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

Litha, Solstice and Midsummer: Celebrate the peak of summer

Group gathering outside in summer, blue skies, raising pole cross Swedish

Erecting a maypole at a Midsummer celebration in Sweden, 2013. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 21 through SATURDAY, JUNE 24: Seaside picnics, Midsummer parties and bonfires abound at the summer solstice—and, across the Northern Hemisphere, June 21 is the “longest day of the year,” this year. Astronomically, the summer solstice occurs when the tilt of Earth’s semi-axis in the northern hemisphere is most inclined toward the sun; thus, inhabitants of the north experience more hours and minutes of daylight today than on any other day of the year. In many Scandinavian countries, this time of year is celebrated as Midsummer—which includes Midsummer’s Eve and then Midsummer—and it is celebrated with an entire day’s worth of outdoor activities for citizens young and old. Wiccans and Pagans may observe Litha, a holiday of gratitude for light and life.

OUTDOOR DANCING, FLOWER CROWNS & SMORGASBORD

In Scandinavian countries, the longest day of the year is one of the most cherished holidays of the year. Affectionately termed Midsummer, many spend the day outdoors with an extravagant smorgasbord lunch, games for the entire community, time at the beach, dancing and bonfires. (In a recent article on the festival, AFAR calls Sweden’s Midsummer “straight out of a fairytale.”) Whether the long, dark Scandinavian winters are the reason for Midsummer exhilaration or it’s something else altogether, this holiday is unrivaled in many countries of the world.

Bowl of fresh strawberries amid green plants, outdoors

Strawberries are a staple on many Midsummer tables. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Flower crowns are uber popular beyond Europe, and this ancient accessory for Midsummer fetes is as easy as gathering a few favorite flowers and basic craft materials. (Some stores sell simple flower circlets, too.) For a tutorial on how to create a unique, chic one, check out Lauren Conrad.com. Got real flowers? Check out this YouTube video on how to make a crown using fresh components.

The Midsummer menu is as dear to Scandinavians as the Christmas goose or ham is to celebrants of the winter holiday, and fresh strawberries take center stage in Midsummer cakes and shortcakes. (Find more info at the official website of Sweden.) Other traditional foods include the season’s first potatoes, made with dill and butter; a roast; herring or other types of fish and seafood; hard-boiled eggs and summer cabbage. For recipes and ideas on how to spend the longest day of the year, check out Bon Appetit or the UK’s The Independent.

Did you know? Though harvest is not in full swing yet, many wild herbs are mature for picking and, thus, Midsummer is known as “Gathering Day” in Wales and in other various regions. Herbs, gathered most often for medicinal qualities, are gathered and dried for later use.

LITHA: A TRIBUTE TO LIGHT AND LIFE

Adherents of Wicca and Paganism look to the Sun God on the summer solstice, noting the full abundance of nature at the point of mid-summer. (Note: Some adherents celebrate on June 25, the fixed calendar date that is known as “Old Litha.”)

Traditionally, fresh fruits and vegetables are the main course at shared meals, and bonfires are lit to pay homage to the full strength of the sun. At Stonehenge, the heelstone marks the midsummer sunrise as viewed from the center of the stone circle.

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Categories: InterfaithInternational ObservancesNational ObservancesWiccan / Pagan

Juneteenth: Parades, barbecues and festivals commence nationwide

Two girls with sashes and crowns smiling at camera

Mariah Walker and Whitley Tucker, both Miss Black El Paso, joined in Juneteenth celebration in northeast El Paso, June 2013. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JUNE 19: Prayer services, gospel concerts and barbecues nationwide celebrate the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

Note: Be sure to check schedules early for local celebrations—many cities are hosting Juneteenth events prior to June 19.

President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, followed by the end of the Civil War, but white Texans remained resistant to freeing slaves. Due to the minimal number of Union troops present in Texas, slavery continued in the state until June 18, 1865—the day General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops marched into Galveston and took possession of the state. The following day, General Granger read General Order No. 3 before a crowd including elated former slaves. Formal celebrations for “Juneteenth” began almost immediately.

Did you know? The term “Juneteenth,” grammatically a portmanteau of the word “June” and the suffix of “Nineteenth,” was coined in 1903.

Just one year following General Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3, freed former slaves had gathered enough money to purchase land for Juneteenth gatherings and celebrations. (Church grounds were also popular for gatherings.) Emancipation Park in Houston and Austin are examples of remaining properties purchased by former slaves. (Learn more history from Juneteenth.com.) In its early years, Juneteenth was a time for family members—some who had fled to the North and others who had traveled to other states—to reunite with relatives who stayed behind in the South. Prayer services have long played a major part in the celebrations.

