Veterans Day, Remembrance Day: Thank a vet, honor history in a virtual event

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11: Give a virtual shout-out, call a veteran you know or make a sign to express your gratitude to a veteran in your neighborhood, today—the options are endless! However you recognize those who served America, Veterans Day is celebrated today across the country; in Canada, those who served are also recognized, in an observance known as Remembrance Day.

2020 NEWS: The U.S. Army will open the National Museum of the United States Army on this date—November 11, 2020—in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. (Read the story from the U.S. Army, or in the Fort Lee Traveler.) It will be the only museum to relay the entire history of the U.S. Army since its establishment, in 1775. The museum will open its doors to the public today (with health safety measure in place), but the opening will be preceded by a small ceremony that will be livestreamed. A link to the livestream will be posted on the museum’s website, at http://www.theNMUSA.org.

Care to See More?

Here’s a video about the new museum—

How It All Began

Another way to prepare for Veterans Day is to order a copy of the 100 Questions and Answers about Veterans, a book that’s packed with information veterans told us they wish more Americans understood about their lives and experiences. Click this image to visit Amazon.

In the United States, the idea of setting aside a special day to honor the men and women who served their country dates to a 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 the Korean War, 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.

In Canada, Remembrance Day is observed with a moment of silence and ceremonies. Remembrance Day, originally called Armistice Day, was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth in commemoration of the armistice agreement that ended World War I. Armistice Day was first observed as “Remembrance Day” on November 11, 1931; the poppy is the official symbol of the day.

HELP A VET; LEND A HAND

America’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.

Did you know? A whopping 44 percent of men and women who serve in the U.S. Military are residents of rural areas, according to a White House Report—even though rural residents overall only account for 17 percent of the country’s population.

2020 VETERANS DAY FREEBIES & DISCOUNTS: Many restaurants and retailers offer special prices for veterans on Veterans Day, though this year, things may look a little different amid struggling businesses and new health and safety protocols. (Military.com has an article on this story.)

Check out MilitaryBenefits.info for a full listing restaurants, retailers and more offering Veterans Day freebies and discounts for 2020.

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Allhallowtide, Samhain, Dia de los Muertos & Halloween: A spook-tacular weekend

Three lit jack-o-lanterns with faces

Photo by William Warby, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31 and SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2—From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead to Halloween, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin—and ancestors are held close. Don’t worry, it’s not all solemn and bone-chilling, though—today’s secular Halloween also brings out bright Jack-o-lanterns, loads of candy and a pretty good excuse for adults to join in on the fun with kids. So grab your best ghoulish mask and get the (Halloween) party started!

THE COVID-19 HALLOWEEN FORECAST

Like most publicly celebrated holidays in 2020, the pandemic has dramatically changed the way Halloween will be celebrated this year. Here are a few headlines:

BUSINESSES ARE SHIVERING THIS YEAR! On October 1, MarketWatch carried one of many business reports predicting a downturn on the commercial side of the holiday under a headline: Halloween sales forecast could be frightful Tony Garcia reported, in part: “More than half, 52%, of consumers say they will buy less candy this year. And 73% expect to celebrate Halloween differently.”

BUT, WHO KNOWS? 148 MILLION STILL WILL CELEBRATE. On October 14, Kimberly Amadeo reported in The Balance that the magnitude of 2020 celebrations is changing dramatically—so retail sales may not tell the whole story. Millions still are planning to celebrate and some may wind up with even more elaborate plans, as a result.

A SWEET REPORT FROM CONFECTIONERS. Of course, the National Confectioners Association has a vested interest in a sweet forecast and, in September, did report via PR Newswire that chocolate and candy sales appeared to be rising.

DAWN OF ‘THE CANDY CHUTE’ Americans are known for their innovations! Reports nationwide are describing various models of “candy chutes” so homeowners can still deliver candy to kids from a safe distance either up on a porch—or even from an upstairs window! We’ve heard of these chutes made from common pieces of rain gutters—like the one that members of Clarkston United Methodist Church in Michigan built so they could continue to offer free holiday treats to their town’s children this year. Here’s a Detroit News story about a chute made from PVC pipe. Here’s an NPR story that mentions chutes made from cardboard tubes.

Maybe Halloween 2020 will be remembered for years as the dawn of the “candy chute”!

HAVE YOU SEEN A CANDY CHUTE?

