Midsummer, solstice and Litha: Welcome, summer!

Dancing outdoors

Midsummer dancing. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

FRIDAY, JUNE 21: Bonfires, picnics on the beach, wreaths of wildflowers and Midsummer parties—Scandinavian-style—abound today, at the summer solstice. Across the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the “longest day of the year,” meaning that for astrological reasons, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight than on any other day of the year.

For people around the world, Midsummer has been equated with sun gods, greenery, fertility rituals and medicinal herbs for millennia. In Scandinavian countries, the longest day is one of the most beloved holidays of the year. A Scandinavian Midsummer is complete with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old: extravagant smorgasbord lunches, outdoor games for the entire community, dancing and more.

Flower crowns are all the rage, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. For a tutorial on how to create a chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries often take center stage in cakes, shortcakes or eaten straight out of the bowl. Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes, visit Bon Appetit or ScandinaviaFood.com.

CELEBRATE WITH SHAKESPEARE

Each summer, theatrical companies around the world perform Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s DreamA global check of theater listings turns up performances in California, the Midwest and England—and others in communities sprinkled around the world. Check local listings in your region.

Amazon Prime members can choose from at least four free-to-stream versions of the classic, anytime this week.

MIDSUMMER AROUND THE WORLD

In Finland, the summer holiday unofficially starts with Midsummer, and so many flock to countryside cottages that city streets can seem eerily empty. Saunas, bonfires, barbecues and fishing are enjoyed by hundreds.

Two northeastern towns in Brazil have been in lengthy competition for the title of “Biggest Saint John Festival in the World,” and throughout the South American country, dishes made with corn and sweet potatoes are favored.

In Austria, a spectacular procession of ships makes its way down the Danube River, while fireworks light up the night sky above castle ruins. In Latvia, homes, livestock and even cars are decorated with leaves, tree branches, flowers and other greenery.

The largest American celebrations of Midsummer take place in New York City, Seattle, Tucson and San Francisco. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, members of the large Finnish population celebrate Juhannus with beachfront bonfires and other outdoor activities.

LITHA: A WICCAN AND PAGAN SOLSTICE CELEBRATION

Many Wiccans and Pagans observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life. At Litha, adherents note the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. In centuries past, torchlight processions were common; at Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

NOTE THE WIDE RANGE OF DATES—If you’re interested in looking for regional Litha observances in your part of the world, search local news and websites early—and plan ahead, because dates may vary. Some groups in 2019 are choosing to hold their festivals on Saturday to accommodate work schedules. However, in other parts of the world, Litha events may come as early as June 20 or as late as June 24 with celebrations in central and northern Europe closer to the 24th.

Gathering Herbs

Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

Interested in a modern-day take on gathering and drying healing herbs? Check out this story by Antioch College student Aubrey Hodapp, whose studies under an herbalist have helped her to deliver local, organic tea to her fellow students and much more (featured this week at FeedTheSpirit).

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Categories: ChristianInterfaithInternational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Valentine’s Day: Show your affection on an international holiday of love

Holding red and pink flat hearts in pink gloved hands, from above

Photo by jill111, courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Hearts, expressions of love and sweet confections are flowing around the world today, marking the arrival of Valentine’s Day.

In ancient Rome, the fertility festival Lupercalia was observed February 13-15, although historians cannot document specific historical links between Lupercalia and the modern Valentine’s Day. For that matter, history doesn’t document any romantic association with Valentine’s Day until the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The embers of courtly love began glowing in the High Middle Ages, and by the end of the 18th century, Valentine cards were being produced and exchanged. Through the decades, Valentines evolved from lace-and-ribbon trinkets to paper stationery to a holiday involving more expensive gifts, chocolates and, more recently, jewelry. The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent in the United States each year (not including the inexpensive Valentine cards exchanged among schoolchildren).

What are the characteristics of true love? The Huffington Post weighs in, with this article.

For couples: In early 2014, Pope Francis released an appeal entitled “The Joy of ‘Yes’ Forever.” Intended for engaged couples but suitable for anyone who is married, this is a perfect read for Valentine’s Day! Read it here.

2019 stats: The National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics reports that this year, fewer people are planning to shop for gifts for Valentine’s Day—but those who do spend will be spending a record amount (read more from the NRF). The average shopper is expected to spend approximately $160 (a 13 percent increase from last year) for Valentine’s Day this year, totaling a record $20.7 billion.

THE ‘REAL’ ST. VALENTINE(S): A HISTORY AND A DOZEN

Man in painting with soldiers, others near building

A depiction of Saint Valentine of Terni and disciples. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Through the centuries, Christians have honored nearly a dozen St. Valentines, so any research into the history of the “real” St. Valentine quickly veers toward confusion.

The Encyclopedia Britannica states that St. Valentine is the “name of two legendary martyrs whose lives seem to be historically based. One was a Roman priest and physician who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus and was buried on the Via Flaminia. Pope St. Julius I reportedly built a basilica over his grave. The other, bishop of Terni, Italy, was martyred, apparently also in Rome, and his relics were later taken to Terni. It is possible these are different versions of the same original account and refer to only one person.”

American Catholic magazine—one of today’s most popular sources of information for Catholic families—states: “Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate. Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.”

So,  if conversation today heads in the direction of  the history of the “real” St. Valentine, you’re on solid ground to state the simple truth: “Yes, but no one knows for sure.”

FEBRUARY 14 AROUND THE WORLD

Chocolate heart cookies with pink icing on plate

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Albeit a relatively new addition to Asian culture, Valentine’s Day claims its biggest spenders in this region: Customarily, women in South Korea and Japan give chocolates to all male co-workers, friends and lovers on February 14, with men returning the favor two- or threefold on “White Day,” which occurs on March 14. Residents of Singapore spend, on average, between $100 and $500 on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to a recent report.

French and Welsh households commemorate Christian saints of love, and in Finland and Latin American countries, “love” extends to friends and friendships. Western countries most often acknowledge Valentine’s Day with greeting cards, candies and romantic dinner dates. However, in Islamic countries, many officials have deemed Valentine’s Day as unsuitable for Islamic culture.

VALENTINE RECIPES AND LINKS

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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Chinese New Year: Embrace the Year of the Pig (& Earth element)

Pig on pink with words Happy New Year

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5: The Chinese Year of the Pig starts today, with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course. Alternatively, this joyous occasion is called the Spring Festival.

Care to see more? The UK’s Evening Standard has photos of a portion of the billions of travelers undergoing the trip to or across China, which currently makes up the world’s largest human migration.

Gold piggy banks in rows

Golden piggy banks for sale before Chinese New Year in Seoul, Korea. Photo by bebouchard, courtesy of Flickr

EARTHLY BRANCHES & THE ZODIAC

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Earthly Branches were the original terms used for the years, but animals were later added as mnemonics and categorized as either yin or yang. Ten Celestial Stems pair with the Earthly Branches for a 60-year calendrical cycle. This year is the year of the Earth element and the 12th Zodiac animal, the pig.

Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. (Just be careful! The year of someone’s Zodiac animal isn’t exactly considered lucky, and wearing red every day for that year is considered a means of protection from evil spirits and bad fortune.)

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

Feng Shui 2019: This year, colors representative of fire—red, orange and pink—are considered lucky, as are colors representative of metal (white and gold). Fire and metal are considered beneficiary to the Earth element, as the Fire element reinforces Earth and the Metal element feeds on the Earth.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

Foods and decor of red and gold on table

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

 

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Categories: International Observances

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: Pursuing Justice Is 2019 Theme for Global Resources

A gathering of some of the leaders active in the World Council of Churches.

Beginning FRIDAY, JANUARY 18: The world’s more than 2 billion Christians are urged to participate in this eight-day observance that is more than a century old—the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The observance falls between the Feast of the Confession of Peter and the octave of Sts. Peter and Paul.

In 1908, this idea was launched by Father Paul Wattson—and now has circled the globe, co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican.

Note: In the Southern Hemisphere, where January is typically a time for vacations, churches may celebrate the Week of Prayer at a different time.

2019 Resources for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The World Council of Churches reports: “At least once a year, Christians are reminded of Jesus’ prayer for his disciples that ‘they may be one so that the world may believe’ (see John 17.21). Hearts are touched and Christians come together to pray for their unity. Congregations and parishes all over the world exchange preachers or arrange special ecumenical celebrations and prayer services. The event that touches off this special experience is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.”

Church leaders can download a free 40-page resource guide co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches via a link on this page within the Council’s website.

At the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity also provides detailed resources, ranging from Bible passages to liturgical readings.

 

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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe: A peasant, an apparition and a tilma miracle

Front of cathedral with pillars and painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe

The interior of the Colima Cathedral, in Mexico. Note: The Colima Cathedral was the first Catholic church in Latin America to be consecrated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, though it does not house the tilma of Juan Diego and is not the famed Catholic pilgrimage site. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 12: Catholic accounts state that on the morning of Dec. 9, 1531, the peasant Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City: today, the series of miracles that followed are recalled on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

On Dec. 12, 1531—three days after the first apparition sighting—Juan Diego opened his cloak before a local bishop, and an image of Our Lady that is still vivid today was imprinted inside. The apparitions seen by Juan Diego bridged a gap between the natives’ belief systems and the Catholic religion, and in centuries since, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been cherished across Mexico and in parts of Latin America.

THE APPARITION & THE TILMA

According to Catholic tradition: On the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Mass. While walking, Juan Diego spotted a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac; the girl spoke to him in his native language, Nahuatl, and asked that a church be built at the site, in her honor. Based on her words, Juan Diego recognized the girl as the Virgin Mary.

Did you know? Peasant Juan Diego was canonized in 2002.

People in white on their knees in middle of cemented area with picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their shirts

Pilgrims at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City. Each year on or before December 12, pilgrims arrive—some even crawl on their knees for miles as they approach the basilica. Photo by Geraint Rowland, courtesy of Flickr

When Juan Diego approached Spanish Archbishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the archbishop asked for proof of the apparition’s identity. The apparition then instructed Juan Diego to gather out-of-season Castilian roses from a hilltop, and to revisit the archbishop. Juan Diego opened his cloak before the archbishop, letting the roses fall to the floor—and there, on the inside of the tilma (cloak), was an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

According to Catholic sources, several miracles have been associated with Juan Diego’s tilma through the centuries, including the tilma itself: with its construction of coarse cactus fiber, the tilma should have degraded hundreds of years ago. The colors forming the image of Our Lady are as yet unidentified, and in 1951, photographers discovered reflections in the Virgin’s eyes that identify the individuals present at Juan Diego’s unveiling. Studies have revealed that the stars in Mary’s mantle match what would have been seen in the Mexican sky in December of 1531.

MILLIONS FLOCK TO PILGRIMAGE SITE

The Virgin Mary has been deemed the “Queen of Mexico,” and in 1945, Pope Pius XII declared her the the Empress of all the Americas. Currently, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (grounds shown, at right) competes for the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world.

A MEXICAN MENU, GUADALUPE HYMNS AND MORE

Catholics everywhere can honor Our Lady of Guadalupe with a novena, or with a Mexican dinner in honor of Juan Diego and the basilica. (Find easy recipes and decoration ideas at Catholic Cuisine, and a recipe for Mexican lentil soup at The Catholic Foodie. For novenas and more, visit CatholicCulture.org.) Beef broth, flan, Mexican bread pudding and mole poblano—finished with café con leche—could all contribute to a dinner feast for the occasion.

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Categories: ChristianInternational Observances

Kristallnacht: Marking 80 years since ‘The Night of Broken Glass’

Black-and-white photo of broken windows, two people walking by

The night after Kristallnacht. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9: The sound of broken glass still echoes around the world on November 9, as communities remember the tragic events that took place in 1938 during Kristallnacht.

Literally “Crystal Night,” Kristallnacht was so called for the shattered glass that covered streets and sidewalks after thousands of Jewish synagogues and buildings were destroyed. Kristallnacht was a coordinated series of attacks by the Nazis in Germany and Austria; German law-enforcement officials were ordered not to intervene during the destruction. Jewish persecution moved into a dramatically public and violent phase, and while their schools, stores, hospitals and places of worship were being destroyed, Jews were beaten in the streets and detained for concentration camps.

In 2018, a range of events—from documentary screenings to memorial articles to exhibits and programs—will mark the anniversary of “The Night of Broken Glass.”

Foreign journalists in Germany reported on the events, alerting their respective homelands of the shocking events: For the first time, the public fully understood the alarming intentions of the Nazi regime. International support of pro-Nazi movements declined almost overnight, and many reports compared Kristallnacht to the gruesome pogroms of Imperial Russia. As was written in The Times of Kristallnacht: No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenseless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday.

Kristallnacht marked a public turning point in the Nazi regime. The attacks on Jewish neighbors, businesses and houses of worship shocked the world; the Nazi regime’s intentions could no longer be denied. The 1,400 synagogues attacked on Kristallnacht, the 90 Jews murdered that night, and the 30,000 Jews detained for concentration camps foretold of the tragedies to come.

LEADING TO KRISTALLNACHT

In the 1920s, German Jews lived as other citizens: operating businesses, obtaining licenses and having access to education. Yet with the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, things quickly began to change. Hitler immediately introduced anti-Jewish policies and forbade inter-religious marriage. When Jews sought refuge, foreign countries began locking down admissions. In August 1938, residence permits for foreigners were cancelled; thousands of Jews were forced from their homes with nowhere to go, their possessions seized by Nazi authorities. It was with these expulsions that the ground was laid for Kristallnacht.

Among those expelled from Germany was the family of Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Jew living in Paris with his uncle. When his family wrote, pleading for help, Grynszpan assassinated German diplomat Ernst vom Rath—stating that his protest had to be heard around the world. The following day, the German government removed Jewish children from public schools and halted Jewish cultural activities and publications. When word of vom Rath’s death reached Hitler, a pogrom was organized—an act that Hitler and his inner circle had been planning already, just awaiting a trigger like the shooting.

Kristallnacht ensued that evening.

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Categories: International ObservancesJewish

Allhallowtide, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos: It’s Halloween!

Lit-up lanterns with designs, pumpkin, Halloween themes

Photo courtesy of GoodFreePhotos

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 31-FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2: Deeply rooted 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. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!

HALLOWEEN: A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN; A CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Girl in dress at door of woman in mask, pumpkins, Halloween

Photo courtesy of MaxPixel

Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, 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—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favored characters has become custom in Western culture. Recent estimates are that the very diverse American business of “haunted attractions” brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and the commercial elements of Halloween have spread from North America to Europe, South America, Australia, Japan and parts of East Asia.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK

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. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

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. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and 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.

Woman looking at camera with face paint, man at side, Dia de los Muertos skeleton

Dressed for a Dia de los Muertos festival, Los Angeles. Photo by Rob Sheridan, courtesy of Flickr

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS: DAY OF THE DEAD

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

ALL THINGS HALLOWEEN:
DIY COSTUMES, DÉCOR, PARTIES & MORE

What’s Halloween without some good costumes and tasty treats?

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Categories: International Observances