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Part 3: January - April

Part 3a: January - April

Treasury of Celebrations:

Cover Page | Gifts | Jan-Apr | May-Aug | Sep-Dec | Advent | Christmas | Rites of Passage


Index for this Section

From Alternatives' Treasury of Celebrations, published by Northstone Books. The entire 288 page book is available for $12.

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January - April [pages 87-117]

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New Year's Day

Endings and Beginnings

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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Epiphany

January 6 is known as "Little Christmas," "Three Kings Day," or the beginning of the season of Epiphany. In some cultures, the gifts (which represent the gifts given by the Magi to Jesus, or the gift of Jesus) are given on this day, rather than on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. For some, this is a day of special feasting with elaborate traditional foods.

Traditionally, the word epiphany means "a showing forth" or "manifestation." In common usage it sometimes refers to a sudden recognition of something that was there all along, but for which there was only a vague intuition. Often the new recognition can be seen to have a cosmic dimension and can certainly be life-changing. This cosmic aspect of a seemingly insignificant event is well-represented by the Epiphany day story of the Magi who followed a star in search of a new-born king whom they finally discovered in a very unlikely Jewish home.

During Advent we often hear the word Emmanuel and the phrase "God with us" as a way to describe the birth of Jesus Christ. Epiphany is a time for discovering what this phrase truly means.

Light for the dark days

Our January and February are particularly long, dark months in Michigan. Our family celebrates Epiphany at dinner time by each lighting a personal candle from the Christ candle we lit on Christmas Day. This not only enriches our lives spiritually, but also adds a good deal of light to some dark evenings.

- Betty Voskail, Holland, Michigan

 

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Emancipation Day

Hope for Slaves

"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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Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday

The Dream Lives On

In 1985 Congress declared the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a national holiday. . In Canada, King's birthday is celebrated in many churches on the Sunday closest to January 15th.

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.

In August, 1995, Reverend Donald Schmidt of Vermont visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is down the street from King's tomb in Atlanta, Georgia.

"On the way out of the church I noticed a small stone fountain and plaque, dedicated to the memory of Martin's mother, Alberta Williams King. She was assassinated while playing the organ in this church on June 30, 1974," he later recalled. "The dream lives on, but so does the struggle."

After spending time at King's tomb, Schmidt summed up his impressions in poetry:

Martin!
Did you hear us?
We were there
singing with you today -
oh it was glorious, Martin!
Over a thousand of us
marching so proudly down the street,
gathering at your tomb.

You must have heard us, Martin;
we sang songs to you
and thought about you
and talked about you.

You did hear us,
didn't you, Martin?

We were right there
at your grave; you
must have
heard
us.

What?
You didn't hear us?

We will go back home,
and proclaim the gospel
with our lives: then
you will hear us.

 

(copyright Donald Schmidt. Used with permission.)

 

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.

 

Consider Alternatives' 'Dr. King Was Right' bulletin insert for your congregation.

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.

Resources:

 

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.

Resources:

 

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.

Resources:

 

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

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life can be celebrated many ways in community or within families. The celebrations can also include learning more about Afro-Americans and their struggle in today's world. The learning can be expanded to include: the stories of African people in the biblical stories; the liberation struggle in South Africa and other parts of the world; and the stories of Afro-American inventors, writers, teachers, and heroes in Canada and the United States.

King's speeches are available in many libraries. You may also want to see what is available on Dr. King's life on video or in books and cassette audio tapes.

Rosa Parks, a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr., refused to obey seating requirements for Afro-Americans on a city bus and started a revolution against segregation. She has written and has been written about. Your reflections and celebrations could include watching a movie or reading about her work. (Look in both the children's and adult's sections of the library or book store.)

Because Dr. King followed a philosophy of nonviolence, this is an opportunity to discuss conflict resolution within society or within your family. Churches and libraries are good places to look for nonviolent conflict resolution principles. Learning about Mahatma Gandhi is also an option for exploration. His belief in nonviolence and his life are also well documented in books and on film.

Racism is demeaning and harmful to everyone on the planet. Help children understand what racism is, and how its presence in the world scars all of us. You may want to get a copy of the United Nations declaration on the rights of children. Ask them how, or if, these rights apply to all the children in the world.

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Valentine's Day

Sweethearts and Prisoners

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." (In other denominations, "Prisoners' Sunday" is commemorated the third Sunday in November.)

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.

 

Prison Bars Don't Stop Love and Appreciation

In the atmosphere of revenge that is permeating our North American society, it is little wonder that most moderate people feel bewildered about how to break in with a small candle of hope. A Disciples of Christ congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, have lit one candle of hope for prison inmates by starting a Valentine's Day tradition.

Each year they assemble 650 Valentine packages that include mixed nuts, candy, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a meditation card, shaving lotion or perfume, and two stamped Valentines for the prisoner's personal use.

This act of human love and thoughtfulness always generates thanks and blessings from the inmates.

 

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Day of Remembrance

Painful Memory

"...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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Presidents' Days

Celebrating Political Leadership

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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Purim

Celebrating Survival

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.

Solidarity

From your children, discover what they understand of anti-Judaism and racism in general. Discuss with them some current examples. Discuss ideologies that are used to justify the oppression of peoples (white supremacy, apartheid, etc.).

Make a contribution to one of the agencies working to counter these ideologies, such as your denomination's office for racial justice, or your local Council for Christians and Jews.

Read the marvelous and courageous story of Esther from a modern translation of the Bible. You will find the whole story in the Book of Esther.

 

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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Chinese New Year

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.

Celebrating with people of Chinese ancestry

Over a meal of Chinese food - which you have learned to cook or at your favorite Chinese restaurant - talk about Chinese contributions to society. Become acquainted with Chinese people in your community, and ask them to help you understand their culture. If there is one nearby, visit a Chinese cultural center.

 

Go fly a kite!

Do some research at the library to learn more about Chinese contributions to the world. For example, paper-making, printing with movable type, firecrackers, and the compass were invented in China. In the field of health care, the Chinese have given the world acupuncture and herbal medicine.

Kites were flown in China 2,000 years before Europeans made them. With some children you love, make a kite and fly it with joy. You may want to paint or draw symbols of friendship and love on your kite. Imagine the wind carrying those symbols all around the world.

 

Twins?

Many cities, towns, provinces, and territories in Canada are twinned with other places in the world. Find out if your community is twinned with another in China. Twinning opens opportunities to learn, and sometimes to visit. Twinning is sometimes arranged by government, and sometimes arranged by groups such as the Canada-China Friendship Association. This association sets up tours for groups of artists, athletes, students, doctors, and teachers to visit their "twins" in the other country.

Edmonton, Alberta, is twinned with Harbin, China. Toronto, Ontario, is twinned with Chongqing. Does your community have a Chinese twin?

 

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LENT

4311

Graphic from Alternatives' collection Worship Alternatives: Art #4311

Preparing for discipleship

Originally a season of fasting and penance for new converts preparing for baptism on Easter Eve, Lent is a period of 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter and corresponds to Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry. Actually, Lent is a period of 46 days because Sundays, as days when fasts could be broken, were not included in the 40 days.

The season of Lent includes many special days marking particular events in Jesus' ministry as he approached his death: Ash Wednesday, Passion or Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire in the fourth century, the church was endangered by throngs of new untutored members. To counter the paganism of these new converts, the Lenten fast and practices of self-renunciation became requirements of all Christians. Fasting and self-renunciation were symbolic ways to identify with the suffering of Jesus. Lent became a time of recommitment; a time to ward off the threat of assimilation into the popular culture.

As a time for disciplined reexamination of one's baptismal vows - leading to repentance - and reflection on the cost of discipleship, Lent culminates naturally and directly in the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday and its implications for participation in Jesus' ministry.

 

Another Kind of Fasting

Our most important family alternative celebration occurs during Lent. We used the following idea one year and, at our children's request, have repeated it.

We had become aware of the severely limited budgets of families living on welfare. In order to know how that feels, our family decided to observe Lent by choosing to live on the amount of money a welfare family receives for food. The first year I actually took out the entire amount of money we had to spend on our welfare budget so the children could watch it being spent. Even with the normal amount of food on hand at the beginning of our Lenten experience, during the last week we had some very unusual meals.

We celebrated Easter with a feast, using money carefully saved from our welfare budget. The next day the children and I went to the grocery store, using the money we had saved from our regular food budget to purchase food and take it to our local food pantry.

Although this is not like having to live on a restrictive budget day in and day out, it provides a "hunger" experience and several family discussions on hunger. This also provides the family with the experience of giving up and giving to others.

-- Deborah Heaton, Enid, Oklahoma

 

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Every Sunday morning, except during Lent, our family enjoys homemade cinnamon rolls as a symbol of resurrection. On Easter Sunday morning our favorite cinnamon rolls reappear on our table, this time in the form of the resurrection lamb.

-- Betty Voskuil, Holland, Michigan

 

Stations of the Cross

One year for Good Friday our family did a living Stations of the Cross. We visited places where Jesus suffers today: welfare office, unemployment office, military weapons manufacturer.

The next year we did this on a simpler scale, doing things in which our children could be involved. We visited a hospital and took books for its nursery and visited in a senior nursing home. We then collected food for the local food pantry.

-- Mary and Bill Merrill, Columbus, Ohio

 

Lenten Lifestyle Assessment

Lent is a time for expectation, reflection and self-examination. A group of concerned people from our congregation decided it was important for us to evaluate our lives as Christians and determine if we were living them to the fullest. The result was a family calendar indicating daily Bible readings, along with thoughtful activities for each day during the six weeks in Lent.

As an attempt to gain support for each other, a tree was set up near the pulpit to be used for families to write their experiences on "ornaments" to be placed on the tree. After three weeks of the experiment, a pot-luck dinner was held for participating families to share their joys and frustrations.

A Lenten Lifestyle Assessment Program gave focus to each week's activities with concrete suggestions for changes in our use of the Earth's resources as well as individual gifts and resources. We were challenged to practice and to experiment with voluntary simplicity in television watching, auto and energy use, the way we spend our time, foods we choose, recreation and leisure activities, and the ways we choose to serve others.

Participating families were asked to sign a Lenten Covenant to

  1. Engage in daily scripture reading and prayer;
  2. Focus on specific activities each week, as suggested in the packet.
  3. Pray for members of the congregation who are participating in the Lenten project;
  4. Share activities with others via the tree near the pulpit;
  5. Share the idea of this Lenten Covenant with at least one other person during the Lenten period.

-- Mt. Hope Lutheran Church, Address unknown

 

Walk of the Cross

In Edmonton, Alberta, an ecumenical "Walk of the Cross" is held annually, with dozens of children, women, and men participating. The route takes in "stations" such as the immigration office of the federal government, a school, city hall, social service office of the provincial government, and so on. At each station, someone speaks about such things as how cuts to the health care system are hurting people with mental illnesses, or how education policies meet or do not meet the needs of marginal people. After that, someone provides music on a guitar, and the group sings and offers a prayer. Then we move on to the next station.

This is a wonderful Good Friday event, bringing together people from many different denominations, and providing an opportunity to create a living symbol of solidarity with people who are being "crucified" today.

At the end, one downtown church hosts the group, offering hot cross buns, bannock, juice, coffee, and tea.

- Carolyn Pogue, Calgary, Alberta

 

Foot-washing

A modern day celebration might include massaging [or washing] each other's feet. It is a delightful experience and involves a level of personal trust that is rarely possible. It has always been done to demonstrate humility and love for the other, stressing the basic equality of all people.

If this celebration is not currently done in your church, you may organize it with a short, quiet worship service which includes the Lord's Supper.

 

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday begins Easter Week, celebrating Christ's arrival into Jerusalem. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Passover supper of Christ and the disciples. One old custom had the sovereign of a country wash the feet of paupers, in memory of Christ washing his disciples' feet. Then the king or queen would distribute money, clothing, and food to the poor to be reminded of humility.

