St. Patrick’s Day: History, recipes and his famous Breastplate prayer

Girl with red hair in traditional Irish dress in dark blue

An Irish dancer at an earlier St. Patrick’s Day Parade in San Francisco. Photo by Mark, courtesy of Flickr.

FRIDAY, MARCH 17: So, what’s a good Irish Catholic to do on this convergence of St. Patrick’s day with the Church’s tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent?

After all, tender corned beef is a traditional staple of the holiday! That’s not to mention plenty of beer—and Lenten Fridays are meant to be a time of prayerful self-denial.

Well, since this collision of observances rolls around approximately every seven years, many Catholic bishops anticipated the dilemma and already have issued 2017 dispensations to allow a hearty holiday meal. But, consider: Bishops like Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, also are cautioning Catholics to “exercise due moderation and temperance in festivities and celebrations of the memorial of St. Patrick, in keeping with the solemnity and honor that is due to so great a saint and his tireless efforts to inspire holiness in the Christian faithful.” That’s according to a report on the corned beef dilemma by Catholic News Service.

If you are concerned, check local news reports. More bishops are chiming in with dispensations as the holiday approaches.


The legendary patron saint of Ireland began life c. 385 CE, in Roman Britain. With a wealthy family whose patron was a deacon, the young man who would become known as St. Patrick led a comfortable life until his teenage years, when he was kidnapped and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During his six years in Ireland, Patrick gained a deeper Christian faith. When he dreamed that God told him to flee to the coast, Patrick did so—and traveled home to become a priest. (Wikipedia has details.) Following ordination, however, another dream prompted Patrick to do what no one expected: to return to Ireland.

As a Christian in Ireland, Patrick worked to convert the pagan Irish. With a three-leaved shamrock in hand to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, St. Patrick converted many. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 at Downpatrick.

St Patrick in stained glassSurprisingly, the most widely known saint from Ireland was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. Since no formal canonization process existed in the Church’s first millennium, St. Patrick was deemed a saint only by popular acclaim and local approval.


One of the most popular posts in the decade-long history of ReadTheSpirit is a collection of three versions of the famous prayer known as The Breastplate. Start here for a Gaelic version and follow the link to find two more English versions, one as poetry and one as refashioned for a hymn.

Nonetheless, St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day by the early 17th century, observed by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lutherans and members of the Church of Ireland. Today, countries the world over offer citizens and tourists Irish-themed foods, drinks and culture on March 17. Dances, processions, performances and more illustrate the vibrancy of Irish history—all set against the very Irish color of green.

Skillet pan with pot pie vegetables and meat in gravy and potatoes braised and mashed on top

Beef and lamb shepherd’s pie for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Dennis Wilkinson, courtesy of Flickr


Who doesn’t dream of hearty Irish stews, hot Reuben sandwiches and cold drinks on St. Patrick’s Day? Get into the Irish spirit with these recipe ideas (and some crafts, to boot):

  • A plethora of easy-to-follow recipes, from brisket to soda bread, is at AllRecipes.
  • Kids can get into the spirit of the Irish with craft ideas from PBS and
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Bullying Prevention Month 2016: One-stop guide to info you need

PACER Bullying Prevention Month orange t shirt

Click on this shirt to visit PACER’s website to learn about the special October 19 Unity Day—and also the orange t-shirts PACER is recommending this year.

OCTOBER, 2016, especially October 19—Founded in 2006 by PACER‘s National Bullying Prevention Center, this important campaign is scheduled to coincide with the autumn school season nationwide. PACER originally was organized in the 1970s in Minnesota by parents of children and youth with disabilities to help families facing similar challenges nationwide. A decade ago, they proposed a week-long anti-bullying campaign each year; now, especially because so many parents and educators appreciate this effort, the focus has extended to the entire month of October.

Each year, PACER reaches out to communities through partnerships with education-based organizations such as National PTA, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association to provide schools, parents and students with resources to respond to bullying behavior and to begin the shift of societal acceptance of bullying.

This year’s theme is: “A Decade Together Against Bullying.” Wikipedia has details on past years’ themes and other milestones in this campaign.


dennis-the-menace-in-bullying-is-no-laughing-matterReadTheSpirit Books publishes a series of popular and very practical books that combat bullying. The most colorful is Bullying Is No Laughing Matter, a collection created by dozens of top comic strip artists across the nation who each contributed a page on overcoming such bias. Teachers have used this book—sometimes developing lesson plans around a single comic character within the big book. Here’s an earlier story about how an elementary school invited kids to “Stop Bullying in Its Tracks” with Dennis the Menace. (You can learn more about this book and find other helpful resources in our bookstore.)

