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

Heart in spoon top of pink mug with drink

Photo courtesy of Pexels

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

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

VALENTINE: HISTORY & LEGEND

Hearts hanging light behind

Photo courtesy of Pexels

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

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

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

CHAUCER: CUE THE ROMANCE

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

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

CRAFTS & RECIPES

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

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

 

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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

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

Groundhog coming out of hole with sun and shadow

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

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

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

A (GERMAN) GROUNDHOG HISTORY

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

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

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

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

Stack of pancakes on white with honey drizzled on top

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

CANDLEMAS, THE PRESENTATION AND CREPES

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

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

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

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

IMBOLC AND ST. BRIGHID

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

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

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Categories: ChristianNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

How are you marking this Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. ?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address that would become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Above, Dr. King waves to the crowd of 250,000 that had come to witness his speech. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JANUARY 15—The holiday’s official name is “Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.,” but many people also refer to this annual milestone as: National Day of Service.

The main federal website to get involved—and connect with others—is the National Service website. That site offers a lot of information about regional events and opportunities. On the site’s front page, you will find a link to add information about your own local events. Plus, there’s a helpful link to free lesson plans for kids, courtesy of Scholastic. Inside, there’s an index to a host of webinars and other resources for adults who want to encourage community service. Want tips on organizing a book drive, a fitness event—or a community tree planting program? Check out this page.

Many adults alive today recall the long and bumpy journey to establishing this milestone of the civil rights leader. And the story isn’t over …

King was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, some representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983. The holiday was first observed in 1986.

However, it took until 2000 for all 50 states to actively participate. To this day, a handful of states still officially insist on using alternative names and perspectives on the holiday.

KING’S LIFE AND LEGACY

ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine has lots of resources for reflecting on Dr. King’s life and legacy …

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

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Categories: National 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

Kwanzaa: Celebrate 50 years of African-American heritage

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

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 26: Learn the seven principles and gather in the name of unity—for the seven-day commemoration of Kwanzaa. In his 2017 message for the holiday, 76-year-old founder of the festival Dr. Maulana Karenga stresses the universal themes of care for each other and our planet. Karenga writes, 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 describes Kwanzaa as “one of the most lasting innovations of United States black nationalism of the 1960s.” The Toledo Blade points out various ways Kwanzaa has made a lasting impact in this northern Ohio city. The Chicago Defender describes 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 points out in his 2017 introduction to the festival, Kwanzaa today emphasizes on 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.

 

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Categories: National Observances

Black Friday: Shoppers enticed early with added promotions, sales

Woman smiling with multiple colored paper bags

Photo by Roderick Eime, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23 and FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24: Millions of shoppers may have to choose between sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and hitting stores on Thursday this year, as Black Friday sales begin earlier than ever. Days before in-store deals began, shoppers were signing up for email lists or connecting with favorite stores via social media for inside access to upcoming deals, promotions and coupons. Online sales also began earlier than ever in 2017: This year, many stores—such as Kohls—began their Black Friday online deals at the beginning of Black Friday week.

Original use of the term “Black Friday” was associated negatively with the less-than-ideal conditions that occurred from the shopping chaos of the day following Thanksgiving, though as years passed, the term morphed into its current meaning: as a day (or two days, now) that retailers move from operating at a financial loss (“in the red”) to a period of profit (“in the black”).

Internationally, Black Friday—along with its corresponding Cyber Monday and Cyber Week—has gained immense popularity.

BLACK FRIDAY: HOURS, SALES & ONLINE VS. IN-STORE

Busy shopping mall, people, escalators

Photo courtesy of PxHere

Black Friday only gained its No. 1 ranking as the busiest shopping day of the year in 2003. (Prior to 2003, Black Friday made the list of top-10 busiest shopping days of the year.) For several years, stores opened their doors at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, but in 2011, major retailers like Target, Kohls, Macy’s and Best Buy opened at midnight. In 2012, Walmart and others announced sales as starting on Thanksgiving evening; this year, Kohls, Best Buy, Macy’s and Toys R Us have announced a 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day opening, while JCPenney will start its Black Friday sales even earlier: on Thursday at 2 p.m. (USA Today has a list of store opening times.)

As online retailers like Amazon provide increasing competition for Black Friday sales, some brick-and-mortar stores are amping up their own competitive edge this year. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp are offering especially early discounts, making in-store prices better than their online counterparts and placing increased emphasis on products they offer that are not available from online giants like Amazon.

Though their Thanksgiving holiday occurred weeks ago, Canadians have been getting into the spirit of Black Friday during the past decade, and 2012 saw the biggest Black Friday to date in Canada. Online retailers like Amazon and Apple have begun reaching out to the United Kingdom, and Black Friday was promoted in Australia by Online Shopping USA in 2011.

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Categories: National Observances

Thanksgiving: Americans feast, gather in tradition and gratitude

Turkey float going down street in parade

A turkey float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Photo by martha_chapa95, courtesy of FLickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23:  Join the millions of Americans giving thanks and expressing gratitude over a savory feast, as family and friends gather for the historical and beloved holiday of Thanksgiving. This year, news sources are reporting the biggest Thanksgiving weekend travel volume in 12 years, while the actual cost of Thanksgiving dinner itself will go down (read more here.) The cultural instinct to gather, as a community, and give thanks before winter storms arrive has been a strong pull across the Northern Hemisphere, but the widely celebrated “first American Thanksgiving” took place in 1621 at Plymouth in what is now Massachusetts. In 1621, Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans shared such a feast in Plymouth. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

THANKSGIVING: A HISTORY

First Thanksgiving prayers

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That 1621 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.

Here’s a fun joke to share: If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims!

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.

PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

Pumpkin pie, coffee on wooden table

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation, and 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, HOSTING TIPS & MORE

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

Vegetarian guests? Please guests sans the turkey with menu suggestions from the New York Times, here and here.

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.

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Categories: National Observances