Excerpts from To Celebrate

To Celebrate

Jan. & Feb.

See March & April here.

Treasury of Celebrations complete (Catalog #7)

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January and February [pages 87-96]

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The first day of the calendar year is celebrated as a holiday in almost every country. After the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the 1500s, January 1 was generally recognized as New Year's Day in the western world. The Chinese, Egyptian, Islamic, Jewish and Roman years all begin at different times, but in every culture the first day is marked by special celebrations.

In ancient Rome there were occasions as early as 45 B.C. when New Year's Day was celebrated on January 1. Janus - the god of gates and doors, of beginnings and endings and for whom the month of January was named - was honored on that day. He had two faces; one looked ahead and one looked backward. On that day people looked back to the happenings of the past year and thought about what the coming year might bring. Comparative religions historian, Mircea Eliade, has observed that New Year rites in ancient societies were intended to abolish the past, so that creation could begin anew. In many societies heavy drinking on New Year's Eve was a personal reenactment of the old year's chaos that would give way to a recreated world in the new year.

In the fourth century, Christians of the Eastern Church began to observe the Feast of the Circumcision, a festival commemorating the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth (cf. Luke 2:21). Its observance on January 1 was not established at Rome until the ninth century, over four centuries after December 25 had become the accepted date of Christmas. Its late introduction to the western calendar has been attributed to the unwillingness of the Roman Church to introduce a festival on a day already characterized as a day of rioting and drunkenness.

The old tradition of sweeping out the old year with excessive partying and drinking has persisted. The notion of "turning over a new leaf" for the New Year has also persisted, if often in very superficial terms. It is ironic that the idea of paying off one's debts before the end of the old year, so that the new year could be started debt free, has been reversed by the use of credit cards and the commercialization of Christmas. Many now greet the new year burdened by their greatest indebtedness of the year.

In the spirit (but not the letter) of the writer of Ecclesiastes, "There is a time for frivolity, and a time for seriousness." Times for reflection and personal planning often seem to be casualties of the fast paced life in our consumer society. An extended Christmas vacation or a couple of days off for New Year may offer possibilities for some quiet time. Times for reflection and planning will not only enrich New Years' holidays but can also make a difference in the way we live the rest of the year.

New Year's Eve Watch Night Services

In 1770 "watch night" services on New Year's Eve were started by St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia Designed to provide an alternative to secular New Year's Eve celebrations, watch night services are still observed in many churches. The evening may begin as a festival, but it always concludes at the midnight hour in contemplation and usually includes the observance of the Lord's Supper.

Reviewing the Old Year with Friends

On New Year's Eve, or sometime in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I join some of my friends to talk about the old year. Sometimes we watch one of the network year-end news reviews and then talk about the major events. After reflecting on how we have been affected by the big events of the year, as well as other changes that have taken place in our personal and family lives, we also talk about our hopes for the new year. We joke about our New Years' resolutions, but this annual evening helps me keep things in perspective. It is also a way to reaffirm old friendships.

- Unknown Contributor


New Year's Day

A rite for New Year's Eve or New Year's Day: Write down - with suggestions from family members - a very brief outline of outstanding events of the previous year. Make it personal, but be concise.

Decide on a storage place: desk file cabinet or safety deposit box We call our list "We Remember" and include births, deaths, graduations, marriages, employment changes, moves, etc., also losing friends or gaining new ones.

We borrowed this idea from the Pat Boone family back in the 60s, and it has given us a rich family history.

- Era T. Weeks, Dunwoody, Georgia


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"Stony the road we trod, bitter the chast'ning rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered, We have come, treading our path thro' the blood of the slaughtered, Out of the gloomy past, till now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast."

James Weldon Johnson, "Lift Every Voice"


On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in all areas claimed by the Confederate States. This Proclamation, however, did not change the status of slaves outside the Confederacy, nor did it have much immediate effect on slaves within the Confederacy, except to give them a glimmer of hope. It was almost three years later, on December 18, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment became law of all the land, that the complete abolition of slavery in the United States was finally achieved. Even that act was but one more step on the long road to realize the truth of the Declaration of Independence that "All [people] are created equal."

Emancipation Day provides an excellent opportunity to begin studies and activities on the history of Black people in the United States, culminating in special observances of the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 15.


Tabletalk for Emancipation Day

Talk about how important New Year's Day was for slaves in 1863. Someone, perhaps a child, can tell the story of Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who brought more than 300 slaves to freedom by way of the "underground railroad." Offer a prayer of thanks for Harriet Tubman and all of those who worked to end slavery.


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In 1985 Congress declared the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a national holiday. Born January 15, 1929, and assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was recognized as leader of the Civil Rights Movement, a black-led nonviolent protest which brought about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dr. King was more than a civil rights leader. He called for the United States to live out its ideals of freedom and justice, whether in the arena of civil and economic rights for its own citizens or in foreign policy.

Because this new holiday enjoys widespread popularity, those planning Martin Luther King (MLK) Day activities are tempted to ensure that popularity by selective celebration: focusing on those things for which King is now publicly acclaimed and ignoring other less popular and less understood ideas for which he was often assailed. While his role in the Civil Rights Movement should be remembered and celebrated, so should his uncompromising stands on those peace and economic justice issues that were not so popular. Too much effort has been invested in getting this holiday recognized to allow it to degenerate into a day of platitudes about racial harmony. Make these celebrations important occasions for developing interracial solidarity in the continuing struggle for equal rights and economic justice for the world community.

As we go with you to the sun, as we walk in the dawn, turn our eyes Eastward and let the prophecy come true Great God, Martin, what a morning that will be.

From "A Letter to Dr. Martin Luther King' by Sonia Sanchez from Graterfriends, Vol. 111, #1, Feb., 1985.


Family Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday

These are suggestions of how families can make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday celebration on January 15 an important learning time through studying his life and listening to his words. These are activities in which most family members may participate.

1. TV SPECIAL/LISTEN TO TAPE. Plan a family time to watch a television program about King's life or listen to a cassette tape of one of his speeches. Follow this event by a short discussion on what you have viewed and/or heard, carefully including the views of all age groups present. "I Have a Dream" is probably the best known speech and could lead to discussions about the kind of world family members imagine for the future.



2. FAMILY READING. Spend family time reading a book about King's life and the Movement associated with him. Choose a reading level that young family members understand. Schedule enough time for discussion and encourage questions.



3. DRAMATIZE THE ROSA PARKS STORY. Recount and then act out the story of Rosa Parks, the courageous Montgomery, Alabama woman who refused to obey seating requirements for blacks on a city bus and started a revolution against segregation.



4. FAMILY CONFLICT RESOLUTION. Nonviolent change was the cornerstone of Dr. King's philosophy and work. He believed in applying that concept to interpersonal conflict as well as to societal conflict. Developing a set of family rules on "fighting" nonviolently is one way to implement King's philosophy in our own families.

Resource: Learn four basic nonviolent communication skills helpful infamily conflict resolution.

  1. Use the other person's name.
  2. Tell how you feel.
  3. Identify the problem.
  4. Tell what you want.

Example: John, I really feel angry when you call me stupid. Please stop. (Taken from Fighting Fair: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for Kids, produced by the Grace Contrino Abrams Peace Education Foundation, Inc., P. O. Box 19-1153, Miami Beach, FL 33119. This resource includes an 18-minute video, plus an excellent curriculum guide. $69.95 plus postage. A valuable resource for family ministry groups.)


5. POVERTY AND RACISM. It is important for privileged children to relate to those who are victims of poverty and racism. Put children into contact with people or groups who struggle to maintain their cultural identity or who publish materials fostering a sense of pride in their group as well as correcting misperceptions about themselves.

Resources: Plan family field trips to a minority run community center; a street festival in minority community; church services in minority community.


This section on family celebrations of the King holiday is provided and used by permission of: Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 222 E. Lake Drive, Decatur, Georgia 30030, Ken Sehested, Director


"Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness."

Walter Brueggemann


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Like many holidays, the origins of Valentine's Day are shrouded in mystery and legend. While Valentine's Day is observed on the feast day of two Christian martyrs named Valentine, the origins of today's festival of romance and affection are probably linked to Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival observed every February 15 honoring Juno, the Roman goddess of women and marriage, and Pan, the god of nature.

In 496 AD. Pope Gelasius changed the date of Lupercalia to February 14 and renamed it Saint Valentine's Day, giving Christian meaning to a pagan festival. According to Christian tradition, there were two Saint Valentines. One, a priest who lived in Rome during the third century, was jailed presumably for aiding persecuted Christians and credited with curing his jailkeeper's daughter of blindness. Legend holds that on the night before his execution he gave the jailkeeper's daughter a note of affection signed, "Your Valentine." Another St. Valentine, bishop of Terni, was martyred in Rome in 273 A.D., supposedly for converting a Roman family to Christianity.

Little is known about the tradition of giving "valentines" before the fifteenth century when young people in England chose their valentines by writing names on slips of paper and then drawing them, by chance, from a vase. The practice of giving special Valentine notes of affection on this day has continued until the present. For the card, candy and flower industries, Valentine's Day is one of the more lucrative days of the year. Discovering alternatives to buying these prepackaged expressions of affection for lovers, relatives and friends is one of the fun challenges of Valentine's Day.

In recent years, there have been attempts to incorporate the tradition of the two original St. Valentines into what has become a festival of romance by including a focus on prisoners, prisoners of conscience and the criminal justice system. In some denominations, the Sunday nearest February 14 is designated "Criminal Justice Sunday." Without taking away from the importance of celebrating human relationships, this day can also be a time of learning about and remembering those in prison.


Human Rights: An Affair of the Heart

All over the world people are imprisoned because of their politics, beliefs, religion, ethnic origin or sexual preference. Torture is carried out in the name of national security. Executions, official and unofficial, are justified in the name of law and order. People considered dangerous to those in power are detained without trials, while others simply disappear.

When Valentine, on the eve of his execution, wrote a note of thanks to the jailer's daughter who had shown him kindness during his imprisonment and signed it "Your Valentine," he probably started the tradition of sending cards to loved ones on this day.

But St. Valentine's gesture had deeper meaning than an expression of personal affection. His life and death upheld the right of individuals to act according to their consciences and deeply-held beliefs, despite larger or higher national and political concerns. His action symbolizes the strength of human feelings and relationships as a source of resistance to injustice and depersonalization.

On Valentine's day we can celebrate the importance of relationships by demanding that those in power respect basic human rights:


Prison Bars Don't Stop Love and Appreciation

Grand Rapids, Michigan - One critic offered blunt and outspoken sentiment when Cascade Christian Church began its "Operation Open Hearts." "Valentines for a bunch of punk jailbirds? You've got to be kidding, Reverend. Why should we spend thousands of dollars assembling Valentine treats for those bums that have mugged, robbed, assaulted and murdered our neighbors and friends?"

But with most of the congregation, the idea of Valentine treats for the 650 inmates of Kent County Jail struck a responsive note. Since 1982, through Operation Open Hearts, the church has put together individual gift packages for each prisoner, including mixed nuts, candy, toothbrush and toothpaste, perfume for the women and shaving lotion for the men, a meditation card and two stamped Valentines for the prisoner's personal use. Each packet costs more than five dollars, and the total expense each year is more than $3,000.

The Kent County sheriff was somewhat reluctant about the whole idea initially. But things went so well the first year, he now welcomes the church with open arms. Inmates express time and again their appreciation for the congregation's thoughtfulness as lay chaplains hand the plastic bags through the bars. Thank you notes are in abundance. A note from the "girls on block two" reads: "God bless your congregation for thinking of us at Kent County Jail on Valentine's Day. Here, the days are long and uneventful and your gifts were like a breath of heaven." Raymond Gaylord, 7~e Disciple. Journal of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), St. Louis, Missouri. Used by permission.


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"...since justice is indivisible, injustice anywhere is an affront to justice every where." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Celebrations are not always joyful. Like Memorial Day, past events are sometimes celebrated so that a particular past might not be repeated. The "Day of Remembrance" is such a day. Just three months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt - in response to our nation's war hysteria - signed Executive Order 9066. This unprecedented act gave the army the power to arrest, without warrants or indictments or hearings, every Japanese American on the West Coast - 110,000 men, women, and children. These Americans, three fourths of them born in the United States, were taken from their homes and transported to camps in the interior of the country where they were kept under prison conditions for more than three years. And they have yet to be reimbursed for property that was confiscated during this time of citizen disenfranchisement. In the September 1945 issue of Harper's Magazine, Yale Law Professor Eugene V. Rostow wrote that the Japanese evacuation was "our worst wartime mistake."

February 19, the Day of Remembrance, is observed by Japanese Americans and their friends with candlelight services. It is a good day for all Americans to remember.


Tabletalk on Remembrance Day

Remember the story of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Try to imagine what it would be like for you to be suddenly evicted from your home and placed in a concentration camp. Find out what attempts have been made to provide compensation to those who lost their homes and businesses. Decide if you want to write a letter to your Congressperson and Senators about this matter.


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When the late Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger of Harvard University surveyed historians to rank the Presidents, they selected Lincoln and Washington as the greatest, in that order. Their birthdays are in the same month: Washington was born on February 22, 1732, while Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Washington's birthday is a federal holiday, observed on the third Monday of February. A legacy of ill will from the Civil War is the main reason why Lincoln's birthday is not a national holiday and why seventeen states do not recognize it.

The Presidents' Days offer an opportunity to remember two great Presidents and, in the process, to consider important qualities of political leadership. Getting beyond romanticized images of both men - considering their blind spots as well as their vision, their failures as well as successes - can be helpful in a needed reassessment of the role of the Presidency in this country.


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First observed in the fifth century B.C., perhaps with roots much earlier in Babylonia, the Festival of Lots (pur means "lot" in Hebrew), or Purim, is a light and fun-filled festival about Jewish survival. Observed on the 14th day of the lunar month of Adar (in February or March), celebrants read the story of Esther from the Bible, exchange gifts, and sometimes dress up in appropriate costumes. The story tells how Esther, a Jewish woman who becomes queen to a Persian king, saves her people from destruction. Purim is regarded as a minor festival because the directive for observance is in the book of Esther, not the Torah. Beneath the frivolity of the festival, there is a serious undertone of concern about the Jews' status as a minority people. It is the only Jewish holiday that deals specifically with anti-Semitism.

Purim is an occasion for Jews and non-Jews alike to remember the frightful consequences of anti-Semitism in Western history. It is a time for renewed commitment to resist anti-Semitism and any other ideologies that justify the oppression of peoples of whatever race or religion.


Tabletalk on Purim

What is "anti-Semitism?" What are some current examples of it? What are other ideologies that justify the oppression of peoples (white supremacy, apartheid, etc.)? Make a contribution to one of the agencies working to counter these ideologies, perhaps your denomination's office for racial justice.


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For Chinese people everywhere, Chinese New Year is the most important holiday of the year. Those who can, celebrate for a week or ten days. The beginning of the year is based on a lunar calendar with origins in the twenty-seventh century B.C., which places the day anywhere between January 21 and February 19 in a given year. While colorful and loud festivities are planned to sweep out the evil spirits of the old year, visiting with friends may be the single most important part of the New Year celebrations. A part of the tradition is to present children with gifts of money in red envelopes.

Chinese New Year can be an occasion to appreciate the rich cultural heritage of Chinese and other Asian peoples and to learn more about their history in this country, especially the prejudice they have faced during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Tabletalk on Chinese New Year

Over a meal of Chinese food - which you have learned to cook or at your favorite Chinese restaurant - talk about Chinese contributions to this society. Decide to get acquainted with some Chinese Americans or Chinese in your community.


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