Holiday Traditions – February

Black History Month: February 1-28
Chinese New Year: February 18
Groundhog Day: February 2
Valentine’s Day: February 14
Presidents’ Day: February 19

Black History Month: February 1-28

Americans have recognized black history each year since 1926. What was initially known as “Negro History Week” later became “Black History Month.” This tradition originated long before black history had even begun to be studied — or even documented. Blacks have been in America at least as far back as colonial times, yet it wasn’t until the twentieth century that they began to be written into the history books.

Credit for kicking-off the study of black history goes to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The son of former slaves, Dr. Woodson grew up working in the Kentucky coal mines before beginning high school at twenty. He went the whole nine yards academically, eventually earning his Phd from Harvard. Disturbed to find that black American were largely absent from history books, the young scholar resolved to do something about it.

In 1915, Dr. Woodson established the Association for the Study of Afro–American Life and History. Just a year later he began the Journal of Negro History. It was he, in 1926, who launched Negro History Week in order to bring attention to the vast contributions of the black population in American history. February was chosen for many significant reasons:

  • February marks the birthdays of two men who greatly impacted black Americans, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
  • On February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment was passed, granting blacks the right to vote.
  • On February 21, 1965 Malcolm X, the militant leader, was shot to death.

Source:
infoplease.com

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Chinese New Year: February18

For Chinese Americans and Canadians, planning for this holiday, popularly known as the Spring Festival, begin several days before the New Year. According to tradition, families thoroughly clean the house to sweep away all ill fortune. Doors and windows are decorated, and gifts are purchased for family and friends.

New Year’s Eve is observed with a sumptuous feast shared by family and friends. At midnight, firecrackers and fireworks light up the sky. Early the next morning, parents and older siblings present children with “lucky money” wrapped in special red envelopes.

Later in the day, families venture out to greet relatives and neighbors with the salutation “Gong Hay Fat Choy” which means “Good Fortune to You.” It’s a time of reconciliation, goodwill, and peace throughout the community.

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Groundhog Day: February 2

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is the home of a groundhog named “Phil,” who annually forecasts the coming of spring. On February 2, before thousands of onlookers, Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his heated burrow to announce his prediction. If Phil sees his shadow, it signals six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, spring is just around the corner. Groundhog Day is a national media event in the United States and Canada. A groundhog from Wiarton, Ontario named “Willy” is Phil’s Canadian counterpart.

Groundhog Day became an American festival in 1887, but the holiday owes its origins to an early German tradition related to the festival of Candlemas. These early Christians believed that if the sun appeared on Candlemas, the hedgehog would cast a shadow predicting six more weeks of winter. According to an old Scottish maxim, “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”

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Valentine’s Day: February 14

It’s believed that Valentine’s Day had its beginnings in the Lupercalia — an ancient Roman festival celebrated February 15 to ensure fertility for the people, the fields, and the flocks.

During the Lupercalia, early Roman men often wore the names of young women who were to be their partners pinned to their sleeves. Hence the saying, “wearing your heart on your sleeve.”

When the Roman Empire wars broke out, married men didn’t want to leave their families while younger men didn’t want to leave their sweethearts. As a result of the low numbers of men willing to fight in the wars, Claudius the Cruel ordered that no more marriages or engagements take place.

Valentine, a priest, defied the order and married young couples in secrecy. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine dragged off and imprisoned, where he later died.

What Valentine did for young lovers was never forgotten. His legacy is still celebrated each February 14 on St. Valentine’s Day. The tradition continues with flowers, heart-shaped candies, and lacy valentines that celebrate love, while honoring the man — Valentine — who dared disobey Claudius the Cruel all those years ago.

Presidents’ Day: February 19

Presidents’ Day, observed on the third Monday in February, honors the past Presidents of the United States. Until 1968, US federal public holidays celebrating the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were observed on February 12 and February 22.

In 1968, a public law moved the legal observance of George Washington’s birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February. However, since Washington’s birthday observance was still only days after Lincoln’s, many states opted to combine both holidays into one.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that all US presidents be honored on a single national holiday called Presidents’ Day.

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