.

  9. Bad industrial zoning downgrades nearby property and produces urban eyesores.

  10. Polluted rivers cannot sustain fish life and need costly purification for drinking.

  11. Poorly managed traffic facilities snarl urban travel and aggravate air pollution.

  12. Densely grouped high-rise apartment buildings wall out air and sunlight.

Conservation can help maintain the natural beauty of a community. When land is mistreated, the countryside can become unattractive. Vacant lots covered with trash, bare roadsides, and garbage-laden streams are ugly. Conservation also helps preserve areas suitable for recreation. As cities grow crowded, natural areas are needed for people enjoying leisure time. People need city parks, county forest preserves, and national parks; grass and trees bordering roads and highways; and sparkling streams.

Posted 2011/12/21 by Stelios in Education

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CONSERVATION (Part 2 of 5)   Leave a comment

WATER CONSERVATION

Polluted water in one part of the world affects water sources everywhere. This happens because water moves through what is called the hydro logic cycle.

In the hydro logic cycle

1) water moves into the air and clouds as it evaporates from oceans, lakes, and rivers.

2) the winds that blow around the Earth blow the water vapour around until enough builds up inside a cloud to cause rain to fall.

3) wherever that rain falls, sooner or later it will flow into another body of water.

In this way, a water molecule that left the ocean near California may fall as rain in India. Unfortunately, products that pollute the water can also be carried to other parts of the world along with the water molecules.

Water is an essential natural resource. Everyone uses it. It is needed in homes for drinking, cooking, and washing. Communities must have it for fire protection and recreational activities such as swimming, boating, and fishing. Industries use it to produce electricity and to perform a large number of manufacturing processes.

Watersheds and Their Importance

Watershed (or drainage basin), area of land, of any size, from which all precipitation flows to a single stream or set of streams.

A watershed is the area drained by a river or a stream in a region. Such an area slopes toward a common land trough. Some rain runs off, or drains, over the ground surface. Run-off water forms small streams, which flow into larger ones. These eventually join to form rivers.

A natural watershed conserves water. It has clear streams and an ample cover of trees, grasses, and other plants. Plants help contribute to form a part of the topsoil called humus. Humus consists of decaying leaves and wood, bacteria, dead insects, and other plant and animal remains. It provides some of the nutrients for new plant life. Together with a network of roots, it acts as a blotter that soaks up rain. Plants break the force of falling rain and scatter the drops over leaves and branches. Some of the water returns to the air by evaporation. Part of the water used by plants is passed through their leaves into the air again by transpiration. The rest of the water sinks into the earth through countless tiny channels. Some of the spaces in the soil through which water percolates are caused by natural features of the geology or soil itself. Others are made by plant roots and burrowing animals like earthworms, insects, and moles.

The level at which the earth is permanently saturated is known as the water table. This vast underground water supply fluctuates with the seasons and the amount of rainfall. During long, heavy rains the soil may not be able to soak up all the water. Some of it runs off the surface, but in a forested watershed it moves slowly. Deep snow that melts slowly allows water to soak into the soil gradually.

When all the trees in an area have been cut down or burned off due to poor forestry practices, or grasses and other plants have been stripped off by fire, overgrazing, or poor farming practices, the watershed suffers. The water from rainfall flows over the ground’s surface instead of being absorbed by the vegetation and organic materials that would be present on a natural forest floor.

When there are no leaves and branches or grasses to break the force of falling rain and the blotter of roots and humus is gone, mud closes the channels through which water sinks into the soil. If the land is level, the water stands in stagnant pools; if it slopes, the water runs downhill into the rivers. Streams in a mismanaged watershed become brown with silt, or suspended soil, because the racing water carries soil along with it.

A mismanaged watershed can result in destructive floods in the spring because heavy rains and melting snows overflow the riverbanks. In the summer, streams, springs, and wells can dry up because little or no water has sunk into the underground reservoirs.

