Juneteenth National Independence Day: America honors ‘Freedom Day’

Juneteenth march

A Juneteenth celebration, 2021. Photo courtesy of Rawpixel, original public domain image from Flickr

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19: Gospel concerts, street fairs, ceremonies, and prayer services take place across the nation today, in celebration of the oldest known commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States: Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day.

June doesn’t mark the Emancipation Proclamation itself; instead, this holiday recalls the date, more than two years later, when slaves in Texas were finally freed and former Confederates were forced to recognize the Proclamation.

Did you know? Juneteenth officially became recognized as a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.

NEWS 2024: RED FOOD, BUSINESS HOURS & NEW SIGNIFICANCE

Food table at Juneteenth celebration

Food at a Juneteenth reception. Photo by Lisa Nottingham, courtesy of Flickr

With celebrity chef Carla Hall, CNN dives into why red food and drinks have become strong symbols on Juneteenth.

Are banks, the USPS, and places of business open on Juneteenth? USA Today has the details.

How has the meaning of Juneteenth changed in the last three years, since it became a federal holiday? AARP examines the story.

THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION & THE ROAD TO FREEDOM

Though slaves had been freed more than two years earlier, under President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the deep South had felt minimum impact.With the surrender of General Lee in April 1865, Northern forces became strong enough to overcome resistance in the South.

On June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, to enforce emancipation. And on June 19, Granger read aloud the contents of “General Order No.3.” The Order read, in part:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

In reaction to the news, men and women who had been enslaved danced in the streets. Some immediately left their former masters in search of freedom or to find family members. The next year, freedmen organized the first annual “Juneteenth” celebrations in Texas, using public parks, church grounds and newly purchased land for the jubilant parties.

Major institutions such as the Smithsonian and Henry Ford Museum have begun sponsoring Juneteenth activities, as have cities across the United States. In many areas, portions of General Order Number 3 are read, and celebrations often include both singing and public readings of the writings of noted African-American writers.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Find recipes fit for the day at Parade, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Betty Crocker.

Father’s Day: Celebrate fatherhood, paternal bonds and more on dad’s day

father with child, Father's Day

Photo by Nisha A, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 16: Spend some time with 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.

Did you know? Celebrations similar to Father’s Day have been in existence around the globe for hundreds of years. In traditionally Catholic countries, fathers are popularly recognized on the Feast of St. Joseph.

father's day dad child

Photo courtesy of PickPik

SONORA SMART DODD: A FATHER’S DAY IN AMERICA

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.

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.

CELEBRATING FATHER’S DAY: FOOD, FUN & 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.

Want to get Dad something he will “actually use?” CNN has rounded up 60 ideas, with the claim that these gift ideas are both “practical” and just plain fantastic.

Spending time with Dad may be the best gift of all, though, and if you’re stumped for activity ideas, Reader’s Digest has suggestions on what to do. A plethora of other activity ideas to try with Dad this Father’s Day can be found at The Pioneer Woman, Good Housekeeping and Parade.

Memorial Day: Americans honor fallen soldiers, set records for weekend travel

A Memorial Day ceremony. Photo by rawpixel.com / U.S. Army (Source), courtesy of Rawpixel

MONDAY, MAY 27: Across America, cities abound with parades and ceremonies for fallen soldiers, accented by the scent of barbecues firing up for the season: It’s Memorial Day!

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, the national holiday also means picnics, beaches, fireworks and, of course, travel, as Americans enjoy a three-day weekend.

2024 travel update: AAA’s forecast for 2024 says that this year will see the one of the highest Memorial Day travel forecasts since 2000; this year is expected to set a record for road-trip travel. 

Scroll down in this story to read our best holiday tips. However, before we list those links, let’s celebrate a tireless historian who helped Americans recover our history of this more-than-150-year-old observance.

A PULITZER FOR THE HOLIDAY’S HISTORIAN

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 Civl War memory as much as any other cultural ritual.” Here’s a link to a 2022 ReadTheSpirit column that tells more about Blight’s history of the original Decoration Day in the South.

Blight continued to research race and American memory in that era and eventually 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.

WANT SOME HOLIDAY IDEAS?

Kara Zauberman of The Food Network’s Pioneer Woman compiled “50 Best Memorial Day Recipes for Your Holiday Cookout.”

Better Homes & Gardens has “12 Things to Do for Memorial Day Weekend with Family and Friends

Good Housekeeping has “21 Special Memorial Day Activities Your Family Can Do Together

Country Living has “33 Best Things to Do on Memorial Day for Kids and Adults

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!

Target learned the hard way why it is so important to observe Black History Month

This photo of Dr. Woodson is in public domain, from Wikimedia Commons. We selected this photo for this column so that you can share this photograph yourself to promote Black History Month.

Clearing up confusion about Black History Month’s founder: Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

FEBRUARY—As Joe Grimm—the head of the Bias Busters project at the Michigan State University School of Journalism—has had to point out this month: There’s a lot of confusion about Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson, widely regarded as the father of our custom of focusing on Black history each February.

Apparently, ignorance of this history led Target stores nationwide to stock a tragically mixed up  Black History Month kit for kids, called the Civil Rights Magnetic Learning Activity. This kit mixed up several key figures, including Woodson, in a series of three images—and had to be pulled from stores nationwide. The error was never spotted by Target staff members. A history teacher bought one of the kits and immediately realized the errors, as reported by The New York Times, Forbes, People and many other news outlets. Only when it became a national embarrassment did Target remove the kits—and that’s a disappointing sign of ignorance of Black history, Joe Grimm has argued online.

Thank goodness Dr. Woodson has a robust biography in Wikipedia—including a photograph of him that is in public domain and can be shared easily by anyone wanting to correctly credit him as the father of this annual tradition. Consider taking a moment, right now, to share this column with friends via social media or email to help with the effort to correct the record.

To counter the confusion, Grimm has been sharing across the internet the following Question and Answer from the Bias Busters’ widely used book, 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans.

Question: What is Black History Month?

Answer: The idea had its origins in 1915. Carter G. Woodson, a Harvard PhD, and friends established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The Journal of Negro History began a year later. In 1926, Woodson created Negro History Week to bring attention to history that was not in school curricula. Starting with Gerald R. Ford in 1976, U.S. presidents have annually recognized February as Black History Month. The United Kingdom and Canada observe it, as well. Some say Black history should be taught all year and that designating a month for it confines and diminishes Black history.

This answer and 99 others are in 100 Questions and Answers About African Americans, a Bias Buster guide created in a journalism class at Michigan State University. If that book interests you—then you also will want to get a copy of 100 Questions and Answers About the Black Church.

In researching, writing and editing these guides, Grimm and his students also work with blue-ribbon panels of national experts. The books are widely used by educators, community leaders and professionals nationwide to promote better understanding of the many minorities that make up our nation today. Amazon lists the entire series on this page.

Yule, solstice: Welcome winter with a log on the fire, nature and mistletoe

fireplace, lit and decorated with greenery

Photo by Justin Kern, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 21: Since ancient times, the solstices have been marked as auspicious turning points in the calendar. For our Northern readers, this is the winter solstice!

Often termed Yuletide or Yulefest, the days surrounding winter solstice have long been marked with cold-weather festivals and warm feasts, celebrating the reversal from increasing darkness to increasing light and giving thanks for the “rebirth of the sun.” Ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule; ancient Romans held Saturnalia, Brumalia and other festivals for the sun with food, gift-giving and often ludicrous behavior.

yule log

A yule log, or buche de noel. Photo by Stéphanie Kilgast, courtesy of Flickr

Today, Pagans and Wiccans gather for Yule festivities: feasting and the lighting of the celebrated Yule log, which traditionally smolders for 12 days.

Want recipes? Bake a tasty version of a Yule log with recipes from Allrecipes, Martha Stewart and Sally’s Baking Addiction.

Germanic peoples are credited the religious festival called “Yule.” Enormous feasts were associated with Yule, and so merry was the atmosphere in these activities that Grettis Saga refers to Yule as the time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.” Today’s pagans and Wiccans often exchange gifts at Yule meals, while praising the rebirth of the sun and various gods.

WASSAIL, HOLLY & MISTLETOE

Looking for some Yule inspiration? Recharge with some all-natural ideas such as enjoying the beauty of firelight or relaxing to some Classical music. In years past, pagans “wassailed” their fields with cider drinks—but a tasty wassail is great for sipping! (Find a five-star recipe at Tastes Better From Scratch.)

Get in touch with nature by decorating your home with holly, mistletoe and evergreens; for a warm scent, make a pomander by decorating oranges with cloves (get instructions from Martha Stewart), noting the orange’s resemblance to the sun.

Thanksgiving: Americans give thanks and feast on historic holiday

First Thanksgiving

Photo by / courtesy of World History Encyclopedia, GPA Photo Archive / Flickr

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 23: Savor the smells and tastes of the season while expressing gratitude, for the holiday of (American) Thanksgiving. Many foods common on the Thanksgiving table are native to North America and to the season, such as corn, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squashes and cranberries.

Mealtime prayers and worship services are still common on this holiday of gratitude.

THANKSGIVING: A HISTORY

Though earlier thanks-giving events took place through the centuries, it was in 1621 that the feast shared by Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans, in Plymouth, that would become today’s American Thanksgiving. Lincoln may be the founder of our annual holiday tradition, but that very early cross-cultural dinner in Plymouth still inspires millions of Americans.

That Thanksgiving celebration melded two very different cultures: the Wampanoag and the Europeans. For the Wampanoag, giving thanks for the Creator’s gifts was an established custom. A plentiful harvest was just one of several reasons for a Wampanoag ceremony of thanks. For European Pilgrims, English harvest festivals were about rejoicing, and after the bountiful harvest of 1621 and amicable relations between the Wampanoag and the Europeans, no one could deny the desire for a plentiful shared feast. The “first” Thanksgiving took place over three days, and was attended by approximately 50 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans.

Thanksgiving table, turkey

Photo by mdburnette, from the WordPress Photo Directory

By the 1660s, an annual harvest festival was being held in New England. Church leaders proclaimed the Thanksgiving holiday and, later, public officials joined religious leaders in declaring such holidays. The Continental Congress proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving in 1777, and just over one decade later, George Washington proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration, as “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” National Thanksgiving proclamations were made by various presidents through the decades, falling in and out of favor until Sarah Hale convinced President Abraham Lincoln to proclaim Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1941 that Thanksgiving was established permanently as the fourth Thursday of November.

FOOTBALL, PARADES & TURKEY TROTS

The National Football League traditionally plays games on Thanksgiving Day, and in 1924, Americans enjoyed the inauguration of both the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held annually in New York City—and “America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”—held in Detroit. To this day, both parades (and football games) welcome tourists and locals alike and are widely televised. Several U.S. cities host a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, welcoming runners of all ages to burn off some calories in anticipation of the day’s feast.

Recipes, décor and hosting tips: Find recipes, menus and more at Food Network, AllRecipes, Food & Wine and Epicurious.

Thanksgiving crafts: Adults can create DIY décor with help from HGTV, and kids can be entertained before the big dinner with craft suggestions from Parents.