Today is the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. For those below the equatorial line, it is the Winter Solstice. The June Solstice usually takes place between June 20-22. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, it usually is the longest day of sunlight as the North Pole tilts directly towards the sun. Which translates into more sunlight particularly the further north you live. For those more closer to the North Pole (Alaska, parts of Canada, and Scandinavian countries)the sun literally never sets during this time of year. Of course the reverse is true in the Southern Hemisphere. They get less sunlight on the June Solstice and the closer you are to the Antarctic Circle means less sunlight or total night.
The coming of summer is usually a time for celebration in many cultures. Festivals in Northern Europe celebrate summer and the fertility of the Earth. Bonfires are lit and homes are decorated to mark the festival. Many cultures honor the sun in some fashion. Modern day pagans and druids also celebrate the day with their own festivals and many go to Stonehenge in England to witness the first rays of summer.
Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who gave all to serve this country. At national cemeteries and smaller ones around the country, flags and flowers have been placed to remember them. We also remind ourselves that freedom is not easily granted, often requires great sacrifice. President Lincoln made note of this in his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day usually on or about January 7 each year. This is due to the fact that Eastern Orthodox follows the Julian calendar rather than Gregorian for liturgical feasts and occasions such as Christmas. So the date on the Julian calendar is December 25 but there is a 13 day difference so on the Gregorian or Western calendar it is January 7.
It is called the Gregorian calendar as Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed it in a Papal Bull in 1582. It was adopted by most Catholic countries but others did not use it right away (some for religious reasons since they were Protestant) and took over 300 years to be fully implemented. Great Britain did not formally adopt it till 1752. Russia adopted it in 1918, Greece in 1923 and Turkey in 1926. The reason for the change was the Julian calendar was not very accurate and had to many leap years. Because of this it would fall out of sync with fixed dates for astronomical events like equinoxes and solstices.
Eastern Orthodox Christians has over 250 million believers in Eastern Europe, Greece, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and United States. Except in countries that are predominately Eastern Orthodox, it is not celebrated as a public holiday.
Epiphany or Three Kings Day is January 6 and as the Twelfth Night officially ends the Christmas season. It is a day to celebrate the baptism of Jesus and the arrival of The Magi (Three Kings or Wise Men). In the Middle Ages Christmas was celebrated from Christmas Eve to January 6. And Epiphany Day was a major celebration well into the mid 19th century when its importance diminished. The Catholic Church no longer requires January 6 to be celebrated as a solemnity and celebrates it on the Sunday that follows it. Some Protestant churches celebrate the Epiphany season from January 6 till Ash Wednesday. Orthodox Christians celebrate it on January 19 as they follow the Julian calendar.
In many Spanish speaking countries, Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day)is celebrated with special foods and gatherings. Many European countries have their own unique observances as well. Children often gets treats or presents on this day. In Italy, La Befana flies through the night on January 5 on a broomstick to deliver gifts to good kids and give coal to the bad ones.
Though Christmas Day has come and gone, we are still in the Christmas season till Epiphany Day (usually January 6). Here is a classic from Handel’s Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus. A masterpiece that is timeless. Enjoy.
If you remember the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas you heard the name. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian church who was accused of blasphemy and put on trial by Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. After a trial in which he denounced them, Stephen was stoned to death. One of the witnesses to the event was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and is known today as the apostle Paul. Stephen is considered the first martyr for the faith, the reason his feast day immediately follows the celebration of Jesus birth. All the major Christian congregations–Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Orthodox–all venerate him as a Saint and celebrate the feast day (Western churches on 26 December, 27 Dec Orthodox, and 8 Jan Oriental Orthodox). In some countries (mainly Western Europe)it is a public holiday.
In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand it is celebrated as Boxing Day, a secular holiday that falls on the same day as Feast of Stephen. Traditionally it is the day in which servants and tradespeople receive the “Christmas box” from their employers. While that tradition may still hold true, it is either a second Christmas day for some or an extra shopping day (though in some countries it apparently is a day when a lot of returns to retailers takes place). It is also a major sports day as well.
“….And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)