Displaying items by tag: celebration

Originally published on www.celebrations360.com

UNHCR and World Refugee Day

There are 42 million refugees world wide, reported the UNHCR in June 2009.  Sixteen million are outside their country of origin, and another 26 million are internally displaced people.  This affects warring or politically repressed nations, but also their neighbors, and countries worldwide where refugees have sought asylum.  Sudan, Burma (Myanmar), Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan all have significant refugee crises.

Flag Day

16 April 2010

Originally published on www.celebrations360.com

The History of Flag Day

On June 14, 1861, Hartford, Connecticut was home to a special celebration honoring the flag.  George Morris, of Hartford, is given credit for promoting the idea, commemorating the day in 1777 when the Second Continental Congress formally adopted the precursor of the United States flag we know today.  This first flag birthday party was overshadowed by somber reality.  Prayers of support were offered for those soon to fight in the still young Civil War. The idea of an annual Flag Day did not catch on at the time.

Ascension Day

18 April 2010

Originally published on www.spiritualliving360.com

Ascension Day is a Christian holy day commemorating the ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven.   It is a Thursday, 40 days after Easter, though some U.S. churches observe it on the following Sunday.  In Western Churches using the Gregorian Calendar, the date varies from late April to early June, almost always in May.  In Churches using the Julian Calendar it is usually about two weeks later.

Biblical and Early History

The New Testament records Christ visiting the disciples on several occasions after his Resurrection (Easter Sunday).  Several weeks later he journeyed with them to the Mount of Olives in Bethany, a short distance outside Jerusalem.  There he ascended into Heaven in their presence. Then two angels came to the disciples, proclaiming what had happened.  While mentioned in the Gospels (Mark 16:19 and Luke 24:51) the most complete rendition is in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

There is no firm documentary evidence of the observance of Ascension Day prior to the early 5th century, though St. Augustine’s writings imply it was celebrated long before his time, some say as early as 68 A.D.

A religious holiday, many in today’s secular society know very little about it.  Though observed in the Anglican (American Episcopalian) Church, and Orthodox Churches, it is better known as a Roman Catholic holy day.

Significance in the Church Calendar

In the Catholic Church, attending mass is expected on this holy day of obligation.  It was known at one time as Holy Thursday. This term now usually refers to Maundy Thursday.  The Eve of Good Friday is when Christ had his symbolic Last Supper of bread and wine with his disciples.

The Sunday before Ascension Day was known as Rogation Sunday, but since the Second Vatican Council of 1970 is simply the Fifth Sunday after Easter.  Three (traditionally fasting) Rogation Days follow, just prior to Ascension Day.

On this day, the Pascal, or Easter Candle, is extinguished, officially ending the Easter season.  There are seven devotional days, followed by two days of further preparation for Pentecost by the Priests, completing a nine-day novena. The next day, Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, commemorates the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples with “tongues of fire,” as related in the Book of Acts of the Apostles.   This marks the actual beginning of the Christian Church.

Observances and Superstitions

There are many symbols used in some of the special ceremonies and services on Ascension Day.  A lion defeating a dragon symbolizes Christ defeating the devil.  In some places, chasing a “devil” through the streets is following by burning it in effigy or dunking it in a pond.  Other symbols include the rising Christ, a broken chain, and birds flying homeward.  

In some Churches there is the symbolic raising of a statue of Jesus above the altar and through a special door in the roof.  Many churches have a special blessing of the first fruits, often grapes or beans.

Outdoor processions with banners and torches are part of the celebrations in many places.  In England, this procession is sometimes led with the banner of a Lion, while a banner with a dragon brings up the rear, symbolizing Christ’s victory over the devil.

In some parts of Italy, such as Tuscany, families go on a picnic in the country, and children collect crickets that are brought home in a small cricket cage.  It is good luck if the cricket is singing in its cage when brought back home.  In some places, this is known as “La Festa del Grillo,” or the Feast of the Cricket.  This is now often held on the Sunday after Ascension Day.

Venice has a long history of celebrating Ascension Day.  The Doge of Venice left the city on this feast day in 1000 A.D. to assist the Dalmatians against the threat of the Slavs, improving Venetian security. 

In 1177, the Doge made peace with the Papal States.  Honoring his service, Pope Alexander III presented a special blessed ring to him, assuring Venetian sovereignty over the seas.  This evolved into a special ceremony, the marriage of the sea.  A flotilla of ornately decorated boats sail into the Lagoon to the church of San Nicolò de Lido, where a ring is ceremoniously thrown by the Mayor of Venice into the water, uniting the city with the sea. Francesco Guardi immortalized this ceremony in his paintings of the late 18th century.


There are many folk superstitions surrounding this day.  In Wales, it is bad luck to work on Ascension Day.  In Devon, it is thought that clouds will appear in the shape of a lamb.  Some believe that eating lamb on Ascension Day will lead to a sty in the eye and retinal detachment.

Rainwater gathered on Ascension Day is thought to help eye diseases or inflammation.  Others believe that rain on this day predicts a poor harvest and illness among livestock, particularly cattle, while a sunny day predicts a long, hot summer.

Ascension Day completes the cycle of the life of Christ.  These are just some of the special celebrations and superstitions that surround this important day of the Christian calendar that ends the Easter season.  


Cowie, L. W., and Gummer, John Selwyn.  The Christian Calendar.  Springfield, Massacusetts: G. & C. Merriman Company, Publishers, 1974.

Web Sources

An overview of Ascension Day Customs and Traditions


Ascension Day Meanings and Traditions

Encyclopedia:  Feast of the Ascension

Religious Tolerance .org 

Being Catholic:  Ascension Day

Originally published on www.celebrations360.com

May Day is not widely observed in the United States due to a societal collective amnesia of its historical origins.  It is a green holiday of Spring flowers and maypole dances celebrating the coming summer.  It is also a red holiday of the international labor movement, red hues intensified by militaristic parades in communist countries during much of the 20th century.

The Church discouraged many traditions of Spring as pagan.  The stifling of pagan customs has a long history in Europe since the earliest days of Christianity.  This continued into the Middle Ages as the Church’s influence expanded into new areas of northwestern Europe.  

In the United States, the Establishment decried May Day’s strong association with the labor movement and its early ties with anarchists, and later, with international communism. This fear of radical socialism led the Establishment to respond by obscuring and denying much of labor history. With the creation of Americanization Day, Loyalty Day, and Law Day on the first of May, the government’s hope was to compete with and ultimately absorb the holiday originally meant to celebrate the hopes and dreams of the common laborer.  This has been largely successful.

Ignoring these historical origins led to an ambiguity that is difficult to reconcile.  Both inside and outside of the government, May Day has been variously tacitly neglected or actively rejected.  On closer examination, it comes as no surprise that Americans are largely ignorant of either side of this holiday with a split personality.

The Green Side:  Seasonal Changes in the Natural World

May is a month of flowers in middle latitude countries of the Northern Hemisphere.  Many indigenous peoples of North America called May the Flower Moon.  This marked the beginning of warmer weather with flowers and greenery evolved from the first buds of the Worm Moon and the equinox a few short weeks earlier.

In Europe, traditions are much better documented, though the mists of antiquity obscure exact origins.  The Romans had many flower festivals in the spring.  These celebrations fused with pagan customs as the Church’s influence moved north and west during the Middle Ages.  The Celts, in particular, celebrated May Day as the beginning of Summer.  It was recognized as a cross-quarter day on their calendar, midway between the vernal equinox of March and the long days of June’s summer solstice.

Many different customs related to greenery, fertility, and Spring became part of May Day festivals.  Flowers and dancing around the Maypole are the iconic images of this Spring holiday.  These customs were especially popular in Scandinavia and northern Celtic countries.

May Day, as a Spring festival, was never widespread in the U.S.  With the New Age and Environmental Movements of the 1970s this began to change, though slowly.  In northern Europe, May Day has had a much longer continuous observance.  In keeping with the Celtic Calendar, six weeks after May Day comes the solstice, still commonly called “Midsummer.”

The Red Side:  Labor Day and International Solidarity

Few Americans realize that the red side of this holiday had its origins in the American Labor Movement of the late 19th century.

The Haymarket Riot

On May 1, 1886, some 40,000 workers and anarchists marched in Chicago, supporting the 8-hour workday. Two days later, at a striker’s rally at McCormick Reaper Works, Pinkerton guards broke up a small demonstration.  Police clubs and rocks led to gunfire with at least two union supporters killed.

A public meeting was held the next day at Haymarket Square to protest the police brutality.  As the crowd dwindled from about 2000 strong, the police came with a force nearly as large as the 200 people still present.  An anonymous bomb was thrown, killing a policeman, and injuring several others.  This led to gunfire and several police and labor supporters were killed. This became known as the Haymarket Riot.

Eight anarchists, mostly German and British immigrants, were quickly arrested and ultimately convicted of murder.  There is little doubt that they were innocent of the crime and convicted unjustly.

After several failed appeals, four men were executed on November 11, 1887, while a 5th committed suicide, or was murdered in prison.  Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned the last three several years later.

