Advent: Preparation for Christ’s coming begins for Western Christians

Wreath of greens with five lit candles, in building

An Advent wreath with all candles lit. Photo by Christine McIntosh, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30: Advent wreaths glow and the anticipation of Jesus’s birth begins as Western Christians around the world begin the season of Advent. In the four Sundays leading to Christmas, many Christians light a new candle upon the wreath. Often, these wreaths are a part of congregational worship during this season—but many families also make their own wreaths at home.

For Western Christians, Advent focuses on both the ancient arrival of Jesus and the Second Coming; on both spiritual longing and alertness. Most churches are draped in purple and/or blue during the Advent season, representing penitence and hope.

Did you know? Eastern Christians began the Nativity Fast—the Eastern equivalent of the Western Advent—on November 15. The Nativity Fast lasts 40 days, and incorporates prayer and strict fasting.

Each Sunday during Advent, a new candle is lit on the Advent wreath. Typically, an Advent wreath is fashioned of evergreens and contains three purple candles and one rose one, with an optional white pillar candle at its center. The rose-colored candle is lit on the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday, and the white candle may be lit on Christmas Eve. (Tradition varies: in Protestant churches, candles are often red, and in Anglican and Lutheran churches, blue candles are common. Wikipedia has details.)

In 2014, the four Sundays of Advent will be: November 30; December 7; December 14; and December 21.

Origins of the Advent wreath are believed to be Germanic, though opinions vary. The wreath’s circular nature now represents the eternity of God, and the increasing glow of the candles symbolizes a people previously living in spiritual darkness and, at last, witnessing the coming of the Light of the World. Advent calendars and Jesse Trees have also gained popularity of use during this Christian season. (For more Advent info and definitions, visit

Make a DIY Advent wreath, with information on structuring a base, candle-holders, greens and decorations at Catholic Culture.

Create a chic Advent calendarno matter what your taste—with the multitude of ideas suggested by Martha Stewart. For European flair, check out the related article from the UK’s Daily Express.

Blessings for the Advent wreath, for a Christmas tree and more are at the official site for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Categories: Christian

Black Friday: When to open? Close? The debate rages in 2014

Row of shopping carts in colors purple, orange and blue

Will you be among the millions shopping on Black Friday this year? Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28: Post-turkey sleepiness doesn’t stand a chance with the millions of shoppers hitting stores on Black Friday, an American holiday shopping custom that has skyrocketed in recent years. Original use of the term “Black Friday” was associated negatively with the less-than-ideal conditions that occurred from the shopping chaos of the day following Thanksgiving. As years passed, though, the term morphed into its current meaning: as a day that retailers move from operating at a financial loss (“in the red”) to a period of profit (“in the black”). (Wikipedia has details.)

Black Friday is unofficially considered the start of the holiday shopping season, although holiday-themed marketing starts earlier each year.

In recent years, retailers have been opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday, with some pushing their hours into the evening of Thanksgiving. This year, some major retailers are proudly announcing that they will not make their employees work on Thanksgiving Day, despite the loss of profits. (New York Times has the story.) Internationally, Black Friday, along with its corresponding Cyber Monday and Cyber Week, has gained immense popularity.


From its origins describing the chaos of post-Thanksgiving shopping, Black Friday only gained it’s No. 1 ranking as the busiest shopping day of the year in 2003. (Prior to 2003, Black Friday made the list of top-10 busiest shopping days of the year.) For several years, stores opened their doors at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, but in 2011—major retailers like Target, Kohls, Macy’s and Best Buy opened at midnight. In 2012, Walmart and others announced sales as starting on Thanksgiving evening; this year, Walmart will span its best deals over a period of five days.

This year, more than two dozen nationwide retail chains—including Costco Wholesale, Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Crate and Barrel—have announced that store employees will be able to enjoy the entire Thanksgiving holiday away from work. In Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island, “blue laws” ban stores from being open on Thanksgiving Day. (Read more from the Huffington Post.)

Though their Thanksgiving holiday occurred weeks ago, Canadians have been getting into the spirit of Black Friday during the past decade, and 2012 saw the biggest Black Friday to date in Canada. Online retailers like Amazon and Apple have begun reaching out to the United Kingdom, and Black Friday was promoted in Australia by Online Shopping USA in 2011. Last year, Forbes reported that Cyber Monday had gained unprecedented popularity.

Are millennials to blame for the demand on Thanksgiving Day shopping? Some surveys have found that millennials are much more eager to shop on the American holiday than those of the Baby Boomer generation, TIME reported recently. Yet when all factors are taken into consideration, millennials also stand by the idea that employees should be able to spend Thanksgiving Day with their families—even if it means slowing down on the 24/7 deals that millennials have become accustomed to.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Thanksgiving: Recall Pilgrims and Wampanoag on America’s holiday

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Abraham Lincoln, October 1863, Proclamation for Thanksgiving

Vintage depiction of little girl in blue dress with red bow holding mirror and showing a turkey his reflection

Thanksgiving greeting card, c.1870. Photo courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27: Savor the tantalizing smells and clasp your hands together in gratitude, for the holiday of (American) Thanksgiving. ReadTheSpirit has lots of Thanksgiving-related resources, sparked by last year’s 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of the first annual nationwide observance in 1863. Here is our extensive Resource Page on Lincoln and the Season of Gratitude.

You’ll find a Thanksgiving prayer in the words of Abraham Lincoln that you can use with family and friends, plus this year we have a news story from a town in Belfast, Maine, right along the Atlantic coast, where people are gathering for a potluck dinner to mark this “Season of Gratitude” and remember Lincoln’s original proclamation.


Of course, most Americans know that there were earlier Thanksgiving events down through the centuries. In 1621, Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native American shared such a feast in Plymouth. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

That Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures: the Wampanoag and the Europeans. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. A plentiful harvests was just one of several reasons for a Wampanoag ceremony of thanks. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. (Find more historic details at Or, Wikipedia has more.) The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Often, church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday. Later, public officials joined with religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” (Visit for interactive resources.) National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.


Even families that rarely visit houses of worship muster a prayer over the Thanksgiving table. But how much do you know about Americans’ preferences in prayer? How often do we pray? What do we pray for? Religion news writer David Briggs has assembled a surprising quiz on Americans’ habits of prayer. We challenge you to take this little test! (No question. You will be surprised.)


Plate from above of Thanksgiving sides and turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, roll, etc.

Photo courtesy of Smiley Apple Blog

The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation. In 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held annually in New York City—and “America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held in Detroit. To this day, both parades welcome tourists and locals alike and are widely televised. Several U.S. cities host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast.

Many foods common on the Thanksgiving table are native to North America and to the season, such as corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squashes and cranberries. Mealtime prayers and worship services are still common on this holiday of gratitude.

Recipes, décor and hosting tips: Find recipes, menus and more at Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious. Of course, at ReadTheSpirit, we especially encourage you to explore Bobbie Lewis’s weekly columns at FeedTheSpirit. Scroll through Bobbie’s columns and you’ll find lots of yummy recipes (and inspiring stories).

Vegetarian guests? Please guests sans the turkey with menu suggestions from the New York Times, here and here.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents, Parenting and Disney.


Hot off the press this Thanksgiving are headlines that Black Friday may soon be a permanent fixture in our American Season of Gratitude.

Why? Blame it on “the millennials.” They’re demanding more shopping hours on Thanksgiving Day, claim marketing analysts. (Read more in our full story on Black Friday.) Findings reveal that while Baby Boomers are happy to stay seated at the table, millennials are in a rush to wrap up the turkey for leftovers and hit retail stores. What these findings don’t take into consideration, however, is the tendency for millennials to enjoy shopping in general more than the Baby Boomer generation. (TIME has the story.) In addition, most millennials don’t yet own a home and are unlikely to be hosting on the holiday—something that may very well change in time.


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Categories: National Observances

Stir-up Sunday: Observe Feast of Christ the King with plum pudding

“And he hath on his garment and on his thigh written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Revelation 19:16

Christmas pudding on red plate with white sauce on top

Steamed Christmas pudding, traditionally made on Stir-up Sunday. Photo courtesy of Christmas Stock Images

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23: Prepare the Christmas pudding and pay tribute to Jesus triumphant on the Feast of Christ the King. During the last Sunday before Advent, Western Christian churches (Roman Catholics and most Protestants) recognize Jesus as the king of the Church and of every nation; throughout the Advent season, Christians await the “coming King.”

