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12 of the World's Most Impressive Easter Services

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Easter, the most holy of all Christian holidays, is celebrated with special services all over the world. Some of these Easter services may even inspire you to plan a pilgrimage.

1. SALEM CONGREGATION SUNRISE SERVICE // WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA

The Salem Congregation Sunrise Service is the oldest continuous Easter sunrise service in America. It was first held in 1772, in the same manner Moravian churches held the service in Germany since 1732. Now, 245 years later, people come from all over the world to experience Easter sunrise in Winston-Salem. The Church Band, which is made up of around 100 members from all 13 churches of the Salem Congregation of Moravian churches, is used for all outdoor services such as funerals. It assembles at midnight for a breakfast, and then at 2 a.m. they march through the city playing hymns to begin Easter Sunday and to wake everyone for the service. This year's service will begin at 6 a.m. outside the Home Moravian Church for a procession to the Salem Moravian Graveyard, known as God's Acre. The service will be live-streamed at WSJS.com.

2. ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH // ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA

Dating from the 4th century, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church counts its membership in the tens of millions. Devout adults give up all animal products during a 55-day Lent and then eat or drink nothing at all in the three days before Easter. The Easter (Fasika) service in Addis Ababa, the church's headquarters, is a music- and light-filled celebration that begins on Saturday night. Early on Easter morning, worshippers go home to break their fast. From the church website:

Easter, the feast of feasts, is celebrated with special solemnity. The church is filled with fragrance of incense and myriads of lights. The clergy are arrayed in their best vestments. All the people hold lighted tapers. Greetings are exchanged, drums are beaten, hands are clapped and singing is heard everywhere: "our resurrection has come, hosanna." Men are heard saying "O Lord Christ have mercy upon us." They pray for a blessing, "O God make it to be a festival of our good fortune and of our well being! Let us have another threshing floor and another year if thou wilt."

See an Easter service at the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Washington, D.C. here.

3. CATHEDRAL OF CHRIST THE SAVIOUR // MOSCOW, RUSSIA

The Presidential Press and Information Office via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow is the tallest Orthodox church in the world. Patriarch Kirill, head of all the Russian Orthodox Church, presides over the Easter (Pascha) midnight mass. He begins the mass wearing white vestments, but changes to red before the end of the mass. See pictures from the Easter liturgy here.

4. LINCOLN MEMORIAL SUNRISE SERVICE // WASHINGTON, D.C.

For the past 39 years, the Capital Church of Vienna, Virginia, has led the Easter Sunrise Service at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. This year's service will begin at 6:30 a.m., and the interdenominational event is expected to draw several thousand people. The spectacular view of the sunrise over the Washington Monument is definitely a reason to wake up for the early-morning service.

5. CATHEDRAL OF SAINT MARY OF THE FLOWER // FLORENCE, ITALY

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At the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower (or simply the Duomo, as it's commonly known), Easter mass goes out with a bang. The tradition goes back to the Crusades when three flint stones were brought back to Florence from the Holy Sepulchre. They were used to spark the symbolic new fire at Easter, which is distributed to parishioners for their homes. The cart that carried the fire became more elaborate and was eventually loaded with explosives so that the holy fire would create real fireworks. This became known as Scoppio del Carro, or "explosion of the cart." The parish's love of fireworks entered the Easter morning mass itself in the 16th century when the church began using a rocket, shaped like a dove, as a visual aid to symbolize peace and the Holy Spirit. The holy fire is used to ignite the dove, which travels down a wire from the choir loft to the square outside and ignites the fire delivery cart. The fireworks display lasts for about 20 minutes.

6. HOLY RESURRECTION CATHEDRAL // TOKYO, JAPAN

The Holy Resurrection Cathedral is an Orthodox Church in Tokyo, informally called Nikolai-do after its founder, St. Nicholas Kasatkin. The Easter mass at the cathedral begins Saturday 30 minutes before midnight and runs until about 4 a.m. During that time, the lighting in the cathedral is changed from dark purple to bright white, signifying the resurrection. Food that was eschewed during Lent is brought in to be blessed before the feast that breaks the fast on Easter Sunday. Blessings are given in dozens of languages.

7. MOUNTAINTOP SUNRISE SERVICE // STONE MOUNTAIN, GEORGIA

In 1944, a Methodist church took their youth group to the top of Stone Mountain to watch the sunrise on Easter morning, and a tradition was born. Now the Stone Mountain Sunrise Association conducts an Easter sunrise service every year for thousands of people. The Skyride lift begins operation three hours before the service, and anyone who decides to hike instead is urged to bring flashlights and allow plenty of time. For those who wish to remain at a lower elevation (or don't arrive early enough), a second service at the base of the mountain is held at the same time.

8. SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH // MANILA, PHILIPPINES

San Agustin, a Roman Catholic church in Manila, celebrates Easter with a midnight mass featuring the Salúbong, a pageant that recreates the joyful meeting of Jesus and his mother, Mary, after the resurrection. The drama begins with the procession of statues and includes music and dance. The Salúbong is performed as the sun rises on Easter morning and signifies the end of Holy Week rituals.

9. ZION CHRISTIAN CHURCH // MORIA, SOUTH AFRICA

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Formed in 1910, the Zion Christian Church has between five and eight million members. It is notably one of the largest African-initiated churches, meaning it was not founded by missionaries. The Easter celebration at the church's headquarters in Moria is the largest Christian gathering in South Africa, as millions of ZCC congregants travel to Moria for their annual pilgrimage. The Easter service, which is held outside, is full of music from brass bands and choirs, and includes group dancing and a sermon from the ZCC bishop, currently Bishop Barnabus Lekganyane of the St. Engenas Zion Christian Church.

10. THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE // JERUSALEM

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the area identified as Golgotha, where the crucifixion of Jesus took place. Today, the church is under the shared custody of several different Christian sects. The Catholic Easter Vigil service begins on Saturday morning with a Latin liturgy and lasts through to early Sunday. In reality, there are breaks in the service, as Orthodox Christians will be celebrating Easter on the same date and using the church for their Holy Fire ceremony Saturday evening. According to the Orthodox tradition, a blue flame emanates from the tomb of Jesus, which the Patriarch uses to light candles. The fire is then passed to candles held by attendees, who take the holy flame home to places around the world. See pictures of the church's many Holy Week events here.

11. GARDEN TOMB SERVICE // JERUSALEM

Protestant Christians, who are not represented among the custodians of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, often celebrate Easter in Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb, an alternative site considered by some to be the tomb of Jesus. The outdoor garden hosts several Resurrection services: an Arabic service Saturday at 4 p.m., two English services on Sunday at 6:30 and 9:30 a.m., and a Scandinavian service at 11 a.m. You can see pictures of the sunrise service here.

12. ST. PETER'S SQUARE // VATICAN CITY

Sean Brucker via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

So many people travel to Vatican City in Rome for Easter that services are moved from St. Peter's Basilica to the square outside. Pope Francis has a full schedule of masses and blessings during Holy Week, culminating in the biggest crowds for the Easter Vigil and Easter morning mass. The Easter Vigil begins at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Easter Mass is at 10:15 a.m. Sunday, and there will also be a blessing at noon. St. Peter's Square can hold up to 80,000 people (though crowds lining the streets in the past have been estimated to be as big as 150,000), but for an Easter service, you'll need to reserve tickets well in advance.

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
CARL DE SOUZA, AFP/Getty Images

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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12 Things You Might Not Know About Juneteenth
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There's more than one Independence Day in the U.S. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that slaves were now free. Since then, June 19 has been celebrated as Juneteenth across the nation. Here's what you should know about the historic event and celebration.

1. SLAVES HAD ALREADY BEEN EMANCIPATED—THEY JUST DIDN'T KNOW IT.

A page of the original Emancipation Proclamation on display from the National Archives.
A page of the original Emancipation Proclamation, from the National Archives.
ALEX WONG, AFP/Getty Images

The June 19 announcement came more than two and a half years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, so technically, from the Union's perspective, the 250,000 slaves in Texas were already free—but none of them were aware of it, and no one was in a rush to inform them.

2. THERE ARE MANY THEORIES AS TO WHY THE LAW WASN'T ENFORCED IN TEXAS.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering to Union General Ulysses S Grant at the close of the American Civil War, at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

News traveled slowly back in those days—it took Confederate soldiers in western Texas more than two months to hear that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox. Still, some have struggled to explain the 30-month gap between the proclamation and freedom, leading some to suspect that Texan slave owners purposely suppressed the announcement. Other theories include that the original messenger was murdered to prevent the information from being relayed or that the Federal government purposely delayed the announcement to Texas in order to get one more cotton harvest out of the slaves. But the real reason is probably that Lincoln's proclamation simply wasn't enforceable in the rebel states before the end of the war.

