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.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Kwanzaa: Celebrate African-American heritage with ‘first fruits’

African-Americans dance in a circle around room, drumming, informal, with colorful hanging papers around room

A Kwanzaa celebration at the University of California, Berkeley. Photo by Reginald James, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa. In a message for the holiday, 76-year-old founder of the festival Dr. Maulana Karenga stressed the universal themes of care for each other and our planet. Karenga wrote, in part:

Of all the rich, instructive, uplifting and expansive ways to express the central meaning and message of Kwanzaa, none is more vital or valuable than our seeing and embracing it as a season and celebration of creating and sharing good in the world. Even Kwanzaa’s most essential definition—as a celebration of family and community and culture—is a celebration of the shared good in and of family, community and culture, and ultimately what all this means for the good of the world.

This derives from a righteous reading and emulation of the ancient African model and practice of cultivating, harvesting, and sharing the first fruit of field and forest, i.e., life-sustaining good in the world. It is an ancient model rooted in cooperative agricultural practices that taught us the enduring value of our sowing seeds of goodness everywhere, of cultivating them with loving care, and harvesting and sharing the products in community binding and building ways.

An African American and pan-African holiday, Kwanzaa is—in both conception and practice—a world-encompassing celebration. It is world-encompassing in that it is practiced by millions of Africans throughout the global African community. And it is world-encompassing in its roots in ancient African agricultural celebrations and their concern with the earth and their conception of humans interrelated with the world and their responsibility to it.

ORIGINS OF THE FESTIVAL

To mark the half-century anniversary of the holiday, in 2016, Smithsonian Magazine described Kwanzaa as “one of the most lasting innovations of United States black nationalism of the 1960s.” The Chicago Defender described the arrival of this festival in Chicago half a century ago.

Green background, Kwanzaa candleabra in front with statues, dark unity cup and bowl of fruit

Elements of Kwanzaa. Photo by Joseph LaValley, courtesy of Flickr

Created by Karenga in the mid-1960s as the first completely African-American holiday, Kwanzaa celebrations honor African heritage and culture. Though originally associated with the black nationalist movement, as Karenga today points out that Kwanzaa emphasizes connecting Africans of the Diaspora with their native roots and highlighting the universal themes in those ancient cultures that can build a healthier global community.

Specifically, Kwanzaa’s “seven principles” call to mind what Karenga refers to as a “communitarian African philosophy.”

Did you know? “Kwanzaa” is from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, or “first fruits of the harvest.”

KWANZAA’S SEVEN PRINCIPLES

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a principle, resulting in a total of seven Kwanzaa principles. The principles, though they may vary slightly in spellings, consist of: Umoja (unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kumbaa (creativity); and Imani (faith).

Kwanzaa urges participants to maintain unity in family and race, to define themselves, to build community and profit together, and to always do what is possible at the moment. (Wikipedia has details.) Symbols and decorations aid in the unity of Kwanzaa observances, such as a decorative mat (mkeka), corn, a seven-candle holder (kinara) and a communal or unity cup. Often, an African feast—known as Karamu—is held on the sixth day of Kwanzaa, and gifts (zawadi) are exchanged on the seventh day.

KWANZAA CUSTOMS

Did you know? The proper greeting for Kwanzaa is “Joyous Kwanzaa.”

Plate of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, cooked collard and other fried foods in dimly lit room

Soul food is common at the Kwanzaa table. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Household celebrations for Kwanzaa often include children, as do public Kwanzaa ceremonies.

Teachers and parents: You’ll find a couple of kid-oriented resources from Scholastic.com. First, there’s a lesson plan on discussing Kwanzaa’s principles and, then, there’s a second plan that also features a mancala game.

Community gatherings may include music, drumming, dancing, libations and the reading of the principles. Artistic performances, storytelling and ritual candle-lighting are also common.

In its nearly half-a-century of observance, Kwanzaa has spread in popularity throughout the United States and into Canada.

Hungry for a taste of Kwanzaa? Find recipes for traditional dishes, from sweet potatoes and collard greens to black-eyed peas, at Food Network and GenuisKitchen.com.

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Thanksgiving: Americans gather ’round the table to express gratitude and feast

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
Abraham Lincoln, October 1863, Proclamation for Thanksgiving

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22: Count your blessings and savor the smells and tastes of the season, for the holiday of (American) Thanksgiving. Many foods common on the Thanksgiving table are native to North America and to the season, such as corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squashes and cranberries.

Mealtime prayers and worship services are still common on this holiday of gratitude.

THANKSGIVING: A HISTORY

Turkey on table, with lights in background

Photo by LuminaryPhotoProject, courtesy of Flickr

Though earlier thanks-giving events took place through the centuries, it was in 1621 that the feast shared by Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans, in Plymouth, that would become today’s American Thanksgiving. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

That Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures: the Wampanoag and the Europeans. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. A plentiful harvest was just one of several reasons for a Wampanoag ceremony of thanks. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Often, church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday. Later, public officials joined with religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.

