Home is where the heart is, and for many people, it's also where they celebrate Juneteenth. The holiday (named for an amalgamation of June and nineteenth) recognizes the date when federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865, and announced the emancipation of the last enslaved people, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
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While there will be Juneteenth festivals and parades being held across the country, many are making a point to enjoy the holiday at home. Nicole Young, co-founder and CEO of the premium whiskey brand Frisky Whiskey, is a first-generation American and didn't hear about the holiday until she was an adult. This year, she's looking forward to a low-key celebration at home.
"Over the past four years in particular, since I had my son, I've made more of a diligent effort to celebrate Juneteenth and create my own unique traditions for my family at home," Young tells Hunker. " I like to use my Juneteenth menu as a tool to explore and incorporate Black-owned food and beverage brands into my arsenal. I'll be serving a paella-style fonio pilaf using Yolélé fonio, a spicy mango salsa that features Essie Mango Chili Medley spice, and orange caramel whiskey sours made with Frisky Whiskey."
Unlike Young, Michiel Perry, founder of the lifestyle blog Black Southern Belle, grew up celebrating Juneteenth. Last year, Perry hosted and co-produced the Emmy-nominated series The Juneteenth Menu, where she invited her chef friends to cook and share their Juneteenth recipes. Perry's childhood Juneteenth celebrations involved her entire family celebrating at home, and the holiday also served as a way for her to learn about her family history.
"Growing up, we always celebrated with the entire family, and neighbors often made their way to our celebrations," Perry tells Hunker. "My cousins and I all ran around while our mothers were cooking in the kitchen with ingredients from my father's vegetable garden. We would share family stories and pull out old family photos."
Today, Perry says she celebrates at home with her husband and toddlers, and her Juneteenth menu represents the Lowcountry, South Carolina, region where she grew up. When she's planning her menu, Perry incorporates ingredients from local farmers and includes red-tinted dishes that honor the struggle of her ancestors.
"Growing up in the Lowcountry, fresh seafood was always on the menu. We also had fried fish, blue crab and okra, and shrimp and grits," Perry explains. "My great-grandfather was a hog farmer, and my ancestors were longshoremen, so there's a unique family meaning to serving pork and seafood. Also, the color red is important to Juneteenth as it represents the ancestors, their resilience, and bloodshed. We serve a red drink made from hibiscus and red berries. You can serve red soda, red velvet cake, fresh berries, or any other red foods."
On June 17, 2021, President Biden designated Juneteenth a federal holiday, and for many, the announcement, along with the civil rights protests in the summer of 2020, motivated them to start observing the holiday. Tiffany Green-Abdullah is the author of The Bean Pie: Remembering Our Family's Faith, Fortitude, and Forgiveness, which traces four generations of women in Abdullah's family in America. Abdullah says her first Juneteenth celebration was a result of watching protests unfold across the country.
"We first celebrated in 2020. It was the first time our friend group got together, so we were nervous but longing for togetherness," Abdullah tells Hunker. "[We also wanted] our children to understand and celebrate this holiday that was heightened by the tension of George Floyd's murder and the following protests." She adds, "We also celebrated again in 2021 when it became a holiday."
Last year, Abdullah celebrated with a traditional soul food menu of fish, chicken, greens, mac and cheese, and red buttermilk cornbread (colored with beets). For those thinking about having a celebration at home, Abdullah suggests making a Pinterest board of food and decor ideas and to consider making the celebration a potluck, so all of the work doesn't fall on one family.
Though mainstream Juneteenth celebrations continue to draw national attention, the heart of Juneteenth has always been about family and community. For hundreds of years, before it was a federal holiday, it was often Black families fellowshipping in their homes, sharing a meal, and celebrating their freedom.
"Juneteenth is an opportunity to share our history and family memories with my young children and our family's future generations," Perry says. "The best part of celebrating Juneteenth is gathering together with family, sharing old memories, and making new ones."