Yale historian David Blight helps us to remember: ‘African Americans invented Memorial Day’

EVEN AS Gen. Robert E. Lee was surrendering at Appomattox on April 9, 1865: Recently freed Black residents of Charleston, South Carolina, risked their lives to publicly prepare for the first Decoration or Memorial Day by digging up a mass grave of Union soldiers left by the defeated Confederate army. These Black volunteers then prepared proper graves for each of those more than 250 Union soldiers who died due to starvation and disease in a Confederate prison camp inside a local horse-race course. This photograph (above) was taken while the new graves were being prepared. Later, those Black volunteers built a decorative fence around the new cemetery, including an archway proclaiming this hallowed ground dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.” On May 1, 1865, these Black families held a parade of more than 10,000 people to this site to memorialize the dead with flowers, preaching, readings from the Bible and hymns—followed by family picnics. (Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

‘This was the first Memorial Day.’

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FORT SUMPTER APRIL 14, 1865—
AND NOW MONDAY, MAY 30—Given the racial trauma that continues to roil our American landscape, we believe it is important to cover Pulitzer-Prize-winning Yale historian David Blight‘s ongoing campaign to correct our history books and give credit to newly freed African Americans for establishing our post-Civil War tradition known to us now as Memorial Day.

“African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865,” Blight says in a lecture, an excerpt of which you can view below via YouTube. “There are cities in the United States North and South that claim to be the site of the first Memorial Day, but they were in 1866—they were too late. (As a researcher,) I had the great blind good fortune to discover this story in a messy totally disorganized collection of veterans papers at a library at Harvard some years back.”

Blight continues, “What you have there is Charleston in 1865 is African Americans, recently freed from slavery, announcing to the world with their flowers and their feet and their songs what the war had been about: What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a second American Revolution. That story got lost for more than a century.”

One of Blight’s early steps in his campaign to correct our history books was an OpEd essay in The New York Times, which now has become an oft-quoted summary of these events. The essay says, in part:

For the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. … Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events … took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city’s Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. .. The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy’s bastion was not lost on the freed people, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.”

Blight also has written about this milestone on his own website, including this passage:

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been all about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic, and not about state rights, defense of home, nor merely soldiers’ valor and sacrifice.

As a result of Blight’s campaign, now, the public historical record is changing. The widely used HISTORY channel website, for example, posted this in 2019 and updated it in May 2022:

His efforts have expanded over the years to include historical reflections on the way this annual observance reflects the meaning of American freedom and diversity in other parts of the U.S. In 2017, Blight was invited to write for The Atlantic magazine. He chose to focus this Atlantic story on memorial traditions in New Orleans, headlined:

Over the years, as a result of Blight’s work, various new historical markers have been posted in Charleston.

SECURING THE HISTORY IN CHARLESTON—For more than a century, Confederate sympathizers in South Carolina actively suppressed the history of the ground-breaking 1865 event—despite the fact that it was covered by newspapers at the time and was documented in at least a few photographs held by the Library of Congress. The Confederate sympathizers were so effective in their efforts that this crucial American memory was effectively erased for more than a century. Today, permanent memorial markers are a public record of the event. (Click on the photograph to enlarge it for easier reading.)

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Care to hear Yale’s Dr. David Blight tell the story?

The video quality of the following YouTube clip is not ideal, but the audio is clear. In this seven-minute summary, Dr. David Blight mentions other related events held in Charleston, including a gathering at Fort Sumpter. The Library of Congress also holds original photographs taken at the April 14, 1865, Fort Sumpter memorial, including this photograph and also this photograph that originally were printed for viewing in a stereopticon.

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So when is Easter? The answer is not as simple as you think.

Pink tulips, colored eggs, one fancy painted egg, in basket

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 17 and SUNDAY APRIL 24—As a journalist covering religious diversity for nearly half a century, the trickiest annual question is: When is Easter?

The question routinely sends me scrambling to double-check my calendar and that’s because, even if I happen to remember the date of Easter for Western Christians, I have to double check what our Eastern brothers and sisters are doing.

