Valentine’s Day: Celebrate love with a variety of global traditions

Valentine hearts

Photo courtesy of StockSnap

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Declare love for someone special in your life today without the limits of chocolates and roses—Valentine’s Day has a rich and varied history that includes friendship, sacred marriages and even courtly love! From Finland, where friendship is celebrated, to the religious devotion of three early Christian saints named Valentine, one message is clear: Today is the day to express boundless love, however and to whomever you see fit.

NEWS 2023: A recent survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics found that consumers are expected to spend $25.9 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, up from $23.9 billion in 2022 and one of the highest spending years on record (read more from NRF.com).

History doesn’t document any romantic association with Valentine’s Day until the High Middle Ages and the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer—and, in particular, Chaucer’s composition Parlement of Foules, for King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. News of the Parlement spread rapidly, and courtly love soon flourished. Lovers across the country began expressing their feelings for each other on Valentine’s Day, with long poems, flowers and notes. By the end of the 18th century, Valentine cards were being produced and exchanged. Through the decades, Valentines evolved from lace-and-ribbon trinkets to paper stationery to a holiday involving more expensive gifts, chocolates and jewelry. Today, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million Valentines are sent in the United States annually (not including the inexpensive Valentine cards exchanged among schoolchildren).

Did you know? The earliest credited “valentine”—aside from the alleged note written in a jail cell by St. Valentine, more than 1,000 years earlier—was composed in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife.

ST. VALENTINE—OR ST. VALENTINES?

Historically, there were three Saint Valentines in Christian history, all of whom are honored on St. Valentine’s Day. Of the three, the most noted Valentine was a Roman priest who assisted persecuted Christians during the 3rd century. This Valentine performed secret weddings for soldiers, and even handed out paper heart cutouts to symbolize God’s love. On the night before his execution, legend has it that Valentine wrote a letter to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “from your Valentine.”

Valentine's Day red roses

Photo by Ali Raza, courtesy of PxHere

VALENTINE’S DAY AROUND THE WORLD

Globally, Valentine’s Day is about much more than romantic love. In Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day celebrates friendship; in some Latin countries, the holiday is known as “Day of Love and Friendship.” In Asia, two holidays—Valentine’s Day, and its reciprocal holiday, White Day—make for two expensive occasions for exchanging gifts with that special someone. Traditional Hindu and Islamic cultures generally disregard Valentine’s Day, though in Iran, efforts have been made in recent years to establish a festival of love for mothers and wives on Feb. 7.

RECIPES, IDEAS & NEWS ‘FROM THE HEART’

Cooking for your Valentine? Check out recipe ideas from Food Network, Good Housekeeping, Bon Appetit, and even Pillsbury.

Looking to propose this Valentine’s Day? Cracker Barrel is offering free food for one year to five couples who become engaged at its restaurant: from Feb. 10-16, couples who post their proposal video at Cracker Barrel will be entered. Read more here.

For fans of “Friends,” Brach’s will be releasing its Conversation Hearts with words and phrases from the popular television show, including “Lbstr,” “Pivot” and “On a Break.”

Our Lady of Lourdes: Thousands of pilgrims travel to site for healing, following saint

Our Lady of Lourdes grotto

Mass is held at the grotto in Lourdes. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11: In spite of advances of modern medicine, today’s Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes reminds us that millions of Christians around the world still look to Lourdes, after more than 150 years: those faithful believe that miraculous healing waters can be found in Lourdes, at a site where a young French girl first reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary on this day in 1858. Bernadette Soubirous was only 14 when she witnessed a series of apparitions, but she has since been canonized by the church—and millions of pilgrims flock to this site every year.

2023 NEWS

In December 2022, 60 Minutes investigated the story of Lourdes, including the rigorous medical testing that is a part of the site and has confirmed 70 cases as inexplicable miracles. Read the story here.

Though documentaries have been made about Lourdes, a new award-nominated film is being shown in 700 theaters in the U.S. on February 8 and 9 this year. Read more here.

