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

Thanksgiving: Americans gather ’round the table—and not the mall—in gratitude

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Abraham Lincoln, October 1863, Proclamation for Thanksgiving

Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered, talking, sharing food

The first Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 24: Savor the tantalizing smells and clasp your hands together in gratitude, for the holiday of (American) Thanksgiving. News sources are predicting a busy travel season, this year—with low airfares, U.S. airlines are expected to carry approximately 55,000 more passengers a day than last year—and that means more gathering around the table for turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie. (Chicago Tribune has the story.) Those statistics, paired with last year’s 44 percent plunge in Thanksgiving Day retail shopping from 2014, indicate that more Americans just may be deciding that gathering around the turkey-day table really is preferable to battling crowds at a local mall.

HISTORY OF THANKSGIVING IN THE UNITED STATES

Of course, most Americans know that there were earlier thanks-giving events down through the centuries. The cultural instinct to gather, as a community, and give thanks before winter storms arrive has been a strong pull across the Northern Hemisphere. But the widely celebrated “first American Thanksgiving” took place in 1621 at Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. In 1621, Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans shared such a feast in Plymouth. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

Did you know? The U.S. President “pardons” the White House turkey each year, and after the pardoning, the turkey becomes part of the Mount Vernon Christmas-themed display. Later, the turkeys live at Mount Vernon in its ongoing agricultural exhibit. The First Family and friends dine on dressed turkeys shipped to White House chefs for the holiday.

That 1621 Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures: the Wampanoag and the Europeans. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. A plentiful harvest was just one of several reasons for a Wampanoag ceremony of thanks. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

Pumpkin pie on plate with rest of whole pie behind it

Pumpkin pie. Photo by Dennis Wilkinson, courtesy of Flickr

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Often, church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday. Later, public officials joined with religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.

TURKEY TROTS & PUMPKIN PIE

The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation, and in 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held annually in New York City—and “America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held in Detroit. To this day, both parades welcome tourists and locals alike and are widely televised. Several U.S. cities host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast.

Recipes, décor and hosting tips: Find recipes, menus and more at Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious.

Vegetarian guests? Please guests sans the turkey with menu suggestions from the New York Times, here and here.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents, Parenting and Disney.

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Categories: National Observances

Halloween, Samhain, Allhallowtide & Dia de los Muertos: legends abound!

Kid's fingers pressing eye onto Jack-o-Lantern decorated caramel apple

Photo by Personal Creations, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, OCTOBER 31 and TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 2: From mulled wine and apples to costumes and candy, deck the halls with fright and get ready for the spookiest night of the year: Halloween!

Drawing on ancient beliefs of wandering souls and spirits at this time of year, some traditions of Halloween shadow the rituals of an early Gaelic festival known as Samhain, which resonated across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Today’s Wiccans observe Samhain as a Sabbat, while Pagans—including Neopagans and Celtic Reconstructionists—attempt to observe its rituals as close as possible to their original form.

Beyond Scotland, Ireland and the migration of Scots and Irish to other parts of the world, the tradition of Halloween is fairly new in the long sweep of global culture. Of course, Western influence is potent stuff, and Western images of witches, black cats and trick or treating now have circled the planet. Halloween slowly picked up speed and now is observed as far from the Celtic homeland as Asia and Africa. Today, it’s common for children around the world to dress in costume, for adults to hold costume parties and for everyone to try a hand at carving jack-o’-lanterns. In some countries, bonfires and fireworks are common additions to nighttime trick-or-treating.

Group of three kids in Halloween costumes

Photo by popofatticus, courtesy of Flickr

Did you know? The first record of pumpkin carving in America was penned in 1837; by the 1930s, so many Americans were trick-or-treating that mass-produced Halloween costumes were introduced in stores.

For Christians, the triduum of Halloween recalls deceased loved ones and martyrs; in Mexico and Latin American countries, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) vibrantly reflects these types of observances. Secularly, Halloween is a time for costumes, pumpkins and candy, though for centuries, this time of the year has been regarded as an occasion when the veil between this world and—the other-world—is at its thinnest point.

SAMHAIN AND IRISH MYTHOLOGY

Born of a pastoral people, Samhain began in the oral traditions of Irish mythology; it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when visiting Christian monks began penning some of the tales. Ancient pagan traditions regard this as a night beyond all nights; the beginning of the dark half of the year; the final harvest, and a space in time when spiritual veils are lifted. Even the earliest cultures believed that spirits could access our world most easily at this time of year, so bonfires were lit to protect and cleanse people, livestock and pastures. Feasts were prepared, and the spirits of deceased ancestors were invited into the home with altars. Evil spirits were kept away with “guising” (costuming to fool the spirits), and turnip lanterns were often set in windows to scare evil spirits or to represent spiritual beings—a custom that likely evolved into the modern jack-o-lantern.

