Are you ready for Juneteenth 2023? Many events start well before June 19 this year.

This Smithsonian photograph of an early Juneteenth celebration is just one small part of the many public offerings via their website, which is explained below. Or you can jump immediately to that Smithsonian Juneteenth website by clicking on this photo.

MONDAY, JUNE 19, 2023—That’s the date of this year’s official Juneteenth celebration but many communities nationwide are celebrating starting in early June. That nationwide expansion has been true since the day was first recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law after the efforts of Opal Lee, Lula Briggs Galloway and others.

When our ReadTheSpirit magazine’s Holidays & Festivals column began in the summer of 2007, we often had to explain the meaning of this observance and to point out that most observances were in Texas. Our readers often had to search locally for Juneteenth observances across the rest of the U.S.—and often could not find events close to home.

Not so anymore!

Now, street fairs, ceremonies, gospel concerts, exhibitions and prayer services take place across the nation in celebration of the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

Juneteenth doesn’t mark the January 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation itself; instead, this holiday recalls the date, more than two years later, when slaves in Texas were finally freed and former Confederates were forced to recognize the Proclamation.


In 2023, if you do a local search for Juneteenth events, you’re likely to find organizers starting quite early! One example is the city of Boulder, Colorado, where related events are scheduled well before June 19.

That’s just one local example, but you’re likely to find “early” events wherever you live across the U.S.

Nationally, the Smithsonian set this ambitious goal of widening awareness of the observance:

To celebrate the day when more than 200,000 enslaved African Americans in Confederate states were declared free June 19, 1865, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) will host a variety of events and programs highlighting Juneteenth all month long. Also known as Freedom Day, the Juneteenth holiday represents a time to gather with family and community, honor the present and reflect on shared history and tradition. This year’s theme is Senses of Freedom: Exploring the Tastes, Sounds and Experiences of an African American Celebration. Detailed information about the holiday and the museum’s programming and educational resources can be found on its award-winning Juneteenth webpage.


Though slaves had been freed more than two years earlier, under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the deep South had felt minimum impact.With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Northern forces became strong enough to overcome resistance in the South.

On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation. And on June 19, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No.3.” The Order read, in part:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

In reaction to the news, men and women who had been enslaved danced in the streets. Some immediately left their former masters in search of freedom or to find family members. The next year, freedmen organized the first annual “Juneteenth” celebrations in Texas, using public parks, church grounds and newly purchased land for the jubilant parties.


Looking for more?

Learn the history of Juneteenth from the Library of Congress and PBS.

Find recipes fit for the day at the Food Network, or at Parade—or Betty Crocker.

Trinity Sunday: Western Christians honor Trinity, Orthodox mark Pentecost

Trinity Sunday window

A stained-glass window with a visual representation of the Holy Trinity. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 4: It’s been one week since Pentecost, and for Western Christians, this marks Trinity Sunday: a time to recognize a central and unfathomable mystery of the Christian faith. Believers hold that all members of the Blessed Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—are equal, uncreated and infinite, and a celebration of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is celebrated across Western liturgical churches.

Though the Holy Trinity is honored every Sunday, the early church observed no specific day in honor of this holy mystery until Thomas Becket (1118-70 CE) helped spread the idea of an observance of such a day, saying that the day of his consecration would be held as a new festival for the Holy Trinity. Even still, a day set aside solely for recognizing this mystery continued to vary in several regions until Pope John XXII accepted the festival into the official calendar of the Western Church, in 1334 CE.


White shines from the décor and vestments of most Western churches today, as the faithful ponder the one God that is three Persons. For many centuries, Christian leaders have taught that this mysterious truth must be believed by true followers of the faith, as a joyous Gospel passage proclaims that God’s nature has been revealed: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”

It’s said that no mortal can truly grasp the concept of the Holy Trinity, but efforts can be made! Try picking a shamrock today, or a viola tricolor; light a candle with three flames; or decorate a home altar with symbols of the Trinity. has more ideas.

Note: Trinity Sunday falls the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian Church each year, and on Pentecost Sunday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church.

Memorial Day: Hometown parades, ceremonies for fallen soldiers and the smell of barbecues firing up

The U.S. Air Force Band plays the national anthem during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp/Released)

MONDAY, MAY 29: 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.

2023 travel update: AAA’s travel forecast for 2023 says that 42.3 million Americans will hit the road over the holiday weekend.

Scroll down in this story to read our best 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.


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.


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.


This year, Kara Zauberman, the editor of The Food Network’s Pioneer Woman website compiled “75 Best Memorial Day Recipes for a Memorable Cookout.”

