The Three Weeks: Jews enter period of mourning for the Temples

Overhead view of people gathered at Western Wall, and in Jerusalem

Today, Jews gather at the Western Wall in anticipation of the day the Temple will be restored. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, JULY 4: A solemn period including a time of fasting begins for Jews around the world tonight in a tradition known as: “the Three Weeks.” Beginning on the 17th of the month of Tammuz, and ending on Tisha B’Av, Jews lament the destruction of the First and Second Temples and historical misfortunes of the Jewish people. Each day is met with a higher degree of lamentation than the last with the exception of Shabbat. There is also great hope, however, in this time of sadness: As the past and present are examined, Jews look to the future.

During the Three Weeks, observant Jews refrain from holding weddings, listening to music, celebrating in public, embarking on trips, having hair cut or shaved, and wearing new clothing. Learn more from A fast is undertaken on the 17th of Tammuz and on the Ninth of Av. (For guides, stories, multimedia and more, visit The period is known as “within the straits,” from the Book of Lamentations.

According to traditional texts: The Three Weeks encompasses the days when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans and both Temples were destroyed. The holy Temple that had stood in Jerusalem for 830 years was destroyed. This is also a period when Jews recall Moses breaking the original Ten Commandments. (Wikipedia has details.)

During this three-week period, Jews try to increase good deeds and charitable works, while intensifying Torah study.

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Categories: Jewish

Fourth of July: Americans from coast to coast celebrate independence

“All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. … For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
Thomas Jefferson, 1826

American flag flying on pole in dark, nighttime, fireworks in background

Photo by Liz West, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, JULY 4: Crowds line the streets for patriotic parades; the scent of barbecue draws family and friends; then fireworks light up the night sky on the Fourth of July, the National Day of the United States of America. Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

Vintage postcard of man in red, white and blue apparel with flag

A vintage Fourth of July postcard. Photo by Dave, courtesy of Flickr


With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence.

In June 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. A total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4 by the Second Continental Congress. On July 5, 1776, official copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed. (Learn more from

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day. Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.


A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. For facts about the Declaration, an archive of American recipes, access to Patriotic songs and more, visit Fireworks laws by state, July 4 celebrations at national parks and barbecue, travel and pool safety tips can also be found at


Nothing sets the stage for a summer party like the occasion of the Fourth of July! Dig up those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation.

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Taste of Home, Rachael Ray and Real Simple. HGTV offers traditional Fourth of July fare and cocktail ideas.

Red, white and blue batter cupcakes with white icing peak and American flag on top

Photo by Ginny, courtesy of Flickr

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 10 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from and Better Homes and Gardens. Parents offers kid-approved party ideas.

Holiday weekend travelers can look to this article from Forbes for tips on Fourth of July travel, utilizing this year’s timeline and an airfare predictor app.

If mosquitos are rampant, stay indoors with a lineup of patriotic movies—Forbes and offer a top-10 list of movies, including “Red Dawn,” “Johnny Tremain,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1776.”

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Asalha Puja: Buddhists recall ‘setting in motion the wheel of the dhamma’

Young, medium-skinned children in school uniforms carrying items in a line

Children in an Asalha Puja ceremony in Thailand. Photo by Nikodemus Karlsson, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JULY 1 and THURSDAY, JULY 2: Theravada Buddhists revere the teachings of the Buddha at his first discourse as part of Asalha Puja Day or Dhamma Day (dates vary by location). Following his enlightenment, Buddha was urged by his friends to begin preaching. When a journey ended in India, Buddha delivered his speech before five men. One of the men proclaimed an understanding of the Buddha’s concepts and asked to be made a disciple. The Buddha accepted, and the first order of monks was born.


In essence, Buddha’s first discourse contained the roots of all future teachings. Also referred to as “setting into motion the wheel of the dhamma,” the monumental first discourse set into place the four noble truths and the eightfold path. Today, all Buddhists—Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana alike—follow these basic assumptions.

In Buddhism, the four noble truths are as follows:

  • Life means suffering
  • The origin of suffering is attachment / craving
  • Cessation of suffering is attainable
  • The way of cessation is via the eightfold path

The eightfold path consists of: right understanding; right view; right speech; right actions; right livelihood; right effort; right mindfulness; and right concentration.

