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

Flags in a row, flying

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

MONDAY, MAY 27: It’s as American as apple pie: hometown parades, ceremonies for fallen soldiers and the smell of barbecues firing up across the country.

It’s Memorial Day. The unofficial start of summer in America began, less than two centuries ago, as a solemn observance for the war that had consumed more lives than any other U.S. conflict. While memorial services still abound, the national holiday also means picnics, beaches, fireworks and, of course, travel, as Americans enjoy a three-day weekend.

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

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

A PULITZER FOR THE HOLIDAY’S HISTORIAN

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

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

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

MEMORIAL DAY and CIVIL RELIGION

The famed sociologist of American religion, Robert Bellah, also shaped the evolution of Memorial Day’s meaning in a landmark article he published in a 1967 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He called his long article “Civil Religion in America,” taking the centuries-old concept of “civil religion” and kicked off decades of fresh research into how our civil religion defines our American culture. You can read Bellah’s entire original article online.

A few lines from Bellah’s article about Memorial Day …
Until the Civil War, the American civil religion focused above all on the event of the Revolution, which was seen as the final act of the Exodus from the old lands across the waters. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the sacred scriptures and Washington the divinely appointed Moses who led his people out of the hands of tyranny.

Then—The Civil War raised the deepest questions of national meaning. The man who not only formulated but in his own person embodied its meaning for Americans was Abraham Lincoln. For him the issue was not in the first instance slavery but “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” … With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enters the new civil religion. It is symbolized in the life and death of Lincoln. Nowhere is it stated more vividly than in the Gettysburg Address, itself part of the Lincolnian “New Testament” among the civil scriptures.

MEMORIAL DAY? ISN”T THAT A SALE?

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

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

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

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Categories: National Observances

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

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

Photo by Coffee, courtesy of Pixabay

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

Although people have been celebrating motherhood for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day began in 1908, with Anna Jarvis. Determined to bring awareness to the vital role of each mother in her family, Jarvis began campaigning for a “Mother’s Day,” and finally was successful in reaching the entire country in 1914. Jarvis’s concept differed considerably from corporate interests in the holiday, however, and the over-commercialization of Mother’s Day was irritating to Jarvis as early as the 1920s.

This year, in honor of the Mother’s Day centennial, honor Mom the way Jarvis intended: with a hand-written letter, a visit, a homemade gift or a meal, cooked from scratch.

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

CARNATIONS—AND THE BEGINNINGS OF MOTHER’S DAY

American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, but Jarvis’s campaigns were the first to make it beyond the local level. The first “official” Mother’s Day service was actually a memorial ceremony, held at Jarvis’s church, in 1908; the 500 carnations given out at that first celebration have given way to the widespread custom of distributing carnations to mothers on this day. For Anna, the floral choice was easy: Carnations were her mother’s favorite flowers.

Did you know? President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation for Mother’s Day in 1914.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable. Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar—mainly because it is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls.

BRUNCH RECIPES, GIFT IDEAS & DIY

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

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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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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

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

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