HALLOWEEN: A CHRISTIAN ORIGIN; A CULTURAL PHENOMENON

Allhallowtide, the triduum of Halloween, recalls deceased spirits, saints (hallows) and martyrs alike, in one collective commemoration. The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

Halloween’s secular side has emerged during the past century, and today, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses, watching horror movies and dressing up like favored characters has become custom in Western culture. Recent estimates are that the very diverse American business of “haunted attractions” brings in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and the commercial elements of Halloween have spread from North America to Europe, South America, Australia, Japan and parts of East Asia.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK

pumpkin candles darkness

Photo courtesy of Pxhere

The original Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and ushered in winter, or the “darker half” of the year, in Gaelic Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. During this time of year, bonfires were lit for the purpose of divination and as a protective and cleansing measure. Legend has it that spirits could easily come to earth, and many people would leave out food and drink for the roaming entities.

In many households, ancestors were welcomed to the table with particular enthusiasm, and large meals were prepared. Multiple sites in Ireland were, and still are, associated with Samhain, and the spirits that emerge there at this time of year. Guising—donning a costume—was thought to “trick” ill-intentioned spirits roaming the streets near Samhain, and hallowed-out turnips were lit with a candle and placed in windows, their monstrous carved faces frightening bad spirits.

Today’s Samhain emerged as part of the late 19th century Celtic Revival, and Neopagans, Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans and Wiccans all celebrate the holiday, in slightly varying ways. Most keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

MUERTOS: DAY OF THE DEAD

Vibrant decorations for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, mark towns in Mexico and Latin American communities far and wide, as the lives of the departed are celebrated with vigor. The full festival of Dia de los Muertos typically lasts two or three days (in some regions, customs begin on October 31), and traditionally, November 1 pays tribute to the souls of children and the innocent while November 2 is dedicated to deceased adult souls. In Mexico, relatives adorn altars and graves with elaborate garlands and wreaths, crosses made of flowers and special foods. Families gather in cemeteries, where pastors bestow prayers upon the dead. For children, Dia de los Muertos celebrations mean candy like sugar skulls and once-a-year treats; music and dancing delight celebrants of all ages.

ALL THINGS HALLOWEEN:
DIY COSTUMES, DÉCOR, PARTIES & MORE

What’s Halloween without some good costumes and tasty treats?

Dussehra: In India, Hindus permitted to gather in larger groups for joyous festival

Dussehra effigies street

Celebrating Dussehra in the streets of India. Photo by Tanuj_handa, courtesy of Needpix.com

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25: The festival of Navaratri—which began in India and in Hindu communities worldwide nine days ago, on October 17, this year—culminates in the most celebrated holiday of all nine nights: Dussehra, or Dasara (spellings vary).

News 2020: Just days before Navaratri began—on October 15—India underwent its fifth “unlock,” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For Navaratri and Dussehra, worshippers will be permitted to gather in temples—some of which have been closed since the lockdowns began. Religious functions may be held, with a limit of 100 people (outside of containment zones). The wearing of masks, social distancing, sanitizing and other health precautions will remain mandatory.

From the Sanskrit words for “remover of bad fate,” today’s Dussehra brings towering effigies to the streets of India, along with a host of ancient rituals and marked traditions. Many Hindus recognize the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, a demon, during an epic battle over Rama’s wife, Sita. It’s believed that Ravana had 10 heads, and thus, 10 unfavorable qualities are rid from households with elaborate Yanga performances today; the unfavorable qualities include lust, anger, delusion, greed and jealousy.

In many parts of India, massive effigies of Ravana and his brothers are traditionally filled with firecrackers and exploded. The burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual, as they encourage Hindus to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In northern India, it is custom that a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets; in southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

Did you know? Feminism shines in the victory of Goddess Durga over demons, thereby continuing the female-centered rituals of Navaratri. In rural areas of India and Nepal, it’s recognized that harvest season begins today.

Given the day’s auspiciousness, many Hindu (and non-Hindu) children begin their formal education today. (Note: Under to Unlock 5.0, India is now permitted to reopen schools. However, virtual learning is still emphasized as the preference, and not all states are opening schools yet.) Some devotees purchase new work tools—whether books, computers or farming equipment—and still others pay respect to elders and request their blessings. Families and friends often gather for a feast.

Columbus Day: What do we do with a holiday after toppling three dozen statues honoring its “hero”?

The fallen Christopher Columbus statue outside the Minnesota State Capitol after a group led by American Indian Movement members tore it down in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 10, 2020. CLICK ON this photo to learn more at the Minnesota Public Radio website.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 12: How are Americans marking Columbus Day, if at all?

They’re shopping. Yes, it’s still a public holiday in many parts of the U.S. A review of Google-News stories covering the holiday in 2020 shows an overwhelming attention to sales—from mattresses to new cars—and also to family activities having nothing to do with historical reflection—like where to go see the most colorful leaves across the northern states.

It’s as if newspaper, TV and radio journalists somehow missed the fact that three dozen Columbus statues have been toppled nationwide, according to Wikipedia’s tracking of these removals.

Here’s a prime example: U.S. News‘s cheery headline for the occasion is—U.S. News Announces the Best Columbus Day Car Deals for 2020This up-beat story announces: “Columbus Day weekend is a great time to take advantage of an affordable lease offer or a no-interest financing deal.”

And, perhaps that’s a fitting end to a turbulent year in which Columbus’ controversial aura as an American “hero” was extinguished across many regions of the United States. This holiday is still on the books in many places, but it’s fading in significance. Meanwhile, many regions continue to actively downplay the old observances. Among the most recent taking action was the Baltimore City Council. In the Southwest, Arizona’s Gov. Doug Ducey recently gave indigenous people a special salute alongside the existing October 12th Columbus observance.

Why do we think it’s fading? Well, we also note that Forbes is reporting that Columbus Day sales are losing their traditional appeal. Maybe the U.S. News staff was a little too quick to climb on the Columbus bandwagon for one more year.

The Washington Post traveled to Italy to publish a somewhat positive story about the holiday under the headline: Much of America Has Stopped Celebrating Columbus Day, but the Explorer Remains Revered in Italy. To its credit, that Post story begins with an overview of this year’s protests across the U.S. The Post staff didn’t forget all those protests in cities nationwide.

Apparently trying to change the subject, The New York Times’ main coverage of the holiday (as of October 11) is a book review, recommending 5 Books to Help Your Child Understand Columbus Day. We have to give the Times a salute for coming up with a constructive story about the holiday that actually involves exploring our history with kids. And, stay tuned, maybe the Times will post something else about Columbus Day on the 12th or perhaps in its wake if more protests emerge.

After all, we certainly need to think about the complicated roots of cultural and racial clashes that formed our American communities across these North and South continents. We’re doing that already in a host of ways. All year long, holidays and festivals across North America reflect the colorful facets of America’s growing cultural diversity.

But few holidays have exposed the friction in U.S. history as much as Columbus Day, which was intended to celebrate 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.

PEW RESEARCH MAPS THE DIVIDE

NEW LAST YEAR, Pew Research published an in-depth look at the varying approaches to this annual milestone across the U.S. NOTE: This still is a fascinating resource, even though much continues to change in 2020.

The Pew report begins: “Depending on where you live and whom you work for, Columbus Day may be a paid day off, another holiday entirely, or no different from any regular Monday. Columbus Day, the second Monday in October, is one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays. It’s one of 10 official federal holidays, which means federal workers get a paid day off. And because federal offices will be closed, so will most banks and the bond markets that trade in U.S. government debt (though the stock markets will remain open). Beyond that, it’s a grab bag.”

Here is a link to the entire Pew report—with accompanying maps so you can see how your part of the U.S. compares with others.

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: At home, Jews prepare feasts, sing and dance

Torah scroll opened

A Torah scroll. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9 and SUNSET SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10: The days of eating (and, for some families, sleeping) in the sukkah are coming to a close for many Jews, although some extend eating in the sukkah just one more day during this time, as all Jews celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. For Jews in Israel, these two holidays combine into one day; for Jews of the Diaspora, Shemini Atzeret is followed by Simchat Torah by one day.

Celebrating at home in 2020: As Jews around the world look for ways to mark these holidays at home this year, Chabad.org offers 10 tips for “an Amazing Simchat Torah @ Home.” Among their tips: prepare festive feasts, craft flags, parade around with a Chumash and get a head start on the year.

Traditionally, Jews begin praying for rain on Shemini Atzeret. The rainy season in Israel begins soon, and for agricultural purposes, the Musaf Amidah prayer is recited, for rain, on Shemini Atzeret.

Great happiness continues on Simchat Torah. Most years, synagogues around the world  hold processions that are followed by joyful dancing and singing. Torah scrolls are carried through the aisles, and even children join in by carrying toy or paper versions of the scrolls, making their way around the building in a series of seven circuits (hakafot). The primary celebration of Simchat Torah begins in the evening, when (traditionally), the ark is opened: congregation members sing and dance, and in many regions, the singing and dancing is taken to the streets and lasts many hours.

FOR MORE ON THESE HOLIDAYS: Enjoy this introduction by Debra Darvick, author of This Jewish Life.

Labor Day: Americans celebrate, but Labor Day is about far more than picnics

Lewis Hine child laborers in 1908 at Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C.

REMEMBERING THE IMPORTANCE OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT: Sociologist Lewis Hine took this photo in 1908, showing some of the doffers with their superintendent. A doffer tended the spindles on the machine, removing full ones and replacing them with empty spools; ten small boys and girls about this age would be employed in a force of 40 employees. Catawba Cotton Mill. Newton, N.C.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7: Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and small festive gatherings are expected nationwide—even though the bigger parades, fireworks shows and jam-packed picnic grounds at parks will be missed this year.