Shortly after the Haymarket Riot, labor movements in Europe and other places recognized this as the beginning of an international labor movement.  Samuel Gompers, the long time head of the American Federation of Labor, urged the European labor movement, through an emissary, to proclaim May 1 as a day to celebrate international labor. This was gradually accomplished in many countries, but not in the U.S.  In Mexico, where May Day was recognized in 1913, it is still called “The Day of the Chicago Martyrs.”

Grover Cleveland’s second term from 1893 to 1897 was a time of depression and high unemployment.  In the spring of 1894, Jacob Coxey led a march on Washington.  This had begun with 25,000 disgruntled workers in Ohio; they were about 400 strong by the time they reached Washington on May Day. Coxey was arrested for trespassing in this first large-scale march of protest on the nation’s Capital. 

On June 28, that same year Congress passed a resolution proclaiming the first Monday in September as Labor Day.  This day was chosen because the first known Labor Day celebration in the U.S. was held on September 5, 1882.  A large parade organized by the Knights of Labor in New York drew about 10.000 people.  Originally, September had been chosen for Labor Day as it fell roughly midway between July 4 and Thanksgiving, a period devoid of holidays.

Loyalty Day and Law Day

Impressions that May Day was a holiday celebrating socialism and communism increased in the United States after the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917.   In response, the first “Americanization Day” was held May 1, 1921 at the urging of Patriotic groups.  Sources conflict on the details, and some say Americanization Day was first observed in 1932.  In the 1920s and 1930s there were many large patriotic parades on May Day.  Gradually, this evolved and merged into Loyalty Day, which Congress declared in 1947. President Eisenhower formally proclaimed May 1 as Loyalty Day in 1958.

May Day became even more confusing with the development of Law Day.  Sources again conflict on the details. Congress passed a resolution proclaiming May 1 as Law Day in 1958. Other sources say it began in 1961 with a proclamation by President Kennedy.

This proclamation day focuses on various aspects of our legal justice system.  With the support of the American Bar Association and other agencies within the legal system, there are public speakers at dinners or luncheons, and other educational seminars.

Anyone who lived through the 1950s and 1960s recalls the TV news clips of Red Square in Moscow, and in other communist capitals, presenting the latest military hardware with the pomp and circumstance of goose-stepping soldiers on parade.   During this period, at the height of the Cold War, in response to Loyalty Day / May observances, Senator Jacob Javitts of New York said, that American ideas were the highest “ever espoused since the dawn of civilization.” Governor Rockefeller of New York made the telling comment that to celebrate the traditional May Day “bordered on treason.”

An attempt was made to revive May Day as a holiday of the working class in America with massive demonstrations by immigrant workers on May 1, 2006.  This was in response to proposed strict anti-immigration laws passed by the House of Representatives, but not by the Senate.

It is unlikely that this attempted revival will have any significant effect on elevating May Day to the status it has in many countries around the world as a day celebrating the common laborer.  The U.S. will likely continue with Labor Day in September as a three-day weekend at the end of summer.  Large Labor Day parades are uncommon. The holiday is usually a time for that last barbecue, picnic, or trip to beach before the kids go back to school.

As for the green side of the holiday, spring celebrations will likely continue with flower festivals and spring clean ups.  Various schools, environmental, and public service organizations promote awareness of the environment with tree plantings, spring clean ups, and educational events combined with flower, bird, or garden festivals.  These occur most weekends from mid-April to mid-May. 

The green May Day has effectively been merged into a collective spring and environmental observance, a fusion of the Celtic beginning of summer with late April’s Arbor Day and Earth Day.  While these events celebrate various aspects of spring, there is no fixed day or date that has really caught on to the extent that we celebrate Hallowe’en or St. Patrick’s Day.

Sources:  Books

Krythe, Maymie R.  All About American Holidays.  New York:  Harper & Row, Publishers,1962.

Moore, Kathryn.  The American President: A Complete History.  Fall River Press, New York, 2007

Matthews, Jon.  The Summer Solstice:  Celebrating the Journey of the Sun from May Day to Harvest. Wheaton, Illinois:  Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House,  2002

Myers, Robert J. (with the Editors of Hallmark Cards).  Celebrations: The Complete Book   of American Holidays. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972.

