Category Archives: Holidays

Chinese New Year–Roosters,dragons, lanterns, spring!

ADDENDUM — Saturday, January 28 – Be sure to click on today’s Google back story – great info on Chinese Lunar New Year – Year of the Rooster!


Something to crow about!” caught my eye as perhaps the best promo line for a Chinese New Year celebration! It’s posted by the Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville, announcing their Year of the Rooster celebration! Read more about the fun family event here. (

Roseville’s event is just one of scores of ways in which Minnesotans join in the traditions of the Chinese New Year, a grand celebration rich with ritual, stories, customs and legends. Though dates vary slightly, many agree that Chinese New Year 2017 begins January 28 and continues through February 3. This new year is something to crow about because it’s the Year of the Rooster!

The Calendar: And here it gets a little complicated. According to the traditional Chinese solar calendar the zodiac year begins with ‘Start of Spring’ on February 3rd in 2017. However, most Chinese tend to name a zodiac year from Chinese New Year according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, thus the 2017 lunar year of the Rooster starts on January 28th.   To add to the complexity, actually Start of Spring occurs twice in lunar year 2017. As lunar year 2017 starts on January 28th 2017 and finishes on February 15th 2018, there will be two ‘Starts of Spring” one on February 3th 2017, and another on February 4th 2018.

Moreover, to keep the Chinese lunar calendar within half a month of the traditional solar calendar, there will be a leap month in 2017 (a second lunar month 6 starting July 23rd). So there are 13 lunar months instead of 12, which means there are 384 days in Rooster year 2017.

Year of the Rooster: Roosters played a major role in the daily lives of people living in ancient times – so important that they were regarded as mascots because they ate harmful insects. They also served as timepieces, announcing the hours of the day. The term “rooster hours” actually refers to the early evening, 5:00-7:00 p.m., when the roosters would go back to their roosts.

Roosters are characterized by five virtues — literary, military prowess, courageous, benevolent, and trustworthy. People born in the year of the Rooster are said to be active, popular, outspoken, happiest in groups – probably in a group celebrating Chinese New Year! They’re also healthy and maybe a little moody!

Customs: A few highlights offer just a hint of the rich cultural tapestry. The first three days of the New Year are celebrated as public holidays.

The sea-dwelling monster Nian shows up on New Year’s Eve to eat people and livestock. Fear of Nian once sent folks scurrying for shelter until an old man visited to the village, saving the villagers by pasting red papers on doors, burning bamboo to make threatening noises, lighting candles and wearing red clothing. The old man’s techniques worked so well that the villagers adopted the firecrackers, red clothing, and other tools that have forever become the hallmarks of the new year festivities.

There was also a demon named Sui that showed up to terrify children while they were sleeping. Legend is that the children who were touched by the demon would be too frightened to cry out; thus, to keep children safe from Sui parents would light candles and stay up with the little ones. On one New Year’s Eve the parents gave their child coins to play with in order to keep him awake and alert to the treacherous demon.   The child wrapped the coins in red paper, opened the packet, rewrapped it, and reopened it until he fell asleep at which point the parents placed the red packet under his pillow. When Sui tried to touch the child’s head, the coins emitted a strong light, which turned out to be a cadre of fairies who scared the demon away. Of the many New Years customs this money-centric culture places special focus on the red packets so that today there is an entire etiquette of financial exchange.

There are layers upon layers of wonderful traditions, most revolving around family reunions and customs. Prominent among the traditions is the dragon, a popular and omnipresent symbol of strength and good luck.   Giant dragons, animated by teams of humans, are the main feature of every New Year parade. Another fascinating custom is the “spring couplet”   – not so much a literary effort but a poetic weapon designed to scare evil things away – long story.

The wrap-up of the New Year celebration is the Lantern Festival, a time to enjoy the beauty of holiday lanterns and the taste of sweet rice dumpling soup.   The best way to join in one of the many local Lantern Festivals is to check local online and print calendars – you may be surprised at just how many ways there are to share those red packets of coins and the fun of joining in the many and varied Chinese New Year customs.







Latest Plans for MLK Day 2017

Though we have yet to drop the crystal ball announcing the new year or to officially launch the new regime, this season more than most it seems wise to plan ahead for Martin Luther King Day, set for Monday, January 16, 2017. The message of hope that MLK shared with the world is needed at this hour.

One way to think ahead is to recall the contributions and leadership of MLK. And a way to do this is to immerse oneself in the era and to reflect on the issues is to listen to or read the words of MLK here: The I Have a Dream Speech (1963) or to read the Letter from Birmingham Jail:

The story of the long struggle to establish the MLK Holiday was is a saga in itself. Many articles have been written about that history – for a brief chronology look to the MLK Center’s website:

In weeks to come schools and libraries, nonprofits, the faith and academic communities and corporations will all be announcing plans for celebrating the life, work and words of Martin Luther King.  To learn about more about local MLK Day happenings follow the website and FaceBook sponsored by the Governor’s Council on the Martin Luther King Celebration:’s%20council%20on%20the%20mlk%20day%20celebration%20photos

Because plans are in-the-making keep on clicking during the next couple of weeks.

