Raksha Bandhan: Celebrating Bonds between Brothers and Sisters

Women at marketplace looking at bracelets

Women shop for Raksha Bandhan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

Two sisters renew bonds with their brother on Raksha Bandhan

Two sisters celebrate the holiday with their brother in a photo this family submitted to the Wikimedia Commons 2019 campaign, called “Wiki Loves Love.” Photo credit: Aasthap-dsc.

On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun. Want other culinary options? NDTV’s Food channel also published these 11 suggestions for other delightful holiday dishes. The non-alcoholic Mango Basil Colada sounds especially refreshing!

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

A National Holiday

Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year government officials across India announce some kind of new service or public improvement related to the holiday. This year, one widely reported news story is a policy—in some regions—to offer free bus transportation for 24 hours so women can easily reach their brothers.

Each year, there also are efforts to encourage fitness on the holiday. One example, from The Times of Indiasuggests healthier choices for family banquets—and even suggests that a rakhi could be a fitness band.

Many families and organizations enjoy trying to take their festivities to extremes—competing for slots in the record books. For 2019, India-based Prokerala magazine takes a look at some of the records—and attempts at records.

Finally—and only in India—one of the country’s shelters for cows, sacred animals in Hinduism, has sparked headlines across the country for its new line of cow dung rakhis. No kidding! It’s one of a number of fundraisers to help support the shelter.

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Black History Month in February 2019

Frederick Douglass composite of images from Wikimedia Commons.

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FEBRUARY, all month long—We have a rich array of resources to recommend for your reflections on Black History Month this year. Let’s start with a question:

Why is Black History Month in February?

Carter G. Woodson

The “father of black history” was historian and author Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) who co-founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 as well as The Journal of Negro History in 1916.

A decade later, in 1926, Woodson capitalized on two milestones that were widely observed each year among African American families: Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14. He wisely scheduled his new Negro History Week to appeal naturally to those communities already looking to the past in early February.

However, Woodson had a far larger vision for his observance: He wanted to encourage organized programs to teach African American history in public schools. At first, he could find only a handful of early adopters in schools in North Carolina, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Woodson was a prolific author and argued that establishing a well-known body of history was crucial to the survival of black culture and the potential for African-American progress. “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” he wrote. In particular, Woodson admired Jewish leaders who had kept their culture, tradition and communities alive despite many historic threats to their survival.

He started with two birthdays that already were popular in African-American communities and, around those two dates, he built a national movement of educators that expanded into a month-long focus.

One-Stop Listing of National Events

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum all are joining in tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity. Here’s a one-stop website for all of those events and programs.

A Hero’s Journey

We’ve got an excellent way to mark this annual observance. Get a copy of the new book The Black Knight and enjoy the dramatic story of Col. Clifford Worthy’s courage in agreeing to become one of the first black cadets at West Point in the 1940s after President Truman signed the order integrating the U.S. Army.

Cliff’s story is a national treasure for many reasons. Here’s one: The U.S. Military Academy traces its roots back to 1801, but the West Point Association of Graduates—its influential alumni organization—was organized in 1869 so this new year is the group’s sesquicentennial. Special events are planned all year long to celebrate the Long Gray Line. That starts with the new Winter 2019 issue of West Point magazine. If you click on that link, you can “flip through” the pages of that special issue—but we urge you to jump right to page 54, where the West Point Authors Bookshelf features Clifford Worthy’s new memoir, The Black Knight: An African-American Family’s Journey from West Point-A Life of Duty, Honor and Country. You also can learn much more about that new book on Amazon.

Confront Racism
with accurate information

100 Questions and Answers about African Americans

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The Michigan State University School of Journalism has published a very helpful guidebook, 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

Why does racism continue to throw up so many tragic barriers in the U.S.? Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well. The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, students are trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

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Celebrate American Labor Day by Remembering the Sacred Nature of Labor

Pope John Paul II visiting Poland in 1983 during the years when his messages inspired the Polish people to rise up. (Photo by Vatican photographer Arturo Mari)

“Created in God’s image, we were given the mandate to transform the earth. By their work people share in God’s creating activity….Awareness that our work is a sharing in God’s work ought to permeate even the most ordinary daily activities. By our labor we are unfolding the Creator’s work and contributing to the realization of God’s plan on earth.”
Pope John Paul II in his landmark encyclical Laborem Exercens in 1981

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3—Amid parades, parties, shopping and travel this Labor Day weekend, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: Take a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers. In addition, spend some time considering how our religious traditions have emphasized the sacred nature of human work since the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

Labor Day honors a value that has been a part of religious reflection for thousands of years. Psalm 90 in the ancient Hebrew scriptures ends with a prayer that God will “prosper the work of our hands.” In Islam, the Quran talks at length about the nature of our work and the morality of conducting ourselves in the public square. For two centuries, popes have written extensively about the sacred nature of labor. Long before John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens fueled the workers’ movements in Poland, Pope Leo XIII laid the groundwork for modern Christian teaching about labor in Rerum novarum, which called on international efforts to alleviate “the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.”

AMERICAN LABOR DAY:
RELIGIOUS ROOTS

Black-and-white photo of people on streets in early 20th century, leisurely gatherings and walking in a built-up downtown

A Labour Day parade in Toronto, Canada, 1900. Labour Day was made an official holiday by Canadian Prime Minister John Thompson in July of 1894; less than one month later, Labor Day became a federal holiday in the United States. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Why do we refer to “American Labor Day” in this column? Because American leaders in the late 1800s feared that a May holiday, which was favored by labor activists, would encourage memories of the tragic Haymarket conflict in Chicago. What began as a peaceful labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square wound up in headlines around the world after a bomb went off, police opened fire and many were killed or wounded. The tragedy continued through subsequent court cases. That May event in Haymarket Square well over a century ago is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world.

Instead of a May holiday, then, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months in our 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. (Wikipedia has details.)

In addition, the Sunday preceding Labor Day is known as “Labor Sunday”—dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

In the late 1800s, leaders in the Knights of Labor worked diligently to spread awareness of this holiday. Terence Vincent Powderly, leader of the Knights’ outreach, wrote on the influence of religion, “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workingmen embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.” Powderly’s preamble to the union’s Declaration of Principles quoted Scripture and described the dire challenges of the working class in terms similar to the writings of Leo XIII. That was no accident. Powderly was a devout Catholic, visited the Vatican and for a time had the active support of American Catholic bishops.

GREAT BOOKS ON LABOR

Want some recommendations of great books on labor? Our ReadTheSpirit short list of recommended reading echoes other online lists of widely praised books on these issues. We urge readers to pick from the following (the links take you to Amazon):

Click the logo to visit the IWJ website.

Want Religious Resources for Prayer and Discussion?

For more than two decades, the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) network has been a gathering place for interfaith reflections on the nature of labor—and the needs of workers. The IWJ website offers many free resources under the banner: Labor in/on the Pulpit, Minbar, Bimah. In its resource page, the IWJ also quotes the current Pope Francis:

“Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression, or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that creates huge inequalities.”

NEED FRESH RECIPES?

Grill kabobs Labor DayLooking for the perfect recipe for a picnic or Labor Day gathering?

  • For the home cook, AllRecipes has a great selection of easy-to-follow recipes.
  • To wow guests or friends and family, try making a dish from Food Network.
  • Trying to eat healthier? Try a tantalizing Labor Day recipe from Eating Well.
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So it’s July? Hot Dog! And … Ice Cream, Chocolate and Fried Chicken, too!

Click on this delicious image to visit Joe Grimm’s Author Page on Amazon.

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JULY—Farmers and food sellers find all sorts of timely connections celebrating edible delights in every month of our calendar. When July breaks across America, we all brace for the so-called Dog Days, which begin with the rising of the Dog Star, more properly known as Sirius. Over time, that could occur as early as July 3. This year, astronomers tell us, Dog Days begin later—July 22 and extend well into August.

Click to see the Hot Dog Month Planning Guide.