Today, many Pagans and Wiccans keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

‘ALLHALLOWTIDE’

In worldwide Christian tradition, millions still observe “Allhallowtide,” which is the name of this triduum (or special three-day period) that begins with All Hallows Eve and continues through All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. While Catholics, Anglicans and many other denominations still have an “All Souls Day” on their liturgical calendars, many Protestant and evangelical churches have abandoned this traditional three-day cycle.

Did you know? The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and is also known as All Hallows Eve. All Saints’ Day is alternatively referred to as its counterpart: All Hallows, or Hallowmas.

Dancers in colorful Dia de los Muertos skirts and clothes, with faces painted

Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Chihuahua City, Mexico. Photo by Ted McGrath, courtesy of Flickr

The most popular of the three holidays in congregations coast to coast is All Saints Day, which falls on a Sunday this year. Millions of families will attend Sunday services on November 1 that include special remembrances of members who have passed in the previous year. Still mourning someone in your community? Show up at a local church observing All Saints Day and there likely will be a time to remember that person.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS:
MEXICO’S COLORFUL DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS, RECIPES & MORE

Decorating your home for Halloween? Get creative ideas at DIY Network.

For the more sophistocated crafter, Martha Stewart offers up ideas on homemade decorations.

Kids can give it a try with ideas from FamilyFun.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Labor Day: Americans honor U.S. workers, give one last hurrah for summer

Black-and-white photo of crowd of people with Labor Day pledge

Historic photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: Enjoy an outdoor picnic, watch a parade and just relax today—you’ve earned it! Today is Labor Day in the United States. Since 1882, Americans have set aside a day to hail the contributions of U.S. workers.

The first proposal for this holiday called communities to create a street parade that exhibited “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a festival for workers and their families. Traditions haven’t changed too much in more than 100 years. (Kids—looking for Labor Day coloring pages, word searches and short stories? Click here for more.)

Labor Day is also unofficially regarded as the last day of summer. Along with a dedication to workers, Labor Day has evolved into a cultural “change of seasons” for Americans: Many families take one last vacation before the new schoolyear begins, and the NFL and college football seasons begin on Labor Day. The first Sunday in September is traditionally the last acceptable day for women to wear white, although that rule has relaxed. (History.com has more on the impact of Labor Day on American history.)

FROM THE CENTRAL LABOR UNION TO THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR

It’s debated who first proposed Labor Day, but the first observance was by the Central Labor Union—the first integrated major trade union in the country. Labor Day grew into a federal holiday just two years after its first observance, mainly in the wake of worker deaths in the Pullman Strike of 1894.

Since some workers had been killed by government officers, President Grover Cleveland made amends by pushing Labor Day through Congress and into law six days after the end of the strike. A spiritual aspect of Labor Day was highlighted in 1909, when the American Federation of Labor declared the Sunday preceding Labor Day as Labor Sunday, a time when the spiritual and education characteristics of the labor movement were examined.

LABOR DAY: RECIPES

Grill kabobs Labor DayLooking for the perfect recipe for a picnic or Labor Day gathering?

  • For the home cook, AllRecipes has a great selection of easy-to-follow recipes.
  • To wow guests or friends and family, try making a dish from Food Network.
  • Trying to eat healthier? Try a tantalizing Labor Day recipe from Eating Well.
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Categories: National Observances

July 4: Wave the banners and give a cheer for America’s Independence Day

Table of popcorn, snacks and goodies in Fourth of July papers, bags, tissues and decorated with mini flags

Photo by Anders Ruff Custom Designs, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, JULY 4: Nothing says “summer” in the U.S. like the Fourth of July, when the Stars and Stripes fly high and family cars fill the freeways: Today, on Independence Day, Americans celebrate freedom with parades, picnics, reunions with family and friends and fireworks exploding in the night sky. 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, and Americans observe this day in grand ceremony. So fire up the grill, deck out your yard (or yourself) in red, white and blue, and enjoy summer’s all-American holiday!

No major fireworks in your area? Tune in to CBS for the live webcast of the Boston Pops concert and fireworks, which will feature celebrities Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas this year and is attended by a half million people annually.

THE HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE DAY

FIreworks display over city buildings, over water, night sky

Fourth of July fireworks in New Jersey. Photo by Anthony Quintano, 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.

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.

Which Founding Father would you vote for?  Take quizzes and test your Constitution knowledge at ConstitutionFacts.com.

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 Capitol Fourth: A salute of one gun for each U.S. state 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.

FOURTH OF JULY RECIPES, PARTY TIPS & MORE

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 juicy hamburger to a towering red, white and blue trifle, 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.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips.

Reader’s Digest offers 10 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

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Categories: National 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