It’s a $22-billion Easter for most Americans in 2024

SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2024 and SUNDAY, MAY 5—It’s Easter! Twice this year—as usual—although the entire Christian world will be united next year on April 20, 2025, and again in the spring of 2028.

Despite many years of discussions about unifying the worldwide celebration of Easter, Christian leaders remain far apart in what continues to be known as the Easter Controversy. In truth, it’s more of a controversy in other parts of the world—because across the United States Easter is almost universally assumed to be March 31 this year.

Doubt that? Just ask Hallmark and a host of the nation’s largest retailers. The National Retail Federation’s annual report on Easter spending says:

Consumer spending is expected to reach a total of $22.4 billion this Easter—the second highest in the survey’s history, after last year’s record-setting $24 billion when the holiday fell nine days later in the year. … Consumers plan to spend an average of $177.06 per person on top items like candy, food, gifts and clothing this year.

Of course, the religious meaning of Easter has nothing to do with chocolate.

Here are the major milestones leading to (Western) Easter

Western Christians across the globe entered Holy Week on Palm Sunday, and begin the Easter Triduum—recounting the final days of Jesus’s life and Passion—on Thursday, with Holy (Maundy) Thursday.


The Paschal Triduum is initiated with Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Alternatively known as Holy Thursday or Covenant Thursday, this day commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with the Apostles.

Some scholars believe that the name “Maundy Thursday” derived from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase stated by Jesus to describe the purpose for his washing their feet. (“A new commandment I give to unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you.”) In some churches, to this day, clergy ceremonially wash the feet of 12 persons as part of Maundy Thursday services. Following the Maundy Thursday service, in most Christian denominations, the altar is “stripped” in solemn fashion in preparation for Good Friday.

Today, even outside of the church building, global traditions for Maundy Thursday are varied and colorful. In the United Kingdom, the Monarch offers Maundy money to worthy elders; in Bulgaria, Easter eggs are colored and homes are prepared for the upcoming holy days. Holy Thursday is a public holiday in many Christian countries.

Did you know? In Bulgaria, Easter eggs must be painted on Maundy Thursday or Holy Saturday in the early morning, before sunrise. The first painted egg must be red. 

At the conclusion of Maundy Thursday services, the attitude in the Church becomes somber, dark and mournful. Church bells fall silent until Easter.


Stick crosses Good Friday

Photo courtesy of Pickpik


While in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night, Christian tradition says that Jesus was located by the Romans—led by Judas Iscariot—and arrested. This led to interrogation, torture and, eventually, to Jesus’ death by the horrific Roman method of crucifixion. In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a fast day of the deepest solemnity. The altar is bare, vestments are red or black and the cross is venerated.

EXTRA: Joseph Haydn composed “The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour On the Cross,” commissioned in 1785 or 1786 for the Good Friday service at Cádiz Cathedral in Spain. Listen to it here.

In many parishes, the Stations of the Cross recount Jesus’ journey to the site of the crucifixion. In countries such as Malta, Italy, the Philippines and Spain, processions carry statues of the Passion of Christ. In Britain, Australia and Canada, hot cross buns are traditionally consumed on Good Friday (find a recipe here).



Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, ushers in with the darkness of Good Friday, commemorating the day that Jesus’ body lay in the tomb. Traditionally, the altar remains bare or is draped in a simple black cloth. In Catholic parishes, the administration of sacraments is limited. Holy Saturday is a time of suspense, quiet and solemnity, as Christians continue to mourn the death of Jesus Christ. In Catholic tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows is given the title Our Lady of Solitude, for her grief at the earthly absence of her son, Jesus.

THE EASTER VIGIL—In the evening on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil begins. A service that begins in darkness is illuminated, in Christian tradition, with the Light of Christ—the Paschal candle. After prayers, chants and biblical readings, “Gloria” is sung for the first time since Maundy Thursday. The church is flooded with light, statues covered during Passiontide are unveiled and the joy of the Resurrection begins. The Paschal candle, the largest and most exquisite candle in the church, is lit each day throughout the Paschal season.

‘Stopping by …’ Robert Frost’s poetry to mark his sesquicentennial

Robert Frost in about 1910. (Photo in public domain.)

ON MARCH 26, 1874, Robert Frost was born not in New England, as many of his readers may assume, but in San Francisco. In fact, he did not become a New England farmer until 1900, when his grandfather gave him and his wife Elinor a farm in Derry, New Hampshire. He had suffered from ill health during his studies at Harvard and his family assumed that moving to a farm might improve his health. In fact, contrary to popular assumptions, Frost was a terrible farmer at first.

Of course, farming fueled much of his poetic vision, which eventually led to his becoming the only poet ever to win four Pulitzer Prizes. (He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature 31 times, but never won that award.)

His legacy has shaped American culture in countless ways, including during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, countless references in films and TV shows and in the works of such best-selling novelists as George R.R. Martin and Stephenie Meyer. And, he was a huge influence on the life and work of Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky.

To mark this milestone, and the publication of a special new selection of Frost’s most beloved poems by the Library of America, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm wrote this tribute to Frost (and Brodsky’s promotion of Frost) in Goodreads, headlined: Sharing Poetic Pointers with Old Friends

Blue is the color of hope in March during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

FEEL FREE TO SAVE AND RE-USE THIS IMAGE YOURSELF: This image of a blue ribbon was created so that you are free to re-use it yourself in social media as a reminder of this special month and the importance of early screening.

Please, spread the news now

MARCH is a special life-giving month when all of us who understand the importance of early screening for colorectal cancer spread reminders as far and wide as possible. I will be joining countless survivors in that effort, as always, by telling my own story.

This matters to me and my family—because I would not be writing this column today if it were not for a routine screening that caught my cancer.

That’s why I’m sharing so many inspiring resources myself. My true story of building the resilience to beat Stage IV cancer—in fact, beating it twice in my life—is told in my memoir, Shining BrightlyIf you stop by my website,, you’ll find weekly podcasts about resilience and hope—and you can even download a free PDF of my best tips for “Resiliency when confronting cancer.” (That helpful PDF is on this page of my website in the navy-blue area.)

Who established this special month?

Advocates for the families touched by this deadly disease had lobbied for years for greater awareness and finally in 2000, President Clinton signed a proclamation officially designating March for heightened awareness. That proclamation has been repeated since then by the White House.

Why is this month even more important—now?

As the Journal of the American Medical Association reports, these forms of cancer are increasing at an alarming rate among younger adults!

The JAMA report says, in part:

From 2010 to 2019, the incidence rates of early-onset cancers increased substantially over the study period. Gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates among all early-onset cancers. Although breast cancer had the highest number of incident cases, gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates among all early-onset cancers.

The rapid rise of early-onset cancers is alarming all of us

This month, I represented Colontown—the global nonprofit network of patients, survivors, and care-partners that I am honored to serve as Chairman of the Board—at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in San Francisco.

At this huge conference, everyone was talking about the growing danger among young adults. We’ve got to alert families to the importance of early screening, which can save lives—like my own.

And, remember, there’s an opportunity to show your concern on Friday, March 1, this year—which is national Wear Blue Day for awareness of this form of cancer and the need for screening. I’ll be wearing blue that day—how about you?

Need more news headlines to share?

NBC NEWS: Colon cancer is killing more younger men and women than ever, new report finds

NEW YORK TIMES: Colon Cancer Is Rising Among Younger Adults. Here’s What to Know.

VERYWELL HEALTH: Why Is Cancer Rising In Young Adults?

And what’s the most important message?




Are you tired of reading that word in my column? Well, please, take action and either get yourself or someone else you love scheduled for a screening.

Valentine’s Day: Around the world, many forms of love are celebrated

Valentine’s Day candies. This public domain photo can be used and shared by anyone thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Declare love for someone special in your life today—Valentine’s Day has a rich and varied history that includes friendship, sacred marriages and even courtly love! From Finland, where friendship is celebrated, to the religious devotion of three early Christian saints named Valentine, one message is clear: Today is the day to express boundless love, however and to whomever you see fit.

NEWS 2024: The shock when shopping for Valentine’s Day sweets this year was the high price of chocolate. This NPR report explains, “The cost of the key ingredient in chocolate has been grinding upward for over two years. In the past year, it has more than doubled.”

Thank you, Geoffrey Chaucer!

History doesn’t document romantic associations with Valentine’s Day until the High Middle Ages and the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer—and, in particular, Chaucer’s composition Parlement of Foules, for King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. News of the Parlement spread rapidly, and courtly love soon flourished. Lovers across the country began expressing their feelings for each other on Valentine’s Day, with long poems, flowers and notes.

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—and that does not include the inexpensive Valentine cards exchanged among schoolchildren.

Did you know? The earliest credited “valentine”—aside from the alleged note written in a jail cell by St. Valentine, more than 1,000 years earlier—was composed in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife.


Historically, there were three Saint Valentines in Christian history, all of whom are honored on St. Valentine’s Day. Of the three, the most noted Valentine was a Roman priest who assisted persecuted Christians during the 3rd century. This Valentine performed secret weddings for soldiers, and even handed out paper heart cutouts to symbolize God’s love. On the night before his execution, legend has it that Valentine wrote a letter to his jailer’s daughter, signing it, “from your Valentine.”


Globally, Valentine’s Day is about much more than romantic love. In Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day celebrates friendship; in some Latin countries, the holiday is known as “Day of Love and Friendship.” In Asia, two holidays—Valentine’s Day, and its reciprocal holiday, White Day—make for two expensive occasions for exchanging gifts with that special someone. Traditional Hindu and Islamic cultures generally disregard Valentine’s Day, though in Iran, efforts have been made in recent years to establish a festival of love for mothers and wives on Feb. 7.


Cooking for your Valentine? Check out recipe ideas from Food Network, Good Housekeeping, Bon Appetit, and even Pillsbury.



Chinese (Lunar) New Year:

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10: The Chinese Year of the Dragon starts today—more specifically, the wood dragon—with a 15-day celebration that circles the globe. According to the South China Morning Post, “The element associated with the 2024 Dragon is strong yang wood. In the five elemental cycle, wood fuels the element of fire, and thus the quality of the Dragon is enhanced.”

Did you know? The last Chinese Wood Dragon year occurred 60 years ago, in 1964.

The color red, which is considered auspicious and homophonous with the Chinese word for “prosperous,” dominates décor in nearly every event. The Spring Festival, as it is also termed, ushers in warmer weather and marks the time of great gatherings among family and friends. When the New Year approaches, it is customarily ushered in with a Reunion Dinner that is replete with symbolic foods. For two weeks, visits are made and hosted with family and friends, gifts are exchanged and merriment is par for the course. Alternatively, this joyous occasion is called the Spring Festival.

Care to see more? The UK’s Evening Standard has photos of a portion of the billions of travelers undergoing the trip to or across China, which currently makes up the world’s largest human migration.


Legend has it that when the Buddha (or the Jade Emperor) invited animals to a New Year’s celebration, only 12 showed up; these 12 animals were each rewarded with a year. Earthly Branches were the original terms used for the years, but animals were later added as mnemonics and categorized as either yin or yang. Ten Celestial Stems pair with the Earthly Branches for a 60-year calendrical cycle.

Tradition has it that a person’s birth year indicates that he or she will possess the characteristics of the animal in reign during that year. (Just be careful! The year of someone’s Zodiac animal isn’t exactly considered lucky, and wearing red every day for that year is considered a means of protection from evil spirits and bad fortune.)


Unrivaled among Chinese holidays, the New Year begins weeks in advance with families cleaning and hanging paper cutouts in their homes, shopping for fish, meats and other specialty foods, and purchasing new clothing. Businesses pay off debts, gifts are distributed to business associates and everything is completed according to symbolism—for good luck, prosperity and health in the coming year. In Buddhist and Taoist households, home altars and statues are cleaned.

On the eve of the New Year, a Reunion Dinner is shared with extended family members. Dumplings, meat dishes, fish and an assortment of hot and cold dishes are considered essential for the table. Traditionally, red envelopes filled with money or chocolate coins are given to children. Following dinner, some families visit a local temple.

For the next two weeks, feasts will be shared with family and friends, fireworks will fill the skies and parades with dragons and costumes will fill the streets. Friends and relatives frequently bring a Tray of Togetherness to the households they visit, as a token of thanks to the host. Through the New Year festivities, elders are honored and deities are paid homage, with all festivities being wrapped up with the Lantern Festival.


If carryout isn’t your idea of an authentic Chinese experience, check out these sites for delicious New Year recipes:

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024

A detail from the haunting Oregon Holocaust Memorial,  which was dedicated in 2004 in Portland Oregon. This photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 27—Each year, international remembrances of the Holocaust occur on two major occasions: This International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the United Nations, marking the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945. The other globally observed memorial is Yom Hashoah, which was established in Israel and begins in 2024 on the evening of May 5.

Want to take part in marking this day? Check in your area for local observances, which may range from a memorial service to a concert to an art exhibit to even the screening of a special film. Local communities across North America are planning to mark this day in some way, especially at a time when antisemitism is reaching new heights in the US, according to FBI reporting.

Resources from the United Nations: Member states of the UN have developed educational programs, conducted memorial ceremonies and instituted remembrances over the years. If you follow this UN link, you will find a gateway to UN-recommended resources. There are lots of materials to explore from that homepage, including The World Memory Project and a guide to Remembering Survivors and Victims.

It’s a global problem. A rising tide of antisemitism is sweeping the globe. For example, news media around the world reported on the late-November demonstrations of more than 100,000 people in Paris and other French cities in solidarity with that nation’s Jewish population. Here’s New York Times report on those demonstrations.

This month, reports like this one in The Washington Post have highlighted Chinese propaganda efforts to fuel antisemitism in the West as a method to destabilize Western nations.

Fresh action. The alarming reports led the Biden administration to take new steps to identify and combat antisemitism as well as Islamophobia and hate crimes against Jews and Muslims, as detailed in this White House report.



How will you help to build Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s beloved community in 2024?

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.
You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.
You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace.
A soul generated by love.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

MONDAY, JANUARY 15—Serve in your community this week and learn more about civil rights, as the nation collectively remembers the prophetic life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday in January annually brings the celebration of a pivotal figure in American history who, during his lifetime, worked ceaselessly for the civil rights movement and nonviolent activism.

THIS YEAR, the holiday falls on King’s actual January 15 birthday, when he was born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you are a basketball fan, you may already have seen NBA players—and an NBA-sponsored public service ad—reminding us all of Dr. King’s legacy. Honoring Dr. King has become a well-established annual tradition in the NBA. The league has held games on MLK day nearly every year since 1986. The one exception is the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. This year, there are 11 NBA games on January 15.

AN IMPORTANT TIP: Many of the best events are held close to home—wherever “home” is for you. Our publishing house is based in Michigan and our “local” search turned up a whole host of great events for individuals and families spread across southeast Michigan. You’ll likely find similar lists of events in your part of the U.S.

The main federal website to get involved in MLK Day-related service is the National Service website.

MLK Day: A History

Martin Luther King, Jr. 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.

THIS YEAR, we also have the powerful feature film, Rustin, which tells much more about the March on Washington. Click here to read faith-and-film critic Edward McNulty’s review of that film. Ed writes, “The overlooked civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (played by Colman Domingo)—often called the architect of the 1963 March on Washington—is finally getting his due, thanks to the new film directed by George C. Wolfe.”

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, and today, Americans are urged to honor the “King Day of Service” by spending the day doing something Dr. King viewed as unparalleled: serving others.