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

Veterans Day: Thank a Vet, lend a hand

Two veterans standing side-by-side

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11: Thank a veteran in your neighborhood, give gratitude at work or even tweet a message—the options are endless today, on Veterans Day!

Honoring men and women who have served our country, in the shared hope that we might actually end wars someday, is a noble idea that dates to the origins of this Nov. 11 observance at the close of World War I. The world’s “Great War” officially ceased on June 28, 1919, but the fighting had actually stopped seven months earlier, on Nov. 11—and thus, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11, 1919 as the first Armistice Day. Nearly two decades later, November 11th was declared a legal holiday in the United States.

By 1954, the world had survived WWII and Korea, and a WWII vet began raising support for a more general Veterans Day. Among other arguments made in this campaign: WWII had required even more soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen than WWI. At the urging of citizens, November 11th officially became Veterans Day in 1954.

HONOR VETS BY LENDING A HAND

Our nation’s millions of veterans need help for a wide range of lingering issues in their lives, so be sure to check on regional efforts to find out how you can help. Some noted peace activists within religious groups now are urging a greater awareness of the needs of veterans’ families, too—nationwide.

A whopping 44 percent of men and women who serve in the U.S. Military are residents of rural areas, according to a recent White House Report—even though rural residents overall only account for 17 percent of the country’s population—and several organizations are stepping up to help veterans in these areas, where unemployment is usually high. Experts assert that many veterans gravitate toward the country not only because of the therapeutic solace it provides, but also because many desire to care for others—in the form of growing food.

2017 VETERANS DAY FREEBIES & DISCOUNTS: Many restaurants and retailers offer special prices for veterans on Veterans Day. Check out MilitaryBenefits.info for a full listing restaurants, retailers and more offering Veterans Day freebies and discounts for 2017.

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Categories: National Observances

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

Kids in costumes in a row, smiling

Photo courtesy of Shaw Air Force Base

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

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

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

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

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

SAMHAIN: AN ANCIENT FESTIVAL REVIVED

Raven of black in shadow against orange moon

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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

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

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

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

ALLHALLOWTIDE: THE CHRISTIAN TRIDUUM OF HALLOWEEN

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

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

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

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS

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

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Categories: ChristianInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Patriot Day: Linking the spirit of responders on 9/11 with courage today

Red rose on black granite with names etched on it, skyscrapers in back

A rose at the memorial of Tower One of the World Trade Center. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 11: Remember the lives lost and the loved ones still mourning on 9/11, or Patriot Day—the day designated to recall the tragic events in the United States that took place on September 11, 2001. Each year, memorials across the country pay tribute to the 2,977 who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of 2001. Though the day was originally called Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, a shorter name—Patriot Day—soon took favor. A resolution introduced in October of 2001 decreed that each President should designate September 11, of each year, as “Patriot Day,” and it was signed into law that December. Nationwide, a moment of silence is observed at 8:46 a.m. EDT. (Wikipedia has details.)

Learn more about the 9/11 Memorial, or plan a visit to the site, by visiting here.

OUR SPIRIT TODAY

Each year, the White House publishes a national proclamation about Patriot Day. The 2017 message connects our American responses to the 9/11 attacks with the same collective, generous spirit responding to the aftermath of destructive hurricanes right now. The White House proclamation says, in part:

It has been 16 years since the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Children who lost their parents on that day are now parents of their own, while many teenagers currently in high school learn about September 11th only from their history books. Yet all Americans are imbued with the same commitment to cause and love of their fellow citizens as everyone who lived through that dark day. We will never forget. …

We will always remember the sacrifices made in defense of our people, our country, and our freedom. The spirit of service and self sacrifice that Americans so nobly demonstrated on September 11, 2001, is evident in the incredible response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The same spirit of American patriotism we movingly witnessed on September 11th has filled our hearts as we again see the unflinching courage, compassion, and generosity of Americans for their neighbors and countrymen. The service members and first responders who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and in the years of service since would be proud of what we have all witnessed over these last three weeks and what will undoubtedly unfold in the coming months of recovery. By protecting those in need, by taking part in acts of charity, service, and compassion, and by giving back to our communities and country, we honor those who gave their lives on and after September 11, 2001.

 

 

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Categories: National Observances

Labor Day: Celebrate and learn America’s rich labor history

Blak-and-white illustration of big crowd in streets, in lines

Labor Day in New York, 1882. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 4: Parades, barbecues and travel abound this Labor Day weekend, but alongside the festivities, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers. Labor Day is the result of the long struggle for recognition by the American labor movement; the first Labor Day celebration, celebrated in 1882 in New York City, attracted more than 10,000 workers who marched through the streets. Beyond recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day makes us aware of the countless workers who have, together, contributed to the strength and prosperity of their country.

Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) wrote the first encyclical on labor and is often described as the founder of Catholic social teaching.

Labor & Faith

The value of human labor is echoed throughout the Abrahamic tradition, including stories and wisdom about the nature of labor in both the Bible and the Quran. Biblical passages ask God to “prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90), while the Quran refers to the morality of conducting oneself in the public square.

The Catholic church has been preaching on behalf of workers for more than a century. The landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Of revolutionary change”) was published in 1891 and has been described as a primer on the rights of laborers who face abusive conditions in the workplace. This became one of the central themes of Pope John Paul II’s long pontificate. In 1981, he published his own lengthy encyclical, Laborem Exercens (“On human work”). Then, a decade later, John Paul returned to this milestone in Catholic teaching in Centisimus Annus (“Hundredth year”).

AMERICAN LABOR DAY: A HISTORY

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans had to work 12-hour days every day of the week to make a living. Child labor was at its height in mills, factories and mines, and young children earned only a portion of an adult’s wage. Dirty air, unsafe working conditions and low wages made labor in many cities a dangerous occupation. As working conditions worsened, workers came together and began forming labor unions: through unions, workers could have a voice by participating in strikes and rallies. Through unions, Americans fought against child labor and for the eight-hour workday.

Did you know? The Sunday preceding Labor Day is known as “Labor Sunday”—dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Some labor demonstrations turned violent—such as the Haymarket Riot of 1886, which is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world. Instead of a May holiday, however, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months, in the civic calendar. Instead, American holiday planners encouraged street parades and public displays of the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in each community—including cheerful festivities and recreation for workers and their families. Oregon became the first state to declare Labor Day a holiday, in 1887, and by 1896, Labor Day was a national holiday.

LABOR AND UNIONS TODAY

Experts estimate that union membership has now decreased to less than one in eight, though numbers are still strong in specific fields, such as education. Unfortunately, many retail stores today work their employees extra hours on Labor Day, to push Labor Day sales. That means a lot—considering that a large portion of Americans workers work in the retail industry.

NEWS, RECIPES & MORE

A Jerry Lewis marathon: The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was associated with Labor Day weekend from 1966 through 2014, and so in honor of the star who died on August 20, at age 91, Turner Classic Movies will host a daylong marathon of films featuring Jerry Lewis this Labor Day. Learn more, here.

Labor Day and school: Why do some states choose to still begin the school year after Labor Day—and how does that choice affect kids? The Atlantic asked these questions in a recent article.

Travel: Looking for last-minute Labor Day weekend travel ideas? The Huffington Post offers suggestions, as does the Chicago Sun-Times.

Cookout Recipes: Hosting or attending a cookout or barbecue for Labor Day? Try a recipe from Food Network. To accompany summer recipes, Forbes lists the 10 best American white wines under $20, for Labor Day.

 

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Categories: National Observances

Fourth of July: Americans from coast to coast celebrate nation’s birthday

Kids parade Juy 4th

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, JULY 4: Stars and Stripes fly high as Americans celebrate freedom: parades, picnics and reunions with family and friends fill streets, fields and parks and fireworks explode in the night sky. 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, and Americans observe this day in grand ceremony. So fire up the grill, deck out your yard (or yourself) in red, white and blue, and enjoy summer’s all-American holiday!

Fireworks in night sky

Photo by PublicDomainImages, courtesy of Pixabay

Boston Pops: Tune in to CBS for the live webcast of the Boston Pops concert and fireworks, which will feature celebrities Andy Grammer, Melissa Etheridge and Leslie Odom, Jr., this year, and is attended by a half million people annually.

A Capitol Fourth 2017: 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. In 2017, John Stamos will host the 37th annual show, which will feature performances by Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi of The Blues Brothers; The Beach Boys; The Four Tops and The Voice Season 12 winner Chris Blue.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: A HISTORY

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.

Did you know? Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

In June 1776, 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.

Did you know? A total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4 by the Second Continental Congress; on July 5, 1776, official copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed.

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, 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.

Red, white and blue flag cake

Photo by Andreas Ivarsson, courtesy of Flickr

Fun Fact: In 1789, the new U.S. Constitution went into effect and the Continental Congress was replaced by the U.S. Congress.

FOURTH OF JULY RECIPES & PARTY TIPS

Nothing sets the stage better for a summer party than the Fourth of July!

From hot dogs and gourmet hamburgers to red, white and blue cakes and treats, 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 Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips.

Patriotic game ideas are at Reader’s Digest, offering fun party games fit for any July Fourth celebration.

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Categories: National Observances