What’s the Spiritual Season this week? Explore our cool Fourth of July links, plus Saints Peter & Paul and more …

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What’s the Spiritual Season?
(June 29 to July 5, 2009)
By Stephanie Fenton

If you’re looking for cool Fourth of July resources—you’ve come to the right place! (Psst! You’re going to want to make—or at least eat—that yummy red-white-and-blue trifle we’ll tell you about below.) Along the way this week in our Seasons column, you’ll learn about a Zoroastrian observance, an acrobatic anniversary—and much more.

MONDAY: Christians celebrate Saints Peter and Paul. Tradition says these two apostles were martyred on the same day in Rome, despite their very different roles as followers of Jesus. Their feast day is one of the oldest observances in Christendom.
    Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter was leader of the Twelve, chosen specifically by Jesus. The gospels say he was a witness of the Transfiguration and other miracles, and prepared the Passover meal before Jesus’ crucifixion. Throughout history, numerous references have been made to St. Peter, including countless pieces of art that depict him with a set of keys to the kingdom of heaven.
    Today, cinematic references abound. At the moment, St. Peter’s at the Vatican plays a major role in the pulse-pounding mystery, “Angels and Demons,” starring Tom Hanks. (The Vatican image here is from the movie.) Dan Brown’s tale is pure fiction, but millions are flocking to see this thriller with colorful flourishes of ancient Rome and Christianity.
    Protestant (and especially evangelical) tradition holds that St. Paul was the more important in this pair. This Christian tradition holds that St. Paul preached the essential message that Christ alone saves people’s souls.
    Together, the two saints are key figures from the Vatican to Hollywood and all around the world.
    A large festival, known best as Mnarja, is held in Malta each year on the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. With its first celebration dating back to the Knights of Malta in the sixteenth century, Mnarja now features an agricultural fair, horse racing, marching bands, livestock competitions, singing, bonfires and more. A special papal representative was dispatched to Malta to mark the occasion this year.
    Take a peek at this year’s announcement of the Mnarja equine races by the Agrarian Society.

    BIG ST. PAUL NEWS THIS YEAR: To mark the holiday this year, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that bone fragments at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome have been confirmed by scientific analysis to be bones of Paul. Here’s a story on the announcement.

ALSO MONDAY: Enjoy a glass of cool water or the sweet taste of a summer crop in honor of Ghambar (or Gahambar) Maidyoshem. This Zoroastrian festival, one of six throughout the year, encourages believers to give thanks for the creation of water, the sowing of the summer crop and the harvesting of grain. These six festivals are mentioned in the Avesta, the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism.

TUESDAY is the 150th anniversary of the day in 1859, when French acrobat Charles Blondin became the first man to “cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.” (He actually crossed a gorge below the falls.)
    Born Jean-Francois Gravelet in France, Blondin began his acrobatic training at the age of 5. Having shown superior skill during his training, Blondin made his first public appearance just six months after his training had begun. At the age of 35, Blondin—now in America—crossed Niagara 160 feet above the ground on a tightrope 1,100 feet long and just three inches wide. Niagara Falls, historically one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S., proved a location guaranteed to bestow fame on Blondin. (Here’s a brief “History Today” overview of his feat. But, if you’re really intrigued, here’s a more elaborate online tribute.)
     While Blondin continued to travel the world as an acrobatic performer, his passion for Niagara never faltered. He crossed the Falls multiple times, each time gathering spectators with the promise of a more daring feat. Blondin walked the tightrope with a blindfold, on stilts, carrying his manager on his back, pushing a wheelbarrow and more.
    Blondin died in 1897, but his legend lives on through photos, archives and cultural works. “Crossing Niagara,” a play written by Alonso Alegria, has been performed in more than 50 countries, most recently in Spain in 2006. Read a review of the play in the New York Times. (A free registration may be required to read the Times page.)
    Have you ever wondered how to walk a tightrope? Check out this guide from eHow, but don’t try this at home! If you do—don’t say we didn’t warn you!

WEDNESDAY: Sing out “O Canada” in celebration of Canada Day!
    Formerly known as Dominion Day—recalling the day that Canada became a dominion—Canada Day is the country’s national day. In 1867, the British North America Act of 1867 declared Canada an independent, single country of four provinces. In 1868, citizens were asked by their governor to “celebrate the anniversary of the confederation.”
    Festivities abound across Canada and around the world on July 1, ranging from parades, carnivals and barbecues to fireworks and musical performances. Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, hold the International Freedom Festival each year with fireworks over the Detroit River, and Fort Erie, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York, together celebrate the Friendship Festival. Even London, England, holds a widely popular Canada Day festival each year.
    No jubilee is as great, however, as the event at Parliament Hill. A noon show features speeches by prominent figures, a Canada Day Poster Challenge, performing artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Marie-Mai, Olympic athletes and a myriad of joyous activities. This year, Canadians will also incorporate a celebration of their hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games into the festivities.
    The noon show will be Webcast between 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. on July 1.

FRIDAY: Dust off that old telescope and gaze into the night sky—see if you can recognize the arrival of the Dog Days of Summer! The phrase “Dog Days of Summer” describes the hottest and most “heavy-feeling” days of summer, usually in July and August.
    This phrase has ancient roots: Greeks and Romans named these hot summer days after Sirius, the “Dog Star”—the brightest star, besides the sun, visible from the Earth. During the hottest time of year, Sirius used to rise and set in time with the sun, thus leading the ancients to believe that this star added to the heat of summertime.
    Other cultures also had dog-related associations with this part of the year. For the Egyptians, Sirius’ rising occurred just prior to the Nile’s flooding, and they used Sirius as a “watchdog” for the coming event.
    If you’re looking for ways to beat the heat during the “Dog Days of Summer,” try some tips from this feature on MSNBC.


    In the mood for a great flick? Rent “National Treasure,” a movie starring Nicolas Cage as a kind of super-charged Sherlock Holmes,  uncovering secrets about American history. Or, if you prefer science fiction, “Independence Day” is still a stirring showcase of Hollywood special effects.

     How about some July 4 trivia to share around the barbecue? Did you know that …
    The American colonies officially separated from Great Britain on July 2, but it wasn’t until two days later that Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. Contrary to popular belief, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t signed on July 4: In truth, many delegates signed on August 2.
    Annual imports of fireworks to the U.S. total $217 million, the majority of which are for Independence Day.
    Your chances are one in four that a hot dog consumed on July 4 is from Iowa.
    The annual dollar value of shipments of fabricated American flags, banners and similar emblems by U.S. manufacturers is $350 million.
    Find more fun facts, related recipes, patriotic song lyrics, trivia and more at this U.S. government site!
    And here are some kid-friendly facts to explore about early American history.

    Got a taste for food facts related to American independence? Check out this site with a recipe for George Washington-style cranberry pudding.
    And here’s a parenting tip: Red-white-and-blue ice cubes are easy and inexpensive! Thanks to Disney, here’s how to make ’em!
    Adults who want a more “grown-up” recipe might enjoy this red-white-and-blue trifle.

    Have you ever actually read the Declaration of Independence? If not, take some time to give it a read-through and learn more about U.S. history, courtesy of our federal archives.
    To get more of a historical perspective, read
a letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams that describes the first
anniversary of American Independence (courtesy of the Library of

    Making music has long been a part of American history. We’ve got lots of patriotic songs in addition to our national anthem. Kids can learn to make their own music with these flag wind chimes.

    Want fireworks from the comfort of an easy chair? When the day winds down and the sky gets dark, tune in to the enormous fireworks display in Boston, which is broadcast nationwide. More information can be found right here.

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