Thanksgiving: Americans gather ’round the table to express gratitude and feast

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.
Abraham Lincoln, October 1863, Proclamation for Thanksgiving

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 22: Count your blessings and savor the smells and tastes of the season, for the holiday of (American) Thanksgiving. Many foods common on the Thanksgiving table are native to North America and to the season, such as corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squashes and cranberries.

Mealtime prayers and worship services are still common on this holiday of gratitude.

THANKSGIVING: A HISTORY

Turkey on table, with lights in background

Photo by LuminaryPhotoProject, courtesy of Flickr

Though earlier thanks-giving events took place through the centuries, it was in 1621 that the feast shared by Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans, in Plymouth, that would become today’s American Thanksgiving. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

That Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures: the Wampanoag and the Europeans. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. A plentiful harvest was just one of several reasons for a Wampanoag ceremony of thanks. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Often, church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday. Later, public officials joined with religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.

FOOTBALL, PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

The National Football League has played games on Thanksgiving Day since its creation. In 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held annually in New York City—and “America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held in Detroit. To this day, both parades welcome tourists and locals alike and are widely televised. Several U.S. cities host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast.

Recipes, décor and hosting tips: Find recipes, menus and more at Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents, Parenting and Disney.

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Categories: National Observances

Columbus Day: Italian-Americans and Native Americans both celebrate

Columbus Day parade in San Francisco

A float in an earlier Columbus Day Italian Heritage Parade in San Francisco. (Used via Wikimedia Commons.)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12: All year long, celebrations across the United States reflect the colorful facets of America’s growing cultural diversity. In August, for example, we covered the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

But few holidays expose the friction in U.S. history as much as Columbus Day, which celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what is now called the Americas in 1492. For more than a century, the holiday has been championed by Italian-Americans as showcasing their many contributions to the U.S. But some regions of the country now decline to celebrate this national observance, questioning whether Columbus’s arrival is something Native people should celebrate.

Proud Italian-American communities on the East Coast host parades, parties and other events—but San Francisco claims to host the nation’s oldest and biggest Columbus-related bash. In fact, the celebration started several days ago around the Bay Area. (Check out the group’s website—but don’t delay, because their parade is on October 11 this year!)

The San Francisco-based group claims that in 1869: “San Francisco’s first Columbus Day Celebration marked the first time in America that Italian-Americans gathered and held a parade to honor the accomplishments of Italians, as well as the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus.”

That first parade “took place in San Francisco’s downtown featuring the bands and marching units of Italian fraternal organizations, including the Garibaldi Guard, Swiss Guards and Lafayette Guards. Four floats were showcased: the first hosted the statue of Christopher Columbus, the second featured two girls representing Isabella of Spain and America, the third depicted the Santa Maria with a sailor dressed as Christopher Columbus; and the fourth honored Italian gardeners featuring their agricultural achievements.”

In nearby Berkeley, California, an alternative celebration, Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day took off in the 1990s. Wikipedia reports a more extensive history of this anti-Columbus Day movement.

This movement continues to spread, especially on college campuses with groups attuned to the interests of Native Americans. In 2015, a change was widely debated at the University of Oklahoma, where the student newspaper reports that the university’s President David Boren supports holding an Indigenous People’s Day.

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Is December 21 the Mayan end of the world?

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-1217_Celebrating_the_Mayan_Apocalypse.jpgCLICK ON THIS COLLECTION OF MAYAN-RELATED IMAGES TO VISIT THE NASA PAGE EXPLAINING THE ERRORS THAT LED TO THIS ANXIETY.END OF WORLD NEWS FLASHES
FROM SPIRITUAL WANDERER,
GLEE, THE VATICAN, NASA
AND THE NEW YORK BAR SCENE
AS WE ALL COLLIDE WITH
SOLSTICE, YULE, SOYAL, YAIDA
SATURNALIA & PANCHA GANAPATI

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 21: At 11:12 a.m., the Sun reaches its highest point relative to the Earth’s equator—a moment when the ancients said the Sun seemed to stand still. Thus, Sol (Latin for Sun) and sistere (to stand still).
But the big question in 2012 is:
Will the world end?

All we can say at ReadTheSpirit online magazine is: Thank goodness for friends like Spiritual Wanderer Rodney Curtis, who sent cheery family greetings to our magazine offices just in time to give us hope on the verge of the Mayan Apocalypse! Like millions of other Americans, we had watched the new Mayan-themed holiday episode of the TV series Glee—in which two worried teenagers decide to get married even though they are still in high school. If the world does end on December 21, these kids reason, at least they will have a few days of wedded bliss.

