Mother’s Day: Americans give thanks for Mom

mother child Mother's Day

Photo by Family_Moments, courtesy of Freerange Stock

SUNDAY, MAY 12: 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.

A DAY FOR MOM: ANNA JARVIS

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.

Cooking Mom brunch? Look to Martha Stewart (for gift ideas, too!) and AllRecipes.

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.

CYBELE, MOTHERING SUNDAY AND MOTHER’S DAY

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!

Four Chaplains Day honors interfaith sacrifice in WWII and ‘Unity without Uniformity’

Shown are the public photos of the famous four U.S. Army chaplains: Lt. Alexander Goode, a rabbi; Lt. George Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Clark Poling, a Dutch Reformed minister; and Lt. John Washington, a Roman Catholic priest. All four perished with the sinking of the SS Dorchester after being struck by a German torpedo, Feb. 3, 1943. In 1988, Congress honored them by establishing Feb. 3 as Four Chaplains Day. (NOTE: Anyone is free to save and re-share this photograph.)


SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 3: In many chapels, congregations and American Legion halls 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 U.S. Air Force published Captain Brett Barner’s and Chaplain Mark Schutzius’s column about the observance, which dramatically sums up the story:

Amidst the terror and confusion, the four chaplains began to guide and direct everyone on board. It was dark, cold and the ship was sinking quickly. Naturally, people began to panic and feared for their lives. These chaplains brought a sense of calm and peace in a time of incredible uncertainty. One account says that petty officer John Mahoney headed back towards his cabin when Rabbi Goode noticed he was going the wrong way and asked where he was going. “To get my gloves,” Mahoney responded. Rabbi Goode told him to take his gloves, but Mahoney resisted. He contended that he couldn’t take the chaplain’s own gloves. “Never mind, I have two pairs,” Rabbi Goode replied. It’s said that Mahoney later realized the chaplain never planned to leave the vessel.

Each chaplain eventually made it to the top of the ship and helped distribute life jackets and get survivors into lifeboats. As you can imagine, things were stressful. People began to wonder if they would receive a life jacket or if there would be enough room in the life boats. Again, these chaplains helped calm those fears. When life jackets ran out, one account says that the chaplains immediately offered their four life jackets to four service members who hadn’t received them. One survivor said, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”

Their bravery and selflessness didn’t end there. Eyewitnesses say that as the ship finally began to sink below the water, the four chaplains stood against the deck with their arms linked together. They prayed together. They sang together. They died together.

Honoring ‘Unity without Uniformity’

In 2024, with record rates of antisemitism and Islamophobia in the U.S. and around the world, a remembrance of their joint sacrifice seems especially appropriate to many community leaders. Check in your part of the U.S., because many local events seem to have been planned this year.

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.

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.”

Allhallowtide, Samhain and Dia de los Muertos: A trio of ‘Halloween’

Allhallowtide, Halloween

Photo by Morton1905, courtesy of Flickr

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31-THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 2: Deeply rooted in a centuries-old Gaelic and Irish seasonal festival known as Samhain, today’s Halloween is considered by many to be the time of year that spirits can roam the earth. From Samhain to Mexico’s Day of the Dead, world cultures celebrate the belief that at this time of year, the veil between this world and the next is particularly thin. It’s not all solemn, 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 costuming fun with kids!

HALLOWEEN: CHRISTIAN TO SECULAR

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 deceased loved ones. In the Christian faith, the two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day—pay homage to the souls that are now with God.

Did you know? 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.

SAMHAIN: GUISING FOR A TRICK AND PREPARING FOR THE ‘DARKER SEASON’

mulled wine, samhain

Mulled wine is common fare for Samhain. Photo courtesy of PickPik

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.

DIA DE LOS 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.

Dia de los Muertos dressed up

Dressed up for Dia de los Muertos. Photo by Giovanny Hernández Rodríguez, courtesy of Pexels

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers! Americans already are planning ahead.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2023—What a breath of fresh air for Americans to read some of the Thanksgiving columns from Canadian newspapers and magazines!

Here’s how the Toronto Star’s Editorial Board is greeting readers today:

We give thanks in Canada because we know it is a privilege to reside on this particular patch of this astonishing planet. We are grateful because we know it is a gift to live, to learn, to labour, to laugh, to experience the education of setback and challenge, the benefit of forgiveness and second chances, and most of all to love and be loved. We give thanks because conscious gratitude gets us rightsized with the universe. Gratitude requires humility, a becoming trait which helps us to acknowledge that the source of the goodness we enjoy lies, in large measure, outside ourselves. Through that recognition, gratitude reminds us of our connection to and need for others.

That’s the kind of spiritually uplifting language readers might expect in, say, well—in the pages of our weekly ReadTheSpirit magazine!

Canadians also have their own version of “Thanksgiving history,” highlighting their own milestones in thankfulness, summarized this year by writer Mel Simoneau in The Ottawa Citizen. Mel shares not only some centuries-old milestones but also a personal story and encourages readers to reclaim the greatful “awe” that this holiday traditionally celebrated.

Most Canadian families expect turkey, mashed potatoes and other autumn side dishes—just like Americans. One Canadian poll says as many as three-quarters of families plan to have some turkey. But, various Canadian journalists also have been pointing out: A growing number of Canadians are proud to call themselves “foodies”—and some holiday dinners will feature alternative dishes.

Refreshing ideas, aren’t they?

Plan ahead to encourage gratefulness and awe in November

Thank goodness we Americans have nearly two months to plan ahead for a great post-pandemic Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned to ReadTheSpirit for an additional American-focused Thanksgiving story, when it’s appropriate but—for now—you might want to check out some of the delicious links we’ve found:

Of course, our Holidays & Festivals column will share more tips and links in November for American families, but for now—let’s all say a word of “Thanks!” in harmony with our neighbors to the North.

We truly do share an “astonishing planet”!

Obon / Ullambana: Japanese festival honors ancestors, tradition and culture

Obon Ullambana Japan

Photo by Mark Shigenaga, courtesy of Funcheap

MID-JULY through MID-AUGUST: Obon—a sweeping festival of ancient dances, intricate costumes and a celebration of Japanese culture—unfolds around the world from mid-July through mid-August. These traditions represent a mix of Buddhist, Confucian and Japanese cultures, honoring the spirits of ancestors. Obon is a time for homecomings, visiting family gravesites, dances, storytelling and decorating household altars; light cotton kimonos, carnival rides and games and festival foods are common during this season. Obon has been a Japanese tradition for more than 500 years.

NOTE about the dates range: If you are interested in visiting an Obon-themed festival in your part of the U.S., watch local news media for listings. The peak of the festival is mid-August in Japan, though many American communities host events in July. More specifically, “Shichigatsu Bon”—celebrated in Eastern Japan—begins in mid-July, while “Hachigatsu Bon” commences in August. “Kyu Bon,” or “Old Bon,” is observed annually on the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Wikipedia has more about the range of dates.

FROM ‘HANGING UPSIDE DOWN’ TO BON ODORI

Obon couple Japan lanterns

Photo courtesy of Pexels

The term “Obon,” from Sanskrit’s “Ullambana,” suggests great suffering, as the full term translates into “hanging upside down.” The purpose of Obon is to ease the suffering of deceased loved ones while expressing joy for the sacrifices loved ones have made.

The sacred Bon Odori dance is at the center of Obon festivities, with teachers performing difficult steps on yagura, elevated stages, and attendees circling the stage as they imitate the dance. Though there is a basic pattern to the dance, details vary by region and culture.

A BUDDHIST STORY

The traditional story behind Obon begins with a disciple of Buddha. When this disciple used supernatural abilities to look upon his deceased mother, he saw that she was suffering in the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. The disciple mourned his mother’s state, and pleaded to Buddha for a way to free her.

In response to his disciple’s request, Buddha suggested one thing: to make offerings to the Buddhist monks who had completed their summer retreat. The disciple did as he had been instructed, and saw his mother freed. In great happiness, the disciple danced with joy—and, thus, the first “Bon dance” was performed. Duly, upon viewing his mother, the disciple had come to a full realization of the many sacrifices his mother had made for him, and he was exceptionally grateful. Even today, the deeper roots of Obon lie in paying respects to ancestors—thus easing their suffering—and expressing joy for the sacrifices that loved ones have made.

