I’m a firm believer that nostalgia is one of the most enveloping and convincing story-telling tools. One of my favorite project of FableVision’s taps into the part of my brain that remembers loving Schoolhouse Rock! as a kid. When I started at FableVision about a year ago and saw this project, I fell in love with it. It tapped into something that felt friendly and likable.
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On Wednesday, Oct. 23, I had the opportunity to help WGBH in overseeing the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) Leadership Summit in Boston. The conference was organized to create dialogue about the RTT-ELC federal program among educators and administrators from museums, schools, government agencies, media companies, and nonprofits. The program is designed to close the achievement gap for high-needs children, and to ensure that all children enter kindergarten ready to succeed. Massachusetts received $50M over four years (2012-2015) to strengthen the state’s comprehensive early childhood education system.
Meatball. That’s the name given to a stuffed Koala bear that soldiered through my husband’s surgery with him nearly 23 years ago. A radiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital gave it to him during his stay and at some point, Mike says, he dropped a meatball on the bear – thus the name.
Every once in a while, especially around Christmas, I get the urge to switch gears from the virtual world of digital art and animation that I live in every day, to the tactile world of the physical crafts. For the past three years I have adopted one of my favorite American traditions - the making of a gingerbread house. From the ground up! It's a very fun process of creativity and problem solving, especially the latter, the more you run wild with the former.
My house begins as a paper model, cut and taped together to test the design and architecture.
Next comes the dough, mixed together from the basic ingredients - flour, sugar, molasses, ginger root, lots and lots of butter, and so on. The paper model comes in handy as a guide for the cutouts:
After the pieces are baked and have cooled and hardened enough, construction can begin. It's a delicate process, requiring steady hands and a certain order of events - what gets cemented with royal icing when and where, so the house doesn't collapse as you pile the pieces on. The most fun part is picking out the candy to decorate the house with - what can serve as shingles, what can be a door, etc. And then, adding the final touches with colored frosting, squeezed out from a ziploc baggie with one corner of it cut.
I usually add an extra element text to the house - a Christmas tree, or, this year, a snowman. The snowman was the biggest challenge, as his main body parts are jawbreakers - very unyielding things! Heavy and smooth, they kept rolling off of each other before the royal icing cement could harden to keep them in place. So I called in the heavy artillery - the drill. I drilled holes in the jawbreakers where two of them would meet, grated the meeting surfaces flat so the candy would sit on top of each other (and the base) without rolling of, and inserted a partial toothpick through the holes at the meeting point, to serve as an axis that connects the jawbreakers and keeps them together.
Now that the basic structure was staying in place, I cemented everything together with royal icing, and added a few details with colored icing squeezed out of the ziploc bag.
Everything used in this process is edible - the candy pebbles, the chocolate door, the sour ribbons for curtains and the snowman's scarf, the icing, etc. Another house, another challenge, another day of fun! (you can see my houses of Christmases past here and here)
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everybody!
Didi Hatcher (Lead Animator at FableVision)
Here at FableVision we pride ourselves on being a great mix of talents and personalities working together to reach all learners through media, storytelling and technology. Our staff has a great mix of cultures and traditions; we are lucky to have team members with ancestry from countries like Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece, Canada, Italy, Poland, and Japan. As Easter and Passover approach, we asked some FableVisionaries to share some of their holiday traditions. It was amazing to see just how varied our backgrounds are.
Passover and Easter celebrations, in a nutshell, are stories that matter and stories that move. These stories have room for interpretation and are rich with traditions and rituals. The differences in which our cultures celebrate and acknowledge these holidays are some of the creative ways we connect the dots between cultures:
Didi: "Bulgarian Easter is a family holiday that honors old traditions, and unlike other holidays, has mostly resisted commercialization. When I was a kid, I remember my mother and grandmother spending a whole day baking the sweet Easter bread-kozunak, my sister and I helping out with the laborious kneading. Every family had their own variation on the bread, the recipe passed down from mother to daughter and sometimes a closely guarded secret.
While the bread was baking, we'd dye the eggs, with a combination of contemporary dyes and traditional methods like onion skin, wax and spring blossoms. The colors of Bulgarian Easter are deep, rich, natural colors like red, orange, yellow and green. Unlike the faint pastel colors, they are saturated and symbolize strength and vitality. We kids would have a few eggs reserved for our own creative ideas - crayons, paints, glitter... I even used nail polish once!
On Easter morning, we would eat the bread for breakfast with Nutella spread on it, and have the Easter Egg Fight - everybody grabs a colorful egg and cracks somebody else's egg with it, the survivor then hits somebody else's surviving egg and so on until only one intact egg is left. The victor egg is kept around until next Easter, at which point it is ceremonially broken, and if it hasn't rotten, then the year will be good! (eggs have a sneaky way of neatly drying out into a little ball... so the year is always good!) After the egg fight, we'd take a plate of Easter bread and dyed eggs to every neighbor, who would in turn give us some of theirs, so we can all try each other's bread recipes and egg dying techniques. Easter was among my favorite times of the year, when we'd all come together to create beautiful and delicious things that we would then share with our neighbors. I truly miss that spirit of the holiday, but try to keep up my side of it every year by baking my mother's bread recipe and dying brightly colored eggs the way grandma taught me, and then sharing them with my friends".
Margarita: "In Greece we prepare the traditional Easter bread- tsoureki and we dye the eggs red (red is the color of life as well as a representation of the blood of Christ). However, it's some of our other traditions and rituals that set us apart and make the holiday truly fun and unique.
For us, Holy Friday is a day of mourning, not of work (including cooking). Flags are hung at half-mast and church bells ring all day in a slow mournful tone.
Then on Saturday, the celebratory mood starts with the arrival of the Eternal Flame by a military jet. It is distributed to waiting Priests who carry it to their local churches. This event is always televised and everyone awaits it!
Another unique tradition in Greece takes place at the end of the Saturday midnight services. As soon as "Christos Anesti" (Christ has Risen) is called out, church bells begin to ring non-stop, ships in ports all over Greece sound their horns, floodlights are lit on large buildings, and great and small displays of fireworks and noisemakers are set off. This really kicks off the celebrations for Easter Sunday.
On Easter Sunday, the customary main attraction of the holiday is the whole roasted lamb or goat, to represent the Lamb of God. The spits are set to work, and grills are fired up. Ovens are filled with traditional accompaniments and all the trimmings. Great Greek wines, ouzo, and other drinks flow freely, and preparations for the meal turn into festive celebrations even before the eating begins".
Fiana: "In Ukraine, Easter was always one of my favorite favorite holidays. Some of the traditional rituals include the whole town going to the Church on Sunday night with a prepared basket of Easter Breads and eggs for the priest to bless. One of my favorite memories about this particular ritual was the 'Krestiniy Khod' 'Christ's Walk'- it is a walk around the church with burning red candles and prayer. Then the priest shouts 'Christ is risen' - and all the people answer - 'Indeed risen!'
Like many European regions we have a traditional Easter cake-Paskha. It is usually baked like a pyramid, which symbolizes the Tomb of Christ and is decorated in colorful icing, raisins or sprinkles and optional religious symbols. We also paint eggs into different colors and designs. Then on Sunday we exchange the eggs and the Easter cakes with our family and neighbors. My town used to take the egg painting tradition further and decorate empty egg shells and hang them from the trees for the whole town to see. This was a beautiful sight because the town had an opportunity to bond.
Another tradition that is popular in my town during the Easter celebration is tying the day of remembrance of our friends and neighbors into the celebration. Traditionally on Saturday everyone made their way to the cemetery and the whole family ‘shares’ the Easter meal. The priest from the Church makes his rounds to bless and visit with the families at the gravestones. Candy and the Paskha are left on the gravestones and kids go around collecting them as a sign of their acknowledgement and respect for the dead.
Although there was a thick religious influence to this day, to me the holiday was aways a strong emphasis on community, respect and welcome spring".
Renee: My parents used to leave a trail of milk chocolate eggs from my bedroom to the back door, leading me to believe that the Easter Bunny was in my room while I was sleeping...it was TERRIFYING!
Naomi: "One of my favorite Passover traditions is called Bdekat Chametz, which translates to 'Searching for Unleavend Bread' (Jews are commanded to not eat chametzfor the duration of the Passover holiday). Bdekat Chametz is a ritual that involves a feather, a flashlight and oftentimes cheerios (little bits of chametz) hidden around the house. The child (or grown-up child) in the house goes around the house with the flashlight and the feather and collects all the "remaining" pieces of chametz in the house. These pieces are then ritually burned the next morning, making the house (at least) ritually free of chametz.
I always remember the search being very fun as a kid and now that I have a kid, it was very fun to do this with her (here's a fun video of Sylvia searching for chametz) But for me, the searching for chametz has always had greater meaning. Sure, we're looking for little breadcrumbs, but I like to think of chametz as things that are stuck in our lives that we need to be freed of. Things like getting upset about unimportant things, excessive worry, self-doubt. I like to think of cleaning out chametz as looking inward at the things we want to clean out of the crevices in our mind, leaving us all more free by the next morning".