I have developed a 21st century tradition that seems fitting for "preparing the way of the Lord." We always spend Palm Sunday afternoon picking up trash on our section of the county road. Usually the snow has melted and fishing season has opened, so the beer bottles alone fill several bags.

- Marion Ellis, Dover, New Hampshire

 

Stone Soup

"Stone Soup," the story, has long been a favorite with many children we know. It is about a wandering minstrel who taught people how to share during a famine. Now through a fairly recently established "tradition," that story has become a wonderful reality in our church.

Each year, during the early part of Lent, we have a time of hunger awareness when church members have at least one meatless meal a week, or cut back on normal eating habits in some other way. The money that is saved by this frugality is set aside for our Hunger Fund. (At some time during this period, the young people also have a 24-hour "starvathon" at the church. During the starvathon they eat nothing and spend their time discussing books and filmstrips about the causes and implications of hunger. They also collect pledges, based on their participation, for the Hunger Fund.)

This all culminates the week before Palm Sunday, on what we call "ComPassion Sunday," with a moving service during which all these gifts are brought forward and put into a large papier mâché loaf of bread. Following this service we always have our famous Stone Soup lunch.

That morning, early, the soup pot is started and as people come to church they bring "fixings" for the soup - vegetables, spices, maybe a soup bone. Children in some of the elementary church school classes cut up the vegetables and everything simmers while we are in church. After the service we all enjoy this delicious soup along with some homemade bread prepared by a group in the church. Those attending contribute what they would have paid for a Sunday dinner at home to the Hunger Fund.

This special occasion concludes with a filmstrip or a retelling of the story and the happy singing of songs in celebration of our sharing. Because of this, the story "Stone Soup" has taken on added significance for our children.

- Khuki Wooleuer, Oneonta, New York

 

Peace cakes

Palm Sunday has been a time of sharing peace cakes. A homemade bun or sweet bread is given to others with whom communication has ceased. It is a preparation for Good Friday's message of forgiveness and for Easter, in order to reestablish respect and peace. These could be shared in a group, or with another group, between men and women, young and old, or between people of different races, as a commitment to establishing peace among people.

 

Jesus Christ Superstar

Sometime during Holy Week, our family views the video Jesus Christ Superstar. [It is also available on audio tape.] We have been doing this for years. It is not only a family ritual that brings us together, but it is a wonderful opportunity to discuss theology and learn where our children (and we) are in understanding the story as the years go by.

- Donald Schmidt, Waterbury, Vermont

 

Lenten wreath

Last year I made a Lenten wreath for our congregation. I cut a piece of 5/8th inch (1.5 centimeter) plywood into a rough circular shape. The diameter was about 24 inches (60 centimeters). I screwed a two-inch (five centimeter) thick triangle in the center, into which I'd drilled six candle-sized holes. I painted this dark brown. I purchased a wreath of thick vines and stapled it around the perimeter of the wooden base, then looped barbed wire through it - a larger than life "crown of thorns." Three small screw eyes were screwed into the wood, and wire attached these to the ceiling in the sanctuary. It was hung in the same way and in the same place as the Advent wreath at Christmas. Six purple candles were placed in it and lit on the first Sunday in Lent. At the end of the service, the minister snuffed out one candle, signifying the coming darkness. He snuffed out another candle every Sunday throughout Lent - the opposite of what takes place during Advent. On Easter Sunday, the unlit wreath was a silent reminder of pain in the world, even though the rest of the church was festively decorated with flowers, candles, and banners.

- Carolyn Pogue, Calgary, Alberta

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Holy Week

Symbols at the Family Table add Meaning to Holy Week

Just as the Advent wreath gives children a better understanding of the spiritual meaning of Christmas, setting your table with Easter symbols can illustrate the events of Holy Week. Collect simple household items that depict the events surrounding Christ's death and resurrection. At family worship around the table use Bible passages to further explain what happened during Holy Week.

PALM SUNDAY. Place a palm leaf, fern frond or even a green paper leaf in the center of a table. The table itself, representing the one where Christ served his disciples the Last Supper, can be your dining table or another space reserved for these symbolic objects. Read from John 12:13. "So they took branches of palm trees...."

MONDAY. Add a small bowl of water with a folded napkin or towel. Read John 13:5. "...and Jesus began to wash the disciples' feet and wipe them with the towel." Talk about the humility and service that Jesus showed by these acts.

TUESDAY. Place on the table a picture or molded clay figure of praying hands. Read Luke 22:41. "And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw and knelt down in prayer." Sing "Sweet Hour of Prayer."

WEDNESDAY. Add a picture or ceramic figure of a rooster. Read Luke 23:61. "...Peter, the cock will not crow this day until you three times deny that you know me." Fear of personal reprisal, Peter's reason for denying Christ, is still a reality for Christians. Conclude by praying together or singing a verse from the hymn, "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus."

THURSDAY. Make a crown of thorns by twisting rough twigs, a rose stem or weed stalks together. Take turns feeling the crown before it is placed on the table. Emphasize that this symbol of power and royalty was used to mock Jesus. Read Mark 15:17. "...and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it on him." Sing or repeat the words to "Oh, Sacred Head, Now Wounded."

FRIDAY. Make a small cross of sticks. Read Luke 23:26-33. "And when they came to the place which is called the Skull, there they crucified him." Explain that Christ chose the way of suffering to show love for us. Sing or repeat together the words to the third stanza of "Oh, Sacred Head, Now Wounded" which begins, "What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend...."

SATURDAY. Gather around the table filled with Holy Week symbols. After a period of silent meditation, join hands and sing the spiritual, "Were You There?"

EASTER. Place a lily or other blooming plant in the center of the other symbols. Read John 11:25. "I am the resurrection and the life...." Center discussion around the lily bulb that is buried in dirt but which grows into a beautiful plant in the spring. Compare Christ's burial and resurrection with the lily. Use this time to separate the Christian from secular observance of Easter. Conclude the Holy Week family worship by singing one of the joyful Easter hymns.

