Black Friday: Shoppers enticed early with added promotions, sales

Woman smiling with multiple colored paper bags

Photo by Roderick Eime, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23 and FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24: Millions of shoppers may have to choose between sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and hitting stores on Thursday this year, as Black Friday sales begin earlier than ever. Days before in-store deals began, shoppers were signing up for email lists or connecting with favorite stores via social media for inside access to upcoming deals, promotions and coupons. Online sales also began earlier than ever in 2017: This year, many stores—such as Kohls—began their Black Friday online deals at the beginning of Black Friday week.

Original use of the term “Black Friday” was associated negatively with the less-than-ideal conditions that occurred from the shopping chaos of the day following Thanksgiving, though as years passed, the term morphed into its current meaning: as a day (or two days, now) that retailers move from operating at a financial loss (“in the red”) to a period of profit (“in the black”).

Internationally, Black Friday—along with its corresponding Cyber Monday and Cyber Week—has gained immense popularity.

BLACK FRIDAY: HOURS, SALES & ONLINE VS. IN-STORE

Busy shopping mall, people, escalators

Photo courtesy of PxHere

Black Friday only gained its No. 1 ranking as the busiest shopping day of the year in 2003. (Prior to 2003, Black Friday made the list of top-10 busiest shopping days of the year.) For several years, stores opened their doors at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, but in 2011, major retailers like Target, Kohls, Macy’s and Best Buy opened at midnight. In 2012, Walmart and others announced sales as starting on Thanksgiving evening; this year, Kohls, Best Buy, Macy’s and Toys R Us have announced a 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day opening, while JCPenney will start its Black Friday sales even earlier: on Thursday at 2 p.m. (USA Today has a list of store opening times.)

As online retailers like Amazon provide increasing competition for Black Friday sales, some brick-and-mortar stores are amping up their own competitive edge this year. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp are offering especially early discounts, making in-store prices better than their online counterparts and placing increased emphasis on products they offer that are not available from online giants like Amazon.

Though their Thanksgiving holiday occurred weeks ago, Canadians have been getting into the spirit of Black Friday during the past decade, and 2012 saw the biggest Black Friday to date in Canada. Online retailers like Amazon and Apple have begun reaching out to the United Kingdom, and Black Friday was promoted in Australia by Online Shopping USA in 2011.

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Categories: National Observances

Thanksgiving: Americans feast, gather in tradition and gratitude

Turkey float going down street in parade

A turkey float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by martha_chapa95, courtesy of FLickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23:  Join the millions of Americans giving thanks and expressing gratitude over a savory feast, as family and friends gather for the historical and beloved holiday of Thanksgiving. This year, news sources are reporting the biggest Thanksgiving weekend travel volume in 12 years, while the actual cost of Thanksgiving dinner itself will go down (read more here.) 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.

THANKSGIVING: A HISTORY

First Thanksgiving prayers

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

Here’s a fun joke to share: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims!

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.

PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

Pumpkin pie, coffee on wooden table

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

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, HOSTING TIPS & MORE

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

Nativity Fast: Orthodox Christians begin joyous fasting period for Jesus’s birth

Candles lit interior of Orthodox Christian church

Photo by Mr.TinDC, courtesy of Flickr

Nativity Orthodox iconWEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: Even before the American Thanksgiving, millions of Orthodox Christians around the world are looking toward Jesus’s birth, which they refer to formally as the Nativity. Of course, in Western Christian culture, we know this as the period leading up to Christmas. For many centuries, Eastern Christians have prepared with a 40-day Nativity Fast.

By Western standards, this is a daunting spiritual and physical challenge. Traditional Orthodox fasting means giving up meat and dairy in addition to fish, wine and oil; fish, wine and oil are, however, permitted on specific days. (Learn more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.) Throughout the Nativity Fast, several other holidays take place, such as St. Andrew’s Day, St. Nicholas Day and recognition of those prophets regarded by Eastern Christians as having prepared the way for the Incarnation: Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

Two periods comprise the Nativity Fast: Nov. 15-Dec. 19, and Dec. 20-24. December 20 launches the Forefeast of the Nativity, with chanting of Nativity hymns each day through the Dec. 24 (Paramony). On Paramony, no solid food is consumed until the first star is observed in the evening sky, and afterward, the fast is joyously broken.

Orthodox teaching instructs that fasting be undertaken with gladness and in a sense of earnest anticipation—in the promise that these devout preparations will deepen reflections on the moment when God became human. (OCA.org has more.) Fasting for Orthodox Christians includes abstinence from foods, negative emotions and greed; prayer and almsgiving complement the fasting period.

Note: The Nativity Fast is observed November 15-December 24 in the Gregorian calendar. Some Orthodox follow other traditional calendars. For example, many Armenian Christians begin their fast later and focus on January 6 as the Feast of the Nativity.

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Categories: Christian

Veterans Day: Thank a Vet, lend a hand

Two veterans standing side-by-side

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11: Thank a veteran in your neighborhood, give gratitude at work or even tweet a message—the options are endless today, on Veterans Day!

Honoring men and women who have served our country, in the shared hope that we might actually end wars someday, is a noble idea that dates to the origins of this Nov. 11 observance at the close of World War I. The world’s “Great War” officially ceased on June 28, 1919, but the fighting had actually stopped seven months earlier, on Nov. 11—and thus, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. Nearly two decades later, November 11th was declared a legal holiday in the United States.

By 1954, the world had survived WWII and Korea, and a WWII vet began raising support for a more general Veterans Day. Among other arguments made in this campaign: WWII had required even more soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen than WWI. At the urging of citizens, November 11th officially became Veterans Day in 1954.

HONOR VETS BY LENDING A HAND

Our nation’s millions of veterans need help for a wide range of lingering issues in their lives, so be sure to check on regional efforts to find out how you can help. Some noted peace activists within religious groups now are urging a greater awareness of the needs of veterans’ families, too—nationwide.

A whopping 44 percent of men and women who serve in the U.S. Military are residents of rural areas, according to a recent White House Report—even though rural residents overall only account for 17 percent of the country’s population—and several organizations are stepping up to help veterans in these areas, where unemployment is usually high. Experts assert that many veterans gravitate toward the country not only because of the therapeutic solace it provides, but also because many desire to care for others—in the form of growing food.

2017 VETERANS DAY FREEBIES & DISCOUNTS: Many restaurants and retailers offer special prices for veterans on Veterans Day. Check out MilitaryBenefits.info for a full listing restaurants, retailers and more offering Veterans Day freebies and discounts for 2017.

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Categories: National Observances

Daylight Savings Time: Don’t forget to “fall back”!

Different analog clocks flat, varying sizes

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5: Enjoy an extra hour in the day today—and don’t forget turn your clocks backward!

Daylight Savings Time (DST) 2017 ends today, but the world is far from agreement on its benefits—or its future as a public policy. Many experts argue that switching back and forth from DST is a poor public policy and may cost more money than it saves. The U.S. history is checkered: DST was used in both 20th century world wars, but it wasn’t standard policy during most of our history. President George Bush was a recent proponent and signed into law an energy policy bill just seven years ago that extended Daylight Saving Time by four weeks. A couple of states are bypassing the current DST policy: Hawaii and Arizona have exercised their right to opt out by passing a state law.

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS & BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

The year was 1784 when Ben Franklin suggested Daylight Savings Time, after observing that summer morning daylight hours were “wasted” by people sleeping in; in the evening, candles were burned to illuminate nighttime activities. The problem came when seasons turned to autumn and winter, and the schedule “readjusted:” It was against human nature to change waking times (and still is).

DST TODAY: COSTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DETRIMENT

Dark mornings necessitate more heat, and in the summer—when working folks arrive home an hour “earlier”—air conditioning is turned up because of proximity to mid-day heat. Recent studies found that one season of DST in one state demanded an extra $9 million in energy bills annually and added 188,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cost differences are even more drastic in the fall.

Did you know? As of 2017, both Arizona and Hawaii do not participate in DST; efforts continue in New England and Massachusetts to stop using the system.

For several reasons, more and more advocates are promoting a “permanent” DST, for practical, economical and environmental reasons. Iceland, Russia and Belarus are already observing permanent DST, and Argentina, Sudan, Georgia and other jurisdictions honor a similar system. In fact, less than 40 percent of the world uses the Daylight Saving Time system, with the majority of African and Asian countries choosing not to employ the system at all.

IN EUROPE AND THE U.S.: A WEEK APARTOne week before Americans turn back their clocks, Europeans turned back one hour to Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT. Not all of Europe honors the system, though many of its countries do.

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Categories: International Observances

Halloween, Allhallowtide and Samhain: A spook-tacular time of year!

Kids in costumes in a row, smiling

Photo courtesy of Shaw Air Force Base

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31 and WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2:

Gather ‘round for spooky stories, ancient tales, age-old customs and plenty of apples and candy: It’s Halloween!

Rooted deeply in a centuries-old Gaelic and Irish seasonal festival known as Samhain, today’s Halloween is considered by many to be the only time of year that spirits can roam the earth. From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the costuming fun with kids!

Did you know? Samhain began in the oral traditions of Irish mythology; it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that visiting Christian monks began penning some of the tales.

As Western cultural influences spread worldwide, too, Halloween has steadily been gaining worldwide popularity—even in countries as far from North America as Japan, Australia and New Zealand. 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. In some countries, bonfires and fireworks are common additions to nighttime trick-or-treating.