For the world’s billion-plus Catholics, an official Feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in response to what he saw as growing secularism around the world. The pontiff emphasized Christ’s royal reign over all nations and peoples. (Wikipedia has details.)

Culturally, the Sunday before Advent had long been associated with the “stir-up” of Christmas puddings—thus earning the nickname, “Stir-up Sunday.”


The Book of Common Prayer of 1549 (CE) contained a collect (opening prayer) that was used in Mass on the last Sunday before Advent. Its contents read, in part: “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people …” Christmas puddings traditionally had to stand for several weeks, and as such, this reminder to “stir up” was taken literally by cooks, who would begin making puddings after the day’s church services. Though more popular in Britain than the U.S., puddings were and still are a part of the Feast of Christ the King. Families can still gather in the kitchen after Mass, soaking dried fruits and stirring the pudding that will grace the Christmas table. In some households, elders place coins and other trinkets in the pudding, which are believed to bring luck and health to the recipient.

Regional variations of the traditional Christmas pudding are as diverse as the places from which they come, and ingredients can range from dried plums, orange peels and currants to macadamia nuts and dried pineapple. Those looking for a traditional recipe can turn to Catholic Culture and the BBC food blog. Savvy cooks can check out what chefs out of the UK are saying this year. The best part about trying a hand at steaming the Christmas pudding? Reviving a tradition that is in danger of being lost.


In many parts of the Christian Church, congregations organize processions for Christ the King and recite prayers with this intention. Catholic Culture encourages adherents to read the writings from Pope Pius XI and Pope John Paul II on Christ as king (readings and more available here).

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Categories: Christian

Nativity Fast: Eastern Christians prepare for birth of Jesus Christ

Cathedral building of light browns and beige colors, ornate with dome tops and Orthodox crosses, on sunny day

Nativity of Christ (Orthodox) Cathedral in Riga, Latvia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Preparations for Jesus’s birth begin in the Orthodox Christian Church as adherents begin the 40-day Nativity Fast.

The faithful are supposed to undertake this challenging tradition with joy and in a spirit of earnest anticipation. By fasting, Orthodox Christians embrace their own humanity and, at the same time, the moment at which God became human, according to Orthodox teaching.

The Nativity Fast is divided into two periods: November 15-December 19, and December 20-24. Both fasting periods follow the traditional fasting discipline (without meat, dairy, fish, wine or oil), but each also allows for fish, wine and oil on specific days. Several other holidays will fall within the Nativity Fast, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day, the Sunday of the Forefathers and the Sunday of the Fathers. (Wikipedia has details.)

Orthodox theology holds that bodily fasting ultimately influences the soul. During the Nativity Fast, the faithful turn away from worldly desires and toward God. The fasting includes not only bodily abstinence, but also fasting from negative emotions, hatred and greed. Prayer and almsgiving are a major part of the spiritual discipline. (Learn more from Orthodox Church in America.)

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar and the Revised Julian calendar. Followers of the Julian calendar, which is currently 13 days behind the Gregorian, will begin the fast on November 28 of the Gregorian calendar.

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Categories: Christian

Birth of Baha’u’llah: Baha’is recall anniversary with gatherings for unity

Ornate home with wooden doors and manicured yard in stately manner

In respect for Baha’is, ReadTheSpirit will not feature a photo of Baha’u’llah in this post. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah’s photograph should be revered in utmost respect, and not displayed openly. Therefore, the above photograph is of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, in Israel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11: The birthday of Baha’u’llah—the founder of the Baha’i faith—is celebrated with excitement by the faithful. One of nine holy days in the Baha’i calendar, the Birth of Baha’u’llah is rapidly approaching a centennial: Baha’u’llah was born on November 12, 1817.

Baha’is were instructed by Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, to observe the holy day in community.

As Baha’u’llah’s mission was to foster universal peace, his birthday is an occasion for community prayers. Gatherings and programs are held in homes, at local and national Baha’i centers and at Baha’i houses of worship.


Mirza Husayn Ali was born November 12, 1817, in Tehran, Persia (now Iran). The son of a wealthy government minister, Baha’u’llah was born into wealth and prestige. His family’s lineage could be traced to the ruling dynasties of Persia’s past, and at the time of his birth, Mirza Husayn Ali’s family still exercised influence over the court of the Shah. (Learn more from Baha’

From a young age, Mirza Husayn Ali was rumored to be “different” than his peers. The child was wise beyond his years, showed immense compassion for the poor and displayed an unusually alert mind. (Wikipedia has details.) Of his childhood, Abdu’l-Baha says, “It was usual for them to say, ‘Such a child will not live,’ for it is commonly believed that precocious children do not reach maturity.”

Mirza Husayn Ali did reach maturity, though not without tumult. When he showed support for the Bab and the emerging Babi religion, Mirza Husayn’s life began to crumble. In 1863, Mirza Husayn announced himself as the One promised by the Bab, and became known as Baha’u’llah. As the years passed, Baha’u’llah was subject to exile, violence and imprisonment. (View photos of significant places in Baha’u’llah’s life here.)


In questions submitted to Baha’u’llah after he wrote the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah described his own birthday and the birthday of the Bab as “twin birthdays” that are one in the “sight of God.” Though the birthdays have been celebrated according to the solar calendar each year in most of the world—and Baha’u’llah’s birthday fixed on November 12—that will change in 2015.

The Universal House of Justice announced that from March 20, 2015 onward, the “twin birthdays” will be observed on the first and second days following the eighth new moon after Naw-Ruz. Therefore, from March 2015, the Birth of Baha’u’llah will no longer be celebrated on a fixed date, and will change annually.

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Categories: Baha'i

Veterans Day: Honor those who served (with resources and more)

Womens war memorial Washington DC

WHO ARE OUR VETERANS? This close-up photo from the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington DC reminds us that an ever-growing portion of our 22 million American veterans are women. The population of veterans also is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. CLICK ON THIS PHOTO to read a 5-part OurValues series by sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker exploring American veterans’ lives.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11: Salute the brave men and women whose sacrifices have kept America free and fighting for justice, on the anniversary of Armistice Day—better known nationally as Veterans Day.

Around the world, November 11 is remembered as the day an armistice—a temporary cessation of hostilities—went into effect between the Allied nations and Germany, unofficially ending World War I, in 1918. Europe, Britain and the Commonwealth countries commonly observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. each November 11; Canada pays tribute with Remembrance Day; the United States marks Veterans Day; and Britain keeps the second Sunday of November, with Remembrance Sunday.

Each year on Veterans Day, Americans rally behind their veterans, showing thanks with processions, ceremonies, television specials and words of gratitude. In the United States, the Veterans Day National Ceremony is held at Arlington National Cemetery each year, and several communities hold parades and other activities to honor their local veterans on November 11. Several restaurants and businesses in the U.S. offer free or discounted meals and products to veterans on Veterans Day. (Find a list of restaurants and stores offering discounts, here.)

Care to read more?


Following the armistice that halted World War I (“the war to end all wars’”) in 1918, it took just one year for President Woodrow Wilson to declare the first Armistice Day. Proclaimed in November of 1919, Armistice Day was soon elevated to a legal holiday. By 1954, following World War II and the Korean conflict, the word “Armistice” was replaced with “Veterans,” to honor more than just the veterans of World War I. (Learn more from Wikipedia and

Today, Veterans Day honors all veterans, and is observed as a federal holiday on November 11.


RESOURCES: Teachers can incorporate lessons related to Veterans Day with help from the 2014 Teachers Guide, available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Students can also learn about Take a Vet to School Day, Veterans Day history and more.

TV SPECIAL This Veterans Day, Scripps Networks Interactive will be showcasing “A Hero’s Welcome,” the first program scheduled to appear on all of the media giant’s channels: the Cooking Channel, DIY Network, Food Network, Great American Country, HGTV and the Travel Channel. (Watch the trailer here.) The 60-minute special will feature veterans and, of course, Scripps Networks celebrities. (The New York Times reported.) The special will run once on each channel between 9 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. ET on November 11.

FOR FAITH GROUPS: The Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes that faith groups can be fundamental in easing the burdens and injuries experienced by many veterans. The VA shares resources with faith groups. Learn more about President Obama’s Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and reach out to the veterans in your community.

HEADSTONES: Interested in which religious/belief emblems are available for government headstones and markers? Check out the list, here.

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Categories: National Observances