Sometimes, the entire Christian world celebrates Easter on the same Sunday. In this millennium, so far, East and West have been unified on seven occasions—in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017. Then, we won’t be on the same Sunday again until 2025. Generally, Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate later than Western churches, mainly because much of the Orthodox world still calculates Easter’s date using the older Julian calendar, which “lags behind” the Gregorian calendar, and because Orthodox tradition requires the date to be after the Jewish Passover.

In 2022: Western Easter is Sunday, April 17.

In 2022: Eastern Orthodox Easter is Sunday, April 24.

How are these dates selected? In general terms, Easter’s date is set on a Sunday after the first full moon following the spring equinox.

Sound simple?

Well, the first thing journalists who cover global holidays learn is that the “vernal equinox”—or “March equinox” or “northward equinox”—is not always on the same date. In fact, it can occur as early as March 19 and, right now, we are living through a period when that equinox routinely falls on March 20. However, church tradition dictates that the equinox is fixed on March 21.

That means, if the phases of the moon are perfectly aligned, Easter Sunday could occur on March 22, but not before that date. How rare is it for Easter to fall on March 22? The last time it happened was 1818, when James Monroe was our president. Over at the Vatican, Pope VII ruled the Catholic church, except for a nasty period when Napoleon kidnapped him and held him in France. By Easter 1818, Pius VII was back home at the Vatican again to celebrate that rare astronomical occurrence. (Don’t recall that pope? Well, Americans mainly know him for having expanded the Catholic church in America by establishing dioceses in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston and Cincinnati.)

In short, it’s very very rare to have Easter as early as March 22. The next time the world will see a March 22 Easter? Well, none of us will see it. The moon and the calendar won’t align like that again until the year 2285.

Easter can fall as late as April 25 in the West, so this year of 2022 has a “relatively late” Easter for Western churches. Next year, 2023, Easter will be April 9. In 2024, it will be March 31. Then, in 2025, we get a much later Easter: April 20.

Eastern Christianity’s later Easter can fall as early as April 9 or as late as May 8 as those dates are listed in our contemporary Gregorian calendar.

Care to learn more?

When is Passover in 2022?

When is Passover in 2022?

passover meal

Photo by ehpien, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET ON FRIDAY, APRIL 15—The first seders of Passover in 2022 will be held on Friday, April 15, although such Jewish occasions may be marked on calendars in ways that can seem confusing to non-Jewish readers. For example, Wikipedia says that Passover begins on April 16, 2022, this year—with a footnote explaining that Jewish days always begin at sundown on the previous day.

And when does it end? That’s a bit confusing to non-Jews, as well, because Passover in Israel lasts seven days while the festival is observed for eight days in most Jewish households around the world.

Like the Christian Easter and the time of Islamic festivals, Passover’s dates move through lunar cycles. However, unlike observances in Islam, which eventually “move” through the entire Gregorian calendar—Judaism established a system for correcting its calendars so the many holidays related to agricultural cycles will remain roughly in the proper seasons throughout the centuries. If dates begin to stray too far, due to lunar cycles, the Jewish calendar can occasionally “add” an intercalary month to reset them. The Christian date is self-correcting because Christian tradition holds that it can only occur after the vernal equinox.

Passover can begin as early as March 21, but has started on an April date in 17 of the 22 years of this new millennium. In 2023, Passover starts at sundown on April 5, then the first seder moves to the evening of April 22 in 2024. It moves back to sundown on April 12 in 2025.

Care to learn more?

When is Easter in 2022?

Rethinking Thanksgiving to Remember our Native Neighbors

Thanksgiving, as the United States’ origin story, leaves out painful truths about the nation’s history. Giving thanks, however, has always been part of Native Americans’ everyday lives. Image: Earnest L. Spybuck (Absentee Shawnee, 1883–1949). “Shawnee Home Life about 1890,” painted in 1910. Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma. (CLICK on this image to visit Smithsonian magazine, where you can read the entire article that features this painting by Earnest Spybuck.)

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Resources for Remembrance and Reconnection

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THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 25—Perhaps the American culture surrounding Thanksgiving now is so far from its roots in the 1600s that questions about our “American” relationships with our continent’s original residents have become irrelevant. There’s a strong argument that American Thanksgiving culture now focuses overwhelmingly on food, family, sports and early Christmas shopping. At this point, for millions of Americans, our moral responsibility to our Indigenous neighbors is far from the front of our hearts and minds on the holiday.

We are not the only ones to have forgotten any Thanksgiving roots in the 1600s. Those scenes were far from the minds of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln when they established national Thanksgiving holidays.

For both presidents, Thanksgiving was mainly a time to celebrate having survived wars. Read George Washington’s original 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation and two things are obvious: First, he never mentions Native Americans. Second, he is calling on Euro-Americans to celebrate that they have survived the Revolutionary War and seem to be thriving. Read Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation and the same two truths are clear: The “thanks” involves the Civil War and Native Americans are invisible. In fact, Lincoln celebrates the westward expansion of European immigrants.

The next major holiday milestone, 1939, was President Franklin Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving Proclamation. Once again we see the same truths: No mention of Indigenous people, although FDR did salute the Pilgrims, and once again Thanksgiving is tied to war, the global “turmoil” that would become World War II. In fact, in 1939, the truth that FDR never mentioned in his proclamation was: Americans needed to shop! Roosevelt’s big decision that year was to move the holiday slightly earlier—on the next-to-the-last Thursday of November—after concerted lobbying by the merchandizing tycoon Fred J. Lazarus, founder of Federated Department Stores, which became Macy’s. (Check out Macy’s own timeline and scroll down to 1939.) Native Americans certainly had nothing to do with that huge marketing effort.

In fact, the largely fanciful tales of a Pilgrim-and-Indian Thanksgiving feast shared in school pageants nationwide were not commonly known in Washington’s and Lincoln’s eras—and were barely on FDR’s cultural radar screen. When these images were merged with all the holiday hoopla in schools after World War II, Native leaders were so perplexed and uncomfortable with this story that they began to protest.

Click on this photo to enlarge it for easier reading.

The first National Day of Mourning was held in 1970. Wikipedia describes the events leading to this protest that created an alternative holiday:

For the 350th anniversary in 1970 of the Pilgrim’s arrival in North America (landing on Wampanoag land), the Commonwealth of Massachusetts planned to celebrate friendly relations between their ancestors and the Wampanoag. Wampanoag leader Wamsutta, also known as Frank James, was invited to make a speech at the celebration. When his speech was reviewed by the anniversary planners, they decided it would not be appropriate. The reason is given: “…the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” Wamsutta had based his speech on a Pilgrim’s account of the first year in North America: a recollection of opening of graves, taking existing supplies of corn and bean and selling Wampanoag as slaves for 220 shillings each. After receiving a revised speech, written by a public relations person, Wamsutta decided he would not attend the celebration. To protest the attempted silencing of his position detailing the uncomfortable truth of the First Thanksgiving, he and his supporters went to neighboring Cole’s Hill. Near the statue of Massasoit, the leader of the Wampanoag when the Pilgrims landed, and overlooking Plymouth Harbour and the Mayflower replica, Wamsutta gave his original speech. This was the first National Day of Mourning.

Smithsonian and Native Leaders Say:
Please Think of Us—But Accurately

In fact, the central theme of the educational materials developed by Native American leaders working through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian focus on properly crediting Native Americans as part of this nation’s Thanksgiving tradition.

Here are some media resources to help you, your family, your congregation and community rethink Thanksgiving as it relates to our Indian neighbors:

2021 WASHINGTON POST REPORTING—One of the most in-depth stories we’ve seen in 2021 was reported by Dana Hedgepeth, headlined: This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later.

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN provides some very helpful educational materials. Here is the gateway page that introduces American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving. Then, if you care to jump directly to the downloadable PDF of the study guide, you can visit this page.

NATIVE VOICES CONVERGE—The Smithsonian magazine’s collection of Native voices concerning Thanksgiving began with a 2011 column written by Dennis W. Zotigh, a  writer who is part of the Kiowa and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo and Isante Dakota peoples. It all began when Zotigh was asked by the Smithsonian to answer the question: Do American Indians Celebrate Thanksgiving? What happened next surprised the Smithsonian editors: Native voices from across the nation began attaching comments to the original story. So, over a decade, Zotigh’s original words have been expanded.

HULU TASTE OF THE NATION—If you have access to HULU, check out the “Truth and the Turkey Tale” episode of Padma Laksmi’s series Taste of the Nation.

LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENT AS A SMALL FIRST GESTURE—This year, our online magazine is highlighting emerging stories about relationships with our Native American neighbors. We have been reporting on both the tragic history and the multi-faceted opportunities, today, in establishing cooperative relationships. As residents of North America, we have an enormous amount of work ahead of us, including coming to terms with centuries of trauma in North American Indian boarding schools. Author and journalist Bill Tammeus reported this recent story for us about the emerging practice of “land acknowledgement.” Bill also provides many links to great reading and online resources—including a very useful Native Land app for smartphones.

‘INVENTION OF THANKSGIVING’ VIDEO—In this short video, shared via the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche and co-curator of the award-winning exhibition Americans) looks at why the Thanksgiving story is so important to the United States’ image of itself as a nation. NOTE: Because this video is shared via YouTube, you can also share it with family, friends, your class or small group.

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FINALLY, A HEARTBREAKING MAP: In 1605, explorer Samuel de Champlain had this detailed map drawn of the thriving Wampanoag village he visited along the shoreline where Pilgrims would land 15 years later. Between de Champlain’s visit and that historic 1620 landing by the Pilgrims, a virulent epidemic had raged through Wampanoag tribal lands that killed virtually all of the men, women and children in this particular village. The disease, an infection with symptoms similar to smallpox, was the result of early contacts with Europeans that spread the epidemic throughout the native communities. As the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they soon realized they were moving into what amounted to a ghost town. When Pilgrims explored the village’s ruins, they found ghastly evidence of the epidemic, including unburied skeletons of the last few native men and women to die. To learn more about the Wompanoag, you’ll enjoy Wikipedia’s extensive article with many links to other resources.

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Happy Halloween! And Allhallowtide, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos too!

Kids in costumes in a row, smiling

Photo courtesy of Shaw Air Force Base

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 31 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1 and MONDAY, 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

This year, the nation’s leading public-health experts are encouraging families to enjoy outdoor Trick or Treating. The most-shared advice in mid-October comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who declared:”Go out there and enjoy Halloween!” That line formed the headline of lots of subsequent newspaper and magazine stories. Fauci explained that during a typical Trick or Treat stroll, “You’re outdoors for the most part. Enjoy it. This is a time children love. It’s an important time of the year for children.”

In fact CNN has been predicting a Halloween “blowout.” CNN reported, for example: “The National Retail Federation expects Halloween spending to hit a record $10.14 billion. … Candy and chocolate sales are already soaring above 2020 levels, according to the National Confectioners Association, a trade group.”

Then USA Today detailed that spending: “Most of the spending will go to costumes: $3.32 billion, 27% more than last year and the most since consumers spent $3.35 billion in 2017. Almost as much–$3.17 billion–will be spent on decorations. And $3 billion will be spent on candy.”

However, that does not mean families can expect all of the typical pre-COVID traditions and events to be back on their regional schedules this year.

One big category of cancelations involves apartment complexes. Many high-rise complexes have cancelled Trick or Treating again this year, because children would be crowding into indoor spaces such as hallways and elevators. But the rules vary widely. Complexes with plenty of outdoor community space may still be holding events.

Bottom line: Check on any events in your community that you and your kids would like to attend.

Tips for Halloween Fun

One of the most highly recommended set of 2021 tips comes from The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website HealthyChildren.org, headlined: Halloween & COVID-19: Have Fun While Staying Safe. In addition to ideas for family fun, that list of tips ends with links covering food allergies and advice about face makeup and costumes that include decorative contact lenses.

Want even more ideas? Here are webpages packed with tips and resources from Nickelodeon and Nick Jr., Oprah Daily, Country Living, Good Housekeeping, Womans’ Day and even Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman.

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 favorite characters has become custom in Western culture.

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.