Over at Taste of Home magazine, associate editor Lesley Balla upped the ante with “80 Best Memorial Day Recipes.

There’s a similar competition for lists of best family activities for the weekend.

Better Homes & Gardens has “12 Things to Do for Memorial Day Weekend with Family and Friends

Good Housekeeping has “20 Special Memorial Day Activities Your Family Can Do Together

Country Living has “23 Best Things to Do on Memorial Day Weekend 2023

Total them up and that’s more than 200 ideas!

Memorial Day Memories: How do our memories shape our lives today?

These are my grandfather Leo Brown’s “dog tags” that he wore through the U.S. campaign to liberate Italy.

Remembering the loving relationships that formed our heroes’ lives

MONDAY, MAY 29—Every year, Memorial Day is a time to remember the men and women who gave their lives in our nation’s military service. Even though my grandfather “Papa” Leo Brown survived World War II, he was severely wounded and never fully recovered from that injury. He’s gone, now, as are the majority of our World War II veterans.

Even as our families are planning spring “cook outs” or perhaps long-weekend vacations, this year, most of us will be thinking of those we have known who have served and suffered loss. Like millions of other families marking this annual milestone—our family recalls someone special: our beloved Papa Leo each year.

That’s why I’m sharing our memory of Papa Leo, taken from the pages of my memoir Shining Brightly. Since the book was published, I have heard from readers nationwide that this particular story warmed their hearts as an example of “the best of America.”

So, please, as you read this story, ponder two questions:

As we remember our heroes, do those memories fuel a vision of a terrible world full of violence and tragedy? Truly, war is hell. For some men and women, such traumatic memories continue to shape anxieties about the world.

Or, as we remember our heroes, do we focus mainly on the loving relationships that shaped those heroes’ lives? Do our Memorial Day memories lead us to greater empathy and a greater commitment to building our own healthy communities today?

Please read the following story from Chapter 2 of my memoir Shining Brightly and then decide for yourself which pathway you hope such memories will open for you today. If you like this story, please share it with friends on social media or via email.

‘A Little Slice of Eden’ 

The most important thing my great grandfather did before he died at a relatively young age was to move his family about an hour west of downtown Boston. He found a little slice of Eden in Worcester, where my grandfather—who I always knew as “Papa” Leo—could grow up in a remarkable neighborhood centering on Vernon Hill Park that locals called simply “the Hill” or “the Park.” It was one of those ideal American communities where Christians and Jews get along famously. That was because their ethnicity trumped their religious differences. Everyone spoke Lithuanian. By the time World War II rolled around, the local families’ patriotism and their eagerness to defeat Hitler and Mussolini trumped everything else.

How do we know this isn’t just a rosy family memory with more nostalgia than accuracy?

Because a venerable journalist stumbled across this neighborhood many years after World War II. That’s the era when Papa Leo went off to serve with the frontline American troops liberating Italy and my father Marshall was born not long after he left. The journalist was Louis Marano, the son of an immigrant family himself and a U.S. Navy veteran who earned a doctorate in anthropology and worked for decades as a reporter, based on the East Coast. Many decades after the war, Marano stumbled across stories about the vibrant Vernon Hill neighborhood. He eventually wrote a United Press International (UPI) feature story that circled the world, describing the warm relationships maintained between Park GIs serving overseas and their families back home during World War II.

The more Marano dug into the story, the more he fell in love with this blue-collar neighborhood, which he described for UPI as “conjuring up images of Norman Rockwell paintings and Frank Capra movies. During the Depression, the boys played ball in Vernon Hill Park. As teenagers and young men, they hung around Oscar Leavitt’s soda fountain and flirted with the nursing students who flocked there on their breaks from nearby St. Vincent’s Hospital.”

What’s remarkable about that soda fountain is that Papa Leo and other Jewish guys hung out there along with the Catholics and Protestants in the neighborhood. Before World War II, Papa Leo married my Nana Rose, so we assume he didn’t continue to flirt with the girls at the soda fountain after that. But Papa Leo was a true extrovert who was part of that crowd. He also was one of the guys from the Park who Marano described for UPI as maintaining a kind of hyper-local news service—direct from the front lines back to the old neighborhood. There were more than two dozen regular Park correspondents, servicemen scattered all around the world during World War II. In their letters home, they had to avoid military censors that prevented them for sharing any sensitive news about their units—but they could send home heartfelt best wishes and little anecdotes that would amuse and inspire the folks back home.

