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.

How are you marking this Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.?

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

Black-and-white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered an address that would become known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Above, Dr. King waves to the crowd of 250,000 that had come to witness his speech. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Marion S. Trikosko/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, JANUARY 20—The holiday’s official name is “Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.,” but many people also refer to this annual milestone as: National Day of Service.

The main federal website to get involved—and connect with others—is the National Service website. That site offers a lot of information about regional events and opportunities. On the site’s front page, you will find a link to add information about your own local events. Plus, there’s a helpful link to free lesson plans for kids, courtesy of Scholastic. Inside, there’s an index to a host of webinars and other resources for adults who want to encourage community service. Want tips on joining in—or organizing your own—community event? Check out this National Service page, which is full of helpful links.

Many adults alive today recall the long and bumpy journey to establishing this milestone of the civil rights leader. And the story isn’t over …

King was born January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist pastor and helped to found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as its first president. In 1963, King helped to organize the March on Washington and, there, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech. King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolence.

When a bill was introduced for a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King, some representatives argued that an additional paid holiday would be too expensive and that Dr. King, having never held public office, was ineligible. Supporters of the bill began rallying the public, and when Stevie Wonder released “Happy Birthday” in 1980 to raise awareness of the campaign, 6 million signatures were collected. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that established a federal holiday on November 2, 1983. The holiday was first observed in 1986.

However, it took until 2000 for all 50 states to actively participate. To this day, a handful of states still officially insist on using alternative names and perspectives on the holiday.

KING’S LIFE AND LEGACY

ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine has lots of resources for reflecting on Dr. King’s life and legacy …

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

 

New Year’s Eve / Watch Night: Welcome, 2020!

New Year's Eve clock, fireworks

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31: Champagne toasts, fireworks and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest kick off the start of the Gregorian year worldwide, as revelers usher in the year 2020. In several countries, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day means family gatherings, elaborate meals and plenty of parties. From the United States to Mexico, Ireland and Japan, time-honored traditions meet the latest global trends on New Year’s Eve In New York, celebrities and party-goers watch the famed “ball drop” in Times Square, counting the seconds as the 12,000-pound crystal ball lowers to ground level.

NEW YEAR’S EVE: FROM MEXICO TO RUSSIA TO NEW YORK

For many, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions span centuries. In Mexico, it is tradition to eat one grape with each chime of the clock’s bell at midnight, making a wish with each grape. A special sweetbread is baked for the holiday, and in homes across the country, red, yellow and green decorations are hung, in hopes of luck in the New Year in life, love, work and wealth. In Korea, ancestors are paid tribute at the New Year, and in Canada, the United States and the UK, Polar Bear Plunges have steadily been gaining popularity as a New Year’s Day custom. In Russia, some blini is in order for a proper New Year’s party. Tradition traces the thin pancakes back to ancient Slavs, and today, Russian blini may be stuffed with cheese or served in a variety of other ways. (Find a recipe and more at WallStreetJournal.com.)

New Year's Eve Times Square

Times Square, in New York, on New Year’s Eve. Photo courtesy of Flickr

From Times Square: Since 1907, the famous New York City “ball drop” has marked New Year’s Eve for millions in Times Square and for billions more through televised broadcasting of the event. Notable televised events began in 1956, with Guy Lombardo and his band broadcasting from the ballroom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. During the tenure of Guy Lombardo, young dick Clark began to broadcast on ABC, and following Lombardo’s death in 1977, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve soon became the hit of the nation. Dick Clark hosted the show for 33 years, and in 2005, Ryan Seacrest hosted his first show, which is now called Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

WATCH NIGHT AND MARY: A CHRISTIAN NEW YEAR CELEBRATION

In some Christian churches, New Year’s Eve is a night of quiet reflection, prayer and thanksgiving. There’s a long-standing Methodist tradition called “Watch Night,” a custom started by Methodism’s founder John Wesley, and some Protestant groups follow similar traditions. In Greece and in Orthodox Christian communities, New Year’s is spent singing Kalanda—carols—and eating the vasilopita, or St. Basil’s, cake. On January 1, the octave of Christmas culminates in the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

SHOGATSU: JAPANESE BUDDHIST SPECTACULAR

In Japan, New Year’s preparations begin weeks in advance, with pressed rice cakes prepared in a variety of flavors and often cooked with broth for a traditional New Year’s soup. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, which is an auspicious number in Buddhist tradition. After midnight, many families head to a local temple to pray, and then feast together afterward. The following morning, New Year’s greetings are exchanged and delicacies like sashimi and sushi are consumed.

New Year's dessert

A pomegranate dessert for New Year’s. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

PARTY PLANNING: RECIPES, HOSTING TIPS AND COCKTAILS

  • Drink recipes are at Forbes.com and Delish. Looking for a mocktail? Delicious combinations are available from HGTV.

Columbus Day: Italian-Americans and Native Americans both celebrate

Columbus Day parade in San Francisco

A float in an earlier Columbus Day Italian Heritage Parade in San Francisco. (Used via Wikimedia Commons.)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 14: All year long, celebrations across North America reflect the colorful facets of America’s growing cultural diversity.

But few holidays expose the friction in U.S. history as much as Columbus Day, which celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what is now called the Americas in 1492. For more than a century, the holiday has been championed by Italian-Americans as showcasing their many contributions to the U.S. But some regions of the country now decline to celebrate this national observance, questioning whether Columbus’s arrival is something Native people should celebrate.

PEW RESEARCH MAPS THE DIVIDE

NEW IN 2019, Pew Research has published an in-depth look at the varying approaches to this annual milestone across the U.S.

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

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

2 CITIES BY THE BAY CELEBRATE 2 WAYS

Proud Italian-American communities on the East Coast host parades, parties and other events—but San Francisco claims to host the nation’s oldest and biggest Columbus-related bash. In fact, the celebration started several days ago around the Bay Area. The San Francisco-based group claims that in 1869: “San Francisco’s first Columbus Day Celebration marked the first time in America that Italian-Americans gathered and held a parade to honor the accomplishments of Italians, as well as the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus.”

That first parade “took place in San Francisco’s downtown featuring the bands and marching units of Italian fraternal organizations, including the Garibaldi Guard, Swiss Guards and Lafayette Guards. Four floats were showcased: the first hosted the statue of Christopher Columbus, the second featured two girls representing Isabella of Spain and America, the third depicted the Santa Maria with a sailor dressed as Christopher Columbus; and the fourth honored Italian gardeners featuring their agricultural achievements.”

In nearby Berkeley, California, an alternative celebration, Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day took off in the 1990s.

 

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

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

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

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 2: Travel, parades and picnics are abundant this Labor Day weekend, but alongside the festivities, consider giving this holiday the merit it really deserves: a look at the history and relevance of labor in the lives of American workers.

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

Labor Day is the result of the long struggle for recognition of workers’ rights by the American labor movement. The first Labor Day celebration, observed in 1882 in New York City, attracted more than 10,000 workers who marched through the streets. Beyond recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day makes us aware of the countless workers who have, together, contributed to the strength and prosperity of their country.

John Wesley open air preaching

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

LABOR AND FAITH

The value of human labor is echoed throughout the Abrahamic tradition, including stories and wisdom about the nature of labor in both the Bible and the Quran. Biblical passages ask God to “prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90), while the Quran refers to the morality of conducting oneself in the public square.

The Catholic church has been preaching on behalf of workers for more than a century. The landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (“Of revolutionary change”) was published in 1891 and has been described as a primer on the rights of laborers who face abusive conditions in the workplace. This became one of the central themes of Pope John Paul II’s long pontificate. In 1981, he published his own lengthy encyclical, Laborem Exercens (“On human work”). Then, a decade later, John Paul returned to this milestone in Catholic teaching in Centisimus Annus (“Hundredth year”).

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

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

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

Child laborers in a mine by Lewis Hine 1908.

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

FROM 12-HOUR DAYS AND DANGEROUS CONDITIONS TO UNIONS

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans had to work 12-hour days every day of the week to make a living. Child labor was at its height in mills, factories and mines, and young children earned only a portion of an adult’s wage. Dirty air, unsafe working conditions and low wages made labor in many cities a dangerous occupation. As working conditions worsened, workers came together and began forming labor unions: through unions, workers could have a voice by participating in strikes and rallies. Through unions, Americans fought against child labor and for the eight-hour workday.

Some labor demonstrations turned violent—such as the Haymarket Riot of 1886, which is remembered, to this day, in May 1 labor holidays around the world. Instead of a May holiday, however, American leaders preferred to remove “our” holiday from that tragedy by four months, in the civic calendar. Instead, American holiday planners encouraged street parades and public displays of the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations in each community—including cheerful festivities and recreation for workers and their families.

Oregon became the first state to declare Labor Day a holiday, in 1887, and by 1896, Labor Day was a national holiday.

LABOR IN 2019

For Labor Day weekend 2019, the Pew Research Center published 10 Facts about American Workers. That list includes these top-line conclusions:

  • Over the past 35 years, the share of American workers who belong to labor unions has fallen by about half.
  • Americans generally like unions and broadly support the right of workers to unionize.
  • Most American workers are employed in the service sector.
  • About 16 million Americans are self-employed, according to BLS data from July of this year.
  • American women earn 85 cents on the dollar compared with men, but that gap is narrower among younger workers.
  • The wage gap between young workers with college degrees and their less-educated counterparts is the widest in decades.
  • More older Americans are working than in previous decades.

 

Independence Day: Americans wave red, white and blue for the Fourth

Fireworks in night sky, lit buildings below

Fourth of July fireworks in Boston. Photo by John Tammaro, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, JULY 4: It’s the Fourth of July, and in America, the Stars and Stripes fly high: Today, on Independence Day, Americans celebrate freedom with parades, picnics, reunions with family and friends and fireworks exploding in the night sky. 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, and Americans observe this day in grand ceremony. So fire up the grill, deck out your yard (or yourself) in red, white and blue, and enjoy summer’s all-American holiday!

Trump on the Mall? Sorry to say, most national news agencies have reported few details of what President Trump is planning for his controversial appearance on the Mall. One example is this Associated Press story in mid-June about the confusion among government event planners. Trump supporters likely will cheer. Trump foes will jeer.

Want to simply switch your viewing to another city? Tune in to CBS for the live webcast of the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, which is attended by a half million people annually. This year, the headliner will be Queen Latifah and the lineup of performers will include singer and songwriter Arlo Guthrie, who will perform a musical tribute a half-century in the making—Summer of ’69commemorating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

Painting of peple marching in patriotism in early American history

Originally entitled Yankee Doodle, this is one of several versions of a scene painted by A. M. Willard that came to be known as The Spirit of ’76. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

INDEPENDENCE DAY: A HISTORY

 

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.

In June 1776, 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. A total of 86 changes were made to the draft before its final adoption on July 4 by the Second Continental Congress. On July 5, 1776, official copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed.

Which Founding Father would you vote for?  Take quizzes and test your Constitution knowledge at ConstitutionFacts.com.

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, 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. Congress declared July 4 a national holiday in 1870.

Red, white and blue frozen dessert in cup with American flags on top

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

FOURTH OF JULY RECIPES, PARTY TIPS & MORE

Nothing sets the stage for a summer party like the occasion of the Fourth of July! Dig up those red, white and blue decorations and recipes, and invite neighbors and friends over for a birthday bash for the nation.

From the perfect juicy hamburger to a towering red, white and blue trifle, find recipes from Martha Stewart, AllRecipes, Food Network, Food & Wine, Taste of Home, Rachael Ray and Real Simple.

For party and decor tips, check out HGTV’s Americana style suggestions and backyard party tips.

Looking for finger foods ideas? The Today Show has 15 ideas and recipes for any July 4 party—including marshmallow pops perfect for kids.

Reader’s Digest offers fun party games ideas fit for a celebration of the Fourth.

Father’s Day: Celebrate Dad—and the dads in your life

Man, boy walking in sunset

Photo courtesy of Pexels

SUNDAY, JUNE 16: Take Dad fishing, make dinner on the grill 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.

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. Each year, Americans spend about $25 billion on Mother’s Day, Fortune reports, but Father’s Day spending now is up to $16 billion.

“That figure has grown 70%, or $6.6 billion over the last decade,” Katherine Cullen, senior director of Consumer and Industry Insights at the National Retail Federation, tells Fortune.

SONORA SMART DODD:
A FATHER’S DAY IN THE US.

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.

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: GRILLING, MOVIES & MORE

Boy and man looking at each other, talking in hammock

Photo courtesy of pxhere

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.

Spending time with Dad may be the best gift of all, and if you’re stumped for activity ideas, Reader’s Digest and Parents.com dole out suggestions on what to do (mini golf, anyone?).

From the Silver Screen: If it’s too hot to go outside on Father’s Day, 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 Mr. Incredible to Bryan Mills in “Taken.”

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