Every where you look, tongue-in-cheek anxiety is rising—including the trend-setting New York City bar scene where “Last Call” will take on a whole new meaning this week. At least that’s true according to a report in the New York Daily News.

VATICAN ‘RUBBISHES PREDICTIONS’

Things are getting so crazy that the head of the Vatican Observatory was forced to weigh in—via the Vatican-run newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. You can Google the original Rome-based report, but it’s much more colorful to read British newspaper reports on Father Jose Funes’ assurances. The Vatican astronomer rubbishses such reports!

NASA SAYS:
LOOK AT YOUR OWN CALENDAR!

Father Funes is not alone, among serious scientists. NASA has posted a page explaining away Mayan anxieties with a very practical way of pointing out the error that produced these fears: Simply look at your own calendar! NASA writes, “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then—just as your new calendar begins again on January 1—another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.”

AND, GO ASK THE MAYANS

That’s what HarperOne did—three years ago—in publishing The Book of Destiny: Unlocking the Secrets of the Ancient Mayans and the Prophecy of 2012. Talk about an ultimate Spoiler Alert! This comes from page 2 of the book, written by Guatemalan author and Mayan spokesman Carlos Barrios:

Just as the world did not end in the year 2000 at the start of the new millennium, it won’t end with the advent of Job Ajaw in 2012. An unfounded fear was created before based the new millennium by religious leaders who based their theories on misguided interpretations of ancient religious texts and predictions made by famous prophets. The same fear is rising again. The true guardians of our tradition have never been consulted about this date, but we are here to say: December 21, 2012, will not be the end of the world or the end of humanity. In fact, it will be the start of a period in which harmony, undersanding, peace and wisdom can reign.

Note that Job Ajaw is one of the Mayan cycles of time that, according to Barrios, last thousands of years. So, December 12, 2012, is an auspicious date in the Mayan cosmic calendar—but it actually carries optimistic predictions of a global movement toward a more “harmonious natural order” between “Earth and humanity,” Barrios writes. Our Recommendation: Click on the book cover and order a copy from Amazon now. If you do it today, you should get your book well before December 21. The 356 pages are packed with a fascinating introduction to Mayan culture—plus enough intriguing chapters on “Mayan Signs” to rival your favorite volume on Nostradamus.

SERIOUS CONCERNS AMID THE FUN

As Americans, we love to scare ourselves silly—and the world apparently loves to be scared by American movies and television shows. That’s what happened a few years ago when John Cusack and a wild-eyed Woody Harrelson starred in the special-effects-laden 2012: We Were Warned. If you’re planning a Solstice party, you might grab a copy of the film, turn down all the lights and enjoy screaming with your friends.

But seriously—the world’s population is not as media savvy as most Americans have become these days. News reports from some regions of China and Russia say that 2012-disaster hysteria has gripped entire towns and, in some cases, institutions. Apparently, in one example, the inmates of a Russian women’s prison became so crazed with end-of-the-world rumors that officials had to bring in counselors to dispel the myths. If you’ve got lots of time to explore the wide range of 2012 predictions, Wikipedia has a truly engrossing page about the many facets of this frenzy. Again, bottom line: Wikipedia says any claims of a Mayan end-of-world prediction are a complete misreading of Mayan culture.

DECEMBER 21: THE SOLSTICE

Humans have been in awe of the Solstice throughout our entire history on the planet. No one knows the exact origins of Stonehenge, but the arrangement of enormous stones dates back at least 4,000 years. While the official UK guardians of the site restrict where visitors can walk around the great stones, the Winter Solstice is one day when greater freedom usually is permitted. While December 21 does mark the return of ever-lengthening daylight—ancient peoples recognized that months of deep winter and often famine were arriving with the year’s shortest day. It’s the sort of annual milestone that naturally makes humans fall to their knees in awe and prayer.

DECEMBER 21 AND YULE OR JUL OR JOL? OR SOYAL?

Modern pagans across the U.S. and northern Europe often celebrate various Yule (or Jul or Jol) customs. Most of these new “traditions” have been re-created in recent decades to approximate festivals that pagan groups say were once popular from what is now America across the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. A host of individual pagan organizations promote festivities, rituals and invocations to nature’s ancient spirits. While the history and authenticity of pagan rites can be debated, the timeless roots of this response to the Solstice still can be seen in the Zuni and Hopi communities of the American Southwest. In those cultures, the ceremonies are known as Soyal.

