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.

 

Comments: (0)
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.

Comments: (0)
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.

Comments: (0)
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.

Comments: (0)
Categories: International ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

St. Nicholas Day: Welcoming the ‘real’ Santa Claus (and his companions)

Click this image from the Saint Nicholas Center to visit that vast, educational and downright fun website devoted to the saint who became known as Santa Claus.

SUNSET TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5 and WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6: Whether he’s known as Sinterklaas, San Nicola or St. Nicholas in your part of the world, keep watch for the white-bearded man in the red suit, as Christians around the globe celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. In European countries, today’s festival means heaps of sweets, small toys and exciting surprises left by the famed fourth-century saint as he makes his rounds. By receiving gifts—or coal—on St. Nicholas Day, advocates of this observance say,  then children can focus on the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

ADVENT FOR WESTERN CHRISTIANS: This special season for more than a billion Western Christians began on December 3, this year. We’ve got that story for you.

NATIVITY FAST FOR EASTERN CHRISTIANS: Families who belong to Orthodox churches began their annual fast on November 15. And, we’ve got that story, too.

BEHIND THE LEGEND: LIFE OF ST. NICHOLAS

The “real” story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, a man born in the 3rd century in modern-day Turkey. Orphaned at a young age, Nicholas took to heart the words of Jesus and eventually sold what his wealthy parents had left to him. Nicholas gave his proceeds to the poor, and was made bishop of Myra while still a relatively young man. His reputation for compassion and generosity continued. (Learn more from St. Nicholas Center.)

With the reign of Roman Emperor Diocletian, Christians—included Bishop Nicholas—were imprisoned and exiled. Following his release, Nicholas’s passion for helping others persisted. Stories of his deeds rapidly spun into legends, and many of those legends are still told on St. Nicholas Day.

Did you know? It is popular custom for families to host a St. Nicholas Day feast on the eve of this saint’s holiday, on December 5.

Wooden shoes filled with candies

Traditional shoes filled with sweets, a custom of St. Nicholas Day. Photo by Thomas Cizauskas, courtesy of Flickr

In 343 CE, Nicholas died in Myra on December 6, and was buried beneath his cathedral church. A relic known as manna formed in his grave, and the sweet-smelling liquid was rumored to have healing powers. This manna posthumously increased the popularity of the saint, and the anniversary of his death became a feast day in the Christian Church.

AROUND THE WORLD:
FRENCH MANNALA TO THE FIERA DI SAN NICOLA

In stark contrast to the secular figure of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas bears religious connotations in many of the countries that grandly celebrate his feast day. In Germany and Poland, boys dress as bishops and beg for alms for the poor; in the Netherlands and Belgium, it’s legend that St. Nicholas arrives by steamship and rides a white horse. French children often hear the tales of St. Nicholas from grandparents and elders, while gingerbread cookies and mannala (a brioche shaped like the bishop) are prepared in kitchens and bakeries. In Italy, the Fiera di San Nicola (St. Nicholas Fair) is celebrated in early December.

ACTIVITIES, RESOURCES & SPECULAAS GINGER COOKIES

Children young and old can get into the spirit of St. Nicholas with help from the St. Nicholas Center, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting his life. Among the highlights you might enjoy:

Across the site, visitors can find everything from printable candy bar wrappers and paper bag puppets to recipes for St. Nicholas cookies and chocolate initial cookies. Men dressing up as St. Nicholas can join the St. Nicholas Directory, and churches can find a range of inspirational study guides, too.

In addition, Sycamore Stirrings suggests ideas for St. Nicholas spoon puppets.

ZWARTE PIET‘ CONTROVERSY

St. Nicholas has many different companions, according to traditions that evolved across Europe. The St. Nicholas Center offers an overview of the entire array, which includes a white horse, a donkey, angels and then some companions from the dark side of mythology. Among them is Krampus, a demonic figure associated with St. Nicholas in some European cultures. Krampus was  largely unknown outside of Europe until the last decade when versions of the demon began showing up in a handful of American TV shows and even a 2015 feature film.

The most controversial figure from the dark side of the St. Nicholas legend is Zwarte Piet (Black Peter), who has been popular in the Netherlands and also Belgium and Luxembourg. Historians debate whether this figure, often described as the saint’s playful black servant, was part of popular traditions before the mid 19th Century. But, all agree that a hugely popular 1850 children’s book crystalized the figure as part of St. Nicholas Day in the Low Countries.

The St. Nicholas Center has a lengthy, detailed history of this controversial figure, including lots of links to read more about this troubling tradition. Dutch communities are gradually coming to terms with this figure, who many observers around the world now consider a racist stereotype. Some traditional Dutch towns continue to feature Piet in the original black-face characterization. Other cities, businesses and organizations are changing to more acceptable forms of Piet: some as rainbow-hued helpers; some as a servant whose face is dark from chimney soot.

The Nicholas Center’s recommended links include a November, 2017, column about this issue that begins: The Netherlands may not have any Confederate statues to pull down, but the country has its own racially charged issues with its past and its cultural institutions – most notably these days the controversy surrounding Zwarte Piet.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: ChristianInternational Observances

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

Different analog clocks flat, varying sizes

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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

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

DAYLIGHT SAVINGS & BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

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

DST TODAY: COSTS AND ENVIRONMENTAL DETRIMENT

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

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

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

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

Comments: (0)
Categories: International Observances

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

Kids in costumes in a row, smiling

Photo courtesy of Shaw Air Force Base

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

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

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

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

As Western cultural influences spread worldwide, too, Halloween has steadily been gaining worldwide popularity—even in countries as far from North America as Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Western images of witches, black cats and trick-or-treating now have circled the planet. Halloween slowly picked up speed and now is observed as far from the Celtic homeland as Asia and Africa. In some countries, bonfires and fireworks are common additions to nighttime trick-or-treating.

SAMHAIN: AN ANCIENT FESTIVAL REVIVED

Raven of black in shadow against orange moon

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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

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

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

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

ALLHALLOWTIDE: THE CHRISTIAN TRIDUUM OF HALLOWEEN

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

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

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

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

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

Comments: (0)
Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan