Memorial Day: After 154 years, Americans still recall the Civil War and honor our fallen in many wars

Flags in a row, flying

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

MONDAY, MAY 27: It’s as American as apple pie: hometown parades, ceremonies for fallen soldiers and the smell of barbecues firing up across the country.

It’s Memorial Day. The unofficial start of summer in America began, less than two centuries ago, as a solemn observance for the war that had consumed more lives than any other U.S. conflict. While memorial services still abound, the national holiday also means picnics, beaches, fireworks and, of course, travel, as Americans enjoy a three-day weekend.

AAA’s travel forecast for 2019 says that nearly 43 million of us will hit the road this weekend.

Scroll down in this story to read our best 2019 holiday tips. However, before we list those links, let’s celebrate a tireless historian who helped Americans recover our history of this more-than-150-year-old observance.

A PULITZER FOR THE HOLIDAY’S HISTORIAN

Memorial Day began as an annual, grassroots practice of sprucing up the gravesites of the countless Americans who died during the Civil War. That’s why, for many years, the observance was called Decoration Day, describing the flowers and colorful flags that seemed to sprout across cemeteries each spring.

For much of the 20th Century, however, the painful early roots of this observance were forgotten as proud civic boosters across the country tried to claim their own unique slices of this history. Then, Yale historian David W. Blight researched and corrected the record, finally honoring the fact that the courageous pioneers in observing this holiday were former slaves in the South who dared to decorate Yankee graves. In his history, Race and ReconciliationBlight writes: “Decoration Day, and the many ways in which it is observed, shaped Civl War memory as much as any other cultural ritual.”

Blight continued to research race and American memory in that era and, this spring, he has been honored with the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history for his in-depth biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

MEMORIAL DAY and CIVIL RELIGION

The famed sociologist of American religion, Robert Bellah, also shaped the evolution of Memorial Day’s meaning in a landmark article he published in a 1967 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He called his long article “Civil Religion in America,” taking the centuries-old concept of “civil religion” and kicked off decades of fresh research into how our civil religion defines our American culture. You can read Bellah’s entire original article online.

A few lines from Bellah’s article about Memorial Day …
Until the Civil War, the American civil religion focused above all on the event of the Revolution, which was seen as the final act of the Exodus from the old lands across the waters. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the sacred scriptures and Washington the divinely appointed Moses who led his people out of the hands of tyranny.

Then—The Civil War raised the deepest questions of national meaning. The man who not only formulated but in his own person embodied its meaning for Americans was Abraham Lincoln. For him the issue was not in the first instance slavery but “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” … With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enters the new civil religion. It is symbolized in the life and death of Lincoln. Nowhere is it stated more vividly than in the Gettysburg Address, itself part of the Lincolnian “New Testament” among the civil scriptures.

MEMORIAL DAY? ISN”T THAT A SALE?

The vast majority of Memorial Day news stories in 2019 cover two themes: Travel advice for the millions of American families who hit the road each spring over the holiday weekend—and tips on where to find the biggest bargains in annual “Memorial Day Blowout” sales.

NBC News has an example of the latter in a story headlined The Best 2019 Memorial Day Sales and DealsWhat does the holiday mean? You can save tons of money on everything from fancy rugs and mattresses—to egg cookers. NBC is hardly alone! The New York Post‘s holiday story zeroes in on the best deals in fashion and accessories. Then, naturally WIRED focuses on deals in “Tech and Gaming.” Esquire follows suit with an overview of electronics you can snap up on Amazon at holiday discounts. And, FORTUNE has a long list of businesses and public institutions that are closing for the holiday—and those making a point of staying open.

Check local media, or search Google News for your destination, to find up-to-date travel advice. Some National Parks are bracing for massive crowds. Others may not be entirely open yet, due to snow in high elevations. The National Park Service directs visitors interested in Memorial Day to this page.

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Mother’s Day: Celebrate motherhood and more on Mom’s day

Woman and young boy sitting on wood floor, looking at each other, map on floor

Photo by Coffee, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, MAY 12: Honor Mom the way Anna Jarvis intended, on this centennial anniversary of Mother’s Day.