Across Thailand and other communities of Theravada Buddhists, Asalha Puja is an occasion for donations, making offerings to temples and witnessing sermons. The day following Asalha Puja begins, in many Theravada communities, the three-month “rains retreat.” While the rainy season renews life in the natural world, monasteries host monks and nuns indoors—so that the new life may not be disturbed. In centuries past, wandering monks halted their travels during the rainy season.

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Categories: Buddhist

Nativity of St. John the Baptist: Christians observe feast for the Forerunner

“I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John… [Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Jesus, in reference to John the Baptist, Luke 7:28

Painting of women and men gathered around young bab

An artist’s interpretation of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24: A central New Testament figure is honored in both the Eastern and Western Christian churches today, as the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. From the earliest days of the Church, St. John was considered a special figure. After all, aside from Jesus and the Virgin Mary, only John is honored with a feast day for his nativity. Known also as the Nativity of the Forerunner, St. John the Baptist is widely regarded for having foretold the coming of the Messiah in Jesus. Years later, St. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.


The biblical account of the birth of John the Baptist is contained in the Gospel of Luke. John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, had no children and were beyond childbearing age when Zechariah was visited by the Archangel Gabriel. (Learn more from American Catholic and Catholic Culture.) While on rotation at the Temple in Jerusalem, Zechariah was told by Gabriel that he and his wife would conceive a child, who should be named John. Disbelieving at first, Zechariah was left speechless until his son’s birth. (Wikipedia has details.) When the baby was born and the question arose of what to name him, Zechariah wrote, “His name is John.” With that, Zechariah was once again able to speak, and he prophesied the future ministry of John. (An Orthodox perspective is at


Fifteen churches were dedicated to St. John the Baptist in the ancient city of Constantinople, and from the earliest days, the Forerunner was honored as one of the greatest saints in Christianity. Ancient celebratory customs of this day began to resemble those of a pre-Christian summer festival in close proximity, and to this day, “St. John’s fires” are lit on hilltops across Europe while herbs are believed to hold greater strength than at other times of the year. In Germany, freshly-picked herbs are brought to church for a blessing. In many regions, meals are eaten outdoors with family and friends, and singing and dancing are popular activities. The faithful gather to pray for St. John’s intercession during the summer.

Note: A separate commemoration for the Beheading of John the Baptist occurs on August 29.

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Categories: Christian

Father’s Day: Celebrate America’s salute to 70.1 million dads across the nation

Father and young son looking at camera, close-up shot

Thanks, Dad! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 21: On the third Sunday of June, Americans from coast to coast are saying just one thing: “Thanks, Dad!” Since 1972, Father’s Day has been an official holiday in the United States.

Census estimates place America’s dads at approximately 70.1 million, and President Barack Obama encourages fathers to take the Fatherhood Pledge (here). Though several attempts were made for a commemoration of fathers, it was Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, whose proposal became today’s Father’s Day.

Did you know? Both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were first observed in a Methodist church.

After hearing a sermon for Mother’s Day at Central Methodist Episcopal Church, Sonora Dodd suggested to her pastor that a similar day be set aside for fathers. Dodd’s father—a Civil War veteran who raised six children as a single parent—inspired the Father’s Day founder to encourage a sermon for dads at her church. Several clergymen took to the idea, and on June 19, 1910, multiple Father’s Day sermons were presented throughout Spokane. (Wikipedia has details.) In the decades following, Dodd would secure trade group sponsors for the holiday, and by 1938, the Father’s Day Council was was responsible for commercial promotion. Many feared the over-commercialization of Father’s Day, but nonetheless, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation for fathers—designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day—in 1966. Six years later, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed it into law.


Black-and-white of man wearing suit and tie, isolated color of blues and white on necktie

Think beyond the necktie! Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Looking to spend some time with Dad today? Activity options are endless, but if you’re stuck, check out for suggestions of family activities, guides to national parks, museums, zoos and more.

Kids looking for a homemade gift idea? U.S. News has a multitude of ideas. The bonus? DIY gift suggested are even separated by age group. Creative older kids and adults can also craft Dad a gift with ideas from Martha Stewart.

Not sure what to buy Dad? News articles abound with gift ideas, but we love USAToday’s list to get Dad tech-equipped: from data-infused fitness apparel to the iGrill for ensuring a perfectly grilled piece of meat, we’re intrigued. For a good laugh, we love these 35 gift ideas from Real Simple, ranging from a functioning golf mug to a portable briefcase barbecue grill. Wondering what Dads overseas might get? The Telegraph has a roundup of inexpensive and amusing ideas, from beer-flavored jelly beans to animal skeleton playing cards to a horror novel inscribed on toilet paper.