REMEMBER: CHECK LOCAL LISTINGS IN YOUR AREA

News reports about closings (and some local adaptations) have been trickling in from across the U.S. throughout August. Closer to Labor Day, check out resources like the PBS network listings and Amazon and Netflix streaming services for at-home streaming films and documentaries related to the observance.

The relentless spread of COVID-19 has changed plans in tiny towns and sprawling cities. Even in Texas, where public sentiment often has pushed back on pandemic limitations, the public parks around San Antonio will be closed throughout the entire weekend. Other Texas communities are expected to follow suit.

Similar news of park closings is popping up  coast to coast. Some communities plan to continue fireworks shows, especially if the emphasis is on “drive in” attendance by families. Most fireworks shows are being cancelled. Yet another example from the West: Omaha cancelled not only Labor Day events but its entire schedule for the city’s upcoming Septemberfest. From the Midwest: In Duluth, city officials announced that their regular contractor for fireworks agreed to let the cash-strapped city cancel the fiery celebration with no cancellation cost, which softened the blow a bit for city residents.

Got extra time? Learn the history …

This year, in particular, educators, labor leaders and historians are urging Americans to use their extra time to look back at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers.

Our opening photo, above, is one of many preserved by sociologist Lewis Hines. Consider creating your own Labor Day-themed media. You could share a message with friends on social media—or perhaps put together a discussion for your small group or class.  Wikimedia Commons provides many of Hine’s classic images that you are free to use.)

Labor Day is the result of the long struggle for recognition of workers’ rights by the American labor movement. The first Labor Day celebration, observed 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.

John Wesley open air preaching

John Wesley drew the fury of many critics for preaching in public places, wherever crowds of working people and their families could gather to hear him.

LABOR AND 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”).

For 2019, the United Methodist Church published a nationwide appeal to church leaders to remember the central issues still faced by workers around the world. Titled “Labor Day Is Not Just a Day Off,” the text says in part:

Did you know The United Methodist Church has been a part of the labor movement throughout history and is committed to fairness and justice in the workplace? In the early 20th century the church was working to end child labor. And in the ’50s, during our country’s civil rights movement, we were fighting for fair wages and better working conditions. We were dedicated to fairness and justice in the workplace then, and we still are today.

When John Wesley founded the Methodist movement during the 18th century, there was no “worker movement” the way we’d understand it today. But Wesley preached to and cared for coal miners and other oppressed workers. He also opposed slavery. After Wesley died, his followers continued to work against workplace injustices in rapidly industrializing England, adopting the first Social Creed, in 1908, that dealt exclusively with labor practices.

Child laborers in a mine by Lewis Hine 1908.

It may be hard to tell at first glance, but these miners also were child laborers documented by Lewis Hine in 1908.

FROM 12-HOUR DAYS AND DANGEROUS CONDITIONS TO UNIONS

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.

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.

Paryushan Parva and Das Lakshan: Jains pray, look inward, ask forgiveness

A Jain meditation statue. Photo courtesy of Wallpaper Flare

SATURDAY, AUGUST 15-SATURDAY, AUGUST 22

MONDAY, AUGUST 23-TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (beginning Aug. 15, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (beginning Aug. 23, this year), the period of Paryushan means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. (For Digambar Jains, the festival is also sometimes known as Das Lakshan, or Das Lakshana.) In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too.

2020 News: While many prayers and readings during this period are usually performed or undertaken at Jain temples, many temples are closed this year due to coronavirus. Instead, many Jain places of worship—such as this one, in California—are hosting virtual programs during Paryushan.

According to Young Jains of America, pari translates into “all kinds,” and ushan translates into “to burn,” so by one aspect, Paryushan involves burning all types of karma. At its core, Paryushan is about getting closer to one’s soul through introspection and meditation.

During Paryushan and Das Lakshan, Jains often reduce their involvement in worldly affairs such as shopping, entertainment and eating out. Instead, the faithful attempt to spend time focusing inward, reflecting on habits and actions and affirming commitments to Jain principles.

Shwetambar Jains, celebrating Paryushan, typically say:

“Michhami Dukkadam!”

Digambar Jains, celebrating Das Lakshan, typically say:

“Uttam Kshama!”

(Translation: “If I have hurt you, knowingly or unknowingly, through my thoughts, words or actions, I humbly ask for your forgiveness.”)

PRAYER, MEDITATION AND HOLY TEXTS

Each evening of Paryushan, the laity pray, meditate and read from holy texts. The end of Paryushan brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification.

Did you know? Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva. Some drink only between sunrise and sunset; others consume only water. At the end of the festival period, those who have fasted are often fed by loved ones and/or friends.

Though known by several different names, these festivals unite Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.