Valentine’s Day: Share love, chocolates and prayer, as Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day collide

Heart in spoon top of pink mug with drink

Photo courtesy of Pexels

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Love letters, cards, chocolates and red-and-pink décor abound as Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. Just be careful not to indulge in sweet treats today if you’re one of the world’s 2 billion Western Christians: Though St. Valentine is recognized as a saint in the church, Ash Wednesday’s fasting and penitence takes precedence, church leaders are saying. So tell your loved ones how you feel, instead: “That’s amore!” An Italian greeting might be appropriate in honor of the feast day for this ancient Roman-Christian martyr known as St. Valentine.

Looking for a Christian twist on Valentine’s greetings? Get inspiration for a DIY card from Solomon’s Canticle of Canticles, a book that uses marital love as a metaphor for God’s love for the Church.

VALENTINE: HISTORY & LEGEND

Hearts hanging light behind

Photo courtesy of Pexels

The history of the saint behind this holiday is mysterious, indeed, and parts of the story are more legend than documented fact. For that reason, in 1969, the Vatican removed St. Valentine from the “General Roman Calendar,” the official registry of saints and their feast days. However, this saint is so beloved that Catholics are free to observe feast days locally and regionally—and millions do so every year.

The problem is that “Valentine” was a popular name in the 3rd Century—and for many years after that. At least two, and most likely several, Valentines were early Christian martyrs. By the 6th Century, Christian leaders were blending their stories into a single heroic tale.

Usually, Valentine is described as a courageous and brilliant defender of Christianity, as a compassionate man who tried to help men and women who were endangered during the period of Roman persecution—and as a priest who performed Christian marriages, including weddings for Roman soldiers and their wives at a time when that practice was illegal. According to legend, Valentine was such a striking figure that Roman Emperor Claudius II personally interrogated him, a practice that would have been quite rare in the Roman court. As the story goes, Valentine refused to recant his faith; the emperor refused to budge; Valentine performed a couple of final miracles (including healing his jailer’s daughter)—and Valentine was killed on February 14.

CHAUCER: CUE THE ROMANCE

The earliest known association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (1382 CE), written for the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. One of the earliest valentine messages still in existence is a 15th-century poem written by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was being held in the Tower of London.

By 1797, valentines were becoming so popular that a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, full of suggestions for verses in valentine greetings. Cards with verses were already being printed at the time of the Valentine Writer, and numbers of mailed valentines began to soar. By 18th-century England, lovers were exchanging flowers and sweets along with greetings. Today, it’s estimated that average Valentine’s Day spending is upward of $100 per person.

CRAFTS & RECIPES

Gifts may be a nice gesture, but Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to cost a fortune—especially with the DIY ideas from Martha Stewart, DIY Network and Real Simple.

Kids can craft Valentine’s Day greetings with help from Disney’s Family Fun.

 

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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Ash Wednesday: Christians fast, repent and begin Lenten season 2018

Icebreaker!

If you know someone from the Western Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you observe Ash Wednesday and Lent? How does your family mark the occasion?

 

Girl holding sign, 'Ashes here,' on busy city street

Congregations across the nation are taking to the streets, offering ashes on-the-go to busy Christians. Photo by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: The pancakes, paczkis, blintzes—and, for those who thought ahead, Valentine’s Day treats—have been eaten, and today, the solemn Lenten season begins for Western Christians—on Ash Wednesday. Starting today, Christians observe the 40 days of Lent (excluding Sundays) in preparation for Easter, in representation of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert. On Ash Wednesday, able adults fast, and all able Christians abstain from meat and practice repentance. Records indicate that from the earliest centuries, the days preceding Jesus Christ’s death were filled with a solemnity of fasting and penitence.

Did you know? The Catholic Church permits ashes on the forehead for anyone who wishes to receive them—not just baptized Catholics. Many Protestant and Anglican churches also include this rite at the start of Lent and more congregations add the service each year.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians recall their mortality and express sorrow for sins. Traditionally, palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned into ashes for Ash Wednesday services, and the ashes are then blessed; however, many churches today now conduct these services using ashes purchased from religious-supply companies. The custom of clergy placing ashes upon the foreheads of the faithful is rooted in the practice of doing so as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. Rather than wash the ashes, recipients are supposed to let the ashes wear off throughout the remainder of the day, as part of their spiritual reflections. The practice of ashes is, generally, kept by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans and Presbyterians.