Of course, Americans have come to associate hot dogs with July, particularly because of our love of July 4 Independence Day cookouts. As always, industry groups have a host of hot dog promotions rolling out this month. The mother lode comes from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC). No kidding! It’s a real institution with a nine-page PDF of ideas for celebrating July as National Hot Dog Month.

The Council has details in this PDF for applicants who want to be named official NHDSC Hot Dog Ambassadors. Here is part of the group’s invitation to would-be ambassadors:

The state of Hot Dog Nation is strong and while the Hot Dog Top Dog and Queen of Wien lead the way at the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, it’s time for us to enlist official Hot Dog Ambassadors. … Everyone who enters will be classified as a Wiener Warrior with their own Wiener Warrior card.

Here at ReadTheSpirit magazine, our own resident hot dog expert is author Joe Grimm, who brought the world Coney Detroit, a colorful homage to Michigan’s favorite version of this all-American treat. Check out Joe Grimm’s books on his Amazon Author Page.

Had enough hot dog news?

Take the Washington Post ice cream quiz.

July also is National Ice Cream Month. Again, no kidding! President Ronald Reagan signed a joint resolution of Congress into law in 1984. That included declaring a National Ice Cream Day in the middle of the month, which tends to move around the calendar because retailers prefer a weekend holiday. One hub of ice cream activism is the International Dairy Foods Association. But our best newsy clip about the observance comes from The Washington Post with a fun ice cream quiz. Throughout the month, various industry groups have declared other special days related to ice cream. For example, there’s often a national day for peach ice cream and another for plain vanilla. There’s even a day in July promoted by some trade groups as National Milk Shake Day. Those “holidays” tend to be driven by industry advertisers but keep an eye out this month—and you might find some tasty treats on sale at local eateries and ice cream shops.

Chocolate is a messier celebration—that is, it’s messier to identify clearly on the calendar. All around the world, there are lots of declarations about when to celebrate chocolate, apparently because people love the stuff so much. One of these occasions falls on July 7 and is called World Chocolate Day. We say: Hey, if you love chocolate, celebrate whenever you can!

July 6 is National Fried Chicken Day. Watch your favorite national chicken chain for special deals and discounts in early July. Kentucky Fried Chicken usually marks this special occasion in some way, each year.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Plan ahead to celebrate Jewish and Asian Pacific history in May

JEWISH AMERICAN HISTORY MONTH

For more than a decade, Jewish American History Month has been an official national observance. President W. Bush proclaimed the special focus in 2006 after bi-partisan congressional support. Various receptions, events and special exhibits are usually held each May and the Library of Congress set up this extensive website to provide photos, documents and historical background in general. Within that larger site, on this page, librarians link to a long list of historical materials that relate to American Jews over the last four centuries. There’s even a special section of the site welcoming teachers who are looking for classroom materials.

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ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

President Jimmy Carter launched this special observance in 1978, following a congressional resolution. The declaration called this a commemoration of “the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.” The Library of Congress also hosts a resource-rich website. The librarians offer these links to exhibits and collections. They also offer materials for teachers.

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National Day of Unplugging and Screen-Free Week

Click the image to visit the group’s website.

FRIDAY-to-SATURDAY, MARCH 9-10—National Day of Unplugging.

MONDAY APRIL 30-to-SUNDAY MAY 6—Screen-Free Week.

Two national organizations are chiming in on a message shared by ReadTheSpirit and educators nationwide: We should help children to reduce their current levels of screen time! In fact, all of us should consider how much time we spend focused on screens—and devote ourselves to more human contact.

That’s the message of the new book Sadie Sees Trouble by Linda Jarkey and Julie Jarkey-Kozlowski. You can read more about this innovative project that invites children to begin reading and creating their own illustrations with substances found in most kitchens. The sisters who created this remarkable book are both veteran educators. Linda says, “It’s an attractive option: Give a child a tablet or a smart phone and many children will sit quietly while you’re free to do other things around the home. But, very quickly that technology can replace interaction with your children.”

“We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our devices,” say the folks behind the National Day of Unplugging campaign. Visit their website to learn more about this annual effort. There’s even a direct religious connection, in this case. The Unplugging day is scheduled on the Jewish Sabbath. The effort is sponsored by Reboot, which describes itself this way: “Inspired by Jewish ritual and embracing the arts, humor, food, philosophy, and social justice, we produce creative projects that spark the interest of young Jews and the larger community.”

