Carpe Diem: The Furry Dance and Juneteenth

Learn the history and traditions behind these holidays

| May-June 1999

May 8
The Furry Dance
Residents of Helston, Cornwall, mark winter’s passing by dancing in the streets, a centuries-old custom in this Celtic corner of England. Four times a day, a town band strikes up a traditional tune and couples take to the streets, weaving around corners in a long line and prancing through front doors of local shops and out the back. Young couples dance at 7 a.m., children at midmorning. Townspeople in frock coats and gowns have a formal procession at noon, and out-of-town onlookers are invited to join the final dance at dusk. What better way to celebrate spring and raise the spirits of your own community than a neighborhood dance? Form a band, block off the streets, and get everybody out to do the Furry.

June 19

Blacks in Texas did not learn of the Union victory in the Civil War—and their own emancipation from slavery—until June 19, 1865, well after most of the country. Legend has it that Texas plantation owners murdered army messengers bringing the news because they wanted to get in one last cotton crop before relinquishing their slaves. When word finally did arrive, celebrations erupted and have been commemorated in black farming communities ever since, according to Anneli Rufus in the World Holiday Book (HarperSanFrancisco). Once a regional holiday, Juneteenth has spread to the rest of the country as a remembrance of slavery and an African American heritage celebration complete with concerts, film festivals, picnics, and rallies.

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