Mother’s Day: Give a personalized tribute to Mom for Anna Jarvis’ holiday

Mother and daughter, back to camera, walking hand-in-hand in sunny cornfield

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, MAY 10: In 1908, a small church service in West Virginia gave birth to the American version of Mother’s Day—today, a national holiday that grosses billions of dollars in flowers, gifts and cards, and pays homage to the millions of mothers across the country.

Though versions of the current American Mother’s Day predated its creation—and, worldwide, several variations have existed for centuries—our modern American Mother’s Day will celebrate its 101st year in 2015. Ironically, the primary advocate of the first Mother’s Day—Anna Jarvis—soon regretted having petitioned so persistently for the holiday, as the commercialism that rapidly followed its ascent was a stark contrast to the small-scale, personalized holiday that had originally been envisioned. Nonetheless, experts attest that had it not been for the early commercialization of Mother’s Day, it—like other smaller holidays of its time—would likely have fizzled out.

The first “official” service took place at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. At this church, Anna Jarvis honored her mother, who had been a Sunday School teacher at the location. By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson had set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Care to learn more? This tiny church, built in 1873, became the site of an International Mother’s Day Shrine in the 1960s. Wikipedia has the details about this tourist destination that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.


Woman in middle being kissed by two children, with silly look on her face

Photo by Theresa Martell, courtesy of Flickr

During the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitation conditions, lower rates of infant mortality, fight disease and contamination and assist other mothers. When the Civil War broke out, women in these clubs looked after wounded soldiers. Following the Civil War, Jarvis and others organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics, as a means of uniting citizens from both sides of the former Union and Confederacy. (Wikipedia has details.) Julia Ward Howe—composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—went a step further, and publicly encouraged women to take an active political role in fostering peace.

Upon the death of Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, was prompted to organize a tribute service for her at her church. Jarvis distributed hundreds of carnations—her mother’s favorite flower—to mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton. With financial backing for the holiday from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, thousands of people attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in 1908.

Jarvis worked tirelessly to establish a national day for mothers, and by 1912, many states had adopted the holiday. (Learn more from Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association for her cause and, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson officially established Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.

Despite every intention by Jarvis, Mother’s Day became an enormously profitable holiday for the retail industry, confectioners and florists. The U.S. National Restaurant Association now reports Mother’s Day as the most popular holiday for dining out, and Hallmark reports the holiday as trailing only Christmas and Valentine’s Day in the volume of cards exchanged. The American version of Mother’s Day is currently also celebrated in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.


  • View President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, here.
  • Free Mother’s Day sermon ideas, available for a variety of denominations, are at
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Categories: National Observances

National Day of Prayer: The push and pull of an American holiday

“Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day.”
1 Kings 8:28, Scripture for 2015 National Day of Prayer

Hands folded in prayer over holy book with eyeglasses set on book and sun shining onto book

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, MAY 7: Days of fasting and prayer have been proclaimed since the earliest days of colonial America, and that tradition continues with the National Day of Prayer. The first Thursday in May each year, the National Day of Prayer is designated by the United States Congress and proclaimed by the President of the United States. The modern observance was made into law in 1952, to call Americans of a variety of religions to “turn to God in prayer and meditation.” Gatherings at houses of worship, artistic performances and shared meals are common on the National Day of Prayer.


Holidays often inspire unity, but many also spark long-running debates as they evolve. Our current observance of Mother’s Day runs counter to the simpler vision of its founder Anna Jarvis, for example.

These days, the National Day of Prayer is an annual occasion for as much controversy as unity. The national team that owns the holiday’s main website is closely associated with conservative Republican causes. They have defined the holiday, not as a religiously inclusive event, but as a day “to mobilize the Christian community to intercede for America’s leaders and its families.” The group also insists that America “was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible”—with no room for other religious perspectives.

Many National Day of Prayer events across the U.S. are exclusively Christian; many are held at evangelical churches. Local news stories scattered across the country, this year, also are reporting that key participants at some events represent conservative political causes. Nevertheless, each year, many groups who celebrate America’s religious diversity are trying to push back against this evangelical effort to corner the holiday.

In Michigan, a Sikh educator and peace activist, Raman Singh, has been named the new president of the nationally influential InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. This week, Raman Singh writes an open letter describing “An inclusive vision for National Day of Prayer.”


As was the first observance of Thanksgiving, collective days of prayer were not uncommon in the New England colonies. Traditionally, prayer conducted in autumn was undertaken with the intent of thanksgiving; in the spring or summer, prayer was combined with fasting.

The Continental Congress issued a proclamation for all colonists in 1775. Response to the proclamation of 1775 was, according to John Adams, “gratifying,” and he observed that more colonists paid tribute on the designated day than often attended Sunday church services. (Wikipedia has details.) Days of prayer and fasting continued to be proclaimed through the decades, and in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln established the first official Thanksgiving holiday. Eighty-nine years later, President Harry S. Truman established a National Day of Prayer, in 1952. (Read the proclamation here.)

The modern idea for a day of united prayer came during the Korean War, when the Rev. Billy Graham expressed a desire “to see the leaders of our country today kneeling before Almighty God in prayer. … What renewed hope and courage would grip the Americans at this hour of peril.” A joint resolution was introduced, and in 1952, President Harry S. Truman signed the bill.

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Categories: National Observances

Lag B’Omer: Jews count 33rd day in the Omer with bonfires, parades, archery

Tall bonfire with dusk sky in the background, people standing around fire

A bonfire for Lag BaOmer. Photo by TLV and more, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 6: Colossal bonfires blaze against the night sky across Israel and in Jewish communities worldwide for Lag BaOmer. During daylight hours, celebrants venture outdoors for picnics and children’s activities. The commemorations of Lag BaOmer are twofold: the holiday marks end of an ancient plague and, duly, the passing of the mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. On Lag BaOmer, thousands of Jews gather in Meron, Israel, at the tomb of Bar Yochai.

Literally 33rd day in the Omer, Lag BaOmer marks traditional anniversaries in the Jewish calendar. Between Passover and Shavuot, Jews are, per the Torah, obligated to count the days. (Learn more from Judaism 101.) The omer is a unit of measure, and each night from the second of Passover until Shavuot, Jews recite a blessing and count the omer in both weeks and days. During this period, men and women recall a plague that struck during the time of Rabbi Akiba; haircuts, weddings and parties are put on hold. On Lag BaOmer, the mourning restrictions are lifted. (Find local events, audio classes, related videos and more at

The Talmud relates that during the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, a plague hit Rabbi Akiva’s disciples, because of their disrespectful conduct toward one another. On Lag BaOmer, the dying ceased and, among the surviving students, was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Later, he became the most esteemed teacher of the Torah in his generation. He penned the classic mystic text, the Zohar, still revered by those who study Kabbalah. Today, the importance of love and respect is emphasized on Lag BaOmer, as is the great “light” that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai brought to the world. (Find stories, articles and more at

Some also are emphasizing Lag BaOmer as an anniversary of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire. In Israel today, Lag BaOmer is marked in varying ways. In 2004, the Israeli government began designating Lag BaOmer as a day for honoring the Israeli Defense Forces reserves.

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Categories: Jewish

Cinco de Mayo: Savor the spirit of Mexico on the 5th of May

Three girls in fancy red Mexican dresses and hairdos

Cinco de Mayo parade dancers in Denver, Colorado. Photo by Obie Fernandez, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, MAY 5: Cue the mariachi music and serve the tortillas—it’s Cinco de Mayo!

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. In the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, England and France, Cinco de Mayo is an occasion to revel in Mexican food, culture, dance and music.


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. (Learn more from 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. (Wikipedia has details.) 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.


While Cinco de Mayo is not marked with vigor throughout all of Mexico, the holiday is prominent in the state of Puebla. 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.

Open-face soft corn tortillas filled with shredded pork, tomatoes and cilantro

Mexican carnitas. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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 and HGTV.

Vegetarian? Try this compilation of recipes.

Before those Cinco de Mayo parties get underway, Taco Bell is offering free biscuit tacos to all patrons between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. on May 5. (Read more here.) The biscuit tacos, part of Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu, are biscuits molded into taco shapes and filled with eggs, cheese and bacon or sausage.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Vesak: Buddhists observe Buddha Day with candles, charity and meditation

Looking down at crowd of Buddhist gathered, all with candles and wearing white clothing, at night

Buddhists gather for Vesak in Thailand. Photo by Captain Supachat, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MAY 4 and MONDAY, JUNE 1: On varying dates in May and June, Buddhists around the world mark Vesak (spellings vary), also known as Buddha Day or Buddha’s birthday. For many Buddhists, Vaisakhi marks the collective birth, enlightenment and passing away of the historical Buddha, and the occasion is met with deep meditation, shared vegetarian meals, donations to charity and the ceremonial bathing of Buddha statues. (Learn more from BuddhaNet.) The date of Vesak is based on Asian lunisolar calendars, and is noted in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and several other South East Asian countries—along with various locations across the globe.

Buddha’s birthday, celebrated as Vesakha, was officially determined at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, in 1950. On Vesak, devout Buddhists assemble at a local temple for pre-dawn ceremonies, including the hoisting of the Buddhist flag. Devotees may bring offerings, such as flowers or candles, in representation of the objects of this world that fade away. (Wikipedia has details.) Monks provide lectures, and laypersons wear white clothing. It is expected that Buddhists will try to bring some happiness to the unfortunate on this significant day, and review the Four Noble Truths.


As holidays can lose focus amid commercialization and modern culture, however—as happened with the American Mother’s Day—so, too, Vesak has become, in some regions, an occasion for the sale of countless buckets, loads of lotus flower-shaped lanterns and an overabundance of candles. Distracting crowds form at some events. Focus is sometimes shifted from the simplicity of time in the temple.

Groups of Buddhists are urging devotees to reclaim the intent of Vesak, as is noted in The Nation. In the same way, the Asian Tribune recently published a story, with Vesak wishes, to its readers. In London, as celebrations begin for Vesak, a noted Buddhist figure was interviewed about the true reasons behind the holiday.

Since 1999, the United Nations has observed Vesak at its headquarters and offices.

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Categories: Buddhist

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

FRIDAY, 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.


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.


In 1988, the Beltane Fire Festival made an attempt to revive the energy and atmosphere of ancient Celtic bonfires. With a focus on appreciation for the cyclical nature of seasons and the environment, the first Beltane Fire Festival was organized in collaboration with a folklorist from the Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies. Five performers and less than 100 attendees were present; by 1999, the event drew 10,000 spectators. Today, approximately 300 performers attend and audience numbers vary between 6,000 and 12,000.

This year, organizers are announcing a debut of never-before-seen fire-related performance elements, along with glowing elements in a giant faerie garden made from wax gathered from Edinburgh’s underground caves. (STV Edinburgh has the story.)

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

It’s Spring! Enjoy these nationwide themes at work and home!

Field of yellow flowers beneath blue sky with some white clouds

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

APRIL and MAY 2015—Spring is in full swing as April and May unfold, bringing a rainbow of colors with flowers in the fields, in parks and in gardens everywhere. Till some soil and showcase the beauty of nature, because Earth Day and Arbor Day are both in April. Encourage conservation during National Park Week (April 18-26), and then welcome spring at its fullest on May Day.

If you’re stuck inside, days at the office are more fun by observing the Administrative Professionals Day in April, which may sound awkward, but your office will be a happier place if you remember it! There’s a lot of action at work this spring with Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, too. After work, spend some quality time with the family—May is National Family Month.