In August 2022, a man and his donkey entered Lourdes following a 70-day trek, with no modern tools used on the journey except for a digital device to document the journey. Read more about his faith and story, here. 

Lourdes Lady

A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

AN APPARITION: GUSTS OF WIND AND THE ‘IMMACULATE CONCEPTION’

On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous had gone to collect firewood with her sister, Toinette, and neighbor, Jeanne Abadie. Taking off her shoes to wade in water near the Grotto of Massabielle, Soubirous reported hearing the sound of two gusts of wind, in nothing around her moved except a wild rose in the grotto. At that time, Soubirous looked into the grotto. The 14-year-old reported seeing, in the grotto, a lady who wore a white dress and a blue sash, with a yellow rose on each foot. The lady asked Soubirous to pray the rosary with her.

Did you know? As Bernadette Soubirous reported the “lady” to have yellow roses on each foot, it remains common practice that pilgrims imitate this with Marian statues. 

Despite punishment from her parents over her reports, Soubirous returned to the grotto and witnessed the apparition again. After multiple encounters, the apparition instructed Bernadette to ask local clergy that a chapel be built at the grotto. When clergy demanded to know the apparition’s name, Bernadette was told: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” What Bernadette did not know is that, just three years earlier, Pope Pius IX had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. As the impoverished daughter of a family little involved in the church, it was a most surprising event when Bernadette began telling her family and local religious figures that she had seen the “Immaculate Conception”—an official term that experts say she had no way of knowing.

LOURDES: PRAYERS, HEALING AND MIRACLES

Tradition has it that the apparition itself told Bernadette to dig in the ground to locate the spring, and from the very beginning, medical patients who drank this water reported miraculous cures. Today’s site of Our Lady of Lourdes is quite a complex operation: The site consists of more than 20 acres, 22 places of worship, a grotto and a sanctuary. The church officially recognizes 70 miracles, though upward of 7,000 pilgrims have claimed miracles from the Lourdes waters.

Looking for prayers for today? Check out Women for Faith and Family.

From its earliest days of receiving pilgrims, the grotto at Lourdes has housed an on-site Bureau Medical that welcomes any scientist in search of proof of the approved miracles. The Lourdes Medical Bureau continues to leave its records open to any medical doctor who specializes in the area of any cure.

Note: For pilgrims who can’t travel to France, many churches offer a Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes during February.

 

Four Chaplains: Congregations honor interfaith heroism during World War II

Black-and-white stamp of Four Immortal Chaplains

This U.S. postage stamp was issued in honor of the Four Immortal Chaplains in 1948. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2023—In many chapels and congregations nationwide, a Four Chaplains observance is held every year on February 3rd to remember and honor four brave chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save the lives of others.

On February 3, 1943, the US Army transport ship Dorchester was carrying 902 soldiers, civilians, and crew members across the North Atlantic. Suddenly, the ship was hit by a German torpedo and started sinking rapidly. Panic and chaos broke out among the passengers, many of whom could not swim.

The ship was rapidly sinking, panic ensued—but four chaplains—the Rev. George Fox (Methodist), Rabbi Alexander Good (Jewish), the Rev. Clark Poling (Dutch Reformed) and Fr. John Washington (Roman Catholic)—spread out and began helping the wounded and panicked. Amid the chaos, the four chaplains calmly offered prayers and encouraging words as they helped people to lifeboats.

When they realized that there weren’t enough life jackets for everyone, the chaplains removed their own life jackets and gave them to the soldiers who couldn’t swim. The chaplains then linked arms and said prayers for the soldiers, comforting them as the ship went down.

All four chaplains lost their lives in the sinking of the Dorchester, but their actions inspired many and became a symbol of selfless heroism and interfaith cooperation. The annual observance of Four Chaplains Day is a time to remember and honor these brave men and their sacrifice for others. It serves as a reminder of the power of love, compassion, and unity in times of adversity.

Ceremonies in honor of the courageous men emphasize “unity without uniformity,” a primary part of the mission of the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in 1951. In 1988, an act of Congress officially declared February 3 as an annual Four Chaplains Day.

A WINDOW AT THE PENTAGON

The four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross. In 1960, a Congressional Medal of Valor was created and presented to the chaplains’ next of kin. Stained glass windows of the men still exist in a number of chapels across the country—and at the Pentagon—and each year, American Legions posts nationwide continue to honor the Four Chaplains with memorial services. The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation continues to honor those who exemplify the heroic traits of the Four Chaplains, promoting “unity without uniformity.”

Candlemas, Groundhog Day and Imbolc: A time of renewal and traditions

Procession for Candlemas

A Candlemas procession. Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 1 and THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2: Whether you celebrate Candlemas, Groundhog Day or Imbolc—or even more than one of these—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 and 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.

2023 NEWS: A growing number of households are now opting to leave up Christmas decorations through January and on into February, until Candlemas—a ritual that stems from Medieval English traditions and was a renewed movement of hope that started during the Covid pandemic (read more here). While Twelfth Night (January 5) has commonly been regarded as the time to take down Christmas decor, a 2021 campaign encouraged lights and ornaments through early February, for the purpose of bringing extra joy and embracing a trend of historic England.

CANDLEMAS: LUKE, A TEMPLE AND A PROPHESY

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!)

Photo by Shenandoah National Park, courtesy of Flickr

GROUNDHOG DAY: SEASONAL PREDICTIONS

What started as ancient legends on woodland animals “testing the weather” this time of year 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. (This year, organizers say that Phil’s events are sold out and big crowds are expected. Read the article from WJACTV.)

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.

IMBOLC: SPRING AND WOODLAND ANIMALS (& BRIGHID)

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.) Brighid crosses are twisted, and 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.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Circular wall of millions of old photos and written info beneath some

The Hall of Names commemorating the millions of Jews killed during the Holocaust, as part of Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27: Each year, international remembrances of the Holocaust occur on two major occasions: This International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations, marking the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945. The other globally observed memorial is Yom Hashoah, which was established in Israel and begins in 2022 on the evening of April 17.

Member states of the UN have developed educational programs, conducted memorial ceremonies and instituted remembrances over the years. If you follow this UN link, you will find a gateway to UN-recommended resources. There are lots of materials to explore from that homepage, including The World Memory Project and a guide to Remembering Survivors and Victims.

This year, event organizers are especially concerned about the rising tide of antisemitism around the world. From across the U.S., here is a sampling of headlines exploring this problem:

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Antisemitic celebrities stoke fears of normalizing hate

THE WASHINGTON POST: Survey finds ‘classical fascist’ antisemitic views widespread in U.S.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Hate Speech’s Rise on Twitter Is Unprecedented, Researchers Find

NPR: Anti-Defamation League survey finds a spike in antisemitic beliefs

Also from NPR: How to address antisemitic rhetoric when you encounter it

Pew Research Shows: Education Is Essential

Researchers, educators and historians know that Holocaust Education is a global challenge. In the U.S., more public schools nationwide began including the Holocaust in standard curriculum after a public outcry sparked by a 1978 TV miniseries. Today, most school systems in the U.S. include the subject—however, awareness of this vast genocidal campaign by Nazi Germany varies widely around the world.

Pew Research has examined Americans’ knowledge about the Holocaust, concluding:

Most U.S. adults know what the Holocaust was and approximately when it happened, but fewer than half can correctly answer multiple-choice questions about the number of Jews who were murdered or the way Adolf Hitler came to power, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

When asked to describe in their own words what the Holocaust was, more than eight-in-ten Americans mention the attempted annihilation of the Jewish people or other related topics, such as concentration or death camps, Hitler, or the Nazis. Seven-in-ten know that the Holocaust happened between 1930 and 1950. And close to two-thirds know that Nazi-created ghettos were parts of a city or town where Jews were forced to live.

Fewer than half of Americans (43%), however, know that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany through a democratic political process. And a similar share (45%) know that approximately 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Nearly three-in-ten Americans say they are not sure how many Jews died during the Holocaust, while one-in-ten overestimate the death toll, and 15% say that 3 million or fewer Jews were killed.

Read the entire Pew report, including charts that provide detailed break-outs of the data.

In Chinese communities around the world, this New Year of the Rabbit roars in like a lion!

SUNDAY, JANUARY 22, 2023—Millions of Chinese families around the world are welcoming the Year of the Rabbit in what is the most widely celebrated Chinese holiday of the year. The movement of millions of people to gather for this holiday is sometimes described as one of the greatest annual human migrations on planet Earth. But the animal most non-Chinese observers are likely to see in holiday photos and videos is the lion, specifically the enormous, colorful costumes prepared for annual lion dances at community festivals. Also dominating images of this two-week festival is the color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Official style guides for journalists allow references to “Chinese New Year” as well as “Lunar New Year” or “Spring Festival,” however, there is widespread public discussion about the fact that this festival is celebrated across many Asian countries and in Asian communities around the world. The phrase “Lunar New Year” seems to be emerging as the preferred reference.

WHY IS IT A ‘SPRING’ FESTIVAL? The celebration traditionally marks warmer weather—or at least the hope that warmer weather is coming.

The festival mainly is known as a time for gatherings among family and friends—much like Americans expect to “come home” for Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course.

EARTHLY BRANCHES & THE ZODIAC

Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Earthly Branches were the original terms used for the years, but animals were later added as mnemonics and categorized as either yin or yang. Ten Celestial Stems pair with the Earthly Branches for a 60-year calendrical cycle. This year is the year of the Earth element and the 12th Zodiac animal, the pig.

Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. (Just be careful! The year of someone’s Zodiac animal isn’t exactly considered lucky, and wearing red every day for that year is considered a means of protection from evil spirits and bad fortune.)

A 15-DAY FESTIVAL:
DINNERS, RED ENVELOPES & LANTERNS

Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

Foods and decor of red and gold on table

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.

HOMEMADE CHINESE DINNER

If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

 

Timkat: Ethiopian Christian festival marks fourth year on UNESCO’s intangible list

priests with colorful umbrellas, Timkat

Photo by Robert Wilson, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, JANUARY 19: Rich, deep hues and velvet fabrics dot the landscape in Ethiopia during one of the grandest festivals of the year: Timkat, the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian ceremony commemorating the baptism of Jesus.

Did you know? Ethiopia is home to more UNESCO sites than any other country in Africa. In December 2019, UNESCO inscribed Timkat on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Water, people swimming, crowds, Timkat

A Timkat ceremony, held at Fasiladas’ Bath in Gondar, Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As the countryside’s rolling hills are blooming with yellow spring flowers, pilgrims and priests dress in their finest clothing and form a procession that weaves through the rock-hewn churches and age-old passageways of Ethiopia. Central to the processions are models of the Ark of the Covenant (called tabots), carried by priests with caution and pride. To Ethiopian Christians, the tabot signifies the manifestation of Jesus as the Savior, when he came to the Jordan River to be baptized.

Timkat events begin on Timkat eve, when the tabots are ceremoniously wrapped in cloth and carried by priests in a procession. In the earliest morning hours, while the sky is still dark, crowds gather near bodies of water to witness a blessing of the waters—a reenactment of the baptism of Christ. Crowds are sprinkled with water, and baptismal vows are renewed. When all rituals are complete, pilgrims return home for feasts and continued celebrations.

Interested to learn more?

Read a message from UNESCO on Timkat, here.

GM Today recommends Timkat as one element of “A Year of Wild Human Experiences.” Check out the article, here.

The Library of Congress provides information on Timkat, available here.

Read more information about the “Ethiopian Epiphany” from UNESCO, here.