What Is Juneteenth And How Is It Celebrated?

Every year, Black people in the United States observe Juneteenth to honor their ancestors' struggle but also to celebrate their freedom from slavery. From dancing to playing games, it is a day full of family bonding and traditions. And of course, cooking and eating food — A LOT of food.

The history of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, celebrated annually on June 19, is the oldest national holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation, which declared all enslaved people in the 10 confederate states should be freed, was issued on January 1, 1863. However, it wasn't until two and a half years later — on June 19, 1865 — that it was fully enforced in Texas. This important day in American history is now marked throughout the country with parades, reunions, speeches and enormous barbecues.

How Juneteenth celebrations began

Juneteenth didn't start as a big celebration. At first, it was a small festival among Black communities in Texas. But over the years, families of formerly enslaved people began their Juneteenth jubilees outside of Texas. On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth was recognized as an official state holiday in Texas thanks to the efforts of Al Edwards, a Black state legislator. Edwards continued to promote and spread the observance of Juneteenth across the country.

Classic Juneteenth activities

Originally, the main focus of Juneteenth was education. Guest speakers and elders would tell stories of the past to help guide the younger generation and would follow up their presentations with a prayer service. Today, you can see families engaging in a multitude of activities such as fishing, baseball, rodeos and of course, setting up the grill for a barbecue.


Every Juneteenth, Black families get together for huge cookouts. Barbecuing is deep-rooted in American Black culture because it brought together enslaved people during important communal affairs to bond and cook a whole pig in a pit. The pitmasters' techniques and secrets have been passed down from generation to generation and kept alive on holidays like Juneteenth.

Meats like lamb and beef — which weren't easily accessible to enslaved people — are often brought to the feast along with chicken and pork. For a holiday that started in Texas, it's not surprising to see someone carving into some brisket and other regional barbecue meat.

Of course, you can't have a cookout without side dishes. Popular sides for Juneteenth include collard greens, potato salad and baked beans.

Why all the red food on Juneteenth?

If you ever attend a Juneteenth festival, you'll notice an abundance of red food and drinks, as the color represents the ingenuity and resilience of enslaved people. So you'll almost certainly see people washing down their meals with red drinks like strawberry soda and Big Red, the popular Texan soda. It's also common for folks to bring red foods like red velvet cake, strawberries, watermelon and more.

Here are a few red recipes perfect for Juneteenth:

Red Beans and Rice

This red beans and rice dish is the perfect side to bring to the party. It accompanies brisket, ribs, chicken and other barbecued meats.

For the Red Beans and Rice recipe, click here.

Grilled Watermelon Steaks with Walnut Gremolata

Grilling fruits just got better with this summertime dish. While watermelon is common on Juneteenth, these unique watermelon steaks are marinated in a zesty herb vinaigrette and placed on the grill.

For the Grilled Watermelon Steaks with Walnut Gremolata recipe, click here.

Watermelon and Cucumber Salad

This is a simple salad recipe that will grab the attention of your guests on Juneteenth. With watermelon chunks and cucumber slices, this salad is also quite hydrating.

For the Watermelon and Cucumber Salad recipe, click here.

Strawberry Hand Pies

This strawberry hand pie recipe is an amazing dessert you can make at home and serve to your family for a summer picnic.

For the Strawberry Hand Pies recipe, click here.

Strawberry Daiquiri

Red soda doesn't have to be the only drink on Juneteenth. This strawberry daiquiri can be made in just a couple of minutes with only four ingredients.

For the Strawberry Daiquiri recipe, click here.

Chili Spiced Watermelon Rosé Granita

This cool watermelon granita meets a little bit of heat with a homemade sweet and spicy chamoy sauce. And whatever the color, there's no better way to cool down from the sweltering heat than with some fun and frosty frozen fruit desserts.

For the Chili Spiced Watermelon Rosé Granita recipe, click here.

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