Chinese New Year: Welcome the Year of the Rooster!

Dragon held by people in sunny bustling downtown city

A Lunar New Year celebration in Australia, 2014. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28: The Chinese Year of the Rooster starts today with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.

CHINESE NEW YEAR:
FROM BUDDHA TO THE ROOSTER

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. In 2017, the 10th animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac—the rooster—will have supremacy.

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year.  In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

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Categories: International Observances

Holocaust Remembrance Day: World reflects on Elie Wiesel, genocide education

“I have tried to keep memory alive … I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the centre of the universe.”

-Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), from the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Oslo, December 1986

 

Asian woman looks at reflective wall covered in numbers, outdoors

A woman at the New England Holocaust Memorial, Boston. Photo by Wally Gobetz, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27: A focus on remembrance and education activities is the United Nations theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 under the title, “Holocaust Remembrance: Educating for a Better Future.” On this, the anniversary date of the liberation of Auschwtiz-Birkenau, every United Nations member nation is asked to commemorate the memory of those who perished during the Nazi genocide. According to the UN, the theme for 2017 emphasizes the fact that Holocaust education has a universal dimension and can serve as a platform for discussing human rights, increasing tolerance and defending the collective humanity.

(Note: The older annual remembrance of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah, will begin at sundown on April 23 this year.)

Following a 2005 session that marked the 60th anniversary of the liberation of concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust, the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Countries worldwide remember the 6 million European Jews and millions of others who lost their lives during the massive Nazi “Final Solution.” Each Jan. 27, the United Nations reinforces its rejection of denial of the Holocaust, its rejection of religious intolerance, and the need to preserve Holocaust sites. (Learn more from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.)

The camp we know as Auschwitz actually was a complex of three camps, and together, they were the largest such facility established by the Nazi regime. Auschwitz II—also known as Auschwitz-Birkenau—was established in 1942, and of the three camps, Auschwitz II contained the highest number of prisoners. Between 1942 and 1944, more than 1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; the largest group of Jews sent to the camp came from Hungary, in numbers approximated at 426,000. It wasn’t until Jan. 27, 1945 that Soviet forces evacuated Auschwitz.

HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY 2017: ELIE WIESEL & EXHIBITIONS

Some major observances of International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017 include remembrances of Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor, author of “Night” and Nobel Peace Prize winner who passed away in July of 2016. (CNN has a tribute article on the life of Elie Wiesel.) Other major events surrounding Holocaust Remembrance Day include the exhibition State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda; a screening of the documentary film Persona Non Grata, which reveals the story of a Japanese diplomat who issued visas to Jewish refugees in Kaunas, Lithuania, and saved thousands of lives; and a discussion entitled, “Sugihara: Being an Upstander in a Tumultuous World.” Memorial events are encouraged in all UN member states. (Learn more here.)

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesJewish

How are you marking this Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. ?

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address that would become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Above, Dr. King waves to the crowd of 250,000 that had come to witness his speech. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JANUARY 16—The holiday’s official name is “Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.,” but many people also refer to this annual milestone as: National Day of Service. In fact, the main federal website to get involved—and connect with others—is the National Service website. That site offers a lot of information about regional events and opportunities.

Many adults alive today recall the long and bumpy journey to establishing this milestone of the civil rights leader. And the story isn’t over …

King was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, some representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983. The holiday was first observed in 1986.

However, it took until 2000 for all 50 states to actively participate. To this day, a handful of states still officially insist on using alternative names and perspectives on the holiday.

KING’S LIFE AND LEGACY

ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine has lots of resources for reflecting on Dr. King’s life and legacy …

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Kwanzaa: Celebrate 50 years of African-American heritage

African-Americans dance in a circle around room, drumming, informal, with colorful hanging papers around room

A Kwanzaa celebration at the University of California, Berkeley. Photo by Reginald James, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa. This year, more families are expected to observe the festival because of publicity marking 2016 as the festival’s “50th anniversary.”

Smithsonian Magazine quotes a scholar describing Kwanzaa as “one of the most lasting innovations of United States black nationalism of the 1960s.” The Toledo Blade points out various ways Kwanzaa has made a lasting impact in this northern Ohio city. The Chicago Defender describes the arrival of this festival in Chicago half a century ago.

Green background, Kwanzaa candleabra in front with statues, dark unity cup and bowl of fruit

Elements of Kwanzaa. Photo by Joseph LaValley, courtesy of Flickr

Created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in the mid-1960s as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, Kwanzaa today is often focused on unity for all and on connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots.

Specifically, the “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.”

Did you know? “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest.”

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. (Wikipedia has details.) Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.

Did you know? The proper greeting for Kwanzaa is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”

Plate of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cooked collard and other fried foods in dimly lit room

Soul food is common at the Kwanzaa table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Household celebrations for Kwanzaa often include children, as do public Kwanzaa ceremonies. (Teachers and parents: You’ll find kid-oriented learning materials and resources at Scholastic.com.) Community gatherings may include music, drumming, dancing, libations and the reading of the principles. Artistic performances, storytelling and ritual candle-lighting are also common.

In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.

Hungry for a taste of Kwanzaa? Find recipes for traditional dishes, from sweet potatoes and collard greens to black-eyed peas, at Food Network and Food.com.

 

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Categories: National Observances

Christmas: Rejoice in the birth of Jesus with 2 billion Christians worldwide

Live Nativity with people

A live Nativity scene, from Radio City Music Spectacular. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 25: It’s Christmas Day for the vast majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians (including many Orthodox Christians in the U.S. who refer to the holiday as the Nativity), as the birth of Jesus is celebrated in great joy. While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph knelt beside their newborn son in a manger. On Christmas Day in most of the Church, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

Did you know? Some Christians around the world still mark Christmas according to earlier versions of global calendars, which pushes many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration.

A CHRISTMAS HISTORY

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

Dimly lit interior of church, decorated for Christmas

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the formative years of the Church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Certain saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

ORTHODOX CUSTOMS

About half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

Celebrating in January—for a variety of traditional reasons—are Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia. Mainly this variance involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity.

RECIPES & MORE

The Christmas pudding cooked on Stir-up Sunday is still traditionally served in some countries, but for others, Christmas today is more about cookies and peppermint sweets than old-fashioned fruitcakes and puddings. Interested to learn more?

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

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Categories: Christian

Winter solstice and Yule: Grab a warm drink, sit by the fire & enjoy winter’s peace

Glass of drink and cinnamon stick on table by fire in fireplace

Photo by Dennis Wilkinson, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 21: The pale winter sun’s waning rays give way to the longest night of the year, on today’s winter solstice—known also as Yule, or midwinter. One of the oldest celebrations of winter, Yule conjures visions of steaming cinnamon wassail, a crackling fireplace and the serenity of a blanket of snow. Despite the darkness and bitter cold, Yule is a time of joy: While enjoying the tranquility of midwinter, Pagans, Wiccans and many world citizens welcome the reemerging sun. Winter solstice marks a turning point when days begin, once again, to lengthen, and nights to shorten.

Wherever you live—and as long as men and women have walked the earth—the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice. Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun” and the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light. Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving, gambling and often ludicrous behavior. Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which will smolder for 12 days.

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Food Network, Taste of Home and Martha Stewart. Sit back, grab a hot drink and relax in the serenity of winter.

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule,” and during Yuletide—which lasted approximately two months—many participants paid tribute to the Wild Hunt (a ghostly procession in the winter sky) and the god Odin (the leader of the Wild Hunt). Of course, this depended on where you lived in Europe at that time. Traditionally, enormous feasts and livestock sacrifices were associated with Yule. So merry was the atmosphere in these activities, in fact, that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

WINTER: FROM MACHU PICCU TO DONGZHI

Pot of wassail with orange slices floating in it, steaming on a stovetop

Wassail cider cooks on a stovetop. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Solstice traditions have many names around the world: Inti Raymi in the Incan Empire in honor of the sun god Inti, and Soyalangwul for the Zuni and the Hopi. In Machu Piccu, there still exists a large stone column known as an Intihuatana, or the “tying of the sun”; ancient peoples would ceremonially tie the sun to the stone so that it could not escape. The East Asian Dongzhi festival recalls yin/yang and the dark/light balance of the cosmos.

YULE: EMBRACE THE CHILL

Winter got you down? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a recipe here. For an alcoholic version, check out the New York Times.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

Feast dishes like Shortest Day Ham Loaf, Brighter Day Cheese Ball, Solstice Surprise Salad and Roasted Lamb Feast for a (Sun) King are at Wicca.com.

Instructions for a Yule ritual with candles and blessings is available at this UK site.

Interested in Yule songs? How about a Yule altar? Get an altar how-to, learn Yule songs for kids, access a Yule playlist, find suggestions of things to hang on a Pagan tree and more at PaganWiccan.about.com.

 

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Celebrate light and freedom at Hanukkah

A Mother and Daughter light Hanukkah candles

Mother and daughter light Hanukkah candles. (Photo by Trinitro Tolueno, who allows public use via Wikimedia Commons.)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 24: On this night—and for a total of 8 nights—it’s Hanukkah. Jewish families light candles, fry up latkes and many children try their luck at a game played with a four-sided top known as a dreidel. Though not as religiously significant as other Jewish holidays, such as Passover and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is widely celebrated, and is easily recognized even by non-Jews.

Interested in crafting your own DIY menorah? Find tips and ideas for a fun homemade menorah here.

Several inspiring themes are part of this festival, including the power of light itself at this ever-darker time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. Another major theme of Hanukkah is religious freedom. As the traditional story is retold in most Jewish families, a wicked ruler more than 2,000 years ago was determined to force Jews to leave their ancient traditions behind in favor of practices drawn from Greek culture. Instead, a rebel force known as the Maccabees heroically defeated these rulers and restored the traditional rituals in the Jerusalem temple.

Did you know? The Maccabeats, an all-male a cappella group based out of Yeshiva University, is popularly known for its Hanukkah song, “Candlelight” (access the music video that’s been seen by more than 12 million viewers via YouTube).

Most Jewish families also retell a story about the small amount of sacred oil that was left in the rededicated temple—a tiny amount of oil that nevertheless managed to keep the temple’s light going for eight days. That’s why Hanukkah food traditions involve oil, to this day—especially potato pancakes better known as latkes.

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latkes and a fork by-Olga-MassovWANT TO TRY LATKES? FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis serves up a guest column about making these tasty potato pancakes.

 

THE MENORAH

Hanukkah is faithfully observed by most Jews with the lighting of candles in a nine-branched menorah with one candle for each of the eight nights and one extra candle (the shamash), which is often placed separately from the others. The shamash must be used for “practical” purposes, so that the remaining candles may be used solely for publicizing the miracle of the oil. Some families substitute small oil lamps for candles.

DEBRA DARVICK & THIS JEWISH LIFE

Cover This Jewish Life book cover by Debra Darvick

CLICK this cover to find out more about Debra Darvick’s book.

In her inspiring book, This Jewish Life, Debra Darvick writes dozens of true stories about Jewish men and women experiencing the seasons in Judaism. In one section of her book, she explains the basics about Hanukkah’s commemoration of “the Jewish victory over Syrian emperor Antiochus and his army. In 167 BC, Antiochus decreed the practice of Judaism to be an offense punishable by death. The Temple was desecrated, and the Syrians went so far as to sacrifice pigs in the Temple. A Jew named Mattathias and his five sons began a revolt not only against Antiochus, but against the Jews who were quite willing to take on the ways of the majority population and jettison Jewish practice. Three years later, the Maccabees, as the Jewish fighters were known, and their followers, were victorious and the Temple was once again in Jewish hands.”

She explains that “according to Jewish tradition, when the Temple was finally cleansed for re-dedication, there was but a single day’s supply of ritually pure oil for the ner tamid, the everlasting light that hangs in every synagogue as a symbol of God’s ever-presence. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the time needed to press and ritually purify additional oil for the ner tamid.”

Debra warns readers that this “is not the time of year to start a diet, for the two foods most associated with the holiday are latkes, potato pancakes, and sufganiot, Israeli for jelly donuts, both of which are fried in veritable lakes of oil.” Oh, and if that’s not a high enough calorie count—there’s also the “gelt, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.”

 

 

 

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Categories: Jewish