FOOTBALL, PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation. In 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held annually in New York City—and “America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held in Detroit. To this day, both parades welcome tourists and locals alike and are widely televised. Several U.S. cities host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast.

Recipes, décor and hosting tips: Find recipes, menus and more at Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents, Parenting and Disney.

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Fourth of July: Flags fly high as Americans celebrate Independence Day

Street view of town before parade

Street view on July 4th in Bristol, Rhode Island. The Bristol parade is part of the oldest Fourth of July celebration in the United States of America. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JULY 4: Three cheers for the red, white and blue! And, this year, a record-setting number of Americans are expected to hit the road for the holiday, according to a widely reported survey of drivers by AAA. The report says: “A record-breaking 46.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home this Independence Day holiday, an increase of more than 5 percent compared with last year and the highest number since AAA started tracking 18 years ago.”

We all know the holiday scenes! Crowds line the streets for parades, the scent of barbecue draws family and friends and, finally, fireworks light up the night sky on the Fourth of July, the National Day of the United States of America.

Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence.

A COMMITTEE OF FIVE AND A DECLARATION DRAFT

“Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776,” oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome

The year was 1776, and the weather was stifling hot as a brand-new nation was being formed. In June of that year, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; a total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4, by the Second Continental Congress.

Did you know? Although some early leaders (including John Adams) assumed that July 2 would be the day henceforth celebrated as America’s “anniversary festival,” they were off by two days: July 4 was the day that the Declaration’s final wording was approved.

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, however, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day.

Fast fact: Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

A CAPITOL FOURTH & AMERICAN SONGS

A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C.

This year, John Stamos is set to host the event that will feature an array of musical artists (including The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffett, Renee Fleming, The Temptations, Pentatonix and Andy Grammer), along with the National Symphony Orchestra.

JULY 4 RECIPES, PARTY TIPS, DIY & MOVIES

Blueberry and strawberry pops on plate

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Get out those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation!

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Taste of Home, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 21 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from Parents.com and Disney.com.

Interested in a lineup of patriotic movies? Forbes and Boston.com offer a top-10 list of movies, including “Red Dawn,” “Johnny Tremain,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1776.”

Comments: (0)
Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Father’s Day: Celebrate Dad—and the dads in your life

Man, boy walking in sunset

Photo courtesy of Pexels

SUNDAY, JUNE 17: Take Dad fishing, make dinner on the grill and take a minute to say “Thanks” — it’s Father’s Day! Across the United States, more than 70 million fathers qualify for recognition on this special day.

The official holiday has been in effect for 46 years in the United States, although similar celebrations have been in existence around the globe for much longer. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

SONORA SMART DODD: A FATHER’S DAY IN THE US.

The American Father’s Day began in Spokane, Washington, in 1910, with the daughter of a widow. When Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church, she approached her pastor, believing that fathers like hers—a Civil War veteran and single father who had raised six children—deserved recognition, too. Following the initial few years, Father’s Day was all but lost until Dodd returned to Spokane, once again promoting her holiday. Despite support by trade groups and the Father’s Day Council, Father’s Day was rejected by both the general public and Congress until 1966. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972.

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY: GRILLING, MOVIES & MORE

Boy and man looking at each other, talking in hammock

Photo courtesy of pxhere

Stumped on how to celebrate Dad today? Look no further! We’ve rounded up plenty of ideas to please dads of any age:

Cooking dinner for Dad? Whether you’re taking food to the grill or to the oven, get inspired with recipes from Food Network, Martha Stewart and AllRecipes.

Spending time with Dad may be the best gift of all, and if you’re stumped for activity ideas, Reader’s Digest and Parents.com dole out suggestions on what to do (mini golf, anyone?).

From the Silver Screen: If it’s too hot to go outside on Father’s Day, take to the air conditioning with popcorn and a dad-centered flick. Our favorite list is from Screen Rant, which recognizes fathers from Darth Vader to Mr. Incredible to Bryan Mills in “Taken.”

From the Kids: Young children can craft gifts, cards and more with ideas from here.

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Memorial Day: Americans remember fallen soldiers and civil religion

Flags in a row, flying

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

MONDAY, MAY 28: It’s as American as apple pie: hometown parades, ceremonies for fallen soldiers and the smell of barbecues firing up across the country—it’s Memorial Day. The unofficial start of summer in America began, less than two centuries ago, as a solemn observance for the war that had consumed more lives than any other U.S. conflict. While memorial services still abound, the national holiday also means picnics, beaches, fireworks and, of course, travel, as Americans enjoy a three-day weekend.