FOR KIDS: Help children to better understand the purpose of Lent with Sacrifice Beans (learn more here). Alternatively, try a “Lent chain,” for which children create 40 pieces of paper inscribed with kind acts and prayers; each day of Lent, the children cut a link and perform the day’s act or prayer.

CLEAN MONDAY, VALENTINE’S & ASHES ON-THE-GO

Wooden number blocks 14 and February

This year, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke detail the story of Jesus spending 40 days fasting in the desert, where he is repeatedly tempted by Satan. Lent similarly marks 40 days—not counting Sundays. On Ash Wednesday, adult Catholics who are able practice fasting: only one full, non-meat meal throughout the day, along with two smaller meals that, combined, don’t equate in portion to the full meal.

VALENTINE’S DAY ADVISORY: Although Saint Valentine is a formally recognized saint in the Roman Catholic Church, many church leaders are relaying the necessity of keeping the day solemn—even though, for the first time since 1945, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday will fall on the same day. It is being recommended that Valentine’s celebrations in schools and at home be pushed to Fat Tuesday or a weekend day that precedes or follows February 14. (Read more in the Chicago Sun-Times, in the UK’s Catholic Herald Online and at Cleveland.com.

ASHES ON-THE-GO: Many Christians commemorate Ash Wednesday by receiving ashes on their foreheads—a tradition held since the Middle Ages—but in today’s busy world, more and more people may be unable to attend a weekday mass, and so congregations are heading to the streets or delivering ashes in “drive-thru” style. As congregations come up with new ideas to bring the church to the people, pastors and laypersons are visiting train stations, malls, public parks, coffee shops and college campuses to mark the foreheads of the faithful.

 CLEAN MONDAY: Eastern Orthodox Christians will start Great Lent just a few days after Western Christians do, this year, and in 2018, February 19 is Clean Monday—the start of the fasting period for Eastern Christians that prohibits meat, dairy and various other foods. Clean Monday—a public holiday in Greece—is commemorated with outdoor picnics, kite flying and shared family meals. (Find a recipe for Lagana Bread, a traditional Greek Clean Monday favorite, here.

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Categories: Christian

Fat Tuesday: Christians mark Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras with global traditions

If you know someone from the Western Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you celebrate Fat Tuesday? Does your family have any favorite recipes for this day?

 

Plate of pancakes, stacked with red syrup and cherries on top

The tradition of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, to clear cupboards of “indulgent” ingredients like butter, sugar and eggs, is centuries old. Photo by Einladung_Zum_Essen, courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 13: Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Pancake Day—all describe the massive celebration that takes place one day before the start of the Christian season of Lent, this year celebrated on February 13. Indulge to the hilt and maybe even give your Valentine some chocolates one day early—for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will fall on the same day, this year—on February 14. So empty those cupboards and refrigerators and dine on in sweet paczkis, delicate crepes, spongy pancakes and even a King Cake, before beginning the fast that begins the Western Christian Lenten season.

SHROVE TUESDAY, CARNE LEVARE & PANCAKES GALORE

King Cake with frosting drizzle and purple, yellow and green sugar granules on top

A Mardi Gras King Cake. Photo by Eric Wagner, courtesy of Flickr

For centuries, Christians have gathered their supply of sugar, butter, eggs and other rich foods on Fat Tuesday, cooking up an array of tempting treats and clearing the home of these foods in anticipation of Lenten fasting. In England, pancakes are topped with fruits and creams, cooking herbs and other savory flavors; in Poland and Lithuania, fried donuts and paczkis are more common. Swedes and Finns cook up semla pastries, and in the United States—well, any number of these treats can be seen on Fat Tuesday.

Did you know? In the UK and Ireland, the week prior to Ash Wednesday is known as “Shrovetide,” ending on Shrove Tuesday and always involving pancakes. Shrove Tuesday is derived from the word shrive, which means, “to confess.”

Originally, Fat Tuesday (or, in French, Mardi Gras) was known as “Shrove Tuesday,” which derived from shrive, meaning, “to confess.” Tradition has it that Christians not only clear indulgence from their systems in a physical way on Fat Tuesday, but also clear themselves on a spiritual level, too. Confession has long been common on the day before Ash Wednesday, so that Lent may begin with a “clear plate.”

Bread & faith: Find an array of bread-based recipes, along with stories of the deep connection between baking together and and sharing various faith traditions, in the book Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads.

The popular Carnival associated with Mardi Gras, primarily celebrated in Portuguese-, Spanish- and Italian-speaking countries, derives from carne levare, meaning “to take away flesh/meat.” Street processions abound in Brazil and Venice for Carnival.

PANCAKE RACES! In the United Kingdom, pancakes have been a part of Shrove Tuesday for so long that the day has all but been renamed “Pancake Day.” One of the longest-running pancake races has been held annually since 1445, in Olney at Buckinghamshire. One legend goes that a housewife was once so busy making pancakes that she lost track of time, and when she heard the church bells ringing, she ran out of the house still carrying her frying pan.

Gluten-free? Find a roundup of gluten-free pancake recipes, along with making everything from blintzes to Swedish pancakes, at Gluten Free on a Shoestring.

FROM GUMBO AND JAMBALAYA TO SEMLA BUNS: INTERNATIONAL RECIPES

An array of recipes from around the world can bring all of the day’s tastes to your table!

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Categories: Christian

Meatfare and Cheesefare Sundays: Orthodox Christians prepare for Great Lent

If you know someone from the Orthodox Christian tradition, perhaps at work or in your neighborhood, use this icebreaker: Do you observe Meatfare Sunday or Cheesefare Sunday? How does your family prepare for Lent?

 

Cheeseburger, open, with fries on white plate

Orthodox Christians indulge in meat and cheese for the final time before Pascha (Easter) on the Sundays leading up to Great Lent. Photo courtesy of Pxhere.

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11 and SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 18: Lent is quickly approaching for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and on February 11, Eastern Orthodox churches take the first steps steps toward their traditional Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday. After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter); one week later, Cheesefare Sunday will discontinue the partaking of dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins on Clean Monday—this year, on February 19.

MEATFARE (LAST JUDGMENT) SUNDAY

Though popularly referred to as Meatfare Sunday, this day is more formally known as the Sunday of the Last Judgment. In services, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ, in Matthew, refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well God’s love has been shared, and how deeply each person has cared for others.

Interested in cooking up a delicious meat dish?  Find recipes at Allrecipes, Woman’s Day and Food Network.

CHEESEFARE SUNDAY (AND FORGIVENESS)

Great Lent commences for Eastern Christians on the day following Cheesefare Sunday, but the faithful already are cleaning their slates (and their plates) today, by asking forgiveness and eliminating dairy from their diets until Pascha. In the Orthodox church, this year, February 18 is Forgiveness Sunday (also known as Cheesefare Sunday).

Looking for some tasty dairy recipes? Check out Eating Well and Food Network.

Meat hasn’t been consumed since last Sunday, but dairy products will be consumed for the final time today. Throughout Great Lent and until Pascha (Easter), Eastern Christians will observe these fasting customs with only occasional exemptions for oil and wine—but never meat or dairy.

Starting tonight, the Vespers of Forgiveness will signal the first liturgy of Great Lent; the service will end when attendees ask forgiveness from both fellow congregation members and the priest. If you have Orthodox friends and colleagues, this is a moving liturgy to attend, as the process of forgiveness often is deeply personal for the faithful.

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Categories: Christian

Groundhog Day, Candlemas and Imbolc: Festivals, shadows anticipate springtime

Groundhog coming out of hole with sun and shadow

Will the groundhog see his shadow this year? Photo courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

Revelers nationwide turn to a woodlands forecaster at sunrise this morning, out of tradition that a groundhog who sees his shadow in sunlight will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter—and one who sees no shadow will emerge, signaling an early spring. Today’s Groundhog Day may have evolved from the ancient pagan festival of Imbolc, a seasonal Celtic festival—during which the spotting of a badger or similar animal supposedly indicated a turn in weather. Centuries later, the Christian holiday of Candlemas was regarded as predicting a forecast, and today, Christians observe Candlemas (also known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple) on February 2.

A (GERMAN) GROUNDHOG HISTORY

Many regions have their own groundhog forecast today, but nowhere is the humble groundhog more revered than in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where “Punxsutawney Phil” inspires a whole list of events. When German immigrants made their way to Pennsylvania, U.S., in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought their groundhog traditions with them—and thus, Punxsutawney Phil was born.

A 2018 Phil-inspired drink:  This year, a Pennsylvania distillery is releasing a rye whiskey in honor of Groundhog Day, called “Phil’s Shadow.” But quantities are limited, so scurry—er, hurry—to the region if you’re hoping for a taste of the special drink.

Today, Groundhog Lodges in Pennsylvania hold social events on Feb. 2, where Pennsylvania German dialect is the only language allowed; those who speak English pay a penalty in nickels, dimes and quarters. Annually, Punxsutawney, Pa, draws tens of thousands of visitors on Groundhog Day—a custom that began in 1887, when a local newspaper editor declared the city’s groundhog the “one and only” predictor.

A Pakistani view of Punxsutawney Phil: In this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a native Pakistani reflects on how Phil reminds her of her roots.

Stack of pancakes on white with honey drizzled on top

French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes on Candlemas will bring good luck. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

CANDLEMAS, THE PRESENTATION AND CREPES

The Gospel of Luke is traditionally the center of Candlemas celebrations, in which it is described that Mary and Joseph take the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after his birth. According to the gospel, Mary, Joseph and Jesus met a man named Simeon while at the Temple, who recognized Jesus as the Messiah and as the fulfillment of a prophesy. A woman at the Temple, Anna, offered similar praise for Jesus. However, Simeon warned that Mary’s heart would someday be “pierced with a sword,” as the future held tragic events for her young son.

Did you know? In Serbia—an Orthodox Christian country—Feb. 2 brings The Meeting of the Lord, when it’s believed that a bear who sees his shadow will retreat and bring 40 more days of winter. (Note: Keep in mind that Serbia follows the Julian calendar, where Feb. 2 falls on the Gregorian Feb. 15.)

The Feast of the Presentation ranks as one of the oldest feasts in the church, with records of sermons dating back to the 4th century. Aside from the blessing of candles—and the widespread and abundant use of candles, too—Candlemas brings an array of delicious foods and vibrant customs! In countries across Europe, sweet and savory crepes are made; in Mexico, piles of tamales are served. French tradition has it that successfully flipping a coin while making pancakes will surely bring good luck, and Candlemas Bells—early-blooming white flowers, also known as Snowdrops—are believed to purify any home they are brought into today. (Just don’t bring those Snowdrops inside before the feast of Candlemas, because that’s considered bad luck!)

In European countries, Christ’s crèche is put away on Candlemas Eve (February 1), and across the church, attention shifts to the approaching Passion.

IMBOLC AND ST. BRIGHID

The Irish Imbolc translates from the Old Irish imbolg, or “in the belly”—a tribute to the early spring pregnancies of ewes. As lactation begins, an array of dairy foods eaten on this day symbolizes new beginnings. On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere mark Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, as the beginning of spring and the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox. (Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, Lughnassadh is celebrated.) Corn dollies, fashioned like Brighid, are made by young Pagans, while adults twist Brighid crosses. After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Legend has it that on Imbolc, Brighid begins preparing for the renewal of spring. Snakes and badgers begin emerging from the earth to “test the weather” (thus, the beginning of modern Groundhog Day traditions.) In Wicca, Imbolc is a women’s festival, in honor of Brighid.

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Categories: ChristianNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Timkat: Ethiopian Christians reenact baptism of Jesus with vibrant festival

Close-up of three dark-skinned men in elaborate religious robes and carrying ornate cloth umbrellas under sunny skies

Priests celebrate Timkat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Andrew Heavens, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, JANUARY 19: Rich, deep hues and velvet fabrics dot the landscape in Ethiopia during one of the grandest festivals of the year: Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus. As the countryside’s rolling hills are blooming with yellow spring flowers, pilgrims and priests dress in their finest clothing and form a procession that weaves through the rock-hewn churches and age-old passageways of Ethiopia. Central to the processions are models of the Ark of the Covenant (called tabots), carried by priests with caution and pride. To Ethiopian Christians, the tabot signifies the manifestation of Jesus as the Savior, when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

Did you know? Ethiopia is home to more UNESCO sites than any other country in Africa. In December 2013, the Demera festival of the Meskel holiday was registered as world intangible heritage by UNESCO; Ethiopia has since submitted study findings of three intangible cultural heritages to UNESCO for registration, one of which is Timket (Timkat).

Timkat events begin on Timkat eve, when the tabots are ceremoniously wrapped in cloth and carried by priests in a procession. In the earliest morning hours, while the sky is still dark, crowds gather near bodies of water to witness a blessing of the waters—a reenactment of the baptism of Christ. Crowds are sprinkled with water, and baptismal vows are renewed. When all rituals are complete, pilgrims return home for feasts and continued celebrations.

News organizations in the U.S. rarely cover Timkat, but reporters from the UK, India and Africa usually file stories. This year, the India-based Economic Times advises readers on the best spots in Ethiopia to visit for Timkat celebrations:


The Timkat Festival, an Orthodox Christian celebration of Epiphany, remembers the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. While Timkat is celebrated across the nation, the best place to attend the event is Lalibela, Gonder or Addis Ababa. The festival kick starts with a procession, during which the Tabots, models of the Ark of the Covenant, present on every Ethiopian altar are brought in from churches around Gondar. The Tabots are borne in procession, on the head of the priest, parading through the streets. The priests, escorted by drums and worshippers making merry, hold an overnight vigil until dawn. The services the following morning culminate in the priests blessing the waters of the historic Fasilides Bath. In Addis Ababa many tents are pitched in the grassy field at Jan Meda, to the northeast of the city centre.

Care to learn more?

If you have the Smithsonian channel available in your home, an episode of the Secrets series focuses on the Ark of the Covenant and includes a section on Ethiopia. Here is a link to watch an excerpt of that episode.

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Categories: Christian

Merry Christmas! Billions of Christians worldwide celebrate Jesus’s birth

Dimly lit church with evergreens and red ribbon decoration pew

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

MONDAY, DECEMBER 25: Merry Christmas!

It’s Christmas Day for the majority of the world’s 2 billion Christians, as the birth of Jesus is celebrated in great rejoicing. While the birth year of Jesus is only speculated, December 25 is embraced by a multitude of Christians worldwide as the day Mary and Joseph welcomed their newborn son in a manger. With the celebration of Jesus’s birth, the season of Advent closes for Western Christians; the Nativity Fast ends for Eastern Christians; and the 12 days of Christmastide begin. In many countries, Christmas Day is a public holiday.

Note: Some Eastern Christians mark Christmas according to the Julian calendar, which pushes many Russian, Ukrainian and Serbian churches to a January 7 celebration of Nativity (Christmas).

Many Christians believe the birth of Jesus to Mary fulfills an ancient Messianic prophesy. Two canonical gospels record Jesus as having been born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem. Tradition tells that the birth took place in a stable, because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Nearby shepherds, told of the birth by angels, came to see the baby; magi came later, bearing gifts for the baby Jesus. The Star of Bethlehem is believed to have led the magi to Jesus, and the visit of the magi is celebrated as Epiphany, on January 6.

CHRISTMAS: A HISTORY

Baby lit adults admiring in dark

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

From the formative years of the church’s celebrations to the Nativity noted today, a multitude of customs have become associated with Christmas: displaying manger scenes, caroling, sending greetings and hanging stockings by a fireplace, to name just a few. Christian saints have been responsible for creating some of the customs—namely, St. Francis of Assisi for the nativity scene, and St. Nicholas for stockings and candy canes—while others are secular or even pre-Christian.

The Chronography of 354 AD is the oldest surviving reference to a Roman celebration for the birth of Jesus on December 25; in the East, the birth of Jesus was already observed with the Epiphany, on January 6. In the Early Middle Ages, Christmas Day was outshone by Epiphany, though by the later medieval period, Christmas-related holidays were starting to become more popular.

Christmas encountered turbulence through the 17th and 18th centuries, but by the 19th century, writers such as Charles Dickens were creating the “heartfelt goodwill” that morphed Christmas into a more secular holiday based on goodwill, family and jollity. For billions around the globe, Christmas today includes cookies, gift giving, shared feasts, cherished stories and songs and festive decorations.

EASTERN CUSTOMS: JULIAN TO BETHLEHEM

Approximately half of Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas with Western Christians on December 25. That list includes the Orthodox churches in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Albania, Cyprus and Finland—as well as the Orthodox Church in America.

For a variety of traditional reasons, Orthodox churches in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Armenia, Egypt and Ethiopia hold their Nativity (Christmas) observance in January. This variance primarily involves the older Julian calendar, which pushes Christmas to January 7, but further wrinkles in the tradition affect some Armenians, Copts and Ethiopians. The very last Eastern Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated by the Armenians living in Jerusalem, who travel to Bethlehem for an hours-long, centuries-old liturgy in the Church of the Nativity that takes place as late as January 18 or 19.

FOOD & RECIPES

From Martha Stewart, try baking something beautiful.

From Rachael Ray or Food Network, find an array of professional recipes.

From AllRecipes, gather favored suggestions for dinner, breakfast and dessert.

From Food & Wine, cook up something fancy or unique.

 

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Categories: Christian