Memorial Day: After 154 years, Americans still recall the Civil War and honor our fallen in many wars

Flags in a row, flying

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

MONDAY, MAY 27: 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.

AAA’s travel forecast for 2019 says that nearly 43 million of us will hit the road this weekend.

Scroll down in this story to read our best 2019 holiday tips. However, before we list those links, let’s celebrate a tireless historian who helped Americans recover our history of this more-than-150-year-old observance.

A PULITZER FOR THE HOLIDAY’S HISTORIAN

Memorial Day began as an annual, grassroots practice of sprucing up the gravesites of the countless Americans who died during the Civil War. That’s why, for many years, the observance was called Decoration Day, describing the flowers and colorful flags that seemed to sprout across cemeteries each spring.

For much of the 20th Century, however, the painful early roots of this observance were forgotten as proud civic boosters across the country tried to claim their own unique slices of this history. Then, Yale historian David W. Blight researched and corrected the record, finally honoring the fact that the courageous pioneers in observing this holiday were former slaves in the South who dared to decorate Yankee graves. In his history, Race and ReconciliationBlight writes: “Decoration Day, and the many ways in which it is observed, shaped Civl War memory as much as any other cultural ritual.”

Blight continued to research race and American memory in that era and, this spring, he has been honored with the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history for his in-depth biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

MEMORIAL DAY and CIVIL RELIGION

The famed sociologist of American religion, Robert Bellah, also shaped the evolution of Memorial Day’s meaning 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.

Then—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.

MEMORIAL DAY? ISN”T THAT A SALE?

The vast majority of Memorial Day news stories in 2019 cover two themes: Travel advice for the millions of American families who hit the road each spring over the holiday weekend—and tips on where to find the biggest bargains in annual “Memorial Day Blowout” sales.

NBC News has an example of the latter in a story headlined The Best 2019 Memorial Day Sales and DealsWhat does the holiday mean? You can save tons of money on everything from fancy rugs and mattresses—to egg cookers. NBC is hardly alone! The New York Post‘s holiday story zeroes in on the best deals in fashion and accessories. Then, naturally WIRED focuses on deals in “Tech and Gaming.” Esquire follows suit with an overview of electronics you can snap up on Amazon at holiday discounts. And, FORTUNE has a long list of businesses and public institutions that are closing for the holiday—and those making a point of staying open.

Check local media, or search Google News for your destination, to find up-to-date travel advice. Some National Parks are bracing for massive crowds. Others may not be entirely open yet, due to snow in high elevations. The National Park Service directs visitors interested in Memorial Day to this page.

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Mother’s Day: Celebrate motherhood and more on Mom’s day

Woman and young boy sitting on wood floor, looking at each other, map on floor

Photo by Coffee, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, MAY 12: Honor Mom the way Anna Jarvis intended, on this centennial anniversary of Mother’s Day.

Although people have been celebrating motherhood for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day 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 entire 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.

Care to read a wonderfully inspiring column about these relationships? Author Debra Darvick’s headline is, The best words: ‘I had a mother who read to me …’

CARNATIONS—AND THE BEGINNINGS OF MOTHER’S DAY

American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, but 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? President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation for Mother’s Day in 1914.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, 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.

BRUNCH RECIPES, GIFT IDEAS & DIY

It seems that brunch is akin to Mother’s Day, and we’ve got plenty of ideas to get you started! Here are just a few, plus gift and craft ideas to boot:

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

Valentine’s Day: Show your affection on an international holiday of love

Holding red and pink flat hearts in pink gloved hands, from above

Photo by jill111, courtesy of Pixabay

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Hearts, expressions of love and sweet confections are flowing around the world today, marking the arrival of Valentine’s Day.

In ancient Rome, the fertility festival Lupercalia was observed February 13-15, although historians cannot document specific historical links between Lupercalia and the modern Valentine’s Day. For that matter, history doesn’t document any romantic association with Valentine’s Day until the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The embers of courtly love began glowing in the High Middle Ages, and by the end of the 18th century, Valentine cards were being produced and exchanged. Through the decades, Valentines evolved from lace-and-ribbon trinkets to paper stationery to a holiday involving more expensive gifts, chocolates and, more recently, jewelry. The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent in the United States each year (not including the inexpensive Valentine cards exchanged among schoolchildren).

What are the characteristics of true love? The Huffington Post weighs in, with this article.

For couples: In early 2014, Pope Francis released an appeal entitled “The Joy of ‘Yes’ Forever.” Intended for engaged couples but suitable for anyone who is married, this is a perfect read for Valentine’s Day! Read it here.

2019 stats: The National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics reports that this year, fewer people are planning to shop for gifts for Valentine’s Day—but those who do spend will be spending a record amount (read more from the NRF). The average shopper is expected to spend approximately $160 (a 13 percent increase from last year) for Valentine’s Day this year, totaling a record $20.7 billion.

THE ‘REAL’ ST. VALENTINE(S): A HISTORY AND A DOZEN

Man in painting with soldiers, others near building

A depiction of Saint Valentine of Terni and disciples. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Through the centuries, Christians have honored nearly a dozen St. Valentines, so any research into the history of the “real” St. Valentine quickly veers toward confusion.

The Encyclopedia Britannica states that St. Valentine is the “name of two legendary martyrs whose lives seem to be historically based. One was a Roman priest and physician who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus and was buried on the Via Flaminia. Pope St. Julius I reportedly built a basilica over his grave. The other, bishop of Terni, Italy, was martyred, apparently also in Rome, and his relics were later taken to Terni. It is possible these are different versions of the same original account and refer to only one person.”

American Catholic magazine—one of today’s most popular sources of information for Catholic families—states: “Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate. Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.”

So,  if conversation today heads in the direction of  the history of the “real” St. Valentine, you’re on solid ground to state the simple truth: “Yes, but no one knows for sure.”

FEBRUARY 14 AROUND THE WORLD

Chocolate heart cookies with pink icing on plate

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Albeit a relatively new addition to Asian culture, Valentine’s Day claims its biggest spenders in this region: Customarily, women in South Korea and Japan give chocolates to all male co-workers, friends and lovers on February 14, with men returning the favor two- or threefold on “White Day,” which occurs on March 14. Residents of Singapore spend, on average, between $100 and $500 on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to a recent report.

French and Welsh households commemorate Christian saints of love, and in Finland and Latin American countries, “love” extends to friends and friendships. Western countries most often acknowledge Valentine’s Day with greeting cards, candies and romantic dinner dates. However, in Islamic countries, many officials have deemed Valentine’s Day as unsuitable for Islamic culture.

VALENTINE RECIPES AND LINKS

Comments: (0)
Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Candlemas, Groundhog Day and Imbolc: Early February holidays anticipate spring

Groundhog standing on its hind legs on dirt with light and lights in background

Will the groundhog see his shadow? Photo by Cornelia Kopp, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 2: No matter which holiday you’re celebrating—Candlemas, Groundhog Day or Imbolc—do so with the unifying themes for this time in February: renewal and hope. The first days of February bring new beginnings, as the Gaelic festival of Imbolc marks the start of spring while Groundhog Day begins with hope for an early spring season. For Christians, Candlemas brings the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and an early recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.

NEWS 2019: The “official” groundhog of Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil, now has some furry competition: Buffalo Bert, a groundhog in Buffalo, New York, is now the center of that city’s celebrations, which take place on the last Saturday of January instead of on February 2. (Read a news report here.) Approximately 800 attendees came out for the 2019 party in Buffalo, whose star was the rescued groundhog called Buffalo Bert.

(His prediction this year? Six more weeks of winter.)

CANDLEMAS: A TEMPLE, COINS AND BELLS

The feast of Candlemas focuses on the Gospel of Luke, which describes Mary and Joseph taking 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.

 

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, often at a party thrown by the person who found the baby Jesus trinket in an Epiphany King Cake. 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!)

IMBOLC: SPRING AND WOODLAND ANIMALS (& BRIGHID)

Close-up of square-shaped woven item of thin, straw-type material

Close-up of the center of a St. Brighid’s cross. Photo by Amanda Slater, courtesy of Flickr

On February 1, Wiccans and Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere usher in February with the centuries-old Gaelic festival of Imbolc, or Brighid’s Day, marking 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. (Get a step-by-step, DIY version of Brighid crosses here.) After dark, candles are lit to welcome the rebirth of the sun.

Did you know? 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.

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.

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS AND GOOD OL’ PHIL

On February 2, many of us ask: Will the groundhog see his shadow?

What started as an ancient pagan festival’s legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” has slowly morphed into a national phenomenon in the United States. Groundhog Day, spurred by German immigrants of the 18th and 19th centuries who brought groundhog traditions with them to America, gave birth to “Punxsutawney Phil” and the array of groundhog-related events that fill lodges and streets in Pennsylvania in the first days of February each year. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors flock to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for Groundhog Day, where “Phil” is regarded as the “one and only” weather predictor for the day.

Getting it straight: Tradition tells that if a groundhog sees his shadow in sunlight, he will retreat back to his burrow, indicating six more weeks of winter; if he sees no shadow, he will emerge, and an early spring is in the forecast.

 

Comments: (0)
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 21—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.)

 

Comments: (0)
Categories: National Observances

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