Memorial Day: Paying tribute to fallen soldiers & former slaves—plus recipes, songs

Sailors beneath large American flag

Sailors open an American flag. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, MAY 29: Across the U.S., remembrances are observed and grills fire up for Memorial Day, which began in May 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.

BUT FIRST, HOLIDAY TRAVEL NEWS!  AAA estimates that more people will get away this Memorial Day weekend than have in the past 12 years, with 39.3 million U.S. travelers expected, according to a forecast released Wednesday. That represents an increase of 1 million—2.7 percent—more travelers this year than last Memorial Day weekend. Most of the travelers—88.1 percent, or 34.6 million—will drive to their destinations. Also, look for historic deals: Look around your region at history-themed parks and museums. Some will be opening for the summer season around this three-day weekend. Some have special Memorial weekend deals for visitors, including special offers for veterans. And, observe the National Moment of Remembrance. The official national Moment of Remembrance, established by federal action, is actually a rolling minute of silence, set for 3 p.m. in your respective time zone.

PBS MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT

Boy flag concert

A boy at the Memorial Day Concert. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Don’t miss this! It’s on the evening before Memorial Day—Sunday, May 28—carried via the PBS network nationwide from Washington D.C.

According to PBS’s pre-broadcast plan for the live event: The 2017 concert will feature tributes to the last surviving Doolittle Raider, Colonel Richard Cole, and the 75th anniversary of that daring bombing mission over Tokyo, as well as the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force and some of the most skilled aviators of World War II – the Tuskegee Airmen. In addition, the concert will honor the legacy of Jerry Colbert, Founder and Executive Producer of Capital Concerts, who passed away in January 2017.

Emmy and Tony Award-winner Laurence Fishburne is stepping in to co-host the 28th annual edition of the National Memorial Day Concert with Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna. Sinise will present a 75th anniversary salute to the Doolittle Raiders, the daring aviators who changed the course of World War II in the Pacific. The all-star lineup for the event includes: General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.); Renée Fleming; Vanessa Williams; Scotty McCreery; John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting; John Ortiz; Mary McCormack and many more. Auli’i Cravalho will open the show with a special performance of the national anthem.

THE FIRST MEMORIAL DAY (AKA DECORATION DAY):
PROPERLY CREDITING COURAGEOUS FORMER SLAVES

All American history books haven’t been revised—and some websites produced by various agencies of the federal government still have the “old” versions of the “first” Memorial or Decoration Day. One U.S. veterans website still credits Waterloo, New York, as well as some Confederate women’s groups in 1866 as the “firsts.” So, ReadTheSpirit celebrates the growing awareness of the role of courageous former slaves in 1865. Now, Wikipedia, the PBS network itself and a growing number of history textbooks credit the courageous former slaves in 1865 with the “first.”

As of Memorial Day 2013, Wikipedia now reports:

The first well-known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. … Blacks in Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen had cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the dead. Involved were 3,000 schoolchildren newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, and black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

ReadTheSpirit online magazine has been covering this progressive correction of our American historical record for a number of years. For more on David Blight’s work and the Charleston event in 1865—including the text of a contemporary newspaper story—see this earlier Memorial Day story we published.

HOLIDAY RECIPES & GREAT OLD SONGS!

RECIPES: Find an array of recipes fit for a picnic, a barbecue or a more elaborate meal from Food Network, Taste of Home, Food & Wine, AllRecipes and Kraft.

GREAT OLD SONGS: The Libary of Congress has one of the best online indexes for Memorial-themed reflection—featuring links to patriotic American songs. The Library of Congress index provides stories about the origin of these classics, plus many of these links lead to high-resolution images of early sheet music you can print. The list of nearly 30 venerable tunes includes: America the Beautiful, Anchors Aweigh, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, Fanfare for the Common Man, Marines’ Hymn, This Land is Your Land and You’re a Grand Old Flag.

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Ramadan: Muslims fast during ‘longest days’ of the calendar year

Woman stands below grand ceiling, hands raised, looking at ceiling, in dress and headscarf

A Muslim woman offers a Ramadan prayer. Photo by Thamer Al-Hassan, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET FRIDAY, MAY 26: As a crescent moon appears and is spotted around the globe, the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims—nearly a quarter of Earth’s population—begin the month of Ramadan. (Note: Starting dates in communities around the world may vary by location and by method of calculation.)