Water Pollution

Water can be polluted by many things. One of these is the topsoil or silt that washes into streams and rivers. This silt washes into streams and rivers from land that has been badly managed.

When silt washes into streams and rivers, two harmful things may happen.

1) Silt that floats in the water limits the amount of air in the water. Fish need air to breathe. When silt limits the air in the water, the fish die.

2) As the movement of water slows down, silt drops to the bottom of the stream beds

There are ways of controlling erosion of silt from land into streams and reservoirs. Conservationists try to make sure that the right steps are taken to prevent the silting of streams.

The silting of streams is one kind of water pollution. A heavy load of silt kills fish indirectly by reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. Then, as the flowing water slows, silt is deposited on stream beds Reservoirs behind dams also fill with silt unless erosion is stopped in watersheds above.

The main problem with our waterways is that they have been used as a garbage can for every kind of human waste that you might imagine.

Raw, untreated sewage contains:

  • garbage from individuals and businesses

  • waste products from industry

  • run-off from sewers

Raw sewage is unhealthy and can cause outbreaks of disease. It also severely pollutes the environment.

Raw sewage can be treated in special ways to make it less harmful to the environment. For example, poisonous metals and objects that take a long time to break down can be removed from the waste so it can break down faster.

Other kinds of water pollution have created other problems. Many waterways are used as dumps for household and industrial wastes. Some communities dump untreated sewage and garbage into the nearest streams. Industries contaminate the waterways when they discharge acids, chemicals, greases, oils, and organic matter into them. Such materials foul drinking water and endanger public health. They destroy commercial fisheries. They also make waterways unusable for recreational purposes. Leaks and spills from offshore oil wells and wrecked or damaged oil tankers have caused the widespread destruction of marine life.

A food chain is made up of plants and animals linked together like a chain. Each creature depends on the other creatures in the chain for food.

It takes many creatures at the bottom of a food chain to feed just one animal at the top of the chain.

If one link becomes weak, it affects all others in the chain. Here’s an example:

For a period of time humans sprayed a chemical pesticide called DDT on plants to kill bugs.

The DDT washed off the plants and into rivers, lakes, and streams. Fish ate the poison. Many fish died, but many others survived with traces of the poison in their bodies.

Some animals ate the poisoned fish. Still others ate poisoned insects. Finally, other creatures ate the animals that had eaten the poisoned fish and insects.

Since higher animals in the chain eat a large amount of the lower animals, each link was getting more and more DDT.

While large doses of DDT can kill, smaller doses do damage as well. For example, DDT causes the shells of bird eggs to be too thin. Many kinds of birds, such as the American bald eagle, poisoned by DDT, were unable to hatch young, and their numbers became smaller and smaller.

When conservationists and others saw the harm caused by DDT to various creatures such as the bald eagle, they reasoned that other creatures, including humans, were being harmed by the pesticide. Although the spraying of DDT was stopped by passing a law in the United States, it continues in other parts of the world.

The large-scale use of organic insecticides, herbicides, toxic metals, and pesticides, particularly DDT, has polluted streams and destroyed wildlife. Some pesticides tend to concentrate in the tissues of plants and animals in nature’s food chains. Thus organisms at the ends of these chains, including humans, may take in harmful amounts of pesticides deposited in their food supply.

SOIL CONSERVATION

Whenever land is stripped of its plant cover, soil is inevitably lost by erosion, the so-called silent thief. A single rainstorm can wash away centuries-old accumulations of soil from neglected or badly managed fields. Topsoil is an extremely valuable natural resource. Under this thin blanket of rich dirt and humus, in which plants grow best, is a less fertile material called subsoil. If the surface layer of topsoil is blown or washed away, the remaining subsoil cannot support plant life. The submarginal farms must eventually be abandoned.

Types of Soil Erosion

More than 700 million acres (283 million hectares) of agricultural land in the United States are subject to erosion. Some 230 million acres (93 million hectares) of crop land require constant supervision to control erosion caused by wind and water.