Cooking Dad his favorite meal? Find recipes especially appropriate for Father’s Day at AllRecipes and Food Network.

Watching a flick with Dad? Find a list of movies fit for Father’s Day at TechTimes, from Father of the Bride to Mrs. Doubtfire to The Pursuit of Happyness.

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Categories: National Observances

Call it Litha, Midsummer or Solstice: Celebrate northern height of summer

Large crowd dancing outdoors in a circle, with farmhouse and meadows in background

Midsummer dancing in Sweden, June 2013. Photo by Lars Andersson, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 21: Picnics on the beach, Midsummer parties and bonfires abound at the summer solstice—and, across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year.” Astronomically, the summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s semi-axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined toward the sun; thus, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight today than on any other day of the year. (Wikipedia has details.) In several Scandinavian countries, the day is celebrated as Midsummer’s Eve and then Midsummer, complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old. Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life.

Smiling young girl with blonde hair and a crown of daisies and other flowers

A young girl wears a crown of flowers at a Midsummer celebration in New York. Photo by SwedenNewYork, courtesy of Flickr


In Scandinavian countries, the longest day of the year is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. Affectionately termed Midsummer, many spend the day outdoors with an extravagant smorgasbord lunch, games for the entire community, time at the beach, dancing and bonfires. (Learn more—and check out an authentic Swedish YouTube video of Midsummer—in our all-summer column.) Whether the long, dark Scandinavian winters are the reason for Midsummer exhilaration or it’s something else altogether, this holiday is unrivaled in many countries of the world.

Flower crowns are all the rage, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren and Cosmopolitan.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes and ideas on how to spend the longest day of the year, check out the UK’s The Independent.


Adherents of Wicca and Paganism look to the Sun God on the summer solstice, noting the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. ( has more.) In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle. Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

Interested in a modern-day take on gathering and drying healing herbs? Check out this story by Antioch College student Aubrey Hodapp, whose studies under an herbalist have helped her to deliver local, organic tea to her fellow students and much more (featured this week at FeedTheSpirit).

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Juneteenth: Celebrating 150 years of America’s end-of-slavery commemoration

African-American women at a table with purple t-shirts that read 'Juneteenth'

Women at a 2013 Juneteenth celebration. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JUNE 19: It was a sweltering day 150 years ago in Galveston, Texas, when Union soldiers—led by Major General Gordon Granger—landed, with news and an announcement: The war had ended and the enslaved were now free.

Though slaves had been freed more than two years earlier under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the deep South had felt minimum impact. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Northern forces were now strong enough to overcome resistance in the South.

On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger publicly read General Order Number 3, which read, in part:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

In reaction to the news, men and women who had been enslaved danced in the streets. Some immediately left their former masters in search of freedom or to find family members. (Check out PBS for more.) The next year, freedmen organized the first annual “Juneteenth” celebrations in Texas, using public parks, church grounds and newly purchased land for the jubilant parties. (Wikipedia has details.) Juneteenth became an occasion for prayer, family reunions, shared outdoor meals and public readings. Celebrations attracted larger crowds for many years, until looming economic and cultural issues of the early 20th century caused a decline. Juneteenth came back into favor during the Civil Rights movement, and in 1980, it became an official state holiday in Texas.

Peacemakers-cover-3D-120x180Did you know? Prior to emancipation, sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimke—daughters of a slaveowner— fought for complete abolition of slavery. Read about the sisters in Daniel Buttry’s Interfaith Peacemakers, or in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2014 bestseller, The Invention of Wings.

Today, Juneteenth is observed across America with Miss Juneteenth contests, parades, barbecues, traditional foods and outdoor games.  (Find recipes here.) Major institutions such as the Smithsonian and Henry Ford Museum have begun sponsoring Juneteenth activities, and in many areas, portions of General Order Number 3 are read. Juneteenth has, from its beginnings, focused on education and self-improvement, and celebrations often include public readings of the writings of noted African-American writers and singing. (Learn more from Currently, 43 states—along with the District of Columbia—recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or day of observance.

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Categories: National Observances