Although people have been celebrating motherhood for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day began in 1908, with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the entire country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s.

This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

Care to read a wonderfully inspiring column about these relationships? Author Debra Darvick’s headline is, The best words: ‘I had a mother who read to me …’

CARNATIONS—AND THE BEGINNINGS OF MOTHER’S DAY

American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, but Jarvis’s campaigns were the first to make it beyond the local level. The first “official” Mother’s Day service was actually a memorial ceremony, held at Jarvis’s church, in 1908; the 500 carnations given out at that first celebration have given way to the widespread custom of distributing carnations to mothers on this day. For Anna, the floral choice was easy: Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers.

Did you know? President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation for Mother’s Day in 1914.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable. Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar—mainly because it is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls.

BRUNCH RECIPES, GIFT IDEAS & DIY

It seems that brunch is akin to Mother’s Day, and we’ve got plenty of ideas to get you started! Here are just a few, plus gift and craft ideas to boot:

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut: Jews mark memorial, independence days

Young people lined up on stage, outdoors, with blue banners and Israeli flags on building behind stage

A ceremony for Yom HaZikaron, Ramla, Israel. Photo by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET TUESDAY, MAY 7 and SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 8: Commemorations in Israel begin at sunset on Tuesday, May 7, this year, for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. In the Israeli calendar, Memorial Day (or Yom HaZikaron) is followed by the celebration of Independence Day (or Yom Ha’atzmaut), as a way to begin the celebration of freedom with a day-long solemn remembrance of the cost of that freedom. In the Jewish calendar, these days traditionally fall on the 4th and 5th days of lyar, the eighth month of the year.

Israel gained its independence in 1948, and an elaborate ceremony occurs each year on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. During this ceremony, members of the Israeli Parliament speak, dramatic presentations celebrate the nation’s history and soldiers march with the flag of Israel while creating formations like a Menorah. Traditionally, 12 torches are lit to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.

NEWS: Jewish communities worldwide mark Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut. This article, from the Jewish Journal, highlights a variety of related events taking place in Florida this year.

During the day, many Jewish families celebrate similarly to the American Independence Day, with picnics, family gatherings and a generally festive air. (My Jewish Learning details some of the customs associated with Yom Ha’atzmaut.) In many areas, Israeli folk dances are organized in the streets at night.

READINGS

An Israeli government website now provides an inspiring list of readings for individuals and families marking these observances. Some are widely known and used, but—even if you regularly mark these occasions—you may find some interesting texts here that you haven’t seen before.

Here is the Israeli selection of readings for Remembrance Day.

And, here is the list of readings for Independence Day.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Ramadan: Muslims worldwide embrace month of fasting and prayer

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.”
from The Quran

Mosque lit at night with people gathered

Muslims gather for a Quran reading during Ramadan in Iran. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SUNDAY MAY 5: The crescent moon shines in the night sky as Ramadan 2019 begins for Muslims around the globe, ushering in a month of daytime fasting, intense prayer and shared nighttime meals. Though an official moon sighting—and start date of Ramadan—is announced from Saudi Arabia, localized moon sightings may still vary slightly by region. (Learn more here about the crescent moon sighting, vital to the start of Ramadan, from the website of the main North American council of Islamic scholars.)

As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the beginning and end of Ramadan is based on a crescent moon sighting that is typically visible 1-2 days after the astronomical new moon. The end of Ramadan—the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—is met with Eid al-Fitr, a festival of the breaking of the fast. Eid al-Fitr marks the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal, and is a time of great feasting and family celebrations.

RAMADAN 2019:
DISCOVER ‘OUR MUSLIM NEIGHBORS’

Author Victor Begg is an experienced public speaker and group leader. He’s already scheduling appearances across the U.S. Contact him via his website if you’re interested in inquiring about his schedule.

Early in 2019, we encouraged our readers to make a special commitment this year. You can read that entire column here. The story opens this way …

Join all of us at our publishing house in making this New Year’s Resolution: Meet a Muslim.

Most Americans have never actually met our millions of Muslim neighbors. It’s time to change that. If we do reach out, we usually discover new friends with similar values—and the entire community is enriched by our new friendships.

This week, we are making this process easier than ever before. You can meet Victor Begg, his wife Shahina and their entire family in the engaging new memoir, Our Muslim Neighbors—Achieving the American Dream, an Immigrant’s MemoirVictor welcomes readers into a fascinating family story in which readers are likely to recognize the personalities of their own mothers, fathers and other family and friends.

Readers certainly will recognize their core American values and will enjoy reading about Victor’s courageous attempts to live out those values, sometimes in the midst of tragedy.

RAMADAN: MUHAMMAD AND THE QURAN

Of every month in the calendar, Muslims hold Ramadan to be the most favorable for the revelations of God to humankind. Specifically, Ramadan recalls the month when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Because the Quran was given to the Prophet during this month, Muslims usually spend more time with the Quran—often visiting mosques and other Muslim centers where the entire Quran will be recited aloud during the course of the month.

During this special month, devotees also gain a better understanding of the conditions surrounding those less fortunate around the world, and charitable works skyrocket during Ramadan.

FASTING (AND THE IFTAR)

Tradition states that God not only suggested fasting, but demanded it for those physically and mentally able. During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, all able Muslims are required to refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours in the hopes that they will gain a closer relationship with Allah.

A fast-breaking meal known as Iftar replenishes the body’s food stores after a long day: the meal starts with dates, in the practice of Muhammad himself, followed by a feast prepared for family and friends.

During the night, Muslim countries are alight and alive with lanterns in houses and mosques, lights in public squares and joy all around.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Muslim

Beltane, Samhain: Wiccans and Pagans mark May Day festival

Fire with dancers in middle of crowd, nighttime

The Beltane Fire Festival at Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Martin Robertson, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1: Enjoy the beauty of spring and summer today! May 1 is the Pagan and Wiccan festival of Beltane, a joyous festival that celebrates the renewal and bounty of nature. Beltane (or Samhain, in the southern hemisphere) falls on a date approximately halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice.

Original Beltane festivals date back thousands of years to ancient Ireland and Scotland, and today, a revival of these ancient rites is bringing Celtic people back to their roots. Dancing around a Maypole might not be a feasible activity for most people today, but everyone can rejoice in spring by taking a nature walk, placing fresh flowers around the home or eating traditional foods like oats and dairy.

Ancient Beltane rituals often revolved around fertility; as time progressed, enormous community bonfires on Beltane Eve signified purity and the coming warmth and light of summer months. Early season herbs, such as juniper, were often thrown onto fires to add blessing to the smoke, and pagans would often run between two fires for luck. Wiccans of today mark Beltane as one of eight sabbats, or holidays.

The greatest Beltane Eve festival today is the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Festival, an extravagant event on Calton Hill in Scotland that attracts approximately 15,000 people annually. (Beltane.org is the official site.) The Beltane Fire Festival began during the night of April 30 in 1988, and has since provided spectators with a wide array of performances, hypnotic drum beats and more, by firelight.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Yom HaShoah: Remembering the Holocaust and heroism

Young people dressed in white and blue carry Israeli flags and walk down railroad tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

March of the Living participants. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 1: An Israeli memorial for the 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated worldwide as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all paint the picture of this solemn observance.

Also known as “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” in English, Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies. Today, those who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era; they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times; and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)

In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law.

Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. (Wikipedia has details.) Public entertainment is not permitted on Yom HaShoah, and radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.

Yom Hashoah and Hate Crimes in 2019

Each year, one of the major themes associated with Yom HaShoah is the commitment to never forget what happened in this horrific genocide. In the 1970s and ’80s, American public schools that once ignored the Holocaust in standard lesson plans began to include this chapter of history for all students. Holocaust memorials, including the national museum in Washington D.C., opened to millions of visitors.

Click this image from Freedland’s and Hasan’s column to visit The Guardian website and read their entire text.

