Equinox, Ostara, Norouz and other worldwide celebrations welcome spring

Springtime tree branches covered in pink blossoms

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

MONDAY, MARCH 20 and TUESDAY, MARCH 21: Across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are looking toward spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient phenomenon fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz.
  • For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme throughout is joy in the promises of new life; a specific joy that comes with the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans reflecting on the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

THE NORTH WELCOMES SPRING (VERNAL EQUINOX)

On March 20 at 10:29 UTC, the 2017 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Green shoots sprouted grass in container, tied with pink ribbon, sitting on brown half-wall seat

Spring sprouts for Norooz. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year, many families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

A BAHA’I NEW YEAR: NAW-RUZ

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and that fast is broken for Naw-Ruz: the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

Wire basket of differently-colored, natural eggs

Eggs are a common symbol of springtime. Photo by woodleywonderworks, courtesy of Flickr

A PAGAN AND WICCAN SPRING: OSTARA

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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Categories: Baha'iInterfaithInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Midsummer, Litha and solstice: Welcome, summer!

Three older girls smile while wearing wildflower crowns

Girls pose in Midsummer crowns of flowers. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JUNE 20: Bonfires, picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound today, at the summer solstice. Across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year,” meaning that for astrological reasons, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight than on any other day of the year. In 2016, summer solstice will occur at 22:34 Universal Time (UTC).

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

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 Conrad.com.

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, visit Bon Appetit or ScandinaviaFood.com.

Strawberries and cream in cups on tray of wood filled with wildflowers, red drink bottles in background

Strawberries—usually ripe for the picking at Midsummer—have a place at almost every Swedish smorgasbord luncheon. Photo by Karlis Dambrans, courtesy of Flickr

MIDSUMMER ACROSS THE GLOBE

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE CELEBRATION

Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note 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. 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: InterfaithInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Chinese New Year: Ring in the Year of the Monkey, China’s historic policy end

Multi-level mall decorated with big hanging Chinese symbols and red knotted ropes

Chinese New Year decorations at the atrium of Plaza Singapura, Orchard Road, in Singapore. Photo by Choo Yut Shing, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 8: Roast pigs and noodles, red envelopes, lanterns and gold-embellished décor usher in the 2016 Chinese New Year of the Monkey, which sweeps the globe and sets Chinese celebrations in motion for more than two weeks.

A primary festival day actually occurs one day before the Chinese New Year’s Day, forming the ‘Excluded Evening’ on Feb. 7 that is reserved for family reunions. For many, an entire week is given off of work, for parties and visits, while some festivities carry on even longer. This year, London claims the biggest party outside of Asia, with additional large-scale revelries in Argentina, Australia and the United States.

WORLD’S LARGEST HUMAN MIGRATION

How big is this holiday? News wire services around the world, from Reuters to CNN, regularly describe this enormous holiday movement of families as “the world’s largest human migration.” In fact, Chinese railroad stations are designed with extra capacity to handle this vast homecoming. According to National Geographic:

Every winter, hundreds of millions of Chinese return home for the Spring Festival, the Chinese celebration of the Lunar New Year. The mass migration, known in Chinese as chunyun, accounted for … 3.62 billion trips made during the 40-day period surrounding the holiday in 2014.

CNN puts the number closer to 3.7 billion, counting trips by mass transit, by air and the use of personal vehicles, a common practice as the Chinese economy expands and more families own cars.

Yellow lighting on plate of Chinese dumplings with chopsticks on plate

Traditional Chinese dumplings. Photo by Sheilaz413, courtesy of Flickr

Who is the Monkey? People born in the Year of the Monkey are characterized as inquisitive, pioneering and mischievous, though clever in their careers and in wealth. People of the Monkey are sociable, self-assured and versatile, though their selfishness, arrogance and temper may hinder opportunities. But be careful! The Year of the Monkey is believed to be one of the most unlucky years of the Chinese calendar.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor during the Spring Festival, which ushers in warmer weather. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner, which is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends.

Looking for an inexpensive, at-home recipe for Chinese New Year? Try these traditional Chinese wontons, or dumplings, that are made in Shanghai style and consumed for their alleged ability to promote wealth.

CHINESE NEW YEAR: BUDDHA, THE MONKEY & LANTERNS

Round paper lanterns, lit, with red writing in Chinese

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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.

Unparalleled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance, with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for 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. Channel News Asia reports that China’s central bank will be injecting 440 billion yuan (U.S. $67 billion) into the money market, providing liquidity in anticipation of the Lunar New Year financial demands.

In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

NEW YEAR STAMPS: PEONIES & THE TWO-CHILD POLICY

Stamps from the China Post serve a dual purpose in 2016: Celebration of the Lunar New Year and recognition of the historic end to the country’s one-child policy. One of the new stamps, commissioned to 92-year-old Chinese artist Huang Yongyu, features a smiling, cartoon monkey being kissed by two baby monkeys. According to CNN, the China Post originally asked for a female monkey holding a baby, but the artist insisted on drawing two. As of January 1, 2016, the Chinese government formally ended its three-decade-long one-child policy, now permitting couples to have two children. All second babies born on or after Jan. 1, 2016 are considered legal.

In the United States, the Year of the Monkey stamp features reddish-orange peonies—the national Chinese flower—and a small, cut-paper image of a monkey. (Learn more from USPS.) In addition, gold ink in grass-style calligraphy shows the Chinese character for “monkey,” and “Lunar New Year” is written in gold up the right edge. The stamp’s issue date was Feb. 5.

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Candlemas, Imbolc and Groundhog Day: Welcome spring, new beginnings

Rows of lit candles

Traditionally, candles are blessed at Candlemas. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Groundhog Day may have evolved from Imbolc, an ancient pagan festival, but furry woodland creatures have little to do with the Christian feast that falls one day later: It’s the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, known better as Candlemas. Be sure to put away those last ornaments and take down your tree, too—leaving any Christmas decorations lingering after Candlemas is, per old tradition, inauspicious!

For Pagans, the first days of February bring new beginnings, too: the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring.

CANDLEMAS: CREPES, CANDLES AND TAMALES

In European countries, Christ’s crèche is put away on Candlemas Eve (February 1), and across the Church, attention shifts to the approaching Passion. The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. Both Eastern and Western Christians recognize this event. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, named Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the Church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles, Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In France, delicate crepes are eaten after 8 p.m.; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake.

Grass in x-shape on worn red-plank wood door

The Brighid cross. Photo in public domain

IMBOLC: A SPRING CUSTOM FOR BRIGHID

On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, marking the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

In the belly: The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods symbolize new beginnings.

Legend has it that on this day, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring and snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to test the weather (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.)

In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival in honor of Brighid.

GROUNDHOG DAY: FORECASTING AND PUNXSUTAWNEY PHIL

On February 2, we all ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Groundhog on ground looking away from camera

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What started as an ancient Pagan festival has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil,” and the array of groundhog-related events that fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.

Tradition tells that if a groundhog sees his shadow in sunlight, he will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter; if he sees no shadow, he will emerge, and an early spring is in the forecast.

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Categories: ChristianInterfaithNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Auschwitz, liberation and heroes

“There is only one thing worse than Auschwitz itself … and that is if the world forgets there was such a place.”

-Auschwitz Survivor Henry Appel

Rows of candles on silver shelving

Candles lit for an earlier International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27: Light a candle and reflect on “The Holocaust and Human Dignity,” as the United Nations ushers in this year’s worldwide International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The commemoration was designated by the UN General Assembly in November 2005 and first observed the following year, although other Holocaust days for remembrance existed for decades before that. This year, President Barack Obama will take part in a ceremony at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C.—the first ceremony of its kind to be held in the U.S.—that honors four non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis. Across the globe, millions of schools, governments, associations and civic groups will host their own commemorations.

Why this date? On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau is located in Poland and was the site of more than 1 million Holocaust deaths.

In 2016, the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust hosts the theme, “The Holocaust and Human Dignity.” According to the UN, this theme links remembrance with the founding principles of the United Nations: reaffirming faith in the dignity and worth of every person. In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lawfully states that everyone has the right to live free from discrimination and with equal protection—an international protection that, for millions of Jews and other minority groups during the Holocaust, had failed. Today, the UN observance rejects denial of the Holocaust while providing the tools to prevent future genocide.

Did you know? The long-standing Jewish day of mourning for the Holocaust is called Yom HaShoah. This year, Yom HaShoah begins at sundown on Wednesday, May 4.

IN THE NEWS:
‘OLDEST MAN’ A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR

Yisrael Kristal, 112—a Holocaust survivor who currently lives in Haifa—may be the world’s oldest man, as was reported recently by The Times of Israel. Though he still must provide proper documentation from the first 20 years of his life, Kristal was reportedly born in 1903. Years later, while operating his family’s confectionery business in Lodz, Nazis began forcing the city’s Jews into a ghetto. Kristal’s two children died in the ghetto, and he and his wife were both later sent to Auschwitz, where she did not survive. In 1950, Kristal moved to Haifa, and began working as a confectioner again. According to sources, Kristal remains religiously observant, and credits his longevity to God.

Looking for additional resources? The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers first-person stories of Holocaust survivors, along with suggestions on how to respond to future genocide.

From the Vatican: In an official statement, the Vatican says Holocaust Remembrance Day “calls for a universal and ever deeper respect for the dignity of every person.” In addition, the Vatican diplomat noted that the day “serves as a warning to prevent us from yielding to ideologies that justify contempt for human dignity.” (Read more here.)

 

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Categories: AnniversaryInterfaithInternational ObservancesJewishNational Observances

Thanksgiving: Gather in gratitude (and pass the turkey) on America’s oldest holiday

Above table with Thanksgiving type dishes of food and multiple hands toasting glasses

Photo by Satya Murphy, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 26: Clasp hands in gratitude and share a custom embedded in American history, on the national holiday of Thanksgiving. Originally a 1621 feast shared between Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans, the turkey-centered meal that graces most American tables today has changed significantly since its initiation. This year, New York Times features a look at Julia Child’s impact on Thanksgiving (plus a few of her favorite recipes), and USA Today examines the turbulent relationship between Thanksgiving and Black Friday.

Keep reading, and you’ll find Thanksgiving history tidbits to share at your dinner table, tantalizing dish suggestions, activities for kids and more.

Ready? Let’s turkey!

THE WAMPANOAGS, THE PILGRIMS & THANKSGIVING

Days for thanksgiving have an integral place in many faiths, and it was a day for gratitude that Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans shared, in 1621, that became the American secular holiday known as Thanksgiving today. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was a long-standing tradition; for the European Pilgrims, an abundant harvest gave more than enough reason for a celebration of gratitude. The 1621 feast lasted three days, and historic estimates point to approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Native Americans in attendance.

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was common in New England—a custom often proclaimed, in early years, by church leaders. Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and years later, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. In 1941, Thanksgiving was permanently placed on the fourth Thursday of November on the American calendar.

Illustration on old postcard of boy and turkey quarreling

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FOOTBALL, PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

In tradition held almost as dear as the turkey, Thanksgiving in America has become an occasion for football—after all, the National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving since its inception. Since 1924, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has marched down the streets of New York City, and in Detroit, America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade also has a long history. Many cities across the U.S. today host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning.

RECIPES, CRAFTS AND NEWS

From traditional sweet potatoes to a new twist on cranberries, there’s no shortage of Thanksgiving recipes—find menus to satisfy any cook from Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and ReadTheSpirit’s own FeedTheSpirit.

Feeling crafty? Adult DIY instructions for Thanksgiving décor are at HGTV, and kids can get creative while the turkey’s cooking with ideas from Disney and Parenting.

Julia Child—the national Thanksgiving commander-in-chief? Read a fascinating history of Julia Child and the American Thanksgiving, and click here for Aunt Helen’s Fluffy Pumpkin Pie, Sherry Vinegar-Glazed Onions, Spicy Dried Fruit Dessert Sauce and more tempting recipes.

‘Organic’ or ‘All Natural’? Learn how to read turkey labels, with help from USA Today.

Volunteering this Thanksgiving? Learn the facts ahead of time—of how to be the most help—and understand how to really pitch in.

Traveling? Get the 2015 Travel Outlook. For travel tips, check out this article from the Washington Post.

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Categories: InterfaithNational Observances

Earth Day: Cut your carbon footprint. Add to A Billion Acts of Green!

Large crane in still, shallow water with large tropical trees growing in water

This Earth Day, President Barack Obama will be speaking at the Everglades, a fragile area of the United States that is seeing the effects of climate change. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22: This Earth Day, rally behind the world’s largest faiths as they call global citizens to protect the planet and promote stewardship. Every major faith regards the Earth as a gift that must be respected: Whether the action is Christians supporting Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical; Sikhs in Washington, D.C., reminding the faithful of the Earth as the Divine Mother; Jews reflecting on the Book of Genesis; or religious statesman Rajan Zed directing a multi-faith invocation that includes interfaith prayers, the term “environment” spans the religious divides. Earth Day Network, the massive organization that drives environmental movements year-round, recognizes that faith leaders and organizations play a key role in supportive efforts, offering several resources for congregations and an entire section devoted to faith-related, environmental news.

HOW WE’RE HELPING

Want evidence of the widespread interest in this theme? An Earth Day rally and concert last Saturday drew thousands to the National Mall, where dignitaries from around the world watched performances by No Doubt, Usher, Mary J. Blige and more. (Read more in USA Today.) Saturday’s event highlighted the connections between poverty and climate change, pointing out how sustainable growth will aid poverty, but continued climate change will inevitably lead to increased poverty worldwide. This year’s Earth Day theme is, “It’s Our Turn to Lead.”

EARTH DAY ORIGINS

Scholars charting the rise of Earth Day awareness point to the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” as a milestone in public awareness. Then, a massive oil spill near California hit the coast in 1969. Harnessing the youthful passion in anti-war protests, Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson proposed a day for an environmental teach-in—first held on April 22, 1970. (Wikipedia has details.) The event, which followed a similar proposal made at the 1969 UNESCO Conference in San Francisco, attracted 20 million participants, from coast to coast.

In 1990, Earth Day went global, with events taking place in 141 countries. Today, Earth Day Network—founded by the organizers of the first Earth Day in 1970—promotes year-round environmental action, by launching campaigns, connecting activists, providing a platform for communication and pushing for changes in global policies. The Earth Day Network currently reaches 192 countries.

NEWS:
THE EVERGLADES, AN ECO-ENCYCLICAL & ‘ANGRY BIRDS’

Pope Francis in white, waving

This summer, Pope Francis is set to release an encyclical on the environment. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This year, President Barack Obama is set to mark Earth Day in the Florida Everglades, where climate change is not only evident but a marked threat to the local economy. With the 21st century witnessing many of the warmest years on record thus far, millions of Americans are aware we’re facing a problem. In his talk, Obama will address the nation’s positive actions—such as cutting carbon pollution and collaborating on a global agreement for emissions cuts.

This summer, the Vatican will go green. Pope Francis is promising to issue a papal encyclical on the environment—thereby making the environment a mandatory topic for Catholic institutions worldwide. One of the highest forms of church teaching, an encyclical is permanently incorporated into the teaching documents of the Catholic Church, and Pope Francis is using this platform to show just how relevant—and necessary—global action now is. (Huffington Post reported.)

Anticipated themes in the encyclical include:

  • Earth as a gift from God
  • Humans as stewards of the earth’s order
  • And, the poor as the most threatened victims of climate change.

In 1997, Patriarch Bartholomew of the Eastern Orthodox Church became the first worldwide Christian leader to call pollution “sinful,” and it’s anticipated that Pope Francis will regard the matter in a similar way. Though the encyclical will be focused on the worldwide Catholic community, the headlines surrounding its release are expected to prompt many other men and women in leadership positions to echo these themes.

In September, Earth Day Network will reveal an in-game experience designed to raise environmental awareness and created with the developers of “Angry Birds.” The in-game experience, called “Champions for Earth,” will be unveiled as world leaders congregate in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting.

What can I do? In December, key UN meetings in Paris will present another chance for a global treaty on climate change. As international treaties have consistently stalled or failed over the past 20 years, groups around the world are calling for public efforts to urge the Paris conference to take new actions.

Locally, individuals can take time on Earth Day to clean up their community, change habits, start a community garden or contact elected officials. The possibilities are endless, says Earth Day Network. To change your footprint, check out My Plastic Free Life, for ideas and suggestions of cutting down on the materials that threaten landscapes and environments. (Learn more here.)

And, remember: Earth Day is every day.

SHARE YOUR IDEAS

Monday through Friday this week, UofM’s Dr. Wayne Baker will post daily ideas in the OurValues project that you can explore with your family. We want you to chime in, too! If you decide to share your own Earth Day-themed ideas this week on Facebook or Twitter, use the #OurKidsEarth hashtag.

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