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Raksha Bandhan: Celebrating Bonds between Brothers and Sisters

Women at marketplace looking at bracelets

Women shop for Raksha Bandhan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 4: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

Two sisters renew bonds with their brother on Raksha Bandhan

Two sisters celebrate the holiday with their brother in a photo this family submitted to the Wikimedia Commons 2019 campaign, called “Wiki Loves Love.” Photo credit: Aasthap-dsc.

On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

The morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun. Want other culinary options? NDTV’s Food channel also published these 11 suggestions for other delightful holiday dishes. The non-alcoholic Mango Basil Colada sounds especially refreshing!

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

A National Holiday

Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year government officials across India announce some kind of new service or public improvement related to the holiday. This year, one widely reported news story is a policy—in some regions—to offer free bus transportation for 24 hours so women can easily reach their brothers.

Each year, there also are efforts to encourage fitness on the holiday. One example, from The Times of Indiasuggests healthier choices for family banquets—and even suggests that a rakhi could be a fitness band.

Many families and organizations enjoy trying to take their festivities to extremes—competing for slots in the record books. For 2019, India-based Prokerala magazine takes a look at some of the records—and attempts at records.

Finally—and only in India—one of the country’s shelters for cows, sacred animals in Hinduism, has sparked headlines across the country for its new line of cow dung rakhis. No kidding! It’s one of a number of fundraisers to help support the shelter.

Purim: Jewish festival of Esther’s victory includes cookies, masquerade

Two plates of triangular-shaped, jelly-filled pastries

Hamantaschen, or “Haman’s pockets,” are a Purim treat. Photo by xeno4ka, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET MONDAY, MARCH 9: Eat! Drink! Be merry! The story of Purim is found in the pages of the book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible.

Today, with the start of Purim, fruit-filled cookies are served, outrageous costumes are donned, plenty of wine is consumed and comical skits entertain jovial audiences. In the synagogue, readings from the book of Esther evoke hissing, booing and stomping, as Jews “blot out” the name of the villainous Haman. Interestingly, the name of G_d is not mentioned in the book of Esther, and many Jews interpret this as indication that G_d works in ways that are not always apparent. On Purim, disguises and costumes serve as symbolism of G_d “hidden” behind the scenes.

ESTHER, MORDECAI AND AHASUERUS: THE STORY

When the beautiful young Esther was taken to the house of Ahasuerus, the king of Persia, she hid her Jewish identity. Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, held a key position in the kingdom but was hated by the king’s advisor for refusing to bow down to him. In a rage, the king’s advisor—Haman—plotted to kill Mordecai and all of the Jews.

The turning point was the king’s love of Esther, who was chosen to be his queen. Though Haman had already convinced King Ahasuerus to kill the Jews in Persia, Esther fasted for three days, approached the king and revealed her own Jewish identity, pleading with the king to save the Jewish population. The king later hanged Haman and his 10 sons on the gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai. The Jewish people in Persia were saved from the plot of Haman.

Popular Jewish author and columnist Debra Darvick, who penned This Jewish Life with real-life stories about men, women and children observing the festivals and milestones that mark the Jewish calendar, describes the way families approach the holiday of Purim this way:

“On the 14th of the month of Adar in the Jewish calendar, hilarity reigns as the holiday of Purim is celebrated. One is commanded to drink enough liquor so that it becomes impossible to distinguish between the phrases ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mor- dechai.’ In Hebrew these words become a tongue twister, so it doesn’t take much.”

OBLIGATIONS AND HAMENTASCHEN

The carnivals and masquerades of Purim are accompanied by the four primary obligations of the day: to listen to a public reading of the book of Esther in the evening and the morning; to send food gifts to friends; to give charity to the poor; and to partake in a festive meal.

The signature treat for this holiday is Hamantaschen: Haman’s pockets. FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis tells the story of baking these delicious triangular treats in her family—and provides her own recipe for these cookies.

EXTRA RECIPES: An array of Purim recipes can be found at AllRecipes. For a crunchy take on Haman’s pockets, try these—made of Rice Krispies. Thirsty? Try making your own apricot-infused bourbon for Purim.