FREED SLAVES AND DECORATION DAY

The Civil War hit home for every American household of the 19th century. As fathers, brothers, uncles and neighbors lost their lives, millions of Americans wound up visiting graves and, each spring especially, women decorated the graves. By the end of the war, so much blood had spilled on American soil that it became a necessity to create national cemeteries. In a chapter of American history that was lost from our history books for many years, thousands of freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina, memorialized hundreds of Union prisoners of war on May 1, 1865, honoring the unnamed soldiers in the first resemblance of a Memorial Day. As the years passed, this annual commemoration became known as “Decoration Day.” That Charleston burial ground was framed by an arch, which read, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” According to historian David Blight, “African Americans invented Memorial Day … recently freed from slavery [they were] announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet and their songs what the War had been about.

REAL MEANING OF MEMORIAL DAY: FOSTERING OUR CIVIL RELIGION

Abraham Lincoln and General George B. McClellan in the general’s tent at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862.The famed sociologist of American religion, Robert Bellah, redefined the meaning of Memorial Day in a landmark article he published in a 1967 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He called his long article “Civil Religion in America,” taking the centuries-old concept of “civil religion” and kicked off decades of fresh research into how our civil religion defines our American culture. You can read Bellah’s entire original article online.

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

The Civil War, which Sidney Mead calls “the center of American history,” was the second great event that involved the national self-understanding so deeply as to require expression in civil religion. … The Civil War raised the deepest questions of national meaning. The man who not only formulated but in his own person embodied its meaning for Americans was Abraham Lincoln. For him the issue was not in the first instance slavery but “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” …

With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enters the new civil religion. It is symbolized in the life and death of Lincoln. Nowhere is it stated more vividly than in the Gettysburg Address, itself part of the Lincolnian “New Testament” among the civil scriptures. Robert Lowell has recently pointed out the “insistent use of birth images” in this speech explicitly devoted to “these honored dead”: “brought forth,” “conceived,” “created,” “a new birth of freedom.” Lowell goes on to say: “The Gettysburg Address is a symbolic and sacramental act. … In his words, Lincoln symbolically died, just as the Union soldiers really died—and as he himself was soon really to die. By his words, he gave the field of battle a symbolic significance that it has lacked. … He left Jefferson’s ideals of freedom and equality joined to the Christian sacrificial act of death and rebirth.” … Lowell is certainly right in pointing out the Christian quality of the symbolism here, but he is also right in quickly disavowing any sectarian implication. …

Memorial Day, which grew out of the Civil War, gave ritual expression to the themes we have been discussing. As Lloyd Warner has so brilliantly analyzed it, the Memorial Day observance, especially in the towns and smaller cities of America, is a major event for the whole community involving a rededication to the martyred dead, to the spirit of sacrifice, and to the American vision.

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Mother’s Day: From coast to coast, Americans celebrate Mom

Words for Mother's Day on yellow with flowers

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNDAY, MAY 13: Say “Thanks!” to Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day.

Although motherhood has been celebrated for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day—the one we all know today—began in 1908 with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the whole country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s. This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

Pink carnation flowers boquet

Carnations were distributed at the first official Mother’s Day service, in 1908. Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

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

Did you know? Mother’s Day yields the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Most churches honor their congregation’s mothers in some way—with a special prayer, perhaps, or in many congregations with a flower.

MOTHER’S DAY: FROM ANCIENT ORIGINS TO TODAY

While the modern observance of Mother’s Day began just a century ago, celebrations for women and mothers have been common throughout history. Greeks worshipped the mother goddess Cybele, while the Romans held the festival of Hilaria; Christians have observed Mothering Sunday for centuries, while Hindus have honored “Mata Tirtha Aunshi,” or “Mother Pilgrimage Fortnight.” The first American attempts for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” arose in the 1870s, when Julia Ward Howe called on mothers to support disarmament in the Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Several decades later, Anna Jarvis created a holiday that became the Mother’s Day we know today.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, though, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable: Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar—mainly because it is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls. Yet it is with Mom in mind that Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers annually for Mother’s Day; $1.53 billion on gifts; and $68 million on greeting cards. We love you, Mom!

FOR MOM: DIY, GIFTS THAT GIVE & MORE

Woman and little girl with cups smiling

Photo courtesy of pxhere

  • Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.
  • In search of the perfect gift? Kaboose offers up do-it-yourself ideas for kids, while Mother Nature Network suggests gifts for moms who love gardening. For unique moms, Huffington Post has “weird” gifts, and Fox News suggests gifts that will boost Mom’s health.
  • Care to care more? The Mother’s Day Movement supports women and girls in the developing world, with the belief that empowered women strongly impact the lives of their children and their communities. Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day.
  • A good read: Columnist Bobbie Lewis writes about the importance of actually setting aside time to talk to Mom and to listen to her. She calls her story Questions Left Unanswered; Stories Left Untold. Simple. And, a great idea.
Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances