Happy Cinco de Mayo from American Greetings!
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” ~ Douglas Adams, Humorist/Novelist
Did you meet the Tax Day deadline…or will you be hearing a whooshing sound? Hopefully your forms are signed, sealed and stamped, and you’ve got some spare time for some fun tax day trivia:
So, why is the deadline today? When the 16th amendment of 1913 started taxing anyone earning $3,000 or more, the filing deadline was actually March 1. Rumor has it, the date was changed to April 15 in 1955 because the IRS wanted more time to do the work. And to the IRS’s defense, processing returns really is a daunting task. If each form was processed in one minute, which would be warp-speed, it would take one person about 445 years to get the job done.
But just doing one tax return can be a challenge for even the smartest citizen. Albert Einstein once said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax.” And that’s when tax forms were only three pages long. Now the easiest tax form has 33 pages of instruction! So it’s probably no surprise that some people simply skip filing. But it is a shock to find out who breaks the law. In 1952, Joseph Nunan was imprisoned for five years for tax evasion…and to think that he was once the Commissioner of the IRS!
On the other end of the spectrum, the IRS’s favorite taxpayers are married, childless people who rent their homes and earn a decent salary—because they get the fewest breaks. And speaking of breaks, did you know car accidents tend to go up 6% on April 15? It’s probably due to people racing to the post office — so slow down and try to have a stress-free day!
The highlight of the Passover celebration is the tradition of seder which is a fifteen-step, family-oriented, ritual-packed feast! Observed on the first two nights of Passover, it is based on the Haggadah which is a book of instructions, prayers, blessings and stories and provides the order for the ritual meal. Haggadah means “the telling” in Hebrew and refers to one of the most important steps of the seder which is the recitation of the Exodus story. It is interesting because the text in the traditional Haggadah is almost the same as was first written in the eleventh century. However, now there are hundreds of versions used, each with a different spin. The most symbolic of the foods served at the seder meal is definitely the matzah which is eaten three times to fulfill the requirements of Jewish law. Matzah is an unleavened, flat, crispy bread and signifies the urgency in which the Jews fled Egypt — they didn’t even have time to let their dough rise!
Other customs of the seder meal include drinking four cups of wine, serving a variety of delicious kosher foods and reclining during the meal in celebration of freedom. It is truly a festive event. Shalom, Everyone!
Passover begins today at sunset and is an eight-day celebration that commemorates the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. But here’s more of the story…
After decades of slavery to Egyptian pharaohs, God helped the Israelites escape by sending ten plagues to Egypt. At the stroke of midnight, the tenth plague killed every first-born Egyptian, but God spared the children of Israel by “passing over” their homes—hence the name for the holiday. Pharaoh finally relented and virtually chased 600,000 Israelites out of the land. In fact, they left in such a hurry, the bread they baked didn’t have time to rise or leaven before they made the trek back to Israel. Originally, the unleavened bread was tossed into baskets and baked by the sun, resulting in a flatbread or cracker. Now, those who adhere to Jewish dietary laws rid their homes of all leavened bread, called chametz, before Passover begins. Passover is divided into two parts. The first two days and last two days are full-fledged holidays, while the “intermediate days,” called chol hamoed, are semi-festive and work is permitted.
Wishing you all a Healthy and Happy Passover!
Today is Purim! This festive Jewish holiday commemorates the bravery of a young girl, Esther, who saved her people from being massacred in Persia in the fourth century BCE. Her story, which is the basis of the Biblical Book of Esther, tells of how she won the heart and hand of King Ahasuerus with her great beauty. She kept her heritage a secret, but when her guardian, Mordecai, discovered the evil vizier Haman was going to have all Jews killed, she risked her life by revealing her identity to the king. Miraculously, the tables were turned on Haman, as the king adored Esther; her people were saved while Haman was put to death.
This wonderful holiday is celebrated with the community, and at the synagogue, the Scroll of Esther—the Megillah—is read. But don’t think this is a somber event! Every time Haman’s name is mentioned, the congregation hollers and shouts, and shakes graggers, or noisemakers, to drown out the evildoer’s name, which adds to the fun. Temples and community centers often host plays and carnivals, and the children dress up in costumes ranging from superheroes to Queen Esther herself.
Of course, a holiday wouldn’t be complete without delicious food, and Purim is no exception! One of the most important treats is hamantashen, a filled, three-cornered pastry named after evil Haman. Kreplach, a filled pasta, is also traditionally served at the seudah, or the celebratory meal. It’s definitely a day for partying!