Hosting a barbecue or other Juneteenth celebration? Find recipe ideas at Multi Cultural Cooking Network and NPR.

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Categories: National Observances

Father’s Day: Tell Dad ‘Thanks!’ on the 45 annual American holiday

Dad tie words

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNDAY, JUNE 18: Take Dad golfing, make dinner on the grill and take the time to say “Thanks.” It’s Father’s Day! Across the United States, more than 70 million fathers qualify for recognition on this special day, which has been an official holiday in the United States for 45 years.

Did you know? Celebrations similar to Father’s Day have been in existence around the globe for hundreds of years. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

The American Father’s Day began in Spokane, Washington, in 1910, with the daughter of a single father. 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 wasn’t accepted by the general public or Congress until 1966. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972.

Did you know? Both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were first observed in a Methodist church.

Grilling meat on a grill outdoors

Photo courtesy of Pexels

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY:
RECIPES, ACTIVITIES, DIY GIFTS & MORE

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

From the Grill (and beyond): Whether Dad prefers meat or fish, potatoes or corn on the cob, you’ll find plenty of recipes to choose from at AllRecipes, Martha Stewart and Food Network. Wondering what dads overseas like to eat? The BBC has collected Father’s Day recipes fit for Brit dads.

Wondering what to do with Dad today? Reader’s Digest has a list of suggested activities.

Too hot to go out? Find a list of movies fit for Father’s Day at TechTimes, from Father of the Bride to Mrs. Doubtfire to The Pursuit of Happyness.

Gifts galore: Lists abound for those wondering what to buy for Dad, and most publications offer up plenty of suggestions each year. Among our favorites in 2017 are Time’s roundup of ideas, and Business Insider’s list of gifts under $50–which includes some cool new kicks and a Bluetooth meat thermometer.

Do-It-Yourselfers can find inspiration for gifts to make Dad at HGTV.com.

NEWS 2017: DAD FOR HIRE!

A group of men in their 20s have posted an ad on Craigslist, seeking a real-deal dad to grill for a gathering on the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend, in Washington state. (Seattle Times has the story.) The winning dad must have at least 18 years of experience in his role as Dad, boast at least 10 years of experience grilling and be willing to talk about things like lawn mowers, building a deck and Jimmy Buffet at the gathering. The payment for this dad? Free food and beer. News sources report that the young men in this group don’t live with their dads, but are still in the mood to celebrate Dad’s day.

 

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Categories: International ObservancesNational Observances

Memorial Day: Paying tribute to fallen soldiers & former slaves—plus recipes, songs

Sailors beneath large American flag

Sailors open an American flag. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, MAY 29: Across the U.S., remembrances are observed and grills fire up for Memorial Day, which began in May 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.

BUT FIRST, HOLIDAY TRAVEL NEWS!  AAA estimates that more people will get away this Memorial Day weekend than have in the past 12 years, with 39.3 million U.S. travelers expected, according to a forecast released Wednesday. That represents an increase of 1 million—2.7 percent—more travelers this year than last Memorial Day weekend. Most of the travelers—88.1 percent, or 34.6 million—will drive to their destinations. Also, look for historic deals: Look around your region at history-themed parks and museums. Some will be opening for the summer season around this three-day weekend. Some have special Memorial weekend deals for visitors, including special offers for veterans. And, observe the National Moment of Remembrance. The official national Moment of Remembrance, established by federal action, is actually a rolling minute of silence, set for 3 p.m. in your respective time zone.

PBS MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT

Boy flag concert

A boy at the Memorial Day Concert. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Don’t miss this! It’s on the evening before Memorial Day—Sunday, May 28—carried via the PBS network nationwide from Washington D.C.

According to PBS’s pre-broadcast plan for the live event: The 2017 concert will feature tributes to the last surviving Doolittle Raider, Colonel Richard Cole, and the 75th anniversary of that daring bombing mission over Tokyo, as well as the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force and some of the most skilled aviators of World War II – the Tuskegee Airmen. In addition, the concert will honor the legacy of Jerry Colbert, Founder and Executive Producer of Capital Concerts, who passed away in January 2017.

Emmy and Tony Award-winner Laurence Fishburne is stepping in to co-host the 28th annual edition of the National Memorial Day Concert with Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna. Sinise will present a 75th anniversary salute to the Doolittle Raiders, the daring aviators who changed the course of World War II in the Pacific. The all-star lineup for the event includes: General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.); Renée Fleming; Vanessa Williams; Scotty McCreery; John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting; John Ortiz; Mary McCormack and many more. Auli’i Cravalho will open the show with a special performance of the national anthem.

