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.

 

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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.)

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Categories: National Observances

Christmas, Nativity: Christians across the globe rejoice in Christ’s birth

Altar of a church decorated for Christmas

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 25: Sing for joy and ring the bells—it’s Christmas! The Old English Christ’s Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians worldwide, hailing from snow-covered mountains to sandy beaches, crowded cities to rural fields—and everywhere in between.

Pew Research tells us that, even with declines in religious affiliation in the U.S., half of all Americans say they attend church on Christmas Eve.

Central to the liturgical year, Christmas closes Advent and begins the Twelve Days of Christmastide. Though the exact year of Jesus’ birth can’t be placed, Christian families re-read two Gospels that describe a lowly manger, visiting shepherds, magi and, of course, that mysterious guiding star (now believed to have been a rare alignment of planets). While previously a time of year when winter Solstice was celebrated in the Roman empire, Christians transformed this darkest period of the year and say that Jesus’ coming fulfills ancient prophesy that a “Sun of righteousness” would come, and that his (red) blood and (green) eternal life provide hope to the whole world. Even St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican boasts an impressive mosaic of Christo Sole, Christ the Sun, in its pre-4th-century necropolis.

Earliest evidence of a Christmas celebration centered around Jesus dates to 354 CE, when events took place in Rome (note that the birth of Christ was already being observed at this time by Eastern Christians, on Epiphany). The first Christmas hymns emerged in 4th century Rome, but the Epiphany holiday continued to dominate Christmas through the Middle Ages. During the medieval period, Christmas grew in popularity over Epiphany. During this time, the 40 days prior to Christmas became known as the “forty days of St. Martin”—a tradition that evolved into Advent.

CHRISTMAS DIY: DECORATIONS, RECIPES & PARTY TIPS

Whether your halls are decked to the hilt or boasting a sparse sprig of holly, have no fear—there’s still time to bring cheer to your home! We’ve searched the web and spotted these online gems that are worth a click and a look …

Martha Stewart offers a selection of handmade gift ideas, ornament inspirations and more. Don’t leave out the kids—their crafts and printables are at Kaboose. After the stockings and wreaths are hung, it’s time to focus on the Christmas meal—an all-important aspect to Christmas in many cultures. In areas of Italy, 12 kinds of fish are served on Christmas Eve (get Italian Christmas recipes here), while in England, fare often includes goose, gravy, potatoes, bread and cider. Whether Midnight Mass interrupts your menu or not, don’t forget dessert—American cookies, traditional pudding, fruit cakes and mince pies. (Taste of Home and AllRecipes offer everything from appetizer to dessert recipes.)

Cooking for guests with special requests? Find a gluten-free menu and a vegetarian menu from Huffington Post. In Malta, a chocolate and chestnut beverage is served after the 12 a.m. Christmas services. Chocolate lovers can find more festive food ideas at Hersheys.com.

DID YOU KNOW? (PARTY ICEBREAKERS)

Now, for some extra fun: Are you looking to strike up a conversation with a stranger—or that family member you only see once a year? Try tossing out a few of these interesting tidbits during your next gathering:

Sancte Claus was retroactively named the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam (the Dutch name for New York City) in 1809

• President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Five years later, the first American Christmas card was produced

• Charles Dickens sought to recreate Christmas as a family-centered holiday of generosity and secularity. Unlike modern-day Europe and U.S., workers in Dickens’ day did not get “days off” in their work schedules. In addition to campaigning for a full-day December 25 holiday in A Christmas Carol, Dickens was one of the leading British activists for Sunday-holiday laws in the UK that would give workers a weekly sabbath off work. So, there was a major political campaign behind Dickens’ fanciful tales

LOOKING AHEAD:
THE JULIAN EVENT AND 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Gregorian and Julian calendars differ, causing Christmas and Epiphany to fall on January 7 and 19, respectively, by those Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian Calendar. Christmas doesn’t end on Christmas Day for anyone, though—at least not according to the church! On the contrary, Christmas Day begins the Twelve Days of Christmas, which continue through January 6. Most Christian denominations preach this worldwide tradition, even though many parishioners are quick to take down decorations and move into the new year. In some places, it is tradition to give gifts during each of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

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Categories: Christian

Yule, solstice: Welcome winter with wassail, a feast and a log on the fire

Fireplace lit with fire, logs all around

Photo courtesy of Pexels

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21: Wherever you live—and as long as men and women have walked the earth—the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice!

Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun” and the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light. Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving, gambling and often ludicrous behavior. Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which traditionally smolders for 12 days.

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Taste of Home and Martha Stewart.

Cake in shape of log in tray with evergreen clippings

A Yule log cake (Buche de Noel). Photo by Eric Sonstroem, courtesy of Flickr

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule.” Enormous feasts and livestock sacrifices were associated with Yule, and so merry was the atmosphere in these activities that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s Pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

SOLSTICE: INTI RAYMI AND SOYALANGWUL

 

Solstice traditions have many names around the world: Inti Raymi in the Incan Empire in honor of the sun god Inti, and Soyalangwul for the Zuni and the Hopi. In Machu Piccu, there still exists a large stone column known as Intihuatana, or the “tying of the sun”; ancient peoples would ceremonially tie the sun to the stone so that it could not escape. The East Asian Dongzhi festival recalls yin/yang and the dark/light balance of the cosmos.

YULE: WASSAIL, HOLLY & MISTLETOE

Looking for some Yule inspiration? Recharge with some all-natural ideas from the Huffington Post, such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a recipe here. For an alcoholic version, check out the New York Times.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

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Categories: Wiccan / Pagan

Posadas Navidenas: A nativity procession for faith, food and community

Children and adults in group on street at night costumed as angels and other nativity figures

A Las Posadas procession. Photo by Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16 to MONDAY, DECEMBER 24: The colorful, lively nights of Las Posadas begin the countdown to Christmas in Mexico, Guatemala and parts of the United States tonight, as an ancient tradition is reenacted.

Tantalizing dishes, merry carols and the story of the nativity has been bringing together communities in Mexico for more than 400 years in a beloved tradition that lasts nine nights and ends on Dec. 24. Each night of Las Posadas, a small, candlelit procession travels through a neighborhood, its participants dressed like Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds, reenacting the search for a safe place to welcome the infant Jesus. Often, musicians follow the group, as do accompanying members of the community.

POSADA, LODGING & ACCOMMODATION

Posada, Spanish for “lodging,” or “accommodation,” describes the events of Las Posadas: as the procession stops at designated houses and asks permission to stay, it is prearranged that all homeowners turn away the visitors until the host family is reached. At the home of the host family (or, in some regions, a church), the visitors are welcomed inside, and all present kneel before a nativity.

Following prayers, tamales and ponche navideno are served, washed down with rompope, a Mexican drink with a taste similar to eggnog. Children may hit a five- or seven-pointed piñata, often filled with dried fruits, sugar sticks, candies and nuts.

RECIPES, LEARNING & MORE

For recipes for tamales, rompope and more, check out an article from the Washington Post; for craft ideas, decoration DIYs and more, check out this Pinterest page. For tips on how to select and care for a poinsettia, go to Lowes.com.

As a learning resource, NBC News suggests Posadas Navidenas as one of five Latino holiday traditions to share with children.

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Categories: Christian