Annie’s STEM Lab: The Benefits of Cold Weather

by Annie Savinon

As we say hello to the winter weather here in Buffalo, there are many mixed emotions we feel with the extreme temperatures that are headed our way! For my article this month, I wanted to share some science-backed facts that shed light on the BENEFITS of cold weather! As you are bundling up and dusting off that shovel this month, keep these facts in mind to help stay positive during our chilly season ahead of us! 

Did you know? 

The cold weather is known to boost your brain, helping one to think more clearly! In a study, it showed that human performance was improved when working in cooler temperatures versus warmer temperatures! Check out more information in this study from the National Library of Medicine

The cold temperatures are also shown to have a direct relation between the decreased chance of getting gestational diabetes. Repeated cold exposure has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. Gestational diabetes is a condition that can affect pregnant women, and women are encouraged to get tested for gestational diabetes while pregnant, due to a part of the placenta hormone can cause high blood sugar. In a study, pregnant women gestational diabetes was found to be in 4.6% of women exposed to cold temperatures, versus the 7.7% of pregnant women with gestational diabetes who were exposed to warmer temperatures. How interesting! Check out more information in this study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal

The cold can enhanceyour quality and duration of sleep! If you ask my husband and I, as current first-time parents to a newborn, there are few things better than a good night’s sleep! When one begins to fall asleep, your internal body temperature begins to drop, as a part of its natural circadian rhythm. Being in cooler temperatures this process can of course happen much quicker, if you are in a colder environment, versus a warmer environment. The faster one can get to sleep, the longer their sleep can be, ultimately resulting in a better night’s sleep. Also, it has been said that when sleeping in a cooler room, specifically at 66 degrees Fahrenheit, can aid in your ability to metabolize fat by 10 percent! 

It is important to remember, although there are benefits to being outdoors in the cold, it should be noted to make sure one is wearing the proper winter attire (clothing, shoes) to best be outside in order to best receive these amazing benefits! I hope you and your families enjoy a chilly and safe winter season!  

Did You Know? The Winter Solstice

By Mara Gordon

Season’s Greetings, E&M friends! Did you know that every year, there is a winter solstice, the shortest
day of the year? On December 21st, 2023, the planet will be tilted as far away from the Sun as possible,
with the fewest hours of daylight. After the winter solstice, days become longer and nights shorter as
spring approaches.

Humans may have observed the winter solstice as early as the Neolithic period or the last part of the
Stone Age. Neolithic monuments, such as Newgrange in Ireland and Maeshowe in Scotland, align with
sunrise on the winter solstice.

On the Winter solstice day, try standing outside at noon and looking at your shadow. It’s the longest
shadow you will cast for the year! If you do this again on the summer solstice day, there will be almost
no shadow. The winter solstice is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the return of sunlight by using
candles, lanterns, or LED lights to make the world bright & warm in the darkness.

Explore & More will be staying warm and bright during this winter season by hosting several holiday
events throughout December, with three classes of “Holidays around the World: Cookie Decorating”, a
“Cookies & Cocoa with Santa” event on December 23rd, and a Countdown to Noon on December 31st.
We hope to see you and your family celebrating with us at the museum!

Sources
“Winter Solstice – Date, Definition & Traditions.” Edited by History.com Editors, History.Com, A&E

Television Networks, December 4th, 2023, www.history.com/topics/natural-disasters-and-
environment/winter-solstice.

Will’s Culture Corner: December 2023 Edition

By Will Kawalec

For many in WNY, December marks the holiday season.  Whether Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Bodhi Day, or Festivus, there are many celebrations associated with the last month of the year.  As part of these celebrations people take part in countless traditions that usher in feelings of togetherness and nostalgia.  One of these traditions is creating a gingerbread house or baking gingerbread cookies.  This December’s Culture Corner will give a brief background on the history of the gingerbread house, and work to illuminate one of the holiday season’s most unique traditions.  Regardless, if you are a history nerd like me, the story of gingerbread is quite fascinating. 

For some food historians, gingerbreads origins date back to ancient Greece, as the oldest known recipe for gingerbread is attributed to the Greeks and is more than 4000 years old.  From ancient Greece, gingerbread spread throughout the ancient world and by the medieval age gingerbread was commonplace over most of Europe and much of Asia, many attribute its spread to trade via the silk road, and the mixing of cultures during the crusades.  During Medieval times gingerbread was especially commonplace in Western Europe, from festivals to royal courts, gingerbread became synonymous with celebrations. 

In the 16th century, gingerbread got even more popular with the help of royalty, more specifically Queen Elizabeth I, who historians credit for popularizing gingerbread that mimicked people or figures; thus, the gingerbread person was born!  Decorating gingerbread people became popular in the 16th century especially with the wealthy, as meticulous decorating occurred, golf leaf was even used making these cookies truly decadent.  Gingerbread continued to be relevant in society as the Early Modern Period rolled on, even making an appearance in one of Shakespeare’s plays; “And I had but one penny in the world, thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread” – Love’s Labour’s Lost (Wilson 2018). 

During this period the first gingerbread houses were created.  This occurred in Germany as bakers made elegant and intricate houses out of gingerbread, some historians believe the rise in popularity of these houses can be traced back to the Brothers Grimm who “wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest” (Avey 2022).  As popularity rose so did demand, “Gingerbread baking became recognised as a profession.  In the 17th century, only professional gingerbread bakers were allowed to bake the spicy treat in Germany and France.  Rules relaxed during Christmas and Easter, when anyone was permitted to bake it (Olver, n.d.).” 