Dust storms are the evidence of wind erosion. Soil unprotected by plant cover simply blows away. During the 1930s millions of acres of farmlands were badly damaged by wind. Many fields lost from 2 to 12 inches (5 to 30 centimetres) of vital topsoil during this period. As a result, the entire southern Great Plains area was called the Dust Bowl.

One of the several kinds of water erosion is sheet erosion the wasting away of level land in thin layers. The deterioration may go on for years without being noticed, though the land yields successively smaller crops. A patch of subsoil showing through on some slight rise of ground may be the first sign that the land is nearly finished as a food producer.

Splash erosion is the washing away of soil by the direct battering of rain. Small channels dug in the soil by run-off are called rill erosion. The little rills run together, form a network of larger rills, and then develop into gullies. When gully erosion occurs, the land can become a desert.

Conservationists also recognize that livestock can overgraze a plot of land until severe soil erosion occurs. About 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of topsoil are lost every year through erosion, and about 85 percent of this is the result of overgrazing by livestock.

Although major losses of productive agricultural lands occurred in the first half of the 20th century due to erosion, a major concern today is the loss of natural habitats as a result of commercial development. Large tracts of productive land an estimated 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) each year are lost through road building, suburban housing and industrial site developments, and airport expansion. New dams often flood some of the most productive agricultural land and natural forest habitats.

Posted 2011/12/21 by Stelios in Education

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CONSERVATION (Part 3 of 5)   Leave a comment

How Soil Conservation Works

Groups interested in improving farming practices have been around for many years. But the federal government did not get involved in soil conservation until the early 1930s.

Problems that occurred during the 1930s, such as the Dust Bowl, caused people to recognize the need for government leadership in the areas of soil conservation and farming.

  • Agricultural acts passed by lawmakers in 1929 and 1932 provided money to be used for erosion research.

  • In 1933, during the Great Depression, Congress passed a bill that would allow people without jobs to work in erosion control for the government. In this way, soil conservation could be put into practice and the unemployed would have work.

  • The Soil Erosion Service, later renamed the Soil Conservation Service, was created in 1935 as a result of this bill and has been responsible for managing conservation programs.

In 1933 the Soil Erosion Service (soon renamed the Soil Conservation Service) was created as a major division of the United States Department of Agriculture. The Soil Conservation Service has devised a land classification system that offers guidance in the proper use of land. Such factors as slope, type of soil, amount of rainfall, humidity, and vegetation type are considered when determining land use for maximum productivity. Of the eight government-designated land classifications, classes I, II, III, and IV may be used for cultivated crops; however, classes III and IV require skilful management to avoid serious erosion. Classes V through VII can be used for forests and for grazing. Class VIII land, which includes sandy shores and extremely rocky places, is considered suitable only for wildlife or for scenic and recreational purposes.

Covering the ground with plants is one of the key elements in soil conservation. To prove this, the Department of Agriculture experimented with two steep plots of adjacent land one planted with crops and the other thickly covered with grass. The cultivated plot lost 7 inches (18 centimetres) of topsoil in 11 years. By contrast, it was estimated that it would take 34,000 years to lose the same amount of topsoil from the grass-covered plot.

Plant cover tends to hold rainwater where it falls and thus prevents the soil from blowing or washing away. Gullies can be healed in many cases by planting new plants. They provide a tangle of leaves and stems that trap and hold in place part of the soil carried by run-off Another way to heal gullies is to build brush dams across them at regular intervals. Then soil and water running down the gully are caught behind the dams and held in place.

To help prevent the start of erosion, farmers may use a variety of conservation measures:

Contouring. This practice involves ploughing, planting, and cultivating sloping fields around hillsides, with curving furrows horizontal to the hill, instead of furrows running straight uphill and downhill. The curved furrows catch rainfall and allow much of it to soak into the ground. They also catch soil washing down from higher levels.