The hub of this impromptu news operation was the soda fountain where families would drop off the guys’ military addresses. The men in service would send handwritten letters to the soda fountain for a little newspaper called The Vernon Hill Spiel, the German-Yiddish term for “a talk.” The editor, Don Gribbons, was a volunteer firefighter and worked at a real local newspaper. Like a Frank Capra movie, everyone pitched in for a few years! Don would type up stencils for the Spiel at the firehouse, then carry them to his local newspaper offices and run them off on a borrowed mimeograph machine. Then, some copies were left at the soda fountain for families of the servicemen; some were mailed around the world. Soon, every two weeks, Don and his friends were sending out 850 copies.

What filled all those pages of Gribbons’ hand-crafted, indie newspaper? His stories came from nearly 1,500 letters that were mailed to him by local guys from wherever they were serving on the planet.

Papa Leo was a regular correspondent to his buddies back home. To this day, we cherish his handwritten V-Mail letters to the Spiel. “It feels swell to read about the old gang from the Park,” he began one letter from the front lines in Italy. All he managed to get past the censors about his location was this: “I’m here somewhere in Italy and the scenery here is very beautiful, but I would rather be back in the Park any day. My wife tells me that you have put up a beautiful plaque with all the names inscribed at the Park. I sure am proud to know mine is on it and hope that real soon I get to see it myself.”

Only many years after the war did my family learn the details of that brutal campaign to recapture Italy all the way from Sicily northward through the boot across one horrendous German line after another. More than 300,000 Americans were wounded and more than 60,000 died in bloody, entrenched battles for places like Anzio, Moro River and Monte Cassino.

Papa Leo was one of the casualties, wounded in his leg. Somehow, he even managed to turn that story into ray of sunshine.

As he described it for the Spiel, he lay there bleeding with a makeshift bandage, hoping that an ambulance would take him to a field hospital. As one came rumbling along, he was stunned to discover a buddy from the old neighborhood driving toward him. In his Spiel story, he wrote, “I met none other than Sgt. Tanona driving the ambulance that I rode in! He almost jumped out of his uniform when I told him I was from Vernon Hill. Had a nice chat as I rode to the hospital, talking about all the boys from the Park.”

The wound was serious enough to require hospitalization, but it wasn’t dire enough to send him home. The Army needed every soldier the doctors could patch up sufficiently to keep doing something for the war effort. Papa Leo couldn’t march anymore but he soon was driving trucks—a profession he continued when he eventually got home.

I was always wide-eyed when he told his war stories. Always on the move, he wound up in Milan and witnessed the crowd stringing up the battered corpses of Benito Mussolini and his mistress. What a horrific scene! During the war, he was not able to get that story past the U.S. Army censors to the Spiel. But, around that time, he was able to report a much sunnier story about meeting yet another hometown resident near the battlefield. This time, the story concerned a woman named Shirley Albert, who was part of “a USO stage show that’s over here touring the foxholes. It sure felt good to talk to someone from Worcester—and a gal at that!”

When the war in Europe finally was over, he reported for the Spiel about all the guys who went from “living in foxholes to moving into hotels” as they waited for available transports back home. Many feared they would be shipped to the Pacific, where war was still raging, he reported. In his final columns for the Spiel, his fondest wishes remained for the health and safety of “the boys from the hill.” Real relationships.

And, when the gregarious Papa Leo did get a transport home from Europe, his wounded leg still had not regained its full agility. It never would, but he kept moving anyway and because of his experience driving in Italy he found a job as a truck driver.

He lived long enough to see me win my own war with stage IV cancer. I will never forget the day he came to the hospital where I received the treatment that eventually knocked out that first cancer. Papa Leo and Nana Rose had come to visit me that day—but he also began walking along my entire hallway in the hospital shaking the hand of every nurse and doctor in sight, thanking them sincerely for saving his grandson.

His compassionate eye was always on the other men and women in the community around him.

What mattered?

Papa Leo knew: caring relationships.


Papa Leo’s Purple Heart from World War II.




Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And especially read this story: Two-time cancer survivor Howard Brown writes ‘Shining Brightly’ to encourage others to stay healthy

Free Resource Guides

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:




Ascension of the Lord (Ascension of Jesus): Christians observe ‘ascensio’ feast

Feast of the Ascension window

Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, MAY 18: As Pentecost approaches, the Christian church observes a pivotal feast central to the faith since its earliest days: the Feast of the Ascension, known also as Ascension Day. (Note: In some denominations, this feast is observed on the nearest Sunday—this year, May 21.)

On this date, Christians commemorate the bodily ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Each year, the Feast of the Ascension takes place on the 40th day after Easter. Though no documents give testament to the feast’s existence prior to the 5th century, St. Augustine referred to it as a universal observance of Apostolic origin.

Did you know? In Roman Catholicism, the Ascension of the Lord is ranked as a solemnity and is a Holy Day of Obligation; in the Anglican Communion, Ascension Day is a Principal Feast.


On the 40th day after Jesus’s Resurrection, it’s believed that he gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives and blessed them there. Jesus asked them to wait for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, to be witnesses and to “make disciples of all nations.” Jesus then ascended into Heaven, when, according to the story as recounted in Acts: Jesus was lifted up in a cloud.

The feast’s Latin term, ascensio, indicates the belief that Christ was raised up by his own powers. Traditionally, beans and fruits were blessed on this feast day, and the Paschal candle’s flame is quenched. In some churches, the Christ figure was lifted through an opening in the roof on the Feast of the Ascension.

Activities: It is customary to eat a type of bird on this day, to represent Christ’s “flight” to Heaven. As Jesus ascended from the Mount of Olives, it is also common—in hilly or mountainous areas—to picnic on a hilltop.

Mother’s Day: Show gratitude and say, ‘Thanks, Mom!’

mother's day

Photo by Virginia State Parks, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MAY 14: Happy Mother’s Day!

Express gratitude to Mom, Grandma or any maternal figure in your life on this, the second Sunday of May—celebrated in many of the world’s countries as Mother’s Day.

Did you know? Mother’s Day yields the highest U.S. 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.


carnations Mother's Day

Photo courtesy of PxHere

Although motherhood has been celebrated for millennia, the modern American version of Mother’s Day—the one we all know today—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 whole 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.

Though American observances honoring mothers began popping up in the 1870s and 1880s, 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.


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.

Despite Jarvis’s best efforts, though, the commercialization of Mother’s Day was inevitable: Mother’s Day is now one of the most financially successful holidays on the American calendar.

Today, Mother’s Day is the most popular day of the year to eat out and to make phone calls. Yet it is with Mom in mind that Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers annually for Mother’s Day; $1.53 billion on gifts; and $68 million on greeting cards. We love you, Mom!


  • Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.
  • 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. (This year’s theme is “Saving Mothers.”) Help these women by donating your portion of the $14 billion spent annually on Mother’s Day.
  • A good read: Columnist Bobbie Lewis writes about the importance of actually setting aside time to talk to Mom and to listen to her. She calls her story Questions Left Unanswered; Stories Left Untold. Simple. And, a great idea.

Vesak: Buddhists of all sects commemorate the birth, enlightenment and passing of Buddha

Vesak Buddhists

Buddhist monks observe Vesak. Photo by Boinghiem, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, MAY 5: Glowing lanterns shine brightly in Buddhist communities worldwide, as the collective birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha is observed with the holiday of Vesak. Known also as Visakha Puja or Wesak (spellings vary), Vesak begins before dawn in many regions, with ceremonies, decorated temples, shared vegetarian meals and deep meditation. This holy day is greeted by devout Buddhists across Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, the Phillippines, Thailand and several other South East Asian countries—along with various other locations across the globe.

Did you know? The design of the Buddhist flag is based on the six colors of the aura believed to have surrounded Buddha after his enlightenment. It is used in almost 60 countries, especially during Vesak.

Buddhism has been practiced for millennia, but it wasn’t until 1950 that the official decision was made—at the first conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists—to observe Vesak as the Buddha’s birthday. Today, devotees bring offerings to temples—such as flowers or candles—in representation of the objects of this world that fade away. Monks provide lectures, and laypersons wear white clothing. It is expected that Buddhists will try to bring some happiness to the unfortunate on this significant day, and review the Four Noble Truths.

Did you know? In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly recognized internationally the Day of Vesak. (Read more from the UN.)

In commemoration of three major events—the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the historical Buddha—Vesak is recognized by all Buddhist sects. It acknowledges the peace that Buddha brought to the world through the “triple gem”: Buddha himself, the Dharma (teachings) and the Sangha (Buddha’s disciples). Most Buddhists today use candles and small lamps to illuminate temples, streets and homes, representing the light of Buddha’s teachings. In Japan, legend has it that a dragon appeared in the sky on Buddha’s birthday and poured soma (a ritual drink) over him.

Interested in making your own Vesak lantern? Check out this site’s DIY instructions, which include using everyday materials such as drinking straws and tissue paper.