3. THE ANNOUNCEMENT ACTUALLY URGED FREED SLAVES TO STAY WITH THEIR FORMER OWNERS.

Photograph portrait of Civil War General Gordon Granger
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

General Order No. 3, as read by General Granger, said:

"The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

4. WHAT FOLLOWED WAS KNOWN AS "THE SCATTER."

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Obviously, most former slaves weren't terribly interested in staying with the people who had enslaved them, even if pay was involved. In fact, some were leaving before Granger had finished making the announcement. What followed was called "the scatter," when droves of former slaves left the state to find family members or more welcoming accommodations in northern regions.

5. NOT ALL SLAVES WERE FREED INSTANTLY.

Illustration of a white man reading something to a black slave.
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Texas is a large state, and General Granger's order (and troops to enforce it) were slow to spread. According to historian James Smallwood, many enslavers deliberately suppressed the information until after the harvest, and some beyond that. In July 1867 there were two separate reports of slaves being freed, and one report of a Texas horse thief named Alex Simpson whose slaves were only freed after his hanging in 1868.

6. FREEDOM CREATED OTHER PROBLEMS.

Mist and fog over a river
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Despite the announcement, Texas slave owners weren't too eager to part with what they felt was their property. When legally freed slaves tried to leave, many of them were beaten, lynched, or murdered. "They would catch [freed slaves] swimming across [the] Sabine River and shoot them," a former slave named Susan Merritt recalled.

7. THERE WERE LIMITED OPTIONS FOR CELEBRATING.

A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
A monument in Houston's Emancipation Park.
2C2KPhotography, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When freed slaves tried to celebrate the first anniversary of the announcement a year later, they were faced with a problem: Segregation laws were expanding rapidly, and there were no public places or parks they were permitted to use. So, in the 1870s, former slaves pooled together $800 and purchased 10 acres of land, which they deemed "Emancipation Park." It was the only public park and swimming pool in the Houston area that was open to African Americans until the 1950s.

8. JUNETEENTH CELEBRATIONS WANED FOR SEVERAL DECADES.

Scene from the Poor People's March in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 1968.
Scene from the Poor People's March in Washington, D.C. on June 19, 1968.
ARNOLD SACHS, AFP/Getty Images

It wasn't because people no longer wanted to celebrate freedom—but, as Slate so eloquently put it, "it's difficult to celebrate freedom when your life is defined by oppression on all sides." Juneteenth celebrations waned during the era of Jim Crow laws until the civil rights movement of the 1960s, when the Poor People's March planned by Martin Luther King Jr. was purposely scheduled to coincide with the date. The march brought Juneteenth back to the forefront, and when march participants took the celebrations back to their home states, the holiday was reborn.

9. TEXAS WAS THE FIRST STATE TO DECLARE JUNETEENTH A STATE HOLIDAY.

A statue of former Texas state representative Al Edwards, who introduced legislation to have June 19 officially declared a state holiday.
A statue of former Texas state representative Al Edwards, who introduced legislation to have June 19 officially declared a state holiday.
ניקולס, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Texas deemed the holiday worthy of statewide recognition in 1980, the first state to do so.

10. JUNETEENTH IS STILL NOT A FEDERAL HOLIDAY.

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Though most states now officially recognize Juneteenth, it's still not a national holiday. As a senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday, though it didn't pass then or while he was president. One supporter of the idea is 91-year-old Opal Lee—since 2016, Lee has been walking from state to state to draw attention to the cause.

11. THE JUNETEENTH FLAG IS FULL OF SYMBOLISM.

a mock-up of the Juneteenth flag
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Juneteenth flag designer L.J. Graf packed lots of meaning into her design. The colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the slaves and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the bursting "new star" on the "horizon" of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.

12. JUNETEENTH TRADITIONS VARY ACROSS THE U.S.

Juneteenth celebration participants taste the sweet potato pie entered in the cook-off contest during the festivities Richmond, California, in 2004.
Juneteenth celebration participants taste the sweet potato pie entered in the cook-off contest during the festivities Richmond, California, in 2004.
David Paul Morris, Getty Images

As the tradition of Juneteenth spread across the U.S., different localities put different spins on celebrations. In southern states, the holiday is traditionally celebrated with oral histories and readings, "red soda water" or strawberry soda, and barbecues. Some states serve up Marcus Garvey salad with red, green, and black beans, in honor of the black nationalist. Rodeos have become part of the tradition in the southwest, while contests, concerts, and parades are a common theme across the country.

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