Friendship and charity are important themes of Purim, and so people give gifts of food to friends and donations to those who are in need. After all, the joy of the day, and the miracle of good over evil is something that’s meant to be shared.
Did you know that Groundhog Day, which is celebrated mainly in the United States, is closely linked with Candlemas Day originated by the early Christians in Europe? According to folklore, it was the Germans, Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers, who eventually brought this tradition to North America. Interestingly, the groundhog closely resembled the English hedgehog, which was considered to be a wise and sensible animal. The settlers decided that if the sun was out on February 2, this wise animal would see its shadow and have the good sense to jump back in its hole for another six weeks of winter.
Well, six weeks or not, we must all persevere — happy wintering, everyone!
Today we are celebrating two holidays. First, Happy Thanksgiving! And no, we’re not early — it’s Canadian Thanksgiving! The concept of a day of gratitude can be traced all the way back to 1578 for our neighbors to the north, but the idea was formalized in 1872, when the country was grateful for the recovery of the ill Prince of Wales. Beginning in 1879, celebrations were held every year, mainly to give thanks for the harvest. Although the holiday is officially observed on the second Monday in October, you will find many Canadians traveling and getting together with family and friends for their thanksgiving meal on any one of the three days during the weekend. And yes, just like Americans, many Canadians do enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie along with some football on this noteworthy day. So join in the fun and be sure to say “Cheers” with a glass of spiced cider!
Second, it is Columbus Day — a public holiday in many parts of the United States that honors the exploration achievements of Christopher Columbus and for some, celebrates Italian-American heritage. Christopher Columbus’ famous journey to the Americas in 1492 was noteworthy in that it marked the first intertwining of Europe with the New World. It also proved that our globe was much bigger than even Columbus had imagined. Today you may find celebratory festivities and parades, especially in communities with a large Italian-American presence, honoring the courage and adventurous spirit of Columbus and his crew. And if there are no events near you, perhaps you can commemorate the day by serving one of these easy Italian recipes for dinner tonight!
Regardless of where you live, there’s so much to appreciate and celebrate in this beautiful autumn month of October!
L’Shanah Tovah—To a Good Year! Our best wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy year as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah. This holiday, which literally means “Head of the Year,” is the Jewish New Year. The two-day celebration that began at sundown last night also marks the beginning of the High Holy Days, which end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Now though, is a time for sending good wishes for the New Year and for gathering together with family and friends. Jews around the world go to temple services on these sacred days, where special prayers are recited, and the shofar is often heard. The striking sound made by the ram’s horn heralds the New Year and calls us to look within and to reflect and see where we need to repent and make amends.
With traditional gatherings, challah and apples dipped in honey are often served to symbolize a sweet New Year. You can make this more meaningful for the children in your family by having them create their very own apple-shaped honey holder. Adults will enjoy it, too! Continue the good wishes by serving tzimmes—a sweet, stew-like dish that is easy to add your own personal touch to, and by making a delicious honey cake for dessert. This start to the High Holy Days is filled with hope and happiness and meant to be shared with those you love.
Get ready for the 4th of July! There’s so much to celebrate about our great country, and the 4th of July is the holiday to do just that! The first rule of the day is to show your patriotic pride, so be sure to wear red, white, and blue clothing. It’s easy to improvise by adding colorful bandanas, jewelry and hair accessories, or you can even paint your nails red, white and blue! It’s also great to share the meaning of the day with others by displaying an American flag. Old Glory is always an inspiring sight, not just on the 4th, but all year long.
This year’s holiday falls in the middle of the week, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less special. Simply consider keeping your festivities closer to home, and you can also share 4th of July Printable Cards with everyone you’ll be spending the day with, or send patriotic ecards to people you might not get to visit. Many cities have parades, which are fun for kids and grown-ups alike: check your community’s website for details. Afterwards, nothing beats a backyard cookout with family and friends. Keep the theme of the day going (and keep the kids busy) by making fast, yet festive 4th of July decorations. Use craft sticks to make stars, ribbons to decorate flowerpots, and more! And of course, don’t forget to serve good ol’ American food like burgers and hotdogs, but add in some patriotic treats like a yummy Fruit Flag.
The 4th of July just wouldn’t be complete without fireworks, would it? Again, check with your community to find out the times and locations, and then plan on extending your backyard celebration. If you’ll be watching from a park, pack up those lawn chairs and any leftovers—or better yet, make some popcorn to bring along. Often, band concerts accompany the show, but if not, bring along some instruments—or just your voice—and start a Fourth of July sing-a-long that will make those fireworks even more spectacular, and provide a perfect ending to our nation’s birthday celebration!