These rules impacted the holiday traditions across Germany, ultimately becoming a mainstay of culture in the region.  This culture would be transported to the Americas as slews of European immigrants brought these traditions into what is now the United States.  In the U.S. these holiday traditions were continued partially because of their deep cultural roots but also because of gingerbread being accessible to people of every socio-economic status.  “Of all the Christmas pastries, the gingerbread cookie was one the one most loved by early American children.  I suspect that a large part of this popularity hinged on the fact that gingerbread was cheap, easy to make, a small batch would yield many cookies,” (Olver, n.d.).  It is fun to think of the earliest Americans enjoying a gingerbread holiday treat just as we do today. 

The ease of baking gingerbread and the accessibility of its ingredients has allowed the treat to be a holiday commonplace for centuries, making it one of the most well-known and widespread foods in history.  The next time you see a gingerbread house or gingerbread cookie, you can think back to the medieval people celebrating a fair with cookies decorated to look like lords or ladies, or an early 19th century Pennsylvanian family combining ingredients to share a sweet treat during cold winter months.  The history of this unassuming snack is one that dates back a millennium and understanding this, illuminates not only the history of gingerbread, but the history of our culture as well.  

Enjoy this recipe for ‘gingerbread cakes’ from an English cookbook from the year 1747.

“To make Ginger-Bread Cakes.  Take three Pounds of Flour, one Pound of Sugar, one Pound of Butter, rubbed in very fine, two Ounces of Ginger beat fine, a large Nutmeg grated; then take a Pound of Treakle, a quarter of a Pint of Cream, make them warm together, and make up the Bread stuff, roll it out, and make it up into thin Cakes, cut them out with a Tea-Cup, or a small Glass, or roll them round like Nuts, bake them on Tin Plates in a slack Oven.”

—The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Hannah Glasse, facsimile 1747 edition with introductory essays by Jennifer Stead and Priscilla Bain, a Glossary by Alan Davidson [Prospect Books: Devon] 1995 (p. 139) (Olver, n.d.).  

Avey, Tori.  2022. “History of Gingerbread | The History Kitchen | PBS Food.” PBS Food. December 1, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/.

Olver, Lynne. n.d. “The Food Timeline–Christmas Food History.” https://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html.

Wilson, Antonia. 2018. “A Brief History of the Gingerbread House.” The Guardian, December 22, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/dec/22/a-brief-history-of-the-gingerbread-house.

Explore Even More: Design Your Own Holiday Sweater

December is the time to cuddle indoors with cozy winter sweaters! If you could design your sweater, what would it look like? Print out this PDF of a sweater and add whatever you’d like to it! 

Items: 

  1. Sweater PDF – Click here to download
  2. Glue stick
  3. scissors
  4. Pom poms 
  5. Stickers 
  6. Yarn 
  7. Markers 
  8. Crayons
  9. Cotton balls 

There is no right or wrong way to design your sweater! Glue on pom-poms and yarn. Add stickers, and use markers and crayons to color it in. Have fun with it!

Be sure to share your sweater with us!
Ms. Jackie

A Letter from Lisa: December 2023 Edition

Dear Friends,

Family and cultural traditions can have a magical way of connecting our lives and generations. Have you ever prepared one of your grandmother’s holiday recipes with your kids, for example, or played her favorite game with them? Did you find yourself sharing stories about her and parts of her personality you see shining through in them?

Here are 3 ways you can use traditions—new or old—to reinforce the strengths of your family’s meaning systems and your relationships with your children.

  1. Share memories.
    Tell a story about a grandparent, aunt, neighbor, or someone else who you used to see during the holidays. Talk about that person’s qualities and what you, as a child, thought of them. Were they funny? What kind of stories did they tell? Did you learn anything from being with them? How did it affect you? When you talk about your own experiences as a child, you can open up a lot of insight for your kids about who you are, and their own inner workings.​​​
  2. Make something.
    It could be a new idea you saw on Pinterest, or something you’ve made for decades. Get your kids involved by telling them the story of what it means to you. Depending on your child’s age, you can break down the steps so they can contribute. (For example, toddlers can stir with a spoon with your help, while a 5-year-old might even try pouring the vanilla extract!) Talk out loud from step to step (like “hmmm—ok, what’s next?”) so they can chime in and feel like a helper. It doesn’t need to be perfect: the back-and-forth act of building something together matters most.​ Sidebar – My fourteen-year-old son still loves to bake with me. I hope this will always be so, but for now I’ll soak up all the time in the kitchen together that I can get!
  3. Fill your calendar with more than gift-getting.
    Kids can get hyper-focused on their wish lists and gift exchange. If you loved doing things around the holidays as a child—like ice skating or getting out in nature, put it on the calendar and help your child look forward to it year after year. This type of visual reminder will give them a sense of predictability and security that helps kids thrive. ​

Remember, this is also a time for deciding which traditions didn’t have meaning for you, and maybe felt full of guilty obligation! Take time to think about it, reflect on who you loved and  what you did with them as a kid and carry it on. 

Happy Holidays!​​

Lisa Chrapowicz
Director of Strategic & Community Initiatives

Field trips are back, please be aware that it will be busier than usual.