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.”

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

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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

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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.

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Categories: National Observances

Memorial Day: Americans remember fallen soldiers and civil religion

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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.

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Categories: National Observances

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

Words for Mother's Day on yellow with flowers

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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.
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Categories: National Observances

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

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

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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

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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