Midsummer, solstice and Litha: Welcome, summer!

Dancing outdoors

Midsummer dancing. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, 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.

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

Wiccans and Pagans may 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.

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

St. Patrick’s Day: Wear green, get into the Irish spirit for the legendary saint

Green plants with sunshine on parts

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SATURDAY, MARCH 17: Top o’ the day from the Emerald Isle! Around the world today, revelers remember the legendary Saint Patrick of Ireland, while embracing the Irish culture through food, music, costuming and more.

WHO WAS THE REAL ST. PATRICK?

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

stained glass of saint patrick

St. Patrick. Photo by James Walsh, courtesy of Flickr

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

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

PATRICK’S ‘BREASTPLATE’

St. Pat’s Day may be a secular bash in many communities, but it also has deep religious roots that matter to millions. The purest forms of religious expression, each year, occur—naturally—in Ireland. One of the most popular posts in the decade-long history of ReadTheSpirit is a collection of three versions of the famous prayer known as The Breastplate:

Versions 1 and 2: Here is St. Patrick’s Breastplate in English prose and in 19th Century lines of a hymn.
Version 3:
We also have St. Patrick’s Breastplate in Gaelic.

You probably remember some of the most famous lines from St. Patrick, such as:
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me

And also:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.

But, there is so much more to this classic prayer!

Alternatively, start here for a Gaelic version and follow the link to find two more English versions, one as poetry and one as refashioned for a hymn.

A CHRISTIAN FEAST DAY—AND AN EPIC FESTIVAL

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

In 1996, the Republic of Ireland began the St. Patrick’s Festival to highlight everything Irish to other world citizens; today, the festival lasts five days, attracts more than 1 million visitors and requires 18 months of planning. (Check out the St. Patrick’s Festival website for more.)

Plate of corned beef with vegetables

A traditional corned beef dinner for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by thebittenword.com, courtesy of Flickr

RECIPES, CRAFT IDEAS & MORE

Got dreams of hearty Irish stews, hot Reuben sandwiches and cold drinks? Get into the Irish spirit with these recipe ideas (and some crafts, too):

  • A plethora of easy-to-follow recipes, from brisket to soda bread, is at AllRecipes.
  • Kids can get into the spirit of the Irish with craft ideas from Parenting.com.
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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Daylight Savings Time: Participating states, countries ‘spring ahead’ 2018

Wall with various clocks hanging

Photo courtesy of pxhere

SUNDAY, MARCH 11: At 2 a.m. today, it’s time for spring—or, at least, to “spring” clocks forward by one hour, as Daylight Savings Time begins. First proposed by New Zealand’s George Vernon Hudson in 1895, the concept of Daylight Savings Time was originally proposed to utilize after-work hours for leisure activities with extra daylight. Though DST has fallen in and out of favor for decades, it is still widely used today throughout Europe and most of the United States.

DST: Did it begin with a Founding Father? Americans like to name Benjamin Franklin as the first proponent of Daylight Savings Time, because of a satirical essay he published while serving as an American envoy to Paris in 1784. Among other things, he urged the ringing of church bells and the firing of canons to get Parisians out of bed earlier each morning. However, historians now say that’s not the same as proposing Daylight Savings Time, which refers to a public shift in timekeeping. The 18th-century world had no concept of nationally standardized timekeeping, as we do today. Thus, many contemporary scholars don’t credit Ben with this particular innovation.

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TODAY—AND ACROSS THE WORLD

Still, many question its value in 21st century society, and arguments are made for the disruptions it causes in sleep patterns, traffic accidents, health issues and business.

Not all states in America practice Daylight Savings Time, and currently, several states are in the midst of deciding whether or not to keep Daylight Savings Time. Around the globe, Europe still relies heavily on DST, while Asia, Australia and Africa largely use standard time.

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

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

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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

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: Join the conversation, recall history

candles lit in rows

Photo by Ted Eytan, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, JANUARY 27: On this date in 1945, Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, a concentration and death camp in Poland that had claimed more than 1 million lives—and to “never forget” the events of this time in history, today is observed as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by United Nations member states.

Looking to join in the conversation? Read, discuss, post and learn more about International Holocaust Remembrance Day via social media using #HolocaustRemembrance.

This year, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will hold a ceremony that will include remarks by David O’Sullivan, European Union ambassador to the United States, and reflections from Estelle Laughlin, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A prayer of remembrance and a musical performance by Holocaust survivor Jacqueline Mendels Birn will also be featured during the museum’s ceremony. (Watch the ceremony live, here, on January 26 at 11 a.m. ET.)

UN HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY

An international memorial day commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War, International Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the genocide and death of approximately 6 million Jews, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people and 9,000 homosexual men. The United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 on November 1, 2005 designated the day of remembrance.

Did you know? The symbol of the Holocaust and the UN Outreach Programme consists of four elements on a solid black background: the words, “Remembrance and Beyond,” the UN symbol, a piece of barbed wire and two white roses. In the U.S. and the UK, white roses symbolize the investigation, remembrance and prevention of genocide.

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational Observances

Happy New Year! Revelers worldwide welcome 2018

FIreworks, lit up 2018

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31 and MONDAY, JANUARY 1: Happy New Year!

Champagne toasts, fireworks and rounds of “Auld Lang Syne” kick off the start of the Gregorian year worldwide, as the year 2018 is ushered in. In several world countries, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day means family gatherings, elaborate meals and plenty of parties. From the United States to Mexico, Ireland and Japan, time-honored traditions meet the latest global trends on New Year’s Eve In New York, celebrities and party-goers watch the famed “ball drop” in Times Square, counting the seconds as the 12,000-pound crystal ball lowers to ground level.

NEW YEAR’S EVE: FROM MEXICO TO RUSSIA

Strawberries dipped in white and gold sprinkles on white board with plate

Photo by Shari’s Berries, courtesy of Flickr

In many countries across the globe, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions span centuries:

  • In Mexico, it is tradition to eat one grape with each chime of the clock’s bell at midnight, making a wish with each grape. A special sweetbread is baked for the holiday, and in homes across the country, red, yellow and green decorations are hung, in hopes of luck in the New Year in life, love, work and wealth.
  • In Korea, ancestors are paid tribute at the New Year
  • In Canada, the United States and the UK, Polar Bear Plunges have steadily been gaining popularity as a New Year’s Day custom.
  • In Russia, some blini is in order for a proper New Year’s party.

A BUDDHIST CELEBRATION: In Japan, New Year’s preparations begin weeks in advance, with pressed rice cakes prepared in a variety of flavors and often cooked with broth for a traditional New Year’s soup. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, which is an auspicious number in Buddhist tradition. After midnight, many families head to a local temple to pray, and then feast together afterward.

MARY, WATCH NIGHT & KALANDA (CAROLS)

In some Christian churches, New Year’s Eve is a night of quiet reflection, prayer and thanksgiving. There’s a long-standing Methodist tradition called “Watch Night,” a custom started by Methodism’s founder John Wesley, and some Protestant groups follow similar traditions. In Greece and in Orthodox Christian communities, New Year’s is spent singing Kalanda—carols—and eating the vasilopita, or St. Basil’s, cake. On January 1, the octave of Christmas culminates in the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

RECIPES, PARTY TIPS AND MORE

Get party tips for decorating and hosting at HGTV, Real Simple and Martha Stewart.

Find recipes at GeniusKitchen.com, Food and Wine, Rachael Ray and Food Network. For dish suggestions from the UK, check out the Telegraph.

Drink recipes are at Forbes.com and L.A. Times. Looking for a Mocktail? Delicious combinations are available from HGTV.

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Categories: BuddhistInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Yule: Embrace winter at the solstice with logs, cakes and mistletoe

winter landscape

Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures.net

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21: Wherever you live—and as long as men and women have walked the earth—the solstices have been auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, today is the winter solstice, also known as the longest night of the year. Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts. One of the oldest celebrations of winter, Yule conjures visions of steaming cinnamon wassail, a crackling fireplace and the serenity of a blanket of snow. Despite the darkness and bitter cold, Yule is a time of joy: while enjoying the tranquility of midwinter, Pagans, Wiccans and many world citizens welcome the reemerging sun. Winter solstice marks a turning point when days begin, once again, to lengthen, and nights to shorten.

Recipes! Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Food Network, Taste of Home and Martha Stewart. Sit back, grab a hot drink and relax in the serenity of winter.

YULE IN ANCIENT TIMES: Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule,” and during Yuletide—which lasted approximately two months—many participants paid tribute to the Wild Hunt (a ghostly procession in the winter sky) and the god Odin (the leader of the Wild Hunt). Of course, this depended on where you lived in Europe at that time. Traditionally, enormous feasts and livestock sacrifices were associated with Yule. So merry was the atmosphere in these activities, in fact, that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

YULE AROUND THE WORLD: Solstice traditions have many names around the world: Inti Raymi in the Incan Empire in honor of the sun god Inti, and Soyalangwul for the Zuni and the Hopi. In Machu Piccu, there still exists a large stone column known as an Intihuatana, or the “tying of the sun”; ancient peoples would ceremonially tie the sun to the stone so that it could not escape. The East Asian Dongzhi festival recalls yin/yang and the dark/light balance of the cosmos.

THE LOG & THE MISTLETOE

In ancient pagan tradition, the Great Mother gave birth to the new Sun King on winter solstice—a belief still held by Pagans today—and as centuries progressed, outdoor bonfires were moved indoors to a hearth with a Yule log. (Note that in some regions, Yule bonfires are still held outdoors.) In the hearth, a large oak log ceremoniously placed is kindled at dusk, being allowed to burn for many hours or several days—tradition varies. In Druid custom, mistletoe is cut from an oak tree. Decorated Yule candles help welcome such beloved traditions as wassail, toasts and caroling. Today, Pagans and Wiccans still celebrate with wassail, feasts and, sometimes, a Yule log. In some Scandinavian countries, this season surrounding winter solstice is known as Jul.

DIY: EMBRACE THE UNIQUE JOYS OF WINTER

Winter got you down? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music.

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

Instructions for a Yule ritual with candles and blessings is available at this UK site.

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Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan