Exploring the holidays of February

Lunar New Year

We’ve had a busy week here at BCPS with multiple holidays and days off due to winter weather! We hope you’ve enjoyed the undoubtedly well-needed time at home with your families, staying cozy and warm as the temperatures outside drop. 

With so many holidays in the last week, we wanted to take a second for a bit of fun, and talk about each of them! Some of these holidays are pretty well-known, but others are from other cultures and are just as exciting. 


The Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year -- also known as the Chinese New Year, Spring Festival, or chunjie -- marks the end of the coldest days as people welcome springtime. It is known as the Lunar New Year because unlike our own New Year, it follows the lunar calendar, which uses the phases of the moon to measure time instead of the solar calendar, which measures the time between vernal equinoxes. 

There is no set date for the Lunar New Year, as it follows the phases of the moon, but for 2021, the New Year was celebrated on Friday, February 12. The New Year is typically celebrated for about 16 days, including the Eve of the New Year. Celebrations include setting off firecrackers, wearing the color red, taking a break from cooking and cleaning, burning fake paper money in honor of deceased loved ones, and so much more. If you are interested in learning more about the Lunar New Year, check out this site, a great resource for anything from traditions, myths and legends, food and drink, and information on the 12 zodiacs. 

With this Lunar New Year, we have entered the year of the Ox, whose feminine and receptive Yin energy promotes a year of endurance, stability, and grounding. While 2020 was viewed as a year of survival (the year of the Rat), we are now learning to anchor ourselves and make our dreams a reality. 

There’s still a week of celebrating left to be done! Treat yourself to learning more about the culture, traditions, myths, or even eating some delicious food to observe the New Year. 


Valentine’s Day

This one’s a no brainer! Every year, we celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14, seen as a day of L-O-V-E. Flowers, chocolates, cards, red roses, and other gifts are exchanged as symbols of love and affection. But where does Valentine’s Day really come from? 

This holiday dates back hundreds of years, but the date wasn’t associated as a day of romance until around the 14th Century. While the true origin of the holiday is vague, we can trace back the legend to about 270 CE. There were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, but one priest in particular who was martyred, or killed for his religious beliefs, by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus in Rome, first used a phrase we now use regularly. According to the legend, the priest wrote a letter to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and even healed from blindness. He signed the letter “from your Valentine.” 

As previously mentioned, the origin of this day is vague at best. Other legends say the day was named after St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop, though there are some theories that say the martyred priest and St. Valentine of Terni were the same person. Another account says St. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. Many of the legends revolve around the individual either writing a love letter or defying orders for love of others, which is why the date has become associated as such. 

People began to write cards, or valentines, in the 1500s, and the commercially printed cards we see today were being used by the late 1700s, although they didn’t make their way to the United States until the 1800s. 


Presidents’ Day

This federal holiday is usually pretty popular in the school systems -- if not for the fact that you get the day off! Presidents’ Day is celebrated on the third Monday in February, which was this past Monday, February 15. 

This holiday was established in recognition of President George Washington, the first President of the United States, in 1885. Initially, the day was celebrated on President Washington’s birthday, February 22. The day was later included in the 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which aimed to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. Due to this act, the date was moved to the third Monday of February. 

Since the date was moved from President Washington’s birthday to the third Monday, we now refer to the date as President’s Day, to celebrate all U.S. Presidents, past and present. However, several states still have individual holidays to honor specific President’s birthdays. 


Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday

This day is all about eating and having fun! Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, is the Christian feasting period before the start of Lent (the fasting period) on Ash Wednesday. Depending on where you are in the world -- and what your culture is -- you may also know this day as Shrove Tuesday, or even Carnival Tuesday. 

While many of us probably think of Mardi Gras as being one day, it’s actually an entire Carnival season. Celebrations typically begin on January 6, or the Three Kings’ Day, which commemorates the visit of the three Kings to the Christ child's twelve days after his birth. Think of the season as humans preparing for hibernation: they eat and indulge themselves until the start of Lent, which in the past was a traditional period of fasting. 

This season is all about indulgence; since Lent used to mean 40 days of avoiding foods such as flour, eggs, milk, butter, and fat, families rushed to use up these items so they would not spoil. It is from this tradition that we get fatty, rich foods such as packzis, which are filled Polish donuts; King Cake, a cinnamon cream cheese cake that usually contains a hidden plastic baby; beignets, a French donut; and so much more. 

This celebration dates all the way back to ancient Rome festivities celebrating the harvest season, but after Christianity arrived in Rome, old traditions were incorporated into the new faith, becoming a prelude for the Lenten season. This holiday has long been associated with the city of New Orleans, primarily due to their intensely flamboyant parades, decorations, food, and parties. It was first celebrated in New Orleans in 1837, and even included parties, parades, and even balls to take place throughout the Carnival season. It is also celebrated all over the world, known as Mardi Gras in New Orleans and France, Carnival in Brazil and other countries, and even Pancake Day in England. 


Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the start of the 40-day Christian season of fasting up until Easter. This day is a Christian holy day of prayer fasting, preceded by Shrove Tuesday. Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition, which includes wearing ashes on the head, which symbolize the dust from which God made us. The ashes are applied to the forehead by a priest, who says something typically along the lines of, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

As mentioned, Ash Wednesday kicks off the Lenten season, the 6-week fasting period that ends with Easter. This season is about fasting and prayer, in imitation of Jesus Christ fasting in the wilderness before he began his public ministry. Lent is practiced as a way to foster simplicity and self-control; individuals will typically give up one of their indulgences, such as something sweet, along with not eating meat on Fridays (hello, fish frys!), limiting social media intake, and more. It is a reminder to pray and refocus on spiritual matters. 


We hope you enjoyed our brief holiday history lesson! These explanations were basic in their nature, meant to be a small exploration of the holidays. If one of these days or seasons speaks to you and you’re hungry for more information, don’t be afraid to do your own research!


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