THE FIRST MEMORIAL DAY (AKA DECORATION DAY):
PROPERLY CREDITING COURAGEOUS FORMER SLAVES

All American history books haven’t been revised—and some websites produced by various agencies of the federal government still have the “old” versions of the “first” Memorial or Decoration Day. One U.S. veterans website still credits Waterloo, New York, as well as some Confederate women’s groups in 1866 as the “firsts.” So, ReadTheSpirit celebrates the growing awareness of the role of courageous former slaves in 1865. Now, Wikipedia, the PBS network itself and a growing number of history textbooks credit the courageous former slaves in 1865 with the “first.”

As of Memorial Day 2013, Wikipedia now reports:

The first well-known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. … Blacks in Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen had cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the dead. Involved were 3,000 schoolchildren newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, and black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

ReadTheSpirit online magazine has been covering this progressive correction of our American historical record for a number of years. For more on David Blight’s work and the Charleston event in 1865—including the text of a contemporary newspaper story—see this earlier Memorial Day story we published.

HOLIDAY RECIPES & GREAT OLD SONGS!

RECIPES: Find an array of recipes fit for a picnic, a barbecue or a more elaborate meal from Food Network, Taste of Home, Food & Wine, AllRecipes and Kraft.

GREAT OLD SONGS: The Libary of Congress has one of the best online indexes for Memorial-themed reflection—featuring links to patriotic American songs. The Library of Congress index provides stories about the origin of these classics, plus many of these links lead to high-resolution images of early sheet music you can print. The list of nearly 30 venerable tunes includes: America the Beautiful, Anchors Aweigh, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, Fanfare for the Common Man, Marines’ Hymn, This Land is Your Land and You’re a Grand Old Flag.

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Mother’s Day: Give thanks to Mom and celebrate mothers nationwide

Young son kissing mother, mother smiling

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNDAY, MAY 14: Give thanks to Mom, Grandma and any maternal figure in your life today on this, the second Sunday of May—it’s Mother’s Day!

The modern observance of Mother’s Day began with Anna Jarvis in 1908, when she collaborated with the founder of Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. From the beginning, Jarvis specified the day should be “Mother’s Day,” as a singular possessive, so that each person would honor their own mother. Jarvis herself promoted the holiday tirelessly until she caught the attention of President Woodrow Wilson, who made the day an official national holiday in 1914. Unfortunately, the day became so commercialized that Jarvis later regretted having established the holiday at all.

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.

RECIPES, GIFTS & THE MOTHER’S DAY MOVEMENT

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart and AllRecipes for ideas and recipes.

Flower bunch pink carnations

Photo courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

In search of the perfect gift?

  • Find an array of clever ideas, from state cutting boards to a perfume sampler box, at Romper.com.
  • Got a mom who loves to travel? Find ideas in this article, from Chicago Tribune.
  • Know a Millennial mom? This list was rounded up just for them, from Money.
  • Is Mom active? Try the gift list at Forbes, for everything from sportswear to ski lift ticket charms.
  • Does Mom enjoy personalized gifts? Try these handmade gift ideas, courtesy of CBS Boston.

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. This year, the Mother’s Day Movement is focusing its campaign on Nurse-Family Partnership, an organization that aids first-time moms in impoverished situations from pregnancy through the child’s second year.

MOTHER’S DAY: ORIGINS OF THE HOLIDAY

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.

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Categories: National Observances

Equinox, Ostara, Norouz and other worldwide celebrations welcome spring

Springtime tree branches covered in pink blossoms

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

MONDAY, MARCH 20 and TUESDAY, MARCH 21: Across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children are looking toward spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient phenomenon fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz.
  • For Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme throughout is joy in the promises of new life; a specific joy that comes with the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans reflecting on the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

THE NORTH WELCOMES SPRING (VERNAL EQUINOX)

On March 20 at 10:29 UTC, the 2017 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

NOWRUZ: IRANIANS, ZOROASTRIANS AND THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Green shoots sprouted grass in container, tied with pink ribbon, sitting on brown half-wall seat

Spring sprouts for Norooz. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year, many families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

A BAHA’I NEW YEAR: NAW-RUZ

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and that fast is broken for Naw-Ruz: the Baha’i New Year. One of nine holy days of the month, Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, and most Baha’is gather for a community meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

Wire basket of differently-colored, natural eggs

Eggs are a common symbol of springtime. Photo by woodleywonderworks, courtesy of Flickr

A PAGAN AND WICCAN SPRING: OSTARA

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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Categories: Baha'iInterfaithInternational ObservancesNational Observances