Internet Sources

The History of May Day  http://www.marxists.org/subject/mayday/articles/tracht.html

Loyalty Day http://www.theholidayspot.com/mayday/loyalty_day.htm

Law Day http://www.theholidayspot.com/mayday/law_day.htm

May Day :  The Real Labor Day http://flag.blackened.net/daver/anarchism/mayday.html

The Brief Origins of MayDay-Industrial Workers of the World http://www.iww.org/projects/mayday/origins.shtmlhe

Labor Day – May Day http://faculty.cns.uni.edu/~campbell/gened/labour.html

May Day: The Forgotten Labor Day http://www.ueunion.org/uenewsupdates.html?news=311

The Incomplete True and Authentic History of May Day www.midnightnotes.org/mayday/

http://www.midnightnotes.org/mayday/red.html    http://www.midnightnotes.org/mayday/green.html

Cornell Law School http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/36/usc_sec_36_00000115-000-.html

Holidays: Loyalty Day in the United States http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/loyalty-day

Holidays  Law Day in the United States http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/law-day


14 April 2010

Originally published on www.celebrations360.com

With the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, the slaves in the states still in rebellion against the United States were declared free.  This news was very slow in permeating the areas where slaves were actually held.

On June 19, 1865, Union forces led by Major General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas and informed the public that the slaves in Texas were free. This was combined with the news of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in April, signifying the end of the Civil War.

Why it took over two years for freedom of slaves to reach the area is open to much conjecture and speculation.  Difficulties of transportation in that era combined with the chaos of the war led to significant delay of information reaching the western frontier of the former Confederacy.  There is the often-repeated story of a messenger being murdered while on his way to Texas with the news.  While the Emancipation Proclamation theoretically took effect over two years earlier, there were not enough federal troops in the area to enforce it. There is also speculation that this news was deliberately withheld from the area for several months to allow one more cotton harvest in the area using slave labor.

Whatever the reasons for the delay, once General Granger and his forces arrived, there was nearly instantaneous celebration.  There were now enough Federal forces in the area to enforce this proclamation. As freed slaves often left the area for neighboring states of Arkansas and Louisiana, the culture of these celebrations moved with them.

Observance of this date was initially limited mostly to the African American community. These celebrations were often met with overt hostility from whites.  There was often difficulty in finding locations where festivities could be held.  They were mostly rural in nature, a common location being rural churches.  A barbecue pit was the center of activities with feasting on lamb, beef, and pork.  Other activities included fishing competitions, horse back riding, and rodeos.  

The observance of Juneteenth declined in the early 20th century for many social and cultural reasons.    Standard textbooks mentioned the Emancipation Proclamation, but contained little or no information on General Granger’s arrival in Galveston.  The 4th of July, just three weeks later, was the focal point of patriotic celebrations.  As the depression forced many rural people into the cities, and with the African American migration to the north, in this urban environment observances waned.  This date had no official status, but was more of a cultural folk holiday.  As with most unofficial holidays, its observance waxed and waned, and popular support varied considerably from place to place.

The civil rights movement brought about a resurgence of interest in the day’s significance.  Some involved in the Civil Rights Movement focused more on the struggle for voting rights and social equality; others felt a stronger recognition of the past was crucial.  Juneteenth freedom buttons were sometimes worn in civil rights marches in Atlanta in the early 1960s.  In 1968, a Poor People’s March on Washington, with support of Rev. Ralph Abernathy, stimulated interest in this history.  Participants took the idea of celebrating this date back home.  Civil rights activity promoted a greater awareness in areas where it had not been previously observed.  This led to well-established local events in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, among other northern cities.   For many decades, San Francisco has held one of the largest Juneteenth celebrations.

With the efforts of Al Edwards, an African-American Texas State Legislator, in 1979 it became a formal state holiday in Texas. It is now observed as a proclamation holiday with formal recognition (though not a fully fledged work-free holiday) in 35 states.

Emancipation Day in Texas was first celebrated formally in 1980.  In Washington, D.C., Emancipation Day is an official holiday on April 16, the date President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862.  In Florida, emancipation of the slaves is recognized on May 20, and it is on March 22 in Puerto Rico.  Having several different dates with the same name leads to confusion.  The term Juneteenth is most commonly used for the observance of General Granger’s arrival in Galveston on June 19.  In most states, it is commonly observed on the third Saturday in June.  

Today there are a wide variety of celebrations around the country.  Food, especially the barbecue, remains important, and strawberry soda pop has a close association with the event.  Other common activities include baseball, horseback riding, rodeos, and fishing competitions.   In Utica, New York, there have been public barbecues and celebrations at Proctor Park in the past.  On June 14, 2008, this was held Martin Luther King Dream Park on South Street in Utica.

As with most cultural and folk holidays, Juneteenth events have varied in scope from place to place over the years.  In the past, Senator Obama (now President Obama) has co-sponsored legislation to make it a federal holiday.  Whether or not it ever achieves that status, Juneteenth is a celebration of important historical significance, which seems to be growing in general recognition and popularity in recent years.


The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 2010.

Time Magazine:  A Brief History of Juneteenth

Ethnic Resource Centers:  Juneteenth

Juneteenth World Wide Celebration

MSN Juneteenth celebrations and History

Holidays:  Emancipation Day in the United States

Originally published on www.celebrations360.com

St. Jean Baptiste Days falls on June 24, during the summer solstice season.  While most commonly known by its French name and as the national day of Quebec, it is known in English as St. John’s Day, an important day to the Order of Free and Accepted Mason.

For thousands of years there have been celebrations and festivals, usually related to the changing of the seasons as marked by the annual cycle of solstice and equinox.  The long days of summer solstice made this a season of warmth and light and thus an important period of celebration long before Christianity.  Seasonal foods and flowers were an important part of the festivities, as were customs of bonfires, dancing, music, and other “pagan” celebrations.

This is a classic case of Christianity absorbing and modifying holiday customs from a previous society and making it its own.  Many festivities remained much the same after this transition, with only a thin veneer of Christianity binding these pagan customs to the newly named Christian holiday.

Early Origins

St. John the Baptist was the Jewish preacher who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.  The feast of St. John the Baptist came to be celebrated on June 24.  As the Church spread through Europe, this day became especially popular in France during the late Middle Ages.  Many of these customs were exported to New France in the 17th century. 

Evolution to the National Holiday of Quebec

There are Jesuit records of celebrations in New France dating from the 1630s.  From the 1830s, with the influence of Ludger Davernay, St. Jean Baptiste Day became a national celebration, with the efforts to bring an end to British Rule.   From this time on, with Duvernay’s introduction of patriotism into the celebrations, St. Jean Baptiste Day has been the national holiday of Quebec.  In the late 19th century, parades became popular, and these events in Quebec and Montreal brought large crowds out in celebration. 

St. Joseph was the original patron saint of Quebec.  However, St. Joseph’s Day, falling on March 19, is not a good time for outdoor festivals in a cold northern climate.  St. Jean Baptiste was a popular festival in Quebec from the beginning, late June being a pleasant time for such celebrations.  St.- Jean-Baptiste became the official patron saint of Quebec by Papal decree in 1908. 

While the celebration waned some during and after World War I, in 1925 it became a provincial public holiday in Quebec.  During the 1960s and 1970s, this holiday sometimes overtly celebrated Quebecois Nationalism.  This began to change in 1977, as it became officially the national holiday of Quebec.

In modern times, there are large concerts held in city parks and other open-air venues. In recent years, as immigration has changed Canada in many ways, other (non-French) residents of Quebec have become involved.  In addition to traditional French Canadian music, one may hear Scottish Bag Pipe bands, Caribbean bands, and many other types of music.  It is a holiday with the types of festivities Americans commonly associate with the Fourth of July: music, parades, family gatherings, and food at barbecues and picnics.

Originally a solstice event, Christianity modified this late June day into a largely religious holiday, which was then exported to Quebec.  It gradually evolved into a mostly secular festival, at times with political overtones.  These have become less pronounced since the late 1970s.  Today, while it retains its religious origins in name, this national day of Quebec is largely secular in nature.

St. John’s Day and the Masonic Festival

The 24th of June is also celebrated in the English world, though differently.  While often called simply St. John’s Day, it is sometimes known as St. John the Baptist Day to distinguish it from St. John the Evangelist Day, which is December 27.    

The Free and Accepted Masons of New York State support the Masonic Care Community (MCC) in Utica, New York.  This is a large health care center with facilities for long term care of the elderly, as well as assisted living, a rehabilitation center, a child day care center, home care services, a chapel, and an independent living apartment complex.

The MCC has an annual open house on a late June weekend.  Masons come and visit from around the state to see first hand the facility that the fraternal order supports.  There are different types of food and music, arts and crafts, special worship and Masonic ceremonies, and a Shriner’s Parade on Saturday afternoon.  This is St. John’s Day, though in recent years it is sometimes called the Masonic Festival.

Both the French of Quebec and the Masonic Fraternity are observing the same day, though with different names and emphasis.  These celebrations, originating from pagan celebration of the solstice, are overlaid with a cloak of Christianity.  Now, in the 21st century, it has become a largely secular holiday.


Cowie, L. W., and Gummer, John Selwyn.  The Christian Calendar.  Springfield, Massacusetts: G. & C. Merriman Company, Publishers, 1974.

St. Jean Baptiste Day in Canada

St. Jean Baptiste Day


Masonic Traveler

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