We say: This is a great idea that draws from ancient religious wisdom!

Click the logo to visit the website.

The other effort, national Screen-Free Week has its own website where you can register local events and network with other folks planning to take part in this effort. This week is sponsored by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhoodwhich describes its mission as “supporting parents’ efforts to raise healthy families by limiting commercial access to children and ending the exploitive practice of child-targeted marketing.”

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February is Black History Month

Frederick Douglass composite of images from Wikimedia Commons.

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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 1—We have a rich array of resources to recommend for your reflections on Black History Month this year. Let’s start with a question:

Why is Black History Month in February?

Carter G. Woodson

The “father of black history” was historian and author Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) who co-founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) in 1915 as well as The Journal of Negro History in 1916.

A decade later, in 1926, Woodson capitalized on two milestones that were widely observed each year among African American families: Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 12 and Frederick Douglass’ birthday on February 14. He wisely scheduled his new Negro History Week to appeal naturally to those communities already looking to the past in early February.

However, Woodson had a far larger vision for his observance: He wanted to encourage organized programs to teach African American history in public schools. At first, he could find only a handful of early adopters in schools in North Carolina, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.

Woodson was a prolific author and argued that establishing a well-known body of history was crucial to the survival of black culture and the potential for African-American progress. “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated,” he wrote. In particular, Woodson admired Jewish leaders who had kept their culture, tradition and communities alive despite many historic threats to their survival.

He started with two birthdays that already were popular in African-American communities and, around those two dates, he built a national movement of educators that expanded into a month-long focus.

2018 Theme is ‘African Americans in Times of War’

Click on this cover to visit the ASALH website.

The organization Woodson co-founded, ASALH, calls on educators to focus this year on “African Americans in Times of War.” In choosing that theme, the group’s leaders say they hope schools—and anyone else observing this month—will look into a host of issues related to military service. ASALH writes:

“These issues include opportunities for advancement and repression of opportunities during wartime; the struggle to integrate the military and experiences during segregation/apartheid and successful integration; veterans experiences once they returned home; the creation of African American Veteran of Foreign War posts; cultures and aesthetics of dissent; global/international discourse, including impact and influence of the Pan African Congresses; the impact of migration and urban development; educational opportunities; health care development; the roles of civil rights and Black liberation organizations, including the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party; the roles of African American businesses, women, religious institutions, and the Black press in the struggle abroad and at home; the topographies and spaces of Black military struggle, resistance and rebellion; and how Black soldiers and/veterans are documented and memorialized within public and private spaces. These diverse stories reveal war’s impact not only on men and women in uniform but on the larger African American community.”

Confront Racism with … accurate information

100 Questions and Answers about African Americans

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

The Michigan State University School of Journalism has published a very helpful guidebook, 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

Why does racism continue to throw up so many tragic barriers in the U.S.? Part of the problem could be that we just don’t know each other very well. The Public Religion Research Institute asked people about their closest networks. About 75 percent of White Americans said all their closest confidants were White. About 65 percent of Black respondents said all their confidants were African American. Among Hispanics, the number was 46 percent.

In the Michigan State University School of Journalism, students are trying to take make cross-cultural conversations less awkward. Students start this process by asking people what questions they get about themselves, or wish others knew the answers to. Then, the guides answer those common questions. The students hope that these guides answer baseline questions people are curious about, but might be reluctant to ask because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or offend others.

100 Questions and Answers About African Americans answers potentially awkward questions:

• Should I say Black or African American?
• Why is slavery still an issue for some people?
• Why is it that White people can’t say the n-word, but some Black people do?
• What is the Black National Anthem?
• Do Black people get sunburns?

The guide answers some common misperceptions:
• Is it true there are more Black men in prison than in college?
• Are African Americans the chief beneficiaries of affirmative action?
• Does most federal food assistance go to African Americans?
• Did Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

And the guide explains achievement in rising educational and health levels, high voter turnout and accomplishments in science, technology and the arts.

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