Strip-cropping. Strips of close-growing plants, such as grasses or clover, are alternated between strips of clean-tilled row crops, such as corn and soy beans The strips of close-growing plants hold water and keep it from eroding the cultivated strip below. These strips are planted on the contour.

Terrace, in geology, stretch of elevated, level land along banks of a river, lake, or ocean; frequently occur in series, one rising above the other; artificial terraces are used effectively in landscape gardening and in agriculture to hold moisture and prevent erosion.

Terracing. On long slopes a low ridge, or terrace, thrown along the outer side of the slope catches soil and rainwater and retards run-off Encouraging plant growth on a terrace will help hold soil.

Listing. In dry regions a Lister plough can be used to throw a ridge of dirt to each side, creating a trough about 18 inches (46 centimetres) wide and 7 inches deep. Crops are planted in the bottom of the trough.

Shelter belts On treeless plains, belts of trees planted at the edges of fields break the force of winds across the fields and reduce wind erosion.

Deep tillage (also called stubble mulching, or primary tillage), method of ploughing to conserve the land.

Deep tillage,stubble mulching. Instead of turning over the soil with a mouldboard plough, a deep-tillage plough breaks the soil below the surface. It leaves the surface vegetation or harvest remains from the previous crop to act as a cover.

Different crops need different substances, called nutrients, to enable them to grow.

Crops get these needed nutrients from the soil. If the same crop is grown in the same field every year, the soil will soon lose nutrients needed by that crop.

Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops in a field each year or every few years.

With careful planning, crops can be rotated in a way that builds up nutrients in the soil for the next crop. Here’s an example:

Many crops need nitrogen to grow, and they take it from the soil. Other plants, like legumes, take nitrogen out of the air and put it back into the soil. By rotating legumes with other crops, the nitrogen in the soil can be replaced.

Crop rotation. Planting different crops each year on a piece of land keeps the soil productive. One crop can benefit the next. For example, nitrogen is essential for plant growth and is added to the soil by legumes, such as clover, alfalfa, soy beans, and cow peas These combine nitrogen from the air with other elements and store it in the soil through their roots. In a year or two the plants can be ploughed under. This is called green manuring.

After the roots have rotted, other plants that need nitrogen but cannot use nitrogen in the air for example, corn and potatoes can use the stored nitrogen for growth. Rotations are programmed with strip-cropping by shifting the close-growing strips and the tilled strips at fixed intervals.

Water can be polluted by many things. One of these is the topsoil or silt that washes into streams and rivers. This silt washes into streams and rivers from land that has been badly managed.

When silt washes into streams and rivers, two harmful things may happen.

1) Silt that floats in the water limits the amount of air in the water. Fish need air to breathe. When silt limits the air in the water, the fish die.

2) As the movement of water slows down, silt drops to the bottom of the stream beds

There are ways of controlling erosion of silt from land into streams and reservoirs. Conservationists try to make sure that the right steps are taken to prevent the silting of streams.

Cover crops. Land is kept covered in winter and summer with either a growing crop or the residue, such as corn stalks, from the crop previously grown. When cover crops are ploughed under for green manuring, the plant foods added to the soil improve its water-holding capacity and increase its fertility.

Fertilization. Chemical or natural fertilizers replace the soil substances used up by crops.

Erosion on Urban Land

Crop land is not the only soil subject to erosion. The land on which housing and other urban projects are built is particularly susceptible because its protective cover is generally removed.

Mulch, material such as manure, leaves, pulverized earth, placed on surface of soil to retain moisture and to protect plant roots from frost.

To prevent erosion on construction sites, builders should take corrective action. For example, mulches placed on steeply excavated slopes usually prevent soil from washing or blowing away. Straw or fibre netting may be used as mulches. On sites where erosion control is more difficult, hydro seeding can be used. Grass seed, fertilizer, and mulch are power-sprayed on excavated slopes. The quick-growing grass then stabilizes the soil against erosion.