However, a rising tide of right-wing nationalism around the world has poured fresh fuel on smaller extremist groups that resort to violence. Hate crimes have risen against various minority groups, but especially Jews, according to FBI statistics in the U.S. and reports from other countries.

One of the most urgent appeals this spring was issued from the UK by two journalists writing for The Guardian newspaper: Jonathan Freedland and Mehdi Hasan. Together, they published this impassioned column, headlined: Muslims and Jews face a common threat from white supremacists. We must fight it together.

Their column begins this way:

The two of us have been having the exact same conversation for the past decade. About antisemitism and Islamophobia. One of us a Muslim, the other a Jew, we have conducted it in public and in private, on Twitter and on TV. We’ve agreed; we’ve argued; we’ve even wandered off topic to trade tips on how to get through a fast. Now we’ve come together because of the urgent and common threat that we face. Both of our communities are under violent attack from far-right white supremacists.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, last month a white supremacist gunned down 50 Muslims at prayer. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, last October a white supremacist gunned down 11 Jews at prayer. Both killers were clear in their loathing of both Jews and Muslims. Both subscribed to the “great replacement theory,” which casts Muslims and other minorities as “invaders” of western societies and a threat to white, Christian majorities. In this narrative, the supposed invasion is a wicked plot orchestrated by the same hidden hand behind all malign events through world history: the Jews. The point was put concisely in an online remark reposted by the Pittsburgh murderer: “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!”

This is how our haters see us: Jews and Muslims connected in a joint enterprise to effect a “white genocide.” It is an unhinged and racist conspiracy theory–and it has both of our communities in its murderous sights.

So there can only be one response: Muslims and Jews must stand and fight it together. 

Please, consider their appeal and share this column with friends.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jewish

Easter: Western and Eastern Christians rejoice for the Resurrection

Pink tulips, colored eggs, one fancy painted egg, in basket

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 21, and SUNDAY APRIL 28: EASTER is the most important Christian celebration of the year in both Eastern (Orthodox) and Western churches—but the two branches of Christianity will mark the date one week apart this year.

Hot cross buns, chocolate bunnies and brunch soufflé fill tables and baskets of plenty on this joyous holiday, as families and friends gather to mark this, the focal point of the Christian calendar. Lilies adorn altar spaces and remind churchgoers both of resurrection (blossoms from dormant spring bulbs)—and that Jesus enjoyed a form of lily himself as is evidenced in the Gospel of Luke. The 50 days following Easter are called Eastertide.

(Note: Though termed Pascha in the Eastern Christian Church, the themes are similar across East and West.)

Ham on white plate with sliced pineapples on top

Click the image to watch a video on three ways to finish an Easter ham. Courtesy of Vimeo

EGG HUNTS AND HAM TO BELLS AND LAMB

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection. Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families, although for Christians, shared meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also often features lamb—a symbol of Christ at this time of year as the Paschal Lamb. However, these days, Easter hams far outpace cuts of lamb. Whether at church or at a post-service feast, Christians dress in their best apparel on Easter day.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

THE NEW TESTAMENT: WITNESS OF AN EMPTY TOMB

The New Testament describes the events of the resurrection of Jesus, which Christians believe verify him as the Son of God. There is no recorded “moment of resurrection,” but rather, the discovery by Mary Magdalene (and possibly others) early on Sunday morning—that the tomb was empty.

Did you know? First evidence of the Easter festival appears in the mid-2nd century.

In his crucifixion, Jesus died on a Roman cross. That evening, according to Christian tradition, Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body, wrapped it in linen cloth and laid it in a tomb. Saturday passed, and early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene (and, some Gospels attest, other women in attendance) visited the tomb of Jesus. Much to their surprise, the tomb’s stone was moved, and a messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Gospel accounts vary regarding the messenger’s specific message and the women’s response, but all emphasize that the empty tomb was witnessed. To this day, sunrise services are popular in some regions on Easter Sunday, echoing the traditional stories of the empty tomb.

In the church, Easter is followed by the 50 days of Eastertide, which comes to an end on Pentecost Sunday.

EASTER RECIPES, DIY & MORE

Comments: (0)
Categories: Christian