THE REST OF THE WORLD: SATURNALIA, YALDA and PANCHA GANAPATI

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-1210_Ganesh_for_Pancha_Ganapati.jpgAn illusration from the Hinduism Today guide to Pancha Ganapati. Click this image to visit the magazine’s free download page.Most American churchgoers are aware from annual TV specials, news media and even occasional sermons that the date of Christmas is related to the Solstice—and ancient Christian efforts to replace the Roman midwinter festival of Saturnalia with something more appropriate to their faith. Catholic pilgrims to the Vatican, for example, also like to tour the ruins of the Roman Forum where the Temple of Saturn once stood—the ancient focus of Saturnalia in the imperial city. (Wikipedia has much more about Saturnalia.)

Solstice taps into the world’s deepest spiritual traditions—one of which continues to blossom from Persia, now dominated by Iranian Muslims. However, that branch of Persian culture still expressed in the Zoroastrian faith and the ancient Roman-era mystery religion known as Mythraism still marks the Solstice festival of Yalda. (Once again, Wikipedia has an entry.) The mythology revolving around Yalda focuses on the other-worldly power of light. Candles and sweet fruits are part of enduring Yalda customs.

Finally, Hindus in the U.S. have tried to promote their own Christmas alternative, known as Pancha Ganapati: That’s now a five-day festival from December 21 to 25, focused on the elephant deity Lord Ganesh—and on promoting harmonious time among Indian families who find themselves with time off work, school and other commitments. Wikipedia has a page on this, but the best source of information is a free, full-color PDF you can download and print from Hinduism Today Magazine.

The colorful Hinduism Today introduction to the festival begins with these words: Think of this as the Hindu Christmas, a modern winter holiday full of family-centered happenings, but with five days of gifts for the kids, not one. From December 21 to 25 Hindus worship Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed Lord of culture and new beginnings. Family members work to mend past mistakes and bring Ganesha’s blessings of joy and harmony into five realms of their life, a wider circle each day: family, friends, associates, culture and religion.

AND NOW—we have truly circled the globe, sketched the many-faceted traditions that will surface in hopeful displays of light at the Solstice. Aren’t you less worried, now?

Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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Categories: ChristianFaiths of IndiaInternational ObservancesNational Observances

Anniversary: Don’t forget Indian in Decathlon Centennial

http://www.readthespirit.com/religious-holidays-festivals/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2013/03/wpid-0622_Jim_Thorpe_biography_by_Kate_Buford.JPG.jpgClick on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.FRIDAY, JUNE 22—to JULY 27: The U.S. Track and Field Trials, on June 22, held the first celebration of this year’s centennial of the decathlon, the event that traditionally identifies “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” But, the event’s history will be highlighted all the way through the 2012 Summer Summer Olympics in London, starting July 27.

What is our interest in promoting this sporting milestone? We hope that many of our readers will take this occasion to remember and honor Jim Thorpe, the first decathlon gold medalist. After a century, his story seems to be fading from American culture—even though his biography includes so many fascinating milestones in American history. He was coached by “Pop Warner,” who lent his name to Pop Warner Little Scholars, a sports-and-academics nonprofit that currently involves more than 400,000 kids. Thorpe graduated from the infamously abusive Carlysle Indian Industrial School. He played a wide range of sports, including professional baseball, football and basketball. However, the legacy of racism against Indians and his own alcoholism led to a tragic demise and death in 1953. Nevertheless, today his legacy is widely celebrated among native peoples. His story is featured in the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian.

For further reading on Thorpe, we recommend: Native American Son: The Life and Sporting Legend of Jim Thorpe, by Kate Buford, who also wrote a biography of Burt Lancaster. This is the most complete, definitive biography of Thorpe. ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm purchsed his copy of the book at the Smithsonian, where it is recommended. Some online reviewers have complained that the book is too long. They prefer shorter, punchier dramas about sports stars, which is an understandable preference. In that case, we also recommend the less-factual, but hugely entertaining Jim Thorpe: All American, produced just two years before Thorpe’s death and starring Burt Lancaster. Even six decades later, the Michael Curtiz movie still stirs viewers. (And, for movie buffs: Thorpe did act in more than 60 movies, often in Westerns as an uncredited Indian bit player. However, he did not appear in the Curtiz movie, even as an extra. Contrary to myths about that era, Thorpe was paid for his story and did serve as an advisor to the production.)

For further reading on Native Americans, we recommend the ReadTheSpirit book, “Dancing My Dream,” a memoir by Odawa elder and teacher Warren Petoskey. Warren’s book is an inspirational retelling of life in a multi-generational Indian family, but his book also confronts the painful legacy of Indian boarding schools.

 

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Categories: National Observances