Independence Day: Americans celebrate with backyard parties & fireworks

FIREWORKS have not been permitted at Mount Rushmore for more than a decade.

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SATURDAY, JULY 4: Barbecues are firing up and backyard celebrations will be plentiful this Fourth of July, as many events turn private from public. While most patriotic parades and festivals are cancelled this year, that doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t holding festivities: In fact, residential fireworks sales are “sky-high” this year, as the number of at-home celebrations soars. Since some 2020 pandemic restrictions remain and many public fireworks displays are cancelled, most families are opting for a smaller-scale display instead.

Shooting off your own fireworks this year? Get safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

What’s happening at Mount Rushmore?

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is sometimes called “The Shrine of Democracy,” celebrates Independence Day on both July 3 and 4. For 2020, programming and plans for both days are still being developed, but there will be a fireworks display the evening of July 3. The Memorial will reopen to the general public on July 4. For more details, visit the website.

The National Park Service has not held a fireworks show in more than a decade due to fire concerns—but President Trump pushed the idea this year, because of his long-standing love of the historic site and his claim that he hopes, one day, to see his own face carved on the mountainside. Meanwhile, Native American groups strongly oppose the event—and public safety experts are warning about the potential of COVID-spread and wildfires. Associated Press reports further.

As The Washington Post reports: “President Trump is planning a massive fireworks display at Mount Rushmore on July 3, despite a decade-long ban on pyrotechnics at the iconic spot because of concerns about public health, environmental and safety risks. Trump has wanted to stage fireworks at the national memorial in South Dakota’s Black Hills since 2018.”

JULY 2 and JULY 4

With the fledgling battles of the Revolutionary War in April 1775, few colonists considered complete independence from Great Britain. Within a year, however, hostilities toward Great Britain were building and the desire for independence was growing, too. Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, “Common Sense,” fueled the unifying aspiration for independence. Though the legal separation of the Thirteen Colonies from Great Britain took place on July 2, 1776, it was two days later—July 4—when the Second Continental Congress gave its approval.

July 4th colonial

The Fourth of July in Philadelphia, 1819. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A COMMITTEE AND A DECLARATION DRAFT

 

The year was 1776, and the weather was stifling hot as a brand-new nation was being formed. In June of that year, the Continental Congress appointed a five-person committee to draft a formal statement that would vindicate the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, considered the most articulate writer in the group, crafted the original draft. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress officially declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; a total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4, by the Second Continental Congress.

One year following, in 1777, Philadelphia marked the Fourth of July with an official dinner, toasts, 13-gun salutes, music, parades, prayers and speeches. As the new nation faced challenges, however, celebrations fell out of favor during ensuing decades. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that printed copies of the Declaration of Independence again were widely circulated, and festivities marked America’s Independence Day.

Fast fact: Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

SALUTE TO AMERICA: FROM WASHINGTON, D.C.

A salute of one gun for each U.S. states is fired on July 4 at noon by any capable military base, and in the evening, A Capitol Fourth—a free concert broadcast live by PBS, NPR and the American Forces Network—takes place on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. The White House has announced that President Trump plans to host an Independence Day celebration again this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, with military demonstrations, fireworks and a speech. (Read more in the Washington Post.)

Fourth of July treat

Photo courtesy of Piqsels

JULY 4 RECIPES, PARTY TIPS, DIY & MOVIES

Get out those red, white and blue decorations and recipes!

From the perfect grilled steak to a fresh-fruit patriotic cake, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s easy entertaining ideas, Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips. Reader’s Digest offers 21 fun party games fit for any celebration of the Fourth.

Kids can craft decorations or their own apparel with help from Parents.com and Disney.com.

Interested in a lineup of patriotic movies? Forbes and Boston.com offer a top-10 list of movies, including “Red Dawn,” “Johnny Tremain,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1776.”

Father’s Day: Bring joy to Dad, Grandpa and more

Father's Day

Photo courtesy of Pikist

SUNDAY, JUNE 21: Make dinner on the grill, put together a gift for Dad and take a minute to say “Thanks:” It’s Father’s Day! Across the United States, more than 70 million fathers qualify for recognition on this special day.