On a more personal level, Obon means that families take time to freshly decorate household altars and reunite with family members at ancestral gravesites. Most every Bon festival ends with Toro Nagashi, or the floating of paper lanterns. At the culmination, hundreds and thousands of paper lanterns, illuminated by interior candles, can be seen floating down rivers and streams. The belief is that ancestors’ spirits are symbolically returned to the world of the dead.

WANT MORE?

Cooking up some traditional Japanese Obon cuisine in your kitchen? Check out the recipes at JapaneseFood.about.com.

Thinking of crafting a paper lantern? Over the years in covering Obon in our Holidays & Festivals column, we have recommended links to Japanese lanterns crafts. Readers in some parts of the world—especially in Japan—have kits and traditional materials handy in their homes and neighborhoods, but American readers can make a beautiful paper lantern with this dollar-store approach to the craft.

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.

MOTHER’S DAY: ANNA JARVIS

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.

FROM GREEK ORIGINS TO TODAY

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!

FOR MOM: DIY, GIFTS THAT GIVE & MORE

  • 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.

St Patrick’s Day: Revelers celebrate Irish culture; Christians honor legendary saint

saint patrick's day parade

A Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Albany, NY. Photo by Sebastien Barre, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, MARCH 17: Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit!

(Or, in English: Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!)

Around the world today, revelers remember the legendary Saint Patrick of Ireland, while embracing the Irish culture through food, music, costuming and more.

NEWS 2023: This Saint Patrick’s Day, more than 1 billion Catholics are asking: How does the Lenten fast impact eating habits? St. Patrick’s Day has fallen on a Lenten Friday 32 times since 1790, with this year marking the 33rd time. Typically, a local bishop decides whether or not a dispensation will be offered—and this year, the National Catholic Register took a survey of U.S. bishops, asking whether or not they would offer dispensation this St. Patrick’s Day. (Click here for the article and map). 

artwork Saint Patrick's Day

Photo by Lawrence OP, courtesy of Flickr

ST. PATRICK: TRUTH AND LEGEND

The legendary patron saint of Ireland began life c. 385 CE, in Roman Britain. With a wealthy family whose patron was a deacon, the young man who would become known as St. Patrick led a comfortable life until his teenage years, when he was kidnapped and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During his six years in Ireland, Patrick gained a deeper Christian faith. When he dreamed that God told him to flee to the coast, Patrick did so—and traveled home to become a priest. Following ordination, however, another dream prompted Patrick to do what no one expected: to return to Ireland.

As a Christian in Ireland, Patrick worked to convert the pagan Irish. With a three-leaved shamrock in hand to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, St. Patrick converted many. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 at Downpatrick.

Surprisingly, the most widely known saint from Ireland was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. Since no formal canonization process existed in the Church’s first millennium, St. Patrick was deemed a saint only by popular acclaim and local approval.

PATRICK’S ‘BREASTPLATE’

One of the most popular posts in the decade-long history of ReadTheSpirit is a collection of three versions of the famous prayer known as The Breastplate:

Versions 1 and 2: Here is St. Patrick’s Breastplate in English prose and in 19th Century lines of a hymn.
Version 3:
We also have St. Patrick’s Breastplate in Gaelic.

You probably remember some of the most famous lines from St. Patrick, such as:
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me

And also:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.

But, there is so much more to this classic prayer!

Alternatively, start here for a Gaelic version and follow the link to find two more English versions, one as poetry and one as refashioned for a hymn.

pretzels and green mug

Photo courtesy of Hippopx

A CHRISTIAN FEAST DAY—AND AN EPIC FESTIVAL

St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day by the early 17th century, observed by the Catholic church, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lutherans and members of the Church of Ireland. Today, countries the world over offer citizens and tourists Irish-themed foods, drinks and culture on March 17. Dances, processions, performances and more illustrate the vibrancy of Irish history—all set against the very Irish color of green.

RECIPES, CRAFT IDEAS & MORE

Got dreams of hearty Irish stews, hot Reuben sandwiches and cold drinks? Get into the Irish spirit with these recipe ideas (and some crafts, too):

  • A plethora of easy-to-follow recipes, from brisket to soda bread, is at AllRecipes.
  • Kids can get into the spirit of the Irish with craft ideas from Parenting.com.