With warm weather and spring in the air, get outside and get active, as May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Surprise Mom with some flowers on May 10, for the American Mother’s Day, and remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

Also, bring awareness of Jewish American heritage and Asian/Pacific American heritage, as both will highlighted. Don’t forget about Mexican heritage, too—May 5 is Cinco de Mayo!

The month of April raises awareness of autism, and May brings Arthritis Awareness, Asthma Awareness and National Stroke Awareness Month. May is also Older Americans Month, so pay special attention to the older persons in your life—and learn more about the public issues that concern them. Eager to get outside and grill? May is National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month, so dust off those grills and fire ‘em up.

Check out these highlights …


Flat view of countries and oceans, world

Photo in public domain

Examine your daily impact on the environment—and what you can do to improve your carbon footprint—on Earth Day, an annual event that encourages all of us to understand environmental issues and take action. The first Earth Day launched in 1970, following a UNESCO Conference and fueled, in part, by the aftermath of a massive oil spill near the coast of California. An environmental teach-in drew 20 million participants nationwide and focused efforts within the United States. Since its fledgling beginnings, Earth Day has grown exponentially in global efforts, and now reaches close to 200 countries. This year, on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, the theme “It’s our turn to lead” brings grassroots to the forefront and encourages every world citizen to lead by example.

Make a difference! The year 2015 has been named the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. By composting your old fruit and vegetable peels, you can create rich soil—instead of letting the peels decompose in landfills where, without oxygen, they create methane. (Get a how-to here.) Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.


Soft tacos on plate topped with fresh lettuce, onions, tomatoes and other fixings

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Each year on May 5, citizens of the U.S., Mexico and beyond celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the 1862 Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla. May 5 often is mistaken for Mexico’s Independence Day. But, Cinco de Mayo is a big celebration of Mexican culture, history and cuisine around the world. What began as a small celebration by Mexicans in California, excited by news of the victory in 1862, has been observed in California ever since. In the 1940s, the Chicano movement fueled national celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and Cinco de Mayo soon became a national commemoration for Mexican culture. On June 7, 2005, Congress issued a resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation for the American people to observe Cinco de Mayo. Today, Mexican heritage is on display in schools, restaurants, public buildings and more worldwide.

Hungry for some authentic Mexican recipes? Find ideas at Food Network, Food & Wine and AllRecipes.

Young woman, fit, with weights in her hands and bending down

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


There’s no better time to get out and get active! Spring weather is rolling across the Northern Hemisphere, and May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Only 1 in 5 adults gets enough physical activity to see substantial health benefits, according to national reports. And those benefits are important: a lowered risk of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and some types of cancer are among a few. Studies also show that children who get enough exercise perform better in school, and fit older adults experience fewer falls and generally have better mental functioning. Spread awareness of the importance of physical fitness by holding a community event, Tweeting about the cause or writing about sports and health in a newsletter or on a blog. Aim to get 60 minutes of exercise per day, by walking, bike riding or using an outdoor community play area. Consider exercising during part of a lunch break at work.

Having trouble getting your family outdoors? Become part of UofM Dr. Wayne Baker’s campaign #OurKidsEarth

Learn more by visiting and


Older couple in hammock, smiling, man kissing woman on cheek

Photo by Patrick, courtesy of Flickr

The Administration for Community Living urges Americans to set aside time each May to observe Older Americans Month. In recognition of the contributions that seniors have made to their country, Older Americans Month promotes health and longevity of these important citizens through awareness programs, campaigns and more. This year, on the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, the theme is Get into the Act. Older Americans are being urged to engage in their communities through volunteering, mentoring and more. By highlighting issues like elder abuse and promoting healthy aging, and establishing programs that properly address the needs of older adults, the Administration for Community Living hopes to create a better quality of living for all older Americans.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances