Displaying items by tag: festival

A Long Tradition in Utica

St. Patrick's Day and winter hibernation ends with music and marching in the streets, and dancing, and clowns passing out treats to children and various other friends. Everyone's Irish and wearing green, eating and drinking, having a fling as the year shifts from winter to spring. A happier crowd is seldom seen.

St. Patrick's Day is March 17. Many people wear some green, shirts, vests, and hats, while some wear green hair. Irish tunes are popular on the radio, and people may be heard whistling an Irish tune.

March is widely observed as Irish Heritage Month. Many communities have special concerts of Irish music and dancing at this time of year. There is also the tradition of corned beef and cabbage offered at many restaurants. However, the largest event for many people is the tradition of a St. Patrick's Parade.

New York has one of the largest and best known of these parades. But there are other cities and towns across New York State such as Syracuse, Rochester, and Old Forge with parades celebrating the Patron Saint of Ireland which coincides with the beginning of spring.

One of the largest parades with a long tradition of over 30 years is in Utica. Most years this is on the Saturday before the March 17th. In Utica, Varick Street has traditionally been the focus of the local festivities. It is the busiest weekend of the year for the bars and restaurants in the Brewery district. Many offer corned beef and cabbage, washed down with green beer.

The modern tradition of a St. Patrick's Parade in Utica began in the late 1970s with the Emerald Society including Vincent Courrou Jr., and John Oakes. Many of the plans for these parades were discussed at the Shoe Two Bar on Varick Street near Lafayette Street. This bar was destroyed by fire many years ago. By 1984, over 10,000 spectators crowded West Utica when the parade still was on Varick, Court, and Columbia Streets. That year there were 60 marching units, six bands, and 25 floats. John Oakes said the parade had grown since the first year when there were only four units.

In the early 1990s, Dolly Parton was in town for a March performance, and the parade had by then been moved to Genesee Street for crowd control and safety issues. It started to snow early in the day, and her concert was postponed a night. On late night television the next week she mentioned watching from her hotel window the parade that went on despite the snow and biting cold.

On March 15, 2008, the streets of Utica came alive with about 40,000 people for the parade. It was reported as the third largest parade in the state. This has become an annual festival for the city celebrating the Irish and the return of spring. The weather was overcast, but mild, near 40 degrees. Many musical groups including bag pipes, fife and dru corps and marching bands added to the excitement with a wide variety of parade music. There were also Irish dancers, clowns, numerous fire departments, and a state of the art electric hybrid bus manufactured by local Orion Bus Industries. Numerous radio stations and other commercial enterprises also participated.

As the parade came down Genessee Street from Oneida Square to Columbia Street, traditional Irish bagpipes and marching bands filled the air with music, providing over an hour of celebration of the end of winter.

The Great American Irish Festival continued to be a major organizer of the 31st annual parade held on March 14, 2009. (They also sponsor an Irish festival at nearby Frankfort Fair Grounds in July). This parade included Sixteen floats, eight bag pipe bands from as far away as Syracuse and Binghamton, and eight other bands. There were a total of over 130 units, according to Director Kevin Dowling in the Observer Dispatch. It also attracted the largest crowd in ten years, and Utica's parade remains one of the largest in the state to celebrate the Irish.

This is usually the first large outdoor event of the year, the warmer weather and parade providing a great opportunity to meet old friends not seen about during the winter. What a wonderful way for the community to come together in anticipation of spring after our cold, snowy winter.


This Week in History by Frank Tomaino, Utica Observer Dispatch, March 15, 2009

Utica Observer Dispatch, March 15, 2009 and March 16, 2008

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.

The Maple Moon or Moon of the Worm

March is a month of transition between winter and spring, often with an unpredictable season almost all its own. The temperatures in Upstate New York can range from an unusually warm 80 F down to sub zero Fahrenheit. This pulsating tension between the cold winter and warmer weather patterns and increasing daylight coincides with the vernal equinox, the Pascal Moon, and the Easter season to the European mind.

Before the French explorers of the 16th century and English, French, and Dutch settlers of the 17th century, the indigenous peoples knew the full moon near the equinox as the Worm Moon. This was when the worms started bringing castings to the surface, and robins started to reappear after their winter's absence.

There were other names for the moon by some tribes. The Crow Moon honored the late winter flocking of crows. In the far north, the Crusty Moon recognized the particular hard crusting of snow in late winter. Some tribes came to call it Sap or Maple Moon. This latter name evolved from the rising flow of the sap as days start to warm and winter changes to spring in fits and starts.

Early origins of Maple

The exact origins of the discovery of maple sap and its distillation, or processing, into syrup is impossible to determine with any firm historical accuracy. While a few authorities think the processing of the sap was taught to the Indians by the Europeans, they are in the minority. Most historians believe that various indigenous tribes had a knowledge of this sweet prior to contact with the Europeans. Lack of firm archeological proof and a lack of written records from the various tribes leave the debate open to conjecture and dispute, though there is much to support that the Indians did know about, and use this sweet, albeit in a much cruder fashion than is common today.

Maple trees observed during his explorations of Quebec were written about by Jacques Cartier in 1540. Recognition of the Indians using the refined sap as sugar and syrup dates from about 1557 in writings of Andre Thevet. Details of collection and distillation of sap by the Micmac Indians of eastern Canada were noted by Marc Lescarbot in 1606.

Before the Europeans came, the eastern woodlands were populated by numerous tribes with similar customs. From eastern Canada, Quebec, and New England to the Great Lakes states, they celebrated many of the same moons and seasonal festivals, and ate mostly the same types of game. These varied but slightly from region to region. They often, however, spoke distinct languages in various language groups.

Indian Legends on the Origins of Maple Syrup

There is a common myth, with many tribal variations, that the Creator originally made life too easy for his People, with maple trees having a syrup that flowed year round. One day, Glooskap (this name has many variations) arrived at a village and found it strangely quiet. No children or dogs came to greet him, the gardens were over grown with weeds, and the cooking fires were dead. He found the villagers lying in the maple grove, with the delicious sap running into their mouths from the trees.

Glooskap had special powers. Using a birch bark bucket, filled with water from lake, he rose above the trees and filled the trees with water until the sap ran thin. Then he encouraged his People of the village with a fiery speech. In this exhortation, he berated them for being lazy, and said as punishment the Creator was going to have the sap run only in the late winter. But, he urged them to take heed that when this happened, they would still be able to enjoy this special sweet, though only at this special time of year.

Another legend tells that an Algonquin or Iroquois Indian chief, Woksis, discovered this sweet sap in the following manner. One day, at the time the time of the melting snow, as he prepared to go hunting in a meager season of want and little game, he took his ax out of a maple tree where he had struck it a few inches into the bark the night before. His squaw happened to have a wooden or birch bark basket underneath, which collected the sap. Thinking that her warrior husband had filled it already with water, the squaw Moqua used the sap to cook some meat, most likely venison, though one source says moose meat. Upon his return, he was surprised by the sweet odor of the cooking meat. When eaten, the meat was sweet. They soon realized that this sweetness came from the sap of the maple tree.

While details are sketchy, this evolved into an annual festival of sorts, celebrated in traditional ways by the Onondagas in Central New York as recently as the 1940s. While this time of year was usually called the Worm Moon, some tribes began to call it the Maple Moon.

Soon they began to have a maple festival to celebrate this sweet that was available only during this time of change from winter to spring. Maple sap and syrup became a major source of sweetening, rivaling honey. Both of these sweets were an important food to the Iroquois., comprising about 12% of their diet.

Indian Methods of Sap Collection and Syrup Production

Lacking metal working capabilities prior to the European contact, the Iroquois methods of obtaining and evaporating the sap were crude. They hacked or gouged the tree with hatchets or axes, which often killed the tree. They used bowls, of ceramic or white birch bark to collect sap. Different bowls of pottery or wood, usually troughs of hollowed out trunks, were used for boiling the sap. They placed hot stones from the fires into the containers of sap. This brought the sap to a boil. The hot stones were periodically replaced to continue the process. Occasionally, if conditions were ideal, they froze the sap, peeling off the frozen surface daily. They threw away the ice and ate the residue underneath.

Maple season was fleeting and unpredictable, and it remains so to this day. High quality syrup production requires warm days to about 45 F or so alternating with nights below freezing. If days are exceptionally warm, or too many nights remain above freezing, the quality of the sap collected and the syrup produced suffers. There are large variations of the sap run, from nine days to 57 days, the average being 37 days of collection.

European Adaptations and Expansion of Maple Production

During the almost two centuries of contact the Iroquois and Algonquins had with the French, English, and Dutch, the Europeans learned about this maple production, and started to make improvements with their superior technologies. The fickleness of nature cooperating by providing sufficiently warm days and sub-freezing nights resulted in the attempts at moving maple syrup production into Virginia by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush, among others, to be modestly successful at best, and finally abandoned. Maple production was much better quality and more reliable in New England, New York, and Quebec. While maple syrup production has occurred at one time or another in some 30 (present) US states, it was, and is, more common and of better quality in the north.

By the time of American Independence and subsequent dispersal of most of the Indians from the northeast, the Europeans had evolved methods of improved production of the maple sap and its sweet products that only very gradually changed over the next century and a half. It became a northeastern tradition of the short transitional season between winter and spring that provided a sweet loved by most Americans to this day.

The Maple Weekends in March in New York that have become increasingly popular in recent years owe their existence to the accidental discovery of this tasty treat by an Indian chief several centuries ago. As such, it is an important part of our historical heritage, as well as the specific natural conditions in our region that make it possible.

References - Books

Lawrence, James M., and Martin, Rux. Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes From the Sugarbush. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993. Co published by Vermont Magazine, Montpelier, Vermont, 1993.

Klees, Emerson. Legends and Stories of the Finger Lakes Region. Rochester, NY: Friends of Finger Lakes Publishing, 1995

Schery, Robert W. Plants for Man. Englewoods CLiffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., C.1952, 4th printing 1959.

The Old Farmers's Almanac, editions for 2008, 2009, 2010. Yankee Publishing, Dublin, NH.

References - Internet

The Natural world Full Moon Names and Dates

Wakarusa (Indiana) Maple Syrup Festival

One Iroquois Legend

March Maple Weekends

21 February 2010

A Sure Sign of Spring in New York State

Maple Syrup production is largely restricted to the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. This is the natural range of sugar and black maple, the two most commonly tapped species. Silver and red maple sap is higher in water content and provides a poorer quality end product.

There is little doubt that the Iroquois and other woodland Indians knew about the maple sap. There are several legends of just how they discovered this sweet, an important seasonal addition to their diet. As they lacked metal tools prior to European contact, their means of collection and refining maple sap were crude.

The European settlers gradually improved upon Indian methods of collecting and refining sap in many ways. These evolved into "traditional" ways of producing syrup that were pretty standard for perhaps a century or more. Only in the latter half of the 20th century did most producers go "hi-tech" in production methods that are commonly used today. However, some small producers and museums still produce small amounts of syrup using largely pre-mechanized methods. This is largely for the benefit of tourists and visitors, placing the methods of production in historical context.

Maple Producers and Festivals in New York State

New York State is the second leading producer of maple syrup, second only to Vermont. According to statistics from the New York State Maple Producers Association, about 1500 producers statewide, with nearly 1.5 million taps made 332,000 gallons of syrup in 2008. The average cost per gallon of finished syrup was $33.50 in 2007. The final value of the crop was about $7.5 million, with an impact of $30 million on the New York State economy.

According the published statistics in the Utica Observer-Dispatch of March 18, 2009, maple syrup production in selected counties was as follows in 2005:

Oneida County: 32 producers with 2,100 gallons of syrup.
Herkimer County: 19 producers with 1,400 gallons of syrup.
Lewis County: 141 producers with 30,000 gallons of syrup.

Many small maple sugar producers have in recent years had small scale maple festivals at this time of year. Producers and historical museums often sponsor special events and demonstrations. The Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown has Sugaring Off Sundays, with breakfast (pancakes and maple syrup, of course) and maple syrup production demonstrations. The Herkimer Home outside Little Falls had its 34th annual maple celebration on the first weekend in April 2009. Other museums or producers have had such programs usually in late March and early April.

New York State Maple Producers Association.

What began in the late 1990s as a one day event promoting maple products by a small group of Wyoming County maple producers has evolved into a festival celebrated across New York State. This effort has been coordinated by the New York State Maple Producers Association. Over 100 large and small producers from over 40 counties participate on the last two weekends in March. Typically, there are pancake breakfasts, sales of syrup and candy, and demonstrations on past or current production methods. A list of participating producers is available from their web site listed in references below.

With this regional agricultural product, the maple industry in New York State is on the verge of expanding quite rapidly. Such coordination of an industry that is historically and commercially important is important to its success as an industry. If people in this area are committed to promoting tourism, whether to local residents or outside visitors, this is a model to be studied as largely successful in the general field of local agriculture.

There is discussion of local maple producers banding together even more and forming a cooperative in Northern New York for bottling and packaging of their maple products. This would provide the largely rural maple producers a more effective means of getting their products to market, as well as providing jobs to an area with limited employment.

The American Maple Museum

In Crohgan, New York (northeast of Lowville on State Route 812), this museum is one of the few maple oriented places that is open outside of maple sap season. The museum presents one of the largest collections of vintage equipment used in maple production over the years. They open Memorial Day to late June on Friday, Saturday and Monday, and daily except Sunday July 1 to around Labor Day. Their web site is a good source of information on all aspects of historical and current maple sap collection and processing.

The maple industry in New York State is on the verge of tremendous expansion. If such a cooperative comes into existence, it could expand the impact of maple sugar products on the local and regional agricultural economy. In any event, the maple sap season of late February to mid April is a seasonal activity which clearly marks the transition from winter to spring in the Upper Mohawk Country of New York State.


New York State Maple Producers Web Site, Maple Weekend http://www.mapleweekend.com/index.html

Utica Observer-Dispatch, March 18, 2009

Maple Museum, Croghan

Lawrence, James M., and Martin, Rux. Sweet Maple: Life, Lore & Recipes From the Sugarbush. Shelburne, Vermont: Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993. Co published by Vermont Magazine, Montpelier, Vermont, 1993

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.

A Seasonal Celebration of Regional Agriculture

Garlic: A Pungent Herb Considered variously as an herb, spice, or vegetable, the garlic bulb has a distinctive odor and taste that is an important addition to a variety of cuisines. A nearly essential ingredient in many pasta and tomato sauce dishes, it goes well in chile and many soups. Grilled meats, and especially roast leg of lamb, are enhanced by using fresh garlic in preparation. Garlic adds zing to most stir fry vegetable dishes as well. Diehard garlic lovers may even like garlic ice cream.

California dominated the domestic garlic market for many years, but now, much garlic comes from Mexico, Argentina, and increasingly, China. These countries often have few restrictions on pesticide use for growing such crops. They certainly can not provide as fresh a product as is grown by local farmers for local markets.

To avoid the chemicals, and to support local agriculture, what better way than to buy locally produced garlic? Or better yet, grow your own. Much information is presented at garlic festivals home gardeners, as well as all aspects of preservation and use in cooking.

Central New York is blessed with a climate that favors the production of garlic. Locally, garlic is usually planted in the fall. It then passes through several weeks of winter dormancy, sprouting in early spring to be harvested in July or August. To highlight this increasingly important local product, in many areas garlic growers and enthusiasts have come together to host garlic festivals. In New York State these are usually held in late summer or early fall.

Mohawk Valley Garlic and Herb Festival

Canal Place at Little Falls is the site of this festival on the second Saturday in September. The 7th annual event was held in 2008. Thirty seven vendors had garlic and other locally grown produce available for sale. Musical entertainment was provided by the Tom Healy Band and Annie & the Hedonists, and many local growers and other food vendors were present. This was an opportunity to meet local garlic growers, purchase varieties of red and white garlic, and enjoy the late summer / early fall day while learning more about garlic.

Festivals like this allow one to meet local farmers face to face, and learn about garlic growing, preservation, and cooking with garlic. According to organizer and local garlic grower Shane Badger, this festival is ideal for helping local farmers and gardeners to improve their production, and educate consumers as well. He and others shared a wealth of knowledge provided in small informal seminars with lots of interaction.

Seasonal Celebration of Local Agriculture

The soil and growing conditions for garlic are ideal in the Mohawk, Sesquehanna, and Hudson River Valleys. Presently, there is not a sufficient ammount of locally grown garlic to supply the needs of large chains like Hannaford or Walmart.

The festival's modest entry fee helps finance efforts to convince more local farmers into growing this tasty crop. Any attempt to improve the production and marketing of regional agriculture is to be commended.

About 3000 people attended this event. There is room for expansion at the site for more growers, vendors, and entertainment. However, many would prefer keeping this type of festival small. If a festival is too large, much of the personal interaction between the farmers, gardeners, and customers can be lost.

Canal Place and Moss Island

The Garlic Festival is held at Canal Place, an historic and arts oriented district of the small city of Little Falls. With steep cliffs of the Mohawk River, Little Falls is a very scenic city providing some picturesque views. The area around Canal Place is home to art galleries, small restaurants and shops, and the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts which provides a film series, occasional live musical performances and educational classes on the arts. This area is also host to a Canal Festival in August.

Lock 17 on the New York State Barge Canal is nearby, formerly part of the old Erie Canal. This was once the highest lift lock in the world.

Also close by is Moss Island, with its rather unique geology of rocky cliffs and potholes. Large portions of rocks on the islands covered by moss, hence its name. There are trails providing nice views of the city and surrounding cliffs. Rock climbing is available with a permit and at one's own risk.

A few miles to the east is the Herkimer Home. This is the 18th century estate of Nicholas Herkimer, the hero of the Battle of Oriskany in August 1777. The city and surrounding countryside has much interesting architecture, including several country churches that date from the late 18th and early 19th century.

Other Garlic Festivals

In August and September, there are other regional garlic festivals in New York State. These includet Sharon Springs and Milford in Otsego County, and a much larger festival at Saugerties in the Hudson Valley. Some of those present at Canal Place thought that the festival at Saugerties is too large, and any growth of the festival in Little Falls be kept small. This would be more manageable and thus retain the small town atmosphere, enhancing the experience for all participants.

While not as well known or economically important as apple or pumpkin festivals, garlic festivals, provide a good way to spend part of a fall weekend, supporting and learning more about regional agriculture in Central New York.


Mohawk Valley Garlic & Herb Festival, Little Falls, NY
Attending above festival in 2008.

7th Annual Sharon Springs Garlic Festival

Colverson, Peter. A Guide to Natural Sites in the Greater Utica Rome Area. Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica, NY, Pamphlet, 1998.

DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: The Contributor has no connection to nor was paid by the brand or product described in this content.

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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