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

St. Andrew’s Day: Celebrate Scottish culture in honor of a disciple of Jesus

Line of formally dressed adults, some in traditional Scottish plaid, entering large room

Chief Executive of Scottish Development International Anne MacColl enters a room with First Minister Alex Salmond, and others, during a 2011 St Andrew’s Day celebration in Beijing. Photo by Don Yap, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30: A meek fisherman from the Sea of Galilee has spurred an international inspiration spanning more than 1,000 years, culminating annually in a feast known as St. Andrew’s Day. Ironically, little is known about the life of St. Andrew, aside from discipleship of both John the Baptist and Jesus, yet posthumous events have increased the saint’s popularity through the centuries. The Scottish flag, the Saltire, presents a visual reference to the X-shaped cross on which Christian tradition says St. Andrew was crucified on this date in 60 CE.

Legend has it that when a vital battle took place between the Picts and the Angles, in 832 CE, the St. Andrew’s cross appeared in the sky the morning of the battle; the Picts, encouraged by the symbol, were victorious in battle. Today, the Saltire is flown throughout Scotland and enormous festivals take place in honor of St. Andrew’s Day.


According to the New Testament, Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter and a fisherman at the Sea of Galilee. One day, Jesus approached the brothers and offered them the opportunity to follow—to become “fishers of men.” Both men followed Jesus. The Gospel of John tells the story slightly differently: that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist until Jesus came into their midst, at which point Andrew turned to follow Jesus, instead. Accounts tell of Andrew preaching far and wide until his death at Patras, where he was crucified. (Wikipedia has details.) It’s believed that Andrew requested to be crucified on an X-shaped cross, as he regarded himself as unworthy of being crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus had been.


White cup with lump of white soup, chives on top, roll of bread to the left

Traditional Scottish cullen skink with bread. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Though arguably most well known for his ties with Scotland, St. Andrew is also the patron saint of Greece, Romania, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Barbados and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Both Eastern and Western Christians honor St. Andrew on Nov. 30.

Documents indicate that St. Andrew’s Day has been a national festival in Scotland since the 11th century, and today, this feast is marked with an abundance of tantalizing Scottish food, rhythmic music, traditional dance and colorful shows. A week of celebrations takes place in Edinburgh, and St. Andrew’s Day kicks off the season of winter festivals across Scotland.

Cook up Scottish fare—from rosemary roasted lamb to spiced winter fruit with creamed vanilla rice pudding—with recipes found here.

Download the St. Andrew’s Day app, and gain access to a listing of worldwide events, interactive history tools and more.

Tune in, with a Scottish party playlist.

Get hosting tips with a guide to Scottish parties. (And Scottish whisky.)

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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 its 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

Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha: Baha’is recall life and death of Baha’u’llah’s son

“It is indeed strange that in an age of gross materialism and lack of faith a great philosopher such as he whom we mourn—Abdu’l-Baha Abbas—should appear. He satisfies our thirsty souls with teachings and principles that are the basis of all religion and morality.”
Jewish friend Salomon Bouzaglo in a speech at the funeral of Abdu’l-Baha

Black-and-white photo of man with white beard and white head covering

Abdu’l-Baha, 1912. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDOWN THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27: Baha’is worldwide celebrated the Day of the Covenant earlier this week, and faith figure Abdu’l-Baha is called to mind once again on the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. On this date in 1921, the son of Baha’u’llah—the Center of the Covenant—passed peacefully in his home. Following his death, mourners poured into Haifa for his funeral.

Notable Christians, Muslims and Jews all spoke at Abud’l-Baha’s funeral, collectively mourning the one who had passed. (Learn more from Between 1892 and 1921, Abdu’l-Baha led the Baha’i religion, exemplifying his faith through compassion, acceptance of all religions and peoples, and as an ambassador of peace. Abdu’l-Baha affirmed that, “Love is the most great law.”

Following several decades of working for the Baha’i faith and traveling widely to promote peace, Abdu’l-Baha died peacefully in his home, surrounded by family. As news of his funeral spread, the services drew crowds of “no less than ten thousand,” wrote a British High Commissioner, of the events. Similarly, the Governor of Jerusalem penned, “I have never known a more united expression of regret and respect than was called forth by the utter simplicity of the ceremony.” The coffin of Abdu’l-Baha was taken to its final resting place—in a vault on the north side of the Shrine of the Bab.


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Categories: Baha'i

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 Americans 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 harvest 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

Day of the Covenant: Baha’is celebrate Abdu’l-Baha, tenets of faith

Black-and-white photo of men in black coats in group, man with white beard in front

Abdu’l-Baha (at front, with white beard) in Paris in 1913. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDOWN TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25: Two unique Baha’i holy days commence this week, with the Day of the Covenant and the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. Both holy days are centered around Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’i founder Baha’u’llah. Yet these two holy days share another common trait: unlike most holy days of the faith, work is not suspended on the Day of the Covenant nor the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. (Learn more at

Though revered internationally and by top leaders of several major world religions, Abdu’l-Baha never considered himself more than his father’s servant. Thus, it is with an intentional sense of humility that Baha’is commemorate Baha’u’llah’s Covenant.


As his death neared, the aging Baha’u’llah wrote, in his Book of Laws, “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” Baha’u’llah, in explicit intention of keeping the Baha’i faith unified after his death, directed his followers to his son, whom he called the “Most Mighty Branch.” Abdu’l-Baha was given authority as sole interpreter of Baha’u’llah’s writings and the executor of his teachings. ( has more.) Abdu’l-Baha was made the center of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant.

From Baha’u’llah’s death in 1892, Abdu’l-Baha exemplified Baha’u’llah’s wishes by acting as an international advocate of peace. Abdu’l-Baha ensured that no schisms occurred within his father’s religious movement, and he demonstrated respect for persons of various religions and backgrounds. As his own death drew near, Abdu’l-Baha appointed his grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. Shoghi Effendi advanced the Baha’i community until it could maintain the institution of the Universal House of Justice, the elected international council and governing body that oversees the faith to this day. Each member of the Baha’i faith is expected to abide by Baha’u’llah’s Covenant in word and deed.


When Baha’is asked Abdu’l-Baha for a day to celebrate his birthday, Abdu’l-Baha refused to allow his actual birthday, May 23—as it was also the day that the Bab (“the gate”) declared his mission. Alternatively, Abdu’l-Baha gave the Baha’i people November 26 to celebrate the day of Abdu’l-Baha’s appointment as the Center of the Covenant. In the East, the Day of the Covenant is known as The Greatest Festival, in respect for Abdu’l-Baha as the greatest branch.

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Categories: Baha'i

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