 

Joy dawned again on Easter Day, The sun shone out with fair array, When to their longing eyes restored, The Apostles saw their risen Lord.

 

O Jesus, King of gentleness, Do thou thyself our hearts possess That we may give thee all our days The willing tribute of our praise. (5th century Latin carol) -- For Parents, March-April, 1982

 

 

To understand our neighbors

In order for us to understand that Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples in what Christians call "the Last Supper," and to understand how this Passover meal is celebrated today, our congregation invited a rabbi to our church during Lent. He led us through the traditional celebration, and then we ate a kosher meal together.

The dinner was well-attended by children, youth, and adults, and the honesty and humor of the rabbi - as well as the fun all of us had - helped us better understand our own religious roots. It also built a bridge between our congregations.

- Scarboro United Church, Calgary, Alberta

 

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EASTER

1685

Graphic from Alternatives' collection Worship Alternatives: Art #1685

Celebrating the Resurrection

Easter, the most important festival of the Christian Church, celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The Feast of Easter was well established by the second century, but controversy developed between the Eastern and Western Churches over the proper day for its observance. In 325 the Council of Nicaea settled the dispute by deciding that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, making it fall on variable dates each year between March 21 and April 25.

We celebrate Easter on Sunday because it is the day of the week when Jesus rose from the dead. The Council's decision to time the celebration with the vernal equinox, however, suggests that the day replaced one or more pagan rebirth festivals observed at the time of the vernal equinox. (See article on Spring near the end of this chapter.)

The derivation of the word "Easter" is not clear. The Venerable Bede, an early English historian (672-735), connected Easter to Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon spring goddess whose festival was celebrated at the vernal equinox and whose symbols were the hare and the egg. It seems likely that the hare and egg traditions of the goddess Eostre became the Easter bunny and Easter eggs.

Still other pagan practices came to be associated with the feast of Easter. For example, sunrise services, while having some basis in the early dawn visit of the women to Jesus' tomb (Luke 24:1), were also part of traditional vernal equinox rites which welcomed the sun and its power to bring new life.

One wonders if the popular preoccupation with Easter as a time to celebrate hope for life after death also has its roots in ancient rites of spring. The New Testament clearly links hope for a general resurrection to Jesus' resurrection (I Corinthians 15, et al); however, the spring and rebirth symbols often used in churches at Easter may actually distort the meaning of resurrection. These symbols (e.g. butterflies) suggest natural cycles of life, death and rebirth. Resurrection in the New Testament sense is not natural. Rather, it is a radical action contravening nature for God's own purposes.

Although the resurrection theme of life after death is certainly valid, the larger significance of the resurrection is often ignored: that is, God raised Jesus from the dead to validate his ministry on Earth - a ministry of healing, teaching, preaching and suffering on behalf of the poor and outcast that did not end on the cross. Through the resurrection that ministry became the universal ministry for those who would follow Jesus. As Jesus said to the fearful unbelieving disciples on that first Easter, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." (John 20:21)

The commercialization of Easter makes it difficult to keep the real purpose of the resurrection celebration in perspective. In addition to the annual Easter clothes, card, flower and candy blitz, attempts by business interests to make Easter a "Second Christmas" have spawned an Easter oriented toy industry and a massive live-animal business selling millions of rabbits, baby chicks and ducks each year.

There is another significant level of concern with our Easter celebrations. Although many attempts have been made to link the Easter bunny and Easter egg traditions to the resurrection, those traditions actually divert attention away from celebrating the resurrection. "What happened on the third day?" asked the church school teacher to a group of preschoolers one Easter morning. "The Easter bunny brought eggs," was the immediate and unequivocal reply. As children grow and learn that the Easter bunny is a myth passed on to them as truth, they have less reason to believe what is taught them as truth about the resurrection.

 

Better Than Chocolate Eggs

Consider placing a book in your child's Easter basket - one that expresses the love and sacrifice represented by the observance of Easter.

 

Signs of Faith

At Easter we help our children understand the significance of the season by adorning our home with signs of faith - a dove sculpture or crucifix hung on our wall only during this season, or a banner with an Easter message hung temporarily on our refrigerator or front door.

Since Easter is our family's most festive occasion, we celebrate with an all-day Open House. Two homemade grapevine baskets (no chocolate Easter eggs, no Easter bunny) are filled with dogwoods, violets, daffodils - whatever is blooming - as a symbol of new life. Gifts for the children specifically celebrate life. Last year they got umbrellas to play in the life-giving spring rains. We end Easter day with the Paschal vespers at dusk. -- Ed, Andrea, Nathanael & Rebekah Wills Memphis, Tennessee

 

Easter in the Philippines

In the fresh air of the Philippine countryside, Index families met in the early morning to read together from the Easter text. After a short period of meditation each family offered symbols of new life - plants, seeds, eggs, handpainted butterflies and a pair of booties! These symbols were put on dry twigs to make an Easter tree. Older children planted quick-sprouting mango seeds in an earthen pot and were told to watch carefully for an amazing demonstration of new life.

-- Ana Maria Clamor, Social Development Index, Quezon City, Philippines

 

Easter Seder: We Remember

Easter is the most sacred holy day in the Christian church. It marks an extraordinary event - the resurrection of Christ - and is supposed to remind us of the meaning of that event. Commercial interests, pushing Easter bunnies, new clothes, cards, baskets, candy and toys, sometimes make it hard to stay focused on the real purpose of celebrating Easter. The Easter Seder helps us remember.

The idea for the Easter Seder comes from the Jewish Passover Seder. Jewish people observe the Passover, which commemorates the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt, about the same time of year that Christians celebrate Easter. At the heart of the Jewish festival is the retelling of the story behind the Passover meal which is called the Seder, or "order":

"When your children say to you: 'What do you mean by this service?' Then you shall say..." Exodus 12:26 (KJV).

In response to a set of questions from the children, the different generations at the table recount the story and the meaning of the observance. The rite has proved to be an important way to keep the significance of this celebration before the children and the whole family.