Because the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and is a time of great feasting and family celebrations. The majority of our readers live in North America—and, this year, the Islamic Society of North America, says the Eid will begin on Sunday June 25.

As Ramadan moves slowly around the Gregorian calendar, 2017 will cover some of the “longest” days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere—which, for observant Muslims, equates to more hours of daytime fasting. This year, Ramadan will incorporate the summer solstice, on June 20—the “longest” day of the year for those living in the North.

A GROWING POPULATION

This spring, the Pew Research Center’s analysis of global religious trends reports that—based on worldwide patterns of childbirth—Islam is likely to emerge as the world’s most rapidly growing religion in the years ahead. You can download the complete report here in PDF format. That Pew report is the source of our reference above to 1.8 billion as the world’s current Muslim population. Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with 2.3 billion adherents, Pew reports.

MORE THAN FASTING …

The Beauty of Ramadan by Najah Bazzy front cover (1)

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Najah Bazzy, author of The Beauty of Ramadanreminds readers in her opening pages that Ramadan is about far more than denial of food and water during daylight hours. Bazzy, a nationally known expert on cross-cultural healthcare, covers many of the health-related issues in her book. But she calls on a traditional text credited to the Prophet Muhammad for the deeper meaning of this special month. In addition to fasting, prayer and Quran study:

Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders. Have pity on those younger than you and be kind toward your relatives and kinsmen. Guard your tongues against unworthy words, and your eyes from such scenes that are forbidden and your ears from such sounds as should not be heard. Be kind to orphans.

Bazzy’s book explains much more about the rich experience of this month for Muslim families. It also clearly explains a lot about the month’s practices, making the book helpful for educators, anyone in public service and neighbors or co-workers with Muslim friends.

FASTING & IFTAR

Fasting is a tradition in nearly all of the world’s great faiths—but the word “fasting” can refer to many different forms of this ancient tradition. In some traditions, giving up meat or other kinds of foods is a fast. In other groups, a fast may be the elimination of a single meal—or it may refer to avoiding food, but not liquids.

Three dates in wooden bowl

Three dates are traditionally consumed at the end of each day’s fast during Ramadan. Photo courtesy of YouTube

Muslims observe the month of Ramadan with a strict sunrise-to-sunset fast, which means that nothing passes the lips during those hours. All food and drink (including water) is prohibited. Meanwhile, prayer is increased, as is reading from the Quran. According to Muslim belief, the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad occurred during Ramadan, and as such, observance of the month is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Many Muslim communities around the world invite special vocal interpreters of the Quran to come to mosques and chant the sacred text, night after night, until the entire holy book is completed.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims partake in a pre-dawn meal known as the Suhoor, and do not return to eating until after sunset—with the iftar.

Three dates customarily break the fast each day of Ramadan, and an iftar meal is often an occasion for social gatherings, large feasts and buffet-style hosting. Occasionally, Muslims describe the night-time iftar tradition as “like a series of Thanksgiving dinners,” because friends and family often visit each other during the nights of Ramadan—and favorite dishes frequently are prepared for these feasts.

A lantern with colored glass on each side, reflecting colors onto walls around it

A Ramadan lantern. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

ZAKAT GIVING & ‘NIGHT OF POWER’

In addition to fasting, Muslims donate to charity during Ramadan. Charity, known as zakat, sometimes translated as “the poor-rate,” is an obligatory practice.

Laylat al-Qadr, or the “night of power,” is considered the holiest night of the year and commemorates the night the first revelation of the Quran was sent to Muhammad. Around the Islamic world, traditions vary for identifying the date of Laylat al-Qadr—though it is generally believed to fall on one of the odd-numbered nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Do you know Muslim friends, neighbors or co-workers? Michigan State University’s Joe Grimm reports on an easy and friendly way to reach out during Ramadan.

RAMADAN NEWS 2017

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Categories: Muslim

Mother’s Day: Give thanks to Mom and celebrate mothers nationwide

Young son kissing mother, mother smiling

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNDAY, MAY 14: Give thanks to Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day!

The modern observance of Mother’s Day began with Anna Jarvis in 1908, when she collaborated with the founder of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. From the beginning, Jarvis specified the day should be “Mother’s Day,” as a singular possessive, so that each person would honor their own mother. Jarvis herself promoted the holiday tirelessly until she caught the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, who made the day an official national holiday in 1914. Unfortunately, the day became so commercialized that Jarvis later regretted having established the holiday at all.

Did you know? Mother’s Day yields the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Most churches honor their congregation’s mothers in some way—with a special prayer, perhaps, or in many congregations, with a flower.

RECIPES, GIFTS & THE MOTHER’S DAY MOVEMENT

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart and AllRecipes for ideas and recipes.

Flower bunch pink carnations

Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

In search of the perfect gift?

  • Find an array of clever ideas, from state cutting boards to a perfume sampler box, at Romper.com.
  • Got a mom who loves to travel? Find ideas in this article, from Chicago Tribune.
  • Know a Millennial mom? This list was rounded up just for them, from Money.
  • Is Mom active? Try the gift list at Forbes, for everything from sportswear to ski lift ticket charms.
  • Does Mom enjoy personalized gifts? Try these handmade gift ideas, courtesy of CBS Boston.

Care to care more? The Mother’s Day Movement supports women and girls in the developing world, with the belief that empowered women strongly impact the lives of their children and their communities. Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day. This year, the Mother’s Day Movement is focusing its campaign on Nurse-Family Partnership, an organization that aids first-time moms in impoverished situations from pregnancy through the child’s second year.

MOTHER’S DAY: ORIGINS OF THE HOLIDAY

While the modern observance of Mother’s Day began just a century ago, celebrations for women and mothers have been common throughout history. Greeks worshipped the mother goddess Cybele, while the Romans held the festival of Hilaria; Christians have observed Mothering Sunday for centuries, while Hindus have honored “Mata Tirtha Aunshi,” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.” The first American attempts for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” arose in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to support disarmament in the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Several decades later, Anna Jarvis created a holiday that became the Mother’s Day we know today.

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Categories: National Observances

Vesak: Buddhists worldwide live by the Dharma to celebrate Buddha

Temple lit with lights at night, against water

The Gangaramaya Temple, in Sri Lanka, during Vesak. Photo by Nazly Ahmed, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, MAY 10: The word “Dharma” resounds around the world this week, as Buddhists, monks, non-Buddhists and international UN offices pause to observe Vesak. A Buddhist observance, Vesak recalls a trio of events: the birth, enlightenment and death of Guatama Buddha. Per the request of Buddha himself, devotees focus especially on carrying out the Buddha’s teachings by living kindly, giving generously and abiding by the Dharma (or Dhamma, spellings vary). Specific dates of observance are determined by various lunar calendars, and so vary slightly.

A VEGETARIAN MEAL AND HYMNS OF PRAISE

Despite varying dates, Vesak celebrations across the globe begin the same way: with adherents gathered at a local temple, before sunrise, to watch the ceremonial hoisting of the Buddhist flag. Hymns of praise rise through the air, as attendees line up to offer flowers, candles and food. A shared vegetarian meal with follow, but it’s in the flowers and candles that devotees understand the truth of Vesak: that life, as with all things, will wither away and decay. All that is eternal is the Dharma truth.

VESAK ACROSS THE GLOBE

The World Fellowship of Buddhists tried to formalize the celebration of Vesak as Buddha’s birthday in 1950, although festivals of a similar fashion had been custom for centuries. Aside from parallel morning ceremonies, Vesak festivities vary around the world: In Sri Lanka, two days are set aside for Vesak and liquor shops, slaughter houses and casinos are closed; in Japan, a sweet Hydrangea tea is poured over statues. Nepalis can claim Lumbini as the birthplace of Buddha, and their holy temple—Swayambhu—is opened only one day per year, on Vesak. Since Vesak is a public holiday in Nepal, even non-Buddhists get into the spirit by donating and volunteering on this special day. Processions line the streets in many countries during daylight hours, while colorful lanterns light the skies at night.

In 1999, the United Nations resolved to internationally observe Vesak at its headquarters and offices.

NEWS 2017

Wonder how Vesak will be observed around the world, this year?

 

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Categories: Buddhist

Cinco de Mayo: Celebrate Mexican culture and say ‘Ole!’ for the fifth of May

Kids dressed in Mexican traditional dress, outside

Kids at a Cinco de Mayo festival in Texas. Photo by Memorial Student Center Texas A&M University, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MAY 5: Warm the tortillas and smell the tantalizing aromas of a sizzling Mexican kitchen—it’s Cinco de Mayo!

Today, Mexican culture resonates around the world: The American President officially declares the holiday; Canadians hold street festivals; Australians put on a cultural fest and Brits celebrate with a toast to Mexico. Cinco de Mayo is an occasion to revel in Mexican food, culture, dance and music. Many American schools and communities hold Mexican educational events, and iconic Mexican symbols—including the Virgin of Guadalupe—are displayed. May 5 is also celebrated throughout the state of Puebla, in Mexico, though ironically, global recognition of the Mexican nation on this day didn’t start in Mexico: it started in the United States, where Americans of Mexican origin were commemorating a Mexican victory in the Battle of Puebla, of 1862.

Spanish for the fifth of May, Cinco de Mayo recalls the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. A true underdog story, Mexico was exhausted and in debt from years of fighting when its poorly equipped, outnumbered militia took on the well-outfitted, larger French army that hadn’t been defeated in decades—and won.

Though the win was fairly short-lived, it nonetheless gave Mexico’s army and people a much-needed sense of national pride that is still remembered today. Since the first local Cinco de Mayo parties hosted by Mexicans mining in California, the holiday has expanded internationally.

THE BATTLE OF PUEBLA: A BOOST IN NATIONAL SPIRIT

Fish tacos on blue plate

Mexican seafood tacos. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Decades before the Battle of Puebla, Mexico was at a tumultuous time in its history. After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, internal political takeovers ravaged the nation. The Mexican-American War took place from 1846-1848, and one decade later, the Mexican Civil War left the country in financial ruins. Deeply indebted to several countries, Mexico was left with no means for immediate repayment—and, as a result, France’s desire for expansion was fueled.

When Mexico stopped paying on its loans to France, the French installed Archduke Maximilian of Austria, a relative of Napoleon III, as ruler of Mexico. French forces invaded Mexico and began marching toward Mexico City, until Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin and his small militia stopped and defeated the famed French army at Puebla. Though victory was short-lived, and Napoleon soon sent additional military forces to Mexico, the Battle of Puebla had boosted the national spirit.

CINCO DE MAYO: THEN & NOW

In the United States, Mexican miners living in California fired shots and fireworks upon hearing news of the Battle of Puebla in 1862, and the holiday has been celebrated in California ever since. When the Chicano movement crossed America, Cinco de Mayo awareness grew. By the 1980s, marketers began capitalizing on the holiday and Cinco de Mayo gained national popularity. Today, many countries of the world celebrate Mexican culture on the 5th of May.

RECIPES & MORE

Hints of lime, fresh salsa and warm tortillas bring the tastebuds to Mexico like little else, so this Cinco de Mayo, cook up some south-of-the-border cuisine!

Find an array of delicious recipes from Food Network and Taste of Home.

Those hosting a party can find decoration ideas, food suggestions and more from Martha Stewart.

Vegetarian? Try this compilation of recipes.

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Categories: International Observances

Ridvan: Baha’is wrap up the ‘Most Great Festival’ on sacred 12th day

Red chip path leading down tree-lined garden, blue bench and table with food to the sides of path

The Ridvan Garden. Photo by Daniela Kantorova, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET , MONDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan, and today, that festival wraps up with a day reserved for the recollection of a pivotal day: the day Baha’u’llah’s and his family departed the garden for Constantinople. For many Baha’is, work and school are suspended all day.

During Ridvan, those of the Baha’i community gather, pray and hold celebrations. Local Spiritual Assemblies—that is, the governing bodies of Baha’i communities worldwide—are elected on the first day of Ridvan.

THE BAB, BAHA’U’LLAH & THE NAJIBIYYIH GARDEN

The festival of Ridvan recalls a sacred period when Baha’u’llah, the Promised One for Baha’is, entered and temporarily took up residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, in 1863.