Some activities are already well set and posted. The day begins with a Youth Rally and March beginning at the State Capitol at 9:00 on Monday, January 16. The March will lead to the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for a program on civil rights, social justice and social consciousness.   Keynote speaker is Caroline Wanga, Chief Diversity Officer and VP of Diversity and Inclusion at Target Corporation.

Across the river hundreds of folks will gather for the annual Martin Luther King Day Breakfast. Keynote speaker this year is Myrlie Evers-Williams, a journalist and civil rights activist. Evers-Williams, who was married to murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers, chaired the NAACP from 1995-1998. She also wrote of her experience during the struggle for civil rights in several books including For Us, The Living and, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I was Meant to Be.

The MLK Day Breakfast has been sponsored for over a quarter century by The General Mills Foundation and The United Negro College Fund. The event is carried live on TPT/Channel 2 and replayed several times during MLK Day and again on following Sundays. Check TPT for specifics.

In recent times there has been a push to promote the idea of community service as an important aspect of MLK Day. To learn more about service opportunities, check with the Corporation for National Service.

And yet, all of these are examples of what others are doing, things people can attend. The reason to post this reminder at the start of the new year is to get readers thinking about taking the initiative locally. A challenge today is to generate ideas, to engage community not only in mega-events but also in local discussions of the message of Dr. King and the history of civil rights, voting rights, human rights. The challenge is to examine how we are doing in 2017.

A wise friend made me understand many years ago that MLK is one national holiday that is devoted not to family or parades or patriotism. It is instead a day for people to gather within their own circles, to get to know each other, to plan to work together to do what needs to be done in memory of Dr. King. To honor Dr. King we reach out within our local circle to understand, to collaborate, and to create a better community. In the spirit of MLK Day we are charged share ideas and energy with neighbors, co-workers, fellow-worshipers or learners, people we don’t even know yet – to work to create a common vision of a just society that recognizes and honors the rights of all.


NOTE – added event:  the East Side Freedom Library will sponsor a special screening on the evening of MLK Day — a screening of the recent documentary “Love and Solidarity.” (2014)  The film explores  nonviolence and organizing through the life and teachings of Reverend James Lawson.  Lawson provided strategic guidance during his work with MLK in southern struggles for civil rights, including the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968.  Lawson continued his  work in support of nonviolent protest  in Los Angeles where he organized community and and worker coalitions that played a role in the LA labor movement of that era.

NOTE – added event:  Love Hope Rise 2017 brings energy and ideas to this community’s Martin Luther King remembrance with a Solidarity March set for Saturday, January 14. In the spirit of the community celebration sponsors extend a special welcome to families with children and first-time demonstrators.


Theme of the Solidarity March is the basic principle of “treating others as you want to be treated.” There will be an indoor pre-march program, sign-making on the positive values of justice dignity, equality, freedom, stewardship and peace.

Check the Facebook event page to keep up with details and developments.

The East Side Freedom Library, co-sponsor of the March, will join the Love Hope Rise solidarity march as its regular Solidarity Saturday initiative.



Reflections on Kwanzaa at Fifty – A timely message

Kujichagulia (self determination) is the principle honored today, the second day of Kwanzaa. Kuichagulia calls on us to define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for others. Today many Americans of every race celebrate the seven-day holiday, first celebrated by people of African descent around the globe. This year marks the “golden” (50th) anniversary of Kwanzaa.

Founded by Maulana Karenga, ( then a graduate student, Kwanzaa encourages people to reflect and rejoice in their family, their community and their African culture. Each day focuses on one of seven principles (Nguzo Saba): On the first day, the focus is on Umoja (unity), today we reflect on self-determination. In the days that follow, the emphasis is on these principles, named in Swahili, the recognized language of Pan-Africanism:

  • Day 3 – Ujima (collective work and responsibility)
  • Day 4 – Ujamaa (cooperative economics)
  • Day 5 – Nia (purpose)
  • Day 6 – Kuumba (creativity) and
  • Day 7 – Imani (faith)

To be politically correct remember that the appropriate greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is unique, reflective of the principle of the day.

To learn more about Kwanzaa you might want to view the documentary that Maya Angelou narrated The Black Candle. Learn more here:

This site features a bit from a Sesame Street Kwanzaa video.

More Kwanzaa basics here: Or here

Needless to say, there are countless books about Kwanzaa written for children – here is one list selected by librarians, not book sellers:

To learn more about African American history, culture and leaders on an ongoing basis, you might want to follow the Schomburg Library here:

Note: In this Post Truth era know that there are unconfirmed rumors about Karenga that cast a shadow on what has come to be celebrated as a joyous week to reflect on the important things in life.


Wren Day (St. Stephen’s Day)-Before the age of gift-returns

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do

If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

Though the nursery rhyme suggests that Christmas yet to with Wren Day – the ditty actually refers to the day after Christmas, aka St. Stephen’s Day. If you’ve spent the Christmas holidays on the Dingle Peninsula on the West Coast of Ireland, you may have joined in the Wren Day festivities. If not, here’s the short version of the custom.

Back in the day, long before the advent of ASPCA, the Celtic custom was to celebrate the day after Christmas with a sort of wren hunt….Though there are many versions of the roots of the tradition the Christian version was that God established a competition to identify the king of all birds, to be determined, logically enough, by the bird that flew he highest. One might expect that the eagle would have the edge, but according to legend the infallible eager got tired and lost altitude – to be saved by the competitive little wren that had been hiding under the eagle’s wing. With a little help from the wren, the eagle triumphed.

As usual there are countless versions of the origins of the custom. Some suggest that the Celtic tradition goes back to the Druids who celebrated midwinter (Samhain) with a sacrifice to mark the end of the past year; the wren became the symbol of the old year, possibly because the little bird was known to sing all winter. More than a few wrens may have perished in the traditional Wren Day festivities over the centuries. Young boys did indeed chase and capture the hapless wren that was captured, hoisted on a pitchfork, and paraded in triumph; mummers joined the parade, monetizing it with the passing of the hat memorialized in the nursery rhyme. Over time Wren Day was softened with a stuffed bird replacing the real thing and young girls and even adults joining the celebration.  Today Wren Day is celebrated in fact as well as memory – most notably in Dingle (

One wonders how the modern tradition of post-holiday gift-returning will be honored by future generations.


Honoring the heritage of Native Americans at Thanksgiving

As too few Americans are aware, the day after Thanksgiving is not only about excessive mindless shopping, it is the day on which thoughtful Americans pause to celebrate National Native American Heritage Day. (

The origin of Native American Heritage Day goes back to President George W. Bush who signed the legislation that designated the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. With time the Day has morphed into the establishment of the month of November as Native American Heritage Month. Though the distinction between the month and the day is nuanced, November 25, 2016 offers a timely opportunity to pause, learn and reflect on the narrative and heritage of Native Americans.

President Obama’s proclamation declaring the month of November 2016 is an excellent starting point for understanding the import of the day and/or the month.

Numerous federal agencies have contributed to a mother lode of resources ranging from descriptions of parks to art to poetry to personal memories of Native Americans’ life experiences. Though the content is presented in calendar format, the films, audiotapes, photos and stories are not date specific. Let your fingers to the walking this amazing wealth of authentic resources!

Related info:

A guide with specific relevance to individuals interested to explore their personal American Indian heritage: A Guide to Tracing American Indian & Alaska Native Ancestry

A hot-off-the-press report with great relevance, less than mass reader appeal, is a report rom a recent conference related to Indigenous Archives, Libraries, and Museums organized by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums


Confucius Day is September 29 – Some thoughts

On Wednesday, September 29, we pause to remember, honor, quote, and reflect on words and ideas of Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius (551-479 BC). A cursory look convinced me that, assuming Confucius really did speak or write all those maxims, he was prescient, quotable and uniquely relevant to contemporary political discourse. The sage is credited with having taught his disciples that:

He who acts with a constant view to his own advantage will be much murmured against.

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.

A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.

Though the Confucian quotes encompass every nuance of the human condition, these few convinced me to learn more about the man himself.

First and foremost, Confucius was a mere mortal, a man whose reputation has been embellished and distorted over time. He is credited and blamed – not to mention quoted – by countless zealots who probably go on to quote the Bible to prove their point…

Still, the sage is honored as the source of numerous Chinese classic tests. His pithy aphorisms have been compiled in The Analects and translated into every known language. His principles shaped Chinese tradition and beliefs that live on in 21st Century discourse on issues ranging form ancestor worship, respect of elders by their children, and the Golden Rule,

Minnesotans enjoy the privilege of hosting two Confucius Institutes, one at the University of Minnesota and one at St. Cloud State University related to Chinese culture, language, history and contemporary financial affairs.

* The Confucius Institute at the University of Minnesota

* The Confucius Institute at St. Cloud State University (

Confucius Day will likely be on the minds of students, families and corporations involved with the Chinese American Association of Minnesota (CAMM).  Chinese language readers can learn more here –

Needless say, resources by and about Confucius are both robust and immensely controversial. Confucius Day 2016 comes at a time when we all could benefit from the wisdom and tenor of this prolific sage from ancient times. Assuming you have time on Confucius Day to reflect on just one Confucian aphorism, ponder this simple but abiding truth:

Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace



Drawing a blank – Verse, that is?

On Thursday, August 18, 2016, the world of letters will rise on its iambic, trochee, dactyl and/or spondee feet to celebrate Bad Poetry Day. (

According to the Official Rules of Bad Poetry Day, “poetry can be any literary work written or spoken, composed in metrical form.” Horrifying as this may be horrifying to purists, these are The Rules.

The ubiquity of Bad Poetry is legendary – whether a lame limerick, a banal biblical verse, hokey haiku or an odious ode. You can’t define it but you know it when you try to read or recite  it. And you know you are capable of an equally egregious elegy yourself.

So mark the calendar, think deep thoughts, then turn those images and phrases into the baddest of the bad.  Arrange a reading, preferably with libations, to share your personal paean to Bad Poetry Day 2016.

Still plenty of time ~ To fashion a rhyme