2020 UPDATE: While many states are slowly reopening retail stores and other public places, social distancing is still highly recommended and enforced. Looking for ideas to celebrate? Check out 10 ways to observe Father’s Day in quarantine, here. Searching for ways to mark a virtual Father’s Day? Find several ways, in this article from Woman’s Day. Forbes states that “masks are the new ties”—at least, according to this article. Finally, from Health.com, there are 15 best gifts that Dad can use during quarantine.

ST. JOSEPH AND SONORA SMART DODD: A FATHER’S DAY

The official holiday has been in effect for nearly half a century in the United States, although similar celebrations have been in existence around the globe for much longer. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

Did you know? Fortune magazine reports that Americans’ focus on Father’s Day has been growing in popularity over the last decade, at least as analysts judge the amount American families spend on Father’s Day gifts. That figure has grown 70 percent, or $6.6 billion, over the last decade, according to Katherine Cullen, senior director of Consumer and Industry Insights at the National Retail Federation.

The American Father’s Day began in Spokane, Washington, in 1910, with the daughter of a widow. When Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother’s Day sermon in church, she approached her pastor, believing that fathers like hers—a Civil War veteran and single father who had raised six children—deserved recognition, too.

Hand hold

Photo courtesy of Pickpik

Following the initial few years, Father’s Day was all but lost until Dodd returned to Spokane, once again promoting her holiday. Despite support by trade groups and the Father’s Day Council, Father’s Day was rejected by both the general public and Congress until 1966. President Richard Nixon signed the holiday into law in 1972.

CELEBRATE: GRILLING, MOVIES & MORE

Stumped on how to celebrate Dad today? Look no further! We’ve rounded up plenty of ideas to please dads of any age:

Cooking dinner for Dad? Whether you’re taking food to the grill or to the oven, get inspired with recipes from Food Network, Martha Stewart and AllRecipes.

From the Silver Screen: Take to the air conditioning with popcorn and a dad-centered flick. Our favorite list is from Screen Rant, which recognizes fathers from Darth Vader to Bryan Mills in “Taken.”

From the Kids: Young children can craft gifts, cards and more with ideas from here.

Juneteenth: Celebrations, changes and concerns nationwide

Juneteenth celebration in Austin, Texas, on June 19, 1900.

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FRI, JUNE 19: Most summers, Juneteenth is defined by prayer services, gospel concerts and barbecues nationwide to celebrate the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

BIG CHANGES THIS YEAR

In 2020, be sure to check schedules early for local celebrations. Many towns have cancelled this year’s events. Many are hosting Juneteenth events on dates other than June 19. Some communities are proposing virtual observances this year.

On June 5, the Chicago Defender published this report on ways to mark Juneteenth, including ideas that don’t involve public gatherings.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram looked back at the event’s long history in Texas.

JUNETEENTH ORIGINS

President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, followed by the end of the Civil War IN 1865—but white Texans remained resistant to freeing slaves. Due to the minimal number of Union troops present in Texas, slavery continued in the state until June 18, 1865—the day General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops marched into Galveston and took possession of the state. The following day, General Granger read General Order No. 3 before a crowd including elated former slaves. Formal celebrations for “Juneteenth” began almost immediately.

Did you know? The term “Juneteenth,” grammatically a portmanteau of the word “June” and the suffix of “Nineteenth,” was coined in 1903.

Just one year following General Granger’s reading of General Order No. 3, freed former slaves had gathered enough money to purchase land for Juneteenth gatherings and celebrations. Church grounds were also popular for gatherings. Emancipation Park in Houston and Austin are examples of remaining properties purchased by former slaves. (Learn more history from Juneteenth.com.) In its early years, Juneteenth was a time for family members—some who had fled to the North and others who had traveled to other states—to reunite with relatives who stayed behind in the South. Prayer services have long played a major part in the celebrations.

Hosting a barbecue or other Juneteenth celebration? Find recipe ideas at Multi Cultural Cooking Network and NPR.

Memorial Day: America honors fallen heroes with virtual, at-home events

Memorial Day honor graves

Photo by Presidio of Monterey, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MAY 25: It’s Memorial Day, and the unofficial start of summer in America began, less than two centuries ago, as a solemn observance for the war that had consumed more lives than any other U.S. conflict. While memorial services still abound (as shown in the photo above), the national holiday today also means barbecues, beaches, parades and fireworks—although this year, many traditional festivities may look different than they do most years. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, families are being encouraged to barbecue at home, watch parades virtually (check out this one, from Farmington Hills, Michigan) and—in places where beaches are reopening—practice social distancing and safety protocols in outdoor public areas.

TUNE IN: PBS will be hosting a National Memorial Day Concert on Sunday, May 24 at 8 p.m. ET to honor veterans as well as the men and women who are fighting against COVID-19.

TRAVEL: Memorial Day weekend is typically a popular travel period in the United States, but this year—in spite of record-low gas prices—travel numbers will be down significantly. Still, those who are planning to travel can check out tips from CNN, this news channel out of New York, and the Los Angeles Times.

FROM CIVIL WAR GRAVESITES TO MEMORIAL DAY

Black-and-white Unknowns Monument, photo

A group of women at the Civil War Unknowns Monument in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, circa 1915. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Memorial Day began as an annual, grassroots practice of sprucing up the gravesites of the countless Americans who died during the Civil War. That’s why, for many years, the observance was called Decoration Day, describing the flowers and colorful flags that seemed to sprout across cemeteries each spring.

For much of the 20th Century, however, the painful early roots of this observance were forgotten as proud civic boosters across the country tried to claim their own unique slices of this history. Then, Yale historian David W. Blight researched and corrected the record, finally honoring the fact that the courageous pioneers in observing this holiday were former slaves in the South who dared to decorate Yankee graves.

In his history, Race and ReunionBlight writes: “Decoration Day, and the many ways in which it is observed, shaped Civil War memory as much as any other cultural ritual.”

Blight continued to research race and American memory in that era and was honored with the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in history for his in-depth biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

MEMORIAL DAY & CIVIL RELIGION

The famed sociologist of American religion, Robert Bellah, also shaped the evolution of Memorial Day’s meaning in a landmark article he published in a 1967 issue of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He called his long article “Civil Religion in America,” taking the centuries-old concept of “civil religion” and kicked off decades of fresh research into how our civil religion defines our American culture. You can read Bellah’s entire original article online.

A few lines from Bellah’s article about Memorial Day …
Until the Civil War, the American civil religion focused above all on the event of the Revolution, which was seen as the final act of the Exodus from the old lands across the waters. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the sacred scriptures and Washington the divinely appointed Moses who led his people out of the hands of tyranny.

Then—The Civil War raised the deepest questions of national meaning. The man who not only formulated but in his own person embodied its meaning for Americans was Abraham Lincoln. For him the issue was not in the first instance slavery but “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” … With the Civil War, a new theme of death, sacrifice, and rebirth enters the new civil religion. It is symbolized in the life and death of Lincoln. Nowhere is it stated more vividly than in the Gettysburg Address, itself part of the Lincolnian “New Testament” among the civil scriptures.

Mother’s Day: Celebrate, give thanks to Mom (from afar)!

Mother's Day Scrabble letters on pink

Photo courtesy of PickPik

SUNDAY, MAY 10: Wish a “Happy Mother’s Day” to Mom today (or any loved maternal figure in your life)! Even as social distancing keeps many families physically apart this year, videoconferencing tools, old-fashioned cards and letters and drive-up messages are expected to be rolling out across America.

MOTHER’S DAY 2.0: SOCIAL DISTANCING VERSION

Sending Mom a homemade card or handwritten letter is, ironically, just the type of sentiment that the original Mother’s Day founder intended when she advocated the holiday. Anna Jarvis hoped that mothers could be shown appreciation through heartfelt, personal sentiments, rather than commercial goods.

Amid social distancing orders in 2020, you may not be able to see Mom in person this year—but that doesn’t mean that anyone is forgetting her! Check out these resources for ideas on how to celebrate:

Does Mom need a good laugh? Check out these 35 cards that humorously articulate the celebration of mothers in a time of social distancing—with some heartfelt sentiments, too, of course.

For tips on a meaningful videoconference with Mom—and more—check out this article from Woman’s Day. More tips for a distanced Mother’s Day, from party planners, are at MarthaStewart.com.

Looking for DIY gift ideas? Craft something for Mom yourself (get ideas from Good Housekeeping, or for kids, check out ideas from Woman’s Day).

Many churches will be streaming Mother’s Day services and Mass today, but if your church doesn’t, check out Catholic TV and Christian World Media for listings of virtual services.

From house to hotel: Mom may be stuck at home, but with these ideas from Forbes, you can make her day more luxurious. (Feeling ambitious? Try your hand at a DIY of one of the Forbes gift ideas.) If Mom would rather be outside, HGTV lists gift ideas for gardening lovers.

MOTHER’S DAY: A HISTORY

Though versions of the current American Mother’s Day predated its creation—and, worldwide, several variations have existed for centuries—our modern American Mother’s Day was officially proclaimed on May 9, 1914.

The first “official” service took place at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia. At this church, Anna Jarvis honored her mother, who had been a Sunday School teacher at the location. By 1914, President Woodrow Wilson had set aside the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Care to learn more? This tiny church, built in 1873, became the site of an International Mother’s Day Shrine in the 1960s. Wikipedia has the details about this tourist destination that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.

FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO A HALLMARK HOLIDAY

During the 1850s, Ann Reeves Jarvis of West Virginia held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitation conditions, lower rates of infant mortality, fight disease and contamination and assist other mothers. When the Civil War broke out, women in these clubs looked after wounded soldiers. Following the Civil War, Jarvis and others organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics, as a means of uniting citizens from both sides of the former Union and Confederacy. Julia Ward Howe—composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—went a step further, and publicly encouraged women to take an active political role in fostering peace.

Upon the death of Ann Reeves Jarvis in 1905, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, was prompted to organize a tribute service for her at her church. Jarvis distributed hundreds of carnations—her mother’s favorite flower—to mothers at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton. With financial backing for the holiday from Philadelphia department store owner John Wanamaker, thousands of people attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in 1908.

Jarvis worked tirelessly to establish a national day for mothers, and by 1912, many states had adopted the holiday. (Learn more from History.com.) Yet despite every intention by Jarvis, Mother’s Day became an enormously profitable holiday for the retail industry, confectioners and florists; Hallmark now reports the holiday as trailing only Christmas and Valentine’s Day in the volume of cards exchanged. The American version of Mother’s Day is currently also celebrated in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Extra resource:

View President Woodrow Wilson’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, here.

Easter: Christians worldwide (virtually) celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection

Jesus stained glass Easter

Photo courtesy of PxHere

SUNDAY, APRIL 12:  Western Christians across the globe revel in the Resurrection of Jesus today, rejoicing in the promise of new life: It’s Easter! Following the solemn 40-day reflections of Lent and bridging into the Easter Triduum—the evening of Maundy Thursday through the evening of Easter Sunday—Christians celebrate a new day. (Note: Eastern Orthodox Christians will celebrate Pascha, the Orthodox term for Easter, on April 19, this year.)

The New Testament tells Christians that the Resurrection of Christ is the core of their faith, and on this grand day, bells are rung in praise and adherents joyously profess their faith.

EASTER AND THE 2020 PANDEMIC

Empty church main aisle

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Amid the 2020 coronavirus pandemic and the widespread practice of social distancing, Easter Sunday will be different for families across the globe. Instead of heading to church, most families will have the option of streaming masses and services.

Looking to access virtual Easter masses? Many churches will be hosting their own virtual Easter masses, but services are also available for streaming at Catholic TV and Christian World Media. To watch services from the Vatican, follow the YouTube channel Vatican News.

For tips on how to spend Easter while staying home, check out this article from Woman’s Day.

The Miraculous Crucifix: A centuries-old crucifix, which will be visible via streamings of papal events and services throughout Holy Week, was recently moved by the Vatican from a Roman church to St. Peter’s Basilica. (Read more from Vatican News.) Known as the “Miraculous Crucifix,” tradition states that a plague that hit Rome in 1522 began subsiding after the crucifix was taken around the streets of the Italian capital for 16 days. On March 27, 2020, Pope Francis prayed before the crucifix for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.

A TOMB AND A HOLY MESSENGER

Gospel accounts say that early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene (and, though accounts vary, other women as well) traveled to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. Upon reaching the tomb, an earthquake shook the ground; the stone was moved from the tomb, and a holy messenger announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. Though no specific moment of Resurrection is recorded, Mary Magdalene’s encounter has, since the 2nd century, been celebrated as Easter. The Resurrection is described as having occurred c. 30 CE.

For Christians today, meals most often involve white-and-gold settings, fresh lilies on the table and, in many homes, a sacred Paschal Candle. A traditional Easter menu also would typically feature lamb—a symbol of Christ, the Paschal Lamb. However, Easter hams now far outpace cuts of lamb.

In France and Belgium, the bells that “went to Rome on Maundy Thursday” return home for the evening Easter Vigil, only to bring Easter eggs to boys and girls—or so, the story has it.

In most countries with a substantial Christian population, Easter is a public holiday.

SECULAR EASTER: CANDIES & EGGS

Eggs Easter in basket

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Easter in America may be characterized as much by the Easter Bunny and pastel-hued candies as it is by Christian joy in Christ’s Resurrection. Egg hunts, treat-filled baskets and festive brunches mark Easter for many American families.

EGGS: The springtime egg has symbolized the season’s new life since before the life of Jesus, drawing back to ancient civilizations. Nonetheless, the egg holds a place of prominence in many secular Easter traditions. Children around the globe search for hidden eggs, and decorating eggs can range from simple to elaborate—as much as the artist allows. International chocolatiers mold sweet concoctions in the shape of delicate eggs, with the most exquisite replications selling for hundreds of dollars.

RECIPES & RESOURCES

Looking for a great recipe or ideas to spruce up your Easter table?

Find delicious recipes, from appetizers to brunch to dessert, at Food Network and AllRecipes.

Give eggs extra style, or try an Easter craft, with ideas from HGTV and Martha Stewart.

Kid-friendly Easter coloring pages, cards, games and more are at the UK’s Activity Village.

Valentine’s Day: Celebrate love on Americans’ favored holiday

Rose 14 February Valentine's

Photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker, courtesy of Flickr

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14: In a tradition that dates back to a legendary Christian saint, chocolates, hearts and expressions of love are flowing around the world today.

Did you know? According to Fox News, more than four in five Americans get genuinely excited about Valentine’s Day—even more so than Christmas, according to new research. A poll of 2,000 Americans shows that 81 percent get excited about Feb. 14, while just 68 percent say they get excited about the Christmas holiday season.

Though history doesn’t document any romantic association with Valentine’s Day until the High Middle Ages and the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer, 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).

ST. VALENTINE(S): BY THE DOZEN

Saint Valentine depiction

One of many depictions of Saint Valentine. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Down through the centuries, Christians have honored nearly a dozen St. Valentines, so any research into the history of the “real” St. Valentine quickly veers toward confusion.

According to one account, the Encyclopedia Britannica: St. Valentine is the “name of two legendary martyrs whose lives seem to be historically based. One was a Roman priest and physician who suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Christians by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus and was buried on the Via Flaminia. Pope St. Julius I reportedly built a basilica over his grave. The other, bishop of Terni, Italy, was martyred, apparently also in Rome, and his relics were later taken to Terni. It is possible these are different versions of the same original account and refer to only one person.”

American Catholic magazine, one of today’s most popular sources of information for Catholic families, stated: “Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate. Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.”

So, if your friends start talking about the history of the “real” St. Valentine, you’re on solid ground to say: “Yes, but no one knows for sure.”

CHOCOLATES, GREETINGS AND CUSTOMS

Albeit a relatively new addition to Asian culture, Valentine’s Day claims its biggest spenders in this region: Customarily, women in South Korea and Japan give chocolates to all male co-workers, friends and lovers on February 14, with men returning the favor two- or threefold on “White Day,” which occurs on March 14. Residents of Singapore spend, on average, between $100 and $500 on Valentine’s Day gifts, according to a recent report.

Cupcakes Valentine's Day

Photo by Elena Roussakis, courtesy of Flickr

French and Welsh households commemorate Christian saints of love, and in Finland and Latin American countries, “love” extends to friends and friendships. Western countries most often acknowledge Valentine’s Day with greeting cards, candies and romantic dinner dates. However, in Islamic countries, many officials have deemed Valentine’s Day as unsuitable for Islamic culture, and in Saudi Arabia, religious police have banned the sale of Valentine’s Day items.

VALENTINE’S LINKS AND RESOURCES

  • Prepare a 3-course meal for your sweetheart with menus and recipes from Food Network and Allrecipes.
  • Handmade, DIY gift inspirations are plentiful at Martha Stewart.com.
  • Anyone looking for a best-friend gift can find inspiration from Reader’s Digest, which lists 50 “awesome” ideas for pals.