The following questions and answers, using the form of the Jewish Seder, attempt to retell the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, helping us understand what that event 2000 years ago has to do with the way we live now. The Easter Seder is designed for use by families or other groups on Easter Sunday. If you decide to use the Seder in a worship service or with a group at church, also consider using it at home when you have your traditional Easter meal. This Seder, like the Jewish one, assumes the presence and participation of more than onecgeneration. The younger generations ask the questions and the older generations answer and explain.

Feel free to adapt the following Seder to your liking. Create one that you will use year after year so that the Seder becomes an Easter tradition in your family.

 

The Youngest Child:
Why is this day different from all other days?
An Elder:
On this day, almost 2,000 years ago, God raised up Jesus from the dead. Jesus was crucified. His friends took his body down from the cross and placed it in a tomb. Early in the morning, three days after he was buried, some women went to his tomb. When they got there, they found the stone that sealed the tomb had been removed and the body of Jesus was gone.
A Child:
What happened to his body?
An Elder:
The women thought his body had been stolen. But an angel appeared and told them not to be afraid. The angel brought the good news that Jesus was alive! He had been raised from the dead, just as he had promised, and he would see his followers later. The women ran to tell Jesus' other disciples what they had seen and heard. Some of the men didn't believe the women's story until Jesus actually appeared to them. Then, they knew he was alive.
A Child:
Who killed him?
An Elder:
Roman authorities executed Jesus because of his claim to be King of the Jews. The Romans had occupied Judea for almost a hundred years, but the Jews never stopped trying to regain their freedom. Since Jesus was a very popular figure, the Romans were afraid if he became King he would be successful in driving them out of the country. Some of the religious leaders who had received special favors from the Romans were also afraid of Jesus. Together with the Roman officials, they cooperated in a plan to bring Jesus to trial and have him executed.
A Child:
Why were the religious leaders afraid of Jesus?
An Elder:
For three years, Jesus and his twelve disciples traveled all over Judea, preaching, teaching and healing people. Great crowds followed wherever they went. Jesus taught that God loves all people and that to love God and to love neighbor are the two most important commandments. He enlarged the meaning of neighbor to include the poor, the outcasts and even one's enemies. He spent most of his time with society's rejected, giving them hope.

But religious leaders did not like Jesus' teachings, and he was often in trouble with them. His teachings about accumulating wealth, injustice to the poor and needy and religious hypocrisy were hard words for those who were neither poor nor outcast and had no concern for the destitute. In his manner of living and in his teaching Jesus sided with the poor, exposing the religious leaders in their selfishness and bringing fear that they would lose their privileged positions.

A Child:
Were all of the religious leaders opposed to Jesus?
An Elder
No, not all of them opposed Jesus. Some were amazed at his healing, his teaching, his courage in confronting authorities and believed that he was sent from God. But those religious leaders who feared him conspired with the Roman authorities to put him to death.
A Child:
Did God really raise Jesus from the dead?
An Elder:
The New Testament tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to his followers on the seashore, on the road and in a house where they had gathered to pray. One of the stories tells about a disciple who doubted that Jesus was really alive. But after Jesus appeared to him and invited him to touch his wounds, he believed. These stories also make it dear that the risen Jesus appeared to be different.

Whatever the differences, his followers recognized him when he appeared to them. Their sense of his presence was so real that they began doing the things he had done during his lifetime, although they knew that could mean suffering, persecution and even death.

A Child:
Why do we celebrate Easter?
An Elder:
God's Son, Jesus, was sent into the world to bring God's good news of love and forgiveness for all people, including us. Because Jesus included the poor, the outcasts and even enemies of the people in the circle of God's love, he was persecuted and finally killed.

God raised Jesus from the dead as a sign of approval for the work he had done on Earth. His preaching, teaching, healing and his identification with the poor was the work God intended. For two days after the crucifixion, Jesus' followers were desolate. It seemed that all Jesus had done was nothing more than a beautiful, fleeting dream. But that was not the end! God raised up Jesus as if to say, "The words he spoke in my name are true! The deeds he did are my deeds! And they are now the work of all who follow him." When Jesus appeared to his followers after the resurrection he told them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

And so we are called!

Children:
THE LORD IS RISEN!
Elders:
THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!
All:
Hallelujah! Amen!

 

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Passover

Freedom from slavery

Passover, or pesach in Hebrew, is the Jewish festival commemorating the Exodus. Passover refers to the night before the Hebrew slaves were to leave Egypt, when an angel of the Lord would kill the first-born of the Egyptians. The Hebrews had been warned that only houses marked with lamb's blood on the doorposts would be spared. These houses the angel would "pass over."

The directive for observing the Passover is in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. An eight-day festival, Passover begins on the eve of the fourteenth day of the lunar month of Nisan - usually between mid-March and mid-April - with a Seder in the home. This ceremony, celebrated with family members around a special Seder meal, is a retelling of the Exodus story and has been done in the same way for hundreds of years. A child asks four questions and the elders answer, recounting why Passover is such a significant occasion. (See Exodus 12:25-27) Although the Seder is the central part of the Passover festival, there are many observances, activities and special foods for the other days.

The Passover has long had significance for Christians. On the night he was arrested, Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, using that sacred feast to institute the Eucharist - sometimes called the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion (Matthew 26:17-30, et al). Beyond that unique connection to Passover, many Christians observe the Passover Seder as a way of affirming their own Jewish heritage. Given the long and tragic history of Christian persecution of Jews, such affirmation is most appropriate.

Passover Seder

What links are in place in your community?

Find out if there is a branch of the Council of Christians and Jews in your community. Learn about it, and attend open gatherings and events.

 

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Ramadan

Month-Long Fast for Muslims

Ramadan, commemorating the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed, is the most sacred celebration in the Muslim world. The observance begins on the eve of the ninth month of the lunar year. Since the lunar year is eleven or twelve days shorter than the solar year, the incidence of Ramadan moves through all the seasons of the year in cycles of approximately 33 years.
[In 1987 Ramadan began on April 29; in 2000 on Nov. 27; in 2010 on Aug. 11; in 2015 on June 18, etc.]

Celebrated for 30 days, the observance affects a large portion of the Third World. According to Islamic law, fasting from sunup to sundown is required of every able-bodied Muslim.

The fasting is meant to 1) help keep the observance in mind, 2) encourage spiritual discipline, 3) create an identification with the poor and 4) remind people of their ultimate dependence on God.

Popular celebrations of Ramadan sometimes involve lavish feasts after the sun goes down, but this custom does not represent the holiday's true spirit, to bring about inner strength through austerity.

 

Tabletalk for Ramadan

Learning about our neighbors

Because Islam is a religious tradition little understood by most Westerners, perhaps during this fast, non-Muslims can use this time to learn more. During dinner one evening, identify popular stereotypes of Muslims. Then do some reading. Search out not only nonfiction, but also poetry and fiction written by Muslims. Make the acquaintance of some Muslims in your community. Then, at another family meal one evening, try to go beyond the stereotypes to real people.

You may wish to invite Muslim people to a community gathering as guest speakers. Find out if your religious community has an interfaith council and learn about interfaith gatherings in your community.

 

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International Women's Day

[In the United States, August 26th is also celebrated. Known as Women's Equality Day, it marks the anniversary of women's right to vote, won in 1920.]

"What time of night it is"

International Women's Day, a day to honor women, is celebrated throughout the world. Set on March 8, the day commemorates a march of women garment and textile workers in New York City in 1857. International Women's Day is a national holiday in the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China, where women workers are given special recognition.

At the fourth National Women's Rights Convention in New York, in 1853, Sojourner Truth spoke these words:

I know that it feels a kind o' hissin' and ticklin' like to see a colored woman get up and tell you about things, and women's rights. We have all been thrown down so low that nobody thought we'd ever get up again; but see if we don't; we'll have our rights; and you can't stop us from them; see if you can. You may hiss as much as you like, but it is comin'...I am sittin' among you to watch; and every once and a while I will come out and tell you what time of night it is...

Celebrate women!

Throughout history, women have made wonderful contributions for the betterment of humankind. Study the lives of women who have made an impact in various fields: Mother Teresa, Golda Meir, Beverly Sills, and Susan B. Anthony. Celebrate their contributions and learn about women in your community who are working for justice, peace, and the environment.

 

Host a Women's Day dinner

Invite your friends to a potluck dinner. Ask each of them to bring the name and story of one woman they admire. This could be anyone from Reverend Lois Wilson to Corretta King to your own grandma. (You may invite guests to come dressed as the woman, too.)

 

"Take Back the Night" march

In many towns and cities in North America, women, men, and children take to the streets with candles and flashlights and march into the darkness. "We will take back the night!" they sing. This march is in defiance of the safety that is still lacking for women on the streets and in homes. If your community doesn't have a march, start one.

 

Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women

In 1988, the World Council of Churches declared 1988 to 1998 a Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. The aims of the Decade are:

  1. Empowering women to challenge oppressive structures in the global community, their country, and their church.
  2. Affirming - through shared leadership and decision-making, theology and spirituality - the decisive contributions of women in churches and communities.
  3. Giving visibility to women's perspectives and actions in the work and struggle for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.
  4. Enabling the churches to free themselves from racism, sexism, and classism; from teachings and practices that discriminate against women.
  5. Encouraging the churches to take actions in solidarity with women.

Find out if your denomination, or your local church is involved in the Decade. Ask if there are special activities or if there will be a special service to mark the Decade.

 

Celebrating the unnamed ones

In many churches in North America, International Women's Day is combined with Ecumenical Decade Sunday, usually the first Sunday in March. It is a time to celebrate the women in the church today, and to celebrate our mothers and grandmothers. It is a time to remember the many biblical women, including those who supported Jesus' ministry and who were unnamed by biblical writers, whose names are seldom mentioned Sunday mornings.

The men's group at Scarboro United Church in Calgary, Alberta, wrote a collective litany in 1995. It was used during Sunday morning worship.

 

Litany of Solidarity with Women

Leader:
God created humanity; male and female God created us. God blesses us as equal partners in the the human journey.
Men:
But women have not enjoyed equality and respect. God's intentions have been thwarted, and women cast into inferior roles.
Leader:
World history is awash in the suffering of women; too often religion has been a cloak of legitimacy for maintaining the status quo.
Men:
Even today women suffer degradation at many levels in our society.
Leader:
So we are grateful for the example of Jesus who accepted fully the humanity and gifts of women.
Men:
As women throughout the world seek their equal place in society, we offer our support and solidarity.
Leader:
May we all be held accountable for abuse of power, disrespect, and ongoing conditioning which results in indignity and the dishonoring of women as equal partners in the human community.
Men:
In this Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with women, in our own communities and throughout the world, may we open ourselves to acknowledging past failures, and move forward together with new understanding and action.
Leader:
May God be with us in our common journey,
Men:
And may women feel our solidarity, and support in the celebration of our common, God-given humanity.
All:
Amen!

- Scarboro United Church, Calgary, Alberta. Used with permission.

During the offering time, in addition to the ushers taking forward the money gifts, women of many ages carried forward a turkey platter, a tea pot, a broom, a small child, a sewn garment, a hymn book, and a Bible as symbols of women's work in the church throughout time. These gifts were carried high and proudly. They were received (except for the small child!) and placed on the communion table along with the offering plates.

 

Knowledge is the first step to change

Borrow books from your library, community center, or from friends, and check your library for videos about women in the world today. You may choose to focus on learning about women and poverty, women and pornography, women and violence, or women and war. Invite a group of people to view and/or discuss one of these issues. Ask each one to bring one small gift for a woman. Deliver the gifts to a women's shelter, or to a women's prison

 

Tabletalk for International Women's Day

Throughout history women have made wonderful contributions for the betterment of humankind. Study the lives of women who have made an impact in various fields: i.e., Mother Teresa, Golda Meir, Beverly Sills, Susan B. Anthony. Talk about why women work. Discuss their dual responsibilities of home and job. Discover ways women are discriminated against in the job market and on their jobs.

