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How Juneteenth (and Other Celebrations) Can Be Meaningful For Your Family

Author:Lindsey Pruett-Hornbaker

Published by PBS Kids

This summer, my family has been thinking a lot about celebrating. Two important family celebrations will happen in June: my daughter’s (first!) birthday, and Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, it was finally announced to the people of Texas that all enslaved African Americans were free.

Many of us learned that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declared all enslaved people in the United States to be freed. However, enslavement of Black people in America would actually continue for more than two and a half more years. It wasn’t until the summer of 1865 — two months after the Civil War had actually ended — that the news of freedom would finally reach everyone who was enslaved. On June 19, the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, became the last folks to receive the announcement that they were lawfully free. Since then, African Americans throughout the United States have celebrated this date as the official end to slavery.

Juneteenth represents a turning point for our nation. Today it is an opportunity for families of all racial and ethnic heritages to acknowledge and honor Black American history. Over the last 150 years, Juneteenth has been honored in many ways:

  • In the 1870s, an outdoor space in Texas was purchased to become Emancipation Park;
  • In the early 1900s, families put on their best clothes to picnic and listen to celebration speeches;
  • And today, families and friends gather for backyard barbecues, neighborhoods put on festivals, and some cities hold parades and close businesses for the day in respect for the occasion.

As we plan to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time as a family of three this year, I’ve been considering the meaning of the holiday, and how to explain it to our daughter. What does it mean for us to celebrate Juneteenth? As I look more closely at all the cultural rituals and traditions that families honor — birthdays, holy days, the Fourth of July, or even “Friday night Family Night” — I’ve realized that we can find deeper purpose in each.

When we celebrate a holiday or tradition, we are telling a special story about who we are. Celebrations are often about cultural and family identity. On your kids’ birthdays, you probably acknowledge the ways they have grown, and you eat their favorite foods or sing silly songs to them. This tells the story that the people in your family love one another. When my family celebrates Juneteenth, we are telling a story about our freedom, our resilience, and our belonging.

How can your family lean into these special stories? We can look to “Sesame Street” for some guidance, as it gives families simple tools to understand one another and create stories together. In “H is for Holiday,” Sesame Street provides us a glimpse into kids’ holiday experiences through their own words. As you watch it together, ask your kids what their favorite holidays are, and share your own favorite holiday traditions with them. You can also wonder together about what your celebrations say about you as a family — how do they help tell the story of who your family is? What unique things could someone learn about your family from the ways that you celebrate?

When we celebrate, we are teaching our kids what we value and believe. When we honor a tradition, holiday, or other celebration, we are demonstrating what’s important to us, and we are clueing our children into our belief systems. What we choose to celebrate lets our kids know what we value, and celebrations offer us a great opportunity to help our kids understand why we value what we do. As we celebrate Juneteenth, we’ll be teaching our daughter that we believe Black history is important, and we’ll be showing her that we value telling a bigger and more inclusive story about our country’s history.

This year, we will be celebrating more special days with Sesame Street! With our Sesame friends, we will celebrate new relationships, create a card to celebrate someone special, and honor our country’s birthday by showing kindness to our neighbors.

When we celebrate, we practice pausing our busy lives to focus on joy. On Sesame Street, Juneteenth is a celebration of hope — a time to reflect on the past and share hope for today. It, and other celebrations big and small, gives us the chance to set aside our daily routines and stresses and create some room for rest and fun. This past year has been especially difficult for so many families. On Juneteenth, my family will take the opportunity to just enjoy being together and to be thankful we have the freedom to do so. In our home, the monotony of daily life can be easy to slip into. I’m grateful for the celebrations of summer to remind us that life is special and valuable, and it’s important to have some fun together.

For our daughter’s birthday, we are having a small outdoor party with family and cake. For Juneteenth, we will pause to honor the day and the people who fought so hard for freedom, read some children’s books about the holiday, do some artwork together, and probably have some more cake!

When we’re intentional about how and why we celebrate important events, they become so much more meaningful for our families. How will your family celebrate this summer? Author:Lindsey Pruett-Hornbaker, MA, is a non-profit consultant and writer of grants, curriculum, and essays. She is a wife, mom, and clinical counselor-in-training. Lindsey believes in the power of strong coffee and inclusive communities, and she gets curious about life and parenting on Instagram.


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