We also work with the Michigan State University  School of Journalism Bias Busters program, which has produced a whole series of books that help to reduce bigotry and end bullying. (Read the latest news about the Bias Busters’ in this new October 2016 story.)


Government agencies now have come on board to help parents, educators and anyone who cares about the welfare of children. Here are three valuable links:

STOP BULLYING.GOV—The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services runs the website. In addition to October 19 Unity Day, this website is a clearinghouse of lots of other special programs running during October. There’s a five-day period devoted to LGBT youth, a similar period set aside to focus on American Indian youth, and even a Twitter Town Hall on October 20 with experts from the Centers for Disease Control answering questions.

PROFESSIONAL INFORMATION—The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) also is sponsored by divisions of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—along with UCLA and Duke University. The NCTSN’s bullying-awareness web page has very useful links for: families, teens and tweens, educators, clinicians and mental health professionals, law enforcement personnel and policy makers.

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Raksha Bandhan: Hindu festival honors sibling love, special relationships

Woman at market in front of rows and boxes of colorfu bracelets

A woman browses a marketplace for rakhi. Photo by Vishal Dutta, courtesy of Flickr

NEWS 2016: This year, UK armed forces have celebrated Raksha Bandhan across Britain; India Times presents a list of nostalgic memories slideshow for anyone who grew up with a sibling; Amazon India delivers a heartfelt message in this year’s Raksha campaign, #DeliverTheLove; and, read all about how rakhis are helping to empower a local economy.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 18: Today’s festival of Raksha Bandhan—celebrated across India and in Hindu communities worldwide—honors the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

The simple gift expresses renewed love between siblings and sometimes between others who share a bond of brotherhood. More than a century ago, the famous Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore suggested that Muslims and Hindus exchange rakhi as signs of peace and unity as Indians.

Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. (Learn more from the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India.) Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.


Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi. Shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. The bracelet may be as plain or as opulent as the woman wishes, although most are adorned with some type of decoration at the middle. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find simple instructions here.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother promises, in return, to protect his sister under all circumstances—even if she is married—and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family. When a brother and sister cannot be together on Raksha Bandhan, they often send each other cards and gifts for the occasion.


A first-of-its-kind International Raksha Bandhan festival will be held on August 17 in New Delhi, according to news sources. Aside from more local attendees and families, organizers are anticipating visitors from almost 40 countries to attend the festival. According to one representative, “Raksha Bandhan is a festival which can provide way for answers to many global problems.”

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Happy 100th Beverly Cleary! Thanks for all the memories!

Henry Huggins in Spanish in 2000 (1)

A Spanish edition of Beverly Cleary’s first book, Henry Huggins, in 2000 at the novels 50th anniversary. CLICK on this cover to visit the book’s English-language Amazon page.

TUESDAY, APRIL 12—In 1916, Beverly Cleary was born to an Oregon farmer and schoolteacher. Their only child, Beverly had a strong will and found the books she was given to read at school were decidedly dull. As a result, she struggled to learn to read as a little girl—and later said that she felt so uncomfortable at school in those early years that she wanted to drop out.

Of course, her parents didn’t let her do that—and we’re all thankful that Beverly Cleary came to love reading. Eventually she became a librarian, but the old problem resurfaced: Too many books for young readers were boring!

In 1950, Cleary published the first of her many novels: Henry Huggins, which also introduced his beloved dog Ribsy.

Cleary says in recent interviews that she was determined not to offer lessons at the end of her stories.

“As a child, I very much objected to books that tried to teach me something,” she told The New York Times correspondent Nicholas Kristof. “I just wanted to read for pleasure, and I did. But if a book tried to teach me, I returned it to the library.”



This week, Kristof is among many writers urging families to enjoy books with their children to honor Cleary’s centennial.


Want more? Beverly Cleary’s “hometown newspaper,” The Oregonian, produced the following two-minute video. 


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Eastern Orthodox Christians begin 2016 fast of Great Lent

Lagana bread, usually baked without oil, in a photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Lagana bread, usually baked without oil, in a photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Lenten season begins for hundreds of millions of Eastern Christians, also known as Orthodox Christians, through a series of traditional steps to prepare for this Great Fast …

  • Clean Monday kites flying photo from Wikimedia CommonsSUNDAY, MARCH 6: Meatfare Sunday or Sunday of the Last Judgment. Preparing for the “Great Fast” of Lent, this is the last day that meat can be eaten until Pascha (Orthodox Easter, this year, on May 1)—but dairy products still are allowed for another week. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America provides this in-depth overview of Eastern fasting practices and the various religious milestones during this season.
  • SUNDAY, MARCH 13: Cheesefare Sunday or Forgiveness Sunday. This is the last day that dairy products can be consumed until Pascha. The spiritual focus of this Sunday liturgy is on “forgiveness,” an appropriate theme to remember as these Christians enter this long period of prayer and reflection.
  • MONDAY, MARCH 14: Clean Monday is the beginning of the “Great Fast” of Lent. Let the kites fly! And—read further to learn about Lagana, a seasonal bread known throughout Greece as the taste of Clean Monday. Wikipedia has a detailed overview of Clean Monday customs.
  • EAST & WEST and the unity of Easter: Western Christians begin their Lenten season this year with Ash Wednesday on March 10 with Easter on March 27. The differences in dates are due to centuries-old customs for calculating the date of Easter, which vary from East to West. The Christian world won’t have a unified Easter again until 2017—and then there will be years of differences until Easter 2025 and 2028.