SAMHAIN: AN ANCIENT FESTIVAL REVIVED

Raven of black in shadow against orange moon

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

Did you know? In Gaelic Ireland, guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

ALLHALLOWTIDE: THE CHRISTIAN TRIDUUM OF HALLOWEEN

The triduum of Halloween, “Allhallowtide,” recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—Hallowmas, or All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God.

Is this part of our story new to you? Practices vary widely across the world’s many Christian denominations today. While Catholics, Anglicans and many other denominations retain the fuller liturgical celebration in their calendars, many Protestant and evangelical churches long ago abandoned the traditional three-day cycle.

However, “Allhallowtide” is a Christian term that emerged in the 1400s to describe this three-day period. For centuries, it was an important part of parish life in many regions. And, while most American Protestant churches have abandoned the larger observance, others are discovering that this opportunity to remember the “saints” can become a rich part of congregational life, especially in Latino communities. Here is an Episcopal perspective on the larger observance. And here is another reflection from the Catholic Culture website.

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

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.

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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Birth of Baha’u’llah and the Bab: Baha’is celebrate a bicentenary

Gardens and white, domed building with blue water beyond

Baha’i gardens in Haifa, Israel. Photo courtesy of iha.com

SUNSET FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20 and SUNSET SATURDAY, OCTOBER 21: Five million Baha’is worldwide will celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the “Twin Holy Birthdays” this year, as adherents of the faith rejoice in the birth anniversaries of the two figures most central to their faith: Baha’u’llah and the Bab.

Parties commence worldwide, as Baha’is first celebrate the birth of Baha’u’llah—the “Promised One”—and the Bab—the forerunner of their faith, who is known as “the Gate.” (Note: The Bab’s official bicentennial won’t occur for another two years, in 2019, but this year is the bicentennial of Baha’is most central figure—Baha’u’llah—and the Bab is being honored alongside him, this year.)

‘TWIN HOLY DAYS’: CELEBRATING TOGETHER

In questions submitted to Baha’u’llah after he wrote the “Kitab-i-Aqdas,” Baha’u’llah described his own birthday and the birthday of the Bab as “twin birthdays” that are “one” in the “sight of God.” Though the birthdays had been celebrated according to the solar calendar each year in most of the world—and Baha’u’llah’s birthday fixed on November 12—that changed in 2015. The Universal House of Justice—the governing body of the Baha’i faith—announced that from March 20, 2015 onward, the “twin birthdays” would be observed on the first and second days following the eighth new moon after Naw-Ruz, and the observation date of the Birth of Baha’u’llah would change annually. These “Twin Birthdays” are now celebrated by Baha’is as one annual festival, wherein the closely interwoven lives of these two figures are commemorated together.

Domed building lit at dusk, on hillside

The acclaimed and award-winning Baha’i temple recently built in Santiago, Chile. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Santiago, Chile: One of the most recently built (and award-winning) Baha’i houses of worship was constructed in Santiago, Chile, and received more than 25,000 visitors in just its first few weeks open. In an open-air style of building with a nine-sided dome and nine entrances to symbolically welcome people from all directions of the earth, this YouTube video gives a small tour of the new temple. CNN covered the story.

THE BAB AND BAHA’U’LLAH: TWO LIVES, ONE MISSION

Born on October 20, 1819, the Bab would eventually declare his mission as preparing people of the world for the Promised One (Baha’u’llah). The Bab was born Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, in Persia, and at the age of 24, Siyyid announced the coming Messenger of God—the Promised One awaited for by multiple world religions. Siyyid changed his name to “the Bab” (meaning “the Gate”) and made his life a mission for the Promised One.

Six years following his first prophesy, the Bab was executed. The Shrine of the Bab now stands in Haifa, Israel, and attracts throngs of Baha’is on the birth anniversary of the Bab. Baha’u’llah described the Bab this way: “the Herald of His Name and the Harbinger of His Great Revelation, which has caused … the splendor of His light to shine forth above the horizon of the world.”

Mirza Husayn Ali (who would become Baha’u’llah) was born November 12, 1817, in Tehran, Persia (now Iran). The son of a wealthy government minister, Baha’u’llah was born into wealth and prestige. His family’s lineage could be traced to the ruling dynasties of Persia’s past, and at the time of his birth, Mirza Husayn Ali’s family still exercised influence over the court of the Shah.

From a young age, Mirza Husayn Ali was rumored to be “different” than his peers. The child was wise beyond his years, showed immense compassion for the poor and displayed an unusually alert mind. In adulthood, he showed support for the Bab and the emerging Babi religion; in 1863, Mirza Husayn announced himself as the One promised by the Bab, and became known as Baha’u’llah. As the years passed, Baha’u’llah was subject to exile, violence and imprisonment.

IN THE NEWS: A BICENTENNIAL YEAR

This year, Baha’is celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Baha’u’llah, in honor of these significant anniversaries, the Universal House of Justice has asked every Baha’i community around the world to arrange a celebration that expresses a shared experience and global solidarity.

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Categories: Baha'i