 

NEW--Feminism 201: A glossary of a few tricky terms

(Geez Magazine: contemplative cultural resistance)

 

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St. Patrick's Day

The wearing of the green

St. Patrick's Day is an Irish religious holiday. Celebrated on March 17, this holy day commemorates the contributions of that country's fifth century patron saint. Like many other Irish religious figures, St. Patrick was believed to have a special rapport with nature which helped him to convince the pagan Irish that he was in touch with God.

Forsaking the religious significance of this day, commercial interests in the United States trade more and more on the ethnic stereotype of the "hard drinking" Irish to make St. Patrick's Day an occasion for reveling. Irish societies in the United States are working to counteract this stereotype by conducting alternative St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

In addition to "wearing the green" and cooking special Irish recipes, this is a good day to overcome stereotypes by recalling the contributions that Irish Americans have made to this country. It is also a day to mourn the civil strife that plagues Northern Ireland and the divisive role that religion has played there.

Tabletalk on St. Patrick's Day

Around the dinner table, talk about a "Who's Who Among Irish Americans," beginning with Patrick Henry and remembering John F. Kennedy.

 

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Spring: Life after Winter

In different parts of the world the signs of spring differ dramatically, but astronomers can tell exactly from the Earth's motion around the sun when one season ends and the next one begins. The vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring, in the Northern Hemisphere coming between March 20 and 21. On this day, the center of the sun appears directly above the equator, so that along the equator there are 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.

Ancient people knew that at the vernal equinox winter was giving way to spring. Many rites of fertility and rebirth were observed at the time of the vernal equinox, as in the festival of Eostre in Britain (See Easter above). Even though the manifestations of spring are different in different places, the first day of spring is a good time to celebrate the ending of winter and the renewal of life in nature. It is much better than mixing the coming of spring with the celebration of the resurrection.

In 1979 another important dimension to the celebration of spring was added when children rang bells at the United Nations at the exact hour of the vernal equinox, inaugurating Earth Day. It is a day for celebrating nature and learning about the interdependence of all life. Implicit in that celebrating and learning is the recognition of the threat waste and pollution pose for the fragile ecological balance which makes life possible on the planet.

 

"The least movement affects all nature; the entire sea changes because of a rock." Pascal

 

Tabletalk for the First Day of Spring

Read, and then discuss, the following words of Wendell Berry his book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture:

...The Earth is what we all have in common, it is what we are made of and what we live from, and we cannot damage it without damaging those with whom we share it. There is an uncanny resemblance between our behavior toward each other and our behavior toward the Earth. By some connection we do not recognize, the willingness to exploit one becomes the willingness to exploit the other.... It is impossible to care for each other more or differently than we care for the Earth.

 

Celebrate Spring by Celebrating Life

You may also want to read aloud the following poem by American poet Neal Gladstone

This is the water, celebrate the water
May you always drink your fill.
We can save the treasure
if we stand together
and celebrate the water.
Don't think we don't need you; we need you.
Don't think we don't hear you; we hear you.
Those who care just lift your voices
and join us as we sing.
Save our planet, keep our planet green
This is the air, celebrate the air,
May you always breathe your fill.
This is the music, celebrate the music
May you always sing your fill.
These are the people, celebrate the people
May you always love your fill.
This is your life, celebrate your life
May you always live your fill.
We can save the treasure
if we live together
and celebrate life.

--Neal Gladstone Corvallis, Oregon

 

Celebrate Earth

In the past few years, there have been special days set aside to celebrate some special part of life. Earth Day, Food Day, and Sun Day are three examples. Each of these days has made a unique contribution to our image of celebrations, for they increase our sensitivity to the possibilities and dangers of the world around us, and encourage us to action. They have a certain commonality which should be recognized by people working to change their lifestyles. First of all, they break away from tradition by celebrating new ideas. Second, there is no effort to institutionalize these days and "create" a massive self-perpetuating event complete with gifts and cards.

Because these celebrations have been more or less improvised to suit the needs of the current society, one could probably assume that there will be other celebrations of this kind in the future. So, if one of these celebrations comes along, how could you get involved?

The focus has usually been national, but just because you have seen a word or two in a national publication does not mean that anyone in your area is organizing the day. It might be up to you to get something started. Try to find the origins of the event. If it is of a general area, track down a club that might be involved (a Sierra Club might be a place to start for an environmental day). Ask the members to help you with organizing. If they do not know about it, they need your help. Try to take the event and relate it to a very local and common issue - the closer to home you can draw the issue, the better response you will get. A national organization will provide you with tools, and can get you started.

Would you like to organize your own day? A local celebration will often be more satisfying than a national one, because everyone feels personally involved. If it is a sun, Earth, or food celebration, you may draw on the experiences of past organizers by writing to them. If it is a special and unique celebration you want your community to have, then you need to have assistance in getting it organized for maximum results. However, start out small, with people whom you know will get things done, rather than trying for something big with people who may be unfamiliar to you. Good luck!

 

A Rite for Spring: Begin to Recycle

Anyone can - and should - participate in recycling. Practically every community has an organization that accepts recyclable material: a junk dealer, a municipal or private drop-off center, a charitable organization that operates a paper drive. Find out what materials can be easily recycled in your area. Then keep those materials separated from your trash and recycle them as they accumulate.

To make a serious impact on our country's solid waste problem, we need community-wide recycling programs. Private citizens can play key roles in initiating and supporting recycling programs; without them, solid waste professionals typically underestimate the potential of citizen participation and lean toward high-technology options for dealing with the problem. So investigate what is happening in your own community. If there is a recycling program, support it by participating in its efforts, by promoting it to friends and neighbors and by supporting it at the governmental level. If no recycling program is planned or in operation, take the initiative by writing to the newspaper, talking with public officials or even forming a citizens' group to press for recycling.

Community recycling programs not only reduce the trash disposal volume to more manageable levels but also contribute to more effective use of scarce resources on our Spaceship Earth.

-- Earl Arnold, Eco-Justice Task Force, Ithaca, New York

Let Earth breathe!

Encourage your Scouts, women's group, Guides, men's group, or your friends and family to take an afternoon for garbage pick-up in your area. Consider that the garbage lying around after winter is lying on the face of our Mother, Earth. Give her a chance to feel the sunshine and breathe the air! Do it with love. Make a party out of it by singing as you go. Have a potluck picnic - indoor or out - to finish your celebration.

 

All-night vigil

Hold an all-night vigil. It might be Easter Eve or the night of the spring equinox. Read favorite poems, literature, scripture having to do with Earth, people, life, love, change. Incorporate First Nations wisdom in the readings, and wisdom from religions other than your own. Share skills on the guitar, recorder, flute. Tell of the last time you were up all night. Sit silently in a circle. Sing appropriate songs.

Dig a pit and build a fire. Every hour, have two people go out and watch the fire and stoke it so it doesn't go out while the rest sleep. Bake a meal in the fire by placing food in a suitable pot and burying it in the coals. This is a traditional way of cooking for many African and Hawaiian peoples. Keeping the night fire allows the two watchers to talk and watch the changing sky in a very personal way. Have an astronomy book accessible.

Each team of people wakes the next team to watch. It builds communication, group solidarity, and offers an experience full of wonder. Every hour offers something special and different to the two fire-watchers.

 

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Central America Week

The spirit of Archbishop Oscar Romero

Commemorating the life and witness of El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, Central America Week is observed in the week around the anniversary of his assassination. While saying mass on March 24, 1980, the Archbishop was shot and killed. In his final homily that day, he said,

"I implore you, beloved brothers and sisters, to seek a better world from an historical vantage point, to have hope, joined with a spirit of surrender and sacrifice. We must do what we can. All of us can do something..."

Sponsored by many Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and secular agencies, Central America Week has become a time to mobilize concern about Central America. Religious communities are urged to set aside the first Sabbath and Sunday services of the week to lift in prayer and to celebrate the sufferings and joys common to North and Central Americans of faith. They are further encouraged to plan special events through the week to focus attention on that region's struggles.

For scheduled events and resources visit the Inter-American Task Force on Central America, Cleveland, OH, at http://www.irtfcleveland.org/

(3/24/17--status uncertain of Inter-American Task Force on Central America, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 563, New York NY 10115. Tel.212-870-3383.)

At home

You may want to invite some friends to view the video film Romero, about the life and death of the archbishop.

Find out who is working to support Central American refugees in your community. Find out if you can help.

 

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National Farm Worker Week

National Farm Worker Week, observed each year during the second week before Mother's Day, is a celebration of the achievements of the United Farm Workers (UPW). The United Farm Workers, organized in 1962 by Caesar Chavez, has given farm workers hope. Victories for them have not come easily, but they now have some important ones. Chavez' strict adherence to the principles of nonviolence, even in the most violent situations, has won respect and admiration from people around the world. Numbering more than a million, farm workers are on one of the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in the United States. There is still much to be done in this area. National Farm Workers Week is an appropriate time to remember farm workers all over the world - how they contribute to this economy and at what price.

For more information, contact the National Farm Worker Ministry, 111-A Fairmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611; and Agricultural Missions, 475 Riverside Drive, 6th floor, New York, NY 10115.

Tabletalk for Farm Worker Week

Few fruits and vegetables arrive on our dinner tables without the labor of farm workers. This week, see if you can find out where the fruits and vegetables on your table come from, and how they got there. Consider making a contribution to one of the agencies working with farm workers in an amount equal to the cost of the fruits and vegetables you and your family eat this week.


Earth Day/Arbor Day

Also see First Day of Spring above.

NEW - from EarthMama

Why Earth Day? A Little History. . . .

The first Earth Day in 1970 was a big splash. It's only recently that I learned Earth Day was inspired by the massive Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. It took a dramatic event of this magnitude to expose the huge consequences of human impact on the beauty and wonder of amazing Earth.

Organized by Senator Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes, their Earth Day plans caught fire, especially with young people. Millions of Americans participated in the first Earth Day. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests around energy issues, pollution, and climate concerns. Even the slow pace of government had to respond. Results began to appear with the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The Santa Barbara spill had been the largest ocean oil disaster in the history of Earth. Since then, we have had far larger spills such as the Exxon Valdez and the Gulf BP disasters.

Now we know that Every Day needs to be Earth Day!
Every Month needs to be Earth Month.
And Every Year needs to be Earth Year.

11 Important Ways To Honor Earth!

Earth Day Gift Song for you - 'Only One' from my A Sense of Place CD

Thank you for all you're doing for this amazing Earth.

Wishing you a glorious Earth Day!

Blessings and EarthPeace,

Joyce 'EarthMama' Rouse


Financial Literacy Month: April

Financial Literacy and Media Literacy are two of the pillars of SLW!
HELPS:

  • Jeff 'Ultimate Cheapskate' Yeager on SLW! Podcast Ep. 43
  • 'SLW! Recommends' Literacy Project on Financial Literacy/Consumerism || on Media Literacy
  • Financial Literacy Month? Don't Be Fooled. A solution to this ongoing crisis is emerging courtesy of the FoolProof Foundation's Walter Cronkite Project. The project is offering a financial literacy curriculum that works. It is free, no strings attached -- right now, to all teachers and educators. The curriculum is extensive -- it offers up to 22 hours of financial literacy training, all turn-key for the teacher/mentor.
  • Making a Difference: Being Wise with Money using the Save-Spend-Share formula. Thrivent Financial is the nation's largest fraternal organization. A merger of Lutheran Brotherhood and Aid Association for Lutherans, Thrivent now serves all Christians and distributes part of its profits through its members to any qualified 501-c-3, non-profit organization. (Disclaimer: Rita and I have all our retirement funds in Thrivent. Thrivent does not distribute funds to organizations that it considers 'divisive.')
  • '5 Steps to Informed Giving' from Charity Navigator

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    Page updated 24 March 2017

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