Prayerful Attention to Tradition: To many Americans, this Great Fast may sound extreme. Another way to think about it, though, is as a healthy season of Mediterranean eating. Whole grains and vegetables dominate in recipes associated with Great Lent. Of course, some families from an Orthodox background skip the fasting rules—just as many Western Christians overlook their own far-less-restrictive fasting traditions. But, observant Orthodox families around the world do change their eating habits, each year, in the weeks leading to Pascha.

During the fast, Eastern Christians avoid: meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, wine and oil. There are traditional exceptions within the Orthodox calendar. Wine and oil are permitted on all Sundays during this period, for example. And an ancient tradition—the feast of the Annunciation—is considered so sacred that it always falls on March 25, even during Great Lent. That feast recalls Mary receiving news that she would be the mother of Jesus, nine months later. Thus, on Tuesday March 25, this year—fish, wine and oil are permitted for the feast.


Greek Orthodox Calendar App

The Tsolias logo.

HOW DO WE KEEP TRACK? Here at ReadTheSpirit online magazine, how do we cover this complex season? Well, thanks to longtime reader David Adrian, each year, we receive the kind of Orthodox wall calendar that many congregations provide to their faithful. That’s one way.

The other is via smartphone apps. Our favorite is the Greek Orthodox Calendar app, developed by Tsolias Software. The app shows us each day’s spiritual resources at a glance, including colorful little icons of the food groups permitted that day. (There are lots of fasting days in the Orthodox calendar, each year, and the app keeps track of all the rules.) We also have heard strong reader recommendations of the apps developed in cooperation with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. And, if you want a “free” app, we’ve heard that the Orthodox Calendar by David Ledselidze is pretty useful, as well. Plus, Ledselidze’s app has more resources of special interest to Russian Orthodox men and women.


Considering the strict nature of this fast, the cheery celebration of Clean Monday may seem jarring. Congregations are reminded, however, that it is important to remain outwardly pleasant during the fasting period. The passage of Matthew 6, verses 14-21, is read to drive home this spiritual lesson. It says, in part: “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.”

The most common Clean Monday vista in Greece is a blue sky full of colorful kites. Families pack up traditional Lenten foods for a picnic. It’s a national holiday, so most workers and students have the day free.


The traditional Greek Orthodox taste of Clean Monday is a sesame-topped bread called Lagana—usually made long and fairly flat, and ideally a very tasty bread. It’s also true that some home cooks produce something more akin to a giant, crunchy breadstick—but, if prepared properly, this is a delicious bread.

Want a recipe that’s likely to produce the tastier variety? There are many online, but we especially like this photo-illustrated, step-by-step recipe from The Greek Vegan. Beyond the helpful photos, here’s another reason we like this particular website’s approach to the recipe: These days, a lot of online recipes wink at the restrictions of the Great Fast and include oil in the ingredients. The Greek Vegan recognizes that this is a serious issue for many Christians and explains how to make this bread in the traditional, oil-free way.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Diwali: Hindus, Jains, Sikhs celebrate festival of lights

Small lamps in leaf shapes filled with oil and lit with wick on one side

Diya, earthen lamps filled with oil, are lit for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11—The festival of lights—marked by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and friends of Indian culture—falls in October or November each year and lasts for five days. Check local news sources for Diwali celebrations near you, because American groups often move events to weekends.

“Delicious food and firecrackers are the hallmarks of Diwali,” says Anjali Charankar-Vale in this FeedTheSpirit column about Diwali. “We make a variety of sweet and spicy snack food items. Traditionally relatives and friends visit each other distributing sweets and wishing everyone best wishes for Diwali and the coming new year.” And, the story about Anjali’s holiday traditions includes a recipe for a tasty Diwali snack called shankarpali, a simple fried-flour treat.

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance, so a flurry of pre-Diwali activity can be seen in most cities of India. In a shopping extravaganza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. (Wikipedia has details.) During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

Did you know? Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit fusion of dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line,” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of lamps are lit in homes and temples.

Each day of Diwali signifies a principal story in Hindu legend, with rituals that follow. The breakdown goes something like this:

Day 1: Homes are cleaned; devotees shop for gold
Day 2
: Hindus display clay lamps; rangoli created with colored powders and sand
Day 3
: The main day of the festival, familes gather to perform Lakshmi Puja, a prayer for the goddess of wealth; the prayer is followed by feasts and fireworks
Day 4
: The first day of the New Year
Day 5
: Brother-sister relationships are strengthened when married sisters welcome their brothers into their homes, often with a lavish meal.

Diwali may be India’s biggest festival, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited to Indian borders—Diwali, or Deepavali, is also an official holiday in countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Fiji, Malaysia and Singapore, just to name a few.


On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more.


Amazon_The_Great_Indian_Diwali_Sale__26__27__28_October_-_YouTubeA lot of pre-Diwali news stories focus on the retail bonanza. Tech in Asia magazine carried one of the best Diwali overviews of commerce, reported by India-based Paloma Ganguly:

India’s ecommerce giants are reaching out of their seamless virtual world to lure in new online shoppers using the realm of old media – advertisements in newspapers and magazine, and lively ads on TV and radio. This huge blitz by the likes of Amazon, Snapdeal, Flipkart, Jabong, and Urban Ladder comes ahead of people celebrating Diwali next week.

This is one festival that Indians wait for the whole year through, and the one time when they loosen their purse strings. From jewelry to clothes to cooking utensils to consumer durables, they are willing to splurge on anything.

To catch that generous Diwali shopping spirit, many ecommerce startups and titans alike have rolled out glittering print and TV ads that pack the power of celebrities and seasonal sentimentality. India has 350 million active web users out of a population of nearly 1.3 billion, so the festive ads on traditional media like TV are a way to lure in brand-new online shoppers – as well as a chance to dazzle ecommerce converts.

Check out this Amazon video advertisement for Diwali …

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Veterans Day: America celebrates veterans

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11—Check your local media for parades, wreath-laying ceremonies and, oh yes, lots of special offers for veterans: free meals, ice cream, hair cuts, car washes, admissions—and all sorts of other ways businesses salute veterans.

Many religious groups are organizing veterans’ events, sometimes on alternative dates. For example, if you’re near Washington D.C., visit the National Cathedral on Sunday, November 15, for a special preacher: the Rev. Dr. David Peters, an Army Reserve Instructor at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School.


Frank_Buckles_recruitment_picture WWI 1917 (1)

Frank Buckles (1901-2011) was the last surviving American veteran of World War I. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 and served with a detachment from Fort Riley, driving ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in Europe.

The date has somber origins. Around the world, November 11 is remembered as the day an armistice—a cessation of hostilities—went into effect between the Allied nations and Germany, unofficially ending World War I, in 1918. The Treaty of Versailles ending the war was not signed until June 28, 1919. Europe, Britain and the Commonwealth countries commonly observe two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. each November 11; Canada pays tribute with Remembrance Day; the United States marks Veterans Day; and Britain keeps the second Sunday of November, with Remembrance Sunday.

In November of 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the commemoration of Armistice Day. Seven years later, Congress deemed Armistice Day a legal holiday; in 1954, that legal holiday was renamed “Veterans Day.” Though the Uniform Holiday Bill briefly moved Veterans Day to October, it returned to Nov. 11 in 1978.

Many new books and documentaries about World War I (1914-1918) have appeared recently, because of centennial milestones. But no World War I veterans are left. The last surviving American veteran, Frank Buckles, died in 2011 and the world’s final WWI veteran, Florence Green, died in the UK in 2012.

DID YOU KNOW? The phrase “war to end all wars,” began with the politically active science fiction writer H.G. Wells who argued sincerely that a defeat of the Axis Powers would end the practice of war. Later, President Wilson would use the phrase and, now, it is largely associated with the U.S. President. The irony is that Wells lived to 1946 and saw his earlier hopes tragically dashed.


100-QA-Veterans-Large-Book-391x579OUR VALUES—Sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker offers a fascinating series on veterans in his column. One of the findings he reports is that veterans actually experience less stress than Americans overall. “Many veterans suffer physical and emotional trauma,” Baker writes. “But, overall, veterans worry less and experience less stress than civilians do. How could this be so?” Read the series to find out.

100 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS … The Michigan State University School of Journalism’s nationally known “Bias Busters” team has produced a guidebook about veterans, created to help civilians better understand the millions of American veterans. Differences in experience, age and background mean veterans’ perspectives are individual and unique. Yet all face similar questions and assumptions. This guide answers everyday questions that veterans say civilians ask about their experiences, needs, challenges and achievements. It is intended for people in business, schools, government, medicine, law enforcement, human resources and journalism who need a basic grounding.


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