commemorate: v. to hold a ceremony or observation to remember someone or a group or event or action biannual(ly): adv. occurring twice a year, also called “semi-annual.” Something that occurs every two years is biennial.
centennial: n. occuring once in a hundred years fireworks: n. a display of explosive devices as part of a celebration
topped: adj. placed on top
birthday boy or girl: adj+n. a term commonly used to refer to a child on the day of his or her birth customary: adj. commonly practiced or used as a matter of course; usual tier: n. a layer
vow: n. a solemn promise or commitment to a
prescribed role, typically to marriage
progeny: n. a child or descendent
durable: adj. able to resist wear or decay well; lasting
Opposite page: A couple celebrates their 50th wedding anniversary.
Gung Hay Fat Choy! This is
the Chinese greeting for the New Year; it means, “Wishing you luck and prosperity.” The New Year is one of the most important and festive Chinese holidays. In the United States, where more than 2.5 million people of Chinese descent live, Chinese New Year’s celebrations provide an important connection to Chinese culture and heritage.
Chinese immigrants brought the traditions with them when they came to America to work in gold mining camps and on the railroads in the mid-1800s.
The Chinese New Year falls in late January or early February according to the Chinese lunar calendar, and traditionally lasts fifteen days ending with the full moon.
For the New Year, people decorate their homes with colorful pictures of flowers and fruits, and hang red paper squares or scrolls on which gold Chinese characters represent luck, happiness, prosperity, or health. Red is the color for Chinese New Year as it represents good luck. It also symbolizes fire, which is said to drive away bad luck and evil spirits, particularly the legendary monster, “nian.” People wear red for the New Year, write poems and wishes on red paper, and give red envelopes, called “laisee” packets, filled with “lucky money” to children and young adults. Red firecrackers are also an essential part
of Chinese New Year. From ancient times to the present, Chinese people have welcomed in the New Year and chased away the evil spirits by setting off firecrackers. Long ago people lit bamboo stalks, which crackled and sparked to scare away spirits that could bring bad luck to the year.
On the night before the New Year, families and friends come together for a special meal, which includes Chinese foods that represent happiness, health, and luck.
On the final night of celebration is the Feast of the Lantern, or “Yuen Sui.” The lanterns are beautifully painted with animals, flowers and birds, or legendary scenes. Traditionally, the glowing lanterns were carried in a procession and hung in the temples. The Feast of the Lantern includes a dragon dance, which is performed by a huge, long dragon made of paper, silk, bamboo, or rattan. The dragon is carried by many people as it dances through the streets chasing a red “sun – ball,” or a white “pearl-ball,” held aloft by a parade participant. In the United States, the Feast of the Lantern is generally part of a larger parade that often occurs on the weekend closest to the New Year.
Today, Chinatowns in American cities with large Chinese populations, such as New York and San Francisco, hold elaborate and lively New Year’s celebrations that attract hundreds of thousands of participants and spectators.
In San Francisco, Chinese New Year is one of the largest Asian cultural events outside of Asia. Huge crowds gather in the streets of Chinatown to watch the festive and noisy parade, which includes decorated floats, musicians playing drums and gongs, lion dancers with paper lion heads on sticks, marching bands, Chinese acrobats, martial arts groups, and many firecrackers. At the end of the parade is a special Golden Dragon that was made by dragon masters in Foshan, China. The Golden Dragon is resplendent in gold and silver, fur, silk, paper, and rainbow-colored pompoms. It stretches over 200 feet long and requires 100 people to carry it. The dragon sways back and forth, twists and turns, jumps and dances amid the sparks and noise of over 500,000 firecrackers!
An important aspect of Chinese New Year is the animal connected with that year. For example, the New Year may be called, “The Year of the Horse” or “The Year of the Dog.” The Chinese lunar calendar, created in 2600 BC, has a 12-year
cycle, and each year is associated with one of 12 animals on the Chinese calendar. The animals are the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. It is said that when Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on the New Year, these twelve animals came, and he named a year for each one. People born in that year are said to embody the characteristics, both good and bad, of its animal. The animal for the year is honored and featured on posters and many other items during New Year’s celebrations.
National flags are not merely
symbols of a country. Their colors and designs convey past history and future goals. Flags have powerful connotations. They speak to the people and politicians. Flags show identity and are flown by international carriers and transport vehicles for this purpose. Flags show national pride; many athletes, for example, after winning an international sports event drape themselves with their national flag.
It is interesting to point out that the United States did not even have a standardized flag until 1912.
Called the “Stars and Stripes,” or “Old Glory,” the flag is one of the more complicated in the world, requiring 64 pieces of fabric to make.
The current flag has thirteen red and white alternating stripes (representing the original 13 states) and fifty stars (each star representing one of the states of the Union) on a blue background.
The American flag has changed designs more than any other flag in the world. The first flag, called the “Grand Union,” designed by George Washington, was flown at the headquarters of the Continental Army on January 1, 1776. This flag contained the British flag, the “Union Jack,” in the upper left corner, and had thirteen stripes of red and white.
On June 14, 1777, after the Declaration of Independence, Congress proposed that the United States
have its own national flag instead of showing the British “Union Jack.” The new design replaced the “Union Jack” with thirteen white stars on a blue field. The thirteen stars of the flag represented the thirteen new states. The following remark about the design is attributed to Washington:
We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separate it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her…
It is not known who actually designed this flag. Betsy Ross, a seamstress, is said to have contributed to its design. She had an upholstery business, which made flags for navy ships in Pennsylvania. A legend still persists that she showed George Washington how to make a five-pointed star, and suggested thirteen stars in a circle for the first flag. Her descendants claimed that she offered Washington the design. Actually, it is unknown whether she and George Washington ever met.
There were few public ceremonies honoring the “Stars and Stripes” until 1877. In that year, on June 14, the first official Flag Day was observed, and Congress requested that the flag be flown from every government building in honor of the centennial of the adoption of a national flag. Schools had unfurled American flags over their doors or outside the building long before this; but in 1890,
North Dakota and New Jersey made a law that required their schools to fly the flag daily. New York was the first state to proclaim June 14 as Flag Day, to be celebrated as an annual event. Other states were slow to follow. Some people thought that the day was too close to Memorial Day and Independence Day. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Flag Day a national celebration.
In August 1949, President Harry S. Truman signed the national Flag Day Bill, officially recognizing June 14 as Flag Day. Since then, the President proclaims the commemoration yearly, and encourages all Americans in the country to display the “Stars and Stripes” outside their homes and businesses. Individual states determine how they will observe the day. Usually the flag is flown from all public buildings, speeches are made in public places, and ceremonies take place in some towns and cities.
Until 2002, elementary school children across the nation recited the Pledge of Allegiance in front of
the flag every weekday morning. However, many people felt that this requirement violated individual rights outlined in the U. S. Constitution. Some people also felt that the words, “under God,” which had been added to the Pledge in 1954, had no place in a patriotic pledge, and should be removed. Much debate and controversy arose over these issues, and on June 25, 2002, the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled unconstitutional the requirement that public school children recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Private schools and institutions were free to make their own decisions about the pledge. The words, “under God,” remain in the pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Americans take the treatment of their flag seriously, and in the 20th century this became an important and sometimes controversial
issue. Included in the code of ethics governing the handling, use, and display of the flag are such rules as: The national flag should be flown between sunrise and sunset, except on some special occasions. Though it is not illegal to fly the flag 24 hours a day, it should be spotlighted if flown at night. It cannot cover a monument or any ceiling. It must not be folded while being displayed. No one should write on an American flag. Ships can lower their flags slightly in greeting each other, as can military color guard in ceremonies, but otherwise it should not be dipped for any other object or person. The flag should not be hung upside down, unless done so as a distress signal. The flag is flown at half-mast in honor of a national hero or leader upon his or her death, or to honor a celebrity or group of people such as soldiers who gave so much, including their lives, for their country.
As in every country of the world, the treatment of the flag displays an opinion or statement. In the late 1960s, American students wore small flags sewn to their clothing and draped flags around their shoulders, symbolically challenging the American government and protesting its involvement in the Vietnam War. They burned the American flag in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D. C., as a statement of protest. In the early 1990s, senators suggested an amendment to the Constitution that would make wearing and burning of the flag illegal. The proposition was opposed because many others felt that this change would be a violation of Americans’ constitutional rights to express their opinions freely.
The flag is one of the nation’s most powerful and significant symbols, and as such, is celebrated every June 14th in the United States. In fact, the symbolic nature of the flag is what inspired the U. S. national anthem. In September 1814, during the War of 1812 between the British and Americans, a lawyer named Francis Scott Key watched a fiery battle in the Baltimore Harbor. The morning after the battle he saw the flag waving, and was inspired to write a poem. This poem became the national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The actual flag from that battle is on exhibit at the Museum of American History in Washington, D. C.
Halloween originated in part as a celebration connected with evil spirits and the dead.
Witches flying on broomsticks with black cats, ghosts, goblins, and skeletons have all evolved as symbols of
Halloween. They are popular as trick-or-treat costumes, and decorations for greeting cards and windows. Black is one of the traditional Halloween colors, probably because Halloween festivals and traditions took place at night and also marked the beginning of winter darkness. In the weeks before October 31, retail shops and school windows are decorated with silhouettes of witches and black cats. Some people decorate their front door with Halloween symbols or fake spider webs. Others create elaborate and scary scenes, such as spooky graveyards, on their front lawns.
Pumpkins are also a symbol of Halloween. Since the pumpkin is a large, orange-colored squash, orange has become the other traditional Halloween color. Carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns is a Halloween custom dating back to Ireland. A legend grew up about a man named Jack who was so stingy that he was not allowed into heaven when he died. His spirit was doomed to wander around the countryside, holding a lantern to light his way.
The Irish people carved scary faces out of turnips representing “Jack of the Lantern,” or Jack-o’-lantern. When the Irish brought their customs to the United States, they carved faces on pumpkins because in the autumn, pumpkins were more plentiful than turnips. Today a jack-o’-lantern, with a candle lit and glowing inside, is placed in the window or on the front porch of a house on Halloween night to let costumed children know that there are goodies waiting if they knock on the door and say “Trick or Treat!”
On the second Sunday in May,
American children of all ages treat their mothers to something special. It is the day when children, young and old, try to show, in a tangible way, how much they appreciate their mothers, or those who have served as mother figures in their lives.
England was one of the first countries to set aside a day to recognize mothers. In the eighteenth century when many people worked as household servants for the rich, “Mothering Sunday” was reserved for them to return home to be with their mothers. Though this custom changed when the Industrial Revolution altered people’s working and living patterns, mothers in England are still honored with a special day in March.
In the United States, the idea of Mother’s Day was first introduced in 1872 by Julia Ward Howe, a famous writer and social reformer of the time. However, the establishment of an official day to honor mothers was due largely to the perseverance and love of one daughter, Anna Jarvis. Anna’s mother had provided strength and sup
port as the family made their home in West Virginia and then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Anna’s father served as a minister. As a girl, Anna had helped her mother take care of her garden, filled mostly with white carnations, her mother’s favorite flower. When Mrs. Jarvis died on May 5, 1905, Anna was determined to honor her. She asked the minister at her former church in West Virginia to give a sermon in her mother’s memory. On the same Sunday, their minister in Philadelphia also honored Mrs. Jarvis, and all mothers, with a special Mother’s Day service. Anna Jarvis began writing to members of congress, asking them to set aside a day to honor mothers. In 1910, the governor of West Virginia proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. A year later, every state was celebrating it, and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson declared the first national Mother’s Day.
On Mother’s Day morning, some American children follow the tradition of serving their mothers breakfast in bed. Other children will give their mothers gifts that they have made themselves or bought in stores. Adults also give their mothers cards, gifts, and flowers—often red carnations, the official Mother’s Day flower. If their mothers are deceased, they may bring white carnations or other flowers to their gravesites. Mother’s Day is the busiest day of the year for American restaurants. On her special day, family members do not want Mom to have to cook dinner!
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