WILDLIFE CONSERVATION

The preservation of wildlife greatly depends upon water and soil conservation. All native plants and animals constitute the wildlife of a region and are a product of the land resources and habitat conditions. But, like humans, wild animals must have food, water, and shelter. Destroying the forests, marshes, ponds, and grasslands destroys their food and water supplies and the places in which they live.

1872: Yellowstone National Park. Although the concept of national parks was first suggested in 1832 by American artist George Catlin, it was not until March 1, 1872, that the first national park in the United States was established by Congress. Yellowstone Park was the beginning of a large system of 49 parks that today can be found in nearly all parts of the country. These parks, as well as other monuments, are managed by the National Park Service.

Once Yellowstone was opened, other countries began setting aside nature preserves similar to America’s national parks. Canada, for example, established a 10-square-mile area of hot springs at Banff, Alberta, in 1885 as a national park. Today there are national parks on all continents, except Antarctica.

Yellowstone is located in parts of three states: north-western Wyoming, southern Montana, and eastern Idaho; it covers 2,219,823 acres (898,329 hectares). Several sub ranges of the Rocky Mountains are in or around the park’s borders: the Snow Mountains, the Gallatin Range, the Absaroka Range, and the Tetons. Several national forests surround Yellowstone. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River is a 19-mile gorge running through the park. Among Yellowstone’s other distinctive features are 10,000 hot springs, including 200 geysers, many of which erupt to heights of 100 feet (30 meters). The most famous geyser is Old Faithful, named for the regularity of its eruptions.

The park is heavily forested, and in 1988 a series of disastrous fires destroyed much of its vegetation and animal life.

Of the original native wildlife of the United States many species are now extinct. These include the passenger pigeon, the Carolina parakeet, the great auk, the Labrador duck, the Pallas cormorant, the dusky seaside sparrow, and the heath hen. Mammals gone forever include the Eastern elk, the Plains wolf, the sea mink, and the Bad Lands bighorn. Many smaller birds and mammals have also become extinct in the wild. Populations of the ivory-billed woodpecker and the California condor no longer exist in the wild in the United States.

The number of moose, caribou, wild sheep and goats, and grizzly and Alaska brown bears grows smaller every year. Much wildlife is now protected by law from over hunting and overfishing. However, if habitat destruction of their natural homes continues, many will be unable to survive.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service maintains a list of endangered and threatened species of the United States. Environmental concerns for a variety of reptiles, amphibians, small fishes, insects, and molluscs is reflected in the number of species classed as threatened or endangered.

The Endangered Species Act has been effective for preserving some species that seemed destined for extinction. For example, the American alligator had been reduced to a relatively small number by the early 1960s due to illegal hunting for hides and meat. After 20 years of protection, the species recovered to such a large extent in many parts of its range that it led to a relaxation of the laws in the 1980s so that limited hunting was permitted.

Many events can cause a species of animal to become endangered. For example, some animals are killed because people want trophies or desire to wear clothing made from furs and skins.

However, the main reason many creatures have become endangered is because humans are destroying their habitats. Two such habitats are the Florida Everglades and the rain forests of Brazil. Too often, places that are attractive to animals are just as attractive to people, who want to build various facilities.

Unfortunately, nothing can bring back a species that has been lost. Such extinct creatures will only be seen in museums or pictures.

Worldwide, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources keeps track of species threatened with extinction. Endangered species include many of the world’s great cats, whales, certain species of rhinoceros, tapirs, and many other mammals, birds, and reptiles. Housing and other facilities needed by an expanding human population are encroaching on their habitats.

Many species are the victims of the illegal pet trade and of the trade in exotic pelts and skins; the increasing availability of guns and poisons is responsible for the extermination of other species. The African elephant, once common throughout the sub-Saharan region of the African continent, has been greatly reduced in numbers due to illegal poaching for the ivory trade.

Posted 2011/12/21 by Stelios in Education

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