The story of Ridvan, however, actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in Najibiyyih Garden—with a man who called himself “the Bab” (translated, the Gate). The year was 1844 CE when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, of Shiraz, made the proclamation that he was the Bab—and that a Messianic figure was coming. Nine years later, the man known as Baha’u’llah experienced a revelation while imprisoned in Tehran, Iran: he was the Promised One foretold of by the Bab.

After release from prison, Baha’u’llah settled in Baghdad, which was becoming the center of the Babi (followers of the Bab) movement. Though he made no open claims related to his revelation, Baha’u’llah slowly began attracting more and more Babi followers. The growing Babi community, along with Baha’u’llah’s increasing popularity, caused the government to exile Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. After having packed his things, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih garden to both receive visitors and allow his family sufficient time to pack for the journey.

On April 22, 1863, Baha’u’llah moved to a garden across the Tigris River from Baghdad with his sons, secretary and a few others. In the Najibiyyih Garden, Baha’u’llah announced his prophetic mission to a small group of close friends and family. In addition, Baha’ullah made three announcements: that religious war was not permissible; that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.

THE ‘MOST GREAT FESTIVAL’

Formerly known as the Najibiyyih Garden, the site was renamed by Baha’u’llah as “Ridvan,” meaning “paradise.” During the 12 days that he was in the garden, Baha’u’llah was hardly alone—visitors, family and friends filled the garden to pay tribute and spend time with Baha’u’llah. (Photos of the garden are at Bahaullah.org.)

 

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Categories: Baha'i

Beltane: Welcome summer the ancient Celtic way

Young girls in fancy matching dresses dance around a Maypole with ribbons in their hands, others dance while crowd looks on

Children in Wiltshire dance around a Maypole, an integral part of ancient Beltane celebrations. Photo by Anguskirk, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MAY 1: An ancient Gaelic festival ushering in the joy of summer blossoms across Ireland and Scotland, parts of Europe and in Wiccan and Pagan communities worldwide, as Beltane. (In the Southern Hemisphere, Wiccans and Pagans mark Samhain.)

Enormous bonfires light a night sky that paints the backdrop for elaborate costumes, reenactments, dancing, fire-jumping and a revival of ancient rituals. Edinburgh now draws tens of thousands of attendees annually for its Beltane Fire Festival, which boasts hundreds of volunteers and performers; in some areas of Scotland and Ireland, remnants of old Beltane customs still remain. Halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice, Beltane has always ranked among the most significant of pagan festivals.

As usual, some of the most interesting Beltane headlines are coming from Scotland. This year, for example, the Herald and other Scottish news sources are reporting on a special “family day” program that’s been added to the huge Edinburgh festival.

BELTANE: FLOWERS, BONFIRES AND A MAYPOLE DANCE

The earliest Irish literature mentions Beltane, and for the pastoral Celts this festival marked a key time of year. In daylight hours, cattle were adorned in flowers and driven to summer pastures; at nighttime, people and cattle walked or leapt between bonfires in a cleansing and protective ritual. During this sacred time of year, early pagan customs were meant to protect crops, cattle and people from disease and other forces of nature. (Wikipedia has details.) A home’s doors and windows were decorated with May flowers, and holy wells were visited. The morning dew of Beltane was believed to hold unique qualities that conserved youthfulness and beauty. Candles and hearth fires that had been put out on Beltane Eve were re-lit with the Beltane bonfire.

Dark, nighttime, outdoors, crowds in front of building with pillars holding enormous bonfires

The Beltane Fire Festival at Edinburgh. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As Samhain commemorates the dark half of the year, Beltane celebrates the light half of the year. New life springs forth, the sun returns in full strength and energy is abundant. In centuries past, both Beltane and Samhain were regarded as days of “no time”—that is, when veils between this world and the other world are thinnest. With this belief, pagans would protect themselves and their homes from spirits and mischievous faeries with rituals and natural objects, such as rowan branches, on the outside of their homes. Dancing would commence throughout the countryside and, following a promiscuous night in the woods, young people would gather in the morning to weave the ribbons of the Maypole. Feasts ensued, which were often accompanied by athletic tournaments, costumed performances, an elected king and queen and the decoration of flower wreaths and garlands.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan